If the Lord wills, next Saturday evening a new chapter in the 114 year history of Bethlehem Baptist Church will open. At 6:00 PM Steve Roy and Tom Steller will teach two adult electives (Steve from Hebrews and Tom from James), and at 7:15 the first regular Saturday evening worship service will begin in the newly decorated fellowship hall.
Expectations for a New Saturday Evening Service
My prayer is that 150 of our Sunday morning worshipers will make the switch to worship regularly on Saturday evening, and that in the next two years the Saturday service will grow to 300 as God empowers us to fulfill our third priority of evangelism for his glory. We're not going to try to assign who should go to which service. But we do urge you to pray about the possibility of worshiping and studying Saturday night. The service will have its own distinctive atmosphere with the sun setting and the piano instead of the organ and the early Christian catacomb character of the fellowship hall with its good acoustics for singing. And we are confident that if you simply ask God to guide you, God himself will create the best balance between our three services.
In the long run our expectation is a 5-4-3 configuration for the three services: 500 in the 11:00 Sunday service; 400 in the 8:30 Sunday service; and 300 in the Saturday service. By the time we reach that point, Lord willing, in 1988/89 we will have the staff and structure in place to send 200 people away to start another church.
The Basis of Our Great Expectations
But, of course, for now, six days before the opening of this historic chapter, it is still sealed. And I believe that Jesus Christ, who was slain and has ransomed men and women for God from all over this city, will himself open the seal. And I believe that when the seal is broken, there will ride forth a white horse, and its rider will have a bow, and a crown will be given to him, and he will go out conquering and to conquer.
The image is from the Revelation of John (chapter 6) and it signifies the victorious preaching of the gospel in these last days. Where does the faith come from that this venture on Saturday night is going to be attended with victory? Is there any basis for feeling confident that God is going to do great things among us in these next years? I wouldn't be preaching this morning if I didn't think there were.
At the end of every summer I go away for a few days and plan the messages for the fall. I try to write up the purpose of each sermon so that Dean can have it as he plans the music and worship around that theme. Let me read you what I wrote about today's message:
September 29. Title: "Far More Than You Think." Text: Ephesians 3:14–21. The Sunday before we begin the Saturday night service. To create a sense of hope and expectancy that we cannot even imagine what God might be pleased to do through our church for his glory and the good of this city and the hidden peoples if we ventured more on his power and love, and less on our moderate calculations.
The reason I feel confident that God is going to overcome every obstacle to victory in this Saturday night venture, and in the ongoing ventures of this church, is the picture that Paul gives of God in today's text. I invite you to look at it with me and to open yourself to the gift of faith that these words can produce in your heart. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God! Whisper a prayer in your heart even now as you turn to the passage, that you might have ears to hear.
Paul's Magnificent Doxology
In verses 20–21 Paul's spirit is soaring in prayer, and he closes this first half of his letter with a magnificent doxology.
20) Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, 21) to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.
Let's start with verse 21 and look briefly at each of the four phrases.
1. "To him be glory . . . "
The glory of God is the beauty and brightness of his infinite perfections. When your heart breaks out in the words, "Glory to God," it's like a football team carrying their coach off the field on their shoulders; or like a standing ovation at Orchestra Hall; or like the waving and cheers of the crowds on the docks as the battleship comes home after victory.
There is in the heart of every child and teenager and adult the need and longing to sing a doxology. We may sing it more lustily to athletes or rock stars or architecture or space technology or politicians or purple mountain majesties, than we do to God. But there is no denying that the doxology is there in every heart. We were made to worship and sing. We were made to have a hero to brag about, namely, God. And so the reality of doxology is just as common and understandable as a three dollar Dome seat.
The main reason people feel awkward about singing or shouting glory to God is simply that he is not as real to them as Kent Hrbek or Tommy Kramer or Neville Mariner or Garrison Keillor. So the meaning of doxology is clear to anyone who has ever admired anything. You've all done it. But the experience of having your heart soar in admiration to GOD depends on whether you have ears to hear and eyes to see that above and behind every admirable thing on earth stands the magnificence and beauty God.
Paul's admiration for God was boundless. And so at the end of these three chapters he sings a doxology.
2. "To him be glory in the church . . . "
To Tommy Kramer be glory in the Metrodome. To Garrison Keillor be glory in the World Theater. But to God be glory in the church. Look at verse 10 to see how Paul conceives the church as the theater of the glory of God: the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things is "that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places."
