Sermon Notes: Ephesians 1:7-10 – Christ and the Cross: The Centre of Everything, part 1
These are the notes of a sermon preached by Andy Evans on the morning of the 23 August 2009 at Firwood Church. Click here to stream or download the sermon audio.
3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
1. INTRODUCTION – SEEING HIM, KNOWING HIM
a. The Shift
Dating is a precarious business.
The most precarious moment of this precarious business is the first birthday or Christmas. This is a tricky moment. It is important that the moment is judged correctly, that the right amount of money is spent (not too much and not too little) and that the tone of the gift is judged perfectly. A diamond ring two weeks into a relationship is generally not a good idea. Similarly, anything you might be able to buy from the newsagents is a really bad idea come the nine-month mark.
I remember my first Christmas with my lovely wife Caroline. We had been dating for sometime, things were serious and the pressure was most certainly on.
The solution resided in lists. I surreptitiously ask testing questions intended to tease out likes, dislikes and dress sizes. Now, most certainly this involved a great deal of information, but the motivation and outcome of the exercise was not the information in itself. There is rightly a question mark over the man who is interested in dress sizes for its own sake and his paramour is unlikely to be comfortable with the idea the she is the subject of a series of lists on his laptop.
You see, the purpose of me gathering this information is that I would grow in my knowledge of Caroline and the outcome of all of this is that our relationship would grow deeper.
Similarly, in writing this letter to the church in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul is not concerned with the pursuit of abstract knowledge. Rather, Paul wants unbelievers and believers alike to see. Thus Paul prays,
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that 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, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened… (Ephesians 1:16-18a)
This must change how we approach, read and understand this letter. As we continue this morning to read, meditate upon on and think deeply about the profound truths contained in this glorious sentence (verse 3 stretching through to verse 14), we seek wisdom and revelation of him. As we meditate upon the glory of God in salvation, our intention is to see him and come to know him more deeply.
And this knowledge and revelation (of him) should radically shift in our world-view into alignment with his.
For unbelievers this shift is most obvious. My prayer is for spiritual sight; that where there is blindness, eyes would be opened to see Christ Jesus and that men and women would find him, as he is, most beautiful and most glorious.
For those of us who believe, again, my prayer is Paul’s prayer; I pray that we would see him more clearly and, as we do so, we would run to him and grow in our knowledge and love of him.
b. The Grounding
i. God is…
And so, over three of the first four weeks of this series we have been reminded that salvation begins with God. The Gospel of God begins with God. As Francis Schaeffer famously wrote, ‘He is there and He is not silent’. Salvation and rescue is only possible because of the truth that there is a God. Indeed, the Bible begins with the earth-shattering truth, ‘In the beginning God…’ (Genesis 1:1) and the Bible finishes with the declaration of the Lord Jesus Christ, ‘Surely I am coming soon’ (Revelation 22:20). History begins because God spoke creation into being, history will conclude with Jesus returning and overcoming every enemy with the word of his mouth (Revelation 19:15).
The Gospel, our salvation, is grounded upon the truth that there is indeed a God and, moreover, this God reveals himself to men and women.
This is why Paul begins this glorious passage of praise with God:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ… (Ephesians 1:3)
This God, our God, is there and has made himself known most clearly and most gloriously in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. This truth distinguishes our God from all the other so called gods of this world. Our God is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our God is there. All of which leads me to my next point.
ii. God acts…
The Gospel is predicated upon the truth that salvation is secured by God. Consider,
… [he] blessed us… (Ephesians 1:3)
…he chose us… (Ephesians 1:4)
…he predestined us… (Ephesians 1:5)
… he has blessed [begraced] us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:6)
Our God acts decisively and he acts first, ‘he chose us in him before the foundation of the world’ (Ephesians 1:4). The Gospel is grounded upon the truth that there is a God and this God acts, initiates and intervenes. Our God is a God who was at work determining, choosing and electing before there was a world and before there was a you and me. This God who became flesh has been at work since before the foundation of the world, determining and acting in accordance with his good pleasure.
