Sunday, March 04, 2012

Sermon: Ephesians 3: 1-13 The Mystery of Christ

I wonder if you like a good mystery story? Whether it’s a Miss Marple or a Murder, She Wrote, you know that when you begin the story, everything will be worked out by the end. If you’re concentrating carefully, you might even work it out before the confrontation scene in the last chapter. The format never really changes, the mystery will be solved.

But when we come to Ephesians 3, and Paul speaks about the mystery of Christ, it’s not a murder mystery he’s talking about. Rather, it’s a secret which has now been revealed. Look with me at verse 5: ‘In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind...’ (so no one could know it, no one could work it out) ‘... as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by his Spirit.’ The apostles are the first to hear the open secret, this mystery of Christ, which they are now sharing and proclaiming.

But what is the mystery of Christ? Paul tells us in verse 6: ‘the Gentiles have become fellow-heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.’ If you were with us last week, you’ll remember that the Gentiles were previously excluded, shut out from the promises of God; but now in Christ they have been drawn in. It is only in Christ that this mystery has been revealed, and we can take our place within the family of God.

You see, right from when God called Abraham, his descendants were the people of Israel. To be part of God’s people, you were part of Abraham’s family. God’s plan was still a secret.

Now, lean in close, I’m going to tell you a secret. Just between me and you. No one else needs to know. ... What is it about hearing a secret that makes you want to tell someone about it? You’re bursting to share it, even when you shouldn’t really.

Paul tells us here that he had no such restraints - God revealed the secret to him, this mystery of Christ, and then sent him to tell the world! In fact, this mystery of Christ turned Paul’s world upside down, and his aim is to turn the whole world upside down with the news.

Did you notice how Paul described himself in verse 1? ‘This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles.’ Paul says he is in prison for Jesus; for the sake of the Gentiles. Now if you remember what Paul used to be like, you’ll see how he himself was changed by the gospel. He was a Jew of Jews, one of the leaders of the Jewish group seeking to destroy the early church; fighting against Jesus and certainly not interested in the Gentiles.

Talk about poacher turned gamekeeper. When Paul met Jesus on the Damascus road, his life was turned around; he was revealed this mystery, and given grace to go and tell the secret. Do you see his life’s work in verse 8: ‘this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.’

Paul works to bring the good news to the Gentiles that they can have a place in God’s family, through Jesus Christ; that they can share in the unsearchable riches of Christ; that they are included in the eternal plan of God in Christ Jesus. What great news that is!

Yet the Gentiles are not the only audience he has in mind. You see, he labours to tell people the good news so that they hear; but there is another audience as well. Unseen by us, there are rulers and authorities in the heavenly places - angels and demons - who are watching this world to see God’s plan unfold.

So as Gentiles hear the good news and join the church, as Jews and Gentiles become one new humanity in the body of Jesus; as people from different nations and backgrounds and preferences and experiences come together and get on together, so the church displays the multi-coloured (rich variety) wisdom of God to the wider audience.

Now, it pains me to say this, but last Sunday, Liverpool won the Carling Cup (what used to be called the League Cup). The cup will now sit in their trophy cabinet as a display of their success (at taking penalties!). In the same way, the church is God’s trophy; displaying his wisdom; showing his plan from before the creation now being unfolded as Jews and Gentiles come together in Christ to form the new humanity of eternity.

The church is also like the prototype; the working model of how the universe will be. If you’ve ever seen Dragon’s Den, the people bring their inventions, hoping to get some investment to market their product. Sometimes the ideas are crazy and the dragons are quickly out; the church shows the wisdom of God, not to a bunch of over-wealthy businessmen and women, but to the angels and demons.

This is the reason that Paul is in prison - he has committed his life to telling everyone about the good news, because it displays God’s wisdom and grace to a watching world and beyond. Perhaps the most remarkable thing, though, is what we find in the closing verse. It’s Paul, the prisoner, who urges the Ephesians to not lose heart; not the other way round.

We might expect the Ephesians to say, Paul, don’t you be worrying now that you’re in prison. Rather, it’s the other way round. Paul in prison says to the freemen, keep going! Don’t lose heart!

You see, the most important thing is for the good news to be spread. The secret is out, and we’re called to share it with everyone and anyone. It might be in work tomorrow and you’re asked what you did at the weekend. Will you say you were at church, or would you rather talk about every other detail of your weekend? When you bump into someone who wants to share a juicy bit of gossip (completely secret) (perhaps even just so you can pray about it!), will you share the secret you have - that everyone can have a place in God’s family?

Or when things are difficult; maybe something happens this week which threatens to knock you off course; will you be focused on God’s plan for the world rather than your own plans?

You might even think about how we can be a display of God’s multi-coloured wisdom in this church family; how we can reach those around from different backgrounds to come and share in God’s family - even those we would never imagine?

The secret is out; God’s eternal wisdom is being displayed, even today as we meet around the Lord’s Table; we are one in Christ, through his grace; welcomed to the family meal. We can’t keep this good news to ourselves.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 4th March 2012.

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