One in Christ! – Ephesians 2:11-22

One in Christ! – Ephesians 2:11-22
By Pastor Lee Hemen
January 29, 2017

There are those who think sin-centered humans can become colorblind by either making it illegal to be racist or by simply changing one’s mind; nothing could be further from the truth. In fact the only way one can become totally colorblind is through Jesus Christ. Paul wrote the church in Galatia that after one accepts Jesus they are changed and one becomes “clothed… with Christ” and because of this “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:27, 28 NIV)

Since all believers became one with each other, human distinctions lose their significance. Paul cut across these national, racial, and geographical distinctions and stated that they do not exist in the body of Christ so far as spiritual privilege and position are concerned. And because of this we as his followers are not to be like the rest of the world, we are to be racially blind as well. We are now one in Christ; let’s discover what this means for our lives…

READ: Ephesians 2:11-22

History tells us that some Jewish men prayed, “I thank God that you have not made me a Gentile, a slave, or a woman.” Jesus did away with such spiritual blindness. Paul teaches us…

I. We are one in Christ through his blood! (Vv. 11-13)

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)–remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.

1. Sometimes we have to remember what we were before we came to Jesus in order to understand where we stand now. Paul bluntly writes the Ephesians: “Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called ‘uncircumcised’ by those who call themselves ‘the circumcision’.” Paul was reminding his readers what they were once, non-Jews, and what they were now – grafted into Judaism; kind of like when people forget that no matter whom you are and what part of the country one comes from if you were born here in the USA or have pledged your allegiance to this great nation we are all Americans first and foremost. Perhaps this is something far too many citizens have forgotten. In Jesus we are not white, black, yellow, brown, male or female first – we are first and foremost believers bonded together in him! We are one in the Spirit! Paul also wanted them to “remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” Paul presents exactly how the Jews spiritually and often physically saw everyone and anyone else that were not them. However, Paul relates “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” While Jesus’ blood is “precious” in that he died for our sins, Jesus’ actual physical blood is not the key but rather what it represents in that Jesus who is God died for us! Blood, whether it is from a lamb sacrificed for sins or the Messiah who died for our sins the blood that was shed for our sins represents life. Life to God is precious and sacred no matter if it is the unborn or an elderly adult. Yet, Paul wrote that “God presented him (Jesus) as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.” (Romans 3:25 NIV) Jesus gave his life; shed his blood, for us while we were sinners! This is the key to our kinship. We are one in Christ through his blood!

EXAMPLE: A little boy got extremely agitated when he got a small cut on his knee. He came running into the house crying at the top of his lungs, “Momma! Momma! Momma, look at my knee!” When his mother finally calmed the little guy down she asked him why he was so upset over a small cut. He sniffed, “My blood was leaking out of me!” Just as blood was important to this little boy it is important for us all. We are one in Christ through his blood!

There are those who incorrectly think that everyone everywhere enjoys being a child of God, this is simply wrong. However, Paul teaches us that…

II. We are one in Christ through the peace he made! (Vv. 14-18)

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

1. Paul begins to teach his readers what Jesus’ sacrifice meant for the separation all sinners have from God himself because of our ungodly nature and tells us that “For he himself is our peace”. The fact is Jesus brought us peace with God! How did he do this? Jesus took the old covenant and made it new; he took both Jews and non-Jews and “made the two one”. Jesus did this as he “made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” that existed between God and man; between Jew and non-Jew or Covenant people and non-covenant people! Some have thought Paul is referring to the wall in the Jerusalem temple that separated the Court of the Gentiles from the Court of the Jews. Or that it was the curtain that separated the people from the Holy Place in the temple. Others have suggested it meant the “fence” around the Law taught by some Rabbis. But all of these views are invalid because Paul is speaking of the spiritual separation that existed and not a physical barrier! Jesus did this “by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations”! And point in fact Paul explains that Jesus’ “purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” Therefore, there no longer exists an “us” and “them” in God’s kingdom. No one people have a spiritual superiority over the other! Yes, there exists the believer and the non-believer but after faith in God’s Messiah we are all made new and we all enjoy the same standing in him as believers! We know that the next verse (v.17) begins with “and” in the Greek. It is a continuation of Paul’s thought that Jesus is our peace because “He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.” So those who did not have the Jewish covenant are now grafted into it and made citizens of God’s kingdom with full rights and privileges of his chosen people because “through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” We are one in Christ through the peace he made!

