Movin' On Up
In John 8:44 Jesus says of Satan that he is a liar and the father of lies. Satan’s biggest lie – or at least in the top 3 – is this: “You don’t have to serve me. In fact, I’m fine with it if you don’t. But you don’t have to serve God either. The smart thing to do is, be the master of your own fate. Serve yourself. Be your own man or woman.” Like most of Satan’s lies – half truth (you don’t have to serve him) – all lie – you do have to serve someone.
Get this – even Bob Dylan – yes that Bob Dylan – the spiritual chronicler of the hippie generation knows better than that. Have you heard his latest song? Just listen to a couple of verses:
You may be an ambassador to England or France,
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance,
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world,
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls
You may be a construction worker working on a home,
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome,
You might own guns and you might even own tanks,
You might be somebody's landlord,
You might even own banks
But you're gonna have to serve somebody,
Yes indeed you're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.
So, we start with the premise this morning that everyone is serving either the Lord or the devil. There is no middle ground. And because of that, we are either members of the kingdom of evil headed by Satan or we are members of the kingdom of light – of the Son of God.
If we are members of the kingdom of God because we have accepted Christ as Savior and Lord, we could very properly join Paul in the doxology we find in verses 3-14 in Ephesians 1 which comprises one long sentence as Paul, although sitting in prison in Rome, finds himself dictating passionately about the wonderful privileges we have as Christians in Christ. This great doxology is so rapturous that it is a bit difficult to outline, but we’ve done so around the Trinity. Verses 4-6 deal with the past election of God the Father. Verses 7-10 deal with the redemption of the Son and in verses 11-14 we will look at the sealing of the Holy Spirit.
Today we want to particularly look at verses 7-10 where Paul honors the Son and the redemption he’s provided – the means by which he’s moved on up from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.
He is like a baseball player who has moved from the bush conditions of minor league play to the glories of the major leagues and now enjoys all the privileges that come with that move. He has been redeemed from the tyranny of annual contracts to the exclusivity of a secure, multi-year, multi-million dollar deal. He no longer carries his own luggage; others carry it for him. He is part of an organization where there is actually a plan for winning rather than the every-man-for-himself environment in which he previously found himself.
Now, as we look at verses 7-10 today, I want you to pay special note to the little phrase that comes second in verse 7. 7) In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace. The work of Jesus Christ the son is emphasized here, but notice particularly that the redemption he offers comes “through his blood.” Ephesians does not spend as much time on the death and resurrection of Jesus as some other epistles, but it is nonetheless the key to the whole of the plan of God. It is implied in every one of the 15 times we have the words “in Christ” or “in Him” mentioned in these verses. It is the objective act that makes everything else possible. How it is possible for many in the emerging church movement to say that the death of Christ is nothing more than God providing an example of the kind of sacrifice we should all be willing to make is beyond me. Scripture everywhere presents His death as the necessary, objective act that keys everything else.
And in particular today, we want to see how the blood of Jesus provides the objective means by which we, should we so choose, can move, in accordance with God’s overall plan, from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. Those words are not used here. They are actually found in Colossians 1:13 13) He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, but the content of this passage in Ephesians describes for us exactly that same move – from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of Christ Himself. In this passage, we find three great milestones on this trip. How does the death of Christ on the cross effect our move from darkness to light?
I. It is the Basis for Redemption from Sin
Read verse 7 with me: 7) In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace. The first milestone on our trip from darkness to light is redemption from sin. I love the way Paul phrases it here. He might well have said that we have been redeemed through the blood of Christ and that would have been correct. But instead he says, “We have redemption.” We have – It’s a present tense word. Yes it is based on a past act by Christ in dying for us and by a past act on our part in accepting his death in our place. But assuming those two things, we have and continue to have – redemption. This is just one of many ways in this passage that the secure and permanent nature of true saving faith is emphasized.
There are three words for redemption in the Greek language. The first,
– αγοραζω – means to buy at the marketplace. It conjures the picture of a housewife out in the morning shopping for the day. She sees vegetables, puts cash on the barrelhead and they belong to her. This is the word used in I Cor 6:20 – “For you are bought [our word] with a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit which are God’s.”
