Humbled and Exalted
Topic: Sunday Sermons Scripture: Ephesians 4:9-10
As we come to Scripture this morning, we're going to examine a passage in Ephesians 4 and I invite you to turn there with me. Ephesians 4 as we return to the book of Ephesians for this week. I should let you know that next week I will be away and Phil Johnson from Grace Community Church in California will be filling our pulpit. He's a very able, capable, distinguished theologian really and Phil was my co-pastor in California or I was his co-pastor as he might put it. I don't know, who cares? But we were co-pastor's in California for several years together, enjoyed a long life and a close friendship together and so it's going to be a joy for him to join us and I encourage you to be here for the special opportunity of being with him. He speaks all over the world and is highly in demand and he has made the effort to come to be with us for just a single Sunday, for a single time to speak and that's an expression of his devotion to the body of Christ to make that long journey. So I encourage you to be here and to introduce yourself to Phil and make him feel welcome.
For now, we're delighted to be in Ephesians and to hear from God's word in Ephesians 4:9 and 10. Let me read the text to start us and then we'll step back and set the context before we look at it in detail. Ephesians 4:9 and 10 is our text for this morning and it says parenthetically,
9 (Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)
This is one of those texts that I love to go to because it is exclusively focused on the Lord Jesus Christ. As you come to a text like this, you are immediately put in a subordinate position, you might say, because it elevates Christ and as we sung earlier, "Lift high the cross, till all adore his sacred name," you lift up Christ and men are drawn to him. Well, this is a text that does that from God's holy word and it has some difficulties associated with it but by the time you unpack it, I think it's actually making a very clear and simple statement about the Lord Jesus Christ, 2 aspects of his work and his ministry and his career, you might say, that gives us a great sense of clarity of the exalted nature of Christ. When you think of the Lord Jesus Christ, when his name comes to your mind, when you read about him in Scripture, beloved, you should have the most elevated thoughts about him. You should think high and lofty and grand thoughts about him because there is no measuring the greatness of his person. Not only is he the eternal Son of God and by very essence uniquely God himself and with all of the worship and honor that that entails, what he did with his deity, what he accomplished, what he undertook to do from his exalted position as preexistent God lifts him up before our eyes in yet other marvelous ways and as you start to talk about Christ, you just start to run out of adjectives. You start to run out of ways to exalt him. So we just look at Scripture and let Scripture direct us to different aspects of his being and his character and what he has done for us and the end result by the time we are done this morning is that at the name of Jesus, your knee should bow and at the name of Jesus, your mouth should say, "Wow! This is really wonderful exalted truth that we are about to see here today from the book of Ephesians."
Now, we need to set some context because it's been 2 or 3 weeks since we were in Ephesians 4 and when we were last in Ephesians, we looked at a difficult passage that leads into verse 9 and that's found in verses 7 and 8. Verses 7 and 8, we actually treated it over 2 messages, didn't we? But it says, "To each one of us," Paul speaking about the unity and diversity of the church, he says in Ephesians 4:7, "But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says, 'WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.'" What we said about that passage just by way of quick review is that the Apostle Paul was quoting from Psalm 68 to illustrate and to show that when Christ ascended into heaven after his resurrection, he graciously gave gifts to his church and his ascension into heaven came after he had brought into captivity the forces that were arrayed against his people: sin and death and Satan and hell. At the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ defeated all of those spiritual foes in such a way that the security and the blessing of his people were most certainly secured. So when that work was finished, we said, Christ ascended into heaven and, as it were, he took up his victory with him. He reigns in heaven as a victorious King, as one who conquered sin and death and Satan and hell and when his people come to him in faith, when a man is born again and turns from sin and puts his faith in Christ, the Lord Jesus shares his victory over all of those evil and demonic elements with that person. That's why Christ died, to secure us that level of security and blessing.
