Ephesians 1:20-22

Sermon preached on March 5, 2006 by Laurence W. Veinott. Copyright 2006. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.newlifeop.org/.

When I was in seminary in Scotland I met a fellow student who had been through a great tragedy. I believe it was two or three years before that that his daughter had gone to India on a trip and had disappeared. He went to India to look for her but did not find out what happened to her. They don't know if she was murdered or kidnapped. Can you imagine how horrible it must have been for him and his wife?

How can you reconcile that with God's power and love? In
Psalm 112:7 the psalmist wrote about the godly person,

"He will have no fear of bad news;
his heart is steadfast,
trusting in the LORD."

I suppose one suggestion would be like that of Job's friends. You'll remember that they suggested that Job was really a great sinner and that his supposed righteousness was a sham. But to suggest that about Job or my classmate would be totally wrong. Things like that happen to Christians, to good Christians.

The great Protestant reformer
Ulrich Zwingli was killed in battle on the 11th of October, 1531. Zwingli wasn't there as a combatant and was unarmed. As he was consoling a dying soldier he was struck down. That day his wife lost her husband. But it wasn't just her husband that she lost. In that same battle she lost her son, her brother, her son-in-law, and her brother-in-law. Besides all that, some of her closest friends were also killed that day. Can you imagine the extent of her loss?

In 1846 two of the sons of Sarah Hartnell, a fine Christian woman, left as crewmen on the Franklin Expedition, the ill fated attempt to find the Northwest Passage. Sarah had a heart condition, and realizing the length of the voyage, she decided to write to her sons in case she died before they returned. She wrote: (From PBS, the Franklin Expedition)

"My dear children, I have great pleasure to have the chance to write to you. I hope you are both well, I assure you I have many anxious hours about you, but endeavor to cast my cares on Him who is too wise to err and too good to be unkind. If it is the Lord's will, may we be spared to meet on earth. If not, God grant that we may all meet around His throne, to praise Him to all eternity, are the prayers of your affectionate mother, Sarah Hartnell."

But her sons, John and Thomas never returned. They and the other approximately 140 men on the expedition died when their ships became trapped in the ice off King William Island in the Canadian artic. Reports from the Inuit suggest that some of the men survived for up to five years, but eventually they all died of starvation or exposure.

How are we to understand such things? In his book, '
Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People' Rabbi Harold S. Kushner said that the answer is that God is not all powerful. Kushner wrote his book after his son Aaron died prematurely. Kushner wrote that God was good and wants people to be happy but sometimes He cannot bring it about. He taught that some things are outside of God's control and that God cannot bring about the good that He wants. Kushner wrote about God, (p. 134)

"I recognize His limitations. He is limited in what He can do by laws of nature and by the evolution of human nature and human moral freedom."

He laments that,

"even God has a hard time keeping chaos in check and limiting the damage that evil can do."

But that answer is no better than that of Job's friends. And the reason is that it's not true. Consider our text. Paul told the Ephesian Christians that he prayed that they would have the eyes of their hearts opened so that they would be able to grasp,

"his incomparably great power for us who believe.
That power is like the working of his mighty strength,
which he exerted in Christ
when he raised him from the dead
and seated him at his right hand
in the heavenly realms,
far above all rule and authority,
power and dominion,
and every title that can be given,
not only in the present age
but also in the one to come.
And God placed all things under his feet
and appointed him to be head over everything
for the church,
which is his body,
the fullness of him
who fills everything in every way."

The great truth our text teaches us is that

Jesus has been exalted to the highest place and given all power and authority.

God's power is so great that Paul adds superlative to superlative. It is immeasurable—far beyond our capability to reckon. It is like the working of His mighty strength when He raised Jesus from the dead. It is like resurrection power. It is power that seated Jesus at His right hand, far above all rule and authority.

The expression, '
at his right hand' denotes honor, power and happiness. (Eadie) As far as power goes In Matthew 26:64 it is referred to as 'the right hand of power'. Jesus said to the high priest, (NASB)

"I tell you,
hereafter you shall see the Son of Man
sitting at the right hand of Power,
and coming on the clouds of heaven."

Verse 21 tells us that Jesus is above all created dignities, whatever their position and rank. (Eadie) Jesus wields absolute power. John Calvin tells us that the expression 'at the right hand' denotes,

"the power which the Father bestowed on Christ, that in His name He might administer the government of heaven and earth."

