I had the opportunity to present the chapel devotion at Minnesota Valley Lutheran High School this week. These were the thoughts I shared:
I don’t know what Zacchaeus imagined was going to happen the day he climbed that tree to see Jesus. Did he expect that the experience of seeing this new rabbi would change him in some way, or was he just caught up in the idea of catching a glimpse of a celebrity? He certainly didn’t know he was going to be hosting Jesus in his home, and I don’t think he had any clue how much his life would change that day.
A woman caught in adultery in first century Judea would have no hope for the future. The most she could look forward to is a quick death. She certainly wouldn’t expect freedom and forgiveness. Yet, that’s exactly what happened to one woman, who was dragged out to be stoned to death, and then encountered Jesus. Where she imagined that he would, like every other religious person there, condemn her, instead he rebuked her accusers and offered her forgiveness and a new direction in life.
The mother in the little village of Nain, following her son’s corpse out to the graveyard, could not have imagined that her grief would turn to joy. At best she might have hoped that as Jesus walked up to her, he would show her some kindness and compassion. That within a few moments her son would be alive and well again would have been too great for her to hope for. Yet, when Jesus said to her, “Don’t cry,” he didn’t just mean, “It’ll turn out okay someday, so don’t be too sad.” He meant, “I’m about to take away any reason you have for tears as I prove that I am the Lord of Life.”
As these people – and so many more – encountered Jesus, they found that even the best they could hope for or imagine came short of what Jesus would do for them. His power at work in them was so much more than they anticipated.
Paul’s words that are our text for today talk about this, as he says, “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.” What is the power he is referring to? To understand that, we have to back up a little. In the verses that comes before this, Paul writes a prayer to the church in Ephesus, and he says, “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 Lord’s holy people, 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.” The power that is at work within us is the power of knowing the depth of Christ’s love for us, and knowing how he has shown us that love.
Paul was familiar with this power. He had lived it. Of course, there was the miraculous event in which Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus, changing him from one opposed to Christ to a witness for Christ. He had been healed of blindness, saved from death a variety of times, and had multiple personal interactions with the risen Lord. But it wasn’t in those miraculous experiences that Paul saw the greatest demonstration of God’s power. It was in his grace. Paul wrote in Romans 1 that the Gospel is “the power of God for salvation.” Paul, who saw himself as the worst of sinners, knew that he had been saved from death and given access into eternal life. To know the love of God in Christ was far beyond any earthly good for Paul.
And so he wraps up this prayer for the Ephesians by talking about the power of God’s love that is in Christ, and says that according to that power, all those who are in the church, from generation to generation, give glory to Jesus, the one who can do more than we ask or imagine.
That power is in you. Through faith in Jesus, given to you by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, you know the love Christ. Maybe you know it because, like Zacchaeus, you’ve seen a change in the way you live, and the selfishness you used to hold on to has given way to love for God and love for others. Maybe you, like the woman caught in adultery, have known what it’s like to be caught in a sin and afraid of the punishment to come, only to experience grace and forgiveness and release. Maybe you’re like the woman in Nain, and at some point you couldn’t see beyond grief and sadness, but God turned things around and showed you a joyful future. Maybe you’re like Paul, fully aware of your sin, fully aware of your need for forgiveness, feeling like there is no one who has fallen as far as you have – yet you know that at your lowest, Jesus is there with his forgiveness and peace, and you know that you have been saved.
However that power has shown itself in your life, you can trust that it will continue to show itself again and again in your life, in ways you would never ask or imagine. I can’t tell you what that will look like; only God knows how he’s going to prove his grace to you. But he will do it, and he will do so for his own glory, that through your life his glory will be revealed.
And maybe right now you’re in a place where it’s hard to see it. Maybe there’s a sin that has you feeling trapped, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t escape it. Trust in the power of Jesus. Go to his Word and find freedom. Maybe your future doesn’t look so great right now, maybe you’re afraid of what you see on the road ahead. Trust in the power of Jesus. Go to his Word and find strength and peace. Maybe you feel crushed by guilt and can’t imagine how anyone would forgive you, let alone a holy God. Trust in the power of Jesus. Go to his Word and find the assurance that his love is greater than any sin. Maybe you’re just struggling with spiritual apathy, unable to feel much of anything when it comes to your faith. Trust in the power of Jesus. Go to his Word and be filled, and remember that whatever you feel, God’s love for you never changes.
Listen once more to the words of Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, and for you: “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 Lord’s holy people, 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. 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, for ever and ever! Amen.”