I took a chance and did something new this Easter with my sermon. I wanted our church to hear what I think an Easter sermon and gospel message would have sounded like in the first century church. So, we heard an Easter sermon from the Apostle Paul as I preached (or dramatically read) the first 3 chapters of Paul’s message to the Ephesians (in the Message translation). I personalized it for our church and added some of my own commentary and exposition, while trying to remain faithful to the voice of Paul.
I’m not sure how it was received, but I sure felt like the words coming from my mouth were deeply rooted in the one, true, apostolic gospel of the New Testament and a powerful alternative to the many stripped down individualistic, westernized versions of the gospel being preached today.
Here’s a transcript of my sermon with my own additions in bold.
Ephesians 1-3 MSG
I greet you with the grace and peace poured into our lives by God our Father and our Master, Jesus Christ.
3-6 How blessed is God [of the Resurrection]! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and [through the power of the Resurrection] takes us to the high places of blessing in him. [Did you know that] Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had you [sitting here today in a converted strip mall church] in mind [?] [He] had settled on you as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) [Did you know you’ve been adopted? Your old family no longer defines you?] He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.
7-10 Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah [that we remembered on Good Friday], his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! As I wrote in my other letter to the Colossian church:
When you were stuck in your old sin-dead life, you were incapable of responding to God. God brought you alive—right along with Christ! Think of it! All sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant canceled and nailed to Christ’s cross. He stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their sham authority at the Cross and marched them naked through the streets (Col. 2:13-15).
He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything [that is wrong, broken, diseased and distorted by sin and out of alignment with God] would be brought [back] together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.
[This longe range plan to renew all creation—to bring an end to the long age of sin and death and evil and suffering and usher in God’s New Creation order—was set into motion on the Third Day 2,000 years ago when Christ, the second Adam, walked out of that garden tomb. The thorn and thistle-infested Garden of Eden had given way, at last, to the Garden of Resurrection life!
HE IS RISEN! (He is risen indeed!)
[Can we possibly fathom all that this means for us here, and for the rest of the world?!?!?!]
11-12 [For starters it means that] It’s [only] in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. [Not our parents, our teachers, our bosses, the latest self-help book, or cultural narratives vying for our attention.] Long before [any of us] first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.
13-14 It’s in Christ that [we], once [we] hear the truth and believe (this Message of [our] salvation), found ourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This [powerful gift] from God is [just] the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life [IF we’ll believe and enter into this new creation life!]
15-19 That’s why, when we [see people there at MainStreet learning to entrust their lives] to the Master Jesus and [see how it results in] outpouring of love to all the followers of Jesus, [we can’t] stop thanking God…. But we do more than thank. We ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make [us all more] intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, [our] eyes focused and clear [on His Kingdom], so that [we can see exactly what it is he is calling us to do, to grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for [all of you there at MainStreet Covenant Church], oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!
[BUT its all because of the empty tomb we celebrate here today!]
20-23 All this [resurrection] energy [is available to you and] issues from Christ !
[I don’t know what aspects of that old, sin-stained, disease-ridden old order of creation you dragged through the doors this morning. But I can tell you that the promises of God’s glorious future Kingdom when death, disease, tears and sin’s pervasive presence will be no more — this future, we apostles were shocked to discover, had come rushing forward into the present age and giving us all a taste of that coming New Creation already now today! That means the power of the future New Creation has already been made available to us now by the Spirit — to heal the sick, to suffer with fear, to face death with assurance that Life will have the last word!
You don’t need to drag yourselves through this life, with ALL your hope and focus deferred to the next life. The New Creation is being born already — in and through the Resurrection community called the Church! NOW I KNOW…for the past 500 years you have been taught to read the Easter story as mainly a story about how God forgave your individual sins so you can go to heaven when you die. Well, Christ did pay the price of our sins on the cross, Heaven is yours, and we celebrate that truth today. But the cross and resurrection was MUCH more as well.
What, you ask? Today, I want you to hear the good news that Easter not only launched the New Creation in the middle of the ongoing old creation, making us signposts here and now of that Kingdom that will someday come in full when Christ returns.
Not only that, but Easter marked the defeat of all rival powers and kingdoms currently working against God’s just and peaceful reign; Easter is all about Jesus, the world’s true Lord, being crowned king (through the cross), vindicated by the resurrection, and finally enthroned in the Highest Heaven to rule through his New Creation-New Kingdom people, the CHURCH!
We’re kings and queens, co-rulers with Christ, my dear brethren!!! It’s written all over my writings and the writings of the other apostles of the gospel, but you’ve screened it out and missed it, because you’ve been focused on Jesus as merely your personal savior, sin-forgiver and moral teacher. But he is KING, and every Easter we we’re celebrating the anniversary of his coronation! Don’t believe me?
God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church.
[NOW DONT MISS THIS…] The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.
