Ephesians 1:9&10 “And he made known to us the mystery of will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.”
The movement which calls itself the Intelligent Design Movement is not yet ten years old. Its leaders are men like Philip Johnson, Michael Denton, Thomas Woodward, Dean Kenyon and Paul Nelson. They have published an impressive number of books that are exposing the leaks in the battleship of Darwinism. They are showing that evolution is a theory in crisis. These scholars and scientists look at the universe and they give us, very conclusively I believe, the overwhelming evidence that it has been designed. They haven’t found any proofs that luck or chance caused the solar system, can explain the existence of planet earth and mankind especially, but there is very much that speaks of a Creator’s divine intelligence and design. This planet indicates that it has been made with a purpose.
In our text the apostle Paul is writing for the first time in this letter about God’s purpose, what he is doing with the universe. The book of the sermons of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on this first chapter of Ephesians is entitled, “God’s Ultimate Purpose” (Banner of Truth). This world is not in the grip of chaos, but the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has it, and at this moment he is fulfilling the end he has planned for the earth. It is so important to have a purpose in life, and not just any purpose, but to know the real purpose in life. Many teenagers will say to you that they would like to be famous and to have money, but they are loathe to acknowledge this fact, that along with fame and wealth can go despair. I was reading some words of the film star Julia Roberts this week as she describes her work. Julia Roberts is one of the Hollywood actors whom many women admire. Beauty, youth, fame, power and money, she has them all. This week she was talking about the essence of the job she does, and this is what she said, “I get dressed up like a doll, a nice man puts lipstick on my lips and I say words.” Maybe some would find that satisfying, but many wouldn’t, and no one would say that this is the purpose for which men and women exist, and that Julia Roberts has found it. Happiness comes from knowing what is God’s plan and making it our plan.
1. GOD WORKS BY A PLAN.
What can that plan be? Let me first clear away some of the misunderstandings that exist.
i] The plan of God is not the four things that the Lord wants the sinner to do. You know how those are spelled out in a typical gospel tract –
A – Acknowledge you are a sinner.
B – Believe that Jesus died on the cross for sinners.
C – Confess your sins to God and ask for his forgiveness.
D – Dedicate your life to trusting and serving Christ.
I firmly believe in all those four steps, but they hardly constitute God’s eternal plan for mankind and the universe. Since Jesus Christ has died and risen that is the divinely given response which confronts you all today. That is the Lord’s will for you. God commands all men everywhere to repent and believe the gospel. That is true, but it is only a part of God’s plan which in itself is far vaster and cosmically comprehensive in its scope than the personal salvation of sinners.
ii] The plan of God is very different from fatalism. Fatalism has no place for a personal God. The God of the Bible is infinitely wise, powerful and holy. The high priests of fatalism announce that everything comes to pass through the working of a blind, unintelligent, impersonal non-moral force. Everything is carried helplessly before fate like a dead cat being carried along by a mighty river in flood. The world will say, ‘que cere cera,’ whatever will be will be. Some impersonal and irresistible force – against which it is impossible to struggle – determines how everything shall be. What a powerful philosophy such determinism is for millions of people today. It has no place for religion, love, mercy or grace. It leads to the abandonment of personal responsibility, scepticism and despair. Our brother Dr Salim Haddad witnessed a man in the Arab Emirates driving recklessly and knocking down a child. Salim and he both stopped their cars and walked back to the crumpled little girl. The man turned to Salim and said to him, “the will of Allah.” Salim spurned such a response. That belief took all responsibility away from that man for his wretched wicked driving. That is what fatalism does.
