AGCC Sun. a.m. 4/21/2002


TEXTS:  Ephesians 3:1-21


Why is it the Church gets so much attention in this world, both good and bad? It is often the focus of this world's positive wonder and negative scorn, why? Along with politics, religion stirs up more debate, attention, and intrigue than any other subject. ILLUS:There are two kinds of books that always sell well: mysteries and love stories. The gospel is both. It is a mystery, long hidden, at last revealed. It is a love story in the finest sense of that word. It unveils God's love for the world and for us. -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997). The world has never been able to explain the continued power and presence of the Church around the world. So many other organizations that have faced hostile political pressures have simply disappeared, businesses that have experienced poor economic times have folded up their tents and disappeared from the landscape of this world, groups that have been attacked and persecuted have surrendered. BUT, the Church has withstood all these troubling circumstances and much much more and is stronger and larger today than ever before! How, and why? This really is a mystery - but one who's secret is revealed in the Bible! PROP. SENT:      The continued success and existence of the Church through 2,000 years of turmoil and trouble can only be explained by one thing … God's supernatural power!     Zec 4:6 "… 'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty." "Might" - could mean political or financial power, "power" - could mean human effort. It is ONLY by His Spirit that the Church marches on!


A. Unworthy     3:1-5 1. Paul was hardly the choice for a Christian much less an Apostle! a. He once literally murdered people who called themselves Christians! b. He hated the Church prior to his conversion experience. c. He wasn't much to look at and was cocky, he was sure he was right about everything before Christ confronted him. 2. He was hardly the kind of person we usually associate with love and peace!! 3. God's love and grace alone is a mystery, why He bestowed it on people like Saul of Tarsus, or characters like you and me is itself a mystery! 4. The way to God used to be so complicated, and so difficult … now by God's sacrifice and grace it is so easy, gone is much of the mystery! ILLUS:How it must have startled those early Jewish Christians to read in the letter to the Hebrews, "Let us draw near." Their whole Jewish tradition said just the opposite: "Stand back!" The architecture of their temple said it with an outer court for the Gentiles, an inner court for the women, and an inmost court for the men. After that came the temple proper, which only the priests could enter. The whole message of that architecture was "Stand back!" There were ranks of people to match the temple's architecture -- a high priest, and then lesser priests, then the men, then the women, and finally the Gentiles. There were rituals to match the ranks. Burnt offerings were offered at an open-air altar in sight of all. The altar of incense was inside the temple, seen only by the high priests and seen only dimly by them, in a shadowy room lit by seven candles. Shed blood was offered for the sins of the people in the inmost room, shrouded in complete and perpetual darkness. All was calculated to say, "Stand back!" Against this background, the letter to the Hebrews offers us a blessed assurance: "Let us draw near to God, with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith" (Hebrews 10:22). -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997). a. While religion can make it hard to come to God, Jesus' blood has opened the way freely for all to come. b. The mystery about God's grace wasn't clear until Christ came and died. The way to God before Jesus came had been full of rituals and complicated processes, but in Christ the door is wide open and even the most unworthy of people can march into God's presence through the blood of Christ! B. Unity     3:6 1. God's grace was intended to do one thing no political or economic power has ever been able to … unite the most disparate of people into one body, His Church! a. Christ does it by changing the person from the inside out; the world tries to unite people by changing things from the outside in. b. Christ's offer of "freedom from sin" unites us, the mystery of God's grace at work in the hearts and lives of sinners! ILLUS:In the late summer of 1989 one million people in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia linked arms and formed a human chain that was 360 miles long. When the chain was completed, one word was passed along the line. Each one spoke to the next until that one word had been passed along all those 360 miles. The word was "freedom!" When our Lord Jesus Christ cried from the cross "It is finished," he might as well have said "freedom!" Our freedom from sin, our freedom from ourselves, our freedom from death and