[You tend to think its the worldly powers—governments, economies, militaries— that are key movers and shakers of history. This is simply not the case. Easter (followed up by the Ascension) signals Jesus’ enthronement and Christ is now directing history, not primarily through earthly governments and worldly politics, but through his church, those called to live according to his strange cross-shaped wisdom and upside down Kingdom politics. This is precisely why John, exiled on the island of Patmos, began his letter to the seven churches at the beginning of the Book of Revelation with the following words:
To the seven churches in the province of Asia:
Grace and peace to you from Him who is and was and is to come, and from the sevenfold Spirit before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn [resurrected] from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To Him who loves us and has released us from our sins by His blood, who has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and power forever and ever! Amen. (Rev. 1:4-6)
But friends, before you can be faithful representatives of Christ’s Kingdom and co-ruling with Christ already now in our public witness, you must rid ourselves of the old-creation habits and worldly mindset that continues to you back!
2 1-6 It wasn’t so long ago that [you were all] were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell [us] how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. [And, of course, we fall back into it constantly.] Isn’t it a wonder God [doesn’t] lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us?
Instead, [you gather here today, on Easter Sunday, to marvel at, to worship, to bow down before, and hear once again about how God], immense in mercy and with an incredible love, [has] embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up — [NAME NAMES] and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.
[Note, again, He didn’t pick us up merely to forgive our personal sins and give us a ticket to heaven. YES, personal forgiveness is part of the package, but the larger story is about God restoring his divine-image bearers back to their original vocation found in Genesis 1-2 of exercising wise and benevolent oversight of God’s good creation — worshiping God, tending the garden, naming and ruling over the animals, etc. Our personal sins are just symptoms of that deeper problem of idolatry, of following Adam and Eve into rebellion as we grasp at forbidden fruit, seek self-lordship over humble dependence on God. Easter is the Second Adam getting that entire project back on track at last — as the church, God’s New Creation people — reassert our original vocation to rule over the creation under God’s reign. That’s what it means to say ‘He picks us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.’
7-10 [When we’re living from that new place in Christ, then] God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving [us into this New Creation life] is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role [in the saving part]. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving.
[But listen carefully: we do have a major role in what flows out of his saving work — a role that I’ve just emphasized; a role that I believe the church has largely missed for many generations, with our narrow focus on personal salvation and going to heaven as the major goal. But Listen:] He [re-]creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. [This work of bearing witness to the New Creation that’s already broken into the old, letting our new life-in-the-Spirit reality show the world an alternative to all its Tower of Babel projects.]
11-13 [So let’s not] take any of this for granted. It was only yesterday that [some of you were] outsiders to God’s ways had no idea of any of this, didn’t know the first thing about [this] way God [is trying to] work, hadn’t the faintest idea of Christ. [You] knew nothing of the rich history of God’s covenants and promises in Israel, hadn’t a clue about [this larger story of] what God was doing in the world at large [and what he desires to do in the world today through the church]. Now because of Christ—dying that death, shedding that blood—[all of us] who were once out of it altogether [have the chance here today to get] in on everything.
[And a BIG part of this “everything” is the third and final theme of Easter I want to share today.
But first, let’s review and summarize:
- NEW CREATION: The resurrection, we Jews all thought, was expected of all believers at the end of history when the New Creation would come in full and the old order of things would be completely done away with. But Jesus, whom I, Paul, like to call the Second Adam, was resurrected in the middle of history, as the first fruits of all who would later share in it. This means that the New Creation has already burst into the present, and Christians are called to live as New Creation signposts even as the old creation of sin and death still rumbles on. We live now in the power of that coming age, by the Spirit breathed out on the church at Pentecost.
- CHRIST RULES THROUGH THE CHURCH: Jesus didn’t just rise from the grave to go to heaven and assure us that we could go there too. His ascension to heaven wasn’t his departure from earth, but his enthronement to the Heavenly throne to begin reigning over his New Creation-in-the-making. He didn’t leave the church to be merely a holding tank for saved souls waiting to go to Heaven. The Church is the advanced guard of his coming rule, and Christ is already showing the worldly powers what His Kingdom looks like through little churches like MainStreet who learn to live as faithful colonies of heaven right there in the midst of the other kingdoms. Are you showing the world the ways of Christ’s kingdom as you live as citizens of heaven? Or is the church getting swept up in the ways of worldly politics?
Now, let us explore one more glorious realities of Easter. Your Pastor promised you a special announcement in the service today, and this third point will get us there.
- Easter pronounced judgment on all the ways God’s people have become divided — divided by race, ethnicity, gender, rich & poor, Catholics & Protestants, and on and on. The cross was God’s way of tearing all unnecessary barriers down, and creating a new worldwide family that transcends all barriers, a community whose core mission is the ministry of reconciliation!
14-15 The Messiah has made things up between [all opposing parties and] we’re now together on this, both non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders [both the rich and the poor, both white and black, both liberals and conservatives, democrats and republicans]. [On the cross Jesus] tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance….Then he started over [that first Easter]. Instead of continuing with two groups of people — [Jews and Gentiles in our case] — separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a [New Humanity in Christ, a new worldwide family], a fresh start for everybody.
