Ephesians 3:20&21 “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory ing the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen!”
These are the closing words of this prayer of the apostle Paul, and in them he commends himself and the Ephesians into the care and service of the living God. The city of Ephesus was dominated by its enormous temple, a shrine to the goddess Diana (or Artemis in Greek). At that time the building was one of the seven wonders of the world, 425 feet in length and 220 feet in breadth. It had 127 marble columns 62 feet high, and at its heart there was an image of Diana which it claimed had fallen to earth from heaven. The city was the religious heart of all Asia; local commerce, the manufacture of idols and tourism, all hung on the temple – as did the hundreds of ‘priestesses’ attached to this fertility cult. Ephesus was a centre for occult activity. Local Christians had to live their entire lives beneath the shadow of this temple. Parents had to raise their children to fear the Lord against that back cloth, and Christian men and women had to work alongside people who regularly availed themselves of Diana and her temple. So Paul, as he prays for them, concludes by pointing them away from the idol-infested Ephesus to the living God, “to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (v.20). “Turn your eyes always on the mighty Lord,” he is saying.
1. OUR GOD IS ABLE.
“Now to Him who is able to do” (v.20), or to ‘work.’ Paul is thinking of the divine might. Power at this level is not simply one attribute amongst others in the deity. It is a core element, or even the core element of God. I say that for this not insignificant reason, that many of the great names for God found in numbers of languages around the world and words in the first instance redolent with power. This is especially and fundamentally so in the Old Testament names of ‘El’ and ‘Elohim.’ In fact in the New Testament ‘power; is itself a name for God; Jesus Christ, the Son of Man sits at the right hand of the power.
We ourselves are ‘powers’ as parents, elders, teachers, employers, voters, and we are conscious of other men’s authority, but in God there is a different kind of power. Every other kind of power began, it had its origin in the creation itself, but God’s might is unoriginated and eternal. He never began to be powerful; He didn’t get his power from any existing stuff; He doesn’t depend on a source outside of Himself for its sustenance; power is what God is. His power is also different in its sheer magnitude from any created powers. Out of nothing whatsoever He created this universe – think of it! God has made a cosmos of immeasurable vastness and complexity. He was able to design and then create the galaxy, the atom, the brain, the eye, and by His will to uphold at all moment to moment. We can see it around us; it is a phenomenon open to investigation; it’s what we call a theistic proof, in other words, Paul says that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen” (Roms. 1:20).
Let me apply that fact in this way: get your nose out of the computer and out of the video games, away from images on a flickering screen. Get on your bike, or go for walks as students. Go hiking. Climb Constitution Hill; and climb Plunlumon. Spend time in God’s creation. Feel the power of the wind. Look at the mountains. Survey the heavens. Listen to creation’s testimony. Notice how many times the Lord Christ draws on the things of creation examples in God’s care, of the need for us to trust in the mighty Creator who has become our Father through Jesus Christ. Take your friends who are not yet Christians with you, or accept their invitations to go for a stroll. Seize such rare moments! There was one occasion spoken of by a Francis Schaeffer when he was talking to a student about the gospel as they walked down some city streets. The student was very resistant to what Schaeffer was saying. Then they turned of the street into a large park, and soon the city sounds were muffled. The wind was blowing through the trees and the ducks were quacking on the lake. This student’s confident arguments against the existence of God and the deity of Christ began to disintegrate; he began to listen to what Schaeffer was saying and to ask him questions. He was hearing the gospel words from a Christian which were being endorsed by God’s eternal power and divine nature seen in that park land.
