Friday, July 25, 2014

Mystery Revealed- Ephesians 1

The Mystery revealed is none other than Jesus Christ. In Him all of the previous types and shadows are made clear.  The truth is not revealed so much in a system, in a genre of literature, in reading the types and shadows and deducing the truth of them but rather, in seeing, understanding and knowing a particular person.
            The mystery comes together in Jesus. See Jesus for who He is and you will understand the mystery of God towards mankind, towards His beloved, towards the Gentiles, towards His love of the world and final fulfillment to save the world. Outside of Jesus, none of this makes sense. Israel, even modern Israel, is an obscure place on the Earth and we cannot make sense of a King ruling the world from there.
            But if we see Jesus, exalted to the Heavens, above all principalities and powers and we see His people scattered to the four winds of the corners of the Earth, then it makes perfect sense that He will continue to rule until all of His enemies are subdued beneath His feet. God has revealed this mystery to us and we should see it and understand it. It is no longer hidden.
           
            Eph. 1:1   Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus:  2 Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
            Paul tells us that we are chosen in Christ but before he tells us this he also tells us that he is chosen by God as an apostle, one who is sent for Jesus’s sake.
            The letter is written to the saints at Ephesus. It appears it may be a letter that was meant for a wide audience, not just a particular church.
            He sends grace and peace. These companions go together well. Because we receive God’s grace, peace naturally follows. This grace and peace is not only from Jesus or not only through Jesus. It comes from God, the Father and is reckoned to us because of our faith in Jesus. The point is that God, the Father, sends us grace and peace. He is not an angry Father. He is a Father that makes sure that there is reconciliation with and among His children.
           
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:  4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: 
Again, God, our Father, has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ. We have these blessing ‘in Christ.’ They are not to be found outside of Christ. But we should keep in mind that God, the Father, has supplied us these blessings. We need to do some real work on whom God, the Father, is. If we understand this, aright, it will have a great corrective in our fears and insecurities. We do not serve an angry God. He is a sympathetic God who provides a way for us to be blessed in Jesus.
God chose us ‘in him’ ‘in Christ’ before the foundation of the world. This messes with our minds. He has not only merely chosen us. He has chosen us to a purpose. That purpose is that we should be holy and without blame.
We need to get the order right. We do not get holy and without blame and then become pleasing to God so that He chooses us. His choice of us was in order to make us holy and blameless. This means that we were unholy and blameworthy. It is God’s choice of us that takes away the sin and the guilt.
This is why the apostle greets us with grace and peace. We were unholy and blameworthy. Like the Ephesians we were without God and without hope in the world. But God chose us to bestow holiness and guiltlessness upon us.
We also need to get our minds around this. In Christ, we are holy and blameless. What does it mean  to be holy? It means that we are set apart to God’s purposes. He has taken us from a common use, an holy use, and transformed us into holy vessels. He is the potter and can do this if He pleases. Outside of Christ, you are common, unholy. But, in Christ, you are set apart to give honor and praise to God. This is holiness.
Furthermore, you are without guilt. How can that be? For you have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. But God, in His infinite wisdom sent expiation for your sins in the person of Jesus. This satisfied God’s wrath at sin so that He could look favorably on you.
We have been blessed in the heavenlies in Christ. Christ is in the heavens at the right hand of the Father. In Him, we are also seated at the right hand of the Father. God has exalted us, in Christ, to receive this heavenly blessing. Our calling and election is sure if we are in Christ. But we are still told to make our calling and election sure. What can this mean other than to make sure that we remain in Christ. And the only way to do that is to continue to believe all that the Father and the Spirit and the Son say about Jesus. We must continue to be ‘in Him’.
There is one sense in which simply being baptized into Christ makes us ‘in Christ.’ But we know that not all who are baptized into Christ walk in faithfulness to Him. Many fall away completely. Others walk in scandalous ways. Still others look good on the outside but inside are full of dead men’s bones. What is the antidote for them? The same as it is for those who have the blessed assurance of grace and peace. Confession, repentance and new life.
Thus, the Holy Spirit of promise is given to them to know that Jesus has turned them from darkness to light, from worldliness to righteousness, from hell to heaven, from death to life.

