Power for the Powerless Part 2

Sermon by Ed Hartman on Aug 28, 2016

Ephesians 3:20-21

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If you’ll take your Bibles, turn to Ephesians chapter 3. We’re going to pick up where my brother, Gabe, left off this morning and do part two of thinking about “Power for the Powerless!” Before we turn our attention to God’s Word, let’s pray together;

Father, You’ve told us that Your Word is alive and powerful, that it’s sharper than any two-edged sword, that it pierces even to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and that it’s able to judge the thoughts and the intentions of our hearts, that everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account. So by Your Spirit, would You please make Your Word to be, in our experience, what You have declared it to be. Allow us to open our hearts to the authority of Your Word. Enable us to set aside the many, many thoughts and preoccupations that distract us from focusing on what You’re committed to speaking to our hearts and performing in our lives so that as we leave here this evening, it would be with a profound sense of having heard from You words that we desperately need to hear, promises that You are determined to keep, challenges for which You’ll give us the power and the passion to pursue. Grant us much grace, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Ephesians chapter 3. We’re going to read the entire passage from verse 14 all the way down to 21 just so we hold the flow:

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith - that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

 

"Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

The Word of the Lord!

So if I said to you the words, “Have fun storming the castle,” would you know what I was talking about? Those of you who are puzzled, you can ask later! Actually, let me give you a little context. It’s what Billy Crystal’s character, Miracle Max, and his wife, Valerie, said to our hero, Wesley, after Wesley and his motley crew had come to Miracle Max hoping for what his name proclaimed – a miracle. They were determined to storm the castle, to rescue Princess Buttercup. Can you believe we’re talking about “Princess Bride” at First Presbyterian Church? That’s what happens when David Strain is away, and Ralph Kelly! I see a blank spot right back there! I’m having fun. I’m sorry! This is a great passage and this is a perfect set up because right after Mad Max and his wife, Valerie, are waving, “Have fun storming the castle!” Valerie whispers, “You think it will work?” And Miracle Max’s response is, “It would take a miracle.”

It Would Take a Miracle

Question:  How many times have you heard yourself saying those words, “It would take a miracle”? “If I look at this relationship, it is so messed up it would take a miracle for this to be put back right. If I look at this situation at work, if I look at how my kids are turning out and the direction to which they are going, for them to be put back right it would take a miracle. For me to be happy in my marriage, it would take a miracle. For me to figure out what to do with the chaos in my life, a situation that’s just never going to change, a situation I’m not even sure how to pray about it’s gone on so long I’ve given up home, would take a miracle.” Been there? If you have, this passage speaks exactly to where you are. See, we know down deep God is powerful, we know that God loves us, but given enough time and not seeing any change, we begin to wonder, “Will it ever? And is there any reason to hope? The power of God – I’ve seen it work on behalf of other people, but this? Man, it would take a miracle.”

I’d like you to fix that place in your mind where those words find their target. Hold that in your mind as we work our way through the remainder of this passage because as my brother Gabe shared it with us this morning, this is a Trinitarian prayer where the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Spirit are all highlighted in their miracle-working power. The passage is all about this miracle-working power unleashed on our behalf. I mean think about everything we looked at in this morning’s service. This is by way of review. Think about the power and the miracles that Paul speaks of in the passage we looked at this morning. For Christ to dwell in our hearts, verse 17, takes a miracle. We were rebels! We are sinful! We are marked by guilt and shame and yet Christ dwells there? That’s a miracle! Don’t ever think that’s ordinary! Don’t ever experience that so long that you lose the cutting edge of Christ making His home within. “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” as Colossians 1:27 says, would take a miracle.

The Immeasurable Love of Jesus

And then secondly, for us to grasp the bigness of that, the massiveness of Jesus’ love for us, you don’t get that naturally. That bounces off! You can’t take that in. I mean think about it. You can measure the land mass of a country because it has borders. You can measure the land mass of a continent because it has shorelines. You can measure the volume of water in the oceans because it has specific depths. But the universe? How do you measure that? It is immeasurable! It is beyond bounds. No borders. No coastlines. No shorelines. No depths. It is immeasurable and Paul says this is what the love of Jesus for you and for me is – immeasurable. But he’s praying for the miracle that we would know it by experience. It takes a miracle for us to understand and to embrace and to buy into that love that Jesus has for us.

