Scripture: Ephesians 1:1-14

Title: Artesian Wells

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Praise for God’s blessings
  • Blessings in the heavenly realms
  • Blessings in Christ
  • Blessings by God’s will
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

When Robyn and I were sent from Welcome Bay Baptist (in Tauranga) to train for ministry in Auckland, one of the members of our sending church (a guy called Dave) said to me, ‘Look for artesian wells’

–         It was said with love and out of a concern for our well-being

–         Dave was using the term ‘artesian wells’ as a metaphor of something that is deep and ancient and life sustaining

–         An artesian well is different from a regular well in that the water rises to the surface by internal pressure, so you don’t need a bucket or a pump to draw the water out

The water in an artesian well is trapped between layers of rock and consequently is under pressure so that when a hole is drilled in the upper layer of rock the water trapped underneath rises to the surface

–         The pressure may be created by a glacier or snow melt from a mountain which feeds the underground aquifer – and the well acts like a pressure release valve

Artesian wells were named after the former province of ‘Artois’ in France, where many artesian wells were drilled by Carthusian monks around 1126AD

–         The monks found the well water was a lot safer to drink than river water, because it had been filtered over centuries

Water from a flowing artesian well, therefore, is deep and ancient and pure

This morning we begin a new sermon series in the book of Ephesians

–         Ephesians reminds me of an artesian well

–         It is such a pure and positive letter – Paul is not writing to the Ephesians to correct some problem in the church and so it has quite a different tone to many of his other letters which are dealing with problems

–         More than this though, Paul has tapped into the goodness of God and it bubbles up naturally to the surface of his writing

Our focus this morning is Ephesians 1, verses 1-14

–         Verses 3-14 are an outpouring of praise to God for his goodness to us in Christ – technically known as a doxology

–         Paul’s praise is rising, like water from an artesian well, from a deep aquifer of spirit. From verse 1, in the NIV we read…

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfilment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this Scripture for us

 

Praise for God’s blessings:

There’s a lot being said in these verses – they are thick & rich with meaning like condensed milk

–         What we need to keep in mind, as we wade through the words, is that this is worship – it is primarily adoration of God

–         Verse 3 says it plainly:  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…

–         Paul goes on to punctuate his doxology three more times with the phrase: …to the praise of his glory…

–         In the original Greek this effusion of praise, in verses 3-14, is one long sentence – It’s like Paul is surfing a wave of God’s goodness and the wave is carrying him the length of the beach

What makes this even more remarkable is that Paul is under house arrest – he is chained to a Roman soldier while writing this letter

–         Physically he isn’t free but internally (his mind and his spirit) are soaring on wings like eagles

–         Most people in Paul’s situation would not be happy but Paul is worshipping God like he’s on cloud nine.

–         How is Paul able to do this?

Well, Paul can do this because the aquifer of his spirit is fed by the thought of how God has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

 

Blessings in the heavenly realms:

That phrase, ‘heavenly realms’, refers to the spiritual realm

–         The spiritual realm is sort of like another dimension all around us that we don’t normally see

–         We live in a materialistic society – so many of us have a bias toward physical, material things that we can touch and see

–         We tend to be less aware of spiritual realities, even though the spiritual world is just as real as the physical

Dogs can’t see orange or green, like we do, but they can see blue and yellow, so the same picture looks quite washed out in their eyes

–         If you throw a bright orange ball across the lawn they will struggle to see it because the orange & green look the same greyish colour to them

–         When it comes to the spiritual realm we are a bit like dogs (no offence)

–         We don’t see all the colours – spiritual things are camouflaged to us

–         This means there is more to reality than meets the eye

–         The heavenly realm or spiritual realm is still real even if it is beyond what we can perceive with our five senses

In 2nd Kings, chapter 6, the prophet Elisha and his servant are surrounded by an army of Arameans, with their chariots and horses, all there to capture him

–         The servant is shaking in his boots and says to Elisha, “Oh my lord, what shall we do?”

–         “Don’t be afraid”, Elisha answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

–         And Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.”