Again, God’s power is terrifyingly different in its destructive capabilities. With the same ease as it creates it can also destroy. I am thinking of Noah’s flood, Sodom and Gomarrah, the deaths of the first-born in Egypt, the Israelites in the wilderness, the destruction of the Assyrian army, the earthquakes at the time of the crucifixion and also when Paul was in prison in Philippi, the sound of the mighty rushing wind on the day of Pentecost, the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, and those who ‘slept’ in the Corinthian church. Job says, “If we speak of His strength – Lo! He is strong.” One day we know that God will pull apart the whole universe, atom by atom; He will cause the elements to melt dissolving in fervent hear. What a day that will be which our own eyes are going to observe. Very often men are conscience of the power of creation standing over them threateningly. You can feel the strength of the winds of a hurricane battering your house – a man couldn’t stand upright before that blast without holding onto something. Or you can stand on a volcanic mountain in Sicily and feel the ground vibrating under your feet. You might have seen the newsreel pictures of that flood of water pouring into Boscastle in Cornwall in August carrying away cars as if they were toys, sweeping away homes, and no one in the world able to stop any of those things happening.
I know in my creatureliness and in my guilt how little of that power it would take to destroy me. There is no way that you and I can afford, in the name of some kind of Christianity, to outgrow that sense of the grandeur of Almighty God. This is the God who can both create and destroy. Our God is the Fear of Jacob. Fearing this God is the beginning of wisdom. When Isaiah sees Him in the temple its mighty pillars are shaking and Isaiah cries, “Woe is me!” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. That may happen not only to those who live in rejection and repudiation of Christ, it may also occur in divine correction and chastisement to the members of God’s own family of faith. That is why we should impress upon ourselves that we cannot trifle with the Almighty, because “our God”, “our God” no less, “is a consuming fire.” God’s ability is nor like those aptitudes which anything or anyone else possesses. He is the source of all the energy in the universe. God is the ultimate energy and we are to be conscious of that energy and power in its overwhelmingness and in its awesomeness.
God has power over the whole material universe, and we know something of the tiniest part of the complexity of that, and our God reigns over it all. He governs every galaxy in its composition and movement. He appoints and controls every planetary system. He determines the qualities of every crystal. He has given to them all their own distinctive properties. He has imposed upon them His own principles. Men often speak as if it were different. They imagine sometimes that the material universe operates according to “natural law,” and yet we forget that there is no such thing as ‘nature.’ That is only a concept or abstraction, and ‘nature’ has no laws because ‘nature’ has no being. It is not an entity; it is merely an idea in the mind of man. The only laws that this universe submits to are the laws of an almighty personal God, and that is all. Again we speak of the ‘rationality’ of the universe, and we think like that because it can be logically analysed and described in terms of mathematical concepts and scientific laws. So we say that we live in a ‘rational universe,’ but again the universe has no rationality. The atoms have no minds; the crystals have no minds; the planets have no minds. The only rationality this world has is an orderliness imposed upon it by the infallible intelligence of its designer and creator and sustainer, who is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The ultimate truth about the universe is this, “God is able.” What God wills to do He can do. The only restraint upon any action of God’s power is God’s own will.
The first thing int he universe, and the last thing, and the foundational thing is a Person. He in not matter, or light, or energy. He is God and it is the ability of this living Lord that has imposed upon the whole universe its every feature, and every characteristic, and every movement. What we are doing in human science is only observing what God’s ability has already done. We are concerned only to describe that way God has ordained, and if we can emphasise for a moment that his universe is built entirely upon the will of God then it tells us one great lesson. That lesson is this, that it is the height of folly for men to argue how things are going to be, or to argue that impossibility of their being any other way.
We look at the miracles of the word of God, at the virgin birth of Christ, and men may say that that is biologically impossible, or the Lord Jesus walking on the water, and again they may say that that is a physical impossibility. The dead are raised by Jesus; “It doesn’t happen,” they say, but they’re forgetting again that the last and the foundational thing in the universe is not mathematics, nor natural law, nor human rationality but it is the ability of God. You take that great old phrase, “It only needs a flash of the will that can and the dead rise” because God is able to raise the dead. He is in control and gives to every particle of matter the properties that He decides. That is the basic foundational reality in the whole material universe – our God is able.
