The Lord’s Day Morning
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to Ephesians, chapter one, as we continue to study through this great letter of the Apostle Paul; a letter which, of course, ultimately comes to us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and is addressed to every Christian, because God’s word is profitable and is designed for our discipleship, to equip us for every good work, and so it comes to us from the very mouth of God for our edification.
Now, before we look at the passage that we’re going to concentrate on today, verses 7 and 8, I want to remind you a little bit of where we have already come. When we looked at Ephesians 1:3-4, the beginning of this prayer, we commented then (as we’ve commented several times in this study) that the first half of this chapter is a prayer of praise to God. It is an adoration directed to God for who He is and what He has done on our behalf.
The second half of this chapter, from verses 15-23, is a prayer of petition. It is a request directed to God. Now, interestingly, the fundamental request which is lifted up in verses 15-23 is that we would have our eyes opened to see that we are the recipients of the rich blessings of God, for which we have already praised Him in verses 3-14. Now, that’s very interesting and instructive: that Paul would begin a prayer praising God for who He is and what He has done for us, and that he would continue that prayer in this passage. He’s expected the Ephesians to join in with him in this prayer of praise to God in verses 3-14, but now he turns around and he asks God that God would open the eyes of the very people who have been praying that prayer with him (of adoration), to realize what it is that God has done for them, who He is towards them, even though they’ve already praised Him for being the God from all blessings flow. It’s very interesting and instructive, and it’s very interesting and instructive for a couple of reasons.
First of all, Paul is clearly giving us in this passage an outline as to prayer. He is giving us a pattern of Scripture-prayer. He is giving us points on which we can hang our hats when we come into the presence of God in prayer. Very often Christians who are beginning to exercise an active and regular prayer life wonder when they read of saints in times past - like Martin Luther, who would pray two hours every morning, and could say things like “If I am not with God for two hours in the morning, I am lost for the day, and the day is lost on me” - and Christians who are beginning a practice of prayer say ‘How in the world could somebody spend two hours in prayer?’
Well, Paul is beginning to show you how in this very passage, because he’s furnishing matters for prayer. And if you work through the matters for prayer and you make them your own in prayer, you can see very quickly how much you have to pray about, because Paul prefaces this petition with a long meditation on who God is.
But the second thing I want you to see is that Paul’s very focus on who God is in verses 3-14 is designed to put your circumstances and the things that are driving you to God in prayer in perspective. Whether it is a marital difficulty, whether it is a problem with a child, whether it is a job difficulty, whether you are facing legal challenges or business troubles, or family strife...maybe there has been a rift between you and a family member that has not been able to be healed; maybe there has been a medical diagnosis for you which is dire, or perhaps it’s been the medical diagnosis of someone who is near and dear to you...very often when those things, those circumstances, dramatic as they can be, when those things drive us to God in prayer, it is our temptation to think that those things are bigger than God - even though we would never say that out loud. We know better to say that our circumstances are bigger than God, yet experientially when those things drive us to God in prayer, it is our temptation to feel that those things are big – and though we know that we need to go to God in prayer, those things feel bigger to us than does God.
In comes Paul with this long prayer of praise and adoration. And what’s he doing? He’s putting your circumstances, and he is setting it right next to this infinite, amazing, incomprehensible, infinite God, and he’s showing you how your God is bigger than your current circumstances. Why? So that now as you go to God in that prayer request, in that cry for help, you see and you begin to realize that your God is far bigger than anything that you’re going through right now.
These Ephesian Christians themselves were facing persecution. They were marginal in their own society, and they were liable to all manner of assaults, and they could have felt that their circumstance, their situation, was overwhelming. And here’s Paul at the very outset of this great letter putting all of their life, all of their circumstances next to this awesome God, and reminding them that our God is bigger than anything that we ever face in life.
And it motivates them to prayer! It motivates them to believe that God can hear and answer, so that when they go, ‘Lord, I’m facing an illness that the doctors tell me that I will not recover from. Lord God, help me. Help me to love You and to trust You to provide for my family. Help me to live as a Christian in the midst of this diagnosis. Help me to glorify you in my testimony. Give me the strength to do the things that I need to do medically, but as a person, as a Christian, show the character that has been wrought by the grace of Your Holy Spirit in my dealings with all.’
