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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:God's Purpose In History
Text:Ephesians 1:1-14 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Purpose

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

“God’s Purpose in History: The Mystery of His Will”
Ephesians 1:1-14
An elderly pastor went to see a family whose life had unraveled. He took out an old worn bookmark from his Bible and showed it to the family members. It was just a mess of needlepoint, a jumble of threads; it made no sense. The family thought that the pastor was getting a bit senile – until he turned the bookmark over to the other side. On the other side of the bookmark they read the words, “Our God reigns.”
That family, whose lives had unraveled, were reminded by the bookmark that even though our individual lives may face chaos and trouble at many times, our God reigns. They were reminded that in all the conflict around the world, in the hostility of one nation against another, amid trade wars and embargoes, and even in world wars, our God reigns. God is at work in all the various troubles of life. We may only see the scaffolding as God builds his church and establishes his kingdom. Yet that is the purpose of all history. God’s purpose in history is the redemption of his people and the fulfillment of his kingdom.
Verses 7-8 speak of the redemption we have through faith in Jesus Christ: In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.
From our view, as we look at history, it may seem like a tangled jumble of threads. We see wars and rumors of wars, we experience economic uncertainty throughout the global markets, we see nations that once were powerful destroyed as they decay from within. And sometimes, when we look at history – even the history of our own lives with their tangled threads – it doesn’t make sense. But from God’s heavenly perspective, all of history is just the expanse of time allotted by the Lord for all those whom he has predestined for salvation to come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
The apostle calls this work of the Lord in history “the mystery of his will” in verse 9. We think of a mystery as something that cannot be figured out. Those of you who are older may have grown up on Nancy Drew mystery stories or the mysterious adventures of the Hardy Boys. Those books, and other series like them, are full of mystery and captivate the minds of their readers who eagerly look for the solution to the mystery that unfolds page by page.
But when the Bible uses the word “mystery” it has a different meaning. In the Bible the word “mystery” describes something that was formerly hidden and is now revealed. For instance, in the Old Testament there are many foreshadows – types – of Christ, but in the New Testament we see those types and shadows fulfilled in Christ. That which was formerly hidden is now revealed in greater clarity. And that is called a “mystery.” It is the unveiling of what was formerly seen only in the shadows.
Chosen for Salvation
What types of truths are in this mystery of God's will – his revealing of what was hidden but is now revealed with greater clarity? What was hidden but now is revealed includes that throughout history God will save all those whom he has chosen and predestined for salvation. In verse 4, 5 and 11 we read how we were chosen in Christ before the creation of the world. We call that his electing love,  and we rejoice that he predestined us long before we were born to live to the praise of his glorious grace. And all of history hinges on that wonderful plan of God to redeem His people, the elect.
My wife and I recently attended a seminar on election. One of the speakers was answering the common objection that election and predestination are not fair. The speaker turned to the classic biblical example of Jacob and Esau. He described how in Romans 9:11-13 the Scripture says:  Before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
And then he asked, “Which one of the twins deserved to be saved?” The obvious answer is “Neither.” God in grace chose to save Jacob even though Jacob was a deceiver who deceived his father, among many others, and convinced his brother Esau to sell his birthright – which represented a great spiritual blessing – for a pot of stew.
I admit that when I initially came to know the Lord, I was bothered by the doctrine of election and predestination. My great concern was that I was seeking the Lord, but what if I was not one of his elect? What if I was reading the Bible and spending time in prayer in vain? Then, as God graciously worked through his word, I began to understand, and to deeply appreciate, the truths of Scripture expressed by the hymnwriter, who wrote:
I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
he moved my soul to seek him, seeking me;
it was not I that found, O Savior true;
no, I was found, was found of thee.            (Anonymous)
That’s why some have called the Lord – not in a sacrilegious way but with deep appreciation – the “Hound of Heaven.” The term was coined by the poet, Francis Thompson who wrote (in a poem by the same name): “As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and imperturbed pace, so does God follow the fleeing soul by His Divine grace.”