εχαγοραζω – to buy out of the marketplace. Has the thought of buying for one’s own use. You would never sell these again. Used in Gal 3:13 – Christ hath redeemed [our word] us from the curse of the law being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree. Christ redeemed us so that He has taken us off the market for His own use. We belong to him.
Απολυτρωσις – as here in Ephesians 1:7, means to liberate by paying a ransom to set a person free. Carries the same meaning in Luke 21:28 “And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.” “Redemption” is a marvelous word. It means not only to go to the marketplace and put cash on the barrelhead; it means not only to take it out of the market for your own private use, never to sell it to anyone else; but it also means to set free or to liberate after paying the price. The last applies to buying a slave out of slavery in order to set him free, and this is the word for redemption we have here in this verse.
From the time of Adam man has been enslaved to sin. All one needs to do is look around to see that this is true. I know it is not politically correct to say this in the 21 century, but man left to his own devises, is a rotten, corrupt sinner and he cannot do anything else but sin – he is a slave to sin. This doesn’t mean that everyone is awful, but we know deep down that we are bad enough, and most of the time, apart from Christ, even our best and most kindly action are intended to get something for ourselves in return. They are selfish. We also know that try as we might, we cannot get it right. That’s why Christ came to pay the price of man’s freedom. He bought us in order to set us free. John 8:36 says, 36) So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. That is the whole point of redemption which has been paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ.
The concept of redemption is beautifully illustrated in the Old Testament concept of the kinsman-redeemer. Under God’s provisions, families were responsible for each other in ancient Israel. The kinsman-redeemer, defined as the closest relative to someone in need had at least five roles. 1) He was to insure that the hereditary property did not pass from the clan in the event of death or poverty. 2) He was to buy back the freedom of individuals who had sold themselves into slavery because of poverty. 3) He had the right to track and down and execute murderers of near relatives. This was in the days before DCI. 4) He was to receive restitution money on behalf of a deceased crime victim, and 5) he was to ensure that justice was served in a lawsuit involving a relative. Essentially he assumed a lot of responsibility for family security, cohesiveness, justice and heritage.
Let’s turn to the book of Ruth this morning because this role of kinsman-redeemer played a most important role in this book. An Israeli man named Elimelech took his wife Naomi to the land of Moab to escape famine in Israel. Elimelech seems to have died relatively soon after they arrived in Moab, but Naomi was left with the two boys, both of whom married Moabite girls, Ruth and Orpah, and stayed on in the land.
They seem to have continued on for about ten years, when suddenly both sons died, leaving Naomi without a husband or sons. Naomi, having heard that conditions in Judah have improved, decides to return to her native land. She begins the journey in the company of her sons’ wives, Ruth and Orpah, but all along the way she urges them to return to their families. They are obviously close. They all cry. Get out the Kleenex. The girls insist on coming along, but Naomi reminds them that she is too old to produce further sons to marry them, and even if she could, for them to wait for such sons to mature, though in keeping with custom, would be unreasonable. At long last, Orpah relents in the face of Naomi’s urging and returns to her home. Ruth is another story.
We pick the story up in Ruth 1:15 15) And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16) But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17) Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” 18) And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. So the two returned to Judah.
In order to help with expenses, Ruth volunteers to go the fields, to follow the harvest and glean left-over grain – a common custom in that time for those who were poor. Naomi agrees and as God would have it, Ruth happens upon a field owned by a man named Boaz, and his workers allow her to collect the leftovers. Well, apparently Ruth was somewhat attractive, for it isn’t long before Boaz himself takes note. It turns out he is a relative of Elimelech and when he hears Ruth’s story from others, he makes provision for her to stay in his field only, warns his workers not to touch her, but to provide for her needs if she is thirsty. When Ruth expresses surprise that he would treat her so generously as a foreigner, he responds in beginning in verse 11 of chapter 2: 11) But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. 12) The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” Notice in particular his comment that she has taken refuge under the wings of God. They have lunch together and then Boaz instructed his workers to leave extra behind for her. Starting to sound like an MGM movie, isn’t it? See, God invented love long before the movies distorted it.
