Equal Access to God
Ephesians Lesson #095
February 28, 2021
Dr. Robert L. Dean, Jr.
“Father, we’re so grateful that we can be here today to spend time in the presence of other believers, for we are not forsaking the assembling together of ourselves, but we recognize that it is through our assembly together that we are encouraged by the presence of others, seeing them and their devotion to Your Word, their desire to know the truth and to apply it in their lives.
“Father, we thank You that we have Your Word, that it is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path, and that it is through Your Word, as our Lord Jesus Christ prayed, that we are sanctified. There is no other means other than the Holy Spirit working with Your Word.
“Father, we pray that we might be responsive to the teaching of Your Word, that we may come to understand more fully who we are in Christ and what a remarkable thing it is that You have created in this Church Age: this new man, this new body, this new household, this new temple of which we are apart, the Church, the bride of Christ. Help us to understand all of its significance. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Open your Bibles with me to Ephesians 3 to the last two verses of this opening section, Ephesians 3:1–13. I don’t know about you, but I have thought of this as an extremely rich study; there is so much here.
Remember that even though we have been in this section since October, there was a good bit of time when we were studying the issue of the angelic revolt as it applies to Ephesians 3:10 in the center of this that was very, very important.
One of the things we spent time on in the beginning is the word translated dispensation in both the old King James and the New King James. The New American Standard and others translates it administration. This brings up the very important teaching of God’s Word that has come to be identified by the term dispensationalism.
We find that there are a lot of Christians who don’t understand dispensationalism. A lot of theologians, who ought to know better, have written hostile books against dispensationalism that will embarrass them at the judgment seat of Christ because of their ad hominem arguments and their misrepresentation.
It is often said that as dispensationalists, we are just reading our theology into the text, which is not true. If you want to know the answer to that, you need to be here next Sunday. Even more, you need to listen to the messages that Dr. Mike Stallard will be bringing at the Chafer Conference.
One of the major themes of the conference this year is issues in dispensationalism. Mike got a second Masters at Dallas. He had done his first three years somewhere else that did an STM—I think that is what they call it at Dallas, then he did the PhD program in Dallas about the same time that I was there, so we’ve known each other a year or two. He then taught for many years at the Baptist Bible Seminary up in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania.
Part of what he did about 12 or13 years ago was starting the group, the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics, which meets annually. Like Pre-Trib, it has been a fountain of excellent research and scholarship in the area of dispensational studies.
I will wrap up the section through Ephesians 3:13 this morning. Next Sunday as an introduction to that topic, we will look specifically at some things I brought out a few months ago, some of which I’ll emphasize again this morning. Using that as a starting point we will address:
- How many dispensations are there?
- How do we know how many dispensations there are from the Scripture?
It’s not theology imposed on the Bible; these are derived from the text itself.
Look at our passage to get an overview for context. Ephesians 3:7–10 sets the stage for Ephesians 3:11–13. As Paul was writing and developing this he emphasized the mission and the ministry that God gave him as an apostle—that he was specifically designated as the apostle to the Gentiles—that’s not excluding Jews.
But his primary message was to teach and give the revelation of this mystery—never before revealed information that God was doing something new in this dispensation, in this Church Age that had never been done before. And that there was no longer going to be a distinction between Jew and Gentile. Jew and Gentile were now intimately united together in the body of Christ for a special purpose.
Ephesians 3:7, “of which—that is, the gospel with which he ended Ephesians 3:6—I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me—his apostolic message and mission—according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power.”
Ephesians 3:8, “To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given—not the grace of salvation, but the ministry and mission given to him. That God called him and gifted him as an apostle; as he said, one born out of time—that I should evangelize—bring the gospel to—the Gentiles—and bring to them as part of his broad gospel message—the unsearchable riches of Christ.”
