Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 August 2, 2015
“Christ Exalted for the Church’s Good”
Text: Ephesians 1:20-23
We continue today in the chapter-long prayer that is the first chapter of Ephesians. For several weeks prior to last week, we noted Paul’s praise of God—his doxology, if you will (3-14). Then Paul turned to intercession, or making petitions to God in behalf of others (15-23). Last week (in 15-19) we noted both Paul’s thanksgiving for the Ephesians, and his intercessions on their behalf. In today’s text (in 20-23), Paul, led by the Spirit, moves to praise God for His exaltation of Christ, and we see that God designs that exaltation for the Church’s benefit. Let us give attention to God as He speaks to us through His Word.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
Paul provides three ways in which the Father exalts His Son. First, God the Father exalts Jesus by raising Him from the dead. Paul, in his first letter to the church at Corinth, alludes to an impressive company that saw Jesus on earth after His bodily resurrection—over five hundred eyewitnesses (1 Corinthians 15:6) at one time, among others. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most-copiously, most-nearly-contemporarily attested fact in ancient history. This also is the united testimony of theological orthodoxy—especially as codified in the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. Moreover, Jesus’ resurrection guarantees our own, as Jesus Himself asserts, “Because I live, you shall live also” (John 14:19). All of Scripture’s promises concerning our eternal life find their ground in this fact: Jesus Christ is risen; He is risen indeed.
Second, God the Father exalts Jesus by seating Him at His right hand. Not only does Jesus sit at the right hand of His Father, but He sits far above every rule, authority, power, and dominion. This is, after all, where He was—and now is, and evermore shall be—in eternal glory. Many an earthly rule exalts itself against Christ, and many a spiritual power in unseen realms exalts itself against Christ, but none shake His present and future reign. Note especially this: All authority exerted on earth, even corrupt authority, derives from Him Who executes His decrees in creation and providence (cf. Westminster Shorter Catechism, answer 8)—though He is not the author of the sin inherent in corrupt authority (cf. James 1:13).
Not only is Jesus placed far above every so-called ruler, but also He wears and owns the Name above every name in every age. In that most profound statement of Jesus’ humiliation and exaltation in Philippians 2:5-11, Paul through the Holy Spirit affirms that every knee eventually will bow to Jesus and that every tongue eventually will confess, “Jesus is Lord,” to the glory of God the Father. Note that one day every tongue, either gladly or grudgingly, will confess Jesus’ Lordship. What a day that will be; let us be sure to be on the side confessing Him gladly.
Third, God the Father exalts Jesus by placing all things placed under His feet. David, in one of his seventy-three Spirit-led psalms, writes, “The LORD says to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool’” (Psalm 110:1). Jesus, in the days immediately prior to His crucifixion, invokes this Messianic remark from David and applies it to Himself (Matthew 22:44 and parallels). After that crucifixion (and His subsequent resurrection), Jesus assures the Eleven and us that He has all authority in Heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). Over twenty years after Jesus’ return to Heaven, Paul tells us that Jesus must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet (1 Corinthians 15:25). This is true as regards eternity, but the forces assembled together against Jesus yet live on finite, borrowed time. May the day of Jesus full, final victory come soon in time and space.
Now see that this tri-fold exaltation of Jesus is for the good of the Church. After all, He is the Head over all things for the Church. The Holy Spirit tells us that Jesus is our Head later in this very letter (in Ephesians 4:15 and 5:23). We see Him leading (i.e., being our Head), and we see ourselves following (i.e., following our Head) in His call unto His disciples, both in New Testament times (cf. Matthew 4:19, e.g.) and in every age. He calls, and we follow—by His grace without delay, challenge, or excuse. Also, we see Jesus, Who is the Good Shepherd, leading His own into good pasture (John x.1-21)—and we see ourselves following our beloved, trustworthy Shepherd. We also see Him Who creates and perfects our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Should not the One Who founded and purifies our faith receive our glad allegiance and submission? Let us render this and much more unto Him Who is our Head.
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 that the Church is the Body of Christ—and that we are the constituent parts of the Body with Christ Jesus as our Head. Paul is quick to say that no part of the Body can say to any other part, “I have no need of you,” and no part can say of itself, “I am not needed.” The various parts of Christ’s Body necessarily are interdependent; there are no useless or vestigial parts, and there are no parts entire unto themselves. Moreover, all the parts grow up into Him Who is the Head, Christ Jesus.
The blood-bought Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, in sum, is the fullness of Him Who fills everything in every way. The Church in a sense is the full manifestation of His being. What is a groom without a bride, or what is a king without a Kingdom? Jesus stands not bereft of these. He is the Bridegroom, and the Church is His bride. His is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, and the redeemed constitute His Kingdom and abound under His righteous reign. Conversely, Jesus fills the Church with all His goodness and power. We have nothing apart from Him, but, being in Him, we have need of nothing further—for He sees to it that we have all that we need. Hence, we are both the full manifestation of His being and are filled to all the fullness of God.
Let’s apply what we have learned. Because Christ is exalted—and that for the Church’s good—our eternal union with Christ is secure through faith in Him. He Who has the victory over everything imparts that victory and its fruits to us. As a result, we dwell in the unshakeable grip of God’s grace. Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). This is indescribably good news, but it must not lead us to passivity, but to vigorous Christian activity.
Concerning that activity, because Christ is exalted for the Church’s good, our ministerial efficacy is assured. We worry about failure in Christian ministry, or about others’ rejection of our offered Christian ministry. We need not worry, because the ministerial success that God intends for us to realize will happen. He will use us in Christian witness to those not (yet) in Christ—and those of His sovereign election will come to faith in Him. He will use us in Christian care to those in Him, and those fellow Christians will receive great blessing from what seems to our eyes very modest, ordinary service. Christ is exalted for the Church’s good. Let us know Him, make Him known, serve Him, and otherwise enjoy Him with great confidence and joy.