Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ Ephesian 4:7-10 ~ Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019
Every year, almost half of us in America embrace the desire for a fresh start at New Year's by making one or more resolutions. We resolve to make some type of change in our lives, often something in the way we’re living our day-to-day lives that will make a positive difference on our lives. Losing weight, getting rid of a bad habit, and/or reaching a specific financial goal are among the most popular resolutions that Americans make. We start a new year with fresh energy and firm resolve. This year is going to be different. This year is going to be the one! Fitness centers are packed in early January. Self-improvement books sell really well in January. Advertisements for diet plans, diet programs, dieting books will ramp up just as soon as Christmas Day arrives. With the best of intentions and the firmest of resolve nearly half of all Americans will create and commit themselves to a plan for change on January 1.
Yet every year, 95 percent or more of us with firm resolve fail. Early efforts prove to be a flash in the pan, and in the end, we don't lose weight, exercise more, stop smoking or drinking, or get out of debt. Many don’t even succeed in making it through January with their resolve intact and their resolutions on track. Less than 5% of all the people who want to change and change deeply actually do. Why is that?
Let’s get personal. Show of hands: How many here today have set new year’s resolutions in the past? How many have felt frustrated because as much as you wanted to make a positive change in your life on January 1 by January 31st or February 28th the idea was but a distant memory? As much as you wanted, even agonized to be free from a weakness, a bad habit, or a sinful pattern yet years into your walk with Christ, after multiple tries and much prayer, you remain unchanged. Why is that? What's missing?
In the verses we’re looking at from Ephesians 4 this morning, God talks with us about "The Power to Change.” He directs our attention to Christ and the powerful resources Jesus provides us for the process of change, the kind of power and personal help you need for breaking free from those fleshly patterns that want to keep you captive. Let’s dive in!
In order to understand the profound power Christ makes available to us, we need to take a little journey with Jesus. Verses 8-10 actually take us to one of the most mysterious points in Jesus' ministry: that period between His death and when He appears alive to his disciples and others beginning Easter morning. What happened to Jesus during those three days? And how can that help me break long-standing addictions or forgive someone who has deeply wounded me or help me clean up my language or break free from pornography? If you're ready for real life change in Christ, take a glimpse beyond the grave to find out:
Verse 8 takes us to an Old Testament quotation from Psalm 68: "When He ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people." What exactly does that mean? To really understand the imagery we need to go back to the Psalm and understand the context of what it’s talking about. King David writes Psalm 68 and as he writes truths about the Lord he is drawing on his knowledge of military strategy in celebrating the triumph of God over Israel's enemies.
In ancient times when a nation conquered its enemy, the victorious king would lead a great processional through the streets of his home city. Behind him marched all of his troops in shining battle array. Along with the soldiers there were the prisoners of war who had been captured by the enemy but were now freed by their victorious king.
Next in line are the conquered enemy armies, led by their defeated king. They are in chains, humiliated in their utter defeat. Finally, there are livestock and wagon loads of gold, silver, jewelry, and valuables captured from the enemy. When the procession arrived at the palace, the king would order the distribution of the spoils of war. One by one, the people would be given some token of the king's victory, which serves as a constant reminder and a source of comfort to the people of the king’s triumph over their formidable foe.
In writing Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul is describing Jesus as such a conquering king who is leading a victory processional: "When He ascended on high, He led the captives, and He gave gifts to men." Jesus won the greatest battle. He took on the full weight of this world's sin, the strangling power of death, and contended with the one behind both: Satan and his dark angel armies.
When Jesus was sentenced to death the Enemy thought he had won the decisive victory. But exactly the opposite was true. The final battle ensued atop a hill outside Jerusalem. There, suspended above the earth on a cross, Jesus unfolded the most surprising and unusual strategy ever conceived, so thoroughly taking our sin in His body that the Bible says He became sin. Nailed to a tree, Jesus felt more than just the physical pain of crucifixion. He endured the curse of God that sin deserves. He experienced the Father turn his face of love away from his own eternal Son. So piercing was this pain that Jesus cries out in utter agony, his soul’s heart-wrenching cry of abandonment: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And the awful scene ends with Jesus hanging limp, lifeless.