5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,  6 To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. 
Adoption is such a great picture. Sometimes cute little babies are adopted. Often, these cute babies are adopted out of horrid conditions. The mother is a meth addict, a heroine addict, an alcoholic, a prostitute. While any pregnant mother has some emotional connection to their baby, these mothers either cannot or will not love and nurture their babies. I understand that mothers who do love their babies often give them up in order to give the babies a chance in life. But even in that case, the baby is rejected from its own mother. This is a sad state of affairs.
Adopting parents understand what it is to love a child that has been rejected. Sometimes the child feels this rejection acutely, even when loving adoptive parents shower them with love. But adopted children also often have a great love for their adoptive parents. They were rejected by their mother but fully received and counted as family by their new mother and father.
God has taken such bedraggled children, rejected by the world and made them acceptable. God accepts us in Christ. We are lovely in the brotherhood. God has made us brothers and sisters with Jesus. We are full joint-heirs with Jesus.
Why did God do this? Why did He look upon such troubled children and decide to love them? In one sense, we could say it was for the same reason that adoptive parents choose to adopt. They want to. They choose to love children that are otherwise rejected. It is their good pleasure to do so.
There is another reason why God has adopted us. He lost His own children. He created Adam and Eve and they sinned. They were cast out of the garden, a sort of disinheritance. But God made a way for them to come back and receive be His heirs through the offspring of Noah and Abraham and Moses. But His children continued to rebel and He removed them once again from the inheritance.
But He provided a way for one to redeem mankind so that all mankind could become His adopted children, even those who had been disinherited. He turned to worldly children, Gentiles, and called them His own in Jesus. God desired many children and in providing a way for these children to become holy and blameless, He sent His Son into the world.

7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; 
Through Jesus, God has bought us. He has redeemed us. We were guilty, in debt to the world, the flesh and the devil. We were worthy only of wrath, by nature objects of wrath. But God chose to set His favor upon us, purchasing us with the price of the blood of Jesus.
Once Jesus became the expiation for our sins, then God forgave us in Christ. His forgiveness is granted to all them that believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of the world, those who confess sins, repenting and are baptized in the name of the Triune God.
The riches of His grace- This is a wonderful phrase. It simply means that God is rich in grace. He is not stingy about grace. He has mountains of grace and He is generous with it, granting grace upon all those who call upon Him in the name of His Son.

8 Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence;  9 Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself:
God abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence by the riches of His grace. God had a plan throughout the history of mankind. He put it in motion at just the right time. He was wise when He did this. He was prudent. He thought about it and worked it out. It is hard for us to understand the ways of God. We do not know exactly why He put His plan in place at the time He did. There is mystery there.
But God did not hide His intentions. The long history of mystery was revealed. Throughout the history of Israel, God had shown His hand in types and shadows. It was clear that He planned to provide a redeemer, a Savior, the Messiah, for Israel. But it was not clear how or when He would do this.
Even during the life of Jesus and the ministry to His Apostles, God’s plan was still shrouded in mystery. Although the Apostles believed Jesus to be both the Messiah and the Son of God, they did not understand what Jesus was doing. They did not get the need to take away sins once and for all. They did not understand that Jesus was the Second Adam, redeeming all mankind from his fall into sin and death. They did not understand the final victory in the Resurrection of the dead.
But here the Apostle tells us that this mystery is all revealed in the work, death, Resurrection and rule of Jesus. We are again told that God revealed this simply because He wanted to. His good pleasure, which He purposed in Himself, was the cause. It is good for us to stop there when looking into the things that are hidden. He revealed His plan in Jesus. Why? Because He wanted to.

10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: 
What did He purpose to do? He planned with wisdom and prudence to gather all things into Jesus. This all things includes those things in Heaven and on Earth. This is the Lord’s prayer, that His will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. He is bringing all things into subjection to Jesus.
The dispensation of the fullness of times means that it was His flourishing touch to finish up His plan right at that time. It was like the climax of a story which brings all the players together and makes sense of all the various parts.
We see this often in story. An author is weaving a complex story and we sometimes have a hard time understanding how all the various parts are going to come together in one cohesive story. The better the author, the more befuddled you might be. Then, in just a few pages, all the stories are woven together to make sense. This is the dispensation of the fullness of time.

