Good morning and welcome to Journey Church. My name is Phil Human. I’m one of the pastors here at Journey. We started Journey Church about ten years ago with the hope of being a church for people who are just starting the faith journey – or restarting their walk with God – people who are a little bit on the skeptical or cynical side of things – and for people who are already following Jesus and love to be around people like I just described.
So no matter where you might place yourself along the spectrum of faith we’re glad you are here. Especially as we begin a brand new series today on the book of Ephesians.
Although we call it a book of Ephesians – it’s actually a letter to the Ephesians. It was a letter written by the Apostle Paul around the year 62AD as Paul sat in prison in Rome. In fact four of the letters in the NT were written by Paul while in Prison in Rome. He wrote to the Colossians, his friend Philemon, then this letter to the Ephesians, and finally – to the Philippians.
You can read about Paul’s visit to Ephesus in the book of Acts, chapter 19 – and I’d encourage you to do so. We learn from the Book of Acts 19, that Paul lived in the city and ministered there for almost three years – around 52-54Ad.
As he writes this letter – it is now seven years since being forced to leave the city and the church he founded.
And I imagine it must have been difficult for the Apostle Paul to have to sit in jail. The guy was a mover and shaker. He was a preacher and teacher and church planter – and for him to sit in prison must have been awful. And yet – had he not – would he ever have slowed down enough to pen these letters?
Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians? Some of the richest and most beautiful portions in the entire bible were birthed in a prison cell – where Paul was unjustly detained.
So – what do we learn about the church in Ephesus? Well, for one thing, it’s obvious that the church is very young in their faith. How can we tell? Well, the book of Ephesians is all about the basic doctrines of Christianity. So if you are just starting or restarting your faith, this is a great letter to dive into.
Now – what do we learn about Ephesus? We learned from the video that Ephesus was a city of about 250 thousand people – it was on the coast of what is now Turkey, right in the middle of – easy access to Asia, Europe and Africa. And because it had a great port, and good Roman roads, and a river – it became a real economic powerhouse. Think of a first century New York City – Trade was constantly moving – with travelers from all over the world arriving and leaving, on a daily basis.
Ephesus was a first century melting pot. Not only ethnically, but also – spiritually.
All of these people from all over the world brought with them their own spirituality and religions and they converged here in Ephesus and created a rather pluralistic society.
Obviously, the city was famous for the worship of Artemis, or Dianna – the goddess of the hunt – with her temple being one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
We learn also from the book of Acts that the city was very much into spiritism – cults of magic – incantations. Unlike in many places – the city of Ephesus was highly aware of the spirit world – the invisible heavenly realm. And great effort went into trying to figure out how to tap into the heavenly realm in order to use the power there for personal gain.
So the city was filled with people dabbling in spells and incantations and magic and anything that they felt could shift the powers of the heavenly realm toward their side.
So you have Europe, Africa, Asia all colliding in Ephesus – and all of these confluences of thought and religions creates kid of a wild west feel – where everyone has their own ideas of the spiritual nature of the universe and everybody did their thing – and one day – the Apostle Paul bursts through the saloon doors and says to the city – there’s a new sheriff in town – his name is Jesus. I’d like to introduce you to him.
Now one thing about pluralistic societies like Ephesus – in those kinds of societies – like our own – any religious system that says there way is the only way – quickly becomes an enemy to all of them.
And this is the reality that Paul discovered in Ephesus.
For three years he preached the about Jesus. And no one seemed to care too much – that is until people started to believe in Jesus. And as his church grew – so did the opposition.
And so – what happened to Paul that he was run out of Ephesus?
Acts 19 tells us that the idol makers in the city were the first to realize the situation. They figured out that if Paul kept winning people to Jesus, then their profits would plummet – and so a group of idol-makers – iron workers – right?
The Idol people whip up a riot – under the guise of “We must defend the honor of our Artemis!” and so they whip up a riot – and before long the amphitheater is packed full of 25,000 people chanting for 2 hours “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Two hours! We love Artemis yes we do! We love Artemis how about you!
My favorite part of the story in Acts 19 is verse 32 that says – in fact – most of the people in the crowd weren’t sure why they were there.
