God's Eternal Plan - All things United under Christ audio
You may have been following the reports, over the past few months, of the State Government Report prepared by Sir Rod Eddington on Melbourne's East-West transport needs. The one thing that seems to have come out of that exercise and particularly since the Eastlink toll road opened is that the need is now and that the planning for improved transport should have started some 10 or more years ago. What's clear is that when you're thinking about major projects like that you need years and years of planning if things are going to work out.
I imagine planning for the Olympic Games was going on long before Beijing was given the nod in 2000. And look how well they've done it - apart from the fog of course. Someone suggested that the Chinese divers who've been blitzing the field were probably picked at the age of 3 to begin their training. And even on a smaller scale project planning needs to be done well in advance. So our building committee has been hard at work for the last few months working on the early plans for our new building.
But we're talking today about a really big project. Big projects need extensive planning and today we're looking at the greatest plan in history. Here we find a cosmic plan, a plan that was first thought out before the world was created and that'll be brought to completion on the day when Christ returns to take us to be with him in the new world, the new Jerusalem.
But before we look at God's cosmic plan let's notice how Paul begins his letter to the Ephesians.
He begins with the usual sort of greeting. Paul an apostle by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus. That is, those who are set apart by belonging to Christ. Then he adds this extra clause: "And who are faithful in Christ Jesus." Given the context, these are those who have resisted the pressures of pagan Ephesus; pressures to compromise on the basics of the faith, pressures to accept other ways of worshipping God. These are those who remain in Christ Jesus and who see their place in Christ Jesus as central to salvation.
Then after giving the usual greeting of grace and peace he offers praise to God
Praise to God
As you read through these verses do you get the feeling that Paul is a bit excited by what he's praising God for. The words just tumble out, one after another don't they? "3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love." He doesn't even stop to draw breath, This is amazing stuff.
God has blessed us.
How has he blessed us? In Christ first of all. That phrase "In Christ" occurs eleven times in the first 11 verses so it's obviously an important concept in Paul's mind. So what does he mean by it? What does it mean to be "in Christ"? Well, I take him to be saying that those who have believed in Christ, those who remain faithful to him, are incorporated into his very being. We're incorporated in the sense that we're made part of his body. This is a major reason for us working on living in unity with one another, because there is only one body. He takes up the idea later in chapter 4 where he tells us to clothe ourselves with the new self that's created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. It's as though the new creation is brought into being in us as we're renewed by the Holy Spirit coming to live within us. We're remade the way God wants us to be. We'll see more of this idea later when we get to chapters 4 & 5.
With every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.
He's blessed in Christ and he's blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Its as though there's not a spiritual blessing you can imagine, that Jesus hasn't provided for us. Mind you, these blessings aren't necessarily material blessings. He's blessed us, notice, in the heavenly places or, literally, in the heavenlies. That is, he's talking here about the spiritual blessing that comes from being one of God's adopted children, one of God's people. So it includes being with God in eternity. Reigning with Christ over the spiritual forces of the universe. Knowing and being known by God himself.
So he's blessed us in Christ, He's blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. And he's blessed us by revealing to us his eternal cosmic plan.
God's eternal cosmic plan
Here's a plan with an amazing breadth of vision. You see, it isn't just that God has blessed us in these last days. The blessing we're receiving now is in fact part of an eternal plan. A plan so vast it stretches from before the foundation of the world to the end of the world.
And it's a plan with a single focus: "To gather up all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth." God's eternal plan is aimed at bringing all things under the headship of Christ, bringing the whole creation within the scope of Christ's rule, Christ's authority.
Now can you see what God has done to bring about the fulfilment of this plan?
What God has done to fulfill that plan
Before the creation of the world.
He says that he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world. Does that amaze you? Does that give you goose bumps? To think that God had you in mind when he set out this eternal cosmic plan? God had you in mind when he first decided to create the world, the universe! He had you in mind when he first planned to send Jesus Christ to live and die as one of us and to rise again in victory over sin and death so we could be freed from sin and death. He chose you before the creation of the world to be adopted as his child through Jesus Christ!
You might have thought you chose God. You may even have been told you needed to decide whether to follow Christ or not. And I hope at some stage in the past you did decide to do that. But can you see from what we read here that God chose you long before you chose him. When we get to chapter 2 we'll discover, I hope, that in fact we were incapable of choosing God until he woke us up, brought us back to life, spiritually, that is. Our salvation is entirely by grace.
But having said that, notice that he chose us in Christ to be holy and blameless before him in love. Having adopted us as his children he expects us to act that way, to take on the family likeness. And as we'll see as we go further into the letter there's a strong corporate emphasis here. God chose us, together as a body, to be holy and blameless. The way we relate to one another as a Church, the way we as a church act towards outsiders, is a vital part of the fulfilment of God's plan for us.