When Ruth tells Naomi about her adventures, Naomi immediately recognizes that Boaz was a possible kinsman redeemer, someone who could buy a parcel of land she still had that belonged to her husband and someone who could be a potential husband for Ruth. So Ruth continues, apparently for some time, through the end of the harvest, to glean in the fields. Boaz was an extremely well-respected man in his community and by this time Ruth had established her own worthiness as expressed in 3:11. And no doubt they had conversed more than once, but with the harvest coming to an end, and Ruth’s reason for being on his property about to end, Naomi suggests a plan.
On a night when Boaz will be on the threshing floor and will sleep there to stay near his grain, Ruth is to get cleaned up and perfumed. Then when Boaz has settled down for the night, Ruth is to go uncover his feet and he will tell her what further to do. Naomi has complete confidence in both Boaz and Ruth and probably a sense of their attraction to each other as well.
Imagine Boaz’s surprise when suddenly at midnight he realizes there was a woman lying at his feet. We pick up with verse 9 of chapter 3: 9) He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” This is such a beautiful and wonderful interlude. As Boaz has previously noted that Ruth had put herself under the wings of God, Ruth now in effect says, “You, Boaz, can be those wings (it’s the same word) over me.” She is, in effect, asking him to marry her in what must surely rank as one of the most enterprising ways in history. And all of it a picture of how Jesus Christ has become the wings of God over us in His redemptive work on the cross.
Of course, you remember the rest of the story. Boaz is joyful at Ruth’s proposal, but there is another kinsman-redeemer who is closer related and thus has first claim on the land and on Ruth. It turns out that he wants the land, but is not interested in marriage, so he defers to Boaz. This allowed Boaz to buy the property, marry Ruth and thus redeem their situation. What Naomi and Ruth could never have done for themselves, Boaz did. In so doing, he is a wonderful type of Christ who became our kinsman-redeemer.
A kinsman-redeemer had to meet 3 qualifications: 1) He had to be related to the one needing to be redeemed. He had to be able to pay the price of redemption, and he had to be willing to pay. Now, see how this worked out in the life of Christ. First of all, in order to become our kinsman – now think about this – the Son of God became the Son of Man. He became in essence one of us to fulfill the first requirement. That alone should stop our hearts as we consider what it meant for God to take on the form of a man.
Second, to make himself able to pay the price, he had to live a sinless existence – not operating under his power as God, but operating under the direction of the Holy Spirit, facing all the temptations that we do and yet without sin. This is precisely what Jesus did and this is exactly what Peter was describing when he said in I Pet 1 18) knowing that you were ransomed (there is our exact word from Ephesians 1) from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19) but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. It was Christ’s sinless life that rendered him qualified to be our redeemer. We concentrate so much on the cross sometimes that we forget that whole life that he lived was what was required.
Finally, of course, He had to be willing. Christ could have lived a sinless life and still not qualified as a redeemer because he was not willing. Instead, we have those wonderful words of Paul in Philippians 2 8) being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. So there you have it – Christ our redeemer, qualified as related to us by becoming a man, qualified as able by living a perfect life and qualified as willing by obeying God to the point of death. Beloved, there is no more wonderful word in existence I think than Redeemer when you really understand what it entails.
That’s what Christ has done for us. But on the human level there remains one issue. There is a redeemer and He has fulfilled his role to buy us out of the enslavement to sin in which we find ourselves by nature and by volition. But what if we choose not to leave? Like a slave tied to with others in to a slave chain, it is possible for payment to be made and for that slave to say, “I don’t believe I am enslaved. I choose to stay here.” What if we decide we want to remain in sin? What is the one thing that can render Christ’s redemption of no effect? Why, it is our own refusal of His offer of redemption. And why would people do that? One reason only. The sinner loves his sin. Why does he sin in the first place? Because he loves his sin. John tells us in John 3:20: 20) For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. A sinner will not believe he is a sinner because he loves his sin. It is tragic beyond words, but true. The Bible says The fool has said in his heart (not in his intellect, see? But in his heart) there is no God. He doesn’t refuse God for an intellectually sound reason but because He wants to go on being his own God.
