Time and Eternity 2
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
Could you take a Bible please, and turn to Ephesians and you’ll see the verse that we’re working on, Ephesians 2:7. And it might be good to read Verse 4 to get the context of it. Ephesians 2:4, “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
And I don’t know if you know the English general analysis that you’d apply to that sentence, but the verse, “That in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus,” is a subordinate adverbial clause of purpose. “That,” and the Latin is “ut”, “so that.”
So it means, “God made us sit with him in the heavenly places, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace and kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.” And that’s an adverbial clause of purpose. And so we’re saying that God raised us up with himself and made us sit with himself in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus for the express purpose of showing the immeasurable riches of his grace and kindness toward us in Christ Jesus in the coming ages. So it’s important to see that, because it is startling. And it’s really important that we grasp it, because it is unbelievable.
You figure — most of us — that “God made us in Christ Jesus and raised us up with Christ Jesus, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” as we always say. We always say it just as a matter of course, “For his glory.” And we say it because we’re taught to say it, and we feel it’s the right thing to say, and it’s the unselfish thing to say, and it proves our own state of spiritual health. And so we say, “God did all this not for anything but for his glory.” And we’re all a little unhappy – well, we’re not unhappy, but we’re a little uncertain about it, because we say, “Wait a minute; I mean, here we’re being taught to be unselfish and not do things for our own glory, and here God is doing everything for his own glory.” And of course, it’s very plainly stated here, God is not doing it for his own glory, “He made us sit with him in the heavenly places so that in the coming ages he might show forth the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
It’s a bit like all we’ve said from the very beginning, because we’ve often drawn this timeline [Pastor draws a long horizontal line and makes a mark about 1/3 of the way along] and said, “Here is the creation.” And then we’ve asked the question that old Sauer [Eric Sauer, 1898 – 1959, Germany, author of books like “Dawn of World Redemption.”] asked, “What did God do before the creation? Pre-creation?” And it’s there you remember, that we find all kinds of things: that Jesus was the first-born of — it’s silly to talk about God’s beginning. We do it, because it’s a bit like anything that we teach: the right angle triangle, the square on the hypotenuse equals the sum of the square on the other two sides. And you say that, and if you understand anything about mathematics you know that immediately. But if you don’t, of course, all a teacher can do is get you to draw a right angle triangle and measure six and whatever the other two are and then multiply them up and
square them off and there: you’re right enough; the square of the hypotenuse does equal the sum of the square of the other two sides. And then it’s obvious. Well, it’s a bit like that. It’s silly in a way to talk of this, because the truth is, eternity is timelessness. And it is one great eternal moment; one moment. But in order to talk about it, we split it up. Indeed, in order to allow us to experience it, God allowed such a thing as time to exist.
And so we say, God: and really Jesus is the fully expressed image of the invisible God, and he is the first-born of all creation. So there is where we put Christ’s birth as God’s only Son [Pastor puts a mark on the timeline before creation]. But it’s silly to talk even of that, because this is one millisecond! This is one moment in time when God begot his own Son, Christ. And then, in Christ, according to Colossians 3:15, “In Christ all things were created and in him all things consist.”
So all of us were made in Christ. What? A millisecond after Christ? Well no, in one moment we were all made in Christ, and then we were given the freedom at that very time of being what we wanted to be. And Christ was the one who had to bear that. And that all happened in a moment. And so Christ was the Lamb, slain from before the foundation of the world, but all in one moment.
And all this took place. Why? So that God, in the coming ages, might show forth the immeasurable riches of his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
God did not have us in his Son just for his own pleasure or satisfaction. God has done that because he loves us. And so when each of us were born, way before creation took place, and way before certainly whatever our date was here in the 1900s [Pastor indicates a place near the right end of the timeline], way back here [Pastor indicates the point near the left end where Christ was begotten] God arranged all that, so that he could show forth the riches of his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. And that’s the purpose of it.
