How to Miss Jesus in the Bible

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Beginning in Ephesians 1:15, Paul starts to pray. That’s very typical of Paul. In Colossians, he does it. In Philippians, he does it. He doesn’t do it in Galatians — there are reasons for that, but to start, he says something massive and wonderful and then prays.

My understanding of why he’s doing this, and you’ll see where I get this as we look at the content of the prayer, is that he knows that in Ephesians 1:1–14, he has backed a truckload of weighty truth and dumped it on the church. Some of them feel overwhelmed and lost. What are we to do with all that? There’s only one person that can sort that out, and that’s God.

Pitfalls in Bible Study

I think one of the questions I was asked that I haven’t addressed is: Are there pitfalls to the kind of rigorous attention to grammar, syntax, connectors, vocabulary, and what we call arcing? Yes, of course. The answer is yes. There are pitfalls everywhere.

One of the pitfalls is that you get so enamored at the Sherlock Holmes-ish fun of sorting out meaning that you forget God. You forget the Holy Spirit, you forget to pray, you forget to feel. This is just so fascinating stuff. It’s just tragic. It’s tragic. Surely, that must have been the way it was for the Pharisees early on. They knew their Old Testaments backwards and forwards, and over time, they lost everything and knew it all.

Jesus would say to them things like, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13). His disciples are picking grain and eating it, and they’re saying, “You can’t do that on Sunday.” He looks at them and quotes Hosea and says, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice. If you knew what this means, you wouldn’t have condemned them.” They had lost their handles. They had totally lost their grip on the Old Testament by knowing the Old Testament. That’s a big pitfall.

That is a big pitfall in Bible study. You can become a Bible prig, just a pedant, just a proposition machine. Answers, logic, feeling goes away, affection goes away, brokenness goes away, aching and longing and love for people go away. “You neglect the greater matters of the law,” Jesus said. “Straining out a gnat . . . swallowing a camel” (Matthew 23:24). These were the Bible scholars he’s talking about.

So, prayer — I’m so glad we get to do this. He prayed, “For this reason,” and that probably refers that way. It could go that way: “Because of the things I’ve said, I’m going to pray.” Or it could go this way: “For this reason, namely because,” works either way. I think it’s probably going forward. “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers” (Ephesians 1:15–16). And here it comes.

The Mark of a Christian

I think the main thing to point out there is the evidence that Paul has that he’s talking to Christians is because he heard this and he heard this. Those are the classic marks of whether you’re a Christian.

Here’s 1 John 3:23: “This is his commandment,” singular, “that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another.” One, two, make one — believing in Jesus and loving believers are so united, John calls them one command. When Paul sees you, the Ephesians, you trust Jesus, you love each other, he’s going to write to them as Christians. They’re Christians.

Galatians 5:6, same thing: “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” James would say, “Faith without love is dead.” It’s dead, it’s not even existent. “For this reason, I’ve heard of your faith. I’ve heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward the saints, so I’m going to pray for you as believers, Christians.”

Paul’s Prayer

Did I skip something? I did. There we go. Let’s read the bulk of the prayer. Here’s what I’m praying: “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the [s]pirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” (Ephesians 1:17).

That’s my first prayer. “I want God to give you Christians a spirit” — little S. Sometimes it’s given a big S. You can’t tell in the original language whether spirit is God’s Spirit or your spirit. I think this is right: small S. “Give you a spirit of wisdom. You have the Holy Spirit, but now I’m asking that God would so bestir the Holy Spirit to give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your heart.”

We’ll come back to that phrase that’s so big. “Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know” some things and he mentions three things (Ephesians 1:18).

You should pray this for yourself regularly. “That you may know,” number one, “the hope to which he has called you.” Number two, we can call that one “the riches of his glorious inheritance.” Actually, “the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,” and three, “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe,” and everything else here is a description of this power. There are only three things he’s praying after he says that your eyes be enlightened.

He already prayed that a spirit of wisdom and revelation be given you, and now he gets specific and says, “I want the eyes of your heart to see three things. I want them to see the hope to which you’ve been called. I want them to see the riches of the glorious inheritance that you have, and I want the immeasurable greatness of God’s power to be known by you,” and then he unpacks what that power is, and he says, “Power toward us who believe,” and it accords with something (Ephesians 1:19).

This power that’s at work towards you accords with something. It accords with “the working of his great might, which he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead.” The power that is at work toward you believers is the power that it took to raise Jesus from the dead. Are you tracking?

“That he worked . . . when he raised him from the dead and seated him” (Ephesians 1:20). So, the power that got him out of the grave and the power that got him from his earthly life to be seated at the right hand in the heavenly places far above. The power that made him above all rule and authority and power — these are the wicked people over in Ephesians 6 that we are wrestling with.

