Ephesians 2:4-7 “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”
We have looked at the opening verses of this chapter and paused at their importance because in them the condition of men and women – as God sees us – is graphically and uncompromisingly set out. It is a state of utter hopelessness. Mankind is utterly lacking in the life of God; we are be nature ‘dead in transgressions and sins.’ Instead of following Jesus Christ people follow one person after another like lost sheep going astray; people are under the influence of the god of this world, the devil; they abandon themselves to satisfy the cravings of their sinful nature, following its desires and thoughts. They are all the objects of God’s wrath. That is the solemn indictment of these opening verses of chapter two. That is God’s great judgment on mankind, and if you are still refusing to turn in repentance from your sin and unbelief and will not entrust yourself to Jesus Christ then that is your condition at this very moment. Isn’t that a terrible state to be in? Without God and without any hope at all in this world.
Doesn’t this concern you? Shouldn’t this concern you? If it doesn’t then isn’t it proof that what the Bible says here is true, that you yourself are dead in transgressions and sins? You yell at a corpse, “The mortuary is burning down!” but the cadaver shows no concern whatsoever. You say, “Soon you are going to be taken to the crematorium and be burned to ashes,” but the corpse doesn’t blink an eyelid. So it is with you. I speak to all of you now, “Hear what the living God says about your condition before him,” but many of you shrug your shoulders. You couldn’t care less. Why? You are dead in your transgressions and sins.
One reason the apostle is ‘telling it like it is’ is as a background to all that follows, because he immediately proceeds to explain what God himself has done to deliver favoured sinners from this condition. “If I first tell you the plight of man, then you can begin to appreciate the power and love of God in rescuing us,” says Paul. What can we corpses do to save ourselves? Nothing at all, but everything is possible with God. Listen how the One who can give life to the dead has intervened in saving his church. Here we are shown virtual zombies following the ways of the world, gratifying the cravings of their natures, the objects of wrath. It all seems utterly despairing, but then we have these two words, “But . . . God!” “But, because of his great love for us, God . . .” (v.4) acts, motivated by his incredible love for sinners. God who is rich in mercy stirs himself, rousing himself to give life and salvation to favoured sinners. He comes in response to the helplessness and lostness of men to deliver them. God intervenes on this planet, in history, in space and time in a remarkable way. “But . . . God . . .” does something. What has he done to save such lost people as ourselves?
The crucially significant answer to that question is this:
1. GOD HAS UNITED US TO JESUS CHRIST.
You will see how in different ways this is emphasised in the refrain of these great verses. “God . . . made us alive with Christ . . . God raised us up with Christ, and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (vv. 5&6). How are these men and women, dead in their sins, saved? Many of you will say correctly, “By receiving Jesus Christ into your life as your Lord and Saviour.” That is exactly right, but the beggars the question, “How is this possible?” Consider all that Paul has been saying here about us being dead in sins and under the sway of the devil and following the ways of the world. He tells us elsewhere that the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, and yet salvation comes to us as we receive Spirit of God into our lives. How can we receive Christ? The answer is this; we are able to receive him because he has first of all received us. I cannot turn up at the gates of Buckingham Palace and ask to be received by the Queen. It is not possible. But if she has first received me as her guest and friend, and assured me that she will receive me personally any time I am in London, and given me authorisation to meet with her, then I can go to where she is and not be turned away. The policeman will call a servant and he will come to the gate and escort me into her majesty’s presence.
