For the past week we’ve had a church full of kids attending our Vacation Bible School. “To Mars and Beyond!” has been such an incredible week of fun, singing great songs about trusting and worshiping God, and teaching our kids God’s Word. Linda Birsner and her unbelievable crew of volunteers have done such an amazing job of loving our kids, encouraging our kids, and planting God’s Word deep in their little hearts. All of the lessons from this past week have flowed from the key verse the kids have been learning, Ephesians 3:20. Let’s read it together.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, (Ephesians 3:20 NIVO)
Verse 20 is part of a prayer Paul was praying for the brothers and sisters in Ephesus. We could go through all of Paul’s letters and learn that he prayed bold prayers for all of his brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to pray more boldly, pray for everyone and c3 NYC needs your prayers, don’t we? What is it that keeps us from doing so? Well, I’m sure there are many answers to that question, but I can think of a couple that I hear often. First of all, the longer we live the more skeptical, or maybe I should say, “realistic,” we become. “Realistic” doesn’t sound quite so negative does it? The longer we live the more we come to realize that oftentimes dreams don’t come true, tragedy happens on a regular basis, and trials seem to be the trail that we most often find ourselves walking. We’ve prayed for God to do “great” things, we’ve prayed for God to heal our sick loved ones, we’ve prayed for God to intervene in all kinds of situations, but it just hasn’t worked out like we hoped it would as often as we would like. These experiences leave many of us wondering “What’s the use in praying?” We tell ourselves, “God’s going to do what He’s going to do. I just have to accept it.”
There is another reason that I hear as to why we fail to pray with more boldness, and that is time. We believe that God can act, but we are busy people and we need God to act now. God doesn’t always act on our schedule or in the way that we want Him to act. Joseph had done nothing wrong, but he found himself falsely accused and thrown into prison. He would have loved to have gotten out as soon as possible, but he stayed in that prison for over two years. Samuel anointed young David as king of Israel, but he lived as a fugitive on the run from king Saul for somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 years before he ever became king. When Abraham was 75 years old God made a promise that Abraham would be the father of a great nation. If you are 75 years old and childless, and the Lord tells you that you are going to be a daddy, you would think the baby would need to come pretty quickly don’t you think? For 12 years Sarah took pregnancy test after pregnancy test, but the only thing that turned “blue” was their mood. So, after 12 years Abraham and Sarah took things into their own hands and Sarah’s servant, Hagar, had Abraham’s baby. God said, “That’s not the way I planned it. That’s not the child I had in mind. I will bless you and you will be the father of a great nation.” It was 13 more years before the promised child was born. And through the ages every person who has ever walked with God has learned one way or another the truth of Isaiah 55:8.
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. (Isaiah 55:8 NIV)
If there is anyone here this morning who does not know the truth of that Scripture then you will. The reality of hardships and heartache that lingers, and the passage of time can easily lead us to lower our expectations when it comes to prayer. We are no different than those who were living in Paul’s day. Paul probably knew that there were skeptics, cynics, realists in the church in Ephesus, and that is why, after praying the bold prayer of Ephesians 3:14-19, he goes on and launches into the most glorious praise of God you will ever read. Look at Ephesians 3:20-21 with me.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV)
These two verses are called a “doxology.” Our word, “doxology,” is made up of two Greek words, “????,” which means, “glory,” and “?????,” which means, “sayings” or “utterance.” A doxology is words ascribing glory to God and these two verses are some of the most lofty found in Scripture.
After Paul prays his prayer for the folks in Ephesus, he turned his attention to the God who is able. What is God able to do? Well, He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. How is He able to do this? He is able to do it by His power that is at work within us. He can do more than you or I can even imagine my friend.
This past week the kids and their teachers learned that with God we can “go beyond!” We can go beyond with faith like Daniel in the lion’s den. We can go beyond with boldness like Queen Esther. We can go beyond with kindness like the Good Samaritan. We can go beyond with thankfulness like the one leper who came back to thank Jesus for all He had done for him. We can go beyond with hope like the two friends walking to Emmaus who had their discouragement transformed into hope by Jesus. We don’t have time to cover all of the lessons the kids learned this past week, but I would like to share one story with you.
In the book of Esther, the only book of the Bible where you won’t find the word “God” mentioned, you will see His fingerprints on each and every page. As you are turning to Esther let me give you a little background. Esther was a queen, but she wasn’t a girl who was born into a royal family. Esther lived in Persia during the reign of King Xerxes I. She was an orphan, a Jewish orphan in a strange land, who was raised by an older cousin, a man named Mordecai.
King Xerxes was looking for a new queen so the most beautiful women in the land were brought together so the king could make his choice. When Mordecai heard about what was happening he told Esther not to let anyone know she was Jewish. Long story short, Esther was chosen. She wasn’t looking for the position, she never dreamed that one day she would be queen, but God had a plan.
Eight years after Esther became queen, Xerxes appointed an evil man named Haman as the second-in-command over the country. Haman hated Jews and Mordecai in particular because he refused to bow down before Haman. Haman talked to Xerxes and persuaded him to issue a decree allowing for the destruction of a “certain group of people” who refused to obey the king’s laws (Esther 3:8). He might have told the king it was a “certain group of people,” but he knew which “certain group” he had in mind…it was the Jews.
Mordecai heard about Haman’s plan. He knew the only hope of the Jewish people was Queen Esther. He said, “you have to go to the king and tell him.” Queen Esther was terrified. She knew that any person who approached the king without an invitation would most likely be killed, it was the law. When Mordecai heard about Ester’s hesitancy, he sent a message back to her,
12 When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, 13 he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:12-14 NIVO)
God used Mordecai’s words to embolden Queen Esther. She sent a message back to Mordecai instructing him to get all of the people together to fast for three days. Esther would fast with them. After a three-day fast, Esther would then go to the king. She said, “If I perish, I perish.”