The Christian is not in the hands of cold immutable determinism, but of a warm, compassionate heavenly Father, who has loved us and has given his Son to die for us on Golgotha. That God has told us in his law how his creatures should live, and he will hold us responsible. The Christian can trust God because he knows that the Lord is all-wise, all-just, all-loving and all-holy. It is he who has the whole world in his hands, so there is no need for us to start crying in desperation, “Don’t panic! Don’t panic!” when things seem to be going against us. Our Father is the one who is always in control, not the blind fates with their abhorred shears, cutting the finely spun thread in some utterly arbitrary way. The believer can say, “Though my blessed personal God may slay me yet will I trust him.” There is no heresy so great as that which conceives God’s plan to be some natural force like a juggernaut bearing down on us to crush us at his will. Never forget that it is a personal God who loves and cares and pities men and women who has laid hold of this world. B.B.Warfield is the author of this justly famous illustration:
“There is a story of a little Dutch boy, which embodies very fairly the difference between God and Fate. This little boy’s home was on a dyke in Holland, near a great wind-mill, whose long arms swept so close to the ground as to endanger those who carelessly strayed under them. But he was very fond of playing precisely under this mill. His anxious parents had forbidden him to go near it; and, when his stubborn will did not give way, had sought to frighten him away from it by arousing his imagination to the terror of being struck by the arms and carried up into the air to have life beaten out of him by their ceaseless strokes. One day, heedless of their warning, he strayed again under the dangerous arms, and was soon absorbed in his play there – forgetful of everything but his present pleasures. Perhaps, he was half conscious of a breeze springing up; and somewhere in the depth of his soul, he may have been obscurely aware of the danger with which he had been threatened. At any rate, suddenly, as he played, he was violently smitten from behind, and found himself swung all at once, with his head downward, up into the air; and then the blows came, swift and hard! O what a sinking of the heart! O what a horror of great darkness! It had come then! And he was gone! In his terrified writhing, he twisted himself about, and looking up, saw not the immeasurable expanse of the brazen heavens above him, but his father’s face. At once, he realised, with a great revulsion, that he was not caught in the mill, but was only receiving the threatened punishment of his disobedience. He melted into tears, not of pain, but of relief and joy. In that moment, he understood the difference between falling into the grinding power of a machine and into the loving hands of a father. That is the difference between Fate and Predestination. And all the language of men cannot tell the immensity of the difference.” So the plan of God is not fatalism.
iii] The plan of God is not God’s limited control of some events that happen. That is the theory which the advocates of the “openness of God” movement teach. Men like John Sanders and Clark Pinnock deny that God knows all the future since future human decisions have not yet been made and thus don’t exist to be known. A man called Gregory Boyd, in his book “God of the Possible” says something like this, that God’s plan embraces some things that God knows ahead of time. There are some things God plans, but he doesn’t know all things, because the future doesn’t exist unless God has planned that particular thing, and he hasn’t planned all things, only certain things. If you should ask him what about a passage like this one before us which talks of the times reaching their fulfilment and then God bringing all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ, Boyd will say, “Oh, of course, God has planned that. It is just that he hasn’t planned everything.” You can go through the entire Bible and show him thousands of verses in which God purposes, and plans, and rules, and exercises his authority, and he will say, “I agree with all that. It is just that God’s plan doesn’t do anything more than those things.” Or he will say, “If God does plan more than that, we can’t know it.” I believe, to the contrary, the plan of God embraces every step I make, every breath I take; it embraces the fall of the sparrow, and the beating of my heart, and the thoughts in my brain, and the determination of a father to send a son on an errand to his brothers who are tending their flocks, and the dreams a man in an Egyptian jail might experience, and the shouting of a mob to crucify the Lord Jesus, and it numbers all the hairs on my head. It is an absolutely comprehensive plan stemming from God’s complete, accurate, and infallible knowledge of all events, past, present and future including all the decisions and actions of us free moral agents. So God’s plan is not limited.
iv] God’s plan is not for our personal prosperity and happiness. In many congregations, the people are told that the result of believing the gospel is to have a good self-image, and to feel good about yourself for the rest of your life. Our generation is so occupied with themselves and their own pleasures that many pulpits declare that the plan of God is to make people happy by giving them whatever their hearts desire. Name it, and claim it! God is viewed as some personal taxi-driver who takes our big empty suitcases into the vehicle for us, and then he drives us anywhere we tell him to take us, to get them filled with goodies. When such a pipe dream fails and men don’t get what they want they either condemn themselves for their lack of faith or they lose confidence in the planning God. The despair and frustration of our generation is in direct proportion to man’s rejection of the sovereign control of the God of the Bible over all things. Worse things lie ahead. The “God wants you rich and healthy” plan must result in the abandonment of real Christianity by all who believe it. The gospel says something very different, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” The easy-going old grandfather kind of god who just loves to see the young people having a good time, and wants everyone to be rich and healthy, will be despised and ridiculed when he fails to fill their stockings. God’s plan is not for all his children to have a Mercedes Benz in the driveway, a wine-cellar and a second home in Florida.
