Ephesians 1: 1-14
Acts 9: 1-19 , August 10, 1986
Sermon no. 92, Jefferis Kent Peterson
According to Plan
Today, we are beginning a study of the grand and glorious letter of Paul to the Ephesians. It is a letter that is different from the other epistles of Paul. Not written to deal with problems or disputes in a specific congregation, as is the case with most of his other letters, this letter is a theological treatise, and it has a theme that is broad in scope and wide in purpose. The letter has to do with God’s eternal plan of salvation for the whole world. And it brings the news that God has done something new for the benefit of heaven and earth in Jesus, the Anointed One. In Jesus the Anointed, he has given the world peace. This letter’s purpose is to announce this peace, which God has planned from the beginning of the world. And to the wonder of it all, Paul proclaims the unbelievable good news that God is establishing this peace with us in spite of our resistance to his will!
Paul begins to reveal this theme of God’s peace with the very first verse, when he says, “Paul, an apostle of Messiah Jesus, by the will of God.” The fact that Paul was made an apostle, not by his own will, but by the will of God, does not seem to be related to this theme of peace, but it is. Because the peace of God which is coming to the earth, has very much to do with the will of God, and has very little to do with us. For the truth of the matter is that God wills the world to have peace, but we and all creation are in rebellion against his will. We are not bringing about peace; we are fighting it! And it is easy to see how we fight this peace: we fight peace in our families. There is conflict our marriages, with our children; we fight with our friends and neighbors; there are fights even within our church, our community, within our nation, and within our world. The good news is that God is still establishing peace with us in spite of our resistance to it. And so, it is very much a part of the theme of this letter that it is not by a human will, but by the will of God that Paul has been made an apostle.
Indeed, Paul could not have asked God to make him an apostle, any more than you or I could ask for such a thing. If we were so vain as to presume to ask, it would be a mark of our inexcusable vanity and pride; not a mark of God’s blessing. No, Paul was made an apostle, not because he willed it, but because it was part of the divine plan. And this blessing he received was far beyond any expectation or hope he could have had on his own.
It is a mark of the mysterious character of God’s will that, at the time of his calling, far from seeking the divine peace, Paul had dedicated himself to oppose this will of God with all his might. Together with the rest of humanity, he was in rebellion. At the time God called him, Paul was a murderer. Not seeking to be a friend of God, he was so ruled by hate and by self-righteous pride that he was completely blind to his own sin. He was so consumed with rage that he had dedicated the rest of his life to bringing his fellow Jews, who believed that Jesus was the Messiah, to torture and trial whenever and wherever he could find them. His sole, consuming passion was to root out every last vestige of Messianism on the face of the earth. He took upon himself this hate-filled and violent crusade, and it was with this evil pursuit in his mind that he set out towards Damascus.
It is testimony to the power of God, that it was in the midst of this evil, self-righteous crusade, that Paul was struck down by the Risen Lord, Jesus the Anointed One. While in complete rebellion against God, he was met by God. Not having repented and without seeking fellowship, he was given fellowship with Jesus. While fighting God, he was called into fellowship by the God who is greater than our resistance. And by that same incomprehensible and inexcusable work of God’s grace that called Paul to be at peace, Paul was called to be an apostle. No indeed! It was not by his own will, but by the power of the living God, that Paul was carried away from his foolish stance of pride. It happened not by his will, but according to the plan of God, so that he might become the greatest preacher of the gospel that the world has ever know! This great purpose God knew, and had in mind, long before Paul ever knew God. How small was the will of Paul by comparison; how weak! Though he opposed God, he could not stand. God’s purpose was far greater than Paul’s tiny human plans! God’s peace was greater than Paul, just as God’s will for the earth to know peace is greater than the earth’s will to resist him.