Now Paul, meanwhile, is like, – Sweet! Let me preach! There’s 25,000 people who need to hear about Jesus! But his fellow believers were like, Paul you aren’t reading the room – they haven’t come to hear you they have come to kill you! They are going to stab you in the heart with their idols of Artemis!
It’s now 7 years later, and Paul sits down to write them a letter – to instruct them about the important matters of the faith. How is Paul going to begin this letter to his fellow believers in Ephesus?
This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus. I am writing to God’s holy people in Ephesus, who are faithful followers of Christ Jesus.
2 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.
3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.
Many have called this verse the theme of the letter. Praise God, who has chosen, by grace, to bless us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens.
For the remainder of our time I want to look at this portion of scripture and we’re going to ask…
What are the blessings? Paul will lead us through four of them that we will look at.
Why are these blessings ours?
How can they be mine?
So let’s keep reading. Praise God, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm. What are the blessings?
- God chose us. 4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.
Now – maybe you are wondering – wait a minute. I thought I was choosing to follow Jesus. Didn’t jesus say follow me? Didn’t John say that God so loved the world that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish? Did I chose God? Or – as Paul writes here in Ephesians, did God choose me?
And it’s always a little dangerous to dive into these kinds of theological waters – because what normally happens is someone on this side of the room wants to stand up and say – the doctrine of election is as clear as day in the bible. We didn’t choose God – God chose us! Ad then someone on this side of the room would say – But what about free will? If we don’t have a choice doesn’t that make us robots?
And then the guy on this side of the room will normally say something like – well if you’d read your bible you’d see it’s obvious. And then the person on this side of the room says, The only thing obvious is that you are a jerk.
Meanwhile I’m in the middle just eating a big tub of popcorn watching the fireworks – and eventually they will turn to me and demand to know where I stand!
And inevitably – people with strong convictions on one side or the other, are disappointed with my response. Which is something of a shoulder shrug. And then I say, something that really irritates both – which is – it seems to me that on one side of the door that leads to the kingdom of heaven it says, “Whosoever will may come”. And when you walk through the door – you look back and it says, “I knew you and chose you from before I made the world.”
And then usually both of those people say, We’re leaving to find a Bible believing church!” And if the most important thing to you is this issue? Then you are going to hate this church. And it’s probably best to say adieu to one another.
That’s one way we can look at this kind of verse. But is Paul really trying to launch a theological hand grenade into this newly formed church? No. Then what is he doing? He wants us to praise a god who loved us – long before we knew him.
Who personally knew us and chose us.
Come with me – those who are old enough to remember gym class many years ago – when they lined us all up against the wall and chose two people to pick teams. And the first pick for the dodgeball game was…. NOT YOU!
And then it became a race – please don’t let me be the last guy picked. Okay – we’ll take… “My name is Phil!” Okay – but we get the ball first.
Now imagine God lining us up – who is he going to pick first to be on his team? And he goes down the line and says… I chose you first. What an honor. And this is the feeling that Paul wants to convey to us. God chose us, first! (Now I mentioned he stands above and outside time, so it’s possible) And I want you to feel that feeling. That God would say, This is my beloved son! My cherished daughter – and I chose you.
How might it change the way you lived your life if you felt that God wanted you first? Would it make you more confident or less that God’s plan for you is the right plan for you?
See – many people live as if God begrudgingly added you to his team. He chose you! He loves you!
Secondly, Paul says Praise God for the blessing of adoption into his family. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.
You’ve been adopted by God into his family. Notice again Paul’s emphasis – not begrudgingly. He doesn’t love you through grit teeth. He adopted you into the family and it gave him great pleasure.
Listen – if you want to talk to the president – you need to contact your representative in congress to see if something can be done. And it will not. However – if your president also happens to be your father – you just go into the kitchen and in the morning and ask him to pass the cereal.
God is our father. Paul is not being metaphorical. We are adopted into the family of God. And God treats us now with the same love and respect and care that he has always treated Jesus.
- Praise God who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. He has chosen us. He has adopted us. He has redeemed us. 7 He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.
the new Living Translation has chosen to use the term Purchased our freedom – the word there us actually redeemed us or ransom us.
I remember one time when I lived in Massachusetts and I was working as a youth pastor, there was a group of people from our church who went to Israel for a trip – and they asked me to bring the church van into Logan airport and pick them up from the airport.
