The Surpassing Greatness of His Power

The Surpassing Greatness of His Power

Ephesians 1:19 – 1:23

As we gather on this Easter Sunday morning we praise God for the most amazing miracle of all: the miracle of the resurrection. We rejoice that God raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus wasn’t partly or almost dead. He was completely dead. And ever since that first Easter he is not partly or almost alive. He is completely alive. He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Our subject this morning, to borrow Paul’s phrase from the book of Ephesians, concerns the surpassing greatness of God’s power.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Eph 1:19-23 NASB)

These verses constitute one of two prayers in this book of Ephesians. Here in chapter 1, Paul prays that believers in Ephesus and the surrounding region might come to know and experience three things, the last of which is the surpassing greatness of God’s power. He says that the primary evidence or proof of that great power is the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The words “These are” (verse 19) are not found in the original text. This means that everything Paul says about Jesus in verses 20-21 is meant to modify only the phrase relating to God’s power. The greatness of God’s power toward believers is in accordance with the working of his might when he raised Jesus from the dead.

Paul uses the word surpassing three times: to quantify the greatness of God’s power, the riches of his grace (2:7), and the love of Christ which surpasses our knowledge (3:19). The word means extraordinary, outstanding. It goes beyond what we can grasp or see. It outdoes what we think is possible. It goes past the limits that we have set. The power of God released and displayed in the resurrection goes beyond anything that has ever been done or ever will be done. If we had a scale for measuring power, the needle would extend far beyond the last mark of measure. It would be like trying to install the speedometer from a Model T Ford on a jet airplane which flies fast enough to break the sound barrier.

When you think of power, what comes to mind? Perhaps you think of powerful people who yield great control through their station in life, personality or wealth. Perhaps it is powerful weapons, like nuclear bombs or guided missiles. You might think of powerful automobiles, airplanes or space shuttles, or acts of nature, like tornadoes, hurricanes and tsunamis. Perhaps you might think of intangible things, like the power of a smile, a touch or a hug. You might even think of the supernatural acts of God: healings, miracles or mighty deeds. Power attracts us. We marvel at it, and we fear it. But every form of power that we can conceive of pales in comparison to the surpassing greatness of the power that raised Jesus from the dead.

It is amazing that at the resurrection of Jesus, God was silent. In Genesis 1 we read that God spoke the world into existence: “‘Let there be light’; and there was light” (Gen 1:3). He spoke when Jesus was baptized and when he was transfigured. He said, “This is My beloved Son” (Mark 1:11; 9:27). Even though Matthew says that at the resurrection there was an earthquake, and an angel appeared (Matt 28:2), God’s voice was conspicuously absent. We might have expected a spotlight beamed from heaven on Jerusalem, or even a great proclamation. But all we have is a simple story, told differently by each of the gospel writers.

And each story has a different cast of characters. There was a great deal of confusion. There were no bells and whistles, no pomp and circumstance, no drama or fanfare. One gets the impression that the resurrection occurred secretly. God performed his greatest act of power, his greatest miracle in silence. Jesus rose from the dead. All that is left is an empty tomb for each of us to contemplate and take to heart.

But there is something even more amazing for us to think about: What God did for Jesus, he does for us too. This has two ramifications for us. God raised us from the dead, and that same resurrection power is at work in our lives today.

Here is what Paul says in chapter 2:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Eph 2:4-7)

Paul says that everything that happened to Christ has happened to us too. We were dead, not just partly or almost dead, but completely. We too were made alive, not just partly, but completely. And we too have been raised and seated with Christ in the heavenly places. The same words which Paul uses to describe what happened to Jesus apply to us as well. All of this happened to us when we believed in Jesus and received the grace of God.

And not only have we been raised from the dead, the same power that raised Jesus and raised us is at work in us right now. This is why Paul prays in chapter 1 that we might know the surpassing greatness of this power. Here is how he puts it in Romans 8:11: “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”

This has huge implications for our lives. The power that raised Jesus from the dead is the same power that can defeat sin in our lives. Even though we are new creations in Jesus, we still carry around this thing called the flesh. And frankly, the flesh stinks. We have died to sin, and yet it appears that sin is quite alive in us. It still can entangle and paralyze us. The enemy wants us to believe that we cannot be free from the patterns and habits in our lives. But we can, because resurrection power brings life to our mortal bodies.

