Head Over All

Series: New Community

Sermon by David Strain on May 17, 2015

Ephesians 1:15-23

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Now if you would, take a copy of God’s holy Word in your hands and turn with me to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 1. Ephesians chapter 1, reading from the fifteenth verse. If you’re using one of our church Bibles, turn to page 976 and you’ll find our passage. Ephesians 1 at verse 15. Before we read, let’s bow our heads and pray.

Father, would You help us understand the Bible this morning. Send us the Holy Spirit because we don’t listen so often when You speak to us or we misunderstand You when You do or we deliberately distort Your truth as we hear it or we much prefer other voices and different counsel. Would You forgive us and would You tune our ears to hear You speak as we read and preach Your Word now, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Ephesians 1 at verse 15. This is the Word of God:

“For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

Amen, and thanks be to God who has spoken in His holy Word.

Incentives for the Christian Life

When I was a boy, my family would take summer vacations at Morecambe Bay on the coast of the northeast of England. Morecambe Bay is a vast tidal estuary with miles of wide, flat sands. It is an incredibly beautiful place but it’s also an incredibly dangerous place. The bay is littered with pockets of quicksand and the tides are said to come in as fast as a horse can run. Royal guides to the sands are appointed regularly to help visitors navigate safely the sands and yet still people are regularly caught and get into trouble. For example, Tuesday, July 18, 2006 a sixteen year old who was out walking on the sands with a friend became trapped as the tide began to come racing in. Rescuers we called as the water began to sweep past them and the sixteen year old was dragged to safety just in the nick of time.

The Christian life is like a journey across that bay. There are quicksands lurking here and there - temptations and pressures from the world that can ensnare us and trap us that will, if we’re not careful, prove deadly in the end. We need someone to show us a safe route. As we return to our exposition of the book of Ephesians that’s precisely what we have in the apostle Paul. He is a royal guide, appointed by King Jesus, to help us find a safe path, to give us assurance, and to keep us from the quicksand. You will remember that last time as we looked at chapter 1, verses 15 to 20, Paul was praying for the Ephesian Christians that God would give them the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, that they might know three things. First, he prays in the opening part of verse 18 that they might know “the hope to which they have been called.” That is, he prays that we would know our destiny - where we’re going; “the hope to which we are called.” The secondly, in the second half of verse 18, he prays that the Ephesians would know “the riches of God’s inheritance in the saints.” That is, that we would know with clarity our true identity as God’s beloved and chosen people in whom He delights; His inheritance. And then thirdly in verse 19, he prays they would know “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.” That is, that we would know the resources of grace available to us as we make our pilgrimage as believers.

And it’s this last point over which he now lingers in our text for this morning, verses 19 through 23. Paul wants us to know not just where we are going as Christians, our destiny, and not just who we are as Christians, our identity, he wants us to know clearly the extent of the resources of grace at work in our lives so that we will be able to live out our new identity in Christ and come safely into the full enjoyment of our eternal destinies at last. He wants to show us how secure we are, that we will not sink into the quicksands hidden around us because of the great power of God. And so he begins, notice, by heaping up superlatives to describe God’s power. Can you see that in verse 19? He talks about “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might.” He raids the thesaurus to find multiple ways to say that God’s power is strong and sure. It is adequate, enough, more than enough for all our needs.

The Exaltation of Christ – The Site of the Power of God

But Paul is an excellent communicator and he knows that merely telling us that God’s power is great isn’t nearly as effective as helping us see the ways in which the great power of God is at work. He wants to show us God’s power and not merely tell us that His power is great. And that’s what he does in verses 20 through 23. Look there with me please. Where should you turn in order to see the power of God, the immeasurable power of God on display? You see it, Paul says, never more clearly than in Christ. Look at Christ. You see Paul make that point in the text. It is “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked” - where? What does the text say? “In Christ.” He does not direct our attention to some private experience of the supernatural, to some subjective phenomenon that assures us God is able to keep us and preserve us from sinking. Not to devalue such experiences at all, but here Paul directs our eyes up and away from ourselves altogether and he focuses them instead on Jesus. “The power of God to us-ward,” as the King James’ puts it, is all seen, all shown, all revealed in Jesus Christ. Look there. Rivet your gaze there. Never wander from staring and contemplating and dwelling on Him.

One commentator on the passage illustrates Paul’s point here by reflecting on treatment methods for childhood autism. One therapy, he says, that is used clouds the lower half of the glasses of autistic children because apparently certain forms of autism begin to manifest themselves when the child becomes completely focused on some single dimension of their environment or experience. They become so absorbed with a single object of habitual activity that, as this writer puts it, “interacting with that single aspect of life becomes the child’s entire world. Thus,” he says, “glasses clouded at the bottom but clear in the upper lenses forces the child to look up, to take his eyes off his little world, and to consider a greater, wider world.” In like manner, the apostle Paul lifts our eyes from this world and causes us to focus on another power from one above. Do you want to know how great the preserving, keeping, guarding, guiding, sanctifying, protecting, bringing you safely home at last power of God really is? Do you need reassurance that though you are weak, He is mighty, that though you are vulnerable, the power of God is strong enough to exceed you needs? Well then, you must look at Jesus Christ. Make Jesus your great study, your unceasing preoccupation.