In Ephesians 3:8–9 he gives us the twofold purpose. First of all, it was to preach the good news or to evangelize the Gentiles, but he’s using that word “gospel” in a broader sense. It’s not just “what do I do to go to Heaven when I die,” it includes everything that God has done for us in our salvation: all of the spiritual assets that we received, our new identity in Christ. As he stated in Ephesians 2:6–7, we were given new life in Christ, we were raised together, and we were seated together with Him in the heavenlies.
Here he is referring back to that, his first purpose being to evangelize the Gentiles. Secondly in Ephesians 3:9, “to reveal to all what is the administration—OIKONOMIA in the Greek, meaning dispensation—of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ.”
This wasn’t an afterthought; he had a purpose in Ephesians 3:10, “to the intent …” Those three words in the English translate just one word in the Greek indicating the ultimate purpose for this action. “To the intent” tells us that he’s doing this purposefully, and that this was not something that was an afterthought.
“… that now …” This is an important word which we looked at last time, the Greek NUN. There are two different Greek words that are used for “now.” And when they are used together, as they are in 1 Corinthians 13, the other word has a more narrow context—like now in the immediate present. NUN really refers to a broader period of time, such as now in this Church Age, in this dispensation.
It should be understood that Paul is saying that “… now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known.” “Now” is emphasizing what’s going on in the present time, and this is all so connected back to what Paul said in Ephesians 3:5, “in other ages (this mystery) was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets.”
If “now” refers to now in this Church Age, what do we learn? We learn that there are other ages, right? And that these other ages preceded the present Church Age. The word that’s translated “ages” is a plural, which tells you that there’s more than one. Just from looking at this verse, we know that before this present Church Age, there were at least two other dispensations.
From this we know that there are at least three dispensations. Next time we will unpack that a little more, looking at some other verses to tie this together and to show that dispensationalism is not a theology imposed on the text. In fact, one of the things that is commonly misunderstood is that dispensationalism inherently is a theology that is based on a consistent hermeneutic.
Sometimes people think theology is a hermeneutic, so when people say, “Oh, you’re dispensationalist; you are interpreting the Scripture that way.” No, we’re interpreting the Scripture in a literal manner using grammar, history, and understanding the role of figures of speech. We’re interpreting the Scripture according to a consistent hermeneutic. The result of that is that it produces a theology. The theology is not imposed on the text; it comes from the text.
We see the difference between “now” and “other ages” which tells us that there’s more than just one.
Ephesians 3:10, “For the purpose—or to the intent—that the multifaceted wisdom of God might be made known—and what’s that word?—now.”
Last time we looked at what wisdom is—the skillful application of knowledge. Wisdom is not some sort of sophisticated, philosophical intellectualism, which is how the Greeks understood wisdom. But in Hebrew thinking it had to do with skill. I talked about how God gave skill to Oholiab and Bezalel, two of the head craftsmen who were in charge of constructing the furniture, weaving all of the tapestries for the tabernacle, and making them beautiful.
They were given this special skill, the same word used for wisdom. When we apply that to the Christian life, that we are to live wisely, it means that we are to apply the Scripture in a way that our lives create a beautiful testimony to the grace of God. Here it is applied to God’s wisdom, which takes us back to Ephesians 2:10, that God created us in Christ Jesus for good works.
In the English, we are His workmanship. POIEMA is the Greek word where we get our word “poem.” It is something that is well designed, something that is thought through, something that has beauty, so God is working through us to present something of beauty.
Notice what is said about that, “that the multifaceted wisdom—skill, craftsmanship—of God might be made known now—in this Church Age.” This aspect apparently was not made known in earlier dispensations. There’s a hint there that because the wisdom of God is related to this new entity that is called a new man, a new body, the new household, and a new temple.
What distinguishes it in this age from all the ages before is the union of Jew and Gentile together. We learned in Ephesians 2:14, “For He himself is our peace, who has made both—both Jew and Gentile—one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation,” which he says in Ephesians 2:15, “is the law of commandments.”