2. GOD IS ABLE TO DO WHAT WE ASK.
“Now to Him who is able to immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (v.20). Now do you see what I have done? I have sought to build up a picture of the magnificence of God, and His grandeur, and omnipotence, and I have said to you that that is the core element of God, emphasising the tremendous gulf between ourselves and Him. As a result I have given you an almost unreachable Lord, a virtually inaccessible Saviour. I can see that, and I want to express your own fears that at this very point of the greatness of the Creator there lies a tremendous danger, that is, that we lose contact with God, and we feel that there is no continuity between God and ourselves. Such a God seems too remote and too incomprehensible for us to love. He cannot understand us; He cannot sympathise with us; He cannot be touched by us; He cannot speak to little people like ourselves.
I think very often in Christian history that has happened. It may be that that almightiness of God is a glorious doctrine, and yet if it becomes an exclusive emphasis, if it becomes the one thing in the church’s attitude the God then, like every other overemphasis, it becomes a distorting influence upon our Christina faith. To compensate for that, one branch of the professing church has invented a kind and understanding mother figure. “Kneel before her, and pray to her,” they say, “she will sympathise; she will put in a good word for you; she will get you what you want,” but that is not what Paul does here. He is commending the church at Ephesus to the mighty and omnicompetent God the Father, but then he goes on to say that this God does for us what we ask. That is staggering enough, before we go any further. That God should listen to men when they pray seems to be taken for granted in the world. “God bless you,” or “God bless,” the comedian or the politician says at the end of his monologue. “May the mighty God bless you!” Why should God obey a man who cracks jokes, most of a dubious variety, and bless his audience? Why? That is God’s job, people think. They seem to forget that every answered prayer is a miracle. They ignore the problem of sin; they only speak to God when they want something they need, or when there has been a marvellous deliverance and they can’t help blurting out, “Thank God!” What of confession of our guilt? What of the homage of our hearts? What of the desire to know Him more, and serve Him better? What of our adoration and praise? What of being still and knowing that He is God?
Who are the people Paul is talking about when he says that the Lord does what these people ask? Who is this ‘we’ with whom Pail stands in solidarity? He puts his arms around them all, adults and children, slaves and free, rich and poor and Paul says, “Think of it! When you and I pray then the Creator of the universe will listen to us and do what we ask.” To whom is Paul writing? To the church in Ephesus. He is not addressing this letter to the temple of Diana. This is not a promiscuous letter; it is written to a certain constituency, to Christians, that is, to sinners who have acknowledged their sin and turned from it and put their trust in Jesus Christ. He is addressing believers who have found a refuge in the cross of Christ, whose only hope both in life and in death is their faithful Saviour. He is writing to people who say, “For me to live is Christ,” men and women who’ve presented their bodies a living sacrifice to God, who cannot live by bread alone but who live by every word that comes from the mouth of their Lord. He is standing alongside people who say that their chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him for ever. These are the people whom God hears when they pray, and these only. They are the children of God; they have the spirit of Christ within them and they cry to this God, “Abba, Father!”
The Maker of the rolling spheres, the ineffably sublime Lord of heaven does what we ask when we pray. The Lord Jesus assures us of this fact. “You are sinful people,” He says, “but when your children ask for bread you love them and won’t give them a plate of cockroaches.” How much more will a loving Father give good things to His children when they ask Him. So He encourages us to pray in hope of an answer, and He instructs us how to pray. He gives us a model prayer, “Our Father who are in heaven, hallowed be your name…” And so on. God is the inspirer and hearer of prayer or all who come to Him trusting in the merits of His dear Son. Our God is able to do what we ask.
That might seem enough for us, but it is not enough for Paul. It is merely basic comfort. He wants to make the privilege of prayer very wonderful to us.. He wants to whet our appetite to pray so that we become zealous to pray. He knows how hard it is for a Christian to pray, that it is a constant battle, that the devil tells us ‘whatever will be will be.” So Paul writes the words of our text so that after we have read them we say – “when can I bring my supplications to God? I must pray straight away.” Paul wants to ransack the Greek language, and he wants to stretch our woulds so that we can hardly believe what he is telling us. He wants to our us again on the brink of the precipice so that we cry, “O the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God. How unsearchable are His judgements and His ways are past finding out.” So Paul opens up this theme of the prayer-answering God in these ways:
i] God does more than we ask.
