Sermon Notes: Ephesians 1:9-10 – Christ and the Cross: The Centre of Everything, part 3
These are the notes of a sermon preached by Andy Evans on the morning of the 6 September 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.
a. ‘all wisdom and insight’
Believers in Christ Jesus understand and know that he is the centre of everything. We know that Christ, the cross and him crucified are central to the purposes of God; we know that ‘he has blessed us in the Beloved’.
Last week we asked why it is that some understand and see this truth for what it is, ultimate reality, and some reject the gospel and remain in hostility to God and the things of God. The answer resides in the truth that earthly wisdom runs contrary to the things of God. It is impossible for men to figure God out. It is impossible for intellectual endeavour to uncover the mysteries of God.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, (1 Corinthians 1:22-23)
Are all lost then? How can anyone be saved?
but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:24-25)
Once again the cross stands central and, in Christ crucified, God displays his wisdom, power and righteousness. And through the cross God pours out wisdom and insight.
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 (Ephesians 1:7-8)
Practically speaking then, this enables us to see and know God and understand how he calls us to live and all he intends us to be. It is through this God-originating wisdom that we are able to discern his will for our lives. This wisdom and this insight is central and fundamental to living Christ-exalting, Christ-centred lives.
b. ‘the mystery of his will’
And so we move from the glorious truth, that he lavishes upon us all of the wisdom and insight we need to know him and live for him, to the truth that he reveals the mystery of his will to us.
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… (Ephesians 1:7-9)
Lest we move too quickly, let us pause for a moment and consider what Paul intends when he puts the word ‘mystery’ together with the will of God. In what way is God’s will mysterious?
The Greek word, musterion, here translated ‘mystery’ is used largely in the New Testament to describe the secret and hidden things of God. They are, as Jesus explains to his disciples, ‘the secrets of the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 13:11).
We considered this last week. The wisdom of God frustrates the wisdom of this world. It is important that Christians remember this; God would remind us that,
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
God is not a man, he does not think like man and he does not act like man; he is altogether other. Moreover he is altogether superior to man; his ways and thoughts are infinitely higher than human reasoning and intellectual endeavour. His will, his ways and his counsel are altogether mysterious. The things, thoughts and purposes of God are secret: these are ‘the secrets of the kingdom of heaven’.
c. mystery made known
But this ‘mystery’ is a contradiction in terms. This mystery is no longer secret and is no longer hidden, for this mystery is now made known,
…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… (Ephesians 1:7-9)
Pay close attention to Paul’s reasoning here. In verse 3, Paul declares that the Father has ‘blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing’ (v. 3) and that the grounding of this blessing is laid ‘before the foundation of the world’ (v. 4) and realised fully in and through the death of Christ on the cross. All of this, we find, is the expression of the glorious grace of God purposed to bring glory to God for his graciousness. The ultimate purpose of salvation is that we would be ‘to the praise of his glorious grace’.
And so Paul’s theme in verses 7 and 8 is to lay out for us the extravagant nature and out working of this grace. Those of us who are his receive redemption, forgiveness and ‘all wisdom and insight’. The further outworking of this grace is that because we have received ‘all wisdom and insight’ we are now able to know ‘the mystery of his will’. In pouring out grace, God bestows ‘all wisdom and insight’ upon those who are his ‘making known to us the mystery of his will’.
The Greek word, gnorizo, here translated ‘making known’ is as important as the word musterion. In the New Testament, the word gnorizo is used most frequently to mean announce, make known publicly or explicitly. Indeed, Paul understands his ministry in these terms,
For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. (Ephesians 3:1-5)
Firstly, note the nature of this mystery; this mystery, ‘was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit’ (v. 5). In other words, there was a time when this mystery was hidden and kept secret. We see in Chapter 1 verses 7 to 8 that the decisive moment in the unveiling of this mystery is the crucifixion of the Son of God.
This mystery is intrinsically linked to the incarnation of the Son of God and the cross. This is why the fullness of the gospel was veiled to the patriarchs and prophets of old. The disclosure of the mystery comes in and through the Son of God.
Secondly, Paul receives the gospel (as we considered in the first week of this series) by revelation. Paul was intent upon persecuting Christians and Christ stepped in and opened Paul’s eyes by ‘revelation’ that he might see Christ as he truly is.
In the life of Paul this revelation appeared as miraculous and dramatic as it truly is. Believers need to remember that the awakening of our own hearts to the things of God was equally miraculous and nothing less than a resurrection.
We must never lose the wonder of what it means to be born again. We were formally lost and without a hope and utterly blind to the things of God. Our worldly wisdom was unable to discern him and our human enquiry unable to seek him out. And then, decisively, he opened our eyes to the Son of God, poured out wisdom and insight that we might see his wisdom, his power and his righteousness displayed in Jesus most perfectly as he suffered and died.
In so seeing we then respond. We respond because he is most beautiful, most glorious and most valuable. We respond because he alone is praise worthy.
