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May 27, 2018

“Mysteries” 5-27-18

Ephesians 3:1-13
May 27, 2018

As we begin to look at the first part of the third chapter of Ephesians, we begin with a phrase that obviously takes us back to the last verses of the previous chapter.  That phrase is “This is the reason that I, Paul, am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles.”
So then, to find out what the “This” is we need to read the final verses of chapter 2, which are addressed to the Gentile Christians of Ephesus.  In those verses he reminded those Gentile Christians that they had been aliens and strangers to the covenant of God, and that they had now become citizens of God’s kingdom and members of the family of God, and that they were now being built into the new living dwelling place for God.
So, as he begins chapter 3, Paul writes that it was because of his service to Christ in bringing the Gentiles into the covenant of Grace, that he was a prisoner.    He was a prisoner for Jesus and for them.
And if you look at the account in Acts of the arrest of Paul in the Temple precincts which eventually led to his being in prison first in Caesarea, then in Rome, you will find that the main reason for his arrest was a riot that broke out in the temple precincts when Paul explained to those gathered there that he was ordered by the ascended Jesus to preach the salvation of Jesus to the Gentiles.
In fact, the author of Acts informs that one of the reasons why the folks in the temple in Jerusalem were upset at Paul was that he had been hanging out with a fellow named Trophimus, a Gentile from Ephesus, and it had been rumored that Paul had sneaked Trophimus into the parts of the temple into which only Jews were allowed. 
So, Paul’s arrest and imprisonment was connected not only to his work of evangelizing Gentiles, but especially to his work among the Ephesian Gentiles.
He wrote of his Commission from God that caused him to preach to the gentiles, and he spoke of that commission and his work among the Gentiles as clearing up a mystery.
He speaks of it as the mystery that was made known to Paul by revelation, and later as the “Mystery of Christ”.  That mystery, he wrote, was hidden from former generations but had now, in his time, been revealed by the Apostles and prophets. 
Now, if you read through the Old Testament, especially in the prophets, you will find that there were several mysteries that were later cleared up by Jesus. 
The Old Testament prophets spoke of the one whom God would send and spoke of him being the one who would build the Kingdom of God and Save many people, even the Gentiles. What remained a mystery throughout the Old Testament period was just Who this one sent from God would be, and how or when he would accomplish his task.
This Mystery is seen in the passage of the book of Acts, where Philip the Deacon encountered the Ethiopian Eunuch.  The Eunuch was reading from a scroll of Isaiah one of the great suffering Servant passages in Isaiah chapter 53.  And the Ethiopian asked, “In this passage, is the prophet writing about himself or someone else?”  Philip then explained to the Ethiopian that Isaiah had written about the Messiah, who was to come, and that he had now come and that his name was Jesus.  The Ethiopian believed and was baptized by Philip.
Paul was later called to continue and greatly expand upon calling Gentiles to believe that Jesus was the Messiah.
But in this passage, Paul is writing about a particular part of what had been the great mystery. 
It had been written throughout the Old Testament that the Gentiles would be included in God’s plan of Salvation and that they would have a part in God’s kingdom.  As the Messiah, Jesus told the Apostles to go out and make disciples of the Gentiles.
But even Jesus, as far as we know, did not specify exactly how the Gentile and Jewish Christians were supposed to relate to each other. 
That evidently got worked out in the Ministries of the Apostles.  Paul and others went out into the world preaching about Jesus to the Jews and the Gentiles, and when Both Jews and Gentiles believed, the apostles, as far as we know, never tried to keep them separate, establishing both Jewish and Gentile churches as separate entities.  That would have, in fact taken care of a lot of the problems that Paul wrote about in his epistles.  A lot of the problems that arose in the early churches came from Jews and Gentiles who had always been in separate communities now being in close contact with each other and worshiping together, and even (gasp!) eating each other’s food!
But from the beginning, Paul and the others taught and believed that there was ONE kingdom of God, not two.  That ONE kingdom was to be manifest in the church as it evangelized and worshiped.  It was not be two separate entities, one for Gentiles and one for Jews.  It was to be ONE, mixing together both Jews and Gentiles into One Kingdom.
Which makes me wonder if God is pleased with the church in our time, where individual churches tend to be pretty homogeneous, formed of people of one race, one social strata, one educational level, one specific age group, etc.?  It is true that people prefer to be with people like themselves and worship in the way we prefer.  But we really do need to do better in reaching out to all people and inviting people who are not like us to become a part of our church.