At the Cross the Law was ended, and those who are saved in the Church Age, Jew and Gentile, are united together. When we look at the unique creation of this body of Christ as Jew and Gentile: now it’s giving testimony to something that was never given testimony to before.
It indicates and implies that the enmity that existed before between Jew and Gentile is the ultimate focal point in this passage. And the resolution of that enmity between Jew and Gentile is talked about as this masterpiece that now comes into existence. Ephesians 3:10, it is being “made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.”
There is something special about this because this is speaking not only about the elect angels, but also the fallen angels, that they are learning something about how God’s plan is resolving the problem of anti-Semitism that has its roots in the time of Abraham. The hostility that fallen angels and demons engendered against the Jews to try to break God’s plan and purpose through the Jews is hinted at here. And that God had a plan to resolve that, which He did at the cross through this new entity that comes into existence from the Day of Pentecost, where Jew and Gentile are brought together.
This is the true solution to the problem of anti-Semitism; and there should be no basis for Christian anti-Semitism. One of the horrible embarrassments to Christians should be the many, many centuries when Christian anti-Semitism flourished and became the primary way in which Jews thought about Gentiles.
Even today, when you are involved with the Jewish community, one of the questions that is frequently asked is why all of a sudden now—for to them it seems like all of a sudden, because for about 1,800 years it seemed like they were the object of hate and enmity from Christians—are Christians loving Israel, supportive of Israel and of the Jews?
It’s the result of the fact that coming out of the Protestant Reformation, there was a shift back toward a literal interpretation of Scripture. Before the Protestant Reformation, the dominant way of interpreting Scripture was allegorical. So roughly from the time of Origen in the early 2nd century and the time of Augustine in the early 5th century—around 400 when he basically took Origen’s allegorical interpretation and institutionalized it through his theology—for the next 1,100 years this allegorical interpretation dominated Christendom.
Thus, Israel no longer meant ethnic Israel—the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but Israel was the Church in the Old Testament. The word “church” no longer just referred to Jew and Gentile together in the body of Christ, but referred to the “new Israel of God.” This came from the fact that under allegorical interpretation, Replacement Theology developed—that Israel was replaced in God’s plan by the Church.
Because the Jews were those who killed Christ, they became the object of hatred from Christians. The reality is that God did not set aside Israel permanently, He did not get rid of them and go to a new people of God, but He developed alongside Israel a new people of God, so that all of His plans, promises, and purposes for Israel will eventually be fulfilled just as He promised. Part of this ultimate plan solving all these problems is embedded in the fact that He kept a secret.
This secret is that He had a different plan after the Crucifixion to create this new entity of the Church, where Jew and Gentile would be united together in one body in Christ, and that that has an eternal purpose in demonstrating His multifaceted wisdom. He solves that problem because the root is a spiritual cause, and there can only be a spiritual solution. His purpose in doing this is implied here that this “now” that is happening—this present thing that unites Jew and Gentile together—is to teach something to the angels about God’s resolution of this problem.
We will develop this more next time when we go through the foundations for dispensationalism.
It is the wisdom of God, His skillful craftsmanship in creating this new entity that is designed to teach today in the Church Age something that was never taught before that is related to this union of Jew and Gentile together in Christ that’s in the heavenly realms.
In relation to that wisdom, there were three things I pointed out:
1. God is creating a masterpiece, Ephesians 2:10, of Jew and Gentile together in one body as the Body of Christ, identified by four different phrases in Ephesians 2:11–22: a new man, a new body, a new household, and a new temple.
2. Wisdom is used in some context to identify Christ. He is the wisdom of God incarnate. This describes
a. The work of Christ in 1 Corinthians; it’s tied to what Christ did on the Cross.
Eventually we will investigate in our study in 2 Peter as related to false teaching going on today—the fact that there are different gospels being passed around, you might say—that emphasizes the person of Christ as opposed to the work of Christ.
