Sermon Notes: Ephesians 1:15-23, part 2 – The Greatness of His Power
These are the notes of a sermon preached by Andy Evans on the morning of the 1 November 2009 at Firwood Church. Click here to stream or download the sermon audio.
15For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
a. The problem with blindness
My two-year old son, Gideon Thomas, loves to receive presents. In fact, Gideon loves it when anyone receives a present. The moment he spots wrapping paper, cards or brown cardboard boxes his eyes light up and so begins the scramble to unwrap the thing in record time.
Once the thing is unwrapped, however, something strange happens. Suddenly the excitement fades and the gift is left discarded. The excitement is in the mystery. The excitement is in the unwrapping of the thing. It is rare that the gift ever lives up to the excitement of anticipation.
Paul wants to dispel this feeling in the life of the believer.
So often we come to faith in a flurry of excitement, overwhelmed by all God has done for us and overwhelmed by his grace and mercy displayed at the cross. It is natural that we feel an immense sense of gratitude and it is right that this results in joy, thanksgiving and praise.
There is a great thrill in that first revelation in which we are led from death to life. Paul’s expectation, however, is that this should not be the end. We are not like the two-year old who unwraps the gift and leaves it discarded.
Paul wants us to be continually overwhelmed with the glory of Christ.
Paul wants us to see.
b. That we would know
This is why, as we considered last week, Paul prays that believers everywhere would know God (v. 17, Paul prays that we would grow ‘in the knowledge of him’). Moreover, Paul prays for ‘wisdom and revelation’ in respect of three specific things, he prays,
…that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe… (Ephesians 1:18-19)
Paul prays that believers would know hope, true identity (that we are his inheritance) and power. These three things, hope, identity and power, have a fixed point of reference; they flow from a knowledge of him.
Our hope is not a vain fantasy nor the desperate wish of the imperilled. Rather this hope, the hope of the believer, is grounded upon objective truth – he calls – and is rooted in ultimate reality – there is a God who has made himself known.
And so too our identity is bound up with who he is. He is glorious and in him we are made to be an inheritance, his glorious inheritance. This glory does not originate with us, it is a reflection of his greatness. The kind of knowing that Paul prays for results in transformation, as we see we become like him,
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
All of which leaves us with the third thing that Paul prays for believers. He prays that we may know,
…what is the immeasurable greatness of his power [dynameos] toward us who believe (Ephesians 1:19)
Again, this power is different from that which the world boasts of. This is a power which is both God-originating and God-exalting. Paul writes that this power is in accordance with,
…the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:19-20)
It is clear that Paul wants us to understand and feel the magnitude of this ‘great might’. This is why, throughout this passage, he repeatedly uses four Greek words which denote power; he prays that we may know,
…what is the immeasurable greatness of his power [dynameos] toward us who believe, according to the working [energeian] of his great [kratous] might [iskuos] that he worked [energesen] in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power [dynameos] and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:19-21)
This is the only passage in the New Testament in which all four of these words are used in such close proximity. The nearest comparable passage uses just two of these words. It is clear that Paul is deliberately emphasising the powerfulness of this power.
Of the four words, three should appear familiar. Dynameos is the root word from which derives the word dynamite (although, of course, dynamite was not invented until a millennium after the NT was written). Paul’s intention in using this word is to describe power in its abstract sense.
The word energos is the word from which our word, ‘energy’, is derived and is distinguished from dynameos in that energos is an active verb. Energos is the working of the dynameos.
The word kratous is found the terminology of government, theo-cracy, demo-cracy and auto-cracy.
Iskus, however, less commonly used (on just three occasions in the Pauline corpus) and generally denotes inherent strength.
The point of all of this is Paul wants us to see the all encompassing immensity and breadth of the power of God. Moreover, Paul wants us to see this power displayed and at work in a historic event; Paul points to the resurrection and ascension of the Son of God.
This power, God’s power, is rooted in objective reality. This should fill us with great confidence.
2. The Glory of Christ
a. The resurrection of the Son of God
Paul prays that believers would know ‘the immeasurable greatness of his power’ and, yes, Paul is clear that this power is directed towards those of us who believe. If you are a believer here this morning, know this, the immeasurable greatness of his power is at work towards you.