Let me illustrate for you what we are like when we are like when we refuse the redemption of God. It is a bit grisly, but so is sin. Do you know how an Eskimo kills a wolf? It gives us a fresh insight into the consuming, self-destructive nature of sin. First, the Eskimo coats his knife blade with animal blood and allows it to freeze. Then he adds another layer of blood, and another, until the blade is completely concealed by frozen blood. Next, the hunter fixes his knife in the ground with the blade up. When a wolf follows his sensitive nose to the source of the scent and discovers the bait, he licks it, tasting the fresh frozen blood. He licks faster, more and more vigorously, lapping the blade until the keen edge is bare. Feverishly now, harder and harder the wolf licks the blade in the Arctic night. So great becomes his craving for blood that the wolf does not notice the razor-sharp sting of the naked blade on his own tongue, nor does he recognize the instant at which his insatiable thirst is being satisfied by his OWN warm blood. His carnivorous appetite just craves more--until the dawn finds him dead in the snow!" That’s a picture of what we were like before our redemption. But the blood of Christ redeems us so that we are no longer slaves to our own lusts - We have been set free! And remember one more truth.
Look again at Ephesians 1:7: In him we have (remember the present tense – we keep on having) redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace. Once we’ve accepted Christ, the dividends just keep on coming. Let us suppose you advanced me $1 million for my personal needs. A year later, you request that I begin making monthly interest-free payments of $10,000 on the debt. On the first day of each month I sit down to write the check just as the morning mail arrives. In the mail I find that you have sent me a $10,000 check to cover my payment. You continue this practice every month until the full amount of my debt is relieved. I am bewildered and protest, ‘But this is totally lopsided!’ God is enamored with His people and so intent upon a response that He even provides the grace to respond.
So – have you been redeemed? If not, don’t you want to be redeemed? Won’t you be redeemed today by asking Christ to forgive your sins based on his shed blood and set you free! Won’t you?
I love the words to the old Charles Wesley hymn, “And Can it Be?” – perhaps the greatest hymn ever written for my money. The fourth verse reads like this:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth and followed thee.
II. It is the Basis of Release from Guilt
The next milestone we encounter as we move from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light – as we accept Christ’s death for us – is found in verse 7: In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace. We have forgiveness from our trespasses – or as we’ve phrased it in our outline, we have release from guilt. We are forgiven, we are forgiven; we are forgiven.
The word “trespass” that is used here means to fall off to the side. It stresses the fact that any deviation from the path laid out by God in His law requires forgiveness. The stress in this verse is on the fact that for those of us who have redemption – believers – we also have (present tense) forgiveness. The language implies a continuous, ongoing activity. We just keep on having God’s forgiveness from our sins.
Paul teaches us in Romans 8:1 1) There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. From a legal standpoint no charge can ever be made to stick. If you have truly confessed your sins and acknowledged Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, the case is closed. No charge can ever be brought against you to condemn you. It is over, done, finished, complete and final!
But the outworking of this in daily life is that the forgivness that you got on the day you accepted Christ is being applied as needed every day of your life as you sin, and that is the emphasis of Ephesians 1. You and I are continually being forgiven of our trespasses right when we need it, right when they occur. If only we could once and for all get this truth in our hearts. Failure to appropriate this truth lies at the heart of most of our failure as Christians.
This is such a magnificent, refreshing and exhilarating truth. So many Christians continue living most, if not all of their Christian existence, back in that old kingdom – hanging onto sins that the Lord has long forgiven and consequently long ago forgotten. We are like the king in Shakespeare’s King Richard III when he laments:
My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain.
