Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity – Sept 6, 2020
Our scripture reading this afternoon is from the book of Ephesians, chapter 1, verses 18-23. Hear the word of the Lord:
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of the glory of his inheritance in his holy ones, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”
May the Lord add his blessing to His holy Word. SLIDE 2
- In 1901 the unfinished notes of the German existentialist Friedrich Nietzsche were published under the title “The Will to Power”. In them, Nietzsche makes the case that the will to power—exerting one’s dominance or control—is the most primal and basic of human instincts. In previous works, Nietzsche had famously declared that God is dead: that humanity, now come of age in the modern era, could cast off all the religious superstitions that had rendered humans subservient to a higher moral authority and could mature into Übermenschen (superior race or superhumans), free of the confining ethics of Jesus who let himself be killed and taught his followers to turn the other cheek.
- It’s little wonder that, SLIDE 3 within a generation, Nietzsche’s views were appropriated by Hitler and the Nazi party to rationalize their project of Arianizing Europe, projecting their military might onto the other European powers and eradicating all non-Aryans, especially Jews. After all, if the will to power was, as Nietzsche claimed, the most fundamental of all human intuitions, then the German people were justified in fulfilling their evolutionary destiny.
- The cult of the Will to Power didn’t die in 1945 with Hitler in his Fürherbunker in Berlin. It is alive and well in the Marxist regimes of China, No Korea, Venezuela, and Cuba and, SLIDE 4 closer to home, in the rioting of Antifa and BLM in places like Portland, D.C., Louisville and Kenosa. What we read in our daily news feeds are simply contemporaneous examples of Nietzsche’s vision applied to 21st century life.
- Now, there’s nothing wrong with exerting power. We all do it in countless ways every day of our lives. SLIDE 5 Power is a necessary feature of a cause and effect universe in which mental and physical power are required to make anything happen. The problem is not power itself. The problem is when power gets untethered from morality, particularly from the most basic human instinct and most fundamental divine command to love one another. When that happens, power too quickly devolves into an end-justifies-the-means violence, which is exactly what has turned American cities into infernos of destruction, looting and hate. What is playing out each day in these cities is the predictable application of Nietzsche’s ethic.
- The answer is not to be weak and refuse to use power. The answer to harness all the power at our disposal to be put into the service of the most worthy ends: loving others sincerely, living for the glory of Christ and building the kingdom of God.
- Think about the Xn life for a minute. How might power be indispensable to us in living out God’s calling on our lives?
- How about having the power to resist temptation and grow in godliness: would that be helpful to us?
- How about exerting power to withstand spiritual forces that oppose God’s purposes and people?
- Or the power to confidently, consistently and successfully minister to others in Jesus name: would that be a good thing? I think we can all agree it would. All of these uses of power are good.
- Well, the power to do these things is ours for the asking. It is available to you and me by virtue of our being joined to Christ, in whom all this power resides. We simply need to know that its available to us; then to access it and use it on a daily basis. And this is precisely what Paul is praying for here in his final prayer request in Ephesians 1. SLIDE 6
- So, with that introduction, pull out your sermon outlines and open bibles/apps to Eph 1.18-23.
- In v.18-19, Paul prays for three things for the Ephesians and by extension, us:
- the hope of your calling (v.18a). Craig taught two weeks ago
- the riches of God’s glorious inheritance in his holy ones (v.18b). Last week
- and his incomparably great power for us who believe (v.19). Today, along with 4 ½ verse description of the nature of this power God has given us.
- As we look at these verses today, I want you to personalize them. Ask yourself: What would it mean to my life right now if I recognized I had this power at my disposal and was making regular use of it?
- SLIDE 7
Exposition of 1:18b-23
- I want you to keep in mind the people Paul is writing to. For most of their lives, these believers in Ephesus were enslaved to their fears of the various gods that populated their part of the Greco-Roman world. As we saw last week, these gods were not the mere figments of their imaginations. They were and are actual spiritual beings with very real power to harass and cause harm. They were fallen elohim, created by God, subservient to God but in active rebellion against Him.
- The Ephesians believed their fate was determined by the fickleness of these gods detectable in the movements of the stars. So:
- They practiced astrology and magic to divine their fate and influence it for the good;
- They wore charms and amulets to ward off evil spirits; and
- They used spells, incantations, and various prayers to beg, manipulate and threaten the gods who played with them like a cats play with mice.
- Power was a huge deal to them. And they believed theirs was very limited and that the gods’ was considerable. They knew that they got the short end of the stick.
- So, it is for people in this condition that Paul prays that God would give them understanding into: SLIDE 8
“his incomparably great power for us who believe”
- As Paul unpacks this, he pulls out all the stops to emphasize the magnitude, the plentitude, the boundless enormity of the power God puts at our disposal.
- First, he describes this power as “incomparably great”
- great is megathos; incomparably is hyperballon, which is a cool word picture. Skevington Wood summarizes it this way: “Literally, it suggests that the conception it is attached to is thrown over into another sphere altogether.” It’s not just great power but inexpressibly, immeasurably great power.