Paul also tells us that He has been exalted 'far above all rule and authority, power and dominion'. He has been exalted far above angels and demons. In 1 Peter 3:21-22 Peter wrote,

"It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
who has gone into heaven
and is at God's right hand—
with angels, authorities and powers
in submission to him."

Hebrews 1:8f speaks of the honor give to Jesus.

"But about the Son he says,
'Your throne, O God,
will last for ever and ever,
and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God,
has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy.'
He also says,
'In the beginning, O Lord,
you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will roll them up like a robe;
like a garment they will be changed.
But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.'
To which of the angels did God ever say,
'Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet?'"

Jesus has been exalted about all angels, demons, all powers and authorities. As we read in Philippians 2:9f,

"God exalted him
to the highest place
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth..."

Peter O'Brien writes,

"God has placed all things under his feet. Christ has not only been given a position of authority, seated at the right hand of the Father; he is now able to exercise that authority in the subjection of everything under his feet. The powers are not simply inferior to Christ; they are also subject to him."

Thus we see that being at God's right hand is not only a position of power and honor, but also of happiness. We see this in an Old Testament reference to Jesus. Psalm 16 is a messianic psalm which talks about Jesus not being abandoned to the grave and God's Holy One not seeing decay. It continues, (verse 11)

"You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand."

So we see that Christ's power and rule are absolute. Nothing can or will thwart His will. He is ruling according to His glorious will in complete blessedness.

The Old Testament references to God's rule can be applied to Jesus. In
Isaiah 14:27 we read,

"For the LORD Almighty has purposed,
and who can thwart him?
His hand is stretched out,
and who can turn it back?"

That's the way it is with Jesus' rule. Or consider the words of Isaiah 46:9f,

"I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times,
what is still to come.
I say:
My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.
From the east I summon a bird of prey;
from a far-off land,
a man to fulfill my purpose.
What I have said,
that will I bring about;
what I have planned,
that will I do.
Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted,
you who are far from righteousness.
I am bringing my righteousness near,
it is not far away;
and my salvation will not be delayed.
I will grant salvation to Zion,
my splendor to Israel."

Jesus rules with absolute honor, power and blessedness. He is working out everything in conformity to the purpose of His glorious will.

The second great thing we see from our passage is that

Jesus has been appointed head over everything 'for the church'.

In verse 19 Paul had told us that God's power, which brought about the resurrection of Jesus, was, 'toward us who believe'. Here in verse 22 He tells us that Christ has been appointed head over everything,

"for the church…"

Paul tells us that Christ's supremacy over the universe has a purpose. Peter O'Brien writes,

"Christ's dominion over the cosmos is for the benefit of believers:"

William Hendriksen adds,

"since the church is Christ's body, with which he is organically united, he loves it so much that in its interest he exercises his infinite power in causing the entire universe with all that is in it to co-operate, whether willingly or unwillingly."

So these two great truths go together. Jesus has been exalted to the very highest place and has been given all power and authority— and He uses this power and authority for the church. He is ruling for His glory and for the salvation of His people. His purpose is a new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness, with His people dwelling with Him in complete safety and happiness—with all enemies completely and utterly vanquished.

Now what does this mean for you?

The first thing I would suggest in that this truth should give you a great sense of comfort, of optimism.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who loves His church—is in absolute control.

With reference to Psalm 112:7,

"He will have no fear of bad news;
his heart is steadfast,
trusting in the LORD."

Does that mean that no bad news will come? No. I've given many examples of the bad things that can befall Christians and those close to them. John Calvin writes that the meaning of the psalm is that,

"the righteous, unlike unbelievers, who tremble at every even the slightest rumor, calmly and peacefully confide in God's paternal care, amid all the evil tidings which may reach them."

"acknowledging God as the guardian of their life, and pursuing the tenor of their way, they intrust themselves to his preserving care, and cheerfully resign themselves to his disposal. This is that magnanimity of the righteous,"

This means that

you should exhibit a willingness to accept whatever comes your way and use it to God's glory.

It's not easy living in this fallen world. Tragedy can strike. Horrible things can happen to you and the ones that you love.