16-18 Christ brought us together through his death on the cross [2,000 Years ago, and he wants the cross to heal all divisions within the church today, if you’ll put your baptismal identity over all other loyalties — national, political, racial, ideological.] The Cross [gets] us to embrace, and [the cross can bring] the end of the hostility. Christ came and preached peace to outsiders and peace to insiders. He treated everyone as equals, and so made us equals. [This Easter Sunday, do you really believe that] Through him we we share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father? And this unity is not based on your worldly political views, our patriotic sensibilities, or racial identity and story, but rather your shared baptism into Christ’s family? Do you really believe as you stand beneath the cross today and in front of the empty tomb this Easter that] Christ suffered on the cross to tear heal these hostilities and bring down these dividing walls? If so, then like it says elsewhere “What God has brought together, let no one tear apart!”
19-22 …This kingdom of faith is now [our] home country. [There’s] no longer strangers or outsiders. [We all] belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home — [a new Temple on earth where he wants to dwell and reveal his New Creation glory]. He’s using us all—irrespective of [our diverse backgrounds and] how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using [each on of us], fitting [us] in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day [there at MainStreet, your new planting of the Lord just 7 years old — that small, humble but] holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.
3:4-6 As you [hear this message today, hopefully you’re seeing] for yourselves into the mystery of Christ. None of [our Old Testament Jewish] ancestors understood this. Only [with the cross and resurrection was it] made clear by God’s Spirit through his holy apostles and prophets of this new order. The mystery [revealed that first Easter was] that people who [had] never heard of God and those who [had] heard of him all their lives … stand on the same ground before God. They get the same offer, same help, same promises in Christ Jesus. The Message is accessible and welcoming to everyone, across the board — [tearing down all walls of hostility, reconciling divided people, and giving birth to new little communities of reconciliation who continue to spread this message.]
7 This is [part of the church’s task in my day and yours]: helping people understand and respond to this Message. It came as a sheer gift to [me and the other apostles], a real surprise, God handling all the details….
8-10 And so here I am [on Easter Sunday] talking about things that are way over my head, [plumbing] the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ.
[And part of our task as a church, MainStreet] is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches [like yours], this extraordinary plan of God [to break down all barriers and plant new churches that unite God’s people across all lines] is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!
[Speaking of “angels”, finally to that special announcement Jeremy promised. We want to introduce you to two angels today — not the heavenly kind with wings who serve God’s heavenly court, but the literal definition of “messengers” which means any messenger (human or angelic) called and sent by God do carry out his ministry.
11-13 [You see, dear MainStreet, God’s work today at MainStreet and in your larger Evangelical Covenant movement is still] proceeding along lines planned all along by God and [ultimately] executed in Christ Jesus [on that first Easter morning]. When we trust in him, we’re free to say whatever needs to be said, bold to go wherever we need to go [to spread this New Creation message by planting more communities of reconciling love! I, Paul, spent my entire life planting new churches across the vast Roman world of my day. Each one was a miracle of God, a community of reconciling love through whom King Jesus wants to reign and reveal himself.!]
[Today, on Easter Sunday, it is more than fitting to announce the beginning of another such New Creation community! Our church is entering into a partnership with Pastor Erico Ortega and his wife, Maria, to help plant Nuevo Pacto, a Hispanic/Latino church community, in Fridley, MN. And its my honor and privilege to introduce you to them right now on the screen!]
[This will be a multi-ethnic project, and a cross-cultural partnership we’re entering into. We are excited to have Pastor Erico and his wife Maria come to MainStreet in the near future to share their heart with us for the church God has called them to plant. We don’t merely want to support them with our money, but we want to humbly serve alongside and learn from a people, whose lives in the hispanic community are quite different than ours in the suburbs. Barriers will need to come down (or at least be overcome such as language) in the process. But this is the Message of Easter being put into practice in a tangible way, New Creation project, drawing on Resurrection power to bring Christ’s Kingdom to earth in Fridley, MN over the coming months! SO LET’S GET ON OUR FEET AND CHEER!
What more can we say? This Easter we celebrate:
- The New Creation has burst into the present, so let get our lives onboard with it!
- Christ is enthroned over all powers & authorities and wants to reign through us! “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
- Christ’s reign is involves tearing down of walls of hostility and building up of communities of reconciliation—spiritual families of diverse believers whose unity is found in Christ and Christ alone!
What’s an appropriate response to all of this? Let’s hear Paul’s benediction as we close.
14-19 [Dear MainStreet,] My response [to all of this] is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen [you all] by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live us [—both individually and as a church family]—as [we] open the door and invite him in.
Q: HAVE YOU OPENED THE DOOR? WILL YOU INVITE HIM IN? [altar call]
[Let’s Pray:] I ask [the crucified and risen Lord] that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.
20-21 God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.
Glory to God in the church!
Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
Glory down all the generations!
Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!