EXAMPLE: On the playground there wasn’t a day that did not go by that one of us had to separate two combatants. Usually we separated them first and then made them explain to us what was going on, each in their own words. If there were witnesses we would get their input as well. It was not always easy getting to the truth. However our goal was always to try and calm the situation down and then in the end to have the offending parties shake hands and make some sort of peace. We all were at one time at war with a holy God but now we are one in Christ through the peace he made!

What often frustrates me about trying to have a logical conversation in our day and age is almost impossible. You cannot disagree with anyone. Far too many emote instead of using rational thought; they have no base. Paul teaches us that…

III. We are one in Christ because he is our foundation! (Vv. 19-22)

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

1. Paul begins this last section by relating, “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household”. This is extremely important and teaches us that we are now God’s people when we place our faith and trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord! This is why Peter would also teach that Christians “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.” (1 Peter 2:9-10 NIV) Paul explained that this new relationship is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief Cornerstone.” Peter knew believers “come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him” and that we “also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4, 5 NIV) The cornerstone of Jesus’ church is built on himself and it is “In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.” We are “God’s building.” (1 Corinthians 2:9 NIV) This “holy temple” is all who have believed In Jesus and Paul continues that “in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Paul would ask his fellow Christians, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16 NIV) We are one in Christ because he is our foundation!

EXAMPLE: Whether it is the family or a building a good foundation is extremely important. In the past few decades a lot of cities have had to update buildings in order for them to be able to withstand an earthquake. It is interesting to note that there are now studies that show that intact families with a mother and father have children that are more stable in life. Paul understood that God did the exact same thing for his kingdom, his church family. God knew we would be spiritually stronger because of Jesus. We are one in Christ because he is our foundation!

Conclusion:

We are one in Christ through his blood! We are one in Christ through the peace he made! We are one in Christ because he is our foundation!
—-
This article is copyrighted © 2017 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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The return of the promise! – Ephesians 2:1-10

The return of the promise! – Ephesians 2:1-10
By Pastor Lee Hemen
January 22, 2017

A promise is simply empty words if it isn’t kept. This is why my Father would remind us to “Never make a promise you cannot keep.” He understood that a promise is only as good as the one who keeps it. A man is only as good as his word.

Throughout Scripture we discover that God makes promises to his people and that he always keeps his promises. If he did not then we could not trust him to be who he is: always holy, always loving, always truthful, always faithful and so on. So we know that when he makes a promise, he keeps his word. Jesus promised eternal life and salvation to anyone who believed in him. Paul teaches the Ephesians just what this promise means for them and future generations. Many thought that God had left them but he had not; his promise had returned, had been fulfilled! Let’s discover what this means…

READ: Ephesians 2:1-10

We forget our condition as it concerns ourselves and God. God is holy and we are not. Paul relates…

I. The promise reminds us of our condition! (Vv. 1-3)

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

1. Paul now gets down to the nitty-gritty. Like a parent who patiently desires their child listen to what they are about to say he retorts, “As for you”! He wanted them to pay attention to what he was going to teach them. He reminds them that “you were dead in your transgressions and sins”. In fact, they were dead to God just as all of us are! When we speak of death we mean the absence of communication or physical contact with the living. Lest we forget we must understand the truth that anyone who is dead spiritually has no communication with God; they are separated and disconnected from God! We are therefore the living dead; alive in the world but dead in our transgressions and sins “in which (we) used to live when (we) followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air”. We either follow God’s ways or the ways of this world that is dying and under a different rule! Now Paul was not giving the Devil any power or authority that he does not have. He is a created being and in fact does not rule anything. This world, this “kosmos” in the Greek that God created is an ungodly fallen system and therefore is a “satanically” organized system that hates and opposes all that is godly. This is why Jesus taught, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:19 NIV) In this vein the Apostle John would write that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 John 5:19 NIV) and because of this Paul would write that “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NIV) He is “the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” And “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” We all lived according to the world and its desires and corruption! Therefore, “Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” The promise reminds us of our condition!

EXAMPLE: Politicians promise us a lot of things but few follow through. It has always amazed me why some vote over and over for the same person or political party expecting people to follow through on their promises but they still have crime ridden neighborhoods, poor schools and education, deteriorating infrastructure, higher taxes and unemployment. Perhaps it would do us well to remember we are voting for people just like us who are sinners by nature and by choice. This is why Paul reminds that the promise reminds us of our condition!

