Sermon Notes • May 16

Ephesians 4:17-24

In Ephesians 4:24 Paul wrote, “Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Literally Paul was reminding the Christians in Ephesus that while they lived in a pagan world with standards and practices radically different than those of a Christian, they must maintain their Christian lifestyle. I’ve heard stories of Christians who declare they have never been challenged in their faith by those they go to school with or work with because they never let on they are a Christian. Too often Christians have one testimony on Sunday and another during the week. It is generally not a case of denying one’s faith but of letting the sinful lifestyle of the world dictate how we live instead of seeking to live as God has directed.

Paul introduced this half of Ephesians, according to 4:1, with, “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” In verses 17-24 Paul elaborated on that concept, presenting another description of what it means to live worthy of their life in Jesus.

Paul understood the pressures the Christians in Ephesus were under, so he encouraged them to put on or literally wear their faith in a way that it stood out in a way that pleased God and offered a testimony to the world around them. Read Ephesians 4:17.

Not only was Paul insisting they live out what that new relationship with God meant, but he implied that the command to be different comes from God Himself. That being the case, it is essential that we listen to and heed his challenge.

By way of explanation, when Paul used the term “Gentiles” in “you must no longer live as the Gentiles do” he was using a term that the early church used that today we would use “non-Christian” in place of. In the early church the term was used to depict those who were not a part of the family of God via faith in Jesus. Paul was saying, “I insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the non-Christian world does.” 

How did/does the Gentile/non-Christian world live? In verses 17-19 Paul described the sinful factors that controlled their behavior. Paul described the unsaved mind as being controlled by our sinful nature and therefore, controlled by “futility of their thinking,” “darkened understanding,” having “hardened hearts,” and “having lost all sensitivity.” Read Ephesians 4:19. It is not a pretty picture of non-Christian thinking and acting but it is God’s picture of those outside of His saving and transforming faith. 

Here in Ephesians Paul described the life of everyone who has not experienced a personal relationship with Jesus. What is interesting is that in Romans 1 Paul presented the same detailed description of one outside of Jesus and there he expanded on it. Romans 1:18 describes the non-Christian as those, who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” In Ephesians 4:18 Paul described them as those who “are darkened in their understanding.”  Romans 1:21 describes non-Christians as those whose, “thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” In Ephesians 4:17 Paul wrote of their, “futility of their thinking.” Because of the refusal to acknowledge God and allow Him to transform them, Paul wrote in Romans 1:24, 26 and 28, “God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.” That compares to Ephesians 4: 18 where Paul wrote that they are, “separated from the life of God.” Then in Romans 1:24 and 26 Paul wrote that because of their refusal to acknowledge God “God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts.” Here in Ephesians 4:19 Paul wrote, “They have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.”

Paul was not suggesting that every non-Christian lives a lifestyle that can be compared to that of a Hitler or mass murderer, but he was saying that unregenerated individuals all have the same components that are not only present but to one degree or another control the individual. 

If you get the daily news, you constantly get reports of crimes that cause us to ask what can be done. Society is out of control. Some suggest the answer lies in more legislation or stronger gun laws. Others in better education or all we need is training in diversity. God’s answer to our sin driven society is Jesus who alone can transform the inner being so sin no longer controls them. God’s Word presents two options and only two. We can live like the Gentiles, that is those who are ultimately controlled by their sinful nature or we can invite Jesus to be our Savior and begin the process of transformation that will find its completeness in a heaven where there is no sin or temptation to sin.

Paul’s description of the mind and motivation of non-Christians not only explains why sin is so rampant, but it explains why Christians cannot convince non-Christians of the wrongness of many of their actions. Their depraved minds, controlled by Satan, cannot think otherwise. That is why Christians cannot explain to non-Christians that God has a standard for both morality and marriage and any other practice is sin. Man’s sinful minds simply cannot compute that. Non-Christians don’t hear us because Satan has closed their minds and blinded their hearts to what God has to say. The only way to change the behavior of a society that ignores God is to present Jesus to them as a Savior who not only forgives sin but transforms them into the likeness of Jesus.

Paul’s purpose in writing this to both the Romans and Ephesians was to remind us of what their lives were like before being transformed via faith in Jesus. Paul went on to contrast that to what they should be now in Jesus. Read Ephesians 4:20-21.  

Here is where it gets personal for Christians. Paul wrote that the lifestyle of a Christian is to be different from that of a non-Christian. Paul noted that the standard for a believer is that which Jesus both taught and modeled. Read Ephesians 4:22-23. Paul reminded the Christians in Ephesus, and through them us, that God has a different standard that we are to follow.

The question that raises is, “Why, if we have been transformed through our salvation, do we struggle with living the old life to the degree that Paul tells us we have to work at putting off that old nature?” The answer to that is clear. The moment we accepted Jesus as Savior we were forgiven of our sins and promised the blessing of spending eternity with God in His home in new and glorified bodies. The reality is, however, that we do not yet have those bodies or the full transformation that will one day be ours. We still live in bodies that retain some of that old sinful nature. Depending on the degree we have grown in our walk with Jesus that old nature may still influence a major part of our decision-making process. 

You and I are a strange mixture of what we were and what we will be. Initially after our acceptance of Jesus the influence of the old nature is strong. The goal is to grow in our walk with God as we spend time in the Word, spend time in prayer and spend time in fellowship with Jesus which includes worship. Regardless, however, of how much we grow, there will not be a time this side of getting our new bodies that we will not have to be on guard against the tendency to slip back into the old live. When we do that, we will find ourselves accepting the philosophy of a sinful world or feeling the need or desire to act like we did before we made Jesus our Savior.

The challenge is to evaluate our thinking, our attitude, and our behavior by the new standard of being a child of God. It’s a personal challenge because Satan is going to attack us from different directions depending on our strengths and weaknesses. Because he will attack, we are challenged to, as Paul put it, “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds.”  That is a challenge God wants us to take seriously because in seeking to live as He wants us to, we find blessing and joy.

Sermon Notes • May 2

Ephesians 4:3-16 One Another

In Ephesians 4:2 Paul listed 4 characteristics that are vital for believers to develop if they are going to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Read Ephesians 4:2-3. Verse 2 is a transitional verse that defines what a life worthy of Jesus looks like and a life that leads to unity in the church. 

Unity in Jesus’ church is essential. As a church and those who make it up, it is essential that we are united in the Spirit. Acts 2:42 records that the early Christians, “Devoted themselves to fellowship.” The word used there for “fellowship” is the Greek word “Koinonia” which loosely translated means community. The community they were devoted to was that made up of fellow believers so literally they devoted themselves to each other. There was an intimacy in the early church that enabled them to grow and work together. Read John 13:34-35. 

Then some 25-30 years later Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus and reminded them of the importance of that fellowship and being one in Jesus. Unlike the first churches that were made up primarily of Jewish Christians, the church in Ephesus was made up of Jews and Greeks, of rich landowners and slaves, of educated and those who never had the opportunity to learn to read or write. Unity needed to be worked at more deliberately than it did in Jerusalem but was no less essential if they were to consider themselves to be a church of Jesus.

Read Ephesians 4:4-6. In the verses that follow, through verse 16, Paul detailed some of reasons why unity is important and what it should look like. Paul said we are to be united in Jesus because we have a shared oneness in Jesus, and we have shared values that set us apart from the rest of society. 

Paul wrote that unity was essential if we are to grow in our faith and successfully bear a testimony to the community around us. A church that spends all its time scrapping cannot grow. Paul noted that God has given us a variety of spiritual gifts not so we can compete with one another or feel that some are better than others. Ephesians 4:12-13 details why we have been given a variety of gifts. Read those verses. 

