Words and images surrounding family play a hugely significant role in the verses that we just read. In fact, words pertaining to Family play a huge role throughout Scripture. The word “family” is a word that can refer to the most important set of relationships that we can have on Earth. And so when people think of me as part of their family, they’re saying something pretty important. I want to honour that as best as I can. I once ordered some pictures to be printed through an online website called mixbook.com. When I put in the order, I got a confirmation email from the company that said, “Welcome to the family!” I was really quite touched. I wrote back saying, (Slide 1) “Dear Mr. Mixbook, Wow! I am so touched that you would consider me a part of your family. Boy, I thought you were going to just print some of my digital photos, not welcome me into your family. I don’t know wether you want me to call you Dad, Brother, or maybe Cousin. In any case, please accept a warm hug from me through this email. Hugs, Joe.”
Of course I didn’t send that email, but they really did welcome me into their family. (Slide 2) I bring this up just to point out how easily words can be misused. You can’t join a family just by ordering something off a website. How’s that for stating the obvious. But far from obvious is what we mean when we talk about “family.” You could look family up in the dictionary, but that’s probably not going to be the working definition in your life. Our definition of family is much more likely to be shaped by the family we grew up in. Relationships with our brothers and sisters, mom and dad, aunt and uncle, totally shape the way we understand the word family. Things change even further when a step-mom or dad, a step brother and sister, and all sort of other variations enter the picture. Our experience of family shapes what we think about family, and those we call our parents play such a huge role in the way we understand the word family. Fill in this sentence. (Slide 3) “The best word that describes my Dad, is __________.” Some of us might finish that sentence with words like, “loving, compassionate, always there, caring.” Others of us might experience pain when asked to complete that sentence. Words that immediately pop into mind might be “absent, hard, abusive, tough, weak.” The way that you fill in this sentence is going to affect the way you understand the word “father,” its going to affect the way you understand the word “family.” (Slide 4). Even if your Dad got the National Father of the year award, he’s not God. And as you read the letter, it's evident that Paul has an amazing definition of “Father,” that no earthly father could ever dream of living up to.
Let’s learn about our Father. As Father, what does God do? He blesses. That is what He does. Did you notice how many times Paul used the word “blessing” in verse three? (Slide 5) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every Spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Paul can’t stop saying the word Bless. He can’t stop singing praises of the Father who blesses us over and over again through His Spirit. And this isn’t just any puny blessing our Dad blesses us with. (Slide 6) He blesses with every blessing that the Spirit can bless us with. That’s what the word “Spiritual” means. It doesn’t mean spiritual as opposed to material It means that the blessing the Father gives us comes from the Holy Spirit. The Father blesses His children with every blessing of the Spirit that you can think of. Paul unpacks some of those blessings later on in the letter: Through the Spirit, God the Father blesses us as redeemed, adopted and forgiven children of God. And where does the Father bless us? (Slide 7) The Father blesses us in the heavenly places. What in the world does that mean? Heaven is not simply the place where you live after you die. Heaven is a spiritual realm. It is the place where God, and the Risen Jesus lives. That’s where God’s blessing comes from. But the heavenly places would have meant something different to the Ephesian Church. That church was full of people who had been enslaved to magic, they were enslaved to the spirit powers that inhabit, “the heavenly places.” In Ephesus, heavenly places referred to the Spiritual realm. Paul knew this, and later he talks about the Spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. The church of Ephesus was all too familiar with these powers of darkness and their oppression. The congregation in Ephesus had been downright oppressed by these powers. They practiced magic to control these powers and they lived in fear of these powers. But it didn’t work. The powers were bigger than them. They were helpless. And most of us can relate. We’ve all experienced and seen the battle against darkness. We’ve all felt the hopelessness when darkness seems to be getting the upper hand. But the light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome the Light. Only Jesus shines through the darkness. Only Jesus has power over the spiritual forces of evil, and gives His heavenly blessing in the places where the dark is the thickest. Our only hope is Jesus, who blesses us in the heavenly places, rules the heavenly places. Only He has full power over all the powers of darkness and only He can destroy our ultimate enemy. No matter how things appear, we know the ultimate and final victory will alway belong to Jesus. The final victory of Jesus is penultimate blessing we receive from our Father.