God does what we ask, yes, and that is wonderful, but what is more wonderful is that He does more than that for us. You consider the publican in the temple praying. Jesus is looking at him, but he doesn’t see the Lord. He only has eyes for his own sin. He is beating his breast with guilt, and looking down at the dust. Then he prays this prayer: “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” That is his one obsession. Could God show him mercy for the wretched life he has lived? Does he get what he prays for? Does he receive mercy? Yes. Is that all he gets? No. It is never mercy alone. It is always more. He is given saving trust in God. He is given a new heart and a new nature. He is clothed in the righteousness of Christ and justified. He is adopted into the family of God and made an heir of God, a joint heir with Christ. The dominion which sin has had over him is ended. He is joined to Jesus Christ so that he is in Christ. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit come to take up their dwelling place in him. He is made a new creation. He is seated in the heavenlies in Jesus Christ and is glorified. All things henceforth work together for his good.
The publican simply asked God to be merciful to him and God indeed was, but the answer was more than he asked for. How do I know that all this happened to this publican? Because it happens to every single person at their conversion, without exception. They speak to God in their own way and turn from their sins and entrust themselves to the Lord Jesus. God’s answer is simply extraordinary, much more than they asked for, a free justification, adoption, union with Christ, the end of the reign of sin, and so on. The rest of their lives is spent discovering all that God has done for them, finding out about their glorious new status. Sometimes that realisation will be so glorious they will be lost in wonder, love, and praise. In other words, maybe they will have been adopted into the family of God for years before they’ve understood all the privileges of sonship. They will have been justified since they believed, but it might be many years later that the tremendous blessing of complete pardon and being clothed in the righteousness of Christ dawns on them. Then the wonder of it may seem to them like a second conversion. It might even seem that that was the time they were actually justified, but that cannot be. It is simply that then they realised the implications of it and for the rest of their lives they have to reckon on the fact that they have been justified, and adopted, and united to Christ and so on.
In other words when we trust in the Lord and become Christians. God doesn’t wait for us to understand all the other blessings before He gives them to us. He doesn’t spectate and watch us while we agonise and cry mightily day and night before He proceeds grudgingly to justify us, or to indwell us by His Spirit, or clothe us with the righteousness of Christ, or adopt us into His family, or unite us to Christ. These essential blessings of the mere Christian’s life are all ours in salvation. God doesn’t wait for years while we roll on the floor in desperation before He gives us these privileges. We look to Him in faith and His answer is to bless us with every spiritual blessing in the heaven lies in Christ Jesus. God always gives us more than we ask.
ii] God does more than all we ask.
We consider how poor and brief are our prayer times. We add them all up, our daily times of prayer, we put them in the scales; our grace before meals, we put that in; our family devotions, we put them in; our prayer meetings and Sunday services, they go in too, what Paul describes here as “all we ask.” You put that praying with all its grandeur and all its limitations too on one side of the scales, and then you put on the other side of them all we have received from God. We haven’t asked for a hundredth part of what we’ve had. I am saying that we have received a thousand times more than what we asked for, maybe ten million million times. The answers to our prayers are never commensurate with our praying. God gives us more than we’ve ever asked for. There are all the spiritual blessings that take the church from the road to destruction and set them down in glory. There are the temporal mercies – you consider that our breath is in God’s hands, and that every breath of oxygen has been a divine gift. Every beat of our hearts, every good thought in our minds is by the Spirit of God. Think of the ages of eternity and the joys of heaven that God is preparing for us – much more than we asked for. We asked to be delivered for hell, but God has given us joys at His right hand for everyone. We certainly get more than all we ask.