We have different gifts so that collectively we can grow as a church in the Lord. Some are teachers, some have gifts of music, some have gifts of maintaining our facilities, some have gifts of helps in the community. When we the various gifts together in unity we grow, and we have a witness to those around us.

Paul wrote in verse 2 we are to, bear with one another in love.” In the New Testament there are a number of pictures or commands that picture how we are to relate to one another. Looking at them presents an interesting challenge to all Christians.

The longest list of verses containing a command to “one another” is to “love one another.” This is repeated 19 times plus it was commanded by Jesus Himself. John 13:14 records Jesus telling us to love one another not just once but twice. Read that verse. Christians are to be a group of people known for their love of one another.

How are we to love one another? Jesus said we are to love as He loved. So how did Jesus love? Romans 5:8 records that He loved us even when we were unworthy of that love, while we were sinners. Later in that chapter Paul recorded that nothing can ever separate us from Jesus’ love, and it will never end. His love, according to II Corinthians 5:21, was a sacrificial love that gave up everything for our redemption. I Corinthians 13 is God’s picture of what the love we are to have for one another should look like.

Several “one another” commands tie into one’s love of one another. For example, read Colossians 3:13, Ephesians 4:32, and Romans 15:7. 

(Incidentally, there are some “negative” one another” passages that relate to loving and forgiving. Read James 4:11, James 5:9 and Romans 14:13. 

The list of “one another” commands goes on. Read Hebrews 10:24-25. Four other times we are told to “encourage one another.” The Hebrews 10 passage specifically tells us encourage one another by spurring each other on toward love and good deeds.

We really don’t need to ask why this is important. Jesus told us, according to John 16:33, that, “In this world you will have trouble.” The nature of those troubles may vary from individual to individual but realistically life can be difficult and discouraging at times. One of the ministries we can have within the church is that of encouragement. The ministry of just coming along side and letting someone know you are there can be a great encouragement. Read Proverbs 16:24.  

A favorite Bible characters is Barnabas whose real name was Joseph but was nicknamed Barnabas by the early church, with Barnabas meaning “Son of Encouragement.” A church that is filled with individuals who are known to be sons and daughters of encouragement will be a church that others will want to be a part of. 

Ephesians 5:19 presents another “one another” challenge that is closely related to encouraging one another. Read that verse. Admittedly there is a wealth of implications to that but at least one is to take the time to encourage one another by reminding them of the great promises found in the Psalms and expressed in so many hymns. Who, going through a tough time, will not be encouraged by the reminder that “The Lord is our shepherd” or that we truly have a “friend in Jesus?” 

Another “one another” that is closely related to encouraging one another. Read Galatians 5:13. Jesus made it clear that one who seeks to be first in the kingdom is one who is a servant. Serving one another is a way of reaching out and declaring in practical ways that someone is valued and important to us. Service can be in the form of encouragement or via a helping hand when one needs that extra assistance. Very closely related to that command is seen in I Peter 5:5. Read that verse.  The coming along side in serving one another is not saying, “I can do what you cannot” or “I can do something better than you” but instead we should say in attitude, “Let me help you accomplish your goals because together we can do more than either of us can do alone.”

God’s Word has several more “one another” passages worthy of our thought. I Peter 4:9 reads, Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” In biblical times there were no motels, so Christians cared for fellow Christians who were traveling. Perhaps today Peter would remind us to take a meal to someone having difficulty preparing them or just in need of break and a healthy meal.

The list goes on. Read Colossians 3:16, Romans 12:10 and, Romans 15:14.

What do all of the “one another” passages have in common. They remind us that as a church we are a family, the family of God. Our culture does not tend to greet one another any longer with a “hello brother” or “hello sister” but that is what we are in Jesus. And because we are family, we are responsible for the care of “one another.” That care means we bear with one another, love one another, forgive one another, spur one another on, encourage one another, offer hospitality to one another, teach one another, and we honor one another. 

It’s a big demand but one that God has promised to help us fulfill. The challenge is for us to pick areas where we can do more and then allow God to bless His family through us.

Sermon Notes • April 25

Ephesians 4:2 Characteristics of a Worthy Walk

Read Ephesians 2:1, Ephesians 2:4-5, and Ephesians 3:20-21 

“To Jesus be glory in the church throughout all generations, for ever and ever” is a message we need to always keep before us. Our individual lives as well as the activities of a church are intended to bring glory to the one who created us and then redeemed us when we sinned. Ephesians 4:1 reads, “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” 

Ephesians 4:2 is a transition. The chapter opened with a call to bring glory to God by the way we live. Verse 3 is a challenge to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”  In verse 2 Paul listed some of the traits that characterize those seeking to bring glory to God will display but at the same time they are the characteristics essential to unity. Read Ephesians 4:2. Paul listed 4 characteristics that no matter where we are in our walk with Jesus, we can develop further. 

The first characteristic Paul listed was “Be completely humble.” The Greek word is made up of two parts that literally mean, “to think or judge with lowliness.” Many think Paul combined those words, coining a new word himself since there was no exact word for what Paul wanted to communicate in the Greek. There were some words that came close to it but they all carried the idea being mean or ignoble or a person of no repute. The Greeks not only did not have a word for humble, but they detested the very idea. To them it was unnatural to think of oneself in any way but with pride. Slaves were humble because they had no worth but everyone else was expected to be proud of who he was and what he had. The challenge to be humble sets the Christian apart from the world. Humility is a distinct Christian trait.

Not much has changed and probably will not as long as we live in a world temporarily controlled by Satan because he is all about himself. Our culture, just as that of ancient Greece and Rome did, pushes for that which corresponds to pride while minimizing and even disparaging of humility. People are supposed to be proud of themselves and what they have achieved. “Take pride in who you are and what you have done” is a theme of our culture. Winners are praised and losers looked upon as failures. And that attitude can find its way into the church where we brag that our church is larger or better than yours. Christians often think, even if they don’t say it out loud, I got more applause for my presentation than you did etc. 

Humility is a tough trait to define. The moment one declares “I’m humble and proud of it” one has forfeited it. It’s difficult to distinguish between satisfaction in a job well done and pride in what we have done. From a biblical perspective, in place of pride we should have thankfulness to the one who gifted us and enabled us to achieve. If all honor and glory are given to God, then it is difficult to take credit or be proud. Think often of what James was teaching us when he wrote in James 4:6, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

Read I Corinthians 1:30-31 and Romans 12:3. 

For Christians, humility is at the heart of how we should view ourselves. Humility is seeing ourselves as God sees us, not as others see us and not even as we see ourselves. Humility is seeing ourselves not in comparison to others but in comparison to Jesus.

Humility was a characteristic of Jesus. Read Philippians 2:5-7.  Because Jesus is our example, it becomes essential that we seek to be humble like Him.  

Luke 9 details a discussion the disciples had among themselves as to who was the greatest. Jesus settled the argument by saying, according to verse 48b, “it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”

The second characteristic of an individual who seeks to live worthy of all Jesus has done for them is “gentleness.”Many translations of that word render it “meekness.” Paul put “gentleness” or “meekness” together with humility because one cannot be both proud and meek at the same time.

Too often we associate “meekness” with weakness but in reality “meekness” or “gentleness”is power under control. “Gentleness”is self-control and is the opposite of flying off the handle or quickly becoming being angry. Once again, our example is Jesus. Read how He described Himself in Matthew 11:29 Meekness or gentleness does not mean we do not respond firmly to wrongs or injustice. The gentle Jesus turned tables upside down because the businessmen who were using them were robbing the people. Unlike Jesus, who could do that and not display a sense of pride, our firmness must always tempered with the realization that we too are sinners saved by grace and in no sense better than anyone else.