The wrath of God remains on anyone who does not come to Jesus because simply by his nature, which is holy, he cannot abide ungodliness in any form. However, Paul reminds us that…

II. The promise gives us a new life! (Vv. 4-7)

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

1. Paul knew immediately what God did for us and why: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions”. While God hates sin he loves us because he is “rich in mercy”, his “loyal love” (hesed)! We were and are objects of God’s wrath, yet because of his “great love for us” we are “made alive with Christ even when we were dead”! Why? Why would God who is holy, righteous, and just do such a thing? Pauls says simply “it is by grace you have been saved.” Double wow! The only way a spiritually dead zombie can talk to, communicate with, or walk in fellowship with is to be made completely whole and therefore be made alive again! And it is only “God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” (Romans 4:17 NIV) God’s freely given grace, unearned and unmerited favor, makes us alive in him through Jesus! How is this possible? Paul explains that the promise of God is fully enjoyed because “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus”! We are no longer dead and dying earthlings relegated to the dust of the earth but we are the living breathing citizens of heaven! This kindness, this grace, this mercy of God was given to us so that we might live as his children in this dying world. We are his ambassadors, citizens of heaven, living here in this realm of the dead and dying “in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” The promise gives us a new life!

EXAMPLE: Growing up in a family that did not have a lot, in fact we were poor. At one time we were even homeless for a while. We therefore grew up often buying used things like furniture, appliances, clothing and such. Getting something new was a treat. After realizing that I was indeed a sinner by nature and by choice and that God loved me so much that he sent his Son Jesus to die for me on a cruel cross to give me a new life, it changed me completely! Like the Prodigal Son I was lost but then I was found! Paul understood this as well and teaches us that the promise gives us a new life!

Gaining a new life in Jesus is an unimaginable gift. And this is what makes the world pause and wonder at the sheer magnitude of the gift God gives us. This is why Paul teaches us about…

III. The promise gives us the gift of God! (Vv. 8-10)

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

1. Paul gives his readers a final explanation of the wonderful truth that “it is by grace you have been saved”. This is a revolutionary truth that no other religion in the world teaches or offers. The grace of God is what the salvation of God is all about. It is the intrinsic testimony of the entire Bible. It is why Jesus came and it completely explains “the incomparable riches of his grace”, of God’s unmerited favor. And this grace is “through faith”. Scripture reminds us that “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV) Faith therefore is not something we can feel, do or earn, and it is not a “work.”  We in no way merit salvation; faith is only the means by which one accepts God’s free gift of salvation! When we finally and willingly admit there is nothing we can do that God has already done for us! Paul also relates that “this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.” God’s gift is freely given by him alone and we can never earn it, pay for it, or be nice enough to get it. We cannot earn enough “brownie points” to get into the good graces of God let alone his kingdom. There are no heavenly scales whereby the good things we do outweigh the bad things we do. We are sinners by nature and by choice. This is why Paul would write the Roman church: “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:22-24 NIV) The payment to get in has already been done by Jesus through his sacrifice for us on a cruel cross! Nothing good resides in us at all so how in the world could ungodly people do anything good enough that would remotely be worthwhile to a holy God? And this is the point Paul is making because he understood that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” The good deeds we do come from our faith and this promise gives us the gift of God!

EXAMPLE: We have a creator who loves us and has given us all things in his Son. The promise gives us the gift of God! This is why Paul would write the Roman church: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39 NIV) And we will later read how he wrote the Ephesians that he desired that they would be able “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ”. (Ephesians 3:18) This promise gives us the gift of God!

Conclusion:

The promise reminds us of our condition! The promise gives us a new life! The promise gives us the gift of God!
—-
This article is copyrighted © 2017 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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The kingdom strikes back! – Ephesians 1:15-23

The kingdom strikes back! – Ephesians 1:15-23
By Pastor Lee Hemen
January 8, 2017

Kingdoms come and kingdoms go and the idea of colonialism is nothing new. We find it in the kingdoms of the Vikings, Celts, Saxons, Incas, Aztecs, Sioux, Shoshone, Egyptians, Zulus, Ethiopians, Romans, Greeks, Assyrians, Babylonians, Muslims, Russians, Mongols, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Great Britain, and the United States. Any group of people, tribe, city state, or nation has always wanted to exert their influence on others whether they like it or not. It is part and parcel of our fallen human nature and Israel was no different.

However, what all of these “kingdoms” forget is that the only kingdom that truly matters is the Kingdom of God. It has no boarders, boundaries, or political persuasion. It is founded in the very nature of God and those who are willing to enter into his kingdom become his children. And Paul’s message is one of where God’s kingdom has been established and citizenship brings about beautiful wondrous things. Paul teaches us that the kingdom strikes back; let’s discover what this means for mankind today.