The whole Christian life is one of excess and prodigality. The prodigal son simply asked his father to make him like one of his servants. The father’s answer was far more than that. He reinstated him as his son. He forgave him, kissed him, and clothed him with a fine robe, and a ring on his finger, and slippers on his feet. He killed the fattened calf, and had a welcome home party. That was the Father’s response to the son, and that is the picture of the Christian life. Sometimes its prodigality is seen in this life, and we are amazed – “Did God do this?” Certainly we will know about it when we stand before the throne, dressed in beauty not our own. Let me illustrate it for you with this story. There was a Scottish farmer named Fleming who lived in Lochfield, a farm outside Darval in Ayrshire in the 1890s. One day he heard cries for help coming from a bog. When he ran across he saw a small boy sinking into it. He prayed, lay down and reached out snaking across the surface until he managed to catch the boy’s hand and save the boy from a horrible death. The next day the boy’s father called at the croft. He had title and he owned much land and wanted to give the farmer a reward, but he refused to take a penny. Then the man noticed the farmer’s son. “Is that your boy?” he asked him. “Yes,” the farmer said (he was in fact the third of his ten children). “I insist on paying for his education – an education as good as my son’s.” Alexander was in fact seven years younger than the boy who had been rescued. He was as good as his word and young Alexander Fleming went to grammar school and then to St Mary’s Medical School in London. He became a specialist, a brilliant medical scientist, a bacteriologist, and in 1928 he discovered Penicillin. What an extraordinary response to rescuing a boy from a bog, but the story does not end there. The man who paid for his education was in fact Lord Randolph Churchill, and one day in the 1930s Winston Churchill his son (who had been saved as boy by the father of Alexander Fleming) was saved again as a man by doses of Penicillin when he contracted pneumonia. Sometimes we look at an example like that and know God is opening a window into the ways He is working and saving us; “This is how I do things and I’ll show you that this is so just once in a while to encourage you.” The answers to our prayers are never according to how much and with what earnestness we’ve prayed, but much more. That Scottish farmer Fleming, as he asked God to help him rescue the boy never prayed, “And if I can save him cause this boy’s father to pay for the education of my son, and let my son discover Penicillin.” The answer is always more than our praying.
iii] God does immeasurably more than all we ask.
Abram asked for a child, and God gave children as innumerable as the stars in Heaven. Jacob asked for “bread to eat and raiment to put on” (Gen. 28:20) but God gave him “oxen, and asses, flocks, and menservants, and women servants” (Gen. 32:5). The Hebrews asked God to end their slavery. They were contented to remain in Egypt, but God brought them to a land flowing with milk and honey. Solomon asked for “an understanding heart” but God not only gave that but said, “Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for – both riches and honour – so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings” (1 Kings 3:13).
Think of those young men, Peter, Andrew, James, and John, barely out of their teens, and Jesus is teaching them to pray; “Our Father which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come…” They don’t understand much about the kingdom of God, that is, the reign of grace by the Saviour over everyone of his people and its mighty influence as these people become the world’s salt and light. The young apostles asked, “O Jehovah God, may your kingdom come,” and what has been God’s answer in the following centuries? That the kingdom will ensure and spread through all the world, that millions in Africa will be turning to Christ, and in South America, and in China, and Korea. That richest and most powerful country in the world, the USA, should have members of the kingdom of God throughout that nation in their millions, with some in the highest places of influence.
Or you think of the incalculable number of ordinary Christian homes that have existed throughout history where lives of quiet outrage have been lived, a mother holding together a home and holding down a job. I think of the influence of mothers over sons like Augustine, and John Wesley, and Spurgeon, and Gresham Machen. Their mothers prayed for their children to know the Lord, marry in the Lord, and be useful in the church. What extraordinary answers came to their prayers. They never prayed that contingents should be changed by these men’s labours and that they would have international influence over the whole world until the end of the age. That is exactly how God answered those mothers’ prayers, immeasurable more than all we ask.
iv] God does immeasurable more than all we ask or imagine.