Well that's back then. What about now?
Having chosen us before the foundation of the world he's now done what was necessary for us to be brought back to him. He's redeemed us in Christ by the blood shed on the cross. Again, the idea of redemption is that someone else pays a price to deliver you from slavery. Slaves could never buy their way out of slavery because they had no way of earning money. It required a rich person to offer the gracious gift of freedom. But of course God's grace is so much more than that isn't it? He's done more than just buy our freedom. He's lavished his grace upon us. First he's adopted us as his sons and daughters. He's given us free access to his presence. He's poured out his Spirit upon us so we can experience his presence with us at every moment of our lives. He's put us in a Church where we can get just a small taste of what it will be like to be in God's presence in eternity. That's if the church is working as it should, of course. And again we'll hear more about that as we go further into this letter.
And finally he's made known to us with all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, the amazing details of his eternal cosmic plan. Which brings us to the future.
In the future
God's plan is heading for the fullness of time: that is, the terminus of time. Do you ever wonder about history? Is it a cyclical thing that just goes round and round? Or is it a linear progression getting better or worse depending on what era you live in? What we discover here is that history is leading to a conclusion. There will come a day, the last day, when time will be come to an end. It's like the Olympics. It'll all end with a magnificent closing ceremony. In the end God will gather up all things in heaven and on earth and place them under Christ's authority. Revelation refers to it as the Wedding feast of the Lamb. If you worry whether things in our world are out of control be assured that they're not. God has set a time when time will end and we'll receive the inheritance promised to us.
Which brings us to our place in God's plan
Our place in God's plan
We were chosen to bring praise and glory to God
He tells us that God has chosen us with one purpose in mind: to bring praise and glory to God. Two weeks ago Garrett asked whether we thought God's plan for us was to make us happy. And of course the answer was no. That was an easy one wasn't it, because we all know that it's not just about me, don't we? No, God's plan for us isn't to make us happy, though that might be a byproduct of what he really wants of us. What he wants of us is that we bring him glory and praise. He wants the people of St Thomas' Burwood to be a byword for godly living. He wants people to look at us, talk about us, with praise, because they see God at work in our midst. Not praise for us notice, but praise for God.
We were brought in through the preaching of the gospel
Next notice that the means by which we enter into this cosmic plan was the preaching of the gospel: "13when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him." This is why we need to constantly remind one another that the preaching of the gospel is critical to the life of the Church. People come to Christ through hearing the Gospel. No-one will hear the gospel unless we tell it to them.
But once we've heard the gospel God gives us a guarantee, a token of what's to come.
The Holy Spirit as a seal or guarantee of our salvation
He says (v13) that we've been marked with a seal. This is the sort of seal you see on Antique Roadshow. It's the maker's mark, the stamp that's put on a piece of silverware or ceramic that tells you the name of the maker and that guarantees it's authenticity. In our case the seal assures us that we truly are God's sons and daughters, that our inheritance, the inheritance of eternal life in heaven is guaranteed. And notice what that seal, that guarantee is: It's the promised Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is given to us as a guarantee, an assurance that the promise of eternal life with God is real. He's the pledge, the down payment of life with God. Eternal life for us begins as soon as we become Christians. Already we're being prepared for life with God By God's Spirit living within us.
And so we look forward with confidence to receiving our inheritance as God's sons and daughters.
The Focus: Always to God's Glory.
Notice the focus of this eternal plan. Always in God's economy the focus is on the glory of God. Everything God has done is to the praise of his glory. Our life as a Church, our preaching of the gospel, our final redemption and rising to eternal life will result in God's name being praised.
Notice that there's lots in here about what God has done and not a huge amount about what we're to do. Later in the letter he'll address our response to God's amazing grace and mercy but for now just notice those two things I've already mentioned. First our life as a Church should result in God being glorified. If that isn't the case then we need to do something about it. We need to work out whether our life as a Church is transparent to those around us or are we hidden away from the sight of our neighbours. Do we talk about the life we enjoy here at St Thomas' or do we hide the fact that we belong to God's church?
Secondly we need to be preaching the gospel to those around us or they'll never be able to experience the joy of knowing God and will never learn to praise his name. That may be the same as what I just said. It might just be talking about the church God has put here for us to be part of; talking about the grace and mercy of a God who lowered himself to become one of us; of the sense of peace that comes from knowing that God is looking after us.
God's great eternal cosmic plan is being worked out day be day and we're part of it. I hope you'll go away from our service today excited by the fact that you're part of the greatest project in human history - the salvation of the whole human race.