Unplanned and Interrupted (Luke 2:21-38)

If you weren't expecting to see me up here this week, I share in your disappointment. Ed's been sick, and although we had hoped he'd be better in time to preach, it just didn't happen.

I was complaining about missing my vacation today on my website, and someone left a comment which I found funny:

Wow Darryl I sympathize with you...Charles Spurgeon used to preach with inflamed gout and Charles Finney with cancer of the throat and George Whitefield was wheelbarrowed from meeting to meeting and propped up to preach before collapsing in exhaustion in the last days before he died. Whatever happened to "instant in and out of season?" Whatever happened to preaching as though it's your last sermon?

Now, I hope he was kidding, but for a minute I thought about heading over to Ed's house with a wheelbarrow and bringing him up here. But seriously, I'm glad that Ed is starting to feel a bit better.

Do you ever feel like all your plans are up for grabs? Somebody's said that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. It seems as if our plans change as fast as we can make them. This happens in small ways, like my plans for today. It also happens with big things - with our jobs, our families, our life goals, our dreams.

I've been doing some thinking about this lately. I just realized that almost every person who is part of the Christmas story had their plans interrupted in a big way. Take Mary, a young unmarried woman (maybe 14 years old) with not a lot of money. It wasn't part of her plan to have Jesus. It definitely wasn't part of her plan for Jesus to be born out of town during the trip to Bethlehem. That was about the worst timing possible.

Joseph was interrupted, and so were the shepherds. About the only people who weren't interrupted were the Magi, who were foreign occultists who didn't even believe in the same God and who engaged in forbidden practices. I think God may be telling us something here. Life doesn't always go as we had planned, and it's often in what we don't plan that God breaks in.

Two of the characters mentioned in the Christmas story really bring this home to me. Eight days after Jesus was born, he was circumcised. Thirty-three days later, if the child was male, the parents would come to the Temple and present an offering, as prescribed by the Law. Mary and Joseph came to present their offering - the offering of those who were poor, by the way - and it's here that we meet two people who don't fit into our models of success. It's here that we get a different view of what God may be up to. It's not always about our plans.

In verses 25 to 27, we encounter Simeon:

Now there was a man named Simeon who lived in Jerusalem. He was a righteous man and very devout. He was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he eagerly expected the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord's Messiah. That day the Spirit led him to the Temple.

The list of what we don't know about Simeon is longer than the list of what we know. We don't know what he did for a living, or how old he was. We assume he was old - probably a pretty good assumption, but we don't know for sure. What we do know about is his character. He was righteous, devout, filled with the Spirit, and so tuned in to God that he knew to go to the Temple when God told him to. We don't know anything about Simeon except for the important part. We know the type of person he had become.

Think about what God had promised him: he wouldn't die until he had seen the Lord's Messiah. God had given him a life purpose that a) was probably on a timeline of decades, not days or even years and b) Simeon could do nothing about. All he could do was wait, not just hours or days but years. God's agenda for Simeon's life? Wait. Tomorrow? Wait some more. No doubt he did other stuff too, but Simeon understood that his life wouldn't be complete until God, on his timetable, fulfilled his promise to show him the Messiah.

Simeon was so tuned into God that God was even able to steer him to the right place at the right time:

So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,

"Lord, now I can die in peace!
As you promised me,
I have seen the Savior
you have given to all people.
He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
and he is the glory of your people Israel!"

Joseph and Mary were amazed at what was being said about Jesus. Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, "This child will be rejected by many in Israel, and it will be their undoing. But he will be the greatest joy to many others. Thus, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul."

Amazing. Simeon's spent his whole life waiting for something that he had no control over, that he could not accomplish, something that he could only witness. When the promise is fulfilled, he says, "I'm done. I've now accomplished what I'm here for. If I died tomorrow, my life will have been complete. That's it." He definitely had a different view of planning and of life than we do.

