RPM, Volume 18, Number 27, June 26 to July 2, 2016

The Hope of Faith

Ephesians 1:15-23

By D. Marion Clark

Introduction

This is the second of three messages on faith. In the first sermon I preached on the subject of "The Purpose of Faith," asking the question, "What does faith get us in this life?" The answer was that the purpose of faith is to make us faithful to God. What matters is that we remain faithful to God whatever circumstance we may face in life.

This begs another question. If faith is intended to make us faithful, why should we be faithful? If we struggle and suffer like the unfaithful, what does it matter? If faith gets me the ability to be faithful, what does being faithful get me? This seems to be a blasphemous question, because God is God and we owe him as his creatures all obedience. What else do we need to know? Who do we think we are to question God and bargain with him to get our pleasures?

Evidently, God thinks we need to know more, for God takes it upon himself to promise blessing to those who obey him. Let me give three examples:

Look at the terms God gives to Abraham when calling him to leave his country:

Leave your country, your people and your father's
household and go to the land I will show you.
2 I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you
(Genesis 12:1-3).

God offers Abraham blessing. Years go by and Abraham does not experience the blessing of children. God comes to him in a vision, Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward. But Abram has the temerity to question such a blessing. O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless... you have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir (Genesis 15:1,2). If I were God, I would have replied, "You ungrateful creature. You left the land I sent you to because you didn't trust me to feed you. You were willing to offer your wife to Pharaoh, lying that she was your sister. But I delivered her and protected you. I gave you victory in rescuing your nephew Lot. I've made you wealthy, and you are questioning my blessing? Instead God has Abram lift his eyes to the clear night sky and promises descendants like the stars that fill the sky. And then, incredulously, he makes a covenant with Abram for himself to keep.

Move forward 2,000 years. God the Son walks upon the earth. He has gathered a dozen chosen men to follow him and learn from him. These few men are selected, from among the billions of people who have lived through the ages, to actually live with the Son of God on earth. What higher honor could there be? A young man approaches Jesus asking what he must do to receive eternal life. Jesus calls upon him to sell all that he has and to join Jesus. And yet, because he was rich and unwilling to give his luxuries up, he missed out on the most wondrous offer given to an individual — to be in the company of Jesus Christ. It is then that Peter says to him: We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us? (Matthew 19:27) If I were Jesus, I would have replied, "How about me? Am I not good enough for you, Peter? Are you just hanging around me for what you can get out of me?" Instead, Jesus offers him and the disciples this:

I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life (Matthew 19:28,29).

Our third case is the calling of Paul into the service of Christ. In Luke's description of Paul's Damascus experience and Paul's retelling, the risen Jesus Christ calls Paul into service without conferring a promise of future blessing. Indeed, this is what the Lord tells Ananias who was to deliver the Lord's message to Paul: This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name (Acts 9:15-6). After the previous two examples, I want to say, "Way to go Lord. Show him whose boss. He's been persecuting you; let him have a little taste of his own medicine." And anyone knowing the life of Paul will agree that he took his share of suffering: five times the same lashing Jesus received, three times with rods, one stoning, plus continuous persecution from all sides.

And yet, here is the prayer of Paul for those to whom God called him to minister: I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe (Ephesians 1:18,19a). The Lord evidently communicated something more to Paul as to what he could expect, and Paul desires for his spiritual children to possess that same expectation.

Ephesians 1:18

Look at this prayer. Paul prays, that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know. Why does Paul have to pray that believers will know what he teaches them? It is because he means a knowledge that touches their very souls. He wants them to have a knowledge that possesses them, that colors how they see their earthly life and controls how they live.

What is it they are to know? The hope to which he has called you. This is the experience of hope itself. He wants them to experience hope, to experience the joy, the peace and confidence that hope gives. For to possess hope is to possess strength to bear through hardship; to be joyful in the midst of a troubled world; to be obedient to the commandments of our Lord. Hope renews us.

But Paul does not leave us with a mere feeling. We have hope because it is founded on something objective, on real blessings that await us. The riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.

We are heirs, heirs to the most wondrous treasures. As Paul says to the Galatians:

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise… 6 Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir (Galatians 3:26-29; 4:6,7).

In the ancient world it was the sons who inherited the father's estate. You, whether man or woman, are the rightful heir to your Father's kingdom. You cannot be disqualified.

The Riches of Our Inheritance Explored

Now, what have we inherited? What are these riches? We can understand them in two ways:

1. What we will experience
2. What we will become.

A. What We Will Experience

We will experience comfort, peace and joy. Listen to the vision of the restoration of Jerusalem — God's kingdom.

