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The Generous Victor

May 17, 2015 Pastor: Don Green Series: Ephesians

Topic: Sunday Sermons Scripture: Ephesians 4:8

49-039

It is a delight to worship our Lord together, isn't it? To gather together corporately like this and to share with like-minded believers in Christ. Our love and praise for God is a joyful thing. It's a great privilege and we don't take it for granted. We're very delighted that the Lord gives us this opportunity to come together and share our love with one another, rooted around and unified in our love for our Lord Jesus Christ. He is a generous God. When you think through the wonder of Christianity and the wonder of our Lord Jesus Christ, all you can say is that our Lord is a generous God. It was his generosity that caused him to leave the glories of heaven in order to come to earth and to seek and to save that which is lost. It was a generous spirit of our Lord that sent him to the cross in a spirit of self-sacrifice, to be our representative who would take the wrath of God on our behalf at the cross so that our sins could be forgiven. It was his generosity that saved us. It is his generosity that will have him come again. It is his generosity that will share the boundless measures of his grace and his goodness and his riches in heaven with us forever.

Whatever else we say about the Lord Jesus Christ and there will be not enough time in eternity to exalt all of his attributes and praises, whatever else we say this morning, let's say, we want to recognize our Lord as one who is generous, one who is gracious, one who has given of himself and from his bounty in order to bless us who know him and we're grateful to our Lord on that account. Jesus Christ is central to Christianity. The Bible is not an instruction manual in works based salvation. It is not primarily a book on human morality and how to get along with each other and how to do good deeds. That's very much a substratum of biblical thought. No, the Bible emphasizes and points from Genesis through Revelation that Jesus Christ is Lord over all and that this same Lord Jesus died to offer himself as a sin sacrifice to God on behalf of everyone who would ever believe in him.

Imagine that, the one who is Lord over all, the one with all power and authority and judgment committed to him, voluntarily set that prerogative of lordship aside in order to come to earth and live in obedience to his Father and to offer himself up as the Lamb that would take away the sin of the world. We should have the highest thoughts of Christ ever anchored in our minds. There should be a conviction in your heart about Christ, a firm belief that nothing can shake. A firm belief that you would never compromise. A firm belief that you would die for. That whatever else we say, our Lord Jesus is lovely in his attributes. He is gracious in his demeanor. And he has been generous with us and we trust him in his goodness and love to perfect that which he has begun in our salvation and that he will carry us without fail all the way to heaven.

Scripture teaches us that God accepted the sacrifice of Christ and we know that because he raised Christ from the dead. Death was the penalty for sin that had entered into the world and Christ offered himself to pay for sin. And Scripture teaches us that God publicly displayed that he had accepted as fully sufficient the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ and showed that by lifting him out of the realm of the penalty of sin and death and resurrected him so that he would live forevermore. Death will never again put its claim on our Lord Jesus Christ and those of us who belong to Christ, who are united in faith with him, we too will be conquerors over death. It is one of the great promises of the Gospel. The resurrection established that we can find justification. We can find a legal righteousness with God which will allow us to pass through his judgment unsinged by his wrath. In Christ, we have one who is a full and sufficient Savior and if you don't know him, I call you to him and to his blood atonement as your only hope for eternal life.

But the question for today is this: in light of all of those wonderful things, sometimes we tend to stop there when we think about the earthly life and the ministry and the work of our Lord Jesus Christ but Scripture would have us go on. The fact of the matter is that we should ask the question and know the answer to the question: what happened after the resurrection? What happened then? Because this is all part of an outworking of the eternal plan of God for our salvation. It didn't stop at the resurrection. There was more that occurred that had great significance for the church of Jesus Christ.

What happened after his resurrection? Well, Scripture teaches us that over the period of the ensuing 40 days, he appeared to many men and manifested convincing proofs that he had genuinely arisen from the dead. He held out his hands and made his side available to the Apostle Thomas and said, "Thomas, stick your finger in my hands. Stick in it the mortal wound of my side, that which would otherwise be mortal, a death dealing blow and realize that I am alive, having been dead." The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:6 says that there was one time where Christ appeared to over 500 men at the same time. The resurrection was a greatly attested fact that was witnessed by many before Jesus left our earth.

