Introducing Ephesians
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Introducing Ephesians

Ephesians 1:1–2  (ID: 3138)

In writing to the Ephesians, Paul communicated core Gospel truths that are of vital importance to believers: that our actions are founded on what God has done for us; that our home is both in this world and in the heavenly realm; that we are set apart for God by Christ’s righteousness; and that God’s grace brings us peace that transcends all barriers. In this message, Alistair Begg provides an overview of Ephesians and encourages us to let its essential truths impact our lives so that we “become what we are” in Christ.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Ephesians, Volume 1

The Believer’s Inheritance Ephesians 1:1–23 Series ID: 14901

Sermon Transcript: Print

Well, I invite you to turn to the New Testament, to the book of Ephesians, and to chapter 1, and I’ll read from verse 1. Ephesians 1:1:

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

“To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

“For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward[s] us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

Thanks be to God for his Word.

Father, what we know not, teach us; what we have not, give us; what we are not, make us. For your Son’s sake. Amen.

Well, we’re not quite three weeks into the new year, and clearly it is business as usual at Parkside Church in so many different ways, but certainly in this regard. And if you have begun attending recently—and some of you, I know, have—then it will have become apparent to you that we are serious about teaching the Bible. We’re serious about teaching the Bible.

No matter who is in the position I now fill in this moment, the responsibility is the same and the focus remains the same. In fact, it runs right through the entire building, doesn’t it? When you drop your children off and you pick them up later on, you discover that they come out holding little bits and pieces of the Bible—a verse here or a Scripture there, and so it is. And if you have dropped off your young people and they’ve actually been staying awake, then they will come out, and they’ll be prepared to tell you that our fellows caring for them have been teaching them the Bible.

Now, the underlying conviction is this: that God’s Spirit has been given to God’s people so that through God’s Word, God’s world might be brought to God’s Son. There is a sort of inherent logic in that progression. And we recognize that in the teaching of the Bible there is both the proclaiming of the truth, and then there is the receiving of the truth. The sower is one of the pictures of the Bible teacher: “A sower went forth to sow, and when he sowed, some seed fell here and some seed fell there.”[1] And in that parable, Jesus makes it perfectly plain that not all of the seed finds fertile ground. Some of it falls on rocky ground. Some of it has a little bit of a response and then it fades away, it would seem, forever.

And this past week, as I spoke with these doctoral students, I was reminding them of Perkins in the 16th century, who, in speaking to students in his day, reminded them that when they taught the Bible, they were teaching it to various categories of listeners. And some, he said, will be unbelievers who know nothing about the gospel and don’t care.[2] They don’t really know, and they don’t really care. And that may actually be you this morning. I don’t expect you to stand up and say, “Yes, I fit the category,” but deep down inside, that may be it. For some reason, you got dragged in, or somebody has told you you have to come because it’s their birthday or something, and here you are, you don’t know, and quite honestly, you don’t care, and inside you’re saying, “I hope you get this over as quickly as you possibly can.”

Preaching is truth through personality. And different personalities are used by God, but the Word is still the same Word, and the truth is the truth that the Spirit of God brings home.

There will be others who are present who also are not believing—they know nothing about the gospel; when someone says “gospel,” it could be a foreign word for all they know—they know nothing about it, but they’re teachable.[3] That may be you. You’re saying, “Well, at least I’m here, I might as well find out something. I could perhaps listen at least with half of my mind.”

There are others who know what the gospel is but have never been humbled to see that they actually need the Savior that the gospel provides. So they come Sunday by Sunday by Sunday, and if you ask them after church, they could say, “Oh yes, I understand the gospel. God was in Christ and making a way for us to be delivered of our sins and set free from the Evil One and so on.” But if you said to them, “And do you actually live in the light of this?” they would say, “Oh, no, no, no. No, no, no, I’ve never actually believed it myself, but I do know what it is.”

