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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:See and value the diversity of gifts bestowed by the ascended Jesus Christ
Text:Ephesians 4:7-10 (View)
Occasion:Ascension Day
Topic:Communion of Saints
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-08-07
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 44

Psalm 68:1,2

Hymn 41

Hymn 64 (Confession of Faith)

Psalm 47 and Hymn 45

Scripture readings:  Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 4:1-16

Text:  Ephesians 4:7-10

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

The story is told in ancient history of a great military leader on his way to becoming king.  He was out on a rescue mission with his soldiers.  In a dramatic raid, the enemy had abducted their women and children.  With six hundred soldiers under his command, this leader set out on the rescue mission.  At a certain point, two hundred of these men were too tired to continue.  The leader decided he could leverage this situation.  The two hundred tired men could stay behind with the food and supplies and that would free up the other four hundred soldiers to move more quickly and flexibly.  It was a brilliant move and it resulted in mission success.  The women and children were rescued and the enemy was totally destroyed.

Just like in many ancient battles, afterwards there was spoil for the victors.  Everyone would get a share of the stuff collected from the enemy dead.  Some felt that the men who stayed behind with the supplies shouldn’t get any – after all, they didn’t fight.  But the man who would be king decided otherwise.  He said that those who stayed to protect the supplies were just as important as those who directly fought and they’d all receive equally from the spoil.  They had different roles, but they were all important. 

Shortly after this episode, David became King of Israel.  He made it a rule in Israel that when the king won a victory, everyone would share in the spoils.  With his righteousness and generosity, King David was pointing ahead to King Jesus.  Like ancient kings, when King Jesus achieved his victory over sin and death, he shared the spoils, so to speak.  He had gifts to bring for his subjects. 

In our text from Ephesians 4 the apostle Paul is using this imagery of an exalted, victorious King sharing the spoils.  In the first part of the chapter, he stresses the unity of Christ’s church.  Then here in verses 7 to 10, he begins to show how that unity is firmed up and made even more beautiful through the diversity of gifts given by our ascended Lord Jesus.  The Holy Spirit wants us to see that diversity and embrace it.  So I preach to you God’s Word and the theme of the sermon is this:  See and value the diversity of gifts bestowed by the ascended Jesus Christ

We’ll consider how he bestows his gifts with:

  1. Authority
  2. Generosity        

As we look at this passage, it’s helpful to look at the order in which the events occurred.  There are two historical events described here.  In verses 9 and 10, we read about Jesus Christ “descending into the lower regions, the earth.”  That’s referring to the first step in Jesus’ humiliation.  The work of Christ divides into two parts, his humiliation and his exaltation.  Well, his humiliation began when he became a human being in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  His humiliation began with his incarnation.  That was when the Son of God “descended” to the earth. 

Though our text doesn’t mention it, his descent into humiliation continued from that point.  He suffered through all his thirty-three years on this earth.  Rejected, mocked, and then finally tortured and crucified to pay for our sins.  Then, finally, at the very lowest point of his humiliation, he was buried. 

But Jesus didn’t stay buried.  On Easter Sunday morning, he rose from the dead.  Then, forty days later, he ascended on high.  Christ rose up to heaven, where he now sits at God’s right hand.  Today, at this very moment, the Son of God is still in heaven with his human body.  And some day he will return again to judge the living and dead.

Now in our passage from Ephesians 4, Paul uses Psalm 68 to picture to us the joyous reality of Christ’s ascension and what it means for us as believers.  Psalm 68 celebrates God’s victory over his enemies.  Like a mighty warrior King, God led his people from Mount Sinai to Mount Zion in Jerusalem.  God goes up in victory to Mount Zion to dwell there.  The temple becomes his throne on earth.  From there he lavished gifts upon his people. 

That’s been fulfilled in Christ with his ascension into heaven.  Jesus has gone up into the heavenly places to take his place on the throne.  He led a host of captives – there are these enemies that he’s conquered – sin, death, and Satan.  And then, from his heavenly throne, “he gave gifts to men.”  Furthermore, as it says in verse 10, he ascended to “fill all things,” which means he ascended to fill this earth with his blessings.  The throne of Christ is like a fountain from which flows an endless stream of gifts.    

That throne to which Christ ascended is a position of authority.  Christ reigns as King.  The Holy Spirit made the same point earlier in Ephesians.  In Ephesians 1:20-21 he said that Christ has been seated at God’s right hand “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.”  Christ is ruling over all.  He’s the victorious ascended King. 

With this ruling authority from heaven, King Jesus sovereignly determines the allocation of gifts to this people.  As it says in verse 7, “grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”  Let’s note two things there. 

First, Christ has given grace to each one of us.  Grace is when you receive something you don’t deserve.  Sometimes it means receiving the opposite of what you deserve.  Usually we think about grace in relation to our rescue from sin, “saving grace.”  But here it’s something different.  One commentator calls it “serving grace.”  Christ shows grace to us so we can serve.  We don’t deserve his gifts, but in his good pleasure our exalted King distributes them so we can serve him and others.  And he distributes them to all his subjects.  It says, “each one of us.”  Every believer has received gifts from the good and righteous King.  That includes you.    

