Jaw-Dropping Good News
“JAW-DROPPING GOOD NEWS”
Look up the New Testament book of Ephesians. Today and for the next 12 Sundays we are going to walk our way through Ephesians. We’ve had this in our preaching plans for over a year now and it’s finally here! So, let’s start and get into this…
Ephesians 1:1-2 says: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
At the end of Paul’s 2nd missionary journey in Acts 18, he stopped for a short time in Ephesus because the city of Ephesus was a strategic city. It was the 2nd largest city in the Roman Empire…some have suggested that at the time of this letter the city had a population of 250,000-350,000. And it was a thriving city – it had a man-made harbor and this city was at the crossroads of the main highway for goods and travel going north and south, and the main highway for goods and travel going east and west. So, this was a strategic business city, a strategic ethnic city, and a strategic spiritual city. While Paul was there, he went to the Jews and he debated with them, he discussed with them, trying to convince them that Jesus is the Messiah…the Savior. They wanted him to stay, but Paul was on a tight schedule, but Paul said he would return to Ephesus as soon as possible.[i]
At the beginning of his 3rd missionary journey, Paul returned to Ephesus – you can read about it in Acts 19. This time Paul stayed there for two years and Christianity started to make some real inroads into the city. So much so that there was a riot against the Christians…but the church was strong and so shortly after the riot, Paul left Ephesus and he never returned to the city again. But when he was in prison in Rome at the end of the book of Acts, he writes letters to many of the churches and this is one of those letters.
Some have said that the letter to the Ephesians is a shortened version of the Book of Romans…that it has that kind of theological impact. And it was a circular letter, which means that Paul sent this letter to Ephesus but he expected this letter to be circulated among the other churches in Asia.
Now let’s read down through verse 14 – “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”
There is a thought expressed in these verses that Christians have debated for ages. It is the thought expressed in the words “chosen” and “predestined.” Some Christians think that means that God has predetermined who is going to be saved and go to heaven, and He has predetermined who is not going to be saved and go to hell. I don’t agree with that understanding and, in fact, I think that if you follow that line of thinking you’re going to end up in some pretty twisted, strange places. Other Christians, including myself, understand Paul to be saying something else – I understand Paul to be saying here that God has predetermined certain blessings for those who are in Christ. That’s why in the introduction Paul writes, “To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ”; which could be read, to God’s holy people in Ephesus, those with faith in Christ.
I like the way I heard one person explain it – he said, “Let’s imagine that we sent out an invitation to everyone and we said that anyone who comes to our church building on this particular date, at this particular time will receive $5,000 in cash, a 60-inch TV, and a lifetime of free pizza.” We would have predetermined what everyone would receive if they met the criteria…but the invitation was open to anyone and everyone. We predetermined what they would receive, but we did not predetermine who would come on that date or at that time. So what these verses tell us is what God had predetermined…what God chose before the creation of the world to provide for those who would come to Christ.
Paul says God predetermined every spiritual blessing for those who are in Christ, but in these verses, I see 5 different things mentioned…and they are JAW-DROPPING GOOD NEWS!
1. HOLY AND BLAMELESS:
V. 4 says that God “chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” What Paul is saying is that one of the amazing things God predetermined is that those in Christ would be made holy and blameless in God’s sight!
God is perfect in His goodness and holiness. God is love; but the Bible never says that God is love, love, love. God is just; but the Bible never says that God is just, just, just. But several times the Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. And because God is perfect in His goodness and holiness, He is free from all sin, opposed to all sin, and separate from all sin. That is why our sin separates us from God!
And what Paul is saying here is that in Christ God makes us holy and blameless in His sight so that we are no longer separated from God. What Paul is talking about here is not that we are made blameless and holy in all our conduct, but what he’s saying is that God makes us blameless and holy by crediting the blamelessness and holiness of Jesus to us! This was foretold in Isaiah 61 – “I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness…”[ii] It’s why Philippians 3:9 says, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”
Often, we talk about having a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. That’s the first amazing gift that Paul lists here in these verses – that our sin separated us from God, but because Jesus paid the penalty for our sin and because we are in Christ, God credits us with Jesus’ blamelessness and holiness so that we can have a personal, close relationship with God.
In the Old Testament book of Esther there’s a picture that I always find interesting. Esther is married to the king of Persia and there is an important issue that she wants to talk to the king about so she stands just outside the king’s inner court, and when he sees her he knows that she wants to talk to him so it says that he held his scepter out to her…that was his way of inviting her into his presence.[iii] God declaring those in Christ to be holy and blameless is God’s way of holding out His scepter to us and saying we are welcome in His presence.
