- First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi - https://fpcjackson.org -

The Surpassing Greatness of His PowerFor the Church

The Lord’s Day
Morning

September 25, 2005

Ephesians 1:19-23

The Surpassing Greatness of His Power….to the Church

Dr. J. Ligon
Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to
Ephesians, chapter one, as we continue making our way through this great letter
of the Apostle Paul to the church at Ephesus and to you and me, because we know
that every word is given by inspiration, and every word is profitable to equip
us for every good work as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now, Paul has been leading us in an intercessionary,
petitionary prayer from verse 15. We’ve been studying this for a couple of weeks
now, and we’re going to look today at verses 19 through 23, but you’ll notice
that verse 19 actually begins in the middle of a sentence so I need to remind
you where we’ve been. He has already prayed in this petition that the Lord
would “enlighten the eyes of your heart” to know three things: To know the hope
of your calling — in other words, the Apostle Paul wants you to realize that
from the foundation of the world God has invested your life with His purpose. He
has given you a calling. There is a meaning, there is an eternally significant
meaning, to your life that God has given. There are a lot of people that would
go through this life not knowing what they’re here for, not knowing if it means
anything, and here’s Paul at the outset saying ‘Lord, I want these Christians to
have their eyes so opened that they understand that You have invested their life
with an eternally significant meaning. Their calling gives them hope in this
sin-darkened world.’

But he now only wants our eyes to be enlightened so
that we know that hope of our calling, he also wants us to see “the riches of
the glory of God’s inheritance in the saints”, and whether we take that as God’s
inheritance of us or the inheritance that God gives us, that is something that
will only in its fullness be displayed in the future. We are God’s inheritance,
and God has granted us a rich inheritance in Jesus Christ, but we won’t
experience the fullness of that until kingdom come in all its glory. We have
foretastes of it now; we’ve got a down payment of it now. Paul’s already prayed
about that in Ephesians 1:13, 14. The Holy Spirit Himself is a down payment of
that future glory, but we will not experience [it until the future].

Well, how does a believer get from beginning to
end? How does he get from knowing the purpose of his life to finding the
ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises in life? He needs God’s power. And isn’t
it interesting that that’s the next thing that Paul prays for here. He prays
that our eyes would be enlightened to know the surpassing greatness of God’s
power.

Now, really, the rest of the chapter is taken up
with convincing you of the surpassing greatness of God’s power. It’s convincing
you of the reality of this petition which Paul is lifting up. He prays that you
would know the surpassing greatness of God’s power to us in Jesus Christ, and
then he begins to add on to that petition, and in the process of adding on to
that petition he shows us evidences of God’s power because he knows in our heart
of hearts, when we run into trials an difficulties and when we see the sin of
our own hearts, we will begin to question the adequacy of God’s power to deal
with those trials and to deal with our sins, and to get us from the beginning to
the end; and so he prays ‘Lord God, for these Ephesians, Lord God, for these
Christians in Jackson, would you enlighten their eyes so that they could see the
surpassing greatness of Your power towards them in Jesus Christ.’ And that’s
what we’re going to focus on today, and it is so, so important in the Christian
life. We need to know when we go to the Lord in prayer that those prayers far
beyond what we could ask or imagine. We need to know when we walk with the Lord
that He has the power to keep us from stumbling. We need to know when we’re
walking with the Lord that He has the power to conquer the intractable sin that
we still see in our hearts, battling against that sin, becoming sometimes so
discouraged in our battle against that sin that we throw our arms up in the air
and we wonder, ‘Lord, are we ever, ever going to see some modicum of victory
over this sin? Over this habit? Over this attitude? Over this problem?’ And we
need to know the greatness of God’s power as we wrestle with all

those things, and that’s what Paul is going to point us to
today.

Now before we read God’s word and hear it
proclaimed, let’s look to Him in prayer and ask His help and blessing.

