The following sermon was preached on Easter Sunday, April 4, 2010, at FBC Benbrook
One of my favorite storytellers is Paul Harvey. He got his start at a radio station in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1933, but it was the “Paul Harvey News and Commentary” program that began in 1951 that made him famous. But, in 1976, radio stations all over the country began playing a five minute segment where he dug behind the scenes of famous people or famous events. A great storyteller, he would tell the behind the scenes story of the Louisiana Purchase, or some other historical event. There was always some twist, some part of the story that no one else knew. And he would end the segment with his now famous phrase, “And now you know the rest of the story.”
When we tell the Easter story, we tend to end the story at the same place. We tell of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us. We tell of His divine birth, and the amazing teaching ministry of Jesus. We remember the Last Supper and His arrest in the garden. We tell of His scourging and the agony of the crucifixion. And just when the story is darkest of all, the light shines and the story ends with His resurrection from the dead. But that is not really “the rest of the story.”
Sometimes we forget what happened after the resurrection. Last week, we read from Ephesians 2 where our condition before our salvation and redemption was described in graphic detail. The Bible says that before we came to faith in Christ we were dead in our sins, we were followers of Satan, blinded to the truth, and held captive to sin, and objects of God’s wrath. But because of His great love for us, God brought us from spiritual death to life. We have been saved by grace through faith. But we should not miss the rest of the story from Ephesians. Remember what Paul wrote,
18I 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, 19and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. 1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 1.18-2.7 NIV)
The rest of the story is that when God raised Jesus from the dead, He did much more than just Him back to life on this earth. The Bible tells us that forty days after the resurrection, Jesus ascended to heaven, back to the right hand of God the Father. And when Jesus arrived, He was seated far above all rule and authority, power and dominion. Jesus was superior to every title that can be given, both in this age and in the age to come. All things were placed under His feet. But even that is not the rest of the story.
The point Paul is trying to make in Ephesians is that the power of God is “for us who believe” (Ephesians 1.19). The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is the same power that raised us from spiritual death and gave us new life. But don’t miss the second point: the same power that seated Jesus as His right hand (Ephesians 1.20) is the same power that “seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2.6). That is the rest of the story. The rest of the story is that the power of God that raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at the right hand of God the Father and placed all things under His feet has also give those who believe new life and seated them with Christ in the heavenly realms. Which means, we sit with Christ where everything has been placed under His feet.
There is passage in Romans where the apostle Paul fleshes this out. We have to remember that the fullness of all things being totally under the Lordship of Christ will happen when the times have reached their fulfillment (see Ephesians 1.10). But, in a very real way, Christ is above all rule, authority, power, and dominion as we speak and we are seated with Him. In Romans 8, Paul fleshes this out in a real way. He wrote,
28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8.28-39 NIV)
In “all these things,” we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. In other words, through “all these things” we are seated with Him above all things in the heavenly realms. Paul puts the “rest of the story” in our very real circumstances. Notice what he describes as part of “all these things.”
First, “all these things” are the things that happen to us which have no obvious or apparent redeeming value. “In all things God works for the good.” There would be no reason to write that if the “all things” were good to start out with. If I gave you a good gift, I would not need to say, “Don’t worry, something good will come of this.” By saying “Something good will come of this” implies that the good is not obvious. So, part of the “all these things” are the negative things that happen to us.
But, for those who believe, for those who have been made alive in Christ, for those who have been made to see the light of the gospel, for those who have been set from slavery to sin, for those who have become objects of His mercy, for those who have been seated with Him in the heavenly realms, for those who have been called according to His purpose, which is to be conformed into His image, God has promised to be at work in all these things to bring them about for good. Christ is over all things, and He will work all things, even the apparently bad things, He will work all things towards the good of being conformed into His image. The rest of the story, as we are seated with Him in the heavenly places, is that He is sovereign over all these things to work them for His good in our lives.
Secondly, “all these things” includes those who are in opposition to us. If God is for us, who can be against us? Who will bring a charge against us? Who will condemn us? What this means is that Christ is over all rule and authority, power and dominion, including those who are set against us. Try as we may, it is not uncommon to find yourself face to face with an enemy. Why else would Jesus have said, “Love your enemies.” If you weren’t going to have any enemies, then Jesus was just wasting His breath. But because He knew that you can pick up enemies in this world even as you live an innocent life, He told us to love our enemies. And here, we are more than conquerors in “all these things,” and these things include the enemies that want to bring destruction to our lives.
The rest of the Easter story is that Christ has been seated at the right hand of God the Father and all things has been placed under His feet, including that enemy that is seeking to bring you harm. That is why we are commanded to love our enemies, to be kind to them, to pray for them, to overcome them with love. And that is why we are to leave room for God’s wrath because it is His place to avenge and bring justice (see Romans 12.9-21).
So if you have an enemy today, God is sovereign over your enemy’s attempts to bring you harm. In all these things, you are an over comer. Christ is seated far above your enemy’s power and you are seated with Him in the heavenly realms. And if Christ is on your side, what are you worried about? You have been set free to love your enemy and leave vengeance and justice up to the One who sits on the throne.
Finally, “all these things” speak of anything that threatens to separate us from the love of God. These are the future fears of what might happen. Will difficult times keep God from loving us? Will God’s love leave us if we are being persecuted for our faith? If our country is hit with a horrible famine, will it be stronger than God’s love for us? Is there some powerful force in the future that will be so strong that God’s love can’t overcome it and care for us? The answer is No, No, No, and No! In all these things, we are survivors? Is that what it says? No. In all these things, we are more than conquerors, a word that means “to gain a surpassing victory.” This is not a last minute shot at the buzzer.
What made Paul Harvey’s segment so interesting is that there was always some surprise ending to the story. He would start by telling a story that we thought we all knew. But then he would get to the end of the story, and he would tell us something that we hand never heard of before. And we would walk away thinking, “Wow, I didn’t know that.”
Not everyone knows the rest of the Easter story, at least not according to Paul. Paul prayed for the church “that the eyes of their heart would be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you” (Ephesians 1.18). That implies to me that some Christians are not living as overcomers because they don’t know that they have been seated with Christ in the heavenly realms. They don’t know that in “all these things” Christ is seated far above them all. And they lived each and every day as if “all these things” could crush them at any moment.
Of course, when our eyes are enlightened and we see that we are seated with Him in the heavenly realms, all these things don’t just go away. The seemingly bad things still happen, but we trust that God is working them for good and using them to mold us into His image. The enemies still surround us, but we can rest in the freedom to love them and let God take care of justice. And the fears within and the fears without still surround us to make us wonder if anything can happen that is so horrible that it could block out God’s loving care for us, but we can rest that all of these future things are under the feet of Jesus. Enlightened eyes know the peace and hope of being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms.
On this Easter Sunday, I pray 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” (Ephesians 1.18). May you live in peace, and hope, and joy, and victory now that you know “the rest of the story.”