Jason Free

Time to Grow Up

by Jason Free on May 9th, 2024
Ephesians 4:7-16

Being the youngest of four boys, I often heard this lot. It didn’t seem fair to me, but there wasn’t a lot I could do about it. I was often told that I needed to “grow up.” And, again, I don’t think this was fair commentary. I was the youngest after all! And, frankly, I didn’t want to grow up, but I suppose eventually we all should grow up. Paul recognizes this too in our lesson. You see Paul here in these verses he talks about maturity, and no longer being infants, and this idea of growing up. And those are interesting topics, even today in our society. Every generation, it seems, complains about the irresponsibility and self-indulgence of the one that follows. Even Socrates described the folly of youth in ancient Greece, lamenting: “Youth now love luxury. They have bad manners and contempt for authority.” However, in recent years, commentators have argued that something is distinctly stunted about the development of today’s young adults. Many have pointed to Millennials and Gen Zers as being uniquely resistant to “growing up.”

Now, that might be true. I don’t know. I often wonder if I’ve “grown up” if I’m “mature.” And it’s hard for me to define what that even really means. And, yet here is Paul today urging us to do that, to grow up. But what I love here is that Paul also tells us how to do that; he shows us. And what’s most interesting is where he starts: he starts with the ascension of Jesus. 

It almost seems out of place, but in verses 7 and 8 of our lesson, Paul points to how Jesus shared specific gifts with each of us, slicing and dicing up grace and giving it to us so that we could individually grow in our faith and also help others to mature in their faith life as well. And so the more I thought of how Paul starts this discussion about maturity and growing up, the more it makes sense that he starts with the day Jesus left. You see often a person grows and matures when they know it’s their turn, that someone else isn’t going to come and hold their hand and make sure they don’t mess up. For instance, when you buy or own something, it’s now yours to take care of. And, yes, you can get help from other people – and we will talk about that – but it’s ultimately your responsibility. 

So, go to those disciples quickly. Right? Jesus just rose. They got him back. “Thank you Jesus for not staying dead! Now, we can get back to work and show everyone that you were telling the truth, that you’re the Savior of the world…and he’s gone.” I mean think about that. He ascended. He left. Up, up, up, into a cloud – gone! And there stood the disciples. I kind of understand why they kept looking up. “Like, is this a joke? Now, what?” Well, Jesus told them “now what.” “Go and make disciples. You are my witnesses.” Because as the angels said, “This same Jesus, who has been taken into heaven, will come back.” And, go and page through the Bible, and what does Jesus want his people to be ready for? That return. When he comes to judge the living and the dead. That brings us back to maturity and this thought of growing up. 

Friends, Jesus is gone. He’s not walking around. He’s not working miracles. He’s not preaching to crowds of people or challenging religious leaders. He’s, as we often say, up there in heaven. Which means, we’re down here and we’re tasked with getting people ready for Christ’s coming again. And, I’ll tell you what we can’t do that task if we ourselves are still infants, “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” Babies might be cute. They might get you to talk in a funny voice or make funny faces, but they’re not really good for much else. In fact, and take this in the right way, they are a burden. I mean, have you ever noticed that a baby can’t rock another baby? Or hold or feed or change another baby? A baby can’t help me with my work. They can’t do that. That baby needs an adult. 

Do you know what this world needs? Do you know what your family needs? What this church needs? It needs you to be spiritually mature. It needs you to be a spiritual adult. Now, how does that happen? How do we get there? Because you notice in our lesson, Paul isn’t necessarily saying the Ephesian believers are there yet. And the reality is many of us probably aren’t either. So, yeah, it’s time to grow up, but how do we do that? We actually need to go back to Jesus’ ascension. In fact, I think it would help to go even a bit further back than that. 

In John chapter 20, Jesus had been crucified, died, and was buried, and Mary Magdalene, she is at his tomb. She’s sad, but then she encounters her risen Lord – you remember that scene? “Mary,” Jesus said, and she’s so full of joy, but what does Jesus tell her? I think we often skip these words – what does Jesus say? “Mary, do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to my Father. Mary would have loved to have had Jesus always with her, but Jesus couldn’t stay, and, if he did, she wouldn’t always have him. Right, he might be in some other place, some other town. But, if he returned to his Father, if he ascended, then he could descend to her, but not just to her, to you, to everyone. Jesus was saying, “Mary, let me go, so that I can ascend and come into your heart and then you’ll never ever lose me.”