This is what God did in Jesus. All of a sudden it made it all make sense. The bruising of the serpent’s head. Salvation through water like Noah. The faith of Abraham. The law of Moses as love for God and love for man. The bronze serpent which saves all those who look upon it. The mercy seat covered in the blood of the sacrifice for the people. The scapegoat freed in the wilderness. The eternal Davidic Kingdom. The destruction and reconstruction of the Temple. The promises of an even greater kingdom and a more glorious temple. The light of the Gentiles and the glory of the people Israel. The New Jerusalem, a heavenly Temple, the mountain cut out without hands that fills the whole earth. All of a sudden, in Jesus, it all makes sense.

His Good Pleasure

Ephesians says that God adopted us as children according to His good pleasure. It says that He revealed the mystery of Christ to us according to His good pleasure.
         Why did God act kindly towards us? Because He wanted to, because it pleased Him to do so. This word should be very assuring to us. God is pleased to shower us with blessings in Christ. God wants to do this. God enjoys doing this. He is pleased to have us as His children. He is pleased to grant us forgiveness through Jesus Christ. He is a pleased Father.

         Thus, it is fitting that we should be very thankful children.

Grace and Peace

Ephesians 1 says that God has chosen you in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless. You, who are in Christ, are like those Ephesians who have heard the Word of Truth and responded in confession and repentance. Thus, you have received His blessing, you are holy and blameless.

         Is there a greater word than this? To be holy and blameless before God the Father, to be in His presence fully covered in Christ, to be at peace with God and men? His greeting to the Ephesians fits you who are in Christ, grace to you and peace.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Ephesians Intro

Introduction to Ephesians- Theology and Practice
         Ephesians is a wonderful book for many reasons. It is of the highest theological and practical significance of any of the books in the Bible. The Apostle soars high to the throne of God, revealing the Father and the Son and the Spirit, and then he comes down to His footstool to instruct us how to live.
         This format is very instructive. When he gets around to the very practical applications, he has already spent a great deal of time on theology.
         Theology is the study of God. We sometimes wrongly describe theology as the study of doctrines. Of course, doctrines flow out of our study of God but theology proper looks at the revelation of God Himself, seeking to know Him, His character and His actions.  From this knowledge of God flows particular doctrines about God.
         In Ephesians, we have basically three chapters of high flying theology. We are shown who God is, who Jesus is, what the work of the Holy Spirit is, and who we are in Christ. These are all indicative statements. There is only one imperative statement in the first three chapters.
         An indicative statement is a statement of fact. As the name implies, it indicates a truth. It is making a statement but is not giving a command. An example would be, “God is in Heaven. Jesus died on the cross for sinners. The Holy Spirit grants us assurance.” These are all statements of fact. They are assertions but do not tell us what to do.
         An imperative is a command. Let’s put these together. It is a bright and sunny day today. That is an indicative. Therefore, you should wear sunscreen to protect yourself. That is an imperative. You should. Or, do some action. Imperatives command. The second half of Ephesians, the last three chapters are full of commands.
In laying out Ephesians this way, we can see the pattern. The Apostle tells us theology. He declares who God is, what He has done, what this means for us who are in Christ. Then, having declared these truths about God, he leads on to what follows. The very first words of Ephesians 4, make this transition clear, Eph. 4:1   I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,
         Paul says, because of all these truths about God and who you are in God, Therefore, I beseech you, I command you to walk worthy. He then goes on to elucidate in great detail what this walking worthy looks like. He moves from telling us about God to telling us what to do about it.
         So, we should pay attention to the pattern. Do not run ahead trying to figure out what to do before you know who God is, before you know what He has done, before you know who you are in Christ. But having learned these things, these mysteries now revealed, then press on to doing those things that God calls us to do in Christ.

