Something Big Is Happening Here –
Sermon 2 of 3 from the Soul Food: Ephesians for the 21st-Century series
July 2010 – Sometimes you discover a new truth by accident.
That happened to me recently as I was reading through Ephesians. Actually I’ve been reading and re-reading Ephesians for the last few months. When I read David Powlison’s advice that we should master Ephesians and be mastered by it because “in a pinch you could do all counseling from Ephesians” and “It’s all there: the big picture that organizes a myriad of details,” I decided to go back and make it the focus of my daily Bible reading. So that’s what I’ve been doing for the last few months. Sometimes I read a few verses, sometimes a chapter or two, sometimes I read the whole book. Occasionally I ponder a single verse.
I’ve been struck repeatedly by how Paul emphasizes the cosmic dimensions of God’s plan. He does it in Ephesians 1 where he talks about God bringing all things together under the headship of Christ (v. 10) and how Christ is now seated far above all authority and power (v. 21). He does it again in chapter 6 when he says that we wrestle against principalities and powers and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (v. 12). Paul sees what happens here on earth as being closely connected to events in the spiritual realm. So with that in mind, I’m reading along in chapter 3 where Paul talks about how in the church Jews and Gentiles stand on an equal basis, with the same standing and the same privileges. That’s a tremendous truth to think about. Then you come to this verse:
“His 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” (Ephesians 3:10).
That’s the sort of verse you might read quickly and not think about. But it deserves closer examination. Paul says that God has arranged things so that the church of Jesus Christ displays the “manifold” wisdom of God. The word means “many-colored.” Picture a bouquet of multi-colored flowers or a piece of fabric with a vast variety of colors, red and pink and blue and brown and green and yellow. I have seen computer programs that promise that they can print pictures in “millions of colors.” That’s the idea here. God’s wisdom has many hues, many varieties, and God intends to use the church (meaning those of us in the church) to display that wisdom.
Ray Stedman explains it this way:
The word translated manifold here is literally the many-colored wisdom of God. Why did the apostle choose this poetic adjective? It is because life consists of many colors. We all have blue days. And red hours of anger and passion. And golden moments of glory. And dark, somber valleys through which we must pass. And lush, green pastures into which we are sometimes led. God’s love is manifest in all of these hues of life. So when you go through a blue time, it is God’s love that you are learning. When you go through a dark and pressured time, the love of God is being manifested there. You may not see it, but God knows how to make it clear. And even the joyful times are manifestations of the many-colored wisdom of God.
So far, so good.
When you go through a blue time, it is God’s love that you are learning.
But then look at that last phrase. God intends to display his “many-colored” wisdom to “the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” That can only be a reference to the angelic beings watching from heaven. When Ligon Duncan preached on Ephesians 3:8-13, he painted this word picture:
The Apostle Paul is saying that God has put you up on the stage of history and that when you look up into the galleries and into those expensive boxes you are going to see the angelic powers of heaven, good and evil, because God is putting them in graduate school to learn from you of His wisdom and glory. In other words, God is going to display His glory to good angels and bad angels. He’s going to display the wisdom of His plan to principalities and powers through you as the church.
Kenneth Wuest offers this succinct summary:
The Church thus becomes the university for angels, and each saint a professor.
The Church becomes the university for angels.
Folks, that’s a mind-blowing insight. It’s telling us that what happens to us on earth has a purpose that goes far beyond us personally. God intends to use the events of this life, the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the positive and the negative, all of it together and each part individually, to make a display for all the universe to see. He does it so that the angels scattered across the universe, in all their various ranks and orders and levels, will see something of God’s wisdom worked out through what happens to us here on earth.
I find this perspective helpful because so much of what goes on around us seems to make little sense. I’m thinking of the heartaches of life, how one person gets cancer and dies while another person is spared cancer and yet another person gets the same cancer, goes through chemotherapy and survives. Why does one child live and another die? Why is one family hit with a seemingly endless series of trials? Why did this husband decide to walk away from his marriage? Why did the car wreck leave this man crippled but the man next to him walks away unscathed? The list goes on and on and on.
Why was this person promoted and that one passed over?
Why do some people want to get married but never find the right person?
Ephesians 3:10 offers us a unique perspective that we need to consider. I can say it in one simple sentence:
Something big is happening here.
Something much bigger than us.
Bigger than our own personal agenda.
Bigger than anything we’ve ever dreamed.
If we are Christians at all, we know that life isn’t about us.
We’ve heard that for years.
If we are Christians at all, we know that life isn’t about us.
We’ve heard that for years.
But here is an insight that may bring light on some of those “why” questions.
God intends to use us as a demonstration of his wisdom to a whole galaxy of angelic beings who watch with great interest as we move through life on our way to heaven. They see us struggle, they watch us grapple with tragedy, they see us deal with setbacks, they pay attention when we cry out to our Father for “grace to help” in the nick of time. They see in ways we don’t see how God’s plan is moving forward through our suffering and pain and tears.