St. Augustine once wrote this. “You, Jesus, ascended from before our eyes, and we turned back grieving only to find you in our hearts.” You see? Jesus went up, so he could come down to you. Think of those disciples. They saw it all. The death. The resurrection, the ascension. And at first, they were skeptical. They kept looking up. But remember what Jesus promised? That he would send his Spirit to fill them and teach them and remind them of everything he said and did.

 Jesus kept that promise. The Spirit came down. It did fill them. Jesus was brought into their hearts, and they spread that good news, and, with the Spirit dwelling in them and working through their words, Jesus continued to be with them and – here is the best part – he’s still with his people even today. He is down here. He is here. 

What does Paul say again in our lesson? Look at verse 8. Paul quotes from Psalm 68. “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” Jesus ascended yes, but as I mentioned before he sliced and diced up his many and varied attributes and distributed them, gifted them, to his people. Some of those people are those listed in verse 11, “Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.” And we often think that those people, people like me, are the ones who carry out Jesus’ work here on this earth, and that’s true in a lot of ways, but here is the thing, if I am doing everything for you, are you really growing up? Are you really maturing? Or are you an infant? 

This is why Paul says that ultimately my job and any other pastor’s job is to equip you, “for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”  And how do I do that? By doing what Paul says in verse 15, I “speak the truth in love.” And let me do that right now, here is the truth. We are sinners. All of us equally condemned before God. None of us better than another. I don’t care what you think of yourself. In God’s eyes, you deserve to be eternally separated from him. You deserve hell. That is the truth. And shame on me if I don’t include some love with this truth, because this is also true. Jesus died for you. He paid for every one of your sins – all of them. He did this unasked and unearned. Believe that, in Jesus as your Savior, and heaven is without a doubt your home. This is how we grow up – spiritually speaking – we take God at his Word. We set aside our opinions and desires, and we learn to trust in God in all things, but especially when it comes to our salvation.

You see no one becomes more spiritually mature simply by aging. You mature by growing in God’s Word, by other people speaking truth in love into your life, and by you doing the same for them. And this is hard, because often we’d rather just love and leave out the truth. We’d rather not correct or rebuke, but live and let live, or we happily correct and rebuke and leave the love out because it makes us feel better about ourselves. But we need both, law and gospel. And, again, this isn’t just my work. It’s yours. It’s what every person in your life needs to hear from you. They need you to grow up, so that you can help them to do the same. 

But, now, before we think all of this is on us, remember that Jesus ascended, so he could be here with us, with you. And, it’s precisely because he is seated at the right hand of the Father, he is seated down here at the right hand of your loved one dying, your friend hurting, your child sick, and he is there with you when you doubt. Because all things are under his feet, Christ is there with you when all the nastiness and ugliness of life tramples you under its own feet. And, best of all, because in his body he ascended to the highest throne in heaven, he puts that body into you as you gather down here around his altar-throne. Jesus ascends downward to lift us upward by giving us his body and blood for the forgiveness of all our sins. 

So it is, when we are skeptical, when we doubt, when your faith is weak, when you’re stumbling in your sins, yes, you can look up. You can lift your voice in prayer, but you can also look down here. At the witnesses, whom God has placed in your life to encourage you and speak truth in love to you. You can look down at the written Word through which God’s Spirit works. You can look at the simple water God used to wash you of your sin, or the bread and wine through which he gives you himself. You can cling to Jesus who ascended up, so that you would never stay down here. 

You see, it doesn’t matter how far you are dragged down in this life, there is no place too deep that Jesus is not there to meet you face-to-face. There is no place where he will not hear you or come to find you. The ascension did not take Jesus away…it brought heaven near. Jesus’ homecoming has made heaven a home for us who still are walking and living down here far from home. 

And, one day, as the angels said, “This same Jesus,” he will come down in the flesh to bring us up, to that home for all eternity. So, it is that now is our time to grow up. To mature in our faith, so that we are ready and waiting for that day we are called home. But we don’t grow up alone. We have brothers and sisters, we have each other. And each of us has unique gifts that God calls us to use build one another up until we reach that unity of faith, together, in heaven forever. May that day come soon, Lord, Jesus. Amen. 

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