“Above every name that is named” (Ephesians 1:21). There’s nobody greater than Jesus, and the power that brought him to that exalted place was the power that is at work toward us who believe, not only in this age but in the age to come. That’s the content of the prayer, and that’s the end of the chapter.

Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation

Let’s go back to say a word or two about this. “I am praying that God would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.” Now, if you were asking for that, what would you hope to get?

I can think of two possible meanings. One would be more Pentecostal, and one would be less Pentecostal. The Pentecostal one of the historic variety would be that this is a gifting of a present revelatory knowledge given by God through the gift of revelation and wisdom that is part of that, and thus, by having that special spiritual gift of receiving information from God, now you know him. That’s a possible meaning, I suppose.

Or it might mean, and I’m inclined to think it does mean that this wisdom and this revelation spirit, this is a spirit. He doesn’t say, “I pray that God give you revelation — new information.” It could mean that, but he doesn’t say it. He says, “I’m praying that your spirit would be of a kind that can recognize and receive revelation.”

Then, the question is, does it come from what I just taught you in Ephesians 1, or does it come from going into the woods asking for a word from heaven, and becoming a cult leader? Or, if you’re a more sober-minded, charismatic or Pentecostal, and I love them, I would like to be one, sober-minded, you test all things by the Scriptures, and if anything comes into your head that you think might be an impression from God, you’re going to measure it totally by the Bible. But frankly, I doubt that that’s what this is talking about.

I think he means, and because of what follows, I think he means right now your heart, let’s say your spirit, is clogged with endless junk — TV junk, multimedia junk, family pressures, money issues, stresses, and anxieties, and you’re just not, when you read the Bible, little is happening. It’s just “Choo!”

What needs to happen? Something needs to happen, and one way to describe it is, you need a spirit of revelation because you’re out of sync with revelation. You’re out of sync with revelation. You’re picking up this book which is solid, glorious, true, infallible, inherent revelation, and nothing’s happening when you read it. You need a spirit of revelation, a spirit that’s in sync with the book, a spirit that’s docile, tender and sensitive and receptive and alive to what is here so that when you read it has an effect. That’s what’s needed.

That’s what he’s praying. He knows that from Ephesians 1:3–14, he dumped a truckload of revelation on them, and he knows John Piper is getting up in the morning and feeling about 0 percent of love for that, of what he ought to feel. He needs a spirit of revelation. He needs to go to prayer. Get to praying and ask God for a spirit of wisdom and revelation to see wisdom when you see it and revelation when you see it.

The reason I’m inclined to think that he means that is because this participle here I think is explaining. He’s defining. “Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened to know,” and then he talks about the things that he’s already given them. “Hope to which he’s called you. Riches of the glorious of his inheritance. Power at work. I want you to have the eyes of your hearts enlightened.”

Eyes of Heart

Now, let that category fit in, namely eyes of heart. You don’t think about that very often probably that your heart has eyes. You probably don’t think about it much and it’s all important.

Jesus in Matthew 13:13: “This is why I speak to them in parable, because seeing they do not see.” What does that mean? Seeing they do not see. Well, the least it means is there are two kinds of seeing and you’re getting one and you’re not getting the other. This seeing is with head eyes, and this seeing is heart eyes. Wouldn’t that be the most natural way to take it?

“You’re listening to me. You’re looking at Jesus Christ. You’re Judas.” Right? Three years he saw and didn’t see and he sold him, and then he killed himself. It is possible to live with Jesus three years and not see him as beautiful, precious, compelling, glorious, satisfying. A lot of people in the church are like that, Judas-like. He loved money. I’d love to talk about that. He kept the money bag. When Mary gave that expensive ointment, he said, “Why wasn’t it just sold and give it to the poor?” John says, “He said that not because he loved the poor, but because he was a thief and kept the money bag. Three years, he’s loving money in the presence of the Son of God.

That’s scary. That’s scary that you can be that. Your heart can love money that much, that you can walk with the incarnate Son of God and do miracles in his name. I believe Judas cast out demons. I believe Judas healed the sick because if there were one apostle who couldn’t do anything, everybody would’ve said, “Judas? We go on these mission trips and Judas can’t do anything. Can’t preach. Can’t raise the dead. He can’t heal the sick. He can’t cast out demons. What’s with Judas?” Nobody said that.

They didn’t even know to the last minute who it was, except Jesus knew. What was his problem? He loved money. He didn’t see. He didn’t see. He’s praying. What does he want them to see with the eyes of their heart? “Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened,” eyes of your hearts enlightened, “that you may know what is hope” (Ephesians 1:18).

