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Summing Up All Things In Christ

Series: God's New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Jul 31, 2005

Ephesians 1:8-10

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The Lord's Day Morning

July 31, 2005

Ephesians 1:8-10

“Summing Up All Things In Christ”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Ephesians, chapter one, as we continue to work our way through this great prayer.

We have said several times that this first prayer, from verse 3-14 of Ephesians 1, is a prayer of praise, or doxology. It is directed to God. It is about God. And we have also said that it is life re-orienting. Understanding this prayer not only would change the way we pray, but understanding the truth of this prayer spoken about God, to God, for His glory would change our lives. And we've stressed this in several ways. The truths of this passage are great.

In Ephesians 1:3, for instance, the great truth that every spiritual blessing has been given to us by our heavenly Father in Jesus Christ. Our great God is not stingy with us in the way He deals with His people. He is generous and lavish in His gifts to us. To realize that is to have life re-oriented.

We've also seen in Ephesians 1:4-5 that God's love for us did not start when we started loving Him. It didn't even start at the cross or in the days of Abraham, but before the foundation of the world He set His love on us. He had a predestining love for His people, a choosing love for His people, in which He reached out to us in love before we ever existed, and certainly before we ever responded to Him in faith. And that realization that there has never been a time in the universe when God did not have us in His heart and did not love us, and did not have purposes of good in mind for us is one of the great comforting truths of Scripture, and it's a life re-orienting truth.

But it doesn't stop there. Paul continues to pour it on. He reminds us again in verse 5 that this predestining love of God had in view the purpose of adopting us into His own family, welcoming us to His table, treating us as His own children, giving us a joint inheritance with His only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. And so on, and so on....Paul has piled up truths in this passage which, if comprehended, would be life re-orienting. They would change the way we think about life.

Now, there are many reasons why it's important for Paul to do this. One of the most important reasons is this: there are so many Christians that do not experience an understanding of the fullness of the blessings that God has given to them in Jesus Christ.

I've told you this story before, which was told to me by Gordon Reed, of a man in the nineteenth century who had fallen on hard times. He didn't have much of a job, he didn't have much savings, and he was leaving from somewhere in the North, getting on a steamboat on the Ohio River, eventually desiring to make his way to New Orleans to make a new start in life. He scraped together all the money that he had, and he bought a ticket for the steamboat. But he didn't have anything left over in order to go to the dining hall on the steamboat to eat on the journey. I can't remember how long the journey was going to last, but it was going to last several days...to get from where he was all the way to New Orleans. And so he scraped together what he had left, and he got cheese, and he got some crackers and some old bread, and he stuffed them in his pockets. And when the dining hall time would come, and everyone would go in their fine clothes to the dining hall on the ship, he would sort of sneak off into a corner and he would eat his crackers and his old cheese.

Well, about halfway through the voyage somebody saw him at the time they were heading to the dining hall, and said, “Well, friend, where are you going?”

“Well, I'm not going to eat in there.”

“Well, why not?”

“Well, I don't have any money, and so I'm embarrassed to be there with those fine people in their fine clothes eating, and so I'm going to go off in a corner and eat my crackers and my cheese and my bread.”

And the man said, “Well, look at your ticket!”

“What do you mean?”

“Look at your ticket.” And at the bottom of his ticket it said “All Meals Included.”

Now it wasn't that he didn't have a right to go into the dining hall. He had every right to go into the dining hall and partake of the fine food. It was that he hadn't realized it.

It was interesting...after the first service Brister Ware tells me that this still happens today on the train. People will buy a ticket for the sleeper car, and then they’ll take their food with them because they don't think they can afford to eat in the dining car. But when you buy a ticket on Amtrak for the sleeper car, all your meals are included. And he says that he has seen plenty of people that were there on the train and they had every right to go to the dining car and eat, and they didn't take advantage of it. They didn't realize it.

And so many Christians are in precisely that circumstance. You see, the Christian blessings which are being spoken of in Ephesians 1 are not blessings that are reserved for super-Christians. They’re not blessings that are reserved for a secret few that have achieved some level of higher life. These blessings are for everyone who is in Jesus Christ, but so many who love the Lord Jesus Christ fail to fully appreciate the manifold blessings that have been heaped on them.