So too God in his grace has previously brought together the Lord Jesus Christ and all his people. Let us remind you of that wonderful prayer that the Lord Jesus prayed the night before he was crucified. It is recorded in John 17 and the Saviour begins by praying for that particular vast constituency of his own people, those whom the Father has given to him. The Lord Jesus says these words to his Father, “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me” (Jn. 17:6). Can you picture the scene in heaven, in eternity, before the foundation of the world, before you and I had breathed our first breath? Then, in the beginning, God the Father donated to his dear Son all his elect, all these people, numbering billions upon billions of them, as many as the sands on the seashore. How vast the gift, beyond our numbering! How glorious a gift, for each one of them God had destined to be as Christlike as the Son of God himself. How wonderful the Giver. You think of certain objects you keep safe in your home because it was your late mother, or husband or wife who gave that gift to you. Think of the Son of God receiving this gift from his own dear Father. “Son, I love you so much I am going to give you a beautiful bride. You shall have a wife, and she shall be as lovely as you, and she shall be with you for ever in a redeemed universe, and I too will love this bride as much as I love you.” Can you imagine the joy in the Son’s heart as he receives this gift from his beloved Father, and how he takes her to himself and instantly loves his own bride as much as his Father loves her. He loves her as he loves himself. He will lay down his life for her. He will spend his time praying for her, saving her to the uttermost, receiving her so that he and the church will be together for ever. He will eternally nourish and cherish these people. I am saying to you that this is where salvation began from the awful condition described to us in these first three verses, that it was before the foundation of the world, when God the Father gave us to Jesus Christ his Son and the Lord received us! We receive him because he first received us. We have access to him because God first gave us to him.
There are words that seem to be the simplest phrase in the whole New Testament; they are just two words, ‘in Christ.’ We have seen it in the first chapter of this letter, every couple of verses, as he describes the great blessings of what God has done for us, one after another, that Paul repeats the refrain that these blessings are all ‘in Christ.’ They come to us because of this union with the Lord Jesus. This is the great thing, utterly crucial and life transforming; every glorious blessing that happens to us occurs because of our being joined to Christ. God’s answer to the human predicament is not to send the church into the world with a great educational programme, nor with a political agenda, nor with a stringent moral code, nor does God come with a mass of appeals and exhortations to turn over a new leaf. The church comes to the world primarily with this great possibility, that your lostness and alienation from God (and from other people) can be ended because of what God has achieved in Christ.
Consider what happened when men fell in Adam, how they lost communion with God. They are driven out of the presence of God and forbidden to return. Then immediately they lose communion with one another; the man blames the woman for what has happened and the woman blames the serpent. Things get worse. Remember that the first man born to Adam and Eve murdered the second man, who was his own brother. Genesis presents us with a picture of growing human alienation, and estrangement, and violence. Great barriers are raised between one man and another, and between man and God. Men and women are lost; the people literally go round in great circles for forty years in a wilderness until they die there. What a picture of our own civilisation. They go from one god to another. They are carried off into exile and die far from home. Men have become strangers and aliens in the world in which God had placed them to be vicegerents; a great gulf is fixed between God and man because of our sin.
The first step in the accomplishment of redemption is that a bridge should be erected across that abyss. God opens a way for himself to come to sinful man in a loving forgiving way. What God does – all by himself, without any waiting or consultation with men – is to bring them all together by actually by joining all his people to his Son. They all become bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh and heart of his own heart. They become his bride. “This is my beloved wife. She is the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley to me,” the Lord says. “I will love her with a love that will not let her go.”
“From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.” (Samuel J. Stone, 183901900)
That is the deep love of Jesus for his people.
I have been reading the biography of a fine Plymouth Brethren missionary to Morocco. His name was Albert Fallaize and he died in London in the late 1980s. He suffered threats, persecutions and stonings in his labours for Christ in north Africa. His first wife died in childbirth in Morocco, and a few years later he married Lucy, who was a qualified nurse. In the afternoons she would visit sick women, and in one village she had to pass a large mosque with an adjoining Islamic school. On more than one occasion the Fookee (the teacher) would see her coming and he would order the boys to stop work and run out into the road before her. In the dust in the middle of the road they would draw a large cross and then they would line up each side of the cross and they would spit and spit onto it as she walked up to them.
Lucy always tried to be home by the end of the afternoon, but one day dusk came and she hadn’t turned up. Albert paced up and down outside their little Book Shop as the darkness fell. An Arab woman in a veil passed by and surprisingly she greeted him. She was a woman who attended Lucy’s Thursday evening Bible class. “Is everything all right?” she asked Albert. He explain that Lucy hadn’t returned and it was dark. “I’ll find her,” she said, and she took off for the Arab quarter where she actually did meet Albert’s wife walking home. “I’ve just met your man,” she said to Lucy. “He was walking up and down like a broody hen which has lost its eggs.”