And if you press me and say, “Oh yeah, but isn’t it mentioned at times: the glory of God?” Yes, but the glory of God is just God being himself. That’s what it is. That’s what “doxa”, the Greek word, that’s what the “doxa” of God is. It’s just God being himself. And so when anything is said about God’s glory being shone forth and being displayed, it’s just God being seen as he really is. But God as he really is, is one who goes through all this agony, so that he might show the immeasurable riches of his kindness to us in Christ Jesus in the ages that are to come.
It’s really not hard to believe it, in a way, because of what we’ve already experienced. Because each of us know: you get up in the morning. And just to get up in the morning, even before you kneel down on your knees, just to get out of bed, to shift yourself out onto the floor, involves so many complex movements of every bone in your body; all the muscles of your body, all the nerves that connect them up to your brain, that – it is a major operation that takes place just to get yourself out of bed onto the bedroom floor. And we love to think, “Oh well, yeah that’s true, but I mean, it’s a bit like a computer you set it up to go, and it does the same thing again, and again, and again. That’s what we’ve got here. We’ve got a kind of mechanical body that keeps on doing the same thing all the time. It’ll keep going whatever, whether anybody,” – whether anybody keeps it going? “Well, as long as it’s plugged in to the electric power.” Well yes. Well, what’s the electric power? “Well, I mean, the body really is all kind of little protons and neutrons flying around. So my finger is not actually as solid as it looks, it’s broken up into all kinds of protons and neutrons that are flying around.” Well, who keeps all of that in space? “Oh well, it’s just set to go up that way, so that when it’s moved over there all those protons and neutrons fly over
there.” Well, why did they fly? “Oh well, because of some power that keeps them together.”
The Father, who made us, shows his grace to us in this present life every second of our existence. Nothing that we do happens unless he sustains it all and keeps it all going. If you say to me, “Do you mean that he is all the time measuring all the distances of all the protons and neutrons from each other?” Yes.
I think I’ve told you about the man we went to visit in North Carolina, because we were trying to begin to think of computer controlled manufacturing of our jewelry. And we realized of course, in order to make an earring, you don’t only have to control something that moves on that plane, but you have to make the back of the earning as well. So you have to have something – so we imagined a little drill you know, that would drill that way. “Yeah, but that’s just the flat side. What about the backside?” You had this little thing that came around there… “And then what about the other side?” You have to have a little drill that came around there. And so we came across this remarkable guy, really a genius, I think, in a way, at that point in computer designed manufacturing. And he had a machine that, as he said, “You have to like zeros,” because he wrote the machine language; he wrote it in zeros and ones. And so he had these print-outs that were full of zeros. And I mean, there were 40 and 50 zeros, and then two ones. And he had a machine — a milling machine, that would work.
He showed us a piece of piping that was just an elbow, a bend, a bent elbow, beautiful chrome. So it was a pipe — the gentlemen can imagine — it was a pipe, maybe five inches in diameter, but it was an elbow; it was made into an elbow. He made it on his own milling machine. That meant he had to have that little drill going down, and down, and down the other side, and then the outside, and round at every angle. And so it was a mass of calculations to control a little milling machine like that.
That’s what the Father does: with an ordinary finger movement, the Father is controlling billions and billions of calculations to keep the finger going. That’s part of the grace that he is showing to us day-by-day. That doesn’t touch at all the movements of our minds, the attitude of our feelings, the connection of our feelings to one another, this whole complex world of intuition where some things you say to each other, and they go through our ears and into our brains, and some other things we just know. And it doesn’t control the eye, the expressions of the eyes that we all read from each other that makes normal communication possible. And all that comes from God’s present grace to us.
And then he is saying, “I have raised you up and made you sit with me in the heavenly places so that in the coming ages I might show forth to you the immeasurable riches of my grace in kindness to you in Christ Jesus. That’s why I’ve put you here with myself. That’s why I’ve put you here inside my Son, so that you will receive all the benefits of the love that I give to him, so that you will be a part of him, and you will be my Son, and I will share with you immeasurable riches of my grace in kindness to you.”