So, even as Paul gives praise to God, he is reminding us of the greatness, of the fullness, of the blessings God has granted to us in Jesus Christ. And so, it is a life re-orienting exercise to study the truth of this prayer, for even though our goal is to be able to pray it to God and to believe it of God, and to believe it with all our heart and to live it, yet we receive the blessing, even as we give praise to God for these things, of realizing that God has given these things to us. And it changes the way we pray, and it changes the way we look at life.

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 God, this is Your truth. You mean it to change our lives, our character, and our conduct. Do so, we pray, for we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.

Hear God's word.

“In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

The Apostle Paul has been heaping on us and filling our hearts with these glorious life re-orienting truths about our God, about what He has done for us in the generosity of His grace. And here in verses 8, 9, and 10, he continues to do precisely that.

There are three things in particular I want you to see in this passage today.

First of all, if you look at the last words of verse 8 and the first words of verse 9, you’ll see Paul emphasizing something that God has revealed to you as Christians.

Secondly, if you look at the end of verse 9 and the beginning of verse 10, you will see the Apostle Paul emphasizing that God's purposes have happened at just the right time, in just the right way.

And then finally, at the end of verse 10, you will see him unfold the fullness of those purposes for you: that is, that all things are to be brought under the rule of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that everything will be reordered under His headship.

And if we will understand these three truths, again, it will re-orient life.

Let's look at each of them.

I. God in goodness, kindness and grace has revealed to us “the mystery of His will.”

First of all, at the end of verse 8: “In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will....” There the Apostle Paul is emphasizing the mercy that it is that God has made known to us His plan of redemption. God in His goodness, in His kindness, in His grace, has revealed to us, Paul says, “...the mystery of His will.” He's revealed to us His merciful plan of redemption in Jesus Christ, and the Apostle Paul is stressing the blessing that that is to all those who know the Lord Jesus Christ.

All men know that there is a God; all men know that that God is to be worshiped; all men know something of the attributes of that God; and, all men know that God has a right and a wrong, and that He will judge the wrong and He will reward the right. The Apostle Paul tells us that in Romans 1. But the apostle also tells us here that not all know the fullness of God's redeeming plan. That is something which God in His grace and mercy has revealed in the gospel, and as the Apostle Paul proclaims that gospel, that message falls upon ears that could not have understood it apart from the grace of God in announcing it, making it known, in revealing it; and it is a mercy, it is a blessing, to see the truth of God's redeeming plan revealed in the gospel and apprehended by the Holy Spirit.

This grace of knowing the revealed redeeming purposes of God is a life re-orienting truth, and we should never, ever take for granted knowing and believing what we have known since many of us were children in Sunday School. Some of you may have heard the truth of God's redeeming plan from before the time that you could have understood it. You may remember on your grandmother's or your mother's knee, or in a Sunday School class at a very early age, hearing the outline of God's great purposes of redemption revealed in His gospel, revealed in His word. You should never, ever take for granted knowing that truth, because that truth is something which God has revealed, and the ability to understand that truth and to believe that truth is a gift of grace.

You remember what the Apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 2:14? That the natural man cannot understand these things, because they are revealed by the Spirit. It is the Spirit of God that reveals to us, and helps us to understand and to embrace by faith the truths of God's redeeming plan. The natural man cannot do these things...only the man who has been wrought upon by God the Holy Spirit. And so we should never, ever take for granted knowing and believing what we have known and believed, some of us, since we were children.

A number of years ago the head of the Presbyterian Church in America's Mission to The World, Paul Kooistra, was in China, and he was visiting with some pastors who were part of a large fellowship of churches who had, among other things, not been allowed to read the Book of Revelation by the Chinese Communist authorities. Some of these pastors had been persecuted for their faith...some of them imprisoned and tortured. They loved Jesus, but there were all sorts of things about the word that they didn't understand because part of the truth had been held back from them by the Communist authorities.

Dr. Kooistra was sharing with them what he thought was a very basic gospel message. In the course of that gospel message, he mentioned Jesus’ coming again — the Second Coming of Christ. The Chinese pastor took him by the arm and said, “You mean to tell me that Jesus is coming again?”

“Why, yes. It says so in the Bible.”