Our salvation, if you are a believer here today, was secured by the mighty hand of God even before he declared, ‘Let there be light’ (Genesis 1:3).
iii. God shines…
And the purpose of all of this activity and intervention is that God might receive maximum glory. He moves, he reveals and he saves that he might be seen as most glorious. When all is said and done, he saved us that we might be ‘to the praise of his glorious grace’ (Ephesians 1:6).
God is and has always been at work magnifying himself, shining forth his glory. If you are a believer, the astonishing truth is that you and I get to take part in this amazing story as, through us, he shines most brightly.
2. THE BELOVED
And so, before there was a world and before there was a Fall, God was at work predestining and choosing a people for himself that his glory and, more specifically, the glory of his grace might be displayed. But consider how our God chooses to display his glory and bless those whom he chose,
…he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:6)
In verses 3 through to verse 6 we see the Father at work. It is, therefore, absolutely correct to say that God’s purposes in salvation are centred upon himself and his own glory. Salvation, and the universe for that matter, is profoundly Theocentric. Notice now the shift which occurs in the second part of verse six, ‘he has blessed us in the Beloved’.
In this we find the answer to how God executes his plan for salvation and how he administers his blessings to those who are his; he blesses us in the Beloved.
If then salvation is Theocentric (God-centred), we find that God chooses to act in and through the Son. If God is first and foremost for himself, committed to displaying his own glory, he chooses to do this in and through the Son. And if God is at work in history, through salvation and through creation magnifying his glorious grace, then he chooses to display the fullness of his mercy and his compassion in and through the Son.
It is entirely true to say that God’s purposes are God-centred, but, if we wanted to be more specific and precisely define how this works, we would be led to conclude that the God’s purposes are profoundly Christocentric (Christ-centred). God displays his glorious grace in blessing men and women in the Beloved.
But why is this important? Well, firstly it shines a light into the truth of the Godhead. In the incarnation we see the Son submitting and prioritising the Father’s will. The Father and the Son are equal in power, authority and worth (‘In the beginning was Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God’, John 1:1, see also 1 John 2:23) and yet the Son chooses to glorify his Father. Similarly, although the Son is intent upon the Father’s glory, the Father reciprocates and honours the Son. The Son is most and perfectly Beloved of the Father.
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you (John 17:1)
This must fill us with confidence. God’s activity is grounded upon his love for the Son. Think about that for a moment. The Father acts out of his love for the Beloved. We find the truth of this throughout Scripture,
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:16)
Creation exists because of the Son and for the Son. When God speaks, ‘Let there be light’ the Son sets about the creative work of the Father. The Father speaks and the Son acts. Creation exists because of the Son. But creation also exists for the Son. The Son is Father-centred, and so too the Father is Son-centred.
We find this in salvation. The Father’s electing love for us is grounded upon his pre-eminent, eternal love for the Beloved. This should fill us with confidence and, with Paul, lead us to praise.
There is, however, a further application that comes with all of this. If God’s purposes and blessings are Christocentric, there is then a call for us to be Christ-centred.
For the unbeliever, the call is clear. Salvation and all of the blessings of God are found in Christ,
And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)
Good deeds, alternative philosophies, false competing religions all fall short. In Christ reside all the blessings of God. Through Christ, the Father pours out blessings and mercy upon those who respond, repent and believe, ‘for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’.
For the believer, the call is similarly clear.
We are called to proclaim a Christ-centred Gospel and live Christ-centred lives. This is what it means to be ‘in him’. Christianity is no mere religion, it is a supernaturally, Holy Spirit enabled relationship. We turn from sin and turn to him and, as we repent and believe, we are joined with him. If you are a believer this morning, you are incorporated into Christ Jesus and it is from this miraculous union that the blessings of God freely flow.
But if God chooses to act and bless those who are his in Christ, he chooses to do this in a specific and astonishing way.
God begraces us in Christ Jesus and this begracing finds its locus in and through the cross.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:7-10)
God is about displaying his glory, but, not just his glory, he chooses to display a particular aspect of his glory, namely his grace. He intends for men and women to praise him for his ‘glorious grace’ (v. 6).
Here we must tread carefully, this does not mean that we should not and will not praise him for his power, his justice, his holiness and his wisdom (indeed, we will find next week and over the coming weeks that there is great cause to praise him for all of this and more). Rather God chooses to elevate and magnify a particular facet of his character above all others and he chooses to do this in and through his Son.
