"Through Jesus blood we are set free, and through his death we are empowered by the promised Holy Spirit and given assurance of an eternity with Him."
I want to look at this lovely passage not so much verse by verse as by taking an overall theme, and the theme is found in verse 18 - hope.
The NIV translation has Paul praying that his readers may know the hope to which God has called them; the New Living translation talks of "understanding the wonderful future God has promised to those he called". I love that translation, it really shouts out what I think is the encouragement that Paul is trying to share with the young Church at Ephesus.
The inference is plain. We are talking about a hope that has its sights set firmly on the future. But at the same time its almost certainly a hope strong enough that it will sustain the peoples faith in the here and now of their daily lives.
Its obvious that Paul had a great love for the Church at Ephesus. It was his centre of operations for three years, so he knew it well and starts his letter in a very positive way. To Paul there was now no difference between Jew and Gentile, they are one in the faith (in Chapter 3 he calls them joint heirs).
He gives praise for the blessings that are theirs through the atoning death of Jesus on the cross. He emphasizes the riches of Gods grace that have been poured out into lives that were once meaningless, hope-less, and are now filled with the power of Gods Spirit.
Its for this reason, says Paul that these lovely people are always in his thoughts and prayers, and thats why he wants nothing more than to see their faith grow and blossom.
I want to look at hope from three angles. I also want to pick up on the word "inheritance" from verse 18. Paul is keen to point out that this hope which he talks about is not something that is new but has its roots well and truly grounded in the whole history of Gods dealings with his people - the "riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints" (NIV). The Gentile converts could consider themselves to be included in this inheritance, which of course has implications for us. So I want us to look at hope in the Old Testament.
Secondly, I want to consider hope in the New Testament and how the word may have changed in meaning.
Thirdly there is us in the here and now of our lives.
So first we travel back in time to the early days of the Jews dealings with their God. In the Hebrew Bible there are a number of words that translate as "hope". Words that have meanings like "twist", "cord" or "rope". If you think about that for a moment, dont we talk about clinging onto a hope, rather as you might do to a rope or the rigging on a boat at sea. Its a rather nice image of having something tangible to hold onto, as well as the spiritual.
Other related words mean "to wait", "to watch" or "expect" - as in Psalm 104:27 "These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time". Theres a sense of expectancy in the words - "waiting" becomes "hope" when a positive outcome is expected.
Two other words translated in the Old Testament as "hope" show that this word can have a more personal meaning. One means "to take refuge" "to flee for protection", the other "trust". Psalm 61:3 "For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe."
So what was the basis for "hope" within the pages of the Old Testament? It was Gods promises, and these start way back in Genesis
Gen 9:8ff - Again, God said to Noah and his sons:I am going to make a solemn promise to you and to everyone who will live after you. This includes the birds and the animals that came out of the boat. I promise every living creature that the earth and those living on it will never again be destroyed by a flood. The rainbow that I have put in the sky will be my sign to you and to every living creature on earth. It will remind you that I will keep this promise forever.
Hope in God was dependent on the peoples confidence, trust and faith that God would provide. That meant provision of lifes necessities - food and water without which life wasnt possible,
Isaiah 41:17 -When the poor and needy are dying of thirst and cannot find water, I, the Lord God of Israel, will come to their rescue. I wont forget them.
and land (the Promised Land - a green and pleasant land) which was such an important part of biblical hope.
Genesis 12:1-5 -The Lord said to Abram: Leave your country, your family, and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you. I will bless you and make your descendants into a great nation. You will become famous and be a blessing to others... Everyone on earth will be blessed because of you. Abram was seventy-five years old when the Lord told him to leave the city of Haran.
The Promised Land - Promised to Abraham, renewed in the time of Moses, given, removed and promised again; and so dependant on the people and their attitude to their God.
Hope was also placed in the protection that God would give to his people in times of trouble or adversity.
Prov 14:32 When calamity comes, the wicked are brought down, but even in death the righteous have a refuge.
God sent leaders, judges and kings to protect them. And when the nation fell, he promised a new king from the line of David.
Micah 5:2 Bethlehem Ephrath, you are one of the smallest towns in the nation of Judah. But the Lord will choose one of your people to rule the nation someone whose family goes back to ancient times
Isaiah 9 We have been given a son who will be our ruler. His names will be Wonderful Advisor and Mighty God, Eternal Father and Prince of Peace. 7 His power will never end; peace will last forever. He will rule Davids kingdom and make it grow strong. He will always rule with honesty and justice. The Lord All-Powerful will make certain that all of this is done
There was also hope in Gods justice - the good would be rewarded and the bad would meet with their just punishment
Psalm 103 For all who are mistreated, the Lord brings justice. 7 He taught his Law to Moses and showed all Israel what he could do. 8 The Lord is merciful! He is kind and patient, and his love never fails.
and there was hope that God would never abandon the people he had chosen.
1 Kings 8: 56 Praise the Lord! He has kept his promise and given us peace. Every good thing he promised to his servant Moses has happened.
