Michelangelo’s famous painting, The Creation of Adam, is a fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, in Rome. It shows God reaching out to touch Adam, giving him life. It was painted between 1508 and 1512. It’s a METAPHOR that shows what God is like. (His character, and how his acts.) Not what he LOOKS like. But his nature and how he acts. It’s a much more intimate image of God than anything painted in the West before it. He’s simply-dressed. He’s the God of Genesis 2 – accessible and interested, actively reaching out to humanity. Rather than the God of Genesis 1 – the all-powerful and distant king, who interacts only with HIS WORD.
And compare God and Adam. Notice how Adam matches the shape of God. Perhaps showing that he’s made in God’s image. But there’s a relaxed, indifferent feel about his posture. While God is engaged and active, twisting and reaching out to bridge the gap. Even down to comparing the fingers. God’s finger is firm and pointed. While Adam’s is relaxed and floppy, like he doesn’t really care.
I think it’s a powerful picture, not just of CREATION, but of THE WHOLE of God’s relationship with humanity, down through history. From the Garden of Eden in Genesis to the New Jerusalem in Revelation, God ACTIVELY WORKS to undo the separation that sin caused. To bridge the gap between himself and us. To connect us back into an intimate relationship with himself.
It’s just a PICTURE, but I think it’s quite POWERFUL. And the Bible’s full of pictures, just like Michelangelo’s painting, that help us understand what God’s doing to JOIN US to himself. I’ve counted at least FIFTEEN DIFFERENT PICTURES. (Earthly metaphors that capture something of the spiritual reality). You’ll be relieved to know we’ll only look at TEN today. Each one adds a different emphasis. (Shows God’s work from a different perspective). And they’re given so we’ll UNDERSTAND his offer, and TRUST him, and CONNECT to him. And then LIVE THAT TRUST OUT in PRAISE and OBEDIENCE.
So that’s the goal for today’s sermon. That at the end of it, you’ll see and appreciate more of what God’s done. You’ll rejoice in it, and praise him. And you’ll trust, love and obey him better. Or maybe, if you’re NOT YET a Christian. When you see ALL THE BENEFITS God gives his children, you’ll WANT THEM TO. And you’ll accept his invitation, and COME to him.
SEVEN of the pictures get mentioned in Ephesians 1 and 2, that we read earlier. We’ll get to those in a moment.
But some of the BIG ones come up quite early in the Bible. The FIRST one is COVENANT. It’s A LEGAL CONTRACT. Often between a king and his subjects. Or between a more POWERFUL king, and a WEAKER king.
The picture of the covenant helps us to trust God’s promises. He’s not going to change his commitment to his people. In Genesis 15, God makes a covenant with Abram when he’s tempted not to trust God’s promise. In a vision, God tells Abraham to cut some animals in half, and then, v17. When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land
It’s what happened in that culture with HUMAN covenants. Both parties would walk between animals cut in half. It symbolised an oath, “May THIS happen to me if I break this covenant.” Except here, God, represented by the smoking firepot and the blazing torch, is the only one who walks through the pieces. God will keep his word! And it WORKS. Because Abram BELIEVES God. We’re told, back up in v6, that Abram BELIEVED the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
And that’s ANOTHER picture of what God’s doing. Justification. Or declaring righteous. It’s a picture that comes from the law court. When a judge declares someone INNOCENT, or NOT GUILTY, or RIGHTEOUS. He JUSTIFIES them. In THIS case, not because Abram IS innocent. But he TRUSTS GOD, and so God credits that faith to his righteousness account.
And that’s what God, the just judge, does with EVERY PERSON who trusts him. Whether in the Old Testament or the New Testament. He declares them righteous, not because they ARE innocent, but because of their FAITH. No one EARNS their innocence. Because NO ONE is good enough. And God’s legal verdict of justification gives us FREEDOM and CONFIDENCE and JOY, rather than uncertainty and fear. We can REST in it.
As we move through the history of Israel there’s one more picture that’s really important in explaining HOW God, the JUST JUDGE, can declare guilty people innocent. Because justification doesn’t seem FAIR. And so the picture he sets into the religious structure of Israel is that of ATONEMENT. It’s an image from the TEMPLE. To ATONE for sin means to SATISFY GOD’S WRATH. And, in the Old Testament, God sets up SACRIFICES to do that. He graciously allows the death of AN ANIMAL to satisfy his justice, rather than require the death of the SINNER. The sinner would lay his hands on the animal, symbolically transferring his sin onto the animal. And then the animal would die in his place. And God would choose to count the death of the animal as satisfaction of justice.
The gory details of sacrifice and atonement emphasise how SERIOUS sin is. And how holy God is. And what a wonderful GIFT he’s given us is his Son. And our response is to offer OURSELVES as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to him. In humble thanks that we’re not treated as our sins deserve. But that another receives what WE’RE due.
There’s more pictures from the Old Testament we could talk about, but let’s jump over to our Ephesians passage.