This is an awesome thing.
Paul moves, however, from thinking about this power in relation to us and instead points to Christ Jesus. This power at work towards us is in accordance with,
…the working [energeian] of his great [kratous] might [iskuos] that he worked [energesen] in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power [dynameos] and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:19-21)
Paul’s reference point is the resurrection of Christ. He wants us to see and understand this monumental event for what it is and, in so doing, he wants us to comprehend the magnitude of the power of God at work towards us.
Paul gives us three pieces of information to help us see the magnitude of the power of God in the resurrection of Christ.
The first truth is that God raised Christ from the dead.
Let this truth wash over you afresh. For those of us who have been Christians or around church for a while it is easy to become desensitised to the wonder of this glorious truth. Christ was crucified, murdered and laid in the ground to rot and yet, before decay could set in, God dramatically and miraculously raised him from the dead.
b. Christ the first
Paul, however, in the phrase ‘ek nekron’ (translated, ‘from the dead’) implies more.
The word nekron (from the root nekros), here translated ‘dead’, is plural and the proposition, ek implies separation. Paul’s point is that this resurrection, Christ’s resurrection, is unique. Christ alone, from all of those who have died, has been raised decisively, finally and gloriously. Jesus is not another Lazarus who, although raised from the dead, eventually died, was buried and whose physical body remains in the grave to this day.
From among all of those who have died, God raised Christ Jesus from the dead with power and in this there is a monumental promise. Consider Paul’s unfolding of the implications of the resurrection in his first letter to the church in Corinth,
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:20-22)
Paul’s point is this: the resurrection of Christ Jesus gives us hope and confidence that death is not the end, that we too will be raised to eternal life on that day. More than this, however, Paul keeps Christ at the centre of it all. Through Adam, sin and death enter the world; everything is spoilt and death reigns. In Christ, life is offered to all who believed. In and through Christ the fall is set in reverse and we see the beginning of the glorious end where Christ will return and consummate the kingdom.
If we return to Ephesians we see that the power of God is gloriously displayed in that the resurrection of Christ is a unique first. He is the first to be raised in such a fashion. In this there is an anticipation of all that is to come and the greater glory which will be displayed on that day when death is completely and finally vanquished,
…then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)
c. Christ is exalted
The resurrection of Christ is the moment which marks the end of the humiliation to which the Son of God subjected himself in the incarnation.
As we have considered elsewhere, in becoming flesh the Son of God humbled himself to all it means to be a man. He experienced hunger, thirst, cold, exhaustion, rejections, betrayal, injustice, temptation, excruciating pain and, ultimately, the most humiliating and ignominious of deaths. The perfect, sinless God-man was unjustly condemned and then hung naked and in agony until he breathed his last.
The cross is the apex of the humiliation of the Son of God.
In and through the resurrection, God is at work reversing this and both vindicating and exalting the Son of God.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)
The ‘therefore’ in verse 9 is intentional and significant. Paul understands that there is an inseparable link between the cross and the resurrection and the exaltation of the Son of God. He was crucified, only it was impossible for death to hold him (Acts 2:24). He humbled himself to death, therefore, God exalted him to the highest place.
This is what we see in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. The power of God is gloriously displayed in the moment in which the apparent failure of Christ Jesus was transformed into victory. The power of God is gloriously manifest in the moment in which the most abject of humiliation of the Son of God is gloriously transformed into triumph.
In this respect, the cross, the resurrection and the ascension fuse into one: in all these things the Son is bestowing glory upon the Father and the Father is at work glorifying the Son, all of which leads me to my next point.