And specifically notice Paul says you must look at the exaltation of Jesus Christ, the exaltation of Jesus Christ, and that in three areas. Look at Christ, he says, exalted over the grave, look at Christ exalted over evil, and look at Christ exalted in the church. Exalted over the grave, exalted over evil, exalted over and in the church. And let’s just take those each in turn.

Christ Exalted Over the Grave

First, see God’s power in the exaltation of Christ over the grave, verse 20. It is power that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead. Friends, Jesus Christ is alive. The tomb is empty, the stone rolled away, the body that was broken and torn and punctured and bloodied has life coursing through it once more. The heart that stopped while He hung on the cross that was pierced by a Roman spear beats with vitality and energy once again. The hands that still bear the nail marks touch and feel again. He lives! The mighty shackles of death that have held everyone else in unbreakable slavery could not hold Him. God raised His Son to life.

The heart of the Christian Gospel, the thing that makes it good news is not that Jesus died for sinners. A dead Jesus is no use to anyone. No, our message is that the Christ who died in place of guilty sinners did not stay dead. He rose! The power of God broke the chains of death vindicating His innocent Son, our Savior. The resurrection is what makes the good news about Jesus good. It means that what He has done for us He is alive now to give us. And here Paul is saying that the power of God who raised Christ from the tomb is the same power that will keep you from falling and present you faultless before the presence of His glory with great joy one day. The power that gave life to Christ’s broken and lifeless body is the same power that guarantees life for you, believer in Jesus. The hand of God that takes Christ from the tomb and seats Him on the throne is the same hand that takes you from your sin and will bring you to heaven. The same power that led Jesus from the sepulcher will lead you to glory. See the power of God in the exaltation of Jesus over the grave.

Christ Exalted Over Evil

Then secondly, see the power of God in the exaltation of Jesus over evil. Look at verses 20 through 22. It is a power that he worked in Christ when “he seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,” far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet. Having raised Jesus from the dead, God has “highly exalted him and given him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is lord to the glory of God the Father,” Philippians 2:9-11. Jesus sits at the right hand of God. That’s the place and position of authority and power. It’s language drawn from Psalm 110 verse 1. “Sit, the Lord said to my lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” Jesus rose in order to reign. He overcame death to preside over all things.

Then specifically, Paul says He presides over “all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named.” That’s language he will go on to use in the sixth chapter to describe the spiritual forces of wickedness arrayed against the people of God and the cause of God and the church of God. These are demonic powers. But really as you look at the description here it covers every kind of power - demonic power and angelic forces, human government and physical might - every kind of recognizable authority we might care to name must bow before His sovereignty and His Lordship so that He reigns not merely over evil but over all things. Now the world is a dark place. Sin and Satan are implacable and relentless enemies and the flesh is weak, temptation is strong, peer pressure is powerful, cultural expectations are demanding, and we sometimes wonder, let’s be honest, however will we be able to stand firm? Is the power of God adequate for what sometimes appear overwhelming spiritual odds stacked against us? Spiritual evil may be terrible, its menace and power great, the world may pressure you to abandon your faith and mock you for your obedience. There may be oppression and opposition. The powers arrayed against a Christian are great but Christ’s power is greater still. 1 John 4 and verse 4, “He that is in you is greater than he that is in the world.” Or as Jesus told His disciples, John 16:33, “In this world you will have tribulation, but I have overcome the world.” Christ reigns. He reigns. He reigns over Satan and demonic power, He reigns over politicians and Supreme Court decisions, He reigns over the nations, He reigns over heaven and over earth. Here is the antidote to fear - keep your eyes on the one who sits on the throne of heaven. Here is the ground of assurance and the unassailable fortress of faith - Jesus, my Savior, reigns. He reigns. He is Lord.

Christ Exalted Over the Church

See the power of God in the exaltation of Christ over the grave and the exaltation of Christ over evil and over every earthly and spiritual power, and lastly see the exaltation of Christ in and over the church. Verses 22 and 23 - “and he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” That is an astonishing statement. The one who reigns and rules all things, under whose feet all things have been placed, is given to the church to be its head. The reign of Christ that governs creation and providence has added to it a distinct dimension, a focused rule and governance. Christ rules all things in general and He rules the church in particular. He is Lord of all creation and the King over every other power. Nothing can thwart His reign. But He sustains a unique relationship to the church. The church is His body, and as the head, He rules it. The church is the fullness of Him and so He fills it entirely. It speaks of profound spiritual intimacy and communion. Christ inhabits and fills His church. He animates and governs His church. Christ directs each limb as head over the body. He permeates every heart like the shekinah glory that once filled the temple in Jerusalem.