Here is a Christian man desperately concerned for his beloved wife. How much more does Christ love and cherish his own people, his Father’s own gift to him, those who are joined to him for ever? All our hope of being saved lies in our Saviour’s heart of love and his power to do all that his heart desires.
“With joy we meditate the grace
Of our High Priest above;
His heart is full of tenderness,
And ever yearns with love” (Isaac Watts, 1674-1748).
So when the Son of God enters Mary’s womb he doesn’t come alone. He comes with all of us in his heart and mind. He brings us all with him, not as some grey undifferentiated blob but as individual sinners with names and identities, each one loved personally by him. He knew our names, our families, our homes, our circumstances, our private history, our inner fears, our experiences, our trials. Possessing all that knowledge about us the Lord Jesus had us on his heart when he waved good-bye to his Father and set out for this fallen world. There is not a thing about the least and lowest member of his flock with which he’s unfamiliar. The people of Aberystwyth don’t know the children of God in their midst. Many may think our convictions utterly foolish, but the Good Shepherd knows each one through and through. He has seen each file and he doesn’t despise them. He cares for them; he bears with their weaknesses; he picks them up when they fall; he carries the weak in his arms; he doesn’t throw them out when they get wayward; he guards and protects them and all that the Father gives them he will save until the great day.
So we were joined to the Son of God in eternity in an unseverable union, and so we continued to be joined to him throughout his life, from his emergence from Mary’s womb when he uttered his first cry. We were in him when he obeyed the law of God, and we kept it all perfectly in him, the moral law, the civil law and the ceremonial law. When he loved God day after day with all his heart and soul, we in him loved God like that, and in him we loved our neighbour as we loved ourselves. In him we are holy; in him we are harmless; in him we are undefiled; in him we are separate from sinners. In other words we are righteous in him with a spotless righteousness. But more than that, listen! – we were in him at the moment of crucifixion. On that awful day when Christ yielded his supreme obedience to God we were in him on Golgotha. “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” And all the church can answer, “Yes! We were there when they nailed him to the cross. We were there when they laid him in the tomb.” We were in Christ on Calvary under the wrath of a sin-hating God. Paul is our great spokesman when he says, “I have been crucified with Christ.” He says, “In Christ all die.” At that moment of the anathema, when he cried, “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?” at the great climax of his suffering, then Christ had not forsaken the church, and the church had not forsaken its tortured Lord. We were joined to him there in the dereliction. In the broken body of the Lord we too were broken. Under the divine curse as he hung on that tree we too were cursed. His obedience to the death of the cross was ours. His suffering was our suffering. In him we died on Golgotha. His judgment and condemnation was our death and condemnation.
God has joined us to Christ. We are no longer standing under what Adam deserves, and I no longer stand under what I deserve, but God has caused us to stand under what Christ deserves. God’s grace places us under the eloquence of his blood. He places us under all the adequacy of that sacrifice. God places us in the full deserving of our Lord’s obedience and righteousness. He causes us to stand under the total logic of his atonement, so that there is now no condemnation for us who are in Christ Jesus. Your conscience has no right to condemn you, and death has no right to terrorise you, and hell has no right to stand up before you because there is now no condemnation whatsoever. Why? Because you were and are in Christ Jesus. You stand in his merit, and you stand in his righteous obedience in all its glory, because that is what God did when he gave you to his Son Jesus Christ and joined you to him for ever. Your life stands under all the implications of how Christ lived and how he died. You stand in the logic of Calvary and the glory of the shed blood. You stand in the righteous life of Christ the blameless Son of God. God has united us to Jesus Christ his Son.
On one occasion, Albert Fallaize asked an old shepherd named Hamid ben Abdullah, to share his meditation on a verse of Scripture, and to give them the story of his conversion. The old man opened his Bible and read this verse to them, Isaiah chapter 51, verse 1. “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn;”
Hamid then said, “My people remember the day when the Sultan of our country would go to the distant tribes with some of his country’s soldiers, and receive tribute from each and every tribe. One tribe would give horses, another brass work, another carpets and so on. One year the Sultan found himself in an area where there was a severe drought. By good fortune they happened upon a poor shepherd who was able to lead them to a source of pure, cool water. The Sultan gave orders that the old man was to join the caravan and be taken back to the capital. The shepherd feared that he had in some way displeased the Sultan, and that punishment awaited him when they arrived. Far from this however, he found that he was allocated a room in the Sultan’s palace, and provided with the very best of food, drink and clothing. Even more amazingly, he was given a position as one of the Sultan’s counsellors.