I can imagine the Lord sending out anti-cancer patrols through my body hour by hour, and killing any malignancy that begins to emerge when just one cell is being invaded. I can imagine that happening all the time. I can imagine him disseminating blood clots before they get bigger and become a threat to by life. I can imagine all those things. I can imagine how God will use a text outside a church, or the presence of a Book Shop, or by our sermons online. there may be two women talking, and a man like John Bunyan sitting quietly and overhearing them, and be convicted. I can imagine all the ways that a godly example and inheritance and free grace preaching will have been buried in the subconscious of a man, and years after he has stopped going to church something will suddenly be drawn out of his sub-consciousness in the middle of the night and he will be convicted, and once again set on the road home.
I can imagine that. I can also imagine the weirdest coincidences, or even the most evil actions being used actually to save a sinner and sanctify a saint. I cannot imagine the unimaginable. No one can. So here every preacher is stick. What are the unimaginable ways God answers our prayers? If you can imagine them then they are no longer unimaginable.
So we are confronted with a mystery. God is doing more for us than we ask or even imagine, and I suppose that one day we will have some insight into that.
“When this passing world is done,
When has sun the radiant sun,
When I stand with Christ on high,
Looking o’er life’s history,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know,
Not till then, how much I owe.” (Robert Murray M’Cheyne, 1813-1843).
Someone will say to you, “You must have prayed long for that.” You will say to them, ‘I didn’t even imagine, let alone pray, for something as wonderful as that coming to me.”
3. THIS GOD IS AT PRESENT WORKING WITHIN US.
“According to the power that is at work within us” (v.20). We know something of this now, says Paul. We ask today that God will help us and today we are getting answers. He is powerfully at work here and now in His providence. Providence is the art of providing, and God’s providence is His art of providing for what He has created. In other words, God’s providence is God’s government and God’s superintendence of the whole of His creation, the Galaxy, and the electron, things both good and bad, massive and tiny, material and immaterial. What seemed an insignificant occurrence at the time, that little incident that now you refer to reverently as being providential, was simply part of God’s government of the whole universe. See it as such. Know that nothing happens to you with Christ, and then it will being to make some sense. I am not talking of understanding it rationally in the sense of grasping all the pros and cons, but know that whatever occurred didn’t happen by luck or chance. Your mighty Lord has not stepped for a moment from the thrown of the universe; that event did not occur behind His back, and without His knowing. No. All things that touch you are of God. There is a line that goes all the way to Jesus Christ from everything that happens in your family’s life, your community’s life, your church’s life, your world’s life, your universe’s life. In Him all things cohere. He upholds all things by the word of His power. Nothing at all can happen without Him. If a demon steps out of line Christ yanks the chain. He feeds the birds; He listens to the hooting of the Whales; He supplies the needs of every living thing, and He gives us our daily bread. All things wait upon Him. His power is at work within us all. It is according to His mandate that nations rise and fall. History becomes His story. The wheels of providence turns at His behest. you know that if Jesus Christ is your Lord, there is no such thing as fate. There is no such thing as uncertainty. there is only waiting upon the Lord.
“I waited for the Lord my God
And patiently did bear;
At length to me He did incline
My voice and cry to hear.”
(English Psalter, 1641).
There is no such thing as unanswered prayer. There is no such thing as an accident wherever the Lord is powerfully at work, and He is at work everywhere. Where better for a guilt sinner saved by grace to be put in the hand of this Lord, the God of the apostles and prophets, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? The eternal God is thy refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms. He is the God of creation and He is the God of providence powerfully at work within us He has us in His hands. He has the whole wide world in His hands and where better can you think of being?
But not only is He at work in us all in providence He is powerfully at work in His own people in salvation. There would not be one person here believing in the Lord Jesus Christ unless the same divine power that raise Jesus from the dead, the same power that in the beginning created the heavens and the earth, had made alive every one of us who believes. It is not man’s decisions that ultimately makes a person a Christian, it is the inward power of the Holy Spirit.