We all know the word “kindness”, is the Greek word, “chraestotaes”. And it brings up a whole side of God that I have tried to point out at times, in just the hymn [There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy], that line of the hymn, that impressed me, “The heart of the eternal is most wonderfully kind.” And oh it comes out a bit, you remember, in that little piece where he makes the promise to Sarah [Genesis 18:9-15]. Somehow that strikes me as being in the same way very – what we would call “human” wrongly, is really what it is; it’s very divine, but he makes the promise to Sarah, you know
that you’ll bear a child and she laughs and then she denies that she laughed and he said ,”No, but you did laugh.” And it seems to bring a whole kindliness out that is there in God’s heart, just a delight in giving things to those whom he loves. And that’s what we’re talking about; that God has set us here, not just for his glory, not just to fulfill some great eternal plan, but he has done this so that he, in the coming ages, might show forth the immeasurable riches of his grace.
Immeasurable, because – I mean, what I described there is real enough, but then you look, just at a little of the creation that he has already put around us, and of course, Sauer is writing this pre-Second World War, writing it in the 30s, and it’s multiplied a billion times by now, “All that man has built on the whole world ships, cities, and villages taken together would not occupy 300 cubic miles.” So if you took all the Empire State buildings, and all the pyramids and all the buildings that we’ve put up in all our cities, it wouldn’t occupy 300 cubic miles. But the earth contains more than 260,000,000,000 cubic miles. The earth itself consists of 260,000 million cubic miles and what we have built up, is only about 300. And then he says, “And yet it is an astronomical atom among the whirling constellations, only a tiny speck of dust among the ocean of suns of the universe. In the glowing ball of the giant sun alone, there is room for one and quarter million such earths.”
So in the sun itself there’s room for one and a quarter million earths. And then his old fashioned expression is, “An express train, non-stop train driven furiously would need more than 169 years to reach the sun, the distance being some 93 million miles.” And then he says, “Even in space, the distances are more immeasurable. Light that in a single second travels seven times around the entire equator requires fully four years and three months to reach our nearest neighbor among the suns, the fixed star Alpha Centauri.” And then he goes on and says, “And to star 61 in The Swan, our third nearest neighbor among the fixed stars, the swiftest express train of the world would have to travel 60 million years, that is 9.7 light years.” And then even he knows outside our galaxy there are lots of others. So that the Pleiades not only seem to be a star-group, but are actually such a locally interrelated group of fixed stars. The photographic plate indeed shows 1,681 stars upon an area of the heaven not larger than the disc of the moon, and in the further vicinity about 5,000 more.”
But all this is silliness because now we’re talking, in billions, and billions of stars and constellations. And that’s part of what that verse means, “The immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us.” And what the whole verse is saying of course — if you think of the immeasurable riches that he has already shown us in kindness, then what is he going to show us in the coming ages?
The word “eon” means a period of time. I don’t know what you think when you think back over your years. It’s funny, isn’t it? You think back, “Now when I was 20,” when some of us got to know each other, and then, “Now what was it like before I ever was near the University of Minnesota?” And then, “What was it like when I was a 10 year old? Yes, I remember being 10.” And what was the earliest thing you can remember, maybe five or six?” And so that’s been your life so far. For some of us it’s 60 years; for some of us it’s 40; for some of us it’s 50. But it’s nothing, and you know it. It’s a nothing; it’s just like that. Even to us it seems like that, but particularly when we think of it in terms of the 1900 years that have passed of our era, it’s nothing. It’s less when we think of it in terms of the 2,000 or 3,000 years before that when we believe Abraham and his relatives lived. And of course, as far as the scientists talking about millions of years, it hardly exists. And so it’s not hard, I think, for us to realize that we are getting a very, very distorted view of reality when we concentrate so much on just these few years that we have had so far, or even
the few years that we have left. And it just makes sense that, of course, our Father has all kinds of ages ahead of us, all kinds of times and experiences ahead of us.