The Greek word that Paul used here had its primary use in describing a soothing medication that one would put on a sore to alleviate the pain or discomfort. It was also used to describe a soft, soothing wind, and in the training or domesticating of a wild animal. Paul used it in his second letter to Timothy to tell him that when he instructed those opposed him and the gospel that he must gently instruct them (II Timothy 2:25).

The third characteristic of one who is truly seeking to live worthy of our faith is patience. That word is sometimes translated as “longsuffering.” In I Corinthians 13:4 Paul described love as being patient. (In that same verse Paul added, “love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” That covers most of the characteristics of walking worthy listed in Ephesians and walking worthy is a display of our love for Jesus.)

There is no area of life where more patience is not needed. 

If Paul had spelled patience out in more detail, I suspect he would have suggested we learn to count to 12 instead of 10, that we seek to develop a long fuse instead of a short one and maybe we learn to relax a little more in those circumstances that impact us negatively or when with people that annoy us. That should be the way every Christian is described. We are to have patience.

Paul’s final trait listed in Ephesians 4:2 that should characterize us when we are seeking to live worthy of all Jesus has done for us is “bearing with one another in love.” The Living Bible paraphrase translated this as “making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” The best explanation for that is the old acronym for JOY: Jesus first, Others second and You last. Bearing one another is taking the mixture of people we call church and making them truly family.

Paul’s challenge to, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” was his challenged the Christians in Ephesus because they were to live in a way that was worthy of the salvation Jesus provided and in living that way, they would bring glory to God and encourage a unity in the church that is essential for the world to see. It is the same for us today.

Sermon Notes • Easter Sunday • April 4

Easter 

There is no doubt about it, Easter was by far the worst day of Joseph’s life. To make matters worse it followed almost immediately after what had been one of his best days ever. As best we can tell Joseph was about 45 years of age and had, via a wise marriage, moved up the corporate ladder to the top position. You probably know Joseph better by his family name, Caiaphas. 

Joseph or Caiaphas hated Jesus for a variety of reasons. His difficulty with Jesus stemmed from the fact that the two had radically different theological positions. Caiaphas was a follower of the branch of Judaism known as the Sadducees. The Sadducees denied that there was any kind of afterlife. Jesus taught that He was the resurrection and the life and that whoever believed in Him though he were to die, would still live. 

More basic than theological differences, Jesus constantly declared that the religious leaders were misleading the people by establishing rules and regulations that God never intended them to insist were essential. Read in Matthew 23:33 what Jesus said about them. As the popularity of Jesus grew the fears of the religious establishment grew also. Caiaphas and the other religious leaders did all they could to discredit Jesus but time and time again it backfired on them. Questions designed to get Jesus in trouble with either the Romans or the Jews included things such as “Do we pay taxes to Rome?” It seemed like a foolproof way to trap Him, but it didn’t work.

The Pharisees went out of their way to keep peace with Rome. Arriving in Jerusalem amid calls for Him to be their Messiah certainly did not set well with them. The High Priest had to meet with Roman approval and a key factor in them accepting the High Priest was his ability to keep his people under control. Read John 11:45-51

John 18 records the arrest of Jesus and being taken first to Annas (18:13) and then to Caiaphas (18:24). Matthew gives us a description of Jesus’ time before him in Matthew 26:57-60. The plan to use false witnesses failed. Finally, Caiaphas personally challenged Jesus to declare if He was the Messiah. Jesus neither confirmed nor denied that He was but His answer infuriated Caiaphas. Read Matthew 26:65-66 for His response to Caiaphas.

Jesus was taken to Pilate whom Caiaphas asked to sentence Jesus to death. Read Matthew 27:20. Jesus was beaten and mocked and then taken out to a place called Golgotha where He was crucified.

It seemed by midday on Friday that Caiaphas’ plan had worked. Jesus was on a Cross about to die. By 3 that day the soldiers declared Jesus was dead. Caiaphas could relax, his plan worked and the threat of Jesus to him and to the nation was over. With that Caiaphas went home rejoicing. Jesus of Nazareth would no longer be a problem. The Romans had ensured that He would no longer influence anyone. Caiaphas got the last word, or so he thought.

I suspect he had a very restless night.  The next day was Saturday or the Sabbath, and one was not supposed to do much.  Caiaphas was uneasy. Read in Matthew 27:62-64 what he did that day. 

Then came the first day of the week. For the Jews it was the beginning of a new work week. If Caiaphas slept in that morning, the women who were close to Jesus did not. Matthew 28 records that early that morning the women rushed to the tomb to finish the task of burying Jesus. His body would need more spices and be wrapped formally for the grave. Read in Matthew 28:5 what the angel told them. For the followers of Jesus that was an incredible announcement that would forever change their lives. It was not, to put it mildly, good news for Caiaphas.

Read Matthew 28:11. Wouldn’t you like to have a picture of the look on Caiaphas’s face when he got that news? His worse fears had become a reality. I am sure we know what he did next. Caiaphas met with some of his associates, and they agreed to pay the guards to make up a story that the Disciples had stolen His body. Matthew records that the guards accepted the money and told that story. 

I can’t begin to imagine how the mind of Caiaphas worked. He knew that the Disciples of Jesus had not stolen His body, yet he refused to accept the truth that Jesus was alive. He stubbornly lived as if Jesus was dead. Acts 4 records that sometime after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus the temple guard arrested Peter and John for, according to verse 4, “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.” The temple guards put them in jail overnight. Read Acts 4:5-6. There was Caiaphas once again. 

In that encounter Peter preached Jesus to them, declaring that while the religious leaders crucified God raised Him from the dead (4:10). In the end all Caiaphas and the other religious leaders could do was threaten them and let them go (4:21).

I find it unbelievable that after all the evidence he had, Caiaphas still refused to accept the truth that Jesus was alive and because of that everything should be different. He had so much evidence that Jesus was who He said He was, yet he refused to believe. Even with the first-hand testimony of the guards and individuals like Peter who saw Jesus alive, he still refused to believe.

Think about all Caiaphas missed because for him, the resurrection never occurred. He missed living with the reality that Jesus is alive and because of that His promise to never leave or forsake us can be a day-by-day reality. Jesus promised that we can, “Come unto me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” He promised, “I am with you always” and “I will never leave you or forsake you” On other occasions He promised, “I am the good Shepherd who cares for His sheep” and “If anyone drinks of the water, I will give him he will never thirst again” As far as Caiaphas was concerned Jesus was still dead, so none of those promises were possible. 

Think about the fact that Caiaphas would never be able to know the strength we have because our Savior lives. A dead person, even a dead Savior, would not be able to strengthen us, or encourage us, or give us peace or help us overcome temptation, or guide us etc. The reality Caiaphas never understood is that He lives and because He lives, He can do for us everything He has promised to do.

The most important things we have here and now come from Him, and Caiaphas never knew any of them. Our risen Savior give us the strength to live each day, the help to overcome difficulties and resist temptations, the peace that passes understanding in situations that otherwise defy any sense of peace, the joy that fills our hearts and souls when seemingly everything around us is falling apart and still we know He is in complete control. These are the important things in life and for Caiaphas none of them were a reality.