So what is God’s plan? It is in fact this, to save a company of people more than any man can number and change them all into the likeness of Christ. God’s plan is this, to make a new constituency of men and women which is to be the true humanity under the leadership of Christ. This is what Paul speaks of here, “- to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (v.10). God’s plan is to make a new heavens and earth in which everything is redolent with the righteousness of Christ. So you see that God’s plan is a totally Christocentric plan. It is one which exalts the Son of God. It gives to him all the focus and glory of heaven and earth. This divine plan is absolutely obsessed with the greatness of the Lord Jesus, so much so that God is determined that Christ shall have dominion and control not only all of this earth from pole to pole, but that he shall hold illimitable sway over things in heaven as well. That is God’s plan. He has made up his mind that this is to be the goal of our world. Everything that happens is going to fulfil that single end.
2. THE FACT THAT GOD WORKS BY A PLAN HE HAS MADE KNOWN TO EVERY GENERATION.
“And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ” (v.9). There are terrorists active in the world today and they have plans, and the governments of the world would love to know what those plans are but they are all kept secret. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has a plan for the next budget, but none of us is told what it is. God does not have to leak his plan to a few people to soften up the world in readiness. His plan has all been revealed to the church. That which was a mystery about the incarnation of God the Son throughout the Old Testament period is a mystery no longer. God has always made it clear to his people that he works by a plan.
The Scriptures have many references to the definite purposes of God, all of which must come to pass. Listen to a selection of some of them: Job says that God “stands alone, and who can oppose him? He does whatever he pleases” (Job 23:13). Nebuchadnezzar says that God “does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the people of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?'” (Dan. 4:35). A psalmist says, “The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths” (Psa. 135:6). Through Isaiah the Lord says, “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” (Isa. 46:10). Another psalmist says, “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him” (Psa. 115:3). Paul says of God, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen” (Roms. 11:36). The apostle refers in this passage in Ephesians 1 to “the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (v.11).
What are all these verses teaching us? That God’s plan is unchangeable, that it will most certainly succeed, that it embraces all things, and that God deliberately focuses on that goal in all he does. That is the key to understanding what the Lord is doing. Sometimes God’s plan calls for a great awakening and so a nation is born in a day in Europe and in America. There are times when his plan calls for judgment, his ‘strange work’, but it is, nonetheless, still God’s plan being applied to the church and world. Both Nineveh’s conversion under Jonah and the world’s drowning at the time of Noah were both planned by God. It was as much his plan that there would be a day in Jerusalem at Pentecost when Peter preaches and thousands were saved as there would also be a day in Athens when Paul preaches and just a few become believers (Acts 17:34). God is the author of the one and the other. Whether it is Jerusalem under Peter’s preaching or Athens under Paul’s preaching, God is still in total control and is working out his own plan. The rain and the full harvest as well as the drought and empty barns are from the hand of the same sovereign Lord. There is a plan to bring to salvation all the people of God, and make them salt and light in the world. They will glorify his own name on earth and then reign with Christ for ever. That plan will be accomplished and in everything that happens God is working so that his purposes ripen fast, unfolding every hour. This world is not in the grip of the devil. Over this world chance and chaos are not reigning, but the Sovereign Lord of the Bible.
Let us be sure of this truth. Let me nail it to your understandings by looking at the opening verses of the book of Habakkuk. This prophecy was written primarily to assure us that God does have a plan and that at all times, even the worst times, he is working by that plan. The worst times are when the church of God seems to be destroyed, there are defections on every side and the enemies of the kingdom of God seem to be triumphing all around. At such times God’s people have weekly prayer meetings for revival, and their preachers assure them that God is in control, but he seems to be utterly silent when they cry to him. Let us look at the first six verses of the prophecy of Habakkuk:
“The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet received. How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.” (Hab. 1:1-4)
Then you have the Lord’s answer:
“Look at the nations and watch – and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own” (Hab. 1:5&6).
Habakkuk is a faithful prophet in an age of declension. He has been pleading to God for years to send a great revival, but it seems that God is doing nothing or even allowing things to get worse. When the prophet looks around he sees violence, injustice, destruction, strife and conflict on every side. Habakkuk wants the Spirit of God to bring a great terror of the Lord upon the people and a turning to the Book of God, but instead of that there is increasing moral chaos. God seems to be saying to Habakkuk, “Look at it!” The prophet asks, “Why do you make me look at injustice?” (v.3). Habakkuk comes to the conclusion that the law is paralyzed, and how often do we hear that today? Something defiling comes into a community and we turn to the power of the law to resist it and we are told that the law can do nothing about it – “Therefore the law is paralyzed and justice never prevails” (v.4).