The question for the believer becomes, “Who are you going to listen to – your conscience or your Lord.” Listen to what the Lord says about forgiveness. He says in Micah 7: 18) Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. 19) He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. Now just think about this for a moment. Why do people that have been involved in criminal activity toss guns into the depths of the sea? Why do criminals set the feet of the victims in concrete and throw them into the ocean? Of course, the idea is that you can’t get at them. They are gone. Now consider that your sins are gone too – all of them -- gone -- to the bottom of the ocean. And now consider that it was God who put them there. It was God who put concrete around that mess of trash and sent it to the bottom of the sea. So what are you doing bringing them up again???!!! If you struggle with this, I relate. So have I. But folks, it’s time for us to move on.
God tells us in Psalm 103:12: as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. You’ve heard it before, so now hear it again – how far is east from west? You’ve probably heard of the traveler who asked an old farmer from Maine by the side of the road how to get back to Bar Harbor only to hear the reply, “Well, you can’t get there from here.” That was the Hebrew idea of west to east – Infinity. Distance beyond measure. That’s where God has put your sins – so far away that you can’t get there from here – so what are we doing bringing them up again?
My personal favorite is Jeremiah 31:34 – part of the new covenant for those of you who have studied that. God says, “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Not just at the bottom of the sea – not just at the infinite distance of east from west – but, get this, completely forgotten. So, I ask again, what are we doing bringing them up again? Don’t you know that every time you confess that old sin one more time you force God to say, “Oh, yeah. I had forgotten all about that!” Beloved, give it up! God has!
You wring your hands and say, “Oh, but Dave, you don’t know what I have done. If you only knew what I have done.” Okay – so try this list on for size. It comes from I Corinthians 6:9 9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. Truly, about the only thing I can find missing from that list is murder – and the guy writing it had committed murder, so I would think it is covered too.
John MacArthur was preaching on this passage one time when he stopped and asked anyone in the audience who had been involved in any such sins as listed there to stand up. You can imagine the silence and then the suspense, but finally one elderly lady stood to her feet and then another and then another until the majority of the congregation was standing. One fellow who was there that day virtually never went to any church. He had been nervous and apprehensive when he came that day. But he said later that when he saw everyone standing he thought to himself, “Man, these are my kind of people.”
Now I don’t want to make light of sin, but I want to ask you, if God can let go of it, why can’t we? Why do we live in guilt and defeat when we have been and are being forgiven? Yes, the Bible says in I John 1:9 that we need to confess our sins and it assumes that we will to restore lost fellowship. But make no mistake, the ongoing, comprehensive, all-encompassing forgiveness of sins it yours now and every minute of your life. When we wallow in past sins that we have confessed and that Christ has forgiven, we are shaming God and ourselves.
I honestly believe that some people love to feel bad. It is as though we can do penance of some kind by feeling bad enough. God never said to feel bad. He said to confess our sins and He would be faithful and just to forgive them.
And just in case we didn’t get it yet, look at verse 7 again: 7) In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8) which he lavished upon us. Notice that Paul did not say that we have forgiveness out of the riches of God’s grace. No – we have forgiveness according to the riches of his grace. There’s a huge difference. If the pizza delivery boy went up to Bill Gates home one night and got a $2 tip, -- well, the money would have come out of Bill Gates riches, but I don’t think the pizza delivery boy would be writing any letters home to brag about his tip, do you? Not hardly. But suppose, instead, that the pizza delivery boy got a $100 tip at Bill Gates home. Now that’s a tip that you would begin to consider a little bit more according to the riches of Bill Gates, don’t you think? And the pizza delivery boy might even write home about that tip. So, when you consider that the riches of God’s grace are infinite and when you consider that you are being forgiven according to those riches – may I ask, why are you bringing those old sins again? Are you not obscuring the grace of God?
Now, let’s go back to, “But Dave, you don’t know what I’ve done.” That’s true. And you don’t know what I’ve done. We don’t know each other well enough to know each other’s deepest, darkest secrets, so that frees me up to say what the Holy Spirit wants to say this morning. I don’t know what you’ve done. To you, it is horrendous. You’ve confessed it, but it constantly rears its ugly head, and you are back wallowing in self-pity. But whatever it is, let’s claim Romans 5:20 this morning once and for all. Take this one verse and don’t just memorize it; imprint it on your mind. You will use it often. 20) where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. It does not say, where sin increased 1) grace abounded most of the time, but not in this instance, not for me. It doesn’t say that! It does not say, where sin increased, 2) grace almost made it, but not quite in this instance! It does not say, where sin abounded 3) grace got it covered, but only until I think about it again.
