“All in the Family”
Would you please remain standing in honor of God’s word, and we will read from the third chapter of Ephesians, the first 11 verses…
Last week, Jody preached strongly from Ephesians 2. And he reminded us that the first 3 chapters is the Gospel Story and the last 3 chapters is Our Story. As we discovered last week in Ephesians 2, we all, every single one of us, need Jesus. The gospel is life…we who were far from God, brought near by the blood of Christ; the uncircumcised become the circumcised; once we were foreigners and are now made citizens. This amazing truth that the gospel makes alive those who are dead in their sins. The Gospel Story is woven into our lives as we make the personal and individual decision to ask Jesus into our lives…to cross over that line of faith and acknowledge Christ as our only hope. I can’t think of anything more glorious and beautiful than when a person cries out to Jesus to rescue them from their sin. I certainly can remember that moment in my own life on June 6th, 1980, at 4 o’clock in the morning in the barracks at Naval Training Center, Orlando. It is as vivid to me today as if it just took place…Just like it happened moments ago.
Every person that claims Christ as their Lord and Savior has a gospel story. It may be a point in time story like mine where you remember everything about your salvation moment. For others, it may have been part of a process over a period of time. Either way, it is your story and it is individual and unique to you. Now, as important and as special as it is, your gospel story is not the end of the story. It is dangerous for us to think that once we have made that decision, that is all there is to the Christian experience. That our responsibility ends at “accepting Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.” Our individual gospel story that Paul describes in Chapter 2 takes a turn in chapter 3, and it is in that turn that we discover that we are connected to the individual lives of one another. Our personal walk with Christ in Chapter 2 becomes interconnected with other believers in Chapter 3 and the gospel story becomes a Corporate one. This is where the “church” enters the picture. What we must come to understand is that The Gospel Story does not conclude with ME…the Gospel Story continues with WE. As a matter of fact, the story gets better with WE! Once we are saved, it isn’t enough to simply go about our business, living our life as if we are good to go. When we were rescued by Christ, we were dopted into His family. The WE is that WE are family. The church is family. And this family is way bigger in its scope and purpose than we can ever imagine.
Often, when we think of “church”, the typical way of describing it is from a “what” perspective. As in “What is the definition of church?” If I describe it from the “what”, I will think of a specific place…one that will have a building or two; probably a steeple; inside some pews and an altar area. Probably an organ and piano along with a choir loft and a baptismal font. From there, my thinking will narrow down my definition of “what” to include denominational affiliations such as UMC, Baptist, Lutheran. Most of these contain the word “church” in their names anyways. Maybe we move from these big macro thoughts down to more specific ones and we find ourselves including in our description the traditions and ceremonies that are familiar to us. Baptisms, Communion, Confirmation…maybe specific prayers or a particular book that we read from. All of those descriptors certainly play an important role in our spiritual lives as people of faith. But this is not the “church” that Paul is talking about in Ephesians 3. Paul’s description in this passage is not about the “what” in church…but the “who” in church. God’s design and plan for church is an expansive, far reaching, global design. It is a spectacular vision that if we can just get our arms around and embrace, will utterly change our world.
Look at what Paul says in Ephesians 3:6 – “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” – Ephesians 3:65 (NIV). Paul is revealing what was formerly known as a mystery, a sacred secret. A truth that God chose not to reveal to His people until the fullness of Christ arrived. And what was that mystery? The remarkable mystery solved was that believing Gentiles and believing Jews are members of one body – they are family!
BLANK SLIDE. Don’t miss the significance of Jews and Gentiles being joined together. This was a revolutionary, radical, virtually incomprehensible reality. The concept of Jew and Gentile coexisting in a family relationship is unheard of. For the Jew, their ethnicity, nationhood and religion were all strongly inter-related, and connected to their relationship with the God of their ancestors – the only family was a Jewish family. For the Gentiles, which means everyone not a Jew, which is pretty much everyone else, you and I included…the separation was just as real. Scripture and History bear out the persecution of Jews by the Gentile nations. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Rome…this truth that the two become one could never happen apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is a huge spiritual truth for us today.