The Apostle Paul declared that if Jesus had not been raised from the dead, we would be most miserable. Caiaphas could only know that miserableness. The truth that He lives changes the way we view death and eternity. On the Cross the cause of death was dealt with as the sin that brought about death was cared for. When Jesus arose from the dead the victory was formalized, but not for Caiaphas. Because he refused to believe those provisions were never his. Jesus made it clear that the provisions of the Cross were for “whosoever believes” and Caiaphas did not believe so those benefits were not available to him.

Today, if you are a Caiaphas who insists Jesus is either dead or of no relevancy to today, or a Caiaphas who has never made a personal commitment to Jesus, think about the evidence that Jesus was truly raised from the dead. There is so much evidence for the truth that He arose from the dead that no honest person can deny it. There is no better time to make Jesus your Savior. 

For those of us who have made that decision, contemplate all we have because we did see the truth that Caiaphas missed, Jesus is alive and because He is, He is with us today and we will be with Him for all eternity. Then contemplate all the promises Jesus made and can keep because He lives.

What a day to celebrate and what a message to share with those who like Caiaphas still do not believe Jesus is alive.

Sermon Notes • March 28

 Crowds on Palm Sunday

One way to make Palm Sunday more meaningful and personal is to examine the various groups of individuals who were part of that exciting day 2000 years ago. 

First, let’s look at the setting for that specular event. Historians tell us that on Palm Sunday, which was the beginning of the week of Passover for Jews, thousands and thousands of people would have gathered in Jerusalem. While the celebration of the Passover was certainly high on the mind of everyone, it was also a festival time. Everyone able to attend Passover in Jerusalem found it to be a fun time as well as a spiritual experience. 

That year the celebration had an additional component to it. There was a strong expectation that the Messiah may make His appearance. The people desperately longed for the promised Messiah to set them free from Rome. A man called Jesus just might be that Messiah. Jesus had previously healed the sick and commanded the demons to obey Him. Recently He actually raised someone from the dead, or so it had been reported. Read John 12:9. If Jesus could raise the dead, He certainly had the power to lead a revolt against Rome and set up a Messianic Kingdom. 

With that setting in mind think about those who were in Jerusalem that day, and ask yourself how they might represent people today.

One group that was obviously present that day were the Roman soldiers. We have no idea how many soldiers were stationed in Israel at that time but for the Passover celebration every one of them was on duty in Jerusalem. Over the years Israel had been somewhat of a problem to Rome so to ensure no insurrection occurred, Rome stationed extra soldiers there. With talk of a Messiah on the increase, Roman authorities would have made sure all soldiers were on duty.

I wonder what they thought that day. Most were hoping for a peaceful week. No one wanted violence, although they were prepared for it if it came. I suspect their attitude was, “Let them enjoy the celebration just don’t get too carried away with it.” That is often the attitude today of folks. Let Christians enjoy their celebrations and worship but keep it low keyed and certainly don’t let it flow out into the community in a way that appears to be fanatical. Go about your worship and get excited but don’t go overboard. 

We can only wonder what those Roman soldiers thought when they saw Jesus arrive on a donkey. When a conquering General returned to Rome from battle he was given a parade and rode into Rome on a marvelous stallion draped in gold. Compared to that, the entry of Jesus on a donkey was less than a joke. Their feelings that Jesus could not lead a serious rebellion would get more realistic as the week went on. Before the week was over Jesus was crucified at their hands. That had to have settled it for the soldiers. Of course, that was not the end of the story but for too many in our society that is the end. Without a resurrection they are right. The resurrection changed all as it always does for anyone who truly believes Jesus is alive. If there was no resurrection, then indeed as Paul wrote in I Corinthians 15:12-20, we are most miserable. But He is alive. The soldiers couldn’t have imagined that on Palm Sunday so as far as they were concerned let the people celebrate and let us go back to our barracks.

There were others present that day beside the soldiers. There were lots of religious leaders looking on. Read John 12:19. To appreciate this comment by the Pharisees one has to put himself in their place. They were deeply religious, attending services whenever one was being held. They were committed to living as the Law of God said they should. If there was something else they needed to do to please God, they were more than willing to do it. They were respected and held up as those in authority. They enjoyed the prestige that came with their position. The crowd could be interested in what Jesus might say, but they did not need Him. Beside, the Pharisees had done all they could to keep peace with Rome so the last thing they needed was talk of a Messianic kingdom.

The position of Pharisee no long exists but we all know that their attitude is all around us. There are many today who believe they are good enough to make it and do not personally need Jesus. In their minds they think we are wrong to declare one must actually make a personal commitment to Jesus to be saved. Like the Pharisees of old they believe because they are good, honest and generous they are all set. Why go chasing after Jesus in this post-Christian era? 

Many in our community who, like the Pharisees, ignore Jesus because they believe that in making Him a vital part of their life, they fear their friends will think less of them and they will lose the popularity and façade of respectability they so desperately want. Realistically, the world no longer looks at Christians the way it did a generation ago. If you make Jesus a vital part of your life and the life of your family, you are likely to be made fun of, if not left out of the life of the community. In the long haul many Christians are respected by the community if they are consistently living the way God wants them to but, that is not going to be the case early in one’s walk with Jesus. Christians are depicted as a relic of the past. Like the Pharisees many ignore Jesus to ensure their sense of importance isn’t minimized. 

In addition to soldiers and Pharisees there were thousands and thousands of ordinary individuals present that day. Those individuals made up the majority of the crowd that welcomed Jesus into the city. Some were there just to see this Jesus everyone was talking about. There are those today who worship Jesus so they can participate in the activities and say they were a part of the crowd that went to church. 

Undoubtedly there were some there that day simply for the fun and festivities. They went with their friends and family just to have a good time. There are those today who attend church on Palm Sunday or Easter just because of the atmosphere of the day. Church cannot get much more upbeat than on Easter when we celebrate the resurrection. The hymns, the Scripture and the sermon are all positive. Everyone’s in a great mood. Many dress up especially nice and after church they all go out to eat together. There’s no problem with that if that is not the only reason one wants to be in church. Jesus came to give us an abundant and fun filled life. The message of the Bible is that Jesus wants us to enjoy that life more than simply at an occasional parade but He wants us to make Him the center of every activity all day every day. 

Some in that crowd were there, I’m sure, hoping to see Jesus perform a miracle or do something spectacular. I’ve known individuals who attended church because a loved one was seriously sick and they hope that by showing a little interest in God He would heal that person. I’ve seen the same with individuals who need something like a job. They hoped that if they gave God a little of their time He would reciprocate with a miracle. The problem with that group is that when they don’t get what they want, when they want it, they line up to shout, “Crucify Him.”

There was another group there that day that can too easily be missed in our study of Palm Sunday. Read John 12:20-2. That group was made up of Greeks who wanted to see Jesus. We can all learn from them. They were not the individuals one would have expected to be at a Jewish festival, but they wanted to see Jesus. They were not the individuals one would have expected to be at a Jewish festival or parade, but they wanted one thing above all else, they wanted to see Jesus. What a powerful reason to go to church not only on Palm Sunday and Easter, but every Sunday.

The real issue every week is, “Why do I go to church?” Do I go hoping my presence will encourage God to do something nice for me?  Do I go for the excitement of the day? Or do I go to church so I can see Jesus? That is the real reason we should go to church. Enjoy each worship service but remember church is primarily about seeing Jesus in a fresh and deeper way.

Sermon Notes • March 21

Ephesians 4:1 Live a life worthy of your calling!