Christ reigns over angels and demons, human and spiritual, natural and supernatural power, as monarch - lofty and exalted, unapproachable, irresistible, high and lifted up. But He rules His church by intimate presence and personal fellowship. Devils know Christ’s rule - defeating then, constraining them, and eventually one day destroying them utterly and they hate Him for it. But the church knows Christ rule, winning us to Himself, cleansing us from sin, empowering our obedience, protecting us from evil, and guiding us to glory and we ought to love Him for it. Christ is like a King who rules His country in strictest justice, destroying all who break His law. But He is a King who rules His own family with mercy, forgiving His children, bearing with them long when they stray, disciplining them in tenderness and teaching them to live with joy under His roof. He rules over all but His rule in the church among His people is a rule of love, a rule of mercy. The fearful power of the exalted Christ to govern and judge the nations is the gentle power He wields to hold us close, never to let us go. The terrible power of the one whose name is above every name is the tender power of the head joined in one with His body.

Did you notice, by the way, the tenses in the text? They speak as if the exaltation of Christ over all things is already complete. Do you see that? He has been seated at the right hand of God and all things have been placed under His feet. But now take a look at the world. The truth is, it’s hard to see all things under Christ’s feet right now - Islamic terror, same-sex marriage debate, the pornography epidemic, the violence on our streets, persistent racism, terrible pandemics of deadly disease. It doesn’t look like all things are under His feet right now, does it? There’s a parallel passage in Hebrews chapter 2 and verse 8 makes that very point. It says, “at present we do not yet see everything in subjection to Him.” That’s the way it is. Isn’t that so? Christ reigns but then you look at the world and you wonder. Where is His reign? Where is His victory? And Hebrews goes on to say that nevertheless, what we do see is Jesus crowned with glory and honor. Despite the way the world now is, Jesus does reign. The full display of His victory, its consummation, awaits the last day when evil will finally be undone and overthrown. It is not yet; it is one day soon.

For now, Paul in our passage says we can still, nevertheless, see the reign of the one who fills all in all, under whose feet all things have been placed. There is, nevertheless, one place where the Lordship of Christ is made visible in the world, where His dominion is made manifest, His rule held in honor. Where is it? It is the church of Jesus Christ. The church is the fullness of Him. He fills the church. The church is His body. He is its head. There, His word and will directs and governs our lives. There, His presence shapes our fellowship. There, His kingdom can be seen breaking into a dark world. And that means, weak, fearful Christian, the church is the sphere within which the power of the exalted Christ is made available to you. You need power to slay your fear; you need power to protect you from error. You need power to help you stay the course when weariness overcomes you. You need power to remain faithful when around you those who once professed to follow Christ follow Him no longer. Where do you go to access the power of Christ? Where does our King and head shower down upon His people the power of grace? There is power in the church. It’s not in the gift of the church; it is not the church’s power. But the church is the venue, the meeting place, the access point for the people of God to the power of Christ.

O how counterintuitive that is. How weak and awkward and strange, after all, the church can be. Talking heads in the pulpit, water sprinkled on a child’s forehead, psalms and hymns from bygone centuries - it doesn’t look like power, does it? And yet precisely there in the prayers and praises, in the preaching and the sacraments, in the means of grace and the fellowship of the people of God, in the ordinary worship of the church, there Christ is present. Here in the church, by His Word and His Spirit, the head animates and directs the life of the body. Weak, sorrowing Christian, fearful, doubting Christian, sin-sick, world-weary Christian - don’t look anywhere else. Look to the church, her worship, her ordinances, the plain exposition of the Bible, the pleading of the promises of God in prayer - none of those things have the trappings of earthly power but the power is not in us. It is in Jesus who has promised to meet us as we come hungry and thirsty to Him. Jesus comes in power for you, full of grace, in the means of grace, in the life of the church of Jesus Christ.

Maybe you’ve looked every which way so far for help but here. Maybe the church has burned you and hurt you; you’re reluctant to return to it. But today, Christ the head of His body, the one who fills all in all, fills the church full of His presence. He’s calling you to come and wait on Him in the one place He has ordained to meet with us, to meet with sinners. If it’s Christ you need then you need His church. If it’s the head you want then you need to be part of His body. If it’s fullness you want, you need to belong in the temple that He fills. It was John Stott, I think, who said that “the church is part of the Gospel.” To belong to Jesus must mean to belong among His people. If you want Christ, if you want His power in grace to sustain and keep you, frequent the places He frequents. Be where He shows up in mercy and grace. Be in the church. So there’s power for us in Christ, in Christ, exalted over the grave, exalted over every other power, and exalted in and over the church. Christ is what your soul needs. May God help you to come to Him once again and find the power of God to keep you and preserve you and assure you and keep you from the quicksand till you reach the other shore.

Let’s pray.

Father, thank You so much for Jesus. O forgive us for looking everywhere else but to Him and going everywhere else but the place where He comes, where He has chosen to meet us. O would You give us Christ anew in His power and grace for the glory of Your name, the good of our souls, and the salvation of the lost? For Jesus’ sake we pray, amen.

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