“The well-bred and eminent counsellors resented the elevation of such a ‘nobody’ to this exalted rank, and set about to plot his undoing. They noticed that after each council meeting the old shepherd would go to his room, and shut the door. This was suspicious and they informed the Sultan; ‘We are sure that he is plotting your downfall.’ The Sultan heard them out, then took his officers to investigate. They opened the old man’s door and peered in.
“What they saw mystified them, for on the floor lay a small piece of matting, and on the wall, a hook supporting a dirty, patched shepherd’s coat and turban. Next to the wall lay a shepherd’s crook and a worn pair of sandals. The Sultan called the old man over and asked him to explain. ‘My Lord,’ he said, ‘when I have been in your presence, I return here and kneel down on this piece of matting; I look at the old garments and say, “That is what I was; I would have died like that”. Then I look at my new clothes and I say, “This is what I am, by the mercy of the Sultan.”‘
Having told his story, the old man said to Albert and the little group of Christians, “This is what conversion means to me, brethren. I come to the meetings, and the presence of the Lord Jesus is so real, that when it is over, I want to go away alone. I see the Book with all my old way of life and sins, and I say, ‘That is what I was.’ Then I think of the garments of salvation, and I say, ‘This is what I am.’ Brethren, Jesus had done this for me, Hamid ben Abdullah!”
2. GOD HAS MADE US ALIVE WITH CHRIST.
Paul goes beyond union with the life and death of our Lord. God has caused us to stand within the transforming and recreating might and energy of the living Christ, because we stand not only in the deserving of his suffering and his death and shed blood, but we also stand in the fellowship of the power that raised him from the dead. These two great principles stand together. There is the forensic – the righteous judgment that fell on Christ which means that for me there is no condemnation. There is also the transforming, that means that my life is never going to be the same again. It never has again the same outlook, or the same limitations, or the same priorities, because not only has merit and righteousness come to me, but power also, the regenerating and sanctifying energy of the Spirit of God. Because where does every Christian today stand? He stands as a member of the body of Christ, and the power that raised him from the dead, giving our Lord new life, is also giving to the child of God definitively in regeneration, and then day by day and every passing moment, the same life. We cannot be Christians without being in Christ, and we cannot be in him without being joined to the new life of Christ. That is God’s great answer to a man dead in trespasses and sins, he makes us alive with Christ and he raises us up with Christ.
This is the divine answer to the plight of man: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins” and God’s answer was not instruction, and great principles, and eloquent pleading, and marvelous ritual, and stirring singing, and evangelistic manipulation. It is this, “God made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions . . . and God raised us up with Christ” (vv. 5&6). That is the only possible response to the presence of the dead. New life! Resurrection! Men can do all things to the corpse of a man, they can hold a post mortem, and they can apply cosmetics and embalm and box and bury or burn, but God comes with none of those techniques. He comes with what he alone can bring with – life! He has made a dead man live! He has raised him up recreating, regenerating and resurrecting.
Here is the whole congregation at Ephesus. They were spiritually impotent. They could not know God; they could not trust in Jesus; they could not love the Lord; they could not see his glory. They were unable to repent and believe; they were dead, and then God intervened in all of their lives one by one, just as he had done with Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. It is this Saul who writes to them here and he says to them that God made US alive, and God raised US up with Christ. Here he stands in solidarity with the Ephesian slave, and the Ephesian teenager, and the Ephesian Granny and the newest weakest Ephesian convert and he says, “The same power that changed you changed me, and the same power that changed us was the very power that raised up Christ from the grave. We were raised up with him.”
