Acts 16:11-15 & Ephesians 1:1-14


Over the last few months in our evening services we have been exploring some of the great stories of Scripture, and how they might shape our lives and our sense of God’s mission and our mission in the world. We’ve talked about creation, vocation, liberation, formation, limitation and incarnation. We’ve discovered that we have been created, called, freed, shaped, constrained and embodied. This month we are thinking about stories of restoration – the way in which all these stories and narratives come together in God’s restorative purposes – not just to take us back to creation, but to take us beyond creation to the new creation.

As some of you might know I really like TV programmes like Salvage Hunters – the Restorers and Repair Shop. Some of that is to do with the skill and craft that goes into restoring things, and some of it is to do with the stories that are associated with the things being restored. But another aspect is that I believe that there is something often more beautiful about a sympathetically and well restored object than in the original brand new object. There is something profoundly attractive about a cherished object that shows its age, but is at the same time fully restored. It’s connected with the fact that its important to me that Jesus still bears his scars on his resurrection body. It seems to me that the witness of Scripture, and of the narratives that we have been following over the last couple of months, that the new, restored creation that comes at the end of them will be more beautiful than the first creation.

We begin our dive into God’s restoration by looking at some of the different aspects of it that are revealed in our passage from Paul’s letter to the Christians in Ephesus. In Acts 19 we read about how Paul planted the church in Ephesus on one of his missionary journeys. This church plant had such an impact on the city that the silver workers, who made the tourist tat for the pilgrims to the temple of Artemis rioted because they feared that people becoming Christians would threaten their business. As a result of this riot, Paul had to leave in a bit of a hurry, but the Ephesian church had a special place in his heart, as we can hear as he writes to them.

In this first section of his letter, once the greetings are done, we find Paul praising and worshipping God for all that God has done in the lives of those who have turned to God.
As he does this, it seems to me that we can see an array of lights and perspectives on God’s restoration work. We’re going to take each of them in turn, and have a think about what they might show us about God’s restoration.

Before we do that, though, I would like us to notice something that is common to all of them. I was originally planning to do this as we went through, noting it each time, like a hammer hitting a nail, but in the end it felt just too repetitive, so I’m going to make a big thing of it now. It might seem like a pedantic piece of grammatical trivia, but it really isn’t, it is of utmost significant. The thing that they all have in common is that they are all expressed in a past tense. All of the things that Paul talks about, and which we are exploring this evening, are all in the past tense. They are all things that have happened already, that God has done already, that we have received already. Why is this important? Because it means that we can trust them, and can lean on them. We don’t have to anything to earn them, or complete them, we just have to receive them. And, we’re looking at them because they are all aspects of God’s restoration, and if they are all done already, then so is God’s restoration work. God’s restoration work is complete. We may not see the full outworkings of that restoration yet, but all that needs to be done has been done. We are just waiting for what we see and experience to catch up with the reality of the situation.

So, having got that off my chest, let’s look at these things one at a time.

The first thing is that we have been blessed. And not just a little bit blessed, but blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. These are not just the earthly blessings of good health, prosperity, loving relationships, but the heavenly blessings of life in and with God for ever. These blessings are secure for us in heaven, never to be taken away. Of course, with blessings comes a responsibility. We read in Genesis 12 that Abraham was blessed, that he might be a blessing, and this pattern continues throughout the Bible and the Christian tradition. We are blessed that we might be a blessing to others. This is part of the working out of God’s restoration purpose, and we are involved in it.

We have been chosen. Who chose us? God the Father did. When did he choose us? Before the creation of the world. What were we chosen for? To be holy and blameless in God’s sight. Again, scripture is consistent in this witness.

In Psalm 139 we read:
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

In Jeremiah 1, God says to Jeremiah

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

God knew each of us before creation began, and chose us to be restored to holiness and blamelessness. God chose us before we chose God.