Whereas we see in the Lord’s Table that both the person of Christ and the work of Christ are part and parcel of the gospel message. It’s not one to the exclusion of the other. You can’t minimize it. It’s the work of Christ that is emphasized here: what He did on the Cross; because what He did on the Cross breaks that barrier between Jew and Gentile.
b. The body of Christ, the Church, was never before seen in history, it is not anticipated; it’s not expected.
We will see in the next verse it wasn’t something that God came up with at the last minute because, “Oops! The Jews rejected Jesus as Messiah. What am I going to do, oh My? I’ve got an idea! I’ll come up with a new people of God.” That didn’t happen as we will see.
c. This is the particular manifestation of God’s grace in this Church Age.
3. This relates all of this to the angelic revolt, demonstrating that God’s omniscience and omnipotence alone can rule His creation.
No creature, no matter how brilliant, no matter how capable, can rule the universe and God’s creation because he doesn’t have enough knowledge. There’s a qualitative difference between knowing as much as Satan knows and having complete omniscience. This is exemplified in God’s plan at its highest form in the Church Age.
Ephesians 3:11, “… according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Where he says “according to,” is a Greek preposition that is basically identifying this as a standard … that what God is doing was “according to” something; it was according to a standard, and that standard is stated in the next phrase, His “eternal purpose.” This indicates that God had a plan and purpose all along. It’s not a second thought. It’s not, “We’re going to go to alternate Plan B or alternate Plan C.” He had this in mind all along.
He then accomplished this, POIEO in the Greek. Often people will simply translate the basic meaning “to do” or “to make” something, but in numerous contexts, it has a more specific meaning than simply to do something or to make something. It has the idea of accomplishing something, bringing something from a plan to performance, to bring it to fruition.
God has this purpose that runs all the way through history, and He accomplished it how? In Christ Jesus in His work on the Cross, in Christ Jesus our Lord. Notice how Paul focuses our attention on Christ here—on Who He is. He uses his Old Testament Hebrew title first, the Messiah, which is the Old Testament word for the Anointed or Appointed One. He is the Mashiach. CHRISTOS is the Greek translation of Mashiach.
Second, the name for His humanity, Yeshua: He is Mashiach Yeshua. He is Christ Jesus, the humanity of Christ, born in Bethlehem to His human mother and His adoptive father Joseph. He was born in Bethlehem, and His mother and adoptive father reared Him in Nazareth.
He is the Messiah; He is human, indicated by Yeshua, and He is God. He is our Lord, KURIOS in the Greek, which translates the idea of deity in the Old Testament. He is the promised Messiah from the Old Testament. He is both man and God.
He brings this eternal purpose together to present Jew and Gentile together as one in the body of Christ. He accomplished His plan in Christ. That is, His death, as we studied in Ephesians 2:14–15, destroyed the barrier between Jew and Gentile. Ephesians 2:15 reads, “having abolished in His flesh” indicating His whole body’s presence on the Cross.
In the early Church there was a heresy called Docetism, the idea that the LOGOS could never truly be in a human body. Because they came from a Platonic ideology—that which is material is inherently evil—so the LOGOS could never be incarnate in flesh, because that would taint Him with sin. This was a great heresy, and these ideas were even present as early as the first century.
The concept that Christ bore in His own body on the tree in 1 Peter, and here in Ephesians 2:15, that it was “abolished in His flesh,” is emphasizing that He appeared materially, physically in a truly human body. He was true humanity.
He “… abolished in His flesh the enmity, the law of commandments contained in ordinances.” His death on the cross is what abolished the Law, ended it; it was no longer in effect after that. This was accomplished in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 3:12, “… in whom—an addition—in whom—that is, in Christ also, although the word ‘also’ isn’t here, it is an expansion of what was said in Ephesians 3:11—in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.”