Esther went to the king, he didn’t kill her, he welcomed her, and Esther invited the king and Haman to a feast she had prepared for them. King Xerxes and Haman attended the feast and Queen Esther invited them to a banquet she was preparing for the very next day. Haman was elated. He could not believe the queen had invited him and him alone to feast with the royal family. The next day, at the banquet, Queen Esther told King Xerxes what Haman had planned for the Jews. Haman had prepared gallows to hang Esther’s cousin, Mordecai, and then the rest of the Jews, but instead King Xerxes had Haman hanged on his own gallows.
Queen Esther was bold, she was beyond bold in standing up for others. Just think about this for a moment, Esther was an orphan, a Jewish orphan, growing up in a strange country, a foreign country, where she and all of those like her were powerless. She became queen and every worry she had as a young girl was now in the distant past. She was living in the lap of luxury. She was the most powerful woman in Persia and yet she risked her position, she risked her life for the opportunity to stand up for those who could not stand up for themselves, for those who were destined for the gallows unless God acted.
Throughout God’s Word we read this call, issued by God to His people, to stand up for the powerless, for the marginalized, the oppressed…over and over again. God says make room for the orphan, make room for the widow, make room for the poor, make room for the alien, the foreigner. God says
21 “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. 22 “Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. 23 If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. 24 My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless. 25 “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest. 26 If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, 27 because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate. (Exodus 22:21-27 NIVO)
When Jesus arrived and began His ministry, He embodied God’s call as He reached out to the broken, those cast aside, and He welcomed them. Each Palm Sunday we read the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. Most often we stop before we learn what happened next. What did happen after Jesus made His grand entrance into Jerusalem? Well, He went to church. He visited the temple. Turn with me to Matthew 21:12-14 and let’s read what took place.
12 Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.'” 14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. (Matthew 21:12-14 NIV)
The people had turned God’s house into a Flea Market filled with religious merchandise. Business was being conducted in God’s house as men set up tables to sell doves, sheep, oxen, and other items. Money changers shouted out their exchange rates for the foreigners who had come to the temple, but needed to exchange their currency for the half shekel to be paid for the temple tax. The money changers were making a killing off of the people who had come to worship God. Jesus was livid! He turned over the tables of the money changers and the peddlers and said, “Out! Get out of My Father’s house! My house will be called a house of prayer…” In speaking these words, Jesus was quoting from the prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah 56:4-7 we learn that God had a special group of people in mind when He issued the call to make His temple a house of prayer. The Lord’s house wasn’t to be a country club set up for a few, but it was to be a house of prayer for all nations, for all people. Read along with me from Isaiah,
4 For this is what the LORD says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant– 5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off. 6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant– 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:4-7 NIV)
Do you know what is interesting about the particular people spotlighted by God in these verses? These were folks who were prevented from entering the temple. God says, “Let them come to my house of prayer! …My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” Why is God so passionate about His house being a house of prayer for all people? Well, this isn’t the way it is in society. There are walls and locked gates everywhere. Some folks are allowed in, but most are locked out. The door to God’s house is wide open…come. Come with your burdens. Come with your sorrows. Come with your joys. Come with your praises. Come and sit in His presence and fix your thoughts upon His glory and unbounded love for you. Come.
For those of us who are followers of Jesus we need to know that the Lord is calling us to stand up for others, like Esther stood up for those who were powerless in her city. Like Esther standing up for those who could not stand up for themselves, you need to know that God is here for you. Whatever your situation this morning you need to know that God can do exceedingly and abundantly more than you can ask or imagine. The question is, “Will you trust Him? Will you trust Him regardless of whether or not your situation changes in the next week, month, or year? Will you continue to go to Him in prayer, cling to His promises in His Word, even though it looks like there is no hope?” There may be someone here this morning and you are thinking, “That might be true for others, but you don’t know what I’ve done. I’ve strayed so far from God. I’ve done things that I’m ashamed of, I’m ashamed to even ask God for anything.” I understand.
Now, I see, also, that if my case is very special, still I need not tremble or stand in dread of need. What if I require superabundant Grace? I may have it! If I need exceedingly abundant help, I can have it. Ah, if I need more Grace than I dare ask for, I can have it! Yes, and if I require more than I think, I may have it, for still my Lord is able to give it to me, and what He is able to do, He is willing to do. What comfort this should afford even to poor sinners who are far away from God. He is able to give you great forgiveness for the greatest possible sin! Sins that you have not yet thought of, He can pardon! Do but come to God in Christ Jesus and you shall find Him able to save to the uttermost. If this little hint is taken up by some despairing heart, it may give it immediate peace! It cannot be true that God cannot forgive, for in Christ Jesus, ‘He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above what we ask or even think.’ (Spurgeon, Charles. Paul’s Doxology. 1875)
I know that there are many here this morning who need to draw near to the Lord. There are many of us here this morning who need to cry out to the Lord for help. You need to know that you don’t have to pray with eloquence, you just need to pray. You don’t need to pray with fervency, you just need to cry out. The invitation is there. His arms are open wide. Won’t you come? Won’t you draw near? Hebrews 4:16 says,
16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16 NIV)
What is your need? He is able. What is it that has you so stressed out? He is able. What is it that keeps you up at night? He is able. You can bring your burden to Him knowing that He is able to do far more than you can even imagine, but you must come to Him. Won’t you do that right now?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
July 20, 2019