By The Rev. Dr. Paul A. Leggett
Sunday, May 16, 2010 · Ascension Sunday
Sermon Text: Ephesians 4:7-13
Paul in this passage is speaking of the implications of Christ’s ascension. In the ascension Jesus’ victory is clearly seen as the goal of God’s plan of salvation. Christ’s defeat on the cross of the powers opposed to God opens the door to salvation for all through Christ (Ephesians 1:7-10). Jesus, ascended to the right of hand of God the Father, gives gifts to the church and ultimately to the world through the ministries he has established. The goal is that all of us would come to “maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). This goal actually is a gift from God which we must embrace willingly and joyfully.
- Contrast. The first sign of maturity in Christ is the ability to live in the midst of contradicting and contrasting realities. Jesus lives with this throughout his earthly ministry. There is an essential contrast between his humanity and divinity (Matthew 15:21-28). Jesus also acknowledges a contrast between the law as it was originally given and his reinterpretation of it (Matthew 5:21-22; Mark 7:17-19). Jesus realizes the contrast in his own disciples between their flesh and spirit (Mark 14:38), between their faithfulness and their susceptibility to Satan’s influence (Matthew 16:17-19, 22-23). Jesus’ ascension to the Father confirms his victory over “captivity itself” but the kingdom of God has not yet dawned. His work, though finished (John 19:30), is not yet complete. He will come again (Acts 1:6-11). We are not yet what God desires us to be. “We will all be changed” (I Corinthians 15:51). We live in a continuing tension between our present and God’s future. The first sign of maturity is the ability to live and serve the Lord in this tension.
- Conquer. The contrasts in which we live the Christian life do not amount to a stalemate, It is not that we are immobilized by the tensions in which we find ourselves. We need to remember that Jesus experienced those same tensions to a far greater degree than we do. Yet in the midst of those tensions, including his own suffering and death, he was victorious on the cross (Colossians 2:13-15; Hebrews 2:14; I John 3:8). The final expression of this victory is his ascension where he takes captivity itself captive. This "captivity" includes what Paul later describes as “the cosmic powers of this present darkness,” including “all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:12-16). The mature Christian recognizes that we face a continual assault from the forces which, in spite of having been taken captive, still are present, knowing their time is short (Revelation 12:12). It is not enough to recognize this conflict. The mature Christian must know the spiritual character of the battle (“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh,” Ephesians 6:12). We are called to overcome the powers of darkness with the full armor of God, especially the word of God and prayer (Ephesians 6:17-18).
- Confident. The final mark of a mature Christian is a strong sense of confidence. This confidence is not pride. Still less is it a confidence in oneself. On the other hand, this confidence is the opposite of any sense of resignation, much less worry or despair (Matthew 6:25-33). Our confidence is based on the knowledge that Christ has in fact “ascended on high.” This spiritual confidence provides us with three things. First, it assures us that God has given us his gifts “for building up the body of Christ’ (Ephesians 4:12). We need to recognize those in whom God has placed these gifts and support them. Second, we are confident that we can both oppose and overcome the forces of spiritual darkness. We need also to recognize these and prayerfully confront them. The magnitude of God’s gifts to us is proportionate to the degree to which we lay hold of them as “the weapons of righteousness” (II Corinthians 6:7). We are “more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). Finally, we have a joy that transcends the conflicts we inevitably face. Our ultimate spiritual maturity lies in knowing that Jesus alone is perfect, Jesus alone at the right of the Father is all powerful and Jesus alone strengthens and supports us in all things. These are the assurances of faith not the evidence of things seen (Hebrews 11:1). We are confident because we are joyful knowing that God’s promises never fail (II Corinthians 1:20; Deuteronomy 31:6). The church and the world both are in desperate need of joyful Christians.
Questions for Us
- Why is it so difficult for us to live in the midst of tension, especially the tensions between faith and doubt, the flesh and the spirit?
- Why do you think Christians are often timid and inactive in the face of "this present darkness," the evil, in the world?
- What are some specific ways we can draw on the gifts that God has given to the church to make more of an impact on the world for Christ?
- Would you describe yourself as a confident, joyful Christian? Why or why not?