A sermon on Ephesians 3:14-21 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 6 September 2020
Two things can be similar but very different. To the outsider, Australian Rules and Rugby League football seem to be very similar. They both have two teams fighting over an oval ball. They both have players kicking, catching, passing and tackling. But there the similarities end. Australian Rules is a three dimensional game with players running and passing everywhere. Rugby League is very two dimensional with strict rules that keep the players marching in a line down the field. Rugby League is great on television, but no screen can contain all the action of an Aussie Rules game. There is nothing like watching it live. They are so different that it is very difficult for people who have been brought up on one of them to understand or appreciate the other.
In the same way we are looking this morning at two requests that people made to Jesus. The requests were similar, but very different. They both needed help. They both asked Jesus for help. But there was one important difference between the two requests.
In Mark chapter 1 a man with leprosy came up to Jesus and said, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Notice how he was confident that Jesus could help him. He had probably heard about the healings that Jesus had already performed. How Jesus cast out the evil spirit from the man in the synagogue in Capernaum recorded earlier in Mark chapter 1. How Jesus healed the fever of Peter’s mother in law a couple of verses later. How many people brought their sick to Jesus a couple of verses after that and he healed them all.
For whatever reason, the man with leprosy was confident of Jesus’ ability. He said to Jesus, “You can. You can make me clean.” What he wasn’t so sure about was Jesus’ willingness. “If you are willing,” he said to Jesus, raising doubts about whether Jesus was willing, If you are willing, “you can make me clean.” He knew Jesus could do it. He just wasn’t sure if Jesus wanted to.
The situation is a little different in Mark chapter 9. The father of a boy with an evil spirit came to Jesus and said, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” He is fairly sure that Jesus might want to help. He is confident that Jesus might take pity on them and help the boy. He just isn’t sure if Jesus can. To be fair to the boy’s father, he has probably gone to a lot of people before Jesus during his son’s lifetime, who couldn’t help him. He has made the effort to find Jesus and to ask for help, but there’s an understandable part of him that is hanging back unsure. Not willing to commit too far in case Jesus disappoints him like all the others have.
It’s no coincidence that these are the two great stumbling blocks to prayer, to asking God for help. Some of us do not pray because we are not sure if God can help. Our problems seem so great. They exert such great power over our lives, that we cannot imagine a power even greater that could help.
But some of us do not pray because we are not sure if God wants to help. He may be able. He may be able to do anything. He can create everything out of nothing. He can raise the dead. But what we are not sure of is whether he wants to do that thing that we need him to. Why would he be interested in our small problems, when he has pandemics to stop and galaxies to spin? Why would he care? So we do not ask. And because we do not ask, we do not receive the help we need. In my lifetime I have prayed for many things, and I have not got them all. But I can guarantee you that all the prayers I have never said have never been answered.
In Ephesians chapter 3 we see that there are no stumbling blocks to prayer, because God is both willing and able to help. Verses 14 to 19 record Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians. And verses 20 and 21 record his praise to God. We look firstly at the second in which we learn that God is able to help.
Paul wrote in verses 20 and 21,
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work with us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.
Paul’s big message is that God can. God can do more than we ask and more than we can imagine. God can do it. God created everything out of nothing. God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. God sent you his Spirit and turned your life around so that you love him and you love your neighbour. What is there that God cannot do? Think of something that you want, says Paul. Anything that you can put into words. Anything that you can imagine with that big brain of yours. God can do it. It doesn’t mean that he will. But it does mean that he can. “If you can do anything,” the man said to Jesus, “take pity on us and help us.”
“”If you can”?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Everything is possible. Not everything is certain. Not everything is guaranteed. But everything is possible.
In Ephesians 3, verses 14 to 19, Paul prays for the Ephesians. And his big message is that God is willing to help.
I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of God, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Paul’s prayer for them is that they might know the love of God that is infinite in all its dimensions. So wide that it is able to reach us over the gulf of our sin and rebellion. So long that it never fails and will never run out. So high that it is able to overcome our fear and doubt. So deep that it is able to fill our emptiness and satisfy all our hunger.
This is the love of God that we find in Jesus Christ. Who thought it nothing to him to become one of us and to share our life. Who endured the cross and died with words of love and trust on his lips. The God we see in the life and service and teaching and actions and death and new life of Christ, would not hold back from you anything you need to be the best you that you can be in order to fulfil his plan for your life. He is willing to help you. Perhaps not to give you everything you want. Or even everything you think you want. But everything you need for the love and life of Christ to so dwell in your hearts that it is seen in all you say and do.
In conclusion, this is what we learn in Psalm 62 verse 11:
One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard, that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving.
God is strong. He can do what you need him to. God is loving. He is willing to do whatever it takes to fulfil his good plan in your life. He is both willing and able. So that there are no stumbling blocks to prayer because God proves in Jesus Christ that he is willing and able to do more than we can ask or even imagine. Put him to the test and he will show you.