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Author:Rev. David Stares
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Congregation:Reformed Church of Masterton
 New Zealand
 rcmasterton.co.nz
 
Title:A People Blessed by the Lord
Text:Ephesians 1:1-2 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Preached:2018-11-25
Added:2020-01-23
Updated:2020-01-23
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Scripture Readings: Ephesians 1

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


Ephesians 1:1-2

Well, this morning you may be surprised to see that we are beginning a new sermon series through the book of Ephesians, and perhaps even more surprised to see the tiny selection that we are going to be looking at this morning. I think it’s fair to say that none is more surprised than me. Typically, I like to take sizeable portions of text, to get a good sense of the meaning of the passage. I was planning this morning to look at the first 14 verses of chapter 1. I had already begun to look at the amazing gospel truths elaborated in those later verses when I realized that, not only was I completely overlooking the greeting of the letter, and leaving myself no time to unpack it, but I also realized that those great gospel truths are found just as much in the first two verses of Ephesians as they are in the rest of the book.

So, this morning we are going to consider that:

Because we are those who are faithful in Christ Jesus, we receive grace and peace from our heavenly father.

We will see that in 3 points

1) God speaks through His Apostle

2) God Speaks to His People

3) God Speaks His Blessing

 

1) God Speaks through his Apostle

This letter begins with an introduction, one that would have been expected in ancient letter writing. The difference from our letters is that in ancient letter writing both the author and the recipients of the letter are named right from the start. And that gave the hearers an understanding of the attitude that they need to take with the letter, on whose authority it was being sent. Is it from Caesar, then they better pay attention! It primed the hearers to give their focus to what was about to be read.

And this is no less the case here. Paul introduces himself in a way that will give his hearers a reason to listen. The first word in the letter is ‘Paul.’ Now, I’m aware that there are probably people here today who aren’t familiar with everything the Bible has to say about this important man. And if you’d like to get more of his story, you can find it in the book of acts. In that book we read of a man named Saul.

Saul was born in Tarsus, which was in modern-day Turkey, and so was a Roman Citizen. However, some time in his early life he moved to Jerusalem where he was trained as a Rabbi and a Pharisee under a renowned teacher named Gamaliel. And he was zealous for the law and for his on righteousness, so zealous in fact that he went after anyone who would blaspheme against the God of Israel. And for him this included persecuting the early church. He was there when Steven was stoned and was happy to see him die.

But then God stepped in. While Paul was on the way to Damascus to find Christians there Jesus appeared, throwing him to the ground, and he said to Saul, “Why are you persecuting me?” and with that his heart was changed, he went from being Saul the Persecutor to Paul the Apostle.

And this is how he introduces himself here, as an apostle. Now, what was an apostle? It’s someone who is sent to deliver a message. Like a representative or ambassador. You see, ambassadors aren’t free to make their own laws or create trade deals. Their job is to execute the laws that their king or president or prime minister has set forth. And this was true of Paul. He was a man with a task from his king.

And this task was given right from the start in acts 9 when Jesus said that Paul would be ‘his chosen instrument to bear his name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel.’ And Paul does this. He accepts Jesus’ commission and he goes out to the synagogues and the Gentile marketplaces and proclaims Jesus Christ, his king. And so he preaches among the Gentiles as his special task, which he says both in Galatians 1 and here in Ephesians 3:1 where he introduces himself, “I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles.” As a Pharisee, he would never have associated with them, but now they are the target of Paul the Apostle, because this was his commission from his king.

It is something in which he was totally passive. As he says here, he is an apostle purely ‘by the will of God.’ He calls himself one untimely born because he was not an original follower of Jesus but was called later. And he is deeply aware of his unworthiness to the office of apostle. That his call was according to God’s will and a demonstration of God’s grace: that God saves sinners, even persecutors of the church. It is purely God’s good pleasure that makes Paul what he is.

You see, Paul does not even introduce himself without testifying to God’s grace. That salvation belongs to the Lord and is not in the power of men. And in this he speaks to his hearers as a sinner saved by grace, who has been commissioned to speak in his place.

2) God Speaks to his People

And so who has he been commissioned to speak to in this letter?

He addresses the people in the city of Ephesus. Now where was that? It was also in what is modern day Turkey. If you go north around the Mediterranean Sea from Israel, once you get to the top you are in what is now Turkey. Ephesus was on the far side, across the water from Greece. And it was an important city. It was at the crossing of two major land routes as well as having an important sea port. This made it a center of finance and commerce. It was also an important center of worship. If there are any history buffs or trivial buffs you may be aware that one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the temple of Artemis, was located in Ephesus. And this is why, you might remember, this was the city where the makers of Artemis statues and shrines protested against the preaching of the gospel because it was decimating their business!