Yet Jesus is in control. Verse 11 tells us that God,

"works out everything
in conformity with the purpose of his will,"

Indeed, our sufferings are encompassed in God's plan. In 1 Peter, the apostle writes about Christians suffering, even for doing good. In 1 Peter 3:17 he wrote,

"It is better,
if it is God's will,
to suffer for doing good than for doing evil."

And then in 1 Peter 4:19 we read,

"So then, those who suffer
according to God's will
should commit themselves to their faithful Creator
and continue to do good."

What happens to you is according to the will of Jesus, the Good Shepherd who loves you. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 the apostle Paul wrote,

"give thanks in all circumstances,
for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."

Jesus is ruling and He loves you dearly. But His primary goal is not your physical health, your earthly prosperity. No, quite the contrary, in 1 Peter 2:9f we read,

"But you are a chosen people,
a royal priesthood, a holy nation,
a people belonging to God,
that you may declare the praises of him
who called you out of darkness
into his wonderful light.
Once you were not a people,
but now you are the people of God;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.
Dear friends, I urge you,
as aliens and strangers in the world,
to abstain from sinful desires,
which war against your soul.
Live such good lives among the pagans that,
though they accuse you of doing wrong,
they may see your good deeds
and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake
to every authority instituted among men:
whether to the king,
as the supreme authority, or to governors,
who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong
and to commend those who do right.
For it is God's will that by doing good
you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.
Live as free men,
but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil;
live as servants of God.
Show proper respect to everyone:
Love the brotherhood of believers,
fear God, honor the king."

God's purposes with us are very wide and broad. They encompass God's glory, us praising Him; they encompass believers and our duty to be good examples to them in praising and serving God; they encompass unbelievers, we are to influence them and impact their lives and the judgment that they will undergo on the last day, rendering them inexcusable and compelling them to glorify God on that great day. So Christians, accept what God has for you. In Acts 20:23-24 Paul talked about this in a very personal way. He wrote,

"I only know that in every city
the Holy Spirit warns me
that prison and hardships are facing me.
However, I consider my life worth nothing to me,
if only I may finish the race
and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—
the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace."

Secondly, you Christians should have absolute confidence that God's power will raise you to the highest place.

Christ's resurrection and exaltation is the guarantee of your resurrection and exaltation. You are in Christ. You are safe. Peter O'Brien writes,

"the power with which God works in the lives of believers is the same might by which he raised Christ from death to share his throne."

At the end of Philippians 3 Paul wrote, (verses 20-21)

"But our citizenship is in heaven.
And we eagerly await a Savior from there,
the Lord Jesus Christ,
who, by the power that enables him
to bring everything under his control,
will transform our lowly bodies
so that they will be like his glorious body."

Jesus rules. As far as power goes, He has no limitations. Kushner is wrong. Jesus has been given all power and authority. Remember what He said to His disciples just before He ascended into heaven? (Matthew 28:18f)

"All authority in heaven and on earth
has been given to me."

Jesus has not been given just some authority—all authority and power has been given to Him. He rules over all. All things have been placed under His feet. The is not temporary. It will last forever. Paul wrote that Jesus has been exalted,

"far above all rule and authority,
power and dominion,
and every title that can be given,
not only in the present age
but also in the one to come."

Thirdly, this should make us very bold, very confident as far as evangelism goes.

In Matthew 28:18f, just before He ascended into heaven, Jesus said to His disciples,

"All authority in heaven and on earth
has been given to me.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
and teaching them to obey everything
I have commanded you.
And surely I am with you always,
to the very end of the age."

One of God's great purposes for you is that you go out with the gospel. You may suffer—but go. You may not be healthy—but go. You may not be rich—but go.

Jesus rules and He is using His power—His power that is exercised, in part, through you—to build up His church. Be bold, be confident as you go forth with the gospel.

Lastly, if you're not a Christian,

Realize that you need this power, the power that raised Jesus from the dead and exalted Him to the highest place.

You're a sinner and the powers that hold you, that are seeking to put you into hell—are much too strong for you. Unless you go to Jesus those powers will cast you into hell. Go to Jesus. Turn from your sins to Him. Ask Him to save you. He's your only hope. He loves sinners. As we read in Isaiah 55:6-7,

"Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way
and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the LORD,
and he will have mercy on him,
and to our God,
for he will freely pardon."