Or maybe the diagnosis is dire, but it is not terminal. And your prayer is ‘Lord, help me. I don’t know where else to turn but You. I have the best available help in the world, and yet I know that You are the great physician, and You are the One who can heal. Lord, You can heal me or You can choose not to heal me; but, O God, grant that I will always bless Your name.’
Until we see the greatness of our God in those circumstances, our circumstances will feel bigger than our God. And so Paul is re-orienting our life and our prayer first and foremost in this prayer of adoration by showing us how big our God is: who He is and what He’s done.
But then, in the second half of the chapter, he’s going to pray that you realize it. Why? Because he knows that it is the case that many Christians who have been walking many years with their Lord and God, many Christians who have been praying many years to their Lord and God, many Christians who have been trusting in their Lord and God and trust Him more today than they did the first day that they came to faith in Jesus Christ, many mature Christians...even many mature Christians have not understood to the full who their God is. And mature Christians need to go back and remember who the God is that we love and serve.
And so he prays in the second half of the chapter that we would realize all the things that we have just prayed to God by way of adoration; that those things would be real to us; that Paul’s prayer with and for us in verses 3-14 would become a prayer that we can own for ourselves; and that those words would cease to be Paul’s words, and they would become the words of our hearts, so that the prayers that we lift up with our mouths and the prayers that we lift up in our minds would become truly our prayers in the very depths of our hearts; that they would not just be somebody else’s words for us, but that they would be our words to God; that we would really believe these things that we are lifting up to God in prayer. And so we take those words and we pray them, until we pray them.
We know that sometimes when we begin in prayer we feel far from God. Perhaps our circumstances are overwhelming us. Perhaps we feel hypocritical. We ourselves have been sinful, we ourselves have wounded others, and we feel unfit to come into the presence of God. And we start out. And we start out praying God’s word, but it doesn’t feel as if it’s our heart praying to Him, and Paul is giving us these words so that we’ll pray these words, and pray these words until they become the words of our hearts back to God.
You see, he’s giving us matters for prayer. He’s giving us substance for our prayers – things that, if we will latch on to and believe, will enable us to come to Him in prayer. For instance, look at verses 3 and 4. There, you’ll remember, he gave us four things that could be a focus, substance of our prayer: the Father, the Spirit, the Son, and God’s electing (God’s choosing) love.
He starts out, doesn’t he, in verse 3, by saying “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ...” and when we realize the significance of the fact that the one true God, the Judge of the universe, the Creator of the world has become our Father in Jesus Christ, and that before He became our loving heavenly Father in Jesus Christ, that He had always been the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. When we begin to work through the ramifications that when we come to the Supreme Being, the great power in the universe, we do not find a force, we do not find a principle, we do not find an idea: we come to a person who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, it changes the way we approach Him because we know that even earthly fathers know how to give good gifts to their children. How much more will this God who is the Creator of heaven and earth but who is also the Father of all those who trust in Jesus Christ...how much more is He able to give good gifts to His children? And when we begin to pray back to Him the ramifications of His Fatherhood in prayer, it actually stokes our readiness and our desire to come into His presence with requests.
And then we begin to meditate upon His Spirit. He goes on to say that this heavenly Father has blessed us with every spiritual blessing, that the Holy Sprit is the One by whom the Father has bestowed on us every spiritual blessing, that we have been sealed by that Holy Spirit in every spiritual blessing; and we begin to think again about the fact that this Holy Spirit, who has been the One by whom God has bestowed on us all of His fatherly favor, does what? Paul says in Romans 8 He intercedes for us when we have nothing but groanings to offer to God. And so when I can’t pray, and I want to pray (the words either won’t come out of my mouth, or if they come out of my mouth, they don’t feel like they’re my words, and they don’t feel like they’re getting to God), I remember this Holy Spirit in whom I have every spiritual blessing is interceding for me with groanings too deep for my own words, and it moves me to come to God in prayer. It moves me to come to God in faith for His answer to my request in accordance with His will.