I’m so thankful that the Lord sought me and called me with the Holy Spirit’s irresistible call, causing me to seek him. I’m still a vile sinner, but I’m washed in the blood of Jesus. I’m in the process of being sanctified by the Spirit. I’m held in the hand of both the Father and the Son in a powerful, yet tender grip, so that no one can snatch me away. Because my salvation depends upon Christ alone, as he has been given by the Father in electing love – for his good pleasure and will, not because of anything that I have done – I have the blessed assurance Philippians 1:6 that he who began a good work in me will carry that work on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).
And that assurance, applied by the Holy Spirit through the word which he has inspired, springs from the knowledge of God's electing love. As Paul told the Thessalonians: …We know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction (1 Thessalonians 1:4-5a). As we realize that our salvation is all because of God’s grace and not our initiative, we find great comfort in his eternal, electing love for us.
But the gospel is not just for me, and the gospel is not just for you. The gospel must be brought to all nations because all history hinges on God's plan to save his people from their sin. We don't know who God's elect are, which is a powerful incentive for evangelism. We know that throughout history they are but a small remnant of the whole population. And yet we know that if you were to number all the redeemed of all the ages, they would number more than the sand on the seashore and the stars sky. We know that they will come from every nation under heaven and that is why the gospel must be brought to all nations. Jesus said, in Matthew 24:12, “The gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations – and then the end will come.”
We look at history as the rise and fall of many nations, of world powers challenging each other. We see in our own lives the tangled web of threads at times when life makes no sense. And yet through it all, the reason why the Lord has not returned, is because all of history is the record of his redeeming love brought into the lives of those whom he has predestined to believe in his Son.
When the last person who is part of God's elect believes on the Lord, then the end will come. Then the kingdom will be complete. And all history is being played out for that purpose – the purpose of God's redeeming love being poured out into the lives of his people.
God’s Use of Time
As the Lord works his purpose in history, he has complete oversight of all events and truly reigns, having oversight of time itself. Did you notice in verse 10 how the apostle writes that God's purpose is to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment.”?
One of the innumerable blessings of heaven is that we will never run out of time. I am sure that you have all experienced how fleeting time is. We know how quickly time flies when the alarm goes off in the morning and we aren’t ready for the new day. Or, when working on a project, especially one that we really enjoy, how quickly time runs out! We reluctantly end the project and save it for another day.
Although we may have trouble managing time, the Lord overseas time itself. It is, after all, his creation. Genesis 1:14 records how the Lord declared: “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years...”  And Psalm 104:19 describes how he made the moon to mark the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down.
Each revolution of the earth beneath the blazing sun, and each orbit of the moon in its tranquility, is governed by the Lord for the sake of the elect. Throughout the Bible we read time and again how God governs time for the specific purpose of saving his people from their sin. Consider that Jesus was born in the fullness of time.  As Galatians 4:4-5 teach: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
Jesus also spoke about the use of time when he described the apostasy, wickedness, and false teaching that will overwhelm people toward the end of history as we know it. But even as he described the turmoil that will come upon people living in the last times, he gave this great encouragement in Matthew 24:22, “For the sake of the elect, those days will be shortened…” And we see that same truth here in Ephesians 1:10 which describes how God's purpose for history will be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
We look at our world in all its depravity, hostility and immorality, and we ask, “How long, O Lord…?”  And God's answer is: “When the times will have reached their fulfillment.”
We may see just the jumble of threads, such as the elderly pastor had on his bookmark. But all Scripture, including this passage before us, reminds us that our God does indeed reign, and he directs all of history, and uses time as his servant, to accomplish the salvation of everyone whom he has predestined to save.
Working Out All Things
As God works in history to redeem those whom he predestined, God works out all things for their salvation. Admittedly, it doesn't always seem that way. Often, as we look at the chaotic events of our world, we see only a mess of tangled threads. Often it doesn't seem, at least from a human perspective, as though our God reigns. When we look at the persecution of Christians and see the growing apostasy and hostility in our nation and world, it doesn't seem as though God is working all things to build his eternal kingdom, does it? We see only the scaffolding, which sometimes doesn't look so strong and secure, without seeing the holy Temple – that is the true church, part of the eternal kingdom of God – being built beyond the scaffolding.