So he was resurrected. Men saw that. But our focus for this morning is this: after the resurrection, after he had appeared to many men, our Lord Jesus ascended bodily into heaven. Turn to the Gospel of Luke 24 with me where we see the historical record of that. It's very simple. It's very direct. It is unadorned which is so typical of biblical writers, these magnificent truths are stated and recorded and reported in such simple human language contrary to the shows that some put on today in the name of religion. The biblical record is simple, clear, unadorned and yet profound. In Luke 24:50, Luke records that Jesus "led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven." In Luke's report in the book of Acts, turn over to Acts 1, you see him repeating and joining together his two historical accounts, combining them at the juncture of the ascension. Acts 1:9 says that, "After Jesus had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight." They physically were witnesses. They watched Jesus bodily, physically actually in time and space ascend into heaven and a cloud received him out of their sight.

What happened after the resurrection? The ascension of our Lord Jesus and that helps establish the background for our text this morning as we continue in our verse-by-verse study in the book of Ephesians. Ephesians 4, I invite you to turn there with that background of the generosity of our Lord, that background of the ascension of our Lord. Now we are in a position to enter meaningfully into our text this morning. Ephesians 4:8, let me read it for you. The Apostle Paul writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. What we're about to read is God's very word. He says,

8 Therefore it says, "WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN."

Now, that verse is one that you probably wouldn't go to if you preached topically, if you simply chose passages that you liked and that were easy to understand. If that was the way that a church approached its entire ministry of the word of God, you would probably never come to this verse. There is some heavy lifting that we need to do this morning to unpack this verse and so I ask you this morning as we study this verse together to put your best effort into listening and to hearing and trying to understand and comprehend what is said. There are some things that are wrapped around this text that are very important but unlike some passages of Scripture, this one takes a little bit of extra work for us to unpack and so even this morning, I simplified this message and cut out some things that I was going to say. We'll save them for another time just so that we can enter into the richness of what is said here in this verse.

In times past when I have taught the Greek language to students, I would tell them repeatedly something that has application here as we look at this English text. When you come to a difficult portion of Scripture or a passage or a construction in the original language that is not immediately evident and you wonder, "What is being said here?" there is a temptation that we all face to say, "This is too hard. I'm going to move on beyond it." Or in less sanctified ways to get a little bit frustrated and say, "Why does it have to be so hard?" Well, the Bible tells us that in some of Paul's writings there are things that are difficult to understand and the response to that and there is an element of spiritual growth here for you if you get frustrated and come to passages that seem difficult at the start. Let me just say this to you that when you come to a difficult passage, what you do is you humbly quiet your heart, you humbly say, "Okay, this is going to take a little bit of time but I will submit myself to this." When something is difficult in its initial impression that it makes upon you, what's happening there is there is a Spirit guided opportunity for you to slow down. This is an opportunity to learn something that is probably going to have great significance to you. The Lord tells us that there are times where we have to dig for truth like a miner digs for gold and a miner is happy to go through the excavation process to get to that precious treasure that is embedded in the mine down underneath the surface. He gets something that he otherwise wouldn't have if he simply wanted to walk on the surface. Well, when you find a difficult passage, what is happening there is this is your opportunity to say, "Okay, the problem here is not that there's something wrong with this text, the problem is with me. I don't understand. I need the help of the Lord here. I haven't grown enough to understand a passage like this and so here's an opportunity." And you sit down at the feet of the text in humility and say and take the opportunity, you say, "Lord, teach me through this passage as well." That's one of the beauties of verse-by-verse exposition, it brings us into realms of thought that we would otherwise miss and we let the text lead us into what the Lord would teach us. That's what's going to happen here in Ephesians 4:8 and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to share this with you here this morning.

Basically what we're going to do here this morning is we're going to look at two aspects of the ascension of Christ here this morning out of this text so that we can mature in our Christian lives. There is less emphasis on the ascension in Christian teaching generally speaking than there are on other aspects of theology but what we're going to see today and next week is that the ascension is a very critical aspect of Christ's ministry. It's a very critical aspect of the totality of his work. It is essential to the blessing that he dispenses to his church and so we want to understand this as Paul writes in the midst of a context where he's teaching on the unity and the maturity of the church. This is essential to Paul's argument as we come to it.

