The Infinite Dimensions of Christ's Love for Us (Ephesians Sermon 20 of 54)
November 29, 2015 | Andrew Davis
Prayer, Fullness in Christ, God's Love
The Land of Beulah
In his classic allegory, Pilgrim's Progress, Christian life depicted by John Bunyan, he captures various aspects of the Christian pilgrimage from the City of Destruction, unregenerate, being lost, with a burden of guilt and unforgiven sin pressing on his back through the narrow gate, to the cross where at last that burden falls away into the empty tomb, and then many adventures and dangers that follow until at last, Christian and his companion, Hopeful, reach the River of Death, and they cross the River of Death, and go up finally at last to the celestial city, Heaven. And so every aspect of the allegory captures some aspect of the pilgrimage from being lost, dead in your transgressions and sins, beyond death into Heaven. But at one point, very fascinating point of this, allegory Christian and Hopeful come on this side of the River of Death, and that's the key, to a place called “Beulah Land.” The Hebrew word Beulah means beautiful, comes from the Book of Isaiah.
And Bunyan describes an experience that these pilgrims have in Beulah Land. I want to read that to you, "The Pilgrims were entering Beulah Land, whose air was very sweet and pleasant, the way lying directly through it. And they solaced themselves there for a season. Yeah, here they heard continually the singing of birds and heard the voice of the turtle dove in the land. And in this country, the sun shines night and day. Therefore, this was beyond the valley of the shadow of death, it was out of the reach of giant despair, and neither could they from this place so much as see Doubting Castle. Here, they were within sight of the city they were going to. Also here, met them some of the inhabitants thereof, for in this land, the shining ones commonly walked because it was on the borders of Heaven. Now, as they walked in this land, Christian and Hopeful, they had more rejoicing than in parts more remote from the kingdom to which they were bound, and drawing near to the city, they had a yet more perfect view thereof. It was built of pearls, and precious stones, also the street thereof was paved with gold, so that by in reason of the natural glory of the city, and the reflection of the sun beams upon it, Christian, with desire, fell sick. Hopeful, also had a fit or two of the same disease. But being a little strengthened and better able to bear their sickness, they walked on their way and came yet nearer and nearer, where were orchards, vineyards, gardens, and their gates opened into the highway. Now, as they came up to these places, behold the Gardner stood in the way to whom the pilgrims said, 'Whose beautiful vineyards and gardens are these?' The answer, 'They are the king's, and they are planted here for his own delights and also for the solace of pilgrims.' So the gardener had them into the vineyards and bid them refresh themselves with delicious fruit. After that they fell into a rich sleep, and they talked in their sleep about the celestial city to which they were going, and after they woke up, they saw the reflections of the sun upon the city, for the city was pure gold, and the reflections were so glorious that they could not as yet with open face behold it but only through an instrument made for that purpose. After that Christian and Hopeful resumed their pilgrimage to the city." Now this is on this side of the River of Death. An experience, a foretaste of heavenly glory.
What in the world is Bunyan talking about? Everything in Christian's journey in Pilgrim's Progress connects with some aspect of the pilgrimage from being lost ultimately to Heaven. All this foretaste of heavenly glory before they've crossed the River of Death, something that happened ahead of time. And a vision of the celestial city, clearer than they had ever had before, so glorious, they couldn't look on it full on, but only, as Bunyan says, through an instrument made for that purpose. You know how it says in 1 Corinthians 13, "Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face-to-face." Also how it says in 1 Corinthians 15, "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." And how it says in Timothy, that God dwells in, “unapproachable light.” So they couldn't look full on at the glory of the city, but just through an instrument, I think the scripture, prayer appointed for that purpose, they had a glimpse of Heaven.