“No one's ever told me this!”

This man had been ready to lay down his life for Christ, and he didn't know that He was coming again in power and glory to reign forever and ever.

My friends, you should never, ever take for granted the truth that you have received in God's word and gospel about God's redeeming plan. The Apostle Paul says God, in His goodness and kindness and grace, has revealed to us the mystery of His will, His redeeming purposes; and that is a life re-orienting truth.

II. God in His good and kind purposes has brought His plan to pass at just the right time.

But there's a second thing I want you to see here, and you’ll see it in verses 9 and 10. Paul goes on to say that He made known to us the mystery of His will “according to [His] kind intention, which He purposes in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times....”

Now, there is a whole sermon — maybe a sermon series — in those phrases, but I want to draw your attention to just one thing, and it's this phrase: “...an administration suitable to the fullness of the times.” The Apostle Paul is saying God set His plan in motion with the coming of Christ into this world for our redemption at precisely the right time.

In other words, Paul is saying that God, in His good and kind purposes, has brought His saving plan to pass at just the right time, at just the right place, in just the right way. And that is a vitally important truth for us to realize, because it would be very possible for us to look at the story of God's purposes of redemption in the Scripture and ask all sorts of questions. Why did God wait so long? After Adam and Eve fell into sin, why did He wait so many thousands of years before He sent His Son Jesus into the world? And why in the world did He send His Son Jesus into this arid land east of the Mediterranean? And why in the world did He design to save us from our sins through the death of His Son? We might ask all manner of questions. Why, why, why?

And the Apostle Paul is stressing to us here that what God did, He did exactly right. He is reminding us here that God's timing and God's plan and God's way of redemption is perfect in all its dimensions, and so we are to be captive, in our thinking about God's plan, to God's word. If we really want to understand the purposes of God, our minds must be captive to His word. Our ignorance here is wiser than all the world's wisdom. The world may ask many questions about why God did what He has done and they may challenge God; but the man of God, the woman of God, realizes that God's plan has been brought about at just the right time, at just the right place, in just the right way.

William Cowper reminds us of this truth in his song God Moves in a Mysterious Way. Do you remember what he says?

“God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.

He plants His footsteps on the sea,

And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines of never-failing skill,

He treasures up His bright designs

And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds you so much dread

Are big with mercy, and will break

With blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust His for His grace.

Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour.

The bud may have a bitter taste,

But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err, and scan His work in vain;

God is His own interpreter,

And He will make it plain.”

The Apostle Paul is telling us here that God's purposes came about at just the right place, at just the right time, in just the right way; and even as we must believe that about His grand plan of redemption, so we must believe that about His providence in our own lives. When the diagnosis of cancer comes, when the difficulty in home and family comes, when the problems at work come, when the reproach against your reputation comes, you must remember that God is working out His purposes for you in Christ, for His glory, and for your good. And the grace of being able to trust God's plan and timing is a life re-orienting grace. To be able to believe God's sovereign superintendence not only of the particulars of the plan of redemption, but of the whole of our lives...that is one of the great comforts in life.

Now, we Presbyterians pick fun at ourselves about this, and some of our friends who are not Presbyterians pick fun at us about this. They think that we're fatalists. They tell us jokes like “Well, you know what the Presbyterian said after he fell down the stairs: ‘Oh, I know that was God's will, but I'm sure glad it's over!’” And they think we're fatalists! You see, that's not the point at all. The point is to realize that in everything that is going on in our lives–in everything–God is working out His purposes, and His plan always is the right place, the right time, and the right way.

You know, our friend Bishop Ronnie Crudup of the New Horizon Church said just a few weeks ago that in his tradition the old people like to say, “God may not always come when you want Him, but He's always on time.” And that is a profoundly Presbyterian idea; in fact, it's better than that: it's a profoundly biblical idea, because in whatever is happening in our experience we may be assured that it is in accordance to “an administration suitable to the fullness of the times.” God is working out His purposes at the right place, at the right time, in the right way, even if we don't understand what He's doing. And being able to rest and trust and believe in His superintending providence is one of the great comforts of life.

