Ephesians 1:15–2:7 (NIV) -
About 10 years ago, I found myself at the top of the Royal Armories. On the roof, I was being sponsored to descend from the building. The idea was that I would reach the top and simply walk off the side of the building.
And there I was, scared and fearful, looking over the edge, knowing that I needed to step forward. I looked for hope.
First in myself, thinking, "If I can just believe in myself, I'll be able to walk towards the ground. Perhaps if I meditate, flap my arms, or just close my eyes and pretend the danger isn't there, then I will be okay."
Then I thought, "I'll hope in the laws of physics, gravity. I'm not too heavy, so perhaps I won't fall too fast. I'll be okay." But this hope was short-lived as I recalled my GCSE science lessons.
I had no hope. I was as good as dead.
And then I heard a voice, offering me a reality check. Offering me hope.
'Jon, I've got you. You're wearing a harness. Trust the rope; I can take your weight.'
At that moment, I had hope. I stepped off the edge.
Our sermon today is entitled 'Hope for You' and is based on Ephesians 1:5-2:7.
Paul is writing to Christians living in Ephesus, the third largest city in the Roman Empire, an urban city of 250,000 people boasting one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, the Temple of Artemis. Through festivals, architecture, and administration, the inhabitants were reminded of the greatness of Rome, with many seeing themselves as living in the golden age, believing the empire would last forever.
But all that glitters is not gold, and behind the glitz and glamour of this ancient city was a world built on injustice, slavery, economic exploitation, and infanticide.
This is the way it has always been, the way it is now, and the way it will always be. Walter Brueggeman speaks of the 'monopoly of imagination' to describe how any empire tries to convince us that the status quo is the permanent reality.
The Apostle Paul writes to this first-century Christian community in Ephesus to stir their imaginations and hearts by reminding them that they live in a better story. He offers them a King Jesus reality check that gives them hope.
Let's begin with Paul's prayer found in verse 17.
17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
Paul's prayer is that this early Christian community would be:
- 'Given a Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation' (v17)
- 'Hearts would be enlightened' (v18)
With a sense of urgency, Paul is praying that these believers would have a spiritual reality check, that they would see afresh the story they are living in.
And what are the benefits of this reality check?
The text tells us there are 4 reasons:
- Know God better (v17)
- That they would have hope, riches, and power (v18)
- That they would know the hope to which we are called (v18)
- Riches - of his glorious inheritance (v18)
- Power - and the great power to all who believe (v19)
So let's spend a few moments meditating, marveling, and marinating in the themes of hope found in this passage.
**Hope for You:**
**(1) Involves looking back**
**(2) Sitting Down**
**(3) Looking forward**
My prayer is that in the here and now, we would be part of the answer to Paul's prayer, that as we are empowered by the Spirit, reading these ancient words, our hearts would be warmed, enlightened, and encouraged, that we would have a reality check that gives us hope.
**(1) Hope for you - Involves looking back**
Now the type of hope we have, the reality check we need, is not that of "hopium." Hopium is where we take a shot of hope that distracts us from the pain, suffering, and evil in the world. It numbs us and distracts us from the world as it really is. All is well with the world. In contrast, the Apostle Paul offers us a hope-filled realism.
For the Apostle Paul, the reality check we need as God's church is to recognize that outside of Christ, we are lost, broken, dead, and swimming in dangerous waters.
The urban elite of Ephesus, living in the Roman Empire, perhaps celebrated their context, culture, development, religion, and prestige. But Paul has this to say,
2 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.
Paul offers a reality check of the chaos, evil, and danger found in the world in Ephesians 2:1-3:
- Sin - 'dead in our transgressions and sin' (v1)
- Trespasses: The Greek word here, 'trespass,' means that human beings have stepped over a line, wandered, and are lost. The prophet Isaiah puts it like this, 'we all like sheep have gone astray.'
- Sin: Missing the mark, 'for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.'
- World: Present Age - followed the way of the world, culture, age.
- Devil: ruler of the 'kingdom of the air' - god of this world. Spiritual forces at work in the world hell-bent on bringing chaos and destruction.
For the Apostle Paul, then, outside of Christ:
- We were in a pit.
- We were spiritually dead.
- We were in darkness, unable to save ourselves.
- We were in need of a savior, and we didn't even know it.
- We were caught up and complicit in an evil age, overwhelmed by spiritual forces.
- The wages of sin is death, and as verse 3 says, we were deserving of both wrath and judgment.