d. Christ is raised up
The ascension of the Son of God is often overlooked by believers. Paul, however, traces the line between the cross, the resurrection and the moment in which Christ ascends on the clouds and returns to his Father (Acts 1:6-11). Paul points towards the significance of the resurrection and ascension in his letter to the Ephesians,
Paul wants us to see the glorious power of God at work not only in the resurrection, but also in the ascension in which the Father,
… seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:20)
The location of Christ is hugely significant in that it confirms his identity. As we considered, the term ‘heavenly places’ (literally, the heavenlies) is unique to Ephesians and denotes the place or sphere which God inhabits. Paul’s point is that Christ has returned to location of his pre-incarnate state of glory. This then makes sense of Jesus’ prayer,
And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. (John 17:5)
Moreover, there is further significant in the truth that the Son of God is now seated ‘in the heavenly places’ for this sphere points toward his present activity interceding for and blessing those who are his. Paul has already reminded believers that spiritual blessing are poured out from the heavenly places upon all those who are his (Ephesians 1:3). Moreover, Paul later draws a direct correlation between the ascension of Christ, the triumph of Christ and the bestowal of spiritual gifts,
“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.” (Ephesians 4:8)
e. Christ receives authority
Furthermore, not only is the Son of God exalted to the heavenly places, he is also given a position of authority. Jesus Christ now ‘seated at his right hand’ (Ephesians 1:20). Paul’s intention is clear. Not only is Jesus now located with the Father, but he has also been exalted to a position of authority. Paul unpacks this further (as we shall consider next week) in verse 22-23, but for now we see that this authority is absolute,
…what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:19-21)
Consider the extent of the power of God thus displayed. Christ is stricken and subjected to death and now God has raised him up to the highest place and exalted him to that place of honour. Christ was subjected himself to the Roman authorities and religious institutions, obedient to his Father’s will even in the face of injustice. Now God has bestowed upon him an authority which is,
far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:21)
The powers here are, most likely, the demonic powers and authorities at work against the people of God and the things of God. For the church in Ephesus struggling against a backdrop of idolatry and occultism this would have been a great encouragement. The God of the Bible is superior to every demon, false God and counterfeit religion.
In our generation we should be similarly encouraged. We serve and worship amongst false religions and Christless worldviews and belief-systems. Know this: Christ is set above all of this.
The authority of the Son is absolute and eternal. His name is the highest name in this age and the one to come.
This is objective reality which enables us to have confidence in the power of God towards those of us who believe. We look to the Son of God who was crucified in shame, buried and then raised and exalted and we take confidence in the truth that this power is now directed towards those of us who believe.
This is a glorious and necessary truth.
And so we return to verse 19 and remind ourselves that this power is directed towards those of us who believe. Next week we will see that the locus of this power is found in the Church of Christ over which Christ is the Head (v. 22-23). The question then is what does the ‘comprehending’ Paul prays for have to do with us experiencing this power? Why is it necessary that we both comprehend and experience this power?
The starting point is to understand that our natural condition outside of Christ Jesus is one of utter powerlessness,
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot [oude gar dynatai]. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:7-8)
Apart from the Christ we are in the flesh and, while we are in the flesh, we are incapable of pleasing God. Interestingly, the phrase here translated, ‘it cannot’, literally states that we are powerless. If you are an unbeliever here today, know this that, apart from Christ, men and women are incapable, literally powerless, to obey, please and honour God.
This is why, throughout Ephesians, Paul presses home the truth that we are utterly dependant upon his great power towards us who believe (Ephesians 1:19). Throughout this letter, Paul gives us three ways in which the power of God is displayed in/towards those who believe.
i. Grace is given to believers through his power
Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power [dynameos]. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ (Ephesians 3:7-8)
ii. Believers are strengthened with his power
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power [dynameos] through his Spirit in your inner being (Ephesians 3:14-16)
iii Believers experience his power at work within us
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power [dynameos] at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Paul wants us to know this power that brings grace, strength and power to believers that we might experience this as a reality in our lives. Paul wants us to see and know all we have in Christ that we might live the gospel out.
The end of all this, however, is not ourselves. It is no accident that Paul begins this great prayer with thanksgiving and intercession and ends in praise. Revelation is necessary and of great benefit to believers. We see, know and live in the light of such weighty truths. More than this, however, revelation leads to praise. The end of salvation is praise, his praise.
The end of the exultation of Christ is the glory of Christ.
And so we join Paul and pray for revelation that we might live power enabled lives. We join Paul and pray for revelation that his power towards us might be displayed in us that many would see and know that he is indeed God.