I wonder if sometimes I’ve got myself in a bit of a tangle because I’ve misunderstood the idea of what God is choosing between when choosing me. I’ve felt uncomfortable with describing myself as having been chosen by God, because it has seemed to me that means that there are other people who God hasn’t chosen. That has just seemed logical to me, otherwise it’s not really choice is it, if God chooses everyone? But I think I’ve been wrong about that. God’s choice wasn’t between me and another person, or between Bill or Ted. God’s choice was between wanting to be in a restored relationship with me or not wanting to be in a restored relationship with me. And God chose that he wanted to be in a restored relationship with me. The fact that God makes the same choice for every individual doesn’t negate the choice he made in choosing me for to be in relationship with him, and doesn’t change the fact that he makes that positive choice to move towards each of us, individually.

Linked to the idea of being chosen is the idea of being predestined. Even at Dive, when we have a bit more time to explore things, we don’t have time to explore fully the various possible understandings of what it means to be predestined. Perhaps, rather than getting too hung up on that, it is more important to ask what Paul says we were predestined for.

And what is that? We were predestined for adoption to sonship. Whilst this is a gendered term, the only significance of that is that in the culture of the time it would have been sons who inherited. As the footnote in our translations makes clear, the important aspect of our adoption is that we are made heirs. We are children of our heavenly Father, and have been made heirs of the kingdom. We are more than children, we are princes and princesses, with all the privileges and responsibilities that those positions carry.

As we move down a couple of verses, to verse 7, the aspect of restoration moves from the family and household arena to the market place. We have redemption. We have been redeemed. That which was owed on our account has been paid, and we are freed. Just as we might redeem something from Cash Convertors, or redeem a lottery ticket, or redeem a voucher – a payment has been made, a ticket has been handed over, and what was kept has been handed over. God’s restoration means being freed, returned to the rightful owner, all debts wiped away. This redemption was achieved by Jesus’ blood – his death paid our debt, and now we are free.

This idea rolls into the concept of forgiveness of sins, which is also ours by the death of Jesus. All the things that we have done wrong, all the ways in which we have fallen short of God’s commands, all the ways in which we have missed the target and wandered off the road. They are all forgiven and forgotten. All of our shame and guilt is washed away, we don’t have to carry the burden of them any more, Jesus has borne this burden for us. As Paul writes in Romans 6:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The wages, or consequences, of our sin is death. Jesus has born that consequence, has accepted those wages, so that we could be forgiven, and receive that gift of eternal life. A gift of grace that we did not, and could not earn. This is all part of the restoration purposes of God. And we have our part to play in this as we obey the call to forgive others as we have been forgiven.

We move down a few more verses, past a reminder that we have been chosen and predestined, to another idea at the beginning of verse 13.

We have been included. What have we been included in? We are included in Christ. What does the word Christ mean? It is the Greek for Messiah, which in turn is the Hebrew for, “Chosen One – God’s anointed son.” So, when we are included in Christ we are included in the chosen one, God’s son and heir. To a certain extent, then, this is another way of saying what we’ve already discovered, we are the chosen children and heirs of God. There is perhaps, though, a but more than this.

In Romans 8, Paul writes,

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,”

which brings in the idea of forgiveness that we’ve touched on already.

And in 2 Corinthians 5 we read:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

Which brings all these aspects of restoration together. In fact, we might even conclude that being included in Christ isn’t just an aspect of God’s restoration purpose, but the fulness of it.

This conclusion is, it seems to me, by a reflection on the final idea that I wanted to draw out of this passage. Verse 13 goes on,

“when you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” The final aspect of God’s restoration that we are going to look at is the idea of being marked with a seal, but before we do, we can notice that we are marked “in him”. Whatever this “being marked” means, it is something that happens to us in Christ. Being in Christ is the whole of God’s restoration, of which being marked is a part, or aspect.

The first mark we find in the Bible is the mark of Cain, which God puts on Cain in Genesis 4, so that no-one who found him would kill him. Cain had murdered his brother, the first recorded homicide, and God punished him for it, but God also marked him so that he would not be murdered in revenge.

The next “mark” is in Ezekiel 9, where those who mourn over the sins of God’s people are marked and so avoid the death that befalls those who sin.

The final “mark” is the one that we hear about throughout Revelation – the mark of the beast, that marks out and identifies those who have worshipped the one opposed to Jesus, and so suffer death.