Thirdly, Paul is then commissioned to make known the mystery of the gospel to men and women everywhere.
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, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things (Ephesians 3:8-9)
Paul is called to bring the plan of God, the mystery of ages, to light. God’s intention through the proclamation of the gospel (which is the good news of Christ crucified) is that the mystery of God might be declared to everyone.
Gnorizo. He has made known to us the mystery of his will.
The gospel then is the greatest of paradoxes; the gospel is the mystery of God made known to men and women everywhere.
If you are a believer, this should thrill your hearts. God is real, he is beyond us, he is other, his ways and thoughts are higher than our ways and our thoughts and yet he chooses to make himself known.
This is what it means to be in relationship with him.
Jesus so encourages his disciples,
No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15)
Again, there is that little word, gnorizo. Jesus makes known to us all that he has heard from his Father.
And this God, our God, makes himself known on his terms, in and through the death and resurrection of the Son of God. And this revelation, like our redemption and the forgiveness of our sins, is a sheer, undeserved grace-gift that we could not earn and most assuredly did not deserve.
This is glorious news for the unbeliever.
First Century Ephesus was a city overflowing with competing religions and populated by a highly religious and spiritual people. First Century Ephesus was like Twenty-First Century Oldham. People had no problem in believing that there was more to life than that which they saw. People believed that the universe contained great mysteries. And people believed that their lives were part of a greater whole. People longed for revelation and knowledge.
And so it is today.
The question then is how can we know these things? How can we see ultimate reality?
Different religions and philosophies will, of course, posit different answers. For some it is stricture and self-denial. For some the answer lies in acts of righteousness that we might earn the opportunity to see and know God. For some it is the pursuit of enlightenment through meditation or higher knowledge.
The glorious news of the gospel is this: there is a God and this God is different, indeed infinitely superior, to you, me and, for that matter, infinitely superior to anything else in creation. The Creator stands apart from anything in creation. And yet, this God makes himself know on his terms and in accordance with his grace.
No longer do we try and win favour with God. No longer do we seek to curry favour with him. No. All of this is a sheer grace gift which he lavishes upon us from his own superabundance of grace.
We see because he reveals himself to us. We understand because he self-discloses. We know him because he draws us near.
d. ‘his good pleasure’
And God is not begrudging in lavishing ‘all wisdom and insight’ and in ‘making known the mystery of his will’; God discloses himself willingly and joyfully,
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… (Ephesians 1:7-9)
This self-disclosure, this self-revelation is purposeful and it seems to me that Paul intends us to think back to the beginning of the passage in which we learn that,
he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…
God determined to choose a people for himself and it was his intention, before the foundation of the world, to pour out grace, wisdom, insight and revelation upon this same people. But more than this, it pleased God to begrace us and disclose himself to us.
All of this blessing is in accordance with ‘his good pleasure’ (NKJV).
2. CHRIST: THE CENTRE OF EVERYTHING
a. which he set forth in Christ
This revelation, this self-disclosure, this making known of his will is fundamental and undeniably Christ-centred.
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.
Again, follow Paul’s train of thought here. God’s will is essentially mysterious, but God makes his will known by the grace-gift of ‘all wisdom and insight’ poured out freely through the cross. This ‘all wisdom and insight’ and this revelation is Christ purchased and Christ focused. God makes his will known through Christ and God sets forth his will in Christ.
This is why believers never tire of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is why we never grow out of the message of the cross. All the secret things of God are revealed in Christ Jesus. This is why we look to him, our example, our strength, our righteousness and our life, in every circumstance. God clearly sets forth his will and his purposes in Christ Jesus.
There is also an exhortation in all of this.
Many of us are too easily enticed by the promise of supernatural experience or revelation. Too many of us are too quick to join the queue as the latest high-profile prophet takes the stage forgetting that Christ is the Prophet and Christ is the locus of all mystery now revealed.
The call then is clear: if we want to understand God’s will for our life, we run to Christ. If we want to understand God’s great purpose for this universe, we look to Christ.
b. the plan
But Paul has something bigger in view than our simple day-to-day walk with Christ. Paul understands that there is a plan which has yet to be effected and that this plan waits ‘for the fullness of time’.
This is one of the most unpopular truths in Christianity today.
We live in a day when society, popular culture and even, sadly, the church are utterly fixated with the now. We believe that we can (and should) be experiencing complete contentment and happiness now. This is why we lean so heavily on credit, hire purchase and bank loans we can scarcely afford. This is why we stretch ourselves so thin with our mortgages that the notion of a disposable income is nothing but an illusive dream.
We want it all and we want it now. More damagingly still, we believe we can have it all and we can have in now.
And so too in the church we believe that the perfect marriage (whatever that might be), the perfect children, the dream job and the extravagant salary are ours by right. We believe that perfect contentment, health and wealth and the rest are our earthly entitlement as children of the King.
