July 12, 2015

Who Has Blessed Us in Christ

Passage: 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19, Psalm 24, Ephesians 1:3-14, Mark 6:14-29
Service Type:

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, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.

As I sat to write a sermon on this text of scripture I found myself struggling to know where to begin. The subject is simply massive. The nature of the blessings that God has blessed us with in Christ are so all-compassing; weaving their colours into the fabric of every layer of human existence; penetrating to the minutest part of being and life; the good news of Jesus Christ simply touches everything and there is nothing else like it. The Apostle Paul’s Spirit-inspired description here at the opening on this Ephesian letter is a profound painting of the wonders of the blessings that God has pouted upon us in Christ. It is like a jewel whose facets cast their radiance variously in whatever light is shone upon it.

Today we read of a great day in the life of Israel and their great king David. It was a day for dancing as they brought the ark of God into the capitol Jerusalem; the ark representing the very presence of God with them. The light of great joy was shining on that good news of God’s presence among them.

We also read of the dreadful treatment of John the Baptist. The jewel of the spiritual blessings in Christ is seen much differently amidst the shadows of hatred and cruelty. David was dancing but it was John’s enemies who were dancing at his demise. Is Paul’s euphoria about Christ’s blessings only for the day of happy dancing? The cross of Jesus Christ tells us otherwise. The relative pleasantness of circumstance is not a measure of these spiritual blessings or possession of them.

The gospel is not good advice on how to get the best out of life; it isn’t primarily good advice but good news. Vigo Demant was the Canon of Christ Church in Oxford and was the Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at the University of Oxford from 1949 to 1971. In his book Christian Polity Demant stated it thus: “Tell people only what they must do, and you will numb them into despair; you will turn the gospel into a shabby replica of the world’s irreligious and nagging moralism, with its oceanfuls of good advice. But tell them what they are, of their dignity as made in the image of God, and that their sins are wicked perversions of their nature; . . . tell them that the world with all its horrors is still God’s world, though its true order is upside down; tell them that they can do all things through Christ, because in him all the powers of their nature are directed to fruition . . . and you will help to revive hope in this dispirited generation.”

1. I invite you to take note where this text of scripture directs us on how to count blessings. “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.” In counting blessings we are oriented to look to God and what he has done in Christ.

Our general orientation to counting blessings is toward those of the temporal kind. When health is good and the weather beautiful and finances increasing and family is well we relish that we are blessed. But what happens when health diminishes and storms roll in and there is a financial reversal and family relationship strain. Has God stopped blessing us? I am not suggesting that temporal blessings are not goods that arises from God’s hand. But we must remember that, according to the gospel, we live in a world in which its true order is upside down. There is something deeper going on than the actualities of health, weather, finance, and human relationships reveal.

There is a bigger story being written in which the particulars of the actualities of our story unfold. It is God’s story; a spiritual story; a story of “spiritual blessings in heavenly places.” These blessings that are ours in Christ are all-encompassing and can never be taken from you because they are God’s in Christ who is eternity in himself. These are spiritual blessing and include in their scope the entirety of our human existence. And so Paul could exclaim “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

It is my conviction that in the glorious light of these spiritual blessings all other blessings get ordered. Nothing can separate you from God’s determination to love you in Christ—not failing health, stormy days, financial reversal, loss of a loved one, or strained relationship. In counting these spiritual blessings as our own by faith and relishing in them it helps us navigate all the ups and downs of the temporal actualities of our lives. This is not to be construed, as Marx claimed it was, as an “opiate of the people.” Christians are called to alleviate suffering because life is God’s gift to us. It is to say that no difficulty or reversal in life is ever the last word about you.

Notice as well that these blessings are “in Christ.” Everything about these blessings radiate from and through Jesus Christ. If you were to travel to see the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus you will find a great structure known as the Library of Celsus Ephesus. (Slide) The entrance to the library consisted of three large doors with thick columns at the end and between the doors that held statutes depicting the Wisdom, the Knowledge, the Intelligence and the Fortune. It gives you a window into the mindset of this ancient world.

Christians in this ancient city said that these things that humanity strives for they found in a person who made himself known to them as way, truth, and life. And, as is the case with the nature of personhood, only Jesus is Jesus and brings what he does because these blessings reside in him. To cling to him in relationship by faith is to have what he brings. This not to say that libraries have no value. It does teach us to ever lift our eyes to the One who transcends libraries and have our learning ordered and oriented by him.

