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Sunday After the Ascension
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Mike Moffitt, May 16, 2021

When the Eyes of Your Heart Are Enlightened

Text: Ephesians 1:5–23

I recently read a story of a man named Daniel who was blind and hadn't seen his wife's face in over 21 years of their marriage. On top of that, he'd never had the opportunity and joy to look upon his daughter's face. Thanks to the wonders of medical advancement, Daniel was able to have a cornea transplant, enabling him to see again for the first time in 21 years.

I watched a video of the moment when the doctor pulls her hand away from his eyes, and he blinks, then his eyes grew wide, and a beautiful smile moves across his face and he says, “WOW!” He then said to his wife and daughter, "Come here so I can see you up close.” He hugs his wife tightly and then in what was such a tender moment he turns to take in his daughter's face for the first time and says, "You are more beautiful than I ever could've imagined." The look on his face was so amazing as he beheld his daughter for the very first time.

It didn’t say how old his daughter was, but she looked to be approximately 10–12 years old. In all those years with his wife and daughter he knew what it was to hear the sound of their voices, the feel of their touch, and the individual smell of them both, but seeing them was the most amazing gift for him. That’s not to underemphasize the importance and wonder of the gifts of hearing, of touch, and of smell, but all of those are incomplete without the ability to see.

As I considered the wonderful blessing of this fellow having his sight restored, I realized that the blessing extended to his family as well. Think about what he said to his daughter, "You are more beautiful than I ever could've imagined." If he had still been blind, that statement would have made no sense, but now that he could see it was a powerful and loving statement. That affirmation of her beauty coming from her father likely completed something in her that she was longing for. It was clear to anyone seeing that video that the joy and love this man felt for his wife and daughter was authentic.

Most of you likely remember the song, “Open Our Eyes Lord,” which has been a popular praise song since the late ’70s.

Open our eyes Lord, We want to see Jesus,
To reach out and touch Him, And say that we love Him.
Open our ears Lord, And help us to listen,
Open our eyes Lord, We want to see Jesus.

I love this song and I think it captures the heart of the prayer of Paul for the Ephesian church in Ephesians 1:15–23. But what if we were singing that song simply because we thought it a beautiful song, instead of because it was our heart song to Jesus? Would the singing of the praise song be received as praise when in truth the heart wasn’t in it?

That question is where I want us to spend a few minutes together this morning because I think Paul’s prayer was that the church might have an authentic relationship of love for Jesus that changed their view of everything else. It would complete within them something that was sorely lacking. Just the sound of his name would stir the heart of those who have fallen in love with him.

Let’s approach the context of Paul’s prayer by briefly considering the story of Jesus’ ascension back to the Father, because the he is praying that the Ephesians might really know the Jesus who ascended back to the Father and who was seated at his right hand in the heavenly places.

It is such a powerful scene in Acts 1:7–11 when Jesus gives final instructions to the disciples and departs. They have been with him off and on for 40 days after his resurrection, which in and of itself had to be the most amazing time of their lives thus far. All that Jesus had taught them about himself and the Father had come into much sharper focus by the reality of the power of the resurrection. In our gospel reading we heard Jesus words to them from Luke 24:44–45,

“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures…

Have you ever had something like that happen to you? Many years ago I was really seeking the Lord about something and I read a passage that I didn’t understand its importance. As I was studying it, I just said, “Lord, I don’t see the point of this story.” No sooner had the words left my mouth than I suddenly understood the passage with crystal clarity, and even saw for the first time how it related to another passage. I got excited about that, and I suspect that the disciples had the same experience but on a larger scale. Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures!

Everything that the law and the prophets had foretold about the Messiah had actually come to pass and now Jesus opened their minds to understand what they had experienced in the context of what had been foretold long before.