So you have the darkness described in the first four verses of the chapter, with God apparently looking the other way, and prayer going unanswered. Then God speaks! He has seen and known everything. He has heard the prayers of his servant and he answers him, but God’s answer is as hard to accept as his silence. Here are the chosen people of God, in covenant with him. This is the holy nation, the royal priesthood, a special people whose praises are to be to the Lord who called them out of darkness into his marvellous light. This Lord speaks and he says, “I am going to do something in your days” (v.5). Hooray! God is not going to let this situation get any worse. He will turn the tide. What is he going to do? “I am raising up the Babylonians” (v.6). Can we believe our ears? Is this the holy God speaking? The Lord is telling Habakkuk that he is in fact doing a lot of work in these days, but when he tells the prophet what work it is then Habakkuk is dumb struck. It is as if God told those who were praying for revival that he had decided to send in an army of fanatical Muslim extremists and that they were going to conquer Wales and destroy every church. Or that the Lord told us that it was he who was behind the triumph of materialism and scientific humanism in the Principality today. If this is God’s plan it is worse than his silence. Exactly what is God about to do in Habakkuk’s day? He tells the prophet this, that he was even at that moment giving strength to the anti-Jehovahist forces in the world and moving them against the nation of Israel. They were going to be his instrument of chastisement upon this cold and idol-loving people. The Babylonians are coming, and God himself is responsible for sending them.
In all of this, God is working by his plan and that plan is to have a holy people to himself, loving and serving him. When his people defy him and serve Baal and the flesh he first sends prophets to them to call them back, but when they defy his servants, and they kill some of them, God will certainly chastise these disobedient people. He will send leanness, famine, and give strength to their enemies. He will bring them low to show them the folly of seeking joy without him. “I am going to do something in your day,” (v.5) he says; “I am raising up the Babylonians” (v.6). It is not that the devil is sending them in to mess up the party, it is Jehovah, the Lord of hosts, who is doing it. So it doesn’t matter what perplexing events continue to occur, even the murders and destruction in New York on ‘nine-eleven’, when they do happen then you must know that the Lord’s hand is in them and over them, or they couldn’t be happening. They are not totally outside God’s plan. God is accomplishing something by these things. Later on God will tell Habakkuk that he is going to judge the Babylonians for what they did, but for now the people of God must endure the killing fields, and keep trusting:
“Deep in unfathomable mines of never failing skill
He treasures up his bright designs and works his sovereign will.
Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan his work in vain.
God is his own interpreter and he will make it plain” (William Cowper 1731-1800)
The apostle describes God’s plan in this letter as his “eternal purpose” (Ephs. 3:11). At all times and during the two dispensations of Old and New Covenants the Lord has this overarching plan to redeem and sanctify a people and be glorified in all that he does. There is never a moment when God has a blank mind. There is never a period when God’s plan with all of its parts is not fully determined. God always had a plan even before the foundations of the earth were laid. God always works in accordance with his plan.
3. GOD’S PLAN IS TO BRING EVERYTHING TOGETHER UNDER THE HEADSHIP OF CHRIST.
“He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (vv.9&10).
Paul tells us that God has determined to put something into effect. The implementation of it is even now under way. Steps have been taken to accomplish this end. It will certainly be achieved. There is no way that it can ever be avoided. A cosmic event is most certainly going to happen. When will this be? It is the next event on the divine calendar. But when will it be? Paul replies, when the times have reached their fulfilment. He is talking about the climax of world history, when God’s saving purposes will have been completed. That is, there will come a moment when everything the church has to do will have been done. The last sermon will have been preached. The last convert to be baptized will have been baptized. The last Lord’s Supper will have been celebrated. The last person of that vast company of people God has loved from all eternity, whom he has given to his Son to save and keep, will actually have been regenerated. All the earth, Jews and Gentiles, will have heard of the glories of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Then, at that time, the last trumpet will sound, and Christ shall return from heaven, with all his holy angels. He will raise the dead; he will transform their mortal bodies into glorious bodies of immortality. When they see God they will be like him for they will see him as he is. They will be welcomed into heaven, while others will be cast in hell. The eternal state will begin, and then all things in heaven and on earth will be brought together under one head, even Christ. This is what God has purposed in Christ, Paul says here. In other words, the Son, with the Father, have decided upon this in all eternity. It is in Christ that the means, and the instrument, and the goal of all world history will be climaxed, that Christ will be the most adored and glorious and powerful being on earth and in heaven. Everything is going to be summed up in Christ, the whole created order, in all its fragmented and alienated elements. There is the heaven and everything there, the place of angelic rebellion and judgment, and there is also the earth where Jews are alienated from Gentiles and both are estranged from God, but both in heaven and earth all things are going to be brought together in Christ,
This is the conclusion to the present state of the world. Imagine a vast mathematical mystery, and all the formulae and equations cover huge blackboards, and we are all longing to see what the tantalising end of all this complexity will be. The relief when the final grand law is spelled out. Now multiply by infinity. The main point of the universe is Jesus Christ. We are told that Stephen Hawkins, the most famous mathematical professor at Cambridge, is longing to achieve a single formula that will embrace all of life, the atom and the galaxies, organic and inorganic, the very secret of life. Imagine his announcing one day that it is some equation – like Einstein’s in the theory of relativity – and for science to proudly declare that these symbols – chalk on a blackboard, ink on a paper – were the meaning of life! How deadly that would be. What killing times woul d lie before mankind if those in power believed that the meaning of life was some mathematical or chemical or physical formula. But every Christian knows what is the real formula for the mystery of life. This is so basic that God has not left it as a mystery that only the wise of the world can puzzle out. No. God’s will has been made known to us. That formula is a glorious person; God intends to sum up the universe in Jesus Christ. That is what lies before the whole universe which the plan of God is going to achieve.