By all outward appearances, it looks like he lost, completely. Yet listen to what Colossians 2:15 says about what Jesus had accomplished in the unseen world, "having disarmed the powers and authorities (referring to Satan and his powerful demonic forces), he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." What looks on earth like utter defeat has actually signaled Jesus’ crowning victory! So King Jesus has in His processional ascension to heaven the shattered forces of the enemy. He also leads "a host of captives." We'll explain more on that in a moment.
But don't miss what happened after the battle. Verse 9 tells us that He "descended to the lower parts of the earth." After His death and sometime before he appears outside the grave on Easter morning, Jesus went to a specific place for a specific purpose. Know that Paul isn’t talking geography when he talks about ascending to heaven as though heaven is somewhere up above the clouds any more than he is suggesting that if you dig deep enough into the bowels of the earth you’ll find hell. He is contrasting the place where God dwells with where Satan rules. Just as Jesus ascended to the place of God upon his death in glorious triumph, another important aspect of Jesus’ complete victory over Satan, sin, and death is his descent into hell. Though we have enshrined the importance of this event, calling it to mind each time we confess the Apostles’ Creed, do we really understand what this means? More significantly, do we draw on the power that this event reveals to us for our lives of faith and following after Jesus as his disciples?
Before Jesus physically came out of the grave on Easter Sunday morning, he was alive and doing something incredibly important and powerful for our spiritual lives in the invisible world. Jesus descended into hell, not to suffer, but to demonstrate in an unmistakable way what he had accomplished. How proved what His "It is finished!" on the cross meant. He had fulfilled God's salvation plan. He had broken sin's power so thoroughly, so completely, that not even hell itself had any power over him.
Sin is powerful. But Jesus is more powerful still. The wages of sin is death which is why every human being is subject to death. Yet sinners who believe on Jesus will experience a power even greater than death. Just as Jesus overcame the grave and rose from the dead on Easter Sunday morning, so also every believer participates in Christ’s victory over death. Hell is where sinners are destined to spend eternity, unless those sinners through faith are connected to the Christ who can descend into hell itself, march right into Satan’s home base, the place where the devil exercises his greatest power and influence, Jesus could walk right into hell and proclaim He had completely conquered Satan. And what could Satan do about it? Was Satan able to stop him or silence him or show him the door? Nope. Nada. Not at all!
Friends, that’s the power Christ gives to us! This grace is so much more than simply “a get out of hell free card.” This grace is the power, the capacity, the enabling, the supernatural ability to walk away from Satan’s influence, to step out from under the dominating power of sin, to step out of the patterns that hurt those around you, that harm your life, and kill your spirit. The reason: the power that Jesus exercised through the cross, by his triumphal procession to heaven, by his victory march through hell, and his resurrection from the grave on Easter morning, that power is the gift that Christ proclaims to you, gives to you, activates in you!
What does that mean? Jesus died for your sin; so you have now died to the power of sin over you. Jesus proclaims that sin’s power of guilt and shame no longer has power over you. You have the right, yes you are free to step out and away from that prison! Why? Because Jesus rescued you from captivity to Satan, so you now live free. Here’s why you’re eager to do that: Jesus was raised to life again, and by his resurrection he raises up new life, a new spirit, a new you within you!
What does that mean? It means the grace of God lives in you! By God’s grace you’re a new person because the power of Christ is now the dominant power in you. The power of the saving grace of God at work in your heart in your life shows up and shows out in the way you now want to live your life differently. That’s what Paul is saying in verse 7: “But to each of us grace has been given ..." This defines who you are and how you live: the grace of God and the love of Jesus! You live in his love and you love to share his grace, the power of his love with others. He works in you so that you become a conduit of His goodness in the lives of others. He rewires your inner world so that you are a channel through whom He now works. Your life is no longer about you, doing what you want, getting your way, and accomplishing your will. You’ve been changed. You want what God wants. You go about living God’s way. You want to do God’s will!
You’re still you, but you are the new you, the better version of yourself. The you God had in mind when he made you. That personal touch shines in the last part of the verse. The serving grace from God you have "has been given as Christ apportioned it." Jesus acts out of His own generosity, exactly tailoring this gift of grace to fit who you are. In other words, this serving grace doesn’t destroy your God-given uniqueness. Rather, it meshes with your unique personality so that you are truly you, the best you that you can be! The you who glorifies God by the way you serve, doing so gladly because of the immeasurable saving grace and unique serving grace his Son pours into your life! Yes this is who you are by the grace of God and this is what the grace of God works in you: powerful changes by the power of Christ who lives in you! Amen.