And I think of the Son, in whom all these spiritual blessings have been bestowed, and I meditate on this glorious reality that the Father has given me these gifts by His Son. It’s by the blood of His own dear Son that He has bestowed these gifts on me.
And then I begin to think about His choosing love: that it was not I who chose Him, but that He chose me, even as Jesus told His disciples: “You didn’t choose Me. I chose you.” He set His love on me while I was a rebel, wandering far from Him; while I was in rejection of His goodness and His love, He reached out to me and He drew...and it’s not even the picture of the prodigal son, where the prodigal goes back to the Father: it’s the Father going out into the far country and bringing His son back. That’s what He’s done. He’s set His love on me. He’s chosen me. And all of these things, you see, that Paul is telling us, they put God in proper perspective.
He’s bigger than anything that we’re facing. “Lord God, I’m facing bankruptcy”; “Lord God, my family is falling apart”; “Lord God, my business is being challenged”; “Lord God, I’m in legal difficulties, and now it’s completely out of my hands.”; “Lord, there has been a rupture in a family relationship that I cannot repair”; “Lord, I am in tension with members of my own congregation because of social issues or business issues”...and these things seem so BIG and overwhelming! And here’s the Apostle Paul saying ‘The God that you’re going to, to ask for help in that time, He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He has blessed you with every spiritual blessing in His Son, Jesus Christ, and He has chosen you from before the foundation of the world.’ And there’s nothing bigger than that great story. There’s nothing bigger than that. Everything that’s going on in my little life is smaller than that grand, glorious story of God’s love and mercy.
Then he goes on. If you look at verses 5 and 6 as we studied them last week, you remember he gave you five more things to pray about: God’s predestining love, God’s adopting love; He focused on the glorious reality of union with Christ: that it was all about the glory of God; and that God had bestowed on us a mercy that was both costly and free.
And you see, again he’s giving you matters for prayer, so that when you’re having a hard time believing that the Lord God is hearing you, that you’re able to pray and that you’re able to commune with Him in prayer.
Or when you’re having a hard time believing that there’s really anything that God can do, he’s putting these things before you and he’s saying ‘Remember that this is God, who set His love on you not when you first came to Christ, not 2,000 years ago at the cross, not 2,000 years before that when a ram caught in a thicket was substituted for Isaac, not in the Garden with Adam and Eve—but He set His love on you before the foundation of the world, and there has not been a moment in which this universe existed in its long eons in which the Father’s love was not set upon you. Long before you were, He was, and He loved; and not only He was and He loved, but He loved you.
The apostle says, you just take that to the Lord the next time you’re wondering whether the Lord loves you, and whether the Lord is going to bless you, and whether He’s going to help you; you just remember that He set His love on you before you existed, before the foundations of the world. And you remember that He adopted you into His family. He gave you the inheritance of His Son. And you remember that He did this all in union with the Lord Jesus Christ; that by the Spirit He drew you to His Son. And you remember that He’s done all of this for His own glory, so that the story of what is going on in your life – whatever is going on in your life – you know this for certain: it is for God’s glory. And that His love shown to you was both costly and free: it cost Him much and it cost you nothing. And you come to God with that adoration, Paul says. And then tell me: Is your God big enough to deal with your circumstances? Is He loving enough to deal with your circumstances? Is He generous enough to provide you what you need?
You see, Paul’s giving you a life re-orienting prayer. When you pray what he prays here and you believe it, it changes everything about your life – everything about the way that you look at your circumstances and everything about the way that you relate to one another.
Now. With that as an introduction, I just want to draw your attention to three things today. I want you to see in verses 7 and 8 – and we’re not even going to get through verse 8 – I want you to see in 7 and 8 three things.
First of all, I want you to see God’s costly grace. He redeemed us through the blood of His Son.
Secondly, I want you to see His forgiving grace. He has forgiven our trespasses.
And thirdly, the first few words of verse 8, I want you to see His free grace: that He has done this in accordance with the riches of His grace, which He has lavished on us.