The Fullness of God

The third miracle – “to be filled with all the fullness of God.” Who can contain that fullness? How do you contain “be filled up with the fullness of God”? It’s impossible! It would take a miracle, wouldn’t it? To be so shaped by His presence within us that we find ourselves marked by a new identity that, as we were told this morning, that we no longer are defined by our past, we’re not more imprisoned by what we were, there’s a newness because we are being filled up with the fullness of Christ. It’s really the language of maturity. It’s growing up and becoming all that God intended for us to become and experience. Really this is what the entire book of Ephesians is about. It’s the power of God working miracles so that every place in your life you look and you say, “For that to change would take a miracle,” Paul says, “Yes, that exactly what we’re talking about!”

In The Heavenly Places

There’s this unusual phrase in the New Testament; it appears five times in the New Testament, all of which in the book of Ephesians, each of which is pointing us to this otherworldly power, this power outside of ourselves from another realm that is disposed toward us, unleashed on our behalf. It’s the phrase, “in the heavenly realms” or in the ESV, “the heavenly places.” I’ll read them to you very briefly and think about how Paul is using this in stringing these phrases together. Chapter 1 verse 3, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly places with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Chapter 1 verse 20, “which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead” – he’s talking about this power – “and seated him,” Jesus, “at his right hand in the heavenly places,” the place of power. Chapter 2 verse 6, “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” We are right now seated with Christ in that place of power, the heavenly places. Chapter 3 verse 10, just a few verses before this passage before us, His intent was that now, through the church, “the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” And you know from chapter 6 verse 12 that when it speaks of these rulers and authorities it’s talking about those spiritual enemies, the spiritual forces of evil – where? “In the heavenly places.”

What’s happening for Paul in the book of Ephesians is he’s lifting our gaze upward from the impossible to the place of real power where Christ is seated at the right hand of God the Father and we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places where the spiritual forces of evil are, as if to say, every place about which we speak, “That’s impossible; there’s no way that will ever change. That will take a miracle,” God smiles and says, “Everything against you is in the heavenly places but it’s where you already are, in Christ. All the power of heaven itself, all the power that Jesus has won on your behalf, His being seated on the throne at the right hand of the Father, is already directed on your behalf. It’s yours already,” He says, so that every time we say, “It would take a miracle,” God smiles and says, “I know and I’m ready. Are you?” It would take a miracle.

Don’t Ever Underestimate God’s Purposes

The thing I would like you to see from this passage is simply this statement. Don’t ever underestimate what God is determined to do for you. Don’t ever underestimate God’s purposes! He’s able to do exceedingly, abundantly beyond all we can ask or imagine according to the power at work within us. So here’s the question! We’ve talked about this in several different contexts over the past weeks. The question I’d like you to think about as you consider those, “It would take a miracle” places – turn it around this way. What are you trusting God to do that only God can do so that when He does it only He gets the glory? Think about that just for a moment. Every one of those impossible places, every one of those, “It would take a miracle” places. What are you trusting God to do that only God can do so that when He does it only He gets the glory? “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” He is able to do so much more than we ever ask or imagine. Don’t ever underestimate Him!

What if He Doesn’t?

But that leads to a question. If you’re thinking with me, the question has already formed, hasn’t it? What if He doesn’t? What if He doesn’t do what we know He is able to do? What do you do with that tension? We know God can to the miracle but He’s not done it; He’s not doing it. What then? As I thought about this, my mind first went to the book of Daniel where three familiar names appear – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – who are faced with an impossible decision. They’re told to bow down and worship at this idol that they have been forbidden by their God to worship and they’re told, “If you don’t do this, you will face an excruciating death being thrown into this fiery furnace. You will be incinerated to death.” And the response of these young men, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace the God we serve is able to deliver us from it and He will deliver us from your hand. But even if He does not, we want you to know, your majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold that you have set up.” You see, we’re not the first to ask the question, “What if He doesn’t?”

I had the privilege of speaking in Sunday School last Sunday. I told the story of what took place twenty years ago, this week. Twenty years ago, my first wife, as most of you know, was diagnosed with terminal cancer, a brain tumor that was, from the very beginning we were told, “No one has ever survived with this cancer. There’s not a thing we can do to save her life. We can make her comfortable, but y’all need to get your house in order.” And at that time, we had four very, very small children. They were one, two, five, and seven in age. And these four kids prayed with their daddy, “God, please heal mom? We know You’re powerful!” They knew this verse. “We know that You are able to do exceedingly, abundantly beyond all we can ask or imagine according to Your power at work within us. God, we know You’re powerful. We know You love mom. Please heal her!” And in my head were the words of the surgeon who said, “No one’s ever survived this cancer. This is not going to end well.” And my great fear for my kids was that they would grow up bitter against God, that they would hate the God who could have healed their mom but didn’t.

