Ephesians Week 1 - Commentary

Here's a link to listen:  .:CLICK HERE FOR AUDIO:.

Here's a .pdf form that you can download if you'd like to print and make notes.

Yes, we're studying Ephesians!

But first… some history!
Let’s get to know our author: PAUL

The book of Ephesians (that we WILL dive into on Saturday!) is a letter from Paul to the believers in Ephesus. It was one of several letters written by Paul to churches that he or his counterparts had planted. Most of the New Testament is comprised of letters written to churches planted in the latter part of the first century AD. It is beneficial for us to read these letters so that we can see what things The Holy Spirit (through the apostles) was teaching these new believers. It was beneficial for them in their day and as we will see – it is beneficial to us today because the Word of God is living and active in the lives of those who are led by the Spirit of God.

So, before we begin studying the “Book of Ephesians” -  this letter written by Paul  – we need to learn a little bit about him! Who is he and why should we care about what he has to say?

First – Paul is an apostle.

As he describes himself in this letter (and in nearly every other letter that he wrote) he was “chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of the good news of Jesus”.  In his letter to the Romans, Paul identifies himself as a “servant (or slave) of Christ Jesus”and says that he was “called to be an apostle” and that he was “set apart for the gospel of God.” In his letter to the Galatians he goes even further in expounding upon his credentials and says “This letter is from Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.“ In his letter to Timothy, he would use even stronger language in regards to his calling: “From Paul - an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope.”

So – We see that Paul identifies himself as an apostle. Just what is an apostle?\The greek word is  ἀπόστολος  (apostolos). It means “a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders.” An apostle is someone who is: sent by someone, on a mission, with power to accomplish that mission.

Apostles are those who were delegated with Christ’s authority. They were representatives of Christ. If we think about it in current terms, the United States sends “delegates” to the United Nations.  When the delegate speaks, they speak with the permission of the President who has given them the authority to represent the positions of the US. 

In Biblical terms, apostles were those who walked with Jesus and were commissioned by Him to spread His message. Paul was an exception in that he was not one of the initially “called” 11. (Judas, of course, is not considered an apostle). Paul, as we read this week, became an apostle in a very different way but it was by a direct call from Jesus, nevertheless.

So, if Paul wasn’t one if those initial 11, who was he before he was called (set apart, chosen, commanded) to be an apostle?

As you saw in this week’s scripture portion, before his conversion to Christ, Saul was a Pharisee, and probably a member of the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was the ancient Jewish court system. The Sanhedrin dealt with religious and ritualistic Temple matters, criminal matters pertaining to the secular court, trials of adultery, collecting tithes, preparation and safekeeping of the Torah Scroll, drawing up the calendar and the solving of difficulties relating to ritual law. This assembly judged people accused of breaking Jewish laws, but it could not initiate arrests. There were no attorneys. Instead, the accusing witnesses would state the offense in the presence of the one being accused and the accused could call witnesses on his own behalf. In Acts,  we saw people laying their coats at the feet of Saul at the stoning of Stephen. This probably indicates that Saul was in a position of authority and that by laying their coats at his feet, he was legally sanctioning their actions as they stoned the first martyr for Jesus.

If you're familiar with the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - you'll remember that Jesus was called before this court assembly – the Sanhedrin  - on the night that He was betrayed by Judas. This ruling body couldn’t initiate arrests which is why they used Judas’s testimony as grounds to arrest Him. They needed two witnesses so they found other false witnesses but none of the testimony agreed. The Jewish religious leaders eventually took Jesus to Pontius Pilate with the charge of blasphemy because of His claims that He was God’s son  - the long awaited Messiah. Pilate didn’t care about the Jewish laws and blasphemy wasn't a reason to put a man to death. However, when Jesus Himself told them that He would return on the clouds with power and great glory (a clear reference to all of the messianic prophecies) this moved the charge from blasphemy to treason. His claim to be God’s son (and therefore a King) is what they would cite as reason for demanding He be crucified when they brought Him before the Roman Governor.

As a member of this ruling body, Saul was devoted to His concept of God. This man was zealous for the God of Israel and for the law of God and wanted the special chosen people of God (The Jews) to live righteous lives according to the law and traditions of Judaism. He was so zealous about this, in fact, that he wanted to destroy anyone that he saw as trying to “change the traditions and customs” of Judaism. Little did he know, however, that HE would be used by the Holy Spirit of God as one of the primary driving forces in this major shift in worship and knowledge of the God of His forefathers  - the one true God who would now make Himself (and His plans that had heretofore been hidden) known to all. Don’t you just LOVE How God chooses the most unlikely people to be His messengers!