Now, before we read God’s word and hear it proclaimed, let’s look to Him in prayer and ask for His help and blessing.
Lord, this is Your word. You have given it to us for our edification and for Your glory. By Your Spirit, open our eyes to behold wonderful things in Your word. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hear the word of God.
“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us.”
And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
Understanding God’s costly grace, and His forgiving grace, and His free grace, will change your prayer, will change your prayers, and will change your life. Let’s look and see why.
I. Redemption by the blood of Christ.
First of all, let’s look at God’s costly grace. “In Him we have redemption through His blood.” You see, the Apostle Paul is drawing to our attention as we come to God with this great prayer of adoration, that we are coming to a Father who has redeemed us by the blood of His Son. He’s drawing our attention to the redemption that we have by the blood of Christ.
You know the picture of redemption here. It is a picture of purchasing someone out of slavery into freedom. People in Paul’s world would have understood that. There were slaves that could be purchased out of their slavery and into freedom. But of course, there was a greater Old Testament picture of this, and it was the picture of God coming to His people Israel, who had been in Egypt for 430 years, and for much of that time they had been there in slavery. And God in His mercy and in His might redeems them out of that slavery, redeems them out of that bondage, and gives them an ample land. He purchases them, He pays the price, He redeems them out of slavery into freedom.
There are other biblical pictures of this as well, but the Old Testament picture of the Exodus out of Egypt is the grand picture of God’s buying us out of our slavery and into a marvelous freedom, and the Apostle Paul is saying ‘Christian, you who trust in Jesus for your salvation, you need to understand this: that God has bought you with a price. He is the one who has bought you out of the slavery, out of the bondage, of sin. He is the one who has brought you into a marvelous freedom. He has brought you out of darkness and into His marvelous light. He is the one who has paid the price.’ And what is the price? Notice how he says it: “In Him we have redemption....”
Now, the “In Him” goes right back to the final phrase of the previous verse, which is “...in the Beloved.” It is the Beloved in whom we have redemption. In other words, it is in the beloved Son of God, the Son who was loved more than any human son has ever been loved, the Father’s only begotten is the One by whom He has paid the price, and He is the price that the Father has paid in order to redeem you out of iniquity, out of slavery, out of the bondage of sin, and bring you into fullness of freedom from sin and guilt, from its condemnation, from its penalty, and one day, from its power. It is the beloved Son by whom you have your redemption. It is the cost to the Father of the Son which has given you your freedom. And the Apostle Paul is pressing that home on you with all of its force and all of its greatness.
Some of you have read or seen the movie made by Stephen Spielberg, Saving Private Ryan. My father-in-law said, “I have no plans to read or see this. I went through three D-Day’s myself, and I have no intention of watching another one.” But whether you’ve seen it or read it or not doesn’t matter. The story is simple. There is a man who is in harm’s way in Europe. All of his brothers have died fighting for their country. The U.S. Government dispatches troops in order to extract him, so that his mother will not be bereft of all of her children, so that he will be able to carry on the legacy of his family. Men die trying to get him back to freedom. And when he is finally won to freedom, one of the men says to him, “Earn this.”
In other words, with the way he lives his life, he is to earn the sacrifice that they have given of their lives so that he might live.
Now, I want to tell you that when those words echo in my ears, I’m not sure how a man could bear up under the burden of that. How do you earn the lives of men who have given their lives for your freedom and for your life? I’m not sure that there is a way you can actually do it, but, my friends, if we can’t earn the lives of someone else – a human being who has given his life that we might enjoy the marvelous freedom of our nation – can you imagine that there would be any way our lives could ever measure up to the gift of the death of the Son of God?
God’s gift is out of all proportion, and He is drawing attention to us here the costliness of this gift. For us to be redeemed, for us to enjoy communion with God, for us to enjoy everlasting life, to (in the words of the 23rd Psalm) “dwell in the house of the Lord forever” – the only way that this could be was through the shedding of the blood of God’s own beloved Son. And He gave that gift.