Is there a Beulah Land experience in the Christian life? Is that even possible? Can we have such a vigorous, overwhelming foretaste of heavenly glory, that our hearts are overflowing with it, peace and love capturing our hearts at that moment, something we can experience now, and that we'll never forget the rest of our lives? Is that even possible? If so, should we seek it, what should we do about it? Is there something we can do to pursue such a foretaste of heavenly joy? I think that Ephesians 3:14-21, at least in part, addresses these questions. That Paul is actually praying for the Ephesian Christians to have precisely that kind of an encounter with God. I believe it's part of our birthright as Christians, to have a lively, vigorous sense of Christ's love for us poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, and that that pouring, that sense, that experience can be so great that we can hardly know if we're awake, or asleep, alive or dead. I also believe that most Christians never experience 1/100th part of this, that it's possible to go to Heaven, never having had anything like this at all. That the ordinary ministrations, the workings of the spirit in our lives are amply sufficient to bring us through a fruitful wonderful prayer life, Bible study life, Christian life, using our spiritual gifts right up until we cross the river of death and go into Heaven. I believe all of that's true, but I think the language of Ephesians Chapter 3:14-21, seems to go far beyond any of those things.
Knowing the Unknowable: A Mystical Connection with Christ
Look again, this time, beginning of verse 16, Paul prays for these Ephesian Christians, "I pray that out of His glorious riches, He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you being rooted and established in love may have power together with all the saints to grasp how wide, and long, and high, and deep is the love of Christ, and that you would know that love that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 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, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever, Amen."
Ascending the Mountain of Christian Experience
So we've been working our way through this incredible prayer and we've reached this point of seeking to know the unknowable, some kind of a mystic connection with Christ, far beyond anything that we have experienced. To some degree, as you read this, we're ascending the mountain of Christian experience, of sensing, of feeling that Christ loves us. Most Christians, I believe, live most of their Christian lives down on the smog-covered plains. They're alive, they're not “dead in their transgressions and sins,” they are serving God, but they are with heads down, breathing in noxious fumes from the world, becoming increasingly sickly in some sense spiritually, barely able to be mindful of such a mountain of Christian experience that's even possible, perhaps questioning whether it's even possible. Most Christians I think, live there.
But Ephesians 3:14-21 speaks of Paul's prayer for the Ephesian Christians. He gets on his knees before the Heavenly Father, and he prays for them and he prays that God, through the Spirit, would strengthen their hearts. The focus is on the inner man, on the inner being, the heart, the soul, and a strengthening work, a buttressing work going on through the Spirit because something massive could come upon you. And I think that that strengthening is necessary in two senses, for the journey up the mountain above the haze through the self-denial, the prayer, the turning away from worldliness, the turning away from sin, it's hard. Christ suffered when he was tempted. And so, we suffer when we resist temptation and say no to the things of the flesh. And nothing's come back yet, there's been no feedback loop, no elevation yet. And we wonder if there's even anything in all this and you have to be strong to persevere and not give up as you seek Christ in new ways, ways you haven't before.
And so he prays that there might be a strengthening through the Spirit, according to the riches of God's glory, in the inner man, in the inner being. To the end, and we talked about this last week, that Christ would settle down and dwell in your hearts through faith, that you would be able to have, in some sense a continual feast with Christ. We talked about those meals that Jesus continually was eating with his disciples and the conversations he would have and the fellowship. It just seemed to be one meal after another with Jesus, from beginning to the end of His ministry, and how we can have a continual feast through the Spirit with Christ, a sense of Christ's love for us in fellowship with us, which is really, the consummation of the whole Immanuel, God with us, Christ dwelling with us, making his tabernacle with us, walking with us through the day, that “Christ would dwell in your hearts through faith.”
