Sermon on Ephesians 3:13-21 (by Martin Damašek)

Dear brothers and sisters,

            do you like to present yourselves in the best possible light, do you like to show off from time to time and do you like to be applauded and complimented? I guess we all like that from someone whom we admire and from whom we would like to receive an invitation to a party. After all, this is what the entertainment business works with and what politics is about. And we all like to receive compliments and appreciation for how “good” we are. After all, our preferential loving has something to do with this. My loving mother, probably as every loving mother, likes to appreciate her children and is happy when we make her happy. So, for a number of years, she has been collecting whatever article is written about me and wants to see all pictures of me opening a new school or a new post office or such. But from time to time, I tell her a sobering thing: Mum, do not be too proud or do not boast, since there always is a chance, I may make a mistake and end up in the papers in not so good light. Or what about if I ended up in a jail? That would not be a reason for joy or feeling proud. Quite the opposite.

            And this is the worry of apostle Paul: “So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering…” What is Paul suffering? He is in a jail. Why is he so worried that the Ephesians could lose heart? Well, in this part of Europe, that underwent so much suffering, we have two memories of why people go to jail. First, people go to jail for breaking the law. This is what Paul writes to brothers and sisters in Rome: Those who do evil are punished by the authority of the lawful government. They go to jail so they cannot do even more evil and to have opportunity to repent face to face to the law that has been applied to them. This way, through just law and punishment, God preserves peace and well being in this fallen world and gives us a chance to see our sinfulness, a chance to repent, a chance to turn back and a chance to see our desperate need for the Savior. At the same time, this just punishment comes with our feeling of shame. We are ashamed when we do something wrong, we see this even in little kids when they blush and hide themselves when they do something naughty. This is the natural law working in us. Remember Adam and Eve how they were ashamed when they realized their sinfulness standing naked face to face to holy God. And this is the same shamefulness about which I warn my mum knowing Paul´s unpleasant word that no one is holy, no one is just and everyone sins, including me! Second, people go to jail because of suffering for the truth and at this occasion they should not be ashamed but joyful as our Lord teaches us. This is the going to jail that the people in this part of Europe remember, willingly going to jail for the truth. Paul is in a jail and is writing to the brothers and sisters in Ephesus about why he is in a jail and is warning them against mistaking it with the first reason for going to jail and asking them not to take offence and not to be discouraged because of his imprisonment.

            Paul not only asks the brothers and sisters not to take offence of his imprisonment and not to be discouraged by it, but, on the contrary, falls on his knees before God and explodes into a joyful prayer of praise, glory, and comfort.

            While in prison, lock down, Paul does not lose hope and trust, but falls down to his knees and calls to Father. This is a clearly a prayer posture in a situation of a great importance or distress. Alone and despised and rejected, Paul is not alone, but accepted by God whom Paul can call his Father. In jail and alone, but still, Paul does not lose his trust in God, who has an intimate relationship to him. How comforting! While Paul is suffering in jail, he still can cry and call to God the same way as Jesus cried on the cross: “Father”. How blessed and comforted we are when we can every day pray the loving and comforting words: “Our Father…” And this Father is the Father of all, no matter they are calling on Him or rejecting Him. This ever-loving Father does not reject anyone, but wills to pull all His children to Himself.

            Paul continuous to pray for his brothers and sisters in Ephesus so that they will be strengthened through the Spirit so that Christ will dwell in their hearts through faith.  This coming of Christ to their hearts through faith is thanks to the Holy Spirit. Here we see the work of salvation that is worked by the Spirit, and we experience it by faith. And this amazing work of man´s salvation is possible and worked from or thanks to God´s glory, that is, His amazing holiness that came among us in Christ´s love that surpasses our understanding.

            Paul humbly acknowledges that Christ´s love is incomprehensible for humans; but at the same time, he assures us that when Christ dwells in our hearts we can, together with all the saints, experience true love by which we can experience and see Christ´s love. Paul prays here about the breadth and length and height and depth. What are these? What does Paul talk about? These are the dimensions of Christ´s love in His cross. Spreading His hands on the cross, the Lord reaches to save everyone in all places of the world. And wearing His bloody thorn-crown and stretching His feet to have them pierced to the wood of the cross, He shatters the serpent on the ground by His amazing grace and love and finally cries to heaven the greatest news ever: “It is finished.” It is finished, evil is defeated and heaven in opened, the battle is won, and salvation won! This is the fullness of God about which Paul prays: This is the amazing grace and love that surpasses all knowledge, that the holy and just God Himself came among us unholy and sinful people, suffered for you and for me, and died for you and for me so we may live and be reconciled to our Father. He did not have to do that, but He humbled Himself for you and for me – and this amazing grace and love of the suffering God on the cross reveals God´s fullness.  

            Then, being comforted by this fullness of the character of God, that is all surpassing love, we can confidently turn to Him as our Father who is close to us and to whom we may cry with trust. And since nothing is impossible for our Lord, we can be sure and can rely on our Lord in the times of distress knowing that He can do far more than we ask for or can even comprehend. Just remember Abraham who received not only the promised son, but much more than he could even think of or comprehend – Abraham received not only son but became the father of faith and received back a full man. Or think of Saul himself – a persecutor became one of the apostles of the church. Or think of the centurion – an executioner of the Lord became the first confessor right after Christ´s death. Our Father and Lord is truly able to do much more than we can ask or think of. So, let us come to His cross with a strengthen trust and confidence and let us confess His amazing glory in the Church and let the Church confess and proclaim this glory and amazing grace and love throughout all generations and peoples. For there is no greater glory, grace and love than the fullness of God suffering for His beloved people on the cross. To Him be glory and honor forever and ever.