Beloved, don't ever underestimate how valuable that is. Scripture says you were "a slave to sin"; that you were enslaved to Satan; that you were on the fast road. You were on the Autobahn, for those of you from Germany here with us today. You were on the Autobahn to hell and the Lord Jesus Christ by a voluntary act of self-sacrifice, rescued you from all of that and now he shares that victory with you and in his ascension, here's Paul's point, in his ascension, Christ manifests the fact that he is victorious over all of them. He is above them all. He has ascended because he has won the battle. Nothing can ever pull him down. He has decisively defeated all the enemies of our soul and now we share in that victory because he shared his victory with us.
Now, all of that was a focus on the ascension and what that manifests. As we come to our passage this morning and expand out in a little bit of scriptural context for it, Scripture emphasizes the other aspect of the ascension. I'll explain what I mean by that. The ascension is one side of a coin, you might say. Before there could be an ascension for Christ to go up into heaven, Scripture says and Jesus said repeatedly about himself that he first had to do something in order to make that possible. The fact that Christ has ascended indicates to us that first he came down from heaven to be here on earth so that he was in a position later to ascend back into heaven having won that victory. So what we're seeing here in the passage that we're going to look at is that Jesus could go up, oh, watch this, please pay attention here; it's so simple and yet it's so magnificent. When we start talking about the ascension of Christ, if you just showed up and we were talking about the ascension, at that point, you have kind of parachuted into one aspect of the life of Christ, one aspect of his overall career, if I can use that word. We parachute into that and we examine it and we explore it and it's wonderful. But before there was an ascension, there was a whole lot of other things that happened prior to that and Jesus was in a position, watch this, he was in a position to go up after the resurrection because first he had voluntarily come down to earth in the first place. He could go up because he first came down to earth.
Now, our Lord made a repeated point about the fact that he had come down from heaven when he was teaching in his earthly ministry. Go back to the Gospel of John. Providentially, our Scripture reading this morning actually alludes to this and Jesus speaks to this even in the text that we read during our Scripture reading, John 3:13. Jesus, as he's addressing Nicodemus says that, "No one has ascended into heaven," by which he means that there was no one on earth at the time of his arrival that was qualified to talk about heavenly things because no one had been there. No Pharisee. No Sadducee. No earthly teacher. Not Nicodemus himself who was the teacher of Israel. None of them were in a position to speak about heavenly things from personal experience. The Lord Jesus was not in that position. He was in a position to speak about things that he knew from heaven because that's where he came from. Look at chapter 3, verse 13 now. John's Gospel, he says, "No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man." He is saying, "I came down from heaven and therefore, Nicodemus, I am in a position to speak to you authoritatively about heavenly things of which you do not know." And he's making this lofty claim that he came down out of heaven.
Now, go over to John 6 and there are several verses in John 6 that we want to look at here just simply to see that Jesus himself talked about this a lot. He made a point of this. He spoke of his origin, so to speak, the place from which he came. He had no temporal beginning. He was pre-eternally always God but as he was here on earth, he had come from heaven to be with us and to walk on our guilty sod. John 6:33, he says, "For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world." Look at verse 38, he says, "I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me." He states it as plainly as he possibly could, "I am here on earth because I have first come down from heaven."
Look at verse 50 where he continues on speaking in this way. Actually, let's start at verse 48. He says, "I am the bread of life." "I am that which gives spiritual food to people who come to me," in other words. Verse 50, "This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die." He says, in other words, "Everyone who receives me, as it were, takes me in as one eats physical bread. The one who takes me in and receives me spiritually is the only one who will never die." He gives eternal life to the one who receives him, in other words.
Verse 51, "I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh." Lift high the cross, in other words, because it was at the cross where he gave his flesh for the salvation of those who would believe in him.