So I went to the terminal and I parked the church van in front of the terminal and I went in to find the people I was picking up. They wrre getting their luggage – and I said – follow me – and we went out to discover the van was gone. this was the days before 9/11 – but apparently the police towed it. And I had to go to the police station – where they confirmed they had the church van- and they said – we have your van – do you have the money.
And so it went – that I had to pay a ransom for the church van. And it might feel weird to think that God had to ransom us for our freedom – but Paul says, that’s what God did. We were slaves to our sin. The wages of sin is death. Jesus died in order to pay our debt – he paid a ransom to free us.
Lastly – verse 8 8 He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding. I personally like the wording of the NIV that says God has lavished us with grace. Praise God who out of kindness and love has lavished upon us – his love and grace.
We’re swimming in it. It’s all ours through faith in Christ. There are many more blessings than these, but this is where Paul starts. Chosen, adopted, redeemed and loved by a God who sends tidal waves of grace to us through our faith with Jesus.
- Next question: How are these blessings ours? How is it that these blessings are transferred to us? And the answer is loud and clear A: Through our union with Jesus.
- 3 – we are united with Christ.
Verse 4 – in Christ –
verse 5 through Jesus – v
verse 7 – in him we have redemption.
One of Pauls’ favorite expressions – more than 160 times in his 13 letters he references – we are in Jesus – with Jesus, for Jesus, through Jesus.
Our union with Jesus brings all of these things to us. Now in what ways are we united with Jesus? Let me talk about two ways.
First – we are legally united with Jesus. Legally.
I want you to imagine that you are single. I want you to imagine that you are poor. Utterly poor. You’ve got nothing. I want you to imagine that someone who is very wealthy – ridiculously wealthy – has fallen in love with you and you get married.
Are you still poor? No – legally – what is theirs is now yours. You are rich now. (Oh but I didn’t do anything to deserve to be rich – my spouse earned it all – yes – true – however – legally, in the eyes of the law you are as rich as your spouse.
When you place your faith in Jesus – you are legally united with Jesus. Everything that is his is now yours as well. We share in all of his victories. We share in his resurrection. We are as guiltless as Jesus – legally in the eyes of God. We are as rich as Jesus, spiritually.
Let that sink in. Paul understood it. Which is why he begins this letter with praise to God – he is rich beyond measure – even though he is sitting in a prison cell. He’s writing a church to let them know the basics – and the basics of Christianity is – through faith in Jesus – we are legally forgiven of our debts and we receive all of the blessings in the heavenly realms.
Not only are we legally united with him through faith, but we are literally united with him.
The Holy Spirit resides, dwells, lives, hangs out – within us. Transforming us and changing us and re-creating us into new kinds of human beings.
Notice how Paul – writing the basics to the church in Ephesus – begins with the Father Son and Holy Spirit. It is the Father who chose us – the son who redeemed us – the Spirit who resides in us – making every spiritual blessings in the heavenly realm active in our lives.
It is through our union with Jesus that all – every single one – of the blessings of God are poured out upon us. But now – let’s close by drilling down to the personal level.
How can I know that these blessings are mine?
- 13 And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago.
We here at Journey often say that faith is a journey. And we value the process it takes to go from a skeptic to a follower of Jesus. It does take time. But – that said – at some point in the journey, there comes a time to make the call. To make a decision.
Jesus extends to each of us an invitation. To think highly enough of Jesus to trust him with our life. To place our faith in Him. To surrender our kingdom and allow Him to call the shots in our life.
There is a time when we have to be willing to say- I believe.
See – I heard one pastor put it this way. You are either adopted or you are not. You are either redeemed or you are not. You are either united with Jesus, or you are not.
Now that time isn’t always going to be the kind of thing where you say – on such a such date at such and such time – I gave my life to Jesus. It’s great if you can – but
there ought to be at least a recognition that I once was cynical about Jesus but I have had a change in thinking. And I now know that He is mine and I am his.
Have you come to that place in your walk with Jesus that you know that you know? Is today the day – September 22, 2019, when you will say – I believe. I’m ready to be folded into the family of God?
This is one of those things that I’d say – it can’t be hurried, but when you are ready, don’t delay. Declare it in your heart – and let us know so we can celebrate with you. Like Paul – you are ready to declare – All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.