The Purpose of the Mystery
We’ve been studying Ephesians 3:1-14 under the title, “It’s a Mystery to Me.” So far we’ve looked at the prisoner, the plan, and the proclamation of the mystery. Today, in verses 10-11 we look at the Purpose of the Mystery and there is some almost stunning information contained there. In talking about the purpose of the mystery, we are also talking about the purpose of history itself. Among the amazing discoveries we will make is that the church, the body of Christ, the complement of believers between Christ’s first and second comings, plays a key role in history.
Finding meaning in history continues to elude mankind in general. Is history just the random succession of events, each effect having its cause and each cause its effect, yet the whole betraying no overall pattern but appearing rather as the meaningless development of the human story? Was Henry Ford right when in 1919, during his libel suit with the Chicago Tribune, he said, ‘History is more or less bunk’? That’s a human perspective, but God sees something else.
The Bible sees a great purpose to history. And it all centers around the person of Jesus Christ. Someone has wisely said that history is his-story, and if you leave him out of it, it’s no wonder you can’t understand it. But once we get it straight that history centers around the person of Christ, things make a lot more sense, so let’s look at the purpose of the mystery of the church where, not surprisingly, we will find Christ.
The Purpose of the Mystery
The purpose of the mystery is made immediately clear in verse 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. This is only the second use of the word “church” in Ephesians, although the church has been in the background all the way through. The mystery in one word is the church. And the purpose of the mystery and of the church is to display the manifold wisdom of God.
The great overarching purpose of everything is to glorify God. We read in I Cor. 8:6, “ yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” Peter has the same theme in I Peter 4: 11, “ whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” It may not look like it yet, but everything is aiming at one purpose and that is the glory of God.
Now, one way that God is glorified is through the demonstration of His manifold wisdom. The word translated “manifold” is used only here in the New Testament. It literally means “many colored.” It is the word used in the Greek version of the OT to speak of Joseph’s coat of many colors. It calls to mind a rainbow, or the sparkling beauty of a diamond, cut to capture and reflect in dazzling beauty the multiple colors of light. This, Paul is saying, is what the many-faceted, dazzling wisdom of God is like.
God is the one who has created a whole universe to demonstrate his mighty handiwork as we read in Psa 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” The more we learn of the expanse, the choreography of its trillions and trillions of parts, and yet the unthinkably delicate balance of its structure, the more we should see the manifold wisdom of God, although He seldom gets the credit. Fred Hoyle, an English Astronomer who was originally an atheist but came to believe in a Creator based on the balance in nature said: “Some supernatural intelligence must be directing the evolution of life and indeed the whole cosmos. The universe is an obvious fix – there are too many things that look accidental that are not.” He went on to compare the random emergence of even the simplest cell to the likelihood that "a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein." Hoyle also compared the chance of obtaining even a single functioning protein by chance combination of amino acids to a solar system full of blind men solving Rubik’s Cube simultaneously. The creation around us certainly demonstrates one of the facets of God’s wisdom.
God’s multi-faceted wisdom is also exhibited in His prophetic prowess shown hundreds of times in the Old Testament. His wisdom is demonstrated in the many miracles that have accompanied revelation over the years of human history. But what is astounding about this passage in Ephesians is that His manifold wisdom is being demonstrated through the Church. That is astounding on several levels. To think that this imperfect, sin-laden church should be the means for demonstrating God’s wisdom to angelic beings seems improbable indeed. So, let’s look closer at the individual components of this display of God’s wisdom – let’s look at the agent (the church), the audience (angelic beings) and the authority (Christ Himself)
Notice verse 10 again: “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known.” Who is this church? Well Paul has made clear previously in chapter 2 that it is comprised of the multi-national, multi-cultural group of believers who have been, according to 2:16, “reconciled to God in one body through the cross.” They are believers – seen by the world as a bunch of fanatical misfits, harmless at best, or helplessly lost intellectually at worst.
But God’s view is very different, and it is so important that we get His perspective. In his view, the church is the mystery. And their presence in one harmonious, selfless, equal body renders them Exhibit A of the manifold wisdom of God.
We are not prone to see ourselves quite in this light, but, Beloved, it is important that we do. I cannot read this passage without being reminded of Paul’s glorious words in I Corinthians 1. Let’s turn there and begin reading at verse 26, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. (so far a pretty good description of us, wouldn’t you say?) 27) But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; (I don’t know if you want to think of yourself quite in those terms, but folks, if we believe in Christ, this is pretty much the category that a lot of the world puts us into. We should glory in it, frankly, for they did the same to our Savior) 28) God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29) so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30) And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31) so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Listen, here is the absolute bottom line to that passage of Scripture. We are the winners. We are the winners. It may not look like it now, and it may not be obvious in our lifetimes, but in Christ, we are the winners. See, the battle isn’t over because someone laughs at or mocks our faith. The battle isn’t over when someone speaks disparagingly of our Lord – not by a long shot.