One final verse and we won't try to exhaust them all but these are just representative so that you see that we're discussing something today that has broad spiritual and scriptural emphasis. Verse 62, Jesus says, "What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?" So when you take these passages from the Gospel of John together, Jesus has made it a just very clear and simple statement about the purpose of his life on earth. He says, "I have come down out of heaven where I originally was. I have come down to earth for the purpose of giving my flesh as a sacrifice for the sins of men so that whoever would believe in me would receive eternal life. You break the bread and you distribute its nutrition through faith in Christ and then when I'm done, I'm going to ascend back into heaven where I originally was." So in the simplest, plainest terms that I know how to put it, Jesus is saying, "I came down from heaven to give my life for sinners and when I am done, I'm going to go back to heaven where I came from." It's very simple. There is kind of a, think of it as a horseshoe: he came down, he lived life on earth for a period of time, and then he went back up into heaven. He could ascend because he had first descended.
Now, that brings us to our text for this morning, Ephesians 4. Go back to Ephesians 4 now with that little bit of background. Ephesians 4:9 and 10. Let us look at our text again because the background will help us read it with a fresh perspective. Ephesians 4:9 and 10, Jesus says, "(Now this expression, 'He ascended,' what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)" So the Apostle Paul is now speaking from the perspective after the ascension and is looking back over the course of the life of Christ and sees it as a unit. He sees the big picture, in other words, and he's saying, "The one who ascended, first descended, shared his life with us and then went back up into heaven." In one sense, it's a very simple point that he is making.
Now, let's just make a preliminary observation about the text and what you see in front of you with what you're reading. You'll notice in verses 9 and 10, most likely in your text, that those 2 verses are in parentheses. If you notice that, verse 9 starts with a parentheses and it continues on until the end of verse 10 where the parentheses is closed and that's not only in the NASB version that I'm reading from, the New American Standard, that's true of the English Standard, the New King James, the King James, even the NIV, they all treat this and put it in parentheses. Why do they do that? Why would you inject parentheses at a place like this? How can we understand the English text that is in front of us?
What the translators are doing there is that they are showing something very obvious that I'll explain to you more. I'll state it and then I'll explain it in just a minute. By putting it in parentheses, they are showing and expressing the fact that what Paul is saying in these 2 verses is a tangent to the main flow of thought that he is expressing in Ephesians 4:7 through 16. He has gone on a little detour here in these verses. Paul's main point and it is important for us to understand this, his main point in verses 7 through 16 is to discuss the fact that Christ has given gifts to his church and you can see that so easily in verse 7 and others. Let me look at it there with you. Notice in verse 7 how he is emphasizing giving and what Christ has communicated and distributed to the church. Verse 7 says, "to each one of us grace was given," was given, "according to the measure of Christ's gift." Verse 8, at the end there it says, "He gave gifts to men." Then when you pick it up in verse 11, he says, "He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets," and on it goes. Well, notice the flow of his thought here: if you kind of took verses 9 and 10 and skipped over them, it's saying here in verse 7, "grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift." Verse 8, "He gave gifts to men." And then in verse 11, he specifies what the gifts are that he gave. He gave gifted men who were able to reveal the word of God and subsequently teach the word of God to the people of God.
So verse 8, "He gave gifts to men." Verse 11, it picks up so naturally, "and He gave some as apostles and some as prophets." Now, that's a really important thing to observe as you're reading your Bible, is to be able to follow the flow of the author's thought. We don't read verses in isolation. We don't jump from one verse to another to establish what biblical doctrine is. We want to read verses in their context. The apostle when he was writing, had a flow of thought, he had an argument that he was building upon and we want to enter into that flow because that's where the real power, the real transforming and converting power of the word of God is, is when we understand what the original writer intended by what he was saying. Here in Ephesians 4, he he is talking about the way, his main point there is that he's talking about what Christ gave to the church. Now, verses 9 and 10 don't talk about giving and gifts at all. He's doing something else and so the translators rightly put it in into parentheses to alert us to the fact that this is a little digression, a Spirit-inspired detour for Paul to say something else before he gets back to his main argument in the text. Those kinds of things to see when they are so clear are very encouraging and exciting, really to me, and I'm sure they are to you as well, to realize that we can understand God's word based on simply what it says.