Well, what are we going to see? What's our first aspect for this morning? Well, first of all, we want to see the Old Testament victory. The Old Testament victory that is contained in this passage. For most of you, I believe in your English Bible you'll find that most of this verse is recorded in all capital letters as opposed to the normal font that the rest of this surrounding text is contained in and what that indicates for you is that it's a quotation from the Old Testament. Paul here as he's talking about the way that Christ has blessed his church with a diversity of gifts, it occurred to him as he was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that he wanted to draw upon an Old Testament passage to reinforce his point as he is teaching us and instructing the church in what he has to say here and Ephesians 4:8 is an allusion, it is a quotation from Psalm 68 in the Old Testament. There are aspects of the message of Psalm 68 that bear upon what Paul wanted to say here in Ephesians 4:8 and so we need to turn back to Psalm 68 to kind of catch up with the Apostle Paul. He's ahead of us here in what he is writing and saying. The Apostle Paul has things in his mind that wouldn't occur to us without his help and so we need to catch up with him so that we can understand what he's saying about the ascension of our Lord.

So turn back to Psalm 68 if you haven't done that already and we'll consider it for just a moment. In part, Psalm 68 is describing the exaltation of God. In the first three verses of Psalm 68, you can see this. It's about God being victorious in battle. Psalm 68:1 says, "Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered, And let those who hate Him flee before Him. As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; As wax melts before the fire, So let the wicked perish before God. But let the righteous be glad; let them exult before God; Yes, let them rejoice with gladness." So Paul is describing in a summary initial way here the exaltation of God which causes his enemies to flee. His enemies dissipate before him like a fog dissipates when the morning sun rises and causes it to flee, causes it to disburse. God, when God is exalted, his enemies are vanquished and in like manner, the righteous, the people of God who know God and love God, are drawn to him and they exalt and they rejoice in his victory.

That's kind of the summary view of what Psalm 68 is talking about and in about 50 some Tuesdays from now, maybe we'll address Psalm 68 in detail in a single message. That's not our point here today. But God rises to victory and if you look down at verse 17, it speaks in this great poetic language about the ascension of God at Sinai, Mount Sinai in the Old Testament and says, "The chariots of God are myriads, thousands upon thousands; The Lord is among them as at Sinai, in holiness." David is picturing Yahweh in a moment of triumph and look at what he says in Psalm 68:18. This verse that we're about to read is the verse that Paul alludes to in Ephesians 4. David, addressing God, says to him, "You have ascended on high, You have led captive Your captives; You have received gifts among men, Even among the rebellious also, that the LORD God may dwell there." Some writers believe that this is referring to the time when the ark of the Lord which represented the presence of God, was brought into Jerusalem in 2 Samuel and David was King and there was just this great shout of rejoicing as the ark which represented the presence of God was brought to its resting place and the victory and the supremacy of God was on visible display in that manifestation. He had conquered those who opposed him. God, in Psalm 68 David pictures him ascending the mountain in victory and establishing his dwelling place there. That's the background here. God in victory. God ascending on high. His enemies fleeing before him. The righteous ones rejoicing at the exaltation. That's a little bit of an overview of Psalm 68 and particularly verse 18.

Now, here's where you need to see. I told you there would be some heavy lifting here and that's okay. It is this verse, Psalm 68:18, let's look at it again there and just keep it fresh in our mind. Psalm 68:18, "You have ascended on high, You have led captive Your captives; You have received gifts among men, Even among the rebellious also, that the LORD God may dwell there." It is that verse or at least an interpretation of it that lies behind Ephesians 4:8. In ancient times, it was customary for a military victor to lead a procession of prisoners of war behind him, those that he had conquered and he would receive tribute from those that he had won victory over. It was part of the spoils of war. It was part of the reward of victory is that they would contribute to his future prosperity because he had conquered them and proven that he was worthy of this and he was the victor. Sometimes that victor would turn and deliver and distribute spoils, economic reward that he had gathered. He would distribute that reward to the people that belonged to him, that supported him that were under his rule. So this victor would vanquish his foes. He would lead them captive and he would take things from them that his victory had earned and there were times where he would turn and distribute the gifts and the prosperity of that to the people who supported him and were loyal to him in the process. That's what behind Ephesians 4:8.