READ: Ephesians 1:15-23

The Ephesians, like many believers, were suffering from not fully understanding what their citizenship in God’s kingdom meant for their lives and future. Paul related that…

I. Kingdom kids enjoy the power of prayer! (Vv. 15-17)

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.

1. Because God predestined us for salvation since the creation of all things, lavished us with all wonderful things in him, and has sealed us with his presence Paul continues by writing the Ephesians that “For this reason” he continued to remember them in his prayers, his conversations with God! For Paul it was a natural thing to do and he relates that “ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” Paul kept talking to God about them in order that they would become all that God desired! Paul now prayed that his readers might know God personally and intimately. He writes that he kept “asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give (them) the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that (they) may know him (God in Jesus) better.” Wisdom? Revelation? Yes! So that we know God better! Jesus taught by his example the importance of prayer, of conversing with God regularly. Luke related that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16 NIV) We are to pray for our enemies, those who persecute us, curse us, mistreat us, and for one another because “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16 NIV) From the time that Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray to the encouragement of Paul and others for believers to pray we discover that kingdom kids enjoy the power of prayer!

EXAMPLE: Prayers had been reserved for those who could enter into the presence of God, priests, or those who were chosen to do so. Prayers were often by route; mindless repetitions and the recitations of formulas. But now because of what God had done through Jesus and by his permanent presence in his children, they now enjoy a moment by moment intimate conversation with him! Paul teaches us that Kingdom kids enjoy the power of prayer!

Far too many Christians walk around as spiritual weaklings constantly wondering if God truly loves them, cares for them, or if in fact if he is involved in their lives at all! Paul teaches us that…

II. Kingdom kids have a grand inheritance! (Vv. 18-21)

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and 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.

1. Paul continued by telling his readers that “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened”. This is an interesting phrase by Paul because when he writes “the eyes of your heart” he means their entire being might know and be “enlightened” and it is a continuation of his preceding statement! Paul was continually asking God for them to have Spiritual wisdom, revelation, and that they would be completely enlightened! Why? Because Paul understood that new believers need to fully understand the presence and power of God in their lives. He continued by writing that they “may know the hope to which he has called you”! This is not some I wish I may I wish I might kind of hope against hope concept or feeling but rather a certainty and total assurance of the presence of Jesus! In fact it understands “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” And Paul knew exactly where this force came from and writes “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”! What has not set into the minds of some believers is the fact that we have all the power of the resurrection and on that final day Jesus will turn to us as his own and declare, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34 NIV) The reason this is so powerful and so incredibly awesome of an inheritance is because Jesus is “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.” Kingdom kids have a grand inheritance!

EXAMPLE: Why do people think they deserve some things? And why do people fight over things they did not earn or even care about until they think someone else may end up with it? Some of the stupidest things have caused some of the worst actions in people. There’s an old joke about two friends who meet at lunch and one is all sad. His friend asks why he is so sad. He relates that his uncle died and left him $40,000! Then the following week his aunt dies and leaves him $250,000! And then last week his grandmother dies and leaves him $500,000! Incredulous his friend wonders why he is so sad and he remarks, “This week… I got nothing!” Paul related that our hope is not in earthly things; instead, Kingdom kids have a grand inheritance!

Paul finishes this section with two powerful verses.

III. Kingdom kids have a powerful king! (Vv. 22-23)

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.

1. God’s “incomparably great power for us who believe” is displayed for us in Jesus’ resurrection and when he ascended to heaven to sit in authority. This spiritually dynamic force is given to those who believe and sealed in us by the same power in the Holy Spirit! God is the creator of all things, predestined all things, and knows all things. And this is why Jesus is “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given” by men! And so Paul declares that “God placed all things under his feet”. Jesus therefore has total authority because of who he is and what he did for us! He gave it to himself and “appointed (himself) to be head over everything for the church”! The word for church means those who are specifically called for a purpose united in him! Jesus is the church’s king. He earned the right to rule over it by his selfless act. His church “which is his body” is to be doing his work and will in the world he died for. It is built upon the truth that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16) and it is upon this truth Jesus built his body the church! Paul would tell the Corinthians that this church his “body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.” (1 Corinthians 12:12) Believers are part of God’s kingdom, his church, his body and as Kingdom kids we have a powerful king!

EXAMPLE: The old playground threat of “My Dad is bigger than your Dad!” can carry with it nowadays the intent of violence and the child who says it can be expelled from school. While bullying should not be tolerated sometimes parents need to allow their children to work things out. Not every childish taunt is bullying it is just being childish. Sometimes we want to protect our children so much it can be detrimental to their maturity and how they handle life’s difficulties. However in a world where there is so much hatred, violence, and uncertainty it is good to know and understand that Kingdom kids have a powerful king!