So, if you are “in Christ” that is because you have trusted in Jesus Christ as your Savior. According to Romans 6:3–6, at that very instant in time when you understood the gospel and in your soul you said, “That’s true. I believe it.” You didn’t have to walk an aisle, raise your hand, you didn’t have to pray a sinner’s prayer; all that was necessary was for you to think “Yes, that’s true. I believe it.”
At that instant you were saved; you were given new life in Christ, which is the sense of being born again, being regenerated. You were made a new creature in Christ, according to 2 Corinthians 5. Romans 6:3–6 says that we were identified with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. The theological term is positional truth: it is that identification with Christ that shows our new position in Him. Every believer is “in Christ.”
That is also described as the baptism by the Holy Spirit. When many people hear “baptism,” they immediately think of water. In one sense you should, because the baptism by the Holy Spirit is demonstrated through water baptism. The purpose of water baptism is to teach an abstract truth, one that is difficult for many people to understand, and that’s our position in Christ.
God gives us a symbol, a representation that we can learn from, and in baptizing people this is what should be taught. Unfortunately, it rarely is, so people don’t really understand, and throughout most of the Church Age they’ve never understood what baptism is.
As we’ve studied in our Monday night classes recently, in the early Church it was the idea that you were physically washed of your sins. So, they would encourage some people to wait until near the end of their life before they were baptized, so that they wouldn’t have enough time left to commit any really bad sins.
From that developed the idea of purgatory, that you have these other sins that you weren’t cleansed from in baptism. So you have purgatory where you have to work that off before you can finally get into Heaven. But that isn’t what baptism is all about. Peter says in 1 Peter 3 that it’s not the washing of the flesh. But this is a picture of something—that spiritually we are washed, we are cleansed positionally in Christ.
When a person is immersed in the water, this is identification with Christ in His death. The water is a picture of being washed; water always relates to being cleansed. So, it’s a picture of being completely cleansed from sin—the application of the cross to the individual person. Being in the water is a picture of Christ in the grave, so we’re identified with Christ in His death and burial. Coming out of the water is a picture of resurrection, resurrected to new life in Christ. That’s the focus of Romans 6 for the rest of that chapter.
Romans 7–8 is the new life that we have in Christ: we have been positionally identified with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. The power of the sin nature is broken. Paul says in Romans 6:10 we are to consider ourselves dead to sin—that sin no longer has power over us. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have a sin nature, but that for the first time in history in this Church Age believers are not under the tyranny of the sin nature.
From Adam until the Day of Pentecost every believer was still a slave to the sin nature, but Paul is saying “no” in Romans 6. Once you’re identified with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection, that power is broken. You can, as you’re walking by the Spirit, say no to the sin nature. You can live for God; you can “walk in newness of life,” as Paul phrased it in Romans 6.
All of this is true of every believer that is in Christ and because of our new position in Christ, what does that entail? Remember, I’ve quoted once already what Paul said in Ephesians 2:5–6, “even when we were dead in trespasses—first thing He did, He—made us alive together with Christ, by grace you have been saved—so we have new life in Christ. Secondly, and He raised us up together” and thirdly, He—made us sit together in the heavenly places.”
“Together” is again emphasizing Jew and Gentile now united together in this body of Christ.
All of that is being brought to bear at the beginning of Ephesians 3:12, and because of our new position in Him—that we have been identified with His death, burial, and resurrection, that baptism by the Spirit places us in Christ—we have:
1. First of all, “boldness.” We have a boldness before God: in our presence to God, in our prayers to God, we have boldness.
It is PARRESIA in the Greek, which means boldness. It has the idea of freedom of speech. It has the idea of someone who is very plain-speaking, who is frank and open and honest and clear about something.
Interestingly, this word is used in John 16:26–28 where Jesus tells the disciples “I’m speaking openly with you. I’m not speaking to you in words that are hidden.” He’s not speaking in parables. He’s not speaking in metaphors. He’s speaking just out straight out telling them what He has accomplished and what is going to happen. In John 16:29 they said, “You are speaking openly to us—PARRESIA.” This is the idea that we have boldness. We can speak openly, honestly, and clearly to God.
