Third Sunday of Easter – 4/14/2024

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Matthew 13:9-17  9 Let anyone with ears listen!” 10 Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 13 The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ 14 With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. 15 For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn– and I would heal them.’ 16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.

Ephesians 1:15-23 15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Open Hearts

I went to visit my son in West Philly on Friday. We took some long walks around the neighborhood. I loved seeing everything in bloom. Daffodils, hyacinths, bleeding hearts, pansies and more.  All the lovely colors!  It is so beautiful!  Yet the beauty we saw around us pales in comparison to the beauty of a life yielded to Christ and shaped by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  This is what Paul is praying for in his letter to the people in Ephesus.  He has heard of their faith and love and he gives thanks to God because Paul knows the only way the people have faith and love is because God has given them this gift.  This applies to us as well.  The only reason we have any faith or love in us is because of what Christ has done in us.  

Today we get to “eavesdrop” on a prayer. We get to “listen in” as the Apostle Paul tells the church at Ephesus what he prays for them. This prayer isn’t what you might normally expect from a prayer. Although they live in a culture hostile to Christianity, Paul doesn’t pray for God to protect them. Although some of them may be sick or poor Paul doesn’t pray for healing or for financial stability. Although some of them may be wrestling with sadness or hurts Paul doesn’t pray for happiness for them. 

What Paul prays for is so much deeper than my normal prayers, and maybe yours too. I hope today’s prayer will serve as a model for the way we can pray this week. It’s already challenged my prayers. 

Paul hears how well the church is doing at Ephesus—that they’re loving Jesus and loving each other—and it so moves him that he can’t stop thanking God and praying for them. Why is that? It’s because Paul knows this church. Paul preached in Ephesus and pastored them for several years. Acts 19 tells us that God did extraordinary miracles through Paul. In Acts 20 we learn that Paul was later driven out of Ephesus. So just think what great news it is for Paul when he hears that the people of Ephesus are still loving Jesus and still loving each other. 

So the first thing we see in our Ephesians text this morning is the importance of continued thanksgiving and prayer.  James 4:2  says, “You do not have because you do not ask God.”  God has chosen to work through us and he uses means such as prayer, witnessing, Bible reading and good works to effect good in our world.  Paul continues to pray for the church in Ephesus because he knows prayers do not cease when they have been answered.  They continue because God has much more for them so Paul gives thanks and prays for continued blessings.  Paul prays that we may be given a “spirit of wisdom and revelation” that will allow the “eyes of our hearts” to be enlightened so we know the hope to which we have been called , the glorious riches that await us, and the greatness of God’s power.  

What does it mean to have “the eyes of our hearts enlightened”?  The last time I checked in an anatomy book, hearts do not have eyes.  Obviously, this is a figure of speech but what does it mean?  For that, we turn to our gospel reading from Matthew 13.  In it, Jesus is explaining his parables to the disciples and he addresses the importance of hearing and seeing.  He says some people close their eyes and ears and do not see or hear so they don’t understand in their hearts.  When we understand with our hearts, we understand more than just facts.  

It is one thing to understand how a car engine works.  I remember, a long time ago, studying two stroke and four stroke engines, how the gas ignited causing the piston to be forced down thus turning the crankshaft.  It was entirely different to understand why my child was upset because someone had called them a name and hurt their feelings.  This second kind of understanding involves far more than facts.  In order to understand my child I have to know him, I have to be in relationship with him.  Jesus tells us not everyone can see and hear him; much is veiled from people.  The gift of relationship with Christ needs to be appreciated.  Many have longed to see and hear what we know.  We have seen Jesus, we have heard the truth of the gospel.  

Why have we seen and heard?  What is the difference between our physical eyes and ears and those of our hearts?  It is in our hearts that we truly come to know God, not know about God but know God.

Some people settle for knowledge of the Bible.  This knowledge is good.  The Bible is God’s Word written for us but the Bible itself is not the fullness of what God has for us.  Some settle for knowledge about God.  I think of theologians who can endlessly talk about God’s attributes but don’t feel God’s love.  It is possible to know a great deal about God but not actually know God at all.  

Humans are designed with a hole inside their hearts that only God can fill.  It’s not a physical hole, it’s an emotional void that all the relationships in the world, all the friends, children, loved ones cannot fill because that hole is meant to be filled with God.  Have you ever tried to fill a hole at the beach with water?  No matter how much water you pour in, the water soaks into the surrounding sand and the hole remains empty.  So it is with our hearts until we come to know God.  

If we want to know God we need to do the same thing we would do with a friend we wanted to get to know.  We need to spend time with God.

Time with God is essential, it is vital that all of us spend time with God in Bible study, prayer and meditation. 

I read an old story about Harry Ironside that illustrates this point quite well.  As a new pastor he went to visit a man named Andrew Fraser.  Fraser said to him, “Young man, you are trying to preach Christ, are you not?”  “Yes, I am,” replied Ironside.  “Well,” Fraser said, “sit down a little, and let us talk together about the Word of God.”  He opened his Bible and taught truths from one passage after another that Ironside had never seen or appreciated before.  Before long tears were running down Ironside’s cheeks and he asked, “Where did you get these things?  Can you tell me where I can find a book that will open them up to me?  Did you get them in seminary or college?  Fraser replied, “I learned these things on my knees on the mud floor of a little sod cottage in Ireland.  There was an open Bible before me, I used to kneel for hours at a time and ask the Spirit of God to reveal Christ to my soul and to open the Word to my heart, and he taught me more on my knees on that mud floor than I ever could have learned in all the seminaries and colleges in the world.”

Andrew Fraser knew God.  He didn’t just know about God, he knew God, he experienced relationship with him.  This is how we will come to know God, how the eyes of our hearts will be enlightened.  Time spent with God, praying, meditating, experiencing the living God.

When Paul wrote to the Ephesians he sought to strengthen their faith by moving them to see how truly rich they were in Christ Jesus. This they would have to see, not with their physical eyes, but with their spiritual eyes — that is, with eyes of faith. If the Ephesians were to persevere in the face of hardship they would need to know — really and truly know and believe — what it is that they have in Christ. And the same is true for you and me. 

As we move on now from the opening of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and into the body we see that Paul goes right to work on this task. His objective is to increase our knowledge of Christ; to enlighten us, so that we might know the hope that is ours in him; and to move us to perceive the “riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might…” (Ephesians 1:18–19, ESV).

Paul wants the eyes of their hearts opened so they may know the hope they have in Jesus. Our hope today is in Jesus Christ and in His resurrection power. It is only through Jesus that we are saved, that we are granted eternal life with Christ. It is only through Jesus that we have the strength to overcome that obstacles life places in our path. 

The song we are going to sing after the sermon is a praise song written by one of my favorite worship leaders, Paul Baloche.  He was inspired by Ephesians 1:18.  Listen to his own story about how he wrote this song.  “The Apostle Paul was writing a letter to the Ephesians and he says, ‘I pray that the eyes of your heart would be enlightened.’ That verse stirred in my heart. One morning, while playing during a ministry time at my church, I began to sing that phrase over and over again: ‘Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. Open the eyes of my heart.’ The whole song pretty much rolled off my tongue while prayerfully playing my guitar and singing out to Him. It really is a simple song that reflected the sincere prayer of my heart.”  

I invite all of us to make this the prayer of our hearts while we sing, it’s a simple song and much of it repeats several times so it’s easy to pick up even if you don’t know it.  Pray that God would open the eyes of our hearts so we would know him, know his power and his glory, know his love.  Amen.