Well, it is in light of that, and many more categories too, that the sower goes about his task. Again, this past week in a panel discussion, one of the questions was asked about passion in preaching. And somebody—one of my colleagues—waxed eloquent about the importance of passion. And I didn’t want to stand against him in any way—I think I believe most of what he said—but it created the impression that, you know, the key to influence was in the passion of the proclaimer. And I said, “No, it can’t possibly be. It has to be in the power of the Word itself.” I mean, if the sower sowing the seed goes along going, “Hey-hey! Hey-hey-hey! Hey!” or just goes, “Hey, hey, hey,” the seed still goes, right? Now, that’s not an argument for poor preaching, but it is a reminder that preaching is truth through personality. And different personalities are used by God, but the Word is still the same Word, and the truth is the truth that the Spirit of God brings home. 

And as we’ve systematically, consecutively gone through books of the Bible and continue to do so, what have we discovered? That God’s Word brings people to faith, it enables people to grow in faith, and it encourages people in turn to share their faith. And when we come, for example, to the book of Ephesians—to the letter of Ephesians—we are back on track again.

Peter says to the folks in his day, “You know, you have been born again, not through perishable seed but through imperishable seed, through the word of God.” And then he says, you know, “All flesh is like grass and the glory of man like the flower of grass. The grass withers, the flower falls, but the word of the Lord will stand forever. And this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you.”[4] He’s reminding his readers that their condition in Christ is as a result of the power of the Word of God going home to their souls.

Incidentally, as I say that, as the Truth For Life building continues to rise, one of the things that we’ve determined together is that we’ll have, right across the lintel of the entryway, not a sign that says “Truth For Life” but rather this verse which Peter quotes from Isaiah: “All flesh is like grass. The grass withers, the flower falls, but the word of the Lord will stand forever.”[5] So that anybody who walks in says, “Well, whatever these people are on about, they’re definitely on about the Word of God.”

So here we are at the Word of God, business as usual. Daniel is over. Wheee! And Ephesians… at least for the time being. If I live long enough, I might try and get it right a second time, but no promises. And now here we go into Ephesians, six chapters—six wonderful chapters. And they have been the means throughout history of bringing many people to an understanding of faithand showing those same people their place in the purposes of God.

One remarkable testimony to the impact of the book of Ephesians on a life is one that comes from John Mackay, who was a Scot—he was the principal of Princeton Theological Seminary—and he records how, as a fourteen-year-old boy, Ephesians grabbed ahold of him. It wasn’t in a church service, but he was actually reading Ephesians while he was out walking in the Scottish hills. And he said that he experienced a “boyish rapture in the Highland hills” and as a result made “a passionate protestation to Jesus Christ among the rocks in the starlight.”[6] What a wonderful picture there: the fourteen-year-old boy, reading his Bible and saying, “You know, I get it. Lord Jesus Christ, I will serve you in my life.” He says, “I saw a new world … Everything was new … I had a new outlook, new experiences, new attitudes to other people. I loved God. Jesus Christ became the centre of everything … I had been ‘quickened’; I was really alive.”[7] And later on, he said, “To this book I owe my life.”[8] He means his spiritual life.

He was fourteen. Forty-five years later, he’s invited to give lectures at the University of Edinburgh. And he chooses to give the lectures, no surprise, on the book of Ephesians, referring to it, as he addressed the students in that day, as “the distilled essence of the Christian religion.”[9] “Here,” he says, “is the distilled essence of Christian faith.” It is, he said, “truth that sings,” it is “doctrine set to music.”[10]

Well, when I read that, I said, “Boy, that whets my appetite.” I’ve never studied Ephesians systematically and consecutively—it’s been suggested to me, I’ve always resisted it—but here we are, and I for one am keen to get going. I hope it also whets your appetite.

