He was supposed to be one of the best preachers we had among our Baptist clergy. And I was supposed to listen to his one of his sermons and critique it for my preaching class, which was by far more preferable to being my critiqued by the preaching class which was our other assignment. I was expecting a great sermon, especially being a sermon for Easter, and it was. However, the preacher himself seemed to me to be rather lacking. As I listened to him on cassette tape, it seemed to me that he was bored and getting more bored of his own sermon. The excitement was gone and he seemed to be slowing down, losing all passion in the process. What was happening to our famous preacher? Was he burning out or growing too old for the task? However, I changed the batteries in my Walkman and he came right back to life, preaching with vim and vigour. Sometimes we Christians need a change of batteries. We believe in Jesus and our doctrinal knowledge may be quite good, but we lack a certain spark. We live what seem like Christian lives, but we live lives that seem divorced from the power of God. If this is true for you, Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:15-23, especially the part about having our eyes opened to God’s power, makes for a great prayer request.
Power was an important topic for the ancient people of Ephesus and other cities and societies like it. The gods had power, and woe to you if the gods were unhappy with you. The emperor, and therefore all his underlings, had power, and woe to all of us if the emperor happened to be a lousy one. He could not be voted out, and would not be held to account, in fact even worse he would be elevated to the position of a god himself. The common person lived in fear of the powers. We remember too, that more than half of the population would be slaves, or women, or both, and we realize the additional fear of one’s master, or husband, or both. What if you happened to get a lousy one who exercised his power over you for ill and not for good?
It is for this society of powers that Paul is in prayer:
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. (Ephesians 1:18-21 NRSV)
No matter the powers that the Ephesians might fear, taking the wide view, and the long view, it turns out there is nothing and no one to fear but God Himself. God’s power is demonstrated through the resurrection of Jesus. Which of the gods commonly worshipped or the magistrates commonly obeyed could be said to have done such a thing? None, and by the way in Paul’s day witnesses of the risen Christ could still be found and their stories checked. Further, in raising Jesus from the dead, Jesus Himself was placed in a position of authority, over every possible power that might frighten the Ephesians in Paul’s day, or frighten us today.
What powers frighten us today? While as Canadians we tend not to fear a pantheon of gods, there are powers that can be named among us. My middle son has Type 1 diabetes, and this is a disease that has exercised power over us. My wife and I check our son’s blood glucose at midnight and three every morning out of fear of an overnight low from which our son will not wake up. The powers among us are real and so are the fears they produce in us. Many struggle with cancer, with ALS, with AIDS, with Alzheimer’s, with alcoholism, with all manner of illnesses, of the body or of the mind. They all seem to have power over us, they all invoke fear in us. However, the day is coming when “we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51, 52 NIV). Illness may have a grip on us now, but it won’t – God’s power is at work for us. As we pray for miracles of healing don’t let anyone away with saying things like “God does not do miracles anymore, or God might or might not do a miracle that will save your life.” God has already done a life-giving miracle at the cross, He will definitely do a life giving miracle at the resurrection. Your prayers for healing will be answered, and though there may be doubts about the timing of healing there is no room for doubt about God’s will to heal! Knowing the power of God who has a death-grip on any such power that grips us, we can face the powers-that-be with courage and confidence. In Christ they are the powers-that-were. Having a grasp of this truth can and should put a spark into our Christian life.
Further, while we as Canadians tend not to fear our government, and if anything sometimes chide our officials for not exercising enough power, this is not the case in much of the world where people wish that the powers-that-be were rather the powers-that-were. Too many leaders have exercised too much power over too many people with too little wisdom or fear of The Lord and with too many disastrous results. Even in our own nation we hear of bullies, their power and the fear and despair they inspire. People have suffered for it and still do. But as with the powers of illness, the powers of ill governments and sick societies must answer to Christ:
The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15 NIV)
Again in Christ we look forward to that day when the powers-that-be will be the powers-that-were. This gives us confidence and courage for today and until that day, knowing the power and authority of Christ we aspire to live out our sainthood, being more like Mother Theresa than like Hitler in our effect on others, more like Billy Graham than Stalin in our desire for others, more like Jesus than the devil in our love for God and others. In this world there are still destructive powers roaming around that invoke fear. Dear God, may we not be found to be them ourselves. Having our eyes opened to the power of God, may we instead inspire faith, hope, and love. That will put a spark back into our Christian lives and will energize those around us too!