Paul tells the Corinthians of the same change. He speaks to them of two classes of mankind, the natural man and the spiritual man, and everyone here – and in the whole world – are in the one group or the other. The natural man, says the apostle, cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God. Why not? Because those ‘things’ don’t appear to be of the Spirit of God at all. The natural man can’t discern that they are of God at all. They are ‘religion’; there is nothing glorious in them; he finds all this talk about God’s love, and Jesus Christ, and the cross and resurrection to be utterly unattractive. There is nothing of any interest in those things, nothing to draw him and nothing to compel his fascination. What can be done to such a man? It must be a work of God on him and in him, so that he ceases to be a natural man and he becomes instead a spiritual man, that is a ‘Holy Spirit man.’ He is made alive. He is given discernment. He is given a whole new range of interests. He is delivered from so many prejudices and addictions. God comes lovingly and winsomely and convictingly and terribly. He comes like the gentle dove. He comes like the rushing mighty wind to this natural man. He comes like the Creator once approached the dust of the earth that was the newly formed Adam and he breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and Adam lived. So God comes to this world constantly, like the mighty wind blowing on the valley of dead bones, and the bones comes together, and the sinews and the muscles, and the flesh and blood appear and then – what a transformation! – there is breath in their lungs and a heart that beats and eyes that open. Then that dead army rises and lives. God has done it, the Lord of resurrection.
You see the application to ourselves don’t you? Do we imagine today that a few changes here and there are going to alter us in any fundamental way? Do we think that regular church attendance is enough? Do we think that learning some Bible lessons is going to do it? Do we think that a course once a week and the right answers written on the lines is going to make the difference? Do we think that baptism is going to change us? Do we think that a bishop’s hands on our heads is going to change a natural man into a spiritual man? Do we think that some regimen of devotional exercises is going to tip the scales? Do we think that putting ourselves under the mightiest preacher in the world is going to change our hearts? Didn’t Judas put himself under Jesus? Most men’s thinking about religion is merely the rearrangement of their prejudices. They will find the most unintimidating preacher they can find where they can still hold on to their own basic ideas about God and daily living. They are refusing to face up to the diagnosis of the Great Divine Physician who says, “I’m afraid to tell you that this is your condition, that you are dead in your sins, and the only thing that can help you is life from above. Don’t look within, and do not look to man, and do not look to the church. Look to me! Look to God! You need a mighty injection of the power of God, that power that raised up Christ on the third day, that is the only answer. It is the only solution to your child’s condition and your friends’ condition, and your own condition, that the Lord who came to Lazarus come to you, that he who came to Jairus’ daughter would visit you, and deal with you as he dealt with that man and that woman by giving you also life from heaven, eternal life. He had done this for the people of Ephesus – “God raised us up with Christ” – then doesn’t this give you hope that he would do it for you? “Give me life! God you must visit me with life! Resurrect me because I am dead.” And do not stop asking him until you know he has answered your prayer. If you stop askin g then you are not earnest enough, nor sincere enough, nor serious enough. You are playing with religion. But Paul has not finished:
3. GOD HAS SEATED US WITH CHRIST IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS.
Do you see the wonder of these words, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (v.6). You see the glory of a Christian? He is the object of the great love of God. He is a man who has been made alive with Christ, and God has raised him up with Christ. How high has he raised the Christian? To the heaven of heavens. He is seated in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. We are sitting, Paul says, with Christ, and where is Christ Jesus? He is in the midst of the throne of God. He is in the centre of heaven, in the heart of God’s love, the focus of the joy of all the angels, and that is where the Christian is. Paul is not speaking about elite Christians, or any distinguished, eminent, extraordinary Christians who are alleged to have performed a few miracles and so are on the fast track to beatification. He is addressing the whole congregation of Ephesus. ‘Us’ says Paul to that church; ‘all of you – and me too’ – “God has seated us with Christ in the heavenly realms” – those are the exact words of the Holy Spirit. That is now our place and so that must be our destination. Heaven is the place where we will all be reunited; all those who have gone before us; all to whom we were bound in this life by ties of friendship, affection and love and from whom we are now separated by death. God has promised to bring us together again, and the place we are going to meet with one another is the midst of the throne. Where it all started is where it is going to end for all the people of God. We shall sit with one another again, but this time without any pettiness or complaints or misunderstandings. There are Christians who cannot bear to sit together in the same pew, but in heaven we shall all sit together on the same throne.
