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Immanuel: God Within Us

December 15, 2019 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: Immanuel: God with Us

Topic: Christmas, One Lord: So Great a Salvation Passage: Ephesians 3:14–3:21

I. What About Us? What About Now?

 

Immanuel. That's the name we've been exploring the past two Sundays. If you recall, Immanuel is Hebrew for “God with us” or “God is with us”. The name is used twice in the Old Testament, both times in the book of Isaiah, and once in the New Testament, in the Gospel of Matthew.

 

But if someone were to go back to any of those passages, and consider the original setting and the original audience, they might wonder about the significance of that name for us today. Think about it: In Isaiah, “Immanuel” was a sign meant to reassure Judah that God was standing with them in the face of political/military danger. In the New Testament, as you may remember, the name “Immanuel” was applied to Jesus. In addition to its original significance, the name also pointed to the fact that Jesus was God the Son, or as the Apostle John referred to him in John 1, Jesus was the “Word” made flesh. For those who lived in First Century Judea and Galilee, Jesus was “God with us” in a very literal way.

 

But what about us? What about now? We don't live in the days of Isaiah. We don't live in First Century Israel. Yes, the ancient significance of that name absolutely has profound implications for us, as we've explored in the last two lessons. But beyond the fact that God is everywhere, is there a unique sense in which “God is with us” even today?

 

Hold on to that question as we make our way to Ephesians 3. Let's see if Paul can help us out.

 

 

II. The Passage: "That Christ May Dwell in Your Hearts" (3:14-19)

 

Let's look together 3:14-19. What we find here is a prayer by the Apostle Paul for the disciples of Jesus who were living in the ancient city of Ephesus. Now, if you look back at 3:1, you'll notice the same opening phrase we find in 3:14. If you look at what follows in 3:1, it appears Paul was about to begin his prayer at that point, but digressed into a deeper discussion of the church, specifically God's plan to bring Jews and non-Jews (or Gentiles) together as his own people. Interestingly, these themes were first introduced in 2:11. So Paul has already spent a lot of ink on the reality that Jews and Gentiles, through Christ, “both have access in one Spirit to the Father... and [are] members of the household of God” (2:18, 19). With that in mind, look at 3:14..

 

[He finally gets to that prayer] For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, [15] from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named [I think that simply means God is the Father of all fathers and the source of all life], [16] that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, [17] so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, [18] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, [19] and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

What an amazing prayer (BTW, Paul is a great 'prayer mentor')! But what exactly is Paul saying here, and how does it connect with our study this month? Let's break this down into three parts and see if we can answer those questions; and as we do, also get back to our original question.

 

 

1. Prayer and Presence (v. 17a)

 

First, look with me at the very center of this prayer. We find that 'center' in the opening phrase of verse 17. Everything prayed up to that point was prayed with this end in mind: ...so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith...

 

There it is! Did you hear that? There it is! Or to be more precise, there He is! Immanuel, “God with us”. With us in what way? God within us... so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith... This is astounding: the Christ that the Apostle John wrote about when he recorded how “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), is the same Christ the Apostle Paul prays about, asking that He “may dwell in your hearts through faith”.

 

What about us? What about now? In some amazing, but mysterious way, the God-man Jesus, the Christ of Christmas, Immanuel himself, can now dwell in our hearts today. What a staggering proposition.

 

But let's be extremely clear about the language. 'Jesus in your heart' is not unfamiliar to language to many of us. But let's not miss what Paul has written and to whom he writes. He is writing to Christians, to believers, to followers of Christ. And his prayer is that “Christ may [or might] dwell”. He is not giving thanks here that Christ already does.

 

This is an important corrective for some of our sloppy language today. The Bible nowhere encourages an unbeliever to, 'ask Jesus into your heart'. But it does encourage believers to pray that He might dwell in ours. Isn't that how Paul prays here? In fact, this is the only passage in the Bible that speaks about Christ dwelling in the heart.

 

But I think that leaves us asking, “how and what”? How is this possible, and what exactly does it mean; or maybe, what does it look like... for Christ to dwell in our hearts? To answer that, look with me to the preceding verses, 14-16.

 

 

2. Presence and Power (vs. 14-16)

 

The prayer actually begins in verse 14. What is Paul asking here? He's asking (v. 14) “the Father” to (v. 16) “grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being”. And why does Paul want them to be “strengthened with power through [God's] Spirit”? So that (v. 17), “Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith”. Did you notice how... Trinitarian this passage is? Asking the Father to work through the Spirit in order to point to the Son. This is just one of many passages in which the members of the Trinity are each mentioned and linked.

 

But 'zooming in' just a bit, please don't miss the relationship between the Spirit and Jesus here. It is the Holy Spirit who empowers the the life of Christ in us. I also don't want you to miss the parallel language used: verse 16 speaks of “your inner being”, and verse 17 speaks of “your hearts”. Paul desires the Spirit to work inside them, that Christ might dwell inside them. Not inside our bodies, as if they were containers; but Christ at the very center of who you are.