In all these examples we see that a mark is a sign of ownership, maybe like a ranch brand – it shows who the person marked belongs to. In the case of the mark not received from God it leads to death. But, in the case of marks received from God, it guarantees life. This is what the mark of the Holy Spirit is like, it is restoration life to all who receive it. It is a reassurance and guarantee of the inheritance that is ours in Christ.

So, as we’ve gone through this section of Ephesians we have seen that God’s restoration includes the completed realities that we have been blessed, chosen, predestined, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, and marked. And all of these are also wrapped up in the idea that we have been included in Christ – the ultimate purpose of God’s restoration plan.

But who is this restoration for? Up until Jesus’ coming to earth, the prayer of the people of God was for the restoration of Israel as a free and sovereign nation. We’ve already been reminded that the blessing of Abraham was given that the people of God might be a blessing to the world, but up until Jesus, that commission had not been fulfilled.

The account of Lydia and the early church in Philippi illustrates the seismic shift that occurred in the days of the early church, as they came to understand that the restoration purposes of God, all the things that we’ve talked about were not for the Israelite nation, but for the all the people of the world, and for the whole of creation.

In Acts 16 we find Paul setting off on a missionary journey. Just before this, in Acts 15, we read of the council in Jerusalem where it was decided that Gentile converts to Christianity did not need to convert to Judaism, or to be circumcised. It was at this point that internally, if not yet in the perception of the outer world, that the Christian faith stopped being a subset of the Jewish faith. There were now going to be Christians who never had been, and never would be, Jewish. Reassured and encouraged by this decision, Paul heads off into the world to bring the good news of Jesus to more Gentiles. At the beginning of Acts 16 we read that he had planned to head into Asia, but the Holy Spirit had other ideas and sent him into Europe, to Macedonia, to the Roman colony of Philippi, about as Gentile place as you could get.

When he gets there, he begins to reach out to those who lived there. But, contrary to what we hear about in other places, he doesn’t head straight for the synagogue. Instead he heads to a river bank, a possible place of prayer – maybe dedicated to one of the Roman pantheon, as Philippi was a Roman colony. What he does when he gets there is similar to what he does in other places, he starts telling the people he met about Jesus, and as God moves in their hearts, they respond to the message, and come to faith in Jesus. Lydia is one of the first we meet who goes straight from Gentile to Christian with no question of converting to Judaism.

Lydia is also an example of God’s restoration moving more widely in another way. She is a woman in leadership. She is a successful business woman, and it is the head of the household in which the first church in Philippi meets. The first generations of leadership in the church, and for many generations following, were male dominated, but there are examples in Acts, including Lydia, of women leading in the church, foretastes of the restoration purposes of God in restoring the partnership between men and women in all aspects of ministry and life.

As we move on in this chapter of Acts we find Paul in prison, having disrupted the exploitation of a young woman who had a spirit of fortune-telling. As he and Silas praise God an earthquake shakes the prison, and their chains fall off, but they do not run off. Instead, they stop their jailer ending his own life, and share the good news of Jesus with him, so that he and his whole family come to faith as well. This jailer would almost certainly also have been a Gentile, probably a retired Roman soldier, and he was included in the church.

Just in this little account of Paul’s visit to Philippi we see the widening out of the understanding of the compass of the restoration purposes of God. This was to be a theme of Paul’s whole ministry, and there is an interesting resonance between Jesus’ final instruction in Matthew 28:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations”

and Paul’s final recorded words in Acts 28:

“Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation had been sent to the Gentiles and they will listen.”

This evening we have taken an initial dive into the story of restoration. We have seen how wide it is as a concept, how many different aspects and facets it has, but that they are all drawn together in the idea of being included in Christ. We’ve seen how wide it is in terms of application, that it is for all people, everywhere. We’ve touched a bit on application, on what it might mean for us, and our mission in the world. We’ll be exploring our response to God’s restoration more in our Rest service in a couple of weeks, and in our final Dive service at the end of the month. In the meantime, we might want to reflect on where our ideas of God’s restoration might need extending, either in what it means, or about who it might be open to.

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