Sermon preached on Ephesians 1:15-2:10 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Online Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 04/12/2020.
As we celebrate today Jesus Christ’s victory over death, we are paying tribute to the supreme power of God. Verse 19 in our passage draws us to consider this. There it describes the immeasurable greatness of God’s power. That word “immeasurable” in the Greek is hyperballo, which happens to be origin for the English word hyperbole. Of course, in English, the word hyperbole has come to means something so exaggerated that everyone knows it. But this Greek word wasn’t used to express exaggeration. It was used to express the surpassingness of something. This colorful word only appears a few times in the Bible because it describes such extraordinary things. It describes something that is beyond comparison and that goes beyond all measure. This passage has us to consider not only about how great God’s power is, but how immeasurably great it is! And in case that was not enough to bring out this theme, Paul in verse 19 goes on to use several more synonyms for power when he says “according to the working of his great might”; the words “working”, “great”, and “might” are all more terms of power in the Greek. So then, today’s passage has us to think on God’s great power. And it would have us to think of this power first as it relates to Christ and then as it relates to us as believers.
We begin then first to think of this power of God manifested in the life of Christ. To do that, we must start by thinking not of the life of Christ, but of the death of Christ. When verse 20 begins to speak of God’s power that he worked in Jesus, it assumes this fact. Christ was dead. He had died on the cross to atone for the sins of us his people. On the cross he bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. There, he was stricken, smitten, and afflicted for our sake. He was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. God’s wrath of hell was poured out upon him in our place and he died there hanging on the cross. The Roman soldiers verified his death by stabbing him in the side with a spear. There was no doubt that Jesus was dead. Let me borrow a line from Charles Dickens. “This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.” There Dickens was speaking of the certain death of his fictional character Jacob Marley. But I’m speaking not of fiction, but of history. Jesus Christ, in a real historical event, died on the cross at Calvary. This was true history and this was a true death. “This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come” of what “I am going to relate.” Jesus had died.
That is when verse 20 refers to the immeasurable power of God to Jesus Christ. For it speaks first of that power raising Jesus from the dead. We celebrate then today the resurrection of Jesus. After Jesus’s death he was buried in a tomb. He remained under the power of death until the third day. That is when by his supernatural, all-surpassing power and might, God rose Jesus from the dead. The lifeless body void of spirit came back to life. Jesus’ spirit returned to his body which was quickened unto new life. We can only begin to understand the full nature of his resurrected body. On the one hand, his disciples could see the marks on his side and hands from his ordeal on the cross. On the other hand, Paul in Philippians 3:21 speaks of Christ’s body as a glorious body in contrast to our bodies which he describes as lowly. Surely, Jesus’s resurrection body had been changed from what it was. In a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, he was raised immortal and imperishable. Think of this in terms of power. There is no power humans wield that can do this. But the immeasurable power of God resurrected Jesus and so up from the grave he arose!
But that’s not all! Our passage goes on to say that such mighty power of God also resulted in Jesus’ ascension. Verse 20 speaks of his being raised up and then seated at the right hand of God in the heavenly places. Scripture records in Acts 1:3 that after his resurrection, Jesus presented himself alive in various times and ways to the apostles over a forty-day period. Then he ascended up into heaven. In even just an general sense, this is beyond all human power. Jesus’ ascension wasn’t that he somehow just elevated himself into the sky. If that was all it was, then humans can do that. But we’re not talking about jet packs or even airplanes or space rockets. We’re talking about being taken into the heavenly places where God dwells with his holy angels. Paul apparently describes this in 2 Corinthians 12:2 as the “third heaven”. This suggests we can think of the earth’s sky as the first heaven, and outer-space with the planets and stars as the second heaven. So then, Jesus ascended something beyond and greater than that. In fact, this is what Hebrews 7:26 teaches when it says that Jesus in his ascension was exalted above the heavens. And so, this too is credited to God’s power. That someone could ascend like this into the glory of God’s heavenly abode is immeasurably awesome!
Note what Jesus’ ascension also includes. It includes that he is seated in a place of all power. This is inferred from the fact that he is seated at God’s right hand. To be “seated” in this sense is the idea of a ruler sitting on their throne, from where they rule. And being seated at God’s right hand shows that Christ’s authority is God’s authority. This is clear by the language that verse 21 spells out – that Jesus’ kingly session is not only above all other authorities, powers, dominions and names, but is “far above” all such. Amazingly, while used in a different sense, the word for powers in verse 21 is the same Greek word for power used in verse 19 about God’s immeasurable power. Surely, we would be right to recognize that God who yields this immeasurably great power has granted Christ Jesus to wield it from his ascended seat of highest exaltation.
