Darren Goforth was a 10-year veteran of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office when he was murdered at a suburban Houston Chevron station just two Fridays ago. While many of us were busy heading out to enjoy Friday night football, authorities say the deputy was the victim of a “cold-blooded assassination.” Goforth was in uniform while filling up his patrol car and in uniform when he was targeted around 8:30 pm (August 28, 2015). The officer was approached from behind when multiples shots were fired. In fact, this unprovoked attack continued as the assailant continued to fire shots even after the deputy had fallen to the ground! Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman commented on this bone-chilling murder, “I’ve been in law enforcement 45 years. I don’t recall another incident this cold-blooded and cowardly.”
There are times when we sense the evil of this world and we feel an extreme vulnerability. We wonder how we will protect our families and ourselves. We look to our parents, our leaders, and friends for assurance. At times of national crisis such as 9/11 or Pearl Harbor, we wonder and shake our heads in disbelief. Every Presidential debate and every 30-second political commercial is aimed at saying just this, “I have a plan. Trust my judgment. You can relax.”
Is there a plan? Can we ultimately be assured or are we to live with anxiety and insecurity for the remainder of our days?
We’re doing a series on God’s Big Story where we are tracing the central storyline of the Bible. The aim of this series is to see the big picture of the Bible. I want to offer a bird’s eye view, if you will. The Bible’s story can be unpacked in these four sentences:
God made the world.
We rebelled against our ruler.
God reentered the world to redeem us.
And God will remake the world.
We traced the primordial pivotal points of the Bible’s storyline in Genesis from God’s actions before anything came into existence to His placing of Adam & Eve in a lush, pristine, perfect garden. We watched carefully as the First Couple “cut their own path.” We witnessed their rebellion bring misery into the world. And we were surprised that God kept His hand on the world and did give us up to our choices and desires. Instead, He promised to crush the head of the evil serpent, Satan and He promises to start over again with His chosen man, Abraham (Genesis 3:15; 15:1f). Hope emerged like the phoenix rising from the ashes. So climb on top of the observation deck with me and let’s get a better perspective of the Bible before us.
Today’s Scripture Passage
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:3-14)
This is one of the richest and most rewarding passages in all of Scripture. Beginning in verses 3 through 14 of the first chapter of Ephesians is 1 long sentence in Greek. There are 202 words in that one sentence and no other sentence in the New Testament comes close to this. This sentence is so long that no English translation tries to offer this as simply one sentence. Instead, they divide it into shorter sentences It’s not easy to read, but it is a magnificent and overwhelming beautiful sentence. It’s so rich.
1. There is a Plan
The Bible wants you to know that God has a plan for the universe. I count four times where this is said in these few verses: “according to the purpose of his will,” (Ephesians 1:5b)
“making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose,” (Ephesians 1:9a)
“as a plan for the fullness of time,” (Ephesians 1:10b)
“having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,” (Ephesians 1:11b)
Everything in history is moving according to His plan. To know there is a plan in the midst of a crisis is wonderfully reassuring. The moment we are in a crisis, we look for a leader who has a plan. In fact this plan includes God’s choice to bless you. Look again at verse 3 as we sense one of the purposes of His plan: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3) Now move your eyes to the end verse 6: “he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6b)
Now, the word blessing in the New Testament does not mean what it has come to mean in English usage today … When we use the word bless, it basically means to wish somebody like in “Bless your heart.” But that’s not the way the New Testament uses it. The Bible pictures the word “bless” as nothing less than having the all-powerful Hand of Heaven on you. To be “blessed” is to have nothing less than God in your corner!
Let me show you just one of the blessings. Do you see the words at the beginning of verse 4? “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4a) You’ll want to connect this thought to the words at the end of verse 4 running through the verse 5: “In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…” (Ephesians 1:4b-5) Do you comprehend the love of God? He didn’t simply begin loving you at the time when Jesus Christ died for you on the cross. No, God the Father set His heart of love on you from before the foundation of the world!