Lord God, this is Your word, and You give it to
sanctify us in Your truth; so by Your Holy Spirit we do pray that You would help
us to understand it, but also that You would by Your grace conform us to the
image of Your Son, even in the understanding of Your word. We pray, O God, that
we would approach Your word as we ought: as Your word, inspired, inerrant,
infallible, and that You would bless it to our spiritual nourishment and Your
glory. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Hear the word of God. We’ll begin in verse 19.

“…And what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who
believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might
which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and stated
Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority
and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but
also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection 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.”

Amen. Thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and
inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

You’ve already caught that verse 19 is in the middle
of a sentence, and that sentence begins in verse 18, and we’ve looked at the
first two parts of that sentence, so to catch the gist of what we’ve just read
in verse 19, go back to verse 18 and see where Paul says

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know
[and then you can go to verse 19] …what is the surpassing greatness of His
power toward us who believe.”

Now he’s already spoken of two other things in verse 18
that he wants us to know by the Holy Spirit’s enlightening the eyes of our
hearts, and now he comes to a third thing here in verse 19. He wants us as
Christians to know the surpassing greatness of God’s power towards us, because
he knows that that’s absolutely essential for the living of the Christian life.

Many people have been pondering the significance of
these great storms which have come ashore in the Gulf of the United States over
the last month — Katrina, and now Rita — and various answers have been given in
response to ‘What is God doing in this?’ or ‘How do we relate these storms to a
sovereign and good God?’ Some of those answers are better than others.

One really bad answer that has been given of late
was given by Tony Campolo, the controversial theologian and sociologist who
suggested that one of the things that we need to learn from Katrina is that God
is not all-powerful. He emphasized that though God is the most powerful force
in the universe, He is not all-powerful; and that, therefore, many things
are out of His control and that is what we’re to learn when we see disasters and
tragedies and gigantic natural phenomena like Katrina in the world causing
destruction and havoc and harming the lives of human beings. We’re to learn that
“God is not all-powerful.” Well, of course, this seems to be pointing in
precisely the opposite direction of Paul’s words today.

Paul knows that believers need to know that God has
the power to get them from the beginning to the end of the Christian life. And
even when we’re not pondering gigantic questions like God and Katrina, we are
asking ourselves very often questions about God’s power. Some of us are looking
at our own lives and we’re asking ‘Is there a power that can subdue my tongue?
Is there a power that can subdue my anger? Is there a power that can subdue my
bitterness? Is there a power that can subdue my lust? Is there something that
can conquer the sin that I continue to see in my own life that I don’t ever seem
to get a hold of? Can I really believe that God, in His word of grace, is going
to grow me up so that I am not captive by these sins, by these habits, by these
patterns of life that I know that are wrong, and yet don’t ever seem to be able
to get hold of? Well, the Apostle Paul is there waiting for us when we’re asking
questions like that, and he says that he is praying that God would open the eyes
of your heart (or, enlighten the eyes of your heart) so that you will know the
surpassing greatness of His power toward us to believe.

The Apostle Paul is especially speaking here, you
see, about the power of God at work for His people. Notice the phrase
“…toward us who believe.” Paul is especially thinking in terms of the power
of God in operation towards believers, towards Christians, for their
sanctification: for making them more like Jesus Christ, for growing them up in
grace, for making them more gracious people, more faithful people, more
believing people. And he gives a long series of evidences of God’s power
precisely in prayer of petition to help convince us of the greatness of God’s
power; and I want you to see three of the things in particular that he says
that remind us of the greatness of God’s power.

Notice the phrase that begins in verse 19,
that “…the surpassing greatness of His power” is in accordance with the
working of the strength of His might, which He brought about in Christ. Now
Paul is telling you there that one way you can see the power of God, and one way
that you can see that the power of God is sufficient to help you along in the
Christian life, is to look at the power of God at work in the life of Jesus
Christ.