Historical Background
         Ephesus was a large major city in the Roman province of Asia, in what is now Turkey. It is estimated that its ancient population could have been as high as 300,000. It had a theatre that seated 25,000 which still stands today.
Ephesus was center of the cult of Diana, also known by the Greek name, Artemis. The Temple of Diana was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Its size dwarfed that of the Parthenon in Athens. I have seen the Parthenon and it is quite impressive. So, the Temple of Diana must have been an architectural marvel. You can imagine what worship this magnificent structure would inspire in the ancient pagan world. The temple preserved an image of Diana that was believed to have fallen from the sky.
         At one time, Ephesus served as port city. However, as a result of various battles and political changes, the port was not dredged and fell into decay. In the middle ages, explorers who sought the Ancient Temple were surprised to see that the city was several miles from the sea. Furthermore, the inhabitants had ceased to remember that the great Temple of Diana had once stood here.
         We should keep in mind God’s sovereignty in putting down ancient idols. The great Temple was gone, replaced by a marshy meadow and modern men who had no recollection of Artemis of the Ephesians!

Biblical Background
         Paul wrote Ephesus from prison. Paul had several stints in jail and we are not exactly sure which one is the occasion of this writing. But most likely he is writing from Rome, which would date the writing of Ephesians around 60 A.D.
In Acts 19, Paul enters into the Synagogue at Ephesus and disputed daily with the men there for a space of three months. (Acts 19:8). When they would not be persuaded, he set up in a school of one Tyrannus (Acts 19:9). He disputed daily there for two years. It was a large success and the Scriptures tell us that all Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 19:10).
Paul performed many miracles in Ephesus. He cast out demons and healed many. It was here in Ephesus that certain Jews sought to match Paul’s miracles. Even though they were not believers they sought to cast out demons in the name of Jesus.  (Acts 19:13). The demons responded rudely. The sons of Sceva, an unbelieving Jew, were attacked and stripped naked. This caused many to fear and come to true belief in the Lord Jesus.
There was much witchcraft in the city. After the sons of Sceva incident, many came to belief and brought their books of magic arts to be burned. The value of the burned books was some 9 or 10 million dollars. Can you imagine the size of the fire? Accounting for the high cost of books in the ancient world, even at $100 per book, that is 90,000 books!
Paul was very successful in his daily disputing. After the space of two years, we are told that in Ephesus the word of God grew mightily and prevailed.
It was at Ephesus that Demetrius stirred up the crowd to riot against the Christians. This event occurred at the end of Paul’s two years there. Demetrius was angry that so many people converting to Christianity was going to shut down the idol trade. Paul had been saying that gods made with hands were not God. Demetrius was mostly concerned about his finances but he justified his greed in a religious posture. This is the way of men, to justify their sin with religious sounding words.

Acts 19: 29 And the whole city was filled with confusion: and having caught Gaius and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul’s companions in travel, they rushed with one accord into the theatre.
Paul desired to go into the theatre to address the men, no doubt, to tell them exactly what they did not want to hear; that idols are not god and to turn from dead idols to the living God. Paul’s friends were in fear for his life and prevented him from entering.
The Jews put Alexander forward to try to speak. He probably meant harm to Paul He tried to speak but once they realized he was a Jew, the crowd shouted for two hours, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”
It is hard to imagine shouting this for two hours. They must have really been riled up. But we can get some sense of this even in the current Soccer World Cup. There is almost a religious fervor at these soccer matches! They can roar and chant for hours on end.
Can you imagine trying to speak against a maddened soccer crowd? How much more so if the driving issue was a starkly religious and financial one? In danger of being held accountable by the Roman armies, the town clerk was able to shut down the riot and restore order.

Paul’s Return Trip
On Paul’s return trip, he stopped in Miletus and called the elders of Ephesus to meet him. He told them, Acts 20:18-21 Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons,serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews:  20 And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house,  21 Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. 
Paul testifies to them that he spoke both publicly and from house to house. That is both publicly and privately, Paul’s message was consistent and clear.