You know, we can have all the plans in the world, but God may have something entirely different in his mind. We can feel frustrated by delays, but God's not in a rush. His timetable isn't hours or days, not even years or decades. God's timetable is bigger than centuries or millennia. God has no problem with making us wait forty years, as he did Moses, if that's his plan for us. The time we wait isn't wasted, and just because we can't control what's happening doesn't mean that God can't. He is. He's got different plans, and he's got a different timeline.

Do you know the only thing that Simeon could control? He couldn't control when the Messiah would appear. He could control the type of person he was becoming while he waited. He did have control over his character, the shape that his soul was taking. Instead of planning, he prepared by becoming, not doing. This is probably a hint to us that we should stop putting so much attention on planning what we're going to do. We should probably put a bit more time preparing to be the type of people that are ready for whatever God has planned, even if it's on a completely different timeline than we might choose.

One more encounter at the Temple:

Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher, and was very old. She was a widow, for her husband had died when they had been married only seven years. She was now eighty-four years old. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer. She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about Jesus to everyone who had been waiting for the promised King to come and deliver Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38)

We know a little more about Anna than we do about Simeon. We know her ancestry, and we know that she had been widowed for a very long time. Widows were pretty low in social status. Anna centered her life on the Temple, and might have lived in one of the rooms around the Temple precinct. She was old and on the fringes of society or usefulness. Near the end of her life, she met the infant Jesus.

Simeon and Anna give me hope because they remind me that my life can't simply be measured by what I can plan and accomplish. They're a reminder that God is very much present in the delays and the interruptions of life.

I'm here today because plans were changed. I didn't plan to be here. This past year has been full of stuff we couldn't have planned. Some have been small, but some, like Charlene's dad's accident that put him in a wheelchair, have been big. I know that some of you have had things take place you wouldn't have planned. Jobs have come to an end. Dreams have died. Life has taken turns that you wouldn't have chosen. Some of you are in wait mode, facing a long delay.

We live in a period of seismic change. One of my challenges is that former assumptions and easy answers aren't holding up. Who knows where this will lead? Not me, but today's text reminds me that I don't need to. I can't control my plans, but I can control the type of person that I can become. I may not be able to plan, but I can prepare to be used by God whenever he decides to use me.

It just may be that, like Simeon or Anna, one encounter, far in the distance, after years of waiting, may be the very reason why you have lived your life. And that one encounter, as they encountered Jesus, may be enough to say that your life was worthwhile.

Here's my benediction for you, the last one I'll be able to give you this year. In a world of plans, goals, and deadlines, I pray that the God whose plans are beyond our knowing, and whose timeline is eternity, will enable you to focus on being the type of person who pleases him, rather than doing. And I pray that in God's time, he will accomplish his purpose in your life, even in the interruptions and delays. This is my prayer for you, in Jesus' name. Amen.


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

The Weak God (Hebrews 4:14-5:10)

There are two ways of living. One of them is to put our best face forward. We all do this to different extents, but some of us live every day behind a mask, afraid to let others see what we're really like. We have secrets, and we fear that if those secrets were ever discovered, we'd be in trouble.

Some churches encourage this way of living. I've been to churches in which everyone presents their best face. The people up front are flawless and airbrushed. You don't hear a lot about struggles and failures. You see the good side, and if you've got problems, you sure don't talk about them.

There's another way of living. It's to bravely take off the mask, to admit that life is messy, and to refuse to pretend. I've found that I can relate most powerfully to those who admit that their lives are flawed, that they have weaknesses and hang-ups, that sometimes they're just hanging on by a thread. There's freedom in dropping the mask and acknowledging that we're all roughly in the same spot.

So there are two ways to live, and two types of churches. You can pretend, or you can drop the mask and be real. Christmas is all about being able to drop the mask, to stop pretending, and to know that we can come to God just as we are. That's one of the amazing facets of the Christmas story.

John 1:14 says, "So the Word became human and lived here on earth among us." The image that John uses comes from the ancient Scriptures, in which the people dragged a tent around with them in the desert that represented God's presence. It was called a tabernacle, and it lived in time and place, and it was carted around with them wherever they went. Jesus came and put his feet down on earth, and he lived among us. One of the reasons he did this was so that we could be real with God, knowing that he understands what it's like to be one of us.