So, what is this parenthesis that Paul is making? Why would he say this part about the ascent and the descent of Christ when he is really talking about the gifts to the church? Why would he do that? Well, that's the question that we want to answer in part here today. Paul is giving us a Spirit-inspired change of pace. He's doing what you and I do in conversation all the time. You're going along and you're talking about one thing and your spouse is listening to you and someplace, you're off someplace else and they wonder how you ever got there. Well, the connection is very clear in your own mind, even though it may not be apparent to the rest of us, but you get back to your original point eventually. That's what Paul is doing here and the reason that you go on a tangent is because something has occurred to you that is very important to what you are trying to say overall. What Paul is about to say here about the giving of gifts by Christ to the church, he has to emphasize something so that we will more greatly appreciate what we have received from him and that's what he's going to do. Paul, to the glory of Christ, is going on a detour in order to instruct us a little further about the person of our blessed Lord and that's what we're going to see here.
What can we learn from our passage this morning? Two primary point this morning. We're going to see, first of all, the humility of the Incarnation. Secondly, we're going to see the honor of the exaltation. The humility of the Incarnation; the Incarnation meaning that God became a man in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. And then the honor of the exaltation. Paul is stepping back and taking a big picture view at the life of Christ and what his life means and what he did on behalf of his people.
So let's look, first of all, at the humility of the Incarnation there in verse 9. Paul had just mentioned the ascension in verse 8 when he said, "When he He ascended on high, He led captive a host of the captives." He had just been speaking about the ascension, in other words, in verse 8 when he comes into verse 9. Now, as he's talking about the gifts to the church and he's speaking to the ascension, the Spirit prompts him to recognize that there is something really important that is embedded in the reality of the ascension that all of us would have missed if it wasn't brought to our attention. So he points out in verse 9 and he stops there. He pauses just like preachers will do. They say, "Well, let me stop here and explain something in greater detail," and you realize, "Okay, there's a break hear from the flow of thought. He's going to stop and he's going to expound and explain on something in deeper detail." That's what Paul is doing here, verse 9.
So he looks at verse 9 and he says, "Now this expression, 'He ascended,'" so he's tying it with what he had just said in verse 8 and he says, "I want to talk about what I just said. This idea that 'He ascended,' there is something important that you need to see and understand about that. Don't miss the implication of it." Verse 9, "this expression, 'He ascended,'" and then, in a sense, he asks in a rhetorical way, he says, "What does it mean?" What does it mean? He's not asking for information as if he needs the readers to explain to him what that means. He's simply drawing us into the discussion. He says, "What do you think that means that 'He ascended'? Why would we say that? What does it mean except," except being the way that he's going to explain the significance that we're supposed to attach to it, "the fact that 'He ascended' means that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth." Christ, as we already said, Paul is simply saying what Jesus said earlier. He was in a position to ascend because first he had descended. That's the point. The ascension implies that Christ had come down from heaven.
What does that mean? It's glorious. It's hard to, it's like being blindfolded and you're touching an elephant, not that I've ever actually done that but you get the picture. There is something big here. There is something really massive in front of me with these little words that are being said, "He ascended." What is it saying? When Christ ascended, beloved, he was going home. He was going to a place of his prior abode. He went where he had previously been. When Christ ascended to heaven, he did not go there as a new arrival. When he arrived in heaven after the ascension, he didn't need an angel to show him around and show him the layout of where he was. He already knew because he had already been there because that's where he came down from. The fact that Christ was in a position to ascend, Scripture says, tells us that he went back to a place that he had been before. Just like Jesus had been saying all along in the Gospel of John, "I came down out of heaven. I came down out of heaven. I'm going to go back to where I had previously been."