Let's go back to that verse now, Ephesians 4:8. With that background in mind, actually, let's look at verse 7 just to set the context and keep in mind who is being discussed here. Paul says, "But to each one of us," he's referring to Christians there. We saw that last time."To each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift." Verse 8, "Therefore it says, 'WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.'" Now, incidentally, Psalm 68 and Ephesians 4 at this point, they express things a little bit differently and commentators have spent a lot of time trying to debate that and explain it with varying degrees of success. Psalm 68 says that God received gifts from men, while Ephesians 4:8 says that Christ gave gifts to men. Whatever else we say about that, it's evident that Paul was not intending to give a verbatim quotation from Psalm 68. That wasn't his point in writing this. Rather, he's simply interpreting Psalm 68 to show the general picture of a victor having gifts to give to his people and Paul interpreted Psalm 68 to show that Christ, as an ascended victor, has the right to give gifts. That's the Old Testament picture here, a victor ascending in victory, having conquered a foe, now being in a position to distribute gifts to the benefit of the people that are loyal to him.

So what I want you to see very simply here and hopefully very clearly here is that what Paul is describing here in Ephesians 4:8 as he looks back to Psalm 68 to make his point, he is bringing to our minds that our Lord Jesus is an ascended victor. He was in one sense, a victim on the cross. He was a victim of a human injustice but he was carrying out an eternal plan of God. He was in complete command of the situation. He merely submitted himself for a moment to that injustice so that he could be the one who bears our sins in his body on the cross. But after the cross, after the resurrection, Christ ascended in victory and from that position of victory, he was disposed in his generosity to give gifts to his people, fulfilling supremely, fulfilling perfectly, in perfect majesty, that which had only imperfectly been done by military victors in human history prior to him.

The Old Testament picture is an ascended victor and now what we see as we move into our second point here is the New Testament generosity. The New Testament generosity. What did Christ conquer? Who did Christ conquer in his ascension? What was his victory that he achieved? You see, let me just kind of pause here and go on a little bit of a tangent perhaps. What you find as you go through Scripture is that it continually points you back to the cross and teaches you to look at it from a variety of different perspectives to understand and grasp something of the multicolored greatness of what Christ was doing on the cross. Sometimes the teaching that we have received in years gone by was so simplistic and that all we could say, all that we knew to say about the death of Christ was that, "Somehow he died for my sins," we might say. Well, Scripture teaches us to take a much more exalted view of it. That truth is true, Christ did die for my sins, but we're meant to go on and to grow in understanding and to mature and have a sense of the whole greatness and the vastness of what Christ was doing on the cross and in his work.

Here in this passage, we are led into a great understanding, a great appreciation, shall we say, of what Christ did on the cross because, you see, what Christ did on the cross, what Jesus did in his death and resurrection, was he accomplished a supernatural victory of immense, incalculable proportions. Christ when he went as our sin bearing substitute to the cross, defeated that which once enslaved us. He conquered sin. He conquered the penalty of sin which is death. He conquered Satan. And beloved, what I want you to see is and the further you get into chapter 4, the more that you see that everything that Paul is saying in the last three chapters of Ephesians is building upon things that he had said earlier in the epistle.

Go back to Ephesians 2:1. You need to see this. You see, Ephesians 2:1 is teaching us that we were captives. We were under the hostile authority of sin, death and Satan. We were not free. Human freedom, the freedom of the human will is an utter myth in the way that most people try to describe it because the human will is bound captive to hostile spiritual forces, the forces of sin, Satan and the certainty of eternal death. And what Christ did, well, let's look at this and just remind ourselves of the forces that were holding us captive. Ephesians 2:1, "You were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience." Sin and Satan held us captive. We were dead. We were subject to, we were in bondage to the spiritual death. Verse 3 says, "Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest."

There is a sense in which unrepentant hostile unbelievers are only fit for the wrath of God. They are not good for anything else from a spiritual perspective. They can do nothing good on their own that achieves any kind of recognition or merit before God. Well beloved, that was all of us. That was you and me, dead in sin, dominated by the devil and doomed to suffer the wrath of God. These forces were over us. They were in command. We were lost. We were in darkness. We were blind. We were deaf. Scripture uses so many metaphors to try to communicate to us the utter inability that we had in our lost and sinful conditions to do anything about our situation. You could not have saved yourself. Why not? Because there were powers greater than you that were in control. You were conquered.