- Who is this power given to? Is it just for guys like Paul, Peter and John? or maybe the rest of the Apostles? Or is it reserved for pastors or missionaries? Is that the case? No, Paul says this incomparably great power is:
- for us who believe without qualification. All of us: Every single believer has direct access to this incomprehensible and inexhaustible supply of strength.
- Second, look at the number of words he uses to describe God’s potency in this single clause
- power is dunamis: inherent power or ability (dynamite)
- mighty is ischys: force, might
- strength is kratos: great power, mighty deed
- exerted is energeo: to put forth power or work
One scholar, Clint Arnold, comments that Paul “nearly exhausts the reservoir of power-denoting terms in the Greek language.” Paul really wants his hearers to understand the power available to them in Jesus!
- Third, note that Paul connects the power God gives us to the power he demonstrated in the resurrection and enthronement of Jesus Christ. Paul writes:
“That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead”
- Now as an aside, note that the Father is the one credited here with having raised Jesus from the dead. Not always the case. In John 10:18, Jesus makes it clear that He was given authority to raise Himself from the dead. And in Romans 8:11, the Holy Spirit is credited with having raised Him. So, which was it: the F, S or HS? Yes. All of the above. They we working together as they do in all things. (Doctrine of the Inseparable Operations of the Trinity: creation, redemption, restoration). Here, the emphasis falls on the Father’s action in raising Jesus, because it is the Father’s power being highlighted.
- Now, what kind of power did it take for the Father to raise Jesus from Sheol, the place of the dead? (I thought about this past week: five things)
- God exerted power over death itself as a phenomenological given. This seemed to entail at least a partial suspension of the second law of thermodynamics (entropy which states that all things move from a state of order to disorder). God tinkered with the physics on a micro level to make this possible.
- God exercised the power to convert something inherently bad in and of itself (death: the privation of life) into something redemptive and good (eternal life: the means to a higher and better mode of being). So, God converts a terminus (the end of life) into a terminal (transit point between one mode of existence into a superior one). C.S. Lewis commented about death: “Our enemy, so welcomed, becomes our servant.”
- God demonstrated the power to reconstitute and revivify a human body already in the early stages of decomposition, reversing the course of decay by reestablishing brain activity, cardiovascular flow, muscle tone, and everything else needed for organic life.
- God exercised the power to transform the very substance of that body from pure material elements and compounds like carbon, oxygen, phosphorous, and calcium into an entirely different substance altogether: something Paul refers to cryptically as a “spiritual body” in 1 Cor 15.
- God exerted the power to rob hades of its righteous inhabitants, beginning with Adam and Eve and all the OT saints and to raise them up to the new paradise in heaven. God looted the place of the dead, stealing back from the clutches of the principalities and powers all those who trusted God and died before the appearance of Christ, whose redemption extended back retroactively to atone for their sins.
- I hope you’re convinced by now that the power the Father exerted in the resurrection event is as multifaceted as it is staggering. SLIDE 11 But Paul goes on to describe another example of the Father’s power:
“and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,”
- Not only did the Father refashion Christ’s body at His resurrection, he then raised him up to the highest heaven and enthroned him over the entire cosmos.
- The “right hand” of the king symbolized the supreme place of authority and power in the ANE.
- In this verse, SLIDE 12 Paul is referencing Ps 110, the most frequently quoted psalm in the NT. Jesus cited this psalm on at least two occasions. Likewise, Luke, Peter and the author of Hebrews referenced it when referring to Christ. Verse 1 reads: “Yahweh said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’.” This relief on the right is the victory stele of Naram-Sin King of Akkad in the late 3rd millennium BC: he is stepping on the chest of one of his enemies. Who are Christ’s enemies who will become his footstool? SLIDE 13 One is shown in this Eastern Orthodox icon of Jesus is trampling on Satan, the gates of hades, Death, sin, destruction, and all the powers of darkness. Imagine Christ on his throne in heaven at the Father’s right hand.
- Paul makes specific reference to Christ’s authority over Satan and all the rebel angels in the next phrase: SLIDE 14
“far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.”
- What’s Paul referring to here? These four terms: Rule, arche; authority, exousia; power, dunamis; and dominion, kuriotes were all very familiar to the people to whom he was writing. These were four of the many names given to the various types or ranks of spiritual beings in Paul’s day. (Fresco: Layers or ranks in the heavens). They were part of what is called Second Temple Jewish literature (First Temple built by Solomon stood from 960 to 586BC; Second Temple was rebuild under Zerubbabel in 516BC and it destroyed by the Romans in AD 70: so this period from roughly 500BC to AD 70 is called the Second Temple Period)
- Every Jew who lived during this time period would have known what Paul was referring to by these names: rule, authority, power and dominion. These were four ranks of fallen elohim, spiritual beings created by God who chose to exercise their free will in opposition to God. In doing so, they became God’s enemies, and their goal is to do as much damage to God’s creation as they can. They especially target human beings.