Even the Bible makes it plan that there is going to be a new heaven and a new earth. But undoubtedly there are indications that there are going to be whole new waves of civilization. Maybe we won’t have physical bodies as we have now, but there’ll be all kinds of societies and fellowships, and all kinds of worlds to rule. That piece of the Bible that we read said that they would rule the kingdom, that men and women who are children of God will rule in kingdoms. And so God has all kinds of ages ahead of us, all kinds of worlds that are far beyond this little world that we have at present. And yet, he says, “I’m going to show forth the riches, the immeasurable riches of my grace in kindness to you in Christ Jesus my Son.” And the grace of course, is the unmerited favor. But really it’s better really to tie it up with “charis” which is the Greek word. And “charis” is of course, “Cara Mia,” [Italian name of a popular song] [“mia” means] “mine,” “my love,” and “to cherish”, and “to care for.” And “grace” is really “generous,” “generosity,” and “generous love.” And that’s what our Father’s attitude to us is. And that’s why he has made us alive in Christ and raised us up with him, because he wants to show us all that he has and is. And that’s why we’re here. And that’s the purpose.
And that’s why probably every time we, ourselves, break away from ourselves, and break away from thinking ourselves, every time we do that life seems to begin. I mean, life seems to start. Every time we forget ourselves and forget about whether we’ve got what we want or not, or forget about whether we’ll ever get what we want — I mean, it’s interesting talking about the aces, but I think the only way you can be an ace at all is for at least that moment, as you head that plane back over the enemy territory with all the shrapnel coming around you and all the flack, you don’t think for a moment about yourself. Not for a moment.
So in a way we look at those moments and we think, “They must be terrible.” Well, in a way they are, but in a way they’re wonderfully exhilarating, because the only way you can get through them is not to even think of yourself for a second. And that’s probably the – near the truth that “the heart of the eternal is most wonderfully kind.” And every time we lose ourselves in kindness, and love of our Father and of others, we enter into that timelessness.
And I’d just mention again to you, the experiences we all have had as children. Some summer day — God is so good in giving us little fortes –summer day and your parents have taken you out to somewhere that is new and different. And suddenly you’re beginning to play some game, or you’re ‘hide and seek’, or you’re scrambling up a mountain, or you’re swimming in a lake, and it seems the day just flies by. And it’s as if eternity is there, because you haven’t thought of yourself for a moment. And you haven’t thought of the future or the past, you’ve just enjoyed the moment.
I think it’s because that’s reality, because God has raised us up and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, for the express purpose of “Showing forth to us the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness to us in Christ.”
Let us pray.
Dear Father, we feel like dreadful fools and dreadful people, we feel like somebody who has been given a beautiful present by another and we start trying to find the catch, start opening it to see what the catch is, or to analyze it, or to sound the motives of the person who gave it to us. Lord, we know it’s pitiful and pathetic, wholly inappropriate, filled with pettiness, and unreality. And
oh Lord, we see that what we would despise and what we would shun in our relationships with each other, we have so often practiced with dedication, and religious zeal towards you.
You have showered us with gifts. You have overwhelmed us with kindness. Then we try to decide if you love us. Or we try to figure if we can trust you. So Lord, we apologize and we say thank you Lord. And we see that you made us so that you could give us your love, your very self, and that’s it. Oh Father, we would love you in return, but Lord, not in return. We would love you because that’s what we are, we’ve been made by you, part of your Son, and he is part of you. And we’re all one nature, and we would be what we have been created. We would be what we are. We would “Have that mind in us which we have already in Christ Jesus.” And Lord, we would thank you, and live out our lives from this day forward in that joy, and freedom, and delight, and generosity, so that the immeasurable riches of your grace and kindness to us in Christ Jesus might flow right through us and out to the world, and to others, and you might been seen as you are, a kind and gracious, and generous Father who loves us.