And the Apostle Paul is saying ‘You just remember that when you go to your heavenly Father, you’re going to the Father who gave His Son for you.’ Don’t you ever doubt the greatness, the magnitude, the beneficence, the generosity, the prodigality, the lavishness, of His love. He’s given His Son for you. Don’t you ever go to Him thinking, ‘Well, will the Lord give me what I need?’ He’s given you His Son! The cost of your redemption was His Son, and everything else, all of it rolled up together doesn’t equal the value of His Son. And He’s given that for you.
And he’s reminding you that as He has given you a costly love, He’s calling you to give a costly love. As He has extended to you a costly grace, He’s calling you to show a costly grace to others. Perhaps you’re in a relationship right now that has been fractured. It may be with a family member, it may be with a friend, it may be with a fellow member of this congregation. And there’s so much hurt because of the injustice that has been done, that you continue to cycle through. The bitterness lays hold. You’re not able to let it go, and the cycle of bitterness perpetuates the continued break in the relationship. And you know, the only thing that will ever break that cycle is if somebody steps out with costly love.
But how can you do that when justice has been wounded? When your own reputation has been besmirched, and your own honor has been called in to question? Or when you have been deeply wronged, irreparably wronged? You can only do that if you realize that a greater costly love, a greater costly grace, has been given to you that frees you from your bitterness and enables you to display the same kind of costly love to others. The Apostle Paul is saying here ‘Let us remember the costly grace of God in Jesus Christ. We’ve been purchased out of slavery by the Father, in union with Christ. We’ve been redeemed by His blood.
When you sing Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it! Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb! don’t just say it, don’t just sing it; mean it and live it.
II. Forgiveness of our sins – breaking of God’s law.
But he’s not done. He goes on to say that we have forgiveness of our trespasses. The Apostle Paul is reminding us that this costly grace of God has given us the gift of forgiveness of sins – and not just sin in general. You know, the Apostle Paul often uses a word for sin which means missing the mark. That is, that our lives have not fulfilled the purpose for which God has made us, that our obedience and our behavior has not measured up to the standards of God’s holy will.
But he uses a special word here: trespasses. We have received forgiveness of our trespasses. Those of you who come from Baptist or Episcopal traditions will say that word trespasses when you’re repeating The Lord’s Prayer. We Presbyterians say debts because we’re always thinking about money! But other more spiritual souls will use that word trespasses, and it’s a word very similar to the word transgressions, which indicates crossing the boundaries of God’s commands either by doing something that He tells us not to do, or by not doing something that He tells us to do. It’s a transgression; it’s a trespass of God’s commands. And whatever else we need in the Christian life, we need forgiveness before and more than anything else. And here’s the Apostle Paul reminding us of God’s forgiving grace, the forgiveness of our sins. Though we have broken God’s law, God in Jesus Christ has forgiven us.
Did you hear the judge’s statement in the sentencing of Richard Reid just a few days ago? Richard Reid, the man who attempted to blow up the jetliner with the explosive that he had
hidden in his shoe, and he was unable to light it? He defiantly spoke to the court, saying that he had “done what he had done, or attempted to do what he had attempted to do, in the name of the great Allah, and that he was bringing judgment against the wicked infidels, and that oh! how he wished that he had been able to kill himself and to kill these infidels, too; and that one day the great Allah would be avenged against the infidels; that what he had done was right, and that what the infidel was doing was evil.” And the judge said to him, “Mr. Reid, on the Judgment Day, God will judge whether it was we who were evil or whether it was you who were evil.”
Now, all our righteous indignation wells up when we see someone through terrorism taking innocent lives, or attempting to take innocent lives, because we see obviously the very patent transgression of law and of morality. But my friends, our Lord Jesus Christ said to us many, many hundreds of years ago, “Take the log out of your own eye before you attempt to take the speck out of your brother’s.” All of us have transgressed the law of God. All of us will stand before the bar of justice. All of us will stand before the searching judgment of God, and that is why this word is so precious: that we have been given forgiveness of sins.