Conclusion:

Kingdom kids enjoy the power of prayer! Kingdom kids have a grand inheritance! Kingdom kids have a powerful king!
—-
This article is copyrighted © 2017 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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A new hope! – Ephesians 1:1-14

A new hope! – Ephesians 1:1-14
By Pastor Lee Hemen
January 1, 2016

It’s a new year, a fresh start, and a time to get rid of the old and in with the new, right? For some it is easier said than done. I have never even in my entire life seen and heard such a crowd of whining sore losers. I used to think that this nation would and could move forward no matter who was elected, and this was after Presidents that I thoroughly disagreed with and who abused and misused their offices to further their personal, sexual, and societal agendas. We have a nation that exhibits an immaturity that needs to be kicked in the rear and told to get over itself. A new President does not mean the end of all things; it only means you get to vote a different scoundrel into office in another four years! There is always a new hope!

We live in a day and age where there is way too much emphasis on self. People would rather have others tell them what to think and do rather than actually figure out for their own selves what the truth is! Paul was one of those folks who used both practical wisdom and theoretical knowledge. He did not allow his emotions to dictate what he believed. Instead he used what he knew to be true to influence how he responded. Paul wanted his readers in Ephesus to understand the new hope they had in Jesus and why it was important for their lives. Let’s discover what Paul wrote and how we today can use his advice concerning a new hope…

READ: Ephesians 1:1-14

Humans have always wondered why God does what he does. When life is going well we do not give a thought to why things happen but when life turns sour we cry out, “Why?” Here in these verses…

I. Paul tells us why we have a new hope! (Vv. 1-6)

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will–to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

1. Paul began his letter by reinforcing his own calling as “an apostle of Christ Jesus” and let his readers know that it was “by the will of God”. He did not make himself an apostle, one sent out to do the work and will of the Messiah. Rather it was God who had given him the task and mantle. He then addresses those he is writing by reminding them they are “saints” and “the faithful in Christ Jesus”. Sainthood is not reserved for those elected to it by any human organization but rather to all who have believed in Jesus as the Messiah are given the mantle of “saint”. Therefore Paul’s authority came from “the will of God” just as his reader’s holiness did. His desire was “grace and peace” to them both “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Grace expressed God’s unmerited love directed to those who believed in Jesus and peace is the result of that grace! Paul knew exactly where this grace and peace came from and joyously writes “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Paul then comes to the crux of the matter by relating why God did this wonderful thing: “For he chose us in him”! This grace and peace was all a part of God’s wonderful plan all along, before “the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight”! Wow! God did this “In love” and in fact he “predestined us to be adopted as his sons (and daughters) through Jesus Christ”! We become God’s “holy and blameless” children because of Jesus and this was “in accordance with his pleasure and will–to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” This is why we have a new hope!

EXAMPLE: Far too many seem to think that by doing more thrilling things or by purchasing more exotic experiences that they will find true happiness. Then there are those who feel that new relationships will bring new and exciting results in their lives. What these do is bring us a false sense of hope. However the Bible teaches us that the world was in a hopeless situation until Jesus came. Paul tells us why we have a new hope!

We are a curious group of beings and have always wondered how things work. When faced with a situation to be solved we look for answers. Here in these verses…

II. Paul teaches us the how of our new hope! (Vv. 7-10)

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment–to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

1. In agreement with God’s perfect pleasure and will he freely gave us hope when we had none! But how is this possible? Paul immediately addresses this question by writing that it is “In him (Jesus) we have redemption through his blood”. We are bought back with a price! And this gracious Godly coupon is redeemed for our “forgiveness of sins”! We did not earn it, win it, or deserve it! It was because it was “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace”. It was because of this wondrous work of love that God “lavished” poured out fully “on us with all wisdom and understanding” of his gracious act in Jesus! In other words God has enabled believers to understand his will! In fact Paul relates that God “made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ”! Paul would tell the Colossians “My purpose is that (Christians) may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:2-3 NIV) The plan of God was “put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment”. That fulfillment was reached in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection! This is why Jesus pronounced while dying on the cross, “It is finished!” Complete. God’s plan was to bring about his will for all of his creation. The words “bring all things… together under one Head” translate one Greek word which literally means the summing up of how God did what he did through Jesus! Jesus is the entire summation of God’s perfect plan! Paul teaches us the how of our new hope!