I’ve emphasize many times when I have taught through passages in Exodus, as well as in Numbers, where God said to the elders, “I don’t speak with you in enigmatic words, but I speak openly, mouth-to-mouth, face-to-face with Moses.” That indicates the closeness that Moses had, as in passages such as Exodus 32:11–13 and Exodus 33:12–23. We see how open and honest and frank Moses is with God.
We also see this in the Psalms; David sometimes is just mad at God. “How in the world can this happen?” “How can the righteous suffer and the unrighteous prosper?’ “What are you doing, God?” There is a sense at times of frustration and even anger with God, but he’s being honest. He’s just talking openly and honestly with God.
Many Christians say, “Oh No! That’s some kind of disrespect. I can’t talk to God like that!” Well, then you’ve got a problem with David, don’t you? David wasn’t being disrespectful. He’s trying to understand what God is doing in his life, and he is honest. You don’t think God knows how frustrated you are with this plan at times?
You think somehow if you haul off and say, “God, what in the world are you doing? I’m just so frustrated,” that God’s going to say, “Well, that’s not the right attitude. You can’t say that!” God knows you better than you know yourself; He knows how frustrated you are. Sometimes we have to admit and recognize our frustration with what is going on before we can start honestly thinking it through in our own head.
Paul is talking about this here. Because we’re in Christ we have boldness. We can be open and honest with God no matter what the issue is. You can’t hide it from God anyway. He knows you through and through. He knows every thought. We have boldness with God.
2. We have “access” to God. If you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, you have access to the throne of God. Anytime you want to pray, you can. Confess sin, and you’re in the presence of God.
This is PROSAGOGE, which has the idea of freedom of entry, freedom to go somewhere, freedom to enter into the throne room of God. And to do so with confidence, the second word on the screen, PEPOITHESIS, which means confidence. It’s connected to boldness. We have this because we know who we are in Christ. We know what He has done for us. We know what He’s provided for us. We know that we are seated together with Him, our High Priest at the right hand of the Father.
PROSAGOGE here in Ephesians 3:12 is used one other time that we’ve seen earlier in this passage, in Ephesians 2:18. I’ve already quoted from Ephesians 2:14–15, but in that same paragraph after talking about the fact that Christ is our peace. And by “our” he means Jew and Gentile, peace between Jew and Gentile: He’s abolished the enmity that was in the Law and has brought them together. He says God has created in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace.
3. That He may reconcile them both to God, Ephesians 2:16. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:17–18, “And He came and preached peace to you who were far off and those who were near. For through Him—through Christ—we both—Jew and Gentile—have access.”
In the Old Testament only the Jews had access to God through the tabernacle and temple, and only the high priest could go into the Holy of Holies. But now any believer, Jew or Gentile has—"access by one Spirit to the Father.”
We have to connect what Paul said in Ephesians 2:18 with what he says in Ephesians 3:12, that: “we have boldness and access through faith in Him.” It’s through faith in Him that we have the boldness and access, and the access is by one Spirit to the Father, because God the Holy Spirit indwells every single believer. This is part of our position in Christ from the very beginning.
What is the classic biblical illustration of this truth? You all should know this. When Christ was on the cross, as He was suffering and as He had paid the penalty for sins, in Matthew 27:45, “Now from the sixth hour to the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land,” when God the Father poured out the sins of the world upon Christ, between 12 noon and 3 PM. 12 noon is the sixth hour, 3 PM is the ninth hour.