Now, he could have chosen many things, but he points
us to three particular things, and the first thing you’ll see there in verse
20. We see the power of God at work in the life of Jesus Christ in the
resurrection. When He raised Him from the dead, there we saw the working of the
strength of His might, which He brought about in Christ when He raised Him from
the dead. And so the apostle is saying this: The power that is at work in you is
the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead. When you begin asking
yourself ‘Lord, is there a power that can subdue my sin?’ Paul’s answer is ‘The
power that is at work in believers is the same power which raised Jesus Christ
from the dead. It is a death-conquering power, and therefore believers can be
confident that the One who is at work in us is greater than anything in this
world, because that One who is at work in us has already raised His Son from the
dead.

Death is the grand reality from which none of us can
escape. One of the commentators I was reading in preparation for this message
was talking about a visit he had made to a lady in his congregation who (he had
gotten word at the church that she was very seriously ill) had been taken to the
hospital and did not have very long to live. And so he rushed there expecting to
find her at death’s door, and found her sitting up in the bed smiling and
chatting and joking and laughing. And he walked into the room, and she said to
him, “Well, the doctors told me that I was going to die, but I just decided I
wasn’t going to do that today!” And he said she had a lot of spunk in her; but,
he said (writing in the book), she’s dead now. She did later on die. We all
die. None of us have in and of ourselves the power to cheat death. Only God
has the power to reverse the effects of the fall and raise from the dead, and
the Apostle Paul is saying ‘Christian, it is that power that is at work in you.
When you’re questioning whether God can conquer than sin, whether God can grant
you the grace to endure your particular trial, remember that it is the power
that raised Jesus Christ from the dead that is at work in you.

And he doesn’t stop there. He goes on to say in
verse 20 that it’s the same power that seated Him [that is, Jesus Christ] ….
that “seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places….” This is referring
to the ascension of Jesus Christ and His heavenly session, His rule from the
right hand of God the Father Almighty. And so, Paul is saying ‘Let me give you
another proof of the power of God being enough to help you in the Christian
life: the power that is at work in you is the same power that caused the
ascension of Christ and has undergirded His heavenly session at the right hand
of God the Father Almighty.’

And in verses 21-22, he tells you three things
about Jesus’ ascension and heavenly rule.
First of all, he says that
when Christ was seated at the right hand, He was placed far above all rule and
all authority, and all power and all dominion.
Now, this especially
indicates that there is no opposing force in the universe over which Jesus
Christ does not reign. Remember Psalm 110, where God promises the Lord Jesus
Christ, His Son the Messiah, that He will reign and make His enemies His
footstool? Well, this is the fulfillment of that truth that Paul is praying
about: that God has brought all things in opposition to Him under the rule and
subjection and authority of Jesus Christ. And Paul is saying ‘Look. The power
that subjected all of the demonic forces of this world, all of the opposing
forces of this world against God, the power that subjected those to Jesus Christ
is the power that is at work in you.

And he doesn’t stop, he goes on. Notice again
“…And every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to
come.” This indicates that Christ was exalted above the highest angels, above
the most exalted names in the universe; that He is given pre-eminence.
You
remember what Paul will say in Philippians 2, that “…at His name, every knee
will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory
of the Father.” And so, the same power that exalted Jesus to the pre-eminence in
this universe is the power that is at work in you.

But he doesn’t stop there. Notice verse 22. He
goes on to say a third thing about Jesus’ ascension and His heavenly session at
the right hand. He tells us that the Father has “…put all things in subjection
under His feet.”
Now, notice there what he says. What has been put under
subjection? “All things.” Now that’s a phrase that Paul uses all the time.
“All things.” Does that mean that there are some things that are out of God’s
control? No, it says that “all things” are put under Jesus Christ. All things
are put under Him; they are put in subjection under His feet. What is the
Apostle Paul doing? He’s again reminding you of the greatness of the power that
is at work in you.