The LORD will surely comfort Zion
and will look with compassion on all her ruins;
he will make her deserts like Eden,
her wastelands like the garden of the LORD.
Joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the sound of singing…
11 The ransomed of the LORD will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away…
10 Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her,
all you who love her;
rejoice greatly with her,
all you who mourn over her.
11 For you will nurse and be satisfied
at her comforting breasts;
you will drink deeply
and delight in her overflowing abundance.
12 For this is what the LORD says:
"I will extend peace to her like a river,
and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream;
you will nurse and be carried on her arm
and dandled on her knees.
13 As a mother comforts her child,
so will I comfort you;
and you will be comforted over Jerusalem"
(Isaiah 51:3,11; 66:10-14).

We will experience love. Paul makes another prayer for the Ephesians: And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge�"that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:17b-19). The day will come when this prayer will be answered fully, for when Christ returns, there will be nothing that blinds us to the love of God. We are not separated from it now, but our own weaknesses dim our eyes and the trials of the world interfere with our sight.

But in that day of Christ's return, all of our trials will be done away. All sources of wickedness will be removed. The devil and all who belong to him will be thrown into the lake of fire, never to cause harm or evil again. As Isaiah 52:1 says, Awake, awake, O Zion, clothe yourself with strength. Put on your garments of splendor, O Jerusalem, the holy city. The uncircumcised and defiled will not enter you again. God does hear the cries of his suffering children and he will vanquish his enemies who cause wickedness, injustice and oppression in the world.

Furthermore, the world itself will be released from its own groanings and recreated into a new world:

The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:19-21).

Then, there will be nothing to cause us pain or fear or sorrow. And what will replace the bad that passes away, is the goodness of God himself, for God himself will dwell among us. Jesus himself promised us this:

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (John 14:1-3).

We will be comforted in the new world because God himself will comfort us. Hear the vision of the Apostle John:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away"(Revelation 21:3,4).

B. What We Will Become

These are the things we will experience. Then there is what we will become. Our own bodies will be resurrected, transformed from mortal into immortal bodies.

I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed�" 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory" (1 Corinthians 15:50-54).

There will be no disease, no sickness, no blindness or deafness or loss of anything. We will be whole. But even more wondrous, we will be righteous. We will become as we are now regarded in Christ; we will become the righteous people of God. We will be holy with no remnant of the sinful nature.

We've winched before at such verses as the following, knowing our inability to meet the standard given:

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).

But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy"(1 Peter 1:15,16).

Some day, we will. Think of this. You will not commit a single sin, nor have a sinful inclination. You will not cause pain. You will not say or do anything that is hurtful. You will always act in love; always act with integrity; always do what is good, what is wise, what encourages your neighbor and glorifies your Lord. Indeed, you will be glorified, for you will reflect, as was originally intended, the image of God. Scripture conveys this righteous glory in images of beauty and splendor.

I delight greatly in the LORD;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise
spring up before all nations.
1For Zion's sake I will not keep silent,
for Jerusalem's sake I will not remain quiet,
till her righteousness shines out like the dawn,
her salvation like a blazing torch.
2 The nations will see your righteousness,
and all kings your glory;
you will be called by a new name
that the mouth of the LORD will bestow.
3 You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD's hand,
a royal diadem in the hand of your God (Isaiah 61:10-62:3).

"Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal
(Revelation 21:9-11).

Understand that we, the people of God, are the new Jerusalem. We will shine in righteousness.

Our Motivation

Why be faithful? What is the motivation to keep the faith in the midst of trial? It is the hope of glory, the same hope that God has given to all his saints. It was this hope that spurred on the faith of the men and women of faith as attested in Hebrews:

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country�"a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).

After Paul writes of the resurrection that believers will experience, he concludes:

Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). We will receive our reward.

This reward motivated Paul in his own ministry:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

The hope of glory is what matters. To place our hope in this life is to denigrate the glorious purpose of God. It is good to enjoy this life. It is fine to pray for blessing in this life. But understand, this life on earth will never be, is not intended to be, the ultimate place and time for our joy.

We live in a fallen world that cannot contain the true and lasting joy of God. We remain a sinful people and cannot exhibit a perfect life. We must live by faith and must wait the promise of beholding our Lord face-to-face and dwelling in the immediate presence of God.

Why Hope Dimmed and How to Strengthen

We are not there yet, and the very fact that we have not arrived makes the hope too often dim. It is difficult to keep the joy before us of what we have never experienced. It is especially difficult when we must now engage in trials, when we are constantly confronted with our sins and failings and frailty. We are too often like Hamlet desiring death merely as a means to sleep, to rest from our troubles.

Rest from troubles we will have, but God is not content with that. Joy is the final word. Remember that. Every experience we have now of joy, however fleeting it may be, however wonderful it may be, is but a foretaste of the divine, eternal joy that awaits us.

When I think of heaven and of the eternal age that Christ will usher in, I do not try to visualize or speculate on what it will actually be like. Will there be real streets of gold? What will we do with our time? I think of my own experience of joy, of peace and love; of the times when I've been brought to tears with happiness; I think of that vague sense of longing for something more, to be more and experience more; and my hope rises within me, knowing by faith that some day, some day it will all, all of it, be fulfilled.

So, brothers and sisters, Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2). For know this, that same joy is ours.

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