Christians need to know that we are living in the now and the not yet. We find evidence of this in the next section of this passage. Paul reminds us that, ‘In him we have obtained an inheritance’ (Ephesians 1:11a). As Christians there are things, there is an inheritance, which we receive in the here and now.
We have considered some of these things in previous weeks, we have received redemption (although even this is not yet complete), we have received forgiveness (although we will continue to depend upon his forgiveness until we are perfected) and we have received ‘all wisdom and insight’ (although we but see in part).
Paul points to this paradox, we have receive an inheritance in him and yet, we wait to acquire full possession of it,
[we] were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14)
And so Paul cautions us with that little phrase, ‘in the fullness of time’. God has plans and purposes that await the fullness of time. There are things that God intends to do, plans that God intends to enact that we may never see in our life time. God plans and acts on an eternal scale.
His ways are higher than our ways.
3. CHRIST: THE HEAD OF ALL THINGS
a. to unite all things
God’s purposes are definite, definitely Christ-centred and are worked out on a timescale which accords with his ‘good pleasure’. God has a plan and this plan is to bring unity to all things.
[He makes] 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 1:9-10)
The first question then is what are the ‘all things’ to which Paul refers. Paul answers this as he prays that believers might see,
…the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to 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, 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)
We can be sure, therefore, that the ‘all things’ includes ‘all rule and authority and power and dominion’. When Paul writes, ‘all things’, he means ‘all things’.
Consider this. God’s purpose is that, in the fullness of time, all earthly kingdoms, authorities, governments and world powers will be united in Christ Jesus. Moreover, Paul understands that this union encompasses heavenly authorities, be they angels or demons; he will, in the fullness of time, unite ‘all things, things in heaven and things on earth’.
Paul’s point is clear, this unity will be absolute.
b. Perfect unity
God’s ultimate purpose for this universe is that all things would be united in Christ, but why is this unity necessary.
The answer is found in God.
The God of the Bible is Trinitarian; we worship one God in three persons, God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is profoundly Trinitarian and in this we see the three persons of the Godhead working in perfect unity.
We see the unity of the Godhead in the work of salvation. God the Father predestines (v. 3-6a) and God the Son suffers and dies in order to redeem those whom God the Father chose before the foundation of the world.
Over the coming weeks we will all see the work of God the Spirit in salvation and we will find that those the Father chose and the Son redeemed ‘were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit’ (Ephesians 1:13).
God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit are intimately and harmoniously involved in the work of salvation,
And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 2:17-18)
We are his because of the work of the Father, the Son and the Spirit.
But, despite this harmony there is distinction between the persons of the Godhead. The Scriptures talk of God the Father predestining some to believe. There is no mention of God the Son or God the Spirit choosing before the foundation of the world. And it is God the Son, not God the Father and not God the Spirit, that is crucified.
The three persons of the Godhead are distinct and yet there is total unity of character and purpose. God the Son glorifies God the Father, God the Father exalts God the Son and God the Spirit illuminates and draws attention to the Son.
God values unity because he himself embodies perfect unity.
c. The call to unity
This then is why Scripture repeatedly exhorts believers to pursue, maintain and cherish unity. As we do so we reflect something of the character of God.
This call to unity is particularly clear in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Paul understands that the cross brings peace between men and God and between men and men.
We see this most vividly in the way in which God fashions for himself a church comprising of Jews (those who received the law and the prophets) and Gentiles (those who were formerly far off and without a hope). The church is then the foretaste of the unity that will be brought about in the fullness of time. God takes those who are far off and those who are near and fashions a united people for himself.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
d. all things in him
The question which naturally must follow is, what kind of unity does Paul have in view and how will this unity be brought about?
If God is the example of what this unity looks like, then he is also the means by which this unity is brought about. This unity finds its centre in Christ Jesus. All things will be united in him.
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)
It is monumentally important that we understand and feel the weight of this. A day is coming when all things will be united in him. This then is a particular kind of unity. It is not the unity of compromise or tolerance, it is the unity which comes about through the sovereign rule of God when all things are subjected to Christ Jesus.
Christ will return in the fullness of time and all opposition and all resistance will be utterly vanquished and, on that day, he will reign supreme over all things.
The day is coming when,
…every knee [will] 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 2:10-11)
Those who are in his will rejoice and those who refused to repent and submit will mourn, but all will bow the knee.
For now we live in a world subjected to futility, a world that is fundamentally broken and among a people that are overwhelmingly opposed to the things of God. But we have hope because he has revealed the mystery of his will to us.
But more than this, we are led to worship. We worship because we understand that God’s purposes in the cross extend beyond you and I, his plan encompasses all things and through the cross he will triumph and reign over all people, all creation and all things.
Balz, H. R., & Schneider, G. (1990-c1993). Exegetical dictionary of the New Testament. Translation of: Exegetisches Worterbuch zum Neuen Testament. (1:256). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.