But as the believer looks back, perhaps overwhelmed by the predicament of sin, Paul also encourages these earliest believers to look back to Jesus, for our hope is found in Him.
And Paul offers a reality check.
Ephesians 2:4–5 (NIV) 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
The love of the Father, full of mercy (we don't get what we deserve), full of grace (
we receive as a gift what we don't deserve), means that our story is caught up in the Jesus story.
The reality check, the rope, the harness, the hope, the anchor, our fortress, our deliverer, our redeemer, is our savior Jesus.
Hope has a name, and His name is Jesus. Hope is rooted and grounded in Him. By grace, sheer unmerited favor, you have been saved, delivered from the seductive power of sin, this evil age, and from the powers that bring destruction.
A few verses earlier, Paul says this about the power of God, which has been unleashed in Jesus' resurrection:
when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.
In Jesus, our Savior, we have one who has taken on the powers. Human sin and violence, a culture of empire and domination, and the evil powers did their worst to Jesus. He was crucified. The greatest embodiment of love and hope the world has ever seen was nailed to a cross and breathed His last.
The darkest day in history. But the worst day is not the last day; this was not the end.
Following the pain of Good Friday, the silence of Easter Saturday, we look back to Easter Sunday. For on this day, a mighty power was unleashed, the grave could not hold Him, and Jesus was raised to life. The death blow has been dealt to death itself.
And now, Jesus, the One who is crucified, is shown to be the world's true Lord and King, the name above all names. He demonstrates conclusively that the powers of sin, the world, and Satan do not have the last word.
Jesus, our great hope, raised to life in the past, has ascended to glory. He reigns presently. He reigns supremely. Jesus is Lord. Hope wins. Love wins.
And so, we have hope because we look back. Not only on our former way of life but to our Savior and His glorious resurrection. This is the story we find ourselves in.
**(2) Hope Involves Sitting Down**
In this passage, though, we are not only encouraged to look back. To recognize that in the here and now, we are seated down.
Ephesians 2:6 (NIV) 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,
Paul is telling the believers who walked the streets of Ephesus that they are enthroned with Jesus in the heavenly realm.
The holy mystery found here is that as they walked the marketplaces and went about their daily business and worked, family life, hustle and bustle of urban living, they are seated with Christ in heaven.
It seems that what Paul is getting at is that the early church, and we too, live in two dimensions. We live, work, raise families, suffer, go about the city in one dimension, while also having our identity and place within the realm of heaven in a second dimension.
We are citizens of heaven, no longer slaves to sin, the world, and the devil.
We are citizens of heaven and share in the power, identity, and values of the coming age.
And because we live in these two dimensions, we don't need to conform to the pattern of this world. We are empowered to resist the beastly forces in the world. Paul wants us to know the reality that we are in the kingdom and that everything that opposes the peace of Jesus is simply the last gasp of evil that tries to hold on to what it has already lost. This is our reality check; this is our hope.
This reality check means that in and through Jesus, we have royal dignity, royal authority, a royal identity, and a royal vocation. Given this, we are not called to a timid morality that retreats from the world into a 'spiritualizing irrelevance'; no, in Him, we find a kingdom call to courageous engagement.
**(3) Hope Involves Looking Forward**
In the opening prayer, Paul says:
may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
The hope to which we are called is an inheritance. It has a future dimension.
In 2:7, Paul says that we are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms 'in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.'
In the ancient world, you might be invited to join a wealthy household as an adopted son. You would have a place at the table, and the resources of the household would be available for the rest of your life.
The notion here is that we are seated with Christ, and for all eternity, in the future, we will receive the 'impeccable riches of his grace' ... the kindness of Jesus will be available to us hour after hour, day after day.
A few verses later, Paul says that 'we are God's handiwork created to do goodness.'
What a hope, what a calling. This is a reality check that we need to hear for our own day and age. We are called as we go forward to be God's handiwork and bring goodness to the world around us. Yet, at the same time, we have access to all of heaven's resources. Our hope is that as two-dimensional people, the power, strength, compassion, joy, courage, and wisdom of the heavenly realm are available for us. This is our hope that as we go into the world, we are not alone; we do so as heaven's ambassadors with a royal calling upon us. Like Jesus, we are to rule and reign and take authority, not through violence, force, or domination, but through self-giving sacrificial love.
This is our hope. This is our reality check.
As we look backward, we look to Jesus.
As we sit down, we sit with Jesus as royal sons and daughters.
As we look forward, we know that not one day will go by where we are not showered with the riches of the grace given to us in and through Jesus.
In the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.