But God also had plans for this hope to be extended beyond the boundaries of the Jewish people
Isaiah 49:8 This is what the Lord says: I will answer your prayers because I have set a time when I will help by coming to save you. I have chosen you to take my promise of hope to other nations.
Its a bit of a whistle stop tour, but I wanted us to look at just a few examples in the Old Testament of the promises that God gave to his people. Can you see how these might be the "rope" that they would cling to through good times and bad - their hope for the future.
There are lots of key passages that Ive left out. Theres also the nation continually turning away from God when it suits them, rejecting His prophets and God despairing of them. Yet when we cross over from the Old to the New Testament we still find a remnant, enough believers who are steadfastly looking to God as provider. They are still looking to God as "their God" and considering themselves as "the chosen race" that would never be abandoned. They are still waiting for Messiah, the anointed one to rise up and rid them of their oppressors. But the Messiah they were looking for was of course not the one they got. They were expecting a warrior king in the line of David and not the Servant King
In the New Testament Gospels and Revelation there are very few words that can be translated directly as "hope" (more in the epistles) and yet we think of these books as being full of hope. One commentator suggests that hope can be expressed by a text, for example Jesus words even when the specific word for hope is not present.
What we do find within the span of the Old and New Testaments is a change in emphasis. Gradually the hope of Gods provision for this world becomes a hope for a time yet to come; the Promised Land becomes a heavenly home, food and water become spiritual food and the water of life. The Messiah becomes a divine being, heaven and hell are the final solutions to the problem of justice, and communities and relationships broken by sickness or tragedy will be restored in heaven.
The amazing thing is that throughout thousands of years of ups and downs; many disappointments; sin and disobedience on a national scale; occasional repentance and flirtations with other religions when things didnt seem to be going their way, there remained a sufficient remnant of the Jewish nation to maintain the faith and hope that Gods promises would be ultimately fulfilled.
This then is the inheritance that Paul speaks of. This is the faith of the fathers and grandfathers and great grandfathers of those Jews to whom he was addressing this letter in Ephesus. It was now also the spiritual inheritance of the Gentiles who had become believers.
But things have moved on since the time of our forefathers, says Paul. We are inheritors of another promise and another reason to hope because of what Jesus Christ achieved on the cross. In verse 11ff we read (in the Contemporary English Version)
God always does what he plans, and thats why he had Christ choose us. He did this so that we Jews would bring honor to him and be the first ones to have hope because of him. Christ also brought you the truth, which is the good news about how you can be saved. You put your faith in Christ and were given the promised Holy Spirit to show that you belong to God. The Spirit also makes us sure that we will be given what God has stored up for his people. Then we will be set free, and God will be honored and praised
This is the hope to which you have been called, says Paul. But its a hope thats built upon the bedrock of Gods promises to your forefathers and to all the saints who have gone before.
Their hope was based on the never-ending love of their God for His people. He would provide for their daily needs, offer comfort and refuge in times of trouble or distress (read Psalm 23 if you doubt this), save them from their enemies, and lead them to a promised land. Their hope was also in the promise of the Messiah, the anointed one who would set His people free from bondage.
Your hope, he tells the Christians of Ephesus is rooted in the knowledge that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, who through his death on the cross, resurrection and ascension to heaven has made it possible for all men to be free from the bondage of sin, brought back into a right relationship with God and know the assurance of eternal life - the true Promised Land for those who believe.
Verse 7 of this chapter "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins." In verse 6 of the next "God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus."
Not only this, says Paul, but there is also the promise of the indwelling Holy Spirit in believers, the same power present when God raised His Son from the cross and set everything under his authority.
Verse 13 of chapter 1 " you were marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit."
What a hope! What a set of promises to cling to!
And this of course is where we fit in. Along with the Gentiles at Ephesus we are joint inheritors of all these promises.
When Paul says those wonderful words (modern translation again)
18 I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the wonderful future he has promised to those he called. I want you to realize what a rich and glorious inheritance he has given to his people.
Is that something that rings true for you? Has that light been switched on? If its not then in verse 17 Paul says "I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you might grow in your knowledge of God."
Our faith in God, our knowledge of his Saving Grace through Jesus death on the cross and our hope of eternal life is not just built on our knowledge of the New Testament, wonderful though that might be. We understand more about the nature of God as we read the whole of Scripture, as we see how much He meant to His people (and how much they meant to Him) through thousands of years of an often-turbulent relationship.
The God whom we worship is the God who loves unconditionally - he loves us despite the kind of people we often are. He provides for our daily needs, both physically and spiritually
"I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever".
He is that place of refuge that the Psalmist talked about, he offers comfort and solace when the going gets tough. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me."
He is still the God who frees His people from bondage, not only physically as he did with the nation of Israel but spiritually from the bondage of sin. He did this through his greatest promise, that of the Messiah. Through Jesus blood we are set free, and through his death we are empowered by the promised Holy Spirit and given assurance of an eternity with Him.
This is our hope!