God has a plan. In fact, this 202-word lengthy sentence can be view this way… You are looking over the shoulder of God. You are watching how the jewel of God’s plan is turned at different angles for you to capture the sheer beauty and grace of God’s love, grace, and wisdom. God has lavished His people with His grace. If you are in Christ, you are bathed in blessings!
There is a Plan
2. Jesus Christ is the Center of the Plan
Over and over again, Paul repeats this phrase, “in Christ” or “in him.”
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, … 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:3-7, 9-14)
God’s plan from before the rebellion at the Garden was to send Jesus Christ to the Garden of Gethsemane to extinguish the rebellion. God’s plan from before the rebellion at the Garden was to recreate the Garden (Revelation 22:1-5) to place His people around Jesus Christ. In fact, God’s plan is to choose from all the various tribes and nations around the world to gather them around the throne in heaven one day (Revelation 7:9). Just imagine the display of color and cultural diversity on display for eternity.
2.1 Blessed Only in Christ
Now, if you want the blessings of God, you need to go to the place where they are found. In a matter of 14 verses, this phrase occurs 12 times.
You are … blessed …in Christ…
You are … adopted …in Christ…
You are … faithful …in Christ…
You are … forgiven …in Christ…
You are … chosen …in Christ…
You are … graced …in Christ…
You have redemption …in Christ…
You possess an inheritance …in Christ…
You are … sealed …in Christ…
If you were a pinball and this was your in a pinball machine, you would just keep bumping into this phrase: “in Christ.” You are blessed, adopted, faithful, forgiven, chosen, graced, redeemed, seal, and you possess an inheritance in Jesus Christ! You need to go to the place that is clearly marked “in Christ.” You will not find God’s best blessings anywhere other than there. You need to go to the place that is marked “in Christ.” It is only “in Christ” where you experience the life-changing, dead-raising power that raised Christ from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-23).
2.2 How Do I Receive Every Spiritual Blessing?
I wrote this sermon on my computer like many of you will do your work tomorrow. It was there on my computer that I wrote out my thoughts, including words to encourage you and to show you both God’s love and my love for you. It was there on my computer that I was able to delete my mistakes and rearrange parts of the text that I felt should go elsewhere. Had I written this sermon on a typewriter some 30 years ago, none of these benefits would be available to me. I am so glad for the age of the computer. And yet, for Apple and Microsoft’s technology to bless me, I had to plug the cord from the back of my computer into the wall socket. The computer was then connected or united with electricity. None of these capabilities were available to me if my computer wasn’t plugged into the wall. Like your computer, you must be plugged into Christ. Like your toaster, you must be connected to Christ. You must be united into Christ. Unless, you are connected and united to Christ, you will miss out on all of God’s blessings.
Think of it this way… you’re Married to Money. Imagine, if you will, that you meet the daughter of the famous Texas oilman. And while she is indescribably wealthy, you, on the other hand, are utterly destitute. You marry her and because you are legally married, all she has is now yours. You haven’t earned it, but her wealth is now yours. This is exactly how it works with Jesus Christ. The Bible says, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5). Christ is wealthy, only the wealth He earned wasn’t financial. No, His wealth was much more useful than the financial kind. His wealth was moral – He was sin-free. And when you are united to Christ’s death, you are now free from condemnation. It’s as if you paid the full penalty of your sin from your own moral bank accounts. All the medals He has on His chest… … all His awards and honors are now pinned on your chest. When you place your faith in Christ, you are united to Him.
