God's New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians: Summing Up All Things In Christ

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on July 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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