Eyes Open to See Where You Live
Rev. Kurt Lantz Ascension of Our Lord Ephesians 1:15-23
May 13, 2021 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear saints who are faithful in Christ Jesus,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
There are pagans everywhere, all around me. It is all that I see. So might the Christian living in Ephesus in the first century describe his surroundings. The great temple of Artemis, a true wonder of the ancient world, overshadows the entire city. The priests and temple prostitutes are seen on every street. The shops are filled with silver idols. The banquet halls serve up sacrificial meat. My employer worships the goddess. My housekeeper wears her charms. It is everywhere I look, everywhere I go and the overwhelming idolatry wears on me all the time. It makes me short-tempered with my family, and even leads to squabbles within our little church.
Christians in Canada today do not have it all that different than first century Christians in the Greco-Roman world. There are pagans everywhere, all around. Great edifices of hedonism overshadow our chapels. On the streets we see people who celebrate their paganism in dress and adornment that facial coverings do not mask. The freezers and coolers in our grocery stores highlight meat products prepared in obedient submission to false gods. At home our screen time is interrupted by pop up ads plying the wares of mammon and idolatry. Paganism is everywhere. It is in the music of our culture, the books and movies, the art and education that fills our world.
It looks rather hopeless for us Christians. We feel tiny in this pagan metropolis, like we have to watch our every word and step lest we get trampled by the heathen behemoth that roams our world. We are afraid to make too much noise or draw too much attention to ourselves lest we become the target of those who live for the chance to jump on anyone who does not conform to the strictures of liberal hedonism. We try to blend in as much as possible, dash back and forth to church once a week, or even now hide in our basements to practice our faith. It affects our temperament, our anxiety, and comes out in our interactions with family and colleagues.
It is for us that St. Paul continues to pray “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, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His great might” (Ephesians 1:17-19).
His prayer kind of implies that we are not seeing the whole picture, that we are not evaluating all of this with wisdom, that we need something to be revealed to us that we might know what is really going on around us and with us. And that knowledge has to do with knowing Christ aright. So, when we feel overwhelmed by the paganism of our world, the anti-Christian establishment that presses in on us, it is because we are not thinking properly about Jesus. We are not seeing Him in the proper light. We need the eyes of our heart enlightened. We need our faith to be more firmly located in our Saviour Himself.
Saul thought he had a clear picture of what was going on, that he could round up these Christians near and far and put an end to all of their Jesus stuff. He was arresting Christians and bringing them to trial in Jerusalem so that they would receive a similar sentence as Jesus who was crucified or Stephen who was stoned for preaching about Jesus. There was to be no hope for the little band of Christ followers. All they could look forward to was to keep quiet and hidden or to be beaten and jailed and killed. Either way they would be silenced.
But actually it was Saul who could not see clearly what was going on around him with these Christians and their Christ. On the way to Damascus the risen and ascended Lord Jesus struck him blind in order to open his eyes. A disciple named Ananias baptized Saul and something like scales fell from his eyelids and he could then see better than he had before (Acts 9:1-19). Still, everything around him looked the same. Through his eyes he saw that the cities were the same and the people in them. The culture was the same and the group of Christians were still small and scattered.
But through his heart, now filled with the Holy Spirit by his Baptism, Christ Jesus did not look the same at all. At his Baptism Saul received the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth. The eyes of his heart were enlightened to know the hope to which he had been called, the riches of his glorious inheritance with the saints, and the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward him.
Saul had seen Jesus, post-crucifixion, post-burial, risen from the dead and ascended into heaven. Saul saw Jesus seated at the right hand of God in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named. And He saw Jesus given to the Christian Church as her Head over all things.
Now he saw those Christians he had gone out to arrest differently. They were not a tiny little powerless group that could be rounded up in a matter of months. They were the body of Him who has all dominion and majesty and might. They are the body of Him who has conquered death, the grave, the devil and all evil. They are the body of Him who rules the stars and planets and all that is on, in, and under this earth. They are the body of Him who lives forever and has all power so that anything that opposes Him has its place only under His feet. This smattering of Christians that Saul had intended to exterminate is the immortal, eternal, living body of the One who has conquered all, even conquered Saul.
So confident that even his sins are forgiven in the death and resurrection of Jesus and that even he has a glorious eternal heavenly hope together with the Church of Christ, Saul with eyes now wide open, now called Paul, began to preach Jesus crucified, risen, ascended, and conqueror over all. Especially to little congregations scattered throughout the Greco-Roman world, Paul preached and wrote of the hope they have in Christ Jesus, of the reality of what can be seen only with the eyes of the heart, firmly fixed on the victorious Christ.
We need to see that Christ is victorious. He is ruling. He is powerfully active. We are with Him, in Him. We are His body. We are not smaller than this pagan world in which we live. We are greater, stronger, mightier than anything that would oppose Jesus. And we are so, not that we might coerce and control the progress of the wicked world, but so that Christ might do His work through us, continuing to enlighten the eyes of our heart and continuing to open the eyes of those who do not yet know Him for who He is, just as He did for Saul.
To know and believe that Jesus is Lord of all, actively at work in us, through the power and authority that He wields at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, is to see the pagan world around us and not feel small, insignificant, or weak. It is to see that we live here with Christ Jesus as our head. It is to know that we are fully forgiven in Him, called to live in hope of the glorious inheritance of everlasting life that we have with Him and with all the saints.
This is what overcomes the world, what overcomes our fears, what overcomes our short temper within the family, and our squabbles in the congregation. This is what gives us confidence to live knowing that nothing can overcome us as we live in Christ more fully than we live in this pagan world. With the eyes of our heart we see Christ Jesus risen, ascended, seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
There is no need to stand gazing up into the clouds (Acts 1:11). The Head of the Church, our Head, is over all. And we, His body, need fear no one, no culture, no world power, no movement, no evil. There is no need to hide away. There is no need to rise up and fight. We are firm and secure right where we are, in Christ. This tiny band of Christians have the victory of Him who fills all in all.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.