If you've got a Bible with you, I want to look at one passage that examines this aspect of Christmas. It's found in Hebrews 5, and it's written to Jewish followers of Jesus Christ. Some of the teaching there borrows from the Jewish faith, and it's a bit of work for us to unpack. But, as you'll see, it's well worth the effort.

Jesus the High Priest

In the old Jewish system, a High Priest was the main representative between the people and God. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, he would take two goats and go through this ritual on behalf of all of the people. One of the goats would be slaughtered and offered to God. The other one would be sent off into the wilderness as a scapegoat - yes, that's where we get the term. Figuratively, it would be sent out of the community, as if it were bearing the sins of the community. All of this would have been very familiar to those who originally read this passage. The writer of Hebrews describes the requirements of being a High Priest, and then makes his case for why Jesus is the greatest High Priest to have ever lived.

This sounds so academic, until you begin to unpack what some of the requirements are. The writer lists three.

First, a High Priest must be human. You read that and go, "Duh!" I haven't read many job descriptions lately that start with, "Must be human." But when you think of this in relation to Jesus, it takes on a new dimension. We celebrate Christmas because Jesus cared enough about representing us to God that he became human, so that he could be one of us. Hebrews 5:1 says, "Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins" (NIV). Jesus doesn't represent us to God simply as God's Son. He represents us to God as one of us. On Christmas Day, we remember that God so loved us that he became one of us so he could represent us before God.

God doesn't have to read a book about what it's like to be human. He doesn't have to imagine what it might be like. God knows what it's like to be human, and he knows what we experience, because on Christmas, God came to live among us. He knows firsthand what it's like. Because of this, he can represent us to God.

It gets even better. A High Priest must also know what it's like to be weak. Hebrews 5:2-3 says, "And because he is human, he is able to deal gently with the people, though they are ignorant and wayward. For he is subject to the same weaknesses they have. That is why he has to offer sacrifices, both for their sins and for his own sins."

A High Priest is compassionate, because he knows what it's like to be weak. The word weakness in this passage is pretty broad. It could refer to physical weakness, general weakness, or a weakness to sin. Here, it seems to refer to a weakness toward sin. A High Priest is neither lax nor harsh when others sin, because he knows what it's like. In fact, this is the prayer that a High Priest offered on his own behalf:

Oh God, I have committed iniquity and transgressed and sinned before you. I and my house and the children of Aaron, Your holy people, O God, forgive, I pray, the iniquities and transgressions and sins which I have committed and transgressed and sinned before thee, I and my house.

This amazes me as I think of Jesus. God voluntarily became weak so he could experience what it's like to be weak. Because he's experienced it, he isn't harsh with us when we're weak either. He's neither lax nor harsh because he knows exactly what it's like. When he represents us before God, he does so as one who's struggled just as we have.

How did Jesus struggle? He was tempted. In fact, you can argue that he was tempted much more than you or I will ever be. I don't think I've ever experienced the full force of temptation because I usually give in before it gets too strong. Jesus resisted temptation and met it head-on, full-force.

Jesus faced the greatest temptation: to turn his back on obedience, to walk away from God in the face of incredible suffering. Not only did he experience the normal weaknesses of being human (fatigue, sickness, discouragement, and hunger), he also experienced the power of temptation. Read what verses 7 to 9 say:

While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could deliver him out of death. And God heard his prayers because of his reverence for God. So even though Jesus was God's Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him.

"While Jesus was here on earth" is a little too sterile. It literally refers to the days of Jesus' flesh, emphasizing once again how human he was. He experienced unbearable temptation when he was about to die, so intense that he cried out loudly to God. He was tempted to turn his back on the assignment that God gave him.

Jesus became human when he entered the world, and he didn't pick up a partial package. He picked up the whole thing. He knows what it's like to be tempted, to be weak, to feel like giving up. He knows what it's like to struggle.

The writer lists another requirement for being High Priest. I'll mention it, but I won't explore it much today. A High Priest couldn't just decide to be High Priest. He had to be chosen by God. Hebrews 5:4 says, "And no one can become a high priest simply because he wants such an honor. He has to be called by God for this work, just as Aaron was." Jesus acts as our High Priest because God has chosen him to do this.