Today we begin the second half of Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. Chapters 1-3 examined the theology of being a Christian. Read Ephesians 2:1; 2:4-5 to see what we were and what we have become in Jesus. Paul presented the glories of our redemption and one might think that was a good place to stop. Paul’s message, however, did not stop there because the message of the New Testament is not just about what God has done for us but includes what God wants us to do in return. Ephesians 3:1 includes the words “then, I urge you.” “Then” is the equilivent of the word “therefore” that we have seen often in Paul’s writing. It is a word that denotes that what is about to be said is based on what has already been presented. If the first 3 chapters detail all God has done for us, Ephesians 4-6 detail what our response to that should be. In a sense this reads, “Now that I have told you all that God has done for you, let me tell you what He expects of you in return.” 

Read Ephesians 3:1. Paul began his appeal by noting that he was “a prisoner for the Lord.” Paul described himself that way in the opening verse of chapter 3. The interesting thing about the way Paul wrote that is that it expressed 2 different ideas, both important to Paul. Paul saw himself as both a prisoner of and a prisoner because of Jesus.

Paul was a prisoner of Jesus because he had totally committed himself to Him as a bond slave or servant so that his whole life was wrapped up in what Jesus wanted him to do. In addition, he was literally a prisoner in Rome because of his outspoken testimony to who Jesus was and what Jesus offers to mankind. It is that second aspect of his self-description that is important to his plea that Christians “live a life worthy of the calling.” Paul did not describe himself as a prisoner in Rome to either brag or gain sympathy but to point out a reality of seeking to “live a life worthy of the calling.” While the Christian life can be characterized asone whereby we enjoy the riches God showers upon us, it is also a demanding life that can bring with it a cost. 

Paul was expressing the idea that following Jesus, while leading to an eternity of blessings, is at the same time demanding. For Paul 2000 years ago the challenge was and always will be to, as Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:1, “live a life worthy of the calling.”  Paul knew that following Jesus can and probably always will be costly, but it is the life God wants us to live. 

Notice that Paul did not suggest that as Christians we “live a life worthy of the calling” but he urged us to. Paul was literally begging his readers to live what they believe. The word and tense he used for urge implies intense feeling or a strong desire. Paul was about to set forth God’s standard of living. He was not giving us the option of take it or leave it but was insisting it was the standard expected of everyone who calls him or herself a Christian. 

The responsibility of every believer is to challenge one another and certainly the challenge of every parent and grandparent to challenge their children. That challenge needs to go forth in a loving way, but it must be continually stressed. 

The phrase “live a life” speaks for itself. Many translations use the word “walk” which in the New Testament always meant one’s daily life. In Ephesians Paul used the same word or “live” twice and in so doing noted the options we have. In Ephesians 2:2 he described our lives before we became believers and the way we “used to live when you followed the ways of this world.” Here in Ephesians 4 Paul used the word “live” to describe the way we are to behave as believers.

Think about what makes up life. Life is made up of a wide variety of parts ranging from our relationships to our work. Life is certainly what we do on Sunday morning, but it is also what we do on Saturday night. Life includes what we do for work, but it also includes how we interact with those we work with. Life consists of going out to eat but, life also consists of how we treat the waitress who serves us. Life includes how we relax, but it also includes what we watch and read. Life includes the opinions and commitments we have but life also includes how we treat those who differ with us. Life is made up of every detail of our daily existence. Life is action and attitude and even inactivity.  Every part of every day is life. 

Some parts of life are exciting, some of it mundane. Some of life is filled with blessings and some of life consists of hard times and losses. It is all life and every part of it should be lived in a way that is worthy of our relationship with Jesus. 

When Paul wrote that we should seek to live a life worthy of our calling he used a word that seems to have lost its original meaning. The word Paul used was commonly used to describe scales that were used to weighed something out. These days we seldom use scales in everyday life, depending instead on everything being properly weighed out in advance with the weight properly listed on the product. In Paul’s day everyone had some sort of home scale used all the time to measure things. The weight on one side was to balance the product on the other side. Paul was urging the Christians to be sure their practice balanced their theology. 

Of course, God doesn’t determine our eternal destiny by how our good balances out against our sins. God tipped the scales when He took all our sins and balanced them out with His death on the Cross so when we accept Jesus as Savior we are seen as redeemed.

As wrong as we know the thinking of our good balancing our wrong, we often fall for the lie that somehow that is how it works. Satan loves to tell us that is the way God views us. Satan says, “Ok, maybe you shouldn’t be doing that but, overall, you are trying and doing just fine. Most of the time you are kind to people so blowing up once in a while is understandable.” Know what that is? That’s suggesting that scales are important so what you put on one side is not important so long as the other side balances properly. 

The picture Paul presents here is that there is a scale identified as “living worthy” but what we are to put on one side is all God has done for us, what he referred to as “the calling you have received.” On the other side we are to put the way we live “life.”  Obviously, we can never equal or balance out the blessings we have received from God by the things we do, which is why Paul stresses the importance of grace. Our inability to balance out the life we live, and the blessings of God, does not negate our responsibility to recognize our responsibility to do all we can to balance them as closely as possible.

We are to do that because of “the calling you have received.” The word “calling” is in the passive tense in Greek, which simply means that we had nothing to do with it. Our “calling” was all God’s work, a truth we have noted several times already in this letter. Since God has called us unto Himself, He has the right to determine how we should live. 

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians begins with the note that we have been called to be holy (1:1), truth repeated 3 more times in that 1st chapter (4, 12, 14). We have been called to be set aside as different for God and chapters 4-6 detail what that holy life should look like. 

In Ephesians 1:18 we are told that we have been called to a “hope,” a hope described in that same verse as knowing “the riches of his glorious inheritance.” In Ephesians 2:20 we are told that we have been called to be “fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.” Because we know the one in whom we believe and because we know He has redeemed us to spend eternity with Him, we have an assurance and peace the world can never know. Because we know we belong to a new family and a new community of believers we should want to behave in so far as possible the way that honors both being in the family of God and members of His church.

That’s Paul’s challenge to each of us as believers.

Sermon Notes • March 14

Ephesians 3:17-19 Love

Ephesians 3:14-21 records Paul’s second prayer for the Christians in Ephesus and by extension for us. This is a prayer that they might be strengthened spiritually. Paul prayed that they would be strengthened so they could know more of the great riches that God has designed for all who belong to Him. Paul also prayed that they would be strengthened spiritually so as to be able to live as Christians, a lifestyle Paul will describe in the chapters that follow.  

At the core of our spiritual growth is a deeper awareness of God’s love for us. The New Testament pictures God as being “love,” which is a very general description of God. In this prayer we find Paul asked God that we would know what that truth should mean to each of us. Paul was not praying we would love God more deeply, but we would understand more fully His love for us. Read Ephesians 3:17-19. 

Ephesians 3:19 records that that Paul wants us, “to know this love that surpasses knowledge.” A quick readingcould lead to the conclusion that Paul was suggesting that we know what cannot be known. Paul, however, was simply noting that just as God is ultimately beyond our ability to fully understand Him, so too is His love for us. His love is so great that for all eternity we will undoubtedly continue to grow in our understanding of it. Each of us should make a lifelong commitment to continuing to grow in our understanding of God’s love for us. Paul prayed that as Christians we would be “rooted and established in love” and then that we would be able to grasp the dimensions of God’s love.

Paul introduced this aspect of his prayer by praying we would be rooted and established in love. Paul pulled into the discussion two very important but different illustrations. Rooted is an illustration from agriculture while established is actually an illustration from architecture that was used to describe a building with a firm foundation. Paul understood that coming to grips even in part with the love of God necessitated 2 things.

