“The Immeasurable Greatness of His Power”
February 7, 2016
Pray that believers gain deep knowledge of God’s great power.
I. Don’t stop giving thanks (Ephesians 1:15-16)
II. Knowing the hope and riches he gives (Ephesians 1:17-18)
III. And His immeasurable resurrection power (Ephesians 1:19-23)
This morning we’re going to talk about power, the power of God toward us, especially in Christ’s resurrection. The sun, the center of our solar system is the most powerful thing in our immediate vicinity. It produces as much power as 2000 atomic bombs every second. Dr. Louis Barbier, a cosmic ray astro-physicist for NASA uses this illustration: imagine a bridge of ice from the earth to the sun. It’s two miles wide, a mile thick and ninety-three million miles long. It would take you twelve thousand years to walk across that bridge. But the sun produces enough energy to melt that entire span of ice in one second. And confronted by a whole universe of such power, and even greater power, Paul says no, it’s God’s power toward us that is immeasurable.
For the first two weeks of this series in Ephesians we’ve studied Paul’s long sentence in which he lays out the blessings God has given, to the praise of his glory. The Father chose us before the foundation of the world, the Son redeemed us by his blood, the Spirit guarantees our redemption by his indwelling presence. Now, rejoicing that the Ephesians have received this good news with faith and love, Paul reports that he is praying for them, that they would know the hope to which God called them and the immeasurable power he has exerted on their behalf. He cries out to God to enlighten them about all this blessed truth.
How do you pray for others? Is it ‘God-bless-so-and-so?’ Do you pray for healing? Do you pray for salvation, or relationships, or financial provision? All those prayers are good and right, but maybe you’re like me, and over time these prayers seem kind of empty, shallow, repetitious. Long ago I received wise advice from one of my spiritual mentors, to pray after the pattern of Paul. Pray prayers for people you care for like Paul prayed for the people he cared for.
When I do that the nature and substance of what I pray changes. If my typical prayer encourages God to give a glimpse of knowledge, a flicker of wisdom to those in need, Paul’s prayer entreats God to shine the floodlight of wisdom and knowledge on his people. If my typical prayer begs God to show one double A battery’s power, Paul’s prayer asks God to give a sun’s worth of power to his people. If we are going to imitate the way Paul prays for the Ephesians, we will pray that believers gain deep heart knowledge of God’s immeasurable power. Lets begin with just the first two verses, where Paul gives thanks.
Ephesians 1:15-16: For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.
It is typical of Paul to begin a letter with prayer. Actually most of the time, as here, it is a report of what he has been praying. He starts by saying “for this reason.” Part of the reason is that he has heard of their faith and love, but the bulk of the reason is what he just said, the blessings God had given. He spent 291 words in one sentence blessing God for his blessings. Now Paul gives thanks for them. When he hears reports, of their growing faith in God, and learns of the love they have for one another, his joyful response is to give thanks.
It’s really easy to focus on the negative. We see people struggling, suffering, hurting, even hating and we think, man, not much faith or love here. But if we pay attention, we also see people walking with Jesus through the struggle and suffering, caring for others, loving deeply. Just last week I talked with a young man who, a few years ago, showed most of the signs of being hard-hearted toward Jesus and willingly giving in to the temptations of the world. Today he’s walking with Jesus, deeply concerned that others will obey out of hearts full of Jesus. We need to give thanks for those pursuing faith and living love.
Paul does give thanks for those things, but the bigger motivation for his prayer is the tremendous way they’ve been blessed. Paul will pray that they realize, feel, know, respond, to all that they have been given. And we can intercede that way for others as well. The mental image I want to build today is that as a result of answered prayers like this, people’s experience of God would go from a trickle to a gusher, a penlight to a searchlight, a breeze to a hurricane, Paul wants people’s understanding of blessing and of the God who gives it to match the reality. So he has “not stopped remembering you in my prayers.”
What is the prayer? Paul’s report starts in verse 17: I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.” Notice how the Trinity is involved. God the Father, through the Lord Jesus Christ gives them the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and revelation. And I believe that this and revelation are found specifically in the careful application of the truths of Scripture to our lives, the Spirit’s work. I experienced this recently, just after New Year’s. I was in the middle of doing PowerPoint for a Sunday message and randomly rabbit-trailed to a familiar verse in 1st Corinthians 6 which I hadn’t thought about in a while. It says, to believers in conflict “why not rather be wronged” I didn’t have a specific application for the verse at that moment, but I was so impressed with it, that I stopped and made an image integrating it with the sufferings of Christ. “Why not rather be wronged as He was.” A few days later I had breakfast with someone I don’t normally meet with. The Lord directed our conversation to a circumstance where ‘why not rather be wronged’ was part of the answer. I believe that’s the Spirit, revealing truth at the right time through His word.