Christian Mysticism: A Supernatural Experience
But more than that, based on certain testimonies from saints, from Christians that have had overwhelming experiences, overwhelming foretaste of Heaven, that you're going to need strength just to survive it, that it's so massive, so overwhelming that like D.L. Moody said, "Alright, that's enough. I can't take any more. I'm only flesh and blood. There's only so much of this I can take, I’ve reached the limit." So there's that dual sense of strengthening necessary in all of this, through the Holy Spirit. Now, I know that Christians are leery of these kinds of things, some leery ones have talked to me in the last couple of weeks, that's fine. I love those discussions, "All right, where are we going, what are we doing? Are we going to become charismatic?" Is that what's going to happen here at First Baptist Durham? Is that what we're talking about? Friends, I am trying my best to be faithful to Ephesians 3:14-21, and I read extreme language here. Extreme. Far beyond things that most of us, that I myself have experienced. And I yearn for that. I yearn to have that happen at our church, I yearn for that in my life. I would like to have an encounter with God that I would never forget. Something that would happen to me that I would say years later, "That was one of the days of Heaven, something happened to me that day, I don't know if I was awake or asleep, alive or dead, whether in the body or out of the body, I don't know, God knows, but I saw things, heard things, experienced things that I can scarcely put into words." And as I look at Ephesians 3, at this prayer, I think it lines up with a healthy Christian mysticism, if you want to use that language. A healthy experience of God, of Christ, of the Holy Spirit, a triune working of a sense of His love that is so great and so empowering that it will have a great impact on you in terms of your own personal holiness, your internal journey and our church's external journey, evangelism and missions in this community unto the ends of the earth. And I yearn for that. I'd love to see God do that in this church. So that's what I've been praying for.
Evidence in the Text: Not a Common Experience
So look at the language. Look at verses 17-19, "I pray that you're being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints," he says, "to grasp how wide, and long, and high, and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." So we're grasping at the infinite dimensions of Christ's love as though your soul is just soaring over the vast expanse of the infinite universe of Christ's love and you're probing the dimensions, and you're probing the limits of the universe and you soon come to realize there's no boundary to this. There's no limit to Christ's love for me, I never realized how great it was. He's praying in paradoxical language of you knowing something that transcends knowledge. To know the unknowable. And you need power in order to do it, and you need to know love, to know, to sense love. That's what he's talking about. To experience it more fully, more deeply than you've ever done before. And the end of all of that is that you would be filled, so filled that you could be said to be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. That something like that could happen to you. Not the emptiness of Eastern mysticism or Buddhism or any of those kinds of things or the weird kind of some of the medieval Catholic mystics that focused over-much on odd aspects of theology, and were not well-grounded in truth, who focused on the Virgin Mary and did some other things, not talking about those things. I'm actually talking about a more orthodox experience than you've ever had in your life, saturated with truth flowing from scripture, to the point where you didn't realize there was all that there. That's what I'm talking about: Fullness, not emptiness.
And then in the doxology, "Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably infinitely more than all you ask or think." Seems like extreme language don't you think? Something far beyond anything you ever thought was possible. Talk about that more next week. It's not a common place feeling, not an everyday occurrence. And if you think so, then you just haven't read the words of Ephesians 3 carefully, and that's why I'm trying to go through it carefully, going through these phrases, so you realize there is far more in terms of your sense of Christ's love for you than you have ever known before, and that it's a good thing for you to have that, for you to know that Jesus loves you, far more than you ever did before. John Owen put it this way, "There is a light that cometh and overpowerth a man's soul, and assureth him, that God is his and he is God's. And that God loveth him from everlasting. It is a light,” listen to this, this is John Owen, “a light beyond the light of ordinary faith."
For All Christians, Not Just Some
These Ephesians Were Already Converted
Did you hear that? It's beyond saving faith, it's beyond that and that's the very thing we get, as we've been saying, Paul is praying this for Ephesian Christians. They're already converted, they've already heard the “word of truth, the Gospel of their salvation, having believed they were already marked in Him with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit,” that's already happened, and yet here he is praying. Not "and yet", because of that he's praying that they would go far beyond what they've already experienced in their Christian lives. And this isn't just for some specialist Christians.
