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The seventh and eighth graders have been studying some of Paul’s letters in Bible History class this year. As we studied, we noticed that Paul follows a pattern at the beginning of his letters. He identifies himself as an Apostle. He lets us know to whom he is writing. He offers praise and thanksgiving. And then he offers a prayer.
Tonight, we heard the prayer that Paul offered for the Ephesians. It’s a prayer that we offer still today for each other, and especially for our Trinity graduates. It’s a prayer that focuses us on what’s really important, and that gives us hope for the future.
A lot of good things were happening in the church in Ephesus. They were letting their light shine. Even while Paul was living under house arrest in Rome awaiting trial before Caesar, he heard reports about how the Ephesians continued to put their faith in Jesus and how their faith was doing what faith does, producing fruit, the fruit of love for others. But he wanted to remind them that they had not reached a point where there was no room for further growth.
We can say the same thing for our eighth graders. A lot of good things have happened this year. They have grown physically, but especially spiritually. They have heard God’s word numerous times every day in school, and God promises that his word does not return empty. They have confessed their faith in Jesus, in school, and some before their congregations at their confirmation. They have shown the fruit of faith by demonstrating care and concern for each other and for the younger students. Like Paul, we offer praise and thanks to God for the work that he has accomplished in them through his word. But we also want to remind them that they have not reached a point where there is no room for further growth. You are graduating from grade school. You have a good foundation, but your house of faith is far from complete.
So, with Paul, our prayer for you is, first of all, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, will give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in knowing Christ fully. As you know, the Spirit only promises to do his work through the word and sacrament. We are asking that God would inspire you to continue to read and study the Bible and remember that everything in the Bible is focused on Christ and what he has done for us. We are praying that you would have the wisdom to know that this is a life-long project because Paul reminds us that it is only on the last day, when we get to see Jesus face to face, that we will truly know him fully. In the meantime, continue to hear, read, and take to heart God’s holy word, especially the gospel which is able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus.
With Paul, we pray that, as you read and study Scripture, the Holy Spirit would enlighten you, that he would enable you to see what is impossible to see by nature. First, that you have a wonderful, certain hope for the future. I’ll get to that in more detail in a minute. Second, that you are rich beyond your imagination because you are an heir of the glories of heaven. And third, that the power that is marshalled around you as you go about your life is incomparable, there is no power that is greater.
Just how great is the power that is marshalled around us and all believers in Jesus as we go about our lives each day? Easter gives us a hint. Jesus was dead. There was no doubt about it. The soldier made sure of it by plunging his spear into Jesus’ side before he allowed Joseph and Nicodemus to take his body down from the cross. But early Easter morning God caused the ground to shake under the feet of those who were guarding the tomb. He restored Jesus’ body that had been whipped and crucified to life. In his resurrected body he descended into Hell and proclaimed his victory to all who were there. He sent an angel to take the very large stone that was in front of the entrance to the tomb, that had been sealed with Pilate’s seal, and cast it aside as if it were Styrofoam. The earthquake, the brightness of the glory heaven, the angel, the empty tomb frightened seasoned soldiers almost to death and made them forsake their posts. Add this display of the power of God to the plagues, the dividing of the Red Sea, the sun standing still, calming the storm, walking on water, healing every sickness and disease, casting out demons and raising the dead, and you just begin to scratch the surface of the surpassingly great power that is marshalled behind those who believe in Jesus. As Paul told the Romans, if God is for us, who can be against us?
Here is an area that, like the disciples, we can all grow. They had just seen Jesus feed 5000 people with a couple fish and a few loaves of bread, yet when they were caught in a storm on the lake and saw Jesus walking on the water toward them they were afraid. Jesus reprimands them for having little faith. The scary circumstances on the lake made them forget about the surpassingly great power of Jesus that they had seen earlier in the day.
We hear about all the things that God did for Israel and all the miracles that Jesus performed. We are reminded that his power can do more than we can ask or imagine. Yet, when the storms of life come, we doubt, we wonder if God is able to help us. Jesus says, why do you doubt, you of little faith. No matter what trial or trouble you are facing, remember that there isn’t anything God can’t do. His power is surpassingly great, greater than any other power that exists, greater than we can even imagine.
Not only did God exert his surpassingly great power when he raised Jesus from the dead, but he also showed his power at Jesus’ ascension. As we celebrate Jesus’ ascension, we are reminded that he has resumed the full use of the power he had as God from all eternity. Now, as God and man, he is seated at the right hand of the father. As God and man all things have been placed under his feet. He rules and exerts his power over every ruler, power, authority, and dominion, over every power seen and unseen.
Now don’t miss this next part. He rules over every other power that exists, seen and unseen, people, nature, demons, gravity, everything, not only in this age but also in the one to come.
I think that’s something we often overlook. When we think about Jesus ruling, we tend to think of heaven, or of the future. But Paul reminds us that his rule over all things is going on right now, in this age. It’s not something that we have to wait for. It’s happening right now. Jesus is exerting his surpassingly great power for us right now.
This fact causes those who have not been enlightened, or who have not continued to grow in their knowledge of God and his word, a lot of trouble. You have heard the question, maybe been tempted to ask it yourself. If God is in control; if he is exerting his surpassingly great power that is greater than any other power that exists; then why is the world such a mess? Why is my life a mess?
God makes it very clear that the world is a mess because of sin. The only way to fix the world that is infected by sin is to destroy it completely and make a new heaven and a new earth. God is going to do that. But, before he does, he wants the gospel proclaimed to every nation. He wants everyone to hear about Jesus and have an opportunity to be saved to come to the knowledge of the truth that there is eternal salvation in Jesus alone. Until that time comes, Jesus is using his power to rule all that exists for the church, for the benefit of those who believe in him. He will continue to do this until the church, his body, is full; until it has all it’s parts; until all the elect are safely in the fold. Then he will put an end to all evil. Satan and the Antichrist will be overthrown by the power of his coming and cast into the burning lake of sulfur, separated from God and believers for all eternity. The earth and everything in it will be purified by fire, and all those who have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus through faith will live in a new heaven and a new earth where there is no sin, only righteousness, peace, and joy in the presence of God and the Lamb.
As our eighth graders graduate and move on to High School, as the rest of us go on to whatever is next in our lives, this is our prayer and our certain hope. Continue in what you have learned. Grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. Remember there is always room to grow in faith until you see Jesus face to face. When you face trials and troubles, and you will because we live in a world infected by sin, remember the power that is marshaled behind you. If God is for you, and in Jesus he is, nothing and no one can stand against you. You have the certain hope of heaven because Jesus has made you an heir with him. When the gospel is preached to all nations and all the elect have been gathered into his fold, then you will see him and be with him forever. That is our prayer and our certain hope.