ALIVE Mystery | Ephesians 3:1-13
Topic: New Testament Passage: Ephesians 3:1–3:13
Christopher Rich – October 27, 2019
ALIVE | The Way Unearned | PART VI
ALIVE MYSTERY | Ephesians 3:1-13
Introduction | Mystery
Good Morning Welcome to Damascus Road where we are Saved by Jesus Work, Changed by Jesus’ Grace, and Living on Jesus’s Mission. Today we continue our series walking the through the book of Ephesians called ALIVE: The way Unearned where we see life with God has been given to us.
In Christ, we have been made alive for a purpose. To live in the way God has created us. Both the rewards of and endurance in this life are by His grace alone so they are by nature unearned.
We love a good mystery. I say that, because it’s true when the mystery is a story for entertainment. But we like it less when the mystery has to do with our own life circumstances, with understanding others, or events in the world that we find challenging. In that regard mystery for us has a negative connotation, it’s dark, secretive, unknown or unknowable. In those moments we don’t want an unsolved mystery we want it solved. We don’t like not knowing, we don’t like being on the outside of understanding. We want to be inside.
But the Greek context “mystery” was slightly different it referred to “secret truth” (or knowledge) that someone had been brought into. To be brought into the know or be initiated. Fraternities have a mystery of initiation. I experienced this first hand at the UW when was rushing. There are secrets that get revealed at points you’ve proven yourself worthy, loyal, submissive, able to endure, all to earned your way in to the inner circle. Into the elite. It is about belonging. In Ephesus, (and Greco-Roman culture had many “mystery religions” or cults that worked similarly. How you became a part, what rituals you had to go through, what was the core of their beliefs was known in part but shrouded, closed off, kept a mystery to the uninitiated. It was about exclusive belonging, and many knew they were outside. We see this today with several religious cults, scientology, Mormonism, JW. There is an invitation, but there is always something keep back for the uninitiated, you’ve got to prove it and make it in the inside. The Gospel can be misunderstood if you think of it as a way earned. We think about life with God as fraternity rush/initiation, where we’ve pledged, we hope to make it in the house (that we’re already living in) but in a very real way we are being evaluated, tested, enduring trials to become an insider. So we question God, specifically around our status. Have I done enough, am I making progress? What about when I am suffering or facing trails, I am further from the outside? I am I being tested to be proven worthy? Did I pass the test because I’m pretty sure I failed. What is my status? Have I been initiated? What don’t I know? We are in a place of tension.
So we bring that to the narrative of the Bible and we wonder. “If God had made a covenant promise to one family, one nation, to be His people, then a few will by nature be insiders while many others (not in the family) will be outsiders. How can there be any good news for those born outside this exclusive family?”
PART I | Mystery Solved | Ephesians 3:1-6
Eph 3:1-6 | 1For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
Mystery of suffering (v1) – Why if we’ve been made alive and we’re promised a future with God and His people is Paul he in Prison? That’s a mystery! Didn’t Nero put him in prison? Wasn’t it at the charges from self-righteous religious people? He was set apart for the work of preaching the Gospel crossing intrenched racial and cultural lines and now he’s in jail. What when wrong? Nothing. What we see and perceive isn’t always what is accurate. Paul suffering isn’t a symbol of being rejected by God but actually is Paul being used by God. Not a roman prisoner but a prisoner of God. That means what he’s engaged in is from God and for God. I am on Prison in behalf of the gentiles. Sometimes we it looks like the work of the world, or others but it’s actually the will of God being carried out. Some suffering is because of consequence of our sin or others sinning against us. Sometimes you’re suffering (or feel like you’re in prison) and it is actually from God. He’s hazing you like you’re a pledge He’s not to punish you, but he’s allowing suffering in order to produce growth. and it’s is for other (that your growth and endurance is to be a blessing for others.) When have you suffered or endured a trial that produced growth that equipped you to help others?
Humiliation to exaltation is the path of the Gospel that Jesus walked and has called us to follow. Suffering you’re experiencing may actually be the way to exaltation. But that makes it sound like I am earning?
Mystery of receiving grace (v2-3) - Our suffering isn’t to earn mercy and grace from God, we cannot earn it, it’s is given to us by God. Why would God give grace? First because we need it, but others need us to receive it. Why have you been given grace? For others to experience grace. What is the grace of God Given to Paul? Damascus Road! The Revelation of the who, what, when, how of the Gospel of Jesus.
Why not give directly? To each individual? Because it being a steward of God’s grace is meant to produced something in us. Paul went from being one working to produce suffering for others to keep outsiders out and the inside “pure” in his eyes, to one who is willing to suffer for outsiders to become insiders. (Mystery, curtain pulled back) by an apocalypse (revelation) of Damascus Road. He’s met by Jesus and is given a new identity (position) and a new mission (purpose). What do we need to know?
Mystery solved by God (v5) – What is the “open secret” what do we need to know to be an insider with God? Why didn’t people know? Wasn’t there enough clues? This mystery was not known before the NT era it was only revealed after the death (and resurrection) of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the answer to the mystery!