Now if this is so–and this seems to be exactly what Paul is inferring in Ephesians 3:10, lots of things that happen aren’t just about us. Something much bigger is going through our struggles in this world. We wouldn’t understand it even if God tried to explain it to us. But we get little hints of it in verses like this.
As I pondered this some more, I remembered that Jonathan Edwards commented that in heaven we will spend the vast stretches of eternity marveling with other believers about how the wisdom of God was displayed in his plan to save us and shape us into the image of his Son. When I first heard that, I thought to myself, “Well, fine. But I think after maybe 250 years or so, I’ll have fully covered all the mysteries of my own earthly journey.” I admit that’s a very human way to look at it, but that’s what I thought. But suppose God intends to use our life journey as a canvas on which to paint the richness of his wisdom for the angelic beings to study. Suddenly that lifts us into a realm of cosmic purpose that will truly stretch across the endless ages of eternity.
Something much bigger is going through our struggles in this world.
I think it means that at some point when we face hard times and when life makes no sense whatsoever, we need to stop and say to ourselves, “Something big is happening here." God never wastes anything. Not even the tiniest tear falls without a purpose.
We are giving lessons to a heavenly audience.
Sometimes we think that life should get easier as we get older. I doubt that is the case for most people. If anything, the mysteries of life become more profound as we realize how little we understand about why things happen the way they do.
Two people die every second.
But you are not dead.
As a means of helping us think about this a little deeper, consider these three quotes gathered from very different authors in very different places.
The first quote comes from a pastor who asked the following question, “Where in the Bible did God ever give someone an easy job to do?” Now we may quibble with the question, but I think the larger point is quite true. It’s hard to think of anyone in the Bible to whom God gave a truly “easy” job. Now why is that? God puts all of us to the test so that we will be forced to trust in him. If he only gave out “easy” assignments, we wouldn’t have to trust him very much. Maybe we would conclude we didn’t need him at all. But hard assignments drive us to our knees in prayer.
Earthly prosperity tends to be no friend of spiritual growth.
The second quote comes from a certain TV preacher. A few months ago, while listening to a snippet of a program, I heard him offer this insight: “God will never bring us to the place where we no longer need him."
And all God’s children said, “Hmmmm.”
That’ll make you stop and think. Down deep there is a part of us that would like to come to a place where we don’t have to trust in the Lord so much. Not that we don’t want to pray, but secretly we’d like to be in such a place of earthly fulfillment where we didn’t have to pray desperate prayers to the Almighty. It would be wonderful (or so we think) if things were going so well that all we had to do was to praise the Lord all day long.
Not going to happen.
Not this side of heaven.
God will never bring us to the place where we no longer need him.
If all our needs were met, we’d end up forgetting God just like the children of Israel did in the Old Testament. Earthly prosperity tends to be no friend of spiritual growth. And total prosperity generally means total disaster. I think that preacher was right on in what he said. God intends to bring us again and again to the place where we are crying out to the Lord, begging for his mercy and his grace.
That’s not a fun place to be.
But it’s where we need to be.
Anything that drives us to our knees is good for the soul.
The third quote comes from my friend Peter who pastors a house church in China. Last month he and his wife came to the U.S. for a special seminar in Dallas where they spent a week with leaders from other countries at a fancy retreat center. Peter said it was a very good week, but there was one drawback. “We had a beautiful room, wonderful meals, and everything we needed was provided for us. We didn’t even need to pray.”
It’s always easier to pray when we have a consciousness of our own need. While we were with Peter, he prayed powerfully for us and for my wife in particular who was going through some physical difficulties at that time. It was a transforming moment to hear this Chinese pastor pray so fervently to the Lord.
So much faith!
So much earnest desire!
Later he told us that the Chinese church has no choice but to pray and ask God for healing. Given the pressures of the last sixty years, the church has learned to call upon the Lord fervently. I know I’ve used that word twice, but then I think of James 5:16, which in the King James Version tells us that the “fervent” prayers of a righteous man avail much with God.
The end of the whole matter is clear. Do not lose heart when hard times come. Something big is happening here.
Do not lose heart when hard times come.
Something bigger than you can see.
Something bigger than you can imagine.
Something so big that you can’t begin to figure it out.
I believe God brings us back again and again to these times of desperation so that we will see that it’s not about us and our problems. God intends to use our trials to teach us to pray and to trust him more so that (and this is the point of Ephesians 3:10) the angelic beings will behold in us the many-colored wisdom of God.
When we see a fellow saint going through hard times for which there seems to be no earthly explanation, let us erect over that spot a sign with these words:
God at Work
When I was a teenager, I used to attend country churches where they would sing, “We’ll understand it better by and by.” Back then I didn’t appreciate the depth of theology behind that song, but with the passage of many years I see it more clearly now. And in this one verse Paul pulls back the curtain to give us a peek at God’s purposes that we would not otherwise know. As you face the trials of life, keep this truth in front of you and make it a bedrock of your faith:
Something big is happening here.
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