Beloved, that tells us something remarkably important about the person of Christ. When Jesus was born to Mary in Bethlehem, that was not the beginning of his existence. He had already existed eternally prior to that. His arrival as a baby was an act of Incarnation, of God becoming man. It's not where he started to live. He's completely different from you and me that way. You and I started with a conception in our mother's womb. When we were delivered physically, that was our first introduction to life outside the womb. For Christ, none of that was the case because he had already existed beforehand. He took on a human existence but in the person of the second person of the Trinity, he had existed eternally beforehand. He came down to be with us, he wasn't born on earth as his beginning point. He is pre-eternal. He is pre-existent which means he is God. It is an expression of his deity because, beloved, people like you and me, natural men, regular human beings, we did not descend from heaven. We didn't come from there. We were conceived in our mother's womb and that is where we started, not so with Christ.
So as we understand these things, we realize that there is a distinction between him and us of eternal significance and therefore there is a worth and a glory and an honor that we ascribe to him because though he was on earth, he was distinct from us in a way that we cannot fully comprehend and that certainly was not true of us in our own human existence. We were formed in the womb as our first point of existence, not so with Christ. That's what Paul wants to call out to your attention here. Christ is different. He gave gifts as an ascended Victor to the church because, watch this, this is so sweet and gives us a window into the sacrificial, self-denying character of our Lord: he was in a position to give gifts to his church because he had voluntarily given up his place in heaven to be in the position to do that in the first place. He came to earth and won a victory. The reason he was in a position to win the victory was because he had set aside so much beforehand to be with us. He had humbled himself with a descent from heaven.
You know, I have taught on that many times in different places and the wonder and the majesty of it never ceases to amaze me. It is so different from what we are used to seeing in men here on earth. When men acquire great wealth or great positions of power, we expect them to, let's put it this way, we're not at all surprised when that makes them arrogant and aloof and unapproachable and they forget the people that helped them get there. When people have positions of power, they use it and we are accustomed, as Scripture tells us, to expect that people with positions of authority and influence here on earth will use it to their own advantage. That's just the nature of life. Men are sinful. Men are selfish and they use their position to advance their own interests. Well, it makes it better for them. That's why we have so many politicians that get prosecuted later on for corruption in office and bringing things that they weren't entitled to to themselves. They used their power to advance their own interests.
Think about that in the context of what Christ did and how completely different he was from that. From his position of unparalleled authority, from his position of great exaltation in heaven, what did he do? He stepped down from his throne in order to come to earth. Not only to come to earth but to come with the point of giving his human life as a sacrifice so that you and I might be delivered from our sins. That's supernatural. Men don't act that way. Christ did and it's not just the change in position, what it says about his character is overwhelming. He is so unselfish. He is not self-seeking. Instead, he stepped down into a realm far below that to which he was entitled and to which he was accustomed. He descended down, took on human flesh and walked on earth as a man who had in his adult years no place to lay his own head. When you realize the glory of Christ from that perspective, beloved, it should so shape your affections and loyalties to him. You should so love him for being so pure and so holy like that, that it draws you to him. Christ is someone different, unlike what we are accustomed to seeing on earth and because of that, we gladly give him our obedience and loyalty and affection out of a spirit of love, not out of a spirit of compulsion. His humility draws our own hearts to him.
Now, exactly where did he descend to? Verse 9, look at it with me again. Verse 9 says that, "He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth." Into the lower parts of the earth. Now, this phrase, "the lower parts of the earth," has given commentators fits over the years in trying to determine exactly what Paul means. The early church fathers and some still today say that this verse is teaching that Christ descended into hell in order to preach to demons or perhaps to release people from that realm and that this was part of his victory was that he descended into the lower parts of the earth by which they understand it that he entered into the realm of the dead in order to accomplish a spiritual work there. I plan to address that teaching after I return from Singapore and to deal with that whole matter in depth because those of you perhaps that grew up in a liturgical church that recited the Apostles Creed, you're used to reciting that Christ descended into hell as part of your worship experience. Whatever we think about that aspect of doctrine and what some teach, let me just preface it by saying that not everyone believes that, whatever we think about that in the totality of the teaching of Scripture, beloved, let me say this: that is not what Paul is talking about here in Ephesians 4. I realize that some have said that it is but that's not what he is teaching. He is not talking about going and preaching to demons or releasing people who had previously believed or needed to believe or something like that. Do you know how you know that is not what he's talking about here is because none of that is in this context. It's not the context of what he's talking about here in Ephesians 4:9. He's making a much more simple point. He says nothing about demons, nothing about departed spirits. Listen beloved, as we have been going through this morning's message all along, the whole thing has been about Christ and so he is talking about Christ here, not demons, not departed spirits. He is talking about what Christ did to put him in a position to be able to give gifts to his church.