We haven’t known about this for generations but now it’s solved. There was a time when this wasn’t clear there was a time when you might have had a few clues, but God didn’t say “you go solve the mystery” I’ll tell you if and when you figure it all out. No! He says “I’m going to reveal this for you and to you.” We didn’t solve it, God revealed it. It’s not about what we can know it’s about seeing what has been done. Jesus had to walk through with some disciples on the Road to Emmaus. So there is not great initiation ritual you have to perform or secret process you have to endure. Even baptism is public declaration (yes part pledge of allegiance) of what has been done for you to brought into the family of God. Paul may have had a unique revelation experience but what was revealed wasn’t for him only. The Holy Spirit is the one who reveals the mystery and works to bring clarity to many. So in the context of a culture with many “mystery religions” in the region. Paul says. “I’ve got a true mystery for you.” He’s contextualizing the Gospel. “Mystery = Open secret” It’s been revealed. It’s not still a mystery it’s clear enough for us to understand it. It’s pretty clear. It’s not a big secret anymore. You’re trying to become an insider and you’re walking through all steps to try to get inside and you’re wondering why it isn’t working? Like when you go drive through a rich neighborhood and ask “How do you get one of these places?” What are the steps I need to do to be able to live like this? Or you look at others who seem to have it together and ask “why can’t I be more like them?” We beat ourselves us up because we know we’re on the outside looking in, or worse life seems to be “working” and you think you’re on the inside because you’ve earned it. Pride.
Here is the big mystery! (v6) The answer to the question “how do I become part of the people of God” what hope is there for those outside the people of God? Mystery Solved (v1-6) - For countless generations the hope of God to bring redemption and restoration was contained in the nation of Israel. Gentiles could only hope to earn their way into the family through religious observance. In the OT Gentiles could not become part of the family or enter the kingdom of God, but they had to become Jews. In Christ, unity doesn’t happen by Gentiles becoming Jews, conversely, Jews do not become Gentiles. Rather, both believing Jews and Gentiles become one new created entity equal in status and identity. Both been brought in to something greater than the perceived exclusivity of the world around you. You don’t have to chase the same things for significance or security. It’s already been done by Christ to make a new people.
Co-Heirs of an inheritance (future) What do I have to look forward to as being part of the people of God? Inheriting the Kingdom! In Christ the same blessing is coming in the future, so you have the same hope!
Co-Members of the body (present), you are part of the same people today! The multi-cultural mosaic of people from different groups. That means you have the same primary identity. You’re in the same family.
Co-sharers partakers (received/past) of the promises of Christ. That what God planned before the beginning and continually promised was for you. It means you have the same past heritage and connection.
There is comprehensive equality among the people of God. There are no second-class citizens. All, in the Kingdom of God are radically equal! That doesn’t mean they are not still distinct . Christ’s work to save sinners transcends racial and ethnic boundaries as what unifies people as heirs to the family of God is not their bloodline, but Jesus shed blood for them. This Gospel should be the worst kept secret in world.
PART II | Manifold Wisdom | Ephesians 3:7-10
Eph 3:7-10 | 7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
There have been some solved mysteries because of the Gospel! Paul’s role was unique and distinct. He had a Damascus Road experience but what he was called to is not something that was for him alone, we too share in many of the same implications that apply to us as well.
Know you how you have been called (v7) If your faith and trust is in Jesus then it was (is) the power of God at work in you. It’s a gift from God by nature unearned. His power is what makes you alive and new.
Know why you were called (v7-9) You have been made a minister (manager, assist to the regional manager) of the Gospel. A manager is some who is responsible. It’s a servant role. We serve by sharing, (preach, proclaim) the gospel to other outsiders (gentiles) to know Christ. You matter in the story, there is a lot of (me and I) Paul is an individual, you are an individual, but the gift is from God, the power, is God’s and the purpose is for others. How being a servant, assistant manager a gift? God’s power was used to give Him a new purpose and that purpose is to serve God by sharing the Gospel. We have been given so much, we’ve been made new, alive, as a citizen, part of a family to call others to come home.
Know who you were and who you are (v8) this requires honesty and humility. Paul says I’m the “Leastest” Least of all the leaders, least of the apostles, no. He calls himself least of all the saints. (literally “least of the least”) that is every Christian! He’s not being faux humble, and Paul doesn’t need more self-esteem. He’s doesn’t need to be told “you weren’t that bad” He sees himself properly. This is honest self-reflection to recognize you’r not perfect. Not to have a brash “tell it like it is” but to not be too impressed with yourself. Can you be honest about your story, your imperfection, about your need for grace? He’s honest about who he is without Jesus and he is humble about who he’s been made in Jesus. In verse 8 he says even though I am the am the LEAST of the saint, I’ve been given something unearned that is AWESOME!
He is Chief of sinners! I am not that special, except I am an exceptional sinner! but we’ve been chosen for a purpose. Remember it’s not It’s not about you! It’s about plan God’s unite people to Him and each other.