Let me remind you again that these words are so remarkable because they depict mere believers in Christ as comprehensively sharing fully and unreservedly in the privileges of God’s only Son. Jesus himself has prayed, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am.” (Jn. 17:24). He wants us in that place where we will have an unhindered view of his glory, and what better place can there be than sitting with Jesus himself? He wants us to be so close to him that we can see the joy, the eminence and the splendour that the Father has given to him. Above all, he wants us to see how much the Father loves him. We are to be in the midst of the throne, face to face with God, relating to him and to the Son and the Spirit actively and dynamically. Sitting with Jesus, encircled by his love, secure in his embrace, sharing in the blessedness and peace of his own heart. He will hug us close, enfolding us in the embrace of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
There is that great word of the apostle Peter writing abut the wonderful inheritance that lies before the Christian and he brings out those familiar superlatives to describe it – “incorruptible, undefiled, that fadeth not away,” – and then he adds that that inheritance is ‘reserved’ for us. In other words, it is our very own place. It has your name upon it. You go to a concert to see the Madrigal Singers, or to hear the orchestra playing some great classical music. Your children may have given you and your wife two tickets as a wedding anniversary present, and so you turn up and you show your ticket. Then you enter and look for your row, and for your number in that row. There is your place. Occasionally you may find someone is sitting in the wrong seat and then they have to move because that place is reserved for you not for them. So too every Christian has a reserved place in heaven. No one can take that place from you, and each Christian will make this extraordinary discovery. He will find that he has the very best place. He is in the best seat, right in the midst of the throne of God. There is no place better in all of heaven.
What Paul is commenting on is the fact that God has given to all believers an entirely new and glorious status. They were once objects of wrath. They lived under the cloud of God’s judgment. What was their address? In the condemnation of God. What was their destination? Outer darkness where the worm doesn’t die and the fires are not quenched. They were in sin. Where are they now? In Christ Jesus. Where is that? In the heavenly places. Where are the Christians in those places? On the throne. In the very midst of it. Where are they? With Jesus; “That where I am there they may be also.” God has raised us up together and made us sit together with Christ. We sit in the fellowship of the Redeemer. We sit in the sonship of the beloved. We sit in the prospect of fulness of joy and pleasures for evermore. This is the position of every single Christian, I say. You cannot pick and choose what privileges God is going to give his people. You can’t protest saying, “We’re not particularly going for that kind of honour. It is too great for us. We are simple folk, and it will be enough for us to stand on the edge of the crowds in glory looking at those who are much greater than us, right up there around the throne. We will be satisfied with that.” No. It is not your choice. God has put you too in Christ, and if you are in Christ then God has sat you down at his right hand in the midst of the throne, and you cannot say that this too profound and too devastating in its implications for your life, because this is the only salvation under heaven that there is, and the only alternative to hell, and the only answer to your sin, and the only possible redemption that exists. You have to face up to this your status today, and not play around at being a Christian. You must consider what lies before you – you are going to judge the angels – and I call on you in the name of God to challenge the ordinariness of your Christian life. You have to say, “Is it acceptable to me to live as I’ve been living? Is it right for me to be such a mediocre and unzealous and lukewarm Christian? Is it right for me to be Mr. Facing Both Ways? Is it right for me to make all these excuses about the compromises I make in my life?” You are destined to sit in the midst of the throne of God and I urge you to live according to your status.
If I am seated in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus how can I also sit alone before that monitor surfing the web, and visiting those ugly sites? Again, if I am seated in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus how can I also sit poring over my stocks and shares and business accounts hour after hour day after day and neglect the Scriptures or any communion with my heavenly Friend. If I am seated in the midst of the throne of God then what am I doing sitting in the seat of the scornful? King David, what are you doing there sitting with Bathsheba and talking sweet talk if you are someone who is seated in the heavenly places in Christ? If I am seated there how can I be so reluctant to come and sit in the place on earth where two or three gather in Christ’s name where this same Lord meets with us? So our status is that we are seated with Christ in the heavenly reams. Live according to your privileges.