No Pretending

This passage doesn't seem like a Christmas passage at first, but it really is. One of the reasons that Jesus came to earth and was born as a baby was so that we wouldn't have to pretend. Instead of imagining what it's like to be human, or reading a book, he actually became one of us. He is sympathetic to what we go through because he's been through it himself. He's even experienced weakness. He knows what it's like to struggle just like we do.

One of the things that can scare us with God is that he sees and knows everything. That means that he knows us at our best, but he also sees us at our worst. You would imagine that God might be unsympathetic because he's so not us. How do you tell God what it's like to be hungry, or to be overtired, or to feel so tempted that you can hardly resist? You tell him because he's experienced it too. God sees the nakedness of our thoughts, and yet he accepts us. He knows what it's like. He's sympathetic because it's something that Jesus has been through.

I want to turn to the end of chapter 4 as we wrap this up. What difference does it make that Jesus can relate to us? Two things. First, don't give up. Hebrews 4:14-15 says:

That is why we have a great High Priest who has gone to heaven, Jesus the Son of God. Let us cling to him and never stop trusting him. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin.

We're all tempted to give up at times. I am. It's easy to turn our back on everything we know and believe, simply because it's too tough. Hold firmly, even when you're ready to give up, because God knows what it's like to be weak. He's experienced temptation and weakness just as we are, and he understands.

One more thing: Come to God just as you are. Don't pretend to be what you're not. Come as you are. Because Jesus entered this world, and has experienced what it's like to be one of us, we can come confidently to God for help. We don't have to pretend. We just have to come. Verse 16 says, "So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it."

We can come as we are to God, and he won't turn us away because we're weak. Instead, he promises to give us just what we need - mercy and grace - to help us in our most difficult times.

This is the Christmas message: that we have a God who could have just imagined what it's like to be human and weak, but instead chose to experience it instead by entering the world and becoming human and weak himself. He invites us to come in our humanity and weakness, just as we are. We don't need to pretend or to be anything other than what we are.

The past couple of weeks, I've had some friends going through some difficult stuff - issues with friends, couples who can't have children, churches that are blowing apart. There's part of us that wants to run when we go through this stuff, or to pretend that it doesn't hurt like it does. God invites us to run, except to him, because he knows what it's like to be one of us. That's what we celebrate at Christmas.


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

I Choose a Mortal Life (Hebrews 2:10-18)

On this third Sunday of Advent, you're invited to a meal. This is a different kind of meal, because the one who invites you is unlike anyone else. He's a man, and yet he's God. The meal we're about to celebrate today is all about the Incarnation: that at a certain point in time and space, God entered the world. He became one of us. Jesus was fully God, and yet at the same time fully man.

We're about to eat some bread, and the one who's invited us to eat that bread has a body just like ours, yet claims to be God. He had blood coursing through his veins, yet he claims to be the creator of all life. He's God, and yet he's just like us. He walked, he talked, and he slept. He is just like us in every way, except that he created all things and is the very Son of God. True, and yet incomprehensible!

Throughout history, people have struggled to comprehend this. Some people came up with a view called Docetism. It's a word you can use to impress all of your friends at the next Christmas party. It's the belief that Jesus wasn't human, but instead he only appeared to be human. I can see how you might come to that conclusion. There were lots of times throughout the Scriptures that God appeared in physical form, but he didn't actually become a human then. But, two thousand years ago, God entered the world and became just like us. And he's invited us to a meal today.

When we think about Jesus and what he's done for us, we often skip right to the end of the story. It's like we focus on the dramatic ending, and skip the beginning of the story. But there's a richness in the beginning of the story that we often miss.

Frederica Mathewes-Green, an Orthodox author, writes:

The Incarnation was the great act of obedience to the will of the Father, the initial act that set all else in motion. The entire drama, from beginning to end, is what saves us, not just three hours one Friday...