Practically speaking, therefore, God is at work throughout history and in all of creation displaying his glorious grace. And this glorious grace is most clearly seen in his Son in the incarnation.
But now we find that the glory of this grace shines forth most brilliantly at a particular moment in the incarnation of the Son. God chooses to display the glory of his grace in and through the Son and this glorious grace shines most brightly in the slaughter of Jesus Christ.
In him, through the cross, God begraces us. Paul explains how this can be so.
3. THE EXTENT OF THE GLORY OF THE CROSS
a. ‘In him we have redemption’ (v. 7)
Note, once again, the ‘in him’. Paul is desperate for us to understand the importance of this truth. I ask again, are you in him? If not, then none of the succeeding blessings apply to you. I plead with you this morning to look upon him, to run to him and to offer yourselves to him.
Paul writes that ‘In him we’, namely the Saints, the chosen ones of God, ‘have redemption’. What does he mean by this?
The Greek word apolutrosis, here translated ‘redemption’, is an unusual word found only ten times in the New Testament (which equals the number of occurrences in contemporary Greek texts). Apolutrosis derives from the word apolutroo, meaning ransom. Indeed, this word was used in the context of the slave markets. In order for a slave to be freed, someone was required to pay the cost and redeem them.
It is clear then that Paul intends us to understand that in Christ we are ransomed, we are freed at a cost.
The two big questions remain: from whom or what are we ransomed and what price was required in order to set us free?
In Chapter 2 of this letter, Paul describes our state prior to our rescue,
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3)
Although not stated clearly, there are indications as to why ransom/redemption was necessary. Before Christ intervened we were living ‘in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind’ (v. 3). Elsewhere Paul states the reality of our situation more starkly,
But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18)
Paul’s meaning here is clear, ransom was necessary because we were enslaved to sin.
Considered the implications of this. We do bad things because we are enslaved to sin. We live in and carry out the passions of our flesh because we are enslaved to those very passions. In Christ we are freed from our former slavery and thraldom. He has redeemed us.
And this is why the language of redemption runs throughout the Old Testament,
Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. (Exodus 6:6-7)
The people of God are enslaved by the Egyptians and God promises to ‘deliver’ and ‘redeem’ (apolutroo in the Septuagint) them from slavery.
Moreover, the idea of redemption was threaded through the Law of Moses. For example, should a man find himself in extreme poverty and decides to sell himself into slavery, a relative may redeem him (Leviticus 25:47-55). And, if a man owns a killer ox that goes on the rampage and kills someone, both he and the ox are sentenced to death, but the man may pay a ransom and go free (Exodus 21:29-30).
Whereas God struck down the Egyptian firstborn males, God required Israel to redeem their firstborn males with the sacrifice of a lamb as a reminder of God’s miraculous redemption of his people from slavery. As a reminder of God’s redemption of his people from slavery, the firstborn male was required to be redeemed by the sacrifice of a lamb (Exodus 13:12-16). God institutes a redemption tax for the firstborn males over the number of Levite firstborn males (Numbers 3:11-51).
In all of this, we see that God redeems his people and structures society in such a way that they might understand the language and significance of redemption. All of this is preparation for the Son of God who redeems us from the great tyranny of sin and death.
b. ‘through his blood’
As with the redemption of the firstborn males in the Old Testament, the great redemption effected by the Son of God requires a blood sacrifice. Our freedom is purchased at the greatest cost, the death of the Son of God.
The truth that our redemption is achieved through his precious blood moves the cross back to the centre of the stage. At the centre of God’s purposes for mankind stands the crucified Son of God. God predestines a people for himself and buys them back from slavery through the slaughter of King Jesus.
This is a sobering, weighty and glorious truth.
This is why Christ Jesus and his Cross cast a long shadow across the whole of history. This is why Christ and his Cross are the great theme of the praises of the people of God and will remain so even as we gather around the throne of heaven. This is why men and women willingly, grateful and joyfully surrender their lives in service of the King who paid so great a price that we might be free and that we might be his eternally.