Ephesus in Corinthians
1Cor. 15:32 If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.
         Paul mentions his fights at Ephesus when he speaks of the Resurrection of the dead in Corinthians 15. Why is this significant. He says that if there is no Resurrection then it does not make sense to fight with beasts. He is willing to be face dangers, be imprisoned and even die because he knows that death cannot separate him from Christ. To live is Christ and to die is gain. Furthermore, he knows that if they succeed in destroying his body, God will simply raise it again an imperishable body.
         He does not take the occasion of the Ressurection of the body to sin. He sets the Resurrection as an encouragement to not sin. For us, the Resurrection of the body is the reason we can endure all sorts of hardships and remain faithful to our Lord Jesus.

A Waning Love
         Rev. 2:1   Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; 2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:
         The Ephesians worked hard, showed patience and resisted evil. That was their heritage in coming out of a darkness. Furthermore, they stuck close to the word, testing those who claimed to be apostles. This may be a reference to those Paul mentions in Acts 20 that even from among the elders of Ephesus would arise those Acts 20: 29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.  30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.

3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. 5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
The Ephesians had lost their initial and zeal for the Lord Jesus. This is significant. At this point it seems that they are weak and in need of a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. But what does the Lord say to do? Repent. They do not get to preen themselves on their consistent distinctives. They are working hard. They are standing against heretics. They are resisting moral decay. They are doing much that looks good and right. But they are in danger of being unchurched by Jesus. What is it that they need to do? They need to stir up, through repentance, their love and devotion to the Lord.
This sort of stirring is very consistent with the epistle to the Ephesians. God is declared to us as full of glory. The words soar to the Heavens and the response is a rapt thankfulness. How can it be anything less?
It is one thing to agree with God, as the Ephesians in Revelations seem to do. They still hate what God hates. But do they love what God loves? Do they love Jesus? Do they love the Word of the Lord? Do they love the gathering of the saints? Do they love righteousness? Are they losing speed? Are they running out of zealous esteem for God? How do they fix this? By doing more work? No, Jesus has already said that they work hard and endure. But if their hard work is not producing love, zeal, satisfaction and contentment in God, what do they need to do then?
The answer is that they need to repent. We may not like that answer. Why do I have to repent? I already love Jesus. Can’t you see how hard I am working for Him?  Can’t you see how much I hate those who pervert the Scriptures and those who live ungodly lives while professing Christ? Yes, I see that and I commend you as Jesus does. But do you love Jesus? Are you filled with awe at what God has done in Christ? Do you rejoice at the name, work, and revelation of Jesus? Are you inspired by the cross and the tomb and the Resurrection and the Ascension and the Rule of Jesus? Do you long for His return to raise the dead and rule forever because you long to see Jesus face to face?
If not, then the answer is not more work, more endurance, more righteous obedience and more righteous hatred. The answer is to do what Jesus commands, repent and do the first works. Repent and pray. Repent and read the Bible. Repent and fellowship with the saints. Repent and contemplate the wonders of the goodness of God in Christ Jesus.

6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
The Nicolaitans was a sexual cult apparently within the Christian Church. God hates the deeds of such. There is a modern day counterpart to this sort of thing in celebrating homosexual behavior. Make no mistake, God hates this and Jesus commend the Ephesians for also hating it. We, too, should hate sexual perversions.
However, we can be patient, work hard, hate what God hates and still be lacking in our first love. That is, personal and corporate devotion to Jesus Christ. That is the first thing, to be in Christ and to be filled up with the glory of it. To love the Lord with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength.
What does he tell them? Repent and do the first works or the candlestick will be removed. What is the candlestick? The life of the Holy Spirit. If there is no love, there is no life.

7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.

If you repent in this way, God grants you the Tree of Life in the midst of the paradise of God. God desires that we posesss an everlasting zeal for the Lord. Of course, we cannot gin this up. He has to give it to us. But even though we cannot gin it up, we do appear to be able to bottle it up. We cannot get the Genie of the Spirit out of the bottle but we can cork the bottle through sinful behavior. And we can uncork the bottle through confession and repentance.