After a brief greeting, it jumps straight into it. V3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING IN CHRIST. Paul wants to PRAISE God because he’s blessed Christians in ALL SORTS of WAYS. And then, from v4, he spends the next chapter and a bit LISTING them all. It’s Father’s Day today. And many of you wrote a card for your Dad. Perhaps you THANKED him for the things he does. You may have even LISTED some of the things you appreciate. That’s what we’ve got HERE. It’s a Father’s Day card to our HEAVENLY Father, listing the things we appreciate. (Every spiritual blessing.)
And the FIRST of these is ADOPTION. (Which is fitting on Father’s Day). Whoever’s joined to the Son gets adopted into the family, and becomes a son or daughter TOO. Look at v5 In love 5he predestined us TO BE ADOPTED AS HIS SONS through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will
It’s a picture that helps us, as children, approach our Heavenly Father CONFIDENTLY. He’ll listen to us, provide for us, and protect us. We can be sure of his love. Sometimes adopted children doubt the love of their adoptive parents. But the OPPOSITE is really true. A couple who wants to adopt makes A CONSCIOUS DECISION – a COMMITMENT – to the child. You HAVE to love a natural child, but you CHOOSE to love an adopted child. Which is what God, our heavenly father, does. IN LOVE, he PREDESTINED us = chosen BEFOREHAND – to be adopted.
And because we’re part of God’s family, it means we have brothers and sisters all over the world. All children of their heavenly Father. A new family with new loyalties and ways of behaving.
The NEXT picture of how God has blessed us in Jesus comes in v7. Redemption.
In him we have REDEMPTION through his blood,
Redemption is to do with buying slaves out of slavery. In that culture, a price had to be paid to the owner – normally a debt the slave was working off. After that, the slave WAS FREE.
The image is used of God rescuing Israel from slavery in Egypt. In Exodus 6:6 God promises
‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will REDEEM you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.
In OUR case, we’re TRAPPED in slavery by SIN AND DEATH. And v7 says Jesus PAID for our freedom with his BLOOD. The chains of sin and death that bound us have been broken. And we’ve been RELEASED to serve him in FREEDOM. Romans 6:18 describes our life like THIS
You have been SET FREE from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
It’s a picture that emphasises we’re not trapped to sin, again and again. Jesus has FREED us, to DO GOOD. TO OBEY GOD.
- Forgiveness of sins
The next spiritual blessing that’s ours in Christ is ALSO in v7. FORGIVENESS. (In him we have redemption through his blood), the FORGIVENESS OF SINS,
Forgiveness is a picture to do with the wiping out of debt. Or overlooking an offence. Wiping the slate clean. Returning the debtor’s ledger to zero. Re-formatting the hard drive. The picture of forgiveness helps us to APPRECIATE the clean slate we have before God. The fresh start. We’re new creatures, with no guilt holding us back. And knowing God’s forgiveness gives us the ability to genuinely forgive OTHERS. Because we know that we’ve been forgiven a far greater debt than anything anyone might commit against US.
- Union with Christ
The next image is down in v13. We’ve been UNITED WITH CHRIST. V13 And you also were INCLUDED IN CHRIST when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.
God joins us to Jesus when we trust him. And then we receive all that belongs to Christ, because he stands in our place. He’s our representative. Like when one of our representative sporting teams plays. Like the Australian cricket team. Or the Diamonds Netball team. When they win, we say AUSTRALIA won. WE ALL won, because our REPRESENTATIVE won. Same with Jesus. He defeats sin and death, and is raised to life. And so are WE, because we’re JOINED to him. HE’S righteous before God because he lived the perfect life, and so are WE because we’re joined to HIM.
If we’re reading carefully, we’ve already seen it again and again in this passage. All the way through, blessings come IN CHRIST. In fact, if I had to choose ONE of the pictures that’s most important (that all the others DEPEND on). This would be it. UNION WITH CHRIST. All the rest flow from THIS. That’s what it says in v3. Every spiritual blessing is IN Christ. (We receive them because we’re in him.) V4 and 11 God CHOSE us in him. V6. He’s freely given us his grace IN THE ONE HE LOVES. V7 We have REDEMPTION in him. In v22 and 23 Jesus is described as the head over everything. And we, the church are his BODY. We’re connected to him, and he guides and gives us life. And, v23, he’s WITH us, filling us with the fullness of his presence in everything.
And if we jump down to Ch 2, we see in v5, God seated us with Christ in the heavenly realms IN CHRIST JESUS. (Since JESUS is seated with God in heaven, we’re there TOO, because he’s our representative. Heaven is where our identity and our loyalty is found.)
And it all comes to us because we’re UNITED TO Christ.