Through his blood we are set free.
c. ‘the forgiveness of our trespasses’ (v. 7)
i. Released from the obligation to sin
This redemption, this freedom, entails forgiveness. Indeed, the Greek word, here translated ‘forgiveness’, literally means to be released. We who are his are not escaped criminals on the run. We are not on parole. We are free from the hold and our obligation to the dominion of sin. If the Son sets us free we are free indeed (John 8:36).
He has rescued us, ransomed us and, in doing so, we receive complete forgiveness of our past wickedness, sin and rebellion. This is glorious news and this is the heart of the gospel.
And all of this makes sense of the otherwise astonishing exhortations in this letter,
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called (Ephesians 4:1)
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. (Ephesians 4:17)
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)
In our previous state this would have been impossible. We were slaves, unable to free ourselves and unable to help ourselves. While we were sinners, slaves and utterly lost, he stepped in and set us free that we might live fully for him.
ii. Released from the obligation towards sin
There is, however, a further meaning here and it is probable that this is Paul’s primary intention. In what way does the ‘forgiveness of sins’ help us understand Paul’s intended meaning in speaking of the redemption achieved through the blood of Christ?
Men and women are, by nature, children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). All mankind sin (The sin of all mankind, or ‘All mankind’s sin…’ ) and therefore all mankind stand condemned as wicked rebels before a holy and just God. Without forgiveness there is only judgement, condemnation and wrath. Through the cross, however, we are forgiven and, with this forgiveness comes redemption from the just penalty decreed by a holy God over those who refuse to repent and refuse to bow the knee.
This is why we will praise him for all of eternity for the glorious good news of the cross of Christ Jesus.
d. ‘according to the riches of his grace’ (v. 7)
The cross shows us two great truths that we would do well to understand and remember. The cross shows us the horrendousness of sin. Sin is so destructive and so outrageous and opposed to all God is and all God stands for that only the death of his Son could possibly provide atonement.
Let us now make this personal. If we want to understand the depth of our own depravity, the extent of our fall and the utter hopelessness of our situation apart from God, we need only look in the face of our slaughter King. It takes a sacrifice that monumental to redeem you and me from a fate we most fully deserve. It takes a payment that costly, that extravagant, to redeem us for himself.
The second great truth revealed at the cross is the character of God. At the cross we see the vindication of God. Here God demonstrates that he takes sin seriously and stands for holiness. This is not a God who lets wickedness pass unanswered or is willing to just let things slide. Our God is a holy God and in the cross he demonstrates that he is just and the one who justifies (Romans 3:26).
But here Paul has a different aspect of God’s character in view. At the cross we see the rich, extravagant and glorious grace of God displayed. The ultimate and perfect sacrifice of the Son of God, redemption for those of us who believe and the forgiveness of sins are all in complete accordance with his gracious and merciful character,
The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6)
Lest we ever doubt God’s capacity to forgive, we need only look at the cross and should we ever feel the weight of condemnation for past sins, we need only claim the blood of Jesus, confident that his grace is rich, expansive and bountiful.
Our God is gracious, merciful and loving and, it is from this heart of abundant love and grace that the Father predestined us for adoption and the Son suffered and died to redeem us from the grave.
When we look to the cross we see God’s great love for us displayed for all to see.
e. ‘which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight’ (8)
Next week we will see that the cross displays the wisdom and knowledge of God, but finally, today, I want us to rest in the knowledge that the ‘every spiritual blessing’ of verse 3, the loving adoption of verse 5 and the rich grace of verse 7 are not only expansive in their costliness and scope, but they are also bestowed freely and abundantly. All we have in him is lavished upon us.
For those of us who believe, I pray that, this morning, our hearts would be newly awakened to the wonder of the cross, the extravagance of his grace and the glory of the Son of God. For those of us who have received such grace, I pray that the eyes of our heart would be enlightened to the glory of his grace.
And I pray that from this we would experience the freedom he has purchased to the fullest possible extent and I pray that in this freedom we would live to the praise of his glorious grace.
For those who do not yet know him, I pray that God would act in mercy and bring revelation and then transformation. I pray that the cross and the crucified but now risen and exalted King would be seen as most beautiful and most valuable and that you would turn from sin and turn to him as Redeemer, Rescuer and Lord.