You see, I know from experience how this works. I confess, I’m forgiven and then it all comes flooding back to me because I sit by someone in church who is pure as the driven snow and I feel unclean. I hear a testimony of someone who “did it right and their family is on track” and I’m reminded of my failure. I’m going fine and then I’m faced with the consequences of my old actions – some person – a mom, dad, son, daughter, friend, who was negatively affected by my sin or I see someone else going through the same thing, and I’m back in the pit.
But the Bible says, 20) where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. It doesn’t say, where sin increased 4) grace would have covered it except for the fact that you hurt others too, so it’s void. It doesn’t say that. It doesn’t say where sin increased, 5) grace covers it until some well-meaning brother or sister reminds you, consciously or unconsciously that you are unclean. Read it again, Beloved. Soak it in. It says 20) where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. It is saying where your sin, your very personal sin increased, grace came rolling in right at that point -- like a TUSNAMI! It says that what is so big in your eyes is like nothing in the tidal wave of God’s forgiveness. You’ve all seen pictures of those 15 feet North Shore waves in Hawaii, but this is the 100 foot tidal wave that comes in a sweeps away everything in its path for 25 miles inland. Your six feet of sin was obliterated long ago. That’s what grace abounded mean!
You say, but you don’t understand. I embezzled money from my company. I stole from my own father, mother, grandmother to support my drug habit. I left my wife and family to lose myself in drink. I engaged in a flirtatious relationship at work that dishonored the Lord and the person I participated with. I was unfaithful to my husband or wife mentally or physically. I left my marriage and divorced for unbiblical reasons. I gambled my family’s saving away. I would not forgive my spouse and now they are dead or gone or inaccessible. I lied to the IRS. You don’t understand. I am the greatest sinner in this room this morning. Would you like God’s response to any of those and a thousand more like them? Where sin increased, grace ran over it like a herd of wild elephants.
You say, “Well, I know that God has forgiven me, but I just can’t seem to forgive myself.” Baloney! I’ve said that same exact stupid thing myself, but it’s just a bunch of bogus psycho-babble. We were never intended to forgive ourselves. We were only intended to accept once and for all God’s forgiveness. Let’s call the sin what it is. It’s not that I don’t forgive myself, it’s that I don’t really believe God has forgiven me. And that’s a sin itself!
God’s intention is that we bring every new reminder of our past to the cross. It is His intention that we see there every sin of mankind, including our own treasured contribution, nailed to the cross. It is his intention that instead of us taking it all back one more time that we see not only His forgiveness, but that we also see that just as what Satan intended for evil in Christ was defeated, so even the evil consequences of our past will be turned to God’s glory – but only as we by faith accept His forgiveness. You are worried about the consequences of your sin in other people’s lives? God is willing, ready and able to turn those to His glory, but you may be holding up the whole process by failing to accept His forgiveness and His grace.
Now get this, get this, write it down, get it into your mind and heart. If you get nothing else from today, get this. We live mediocre lives, not because we have a past, but because we fail by faith to permanently accept God’s forgiveness of that past. Know what we’re like? We’re like that baby elephant, chained to a stake so that he can only venture to the edge of the pen. He learns his limitation so indelibly that even when he is grown and could easily pull up the stake, he will not do so. That’s us, Beloved. Satan had us in his kingdom, but if we’ve truly accepted Christ, we’ve been freed. We’re released. The chain no longer binds us. But because we’re free, we can also stay. And when Satan bring up our past by whatever chain of circumstances and we come back to ask forgiveness all over again and relive the guilt and the shame and the awfulness, we must realize, we are failing of the grace of God, we are refusing the forgiveness that is constantly rolling over us like the rapids in the Grand Canyon and we are defeated.