So in Paul’s preaching and creating congregations, some of the mysteries of the OT were revealed.  Jesus was revealed to be the Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice for sins.  It was revealed that when the Gentiles came into the kingdom of God through their faith in Jesus that they were to become parts of the one Christian community with Jews, and gentiles of other ethnic and economic stratas.
In this passage, in verse 10 Paul seems to be saying that this mixture of people into the church had not only solved a mystery for the people of his day, but even for entities in heaven. “So that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”  Most Scholars seem to think he is writing about angels here, but I would include Christians waiting in heaven for the final kingdom to be established.
But if you look at this passage, you will see that there is another mystery revealed here, or at least alluded to.  Throughout the passage, Christ is mentioned.  The Greek word Christos had become the equivalent of the Hebrew Messiah, the anointed one.  In verse 11 Paul further defines Christ, as Jesus Christ our Lord.
In the 5th verse he writes of the Mystery that had then been revealed to the Apostles and the prophets by the SPIRIT.
And in various places in the passage he writes of God’s Grace, God’s creating, and God’s Wisdom.  From the words “wisdom, Grace, and Creation”, I think it is proper to posit that Paul is writing about the Father.  When he writes of the Christ and Lord, he is writing about the Son, and the Spirit is the Holy Spirit.
The word Trinity does not appear in the bible.  It was coined by scholars of the church to describe the God we find in the bible, as in this passage.  We believe in the God who reveals himself to be of one substance and being and yet who has three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
And, if I might speak just a little longer this morning, I think we need to remember that even after the New Testament, some mysteries still remain unsolved.
I am sometimes asked what it will be like in heaven, which can be a little frustrating for me, because heaven or the eternal state of the kingdom of God is described mostly in general terms.  Revelation is the most specific on the subject, but its language is so symbolic that it, too does not always supply the information we long for. 
God has, for the most part, kept heaven as a mystery, but he has revealed enough of it for us to trust him that it is the place we want to spend our eternity.
One more thing.  In verse 1 Paul wrote that he was a prisoner for the sake of the gentiles, and in verse 13 he wrote that his sufferings were for their glory.
What does that mean?
Well, as most of you know, I like to attend auctions.  I usually take with me pad of paper and I write on it a description of the article for sale, and how much was paid for it.  Because of this, some folks ask me what I think an item coming up might bring.  I can take an educated guess and usually come within 10 percent of the sale price on some items.  Sometimes.  Yesterday a brown glass bottle that originally contained “bitters” and was made in Anderson IN, sold for $3,300.00, which proves that the real answer to what a particular item is worth is “whatever one person is willing to pay at that location on that day”.  That is how prices are set in our world, by what people are willing to pay for it.  Paul was telling the Christians in Ephesus that he was happy to suffer for them to have heard about Jesus and that their value to him and to Christ is to be seen in what he is suffering for them, what price he is paying for their salvation.
The same is true of all Christians.  In our day, in political, judicial, and medical circles it is frequently asked what a human life is worth. That is how we determine how lawsuits are settled, how much we charge for life-saving procedures and medicines and how much politicians will work to protect lives by the laws they pass, or don’t.
The bible has two answers as to how much a life is worth.  The first is found in Genesis and it tells us that humans are formed from the dirt.  Our bodies are basically a hundred, a hundred fifty, or two hundred or so pounds of dirt.  Go to any garden store and see how much your weight in good soil costs.  That is one measure of what you are worth.
But then it says that God breathed life into that dirt.  And then in the New Testament it says that the Son of God suffered and died on the cross for us.  Jesus paid with his death for you.  That makes you one of the most valuable parts of creation ever.  God set the price for you at a great premium.  The death and suffering of his son gives you great value, especially for those of us who have believed in Him.
In recent months we have become concerned about the sufferings in prison of our brothers Andrew and Kevin (Zhang Kai) something to remember about their sufferings is that they are proving the value of the Christians in Turkey and China.  They are suffering for them because they know that in God’s estimate they are of great worth.

 

Pastor David Horner
Faith Presbyterian Church
West Lafayette, IN 47906