What it means is that in `Christ, the ME becomes WE. and WE are larger than life. Paul say the Gentiles (you and me) are heirs together, catch that…together. With Israel. Members…together. Sharers…together. WE are family. It is small thinking to limit ourselves to seeing the plan of salvation simply through the lens of our own personal salvation. Yes, Christ died for your sins and my sins, but in John 3:16, Jesus tells Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world…”. God’s remarkable plan of salvation is for all, everyone who believe on the name of Jesus. When ME becomes WE, our understanding of God’s enduring love for people expands way, way beyond just what he has done for you and for me. When ME become WE, the lid is blown off of our understanding of the church. Look around you this morning and tell me what you see. Go ahead, look around and smile back at the folks smiling at you. What do you see? You see YOUR PEOPLE. You see good looking folks that all pretty much look the same. We are a homogenous group of people worshiping the Lord together this morning…this is not the whole picture. This is not what the church really looks like, and it certainly is not what Heaven looks like. Your family is so much bigger and broader and beautiful than what we see here this morning.
BLANK SLIDE. The Joshua Project is a Christian research initiative that gathers and shares information related to people and ethnic groups. They collect and pass on information to assist evangelistic organizations in fulfilling the great commission. Based on their research, there are at a minimum 9,800 people groups in the world. Jews are simply one of those people groups. That means that the remaining 9,799 other people groups are Gentiles! Imagine the vast global vision God has for his family! We, you and I, are one of 9,800 people groups. The enormity of God’s redemptive plan for the nations is mind boggling. Our family is comprised of brothers and sisters who live all over the world. The truth and scope of Ephesians 3:6 is that the family you and I are part of is extraordinarily more beautiful and expansive the we could ever imagine…It was His plan from the very beginning and it is what we will see in eternity. It is difficult to capture in our mind’s eye a vision of what this family looks like. But in Revelation 7, we are granted a remarkable description of the church. I would like for you to just close your eyes and allow your ears and heart to listen to this: “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice; ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” Revelation 7:9-10
This truth should impact us in a couple of different ways:
First – God’s mercy through Christ should drive us to our knees in gratitude and humility
We are not worthy of this grace, this mercy, and yet the Lord kindly extends it to us…out of love. His salvation is needed by everyone. Let’s not get tied up in conversations about free will and predestination. Those conversations keep us distracted from the reality that when a person takes their final breath they are either stepping into the presence of Jesus or into an eternity separated from Him. Our gratitude to God and humility towards Him for rescuing us should fire up within us a passion to share with others what Jesus has done for us.
Second – This should shatter any traces of racism or ethnic arrogance that might be hidden in our hearts. We do not have to fear other that do not look like us. Spiritually, we are beggars, poverty stricken and no better than any other person walking this earth. For us to think otherwise is sin. Followers of Jesus are all one family under the banner of the gospel, and because of that, it’s imperative that we see and treat believers not like us as family.
You see, WE are larger than life, the church is family, and with family comes the acknowledgement that WE need each other, because WE are better together. We are better together because in our common faith we are able to accomplish more as a community than we could ever imagine as individuals. We are better together because the example of our oneness is not just a witness to the world in which we live in, but it is also a remarkable witness to the unseen world. Listen to what Paul says in Ephesians 3:10….”His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms…” -Ephesians 3:10 (NIV). There are 2 important observations to make from this verse. First, the word “church”. This word in the greek is Ekklesia, which means “those who are the called out ones.” This is the definition of the universal church. This is the true church, composed of all who are called by God outwardly and inwardly through the gospel. Ekklesia is where we get congregation, or assembly – but the context is never in the actual assembly itself, because individuals are called out. Called out of darkness and into His glorious light. Called out of our former way of thinking and into Holiness and sanctification. Called out of the world and into a relationship with Jesus Christ. We can refer to church as a building or a denomination or the practices and traditions that take place within the four walls, but Ekklesia is never defined by its location, because it is an unassembled assembly. This is so important for us because it directs our corporate purpose and affirms the vision that Christ gave us with the Great Commission. In Matthew 28, Jesus said, “Go and make disciples if all nations…”. Go – go where? Into the world. Acts 1:8 – “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
BLANK. So…the church is way bigger family than we can imagine, by God’s design. The church is not a building, but people, called out, by God’s design. Now, check this out…Paul says that THROUGH THE CHURCH, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. What? Through the vast, expansive called out ones of God, His manifold wisdom is on display or made known to those who exist in the heavenly realms. What does manifold wisdom mean?
It means that when you and I are living like the family God designed, like called out ones, our collective lives are this magnificent, multi-faceted, glorious display of God’s wisdom in Heaven whose residents can only marvel and agree that God is great and mighty! Our corporate lives as Christ followers have this ripple effect that goes beyond this earth. Yes, our actions and our lives impact people right here and right now, but they also impact Heaven. Angels cannot experience salvation – they are not able to participate in the church like us because they are created by God to serve at His command. For them, as well as fallen angels, to watch God’s remarkable plan of salvation play out on earth through us is for them a visible witness, a masterpiece on display of God’s perfect will and wisdom. What we do here today matters. Our lives have an eternal impact. Your life has eternal implications. And we are better together.