4. THIS RICH GRACE WILL BE MADE KNOWN TO ALL THE AGES TO COME.
So this is the salvation that Paul describes, all these dead rebels, a company without number, are given life and they are raised up with Christ, and they are seated with the Son of God in the heavenly realms. Why? Paul tells us God’s purpose: “In order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (v.7). In other words, there is going to be a glorious divine demonstration of God’s incomparable grace in the coming ages. We shall grasp the real nature of God as we have never understood it before, and wonder and adore. We shall look around and we shall ask ourselves, who are these in the midst of the throne of God? There will be former prostitutes sitting there, and murderers, gossips, liars, thieves, homosexuals, torturers, Pharisees, proud, self-righteous, heretics and atheists, sinners of every description who have all been washed; they have been sanctified and have been justified. All their sins have been forgiven because they turned from them in repentance and cast themselves on the mercy of God in Jesus Christ. They didn’t wait until they were better. They came just as they were and threw themselves on Jesus’ loving arms and he didn’t cast them out. They were transformed in their habits and attitudes and thoughts. God made them perfect. He glorified them so that now they shine as the brightness of the firmament. There they are seated in the midst of the throne of God with Jesus Christ, and in the ages to come their presence there will show the incomparable riches of God’s grace. They deserved nothing, in fact they deserved the judgment of hell for how they’d behaved, but God expressed his wonderful kindness to them in Jesus Christ, not just in pardoning them but in glorifying them so wonderfully. Paul says that God wants creation to see and admire his grace to sinners. He is going to display it. This is not going to be some mystery. Heaven is a world of knowledge and everyone there will know and wonder at God’s wonderful salvation.
We ask the question, to whom is he going to show his incomparably rich grace? It will be to the human race itself, of course. Let us begin there. With our own eyes we are going to see all those sinners who have been saved from utter depravity, from lives of shame and worthlessness and we are going to be overwhelmed by the marvel of God’s grace. We will never realise just what his grace has achieved until we are there in glory. So God will certainly show it to us, I mean this very literally, this congregation here today. We are going to see this, but also God will show it to the myriad angels, the living beings, the Cherubim, the Seraphim, the Powers, Thrones, Dominions, Authorities and Principalities. He will show how rich his grace is to Gabriel and Michael the archangels. At every stage of redemption they have been fascinated with God’s dealing with men, when he drove our first parents out of the Garden of Eden at the Fall, and later when he protected Abraham and the patriarchs then the angels were involved. When he gave the law at Sinai, and called Isaiah to be the great evangelical prophet then angels were there too. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem and then throughout his life there were the angels serving their Lord. When he triumphed over death one of the angels was sent to roll the stone away. Some of them rescued his apostles from prison. Angels have always been servants of redemption. They watch and hear the praise and worship of his people when congregations gather on the Lord’s Day. Won’t the angels be fascinated with the church’s glorious climax? God will certainly display his grace to the hosts of heaven in the ages to come.
Then there is the vast universe. What beings live elsewhere in our galaxy or in the other distant galaxies the Bible does not say, but with the church as vast in numbers as the sands on the seashores and the innumerable company of angels we know there is a throng of intelligent beings who are intently fascinated with what is happening in the kingdom of God. The prophet Daniel refers to some beings he calls “the Watchers,” and they are intently interested in all of God’s works and ways. My friends, we are the tiniest specks, utterly insignificant in the vastness of the universe, but God’s purpose is to show to all the creation his kindness to sinful men. Think of it. All creation are able to see right now the might and power and glory of the Godhead. Yes, but it is only in redemption, through the grace of God in Christ, that the creature discovers how extraordinarily kind the mighty Creator is. They will see the vast universe and all the redeemed people of God, and they will see its Creator in a new light. They will say, “How kind . . . how wonderfully kind . . . how surpassingly kind . . . is the Lord Jehovah. How incomparable his grace.” The eternal theme of praise will be this wonderful kindness of God to save us.