And think about what the means for us – it means that my acceptance to God, my relationship with God, is not based on my conduct…it’s not because my actions are good enough; no, my acceptance to God and my relationship with God is on the basis of Christ’s holiness and blamelessness being credited to me.
2. ADOPTED AS SONS:
Look at what it says in v. 5 – “In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ…”
Adoption is a family word – so this speaks of us becoming children of God; v. 4 talked about being acceptable to God and being able to have a relationship with God…this talks about being made a child of God! John 1 says that God is initiator in our adoption because, in Christ, God has given us the open door to become children of God through adoption.[iv] Galatians 4 says that God sent Jesus to redeem us so we could be made sons of God.[v] And it’s because we are adopted that we can call God our heavenly Father!
The Bible seems to connect two thoughts to our adoption. The first thing the Bible connects to adoption is love – that we are adopted by God because He loves us. The second thing the Bible connects with adoption is inheritance – that because we are made sons of God, we become full heirs of all the spiritual blessings.
I was reading an article recently by Anne Lamott. In the article she told of some friends in her church who were looking to adopt a special needs kid. Part of the adoption process was to go through this long list and check yes or no if they were willing to adopt a child who was born addicted, or deaf, or disabled, or terminally ill. She mentioned the agency they were working with, so I looked them up – there was a list of maybe 100 special needs listed…and at the top of their website they said they currently have 3223 children waiting to be adopted.[vi] Their pastor was helping them through the process and he later told the church that God adopts us that way – He’s the adoptive parent who says, “Sure, I’ll take the kids who are addicted or terminal. I pick all the handicapped kids. The sadists, the selfish, the liars…I choose them all!”[vii]
This is jaw-dropping! God knows me…He knows where I’m broken, He knows where I struggle, He knows where I’m blind, He knows where I’m crippled – and yet He predetermined that through Christ I could become His child…the child of a King.
3. WE ARE FORGIVEN AND FREED:
That’s what v. 7 is saying – “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.”
That word, “redemption”, means that Jesus paid the price for our sins to be forgiven…and the price was His life…His blood. It pictures us being kidnapped and held captive and a ransom being paid to free us. Now, what has kidnapped us and held us captive is sin – and Jesus has freed us from sin in two ways. He frees us from the penalty of our sin, and He frees us from the power of sin.
Jesus died on the Cross to pay the penalty of our sin! That’s what it means when Matthew 20:28 says Jesus “gave his life as a ransom for many.”[viii] 1 Timothy says that Jesus Christ “gave himself as a ransom for all”[ix] and Hebrews says that He died as a ransom to set us free from the guilt of our sins.[x] So, here’s the picture – when we sin we become indebted to God because what we owe Him is respect, awe, reverence, obedience, worship, love. And when we sin it is a violation of all those things and more, so we become indebted to God. When Jesus died on the Cross, shedding His blood, He paid the penalty of sin for us…He paid that debt we owe!
But Jesus didn’t just free us from the guilt or penalty of sin…He also set us free from the power of sin. So Titus 2 says Christ “gave himself to redeem us from all wickedness (not the guilt of our wickedness but the wickedness itself) and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”[xi] Romans 6 says that we are no longer slaves to sin.[xii]
Years ago, when my son was small, he fell off the trampoline we had in the backyard and broke his arm. We took him to the doctor, and they put a caste on his arm and the broken arm healed and he’s been fine ever since. The Bible teaches that before we came to Christ something was broken inside of us, so we were slaves to sin – we enjoyed sin, we ran to sin, we habitually sinned, and we tried to comfort ourselves with sin. But when we come to Christ, He sets that broken part of us right. Now, that doesn’t mean that sometimes sin doesn’t still look attractive to us, it doesn’t mean that sin won’t sometimes give temporary pleasure, and it doesn’t mean that resisting sin is always easy. But what it does mean is that in Christ we love something more than we love sin…we desire to honor God and reflect Jesus more than we desire sin…and even though sin can sometimes have a very strong pull on us, because we have the Holy Spirit we can resist it and find joy in walking the way of Jesus.
I heard a story of story of a mother and her eight-year-old daughter. The girl did something which caused her to feel alienated from her mother. Although her mother tried her best to help, the daughter finally ran out of the room in anger and went upstairs. Seeing her mother’s new dress laid out for a party that evening, the little girl found scissors and vented her hostility by ruining her mother’s new dress, seeking to injure her mother. Later the mother came upstairs, saw the dress, threw herself on the bed, and wept. Soon the small daughter came into the room and whispered, "Mother." But there was no reply. "Mother, Mother." she repeated. Still no reply. "Mother, Mother, please," she continued. Finally the mother responded, "Please what?" "Please take me back, please take me back," pleaded the girl. That little girl never acted out like that against her mother ever again.