Two years ago at this time the Colorado Rockies were hopelessly mired in fourth place in the NL Western division – not mathematically eliminated but basically needing to win virtually every game. I’m sure that everyone here remembers vividly what happened as the Rockies went on a tear winning 21 of their last 22 games to power their way into the World Series. Had they lost even one more game, they would not have made it. They were down to their last strike at one point before rallying to win. They had to score 3 in their last at-bat against the best closer in the game, San Diego’s Trevor Hoffman to win the wild-card playoff. In baseball, it’s never over until it’s over.
The point is, history isn’t over yet, folks. (And I want you to know that I threw away a perfectly good Dodger illustration to use the Rockies). The world can have whatever view it wants of God’s chosen, the church, right now. They may laugh and mock and scorn to their heart’s content, but the last at bat has not happened yet, and once it does, I assure you on the basis of the Word of God that we are the winners. And that is one of the reasons we will exhibit the manifold wisdom of God because sometimes it sure doesn’t look like we are the winners. Nevertheless we are and the day is coming when throughout all eternity, our salvation will be a never-ending reminder of the manifold wisdom of the grace of God.
I think there are at least a couple of ways that we demonstrate the grace of God. The first is by the fact that we are saved at all. As we’ve seen before, there is not a single one of us that deserves salvation, so I think there will be constant amazement over our individual salvation. Angels will say to each other, “Can you believe that Dave McNeff is part of the church? That self-righteous, weak-willed, proud for nothing, morally-challenged reprobate! Man – only by the manifold wisdom of the grace of God could he be here!” And don’t laugh because they will be saying the same thing about you!
But in any even greater way as emphasized in Ephesians 3, it will be the fact of the combining people of completely diverse backgrounds into one equal body of Christ – that will really demonstrate the wisdom of God. That is why I think the homogeneity principle of the Church Growth movement is so nefarious. It says the way to grow a church is to appeal to a single cultural group. But don’t you see that that absolutely defeats the purpose of God to display His manifold wisdom in showing that sin-caused alienation between disparate peoples can be removed. People of disparate backgrounds who have been redeemed by Christ can work together, can honor and respect one another, can love each other. Listen, that’s a precursor of heaven. Get ready, it’s coming, and it truly should be reflected now in our local congregations where our neighborhoods are of mixed heritage. Unbelievable as it seems, the church is the agent for displaying the manifold wisdom of God. The universe is scratching its head.
B. The Audience – The Angels
Now, if you thought that the church being the agent for displaying the manifold wisdom of God was a bit startling, wait until you get a load of the audience. Who is it that God is wanting to make this display for? Our tendency would be to say, “Well, for people. For the world around us.” And there is a wonderful sense in which that is true. Christ said in John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35) By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” So the church as a combined, loving body is displaying God’s grace to the world.
But the audience that Paul mentions in Ephesians 3 is different. This audience is the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This very interested and intensely curious audience is the angels! How about that?
That these are angels is clearly established in other passages in Ephesians like 1:21 where the same terms are used to describe certainly good and probably evil angels as well. It is made abundantly clear in 6:12, “ For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” The same words, rulers and authorities in heavenly places (the air around us which is occupied with both good and evil angels), are used here as in 3:10, and there are clearly evil spirit beings in view here. Since the words can be used of either, the only safe ground is to assume that in 3:10, both good and evil angels are in view.
This verse is a wonderful indicator of the close proximity of heaven and earth. We have been programmed to think of heaven as far removed and almost impossibly ethereal. I assure you – it is not. Very clearly from this passage, angels know what is going on here on earth. Look again at verse 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.” Listen, that verse makes absolutely no sense if the angels are not viewing us constantly and well aware of what is going on here. They are close and they are seeing us even now. We read in Luke 15:10, Jesus speaking, “ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” It would be hard for them to do that if they did not know exactly what is going on, don’t you think?
In Matthew 18, Jesus brought a child and stood him in front of the disciples. Then he said this in verse 10, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” Think about that for a moment. He is teaching us that children have angels, as indicated by his referring to “their angels”, who at one and the same time are protecting and watching over those children on earth while also seeing the face of the Father in heaven. Heaven is not far away, Beloved.
Now, I want to show you a passage that may surprise you if you haven’t read or studied it before. It is in I Peter 1, so please turn there with me. Let’s read beginning in verse 10: ” Concerning this salvation, the prophets (speaking of OT) who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11) inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. (Even the ones who wrote it didn’t get it fully) 12) It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you (those OT prophesies were intended more for the NT church saints than for those to whom they were originally given), in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.” So the men who wrote the OT prophesies did not always understand what they were writing, but guess what? Neither did the angels. They are not omniscient and did not get it all which, by the way, explains why Satan did not understand that in getting Christ killed he was actually playing right into God’s hands. He’s not as smart as he thinks. Do you see? The angels longed to look into OT predictions as much as anyone. In fact, the word “look” is the Greek word παρακυπτω, whose primary meaning is “to stoop”. It is used of those who arrived at Jesus tomb and ‘stooped’ to look into it trying to find him. Picture the angels stooping from their vantage point in heaven and wherever evil angels dwell to look intensely into the affairs of men to see what exactly God is doing and you have the picture. Given their description as “rulers and authorities” in Ephesians 3:10, it would appear that both good and evil angels are watching to see the display of God’s wisdom, though it is a source of joy to one group and the source of dismay to the other.
