Watercolor painting by E. J. Kirsch

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Jan 28, 2018

“What Hath God Wrought!” 1-28-18

Ephesians 1:1-14
January 28, 2018

Everyday most of us send or receive some kind of electronic message.  What may have been the first electronic message was a telegraph message that was sent on May 24th 1844.  It was sent from the old Senate Chamber in Washington DC to the B&O outer depot in Baltimore which is now a part of the B&O Museum.  That message, sent by Samuel Morse in Washington to his assistant Alfred Vail in Baltimore consisted of 4 words: “What hath God wrought.”
Those 4 words are the last four words of Numbers 23: 23 in The King James Translation of the bible, which you will find published on the front of the Bulletin,
Our first lesson was the longer passage containing that verse in the NRSV Translation.  That longer passage is the second oracle of Balaam.  You might remember Balaam as the non-Israelite prophet who was hired by a king named Balak to curse the Israelites who were encroaching on his territory on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. 
Some of you might also remember Balaam as the guy who had the talking donkey. 
Anyway, King Balak wanted Balaam to curse Israel and God would not let him, so in his second attempt to issue an oracle to please the king, Balaam said that he could not curse the people whom God would bless, and that God would bless Israel to the extent that people would marvel over what God had done for them. Thus the statement “It shall be said of Jacob and Israel, ‘See what God has done’”.
In the time of the Apostle Paul, one could not make that claim about the nation Israel.  Israel was an occupied nation, ruled by the Roman Emperor, and although the Jews of that time had Messianic hopes that included the resurgence of their nation and the Messiah ruling the world from Jerusalem, any impartial observer of their situation could see that things were not going to be getting better for them.  About 30 years after Paul wrote this letter, Jerusalem would be destroyed and later rebuilt as a pagan city.
But the Apostle Paul was excited at what God had been up to, not so much with the nation of Israel, but with the followers of Jesus.  He understood that he and his contemporaries were living in a great time, a time of unlimited opportunity for the new people of God.
And it is these great then recent accomplishments of God that Paul speaks about in the first 14 verses of the Epistle to the Ephesians.  He begins by stating his position in the community of Christ.  He addresses them as an Apostle, one of the ones sent out into the world by Jesus to establish groups of Believers or Churches.
But his is not the only or lofty title he mentions.  He also has one for them.  He addresses them as saints, sanctified ones, those who have been made holy.  The church would later fiddle with the meaning of this term and limit it to those believers who not only performed great acts of faith during their lives, but also performed miracles after their deaths.
After the reformation, Protestants have tried to reestablish the original meaning of the term, with limited success.
According to Paul in this letter, all Christians are saints and called to be saints.  We have all been sanctified by the death of Jesus and have appropriated that holiness by our faith in Jesus.  We are not in fact or especially in our histories holy, but we have been made holy and are seen as holy by God because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and our faith in Him.
You are one of God’s holy ones, called to do his work in this world.
Then in verses 3 – 14 Paul writes about some of the blessings that God had brought about for them since the coming of Jesus.  They are to bless God or express their gratitude to him for all of these things:
As they lived and worked in somewhat oppressive circumstances in the Roman Empire, they were to note and remember that although mostly unseen, God had bestowed great spiritual blessings upon them.  They were to be aware of this and not be overcome by the material and physical circumstances in which they found themselves.
I know you older Christians are facing fears and challenges as well as opportunities and I am not so old that I cannot remember some of the challenges that you younger Christians are experiencing as children refuse to sleep through the night, and as teenagers and your worries about them can keep you from sleeping through the night.  No matter what your challenges and fears, I want you to remember that God has bestowed upon you unseen spiritual blessings in and from the heavenly places.
These blessings will eventually be known to you, and some of them are mentioned in the rest of the passage.
We have been chosen by God to be in Jesus Christ and that choosing took place before the world began.  My name, your name, is in the family tree of the redeemed and has been before we were born.  We have been adopted into God’s family through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  But it was determined that we would be among those for whom Jesus died before the world began.
We are not “Johnny come lately” who were brought in because God’s plans for his chosen people Israel didn’t work out.
We have been redeemed and forgiven.  These are perhaps different aspects of the same reality.  The death of Jesus pays for our sins and also somehow enables the Father to forgive us.  Theologians have speculated that the pure life of Jesus takes our place before the Father’s final judgment of us.
I am especially taken by the sentence that begins partway through vs 8 and goes through verses 9&10.  It says “With all wisdom and insight He has made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure that He set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth”.
What Paul is saying to the Christians of his time is of great importance.  It is possible to see the Old Testament in its entirety as a great failed experiment of God.  A great nation, chosen in their ancestor Abraham, was given great opportunities and commandments to please God and prosper, they were to be God’s great light, set high on a hill, to demonstrate to the world the wisdom of following and obeying God.
Although there were a few spots of brilliance as they followed out that commission, there were a few periods of time when Israel did shine before the world, and the history of Israel in the Old Testament was marked with mostly episodes of how they failed in their great calling...  The later prophets did make renewed promises about one whom God would send to straighten out the mess, but it was not at all clear what he would do or how he could rise above the examples of his ancestors.  By itself, the OT should be closed with a giant question mark.  How could God bring good out of this mess?  What kind of redemption or Salvation would he bring?  What would happen to the Jews as regards their status as God’s chosen people and his light to the world?
These were all mysteries, and now, as Paul wrote, they had been revealed to those who believed in Jesus.
The Messiah who was Jesus was descended from the great nation of Israel, the chosen ones, but he did not fail as those before him had, because he was also directly descended from God, He could be the perfect man.  (Ladies and gentlemen, Note, there is only 1 perfect person so do not expect perfection of any of us).
This fulfillment of the OT prophecies was mostly unseen ahead of time but was God’s intention all along.  Israel, by themselves was supposed to fail.  Their failures actually paved the way for the Success of Jesus as the Messiah.
And the end of this great story has not yet come to an end.  It will finish with us being given a great inheritance in the eternal kingdom of God.  We will live and love and be forever. 
We are therefore, regardless of how good or badly we feel about our present circumstances, to rejoice in God’s eternal plan and our part in it. 
In the meantime, we have been given the Holy Spirit, to assist us as we attempt to live as members of God’s household.  We are to be grateful for the success of Spirit in enabling us to live obedient lives, and in using us to help others.  And we are to be grateful for the Spirit being in our lives, because His presence in us is the Pledge of God that we are His now and forever. 
These are the things God has wrought, These are the things God has done for us in the time of Paul and in our time, and the promises He has given us for our future.
This is what God has done for us.
What are we doing for Him?

Pastor David Horner
Faith Presbyterian Church
West Lafayette, IN 47906