Acts 23-26 brief overview:
Acts 23: Paul’s in Jerusalem before the Roman tribune/influential leaders (end of Acts 22) and then in front of the chief priest and other Jewish leaders (Ananias – high priest). Then after Jesus comes to Paul in prison and tells him to take courage, the Jews plot against Paul to take his life. Paul’s nephew hears of it, tells Paul, then Paul sends him to the Roman officials, so the Roman tribune in Jerusalem had Paul sent to Felix in Ceasarea and was imprisoned in Herod’s quarters, while he waits for his accusers to get there to bring their charges against them.
Acts 24: After 5 days the high priest, Ananias came down with his crew and laid out the charges against Paul: “2 Since through you we enjoy much peace, and since by your foresight, most excellent Felix, reforms are being made for this nation, 3 in every way and everywhere we accept this with all gratitude. 4 But, to detain you no further, I beg you in your kindness to hear us briefly. 5 For we have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. 6 He even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him. 8 By examining him yourself you will be able to find out from him about everything of which we accuse him.”
Then Paul gives his defense and tells them that he was only there for 12 days, observed Jewish laws, etc, then said why he was really on trial: Acts 24:21b: “It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day.” Paul then appeals to Lysias the tribune and then kept imprisoned with freedom to walk around Ceasarea during the days and have friends visit him and had frequent talks with Felix regarding righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment (probably many letters were written to the churches in these 2 years).
Acts 25: 2 years later!! the Jewish leaders present their case before a new governor, Festus, and Paul (probably having enough of the game), said, “I appeal to Ceasar.” (v. 11b) Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.” (v. 12b) But before sending Paul to Ceasar, Festus had him meet with King Agrippa and Bernice to protect Ceasar from meaningless trials and to find charges against Paul.
Acts 26: Paul preaches the gospel to King Agrippa and Bernice and tells of his conversion by the Lord Jesus (which we will cover next week).
This is Paul’s journey to death for Christ and the gospels sake. We spent a lot of time looking at Acts 20:17-24 and how Paul got the power to persevere through suffering for righteousness sake. This can relate to us to today even if we are not suffering for righteousness sake because of the pain in this world caused by sin. We need Jesus!
If we try and go at this alone, the result is always emptiness, frustration, confusion, etc… If we try to persevere through a list of to do’s we will find that we will fail, or we are not that faithful or that the list doesn’t work. If we try to persevere by relying on other people, we will find that people are not always faithful, can’t bear the wait of our expectations and can’t offer what we truly need. You getting the point! We need Jesus!
If we go at this with Jesus, I mean, really encountering Jesus, the result is: strength through God’s Spirit in our inner being, Christ dwelling in our hearts through faith, a heart rooted and grounded in love for God and others, the mind and “strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth” of God’s love for us; and a mind and heart “to know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge” so you’ll be filled with ALL the fullness of God!!
Now those are some big promises pastor Jeff! Where did they come from? Before we go there, let’s look at the visitation that Jesus had with Paul which I believe is the only way Paul was able to go before all these leaders and profess Jesus Christ as Lord.
Acts 23:11:The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”
Paul had an encounter with Jesus. It says here that the Lord stood by him and exhorted him! Take Courage!! He spoke to him!! We must encounter Jesus, and the means by which God ordained us mere men to encounter him is chiefly through prayer. What I spoke of above was a prayer to Jesus by Paul on behalf of the Ephesians. Let’s turn to Ephesians 3:14-21 now and let this lead us into the great promises of our Lord:
Read Ephesians 3:14-21:
This is Paul’s fervent and affectionate prayer to God on behalf of the Ephesians. Paul says in verse 14, “For this reason”. What reason is he talking about? He’s could be referring to verse 13: “So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.” or he could be continuing what he started in 3:1, so we must look at 2:22 to see what reason he began 3:1. Ephesians 2:22: In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Or even perhaps Ephesian 1:17: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, Or even Ephesians 5:13-14: 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore (“For this reason” in the NASB version) it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
I believe it would be perfectly fine for us to say that Paul may of had all of these things in mind as he was praying for the Ephesians. So my desire for us tonight is that we would pray this prayer in Ephesians 3 with these purposes in mind:
1. So that we will not lose heart in the face of pain, trials and afflictions.
2. So that we would be built up into dwelling places for God by the Spirit.
3. So that the Father of glory would give us wisdom and revelation of Himself.
4. So that Christ would shine on us, expose our hidden sin and give us life for Jesus’ fame. (and all these are not to individuals, but the church as a whole!)
Read vv. 14-15:
Notice Paul’s verbal expression of his outward posture of prayer. I bow my knee… humble and reverent. This is the only proper posture that is due to the Sovereign God, creator of heaven and earth, mender of our souls through His Son, Jesus. Redeemer of mankind and reconciler on all of creation, from whom every family in heaven and earth is named (one family, one household in Christ) This is our God. Let’s come before Him this evening on our knees, in all humility and reverence. God help us have this posture this very moment as we pursue you!
The Four “That’s”:
That # 1) v. 16: that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,
The first “that” Paul asks of God is that his friends would be strengthened. The power to be strengthened comes from the riches of God’s glory, which is His Son, Jesus, who was given to us so that we may be declared righteous by God and our sins forgiven. As the work of grace first begins, it is also continued and carried on by the Spirit of God.
So it is on the basis of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection that Paul is asking for strength. Paul is asking God to manifest the power of Jesus’ resurrection in the life of the Ephesians so that they will be filled with power through the Holy Spirit all the way down to the very core of who they are… their “inner beings”. The inner man, mind, soul or spirit of a person. To this effect Paul is praying.
Do we believe that the power of the Gospel (Christ’s life, death and resurrection) is able to strengthen our minds, our souls, our resolve, our emotions, our stresses, our anxieties, our fear, our heartache, etc…? The Gospel is about the presence and love of Jesus helping us to survive Him and His will on earth. This leads us to the second “that”.
That # 2) v. 17a: so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—
We need to be strengthened with power “so that” Christ may dwell in our hearts! God help us, because without your strength, we can’t handle your presence.
Now, some may ask, don’t Christians already have the Holy Spirit living in them by faith in Jesus? The answer is yes (Eph. 1:13-14), but we can also quench the power of God in our lives (1 Thess. 5:19).
Ephesians 1:13-14: 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
1 Thessalonians 5:19: Do not quench the Spirit.
So, only the felt love of Jesus to the core of our beings can satisfy us. This is what we are after when we worship Jesus, encounter Him in prayer, at service, at home. We must encounter Jesus in this way if we are going to change. This is the cure for all of life’s pains and the cure for all our sin. Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus loves his sinners and He loves His sufferers. Jesus stood by Paul and told him to take courage!
This is why self-help books don’t really help. If you have a self-focus, then you worship self. If you have a Jesus-focus, then you worship Jesus. May you be strengthened by the Spirit of the Lord, by God’s grace, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith… and we must not read too fast over the word “faith”. All this happens by faith!
What Christ is capable of doing in our lives is like God putting nuclear power in a paper bag. It’s not humanly possible, but with God, all things are possible. God offers power to us humans that makes nuclear power look like a joke. As a paper bag cannot stand to contain nuclear power, we cannot stand to contain God’s power, except for God’s grace. He offers this power to such unworthy candidates, but infinitely worthy through Jesus.
So let’s gather together what is being said here: Paul prays that they would be strengthened in their mind, will and emotions, by the power of the Spirit, so that they may encounter Jesus face to face and find courage in life to live for Jesus and heal…
That # 3) vv. 17b-19a: that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,
Now that Christ dwells in you, you are rooted and grounded in the particular thing that Christ has done for you. Paul asks for strength to even comprehend this love that God has for us that is wrapped up in the Gospel! The power of the Gospel is much bigger, and deeper, and wider than we could ever comprehend and if we were able to comprehend it fully, we wouldn’t be able to stand it.