Let me encourage you to read through this book regularly now. Read through it, all the chapters at a sitting. It won’t take you very long. If you have an iPad and you have the ESV or your Bible translation on it, it will probably have a little “press the button to listen,” which I did early yesterday morning while I was still in my bed; I had someone read the entire book of Ephesians to me. I don’t know who he was; I just pressed Listen, and there it was, and I had the opportunity to listen to it all the way through. I don’t know how long it took—I was drinking coffee—but it was jolly good, and I liked it, and I’m going to do it again.

And the reason I say that is because there’s a danger in delving far too quickly into the details and missing the wood for the trees. This is a recurring theme, isn’t it? I said the same thing in Daniel; I said, “If we don’t start far off back, then we may go completely wrong.” The same is true here. Some people immediately start to dissect even the opening couple of verses, and definitely into 3, 4, and 5. And so you plow into this great discussion about predestination and election and every other thing, which are vitally important and to which we are going to come. But if you haven’t read the whole letter, then you may miss the point entirely.

I mean, if somebody wrote a letter to you, you don’t just take the first two sentences and have a big discussion about them; you say, “What is the message of the letter?” And so, we need to understand the message of this letter. We need to understand the score, if you like, to use a sort of musical allusion.

I did music at school, as a boy, up until the age of sixteen. I thought it was a soft option; that’s why I took it. Turned out to be a real pain, and fortunately, I had a really good friend called Jonathan Swallow who was very clever and listened to classical music all the time in a shed at the bottom of his garden on a big old record player—which many of you have never even seen a record player. How wonderful to be so young. But I used to sit next to him, because we had to follow the score. So, for example, if we did Haydn, and we did “The Clock” symphony of whatever it was, the teacher had us have the score in front of us, then you have to… and he said, “And you see, the line is being taken by the first violin”; I said, “Yeah, sure.” “And then it’s…” And so I had Jonathan… as long as he turned the page, then I could turn the page. ’Cause he knew the score; I didn’t know the score.

And I learned, you know, about the sonata form. Then they have the, you know, it introduces the theme—the theme is stated, the theme is explored, the theme is expanded, and the theme is then restated. And there’s a sense in which, when you read Ephesians, you’ve got the exact same thing. When you read it for yourself, you’ll see it: it begins with grace and peace and it ends with peace and grace. So, I want you to do that, if you would, and it will be a help to me and a help to you, because you can keep me on track as well.

I want simply to introduce the letter by making four observations, all related to the wonder of the gospel, which is what is introduced to us here—what God has done for us in Christ to save us from sin and from the Evil One and from hell.

Gospel Grammar

First of all, understanding what we might refer to as gospel grammar. Gospel grammar. When we studied languages, again, at college, perhaps at university, we quickly realized that it would not be enough simply to learn a lot of nouns. A lot of nouns will be no use to you whatsoever, unless you understand the grammatical structure of a language. The same is true in relationship to the gospel. There is, if you like, a grammar to the gospel. And it is very, very important that we’re clear concerning this. And the grammar of the gospel falls out quite wonderfully in Ephesians, in that it divides very clearly at the end of chapter 3 from Paul’s emphasis on all that God has done for us in Christ, then, beginning in chapter 4, all that we now do and become because of what God has done for us in Christ. But he takes three chapters to explain the wonder of God’s provision and dealings with his own. And until that is clear, it is a real danger to start on all of the “doing” stuff.

You may have been brought up in a church that, every single Sunday when you went away, you were ultimately discouraged. Because somebody had said to you, “This is what you need to do. And you need to do more of this, and this is what you need to stop doing, and this is what you need to start doing.” And you went out the door and you said, “How in the world am I going to do this? I’ve been trying to do this for all my life, and I can’t do it. What is the divine impetus? What is the dynamic that makes this action possible?” The person never told you. That’s because of a failure in the grammar of the gospel.

