Southminster Presbyterian Church

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Our Power in Jesus

Ken Onstot

Scriptures: Ephesians 1:15-23; Romans 8:35-39

  I once read a newspaper article entitled, "Man Imperiled by Worries about Life."  The article told of a man who left a dinner party in Chicago because the conversation was scaring him.  People were talking about things like international terrorism, global warming, the collapse of Social Security, and the state of American politics. Hearing all this, the man became so worried and agitated he went outside and tried to calm himself by smoking.

On the internet someone wrote, “In the 60’s people took LSD to make the world seem weird.  Now people take Prozac to make it seem normal.”

If the world seems threatening to you, or just plain weird, let me suggest a remedy.  Instead of smoking or self-medicating, try the book of Ephesians, specifically the verses I just read from Ephesians 1.

In some ways this scripture works like a telescope.  Each section of a telescope hooks on to the previous section, but when you push it out it helps you see farther and deeper.  This scripture works the same way.  Each section of this scripture hooks on to a word at the end of the previous section and expands on it, helping us to see farther and deeper. For example, in verses 15-16 Paul says, "I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers."  Paul ends those two verses by mentioning his prayers for the Christians in Ephesus.

The next two verses hook on to the word “prayer.”  Paul pushes out the telescope a notch to focus on what he is praying for. Verse 17: "I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him."

To me one of the striking things about this prayer is that Paul does not pray for a change in their circumstances.  He doesn't pray, like I would, that their church will grow and prosper, or that the Jewish and Gentile church members will get along with each other, or that their various illnesses and family struggles will be healed.  That is how we usually pray in our church services.  We pray for healing or peace or provision for those in need.  In other words, we pray for our circumstances.  But Paul prays for a change in how they understand of their circumstances.  “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him.”  Paul prays not for health, success, or protection, but for knowledge.

What does he want them to know? In the next two verses he pushes the telescope out another notch, focusing on what he wants them to know: verses 18-19: “So that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe.” Because of their circumstances the Ephesians feel anxious and powerless, perhaps like many of you here.  But Paul wants them to see how great is their hope, how rich are their blessings, and above all how real is their power because of God’s work in their lives.

In the next two verses Paul hooks on to the word “power,” pushing the telescope out yet another notch to focus on the meaning of God’s power—verses 20-21: “God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.”

There have been volumes written about what Paul means by rule, authority, power, and dominion.  Certainly when Paul talks about rulers and authorities he has in mind governing authorities like the Roman emperor, and when he refers to power and dominion he probably has in mind the armies that enforce the emperor’s decrees.  But Paul may also have in mind demonic powers.  I will talk more about demonic powers and Satan when we come to Ephesians, chapter 6.  But for now I would say that Paul is talking here about any kind of oppressive power—political, military, or demonic that seems to have our world in its grip.  It does not matter what kind of power it is, because Jesus reigns over all of them.  Whether your fear is demons or disease, terrorists or tyrants, layoffs or lunatics, a bloody dictator or a bully at school, it does not matter.  That’s what it means to know God’s power.

But there is one last notch in Paul’s telescope.  The culminating sign of God’s power comes in the last two verses—22-23: “And he [God] has put all things under his [Jesus’] feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

Do you see where the telescope ends up?

Prayer

            Prayer for knowledge

                        Knowledge of God’s Power

                                    God’s Power as seen in the church!

            You here this morning are the ultimate sign of God’s power.  You are God’s miracle—an unfinished miracles to be sure, a miracle that still need a lot of work.  But the very fact that you are here this morning means that God has been at work in your life and will not quit until God is finished.

            At my first call to ministry in Potlatch, Idaho, I was the pastor of both the Lutheran and Presbyterian churches in town.  Each of them was too small to support a full time minister, but together they made it work.  One day I got a letter sent to all the Lutheran congregations in this area from Clifford Lunde, who at the time was the Lutheran bishop for the Pacific Northwest.  It contained one of the most eloquent descriptions of the church I have ever read.

            He starts out remembering the story of Abraham and Sarah, what a joke it must have seemed when God promised to make their descendants a great nation, when in fact they had no descendants and were too old to have descendants.  Sarah laughed when she heard this promise, but a year later when she gave birth to a child, she named him Isaac, which means laughter.  The joke, it turned out, was on her.

            Then in his letter Clifford Lunde began talking about the church.  He wrote,

The biggest joke of all has to be the church.  Who but a comic genius would tackle the most powerful, wealthy, clever—and deadly serious—enemy in the universe with an army like us and fully expect to win?  Surely God’s greatest victory will be not that he puts to shame the wise and powerful and noble of the earth but that he does it through the likes of us….

Someday, when we all see the end of the story, we shall laugh with him, just as God and Sarah laughed when Isaac was born.  A poet once wrote: “This is how the world ends—not with a bang but a whimper.”  I don’t believe that.  I believe that it will end with a laugh.  Oh, I know the Bible says we shall gather around God’s throne and sing praises to him forever and ever.  I am looking forward to that too.  But I expect that we shall settle down to the singing only after we have all enjoyed an eye watering, side aching, thigh slapping, foot stomping belly laugh.  Surely the universe will ring for a few centuries at least with the hilarity of God’s people when, like Sarah, we discover to our eternal amazement and amusement that God did it.  God pulled it off.  Contrary to nature and common sense, God has worked in the dead, sterile womb of flesh born of flesh the greatest miracle of all.  By water and the Spirit, by preaching and teaching, by death and resurrection, God has made us—this ridiculous, laughable church—into the holy, royal children of the living God.

That’s the power of God Paul wants you to know about.

"Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care."

Psalm 95:6-7