Dr Lloyd-Jones describes this: “The perfect harmony that will be restored will be in harmony in man, and between men. Harmony on the earth and in the brute creation! Harmony in heaven, and all under this blessed Lord Jesus Christ, who will he the Head of all! Everything will again be united in Him. And, wonder of wonders, marvellous beyond compare, when all this happens it will never be undone again. All this will be reunited in Him to all eternity. That is the message; that is God’s plan. That is the mystery which has been revealed unto us . . . These things are so marvellous that you will never hear anything great, either in this world or the world to come” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “God’s Ultimate Purpose: An Exposition of Ephesians 1:1-23”, Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1979, pp. 206&207).
What comfort that gives to our hearts, to know that God is at work in everything that happens to us, and that his plan is to give eternal glorious headship to the Son of God. Everything that happens to the Christian (who is called according to that purpose) will work for his good, because it furthers that end. What strength that gives to us in our uncertain earthly pilgrimage, that my life is gripped by Christ and has the meaning of the Lord Jesus.
We are talking about something of enormous importance. God has this plan and will most certainly accomplish it. He has greater vision than we have, and so his ways are often not our ways at all, and his thoughts are not our thoughts. The reason for this is not that he is operating according to another plan of which we are ignorant. He always works by the plan revealed in this text, and none other, and so we are called to trust him despite all evidence that might appear to the contrary. That is an essential part of Christian discipleship. Let me illustrate this.
We love go to a friend who is a businessman and cotton farmer in a small town in Mississippi called Yazoo City. In the last decade a grievous providence hit that community. One New Year’s Day, returning from some time with his brother who was a minister in Memphis, the pastor of one of the Presbyterian churches in Yazoo City, Mike Sartelle and his family, were involved in a terrible car accident, which was not their fault at all. Mike and his youngest son, Nate, were killed instantly. His wife, Diane, was thrown from the car nearly dead and the other two children were in critical condition. When Diane regained consciousness at the hospital, she immediately started asking, “Where’s Mike?” One family friend was there who knew that Mike was already dead and she simply said, “He’s all right, Diane. We need to worry about you right now.” It took two days before they could tell whether she was going to survive and then they brought themselves to telling Diane that her husband had been killed. When they broke the news to her she asked, “Where’s Nate? Where’s my baby?” They said, “Diane, he has gone home to be with the Lord, too.” Her words were: “The Lord is good in all his ways.” We have met Diane. We were once at the opening of a new bank on Broadway, Yazoo City, and she had done all the beautiful flower arrangements for that occasion. She is a humble Christian lady, now remarried, who lives by trusting in the Lord. She has been sustained by the fact that God has a plan, and all his people, young and old in all their actions, are embraced by it, and the climax of that plan is that Jesus Christ is going to be the sovereign head of all things in heaven and earth. Angels and men are going to be under his rule for ever.