- It’s important to understand that all these spiritual beings were created through the Son (who was instrumental in making them) and for the Son (they were created for his own pleasure, to serve, worship and obey Him). Colossians 1:15-16 make this clear: “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for”
- These fallen beings are now subjugated enemies. Yet they still have a measure of freedom until God brings to completion His plans for the cosmos (unlike the offending spiritual beings we discussed last week who are being confined in the underworld prison Tartarus until the judgment day). But all these enemies of God will one day be decisively crushed under Christ’s feet and become, metaphorically, his footstool.
- One way to understand Jesus’ relationship to these fallen elohim is your relationship to the cockroaches in your backyard. You know they are there. They come out at night; they are a nuisance, but their not destroying the place and you let them do their thing as long as they don’t get out of control. But when you do decide to eradicate them, game over, because their power is miniscule compared to yours. You can crush them anytime you want. And after Jesus comes a second time as conquering King, he will crush them utterly.
- BTW, where do believers stand with respect to these corrupt elohim? Are we above them or below them? According to Psalm 8, all humans are below them in terms of our physical bodies. But in terms of spiritual authority and power, redeemed humans are actually above them. Remember that being a Christian means becoming one with Jesus Christ. Where is Jesus right now? According to v.20, He is seated at the Father’s right hand far above these enemies of God. We are in him, so we, too, are positioned above these elohim. Paul specifically alludes to this fact in chapter two, v.6.
- This is why we have authority to exorcise demons. We have the authority in Christ to command them to obey by invoking the name of Jesus.
- Paul could have listed many other Second Temple period names for these fallen spirits than the four he uses here. Instead, he cuts to the chase and says that Jesus is enthroned way above:
“every name that is named, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.”
- With this blanket statement, Paul insists that any and every name you could possibly name in this life and the next falls under Jesus’ authority. They all cower at His Name and cringe before His power and authority.
- Paul then states: SLIDE 15
“And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”
- A couple observations here. First, Paul says God made Jesus the supreme power in the universe, “for the church”: for our benefit!. IOW, God has given an extraordinary gift to the church: He has placed His Son Jesus over every single thing in the universe. And because He is over all things, the church has plenipotentiary power, supreme authority, to overcome every conceivable opposition because the head of the Church is over all. You get that?
- Clint Arnold writes: “The head of the church is a victorious and powerful Lord. On this basis, Christ can impart to the church all of the empowering resources it needs to resist the attacks of powers and to engage in the mission of filling the world that God has called it to.”
- Which leads to my final observation. Because the church is filled with Christ, and the church is located all over the earth—manifesting God’s truth, love and gifts—Christ himself can be said to fill everything in everyway.
- Okay, I hope by now you are convinced that you have at your disposal a gigantic arsenal of spiritual power. SLIDE 16 It’s like you have been handed the launch codes to then entire U.S. fleet of nuclear ICBMs. What are you going to target with them? What are you going to use that power for?
- Let me close with three suggestions:
- First, you have the power to life a godly, holy life, resisting temptation, conquering your passions, becoming like God in your character, love and values; conformed to the image of Christ. Texts like Romans 6, Galatians 5 and 1 John 3 make it very clear that you are no longer a slave to those instinctive, habituated patterns of thought and action that have dogged you all your life. You can change. You have power through the Holy Spirit to resist temptation and to speak, think and act in ways that are consistent with God’s love and righteousness. You just need to surrender yourself to God continually and allow Him to effect His changes in you. This is what it means to abide in Christ and walk in the Spirit.
- Second, you have the power to make huge positive differences in the lives of other people by identifying and using the spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit has given you. What are your spiritual gifts? Do you know? Are you using them regularly to build up God’s people and reach out to those who don’t know Christ? If not, why not? These gifts are things like administrating, serving, giving, teaching, prophesying, healing, encouraging. All of these are incredibly powerful tools breakdown strongholds, bless others and bring glory to Christ. Access them. Use them.
- And finally, you have the power to identify, resist and exorcise evil spiritual beings who might be harrassing you or others. You don’t have to put up with their shenanians. When you suspect that a spiritual being might be involved in a certain situation, call it out. Assert Christ’s authority over it and command it in Jesus’ name to stop its actions and go to the place He has assigned it. You don’t have to quote a bunch of scripture, use a loud voice or engage in any ritual actions. You can simply and calmly, but decisively, command it in the name of Jesus to leave.
- Friends, we have a stockpile of spiritual power to live the life our Lord has called us to live. Let’s use it, everyday, for his glory and other’s good.
- Let’s pray SLIDE 17
Quick reminders – Tom
- Community group meets this Tuesday night from 7-8pm SLIDE 18
- Can give online or by sending in a check
- Next week, bring bible, bread and grape juice/wine for communion SLIDE 19
Benediction – Janet