III. God is bringing all things under the Lordship/headship of Christ.

And then finally, I want you to see what he says at the end of verse 10. He tells us more about this “mystery of His will.” We said first of all in this passage that when Paul speaks of the mystery of His will, he's talking about God's plan of redemption. Now, in Ephesians 2, he is particularly drawing attention by the use of the word mystery to the reality that the Gentiles are becoming part of the people of God in the same way believing Jews are the people of God: by believing in the Messiah, who God sent into the world to save us from our sins.

But there is even more to this phrase “the mystery of His will” that Paul is speaking of here in verse 10. Look again at what he says. The mystery of His will is — what? “...The summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.” So Paul is not only drawing our attention to God's revealing of His plan of redemption; He's not only drawing to our attention that God's plan of redemption happens at the right time, in the right place, in the right way; he's drawing our attention to the fact that God is doing this all with a view to the rule of Jesus Christ over all things, and Christ's reordering all things for the sake of His church.

Paul is saying, when he says “...the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things in the earth...” that God is bringing everything under the lordship, under the headship of Jesus Christ. You know that when Paul uses the word mystery, he means something that was once concealed but has now been revealed, and is now being openly declared. The mystery religions around Paul in his day had all sorts of secret truths that only people who reached higher levels in those mystery religions could know, but Paul uses the word mystery as an open secret. Once upon a time, he says, in the Old Testament this was not clearly understood; but now, since the end of all things has come, since Christ has come into this world, this once-mystery has been openly revealed in Jesus Christ, and we are publicly proclaiming it to anyone who will listen.

Now, one aspect of that mystery of God's will revealed in the letter to the Ephesians is that the Gentiles are being welcomed into God's family along with believing Jews. But that's not what Paul has in view in verse 10. It is something much bigger. Paul is pointing to the grand purpose of God to bring all things under the headship of Christ.

And my friends, it is a grace to know that no matter what is going on in your life in any of its circumstances, it is a grace to know that the grand purpose of God is the exaltation of Jesus Christ, and the bringing of all things under His rule and under His headship. That truth is a life re-orienting truth: that no matter what happens in my life, God is bringing this whole universe under the rule of Jesus Christ.

Why is it that the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:32 can say to you that God, who so freely gave His Son, is also going to give you with Him — what? All things. How can he say that? Because God is bringing all things under the rule of Jesus Christ, so that there is nothing in the universe–absolutely nothing in this universe–that is not going to be brought under the lordship of Jesus Christ, one way or another.

Think of it, my friends! You remember when Paul was writing those verses? He was a prisoner when he was writing those verses. He wasn't in some dark, dank, dungeon, but he was under house arrest, and he was chained to a Roman officer — and yet he was utterly free. And he was a servant of a Master under whom every power in the universe is being subsumed. And so the Apostle Paul knew that one day that guard to whom he was chained would acknowledge the lordship of Jesus Christ — one way or another. And the commander of that guard to whom he was chained would acknowledge the lordship of Jesus Christ — one way or the other. And the emperor of that guard would acknowledge the lordship of Jesus Christ — one way or another. And all the kings of this earth would acknowledge the lordship of this Jesus Christ, one way or another. Every knee would bow, every tongue would confess — willingly or unwillingly; by the grace of God, or by the force of God's judgment — that Jesus Christ is Lord. And, my friends, that's a profoundly comforting thought: that there is nothing in this world arrayed against you that will not at the last be brought into submission to the Lord Jesus Christ, and that leaves for us only one response: we can either embrace that lordship in all of its grace and comfort, or we can ignore and reject it and be submitted to it anyway — but apart from its blessing.

The Apostle Paul has told us as Christians these things so that we might revel in the blessings that God has given to us. He's made known to us the mystery of His redeeming plan. He's shown us that His plan is just the right plan, in just the right place, and it's happening just in the right way. And He has shown us that our future is secure because all things are being brought under the headship of Jesus Christ. But if you are not in Christ, then you will experience that headship by means of judgment. So if you are not a Christian today, the only wise thing for you to do is to bow the knee and embrace His lordship, and find in Him every spiritual blessing from the Father, by the Spirit.

Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, we thank You for Your word. We thank You for the glory of the promises that You have given to us in Jesus Christ, and we pray that not a one here would leave without personally acknowledging the lordship of Christ in all things, and embracing Him as Lord and Savior. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

The Lord's Day Morning

July 31, 2005

Ephesians 1:8-10

“Summing Up All Things In Christ”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Ephesians, chapter one, as we continue to work our way through this great prayer.

We have said several times that this first prayer, from verse 3-14 of Ephesians 1, is a prayer of praise, or doxology. It is directed to God. It is about God. And we have also said that it is life re-orienting. Understanding this prayer not only would change the way we pray, but understanding the truth of this prayer spoken about God, to God, for His glory would change our lives. And we've stressed this in several ways. The truths of this passage are great.

In Ephesians 1:3, for instance, the great truth that every spiritual blessing has been given to us by our heavenly Father in Jesus Christ. Our great God is not stingy with us in the way He deals with His people. He is generous and lavish in His gifts to us. To realize that is to have life re-oriented.

We've also seen in Ephesians 1:4-5 that God's love for us did not start when we started loving Him. It didn't even start at the cross or in the days of Abraham, but before the foundation of the world He set His love on us. He had a predestining love for His people, a choosing love for His people, in which He reached out to us in love before we ever existed, and certainly before we ever responded to Him in faith. And that realization that there has never been a time in the universe when God did not have us in His heart and did not love us, and did not have purposes of good in mind for us is one of the great comforting truths of Scripture, and it's a life re-orienting truth.

But it doesn't stop there. Paul continues to pour it on. He reminds us again in verse 5 that this predestining love of God had in view the purpose of adopting us into His own family, welcoming us to His table, treating us as His own children, giving us a joint inheritance with His only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. And so on, and so on....Paul has piled up truths in this passage which, if comprehended, would be life re-orienting. They would change the way we think about life.

Now, there are many reasons why it's important for Paul to do this. One of the most important reasons is this: there are so many Christians that do not experience an understanding of the fullness of the blessings that God has given to them in Jesus Christ.

I've told you this story before, which was told to me by Gordon Reed, of a man in the nineteenth century who had fallen on hard times. He didn't have much of a job, he didn't have much savings, and he was leaving from somewhere in the North, getting on a steamboat on the Ohio River, eventually desiring to make his way to New Orleans to make a new start in life. He scraped together all the money that he had, and he bought a ticket for the steamboat. But he didn't have anything left over in order to go to the dining hall on the steamboat to eat on the journey. I can't remember how long the journey was going to last, but it was going to last several days...to get from where he was all the way to New Orleans. And so he scraped together what he had left, and he got cheese, and he got some crackers and some old bread, and he stuffed them in his pockets. And when the dining hall time would come, and everyone would go in their fine clothes to the dining hall on the ship, he would sort of sneak off into a corner and he would eat his crackers and his old cheese.

Well, about halfway through the voyage somebody saw him at the time they were heading to the dining hall, and said, “Well, friend, where are you going?”

“Well, I'm not going to eat in there.”

“Well, why not?”

“Well, I don't have any money, and so I'm embarrassed to be there with those fine people in their fine clothes eating, and so I'm going to go off in a corner and eat my crackers and my cheese and my bread.”

And the man said, “Well, look at your ticket!”

“What do you mean?”

“Look at your ticket.” And at the bottom of his ticket it said “All Meals Included.”

Now it wasn't that he didn't have a right to go into the dining hall. He had every right to go into the dining hall and partake of the fine food. It was that he hadn't realized it.

It was interesting...after the first service Brister Ware tells me that this still happens today on the train. People will buy a ticket for the sleeper car, and then they’ll take their food with them because they don't think they can afford to eat in the dining car. But when you buy a ticket on Amtrak for the sleeper car, all your meals are included. And he says that he has seen plenty of people that were there on the train and they had every right to go to the dining car and eat, and they didn't take advantage of it. They didn't realize it.

And so many Christians are in precisely that circumstance. You see, the Christian blessings which are being spoken of in Ephesians 1 are not blessings that are reserved for super-Christians. They’re not blessings that are reserved for a secret few that have achieved some level of higher life. These blessings are for everyone who is in Jesus Christ, but so many who love the Lord Jesus Christ fail to fully appreciate the manifold blessings that have been heaped on them.