The sacrifice is the entire Incarnation, not merely the cross; though the cross is central, it is already fully present in Christ's decision to become human, like a jewel in a setting of gold. (The Church in Emerging Culture)

It's so obvious, but I never really thought of this until recently. At the point of becoming a human being, Jesus became mortal. We always focus on his death, but there's one thing about becoming human in the first place. Humans die. All of them! Some die by natural causes or illness. Some die violently. But the minute you become human, the clock starts ticking and it's only a matter of time before your life is over. At the point of the Incarnation, the eternal God chose a life in which he would eventually somehow die. Even if he hadn't been crucified, death would have come in some way. His eventual death was part of what Jesus chose when he became human.

This week and next, I want to look at two reasons why Jesus chose to become human, and why he was born. Hebrews 2 gives us the first reason why he became human. Let's look at it together.

Hebrews has been laying out the case for why Jesus is superior to the angels. The entire book of Hebrews is about the superiority of Jesus in relation to all previous revelation, to Moses and the priests. Although Jesus was superior to the angels, the author makes a brief detour to explain why Jesus became one of us, even though we're inferior to the angels. Hebrews 2:9 says that he "for a little while was made lower than the angels."

Hebrews 2:10-11 says:

And it was only right that God-who made everything and for whom everything was made-should bring his many children into glory. Through the suffering of Jesus, God made him a perfect leader, one fit to bring them into their salvation.

So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters.

I guess you could make a case that Jesus isn't superior because he really didn't look any different to the rest of us. In fact, he was worse in some ways. When he was conceived, his mother wasn't married. He grew up in a peasant family and eventually died a felon's death. It's hard to argue that Jesus is superior to the angels just looking at his life. But it was all for a purpose. Through his sufferings and his health, he was able to become our "perfect leader," the pioneer of our salvation.

In order for God to relate to us, one of two things had to happen. In the end, actually, both do happen. Either we have to become like God, or God had to become like us. We know that God is at work in our lives and making us more in to the image of his Son, but that is still in progress. God took the first step and became like one of us. Before he brought "his many children to glory," he made Jesus into one of us, so he could become the pioneer of our salvation. He became one of us, and shared our flesh and blood.

Then the author unpacks two amazing concepts about what Jesus was able to do because he became human. Humanity faces an enemy that we're powerless to defeat. That enemy is death, and the reason for death is the devil. One of us had to defeat death, but it's impossible for us to do so. That's when God sent in the ultimate ringer to win on our behalf. He became human to defeat Satan and to defeat death. Verses 14 and 15 say:

Because God's children are human beings-made of flesh and blood-Jesus also became flesh and blood by being born in human form. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the Devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he deliver those who have lived all their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.

This is one of the great themes of early Christianity: Christus Victor, Christ as victor over Satan and over death. The fear of death was real and significant back then. It's easy to be calm in talking about death until you're actually facing it. Christ became one of us so he could defeat the Devil and his power over death, so we could be freed from the power of death.

The author continues:

We all know that Jesus came to help the descendants of Abraham, not to help the angels. Therefore, it was necessary for Jesus to be in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. He then could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and temptation, he is able to help us when we are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:16-18)

Here's another reason why Jesus became human. He came to defeat death as a man, because no man or woman was able to do so. He also came to act as our High Priest, as only a human could do. He offered the perfect sacrifice on our behalf: himself. If he had offered an animal's blood, he would have had to offer himself year after year. Instead, he offered his own blood so that we could be forgiven.

Today, we're invited to a meal of remembrance put on by someone who is fully human - still is today! - and yet fully God. He became human so he could be one of us, and defeat death on our behalf. He became human so he could make peace between God and us.

The meal we're about to experience is in remembrance of his death, but that death is preceded by his arrival as a human to live among us. He came to bring victory over death and to make peace between us and God.

A couple of years ago, the first Lord of the Rings movie came out, Fellowship of the Ring. Arwen, an elf, possessed immortality, but exchanged her immortality out of love. Talking to Aragorn, a human, she asked him if he remembered what she said when they first met. Aragorn replied: "You said you'd bind yourself to me, forsaking the immortal life of your people."