Matthew 27:46, “And about the ninth hour—all this time Christ has not said a thing. He’s been beaten, He’s been tortured; He’s been flogged. The skin’s been ripped open from the muscles in His back; organs could have been visible, He was in absolute total misery like none of us can ever imagine. Now, finally, He screams out with the pain that came with the imputation of our sins, ‘Eli, Eli—Aramaic for ‘My God, My God’—lama sabachthani?—My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?’ ”
He quoted the first line in Psalm 22:1; He probably quoted the entire psalm. The Jews didn’t have chapters and verses, they would refer to a psalm by the first line, so He probably quoted the entire thing. At this point He has finished paying for the sin.
In his Gospel, John wants us to get it very clear what happened, “When it was finished”—TETELESTAI in the Greek. When it was completely over with, when it was finished, Jesus said, “TETELESTAI,” it is finished. Before He died physically, He had completed the payment for sin.
What happened on the Cross is what is significant for our forgiveness, for cleansing of our sin that Christ died and paid for our sin. When you study through the Scriptures, you realize that whenever the New Testament writers are focusing on our new life in Christ, their emphasis is on the resurrection of Christ, that that is talking about our new life in Him.
When Jesus died physically, Matthew 27:50–51, “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks split.”
This is significant because it is humanly impossible to rip the veil from top to bottom. The veil was an elaborately woven fabric that was a hand-breadth in its thickness; it was incredibly thick. It was 60 feet long from top to bottom and 30 feet wide and it ripped! The invisible hand of God ripped it from top to bottom, so that now the access to the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum of the temple, is open and exposed. Because with Christ’s death on the Cross, access to God has now been opened.
Described in Matthew 27:51, and also referred to in Hebrews 4:14–16, He is our great High Priest, “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who is passed through the heavens, Jesus the son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly—we can come with confidence because we have access to God—to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
This has been provided for us; we have this access! We need to take advantage of that access, and we do so through prayer.
Ephesians 2:13, “Therefore, I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.”
Remember what happened in this section, back in Ephesians 3:1. Paul started off, “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles.”
After that, the New King James Bible has an em dash (—, a horizontal line that’s a little longer than a hyphen or a dash) that sets it apart. Some translations may use a parenthesis or set it off with commas. But he stops his train of thought at the end of Ephesians 3:1, and presents a secondary thought, which is really the primary thought from Ephesians 3:2–12.
He interrupted himself and is really saying, “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles ask that you not lose heart at my tribulations for you which is your glory.”
Between the first part of the sentence and the last part of the sentence, he goes through the whole explanation of his ministry. Why? Because he’s telling these Ephesian believers that you shouldn’t be discouraged because I’m in jail. You shouldn’t be discouraged that for the last five years I have basically been in prison.
There were two years after he was arrested in Jerusalem, two years at Caesarea by the Sea under confinement. Then he’s on a ship to Rome, goes through shipwreck. He finally comes to Rome, then two years under house arrest. People are saying, “Well, what’s going to happen to the gospel? What’s happened? Look at this horrible thing that’s taken place. Look how this is impacting Paul’s ministry!”
But Paul recognizes that this is the sovereign plan of God, as Diana Severance mentioned to the ladies yesterday morning. This is the providence of God. This is God’s oversight of His plan and purpose. God is not sitting up there wringing His hands saying, “Oh My! They’ve arrested Paul! They’ve put him in jail! What am I going to do?”
He’s not up there now saying, “Oh my! There’s a COVID pandemic and all My missionaries are shut down, and the churches are going to be shut down. What am I going to do?” This is God’s plan. He’s working through what appears to us to be setbacks to bring about His plan.
While Paul was under house arrest in Rome those two years, he had opportunities to witness to a number of important people, including those that were in the very household and family of Caesar. If he had not been arrested, he might not have ever had the opportunity.
Of course, God could have provided in other ways, but the way God did it was by leaving him there. He didn’t have to travel; being under house arrest, people came to him. He was training and teaching so many different people, and as a result of his ministry at Rome through secondary and tertiary efforts, there were probably thousands of people who were saved during that time in Rome.