Then it was time for him to depart and return to the Father with the promise that he would still be within them through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Let’s read Acts 1:8–11 again,

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

The Ascension is a vitally important truth in Christianity that is often downplayed. Jesus ascends back to the Father because he has perfectly accomplished everything the Father sent him to do. It’s a major event because when Jesus ascends back to the throne room of Heaven, he takes his rightful place at the right hand of the Father, where he assumes the eternal position as the head over all things for the church. He assumes the most exalted position in the universe, and is there as the believer’s representative, governing the universe for the sake of his church. Listen again to Ephesians 1:21–23,

…and what is the immeasurable greatness of his (the Father) power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked 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 one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, came to earth as a human being and gave his life as a sacrifice for our sins. As Jesus laid in the tomb the Father speaks a word of power and Jesus is raised from the dead, the conqueror of sin and death. Now the disciples were seeing the beginning of the scene foretold hundreds of years earlier in the vision given Daniel in 7:13–14 played out in fulfillment,

I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

Before he left, Luke writes that Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, so I can only wonder if this passage from Daniel’s vision was going through the minds of the disciples as they watched Jesus disappear into the clouds of Heaven. As he disappeared from sight perhaps the Holy Spirit gave a glimpse of where he was going, even though they could no longer see him.

As the Apostle Paul writes to the church at Ephesus his prayer for them is that they will come alive in the Spirit as what they have learned about Jesus penetrates their hearts in much the same way as the disciples. Paul is writing many years after the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and he knows through personal experience what is available in Christ when the Holy Spirit indwells the believer.

Let’s now turn to Ephesians 1:16–19,

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the 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…

Paul is essentially praying that the Ephesians will come to a greater understanding of who God is and what he is offering them in Christ. It would only happen when the Holy Spirit enabled their spiritual eyes to be opened and all their senses experienced transformation. This was not just to be an “Ah Ha!” moment because they had learned a new fact but an eyes wide open “WOW!” moment, because they were encountering Jesus, the Lord of glory. Do you see the difference?

Years ago, Dr. James Montgomery Boice, the Senior Pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, was leading a question-and-answer session with a post-college group at his church. He wrote that one young man asked him,

“Dr. Boice what do you see as the greatest lack among evangelical Christians in America today?” I realized that at one time my answer would have been that Christians be faithful to the teaching of Scripture, to show love for one another, or something to that effect. In this case I replied, “I think the greatest need of the evangelical church today is for professing Christians to really to know God.”

The reason for his answer was that he had seen many churchgoers settle for something much less than real intimacy with the Lord. I know people who have gone to church all their lives but didn’t really know Jesus. Remember that the Pharisees knew a lot about Torah, the Prophets, and the Psalms but most of them didn’t recognize Jesus for who he was. I imagine that the Apostle Paul was often asked by those who called themselves followers of Christ why he continued teaching and preaching about Jesus Christ when he often suffered extreme physical abuse and imprisonment from those who hated Christianity. Why would he do that? I can picture him smiling at the person asking that question and saying, “You ask me that because you don’t really know Jesus.” If the truth is to be known, there are many who settle for knowledge about God and can adequately discuss things about God without ever knowing him personally.

That leads to the question: what does it mean to know God? I think looking back at the relationship of Jesus and the disciples is helpful and there are at least three things that we can glean from that.

They had day-to-day personal dealings with Jesus, firsthand knowledge of what it was like to be with him, to hear him speak, to have a level of comfort and intimacy with Jesus demonstrated by John who was leaning back on Jesus as they had dinner together in John 13:25. It’s the level of relationship where no matter what happens to you or around you, your relationship with Jesus is not in question. It’s the one thing that is more important than anything else.

Knowing Jesus was a matter of personal involvement that included the mind, will, and emotions. They rejoiced when Jesus was honored and accepted for who he really was, but they were ready to defend when others mocked or rejected Jesus and called him demonic. They felt shame and grief when they ran away when he was arrested because they knew that it was no way to treat the one whom they loved so dearly. They had betrayed their dearest friend and Master. Their relationship was very personal and mattered to them so much so that when they thought he was dead and gone from them forever, they had a level of grief that nothing could heal.

They knew that their relationship with Jesus came about because he had first come to them. He had revealed to them in John 15:16,

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”

They would later learn to call it God’s grace and the initiative had been his all along. They had come to understand that he was the Son of God and was so far above them in every way and they felt they had forfeited any relationship when they betrayed him but instead, he came to them as the resurrected Lord and offered them peace and a renewed relationship. They didn’t deserve it and they knew it on every level and yet in our passage from Acts 1 Jesus blesses them and tells them to wait because he will keep his promise and send back the Holy Spirit.