Oh, do you see the wonder here? Every one of us has sinned against God! So we are indebted to God…but in His love and grace He sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the Cross for our sins! Jesus paid the debt I owe…and the debt you owe! And if we accept that gift from God, we are forgiven from the penalty of our sin and we are freed from the power of sin!
4. The fourth jaw-dropping good news that is our in Christ is that we are HEAVEN-BOUND:
Look at vv. 9-10 – “With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”
Paul says that God’s plan for this world is to bring everything under the Lordship of Jesus Christ…and that’s true for us, too. Someday, when Jesus comes again, there is going to be a new heaven and a new earth and Jesus will be the recognized king…and if you are in Christ you will be there, too.
In 1871 Father J. Boudreau wrote a short story entitled "The Happiness of Heaven." It's a story about a kindhearted king who is hunting in the forest when he discovers a blind, poor orphan boy living there. The king takes the blind orphan to his palace and adopts him as his own son. The king gives to his blind son the finest education and training money can buy. The blind son loves his father dearly and is grateful for everything he has done for him. When the son turns twenty, a surgeon performs an experimental surgery on his eyes, and for the first time in his life he can see. This royal prince, who was once a starving orphan, realizes how he has been blessed with fine food, fragrant gardens, and lovely music. But when he gains his sight, he doesn't care to look at the wealth of his kingdom or the wonders of the palace. Instead he only wants to gaze upon the face of his father--the king who saved him, adopted him, and loved him.
I’ve had the privilege of having the conversation several times, but one of my favorite remembrances is having the conversation with Beth Bauw. Some of you might still remember Beth – she and John were baptized and joined our church and it was so much fun watching their faith grow. Well, Beth became sick and was about to die and I went to the hospital room. It was filled with friends and family, spilling out into the hospital hallway; but she asked for me to come close and we got a chance to talk. And we talked about Jesus…and we talked about heaven…and at one point we both had tears in our eyes but they were tears of joy and I said to her, “Just think, Beth; in a little while you’re going to see Jesus!” And she squeezed my hand and said, “I know, Jon; I know! And I can’t wait!”
We were all poor, blind, wretched orphans, and the King of Kings has adopted us into his family. When we arrive in heaven and our faith finally turns to sight, we aren't going to be looking for a pearly gate, or streets of gold, we'll only have eyes to look upon the One who has redeemed us!
Verses 13-14 – “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”
God also predestined that those who come to Christ will receive the Holy Spirit! That was promised back in Acts 2:38 – repent and be baptized and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and this promise is true from the birth of church until the 2nd coming of Jesus! Now, the Holy Spirit is God’s power within us to grow in Christ, to overcome sin, to pursue Jesus…but the Holy Spirit is also God’s seal of ownership on us and a deposit guaranteeing that we will be with God forever.
And, I love this, the word used here for a deposit guaranteeing is the same word used today in modern Greek for an engagement ring. The Bible says that the Church is the Bride of Christ, and the Bible says that when Jesus comes again we’re going to enjoy the Marriage Feast of the Lamb – and the guarantee that we’re going to be there for it is that God has given us the Holy Spirit.
What amazing stuff! Holy and blameless, adopted as sons, forgiven and freed, heaven-bound, and Spirit-filled! And in this God has taken care of our past, He’s providing for our present, and He promises our future!
But I want to wrap up with this – in v. 6 it says that all of this is to the praise of His glorious grace; in v. 12 it says that all of this is for the praise of His glory; and in v. 14 it says that all of this is to the praise of His glory. Three times Paul emphasizes that all these blessings in Christ…all this jaw-dropping good news is to the praise of God’s glorious grace. And what that means is God has chosen and predetermined to give everyone in Christ these things, not because we deserve them, not because we’ve earned them, but simply by His grace. And in doing that it’s like there is a huge spotlight made to shine on God’s grace and goodness and kindness.
What should be our response to all this? Well, if you are a follower of Jesus, if you are in Christ, it should make you incredibly grateful and humble. God has provided you with all of this! And if you are not following Jesus, then you’re on the outside looking in. But the good news is that all of this can be yours too if you will just come to Jesus!
[i] Acts 18:18-22
[ii] Isaiah 61:10
[iii] Esther 5:1-2
[iv] John 1:12-13
[v] Galatians 4:5
[viii] Matthew 20:28
[ix] 1 Timothy 2:6
[x] Hebrews 9:15
[xi] Titus 2:14
[xii] Romans 6:6