–         Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

–         Elisha could see the spiritual realm – the Lord’s army right there to protect them

 

You know, it’s that time of year again when I look at the church’s attendance statistics and write my contributions for the annual report

–         The last few years’ attendance has been a bit discouraging

–         We need to remember there is more to the picture than meets the eye

–         There is a spiritual audience all around us which we don’t see

–         In many ways the church is like an ice-berg with a lot happening under the surface – God is doing more than our statistics can measure

 

When we read Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we might imagine some kind of large and thriving church that has it altogether and enjoys a wonderful relationship with the community around it – but that wasn’t the historical reality

–         The church in Ephesus was quite small by our standards – only about 12 men and I suppose their families, if the men were married

–         And most of the wider community of Ephesus didn’t like the Christians all that much because they were bad for business

–         Ephesus was famous for making silver idols and Christians are against idol worship

–         But as small and as unpopular as they were, God was at work through the Ephesian believers to achieve his purpose

–         In Christ they were making waves in the spiritual realm

The other thing we need to keep in mind is that Paul’s letter was read aloud to the believers as they gathered in people’s homes for a church service

–         In a way Paul’s letter to the Ephesians functioned like a liturgy

–         Paul was leading the people in worship through his writing

–         They may have felt small and extremely vulnerable but I imagine Paul’s artesian well of adoration and praise refreshed them

–         It had the power to lift their eyes off the here & now and remind them of the spiritual reality

–         They might feel pretty insignificant and at odds with the world around them but in spiritual terms they had it made

 

Blessings in Christ:

One of the things Paul is at pains to emphasise it that God’s many blessings for the Ephesian believers (and for us) are ‘in Christ’

–         That expression ‘in Christ’ crops up 11 times in 14 verses, in the original Greek, although you won’t find it that many times in English translations

–         Paul describes the Ephesians as faithful in Christ – verse 1

–         They (and we) have every spiritual blessing in Christ – verse 3

–         God chose us in Christ to be holy and blameless – verse 4

–         We are given grace in Christ – verse 6

–         In Christ we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins – verse 7

–         God revealed his will and purpose to us in Christ – verse 9

–         Again, we are chosen in Christ – verse 11

–         We put our hope in Christ – verse 12

–         We are included in Christ when we believe the gospel – verse 13

–         And we are marked in Christ with the seal of the Holy Spirit – verse 13

Clearly the key to God’s many blessings is being ‘in Christ’

–         What then does it mean to be in Christ?

–         Well, it can mean different things depending on the context

–         But generally speaking, being in Christ refers to being in a particular spiritual environment

The environment in which we live (the geography, the climate, the values, the history and so on) shapes and defines who we are as a person

–         If someone lives underwater then they are a fish and not a person

–         Or if someone works in the countryside they have quite a different outlook to someone who works in the city

–         Or if someone grew up in middle class society this shapes them differently to someone who grew up in poverty

–         If you have been immersed in Maori culture then you will think in a different way from someone immersed in Pakeha culture

–         I grew up in 1970’s New Zealand and in many ways that has shaped me, just as my family have shaped me and the church too

–         If I had grown up in Russia or Iran or Germany or Venezuela I would be shaped by a different cultural and political reality

When our family became Christians in the 1980’s, spiritually speaking, we entered a different environment – we went from a pagan materialistic environment to being in Christ, and this required us to learn a whole new way of thinking and living

 

Being in Christ shapes and defines who we are – it informs our outlook

–         We live in Christ like a fish lives in water – Jesus is our natural environment, we belong in Jesus

We are in Christ like someone granted citizenship – Jesus becomes our new country, with all the rights and responsibilities that entails.

–         When we enter a new country we don’t impose our own culture on that country, we learn the local language and obey the laws of the land

–         When we become a Christian we cross a spiritual border, we enter Christ

–         That means we leave our old way of life behind – we don’t try to colonise Christ by imposing an ungodly culture on him

–         We learn his language of grace & truth and we follow his law of love & forgiveness

We are in Christ like a lock in a rugby scrum, or a first five in the back row – we are not just individuals, we are in Jesus’ team, we wear his colours

We are in Christ like a child adopted into God’s family – which means the history of God’s people becomes our history, our story, our whakapapa

–         Being adopted into God’s family also means Jesus is our older, kinder brother who looks out for us

We are in Christ like we are in a premium Kiwi Saver scheme – Jesus is our eternal security.

–         Yes, we make some contributions to the scheme but really God, our employer, contributes far more than we do

We are in Christ like being in a good job – God is our boss and discipleship is our career

We are in Christ like a business in profit – Jesus has saved us from bankruptcy and liquidation

–         He has turned the business of our lives around by paying our debts and making us prosper, so we are free to be generous

We are in Christ like survivors in a life boat – God has provided the means for our rescue

We are in Christ like a branch grafted into a vine – Jesus makes our lives fruitful for God’s glory

We are in Christ like being included in someone’s will or estate – we stand to inherit the kingdom of God

We are in Christ like a fine artwork in a collector’s possession – God values us and appreciates us and he won’t sell us at any price

We are in Christ like a reader who has finished a book – we know how the story ends

–         I could go on but you get the point: God blesses us in many, many ways but all of those ways are in Christ

 