As a devout Jew, a “Pharisee of Pharisees”, I imagine that Paul would have been longing for Messiah to appear, especially in this age of Roman oppression. However, as one who had not yet had his mind and spirit enlightened to the scriptures that said that Messiah must come first to suffer (not yet to reign as King), this teaching of a suffering, crucified and rejected Messiah angered Saul! Now for us - on this side of the crucifixion - we have the marvelous advantage of being able to read passages like Isaiah 53, Psalm 22 and Zechariah 12 and countless others that clearly reference the suffering of the anointed one and through those, we see the undeniable specificity of Jesus’ death. Saul, however, had not yet had this truth revealed to him. It would be his future job, however, to share this mystery with the world.

Jesus Himself appeared on another road to two disciples  - The Road to Emmaus – and went through scripture after scripture and showed how the law and the prophets foretold of Him, There are countless passages talk about the Messiah who would be pierced in the hands a feet, be mocked by those saying “He trusts in God – Let God save Him!”, that He would have his beard plucked out, His clothes gambled for, that the stripes he received as a result of being beaten would bring healing, that he would be betrayed by a friend for 30 pieces of silver, that when He was struck, his followers would scatter, that He would not argue when put on trial. The list goes on and on but Saul and most of the Jews of the time were looking for a reigning King! That King is the same Jesus and His coming to reign is prophesied countless more times than His crucifixion. We can trust that if those prophecies happened with such specificity, the ones of His reign as King are just as sure! (For list of prophecies fulfilled at the crucifixion, CLICK HERE).

OK – I got a little sidetracked there. Sorry! 

So – what was the big deal? Why did he care about what people were saying that Jesus? (So much so that he would pursue them to make them stop?) Saul was troubled by this “heretical sect” of Jewish people who were claiming that the long awaited Messiah – the hope of Israel (the one spoken of by prophets and awaited for centuries!) - had come to earth (only to be rejected and crucified by the very ones he had been sent to!) They were teaching that Jesus died at the hands of God’s “chosen people” but not by their will – It was the will of God that Messiah should suffer. They were saying that Jesus, and not the temple sacrifices, were what atoned for sin. Saul, as someone who was involved with temple rituals was very alarmed at this! And! Not only were they teaching that Jesus had died as THE final Passover sacrifice but that He has been raised by the power of God and had appeared to people after His death! 

Those who had been with Jesus - Peter, John and countless other men and women - were going around Jerusalem and Judaea and Samaria and were in the Jewish temple and synagogues and in their communities claiming that belief in Jesus as Messiah was the only true way to become recipients of the covenant promises of God. They were even saying that the Pharisees and the High Priest himself had been the ones responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion! (See Acts 4:8-12). This infuriated Saul! His whole life was devoted to upholding the traditions of Judaism and he law. How dare these people say Messiah (The long awaited “Christ”) had come and now the way to have fellowship with God and inherit the promises of God was only through belief in Jesus as God’s Son and promised redeemer. To his ears, this was blasphemy! (Remember how the council members “plugged their ears” when Stephen was speaking?) And now, this was what followers of “The Way” were teaching and Saul was NOT pleased. The same charge of blasphemy was now being leveled against them because they were claiming that Jesus was the Messiah – the promised one of Israel and that He had risen from the dead.

So… Saul was so angry that he got permission from the authorities in Jerusalem to travel to various places and arrest, punish, imprison (and in some cases kill) those who believed this “new” teaching. (See Acts 7:54-8:1). He was put in authority over a group of men with the blessing of the Sanhedrin to arrest any Hebrew who was saying that Jesus was the Messiah. He was on a relentless pursuit for members of this new “sect” called “The Way.” (See John 14:6). He was, in essence, an apostle of the Sanhedrin as per our definition earlier:  a messenger sent on a mission with the authority and power to carry out that mission. So - What happened? How is it that Saul- the apostle or messenger of the Sanhedrin, full of authority and power to carry out this mission of destruction would become Paul – an apostle called by the will of Jesus to be a missionary of the gospel message to the whole world?

 He met the risen Lord.

While Paul was on his way to the city of Damascus to round up these blasphemous heretics (men and women alike!), he was stopped by the Jesus himself.  (CAN. YOU. IMAGINE!?) A blinding light appeared and Saul was knocked from his horse. Then he heard voice of Jesus calling him by name, “Saul! Saul! WHY ARE YOU PERSECUTING ME??” and then… Saul was struck blind. This man who had been spiritually blind and “uncircumcised in his heart” would now be PHYSICALLY blinded as well.