The reason God created the world and called the church into being is so that he would have a sufficiently diversified yet unified system of mirrors with which to reflect the glory of his many-sided wisdom to the universe. Bethlehem Baptist Church is a local expression of this universal church. Our destiny, therefore, is to be a corporate and visible and audible doxology to God. And believe me, this destiny has to do with Saturday night. But we will come back to that.
3. "To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus . . . "
If the church is the theater in which the principalities and powers of the universe are to see the glory of God's manifold wisdom, then Jesus Christ is the embodiment of that wisdom and the main character in the drama played out in the theater of the church. The way the church glorifies God is by simply providing an arena in which the work of Jesus Christ can take effect.
Or we can change the picture and see the church as a hospital established by God and where his Son Jesus Christ is the only physician. And so God gets glory in the hospital by all the people getting well through the surgery of his Son. Ephesians 3:21, then, would be translated: "Glory to God in the church, his hospital, and in his Son, the surgeon Jesus Christ.
4. "To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations for ever and ever. Amen."
Yesterday I asked Karsten for the name of a rock star that I could use as an illustration along with Tommy Kramer and Neville Mariner and Garrison Keillor. I said, "Is Michael Jackson still around?" He said, "Nobody talks about him anymore." I said, "Fine. That's all I need." "Glory to Michael Jackson in the discos and in the kids to a tenth of one generation. Amen. Amen."
The greatest of men—like the apostle Paul and St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther and John Calvin and George Whitefield and William Carey and Jonathan Edwards and Billy Graham—the most admirable of men are only meteors on the sky of history. They last about a third of a second and then are gone. But God is like the sun. And generation after generation he rises on the just and the unjust and never fades in his glory. "To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to ALL GENERATIONS, FOR EVER AND EVER. Amen."
That's what we mean when we sing the Gloria: "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost: as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Amen." The glory of God will fill the world with his glory as the waters cover the sea, and it will be a world of glory without end, to all generations forever and ever. Amen!
What Spurred Paul's Doxology
Now we go back to verse 20 and ask what it was about God that set Paul in orbit here. Biblical doxologies usually have a phrase or two in them that sum up why the doxology is being sung. For example Jude sings, "Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing . . . be glory." So what sends Jude into orbit is the keeping power of God: "He is going to cause me to persevere and be saved—glory to God!" Or consider 1 Timothy 1:17, "To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen." He what sends Paul into orbit is that God reigns as king over all the ages of the world with an undying and infinite wisdom.
What about Ephesians 3:20? "Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think . . . " What sends Paul into orbit here is the thought that in the church (remember that from verse 21) God can do more than we have asked him to do and more than we have ever thought he could do.
If Paul Were Pastor
If Paul were the pastor of this church, I think that every time he lifted his eyes to heaven he would see God saying, "I can do more in this church than you have yet asked or thought." And so Pastor Paul would ask for power and then launch into a new venture of obedience. And then he would look up, and God would say, "I can do MORE!" And Paul would ask again and launch another new ministry, and then look up and God would say, "I can do MORE!" And each time he stretched himself in faith beyond what he thought possible in the church, the response of God would always be the same: "I can do More . . . MORE . . . MORE!"
Why Paul Sings
Now don't miss the fact that the form of verse 20 carries part of the meaning. It is a doxology. Paul is soaring. He is singing or shouting. If you don't see that, you might simply say that verse 20 is a novel way of stating the doctrine of God's sovereignty—he can do anything he pleases. But there are a lot of people who believe that doctrine in their heads who don't sing about it. They don't shout, GLORY TO GOD! when they think about it. Why is Paul singing? Until you can answer that, you can't say you know the meaning of this verse.
Paul is singing because he sees two things, not just one thing. He sees that the power of God over the church goes beyond what we can think. And he also sees that the love of God for the church goes beyond what we can think. Notice verses 18–19. He prays that the church "may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge."
Do you see the parallel with the power of God in verse 20? In verse 19 he says that the love of Christ for the church goes beyond what you can know, and in verse 20 he says that the power of God over the church goes beyond what you can think. When the massive weather front of God's love meets the massive weather front of God's power in the heart of a believer, it produces a hurricane of confidence called "Gloria"—a powerful doxology: "To him be GLORY in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations for ever and ever. Amen."
Confidence for This Church
The reason I feel confident that God is not only able but willing and eager to do for us on Saturday night far more abundantly than we ask or think is that I feel LOVED by God with the infinite covenant love with which he loves his church.
And that is what I want to talk about tonight.