Ok – so we’ve heard how the opening verses of Ephesians are an artesian well of praise and adoration for God

–         This worship is the natural overflow of God having blessed us in the spiritual realm and in Christ

–         The other idea that comes through strongly in our Bible reading this morning is that of God’s will, his purpose, his plan

–         We are blessed by the will of God

 

Blessings by the will of God:

In verse 1 Paul says he is an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God

In verse 5 he says, God predestined us to be adopted as his sons (and daughters) through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will

In verse 9, God made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure 

And in verse 11 we read, In Christ we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will

Paul wants to make it very clear that all these wonderful spiritual blessings are happening by the will of God

–         They are not happening by fate or chance or karma or by anything we do

–         They are happening according to God’s purpose and plan

–         What’s more they are not happening because God is under any sort of obligation – God is acting freely, his hand is not forced

–         These blessings are happening (and indeed have happened) because it gives God pleasure – he wants to bless us generously, lavishly

 

Now some people hear the word ‘predestination’, which appears twice in our reading today, and they get themselves tied up in knots

–         They start thinking things like, ‘So we get no choice. God chooses some people to be saved and others miss out. That doesn’t seem very fair’

–         Or they think, ‘I go to church. I must be predestined for heaven. It’s all arranged and so I don’t need to do anything. I don’t need to worry about people who don’t yet know about Jesus because their fate is already decided. And I don’t need to worry too much about my own behaviour either because I’m already in’

–         That sort of thinking completely misunderstands what Paul is saying here

–         The whole tone of this passage is adoration, not calculation [1]

–         God is good – he is generous and thoughtful and kind and fair

–         God is looking for ways to include people in His plan of salvation

 

Our thinking is shaped by our society which, generally speaking, is very individualistic – Paul is talking in collective terms, not individual terms

–         So it’s not that God decides beforehand this person is in and this one is out – it’s not a fait a accompli

–         Christ is the one who was predestined by God before the creation of the world – Christ is the one God has elected to save and bless

–         Therefore if we are in Christ we too are saved and blessed

 

If you can imagine being at sea in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and the boat you are on is sinking – it was damaged in a storm and despite your best efforts to keep it afloat you know it’s just a matter of time before it goes under

–         Jesus is the rescue boat prepared by God, before the storm, to save us

–         When God’s rescue boat comes our way we have a choice – we can either stay on our own leaky boat or get on board with Jesus and go looking for others who are about to go under

–         To be in Christ is to be in the rescue boat with others with a mission

 

Eugene Peterson provides a helpful comment on this issue of predestination

–         He notes how the verb ‘destine’ (as in predestine) derives from the noun ‘boundary’ – so when it talks about God having predestined us in Christ, it means God has marked out the boundaries in which we live

–         In other words, Christ defines the boundaries for life – sort of like a rescue boat defines the boundaries for our survival

–         More than just surviving though, Christ is the environment in which we get the most out of life

–         If we are in Christ then we are in a good environment for spiritual life

–         But if we are not in Christ, who holds us and supports our life, then we’re overboard treading water to delay the inevitable

 

Having said we are blessed and saved in Christ, we need to remember it’s not all about us

–         Verse 10 tells us God’s purpose is to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ

–         God cares for all of his creation, not just human beings

–         ‘All things’ includes the physical that we can see and the spiritual that we can’t see

–         It includes the land and the sea, the animals, birds, fish, insects and plant life, as well as the angels and other spiritual beings

–         The scope of God’s plan is both comprehensive and beyond our comprehension

 

Conclusion:

When was the last time you spontaneously burst into praise for God’s goodness and blessings? Maybe it’s been a while.

–         Perhaps the only time you offer God adoration and praise is at church on a Sunday morning

–         Is your spiritual life feeling a bit dry – a bit empty

–         Look for artesian wells

–         Find ways to tap into the aquifer of God’s blessings in Christ

 

Questions for discussion or reflection:

1.)    What stands out for you in reading this Scripture and/or in listening to the sermon?

–         Why do you think this stood out to you?

2.)    Why do you think Paul starts his letter to the Ephesians with an outpouring of praise?

3.)    What awareness do you have of the spiritual realm?

–         Where does this awareness come from?

4.)    What affect do you think Paul’s description of God’s activity in the spiritual realm would have had on the Ephesian believers who were relatively small in number and at odds with many of the people in their community?

5.)    What does it mean to be ‘in Christ’?

6.)    Why does God choose to bless us?

7.)    Where might you find an artesian well (spiritually speaking)?

–         How might you tap into the aquifer of God’s goodness to us in Christ?

 

[1] This is my paraphrase of something Markus Barth said