Ten years after that fearful accident, to the month, Bob Bailey, an elder in that same church that once was pastored by Mike Sartelle, had a phone call. Bob works in the finance department of Reformed Seminary Jackson where our own Derek Thomas teaches. He and his wife had been so helpful to Diane Sartelle through that last decade. The phone call was on a Sunday: “Bob, I’m sorry to tell you that your niece Maggie was killed this morning on her way to church.” Bob gestured to his wife, Amanda, bringing her from the Sunday School area at their church. When she came he said, “Amanda, it’s bad news.” She asked, “It’s Maggie, isn’t it?” He replied, “Yes.” Amanda said to him, “The Lord is good in all his ways.” The doctrine of the all wise God always working in everything to fulfil his plan is amongst the most practical doctrines of the whole Christian life. We can’t afford to ignore it. To do so would be to ignore the directives of our Lord and Saviour.
When we are discouraged, we are to take encouragement in this glorious plan of God which is being achieved by his wisdom, his faithfulness, his goodness. That is precisely what Jesus does when facing the rejection of the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida, cities where most of his mighty works had been done. Not only does he take encouragement in God but he thanks God and praises him even in the face of rejection. Thanksgiving to God, men and women, is the antidote to discouragement. It is the answer to dark and disquieting thoughts. Why hadn’t Joseph become a bitter man? Because he believed in the plan of God and so had a thankful heart. Separated from the father of his heart for twenty years through the nefarious deeds of his brothers he could still say, “God meant this for good.” The plan of God kept that man from bitterness. The plan of God leads Jesus to praise God. He thanks his Father for revealing his gospel to babes while acknowledging that he has hidden it from the wise. He glories in the fact that the Lord has revealed this mystery in the fullness of times, and that while the worldly wise and the self-righteous reject him, humble and meek sinners will embrace Him.
The plan of God, accomplished in Christ alone, is rooted in the goodness of God, and this obliges us to praise God. I can say it like this, that things God has determined to do, that have nothing to do with us most oblige us to praise God. So often, even this day, it is the intelligent, the educated, the self-sufficient who reject God and the gospel. “One thing, at all events,” said J. C. Ryle, “stands out in Scripture, as a great practical truth to be had in everlasting remembrance: those to whom the gospel is hidden are generally ‘the wise in their own eyes and the prudent in their own sight’; and those to whom the gospel is revealed are generally humble, simple-minded, and willing to learn.” Jesus praises God for his plan.
This doctrine of God’s plan is humbling. Though some say it results from spiritual arrogance, the truth is that anyone who really understands the plan of God is humbled to the dust. Again, J. C. Ryle said, “Let us watch against pride in every shape – pride of intellect, pride of wealth, pride in our own goodness, pride in our own desserts. Nothing is so likely to keep a man out of heaven, and prevent him seeing Christ, as pride: so long as we think we are something we shall never be saved. Let us pray and cultivate humility; let us seek to know ourselves aright and to find out our place in the sight of a Holy God. The beginning of the way to heaven, is to feel that we are on the way to hell.”
Christ has said, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father.” God, in his perfect plan, has pledged to the Lord Jesus Christ to give into his hands all authority in all the created order. This is the reward for his obedience in his saving work. God has set him now at the right hand of the Almighty and he assumes the control of the universe. John Duncan of New College, Edinburgh, said, “Think of it. The dust of the earth now sits on the throne of heaven.” A man is in the cockpit of the universe. The man God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he is ruling the world for the sake of his people by his Word and Spirit.
It is this exalted Christ who says, “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” He promises rest – spiritual, true, saving rest – to those who come to him, those who are heavy-laden and burdened with sin. He calls them to himself: “Come to Me.” He promises blessing to all who come to him – rest from sin’s terror and guilt, peace of conscience, rest from sin’s power, rest in God’s love.
Men and women, have you ever considered that this is the most arrogant and preposterous thing that has ever been said unless Jesus knew their hearts’ needs; unless he has what is required; or unless he is able to give them what they need. The Lord Jesus is standing before them and saying, “I’ve got all three. I know your heart. I know what you need. I have what you need and I can give it to you. Come to me.” In this passage he calls us into his service and into his school. “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” It is the only place in the Scripture where Jesus’ heart is described. The one who is going to have preeminent authority over all in heaven and earth says, “I am gentle and humble of heart.” This gentle and humble Saviour says, “Take the easy yoke of my commands – not the burdensome commands or traditions of men, not the burdensome commands of the Old Covenant ceremonial law. Take on my burden for it is easy and my yoke for it is light.” The apostle Paul could say that the momentary afflictions of this age could not match the surpassing glories of the blessings of the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 4:8-11).
God said, both at Jesus’ baptism and at the Mount of Transfiguration, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” Listen to him when he teaches you of the plans that God has made, that he is accomplishing even now, and will perfect in the day of Christ.
23rd November 2003 GEOFF THOMAS