It is such an all-powerful Jesus that Paul then says in verse 22 has been given to the church to be its head. To clarify, this is distinguishing Christ’s headship over the church from the way he is the authority over all things. There is a way that Jesus has been given to the church to lead us that is special and noteworthy and for our good. This is all part of God’s immeasurable power at work in Jesus, and by bringing the church into connection with him it serves to elevate our standing as well. All things are under his feet, but we the church are his body. If we press that analogy, in Christ all things are under the feet of the church!
Well, so far, I’ve been having us think of God’s amazing power as it relates to Christ’s resurrection and subsequent ascension. I’d like to now turn and think of that same power as it relates to us. That is in fact the amazing point of verse 19. The immeasurable greatness of God’s power that worked in Christ’s resurrection and ascension also has been at work in us believers in Christ. The same power that rose Jesus from the dead and ascended him on high, is what has been at work inside us. That is true in general. But I love as we read into chapter 2 how Paul describes God’s power at work in us. This immeasurable greatness of God’s power that he worked in Christ is closely mirrored in how God has powerfully worked within us.
Let’s walk through this and think of this power of God manifested in our lives. To do that, we must start by thinking not of our life, but of our death. This is where chapter 2:1 begins. We were dead in our trespasses and sins. We were dead. This is referring to our spiritual state. Spiritually, we were dead in sin.
“This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of” what “I am going to relate.” Being spiritually dead means we were enslaved by the power of sin. We naturally chose what seemed best to us instead of asking what seems best to God. Being spiritually dead meant that we would never choose God or even acknowledge his ways. As verse 2 describes, being spiritually dead affected how we lived in this world. Our allegiance was ultimately to Satan and not God. Therefore, we lived in all the lusts and passions that the rest of the unbelieving world lives in. We lived as we pleased, looking to satisfy our every pleasure whether they were perverse or not. This state of spiritual death and its fruit resulted in being under God’s condemnation – children of God’s wrath like the rest of fallen humanity. In case we missed this fact that we really were spiritually dead, verse 5 repeats it – we were dead in our trespasses.
But that’s when the immeasurable great power of God comes in. Verse 5 goes on to describe that God has made us alive. Every true believer in Jesus Christ has been spiritually made alive. That’s what 2:5 says – that we have been made alive together with Christ. We have spiritually been resurrected from the dead. We have been risen from the grave of our spiritual death and given new life from above. This is what elsewhere is described as being born again. Christian believers are born again because that immeasurable power that rose Jesus from the dead also rose us from the dead.
This is why us Calvinists say we need God to work first in our hearts if we are going to come to Christ in faith. New birth must precede faith. This passage reminds us that faith is necessary to be saved in verse 8. Faith is the instrument by which we take hold of this salvation. But verse 8 also says that our faith is a gift from God. That’s explained by this order that we find here. We don’t believe in order to become a born-again Christian. We are born-again then believe and become a Christian. That order is a necessity because our state of spiritual death was a reality. Verses 9-10 further explains by saying that none of this was a result of our own works but rather we are the fruit of God’s works. We are God’s workmanship, not our own workmanship. It wasn’t our power, that raised us up out of spiritual death to live for Christ. It was the powerful work of God in our souls. Only after that spiritual resurrection did we become believers. And so that power that could raise Jesus from physical death has also been at work to raise people from their spiritual death to save them in Christ Jesus.
But that’s not all! Our passage goes on to say that such mighty power of God also resulted in our ascension. Verse 6 speaks of our being raised up with Christ and then seated with Christ in the heavenly places. Since we are currently sitting here on earth, this obviously does not speak of a physical ascension. This passage just spoke of our spiritual death and then our spiritual resurrection. In the next breath it then speaks of our ascension. So this must refers to a spiritual ascension. There is a sense in which our hearts are on high with the Lord Jesus. A parallel statement in Colossians 3:1-3 says that our life is now raised up and hidden with Christ who at God’s right hand. There in Colossians it describes some of the ramifications of that fact. It says that because we’ve been ascended up into the heavenly places with Christ, we should now live heavenly minded. We are to have a new heavenly mindset as we live here on this earth. We are to seek heaven’s righteousness as we live in this world. In fact, as we recognize our perspective changing, we should see this is as a fruit of God’s immeasurable power in our lives. When we begin to think of things as we ought, from Christ’s heavenly vantage point, isn’t that the immeasurable power of God at work in our hearts? When we find such elevated thinking does it not but reflect the reality that our souls have been ascended up into heaven with Christ Jesus? And so, this too is credited to God’s power. That the souls of believers have already ascended like this into the glory of God’s heavenly abode is immeasurably awesome!