So, even as Paul gives praise to God, he is reminding us of the greatness, of the fullness, of the blessings God has granted to us in Jesus Christ. And so, it is a life re-orienting exercise to study the truth of this prayer, for even though our goal is to be able to pray it to God and to believe it of God, and to believe it with all our heart and to live it, yet we receive the blessing, even as we give praise to God for these things, of realizing that God has given these things to us. And it changes the way we pray, and it changes the way we look at life.

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 God, this is Your truth. You mean it to change our lives, our character, and our conduct. Do so, we pray, for we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.

Hear God's word.

“In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

The Apostle Paul has been heaping on us and filling our hearts with these glorious life re-orienting truths about our God, about what He has done for us in the generosity of His grace. And here in verses 8, 9, and 10, he continues to do precisely that.

There are three things in particular I want you to see in this passage today.

First of all, if you look at the last words of verse 8 and the first words of verse 9, you’ll see Paul emphasizing something that God has revealed to you as Christians.

Secondly, if you look at the end of verse 9 and the beginning of verse 10, you will see the Apostle Paul emphasizing that God's purposes have happened at just the right time, in just the right way.

And then finally, at the end of verse 10, you will see him unfold the fullness of those purposes for you: that is, that all things are to be brought under the rule of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that everything will be reordered under His headship.

And if we will understand these three truths, again, it will re-orient life.

Let's look at each of them.

I. God in goodness, kindness and grace has revealed to us “the mystery of His will.”

First of all, at the end of verse 8: “In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will....” There the Apostle Paul is emphasizing the mercy that it is that God has made known to us His plan of redemption. God in His goodness, in His kindness, in His grace, has revealed to us, Paul says, “...the mystery of His will.” He's revealed to us His merciful plan of redemption in Jesus Christ, and the Apostle Paul is stressing the blessing that that is to all those who know the Lord Jesus Christ.

All men know that there is a God; all men know that that God is to be worshiped; all men know something of the attributes of that God; and, all men know that God has a right and a wrong, and that He will judge the wrong and He will reward the right. The Apostle Paul tells us that in Romans 1. But the apostle also tells us here that not all know the fullness of God's redeeming plan. That is something which God in His grace and mercy has revealed in the gospel, and as the Apostle Paul proclaims that gospel, that message falls upon ears that could not have understood it apart from the grace of God in announcing it, making it known, in revealing it; and it is a mercy, it is a blessing, to see the truth of God's redeeming plan revealed in the gospel and apprehended by the Holy Spirit.

This grace of knowing the revealed redeeming purposes of God is a life re-orienting truth, and we should never, ever take for granted knowing and believing what we have known since many of us were children in Sunday School. Some of you may have heard the truth of God's redeeming plan from before the time that you could have understood it. You may remember on your grandmother's or your mother's knee, or in a Sunday School class at a very early age, hearing the outline of God's great purposes of redemption revealed in His gospel, revealed in His word. You should never, ever take for granted knowing that truth, because that truth is something which God has revealed, and the ability to understand that truth and to believe that truth is a gift of grace.

You remember what the Apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 2:14? That the natural man cannot understand these things, because they are revealed by the Spirit. It is the Spirit of God that reveals to us, and helps us to understand and to embrace by faith the truths of God's redeeming plan. The natural man cannot do these things...only the man who has been wrought upon by God the Holy Spirit. And so we should never, ever take for granted knowing and believing what we have known and believed, some of us, since we were children.

A number of years ago the head of the Presbyterian Church in America's Mission to The World, Paul Kooistra, was in China, and he was visiting with some pastors who were part of a large fellowship of churches who had, among other things, not been allowed to read the Book of Revelation by the Chinese Communist authorities. Some of these pastors had been persecuted for their faith...some of them imprisoned and tortured. They loved Jesus, but there were all sorts of things about the word that they didn't understand because part of the truth had been held back from them by the Communist authorities.

Dr. Kooistra was sharing with them what he thought was a very basic gospel message. In the course of that gospel message, he mentioned Jesus’ coming again — the Second Coming of Christ. The Chinese pastor took him by the arm and said, “You mean to tell me that Jesus is coming again?”

“Why, yes. It says so in the Bible.”

“No one's ever told me this!”