So Paul is praying for believers in Asia Minor what we can pray for ourselves and others, that the Holy Spirit give wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, so that we would know God better. This is Paul’s prayer, the heart of it. Wisdom and revelation have one central purpose, that we know God.
The most influential book I read as a young Christian was J. I. Packer’s Knowing God. It revealed God to me in ways I’d never imagined. In the intro Packer tells the story of a man who was being hounded by liberal opponents. Asked if he minded, he said “No, it doesn’t matter, because I have known God, and they haven’t” The Greek and Hebrew words, point strongly to relationship. It’s not knowing about, it’s not knowing facts, it’s knowing a person at a deep, intimate level. That’s why the word is used of Adam knowing his wife. Paul wants us to have the same intimacy on a spiritual level, with Jesus.
In verse 18 Paul describes this knowledge as the enlightenment of the eyes of their hearts. To know God better is to receive more light. The Old Testament gave hope for the coming of light into a world of darkness. When Jesus came his presence was seen as the breaking in of light. Apart from him, or in rejection of him, people’s hearts remain darkened, ignorant, sinful and despairing. But those who receive him into their lives find the eyes of their hearts enlightened. As we imitate this prayer we’ll pray that believers will so know God that they experience His heart light. The heart is the center of our personality: our mind, will and emotions. Paul’s prayer is that our hearts will be filled with light. Knowledge of God will flood us as light floods and penetrates a green plant.
In verses 18 and 19 Paul prays they would know three specific things. First, “that you may know the hope to which he has called you.” New Testament hope is focused on eternity. Jesus is coming back to rescue all who have trusted him and set up his eternal kingdom. This is the hope seen in Romans 8: “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” This is, in a sense, our whole hope, our final adoption, our eternal redemption.
And all the things we are called to reinforce this hope. Scripture says we’re called to belong to Jesus, called to be saints, called into his fellowship, called to freedom, called into one body, called to live a life worthy of our calling, called to suffer, as well as called to eternal glory. Do you pray that people will know these hopes? When life gets difficult, in an emergency, when they’re done wrong, when there is sickness or relational issues, people need to know hope. Just this week I’ve been desperately praying for families to know hope.
The second knowledge Paul prays for is the knowledge of the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints. There are two ways to look at this: We are God’s inheritance or we inherit from God. We saw the first last week. In Ephesians 1:11 and 14 we saw that the Jews were God’s chosen portion, his inheritance, and that the Gentiles were his acquire possession, his acquired inheritance. Think of it this way: God as creator was rightfully due to receive something out of all that he created, but when he went to select his portion, he found all things warped and ruined by the fall. Then, like a child who loves a velveteen rabbit despite the wear and tear, God chose to inherit us, battered and torn children of the fall as his portion. That’s how much he loved us.
The second understanding, that we are heirs, is equally wonderful. The Bible teaches that if you’ve put your faith in Jesus Christ, given up on yourself and trusted his sacrifice and rescue, then you’ve become a child of God, an heir of God’s blessing. Romans 8:1517 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” Peter describes it as “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade, kept in heaven for you.” It’s easier to cope with this broken world if you know whose child you are, and that there is a celebration waiting.
Finally, Paul prays that they would know, verse 19, “his immeasurably great power.” It’s helpful to recognize the passage outline: There is one main point, that we would know God better. Under that main point there are three sub-points, A, B, C. A, that we would know the hope of his calling. B, that we would know the glory of his inheritance, and C, that we would know his power. Under points A and B there are no subpoints, but under point C there are three. Paul greatly expands the idea of knowing the power of God for those who believe.
Verses 19-23. Paul prays that we would know his immeasurably great power toward us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength 20that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far 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. 22And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over all things for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Paul can’t find enough words to express his desire that God’s people should know God’s power. He prays they know “the superabundant greatness of his dynamite power toward us who believe, according to the energy of the strength of the might of him.” Have you and the people you pray for experienced God’s power that way?
Paul uses five Greek words to explain God’s might. The first is huperballw - the huper prefix means super as in Superman or hyperactivity. The greatness of God’s power is hyperabundant, super-exceeding. The first word for power itself is dunamis, from which we get dynamic and dynamite. Listen to the dictionary as you think of God’s power. Dynamic 1. of or relating to energy or objects in motion. 2. Characterized by continuous change, activity, or progress. 3. Marked by intensity and vigor; forceful. Dynamite 1. a powerful explosive of nitroglycerin or ammonium nitrate. 2. Slang. Exceptionally exciting or wonderful or exceptionally dangerous, as in ‘you’re playing with dynamite.’ Both these English words are windows into the dunamis of God, his exceptional power or energy, his movement and activity, his intensity and forcefulness. He is dangerous, but also exceptionally exciting and wonderful.
The second word which Paul piles on here is energia. You can guess that we get the English word energy from this Greek root. God’s power is the source of every kind of energy, the physical energies of atomic power, chemical power and electrical power, potential energy, life energy, and spiritual power, emotional and mental energy. God is the only source of power. Isaiah 40 is the great text which proclaims God greater than all he has created. “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.” Such phrases are used dozens of times.