God’s sovereignty over creation should give us comfort when we find ourselves opposed to the will of God. Sometimes, when we are resisting God, we feel that the problems in our lives are too great for God to handle. Sometimes, we recognize the mess we have made of our lives, and then we feel that our resistance to God has been so great, there is nothing he can now do. Maybe we see ourselves this way when our friends have turned against us and left us alone, and we do not know how to rebuild the bridges between us. When our pride and our vanity have kept us from love, then we fear our stubbornness has created an insurmountable obstacle for God. Or maybe we see it when, in spite of our teaching, our children have turned against us and gone and done what we hate, that we fear that we have ruined their lives as well as ours and that it is too late even for God to undo the damage we have done. Or maybe we finally see it when our dishonesty and deceit have ruined our self-respect and our relationships; when our stolen pleasures and hidden vices have destroyed all that we hold near and dear. It is then that we think how our lives could have been different if only we had not been so willful and just heeded God. And it is just when we think that all is lost and that God could not possibly love such a one as this; that we have thwarted his purpose and plan for our lives forever, it is then, in his kindness and his mercy, that he reveals to us, with words too good to be true, that we have been on his mind all this time. And that if we look, we will find that he has been at work in our lives all along; that, before we ever knew it, he was working in the minute details of our lives to bring us into fellowship with him. It is then that we find that though we have done so much to oppose him, the great river of his purpose cannot be stopped up by our petty resistance to his will. According to his immutable purpose, he will establish and accomplish his will in us, to the praise of his glory. And, praise God, we cannot resist his him forever.
What a great hope and assurance that should be to us who find ourselves failing God constantly! When all goes wrong in our lives, when our hopes and aspirations do not materialize. When we have sinned and made terrible mistakes, even then, our Great God has a plan which cannot be undone. That in spite of our mistakes and missteps, he is working out everything in our lives to conform to his plan.
So, even as Paul had not sought to be called by God, so, too you, without your knowledge, have been called by God to be his beloved, his own so that you might conform to his purpose of peace with the world. Though you could no more choose to God than Paul could choose to be an apostle, it is part of the plan of God that before you even thought of him or turned to him, he chose you as his own. Before you were born, he destined you for his glory; and you cannot thwart his purpose! Though you offer up resistance, though you rebel against him, he has a plan and purpose for you. And he is working it out even now. Even now, he is working out everything in your lives so that you might live for his glory.
Just think of the wonder and beauty of the plan in the mind of God for you. That while you were yet unborn, he thought of you and loved you and eagerly waited for you to be created. Even when you did not even know him, he knew you, and he has been waiting all these years for the day you finally turn to him and share his love.
So, do not fear that you might lose God, or because of your weakness God might give up on you. From the beginning, you have been chosen and elected in Christ. It should give you assurance that, in spite of the fact that He knows every sin you have ever committed and every sin that you are going to commit, still he has called you to be his own! In this you can find security and release from your fears: you need not fear that anything in your future nor anything from your past will drive you from the presence of God. Nothing you can do will rob you from the presence of God, because he has elected you to be his.
And he now makes known this wonderful plan of salvation to you, not to release you to sin, but so that you might be released from the fear of sin and from Satan’s dominion over you. For the truth is, we are more often driven from his presence by our guilt and our fears, than by our willful sins. So our wonderful Father makes his salvation known to us so that we may trust him, so that the fear of death will no longer rule our lives. Out of God’s great love for us, he gives us the confidence of our salvation, so that we might be able to say with full assurance: Thanks be to God! Thanks be to God that his great salvation cannot be undone by our petty misdeeds and offenses!!! Our failures and transgressions cannot rob us of his love! We cannot undo his election by our weakness, for he has saved us for a great purpose. He has saved us so that we might live for the praise of his glory.
From the beginning, God has had in mind what he is now bringing to pass. And through the blood of his son, God announces that his peace and salvation is available to the whole world. He sends forth the good news so that the entire creation might join in the praise of his glory. This is the great purpose of the letter, to announce to the world God’s peace which is now being brought to fulfillment through his Son, Jesus. And now God announces this salvation to you, so that you also might spread this news to all those who are far off and to all those who are estranged. Tell them the good news that before the world began they too were in the mind of God; chosen in Christ Jesus to be one in fellowship with him forever, to the praise of his glory. Amen.