Our Father is not obligated to bless us. He chooses to bless us (Slide 8) Paul says that in Christ, God chose us before the creation of the world. God chose us. He didn’t choose us because he had to, or because no one else wanted us. Our Dad chose us because he wanted to. Allow me to demonstrate how determined God was to get His choice. (Slide 9) You know those people who sleep out in front of the store in order to be the first line to get whatever the store is selling. Well, God our Father was first in line for you. In fact, he was in line for you before the store was even built. He was first in line before the foundation of the store was even laid. He was in line for you before you were even born. (Slide 10) Paul says, “In Christ, God our Father chose us before the Creation of the world.” Our Father was determined not to let anyone else have dibs on you. In God’s family, there are no accidents or surprises. To my parents, I was a surprise. My mom used to tell me that a lot for some reason, I think it had a lot to do with my older brother. She’d say, “After Matt, we thought we were done. But, Joey, you were a good surprise.” What I take from that is that even though I was a surprise to my parents, God couldn’t conceive the world without me. And that is just as true for all of us. Some of us may have been a surprise to our parents, some of us may not even have been wanted by our parents, but you were no surprise to your true Dad. You are here for a reason. Ever Since the world began, our Dad in Heaven has been waiting for you to be born. And when you were born, He didn’t just see some screwball. He didn’t just look down on you with a scorchingly critical eye, saying don’t mess things up. No, our Dad looked on you with love. So much love. And when our Dad saw that things weren’t going so well. When he saw that the darkness was too strong, our Dad sent Jesus for us. And because of Jesus, Dad always sees us as holy and blameless. (Slide 11) When our God looks at you, He sees His beautiful child, holy and blameless, made in His Image. And because of the Spirit, our Dad makes sure that we will actually become more holy and blameless! His goal is to make us more and more into the likeness of His Son. This work starts on earth, but it’s completed in heaven. Our dad is delighted to have chosen us.
When he chose us, God didn’t just say, “We’ll see how things work out. I’ll choose you now, and see how things go.” Our Father said, I’m going to do this right.” This isn’t some sort of rent to own operation, this is permanent. God says, “You are mine!” (Slide 12) So our Father adopted you and me through Jesus. Permanently. Paul knew what he was talking about. Under Roman law, an adopted child acquired all the legal rights of a natural born child, and lost all rights held in his former family. The child received the family name and shared the status of the new family. And you’ve been adopted by God. Being adopted by the Father in heaven is the most important thing that could ever happen to you. You’re adopted. And you know why He adopted you? (Slide 13) Because He wanted to! Dad wants you in His family! The fact that you’re in His family gives him huge pleasure. You’re not a burden or drag on the family. You give our Father in Heaven pleasure and joy. Some people live their whole life trying to please their parents. They work and work and work, trying to live up to their expectations in order to please them. Some people live their life feeling unwanted by their parents. Like the best thing they could do for their parents would be just not to exist. That is not true of you. Your Dad in heaven wants you. He is so pleased to have you in His family. There is nothing you need to do to earn that. (Slide 14) He has welcomed us into His family free of charge. What kind of parent would ask their child to pay back their kid’s expenses? And neither would God! And we’re expensive children. God Himself sent His own Son to die for us, so that we can be a part of His family. Jesus died for us because He wants You in His family. He washed away your sins, He purified Your heart. He washed your soul downright clean. He did this because He loves you, He loves you, He loves You.
(Slide 15) Now, I could stand up here all day and tell you how great our Dad is. You could read Ephesians over and over and over again, and know inside and out how our Father in Heaven loves you. But it would all be for nothing if that knowledge never moved to your heart. Imagine a parent hearing one of your kids say, “I know mom or dad loves me, but I just don’t feel it.” Imagine how heartbroken as a parent you’d feel, asking yourself “How could it be that my precious child doesn’t feel my love?” Our Dad in heaven wants you to know of His love, but He also wants you to know in the deepest part of your soul that you are loved. Extravagantly loved. Wildly Loved. Loved beyond comprehension. May His love take root in you. May His love ground your very being. May His love strengthen you and give You power in Your innermost self. May the love of Christ dwell in your heart, and may you understand with all God’s beloved children what is the breadth, and length and height and depth of this deep love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge, so that you can be filled up with all the fullness of God.
To Him, who, by the power that is working within us is able to do far beyond all that we ask or imagine, to Him be the power and the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever, Amen.
Let’s rest together, in the sweetness of our Father’s love.