2. Consider with me some of the blessings Paul enumerates. First that God chose to be for us; “he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world”, exclaimed Paul. When Paul says that God made this choice to be for us before the foundation of the world he does not mean that as a human you had no choosing to do—as if we are simply puppets in a play and God is above the scene pulling the strings. The point he is underscoring is that these blessings rest and are grounded in his gracious choice to be for us. Consider it this way, the Son of God determined to give himself for us from all eternity. This is what is meant when speaking theologically of the doctrine of election.

Another way to say this is that in Christ God has been thinking about you and me for a long time. And nothing can deflect God from this choice. Reflect a little further in this idea; God loves in freedom. Freedom in that nothing inhibits God from being God. God is free not in the sense that he can do anything at all (such a God could never be trusted). God is free, rather, in that nothing prevents God from acting in accord with his true nature. Nothing within God; nothing outside God; nothing inner or outer impedes God from acting in accord with his true nature. Nothing can deflect God from this choice to be for us.

Further there is no deficit in God. God did not have to create the world because of some lack in himself. God is propelled by his love. His choice to be for us isn’t because of some special quality in us—so there is nothing for me to measure up to in order to get him to make a choice in my favour. Before we existed God made this choice. His choice to be for us is not deflected by human disobedience to his will or ungratefulness for the gift of life. You can be certain of his spiritual blessings for you because they rest in the sufficiency of his love out of which God elected to be for us from all eternity.

Coming at this from another angel of vision Karl Barth said it this way. “… what unites God and us human beings is that he does not will to be God without us, the he creates us rather to share with us and therefore our being and life and act his own incomparable being and life and act, that he does not allow his history to be his, and ours ours, but causes them to take place as a common history.”

Keeping this idea of chosen in Christ in mind, listen to Henri Nouwen who wrote, “God wants me to be with him, not to do things to prove I’m valuable.”

3. In Ephesus there was a theatre that seated about 25,000 people. (Slide) Imagine that we have walked in and a play, the Greek play Oedipus Rex, is about to begin down on the stage floor. Now, the viewers here know the back story to Oedipus Rex: King Laius and Queen Jocasta of Thebes have been warned by the oracle that when they have a son, he will cause the family grave damage. So King Laius takes his baby's feet, pins them together, and abandons the baby in a field.

Now, the part about King Laius abandoning his baby boy doesn't shock viewers here, because child abandonment was common in Roman culture. In Roman culture, when a baby was born and set at the father's feet, the father either picked up the baby, thereby claiming it, or he turned around and walked away, rejecting the baby. Maybe he wanted a boy and had a girl; maybe he wanted a girl and had a boy. Rarely in Roman culture would the baby be killed. (Unlike today’s abortion practices). Instead, the child would be exposed to the elements for the gods to decide his fate. Frequently, a child would be taken to the agora, the marketplace, and abandoned there.
Sometimes someone would come along and take the child in in order to raise them to be a slave or prostitute.

It was to this abandonment culture that Paul was writing when he wrote that God destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” Imagine yourself one of those abandoned children now a slave or prostitute learning that in Christ, the King of Kings, God made the choice to adopt you for himself giving you life evermore. Human sinfulness has made a mess of things and God in Christ inserted himself into the midst of it to bring us home—to adopt us making us his own.

4. (Slide) In Ephesus there was another structure known as the Agora, the entranceway. This structure was a triple archway into the marketplace. In this marketplace you could buy anything. Ephesus had one of the largest slave markets in the Roman world. In the marketplace in Ephesus, you not only bought spices from the East, purple cloth from Thyatira, and the latest fashions from Rome; you could also go into this marketplace and buy people. It is estimates that between 1,000 BC and 1,000 AD, Ephesus was the center of slave trade in the Roman Empire. Paul came and spent over two and a half years of his life in the hub of the slave trade.

To these people Paul would write of another of these spiritual blessings. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.” Now the word redemption here was the word use to refer to the price to buy a slave’s freedom. As despicable as human slavery is there is a more profound slavery that is more destructive and of which human slavery is a symptom. Enslavement of sin. The price to purchase a slave’s freedom was one thing; the price to buy our freedom from sin cost the Son everything.

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.