Today is the first in a sermon series on the book of Ephesians. The first three chapters of Ephesians present God’s great work of salvation. Chapters 4-6 then describe our appropriate response. And from start to finish this letter is filled with praise and thanksgiving.
Today we’ll look at chapter 1 verses 1-14. In this first chapter, the Apostle Paul does something quite wonderful. In a few sentences he sketches God’s entire plan of salvation — from before the creation of the world to the fulfillment of all things in the unification of heaven and earth.
Paul here gives us a birds’ eye view of what God is doing in the world and in history. Human beings are central to God’s plan, but God’s salvation is bigger than us. It involves the renewal of all creation. God’s saving plan isn’t just about getting individuals into heaven. It’s to heal and repair human beings and the world itself.
In this passage Paul writes that before God created the world he decided to make a family for himself of human beings — to have a family of sons and daughters. God did this because of his overflowing love and because it gave him joy.
Our sins forgiven through Jesus’ death on the cross, God’s free grace and transforming power enables his sons and daughters to grow to be like him, reflecting God’s own just and loving character. As the saying goes, “like Father, like son, and like daughter.” God chose us as his family and blesses us abundantly with his free and loving favor.
But God’s work of salvation doesn’t stop there. It has a goal, a future fulfillment. God’s plan, Paul writes, is to bring all things into unity in Jesus. To bring all the discordant, clashing, conflictive elements of our lives and of the world into peace and harmony in Christ. To unite heaven and earth as one place in Jesus.
As God’s family and heirs this is our inheritance – our promised future possession. We will inherit the world made new, transformed in Christ, with all that is evil and harmful removed, and all that is good and life-giving perfected, filled with God’s presence and love.
And while we await this inheritance God gives us the Holy Spirit, God’s own personal presence with us and in us. Which is our down-payment and guarantee that one day all heaven and earth will be ours.
So that’s Paul’s breathtaking summary of God’s great plan of salvation for us and for the world.
It might be helpful to see that Paul is drawing here on the language of Exodus. You remember that in the Old Testament book of Exodus God freed the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt and led them through the wilderness to the promised land of Canaan.
In these verses Paul describes a greater Exodus for God’s sons and daughters. Just as God once delivered the Hebrews from slavery to the Egyptians, God now has rescued human beings from slavery to sin and death.
Just as God delivered the Hebrews through the sacrifice and shed blood of the Passover Lamb, so now God has saved humankind by Jesus’ sacrifice and shed blood on the cross.
Just as God accompanied the Hebrews in the wilderness in a pillar of fire and glowing cloud, so he accompanies us on our journey by the presence of the Holy Spirit.
And just as God brought the Hebrews into their inheritance – the land promised to Abraham and his descendants, so God will bring us into our greater inheritance – the world made new, where righteousness and justice will be at home.
So if anyone asks us about God’s plan of salvation, Paul lays it out here. God loves us and is making the whole world new in Jesus — and us with it as his family. We become heirs of and participants in this new world by placing our faith in Jesus.
There are a few things that Paul emphasizes in his summary of God’s saving work worthy of special note. Paul wants us to understand that God chose us. Being chosen means that God takes the initiative to reach out to human beings in love and joy.
Many of Jesus’ parables highlight God’s loving and determined initiative in our lives: The shepherd who leaves 99 sheep to go out and find the one lost sheep. The woman who gets down on her hands and knees to search for one lost coin. The father who puts all dignity aside to run to embrace his returning prodigal son. The vineyard owner who personally goes again and again to the marketplace to give work to desperate laborers.
That’s what God is like. God reaches out in love and gives himself fully to be with us and make us into his family. We don’t have to search heaven and earth to find a hidden God. But only to respond to his love in faith.
Now when I think about being chosen, I remember the playground sports we used to play as kids. Maybe some of you remember this too. The team leaders would take turns choosing the kids to be on their respective teams. Well, I wasn’t very athletic, so I was often the last or next to last to be chosen. That can be hard on a kid’s ego!
But God’s act of choosing isn’t like that. God doesn’t call us to be in his family on the basis of our abilities or virtue. He calls us because he loves us. We don’t have to deserve to be on this team. We don’t have to be worthy to become part of God’s family.
Being chosen doesn’t mean that God foreordains some selected people for salvation. It means that God loves human beings and takes the initiative to come and be with us. We just have to say Yes to the God who is near, who knocks on the door of our heart, entrusting ourselves to Jesus and allowing him to transform our lives to grow to be like him.
Paul also wants to understand that God carries out his work of salvation through his unique Son Jesus. As we read through this Ephesians’ passage, we see that every step God takes from start to finish in his saving work is done in and through Jesus.
Jesus is the foundation and heart of God’s work of salvation. For this reason, the letter to the Hebrews tells us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. We don’t understand everything about God’s will. But we know Jesus.
He is our Lord and Savior, who died for our sins, who rose from the dead and who is seated at the right hand of the Father. Jesus himself is our wisdom, and righteousness, and holiness and salvation. It is Jesus who we love and trust and follow. As we focus our life on Jesus, desiring to know and obey him, Jesus will lead us and keep us safe, holding us in his everlasting arms.
Finally, we note that this entire section through verse 14 is offered as praise to God. Paul begins by writing, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And all that he goes on to say about God’s great work of salvation here is expressed as praise.
Have you ever been so moved by something that you’re overcome with wonder and awe? A new-born baby, an amazing sunset, an extraordinary musical performance? By the beauty of a loved one? Or indeed by an unexpected encounter with the Divine?
That’s how Paul feels as he thinks about the length and breadth and height and depth of God’s majestic work of salvation. Paul is so moved and awed and humbled by what God is doing that he responds with bountiful praise.
And that’s our best response too.
So let’s close this time by singing the wonderful hymn of praise Fairest Lord Jesus.
Marty Shupack, January 22, 2024