Bible Passage: Ephesians 3:2-12 Pastor: Pastor Berg Sermon Date: January 7, 2018
A friend of a friend was in the market for a refrigerator. She wasn’t married to any particular name brand or color. There was only one thing the fridge had to have: an ice-cube and water dispenser. She carefully did her research. She bargain shopped to get the best price. And finally, she came home with the fridge of her dreams, complete with that all-important ice-cube and water dispenser. Life was great, until the next morning. When she walked into the kitchen to fill up her water bottle for the day, she noticed there were ice-cubes all over the floor. The freezer door was closed. The ice maker wasn’t running. But there were ice-cubes all over the floor. Flummoxed, she cleaned up the mess, filled up her bottle without any problems and put it out of her mind. When she got home from work, she checked the kitchen and low and behold, ice-cubes all over the floor again! Now she was upset. She’d spent all this time and energy finding just the right appliance and she hasn’t had it more than a day and it’s already malfunctioning. So she called the service manager and complained that her brand new refrigerator was dispensing ice-cubes all by itself. And she demanded that someone come out to fix the problem. So, the repairman came out and he checked the fridge from top to bottom and couldn’t find anything wrong. He, too, was able to start and stop the ice exactly when he wanted. He watched the machine for half-an-hour and no random ice ejections. Satisfied that everything was working well, the woman let him go home and put it all behind her. Until the next morning, when there was ice all over the floor again. Now she was really starting to worry. What was making this happen? Was her fridge possessed? Immediately, she got on the phone with the service manager and told him it happened again. This time, the service manager took matters into his own hands. He came out himself and was determined to find out what was making this happen, no matter how long it took. And so he watched, and he watched, and he watched for over an hour until suddenly he found the problem.
Everyone loves a good mystery, don’t they? The suspense, the twists and turns all captivate our attention. A good mystery leaves us practically begging to know what happens next. And that’s perhaps the best part of the mystery, isn’t it? The resolution. As mundane as my little story was, aren’t you wondering what the problem was? Perhaps you’re feeling frustrated that the mystery hasn’t been resolved. And that’s the thing with mysteries, isn’t it? Everyone loves a good mystery as long as it has a resolution. Everyone loves a good mystery unless they are part of it.
Just imagine if you were the friend of the friend in my little story. But instead of a balky refrigerator, the mystery in your life was a matter of life and death. Imagine how you’d feel if the doctors knew something was wrong, but they couldn’t figure out what it was? You’d be more than frustrated, wouldn’t you? Imagine if you were left in the dark, you had no answers about what happens when you die. Imagine that you knew that there was a God out there and you were supposed to please him, but you didn’t know how. Imagine that you knew that you were in desperate need of saving, but didn’t know who could save you.
Welcome to reality for much of the world. Their entire life is an unsolved mystery. How frustrating that must be! We know the secrets. We know the answers to all of life’s mysteries and the answer is always the same. It’s always found in Christ. But as Paul correctly says here in Ephesians, the truth about Christ is a mystery. What does Paul mean by that? He doesn’t mean that the truth about Christ is murky or vague or hard to understand. No, the mystery of Christ is something that needs to be explained. Much like the debate over whether the world was flat or round, that truth is something that needs to be discovered or illumined. Only, the mystery of Christ is something that we could never discover on our own. Thankfully, we don’t have to! For God comes to us with the answers. Epiphany pulls back the curtain on the mystery of Christ.
“This mystery is that in Christ Jesus the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and people who also share in the promise through the gospel.”It shouldn’t be a surprise that mystery is the key word in these verses. Paul uses that same word twenty times in the New Testament, six of those times in this letter to the Ephesians and four of those six in our lesson this morning. A cursory glance at mystery here might lead us to believe the great mystery is that God wants all people to be saved, including the Gentiles. And that’s partly true. God does want all people to be saved and that was a mystery for many of the Jews who thought of themselves as above the Gentiles as God’s chosen people. But the Old Testament reader should have been able to see clearly that God wanted all people to be saved. In his promise of the Messiah, time and again he says that “all peoples” will be blessed through him. Even more are direct passages like our first lesson this morning from Isaiah: “Nations will walk to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Look up. Look all around and see! All of them have been gathered. They are coming to you. Your sons will come from far away…” Clearly, these nations and kings are not just Jews. The Wise Men were a fulfillment of that prophecy. Yet many, including Jesus’ disciples didn’t grasp that part of the mystery.