But he doesn’t stop there. He’s told you first that
God’s power is displayed in the resurrection of Christ; and he’s told you,
secondly, that God’s power is displayed in the ascension of Christ to the right
hand and in God’s granting Christ rule from His right hand. But he goes on
to say in verse 22 “…and He gave Him as head over [once again] all things…”
to whom? “To the church.”
Now there’s a very interesting thing: that this
rule over all things that Christ has been granted has been granted for the
benefit of those He loves, of those who love Him, of His people, of those who
trust in Him — of His church. That is, He rules the world by His word and
Spirit for the benefit of His people.

When we’re asking ‘Lord, is there a power
that can liberate me from the bondage to my anger? Is there a power that can
liberate me from the bondage to this sin or that sin? Is there a power that can
get me through the trial that I’m enduring now? Lord, am I a pawn in this world
of powerful forces?’ the answer is that the same power is at work in you which
raised Jesus from the dead, which caused Him to be set at the right hand of God
the Father Almighty, and which has granted Him as the ruler over everything for
the sake of His people. All of these Paul is piling up so that we will be
confident in God’s provision for us.

My friends, we will never pray effectively if we do
not believe that God has the power to answer our prayers. We will never live the
Christians life confidently unless we believe that God has the power to answer
our prayers, and has the power to protect us, and has the power to guide us, and
has the power to take us to the end.

And then I want you to see here that he says
about the church…what does he say about the church in verse 23? That the
church “…is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”
Now, the
commentators have spilled gallons of ink over that phrase, and we won’t explain
all of it today, but I do want to draw your attention to two things very
briefly.

First of all, notice that the church itself is
called ‘the body of Christ.’
That is how intimately connected we are to our
Savior; and as it is with the Master, so it is with the disciple. That’s why we
expect there to be hard things in this world, and losses and crosses. But even
as there are hard things in this world, because it is true that as it is with
the Master so also with the disciples, so we shall be raised to newness of life
with Him. His power will triumph over everything arrayed against us in this
life, in Jesus Christ.

But the second thing I want you to see is this:
Notice that the church, His body, is called “…the fullness of Him who fills
all in all.”
Now just file that away, because we’re going to come back to
that phrase the fullness again in the Book of Ephesians, in chapter three
and in chapter four, and it’s going to have special encouragement for believers.
But I do want to give you a little hint. One of the things that it’s pointing
to is that God’s purpose is to make us mature and to grow us up to be like Jesus
Christ, so that if you’re a believer and you’re struggling with sin and you’re
wondering if there is a power out there that is strong enough to give you
victory in that battle against sin, you remember that it’s God’s power — who
raised Jesus from the dead, set Him at the right hand — that is at work in you,
and it is that power of God that is determined to fill you up to all the
fullness of Him who fills all in all. To mature you — that is His purpose. He
will not be thwarted. Death could not stay Him in the resurrection of Jesus
Christ. All the principalities and powers of this world and its present rulers
of darkness could not stay Him in the exaltation of Jesus Christ. Nothing will
stand before Him when He comes again in power and glory. That same power is at
work in us, and the Apostle Paul wants us to believe that, and that’s why he’s
praying this prayer of petition: that we would understand, that we would see
with the enlightened eyes of our heart, the surpassing of His greatness, of His
power, to us in Jesus Christ.

Let’s pray.

Our Lord and our God, it is easier for us to read
and in a measure to understand these words than it is for us to see them worked
out in our experience, because we are very acquainted with our own weakness. And
yet, O God, we know that the power that is at work in Your people is Your
limitless, surpassingly great power. So we pray, O God, that You would grant
that we would pray to You in confidence in that power, and that we would live in
confidence in that power. So often we live below the reality that You have
granted to us in Jesus Christ. We do not grasp blessings You hold out for us
that would prove much comfort of heart in time of trial. Grant that You would,
by Your Spirit, enlighten our eyes so that we would see Your surpassing
greatness, Your power, and would live in accordance with it. This we ask in
Jesus’ name. Amen.

Let’s take our hymnals in hand and sing the first
stanza of No. 347.

[Congregational Hymn:
The Church’s One Foundation]

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the
Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.