John Wagner and I were talking after the service last week about a great quote that brings this into full relief, by Professor Finlayson of the Free Church College, who put this provocatively when he said, “Hell is eternity in the presence of God.” I meant to say it that way. Listen to it again: “Hell is eternity in the presence of God. Heaven is eternity in the presence of God with a Mediator.”
You see the point. To be in the presence of God eternally without forgiveness of sins – that is hell. But to be in eternity in the presence of God with forgiveness of sins, that is heaven. To have a Mediator who has stood in between and borne our sins so that our sins might be fully forgiven, that we might have communion with God and with all those who trust in Him, that is heaven! But to be before the throne of God without forgiveness, without the mercy of the Mediator, oh, that will be to receive the sentence of hell.
And my friend, if you are here this day and you have not found the forgiveness of sin that is only held out in Jesus Christ, you do not need to leave those doors before your soul does business with God. Because life without that forgiveness here and hereafter is the judgment and the condemnation – the just judgment and condemnation – of God against unforgiven sin, and that sin can only be dealt with in Jesus Christ, and that is why it is only by trusting Him who is the Mediator that we find and experience the fullness and the freeness of His forgiveness.
III. Redemption through God’s lavish grace.
There’s one last thing I want you to see here, and it’s in the end of verse 7 and beginning of verse 8. He says, “...according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished on us.” That is, this redemption, this forgiveness is according to the riches of His grace, or to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us. He’s not only drawing our attention to costly grace, he’s not only calling our attention to forgiving grace, he’s calling our attention to free grace. That redemption has been given to us through God’s lavish grace.
You know, one of the things that I find repeatedly amongst Christians, even the most mature of them, is that when God has brought home to them a sense of the greatness of their sin, it is very difficult for them sometimes to believe that that sin can really be fully and finally dealt with, because that sin - which is so close to our hearts and which emanates from twisted desires of our hearts, when we realize how ugly it is, how painfully it has impacted those that we love and those that we know, how deeply it has grieved and offended our loving Father - it becomes so real and so near and so big and so great to us that it becomes very difficult to believe that it could be fully and freely forgiven. And here is the Lord God saying that His lavish grace of forgiveness is far more lavish than our sin.
We sang “Grace that is greater than all our sin...” just a few moments ago. But did you mean it? Have you seen your sin? Have you been able to say ‘I’m worse! I’m worse than I appear to be! I’m worse than I ever thought myself to be before, but God’s grace is greater; it’s greater than my sin’?
You see, that’s what the Apostle Paul is saying. When you come into the throne room of the heavenly Father, and you come in to pray and to adore Him, don’t you forget to adore Him for His costly grace and for His forgiving grace, and for this free, this lavish, this generous grace which He has given to us. It’s a forgiveness that’s more lavish than all our sin.
And Paul is reminding us, the Lord is reminding us, that we’ve been redeemed by grace: grace lavished upon us. And that’s life re-orienting, because people who realize that they’ve been redeemed not because they’ve deserved it, not because of something that they’ve done, but because of God’s free and lavish grace, they themselves become merciful people. You know, it’s one of the joys of my heart when I hear reports that precisely because you have a big view of God and a big view of grace, a big view of God’s sovereignty, that you have become tender-hearted and loving and merciful and charitable people.
But it’s one of the great disappointments, isn’t it, when we run into people who claim to have a big view of God and yet are so stingy and unmerciful in their own experience? It’s a deep, deep disappointment, isn’t it?
Oh, my friends! The apostle is reminding us here that those who have been shown big mercy become people who show big mercy. They’ve been made tender; they’ve been made compassionate, like our God. Let us testify to the greatness of our view of God not simply in our claims, but in the quality of mercy that exudes from our lives. When you go to God, go to God with your prayers reoriented by the costly grace, by the forgiving grace, and by the generous, the lavish, the free grace that He has given to you in Jesus Christ.
O Lord God, we have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and we love to proclaim it. So we pray, O God, that these words that we sing would not simply be somebody else’s words, but that in the depths of our hearts we would make them our words of praise to You. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
[Congregational hymn: Redeemed! How I Love to Proclaim It!]
Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
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