Paul speaks in other places about this critical partnership between the Spirit and Jesus in the life of the Christian. Listen to another verse that uses similar language (including similar Trinitarian language)... And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:16)

 

How is it possible for the God-man Jesus Christ, for Immanuel, to dwell in our hearts through faith? Because He does so through the Holy Spirit... who is given, by the grace of God, to every child of God. Paul reminded them in 1:13 that when they first believed, the were “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit”. Years earlier, Jesus himself told his disciples this about the Spirit, “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:14)

 

But that still doesn't explain what it means (or looks like) for Christ to dwell in our hearts. That's why we also need to look at the third part of this passage.

 

 

3. Power and Purpose (vs. 17b-19)

 

If the first phrase of verse 17 is the center of the prayer, then the back side of the prayer begins in the second part of verse 17. Let's look at those verses again, starting with all of 17...

 

[Paul is offering his prayer] ...so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, [18] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, [19] and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

 

Okay. To make sense of this part of the prayer, notice the word “love” at the end of verse 17. Now, I also want you to notice the word “love” in verse 19. That's a clue that love is central to what Paul is asking in verses 17-19. Let's see if we can break it down even more. Just as there are three parts to the whole prayer in verse 14-19, I think there are three parts to this passage about love.

 

First, Paul reminds them that they are “rooted and grounded in love”. In a different letter, written at about the same time, Paul described how another church was “rooted and built up in [Christ] and established in the faith” (Colossians 2:7). I think both that verse and this verse, Ephesians 3:17, describe 'foundations of faith'. The Ephesians had received the love of God through the gospel message, and had been taught to love God and love one another in light of God's grace.

 

But, second, Paul wants them to grow in their understanding of that love; to build on that foundation. Notice in verse 18 that Paul is praying again for “strength” to be given to these believers. To be clear, this is not a different prayer from verse 16. God wants the Spirit to empower them, so that they might comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth... [of what?] … (v.19) of “the love of Christ”. Paul desperately wants these believers to grasp just how big the love of Jesus really is. It's the same reality he spoke of in 2:4, when he wrote about “the great love with which he loved us”. But that's not all.

 

Third, Paul doesn't simply want them to know about the love of Christ. He wants them (v. 19) to know that love... personally... to experience it. You see, “the love of Christ... surpasses knowledge” in the sense that it must be received, not simply perceived or conceived. And what is the purpose of all this; of being rooted in the love of Christ, growing in the love of Christ, and blossoming in the love of Christ? The purpose is there at the end of verse 19... that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Wow!

Now I know this is a lot, but please don't miss that this third part of Paul's prayer in Ephesians 3:14-19, that this passage is not an addition, but an explanation. It is an explanation of what it means for Christ to “dwell in your hearts through faith”. To be “filled with all [God's] fullness” is to have Christ “dwell in your hearts”, “for in him,” according to Paul in Colossians 1:19, “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”.

 

Christ dwelling in our hearts does not mean Jesus moves, sleeps on your couch, and eats whatever's in the fridge. It does not mean you 'gussy up' the guest room and make sure he has fresh towels. It does not simply mean he's there to keep you company when you need a listening ear. No. Christ dwelling “in your hearts through faith” means Immanuel there at the very deepest part of who you are. It means Jesus, present and powerful... filtering, flavoring, coloring, the spring from which your life flows.

 

But if they already have the Holy Spirit, why does Paul pray “that Christ may dwell in [their] hearts”? He does so for the same reason he wrote Ephesians 4:30... And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. You see, when Christ told his disciples, ”And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20), he meant it. But that doesn't mean Jesus will always be evident in our lives; it doesn't mean He will always be our primary influence; it doesn't mean we will always walk by faith and yield to Him. And so Paul prays. And so should we.

 

 

III. “Power at Work Within Us” (3:20, 21)

 

Immanuel. “God with us”. But what have we learned this morning? We've heard an answer to our original questions, “But what about us? What about now?” The God who promised Immanuel and was behind the people of Judah 110%, the God who gave Immanuel and was among us in Jesus, is the same God who is within us today. For all who believe, the presence and the power of the promised Holy Spirit makes it possible for the presence and power of Immanuel to be evident in our lives today. (2x)

 

What might that look like? It will look like love. If we are conceiving and receiving the love of Christ to greater depths, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, then we will “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (4:1), that is, we will “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (5:2). Both individually and as a faith family, Immanuel will dwell in us richly. He will be evident.

 

Do you want that... for your life? For our life together? Strengthened with spiritual power, to grasp and grow in the incomparable “love of Christ”? That it would be evident to those in our circles that God was with us... Immanuel? If you do, then please pray with me now to that end. Please pray with me, tutored by Paul's prayer in this passage.

 

But maybe, just maybe, you are doubtful of the extent to which this could really take place. Maybe failure, adversity, hurt, fear are all feeding your doubts. Well if that's you this morning, please hear, please embrace the final part of Paul's prayer here. Look with me at 3:20, 21...

 

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, [21] to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

 

More in Immanuel: God with Us

December 22, 2019

Immanuel: God Beside Us

December 8, 2019

Immanuel: God Among Us

December 1, 2019

Immanuel: God Behind Us