He is saying, “This is my mission; this is what I was commissioned to do by the Lord. He is the One who oversees when and where and how I do it. Therefore, you should not be sad or sorrowful because your idea of how it should be done isn’t working out. God has a plan, so don’t lose heart, but rejoice in what is going on.
There are so many missionaries that are not able to get back to where they were on the field. There are others who have had other logistical problems just getting around. They may not have been able to leave where they were and get back to the US, but God has a plan. God is working it out. Many times we think something is a real problem, a real roadblock to what God is doing, and yet God is the one who’s design the roadblock because He has a better way to accomplish His goals than we do.
So instead of looking at obstacles and difficulties as, “Oh my! What are we going to do now,” we should rejoice because we know God’s in control, and He’s going to bring together His purposes. Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, and to those who are called according to His purpose.”
In this passage we developed what I called the Mystery Doctrine Rationale for handling suffering, going back to the beginning of this segue in Paul’s explanation in Ephesians 3:2, “if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given to me for you.” If you’ve heard of the mission and ministry God gave to me for you, don’t lose heart at my tribulations, Ephesians 3:13.
We developed from this four points:
1. The Mystery Doctrine describes the new revelation given to Paul and the other apostles regarding the new dispensation of the Church Age.
We are still proclaiming the Mystery Doctrine of what Christ did on the Cross, that now He’s created this new man, new body, new household, and new temple. Every time we proclaim the gospel that’s embedded within it.
2. In this new dispensation, the Church Age, God is building this new temple of believers composed of Jew and Gentile equally in this new man, this new body, and this new household.
3. This new identity, which involves new blessings, a new joint inheritance, a joining together in a new body, and new partakers of the promise in Christ is so incredible that we should never be discouraged. We should never lose heart. We should never say, “Oh my! What is God doing? It’s all falling apart.”
God has a plan and purpose. It’s His church. Christ said, “I will build My church.” What did He say to Peter? “You feed the sheep.” That’s the pastor’s job. Feed the sheep and Christ is the One who builds the Church.
4. In conclusion, thinking this through, whenever we see things that discourage us, we should think, because of who we are in Christ, because of our assets, because our privileges, because of our future inheritance and identity, there is no excuse for ever losing heart or becoming discouraged by our circumstances. For every circumstance good or bad is another opportunity to tell others about our wealth in Christ.
I should never get discouraged. I should never think, “Oh! What am I going to do” because we have all of this in Christ, and God is going to use every circumstance as an opportunity for us to tell others about Christ, about the gospel, and for the Lord to build His Church. That’s the focus of this section.
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to study these things, to be reminded of all that we have in Christ. That at the instant of our faith in Christ, we became a new creature and with that we were given incredible spiritual assets, not limited to but including the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit and the filling of God the Holy Spirit.
“We have been given assets related to our position in Him: we are in a new body, we are in a new household, we are called a new man, and we are part of a new temple—the body of Christ that is indwelt by the Holy Spirit—as well as each of us individually.
“Father, we pray that we might understand that whenever things look difficult around us, that it isn’t a hindrance to Your plan, but this is a way in which You have worked it out so that Your plan will advance. And even though we think it looks like it’s three steps forward and two steps back, You are working things so it’s always progressing towards Your intended conclusion.
“Father, we pray that if there is anyone listening to this message or anyone here today that has never really come to grips with the fact that that they need to trust in Christ as Savior! That we’re not saved because of the family we’re born in, we’re not saved because we go to the right church, we’re not saved because we hear the right kind of message, we’re saved because we’ve made a decision in our souls to trust in Christ as Savior.
“That He is our hope, and that He is the only source of our salvation. It is Christ alone. Father, we pray it will be clear to them that that is all that they need to do, just trust in Him. Believe the Scriptures that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again that we might have everlasting life.
“Father, we pray that You would use this teaching to challenge us in the way we think about life, think about the circumstances around us, that we may keep our focus on Christ, occupied with Him and His mission and not on our circumstances. We pray this in Christ’s name, amen.”