This was a city that Paul visited a couple of times, and according to Acts 19 he spent over 2 years there and from that center the gospel spread throughout all of Asia. Here Paul did miracles and built a loving relationship with the church in that city. This relationship was so close that on his third missionary journey when he wasn’t able to get to Ephesus, he called the elders of the Church to meet him in Miletus and they wept together at the thought that he did not expect to ever see them again. Paul had churches that didn’t love him, or whom he had to speak harshly to, but Ephesus isn’t one of them. He writes this letter to encourage them in their unity and in their confidence in the gospel.

And so here he addresses them with these encouraging terms – the saints who are in Ephesus and faithful in Christ Jesus.

Now, this word saint is used in our language often to describe a good person, or an especially religious person. But notice that this is not how Paul uses the word saint. He calls them as a church ‘saints’ which could literally say, ‘holy ones.’ And someone who is holy is dedicated, consecrated, or set apart for something. And this is how God speaks of his church. That they are holy. That we have been called out of this world, that we have been baptized and are set apart from the people of the world as his special people. In the same ways as God had a holy people in the Old Testament that was special to him in the nation of Israel, in the New Testament it is the church.

And to explain this he describes them as people who are faithful in Christ Jesus. And probably the best way to explain this is that they are ‘believers’ in Christ Jesus. The whole reason that he is addressing them as the emissary of Christ and as beloved saints is because they are believers. In the same way the Paul is only what he is because of the Grace of God, the Ephesians are sinners saved by grace as well. Saints are those who believe in Jesus. They become holy and righteous in his name. People who worship him because we have been consecrated by the blood of Jesus. It is by his blood that we have access to a holy God and can come to him in prayer and praise.

Of course, there is more to being saints, which Paul is going to go into later. As Jesus says, we must BE holy as our heavenly Father is holy. We must strive to live lives worthy of this consecration. We are welcomed for the sake of the blood of Jesus, and are declared to be righteous on the basis of his merit, and as God’s holy people we strive to be what God already declared about us. We are called holy by his grace, and we seek to be holy in response, to imitate our gracious father. As he is going to say in chapter 5:1 – be imitators of God as beloved children.

And so this address to the Ephesians serves as both a gracious declaration and the introduction of a challenge that will be elaborated later in the letter. And this is a challenge to us as well. We here are the holy church of Jesus Christ, we too are his called people, we too are the ones who have been saved by faith in the blood of Jesus.

And yet the reality is that this is so often not reflected in the lives we lead. As we confess every Sunday morning, we are sinners. We have broken God’s law and often that is because we have failed to remember that there is something special about is. That we are not the same as our neighbor. And we have tried to imitate them, adopting their motivations and priorities, the things they love and the lives they lead; and have abandoned the holiness that we have been called to. Now, of course, we don’t shun the world, but we engage with the world because we have something they need, not the other way around, and we desire for them to imitate us, and not the other way around. That they have faith in Jesus and that they, too would imitate our heavenly father. So that by faith they might receive the blessing of God.

3) God Speaks His Blessing

And this is what Paul describes here in the conclusion of his greeting. V.2. Now, in many ancient Greek letters they would begin with the word for ‘greetings’ which Paul and other NT writers changed to a similar sounding word, the word for ‘grace.’ And here he is speaking as the ambassador for God. He is declaring to them what God has already said. In the same way as God told Aaron to declare this blessing on his Old Covenant people: “The LORD bless you, and keep you; The LORD make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance on you, And give you peace.” And he did so because, as he said, it was his intent to bless them. It is not Paul who grants grace and peace, nor is it merely a wish that God would do so, but it is a declaration from the God of peace that he extends his grace and peace to all his people.

And this is similar to what happens from the pulpit Sunday after Sunday, that the ordained minister stands and declares the blessing of God to his people, that God welcomes them, that he extends his grace and mercy and love to them. This doesn’t come from the minister, but from God who declares that blessing without reservation to his people.

And what is this blessing? That God gives his grace to sinners and that there is peace between man and God on account of Christ. Imagine if we were to stand in our own sinfulness and ask a holy God for a message, what would you expect think the messenger would declare? Grace and peace? On the contrary. Judgement and enmity! Apart from Christ there is only strict justice towards sin, which merits punishment of both body and soul, and apart from Christ man is at war with God. A war that we lose. But in Christ God gives grace, because he has taken our sins, our punishment, the wrath we deserved, and in Christ there is peace between man and God. It is only in Christ that God is called ‘our Father’ rather than our judge.

And this is why Christ is also here in this blessing. Because it is on account of him that this grace comes. A blessing given to his holy people and his alone. And we have this saviour as our lord and master, and so we receive these blessings from him.

And that sets the tone for the letter to the Ephesians. It is who we are in Christ that gives us hope in our relationship to God, and it is who we are in Christ that guides how we live in relation to each other as the saints in our church, and faithful in Christ Jesus.

 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. David Stares, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. David Stares

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