First, we need to be rooted in love. The roots of a plant are essential to its growth and ability to bear fruit. For a plant to grow it must send its roots into the soil and draw from that soil nourishment. Our lives should constantly draw strength from the soil of God’s love for us. Read Jeremiah 17:7-8. If the roots are shallow, the plant cannot grow. If the roots fail to draw the necessary nourishment the plant will not only not grow, it will ultimately die. So, it is with our Christian growth. Unless we extend the roots of our understanding deep into the soil of God’s love and draw from that love the essential nourishment, we will neither grow spiritually nor be able to grasp the fullness of the riches that are ours in Jesus. 

Second, just as every building needs to be constructed on a firm foundation if it is to survive the storms that inevitably come its way, so too the Christian life needs to be built upon an awareness of God’s love for us. Read Matthew 7:15-29.  Here, Paul was looking specifically at building a relationship with God that is secure on the foundation of His love for us. If we have that secure foundation, we will be able to stand when things don’t go right and will find encouragement to live as we should.

Inevitably life will throw tough things at us when things are not going as we wish they would. Satan then whispers in our ear that we are all alone in life, that no one cares about us. A strong foundation of God’s love and constantly drawing nourishment from the awareness of His love assures us we are not alone and that His love will see us through. 

In a similar way, Satan will throw all sorts of temptations our way. Those temptations will always come with the thought that no one really cares, and it will not, in the long run make any difference. The foundation of God’s love reminds us that it does matter because sin hurts God who loves us beyond measure. Paul was praying that as Christians we would know God loves us so much that when tempted to sin, we would remember that in the end it will hurt the One we love and who loves us in return. 

Paul moved on to describe the nature of the love he wants us to draw nourishment from and build our lives on by praying that we would be able “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” Paul did not explain any of the dimensions, perhaps because they are as all-encompassing as His love for us is and in the final analysis, beyond our ability to fully describe or grasp them.

While we cannot know exactly what Paul meant by each of the dimensions, let me share what has been the most common thinking from the early church on. Tt the same time let me relate those dimensions to what Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus.

In regard to the width of God’s love, one thing we know for sure is that it is wide enough to encompass all of humanity. In the context of this letter, it would be sufficiently wide to encompass both the Jewish and Gentile worlds (Ephesians 2:11-18). In the context of the Bible overall, it wide enough that Jesus said, according to John 3:16, God so loved the world.” God declared on a Cross 2000 years ago that to Him, all lives matter. Because of that love He sent His Son to provide redemption for the whole world. 

God’s love is so wide that “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Redemption is available to all because God’s wide love includes His love for each individual. God’s love is so wide that it includes each of us. While we were sinners and totally undeserving of any provision, His wide love made salvation possible. God’s love is so wide that it includes those loved ones that we pray for daily. God’s love is wide enough to include those who have committed the most horrible sins you can imagine. He pours out His love on all.

How long is the love of God? God’s love spans eternity. God’s love for us began when He determined to create us in His image and will continue to display itself for all of eternity. Read what Paul wrote earlier in this letter in Ephesians 1:4-5.  His love for us began before we were even created. 

In addition, God’s love for us is so long that it will last forever. Read Romans 8:35-39 to see how long God’s love for us is.

How high is the love of God? The answer most often given is that His love is high enough to transport everyone who believes into His presence in heaven. Read in Ephesians 1:3 what Paul wrote earlier in this letter. Then read what Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:6. God’s love is high enough to ensure that He has prepared a place for us so we can spend the rest of eternity with Him and it is so high that He welcomes us now into His home. God’s love is so high that He raises us up to the place in which He can shower His love upon us.

How deep is God’s love for us? It is deep enough to, as Paul put it in Ephesians 2:1-3, to reach down into our depravity or sinfulness and lift us out of our trespasses and sin and give us life. His love is so deep that it reached down to us even when “we were by nature deserving of wrath.”

Before Paul closed out his prayer with a benediction found in verses 20-21, he noted in verse 19 that his desire was that every Christian might know this love that surpasses knowledge.” The Greek word Paul used for “know” is not the one that meant to know something intellectually but the one that specifically meant to “know by experience” or to know in an “intimate way.” The love of God is so wide, so long, so high, and so deep that we could contemplate it in our minds forever and still not completely understand it or be able to describe it. The real issue, however, is not being able to adequately put the truth of God’s love into words but to experience God’s love more intimately or personally each day. Paul wants us to experience God’s love for us more intimately or personally each day so when the going gets tough we won’t simply get going but we get going knowing our structure is secure. 

Contemplate often how marvelous God’s love is and you will be overwhelmed by praise, confidence, and thanksgiving. 

Sermon Notes • March 7

Ephesians 3:14-17 

In Ephesians 3:14-19 Paul was praying for the Christians in Ephesus, asking God to empower them in a way that would enable them grow in their walk with Him. Paul had been reviewing with them some of the key doctrines of their faith as a reminder of all God had redeemed them out of and into. He was about to move from doctrine to practice, noting that while correct doctrine is vital, it means little if it does not lead to correct behavior or living. In his doctrinal section Paul referred to the spiritual wealth that belongs to the Christian, a spiritual wealth that flows from God’s riches in glory. Paul’s prayer here is that Christians will have the spiritual strength to live lives that reflect that wealth.

In verses 16-19 we read that Paul prayed they would be “strengthened,” and “rooted and grounded in love.” He went on to pray that in the process of being rooted and ground in love they would be able to to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. Finally, he prayed that they would be “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” 

Read Ephesians 3:16. The first part ofPaul’s request was that they would be strengthened. That was first because it is essential to being able to appropriate the riches that God has for us.For that to happen believers would need to allow the Holy Spirit to control their lives because, as Paul wrote in verse 17, Christ must dwell in our hearts through faith.” Just so there is no confusion, when Paul talked of God’s Spirit and Christ indwelling us, he was talking about God’s presence with us. Paul never made a distinction between the second and third members of the trinity so to have the Spirit and Christ within is identical.

According to verse 16 God wants to strengthen us so we can be all He created and then redeemed us to be and He has the riches to ensure that will happen when we allow Him to. 

Paul wrote that God wanted to strengthen our “inner being.” Whenhe wasreferring our inner being, he was referring to that part of us that will continue to exist forever, sometimes called the soul and sometimes called our spirit. Read II Corinthians 4:16. There is a physical part of us that realistically is in the process of decay but there is also a part of us that will exist forever, either with God or separated from Him. The “inner being” of that verse corresponds to the “new being” of 2:15. Read Ephesians 4:24. It is that “new being” or “new self” that needs strengthening if we are to enjoy the fulness of benefits provided in redemption. God’s strengthening is essential to living the life expected of us.

The moment one invites Jesus to be his Savior he is born again, and the Holy Spirit takes up residence in him. The presence of the Holy Spirit within a believer is, in part, God’s down payment on all He is going to do for him. The Holy Spirit enables a believer to become all He redeemed us for. Becoming a Christian is not a simple matter of changing our religious affiliation on Facebook from “none” to “Christian.” Becoming a Christian is being adopted into very family of God. Becoming a Christian is not covering over the old life with a facade of right living, but a transformation wrought in our very being by God Himself who then instills in us the Fruit of the Spirit as described in Galatians 5. 

In this Greek sentence the words “dwell” and “strength” are in a parallel structure, showing they are inseparably connected. Unless the Holy Spirit is allowed to dwell in us, we will never be spiritually strengthened

There are two key Greek words for dwell, each denoting a difference aspect of one dwelling somewhere. One word was used to describe someone who was living in a place as a stranger. In Ephesians 2:19, Paul used that word to describe those who were “foreigners or aliens.”  