It would be profitable to ask why this has happened. Why would a dead as a doornail sinner be spiritually resurrected and ascended like this? Yes, we know its by the power of God. But why would God wield his power like this for such sinners? Chapter 2 answers this question for us with the words of love and grace. Verse 4, standing between the description of our spiritual death and spiritual resurrection, points to the great love with which God loved us. And then verses 5 and 8 turn to speak of grace. “For by grace you have been saved” – repeated twice. God has so loved his elect, and had such grace toward us, that he worked his immeasurably great power to raise us from the death of sin to the newness of life in Jesus Christ.
Don’t miss that this immeasurable power that God worked in our souls involved uniting us to Christ. That should be obvious from the way this passage compared God’s power at work in Christ versus God’s power at work in us. God’s power physically rose Jesus from the dead and ascended him up into heaven. God’s power spiritually rose us from the dead and ascended us up into heaven. Clearly this passage parallels the same sort of power of God at work in both Christ and us. There is clearly a unity we have with Christ in how God’s power has been at work in both him and us. But if this unity wasn’t clear enough, verses 5-6 really drive this home by three distinctive verbs in the Greek. In the Greek, the three verbs all share the same prefix that result in the English translations using the language “with Christ” with each verb. Look there again at verses 5 and 6. What has God’s power done in us? It’s made us alive with Christ, it’s made us raised up with Christ, it’s made us seated with Christ.” Three distinct verbs at the focus of what God’s power has done in our lives. And these verbs emphasize what God has done for us “with Christ”. Chapter 1 starts out with repeated references to the salvation Christians have “in Christ”. But the end of chapter and the beginning here of chapter 2 emphasizes what we have together “with Christ”. With Christ we are beneficiaries of a power so great, so immeasurable, so abounding, that it rolled the stone away from Christ’s tomb and it rolled away the unbelief in our hearts.
While it is not our works that have brought about this powerful change in our lives, this doesn’t mean good works are not important to the Christian. Quite the opposite, as those who been spiritually raised and ascended, our allegiance is now to God in Christ. Our perspective has been changed toward the righteousness of Christ. Our call is to put to death the ways of our old dead self and to live in the newness of the heavenly life that he has given us. Verse 10 specifically tells us that – that God’s work in our life includes that we would begin to walk in good works. This is part of this new life he’s created within us according to verse 10, and part of the plan he’s always had for us from all eternity.
Well, we’ve talked today about the power of God in Christ in terms of resurrection and ascension. We’ve seen how that same sort of power has been involved in our own spiritual resurrection and ascension. But let us also remember how this same power looks ahead too. In 1:18, it spoke of the glory that awaits the saints. In 2:7, we were also directed forward to what awaits us as Christians. There in 2:7 it speaks of that future holding for us the immeasurable riches of God’s grace. Interestingly, that word “immeasurable” there in 2:7 is again that same rare word used here about the immeasurable greatness of God’s power. God’s immeasurable power that’s worked in Christ and in us is also pointing us forward to immeasurable riches. That ultimately looks beyond this present age to the age to come.
You see, while we spoke today of our spiritual deaths, we also know that one day we will experience physical death. Yet it’s that same immeasurable greatness of God’s power that we again look to in light of our impending deaths. For us who hope in Christ, that same power that rose Jesus from the dead will also raise us up bodily from the dead on the last day and raise us up to meet him in the air. There and then, our bodies will be transformed, in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye. There and then we will be clothed with immortality and imperishability. 1 Thessalonians 4:17 says what will happen next. It says, “so we will always be with the Lord.” There it is again: “with the Lord” – “with Christ”. What we possess already now by the Spirit will come to its fulness when we join with Christ bodily in the resurrection. How will this happen when it happens? By the “immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.”
So then, today as we celebrate Jesus Christ’s victory over death, we are paying tribute to the supreme power of God. That is a power that we too have known and will know – if you trust in Jesus Christ. And so, I join with the Apostle Paul in praying that all of us here today would indeed know God in Christ Jesus. That we would each have the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God. That we would all have our eyes enlightened to know the hope of his calling and the riches of his eternal inheritance for his saints. I especially pray that we would grow in knowing how immeasurably great his power is toward us. That even our meditations today on Christ’s resurrection would grow us in the knowledge of that same power at work within us. Amen.
Copyright © 2020 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.