So what Scripture is teaching here, what the Bible teaches about the totality of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ is that he entered into that realm, as it were, as a conqueror. As a victor. As a warrior coming to wage war against the spiritual forces that were holding us captive. It wasn't simply that you had done a few bad things and, you know, you needed a spiritual spanking in order to correct things and shape things up. That wasn't it at all. Dead and dominated and doomed. That was us. That was you and me. Where was deliverance going to come from? Where were we going to be set free? Your parents couldn't save you. Your children can't help you. You can't help yourself. There aren't any rituals that you can do. You can't apply water to your body or to your baby and expect to release them by a physical application of a physical substance. You can't do that and release them from spiritual bondage. That's just foolishness. In fact, that's part of the problem in the bondage that Satan has so many under.

Well, when you understand the reality of our spiritual condition, then you start to grasp something of the significance of the fact that Christ entered in, that Christ at the cross was conquering those hostile forces and in his ascension, his ascension showed that he was rising up and ascending as the victor over sin and Satan and death. His ascension shows that he was a victor over all of those intermediate spiritual powers. Wow. I mean, wow. That is awesome. Now, you say, "Let's see this from the text. Let's see this from Scripture." You should well say, that when Christ ascended to heaven, he had established his superiority over those hostile evil powers. That's exactly what Christ did and it's exactly what Paul was talking about earlier in his letter.

Look back at Ephesians 1:19, let's say, as we just luxuriate in the wonder of God's word and in the glory of our Lord Jesus. Paul in verse 19 is praying that we would understand, that his readers would understand. Verse 19, "what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe." He says, "I want you to understand how magnificent and how strong and dynamic the power was that delivered you from your lost spiritual condition." And he goes on to say, "These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might." Watch how this points us to the ascension, beloved, in verse 20. "It's in accordance with the working of the strength of His might," all of those synonyms for power, "which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and," notice the conjunction there. It wasn't just that he raised Christ from the dead, the power and victory of Christ isn't merely demonstrated by the resurrection, there's something more that shows us even further how great his victory is. "And seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places." He was raised from an earthly grave and then he was raised up into a heavenly throne. Let's say that again: raised from an earthly grave and ascended up to a heavenly throne.

That is our Lord Jesus and Paul goes on as he speaks here in verses 20 and 21 and manifests this realm of victory. He's in the heavenly places, look at it here in verse 21 now, "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." Every hostile power that was arrayed in opposition to the work and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ was defeated. Was conquered at the cross. And Christ ascends to heaven as the victor over the death and the devil that were holding us captive spiritually.

Look over at Colossians 2 in a parallel passage which describes and explains a little bit more of the victory and who it was that was conquered. Colossians 2:15, "When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities," the hostile evil powers that were present. Christ wouldn't have to disarm his supporters. You disarm those who are a threat. Well, Christ disarmed all of the spiritual authorities that were arrayed against him and his people and, "He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him." It could be translated, "through it," meaning the cross. And so Scripture here in these letters that Paul wrote at about the same time, earlier in Ephesians 1, is portraying Christ as a victor over these hostile spiritual powers and it brings the resurrection into play and the ascension into play as the ultimate display of his victory, complete final and thorough, over those hostile evil powers.

When a military commander ascends to the capital city and goes into the capitol place, you know he's in charge. When Christ rises up into heaven and takes his exalted seat in the ineffable throne room of glory, you know that he's in command and that no spiritual authority, having defeated them, having ascended to victory, no one can go there and take him out. No one can take Christ down from his throne. He is a victor for all time, for all eternity, so great is his conquest. No one can even get to him in order to challenge him. That's how great his conquest was. He ascended in victory.

Now, sometimes Scripture portrays wonderful things coming together at a particular point. One of the Psalms speaks of how righteousness and peace have kissed each other, that perfect righteousness expressed in the holiness of God meets with peace that he gives to men in reconciling them to himself. Here in this presentation, this understanding from Scripture of the ascension of Christ, we see his conquering victory meet with his unsurpassed generosity. We not only have a Lord who is a victor, we have a Lord who has given gifts to his people. Us, undeserving, ungrateful, passing creatures of sin. Christ has blessed us and given things to us that flow out of his victory. Our Lord, as we've said, generous, not selfish, pouring this out for the sake of his people from his position of victory, beloved, gives gifts to his people after the conquest.