The power that raised Jesus from the dead is the power that allows us to have life in the face of great fear. We live in a world of fear. Wars and rumors of wars circulate all around us like wireless networks. Death and destruction make for prime time television. Fear has a way of gripping our hearts and rendering us powerless: fear of disease, fear for our safety, fear of tragedy, fear of losing our job, fear for our children, fear for our parents, fear for our environment, fear of terrorists.

But death is our greatest fear. In many ways death is the root of every fear. Death will come for all of us at some time. The thing that we fear most will ultimately take our mortal life. But as we come to the cross and enter into the death of Jesus, we are raised with him. Nothing can take away the life that he gives us. No power can surpass the greatness of God’s power. Even in the face of fear, resurrection life is ours because Jesus was raised from the dead.

That very same power can overcome the emotional struggles that plague us. We struggle with despair, discouragement and depression. We are tormented with guilt and shame, worry and anxiety. We are overwhelmed with feelings of isolation, loneliness and a sense that we don’t belong. We feel that we have missed out on life, that our deepest longings will never be met. Who among us has not struggled with such thoughts?

But Easter reminds us that the tomb is empty and Jesus has risen. Our despair and anxiety can be turned to hope. And our hope is not based on the cessation of world conflict or on the futile wish that the government will solve all our domestic problems. Our hope is based on something so much more real and permanent: the power that raised Jesus from the dead and is now at work in us. As Peter says in his epistle, God “raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Pet 1:21).

The power that raised Jesus from the dead is the power that can reveal the love of God in our hearts. Perhaps this is our deepest longing: for home, for a place where we can be warmed by overflowing love. We fear that it may not exist. The resurrection means that we have a home—a home in the heavens not made with hands. Jesus went there to prepare a place for us.

But the surpassing greatness of God’s power can reveal a home right now in our own hearts. We can be embraced by God’s hug and reassured by his voice. Last week I met with a young man who has been going through struggles recently. In the midst of it all, God revealed something to him in a new way. The truth he has known for years made its way for the first time from his head to his heart. That is resurrection life, the surpassing greatness of God’s power.

How does resurrection life work itself out in everyday life? We need to remember two things. First, God is often silent, as he was at the first resurrection. Occasionally he thunders from heaven, but more often he moves in our life quietly, secretly, almost without our noticing it. We cry out to him, Why have you forsaken me? We want to hear him shout from heaven. We think he is not at work. Sometimes we are in the tomb, surrounded by darkness, for far longer than we would want. At times God is waiting for us to fully throw ourselves upon him and trust in him before resurrection life can begin to work. At other times we are not even aware of God’s working until after the fact. But, God’s silence doesn’t mean that he is not at work. The two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus didn’t even recognize the One with whom they were speaking, but he was with them in the same way that he is with us. God has raised us with Jesus, and resurrection life is always at work.

Secondly, God’s power reveals itself in our weakness, and in spite of our circumstances. We would want it much differently. We want God to give us a new personality or a new body, to make us confident and able. We want God to overturn the company, or get our boss fired, or change the person we are living with. But that doesn’t happen for us. God’s power did not save Jesus from the cross. It worked through the cross. God’s resurrection power gives us life and hope and faith while we are weak and struggling. The truth is that God can unimaginably transcend the worst things as he also unimaginably transcends the best things. That is the nature of his resurrection power.

At Easter, God raised Jesus from the dead and made his power known. This day reminds us that God has raised us too from the dead, and all is well. Listen to these words by Frederick Buechner: “The proclamation of Easter Day is that all is well. And as a Christian, I say this not with the easy optimism of one who has never known a time when all was not well but as one who has faced the Cross in all its obscenity as well as in all its glory, who has known one way or another what it is like to live separated from God. In the end, his will, not ours, is done. Love is the victor. Death is not the end. The end is life.”1

In his poem Easter, George Herbert invites us into the resurrection this morning:

Rise heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Without delays,
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him mayst rise:
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more just

“Calcined” means to heat to a high temperature but without fusing, in order to drive off volatile matter or to effect changes. As Christians, that is what happens to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus: we are united with him in his death; but from the dust we also rise with him, and he makes us to be pure gold, to his glory, forever.

1. Frederick Buechner, Listening To Your Life (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), 102.

© 2005 Peninsula Bible Church Cupertino