Arwen committed again to give up her immortality out of love. "I would rather share one lifetime with you than face all the ages of this world alone. I choose a mortal life."

Jesus came to be fully human and yet fully God. He gave up immortality so he could live and die for us. It's as if he said to us, "I would rather share one lifetime with you than face all the ages of this world without you. I choose a mortal life." That's what Christmas is all about.

He's invited you to a meal. God, who came to earth to be fully man, was born, and lived and died for us. He chose a mortal life. Let's enjoy his meal.


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

More than a Mess (Ephesians 1:13-14)

Good morning, saints! Good morning, sinners. Anybody feel like a saint today? Anyone feel like a sinner? That's just where we are, isn't it? We live in a world in which we know that God is at work within us, but we still have evidence that we're not the finished product yet. That evidence is all around us every week. That's what I want to talk to you about.

For the past five or six weeks, we've been looking at why God has put us here on earth. You're here for a purpose, but it's not about you. It's about bringing him glory, about being part of something bigger than your own plans and goals and dreams. We've talked about worship: about walking with God just as Enoch did. We've talked about connecting with others in relationship; connecting in such a meaningful way that it could be said of us, "See how they love one another." We've talked about growth: how it doesn't happen automatically, and how it's not about more head knowledge as much as it is about apprenticeship. We looked at the contributions we can make; that we all have been called to serve him, not just pastors and religious professionals. We're all called. We talked about spiritual conversations - living this out not as a sales pitch, but in normal conversations that seem to come up all the time without our help. We don't need to give a packaged presentation as much as simply be prepared to have a normal conversation. People are immune to sales pitches but they love to have spiritual conversations when they're honest and authentic.

Now we're at the end, and you're brand spanking new. Right? Maybe not. Not many of us have been completely transformed by a book or a sermon series. Not likely. Maybe some of us would say we've been helped, or - let's be honest - some of us might even think it's a waste of time. That's why I want to talk to you today.

I try to be pretty honest about where we all stand. At best, we're a mess, aren't we? I don't like to do a lot of pretending, and the fact is that all of us have unresolved issues and flaws and all sorts of reminders that we should keep our feet on the ground. Not many of us think that we're saints with halos. Today, though, I do want to give you the other side. You're more than a mess, and even on your worst days, there's something we need to know. My prayer is that God would open your eyes to what I'm going to talk about.

If you've got a Bible, let's look together at Ephesians 1. As we read this, let's remind ourselves that this was written to real people with real problems. They had kids and jobs and needed to take baths. They lived in a city we'd consider small but they considered big - about 250,000 people lived there. Paul writes to a group of Christ-followers and tells them that they're more than just people with kids and problems and dusty feet. His prayer for them is my prayer for you as well: that God would open your eyes to who you really are.

Anyone ever get so excited that you trip over your tongue? The English translations do a good job of masking it, but Paul gets so excited in this passage that he stumbles a little. He gets carried away. It's not hard to see why.

In the first chapter of Ephesians, Paul paints the big picture of what God is accomplishing in this universe. Here's the wild thing: it involves us. As much as it's not about us, we get supporting roles in what God is doing. Even when we don't feel particularly holy or useful, God is at work in and through us.

We could spend hours going through this passage. Some preachers have spent years studying this incredible book. Today, I want to give an overview of what Paul says is true of all of us who are on the road following Jesus, before I pray the simple prayer that Paul prays at the end of this chapter. I'm going to pray that God would open your eyes to the spiritual reality of this passage.

Loved and Chosen by the Father

Paul starts with God the Father in verses 3-5. Let's read the passage together:

How we praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we belong to Christ. Long ago, even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave him great pleasure.

This is completely about God. It's according to his plan, and it's all for his pleasure. We get an insight into God's unchanging plan, his overarching purpose throughout all of history.

Although it's all about God, we're part of the story. We have "every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms". It's all there, and it's all ours. There are these websites that list all the dormant bank accounts that have huge bank balances left unclaimed. Evidently, there are people who have lots of money who either forget what they have or else something happens to them. We're like that. As messed up as we are, we've already been given every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. It's ours.

