(Note: For a few weeks , I will post the manuscript that goes with the audio (posted Tuesdays) from a sermon in the Powerful Prayers series. People have requested the sermon manuscripts many time, but I’ve always been reluctant to make it available for two principal reasons: 1) I never simply read a sermon, so what people read is not exactly what I spoke. The manuscript might be better or it may be worse but it will be different. And (2) because the sermon has not been edited for publication. With those caveats, here is The Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation III (His Incomparably Great Power for Us Who Believe)
(Ephesians 1:15-21) For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
To date, NASA is pretty sure it has found around 4,000 planets outside our solar system and has compiled a list of 4,000 more promising sites. Since it is utterly impossible to see planets in another solar system, even with the most powerful telescopes, how does NASA look for them? Astronomers look for the temporary dimming of a star’s light, which they believe happens when a planet’s orbit takes it between us and its own sun.
Doing astronomy is a little like solving a detective mystery: one must search for clues. In a mystery novel, the brilliant detective walks into the room and knows almost immediately that the duke slumped over in his chair did not die of natural causes. He’s certain someone else was in the room when his lordship met his untimely death. The police, of course, noted the wine glass on the tray but only he understood its significance: the dead man was a teetotaler.
Those are clues for finding murderers and exoplanets but what clues would a detective (say, an apostolic detective) look for to determine whether God was in a church? St. Paul knew the signs and referred to them again and again. When you find (v. 15) the presence of faith in Jesus, along with a love for all the saints, you can be sure God has been there. No one else leaves precisely those clues. They are as good as a fingerprint. They are God’s fingerprint.
Some people think the surest clue to the presence of God is a miracle. Paul didn’t. Even if he found one, it wouldn’t prove to him that God was there. Jesus warned that imposters would also be able to do miraculous things, so even an incontestable miracle is not sufficient proof that God has been there.
I’ve heard people say of a church with lots of buzz and excitement that God was obviously “in it,” but it wouldn’t mean that to the apostle Paul. When Paul found money, power, and the cultural signs of success, he did not say to himself, “Ah, I can see He’s been here.” But when he saw faith – confidence – in Jesus and love for Jesus’s people, he was absolutely certain that God was there.
As I mentioned last week, the sole request in this prayer (though some English versions blur this) is for God to give the Ephesians a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him. The presence of this spirit will enlighten the eyes of the Ephesians’ heart – their command center – and lead them to know three things: (1) The hope of God’s calling; (2) the glorious riches of his inheritance in the saints; and (3) the incomparably great power God is prepared to use in the lives of those who believe. We looked at the first of these last week. Today we will look at the second.
Paul wants the Spirit of wisdom and revelation to bring home to Jesus’s people the inestimable value – the “riches” or “wealth” – of the glory of his inheritance in the saints. Of the trinity of blessings for which he prays (knowledge of the hope of his calling, of the riches of his inheritance in the saints, and of the power that works on behalf of believers) this one acts as the binding that holds the other two together.
One scholar suggests that the hope of his calling deals with the past, because it has to do with when we were called; the glorious riches of his inheritance in the saints regards the future, when all God’s people will be together in heaven; and the power that works on behalf of the saints regards the present. That doesn’t quite seem to fit. While it’s true our calling may have come to us in the past, the hope Paul wants us to know clearly deals with the future. Likewise, he did not consider God’s inheritance in the saints to be a future treasure only, as if it were some kind of retirement savings or IRA. Paul regarded the Philippian believers as a very present treasure – his joy and crown – during his lifetime. And the incomparably great power for us who believe was great before we knew we were called, is great now, and will be as great in the age to come as it is or ever was.
It doesn’t seem to me that these three great realities fit into a past, present, and future framework. They connect, and the second of the three, “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,” is where they attach. Or think of it as an intersection where two roads meet: one of them is called Hope Boulevard and the other is Power Avenue. Our hope travels along one, God’s power along the other, and where they intersect there is a roundabout (or traffic circle). The hope of his calling and the greatness of his power circle around his holy people. Hope and power meet in his glorious inheritance in the saints.