Look at Acts 2:33 which sets this in such great clarity and then we'll position us to wrap things up in Ephesians 4. Acts 2:33, actually, let's start in verse 32. Acts 2:32, the resurrection and the ascension. "This Jesus," Peter is preaching, he says, "This Jesus, God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses." Notice the emphasis on the witnesses that we alluded to briefly earlier in our message here today. "We were eye witnesses and our testimony is reliable. You cannot contradict or refute what we say because we are eye witnesses to it." So Peter is establishing the evidential basis upon which he is able to speak and say these things. Then he goes on and explains more about this Jesus of whom he is preaching and he says in verse 33, "Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God," there is the ascension. He is raised up after his resurrection. He has ascended to the right hand of power of God Almighty, "and having received from the Father," notice Psalm 68, he received gifts. "Having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit," what does he do with that? Does he keep it all to himself? Does he exult in his own exaltation oblivious to his people? Not our Lord Jesus. No, our Lord Jesus went up to heaven with the names of his people engraven on his heart, with their interests and with their needs and with their provision ever central to what he intended to do. What a great Lord we have!

What did he do? Peter says, "having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear," referring to the fact that there were supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit going on and Peter was explaining to them what they were seeing. Christ had ascended into heaven and now from there, he had given gifts to his people, specifically giving them the gift of the Holy Spirit who would now indwell them and abide with them and empower them to sanctify them and to give them the ability to do what Christ had called them to do. He did not leave us as orphans. He sent his Spirit to be with us. It's a gift that he provided.

So we see this ascension and we see this victory and now in the New Testament we see the generosity of the victory. Go back now to Ephesians 4 and we'll bring things to a conclusion in just a moment or two. Ephesians 4, going back there again as we've kind of zeroed in and circled in on our target for this morning. Ephesians 4:8. Let me remind you one more time of the context. You can never spend too much time on context when it comes to Bible interpretation. You never can. Notice how verse 7 again, "each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift." He gave this to us. A gift is an expression of generosity intended for the well being of the recipient and what Paul is saying here is that our victorious ascended Lord, from that position, gave gifts for the well being of his people.

Ephesians 4:8, "Therefore it says." Therefore, because of the gift of Christ. Therefore according to the great measure of his gift to each one of us for the diversification and unity of the church, "Therefore it says, 'WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.'" Christ, as it were, carried his victory over sin, death and Satan. Carried that victory. Led that victory into heaven and from that position, distributed gifts to his people. Now watch this: at Pentecost in Acts 2, he had given the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians 4:8, Paul has in mind a different aspect of his generosity. It wasn't just that Jesus gave his Spirit, from his ascended place of conquest, he gave other things to his people as well: for their well being; to provide for them while he was physically away.

What did he do? What did he give? What did the ascension accomplish? Well, beloved, we'll consider this more next week but for now, I simply want to introduce it. What was part of Christ's gift that he gave from his ascended throne of victory? Paul teaches us that he sent gifted men to proclaim and to reveal truth to his people so that they would have that which would equip them for their spiritual growth, their spiritual preservation and their spiritual maturity in Christ. This is very clearly what he intends. In verse 9 and 10 he makes a parenthetical comment but he picks up his thought again in verse 11. What was the gift? Verse 7, it's the measure of Christ's gift. Verse 8, he gave gifts to men. Well what did he give? I want to know. I feel like a kid at Christmas. Let's get into this. Let's open the package. What's in there? I can't wait. If an ascended victor is giving gifts to his people, then I want to know what the gift is, don't you? It has to be good. It has to be supremely good because of the throne and the person from which it comes.

Well, what did he do? He sent gifted men to proclaim truth. Look at verse 11, it says, "He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers." His gifts to his church were men through whom his truth would be revealed in the first century and others who would later come and expound on that truth and build the people of God up so that they would be able to be conformed to the image of his blessed Son.

Why did he do it? Why these men? Why are they given? Why did he give them to his people? Paul says it very plainly in verse 12, it's for the benefit of us all. Verse 12, "for," he gave them for. He gave them...let me tell you why he gave them. He gave them for this reason: he gave them because this is what he had in mind. He gave them what? "For the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ." Christ made certain that there would be truth and that there would be men who would lead his people in the proclamation of that truth and the building of them up so that the fullness of the blessing that Christ intends for each of his people individually and corporately would be sure to be carried out in the realm of time. His truth is what is central to the measure of his gift. The truth of God, the word of God is at the core of the gift and to make sure that his people get it and understand it, he sends men that are able to explain and apply and to help them so that under this great work and gift, his people are able to grow. His people are like sheep that are secure under the hand of him as their Great Shepherd.