EXAMPLE: I have been truly amazed at the sheer number of people who could not handle the recent election. It’s as if the end of the world has occurred to them; it concerns me to think what would happen if something truly awful occurred in their lives. It also makes me wonder where in the world they get their hope from. God has given us free of charge hope when we had none. Paul teaches us the how of our new hope!

Wanting to know what is about to happen has fascinated folks for centuries. Some have followed charlatans and phonies with the hope to know what will happen. In these verses…

III. Paul shares with us the what of our new hope! (Vv. 11-14)

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession–to the praise of his glory.

1. Paul has shared with his readers the why and how of our new hope and now he continues in what has occurred because of Jesus. He writes that it is “In him we were also chosen”. This is more than being God’s chosen to receive the Law it is God’s choosing all of us personally. We all were chosen by God and in fact he cast his lot for us! Paul writes that it is “having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” Jews and gentiles alike are chosen for God’s praise and glory! The Israelites had gotten so spiritually myopic that they had begun to think they were the only ones God cared about but now Paul declares that even gentiles, non-Jews, “also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” Hearing means believing and applying what one hears to their lives. And what the Jews could only long for we all now enjoy completely when we believe, namely we are “marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption”! Paul has introduced to his readers the active will of One God in three personalities: God the Father, Jesus the Son, and God the Holy Spirit! It is God’s plan from the beginning to send Jesus his Son that we may believe in him and be sealed by God the Holy Spirit! Believers are marked in God by his guaranteeing presence of the Holy Spirit! And this seal, this deposit of God of himself in us stays with us “until the redemption of those who are God’s possession–to the praise of his glory.” Jesus, God’s only Son brought this all about! This is what our new hope is all about!

EXAMPLE: There is a child’s book called “Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb!” And like the beat of a drum it goes over and over the rhyme so that toddlers can learn. Paul’s message for us this morning is kind of like the drum beat rhyme found in this book in that he continually beats the drum of God’s predestination in his perfect plan of redemption. In it he shares with us the what of our new hope is – Jesus!

Conclusion:

Paul tells us why we have a new hope! Paul teaches us the how of our new hope! Paul shares with us the what of our new hope!
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This article is copyrighted © 2017 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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Christmas Is About Three Fathers…

Christmas Is About three Fathers…
By Pastor Lee Hemen
December 25, 2016

The other day as I was changing the diaper of my baby granddaughter it all of sudden hit me that Christmas is about so much more than a baby boy. It is about fathers as well. In fact it is about three of them that I know of. First, I cannot but wonder about the father of Mary who watched as his little pregnant daughter walked slowly down the dusty road leaving Nazareth. The trip would not be long by today’s standards but a huge undertaking for a new couple. Food, clothes, and necessities for a new baby and of course her care had to be carried. We forget people usually did not live past their 40s during this time and at a distance of about 89 miles would be a hard journey. I wonder if he looked at the night sky full of stars noticing that the one which shown brightest was in the sky near the place where his daughter journeyed to and thought about her. Was she safe? Had she given birth? Was Joseph taking care of her? Was the baby born healthy and strong? I am sure this father worried about his daughter so far away from home giving birth for the first time. Loving fathers are like that.

The second father I thought of was Joseph. Here he was a father for the first time, far from home town himself, and the only spot he could find for his pregnant wife was a stall for sheep and goats. It was comfortable at least, with some new hay for Mary to spread a cloak down. But now the baby, his baby, their baby was going to be born. I am sure growing up in a small farming community like Nazareth Joseph had watched siblings, other family members, or friends’ children being born. Certainly he watched as sheep gave birth. But now it would be his bride and his child. He could place the baby in the clean swaddling clothes they brought from Nazareth with some of the new hay in the feeding trough. I wonder as Joseph looked up at the stars shining in the night sky if he realized all the work being a father entailed? The mentoring, the training, the discipline, devotion, and the imparting of the love of God, would he be up to it all? As he looked at his little wife did he wonder at his role in being the father of the Messiah? I am sure he did and so much more because loving fathers are like that.

The third and final father I thought of was God himself. The mystery, the shear wonder, and the amazing thing God the father had decided to do since the beginning of all creation was about to occur. I stand in utter awe thinking about the fact that this was God the father’s plan all along: To come himself in the form of a human baby, born to a young Hebrew couple from a small village, in small stable on such a silent night. The birth as amazing as it truly is, is just a moment in time and fades in stature to the cruel death he would willingly face; a death that would become the sacrifice for all of our sin for those who believe and even those who do not. I wonder that as the stars danced in the sky he had created and as the young woman cried in the pains of childbirth if God the Father did not smile as his plan was being born. It makes me smile. I do not think he worried about anything at all, after all he foreordained it all. He had predetermined that on this particular night that this young couple would give birth, well, to him! He had told them both it would happen just as he knew it would and it did. As angels sang, shepherds trembled, Wisemen wandered, and mad kings plotted the plan of God the Father came together perfectly. The plans of our loving Father are like that.