5. WHAT SHOULD ALL THIS MEAN TO YOU?
So let us ask this question, what should all of this mean to you? I mean the fact that God has chosen you to be a part of this great plan, to save rebellious sinful man. You are going to see the whole outcome of this plan fulfilled and completed. That fact alone is overwhelming – if you think seriously about it. But there are three or four things in particular that I wish to emphasize. I obtained these concluding words from Jay Adams’ “The Grand Demonstration” (Eastgate Publishers, Santa Barbara, CA 93110, 1991, pp. 78-83).
Jay Adams says that learning about your part in the Grand Demonstration:
1. Should humble you.
When you understand the magnitude of what God is doing on this planet, the fact that creation, fall, and redemption have, as their ultimate object, to reveal the nature of God to man and to the universe, and that He has chosen you to play a positive role in displaying the riches of His glory, how can you not be humbled (not to say floored) by the significance of it all?
You – a puny, worthless rebel – have been chosen (purely by grace) to be one of those in whom God is demonstrating to the universe the goodness, compassion, kindness and grace that lie in the depth of His being! Your salvation astonished angels; shouldn’t it have a similar effect on you?. It certainly humbled Paul. In speaking of how God demonstrated His grace in his life before men and heavenly beings, he wrote: “Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace has been given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ . . . God’s intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:8, 10, 11).
Can you do any less than fall down on your face before Him in praise, gratitude and thanksgiving? What astonishing grace is yours!
2. Should thrill you.
Playing a part in a theatrical production is exciting. Participating in the joys of a winning team is exhilarating. But what greater thrill could you have, as a sinful, hell-deserving human being, than not only to have your sins forgiven, washed away in the blood of Christ, but to be chosen by the Lord of glory to receive glory and honor (Romans 9:23) which God has prepared for you from all eternity? Imagine sitting with Christ in the midst of the throne! It is glorious to triumph in sports or war. But never has this world even conceived of the riches of glory that the elect will receive, when in glorifying Christ (II Thessalonians 1:9, 10) they will bask in His glory.
The thrill of cheering on a winning team, of having sided with the victors, and now entering vicariously into the joys of triumph is only the faintest possible example of what you will experience as you participate in the glory and honor of that day when He comes as the glorious, conquering Lord of glory. That is what Peter, who had seen something of the glory of Christ on the mount of transfiguration, meant when he wrote of the future glory of which you will become a partaker at Christ’s “revelation” (I Peter 4:13) and of the Spirit of glory that already “rests” upon you (v. 14). Doubtless, that Spirit cannot help but cause joy and a sense of glory in you as He illumines your mind to understand the purpose of God’s electing grace and the role He has given you to play in demonstrating it.
3. Should motivate you.
If the great, biblical truth here set forth has given you new insight into the ways of God and man, surely that knowledge should motivate you to study the Scriptures afresh, looking for specific instances of the Grand Demonstration, as the theme, like a rock, thrusts itself upward, surfacing again and again on the pages of Scripture. Soon you will come to view all Scripture differently. These outcroppings of dynamic, basic truth, once perceived, should cast new light on all your study of the Scriptures. Once understood, nothing remains the same. The whole is now cast in the light of the Grand Demonstration, by which God has determined to display His mighty power and the riches of His grace. God is expecting you, day-by-day, to remember that what is really happening all around you is but a meagre part (but, nonetheless a part) of the Grand Demonstration of His nature that will culminate in the denouement known to us as the Second Coming of Christ.
Peter, along with James and John (cf. II Peter 1:16; I John 1:2), in a temporary and fleeting way, experienced the actual glory of Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration. They never forgot it. In this life, you will not do that. But, through their writings, you can read about it and vicariously enter into their experience. Moreover, by a spectacular sunset over the sea, in the most minuscule manner, you are experiencing something like the glory to come.
But, more to the point. When something in history or current events goes right, when someone falsely accused of a crime is freed, when a soul is saved, when a prayer is answered, when you read of the triumphs of Augustine, Luther or Calvin over sin and oppression, you learn something of the triumphant glory of Christ’s coming victory.
All-in-all, the fact of your election to eternal life, coupled with your new understanding of its purpose and place in the predestined plan of God, should have a deep, abiding impact on your life, leading to a new devotion to and enjoyment of your faith. How can it be business as usual for you, when you hold a leading part in the Grand Demonstration?
2nd May 2004 GEOFF THOMAS