The next part really gets me. Most of us either tend to think too much or too little about ourselves. This next part sets both types straight. We were on God's mind before he even made this world. He "loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes". You want to talk about a concept that can blow us away - this is it! God chose us for a relational connection before we even saw the light of day, before the light of day even existed. We're part of God's plan. He loved us and chose us not for our own sake, but because it gave him great pleasure. Because of him, not because of us, we're blameless in his eyes. We're pure and holy, not because we're pure and holy but because God has given the righteousness of Jesus Christ to us.

We're adopted. Adoption means more than just entering a family. It means giving up one's old family as well as gaining all the advantages of the new family. Under Roman law, adopted children were given the same status and privileges as the real ones.

That's who you are. Are you a mess? Just ask your family, your co-workers, your friends. Sure you are. But you're also chosen by God. He knew and loved you before he even created this world. You're spotless in his eyes. He's given you every spiritual blessing. He's adopted you as his own child, with all the rights and privileges. You're part of God's eternal purpose.

Blessed in Christ

Verse 6 begins to list some of what's happened to us as a result of God's plan. It talks about our present experience. This isn't about what will happen to us one day. It's what's happening to us right now, as you're breathing and getting hungry and living life. It's not about the future. This is your present reality.

So we praise God for the wonderful kindness he has poured out on us because we belong to his dearly loved Son. He is so rich in kindness that he purchased our freedom through the blood of his Son, and our sins are forgiven. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.

God's secret plan has now been revealed to us; it is a plan centered on Christ, designed long ago according to his good pleasure. And this is his plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ-everything in heaven and on earth. Furthermore, because of Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us from the beginning, and all things happen just as he decided long ago. God's purpose was that we who were the first to trust in Christ should praise our glorious God. (Ephesians 1:6-12)

What God purposed from eternity, he accomplished through Christ. We're enjoying all of this right now. We've been set free. We've been forgiven. You haven't just been forgiven of the sins you've already committed. You've been forgiven for sins you haven't even committed yet, for sins you don't even know about.

We've been let in on God's plan - the meta-narrative of history, or the overarching story that ties all other stories together. We know how it's going to end. As much as we don't understand all the sub-stories and how they fit into the grand story, we do know the big picture.

We don't just know the story. We're part of the story. Eugene Peterson translates it this way:

It's in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone. (Ephesians 1:11-12)

Sealed by the Spirit

Here's the best part. We can't mess it up. We can pretty much mess up everything in our lives, but not this. I don't pretend to understand how this works, but the end of our story has already been written. We're signed, sealed, and delivered.

This is the insight that explains why we're more than a mess. We've been given the Holy Spirit. Read verses 13-14:

And now you also have heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. The Spirit is God's guarantee that he will give us everything he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. This is just one more reason for us to praise our glorious God.

From The Message:

It's in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free-signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what's coming, a reminder that we'll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.

The Spirit is the down payment, the guarantee that what God has done within us will be completed. He's the assurance that the God who began his good work in us will complete it, and one day we will be the finished product.

My Prayer

So here is my prayer for you. Paul wrote these words to flesh and blood people, who were busy raising kids and making a living and living life just as we do today. His prayer for them was that God would open their eyes to what is already true about them.

Today, as we get to the end of this series on God's purpose, and as we juggle our families, our jobs, our finances, and everything else, my prayer for you is that you would see yourself as God sees you: chosen, loved, adopted, freed, forgiven, part of his plan, signed, sealed, and delivered.

I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the wonderful future he has promised to those he called. I want you to realize what a rich and glorious inheritance he has given to his people.

I pray that you will begin to understand the incredible greatness of his power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God's right hand in the heavenly realms...

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will give you mighty inner strength through his Holy Spirit. And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God's marvelous love. And may you have the power to understand, as all God's people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love really is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Now glory be to God! By his mighty power at work within us, he is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope. May he be given glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever through endless ages. Amen. (Ephesians 1:18-20; 3:16-21)


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.