Merry Christmas!

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Christmas Is All About Love…

One of the things I have learned over the years is that Christmas is all about love. It begins with God who is love displaying himself in his love for all mankind. And this marvelous and mysterious love has infected all of mankind whether they want to believe in that love or not. The infection has manifested itself throughout the entire world. God’s love does that whether we want it to or not. It is manifested in the godly things we do to one another without asking for anything in return. It is seen in the trust little children have in the belief that God’s love is found in believing in a saintly man who loves children enough he is willing to share that love to those who are willing to be good for goodness sake. It is heard in the songs sung about that silent night when two people became parents for the first time a long way from home and their baby boy would be the hope of all mankind. Love is displayed in the red, green, and white decorations that celebrate the coldness of winter but the warmth of that Godly love. The wrapped gifts given are the shadow of the wonderful Wisemen who journeyed across stream and fountain, moor and mountain to an animal feeding trough outside of a tiny town in an obscure kingdom ruled by a mad king to set before the king of Kings their precious offerings of love. The love of God is reflected in the lights strung on houses, trees, and bushes and buildings; they blind us as Holiday Displays or warm us next to a fireplace as they twinkle on a tree. Each and every part of Christmas may be prepackaged or commercial for some but there deep inside of all the Christmas dress up is the love of God. And whether you like it or not there it is, his love sent in his Son and it is his birthday we celebrate. That’s what Christmas is all about.

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4th Sunday of Advent – The love of God fulfilled – Luke 2:1-20
By Pastor Lee Hemen
December 18, 2016

There are certain dates in life that stand out more than others do. I remember my parents and grandparents talking about when the bombing of Pearl Harbor occurred and where they were and what they were doing. I remember the day the first American went into space and when we landed on the moon. I also remember when terrorists flew passenger jets into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. However, on a brighter note, I also vividly remember the day I was married and the day we brought our daughter home and when my grandchildren were born. Is it any wonder then that as believers we should remember the day the love of God was fulfilled?

On this the fourth Sunday of Advent we pause as Christians remembering together the day Jesus was born. Before we pass out the presents, drink the hot cider, or eat the first candy canes of Christmas perhaps we would do well to stop and remember why there is Christmas. It’s the day the love of God was fulfilled! Let’s remind ourselves of that wonderful day.

READ: Luke 2:1-20

We discover that the love of God was fulfilled when…

I. God’s timing was just right! (Vv. 1-7)

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

1. We often mark important events by what occurs in the world around us and Luke does this also, “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” The Savior’s birth is marked by what occurred in the world at that time, a government census. We know that Caesar Augustus was made the ruler of the Roman Empire in 27 BC and ruled to 14 AD and because Herod the Great’s reign ended in 4 BC, Jesus was probably born before that time. In fact, “This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.” However, the word translated “first” should be more correctly translated “before”. Therefore Quirinius was governor before the census which fits the timeline. During these kinds of tax censuses, “everyone went to his own town to register.” And, “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.” Bethlehem was Joseph’s ancestral home because he was a descendent of King David. “He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.” Both Joseph and Mary knew the importance of her pregnancy. And so Mary accompanied Joseph for several reasons. The couple knew she would have her child during the time Joseph was gone and they most likely did not want to be separated during the event. And, since they knew that the baby was the Messiah, they would have known the prophecy of Micah that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. While unsuspecting Caesars and government officials had no clue about how their edicts would affect the lives of the most important couple in the world, God used them for his perfect plan. “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” The love of God was fulfilled when God’s timing was just right!

EXAMPLE: Timing is everything, or so they say. Paul writes, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5 NIV) Joe Stowell, for the Radio Bible Class, writes, “A quick look at history reveals that the coming of Christ was at just the right time. Centuries earlier, Alexander the Great conquered most of the known world, bringing with him the Greek culture and language. On the heels of his demise, the Roman Empire picked up where Alexander left off and expanded the territory under the unifying influence of the culture and language of the Greeks. It was under Roman rule that the crucifixion took place, where the blood of Christ was shed for us. It was under the rule of Rome that conditions were made ready for the spread of the gospel across three continents: good roads, territorial boundaries free of “passport” restrictions, and a unifying language. The providence of God had put all the pieces in place for the perfect time to send his Son. God’s timing is perfect in everything.” The love of God was fulfilled when God’s timing was just right!