The second Greek word and the one Paul used here, described someone who had settled down somewhere and made it his permanent home. It would be used to describe one who lived in his own house as compared to a stranger he might invite to visit with him. The difference is between a visitor who comes from time to time and has no real say in how the residence is run and the owner who resides all the time and controls every aspect of the house.

Ephesians was addressed to the Christians, so Paul was not writing about Jesus coming to dwell in our hearts after a faith commitment. The idea was controlling the life of the individual after the salvation commitment by being really at home in the individual.

Paul was praying that God, in the form of the Holy Spirit, would control our lives not as a visitor but as the owner of the residence. 

One of the interesting pictures we have of Jesus is found in Revelation 3:14-21. Read Revelation 3:20. That verse is a call to open the door of one’s heart and invite Jesus to be one’s Savior. There are plenty of verses that picture that, but Revelation 3:20 was written, according to Revelation 3:14, “To the angel of the church in Laodicea.” The New Testament letters addressed to churches were really addressed to the Christians in those churches. Read Revelation 3:15. Jesus went on in that letter to note that they had become self-satisfied in their Christian faith. Jesus urged them to return to Him and find in Him their real source of provision and strength. In verse 19 we read that Jesus wrote to them as “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.” The Bible never talks of disciplining those who do not belong to Him. In the Old Testament God disciplined Israel because they were His people. In the New Testament God disciplines believers because they are His family. God has promised to judge those who do not belong to Him, but discipline is a term used for those in His family.

All of that is to show that this letter addressed to the church was addressed to Christians in Laodicea. That means, therefore, that it was to Christians that Jesus said “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.” That declaration is followed by, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” In the culture of the day in which that promise was given, the meal referred to here was a leisurely family affair in which there was a level of intimacy and interaction too often missing today. In other words, Jesus said that if the Christians in Laodicea would welcome Him into their lives as more than a casual visitor, He would be more than willing to spend significant, quality time with them.

That is not exactly what Paul was referring to in Ephesians when he wrote that God wants to strengthen us by His Spirit so “Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith,” but it is very close and may even be a parallel concept. In His letter to the Christians in Laodicea Jesus said He wanted a more significant place in the life of the Christian so He could have a more intimate fellowship with them. In Ephesians, Paul prayed that we would give God a more significant place in our lives so the Holy Spirit can have control of our lives so that “Out of his glorious riches he may strengthen us with power.” In Revelation it was all about fellowship whereas in Ephesians it was all about strength to live the life expected of us as believers. But the two, fellowship and power cannot be separated. With a closer fellowship comes power, which is why Paul went on to write that a key to that fellowship and power is, “being rooted and established in love.”

Paul knew that all of us as Christians need to continually grow in our relationship with God, which is why he could write to the Christians in Philippi about the same time that he wrote this letter to the Christians in Ephesus. Read what he wrote in Philippians 3:12 and 3:14. There will never be a time when we cannot or should not be growing and the more we grow the better able we are to live a daily life that is pleasing to God.

Paul prayed that the Christians in Ephesus would press on so that the Holy Spirit could strengthen them from within. Is that the prayer we have for ourselves and for one another?  It should be.

Sermon Notes • February 28

Ephesians 3:14-21 Paul Prayed

Today we are going to be looking at Paul’s prayer for the Christians in Ephesus. This is Paul’s second prayer for them, the first being in Ephesians 1:15ff. Paul was a man of prayer and we should be also. Prayers in the Bible remind us of the things we should be praying for ourselves and for those we know. The most important pattern for prayer is, of course, the prayer that Jesus taught His disciple. We call that the Lord’s Prayer although the prayer He prayed for us is is found in John 17:6-20.

Paul was writing about the new society Jesus came to establish that has its oneness in Jesus at its center with the promise of multiple spiritual blessings to those who are a part of it. Paul prayed that each believer would know more completely the fullness of that fellowship and the reality of the promised spiritual blessings. 

Read Ephesians 3:14. Paul began by stating that the reason he was praying for them is the truths he had been writing about. While the Christians in Ephesus had a unique and special relationship to God, they were not taking advantage of that relationship the way they should. There is a huge difference between knowing something and applying that truth. 

In chapter 2 Paul had declared that Christians are alive in Him (2:5) and are His workmanship (2:10). Paul added in 2:19 that we are members of the household of God.  Paul added at the end of chapter 2 that Christians ae being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. Then after a parenthesis in Ephesians 3:1-13 in which he reflected on his privilege to preach the gospel to Gentiles, Paul returned to those truths as he prayed for the believers in Ephesus. 

In a sense, this prayer forms a critical transition between the first half of Paul’s letter to the Ephesian Christians and the second half. Recall when we introduced Ephesians, we noted that the letter is easily divided into 2 parts. In chapters 1-3 we have the doctrinal section and in the last 3 chapters we have the practical section. Before moving on to that practical section, Paul prayed that God would, “out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” Paul knew that for us to be able to live as God wanted us to live, we need more than good theology, we need to be living out that theology in daily life. Paul knelt before the Father to ask Him to make the theology real in our everyday experiences.  

Our relationship with God brings with it special privileges and blessings but too many of us are living without enjoying or taking advantage of them. It is essential if we are going to live the full life God has provided for us, that we grasp the truth expressed in our theology. We could illustrate it with an example of owning a computer. Most people who own a computer use only a fraction of the functions that are built into it.  

In Paul’s prayer he was writing to tell the Christians in Ephesus that while they had the same computer or relationship with God that every believer has, too many of them were falling far short of what is available to them in that relationship. They are making use of 10, 20 maybe 30% of what their computer or relationship will do but there is much more.

Read Ephesians 3:16-17. To follow-up with the illustration of the computer, Paul was saying, “I want you to understand more fully what the operating system in your relationship is capable of doing so that you can use it naturally and comfortably. I want you to know the fullness of God’s provision so when you face an ethical challenge, you can make use of more of the functions of your computer/relationship with God.

That was Paul’s goal in writing. The things we should be praying foremost for ourselves, our family and our friends are the spiritual blessings that God has revealed in His Word. Sometime, think about the things you ask of God. If you are like most, what you pray for is generally centered on the physical well-being of family. We want God to care for our loved ones, keep them safe, heal them of physical diseases, job opportunities, etc. All those things are legitimate prayer items and fall under the category of “give us this day our daily bread.” Too often, however, that is the end of my prayers so too seldom do I pray for spiritual growth, a deeper knowledge of God’s love, for God’s peace etc. Those, however, are the things essential if we are going to live out our faith in a sinful and challenging world.

Moving on, Paul wrote, “I kneel before the Father.” We can too easily read that thinking so what. We give folks the option of kneeling or being seated and I then pray standing. I stand because that’s the biblical way (just kidding). Actually, standing was the more common way of praying in Bible times. Luke 18:9-14 is an example of men were standing for prayer. There is no prescribed right position in which to pray. You can pray kneeling or seated, while walking or lying in bed. 

Kneeling, however, implies several things. In ancient times one always knelt before a king, showing both humility and submission to him. When we kneel in prayer, we are showing humility and submission to God.

When we bow or kneel in prayer, we are expressing submission to the Lord. Expressing submission to anyone or anything other than God is forbidden which is why in Daniel 3 we read Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow to the statue King Nebuchadnezzar. Read Exodus 20:4-5 and Psalm 95:6. (When the Apostle Paul wanted to discuss the ultimate reign of God he noted, according to Philippians 2:10 that the time will come when every knee will bow before Jesus. Everyone will one day submit to Him and that submission is symbolized in bowing before Him.

