I bow my knees before the Father from whom the whole family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of your glory, you might grant us by your Spirit to be strengthened in the inner man so that Christ might dwell in our hearts through faith. That we, being rooted and grounded in love, might have power to comprehend what is the height and depth and length and breadth — and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge and be filled with all the fullness of God. And now unto him, who is able to do exceedingly and abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, by the power working within us, be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
That’s chapter three. That’s a prayer from Paul. And there are two prayers in Ephesians. One in Ephesians 1:17 to the end of the chapter, and one in Ephesians 3:14–19 — and they are prayers that are laying hold on God to bring into existence the teaching of the latter. That’s the way they function, especially the one in Ephesians 1.
That’s what you should do with the Bible. When you read the Bible, as you read and after you read, you should do what I just did and just take what was in the Bible and hold it up to God and say, “Drive that into me.”
The Universal Ache
The most common ache I hear from genuine believers after I’m done talking is, “I got it, and I don’t have it.” It’s just this constant attention being drawn to the fact that you persuaded my mind. Now how do I feel it? The most common thing, it’s kind of a universal ache of the Christian heart, isn’t it?
This afternoon I’m sitting on my bed at the Quality Inn, pleading to feel the wonders of this book. They’re so far beyond us. “Unsearchable riches of Christ” is a phrase from Ephesians. Unsearchable riches of Christ. So, pray as we’re doing this and pray as you read your Bible, because without God intervening and acting on our behalf, all this stuff we’re going to do here will have little effect.
Bible Reading for Slackers
I do the Discipleship Journal reading plan to get through the Bible in a year. I’ve done it for years and years. I love it because it’s designed for slackers. And what that means is you only read the Bible 25 days a month, which means you have five days to catch up at the end of every month. It’s a way to keep people from giving up.
I mean, if you don’t provide for slackers, nobody reads the Bible because everybody misses a day. And if you miss a day and then another day and another day. I’m three days behind in February, and so I’ll never make it in December. So I’m not going to read the Bible this year. Thousands of people start well, don’t end. So Discipleship Journal reading plan 25 days a month, catch up at the end. Or if God graces you to stay on task and you finish 25 days, memorize, memorize, memorize in those last five days.
Discovering the Joyful Promises of Isaiah 55
Anyway, I was reading Isaiah yesterday. Isaiah 55, here we are, and this is what I read, and I want to give you two passages that set the stage for our expectation in Ephesians. Sometimes you read in the Bible something that describes your happiness, your future happiness with such wonderful descriptions, it makes you want to cry. That’s what I felt yesterday.
You shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle.
I had to look up what a myrtle is. I don’t know what a myrtle is. It’s a shrub/tree, can grow 30 meters tall, has tasty berries. You get a sweet oil from it, and it’s good. It’s good. It’s supposed to sound good to the reader. So you need help with that.
And it shall make a name for the Lord,
an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off. (Isaiah 55:12–13)
What’s that? “It shall make a name for the Lord an everlasting.” It’s going to make a name, it’s going to make a sign, and that sign is never, ever, ever going to stop being a sign. This sign is going to flash forever. What is it?
The Unfolding Mystery of ‘It’
So if I were leading the Bible study, I would say, “Don’t look anywhere but in these two verses, answer that question for me. What does ‘it’ refer to?” In Hebrew, there’s no it. It’s just the verb because verbs have their subject built into them. So it’s a masculine, singular verb, and there are masculine nouns all over this text. So you can’t decide what one it refers to, and I doubt that it refers to any one.
So let’s go again, “You shall go out in joy.” This whole chapter is worth memorizing. I mean, I memorized it one time. I couldn’t recite it now, but reading it yesterday, I said I got to memorize this one again. I got to get this back into the head. This almost 70-year-old head that loses things really fast. So get this back in there.
“You shall go out in joy.” That’s what’s coming for you, Christian. And this “you” here, I’m going to save that till tomorrow at noon. And if my plan works, we’re going to get to the end of Ephesians 2. Sorry if you wanted Ephesians 3–6, but if we’re really fast, we’ll get through two. And I’m hoping we can circle all the way around and end here with the answer of who that is.
I mean, I want you to feel included. So I’ll assume that you’re a Christian and that’s who that is, but that’s a big assumption. This is an Old Testament text. “You shall go out in joy” — that’s what’s coming for you. You shall be led by someone. You’re going to have a shepherd here or a leader, and you’re going to have peace. You’re going to have joy, you’re going to have peace. And as you go, mountains are going to start singing. Hills are going to start singing.
Whatever that means. It’s really amazing. And they’re going to join in the joy. The mountains are singing, and all the trees are just clapping their hands as you are breaking forth in joy, the trees are clapping their hands, and nature is joining in. And all the thorns, all the thorns are going away, and all the briers are going away — surely symbolic of everything that makes life hard and hurt.
They’re going away, and they’re being replaced with these luscious, beautiful things just off the charts, happy and good in our future. The Bible wants you to feel that’s what’s coming in your life. The Bible wants you to feel that’s coming in your life. It might take a while, but it’s coming for sure. But what puts a booster underneath this and just blows it out into the stratosphere is Isaiah 55:13: “And it.”