J. I Packer in his renowned book, Knowing God, wrote,

What matters supremely… is not the fact that I know God, but the larger fact that underlies it—the fact that He knows me.

In Ephesians 1:3–14 Paul wants the church to have a sound understanding of the intimate union that God through his Son, Jesus Christ had accomplished on behalf of those who would come to a saving faith in Christ.

Then in our reading from Ephesians 1:15–23, Paul prays that God through the witness of the Holy Spirit would give wisdom and revelation of all that God had done. He prays that the “eyes of their hearts would be enlightened” so they would have the motivation to praise God with joy and celebration for the hope and blessings they had and would continue to receive through their union with Christ. This should bring about unity within the church and make them a powerful witness to the unbelieving world around them.

Paul makes three requests: 1. That they know “the hope to which he has called you” 2. They might know “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” 3. They might know “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward those who believe.”

1. “The hope to which he has called you.”

Paul here links the two words hope and call. Usually, when we speak of hope we are thinking about something that is in the future but here Paul is pointing us to the purposes that God has for us to reveal him to a lost world. Earlier in verse (4), he wrote that they are called “to be holy and blameless before him” (5) “to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ”, (12) “to be to the praise of his glory.” Knowing this should give them confidence and assurance that they really are God’s children and his loving hand is upon them. The hope that we feel is grounded in what God has done for us in Christ.

2. “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.”

Paul is praying that they might KNOW with clarity their call and destiny. Think about this promise through the lens of what God offers us now in Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are able now to taste and see that God is good. Right now, we are able at times to experience his presence and hear his voice. Right now, we can find joy and peace through God and truth and comfort in his word. Paul is essentially testifying that he found following Jesus worth every trouble and discomfort that he experienced. If what we have now in Christ is worth it how much more will the riches that he has for us in our inheritance be amazing. Although, truth be told to just be with God in his presence seems worth it to me.

3. “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward those who believe.”

John R.W. Stott in his commentary on Ephesians points out that in the framework of these verses the Christian is living somewhere between the call of God, which is past, and the riches of our inheritance, which (in their fulness) are still future. We live in the here and now and the question is how we live as children of God. How can we live as citizens of Heaven in a world whose citizens do not acknowledge God as sovereign?

Paul’s answer is that we can know God’s power now in the present and that’s what Pentecost was all about. Paul tells the Ephesians in 1:19–20, 

…and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.

How can you and I experience that power? If we are to live in that power, we must first come to know Jesus Christ as savior and Lord. That’s what Paul prays first. You can’t really know a person without spending time with him and we can’t get to know God intimately without spending time with him and allowing his love to overwhelm and change you.

Spending time with God in praise, prayer, and the study of his word will change you and your priorities. The Kingdom of God will seem so much more important than the kingdoms of men.

James Montgomery Boice tells the story of Henry Ironside, an American preacher and theologian of the early twentieth century. Ironside went to visit with a very godly old man who was dying of tuberculosis. His name was Andrew Frasier. He could barely speak above a whisper but asked Ironside to sit down so they could talk together about the word of God. Ironside said that the old man opened up passages and truths from the Bible that he had never before seen or appreciated. He said that he was so touched that tears were streaming down his face and he asked the old man to recommend books that he could read that would give him that kind of knowledge too. This was Frasier’s reply according to Ironside,

My dear young man, I learned these things on my knees on the mud floor of a little sod cottage in the north of Ireland. There with my open Bible before me, I used to kneel for hours at a time and ask the Spirit of God to reveal Christ to my soul and open the Word to my heart, and he taught me more on my knees on that mud floor than I could ever have learned in all the seminaries or colleges in the world.

That’s the secret to tapping into the power of God and to living into the hope and calling that Paul is writing about to the Ephesians. Andrew Frasier had learned the secret and blessing of intimacy with God. There is no greater witness to a world bound up with unbelief than when Christians come alive in the power of God’s Spirit. You can’t easily deny the evidence of a transformed life. I am praying daily for our hearts to be fully devoted to the plan and passion of Christ. That’s where we are able to be the Light of Christ.

Let’s pray.

©2021 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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