Second, it’s “according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”  Because he’s the King, Jesus has the right to apportion gifts the way he wants.  That’s important to see because you could see someone else’s gifts and become envious.  That kind of an attitude is going to break down the unity of the church.  Christ has apportioned musical gifts to some.  Some of us just aren’t gifted in that way.  Should we be jealous of those who are?  No, because Christ has the right to put whatever gifts he wants with whomever he wants.  He’s the King on the throne and he can decide.  Because he’s perfectly good and wise, he’s the best one to decide, not us.  As we acknowledge that truth, we can then look around us at the diversity of gifts that exists and we can see that and value that.  We can appreciate the wisdom of our ascended and exalted King.  We acknowledge his authority in how he bestows his gifts. 

King Jesus also bestows his gifts with generosity.  Some earthly rulers are tight-fisted with their subjects.  When someone becomes Prime Minister, they don’t share gifts with the citizens of the nation.  When our Queen came to the throne in 1953, there were actually gifts for all the children of the Commonwealth nations.  But that was a special occasion and it doesn’t happen too often.  But with our ascended and exalted King Jesus, things are so much different.

He has varied gifts to give to his church.  In Ephesians 4, Paul writes about how various office bearers are gifts of Christ to his church.  Some of the offices mentioned aren’t around today anymore, like apostles and prophets.  But the others are, though we might use different names for them.  We might speak about missionaries, elders, and pastors.  Such men are given by Christ to his church so that the believers might be equipped for ministry, to develop their gifts, so the body of Christ can continue to be built up.

When we talk about our Lord’s giving, we could use the word ‘generous.’  But there’s another word that I think perhaps captures it even better:  Christ lavishes gifts on us.  There’s generosity, but lavishing is like hyper-generosity.  Lavishing is the richest sort of generosity you can imagine.  That's what we have with our King Jesus.

It’s a beautiful thing to look at the church of Christ and see how many different ways he has blessed us.  We have office bearers, but we also have people who know how to speak a kind word at just the right moment.  We have those who are really good listeners.  There are those believers who are good with their hands – they know how to fix and build things.  Some are good with hospitality, others with evangelism and so on.  Christ has lavished all this diversity of gifts upon us as our good King in heaven.         

Imagine a fireworks show where there was only one sort of firework.  Let’s say all there was were Roman Candles.  Ten minutes of Roman Candles.  That would be pretty boring, wouldn’t it?  But when you have a diverse assortment of fireworks, that’s beautiful.  That’s what we want to see in a fireworks display.

Well, similarly in the church, imagine if everyone only had the same gift.  For example, imagine that every single member had a gift for music and only had that one gift.  No one could put a budget together if their life depended on it, but everyone could lead the congregational singing on a musical instrument.  Thankfully it’s not like that.  There’s beauty and value in the diversity of gifts that Christ generously lavishes on his church.  And as we see this, we value each other more and that draws us closer together.  It serves the unity of Christ’s church when we see the generosity of our Saviour with all the gifts that exist among us.

Looking around us and seeing the diversity of gifts Christ has bestowed on others can be relatively easy.  We just have to look and then we’ll see.  But what about for yourself?  Are you aware of the gifts Christ has given to you for service in the church?  It’d be hard to use them if you weren’t aware of them.  How do you become aware of the gifts Christ has lavished on you?  Well, one possible way is to ask others who know you well.  Ask your spouse or ask a good friend, maybe your parents.  But there are also spiritual gift surveys that you can find online that can be helpful too. 

Loved ones, today we commemorate the ascension of our Lord Jesus.  It’s an event that’s so often neglected, certainly by the world, and sometimes by Christians too.  Someone once spoke of Christians having “Ascension Deficit Disorder.”  Christ’s ascension doesn’t get nearly the attention of Christmas or Easter.  But that doesn’t make it any less important.  It was an essential step in Christ’s exaltation – through it, our victorious King has taken his seat on the throne.  Like David so many years ago, he’s generously lavished the spoils of victory.  He’s given rich gifts to those who share in his victory.  Seeing that brings us all closer together in him.  AMEN. 

PRAYER

Our exalted King Jesus,

We worship you for becoming one of us.  You humbled yourself and took on our human nature so that you could save us from our sins and what they deserve.  You agreed to become a human being so you could suffer and die on the cross in our place and for that we love you and thank you.  But then you also rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.  We worship you now as the good and wise King seated on the throne.  Lord, we thank you for the righteous way you rule.  We thank you for the way you lavishly distribute your gifts among us.  We see such a diversity of gifts and for it we praise your name.  With your Holy Spirit, please help us to see and appreciate your gift giving among us.  And we pray that having our eyes opened to your gifts would also enhance our unity, that it would draw us closer together in you.    




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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