That's what he's talking about here in Ephesians 4. He's speaking of our Lord, so when he says he descended into the lower parts of the earth, he's using a construction that is something like what we would say if we said "the city of Cincinnati." In other words, "The city which is Cincinnati. The city by which I mean Cincinnati is that which I refer to." It's a similar construction that he's using here where he says "the lower parts of the earth," talking about Christ coming down from heaven. "He came down to the lower parts by which I mean he came down to earth. He came down to be with men and dwell among them," and he's using a turn of phrase where having talked about the higher realms of heaven, he now balances that out with a parallel statement where he is simply saying "the lower parts of the earth." The higher realms of heaven, the lower parts of earth. He is making a simple contrast between the exalted place from which Christ came to where he came down to live his earthly life.
Scripture points this out in other places and I'll take you to a passage in just a moment but, beloved, what Paul is doing here is he is wanting you to appreciate, to love and worship the one who gave the gifts and part of the way that he does that is says, "Recognize what he did so he was in a position to give gifts to you. He came down from heaven to live here in these lower parts which have no access to heaven." In other words, beloved, listen to this: Christ is able to give gifts from heaven because he first left heaven to come to earth. That's his point. What does it mean that he ascended? It means that he descended. Where did he leave? The realms of heaven. Where did he come? To the lower parts of the earth.
Look over at Philippians 2 where you see this laid out and taught in greater detail. This parallel passage helps us see it more fully. Paul is just making a brief tap on a tangent in Ephesians 4 but here in Philippians 2, he goes into greater depth about what Christ did when he became a man. In Philippians 2:5, he says, "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God," in other words, although he existed by very nature he was God, in very essence he was God and that's how he existed. He "did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped," a thing to be held onto, a thing to be exploited to his own advantage. Oh, the glory of Christ in this! He didn't selfishly clutch it for himself. Rather, verse 7, he "emptied Himself," he lowered himself, he took "the form of a bond-servant, and was made in the likeness of men." Here he was in the essence of God, dwelling in heaven, and he lowered himself and he became a man. Verse 8, "Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."
Beloved, when we think about this, we realize that he came down and he went to a cross in order to sacrifice himself for our sins. He went to Calvary in order to do a good thing for you that you could not do for yourself. He went to save you from your sin and from the judgment of God and where he left in order to do that, it should humble you. It should reduce your pride to rubble to realize that such a lofty God did that and humbled himself like that for you, especially for you Christians, when you remember that for the longest time, you refused to humble yourself before him. You did not want to bow the knee to Christ. You did not want to submit to the Lordship of Christ and you rejected and rebelled against him all the while when he had already done this on your behalf. You, the sinful lesser creature, would not do what the sinless Creator did for you.
And those of you who are here and you are not Christians, that's exactly what you're doing today. You are asserting your independence and defiance against a Lord who voluntarily lowered himself so that sinners could be saved. By what possible justification do you live life that way? How is it that you persist in sin? And that you reject the word of God? And you ignore the claims of Christ on your life after what he has done for sinners? How can you be exalted and lifted up when he lowered himself like that? That's how we should think about these things and it's no small thing. It's no problem. There is no objection for the Spirit-filled Christian to say, "Yes, of course I will submit myself to Christ. Do you realize how he humbled himself on my behalf to help me? Of course I'll humble myself and bring myself under Christ. He already humbled himself in a much greater way than I could ever do." So we honor Christ for the humility of his Incarnation. He is worthy of our worship and devotion and praise, isn't he?