It is long past time that we nail that thing, that past, that awful, convicting, unnerving past to the cross for the last time and move out of Satan’s pig pen of self-pity and self-doubt into the light of God’s grace. Once and for all! The chains have long ago been cut away; it is only for us to move by faith into the glory of God’s grace, leaving all the consequences to Him.
Look at verse 8. We have (present tense) the forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of his grace, 8) which he lavished upon us. There’s a picture here. The tense of the verb has gone from present tense (for having forgivness) to aorist for “lavished” upon us. So what we have is the picture of a gift given once for all – His grace that was lavished upon us – that just keeps on giving. And keeps on giving – and keeps on giving. When you were redeemed, God’s gift of grace was lavished upon you is such a way that you have been given a waterfall of forgiveness that just keeps flowing and flowing and flowing and will not stop. You cannot stop it. All your angst and all your guilt and all your dredging up the past cannot stop the flow! Got the picture? Beloved – your sins are forgiven. You are forgiven. So may I ask one more time, why do you keep bringing up those old sins again? Sins that have been buried by God at the bottom of the ocean, that have been removed by God as far as east is from west, that have been by God – forgotten!
You’ve moved from the old kingdom of depression and oppression and shame and guilt. The cross of Jesus Christ has released the waterfall of forgiveness that flows never–ceasing in the kingdom of light of God’s dear Son. Live like you belong there. Release your guilt to Him.
III. It is the Basis for Reuniting All Things
Look with me starting in the middle of verse 8 to see the final milestone we want to emphasize this morning that highlights what we have in this new kingdom as a result of the blood of Jesus Christ: in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. The cross is the basis for reuniting all things.
We looked at this in detail in our introduction to Ephesians, but I’d like to highlight two things this morning. First, the blood of Christ will eventually make possible the uniting of all things under him. Couldn’t have been done without His death and resurrection, but now it’s a sure thing. Second, as members of the new kingdom, we have been given the wisdom and insight to see this end, if you will, which unbelievers simply do not get.
We have already emphasized previously that the theme of Ephesians is the part the church has to play in God’s ultimate purpose to unite everything in Christ. The word “unite” is a Greek word that is built on the term “head”. In its expanded form it came to mean to sum up, to bring disparate parts together into a coherent whole. Here it is used to emphasize and describe the process by which God will return a universe -- a creation, rendered chaotic by the sin of Satan and then Adam, to the harmonic, joyful, elegant, rapturous perfection that it was always intended to be.
The intention is described beautifully by the great 20th century English doctor turned preacher, Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “The perfect harmony that will be restored will be creation! Harmony in heaven, and all under this blessed Lord Jesus Christ who will be the head of all! Everything will again be united in him. And wonder of wonders, marvellous beyond compare, when all this happens it will never be undone again. All will be re-united in him to all eternity. That is the message; that is God’s plan. That is the mystery which has been revealed unto us. … These things are so marvelous that you will never hear anything greater, either in this world or the world to come.”
I don’t know how to say it any more clearly or compellingly than that. That’s the plan and that’s the first thing I wanted to highlight. But now, the second thing is this. As Christians, we’ve been given wisdom to “get it.” We understand and believe that there is a purpose to history, that it is ultimately all leading somewhere and that it was the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that ultimately makes this glorious end possible. Believe me, the world does not get this.
The French philosopher André Maurois said, “The universe is indifferent. Who created it? Why are we on this puny mud–heap, spinning in infinite space? I have not the slightest idea, and I am convinced that no one has the least idea.” G. N. Clark, in his inaugural lecture at Cambridge said: “There is no secret and no plan in history to be discovered. I do not believe that any future consummation could make sense of all the irrationalities of preceding ages. If it could not explain them, still less could it justify them”
It is becoming more and more difficult to be an optimist and an unbeliever at the same time because – well, because, it sure doesn’t look like history is headed toward a glorious conclusion. Wouldn’t you agree? You have to take that conclusion by faith.