So I began encouraging our children to pray, “God, heal mom, or do something even greater for Your glory and for our good,” which initially they refused to do. They knew exactly what that meant and they said, “No, no, no, no! We’re just praying, ‘God, heal mom.’ That’s it! No other option! Not even a crack in the door!” But over time, one by one, they began adding that second phrase to their prayers, “God, heal mom, or do something even greater, something beyond our ability to ask, for Your glory and for our good.” So that when the Lord did take her home, their first question to me was, “Dad, what’s this greater thing that God is now determined to do?”

Tim Keller wrote a book recently on prayer where he took that imagery and wrote it even more clearly. He writes it this way; “When we pray, we can be certain that God will always give us what we would have asked for if we knew everything Jesus knows.” See, there’s the problem! I don’t know everything Jesus knows. I don’t see the end from the beginning. I don’t know how this evening’s going to turn out, let alone the rest of the year, or the rest of my life. So my praying is limited by the wisdom I have and I cannot say with a white-knuckled grip, “God, you’ve got to do it the way I see it, and in my timing.” When we pray, we can be sure that God will always give us what we would have asked for if we knew everything that Jesus knows.

How do you Hold That in Tension?

So how do we hold this in tension? The fact that God can do so much more than we could ever ask or imagine. This, “It would take a miracle,” He can do it! It doesn’t matter what it is, He could speak, He could look, He could smile and it could be completely resolved. He can! His arm is not too short to save. But what if He doesn’t? How do you hold that in tension? To hold it in tension I believe you have to go back to the Old Testament version of this New Testament promise, this doxology. The Old Testament version is in Isaiah 64, the first several verses, where the prophet says, I love this, “O that You would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before You! Come down and make Your name known to Your enemies and cause the nations to quake before You.” Here it is – “For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, You came down and the mountains trembled before You. Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides You who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.” Do you see the parallel? “Our God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly beyond all we can ask or imagine.” “Since ancient times no eye has seen, no ear has perceived, no one has ever seen any God like You who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him, who does awesome things that we did not expect.”

Wait on the Lord

So what does it mean to wait for the Lord? “Who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.” What does that mean, really? If you go to John Oswalt’s commentary on Isaiah, which was recommended to me by my good friend, Dr. Fluhrer, he says this about this passage in Isaiah 64, just two sentences. “To wait is to manifest the kind of trust that is willing to commit itself to God over the long haul. It is to continue to believe and expect when all others have given up and to believe that it’s better for something to happen in God’s time and in His way than for it to happen on my initiative and in my time.” Or from another perspective, Charles Spurgeon, he said this. “If the Lord Jehovah makes us wait, let us do so with our whole heart, for blessed are they that wait for Him. He’s worth waiting for. The waiting itself is beneficial to us. It tries our faith, it exercises our patience, it trains our submissions and endears the blessing when it comes. The Lord’s people have always been a waiting people.”

Did you catch that? If you’ve been waiting a long time for Him to answer, there’s a pretty good chance you’re among the Lord’s people because God’s people are a waiting people. And so Spurgeon invites us, if the Lord Jehovah makes us wait, let us do so with our whole heart, not with gritted teeth and clenched fists and tears brimming over our eyes saying, “Why God? Why?” Or repeating the words of the disciples when they were in their storm in the boat, “Don’t You care?” God’s people have always been a waiting people. That’s part of how He beautifies us and makes Jesus Himself more beautiful to us than the miracles for which we long and pray. The truth is, it’s hard.

Charles Simeon

I learned a great deal about this from Charles Simeon. If you read his biography, you will learn that he was pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge. He pastored one church for fifty-four years, all the way to his death in 1836. This man was a picture of struggle in ministry. He was a professor at the university, pastor at the church, and he was proclaiming the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith and his fellow professors couldn’t stand what was coming out of his mouth and they made his life miserable. They turned his students against him, they worked among his church, turned his parishioners against him, they tried to lock him out, they tried to freeze him out, they tried to discredit him. They made him miserable. Charles Simeon’s faith was really tested. His health broke. His financial situation was in shambles. It was a long experience of heartache and loss and brokenness; painful, relentless, suffering and loss. But looking back over his life, this is what Simeon taught. He said, “You know, we’re like a sailing vessel setting out to sea. We so desperately long for the wind of God’s Spirit to fill our sails and carry us along. We love the sight of a ship under full sail slicing through the water. We want to be that. We want to know that. We want to know the experience of what the Apostle Paul speaks when he says we’re ‘filled to the measure with all the fullness of God.’” But he says we can’t. We can’t sustain it. It would overwhelm us. It would capsize us, unless of course the sailing vessel was first loaded with sufficient ballast deep in the belly of the ship, with the keel of a sailboat heavy enough to let it ride low in the water so that when the wind begins to blow – and for us, the wind of God’s Spirit, the fullness of God begins to fill us to the measure – the ballast beneath holds us upright.