It’s one thing to say, “Okay, I’ve read Romans 8” or “I’ve read 1 Peter 1:1–5. We have an inheritance imperishable, unfading, kept in heaven for you. I’ve read it. I know my hope and feel nothing. Feel nothing.” Go to bed at night discouraged and hopeless with knowledge in your head about your hope. Nothing. No connection whatever. What’s needed? Prayer in the eyes of your hearts to be enlightened. This is what we should pray every day. Paul is praying this for Christians, and I find that extraordinarily encouraging.

Paul assumed Christians don’t see what they need to see a lot. Isn’t that encouraging? What if the apostolic message was perfectionistic? It means I don’t need to tell you to see—you all see. If you don’t see, you’re not a Christian. He doesn’t even think that way. He’s writing to believers who have faith and love, and the eyes of their hearts need to be open.

That’s the first thing. They need to feel their hope, know it, and feel it. This knowing here is the knowing that comes with the eyes of the heart. There’s a knowing that comes with the eyes of the head that can be just head knowledge. The knowing that comes with the eyes of the heart is not, by definition, merely head knowledge. That’s the meaning of eye of the heart. Eye of heart feels. Eye of head knows merely. Both are crucial.

The Riches of Glory and Inheritance

He prays that we would know in that way the riches of the glory — riches of glory, of inheritance. Not just that you have an inheritance, but that it’s glorious. Not just that it’s glorious, but that it’s really, really rich with glory. I say those words and half of you don’t feel anything. Doesn’t feel anything. Nothing is triggering right now that would cause emotions to soar because your inheritance that is sure to come because it’s blood-bought and Spirit-kept is infinitely valuable.

I’ll bet — I’ll bet — if I’ve whipped out a check right now and said, “Look, I’ve got access to about two billion dollars. I got a friend, Gates or somebody, and he told me I could do some religious experimenting with his money, and I’ll just write you a check for a million dollars and say, ‘Come on up here. Here’s a check.’” I can almost guarantee you that would affect your emotions, but to read this doesn’t, and this is a million times better! It’s a matter of faith. It’s a matter of the heart seeing it. I’m just saying he’s praying. He knows what I’m talking about. He knows what you’re dealing with. He’s dealt with it. He’s there. Fightings without, fears within, this is the apostle talking.

Thirdly, “the immeasurable greatness of his power” (Ephesians 1:19). It’s immeasurable, it’s great, it’s powerful, so you got divine power. It’s called great, it’s immeasurable, and it’s coming to you not to destroy you but to help you. We need to pray. God help us. We need to pray.

The Power

More on the power because Paul spends most of his time on that:

  • the power that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead
  • seated him at the right hand of God in heavenly places
  • above all, rule and authority
  • above every name that is named in this age and the age to come
  • put all things under his feet by this power
  • gave him his head over all things to the church
  • the fullness of him who fills all in all

We’ve already talked about that in relation to unite all things in Christ. Why doesn’t he draw out hope, calling to hope or inheritance like he draws out power? He seems to be bent on unfolding the power that is at work toward us, like he says over in Ephesians 3, “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” (Ephesians 3:20).

Paul really wants these people to wake up to power that is available to them and should be exercised to them.

The Magnitude of Christ’s Love

Before I jump into Ephesians 2 and show you the amazing thing, let’s go to this one other prayer that he prays. This is Ephesians 3. He prays twice in Ephesians, and I want you to see the similarity between the two just quickly.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength. (Ephesians 3:14–18)

Then, this is the surprising part. Strength to do what? Like lift a thousand pounds? “Strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:18–19). He wants you to know the love of Christ, and you can’t. You don’t. You’re just too weak. It takes divine power, divine strength to comprehend the breadth, length, height, and depth, and to know the love of Christ. Get that because there’s a lot of people who think love’s easy to know.

The love of Christ for his people is so magnificent you can’t know it without supernatural powering to know it. You can taste a little bit, but to know it like you ought to know it, to walk in a sense of being loved, like when Paul said, “I’m crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me, and the life that I now live in the flesh. I live by faith in the Son of God who loves me.” The life I live when I walk out of this room a little bit, the life I live, I live by faith in the one who loves me and gave himself for me.

When he said that, supernatural power and strength were at work enabling him to comprehend what it is to have the length and breadth, height and depth of the love of Christ, operative in his life. You all know this. You know you don’t feel loved nearly as deeply, powerfully, consistently, transformingly as you would like. This is so good. He’s just teaching you what to do here. He’s empathizing with you, he’s lining up with you, he knows exactly what the problem is, and he’s praying for you and teaching you how to pray for yourself and your family.