These Experiences Are For Every Christian
This is for anybody, this is for ordinary people, so he prays for all the saints. See that in verse 18? "That you may have power together with all the saints." And we talked about that last time. Saints is not like the Catholics say. The special ones, the Hall of Fame ones. This is anybody that God could do this to, “pouring out His love into your heart by the Holy Spirit.” And in the doxology, to Him be glory in the church, he's praying for the whole church, for everybody to glow radiantly with glory. That's the sense of it. This is for everybody.
Now, many Christians are going to beg out, they're going to opt out. They’re going to say a lot of things, "Too hard, don't really think it can happen, don't really need it, don't really want it." What? "I don't really want a foretaste of Heaven." Well, "Do you want Heaven?" Let's start there. "Yes, I want Heaven." "Would you like a foretaste of it?" "No, I have no interest in that." "Huh, explain that to me, help me with that." "I want heaven but no foretastes." "Okay, I like a little foretaste." "How about a bigger one?" "Well, that's... No, I don't want a big one, I want just a medium foretaste." See, the whole thing doesn't make a lot of sense to me. If you want Heaven, I would think a foretaste would be good. If you want a little foretaste, why not a big one? God is able to do immeasurably more than you ever thought was possible in this whole area, talk about that more next week.
Now, toward the end of the 18th century, beginning of the 19th century, there was an American congregational minister, named Edward Pason, and he talks about Beulah Land. He talks about the experience that I began this sermon with. Pason had been a Christian for many years, he'd lived out a very fruitful ministry for Christ as a pastor, but then God took him to a whole new level of experience of Christ's love for him. And he wrote to a fellow pastor, he said, "When I read Bunyan's description of the Land of Beulah where the sun shines and the birds sing day and night, I used to doubt whether there even is such a place on this side of the River of Death. Does it even exist?" But then he said this, "Were I to adopt the figurative language of Bunyan, I might date this letter that I'm writing from the Land of Beulah of which I have been for some weeks now a happy inhabitant."
Wow, I wouldn't mind spending weeks in Beulah Land, but Edward Payson was spending weeks. He said this, "The celestial city is full to my view. Its glories beam upon me, its breezes fan me, its odors waft to me. He fills the whole hemisphere pouring in a flood of glory, in which I seem to float like an insect in the beams of the sun; exulting, yet almost trembling, while I gaze upon this almost excessive brightness and wondering with unutterable wonder why God would deign to shine upon a sinful world as this. A single heart and a single tongue seem altogether inadequate to my wants. I want a whole heart for every separate emotion I'm feeling and I want a whole tongue to express that emotion."
Four Concentric Circles of Christian Experience
Wow! What in the world is he experiencing? And could there be some of that for me? Could I experience something like that? Well Payson, who's a pastor, started to diagnose Christians and their experiences in his shepherding, in his ministry. And he came up with what he would call, four concentric circles of professors of faith in Christ, people who claim to be Christians; Christians.
He said this, "Suppose people who claim to be Christians arranged in different concentric circles around Christ as their common center. Some value the presence of their Savior so highly they cannot bear to have even a moment's separation from Him. Even their daily chores and their employment. They will bring up and do as best they can constantly in the light of His countenance, and while engaged in it will be seen constantly raising their eyes to Him as they're fearful of losing even a single beam of his light." Continually focused. I don't want anything to come between me and the Savior. That's how they live, all the time. Circle number two: "Others, who to be sure would not be content to live out of His presence, are yet less wholly absorbed by it than these, and may be seen a little further off, engaged here and there in their various callings, their eyes generally upon their work, but often looking up for more of that light that they love." Circle two. Circle three: "A third class beyond these, but yet still within the life giving rays, includes a doubtful multitude, many of whom are so much engaged in their worldly schemes that they may be seen in some way standing sideways to Christ, looking most of the time away from Him to their tasks and their employments, but then, occasionally looking back to Jesus and being refreshed." And then circle four: "Yet further out among the last dimly scattered rays, so distant that it's often doubtful whether they come at all within their influence, is a mixed assemblage of busy ones, some with their backs wholly turned to Him, wholly turned upon the Son, and most of them so worried and troubled about their many things as to spend, but little time for their Savior." All of these claiming to be Christians.
