The Mystery Revealed in Christ (Ephesians 3:1-6)



2012-08-12

Ephesians 3:1-6 1  For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles– 2  Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3  that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4  In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5  which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6  This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

A Christian mystery is a truth previously hidden from human knowledge but now revealed by God.

In English the word mystery connotes something dark or obscure or puzzling. In the heathen mystery religions it referred to secret teachings that were restricted to only those who were initiated.

Christian mysteries, by contrast, are truths beyond human discovery which have now been revealed by God so that they now belong openly to the whole church.

This passage reminds us that since God was faithful to reveal the primary mystery of Christ to us in due time, he will also reveal in due time the remaining mysteries of life and that we should patiently wait for God’s promises to be fulfilled.

This passage tells us about the hiddenness of the mystery, the revelation of the mystery and the truth of the mystery.  Let’s look first at the hiddenness of the mystery…

  1. The HIDDENNESS of the mystery

This passage tells us first that at one time the mystery was hidden from man’s understanding.

 

4  the mystery…5  which was not made known to people in other generations

Statements could be found in the Old Testament which hinted at what would eventually take place, but it was not clear HOW God would accomplish this.  For example, the earliest promise of a redeemer found in Gen. 3:15 (NLT) is pretty cryptic. God said to the serpent and Eve immediately after the fall, “…I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” HOW God would do this remained a mystery to people for a long time. It was hidden.

 

  1. The REVELATION of the mystery

This passage tells us second that the mystery has now been revealed to the whole church through the New Testament writers…

5  it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.

And especially by Paul, who was acknowledged to be the apostle to the Gentiles (Rom 11:13).

Paul was appointed to make known to the Gentiles and to the whole church, HOW all nations would be blessed through Abraham.

1  For this reason I, Paul…for the sake of you Gentiles

2  Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you,

3  that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly.

4  In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery

 

Paul here refers here both to his calling to the Gentiles – as we saw in our earlier reading from Acts 26 (12-23) – and to his other writings, perhaps to the Galatians and/or the Colossians.

The point is that his commission was to bring what was previously hidden into the light for the whole church.

So what is this mystery?  What is the truth that was once hidden but now has been revealed?

  1. The TRUTH of the mystery

We are told that the source and the substance of the truth is Christ himself and the gospel or good news about him.

Verse four calls it

4  the mystery of Christ,

In verse six we are told

6  This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

The good news Paul has announced to the Gentiles is that in Christ they are no longer excluded because of their race, but are now included in God’s blessings promised to the Jews.

In verse six, three aspects of this truth are enumerated, and interestingly, each one begins with the same prefix meaning “together.” Listen again to verse six.

6 …the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

We are told that now in Christ, through the gospel, believing Gentiles have been joined to believing Jews in several ways.

  1. God is FAIR (same INHERITANCE)

 

First we are told that Jews and Gentiles have the same inheritance.

…the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel

And I suggest that this tells us something about God that we should remember.  It tells us that in Christ God is FAIR.

Remember the parable of the landowner found in Matthew 20 (1-16). Jesus said, “For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard.  He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.  Then at 9:00 AM he passed through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing, so he hired them telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day.  This happened again at noon at 3:00 and 5:00.  Then when evening came he told the foreman to call the workers and pay them beginning with the last

 

When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage.  When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’  “He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage?  Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you.  Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’  “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.”

The landowner told each of the workers he would pay them what was right.  No one received less than he was promised.  No one receives less than a day’s wage.  He paid at least what was fair.  However, some he paid more than what was fair.  This made some of them jealous.  This is perhaps the same feeling that the older brother experienced in the story of the prodigal son because his father chose to bless his Johnny come lately brother.

Do you ever feel jealous of other Christians because God seems to be blessing them even more than you in spite of the fact that you seem to be leading a better life than they are and in spite of the fact that you have been doing so longer than they have?

This passage reminds us that any jealousy we might feel is misplaced because God does what is right.  It may not seem fair to us from our vantage point, but we must remember that God has already given us even more than we deserve by grace through faith in Christ.  And when his kingdom comes fully the last shall be first and the first last. So if others are ahead of you now, it will not always be so. God is FAIR.

  1. God TAKES CARE (same BODY)

Second we are told that Jews and Gentiles have the SAME BODY.

 

…we are members together of one body,

And I suggest that this tells us something else about God that we should remember.  It tells us that in Christ God TAKES CARE. Just as human beings take care of their own bodies, so Christ takes care of his body. He takes care that each person is in just the right place, that weaker persons receive extra care, and that everyone works together for the good of all.

Listen to 1 Cor 12 (12ff). “The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ.  Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body.  And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body?  If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?  But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it.  The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”  In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary.  So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity.  This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other.   All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.

You may feel that you are not a very important member of the body of Christ, or on the other hand, you may feel that others are not as important as you. But we are told that neither should we discount our own value, nor should we discount anyone else’s value. We should neither say to ourselves, “I’m not needed” nor should we say to others, “You’re not needed.”

You may feel out of place right now. You may not know why you are here or what you are to do. But we are told here that “God has put each part where he wants it.” So you are here because God wants you to be here at this time.

And as we saw earlier, in God’s kingdom, things are different from the way the world works. The persons that seem to be of least importance to the world are the most necessary in his body and are to be given the most care and honor. So if you’re feeling unimportant and unnecessary, or if you’re unsure of your place in the body, wait for God to reveal that to you. He will be faithful to make it clear in due time. God takes care of his body.

  1. God’s TIMING DOES NOT ERR (same PROMISE)

Third, we are told that Jews and Gentiles have the same PROMISE.

 

…we are sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus

And I suggest that this tells us one more thing about God that we should remember.

It tells us that in Christ God’s TIMING DOES NOT ERR.

When we must wait, and wait, and wait, on God’s timing for the next phase of our life or ministry or job or family or school, we should remember that God’s promises are delivered according to his timetable. One of J.S. Bach’s church cantatas is titled, God’s Time is the Best Time.

In Genesis 18 God promised Abraham a son in his old age at a certain time. At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” 

A year later we are told (Gen. 21:1-5 ESV) The LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did to Sarah as he had promised.  And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him.

The birth of Christ was according to God’s timetable as well. (Gal. 4:4-5 ESV) But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

 

Jesus announced God’s timing for the inauguration of his kingdom, when he said, (Mark 1:15) “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

And at a certain time the consummation of his kingdom will arrive. (Eph. 1:10 NLT) At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ– everything in heaven and on earth.  

Doubters will assume the long wait means it will never take place. (2 Pet. 3:4 NLT) “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again? From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same since the world was first created.”

 

But Peter reminds us (2 Pet. 3:9 NLT) The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.

 

Because God is patient, we must be patient as well. And as we wait, we are reminded, (Rom 15:4-6 NLT) the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled. (Heb. 6:10-19 NLT) For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers, as you still do.  Follow the example of those who are going to inherit God’s promises because of their faith and endurance.  Remember God’s promise to Abraham: “I will certainly bless you, and I will multiply your descendants beyond number.”  Then Abraham waited patiently, and he received what God had promised.

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