But by faith – we understand that there is a plan as we are told in verse 10. By faith, we believe that the plan will become final in the fullness of time. No wonder it looks confusing now. The fullness of time has not yet arrived and Satan is still ruling as the “prince of the power of the air” as described in Ephesians 2:2. He is the author of confusion, so no wonder people are confused. But the fullness of time is coming. The picture conjured by that phrase is that of a container into which time is being poured. All goes on as now until – until the moment when the container is full. At that moment – it will all change. According to Revelation 20:3 and 10, Satan and his angels will be thrown into the pit during the Millennial rule of Christ. Then they will be released for a short while only to be cast into the lake of fire for all eternity. Someday we’ll study that in detail.
When every trace of evil has been disposed of, God will establish an incomparable unity in Himself of all things that remain. That is the inevitable goal of the universe. Macbeth pessimistically declared that history is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (Shakespeare, Macbeth, 5.5.19). Apart from the wisdom and insight God provides His children, such a hopeless conclusion is inescapable. But history belongs to God, not to the puny plans of man or the perverse power of Satan. History is written and directed by its Creator, who will see it through to the fulfillment of His own ultimate purpose—the summing up of all things in Christ. He designed His great plan in the ages past; He now sovereignly works it out according to His divine will; and in the fulness of the times He will complete and perfect it in His Son, in whom it will forever operate in righteous harmony and glorious newness along with all things in the heavens and things upon the earth.
Take heart, folks. There is a plan; the end has already been determined; we are on the winning side and there is every reason for optimism despite how things may appear.
The story has been told of a museum guide who would take his tour group to a darkened room, shine a light on a mass of string, color, and apparent chaos and ask the group, “What do you think this is.” “I don’t know,” was the inevitable reply. He would then say, “Stand over there and watch.” As the group moved over to the other side of the room, he would turn on a spotlight. It was instantly apparent that the mass of jumbled colored string seen just a moment earlier was in fact an enormous tapestry from the back side. The real work had to be seen from a different perspective to understand what the artist was creating.
I cannot explain history’s inequities and inconsistencies and seeming purposelessness – not apart from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But I have no doubt that based on His work on the cross, when the day comes that God highly exalts him “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11) and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Then history will make perfect sense, as seen from its eternal perspective, and I want to be on the right side of that history.
So, let me ask you – have you made the move? Like that ballplayer who found redemption in his multi-year contract, have you found security in the redemption of Jesus from sin. Just like that ballplayer who upon making the majors no longer had to carry his own baggage – have you, as a member of God’s kingdom of light, given up the baggage of your guilt, accepting his complete forgiveness for your every sin? Just like that major league ballplayer who revels in being part of a bigger plan, do you understand by faith that you are on the winning side and that God will win out – uniting everything under the headship of Christ?
Most people actually aren’t so blatantly anti-God, but they absolutely believe that there is a third kingdom – their own. They believe they can be their own master, determine their own fate. But it just ain’t true, folks. It just ain’t true. Even as you sit here today you are in one camp or the other. Here are a couple more verses of Bob Dylan lyrics from the song we mentioned last week:
You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk,
You may be the head of some big TV network,
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame,
You may be living in another country under Another name
You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride,
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side,
You may be workin' in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair,
You may be somebody's mistress,
May be somebody's heir
But you're gonna have to serve somebody,
Yes indeed you're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.
Heads bowed, eyes closed. First question – Have you accepted Jesus as Lord? If not, pray like this.
Heads bowed, eyes closed. Are you a Christian, but still bogged down by your past in The Devil Pit of Self-Condemnation. Are you allowing yourself to be dragged back to serve that old master occasionally. You need not be. Pray like this. Father, I have been condemned by my past for too long. I’ve confessed it to you over and over, yet it haunts me. I’ve hurt myself; I’ve hurt others and I’ve hurt you. But I see now that every time I condemn myself anew, I also renew all those hurts. So on this day, this January 11, 2009, I accept once and for all the forgiveness that is flowing from you like a fountain. I renounce all future attempts by Satan to pull me back into his sphere of influence by reminding me of this past. I trust you to turn it all to your glory, just as you did the death of Christ on the cross. I claim only Him. Thank you that where my sin increased, your grace did much more abound.