There is a Plan
Jesus Christ is the Center of the Plan
3. Every Single Thing Folds Into the Plan
Americans love freedom and we cherish individual choice. We believe the future is unfixed and it’s an open script. “You can do anything you want, whenever you want,” you’ll hear in TV shows and movies frequently. This sentiment was expressed by the highly philosophical movie trilogy, Back to the Future. Do you remember what Marty McFly and Professor Brown said at the end of the third movie? At the very end, Professor Brown says these immortal words: “Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one …” We want to feel the future is whatever you make it. At the same time, when officers get shot, we want God to override such evil choices and put a plan in place a good plan. When crisis comes, we want God’s control to override the pain of our lives. Look with me at verses 9-10: “making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:9-10)
Notice the word “unite” is always there. It means to unite again. Reunite means that originally the universe was united but has now disintegrated. And only in Christ will it be reunited. Originally, the world was built to be under one ruler, Jesus Christ. And as we’ve seen, through the choice of the first couple, Adam & Eve, the world broke free from His rule and the world was cursed. Nothing went as planned because of our rebellion. Yet, God’s hand was entirely removed. But, His plan is still in place: “as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:10) All of this is part of God’s plan.
The Bible teaches that God is completely in control of what happens in history and yet he exercises that control in such a way that human beings are responsible for their freely chosen actions and the results of those actions.
You see, if a man robs a bank, that evil is his full responsibility, it’s laid at his feet: “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11) God is bringing everything single thing to the place where finally Jesus Christ, our King, is ruling again. And only when Jesus Christ is king will all things that are right now falling apart, come together again. He will heal His people. There is a plan. Everything is in the plan, and it’s moving toward something great.
There is a Plan
Jesus Christ is the Center of the Plan
Every Single Thing Folds Into the Plan
4. What’s the Point?
You should know that this passage really is a prayer. Notice it is addressed to God Himself: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:3a)
“to the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:6a)
“to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:12b)
“to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:14b)
This isn’t a classroom; it’s a worship center. The Bible doesn’t share this plan for you to consider it but to cheer it.
D Day Planning
The invasion of D Day on June 6, 1994, has been called the most difficult and complicated operation ever. The invasion called for 156,000 troops in Normandy alone. Nearly 2,400 aircraft and over 6,900 naval vessels would be used. By the end of June 11, Operation Neptune ensured that more than 326,000 troops, over 54,000 vehicles, and over 104,000 tons of supplies had landed on the beeches to repel Germany’s Nazi forces. It was, in Churchill's words, “the most difficult and complicated operation that has ever taken place.”
God says, “You’re impressed with this plan? Wait till you see my plan!” Who knew back in the Garden of Eden when Adam & Eve rebelled that it would take a garden to fix this? Who knew the Garden of Gethsemane was necessary to fix what happened in the original Garden? And who could imagine that God in lavish grace would fix His children a Garden again?
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 22:1-5)
The Bible doesn’t share God’s plan for you to critique it but to praise it. When you see this plan unfold in front of you, you bow to your knees in humility. When you see this plan unfold in front of you, you lift your voice in worship! God is praised by those who He has blessed (Ephesians 1:3). Yes, wonder at the plan, but marvel more at the Planner.
God, we are so grateful for your plan! We shudder to our very souls at times when a personal crisis emerges. Our disasters are our own doing. Yet, you have a plan. We are amazed at your intelligence and kindness toward us.
We are thankful for your love for us. We are grateful that planted us in a garden and you are taking us to a garden city. You are keeping your promise to Abraham.
You have blessed us by your grace. And we thank you for your grace. Thank you for sending your Son, Jesus, to die on a cross for our sins. Thank you for crushing the head of the serpent. When we failed to obey, you paid our debts. And thank you for showing us mercy in the cross.
We long to see your face and to enjoy your presence as Adam and Eve did so many years ago. Bless us with your presence and remove from us the sin that so easily hurts us. Walk with us again through your Son, Jesus Christ.
Where are You in His Plan?
Sue was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. But the night before she was to hear the results of her biopsy, she was filled with anguish and despair. She knew something was wrong and she feared the worst news the next day when she visited the doctor’s offices. But then, she said she felt an overwhelming sense of calm that overwhelmed her. And she heard the words, “It will be alright, I am with you.” She called it a chilling moment but she also said it was a gift that would sustain her.
Are you united to Jesus Christ?