Philippians, Ephesians, the Scriptures teach us that our blessed Lord left the glories of heaven so that he could become a suffering servant on our behalf. We lift up Christ by honoring what he did in the humility of his Incarnation. If you are here and you are conscious and you know that you are not a Christian and you have resisted Christ, there is no excuse for you. There is no excuse for you adopting that attitude toward one who humbled himself like that. By what possible justification do you exalt yourself in front of Christ who humbled himself for sinners? You must repent, do you understand that? You must repent. You must turn to Christ. You must submit yourself to him, to the one who submitted himself to suffering for you. That's the only righteous response. The one who refuses to submit to Christ rightly bears judgment on his shoulders because his humility calls forth submission.
But as we continue on in Ephesians 4, we see that his humiliation led to something greater. Go back to Ephesians 4 now. We can honor an ascended Christ because he first descended as a servant on our behalf. He came all the way down to earth from heaven, bridging an impossible gulf for man to span. Now, as we go on in verse 10, we see that the ascension of Christ gives him a position of privilege and displays his authority in an undeniable way and now that he has been on earth, his authority has been established over every conceivable realm that there is in existence. There is no area of existence, there is no realm, there is no place where the authority of Christ has not been decisively established for all of eternity.
We see the honor of the exaltation in verse 10. Look at this. Is there anything better for a Christian to do than to focus on the glory of Christ? Is there any more wonderful thing that we could give our mind and thoughts over to? Here it is in verse 10, "He who descended," referring to Christ obviously, the one who descended "is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things." He says and he is just wrapping up his discussion of Christ, he says, "What does it mean that he ascended? It means that he descended first. Well, what does that mean now that he has ascended back?" What he's saying, what Paul is saying is, "The one who came down has now gone back up and there is incontestable manifestation that he is Lord of all, that Jesus Christ rules over all, that he is exalted over all." That's what he's saying here. "The one who descended is the same one who is now ascended up into heaven. The one that men saw walking on the earth, ascended into heaven in bodily form and there he dwells in like manner in a glorified body, still bearing the wounds on our behalf. There he is in heaven, the one who descended is now up over all," and Christ is lifted up and exalted in our minds and in our thinking and in our understanding in a way that makes him utterly unique and distinct.
Now, there in verse 10 he says he "ascended far above all the heavens." That's an intriguing phrase in itself. All the heavens, as if there were more than one. The Apostle Paul spoke in 2 Corinthians 12 about being "caught up into the third heaven," and a lot of interpreters understand the third heaven as being first of all, the atmosphere in which we breathe and then the area above that and then heaven being a third realm above that. Paul doesn't go into detail there. Some nonbiblical Jewish works speak of 7 heavens. Here, look at what it says, look at what Paul says and focus on, rather than getting drawn into speculation, focus on what he actually says and the words that he actually uses. He says, "Christ ascended far above all the heavens." His point here is not to distinguish different levels of sky and atmosphere and the heavenly abode, that's not his point at all. What he's saying is, "Whatever the realms of heaven are, whatever the glory of the skies and the majesty of glory are, gather all of that up and understand that Christ has ascended far above all of even that." It is a statement of the lofty exaltation of Christ that he is making here. He's saying, "Whatever heavenly realms exist, our Lord Jesus Christ is supreme over them all," and the one who gives gifts to his church is the same one who is exalted in power and authority over all of that. It's a magnificent statement about the supremacy of Christ.
There is always a temptation for a preacher, a pastor, to try to cater to the felt needs of his audience and to talk to them about what they felt when they were coming in here. That's not good because when you do that, you implicitly train people to think that they are at the center of the universe. It's not relevant if it doesn't immediately affect and change and help them with their daily life. What we're talking about here with the exultation of Christ does help with daily life but not in the direct way that sometimes people try to teach. What we see here, beloved, in understanding the humiliation and the honor of Christ, what we see here is something that pushes us, you and me, off of center stage and it puts Christ at the center and we see him supreme and exalted and that's what we're supposed to see. To realize that Christ is the center of the universe. That Christ is the supreme one. That what happens to him and what he has done, that is what matters. What happens to me is incidental. It's an incidental detail to the greater unfolding of redemption and the glory of Christ being displayed for all of the universe to see and in our hearts, in our Christian hearts, we recognize that place of Christ and we honor him and we ascribe worship to him because we see him for who he is.