Kneeling also seems to imply something else. Most of the examples of kneeling in prayer that find in the Bible are at times of urgency. For example, Ezra 9 records a prayer in the life of that man at a time describes an extremely challenging for Israel. There we read in verse 5, “I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the Lord my God.” There was an urgency to his prayer for the nation. In the New Testament we read that when Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, literally hours before His crucifixion, Jesus “fell to the ground and prayed.” His prayer was one of submission as He determined to do the will of the Father and not his will and it was a prayer of urgency since the next 24 hours would see Him on a Cross bearing our sins.

Whatever position we assume in prayer, and undoubtedly over a week we will pray in a variety of positions, we should always pray with the attitude of bended knees. All our prayers should be bathed in humility and submission to His will and not ours. 

Read Ephesians 3:14. It is important to note that when Paul prayed, he did so to the one who was worthy of his submission but at the same time to the one who was his Heavenly Father. We approach God as the almighty one who holds in His hands, according to Ephesians 3:16. “glorious riches.” We also approach Him as our Father. God can be scary but our Father in heaven can be approached openly knowing He will meet us with open arms. How you view God makes a difference in your attitude and expectations. Jesus taught His disciples to approach God as “Our Father who is in heaven.” The Greek phraseology there is closer to “Our dad who is in heaven.” While being sure not to overstep our familiarity with God, do not forget that when you pray you can approach Him as “Father.”

Always approach God on your knees as far as attitude and commitment is concerned. That is what makes for effective and meaningful praying,

Sermon Notes • February 21

Ephesians 2:11-22

Read Ephesians 2:11-12. Paul introduced this section by bluntly describing the position of Gentiles before they made Jesus their Savior and passed, as Paul clearly stated in the opening verses of this chapter, from death to life. 

In the days of Jesus there was total animosity between Jews and all Gentiles. Jews called Gentiles “dogs” and unless absolutely necessary would have no interaction with them. Having anything to do with a Gentile made a Jew unclean. If they had to travel to a Gentile country, they shook the dust off their feet when they arrived back in Israel as a sign that Gentiles were dirt that you did not want to bring into God’s country. There are reports that if a Jew married a Gentile a symbolic funeral for the Jew was carried out. Some Jews said that Gentiles were created by God to be fuel for the fires of hell. 

A list of the indicators of the hatred of Jews for Gentiles could go on and on with an equally long list of how many Gentiles felt about those Jews who thought they were the only ones who truly knew God. Most Gentiles despised the Jews and wanted nothing to do with them.

God never sanctioned that attitude on the part of either Israel or Gentiles. God let it be known that He had chosen Israel to be His special people so He could bless all the peoples of the earth. God stated in various Old Testament places that Israel was to be a witness to the Gentile world, but seldom, if ever, did they fulfill that role. 

In verses 11 and 12 Paul spelled out the place of Gentiles in the scheme of things when the early church was formed. Paul noted first that Gentiles were called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision.” Gentiles were viewed as those outside the people of God. Gentiles were social outcasts.

In addition to name calling, Gentiles were “separate from Christ.” The promised Messiah was to come through the Jewish people, in the lineage of David etc. Gentiles had no future except judgment because there was no promised one who would redeem them. Those outside of Jesus were dead in their trespasses and sins. Such was the state of Gentiles and Jews, but the Jews had the promise of a Messiah.

Further, Gentiles were “excluded from citizenship in Israel.” The Jews believed that they were the chosen people, God’s holy nation. He was their God and not the covenant God of anyone else. That meant that when a Gentile was refused citizenship, he was refused permission to belong to the people of God and, therefore, separated from every blessing afforded to the people of God. 

Gentiles were “foreigners to the covenants of the promise.” God’s covenant was with Israel, a covenant that made multiple promises specifically to them, including to be their God, provide for them, protect them etc. Read Genesis 12:2-3. As far as the Jews were concerned that covenant was an exclusive promise to them.

To make matters worse, they were “without hope and without God in the world.” Although God had left a witness to Himself in creation the Gentile world never accepted that witness, suppressing the truth. In place of that truth, they established their own religions and setting up their own idols. Paul detailed their rejection of whatever light they were given in the opening section of Romans.

One writer (William Hendriksen) summarized Gentiles in the day of Paul as “Christless, stateless, friendless, hopeless and Godless.” That about sums it up. Paul described them in verse 13 as being “far away” from God. It was not a pretty picture for us as Gentiles, and we are counted among those Gentiles.

Fortunately, that was not the end of the story. Read Ephesians 2:13. The “But now” of verse 13 is the equivalency of the “But God” of verse 4.

The rest of chapter 2 makes it clear that Jesus did something to end that separation of Jews and Gentiles. Read Ephesians 2:14. The essence of that summary is that the two groups who were once bitter enemies are now one. The things that once separated are gone. 

The first part of verse 15 records that Paul was saying that Jesus established a new community, which we know as the church. In so doing He set aside the various rules and regulations that once identified one as a Jew. Those regulations included such things as circumcision, various sacrifices, and dietary laws. Jesus never abolished God’s moral law but abolished the ceremonial law which was fulfilled completely in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. 

The center part of verse 15 reads, “His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two.” Note that God has created one new humanity. The key to understanding that statement is the word “new.” In Greek there are a variety of different words that are used to describe different aspects of being “new.” The Greek word used here is “kainos.” Kainos was used to describe that which was new in form or quality. It was used to describe something that was different in nature, in essence.

Read Ephesians, in 4:24. The Christian is not simply the old person whitewashed to look new but is a totally new creature in Christ. The transformation that takes place when one makes a commitment to Jesus is more than simply changing one identity from non-Christian to Christian. It is a transformation of the individual that only God can do whereby one is different in nature.

When Paul described the fellowship of Jews and Gentiles as being a “new humanity out of the two” he was not talking of a new group in which Jews and Gentiles simply worshipped together, but a totally new entity. The “new” humanity was not a new club made up of Jews and Gentiles after they had compromised in order to worship together. The church is a totally new entity that is possible only because God has changed individuals so they can indeed be one in Jesus.

When we began looking at this, I noted that an initial response to this section can be one that says it was tremendously important in the early church but since we no longer face the separation of Jews and Gentiles, it is irrelevant to today. Perhaps, if the message is simply about Jews and Gentiles but what if the principle is larger? What if God was not saying through Paul that there will never be unity between parties that have radically different ideas until they are united in Jesus?

Think about the significant unity movements of the past year or so. Think about “Black Lives Matter vs. Blue Lives Matter.” Think about the issue of refugees vs. existing society. Think about the push for equality between men and women. The point is, we live in a sinful world and while sinners desire some kind of unity, there will be none until they are united in Jesus. We will not have real lasting peace on earth until we are made into a new society in Jesus. There may be intermediate steps that may minimize differences but in the end the hope of society is in a relationship with Jesus.

Read Ephesians 2:15-17.  

Notice the word “peace” which occurs 3 times with the additional word “reconcile.” The message of the Bible is that a result of man’s sin discord and alienation came into the world. Most critically there was discord or alienation from a holy God but in addition there was discord among men. Genesis 3 details the alienation from God and then immediately following that, in Genesis 4, we have discord among men pictured with the killing of Abel by his brother Cain. 

The last few verses in Ephesians 2 deal with the problems the Jews and Gentiles had. In truth, however, they deal with the much larger and more relevant issue of first having peace with God so we can then legitimately have peace among men. Paul summarized that in verse 19. Read that verse. It describes what we are and the only hope for oneness in the world. 

The church has not always been the church and reflected the reality of that, but that is our hope. The first challenge is to be sure we live so every Christian is seen as an equal member of the household of God.  Second, it is a challenge to present Jesus to those around us as the only real, lasting solution to the problems that divide.