This man had been ready to lay down his life for Christ, and he didn't know that He was coming again in power and glory to reign forever and ever.

My friends, you should never, ever take for granted the truth that you have received in God's word and gospel about God's redeeming plan. The Apostle Paul says God, in His goodness and kindness and grace, has revealed to us the mystery of His will, His redeeming purposes; and that is a life re-orienting truth.

II. God in His good and kind purposes has brought His plan to pass at just the right time.

But there's a second thing I want you to see here, and you’ll see it in verses 9 and 10. Paul goes on to say that He made known to us the mystery of His will “according to [His] kind intention, which He purposes in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times....”

Now, there is a whole sermon — maybe a sermon series — in those phrases, but I want to draw your attention to just one thing, and it's this phrase: “...an administration suitable to the fullness of the times.” The Apostle Paul is saying God set His plan in motion with the coming of Christ into this world for our redemption at precisely the right time.

In other words, Paul is saying that God, in His good and kind purposes, has brought His saving plan to pass at just the right time, at just the right place, in just the right way. And that is a vitally important truth for us to realize, because it would be very possible for us to look at the story of God's purposes of redemption in the Scripture and ask all sorts of questions. Why did God wait so long? After Adam and Eve fell into sin, why did He wait so many thousands of years before He sent His Son Jesus into the world? And why in the world did He send His Son Jesus into this arid land east of the Mediterranean? And why in the world did He design to save us from our sins through the death of His Son? We might ask all manner of questions. Why, why, why?

And the Apostle Paul is stressing to us here that what God did, He did exactly right. He is reminding us here that God's timing and God's plan and God's way of redemption is perfect in all its dimensions, and so we are to be captive, in our thinking about God's plan, to God's word. If we really want to understand the purposes of God, our minds must be captive to His word. Our ignorance here is wiser than all the world's wisdom. The world may ask many questions about why God did what He has done and they may challenge God; but the man of God, the woman of God, realizes that God's plan has been brought about at just the right time, at just the right place, in just the right way.

William Cowper reminds us of this truth in his song God Moves in a Mysterious Way. Do you remember what he says?

“God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.

He plants His footsteps on the sea,

And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines of never-failing skill,

He treasures up His bright designs

And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds you so much dread

Are big with mercy, and will break

With blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust His for His grace.

Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour.

The bud may have a bitter taste,

But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err, and scan His work in vain;

God is His own interpreter,

And He will make it plain.”

The Apostle Paul is telling us here that God's purposes came about at just the right place, at just the right time, in just the right way; and even as we must believe that about His grand plan of redemption, so we must believe that about His providence in our own lives. When the diagnosis of cancer comes, when the difficulty in home and family comes, when the problems at work come, when the reproach against your reputation comes, you must remember that God is working out His purposes for you in Christ, for His glory, and for your good. And the grace of being able to trust God's plan and timing is a life re-orienting grace. To be able to believe God's sovereign superintendence not only of the particulars of the plan of redemption, but of the whole of our lives...that is one of the great comforts in life.

Now, we Presbyterians pick fun at ourselves about this, and some of our friends who are not Presbyterians pick fun at us about this. They think that we're fatalists. They tell us jokes like “Well, you know what the Presbyterian said after he fell down the stairs: ‘Oh, I know that was God's will, but I'm sure glad it's over!’” And they think we're fatalists! You see, that's not the point at all. The point is to realize that in everything that is going on in our lives–in everything–God is working out His purposes, and His plan always is the right place, the right time, and the right way.

You know, our friend Bishop Ronnie Crudup of the New Horizon Church said just a few weeks ago that in his tradition the old people like to say, “God may not always come when you want Him, but He's always on time.” And that is a profoundly Presbyterian idea; in fact, it's better than that: it's a profoundly biblical idea, because in whatever is happening in our experience we may be assured that it is in accordance to “an administration suitable to the fullness of the times.” God is working out His purposes at the right place, at the right time, in the right way, even if we don't understand what He's doing. And being able to rest and trust and believe in His superintending providence is one of the great comforts of life.