But Paul isn’t done yet. He adds the words might and strength. The first is often paired with ‘eternal.’ Peter declares that Jesus has eternal strength. Revelation recognizes him having blessing, honor, glory, and power forever and ever. His power never fails: it’s not a river to run dry, but an ocean vast of blessing, a spring with an eternal source, a never ending flow of light and life. The last word, strength, is used of the power God gives to those who believe. At the end of this letter Paul will say “Finally, have power in the Lord, and be strong in His might.” Love God with all your heart and soul and mind and power. The word is a bridge implying that God’s power becomes ours as believers.
Look at verse 19 again. It is his mighty power toward us who believe. The King James Version says that it is his ‘us-ward.’ That’s what Paul is praying for - the power of God in the lives of believers. It’s like you’re watching a crew of firemen train their biggest, highest pressure, highest flow hose on a fire, but suddenly they turn the hose and spray it right at you. God’s power turned us-ward, not in a destructive way but a rescuing way, in Jesus. This is what Paul is praying for the believers in and around Ephesus. This is what we can pray for ourselves and others, that the eyes of our hearts would be opened to believe and receive the tremendous power God has exerted on our behalf in Christ.
In verses 20-23, Paul teaches what that power is like. Rather than turning to creation, rather than comparing this to the power of the storm or the sun, Paul turns to a fuller demonstration of God’s power: Jesus. Not Jesus calming the sea, multiplying bread, healing the sick, casting out demons. No, the power of those things is second string compare to the power God, “exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead,” or even more awesomely, when he defeated death. I can’t say this any better than John Stott: “Death is a bitter and relentless enemy. It will come to all of us one day. We may succeed in postponing it, but we cannot escape it. No human power can prevent death, let alone bring a dead person back to life. But God has done what man cannot do. He raised Christ from the dead. He not only reversed the process, restoring the dead Jesus to this life, but transcended it. He raised Jesus to an altogether new life - immortal, glorious and free - which no one ever experienced before, and which no one has yet experienced since.” This resurrection is the good news of the Gospel; Christ died for our sins, Christ was buried, Christ rose.
This resurrection victory is the pivot point of salvation history. Having been raised from the dead, Jesus is seated at God’s right hand in the heavenly places, the spiritual realm. God promoted Jesus to supreme honor and authority. In doing so he fulfilled the messianic promise of Psalm 110:1, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” And God placed all things under his feet. He placed Jesus “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.” So Jesus is exalted, lifted up, placed above, not just physically, but in spiritual reality, over every spiritual being, his enemies and his servants. By God’s power Jesus is exalted.
Finally, the third and last area in which God has demonstrated his power through Jesus is in making Jesus the head of the church. Verses 22 and 23: “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over all things for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” God’s power appoints Jesus, head over everything. But the verse doesn’t say it’s because Jesus is Son of God. It doesn’t say because of his majesty and glory. It says he was given this authority “for the church.” In some incredible way God has given Jesus all this for our benefit. Knowing that the church is his body, and that he is head, God has placed everything else under him, so that the one working for the benefit of the church will be directly in charge.
The church itself, the verse says, is the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. Are we properly awed by that fact, that Jesus our Savior fills everything in every way? He is all in all. If we’re overwhelmed and awed by this, Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians will have begun to be answered for us.
But if Jesus fills everything in every way, how can the church be the fullness of him? Is Jesus filled or made complete by the church? This is true, in a sense. The head is incomplete without the body, the cornerstone without the building, the vine without the branches. But, another way to read it is not that the church fills him, but that he fills the church. Just as he fills everything, so also he fills the church, so that he fully lives out his life through his people, his body. God’s power is shown in that Christ is raised from the dead, he is exalted to the throne, everything is placed under his feet, he is made head of the church, and He fills her with his presence, as he fills all things with his omnipresence.
Now as we close, let’s step back for a moment and review what we’ve been saying. Paul is reporting a prayer for the Ephesians, and we want to imitate that prayer. To do that we’ll start with thanksgiving for those we care for, just as Paul gave thanks for the faith of these people in Asia Minor, and the love they showed for one another. But then we will intercede for those we care for, and if we’re following Paul’s model we will ask for one thing for those people: that they know God better. That’s the heart of this prayer. Pray for your brothers and sisters that even in the most desperate circumstances they would know hope, that they would rest in the riches of God’s promises, and that they would know God’s great power, the power that raised Jesus from death and exalted him to the highest place of authority as head of the church who fills it in every way.
(prayer and transition to Communion Table)
Whenever Paul prays, or reports on his prayers, they always come back to Jesus. He can’t get away from who Jesus is and what Jesus had done and the saving love God has shown through Jesus. As we move toward communion we want to recognize that it’s all about Jesus and what he has done.