What the Bible does here in Ephesians—and when you read it you’ll understand this—is he takes the first three chapters, and the verbs are almost exclusively in the indicative. They’re in the indicative. There is one exception, which you can find, and I said that there would be a prize for the person who found it in the first service, and someone found it. So the verbs are in the indicative, apart from one that I was able to find, in the first three chapters. In other words, first of all, he explains exactly what God has done in Christ. That’s the wonder with which he begins in verse 3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places … he chose us in him before the foundation …. He predestined us for [the] adoption” of such… “Look at what he has done! See now what God has done! See now what God has done!” That’s what he’s saying. “Here you are; you need to understand the grammar of it all.”

And then once he’s done that, he then turns to the imperatives. It is only then that he turns to the imperatives. It is only then that he starts to talk about how to be a proper husband, how to be a proper wife, and so on. And it’s very, very possible for us to go through the Bible in such a way that it simply becomes just an experience of “how to” discoveries: “how to this” and “how to that” and “how not to do” the next thing. Paul makes sure that the readers of his letter to the Ephesians do not go wrong on that count, and our study of it will help us to that end as well.

We sang this amazing song, “O how the grace of God amazes me!” And then, only after, I think, three verses—or it might even be four verses—the first responsive note is sounded: “Come now, the whole of me, eyes, ears, and voice”[11]—“Come now, in light of all that we have just been affirming”—“[He’s] loosed me from my bonds. [He’s] set me free!”[12] Now, surely the proper response, surely the imperative response, is this, of course. Gospel grammar.

Gospel Geography

Secondly, gospel geography. He points out to them the geography, if you like, of the gospel. Because, if your Bible is open, you will see that the recipients of Ephesians have two homes: “To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are [the] faithful in Christ Jesus.” So here are their two homes: number one, they’re in Ephesus, and number two, they’re in Christ Jesus. Two constituent realities. Two contemporary realities. We can immediately make application to say, by the grace of God, having turned to him in repentance and in faith, we find ourselves both“in Cleveland” and “in Christ Jesus.”

The believer’s passport is in heaven, because we are placed in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

You may be here this morning, and you have a passport from China—someone else from a passport of South America, or from Britain, or whatever it might be, or a United States passport—but ultimately the believer’s passport is in heaven, because we are now placed “in the heavenly places” in Christ Jesus.  And it is vitally important that the readers understand this, because it works out. If you like, the first three chapters—going back to the grammar—underscore the wonder of what it means to be “in Christ Jesus,” and the second three chapters then work out what it means to be in Christ Jesus “in Ephesus.”

So, when these believers in Ephesus gathered together for their worship times and their study of the Bible, they probably didn’t look like very much at all. They were living in a culture that was able to tolerate just about anything other than the claims of Christ and those who upheld those claims. The forces of darkness were real forces in Ephesus. Diana of the Ephesians dominated the place; the reconstructed temple of Diana was regarded as one of the early Seven Wonders of the World. The occult was rampant in Ephesus. The sense of pushback from the surrounding culture was real. Very, very easy, then, for these believers in Ephesus to feel completely overwhelmed.

So Paul is reminding them, and reminding us through them, that they have been raised from spiritual death and they’ve been “seated with Christ in the heavenly places.”[13] That, again, was in our hymn, wasn’t it? I can’t quote it exactly, but somehow or another, “I sit beside my King in heavenly places.” That’s a remarkable thought. Where does it come from? Well, actually, from Ephesians 2:5: “Even when we were dead in our trespasses,” which is what we are by nature, “[he] made us alive together with Christ—by grace you[’ve] been saved—and [he] raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” So you have this gospel geography. Tomorrow we will return to the routine of life in Cleveland. But if we belong to Christ, we are not only in Cleveland, but we are also in him. This doesn’t mean that we have been removed from the rigors of the battle. Far from it! He’s going to mention that in the end of the book, in chapter 6, providing us with the armor for our warfare. We haven’t been removed from the battle, but we are assured that Christ, in his death and in his resurrection, has conquered all of his and our enemies.  Gospel geography.