So… Where Are You?
So where are you? Where are you? Are you able to find yourself in there somewhere? It has to do with a sense of continual focus on the love of Christ, a sense of dependence on Him, reliance on Him, and of feeding back from Him through the Spirit of sense of His love for you. Do you live your life in continual focus on Jesus, sensing His presence, knowing His love, filled with his peace? Or are you further? Or further and further? Or further and further and further away from a warm, vigorous sense of Christ's love for you? Now, Payson said, "It's not hard for any of these to be reclaimed or strengthened. All you have to do is turn and face Christ." That's it, and how do you do that? Well, by the means He's ordained, by the scripture, by prayer. And the turning is two-fold. You're turning away from worldly pursuits, away from the “sin that so easily entangles you,” away from an over-focus of God's good gifts in the world that can become idols, a turning away from that to Christ in the scripture and in prayer, until you feel your heart warmed and empowered by the Spirit and a sense of joy and love filling you. That's what it takes. And then, once that starts to come, you become zealous and jealous of that and protect it from anything that would encroach. That's how you become one of those inner circle people. They're not intrinsically different than anyone else. It just has to do with how they're living.
Rooted and Established in Love
Paul Continues His Prayer
Now, I've been following the text; Payson's insights are helpful, but let's look a little more carefully at Ephesians 3. Look at Verse 17. That's where we're at as we move through this. He says, "I pray that you, being rooted and established in love may have power together with all the saints to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” Rooted and established in love. I have a strong kind of dual image here; one of them living, one of them not. Rooted in love, I picture a huge maple tree, let's say, or some oak, some mighty tree, with this deep root system. And you've got these roots subterranean and probing down, and you're able to find subterranean rivers of water, and it doesn't matter what the conditions are above ground, you have a continual sense of the love of God for you in your heart, a sense of right doctrine, you're rooted in the scripture, established and living like a vibrant tree that's rooted in love. And then, established in love, more of a building image, like a building with its foundation upon the rock and it's unshakable, and there's a depth to that foundation, and it's not going to be “blown and tossed by every wind of doctrine,” like it says in the next chapter. But you're rooted in truth, rooted and established, but it says, "In Love."
Power to Comprehend
Going beyond that, he then prays for power to comprehend, "I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints to grasp the dimensions of Christ's love." So again, we have power language. Some of the translation just have, “may be able,” but it really does speak of power, and since Paul earlier mentioned power just a moment ago, let's stick with the power theme, that you would be empowered to understand, empowered to grasp; empowered to grasp. To comprehend. So, it begins as mental, it begins as intellectual. So, there's a thought aspect, but it's going to go beyond that. I know, but I know. I started out just knowing, but now I know. "What are you doing with your voice there?" I don't know, I can't put it into words. I'm knowing what's beyond knowledge, but it started with knowledge. It always starts with knowledge, as every love relationship does.
Necessities: Knowledge and Emotion
I mean, think about a couple that's working their way toward maybe engagement and toward marriage, and they're trying to figure it out, and there's an attraction there and they're spending some time, and they start giving tokens to one another of increasing feelings, right? It could be notes, it could be little gifts, they go out on a date together, spend some time, and then they each go back and ponder the events of the evening; ponder the events. And they're thinking about what happened and what was said and what it meant. And so, that's what I mean, there's a truth behind the things that were said, the notes that were written, the gifts that were given. But then there is something beyond that. There's feelings that go with it. And so, in every love relationship, there's a knowledge aspect, and then there's a feeling that goes beyond it. And you can't sever the two. You can't say, "I just want the feelings. I don't want knowledge. So, I'm going to tell you what, I will just buy for you a precious note from someone and you can take it home and read it. You won't know who it's from, but it's for you." Completely severed from anything. It has no meaning. It's a precious love note. You can buy them at Hallmark.
