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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:God's Purpose in History: The Mystery of His Will
Text:Ephesians 1:1-14 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Purpose
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-07-08
Updated:2020-07-08
 

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.


 
Pastor Ted Gray
06/21/2020 – a.m.
(Faith URC, Beecher)
 
“God’s Purpose in History: The Mystery of His Will”
Ephesians 1:1-14
 
I read about an elderly pastor who 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, through pandemics and social unrest, 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 the completion of the true church, and the salvation of every person predestined for salvation, is the purpose of all history. God’s purpose in history is the redemption of His people and the fulfillment of His kingdom.
  
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. Maybe some of you young people are reading mysteries, looking for the key that unfolds the mystery. 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.
 
However, many people, hearing about election and predestination, and the counterpart of reprobation say, “I could never believe in a God who would allow all the troubles of history to play out just so that time would be given for the salvation of His elect. I can’t believe in a God who would have a doctrine of reprobation. That simply is not fair. I want no part of such teaching, no part of Christianity.”
  
I have great sympathy for those people because there was a time in my life when I was one of them. I wasted more than a decade of my life; I lived apart from Christ from my late teen years until I was 30 years old. I was 30 years old when I publicly professed faith in Jesus Christ. But there was a time toward the end of that spiritual drought when I had a growing interest in the things of the Lord. I began to read the Bible again. I went to church, at least occasionally. And then, because my brother at the time was a minister in a nearby town, I went to his new members class. I found much of it to be interesting, but the part about election really bothered me.
  
When the class was over, my brother asked, “So are you ready to join the church?” He anticipated an eager affirmation. After all, he and the rest of my family had prayed for me for many years. But I asked, “What if I’m not elect?”
 
He scoffed at the idea that I would even question my election. But it was something that bothered me deeply. I struggled with the whole area of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. I reasoned, “If it is true that I am elect, then why do I even need to join the church or be a part of it? Wouldn’t I automatically be saved?”
 
And on the flip side of the theological coin, how can God condemn those who were destined to stumble over Christ?  That hardly sounded fair to me. I read Romans 9 many times over. I read about God’s purpose in election as explained in the example of the twins, Jacob and Esau. Romans 9:11-15 declares:
 
Yet, 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.”  
 
       What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For He says to Moses,
             “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
               and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
 
Those verses bothered me greatly. “What if my brother was elect like Jacob? And what if I was reprobate like Esau? What if I was an outsider looking in on the salvation of my elect family?” That hardly sounded fair!
 
I struggled with those questions for some time before finally coming to see that fairness has nothing to do with God’s electing love. If God treated me fairly I would be headed straight to hell along with each one of you and all the rest of humanity.
 
But then, as God graciously worked through His word by His Spirit, 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 is 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  unperturbed 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 and nothing 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 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 Thess. 1:4-5a). As we realize that our salvation is because of God’s grace and not our initiative, we find great comfort in His eternal, electing love for us. We realize that our salvation is secure because of Him, not because of us.
 
And that message of God’s eternal, electing love – the message of the gospel – must be proclaimed to all people. 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 in the 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 “a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.”?
 
One of the innumerable blessings of heaven is that we will never run out of time. I am sure that you have 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 – for He has “a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
 
We look at our world in all its depravity, hostility, and immorality, and ask, “How long, O Lord…?”  And God's answer is: “When the times will have reached their fulfillment – at the fullness of time.”
 
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 save 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, as we see riots and looting and racial injustice, 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: “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? Verse 6, 12 and 14 all tell us that that the purpose of our lives is to live “to the praise of His glorious grace.”
 
But how do we do that? How do we live to the praise of God’s 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.
 
Part of living a life of gratitude – living by a different standard than the world – means doing the good works which Ephesians 2:10 tells us were ordained for us to do, even before we were born. Doing those good works God brings glory to God and serves as a powerful witness to others. Do you remember how Peter puts it – in 1 Peter 2:12? – He writes: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
 
That verse is telling us that even if our good works, and even if our witness with words, doesn’t transform lives here and now, it will bring glory to God on the last day. On the last day those to whom you witnessed, and those who saw your good deeds – who saw that you are a letter from Christ – will glorify God even as they are sentenced to eternal damnation.
                      
They will acknowledge that God was merciful and gracious in that He had people in their lives who did good deeds – who by their deeds and words – showed what it means to belong to Christ, and yet they refused to believe. And they will acknowledge on the last day that God was gracious, but that they hardened their hearts against His grace and deserve the just punishment which He pronounces.
                   
Living out our faith in Christ in every sphere of life – producing spiritual fruit through good deeds – brings glory to God now, and it will glorify Him even more on the last day when every knee will bow before Him and every tongue confess the deity of Christ to glory of our triune God!
 
And then, another 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 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 – 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 purpose, which He set forth in Christ a plan
for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth. – 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 (4-10; Rom. 9:6-13; 1 Thess. 1:4-5a)
 
 
 
 
 
 
      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)
      as we live out our faith in every sphere of life (1 Cor. 10:31; Eph. 2:10; 1 Pet. 2:12),
      trusting God rather than worrying about circumstances (Matt. 6:25-34; Rom. 8:28-39;
      Phil. 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 2020, Rev. Ted Gray

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