the grave were all won on the cross and celebrated in the resurrection. -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997). c. If political freedom can move so many, just think what spiritual freedom can do! 2. Some nations offer freedom in the form of human rights, but Christ offers freedom in the form of holy righteousness! a. Christ brought together Jews and Gentiles in Paul's day … in his day they often hated each other! b. Christ brings together black and white, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, powerful and weak, and makes them one in Him! c. What other power on earth can do this? 3. Yes, the Church is a mystery, it makes no sense to the outsider, they can't see what unites us, it is Jesus Christ and His Spirit! a. But it must not be a mystery to us! b. We must always remember what unites us! It isn't our great ideas, our programs, our philosophy or styles; it is the power of God's Spirit that makes us one! II. MYSTERY OF THE GOSPEL     3:7-13 A. Unsearchable!     3:7-9 1. So what does the Spirit use to draw us? a. The "gospel" … the "good news" of salvation! b. Preaching the gospel is hardly the kind of device the world would use to transform human beings into a loving body of believers! c. Yet, this is precisely how the Spirit energizes people, turning them from sinner to saint … and the world doesn't get it! 2. Paul stated this amazing truth: a. 1 Cor 1:18 "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." b. 1 Cor 2:14 "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." 3. Preaching the Gospel has power, the power of God's Spirit, so it not only transforms the lives of those that hear it and respond it also transforms those who tell it! ILLUS:Sometimes telling a story has as much effect on the teller as it does the listeners. Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher, recalls: "My grandfather was lame. Once they asked him to tell a story about his teacher, and he related how his master used to hop and dance while he prayed. My Grandfather rose as he spoke and was so swept away by his story that he himself began to hop and dance to show how the master had done. From that hour he was cured of his lameness." When we tell the story of our Master, we too experience his power. -- Timothy K. Jones, Rocky Mount, Virginia. Leadership, Vol. 4, no. 4. a. The world has never figured out the power of preaching the gospel … nothing on earth has so transformed the world as Christ's death and resurrection! b. It is the power of God's Spirit in preaching that moves people's hearts. c. The message is from God and not man, that is the primary difference! d. It is no mystery that God's Word should have God's power in it, the Spirit is the author of the Word! B. Unveiled!     3:10-13 1. God is making His presence and power known through His Church! a. It is critical that a Church be what it should be … God's reputation could hang on our reputation! b. It is through the Church that God makes known His manifest wisdom! 2. When we say we are Christians the world expects certain things … they expect the best of what God has, not the worst. 3. It is important we live up to His name! ILLUS:The boxer who is now known as Muhammad Ali began his life as Cassius Clay. He changed his name. He said that Clay was a name that came from slavery and he would not wear it any longer. What he did not know was this: the Cassius Clay for whom he was named was a fiery opponent of slavery. He opposed it at a time when it was quite dangerous to do so. On the other hand, the original Muhammad Ali did nothing to replace slavery with freedom. As Christians we wear the name of the one who set us free. -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997). a. The world can't imagine the power of the name "Christian" ("Christ - like") … in fact, it is often scoffed at. b. But there is a reality to that name that defies the world, in that name Christ is unveiled and His love and forgiveness are made known to us and to others. c. No matter the world's attitude toward that name, it is the mystery of God's love unveiled in a dark world … the Church marches on as Christ's standard bearers! 4. The only way we can receive entrance into Christ's Church is through humble recognition that we are a sinner … no well known name, no power of family lineage, no office can bring us into favor with God, only our humble recognition that we are sinners in need of His grace … and then He changes everything and makes us sons and daughters of the most High God!! 5. We dare not come any other way; no braggadocio foolishness will gain us entrance to God's salvation, only brokenness and faith. ILLUS:In 1989 Zita, the last empress of Austria and the last queen of Hungary, died. She was buried in the royal crypt in Vienna where the other Hapsburgs lie. When the procession arrived at the church, someone knocked on the door. One of the friars asked who was there. They answered, "Zita, Empress of Austria, Queen of Hungary and of Bohemia, Princess of Bourbon-Parma." They were denied admittance. A second time someone knocked. "Who's there?" "Empress Zita," was the answer. Still she was not admitted. There was a third knock. "Who's there?" "Zita, a poor sinner," was the answer. Then the procession was allowed to enter. -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997). 