Comprehending God’s love starts with knowing that He loved us first (1 John 4:19: We love because He first loved us.) I believe that truly knowing this kind of love leads to an experience. To know the love of God (in some sense), is to experience Christ (v. 17a). Romans 8:16: The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, (EXPERIENTIAL) If there is no experience, there may not be true faith in Christ.
Regarding the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love, Matthew Henry, a great Puritan, says this in regards to a picture of what this phrase may refer to: “By the breadth of it we may understand the extent of it to all ages, nations, and ranks of men; by the length of it, its continuance from everlasting to everlasting; by the depth of it, its stooping to the lowest condition, with a design to relieve and save those who have sunk into the depths of sin and misery; by its height, its entitling and raising us up to the heavenly happiness and glory.”
We should all, with eager hearts, desire to know and comprehend this kind of love. This is the kind of love that comforts and relieves the worst of days on this earth. Because this kind of love surpasses all knowledge, we cannot attain this through learning about God, but only by experiencing Him. This is why prayer and meditation on God’s word is so pivotal in the life of a believer.
So let’s gather together what is being said here again: Paul prays that they would be strengthened in their mind, will and emotions, by the power of the Spirit, so that they may encounter Jesus face to face and find courage in life to live for Jesus and heal, and that they would firmly comprehend the Gospel, and all the elements and depths of it so that they would know the love of Christ, so that….
That # 4) v. 19b: that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
What a statement! Had it not been in the Scriptures, we would never dare say or believe this, but it’s right here. Those who receive grace from Christ, may be said to be filled with the fullness of God, according to their capacity, and their pursuit of Christ and desire to humble themselves and submit themselves before Him. It is to this measure that we worship and pursue Christ and preach the Gospel to ourselves and others.
And we do this all so that we may be about what God is about… making Himself known. We pray this prayer not just so that we can get all we can from Jesus, but so that we can be filled and healed in our inner beings so that we can make Jesus famous in all the earth. (Read Eph. 1:22-23 – The seat of God’s praises is in the church; and the Mediator of these praises is Jesus Christ.)
We are a body, a community representing Christ, and it is in a community that Christ is made famous. Loners are never famous in God’s economy, but those who are known by others can be seen by others that they, along with many others can make much of Jesus and brag of His fame and power and mercy through their lives and testimony!
Now let’s gather together what is being said here one last time: Paul prays that they would be strengthened in their mind, will and emotions, by the power of the Spirit, so that they may encounter Jesus face to face and find courage in life to live for Jesus and heal, and that they would firmly comprehend the Gospel, and all the elements and depths of it so that they would know the love of Christ, so that they may be filled with all the fullness of God for the fame and worship of Jesus.
Ephesians 3:20-21: 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Paul ends his prayer with a doxology (a praise of who God is) and we will end our sermon with it as well. It’s always proper to end our prayers with worship. He is worthy to be worshipped. If our prayers are not ending in worship, then we may be in danger of not really talking to God, or at least we are not talking to Him for the right reasons. Knowledge of God that doesn’t lead to God worship is useless.
There is an inexhaustible fullness of grace and mercy in God, which the prayers of all the saints could over draw. Whatever we may ask, or think to ask, still God is still able to do more, abundantly more, exceedingly abundantly more. Note, in our applications to God we should encourage our faith by a consideration of his all-sufficiency and almighty power.
Wherever God gives of his fullness, He gives to experience His power. Paul closes the doxology by giving glory to God. When we come to ask for grace from God, we ought to give glory to Him as well. In giving glory to God, we acknowledge that all excellencies and perfections are His. God should and will be praised throughout all ages (Rev. 4:8-11)! Amen.