But God is at work in all events and in all circumstances, big or small. And it has always been that way throughout the history of the world. A father made his son a coat of many colors. His brothers were jealous of that son. They threatened to kill him but then sold him into slavery.  He was falsely accused of sexual assault and thrown into prison.  It certainly would not seem, to a casual observer, as though God was at work building his kingdom and reigning over the world through those sad events in Joseph’s life.
Yet, years later, how did Joseph describe what had happened? When his brothers came to him, fearful of their lives since Joseph had come to power in Egypt, Joseph told them: “Don't be afraid. You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). ­ He recognized the eternal reign of our Lord. And he recognized that even when our life seems like a tangled mass of threads, our God reigns, working out all things according to the purpose of his will.
Our Response: Praise and Adoration!
Considering that our God reigns, working out all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose, is it any surprise that our response is to be a response of praise and adoration?
I'm sure you noticed in verse 6, 12 and 14 that the purpose of our lives is to praise God for his glorious grace through the gift of saving faith in Jesus Christ. Consider verses 4-5: For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
How do we live to the praise of his glorious grace?  On a practical level, we are to glorify God by living out our faith in every sphere of life. 1 Corinthians 10:31: So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
All that we do – in every sphere of our life, whether young or old – is to be done out of gratitude for God's electing love. It is by living a life of gratitude and praise that we become the light of the world, as those around us see that we live by a different standard. They see that even when circumstances go against us, and our lives seem to be that tangled mass of threads, we have we have a peace that surpasses understanding. Why?  Because we know that our God reigns and our trust and hope, even in the most difficult times, is in him. The witness of a suffering Christian is powerful, shedding the light of the gospel into the darkness of our culture.  
That is true for all of us – whether students in school, or older folks who are retired, and everyone in between. It certainly applies to those in the workplace. The way we work will either reveal the light of the Lord to others, or will detract others from the Lord as they recognize the hypocrisy of our lives. Colossians 3:23-24: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, and not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
And children and young people, that goes for homework too! You put every effort into whatever work you do, not just for your parents or teacher – but as working for the Lord, as he uses your studies to make you a stronger Christian and a brighter witness in a world of great darkness.
A second practical way to praise God for his glorious grace and electing love is by trusting in him instead of worrying about circumstances. And we have great reason to not to worry because history is “His Story” and we are in his care. The word, “history” is properly separated into two words “His Story” and his story includes the care – the perfect care and preservation – of his children.
Jesus pointed that out in Matthew 6: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
           …Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, Yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 
         …Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:26, 28-30, 34).
Romans 8:31 brings us that same assurance, as Paul asks the rhetorical question: “If God is for us, who can stand against us?”  And, he adds in Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
And Philippians 4:6-7 gives this comfort for troubled souls: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
So many years ago, the elderly pastor taught a great truth with that bookmark. On the one side was the mass of tangled threads. On the other side were the assuring words: "Our God reigns." The reminder of God’s reign, even over a world of many tangled threads, was of great comfort to that family back then. May the same be true for you and for me. Since our God reigns, and since He loves us with an eternal love, we have every reason to praise Him, boldly living out our faith in every sphere of life for His glory, now and throughout all eternity. Amen!
- bulletin outline -
He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. – Ephesians 1:9-10
“God’s Purpose in History: The Mystery of His Will”
Ephesians 1:1-14
I.  Although our world and its history often seem chaotic, God’s purpose in history includes:
      1) The redemption of His elect (5-10)
      2) Oversight and control of time (10a; Galatians 4:4; Matthew 24:22)
      3) His working out every detail to redeem His people (11)
 II. Our response includes living to the praise of God’s glorious grace (6, 12, 14). On a practical level, we bring glory
      to God:
       1) By living out our faith in every sphere of life – including our employment (Matthew 5:13-16; 1 Corinthians 10:31;
           Colossians 3:23-24)
       2) By trusting in God instead of worrying about circumstances, for history is His Story and we are in His care
            (Matthew 6:25-34; Romans 8:28-39; Philippians 4:6-7)


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Ted Gray

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