6. We stand on equal ground when we come to Christ - as sinners, and we stand on equal ground when Christ has saved us - as saints, brothers and sisters in Christ! 7. The Gospel reveals that Christ has always planned to do His work in the world through His Church energized by His Spirit … not through the political, economical, and educational aspects of this world. a. We must never forget this in building His Church! b. Use everything else as tools, but rely on the Spirit for power! III. MYSTERY OF GOD     3:14-21 A. Unshakable!     3:14-19 1. Another "mystery" about the Church is its survival these past two millennia! a. Again, this only proves the reality of the Spirit's power behind the Church, what other institution or nation has lasted this long? b. The Church's success is not contingent on man's power; it is based on God's power, and thus unshakable! 2. Too many times Christians fret over the surrounding evil and act as though the Church could go under any moment, we must remember that nothing on earth is more unshakable than the Church!!! a. Jesus said the "gates of Hell shall not destroy her." b. We must guard our focus and faith in this world… ILLUS:Many times we have heard it said that the church is surrounded by an evil and hostile world, like a besieged fortress. We need to remember that it is also true that the church is surrounded by God's love and care! Individually and collectively, we are blanketed by God's love as the earth is blanketed by the atmosphere. God loves the church and will never forsake her. -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997). 3. We have an unshakable message from an unshakable God, as the unshakable Church, so why are we afraid to speak out? a. We are "rooted" in Christ! b. We have God's Spirit to empower the message and the messenger … this is Paul's point in Eph 3:17b-19 "… And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge -- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." 4. Let the Church move and let it be bold! B. Unfailing!     3:20-21 1. God WILL do more than we can imagine or think … or ask! a. We are the ones that so often limit God. He can with one stroke accomplish things that no man can do! ILLUS:A famous wagon once stood in the city of Gordium in Asia Minor. Its yoke and pole were tied with an intricate knot. It was said that whoever untied the knot would be ruler of Asia. Alexander the Great came, severed the knot with one stroke of his sword, and the Gordian knot became proverbial. We were bound by sin. Christ from his cross set us free with one stroke! -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997). b. Our sword is the sword of the Spirit the Bible, and it can cut loose any knot that would bind people up! c. If Christ could defeat Satan 2,000 years ago and rise triumphantly over the tomb then He can handle anything that is coming in this age, and so can His Church when it is dependent on His Spirit for power! 2. We cannot fail, because Christ cannot fail! 3. If we don't believe in God things don't happen … we act on what we believe, so our actions reflect the level of belief we truly have! a. He is ready to do "IMMEASURABLY MORE THAN WE ASK OR IMAGINE…" it is tragic when we don't act on this! b. The Church need NOT be weak and ineffective in this world; God's Spirit is ready to work through people of faith! 4. We underestimate God, so does the world! ILLUS:Sergei Nikolaev, an energetic Christian leader in the Soviet Union, said, "Don't look at the circumstances and don't look at what you can't do. Look at your Lord. Call on his power. Trust his timing. Don't put a period where God puts a comma." -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997). 5. Now the real questions! Now that you understand some of the mystery and the marvel of God's desire to empower His saints and His Church … what is it that God wants you to do? a. Don't limit Him, trust Him! b. Develop a plan of action consistent with His character and calling. c. Follow through … and watch the mystery of godliness worked out! CONCLUSION:    The Church is a true mystery! How has it existed through so many political contexts, from persecution to prosperity? The only explanation for the Church's continued success and existence is the power of the Gospel - the good news that anyone can know God's love and peace. In the natural the Church would be doomed to failure, but because it is endued with power that is supernatural it cannot be a failure! The Church's power comes from the Gospel and God's people living together in Christ's love.