- Marked with a seal
The NEXT picture is there in v13 too. (Along with union with Christ). We were marked with a seal. Having believed, you were MARKED IN HIM WITH A SEAL, the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance
A seal is a mark of authenticity. Like on a University degree. Or on a land title. To show its REAL. Letters used to be sealed with a wax stamped with the official emblem to show who sent. And when God makes us his own, he puts his stamp of ownership on us, his own Holy Spirit. It says THIS ONE BELONGS TO ME.
We know SOMETHING of God’s presence now. But his Spirit is a deposit guaranteeing even MORE TO COME. Like someone might put a holding deposit on a house they want to be. A commitment that the house belongs to them. And the REST of the money’s coming SOON. God’s SEAL gives us confidence and courage, because we know we BELONG to him.
- Made Alive
If we jump over Paul’s prayer in v15-23, we come to NEXT picture. Into chapter 2, v5. We were MADE ALIVE. God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-
The start of the chapter describe what it means to be dead in transgressions. Following the ways of the world, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature, objects of wrath. Physically alive, but spiritually dead. Separated from God, the source of life. Headed for judgment and eternal death. And dead people are HELPLESS. Have you ever seen a dead person jump up and perform CPR on themselves? When you’re dead, you need someone ELSE to give you LIFE. Which is what GOD does. He makes us alive WITH CHRIST. Jesus is the AUTHOR of life. The SOURCE of life. And God RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD. Then joined US to him by faith. So WE are made alive. We enjoy the benefits of his victory! It’s a picture that emphasises the newness of life as a Christian. There’s joy and freshness and purpose and hope. Compared to the old DEAD way of life we USED to live.
- Salvation 2.5, 2.8
The LAST picture is right there in v5 too. SALVATION, or RESCUE. 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.
God rescues from EARTHLY danger. From sickness, or enemies, or physical harm. But it’s his JUDGMENT we MOST need saving from. We were headed for DEATH because of our transgressions. It’s what we DESERVED. But God showed us MERCY – he didn’t give us what we deserved. He showed us GRACE – gave us something we DIDN’T deserve – RESCUE! The picture of SALVATION emphasises how HELPLESS we were. God’s holding out the life preserver to us. Without it, we’re DEAD. All we need to do is reach out in faith and GRAB it.
Down in v8 it says that even our FAITH comes from God For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and THIS NOT FROM YOURSELVES, IT is the gift of God– 9not by works, so that no one can boast. God’s rescue is ALL of him, and NOTHING of us. And that means we’re HUMBLED. And GRATEFUL. With no grounds for BOASTING.
I’m going to stop there. Although I’m tempted to keep going. Because there’s FOUR MORE pictures in the next section, before the end of chapter 2! Perhaps you can have a read over it after church, and see if you can find them.
- Hear and believe
But what I want to do before we finish is think about our RESPONSE to all this. Firstly, if God is reaching OUT to us, the OBVIOUS response is to grab hold of him. Verse 13 describes it well. And you also were included in Christ when you HEARD the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having BELIEVED, you were marked in him with a seal
God himself is SPEAKING to you. The true word about Jesus. (Through the Bible, or perhaps someone telling you. Telling you about how God can SAVE you.) Your response is to HEAR the message, and BELIEVE it. And then LIVE OUT that trust in repentance and obedience. And, for those of us who ARE Christians, our response is to partner with God, SPEAK that word of truth, so OTHERS get to hear it TOO, and believe it. And be saved. Have you DONE that yet? (Heard and believed?) If not, then today’s a great day to DO that.
If you HAVE, the SECOND way to respond to these pictures of what God’s done/ is TO PRAISE him. That’s the way Paul BEGINS. Back in v3. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
At the very least, that means giving God honour and glory and thanks with OUR WORDS. In songs and prayers. In our conversations with others. But if God’s done so much for us, words are hardly enough. God deserves MORE. In fact, God EXPECTS more. Look at v12 to see his plan (we were also chosen), 12in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might BE FOR THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORY.
That’s A WHOLE LIFE. God wants EVERYTHING. Not just your Sunday mornings, or your words, or your work, or your money. He wants you to BE for the praise of his glory. To EXIST for it. Head, heart, hands and mouth. Giving EVERYTHING back to God for his goodness, and pointing OTHERS to it.
- Do good works
Lastly, our THIRD response is to DO GOOD WORKS. Down in Ch 2 v10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Notice three times WORK is mentioned? We’re the result of GOD’S work. (His gracious work of choosing and saving and forgiving.) And his PURPOSE in doing that/ is that WE would work. That we’d do the good works he’s prepared for us. Not things WE’D choose. But the ones he’s pre-worked for us.
And notice we’re not saved BY our good works –v9 says that. We’re saved FOR good works.
The good works that are FOR THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORY. Works of grace and generosity and mercy that point to HIS grace and generosity and mercy. Works of love and forgiveness and rescue that point to HIS love and forgiveness and rescue. Works of truth and justice and life that point to HIS truth and justice and life.
PRAISE BE to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has BLESSED us in the heavenly realms with EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING IN CHRIST!