You know from your reading what happened next. Jesus instructed him to get up and go into the city (which he now needed help to do because he was BLIND) and to await instruction. Can you just sense the horror of this? Let’s put ourselves in Saul’s sandals for a minute. One minute you’re the BOSS, the leader of this gang that was bent on rounding up what you saw as enemies of God – and then God shows up, takes your sight from you and tells you that YOU’RE the enemy! Now you have to (literally) be led by those who you were in command over and they’re leading you to the mercy of those whom you were going to arrest! You have no idea if you’re ever going to see again and you have no idea of the intentions of this man who has just appeared to you. For three days, Saul was blind. For three days he sat in stunned amazement as his whole worldview had come crashing in on him. I imagine he and Jonah had a lot in common, their thoughts swirling and crashing about them as they pondered what was to come and not knowing how things would end up. Both, I believe, were taken by surprise by the love and undeserved mercy of the one who wounded them and then healed them.

And what about the believers in Damascus? Let’s put ourselves in their place for a minute. Jesus shows up to you in a vision and tells you that you’re going to meet this Saul face to face. He’s coming to your house! This monster who had been violently dragging off men and women and sanctioning the stoning of believers? He was going to be delivered into your hands but… you were to lay your hands on him and heal him! (Jesus meant it when he said LOVE YOUR ENEMIES!) Yes, Jesus tells you. This man is not only going to stop persecuting you, he is now going to be an apostle and he will testify to the Jews, the Gentiles and Kings! Talk about a turn of events. By the way, Don’t you love that the street that Saul was to go to was called “straight.” God certainly does have a plan for straightening all things out for our good and His glory.As a result of this meeting with the risen Lord, Paul became one of (if not THE most) zealous believers in Christ and he travelled all over the Roman Empire to spread the gospel of Jesus the Christ. He was zealous as ever but his methods changed from hatefully chasing people who didn’t believe the way he did to lovingly pursuing all those who were far off from God. That is the power of God on display!

Paul would end up travelling extensively – into what we now know as Europe, the Middle East and Asia - telling Jews and Gentiles alike about the Messiah and the gospel (good news).

Whoa. Did you get that? Jews and Gentiles alike?

Yes. Paul, the Pharisee of Pharisees, a son of the tribe of Benjamin (one of the 12 tribes of Israel), a man who had SO much pride in his Jewish heritage and his law-keeping traditions as the means of relationship with God would now be used by the God of Abraham to burst wide open the doors to all people who would cling to Jesus as the Messiah. (After all, the promise to Abraham was that through his seed, ALL NATIONS would be blessed, wasn’t it?) Paul would now boldly proclaim that the promises of God were not just for the Jews but also for the Gentiles! They were now “one new man” and the Gentiles had now been “grafted in” to all of the promises and covenants given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants.  THIS WAS RADICAL! This was a mystery that had been hidden for ages and now Paul was given the responsibility of making it known. Though he was exceedingly joyful over the wideness of God’s love that had now been extended beyond the chosen race of the Hebrews, Paul was heartbroken that his fellow Jewish brethren did not (in large numbers) accept that Jesus was the Messiah and he agonized over this.  This agony would actually give him a heightened fervency in going to the Gentiles hoping that the Jews would (WILL!) one day be provoked to jealousy seeing that their promises and covenants have been “given away” so to speak that it would drive them to faith in Jesus as Messiah and that they would be grafted BACK in to the family of God. (See Romans 9 – 11).

Paul was appointed as the apostle to the Gentiles and he was given the huge task of revealing the mysteries of God to the world. This mystery (that we will read more about as we study Ephesians) is that through Jesus, all of the promises that had heretofore been only to God’s Chosen People had now been extended to ALL people. The way in which to acquire these promises was to trust in the one whom God had sent (His Son, Jesus) and acknowledge that Jesus, through His death on the cross, had paid the penalty that God demanded for sin. Paul would use much ink over his lifetime writing to the churches to reveal the mystery (an eternal truth that was heretofore unrecognized) of the atoning sacrifice of the blood of Christ and that Jesus was indeed the “lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

As we prepare our hearts to dig deep into the richness of the letter to the Ephesians, I pray as the apostle did that God will “give us spiritual wisdom and insight so that we might grow in our knowledge of Him. I pray that our hearts will be flooded with light so that we understand the confident hope that he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. I also pray that we will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him!”

No comments:

Post a Comment