Notice the surprising pronoun: it’s not your inheritance or our inheritance but his inheritance—his inheritance in the saints. Paul is not talking, as he frequently does, about our inheritance but about God’s and it is an inheritance to die for. But what am I saying? Someone did die for it: Jesus. We often speak of Jesus dying to give us salvation (which is wonderfully true) but he also died to give God a glorious inheritance in the saints. It’s not too much to say that Jesus was dying to have that inheritance.
But what does God need with an inheritance? Doesn’t everything already belong to him? Doesn’t he hold the intellectual property rights, since he thought of everything? Aren’t all use rights determined by him, since he made everything? Does not “every animal of the forests and the cattle on a thousand hills” belong to him (Psalm 50:10), not to mention every planet and sun and galaxy in the universe. Everything belongs to him by right, including every person who lives, has lived, or will live. But God is not satisfied to have us by right. He will have us also by love. This is the meaning of the extravagant, inordinate, sacrificial life and death of Jesus.
With all of creation at his disposal, God could choose anything that piqued his interest for his personal inheritance: the 420-trillion-mile-wide Eagle Nebula or the blazing Horsehead Nebula, or the pearly Milky Way, with its wealth of planets – over a hundred billion solar systems (by the most conservative estimate).
So what did God choose for his inheritance? He chose the saints – his holy people – to be his treasure. Christ didn’t die for the Horsehead Nebula but for us. Apart from God himself (as if anything could be apart from God), the richest, most beautiful thing in this vast and breathtaking universe is Jesus’s people. For beauty, there is nothing that compares to the Bride of Christ, the Church. For potential to do good, bring pleasure, excite joy, and produce benefit, there is nothing that matches God’s holy people. They are not a natural resource, like gold or oil or timber. They are a supernatural resource, capable of bringing about unimaginable good.
Paul uses the word “riches” or “wealth” (depending on the translation) in speaking of the saints. Enormous wealth resides in the saints – the people who are set apart for God’s service and pleasure. When God chose the saints for his inheritance, he knew what he was doing. He chose the best – most beautiful, most powerful, most promising – thing in the universe. And if you belong to God because you have faith in Jesus Christ, you are a part of this.
Paul also uses the word “glory” – “the glory of his inheritance” – to describe the saints. We look at the saints and we see old Mrs. Smudge, who can never manage to put her lipstick on straight. We see Mr. Contrary, who is about as much fun as a toothache. Then there’s Nancy Neurotic, who is a bundle of weirdness and John Washout, who has failed spectacularly in marriage, family, and business. It sure doesn’t seem like glory that we are seeing.
Jon Foreman described the saints (including himself) as the “Beautiful Letdown.” He called us “the church of the dropouts, the losers, the sinners, the failures, and the fools.” Where is the glory in that?
It’s there, but it’s down deep and we just get glimpses of it. But then our spiritual vision is monocular. We lack depth of vision, especially when we look at the saints. We can’t see past the surface. We see two-dimensional, cartoon-like characters: flat, occasionally funny, frequently sad. But God has great depth perception. He has X-Ray vision! He sees the depths.
God looks past our foolishness and our failures to see deep inside. And do you know what he sees? “Christ in you, the hope of …glory!” (Colossians 1:27). Without Christ in us, we are flat and our potential is limited. But Christ’s presence in us changes everything.
In the nineteenth-century Russian Orthodox Church, priests hardly ever ventured out of their churches to help people. They waited for people to come to them. But John of Krondstadt was different. He went out into the streets, among the alcoholics and down-and-outers and told them about Jesus. He would lift hungover, foul-smelling people from the street, cradle them in his arms, and say to them, “This is beneath your dignity. You were meant to house the fullness of God.”
John of Krondstadt caught glimpses of Jesus within but God sees Jesus, “all glorious within,” with perfect acuity. Add Jesus, even to people like us, and you get glory. The Russian comedian Yakov Smirnoff used to say the thing he loved most about America was the grocery stores. He’d say, “I’ll never forget walking down one of the aisles and seeing powdered milk; just add water and you get milk. Right next to it was powdered orange juice; just add water and you get orange juice. Then I saw baby powder, and I thought to myself, What a country!”
When God looks at us, he sees something others might overlook: Jesus Christ. Just add Jesus and you get … glory.