I often wonder about the card people. I mean, can you imagine spending your whole day writing love notes to people you don't know? I often think about the work week. I should just change this subject quickly, but I'm going to say one thing. Ever read a card that you think was written late on a Friday afternoon before a long weekend? Like, "Didn't put a lot into this one, I guess." Alright, back on topic.
There is a knowledge that then flows into emotion, and the two can't be disconnected. So, you're going to know Christ's love doctrinally. You're going to know who He is who loves you. Who are we talking about? This is the long-expected Jesus. This is the one that was predicted through the prophets. This is the Son of God and the Son of Man, fully God, fully man, who was born of the Virgin Mary, who lived a sinless life, who did all these incredible miracles, who walked on water, fed the 5,000, who raised the dead, Lazarus after he'd been in the tomb four days raised to life! That's who we're talking about. The one who died on the cross as an atoning sacrifice for sinners like you and me. This one who died, who was our substitute, who was raised to life on the third day in a resurrection body and ascended to Heaven and now sits, we're told in the Bible, “at the right hand of Almighty God and rules over Heaven and Earth.” This Jesus loves you. That's incredible. Think about that. So there's a doctrinal base.
He said, "I want you to know what is beyond knowledge." Far more than just mental but it begins intellectual. And then he goes into this dimensional language, "To grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ." So, one of my fellow scientific, geeky people, came up to me a few weeks ago and said, "Why do you think four dimensions? Wide, long, high, deep." I said, "I don't know. Usually we think in terms of three dimensions. I said, "I think of it maybe in terms of perspective. You stand and you're looking at something beautiful. And you look left and right, and you look as far as the eye can see, and look in the foreground, and you look up and you look down. It's your perspective maybe. I don't know." But he talks about the dimensions, a sense of Christ's love for us. Like it says in John 15:9, "As the Father has loved me even so have I loved you." Now, ponder that. And we could never fully comprehend the amount of love the Father has for the Son, but Jesus says, "That's how I love you." To love that surpasses knowledge. And so, I want you to ponder. I want you to have a sense of the dimensions of this.
So I pictured this, and I thought about one of the prettiest places I've ever seen. Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park, along the coast, the rocky coastline of Maine. The highest mountain there on Mount Desert Island is called, Cadillac Mountain. You can drive up to the top. So I imagine taking a friend who's never been out of the city, like we talked about C.S. Lewis, he's used to making mud pies in the slum. So you're bringing him out and you're taking him through the night; through the dark of night. And it's a very dark night, and you drive and you get to Cadillac Mountain and you go all the way to the top, but it's still pitch black. And you get out of the car and you just stand there. And it's about an hour before sunrise, and then little by little, some of the light starts coming over the Atlantic Ocean and you start to see what there is in the foreground and in the distance. And as more and more light starts to spread, you start to see what there is up the rocky coastline, and you start to see Bar Harbor, the fishing boats down in the bay, the trees that come right up, the trees that are close are huge right in your face and then there's some that are further away.
You see rocky cliffs. You see Eagle Lake, and other things behind you. You're looking behind you. There's the inland area of Maine, and more and more and more light as the orange and the reddish light of the dawn and the sunrise comes until it's full light of day. And I have a feeling that that's what Paul wants you to do in terms of the dimensions of Christ's love for you. Now, I don't know that he meant for us to parse it out, but I'm going to just do a little biblical meditation in front of you. This is what you do on your knees. You get the Bible and you say, "Okay, how wide is your love for me, Christ?" And I don't know that we could do this, but I think of it in terms of the breadth of Christ's saving purpose around the world, that we have been adopted into a royal family of brothers and sisters “from every tribe and language and people and nation;” the diversity being staggering. It's a broad work of Christ that He's done here.