Isn’t God the author of all salvation actions of men? When a man puts his faith in Jesus Christ isn’t that faith the gift of God? when people open up to the influence of Jesus Christ isn’t it because the Lord has powerfully opened their hearts? When the heart is broken in penitence and sorrow for sin isn’t it again because God has given them repentance? When men turn and are conceded isn’t it that the Lord has been at work turning around the whole direction of their lives? The power of the Holy Spirit is at work or there could be no church. I remind you again that salvation is of the Lord. It is from His love. It is by His grace. It is through His power, and if you are concerned with Jesus Christ, the son of God. 2,000 years ago the Son of God took flesh and came and accomplished th work of redemption, and now risen and ruling He sends the Spirit to apply its benefit to desperate, dying, hell-deserving sinners in every generation, including this, and to people all over the world, including this part of it. Do you loath your sins? Then stop pondering on them and turn in faith to the friend of sinners.
It is astonishing how the people of this town seem to know so much about the places of worship, and all the ministers, and all the special services, and can evaluate the Anglicans and the Baptists and the Presbyterians and the Brethren. they can chat about these beings ad infinitum, but they never task about knowing God. They never talk to other people about knowing Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Knowing what is going on in their church, and knowing minsters, and being right up with the activities of the Christian Union in the university will never take you to Heaven. The power of God must work in you. You have to cry mightily to God that He will work repentance and faith and a new birth in your life. “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”
4. TO GOD BE GLORY FOR EVER AND EVER! AMEN.
“To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (v.21). Man’s chief end is to glorify God. That’s the goal and purpose of our lives, that we live to honour the Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit. There’s this great question, “to whom does the glory belong?” And you will turn to the Bible and you will find a determination at every point to exclude every element of human boasting. To whom does the glory belong in the church and in Christ Jesus? Has man kept the law of God? No. Has man been sincere in His attempts to keep the law? No. Has man effect reconciliation with God? No. All things are of God who has reconciled us to Himself? Who has found the lamb? Who has borne the whole cost of our salvation? How little impressed we are with that, that He has borne our sin deep in His heart, and indeed deep in the body of His own manhood, bearing all that our sins deserved, making peace by the blood of His cross.” So all things are of God. To Him be the glory in the church for ever!
Then you explore that a little more and you ask, have we found the lamb? Have we made the peace? Were we on the cross? No. Surely the faith is our own? Surely the repentance is our own? Surely the transformation in our lives is our own? Surely the revolutionary new interest and seriousness about Christianity is our own? No. All that too is the gift of God. I was born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of man, but by the Spirit of God, the God who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me by His grace. Or can I look today at my peace with God and say to my soul, “what a marvellous job you made of the atonement?” Can I do that? No. Can I look at my conversion and say to my soul, “What a marvellous job you made of your conversion? No. Called by God, turned by God, transformed from a blind natural man into a man who could see the glory of God in Christ all done by God. So boasting is excluded. To him be the gory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Or again consider that nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Absolutely nothing. Paul had this marvellous assurance that one day he was going to see Christ as He is, and he was going to be with Him, and that he would be kept by God’s power until then. How is the apostle so sure? Because he had been loved with a ove that will not let him go. He is assured because he knows that what started him off was not his decision but the grace of God, and what has kept him until now has not been his consistence and stability but the faithfulness of God. These things did not determine his perseverance. He has been gripped by God. He has been chosen before the foundation of the world. He has been redeemed in space and time on Golgotha. He has been regenerated in his pilgrimage by the Spirit. He has been preserved by the love of God until this moment, and he will be perfected in the day of Christ. To Him be the gory for ever and ever, Amen!
Paul faced terrible days, when his flesh has no rest; there were fightings without fears within. He sometimes despaired of life itself and his outward man perished. All that tended to crush Paul, but it never removed him from the Father’s love.
So Paul knew that he was what he was by the grace of God, and that grace had apprehended him. It has erupted with such immense dynamism into his life, effectively keeping him and marvellously transforming him, and that love was determined to present him faultiness before the presence of His glory in that great day.
So all the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus must be given to God throughout all generations, certainly at the time of the early church, and certainly during the time of the church’s great reformation, and again in the generation of the Great Awakening, but in this generation too, and in every generation for ever and ever, Amen. All glory must be given to the God who has saved us and kept us until now.
October 3rd 2004 GEOFF THOMAS