Paul has previously emphasized the supremacy of Christ throughout Ephesians. Go back to chapter 1. Ephesians 1. Ephesians is distinctly about the glory of Christ. In chapter 1:10, he speaks about how all things are "summed up in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth." That's all we are saying here this morning. Everything in heaven and everything in earth finds its culmination and its purpose and the one who reigns over it is Christ. If you don't have Christ at the center of your thinking, you don't understand the first thing about the way to interpret the universe or your life or anything else.
Look over at chapter 1, verse 20 where it says that God "raised Christ up 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." You want to talk about it in the earthly realm and the heavenly realms? Christ is greater than all of it. You want to talk about anything that could ever happen? All of that is summed up in Christ. You want to talk about it in terms of time? In this age and in the age to come, Christ is supreme. Supreme! Supreme! Supreme! Supreme! Glory be to Christ! Honor to him! Oh, for the day when he is unveiled and displayed before our eyes and we get the privilege of actually seeing him face-to-face and bowing down and worshiping him and our faith becomes sight and that which is supreme becomes visible to us.
Look over at chapter 2, verse 6. The supremacy of Christ once again. God has "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." Beloved, what this is telling us is that Christ in his death and resurrection and ascension has displayed conquering power and has established his supremacy over everything. Christ is great and exalted. Even when he was on earth, nature and men and demons and seas and wind obeyed him so much so that even death had to yield its clutches when he determined to rise. That's how great and how supreme Christ is. He reigns supreme over the universe.
Go back to Philippians 2 here as we wrap this up. Philippians 2. The one who descended in humiliation in the Incarnation is the same one who ascended in honor in the exaltation. Philippians 2:9, "For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name." There it is again, the unsurpassed supremacy, the surpassing greatness of Christ, the name above every name, "so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." There it is. So supreme that everyone and everything will bow down before him. That's who Christ is. Complete power and authority over earth. Complete power and authority over heaven and everywhere else that you can imagine. In the words of the hymn, "Jesus shall reign where'er the journeys of the sun shall go." That's how great our Christ is. His triumph in the ascension transcends anything that we could imagine.
Here's the point for the flow of Paul's argument, for those of us that are here in the church today belonging to Christ, regenerated, born again and truly being in Christ and now living out life in the midst of a local church: beloved, this supreme King of whom we have been speaking is the one who gives gifts to his church. It's that supreme Christ of which we have spoken: descended, ascended, reigning in glory. He is the one who personally gives gifts and blesses his people. Do you understand that for those of us who are Christians, we must worship him afresh? We must glorify him? And beloved, you can trust him in your life. You can trust him in your sorrow. You can trust him with your uncertain future because you belong to the one who is supreme, the one who is over all. That's the point that we would appreciate the gifts by realizing the greatness of the giver who has given them to us. Trust your Christ who fills all things because, beloved, he will certainly share his victory with you when it's all said and done.
Let's pray together.
Our Father, we thank you and honor you for the glory of Christ and we believe what your Scripture says about him, that he is the one who came down out of heaven, eternal God taking on human flesh, so that he might offer himself as a sacrifice to redeem sinners. May those who are here today who do not know Christ, Father, trust in that atoning blood of Christ that saves sinners. May you lift up Christ in their own mind and understanding. May they come to Christ in saving faith. Father, for those of us who are in Christ, we honor supremely our Lord descended and ascended, crucified and resurrected, reigning over earth and heaven in unparalleled supremacy, humbled and now exalted. Lord, to you we give all the affections of our heart. In the name of our Savior, Christ Jesus, we pray. Amen.