So let me wrap this up and put a big bow this message by sharing a story that I hope illustrates the truths we’ve looked at today. I want to introduce you to a friend of mine. Some of you that have traveled to Jamaica on missions trips know this guy. His name in Jamaica is “Big Man”. I honestly don’t remember his real name (Vernal), because in Jamaica, you get a pet name at birth and that is what you go by…so for all intents and purposes, let me introduce you to Big Man. SHOW PICTURE. (leave on screen until end of message)
Seven years ago, a group of us from Chapin UMC went to Jamaica for the first time, and thus began a missions relationship. Every year we return to the same town, Harmons, and minister to the same people. Our first year on a house construction site, I was introduced to Big Man. He was our boss for the week on that house. Over the course of that week, just like all the groups preceding us, we talked about spiritual things, and before the week ended, I shared the gospel with Big Man. He was not interested. And while that wasn’t necessarily a surprise, I was a little disappointed…after all, that’s what we are over there for, right?
The next year, pretty much the same thing. Big Man is running a job site, us Americans are the grunt labor, and the Jamaicans humor us by allowing us to construct homes. The word “help” is used loosely. We actually make more of a mess than we do help. Again, Big Man is not interested in spiritual things, I probe and ask questions and share the gospel, but to no avail. He has bigger issues to deal with than Jesus, at least in his mind, like a girlfriend who has 2 children by him – and the only time he gets a paycheck is when Americans show up on a missions trip…about 25-30 weeks out of the year. Harmons is not where the cruise ships make port. It is 4 hours into the interior of Jamaica, the town doesn’t have any running water and unemployment runs at 90%..it is a bleak, depressed area.
So year after year, CUMC continues to return, and the spiritual condition of Big Man remains the same. Until 2016 rolls along. And we pull into Harmons, and of course I make sure I’m on Big Man’s job site…and something is different. Very, very different. He has sparkle in his eyes, a smile on his face, and he doesn’t just supervise the worksite, he ministers there. I’m shocked, overwhelmed with “what in the world”…and tells me.
At the end of 2015 both of his parents die, as well as another close relative. In Jamaica, a proper burial is important to families, and Big Man is now the head of a large family. He doesn’t have the money to take care of burial plans, and he is grieving the loss of three very important people in his life. So he does what we all tend to do when we find ourselves in crises. He calls out to God…and asks Him for help. And this is what God does. A number of the churches that send groups to Jamaica heard of Big Man’s situation…and sent some money. They did this without prompting…nobody asked them to do it. Through relationships, they heard and they responded. The organization that employs Big Man, the organization we go there through, also jumped in to help with funeral expenses. Furthermore, the organization’s resident pastor, a Jamaican named Clinton, came alongside of Big Man and man to man, ministered to him in his grief and pain. Big Man saw Jesus in all these amazing varieties of differing lovers of Christ…and he surrendered. He gave his life to Christ. And that is a beautiful story. But it doesn’t end there. For Big Man, and for the people of Harmons, it was only the beginning.
Pastor Clinton scooped up Big Man and began discipling him. Big Man learned in Scripture about the priority of a covenantal relationship between a man and a woman, and he married his girlfriend. He has grown spiritually like a weed, soaking up scripture and how it applies to his life. His tender heart burst out of a tough exterior, and the real Big Man has emerged. He now teaches bible studies – he has an incredible ministry to the elderly in this town, many of whom have no family to look after them. He expanded his income streams to include raising goats and raises them to provide financial support to families in this community who have dire needs. He is doing exactly what was done to him, and I can tell you from first hand experience that he is loved and respected in this community. He and I went door to door this past November to just call on people and check in with them. Every single one opened their doors wide open to Big Man.
When I see Big Man, I see the magnificent glory of God’s manifold wisdom on display. You know that many church groups visited over the years and loved on this guy just as we did. Churches from many different denominations and backgrounds. The Jamaican believers in Harmons never quit on Big Man, especially that one special guy, Clinton. And God used him at just the right time. The Gospel story does not end with ME…it keeps getting better and better with WE. Friends, my prayer for you today is that when you walk out of here, your love and appreciation for Christ’s church is refreshed and renewed. May you fall in love with the manifold wisdom of God, and agree with all the hosts in Heaven, our God is glorious!