No, it wasn’t so much that the Gentiles could be saved that was the mystery as what Paul shocks us with this morning. “This mystery is that in Christ Jesus the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and people who also share in the promise through the gospel.”Do you see the grand revelation? For so long, Jew and Gentile had been separated by God’s design. God had set up his laws and ceremonies around Israel like a protective fence. He did this to protect his promise of the Savior, to keep his people separate from the unbelieving world and devoted to him. But when Christ came, when the promised Christ Jesus came, he fulfilled the law. Every law that God had used to protect his people foreshadowed what Jesus would do. And when Jesus came and fulfilled all of God’s laws perfectly, when he gave us his life as the fulfillment of every sacrifice ever offered, when he rose from the grave proving that the law had been fulfilled, the sacrifice had been made and accepted, Jesus broke down the barrier between God and man, between Jew and Gentile. Now Paul says, “the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and people who also share in the promise…”They are spiritual equals!
That was shocking to both Jew and Gentile! So shocking that Paul needs to emphasize exactly what he means. And so in the Greek, he uses three terms that essentially mean the same thing and he ties them together with the same prefix. An English translation that would better reflect this would be something like this: the Gentiles are co-heirs with Israel, co-members of one body, and co-sharers in the promise…”Just think of what that meant to Paul’s primarily Gentile Ephesian audience! All of life’s mysteries that haunted them in the deep recesses of their consciousness were now solved. And the answer was the same. In Christ. In Christ they were saved. In Christ they were members of God’s family and could please him as his children. In Christ they had a spiritual inheritance in heaven waiting for them when they died. That is the gospel! That’s what the gospel proclaims. God so loved the world!
Just think what that message means to our world today! It wasn’t just the Gentiles at the time of Israel who live with life’s great mysteries unsolved. There are people that we meet every day who have those same frustrating questions, even if they don’t realize it or are trying to ignore it. Imagine the impact these truths, these great Epiphany revelations could have on their lives! And here’s the second part of the mystery revealed:“To me—even though I am the very least of all the saints—was given this grace: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ and to enlighten everyone about the administration of this mystery. In past ages this mystery remained hidden in God, who created all things. He did this so that, through the church, the multifaceted wisdom of God in the heavenly places might now be made known to the rulers and authorities. This was done according to the eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Paul was the last person in the world anyone would have chosen to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. Yet, it was God’s will that Paul have that privilege and that passion. Paul was much like the Gentiles—as the Hebrew of the Hebrews, the Jew of the Jews—Paul was just as much in the dark about the mystery of Christ as the Gentiles. And so once it was revealed to him, once he was brought out of the dark, he could relate very well to the plight of the Gentiles. He could appreciate what salvation in Christ meant for those who were in the dark. That God would save the world was a thought and plan no human mind could ever contrive, that no one and nothing in all creation could ever reveal to us. Only God could make this known. Only God’s chosen servants could receive that grace and that privilege. Paul received it! And so have you!
“He did this so that, through the church, the multifaceted wisdom of God in the heavenly places might now be made known…”God did this so that through the church, through you, his wisdom would be made known. God could have written in the stars how he saved the world. He could have sent angels to proclaim the good news like they did to the shepherds. God could have given every person an inborn knowledge of the gospel. But he did none of those things. He chose to make the mystery of Christ, the multifaceted wisdom of God, known through the church. Notice, Paul doesn’t say through pastors or councilmen or outreach committees. He says through the church. The Church is the Body of Christ! The Church is the body that you and I all are a part of! Every member of that body has the personal privilege of making the mystery known. We know the secret. We know the mystery. We know that God has sent his Son Jesus for all people. And God has given us the tools to do so! He’s given us his multifaceted wisdom. God’s wisdom has so many layers to it. And it continues to reveal itself in new ways the more we study it. God has given us pictures and illustrations to reach every person in this world in a way they can understand. He’s made the mystery known.
You still want to know how the ice-cubes got on the floor? The problem was the lady’s German Shepherd, who stood up and pushed the button so he could eat the ice-cubes. Feel better know? Just like we don’t love mysteries with no resolution, we don’t love mysteries that involve us. We’ve been given the opportunity to solve the mystery for so many people. We’re not spoiling the story for them, but taking away their frustration and given them the best news ever. Why in the world God would want to save any of us is a mystery in and of itself! But he does and he’s given us the privilege of sharing that truth! And on this celebration of Epiphany, it’s in the revelation of that mystery that, like the Wise Men, we see Christ’s Glory! AMEN