Know what you don’t know (v8) - So when we ask ourselves a questions, like “What don’t I know? What can’t I comprehend? What Can’t I wrap my head around it’s is this: The Riches of Christ that are unsearchable (literally boundless, unfathomable) It’s looking for the foot prints of Christ, but we cannot see them or know them fully. Tracking the work of God. the blessing of God in Christ are limitless. We can be people who search out the riches of Christ not for our security but because of it. We’re not lost explorers in the wilderness searching for our way home. We are explorers searching out a vast frontier of delight that has been purchased for us. It can be enjoyed by us, but it’s not to be kept exclusively to ourselves. While there is so much we cannot wrap our heads around there are some things we know.
Know you can show what has been made clear (v9) – There is a God has created everything and everyone. Sin entered the world and with is separation, and alienation between God and humanity. But hope is not lost. That we have been known and adopted before the foundations of the world, we were spiritually dead and made alive by a merciful God who loves us, who has done all the work of tearing down the dividing walls of hostility between His holiness and our sinfulness and the walls we build or have experienced between other people, so that we are now citizen saints brought near to God and each other as a new people of God being built together as a display and dwelling place of God to the world calling more to Him while we wait to be reunited with Him for eternity. The God who made everything, thou we fell, is faithful to us to bring us together with Him and with each other. He who created everything, who is making a new creation will not stop until it’s been completed. So we can We can believe the mystery. Verse 9 the mystery of God who created all will then reunite all things together through Christ.
Know what you are a part of (v10) We have individual salvation, individual purpose but we are part of a greater purpose. We display the Manifold Wisdom of God - What can seem mysterious to us is often the wisdom of God. God’s purpose from before the beginning of creation was to display His gracious character not only through one nation (Israel) but to all nations through His people (the church). Through the “assembly” this word for church matters because he’s talking about the gathering. Something is revealed to the world (and witnessed by heaven) about the nature of the kingdom of God.
Manifold (multifaced/multicolored/variegated/diversified) It’s a word wsed to describe a flower garden, a multi jeweled crown, a tapestry woven together. This is used to describe the wisdom of God (let that sink in). He’s doubling down in what the picture of the church and what that shows to a world that uses diversity as a way to separate. Wisdom could be made known when? In the future? No, NOW. Now means now. We show the kingdom of God is bigger and more diverse than we want to imagine. The assembly of this family, this nation of citizens, is multi ethnic, multi-cultural, with a people from a variety of different backgrounds, socio economic status, experiences, personalities, and interests, that has both clear distinct individuals from distinct groups who have been brought together with great unity and harmony around the Gospel of Jesus. That looks like more like a finely woven tapestry than a single color sheet. And that a community of this nature is actually the wisdom of God. The church displays the wisdom of God in word (our message) and deed (our actions and even our make-up as a body of believer). In this, we can embody the mystery….
PART III | Motivated by Glory | Ephesians 3:11-13
Eph 3:11-13 |11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.
In Christ the “forever purpose of God” is for us to be part of this people who are motivated by Glory. WE all want to be home, but we know we’re not yet. We are not citizens of a fallen kingdom, but we are ambassadors in one. We know Christ has risen, Christ is reigning, we have been made aware of His work for us so we are part of His people, but suffering still remains a reality. We are secure even in the midst of trial and difficulty not because we’ve earned insider status that makes us insulated from suffering but because we have been made part of a people who have been given what we need to endure.
Boldness – in the face of inadequacy We’ve been given this treasure of the Gospel to steward we’ve been given a purpose to share it with others, to display it in word and deed as the assembled church. We know we’re inadequate on our own to accomplish this on our own. We can be bold in the face of opposition and obstacles to joy not because we are adequate but because Christ is more than adequate in our place!
Access – in the face of isolation. We can feel alone and cut off distant from God and divided from others around us but In Christ we know we can approach God as a full family member. We have access to God because of Christ work on our behalf. We have the privilege of being in communion with God.
Confidence – in the face insecurity We know we’re inadequate we experience isolation so when we have boldness and access there is something lurking behind us telling us that it is going to end. Our confidence is in the nature and character of God. So we can have security, not in ourselves but in God.
Faith – our reason for boldness what grants us access to God, our confidence comes from the object of our faith (not the intensity of ours ) that is Christ, who is for Us. Faith in Jesus makes outsiders become insiders. We are alive to point others to where life is found. This is a glorious purpose that should keep us motivated for mission. This mission will include discouragement and suffering. But we don’t lose heart. We know our part of the story is small but we’re part a story that’s big and that ends very well.
Remember, In Christ, sometimes you’re a prisoner. You’re always a steward. At best you’re an assistant manager (assistant to the regional manager). Errand boy for Jesus to get God’s gifts to God’s people so they might know Him. This isn’t a curse or demotion it’s a gift! Because we have purpose but we also have a secure position as family now, son and daughters, as citizens now. Who are co heirs to a future inheritance because we share the past promises of God. How does that change the way we see ourselves and outsiders? How does this change how we see circumstances and challenges? Be encouraged to be bold, empowered by our access to God, endure with confidence in the object of our faith when we Trust Jesus.