Gospel Identity

Thirdly, gospel identity. Gospel identity. As I say, when these people gathered, they wouldn’t have looked like very much. Even the brightest and best of them wouldn’t have stood out in this culture.

We recognize that. We’re a diverse group of people. There’re all kinds—different backgrounds, different colors, different places. It’s quite wonderful. But when you take this little bit here this morning—this little second service on the east side of Cleveland—and compare it with the vastness of the greater Cleveland community, you realize that it doesn’t amount to very much at all, does it? It doesn’t look like very much—even if we were to stand up and announce all of our capacities and so on. And so it is very important that Paul reminds these Ephesians not only of the grammar of the gospel and the geography of it but also of their gospel identity—their identity.

Jerry Bridges has a wonderful little book called Who Am I? It’s very slim, but it’s very good on the question of our identity in Christ. I just got a book in the mail yesterday morning, which I began immediately to read. It’s a Scottish novelist; I read him all the time. It’s a new book; I got a prepublication copy. I was so excited, I started to read it even before I sat down. And the book begins with this individual who is washed up on the shore of a northern island in Scotland, and it is immediately apparent that he doesn’t know who he is. He doesn’t know who he is. His incredible loss of identity is stultifying for him. He goes through the first three chapters… I can’t wait to get home, actually, to get on with it again.

But one of the reasons for Christian ineffectiveness is that we don’t know who we are.  Who are these people?Look at what he says: he’s writing “to the saints who are in Ephesus.” “Oh, well,” says somebody, “that immediately rules me out, because the saints are clearly a small, elite group of people who’ve been doing a lot of really wonderful things, and as a result they’ve been canonized by the church.” But according to the New Testament, that’s not what a saint is. According to the New Testament, all Christians—young, old, rich, poor, wise, simple—are set apart in Christ by God for his sacred purposes, are thereby made holy; who are put in a standing before God on account of a righteousness which is, first of all, alien to them in Jesus and which increasingly grows in them as they become the followers of Jesus.  

Religion is always about how well I do; Christianity is about the wonder of what Christ has done.

And we need to get ahold of this, because it’s very, very different from what you find in many religious expressions for holiness or sainthood. Those of you who have gone to India or places like India will know that it is not uncommon to see “the holy man.” The holy man is usually stripped naked or almost naked, he usually looks like a royal mess, and he’s begging for things. But he is regarded as holy in that community; he is a “holy” man. It may have nothing at all to do with righteousness; it has to do with religion and with externalism: “This is what a holy man looks like, this is what a holy man does. He divests himself of this and that and the next thing.”

I don’t say this to be disruptive. I’m just saying it so that you might do what we need to do, and that is read the Bible and say, “Would you get to this as a result of reading the New Testament?” If my understanding of Ephesians is right, loved ones, that is wrong. And that is one of the reasons why, within the framework of an externalized religion, people are constantly thinking, “It’s about me, and it’s about what I do, and it’s about how well I do it, and it’s…” Religion is always about how well I do; Christianity is about the wonder of what Christ has done.  So that a real Christian is always saying, “O how the grace of God amazes me! Because I, in myself, am unworthy”—we even used in our text the word vile. How politically incorrect is that, to describe yourself as vile when you’re such a wonderful, fantastic, amazing person? Oh, yes, really? You spoken to your spouse lately, or have you listened to anybody around you?

No, they’re saints. They’re saints. “I am a new creation,” we used to sing, “no more in condemnation. Here in the grace of God I stand.”[14] Or in one of our other songs, “I stand in Christ with sins forgiven, and Christ in me the hope of heaven.”[15] That’s your standing as a saint. So you turn to the person next to you and say, “Hello, saint!”

Not only is there identity in sainthood, but it is also in faithfulness. Notice that: “To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus.” Chapters 1 to 3, the work of God in setting them apart as saints; chapters 4, 5, and 6, providing the context in which their faithfulness is displayed. When you read the Bible through—when you read these chapters through, as I’m sure you will do—you’ll get this overarching understanding.