Luke shares that the love of God was fulfilled when…

II. God’s announcement was given! (Vv. 8-14)

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

1. What kings, Caesars, and governors cared about most was of no concern for God. In fact, God often uses the small things and the insignificant people to declare his ways and purposes. And here we discover “there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.” Those who were considered the outcasts from their own society, because they worked with animals by touching them, feeding them, and caring for them, the shepherds are the common folk God announces the birth of his son to. God goes to these “least in the kingdom” first to proclaim the birth of Jesus. Imagine being one of these lowly folks, tending your flock, and suddenly God’s messenger out of the blue comes to where you are in the fields. Luke writes that, “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” Isn’t it interesting that God chooses to go to these who raised the lambs to be sacrificed in the temple to disclose the birth of the Lamb of God who would be sacrificed for the sins of the world? The first words of God’s messenger would be the words his Son would often use: “Do not be afraid.” God’s angel brings them “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” The good news of great joy was not just for the Hebrew nation but also for all people everywhere! “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” The Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of God! The shepherds would know what the angel declared to be true because they are given specific instructions on what they will find and how they will find him, “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” An animal’s feeding trough would be the bed of the Savior and the simple dressings of a newborn would be his regal robe! Before the shepherds could completely digest what they have been told, “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’” The love of God was fulfilled when God’s announcement was given!

EXAMPLE: During Boy Scouts we used to sing the Announcements Song, it was to the tunes of Row Row Your Boat, What Do You Do with a Drunken Sailor, Frères Jacques’, Have You Ever Seen a Lassie, and London Bridge. The ending was “Announcements, announcements, announcements! We’ve got a silly cheer, which you’ve just got to hear! It makes no sense we’re sure you know; the announcements have to GO!” However, not all announcements are bad or boring. Wedding announcements, birth announcements, and announcements of achievement are ones that tell us of joyous occasions that we should celebrate! The announcement given to shepherds long ago certainly wasn’t boring or bad; it was good news of great joy! The love of God was fulfilled when God’s announcement was given!

We finally learn that the love of God was fulfilled when…

III. God’s good news was shared! (Vv. 15-20)

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

1. Can you imagine what was going through the minds of those simple shepherds? Surprise, yes, shock, certainly, and perhaps some incredulity or astonished skepticism! What’s a shepherd supposed to do with this kind of news? Luke relates, “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’” Being the down-to-earth men they were known to be, they decide to go and see for themselves if what the angelic messengers spoke and sang about was true or not! “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.” Isn’t it interesting that neither the people’s chief priests, the teachers of the law, nor the great King Herod himself had enough faith to go themselves, but these men do! I can just imagine that when they came to where the child and his parents were, they were even more humbled. They find everything exactly as the angel said it would be. And so, “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” And in the midst of this wonderful story of simple shepherds is a precious truth of a mother’s heart, “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” While potentates schemed, Wisemen wondered, and shepherds saw for themselves; a mother ponders what it all means for the future of her child. Of all the mothers of Israel, she was the one who gave birth to the Messiah and here he was in her arms! Meanwhile, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” The love of God was fulfilled when God’s good news was shared!

EXAMPLE: Joe Stowell again for the Radio Bible Class writes, “I love the YouTube video of people in a food court of a mall, who in the midst of their ordinary lives were suddenly interrupted by someone who stood up and boldly began singing the ‘Hallelujah Chorus.’ To the surprise of everyone, another person got up and joined the chorus, and then another, and another. Soon the food court was resounding with the celebrative harmonies of Handel’s masterpiece. A local opera company had planted their singers in strategic places so that they could joyfully interject the glory of God into the everyday lives of lunching shoppers.” He continues, “Every time I watch that video, it moves me to tears. It reminds me that bringing the glory of God into the ordinary situations of our world through the beautiful harmonies of Christlikeness is exactly what we are called to do. Think of intentionally interjecting God’s grace into a situation where some undeserving soul needs a second chance; of sharing the love of Christ with someone who is needy; of being the hands of Jesus that lift up a weary friend; or of bringing peace to a confusing and chaotic situation.” The same is true for those shepherds so long ago, for them the love of God was fulfilled when God’s good news was shared!

Conclusion:

The love of God was fulfilled when God’s timing was just right, when God’s announcement was given, and when God’s good news was shared!
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This article is copyrighted © 2016 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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