The Unsearchable Riches of Christ
Paul wrote Ephesians when he was a prisoner in Rome in the last few years, perhaps even just months, of his life. As a Roman citizen he was given privileges. He was not in a place like Barlinnie or Saughton. His was actually a kind of house arrest in a property rented by himself paid for by Christian donations. He was free to write. Christian friends could visit. They could pray. He could choose his own food. But he was chained all the time to a Roman soldier, part of a team working shifts. He was waiting to be tried in a Roman court. It was a difficult and stressful time for him. He was well aware that the Emperor Nero was insane and that justice for him would be difficult to obtain. He did think optimistically that he would be set free and that he would continue to be an active apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. But he was also realistic about the consequences of his profession of Christian faith. He calls himself not a prisoner of Rome but a prisoner of Christ Jesus. He elevates his circumstances by placing his relationship with Jesus above that of his human and social condition. In the Church we need always to be doing this. When Sir Christopher Wren was building St Paul's Cathedral in London between 1675 and 1710, he made regular inspections of the ongoing work. One day he asked a mason 'What are you doing?' The man replied. 'I am cutting this stone to its exact measurement'. He asked another man the same question and got the reply, 'I am earning a living, working here'. He asked another man the same question and the man stopped, stood up and said, 'I am helping Sir Christopher Wren to build St Paul's Cathedral'. What we do in Church can be thought of in the same kind of way. If you are asked 'What do you do in Church?', you might answer, 'I visit people in their homes', or I look after the money' or 'I clean and tidy everything'. But you might answer, 'I do what I can for my Church' or 'I do this for myself' or 'The Church is my life'. Would you however if asked this question reply 'I am witnessing for my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ' or would you say, 'I am serving the living God who has loved me all my days' or would you say, 'I am building the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ in this place'. It is easy to forget the true purpose of our life : it is easy to leave Jesus Christ out of our understanding and commitment. But if we hold on to the proper context of what we are doing we will never be discouraged. We share in Christ's victory.
What is the mystery that Paul says has been revealed to him? It is simply that the knowledge of the living God, His love and peace and salvation is to be shared with all humanity and not to be restricted to the Jewish race and nation. Paul never ceased to be amazed at his calling. He calls himself 'the least of all God's people'. He means 'the least deserving'. Of course Paul also had a good conceit about himself when it was necessary to remind people to take him seriously. Generally however, he was humble and grateful to be a servant of Jesus Christ and to preach and teach the unsearchable riches of Christ. What did he mean by this? He means that in Jesus Christ there is limitless grace, forgiveness, love, peace and reconciliation, to everyone for all time and beyond. He means that what happened on Calvary is not able to be fully analysed and categorised. It is beyond human calculation and calibration. Its effects are not confined to this life or this planet. This is a universally and even multiversally applicable relationship of love from our Maker towards us in Jesus Christ. He means that no one person or group can ever understand the whole of it. At no point in time will anyone fully grasp the heights and depths and lengths of the salvation wrought in Jesus Christ. And so it is. How many books have been written about Jesus Christ? No-one knows. How many have believed in and followed Jesus Christ? No-one knows. How many Christians are there in the world today? No-one knows exactly – estimates suggests perhaps 2.3 billion. How many Christians are in heaven? No-one knows. How many Christians will there be in the world in 1000 years time or 20,000? No-one knows. What will eternal life in heaven be like? No-one knows. We have glimpses, ideas, poetic imagination – nothing more. The unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ are simply that he is there, he is alive, that he died and now lives for you and loves you. That is the Gospel.
Surprise, surprise, Paul says that the gift, the knowledge of all this is to be made known through the Church according to his eternal purpose. That happens. Maybe the most clear and singularly identifiable example of this is the Pope. The media can focus on him and Popes can use this profile for good. We may not agree with Roman Catholicism but the visible presentation of the Christian Church is helped by this spiritual monarch. At every level of the life of Christ's Church throughout the world, the eternal purpose is worked out. That does not mean that the Church anywhere is perfect because its members are not perfect. But it does mean that the message – the Gospel – gets out there – in all sorts of different ways, unquantifiable ways, unsearchable ways. Paul asks the Ephesians to put whatever is going on in the congregation there and in the city of Ephesus into that great context. And so should we.
Nor should we take this for granted. We see every day on TV how the world is changing, how unpredictable events are, how dangerous some situations become and how small and powerless our politicians are to help much. How do we now value the sacrifice of 179 of our soldiers in Iraq between 2003 and 2011? Will what has happened there also take place in Afghanistan? 453 died between 2001 and 2014. Has anything been achieved? It seems not. The naivety of George Bush and the warmongering of Tony Blair are now placed in historical context. But the threat is still there. Nor should we imagine that everything would have been OK if there had not been wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Maybe this marks the end of the tendency of western nations to think that they can still rule the world as they think best, even if they are motivated by reasonable ideals.
But the Church of Jesus is a spiritual kingdom and it is unassailable. Even where Christians are being persecuted and they most certainly are, the spiritual kingdom of Jesus Christ will survive. It is eternal in nature, constant and based on resurrection. To belong is to have inner security and peace all our days. We are not living in the past, unable to adjust to modernity. The resurrection of Jesus is beyond human time and circumstance. Our faith is rooted in the high present of his presence and in his future and ours. The physical body decays but the spirit lives on. Churches are closing in this land but others are opening. There may be fewer practising Christians in the western world but Christianity is mushrooming and exploding in the eastern and southern world.
Paul recognises the fatherhood of God over all humanity and kneels in prayer before Him. He asks that this great loving creative power and force be invested in the lives of the Christians in the Church at Ephesus. We may ask the same for us here. Some people here think that I don't do much. How about crying to God in prayer every morning for this congregation and for you people who are not that believing in and are not that committed to Jesus Christ, the Risen Saviour of the world? How about carrying the burden of this place in mind and heart 24/7 so that you can continue to get away with not bothering enough about it when you are not here?
Paul asks for the whole power of God to be given to these Christians in Ephesus. He says, 'I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God'.
It is in the inner being that we are to receive these things. And we do. What is our inner being? Our mind and soul and reason, our conscience and our will; everything that makes us a human personality – a living being – where we are spiritually sensitive and where we think of the reality of God. This is all good and health giving, enabling and sustaining. Christianity works from the inside out. People looked at Jesus but they did not see the Son of God within him. But in our presence, bearing and conduct we can let others see a little or perhaps even more of Jesus Christ. That is our calling.
Paul ends this sequence of thought with one of his great benedictions, one used in the Church to this day. 'Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus, throughout all generations, for ever and ever!'
Let us put our trust in this living Saviour. He is not short of miracles yet. He has not run out of steam or strength. His days are not numbered on earth or in heaven. Let us get our act together and raise him up and find his spiritual resources to be victorious in our day and time of trial and testing of faith and obedience, of calling and opportunity, of service and witness.
'We've a story to tell the nations, that shall turn our hearts to the right;
a story of truth and sweetness, a story of peace and light
For the darkness shall turn to dawning, and the dawning to noon day bright,
and Christ's great kingdom shall come on earth, the kingdom of love and light'.