First of all, he describes for them the new life which is now theirs in the Lord Jesus Christ. He then goes on from that, at the middle of chapter 2, to describe the new society which God has constituted in his Son—so that, again, as I mentioned earlier, this notion of living isolated lives as Christians, the New Testament knows nothing of it. He brings us to himself individually, but we do not live in him in isolation. So he describes the wonder of what God has done in Christ, the new community that he has produced. Then, in chapter 4, he goes on to describe the new standards, which are the standards that will be worked out in that new community. The people in Ephesus were surrounded by all kinds of moral and sexual chaos, and he says, “Now, here’s going to be what it looks like for you to be a husband in Ephesus. This is what it will be for you to be a single teenager in Ephesus. This is what it will be for you to be holding fast to the truth of God’s sovereignty in a world that is preoccupied with stars and signs and mediums and so on.” And then, finally, when we get there, he describes the new relationships which God has brought about: harmony within the home and hostility towards the Evil One.

Gospel Security

Gospel grammar, gospel geography, gospel identity, and finally, gospel security: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The security of the gospel is in this: that God grants peace through grace.  The security of the gospel is in this: that God grants peace through grace. It is in our understanding of the amazing grace of God that we can rest content, even when our hearts condemn us— that we marvel that God in his grace would have reached down to us and inclined our hearts to him and opened our eyes to his truth and made us his own.  

Read it through and you will discover how grace is just impregnated, particularly through the first three chapters—grace, which is the unmerited favor of God. It is the root from which salvation flows. And when we return this evening—some of us, at least—we’ll marvel at the initiative of God in his provision for us. I think we’re going to sing the song—I hope we are—that has that opening line. Is it the opening line? “Loved before the dawn of time.”[16] “Loved before the dawn of time.”

When did God start to love you? When you started attending church? When you started showing an interest in religion? When you started reading your Bible? When you decided you were going to be a better person? And he said, “Oh, I’ll love them for that!” No. He loved you before the dawn of time. He loved you in Christ before creation. Before he created the universe, he loved you. Wow! That’s what we’re talking about when we talk about grace. And it is that grace which then grants peace, first with God and then with one another.

He’s going to say it in a quite remarkable way, especially for the Jewish–gentile divide that existed there. When you get into chapter 2, he talks about how God in Jesus has broken down the wall of hostility which existed between the Jew and the gentile. And some of you have gone, and you’ve seen the Wailing Wall, and you’ve seen the drama of what the temple precincts really looked like. And at that time, there was, actually, literally a wall, and beyond that wall no gentile was allowed to go. And the wall said, “Listen, we are the people who know God. You don’t know God, and you’re not going to know God.” In fact, they actually had a sign which warned people about going beyond that wall, saying that “we cannot be responsible for your safety if you pass beyond this wall.” Paul writes and he says, “Listen, God has broken down the wall of hostility.”[17] That’s why, when he writes to the Galatians, he says, “There’s no longer Jew or Gentile, bond or Scythian, slave or free.”[18]

The answer to our broken world is found only one place: at the cross of Jesus Christ. He answers the deepest dilemma of our lives.

He doesn’t mean that there’s no Jewish ethnicity or no gentile ethnicity; of course, there is. When he speaks about this, it’s true not only for Jew and gentile, but it is true also for rich and poor. The distinctions in humanity that money makes in our preoccupation of the moment, whether it’s the redistribution of wealth or whatever else it is—everybody’s on about it, and understandably so. It’s a challenge. The stock market goes down and down and down, and people are all there: “Do you have it? Do you not have it? And if you have it,” and so on. “If you’ve come from the right school, you’re going to speak to somebody who’s over here, and if your social status is such,” and so on.