What Simeon said was those places that you’re pleading with God to change, those parts of your life about which you say would take a miracle for this to change, those are the very places where God, in His mercy, is filling your vessel with ballast, ballast sufficient to prepare you for the greater wind of His blessing to fill you to the measure of all the fullness of God. It would take a miracle, but it’s also going to take a lot of ballast to sustain it. Be careful what you ask God to take away from you. It may very well be that He has sent to you the brokenness, the heartache, that precedes a blessing, a fullness, a beauty that you cannot now imagine.

Charles Spurgeon spoke about this as he wrote about his depression. He called it “the black dog” that came to visit him. I don’t know how well you know about his life, but he went through seasons, months of his life where the depression, the darkness in his life was so deep he couldn’t minister; he couldn’t preach. They sent him off to the seaside to recover, not because he was physically sick – he had problems with gout and other issues – but it was the depression, “the black dog” as he called it, that overwhelmed him. But later in his life he wrote, and I think this is in his lectures to his students, he said, “I began to look forward to the coming of the canine,” the darkness, the depression, because he began to learn that in that darkness God was preparing within him a deeper ballast, a deeper capacity for him to experience the fuller beauty, the higher delight of knowing Jesus. And he found it as a precursor to God’s greater blessing to where he began to welcome the darkness.

It would take a miracle. And it may be that the heaviness, the brokenness, the darkness of your life and mine today is what God has graciously and mercifully sent to prepare us for the miracle – either the one that we’re praying for or the one that’s far greater than the one we’ve even begun to imagine. This morning I had the privilege of administering the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in the first church I ever pastored out in Edwards, Mississippi – delightful congregation. And as I looked at the Table spread before us, it occurred to me, “There’s the miracle.” What is typified, symbolized, signed and sealed in this sacrament is a miracle. And I thought of the words of Psalm 23 where the psalmist says, “You spread a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” It wasn’t just a picnic lunch. It wasn’t just, “Hey, let’s have a meal together.” It was a covenant meal in the ancient Near East. It was a way of saying two things. When a great leader, a king, spread a table before the people and invited them in he said, “All hostilities are over. The rebellion is no longer held against you. I’m making peace. I’m inviting you in. You’re no longer a stranger. You’re no longer banished. There is now no more condemnation. The outsider has become an insider. You’re invited in.” It’s a miracle, my friends; it’s a miracle.

But it’s also saying something else because in the ancient Near East, when you sat at the table of the king and you feasted with him at that covenant meal, in the presence of the enemies, the enemies were given a choice – “Either join us and be reconciled or watch the meal, because all those who eat at the king’s table are in covenant with him and all his resources are now marshalled on behalf of those who sit at the table.” Meaning, that the one who sits at the table, his enemies are now the king’s enemies and the king takes personal responsibility for overcoming all his and our enemies. We’re His. He is leveraging, marshaling, all of His resources on our behalf and He’ll never let us go. It’s a miracle. It would take a miracle for us to be drawn in and yet it’s happened.

And where do we land? We land with the words of Romans 8:32 where Paul says, “He who spared not His own Son,” a miracle, “but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also along with Him freely give us all things?” Let me paraphrase in closing; If He did the biggest miracle on your behalf, the unmeasurable, unthinkable miracle, ever lesser miracle is yours already. The ones you can imagine are one far greater, never less. Let’s pray!

Our Father, we thank You for the miracle of belonging to You through the Lord Jesus Christ. We thank You for the miracle of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, transforming us, making the Lord Jesus more beautiful and precious to us each day of our lives. And we thank You for the miracle that You will never, ever let us go regardless of how often, repeatedly we mess up, how badly we fail, how poorly we represent the Lord Jesus. You will never let us go. What a miracle that is. We look forward to the miracle of new creation where all that we have tasted only in part will become fully ours, all that we have seen as in a mirror darkly, dimly, will become unmistakably plain and for all eternity we will celebrate the worth of the Lamb and the delight of our belonging to Him. Thank You. The power of God, the miracle working power of God Himself is ours today. We look forward to the miracles You will do in our lives the rest of this day, the rest of this year, and until the day we see Jesus face to face. We pray in His precious and holy name, amen.

©2016 First Presbyterian Church.

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