And then, how long? I think of the time axis there, that if you look back behind you, you're looking as far as your eye see and even farther to eternity past, before the creation of the world, God the Father set His love on you by name and chose you “before you were born or had done anything good or bad, chose you in Christ.” As it says in Jeremiah 31:3, "I have loved you with an everlasting love." And so, he set an everlasting love on you, knowing full well you would sin and what sins you would commit, and how Jesus at that point in eternity past covenanted to shed His blood for you, in effect, dying for you convenantally and in the mind of God, before you were even born, or before the world was even created. As it says in Revelation 13:8, "Our names have been written in the Book of Life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world." And how it says in Ephesians 1:4-5, "For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted." So, you're looking behind you, and that's as far as the eye can see, Jesus has been loving you by name, right up until the time you were converted. Now, when you look forward you say, "Okay, for the rest of my life, He's going to keep loving me. He will never leave me. He will never forsake me. He's going to filter all of my temptations. He won't let the Devil have at me. No temptation will seize me, except what is common to man, and He will be faithful and will not allow me to be tempted beyond what I can bear. And if I should fall into sin, He will restore me. “He will, when I confess my sin, cleanse me from all unrighteousness” and restore me and make me strong, firm and steadfast. And I'm going to continue running this race until I die. And after that, then things get really awesome because after I die He's going to raise me up. He's going to give me a resurrection body and He's going to put me in a resurrected world surrounded by other resurrected people and it's going to be awesome. That's how long is the love of Christ for me."
Let me switch it and talked about how deep is His love. How far down would He go to save you? Picture that. How deep the descent? I was reading a story about a American submarine, the Squalus, that sank off the coast of New Hampshire. And it was in 243 feet of water on the seafloor. And a diver dove down with a cable, 243 feet down, and fixed it to the submarine so that a diving bell could go down and rescue those people. I'm thinking, "That's a lot of commitment. That's a lot of courage." How deep would Jesus go down to save you? And I think about that in terms of Philippians 2, "Jesus being in very nature, God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant being made in human likeness,” down. Born of the Virgin Mary, and being “found in human likeness he humbled himself and became obedient, a life of a servant even to death, even death on a cross.” And even that's not enough, because two others were crucified with Him. We have to see in the spiritual realm how He was our substitute and the wrath of God was poured out on Him. That's how deep He went to save you and me. How deep were you? How far down were you in degradation and wickedness and sin? He went that far down to save you.
And then, how high? How high will you bring you? How exalted are His purposes for you? Well, we've already seen that somewhat in Ephesians 2:6-7, "God raised us up with Christ, and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages, He might show the incomparable riches of his grace expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus." So much more exaltation yet to show you. You underestimate how high He wants to bring you and how glorious is that going to be for you, how wide and long and deep and high is the love of Christ. "That," verse 19, "you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." We're going to talk more about that next week. But just foretaste, a little bit of foretaste, that you would be, in some sense mysteriously, as full as God is, filled with God, filled with all the fullness of God. That's what we'll ponder next week.
Seeking Christ’s Love
So applications. What do we do about all of this? Well, for two weeks now, this is the third week, I've been making a very simple plan appeal to you, and that is that you would turn away from the entices of this world into extraordinary prayer. By extraordinary I mean something different than you've been doing, and that you would be seeking in God, through God, through Christ, a sense of Christ's love for you. You would be asking for it directly. Say, "Lord, I'm not satisfied with my mediocre Christian experience. I'm not satisfied with what's been happening in my soul. I want to know your love more than I've ever known before, and I'm willing to run a race here. I'm willing to deny myself. I'm willing to fast, not just from food, but maybe from electronic entertainment, fast from worldly things. I'm willing to turn my back on the world until you will pour out in my heart a sense of the love of God. I want that. And I don't just want it for myself, I want it for this person or that person." You name them. Somebody, a spouse, a friend, a church member. That you would do that, and that you would be willing to think deeply about these things and "gird up the loins of your mind." 1 Peter 1:13 KJV says it that way. That you'd be willing to think about these things and ponder and go over, and assess yourself and say, "Where am I in that concentric circle? Am I like Pluto? Am I like in the orbit? I'm a Christian, but it's just so cold and dark out here." Or are you closer and closer? Where are you? Meditate on these verses and don't make excuses. Don't be satisfied with less, and don't make excuses. Don't come up short of all the fullness of what God intends for you. Don't live like a pauper when you could live like a prince, and don't make excuses.