We are spiritually monocular – no depth vision – but we are also temporally myopic: we can barely see past this moment. But God sees deep and he sees far, right into the endless future. He not only sees what we are, he sees what we will be. And it’s not that he looks into the future, like a prophet or fortune teller. He’s already there. He sees us, complete and resplendent in glory. He sees the Church, the Bride of Christ, effulgent, breathtakingly beautiful, unconquerably strong. He sees glory. The difference between us now and us then is the difference between looking at a magazine with the designer’s sketch of the new Lamborghini and sitting in the completed car, behind the wheel, on the straightaway, doing 185.
You may think, “Yeah, but … this is just Lockwood.” Yes, this is just Lockwood, but do you know what Lockwood is? A society, as C. S. Lewis magnificently put it, “of possible gods and goddesses … the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship…”
If it seems impossible to you that I should be such a creature, that you should be such a creature, then I tell you your instincts are spot-on. It is impossible … apart from Christ. But add Jesus – even to creatures such as you and me – and you get glory. But it is a shared glory. There are no superstars here; there are only saints, and saints come in a multipack – they’re a package deal. This rich glory is shared.
Every December, the Music Department at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, put on a fabulous Christmas concert. Moorhead waits for it in anticipation. In fact, they start getting ready for it in the middle of summer.
That’s when people in the community begin working on the backdrop for the concert stage—a one-hundred-by-thirty-foot mosaic. Each year, the community designs the mosaic, rents an empty building, and then begins painting. Hundreds of people, from middle schoolers to senior citizens, paint the mosaic. It’s like a large-scale paint-by-number, with thousands of tiny pieces. Day by day for six months, the mosaic takes shape, one little painted piece at a time. For several months, their “work of art” looks like nothing more than a confusing tangle of lines and colors. But by December, it has come together, and looks like a beautiful stained-glass window.
On the weekend of the concert, the people who helped paint the backdrop come early and bring their friends and neighbors. All around the concert hall, you can hear people whispering things like: “See that little green spot below the camel’s foot? I painted that.”
That little green spot had no glory until it shared in the glory of the whole. That is the way it is with us. Paul prays we will know the glory of the saints, not the glory of the saint.
Before we close, let’s look again at the word “riches” (or “wealth”) in verse 18. It will help us understand the nature of this wealth if we can remember Jesus’s answer to Peter, who said: “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” Jesus told him: “…no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:28-30).
In what form do they receive this wealth – homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and fields? They receive it in the form of God’s holy people, the Church. When the economy goes through a downturn; when the stock market crashes; when inflation devalues our savings; when hospital bills send us into bankruptcy; the true people of God remain as valuable as ever and more than enough to cover whatever God wants to do or make of our lives in the world.
It’s important to remember that the saints are God’s wealth and we’d better be authorized to spend his wealth before trying to do so. God will readily use his wealth on behalf of those who serve him – those who put Jesus and the gospel above everything else. But people who expect God to spend his valuable inheritance on their behalf when they are only serving themselves will find their expectations dashed. And people who try to spend God’s wealth without permission – that is, people who wrongfully use the saints of God – will wish they hadn’t.
Now, let’s pull this together. The saints – those people whose lives are set apart for Jesus and his gospel (any of us can be counted among them) – are God’s chosen inheritance. They are unimaginably valuable, yet God can and will spend them to support, provide for, and bless those who put Jesus first.
There is, however, a weird dynamic in play when God spends his inheritance. When we spend ours, we end up with less than we had. When God spends his, he ends up with more. Those saints who are spent by the Father on behalf of the Son are the most precious, most beautiful, and least tarnished treasures in all God’s glorious inheritance.
It is a paradox. The more the Christian gives of himself, the more he has of himself. Now this doesn’t work if he just gives his money or possessions; he has to give himself. As Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap” (Luke 6:38).
 James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful God (IVP, 2009), p. 162
 From Mark Batterson, The Circle Maker, (Zondervan, 2011), pp. 134-135
 C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), p. 45
 Mike Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality (Zondervan, 2002), pp. 118-119; submitted by Greg Miller, Madison, Mississippi.