So I’m not just going to pick on say joy or peace or the myrtles or the cypresses. I’m going to say that this reality, this experience, this event, this work of God who’s leading us here forth, this “it,” namely God’s intention and work to make you everlastingly and supremely happy will be his name and a sign forever.
That is worth a few hours of meditation. Think on the implications of this will be a name for the Lord. What are names? You know what names are. Names, identity, part of being, essence, who you really are. Who is God? Who is God? How would you name God?
Well, one name you should give God would be something like “the one who has done all things to bring me to everlasting joy, everlasting peace, where all of nature is joining with me to celebrate my coming into joy that has no end and peace that has no end.” God is that kind of God. That’s who he is. That’s his name.
God is a happy-making God. God created the universe because he’s a happy-making God. That’s his name, and he wants a big sign, several galaxies wide, “I make my people happy forever.” That’s who he is. And some of you have a really hard time believing that because of how difficult your life is, which now takes me to the second devotional slide. I mean, these two slides here are my setup for Ephesians from my devotions.
Present Sorrow and Joy
So there I am in my study yesterday finishing up my four sections in the Bible, ending on this note in Isaiah and feeling overwhelmed by God’s purpose for my happiness and how sad I was and regularly am. I’m a sad person — and if you knew some of the things I’m sad about, you would be sad too.
So here we are at 1 Peter 1, I am teaching 1 Peter to sixteen seminary guys right now. I just finished memorizing the book. We’ll talk more about Bible memory as we go along. Memorize Scripture. As you get near death, memorize Scripture and you’re all getting near death.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy” — sounds like Ephesians 5:2. “He has caused us to be born again.” Sounds like Ephesians 5:2 again. “To a living hope.” A living hope — that’s what we just saw in Isaiah. “Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ . . . to an inheritance” (1 Peter 1:3).
Oh, it’s good. It’s so good. It’s “imperishable, it’s undefiled, it’s unfading,” it’s kept for you who by God’s power are being guarded (1 Peter 1:4).. You’re being kept for it. It’s being kept for you and you’re being kept for it. I love this text because I’m so prone to wonder. I know there’s nothing changing in heaven. Goodnight. There’s no moth or rust or thief breaking in there to rob my inheritance there, but I might not get there.
Oh yes, you will, Christian, because you’re being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this, all that this here. “In this you rejoice” (1 Peter 1:6). Yes, I do. Yes, I do. “Though now for a little while.” That means a lifetime. It really does. So same with Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:17–18. This light momentary affliction, only a lifetime, is exactly what he means compared to eternity working for us, an eternal weight of glory. So you got a little ting of life and then an incalculable eternity.
Oh, how we need this. We Western comfortable assume that all should be well now Americans. Well, don’t count on it now. “So for a little while though now for a little while if necessary, and God decides how much is necessary for you, if necessary, you are being grieved.” Yes, you are. “Now while you’re happy.” See that, don’t miss this.
This is absolutely crucial. “In this you rejoice,” Right now. Yes, yes, yes. You are being grieved right now. Yes, yes, yes. I’m so thankful this is in the Bible. I mean, it is really dangerous to read your experience into the Bible. I know that’s dangerous, hugely dangerous. This is my experience. You decide whether I’m reading it in or not. I think I’m reading it out and taking heart that God knows me.
He comes to us in this fallen world of futility and pain and death and sorrow and moral collapse of a nation and slaughter all over the world and seven hundred people being trampled to death in Saudi Arabia and babies being killed by the millions. And our Congress can’t even vote to say the later ones that can live. I mean, what a sad world. It’s a sad world. How can you live in this world and not be sad? You’re sick if you’re not sad, aren’t you? And you should be the happiest people in the world and that is not a contradiction.
Rejoice in Hope to Survive
So that’s how I’m beginning. That’s where we’re going. In Ephesians, I am coming to Ephesians with the full expectation that the God of Ephesians wants me happy. He wants me to use the phrase “in this you rejoice” but also say Romans 5:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1–2)
We rejoice in hope. Rejoice in hope. So that Isaiah description out there of how good it’s going to be, it’s going to be so good. New bodies and new world and new emotions and no sin and all tears wiped away. It’s going to be so good that goodness streams back in through faith and hope streams back in and makes me happy.
Now that’s what that word “rejoice in hope” means. That’s why you can be the happiest people in the world, even though you get up and get another phone call tomorrow morning about another disease or another accidental death or another child who’s going crazier. So happy, off the charts happy, and always sad. Desiring God, it’s our mantra. We have a lot of mantras, but one of them is 2 Corinthians 6:10, “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
Sorrowful, yet always simultaneously rejoicing. If you’re just, say, older than 20 and you’ve been a Christian since you were 15, you should know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, then just haven’t had enough trouble in your life and you will, because you will taste someday when the phone call comes or the doctor says what you don’t want to hear, or the marriage is just so difficult, or the child is not following what you want to follow, or the church is just being rocked in half or just how hard it is, you will taste that.
And in the very middle of that, God will make you glad in him, in him. Otherwise, you won’t survive it. You won’t. That’s how you survive.