Don't say, "I'm too busy to spend time doing that." I've thought about, let's say, a 30-year-old businessman who is an entrepreneur, successful business, single, but his business consumes his life and all that, but he feels lonely. He goes home to a darkened place, and lots of material possessions, but he's just alone. And he feels like maybe it's about time that he might find a wife. And you look at, what is he willing to do for that? And if the answer is nothing, he probably won't find one. But as he continues increasingly to acutely feel that loneliness, he's going to start making time in his life. He's going to do what's necessary. Well, I just want to say, how much more could you make time for Christ? Say, "I feel cold. I feel distant and I need to make time to seek Him." And don't think it'll be simple. He's not a vending machine. You pour in two or three quarters and then you get it. He tests us. He's jealous. He's a person. And if you're doing things that offend him, He won't pour out that blessing. And even if you're not, he will stretch you and test you and make you persevere. So persevere. Be single-minded. Remember, it's not impersonal. It's not a thing we're seeking. We're not seeking a thing. We're seeking a person.
Turn Away From Sin
And be willing to turn aside from sin. It says in James chapter 4, "You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God. Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that scripture says without reason that the Spirit,” I think the Holy Spirit, “that He caused to live in us envies intensely?” Is jealous over us? That's why Scripture says, “He gives us more grace. That's why scripture says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’ Submit yourself then to God. Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.” Now listen to this, "Come near to God and He will come near to you." So that's what I'm urging. “Wash your hands you sinners and purify your hearts you double-minded.” Don't be double-minded. Be single-minded after Christ, and persevere as it says in Jeremiah 29:13, "You will seek me, and you will find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
Praying for the Spirit of God
Now, I want to give an invitation to the church. For the last two months I've been praying here at 6.00 AM, praying for God to pour out His Spirit on our church, specifically praying for evangelistic fruit, but also praying for these things, these themes. Recently, some people have heard about this and have joined me in praying, and I'd like to invite the whole church. I come here, so if it were at my house I would not invite the whole church. But I'm inviting any of you that would be willing to make a sacrifice, who would have time to come 6:00 AM to 7:00 AM this Wednesday. And I'm planning on doing this through the end of January next year 2016, so I don't know, for about eight weeks. And if the Lord wants to extend it, He can do that. But I just feel called on by God to call on you to join me in praying. If you're not able to come, then pray on your own during that time for God to pour out His Spirit on our church. Pray specifically for evangelistic fruit. Wouldn't you love to see in 2016 a river of baptisms, of outreach here in the community and really to the ends of the Earth to hear about that as an answer to extraordinary prayer. That's what I'm praying for. But I'm also praying internal journey for extreme experiences with God resulting in holiness; yearning for both of those things. So, if you're able to come, join. If you can't do it this week, God willing, I'll be doing it next week and just come. Start in my office, and if there's too many we'll come in here and we'll pray.
So, close with me in prayer. Father, we thank you for the things that we've been learning in Ephesians and we pray that you would pour out your Spirit on this church, pray that you would oh Lord work in this church, give us fruit, oh Lord, give us a sense of your love for us in Christ greater than we've ever had before. And then Lord, give us powerful inducements toward evangelism and outreach. Help us to reach out with the Gospel and to see lost people come to faith in Christ. Help us to know you and to follow you better than ever before through the power of the Spirit in Jesus' name, Amen.