Summary: In a time when the role of the church is becoming fuzzy we need the spiritual discernment to see that, despite external circumstances, the fullness of the power of Christ is in the church.
The Backbone of the Church
Congregation in the Lord,
Let me start by raising a hypothetical question. In a hundred years when people look back to this period of church history in Australia, how will it be classified? Will it be classed as a dismal time? Or will people say ours was a time of real impact? Consider our situation. Here we sit in the modern church in Australia. And we have to admit that the golden age of the church seems to be well and truly gone. In the past bright students were encouraged to be ministers. Now the ministry is far from being a priority for such people. There was a time when the church had a role in directing the shape of society – now it is lumped together with a whole range of “special interest” groups. Even those who grew up in the church are losing interest - the number of people leaving the church increases at an alarming rate.
Of course that doesn’t mean we have given up. We still have our dreams:- visions, goals and direction setting are concepts which are often spoken about. And it is not as if we are sitting around doing nothing:- program after program is tried and tested. People are encouraged to be involved and make a difference. And always, still always, we pray fervently:- praying that the Lord will give us wisdom and direction as we seek to minister to the culture in which He has placed us.
Certainly there are events which are happening which get us excited. And yet it would also be fair to say that a sense of defeatism has been creeping into the church. The excited expectation of the past is just not as active today. And we sense that we shouldn’t feel defeated – we even ask God to forgive us for such thoughts. And we want to change. But we not always sure where to start. That’s why we are considering this passage today – because it does tell us where to start. We start by directing our attention onto the power of God.
The issue of God’s power at work is really the central message of this section. But Paul does not have the general power of God in mind – he has a specific focus.
“That power is like the working of His mighty strength which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead” (19b-20a).
We are talking here about “death-defeating” power.
• “Death-defeating” power enabled Jesus to be the victim of Satan’s mightiest weapon and yet walk away from the battle unharmed and untouchable.
• “Death-defeating” power signalled the beginning of a mass-exodus of people who were in the clutches of death, but who will now follow Jesus because He is just the first of many who would be raised from the dead.
• “Death-defeating” power proved that it was possible to rebuild a broken relationship with God. When God raised Jesus from the dead God was saying, “You do not belong in the grave. You belong before My throne”.
The fact that Jesus rose from the dead was not a simple matter. It took the combined work of our Triune God to make it happen – real power is at work here. Power being used by God in Christ to give a comprehensive answer to the sins of our past, our needs in the present, and our fears for the future. It is that power which is able to turn around the history of mankind – once the road was leading to eternal separation from God – now an eternal covenant becomes a real destination. It is power which can move us from the sphere of death to the throne of God. Power which enables us to follow Christ and walk in His footsteps. That power would be amazing enough, but its effects don’t stop there.
Paul goes on to say:
“That power … seated (Christ) at (God’s) right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age abut also in the age to come”. (20b-21)
Clearly, through His death and resurrection, Jesus is put into a position of staggering influence. But let’s be sure we understand these words correctly. Paul is addressing a context where all people, not just believers, were consciously aware of the presence of evil forces. Indeed such was the mindset of most people until the early 1800’s when science began to dispute such “nonsense”. The people of the early church knew “power” was in the hands of the dark forces. They really feared being influenced by demons and devils. When Paul speaks about the sitting of Christ far above such forces he is giving a perspective which reverses that fear. Christ has even these forces under control.