Where is all this rectified? Where is it rectified in our world? That’s a rhetorical question; you don’t need to shout out. But where is it rectified? It isn’t rectified. Did you watch the debate on Thursday night? You think if you put all those guys together, laid them end to end, they could reach a conclusion? I say it with the greatest respect. Listen, I went to my bed on Thursday night, I said, “There is no political answer for this world. I don’t care who it is gets in there.” I didn’t say “I don’t care,” because I care passionately; I care so much I can’t even tell you about how much I care. But the fact of the matter is, I went to my bed and said, “God, I thank you that you are sovereign over the affairs of time. I thank you that it is in you that the racial barriers of our nation are dismantled; that it is at the cross that rich and poor bow together; that it is in the church of Jesus Christ that old people and young people sing together and listen to the Bible together and seek to reach the world together.” It is in this place. Because listen, the answer to our broken world is found only one place: at the cross of Jesus Christ. He then answers the deepest dilemma of our lives.  Individually, he brings us into a new society, he gives us the standards for the new society, which explode the political preoccupations of our culture and allow us, diverse as we may be in that regard, to be united in this.

You see, how do you take someone who is a genius, who is able to substantiate great scientific truth, and somebody like me, and unite us? When we say, “O how the grace of God amazes me! It loosed me from my bonds and set me free!” Because the bonds that tie the intellectual giant are the same bonds that tie the intellectual pygmy. (Don’t write to me about pygmies.)

It is only in Christ, you see. That’s why the church is supposed to be a prototype of the finished product—that God’ll finally fix this whole thing. He’s promised to fix it. He will fix it. And so, when people come to a local congregation, they’re supposed to get at least a sort of …. They’re supposed to say, “You know, there’s something about these people. It’s almost like they’re not from here. They’re not—I mean, they’re here, but they’re not from here.” Well, no, we’re not from here. We’re from there. Because he raised us into the spiritual places.

That is why disunity is so abhorrent, whatever the basis is. Because it is in our very unity that we give a picture to a broken, fractured, disunited world that Jesus really is the person he claims to be. 

Well, that’s more than enough, I think, for this morning. We’ll pause and pray and move on. And again, I encourage you to read through these chapters and pray for me as I study them and then as I teach them.

Father, thank you this morning for giving us Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, written so long ago to a place so far away. Those people lived in what is contemporary Turkey, in all of that challenging environment. We too live here, now, in Cleveland, and it would be easy for us to be completely overwhelmed, but thank you for reminding us of all that you have done for us in Christ in order that we might become what we are. Thank you that our identity is wrapped up ultimately not in our job or in our academic success or in our social status but in our standing in Christ. Thank you that the battle in which we engage is one where Jesus Christ has conquered, and that, marginalized though we may be in many ways, we find ourselves anchored to the grace of God.

So grant us grace, Lord, and may your peace fill us and flow through us. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

[1] See Matthew 13:3–8; Mark 4:3–8; Luke 8:5–8.

[2] William Perkins, The Art of Prophesying, ed. Sinclair B. Ferguson (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1996), 56.

[3] Perkins, 56.

[4] 1 Peter 1:23–25 (paraphrased).

[5] Isaiah 40:6–8 (paraphrased).

[6] John A. Mackay, God’s Order: The Ephesian Letter and This Present Time (New York: Macmillan, 1953), 24, quoted in John Stott, The Message of Ephesians (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 1981), 15.

[7] Mackay, 21.

[8] Mackay, 24.

[9] Mackay, 31.

[10] Mackay, 33.

[11] Emmanuel T. Sibomana, “O How the Grace of God Amazes Me” (1946).

[12] Sibomana, “O How the Grace.”

[13] Ephesians 1:20 (paraphrased).

[14] Dave Bilbrough, “I Am a New Creation” (1983).

[15] Stuart Townend, “There Is a Hope” (2008).

[16] Stuart Townend, “Loved before the Dawn of Time (Salvation’s Song)” (2007).

[17] Ephesians 2:14 (paraphrased).

[18] Galatians 3:28 (paraphrased). See also Colossians 3:11.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.