III. God is bringing all things under the Lordship/headship of Christ.

And then finally, I want you to see what he says at the end of verse 10. He tells us more about this “mystery of His will.” We said first of all in this passage that when Paul speaks of the mystery of His will, he's talking about God's plan of redemption. Now, in Ephesians 2, he is particularly drawing attention by the use of the word mystery to the reality that the Gentiles are becoming part of the people of God in the same way believing Jews are the people of God: by believing in the Messiah, who God sent into the world to save us from our sins.

But there is even more to this phrase “the mystery of His will” that Paul is speaking of here in verse 10. Look again at what he says. The mystery of His will is — what? “...The summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.” So Paul is not only drawing our attention to God's revealing of His plan of redemption; He's not only drawing to our attention that God's plan of redemption happens at the right time, in the right place, in the right way; he's drawing our attention to the fact that God is doing this all with a view to the rule of Jesus Christ over all things, and Christ's reordering all things for the sake of His church.

Paul is saying, when he says “...the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things in the earth...” that God is bringing everything under the lordship, under the headship of Jesus Christ. You know that when Paul uses the word mystery, he means something that was once concealed but has now been revealed, and is now being openly declared. The mystery religions around Paul in his day had all sorts of secret truths that only people who reached higher levels in those mystery religions could know, but Paul uses the word mystery as an open secret. Once upon a time, he says, in the Old Testament this was not clearly understood; but now, since the end of all things has come, since Christ has come into this world, this once-mystery has been openly revealed in Jesus Christ, and we are publicly proclaiming it to anyone who will listen.

Now, one aspect of that mystery of God's will revealed in the letter to the Ephesians is that the Gentiles are being welcomed into God's family along with believing Jews. But that's not what Paul has in view in verse 10. It is something much bigger. Paul is pointing to the grand purpose of God to bring all things under the headship of Christ.

And my friends, it is a grace to know that no matter what is going on in your life in any of its circumstances, it is a grace to know that the grand purpose of God is the exaltation of Jesus Christ, and the bringing of all things under His rule and under His headship. That truth is a life re-orienting truth: that no matter what happens in my life, God is bringing this whole universe under the rule of Jesus Christ.

Why is it that the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:32 can say to you that God, who so freely gave His Son, is also going to give you with Him — what? All things. How can he say that? Because God is bringing all things under the rule of Jesus Christ, so that there is nothing in the universe–absolutely nothing in this universe–that is not going to be brought under the lordship of Jesus Christ, one way or another.

Think of it, my friends! You remember when Paul was writing those verses? He was a prisoner when he was writing those verses. He wasn't in some dark, dank, dungeon, but he was under house arrest, and he was chained to a Roman officer — and yet he was utterly free. And he was a servant of a Master under whom every power in the universe is being subsumed. And so the Apostle Paul knew that one day that guard to whom he was chained would acknowledge the lordship of Jesus Christ — one way or another. And the commander of that guard to whom he was chained would acknowledge the lordship of Jesus Christ — one way or the other. And the emperor of that guard would acknowledge the lordship of Jesus Christ — one way or another. And all the kings of this earth would acknowledge the lordship of this Jesus Christ, one way or another. Every knee would bow, every tongue would confess — willingly or unwillingly; by the grace of God, or by the force of God's judgment — that Jesus Christ is Lord. And, my friends, that's a profoundly comforting thought: that there is nothing in this world arrayed against you that will not at the last be brought into submission to the Lord Jesus Christ, and that leaves for us only one response: we can either embrace that lordship in all of its grace and comfort, or we can ignore and reject it and be submitted to it anyway — but apart from its blessing.

The Apostle Paul has told us as Christians these things so that we might revel in the blessings that God has given to us. He's made known to us the mystery of His redeeming plan. He's shown us that His plan is just the right plan, in just the right place, and it's happening just in the right way. And He has shown us that our future is secure because all things are being brought under the headship of Jesus Christ. But if you are not in Christ, then you will experience that headship by means of judgment. So if you are not a Christian today, the only wise thing for you to do is to bow the knee and embrace His lordship, and find in Him every spiritual blessing from the Father, by the Spirit.

Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, we thank You for Your word. We thank You for the glory of the promises that You have given to us in Jesus Christ, and we pray that not a one here would leave without personally acknowledging the lordship of Christ in all things, and embracing Him as Lord and Savior. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

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This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.