Now, like I say, we're going to look at this more in future weeks. Apostles, New Testament prophets, these were the direct vehicles of revelation. They were done in the first century. What follows evangelists and pastor teachers, they build on what the apostles have already done. They don't add anything new. They simply take what was supplied and serve it up so that God's people can feed off of his word. And Christ did this so that all of his people would be equipped for the work that he has appointed to them. He did this so that the body of Christ would grow and mature and the ultimate goal as you follow the flow of the Apostle Paul's thought, look at verse 13, he says, "until." This is given "until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ." You see, taking the big picture look at this, Christ ascended to heaven and having bought for himself a people. Well, he wanted his people to be provided for and he knew that his intention and his plan was that his truth would be at the core of what would sustain and feed them and cause them to grow.

So he gives men, apostles, who could complete the revelation. Gives other men to bring to bear the truth of God on the people of God so that they could enter into the fullness and maturity of God. So Christ cared for his church in this way in giving them gifts like that. To a greater goal. To the greater goal. Watch this, you and I are included in what I’m about to say: Christ did this so that we as his people would be brought to unity. That's been his context ever since chapter 4, verse 1. You who have been with us know that. He wants us to come to maturity so that we would one day be like him. So that we would reflect the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ and the transforming instrument in that change in our lives is the truth of God's word and Christ from his throne made sure that his church throughout time would have men who would be able to give that truth to them.

So, Christian, when you think about the ascension and we've got a lot more to say about this next week, but when you think about the ascension, I want you to carry two thoughts away. First of all, is the incalculable grandeur of the victory of Christ. He has ascended because he won. Because he conquered. Because he is a warrior over sin and death and Satan. That has direct personal benefit to you who once were captive to those very forces. Christ has broken the power of those things over you and brought you into his kingdom and brought you into a place where you share in his victory by union with him. But not only that, not only that: our Lord has made provision for us in gifting people within the church to be able to, as it were, help us continue on until we reach the final destination. And in that we see his generosity. We see that he has provided for us until that time that we arrive safely with him in glory.

Beloved, let me just say this very simply, to drive it home like a nail into your heart so that it never leaves: you and I, we are blessed to be Christians, to have a Lord who undertook to do that for us with no prompting from us, with no merit in us that would cause him to do that. He voluntarily, lovingly, graciously cared for us enough to engage the battle at the cost of his own blood, at the cost of his own human life. He won the battle through death and now he has ascended to heaven as the victor and even from there, he is still providing for us and blessing us. He has a comprehensive plan that he is carrying out in order to ensure that the blessing that he died for us to receive is most certainly entered into.

I'll say it again. I'll ask it this way: aren't you blessed to be a Christian? That the Son of God did that for you and for me, for his people? Doesn't that just shape your heart to want to love him, to honor him, to obey him, to proclaim him? This is the greatest thing on earth. Nothing compares to the wonder and majesty of the truth that God's word is given to us here today. Nothing is like this. We have a victor who is generous to his people and we're on the receiving end of that blessing. Praise be to his holy name.

Let's bow together in prayer.

If you are here today and you have never received Christ, look up at this generous victor. Look up and know that he invites you too to come to him. Oh, my friend, he offered his blood as a perfect atoning sacrifice for sinners like you. Go to him for mercy, the forgiveness of your sins and the gift of eternal life. He is a saving, victorious God. He will save you to the uttermost. Go to him. Flee to him. Leave behind your sin and guilt and embrace Christ as the one who alone can reconcile you to God.

Our Father, we pray that you would seal that appeal to the hearts of those who don't know you, that you would work with power by your Spirit, a great work of repentance and faith in those who until now have stubbornly resisted or ignorantly walked in darkness. For the rest of us, Father, those who are your people, O God, we are lost in wonder, worship and praise. Lord Jesus, you are a great victor. You are ascended on high and here below on earth, we recognize your position and gladly worship you our ascended and mighty Lord. We marvel that you're not only a reigning warrior, you're a generous King. You have provided so much for us. We thank you for your generosity. We worship you in your exaltation. We pray, Father, individually and corporately for Truth Community Church, that now that you have done all of this, that you would bring to pass in our midst over time, the unity of the faith, the knowledge of the Son of God that would turn us all into mature men and women, boys and girls, who know Christ, Father, to the fullness of the stature of those who belong to Christ. We pray in the name of the ascended Lord. Amen.

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