The angelic beings have seen some marvelous things through the years of history, have they not? They’ve had a ringside seat at Creation and according to Job 38:7, they sang together on that great occasion. Can you even imagine that?! They have been witness to the great revelation of the law and God’s wrath against sin at Mt. Sinai. They have witnessed the ultimate demonstration of God’s love and God’s glory at Calvary. And now in a new and magnificent way they see His manifold [multi–colored, multi–faceted] wisdom that is made known through the church. They see Him taking Jew and Gentile,—who together murdered the Messiah and were worthy only of hell—and making them, by that very cross of murder, one spiritual Body in Jesus Christ. They marvel, and who wouldn’t, that God could take such pitifully weak, sinful and hopeless individuals and mold them into that which will ultimately win out against every human device and institution.
Throughout history God has been using the mundane to show his majesty. David’s slingshot to defeat Goliath; Daniel’s prayers to close the mouths of lions; saliva mixed with clay to open blind eyes in John 9; a band of unlikely brothers – the disciples to turn the known world upside down. But there’s never been anything quite like the church. In His hands, the mundane becomes majestic. The dull becomes divine, the humdrum holy. God’s power is seen, not through the ability of the instrument, but through its availability. And that, folks, is exactly why the church is the agent for displaying the manifold wisdom of God to the angels and eventually all of Creation. With us being Exhibit A, there is no doubt who should get the credit and the glory – it all goes to God.
Now – the authority for all this. Look at verse 11: “This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord” Everything we have been talking about today is an ongoing, continuing activity. The church is being built -- one convert at a time becoming a new stone in the temple that God is building. The angels looking on and rejoicing at every person who comes to repentance. And according to verse 11, all of it is happening in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord. Jesus is the key.
See the verb “has realized”? It is aorist tense. That means it is a completed, once for all action. Beloved – The eternal purpose of God has already been realized. We think of it as some future thing that will be a glorious finale when Satan is finally cast into the Lake of Fire, and Christ sets up His throne to rule eternally – and all of that is yet to happen and it will be glorious, and if we are truly saved we will be right there with the angels to see it all and to participate to the eternal, eternal, forever glory of God – always displaying in our persons the manifold wisdom of God. Yes, it is all to come.
But the thing is, the real glory, the basis for reconciliation, the death knell for Satan, the ultimate victory – it has already happened. God has already realized it in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, His only begotten son.
The only reason that someone like G. N. Clark could say at his inaugural address as president of Cambridge University, “There is no secret and no plan in history to be discovered. I do not believe that any future consummation could make any sense of all the irrationalities of preceding ages. If it could not explain them, still less could it justify them.” – the only reason that he could say that was because he was not looking in the right place. His missed the one and only central person in history. He missed Jesus Christ. To him history is just a record of killing, counter-killing, kings rising, kings falling, empires rising, empires falling over and over and over again. That’s what he sees. It’s chaotic; it’s evil and sin is rampant.
But to see history in that way is like watching Gone With the Wind minus Scarlet O’Hara. What would that movie be like if you took Scarlett out? Why, it would make no sense whatsoever, would it? It would be unintelligible. And that is just what it is like to try to make sense of history without Christ.
But if you understand that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, God become man specifically for the purpose of dying and being raised again to provide the basis for reconciliation – restoration of a relationship with God and with others, things begin to fall into place. So can I explain all the inequities and evil of history as we know it? No, of course not. But I know the one who can. I know that on the cross Jesus won it all back and I know that a great culmination is coming that will leave no doubt as to the wisdom of God.
God has won everything back. There is a striking illustration in Adolf Hitler’s attempt to nullify the disasters of WWI . Germany, defeated in 1918, was forced to sign the armistice capitulation in a railroad car on a siding in the Forest of Compiegne. It was on the crest of the movement to wipe out the memory of that defeat that Hitler came to power. When France fell before the Nazi forces twenty-two years later, instead of following his troops into Paris and dictating a peace at Versailles or at the Louvre, Hitler, remembering 1918, had his engineers lay railroad tracks to the military museum where the armistice car had been exhibited between the wars, and bring it back to Compiegne. It was on the exact spot where German might had yielded in 1918 that the French generals were forced to sign the capitulation of France in 1940. The pictures of that scene reveal a remarkable sight. The erratic, frustrated corporal of the first war, now master of Germany and France, actually danced in front of cameras, he slapped his thighs, grinned ecstatically, shook his head from side to side, and executed lively steps of glee. The memory of the defeat was eradicated by the experience of victory, superimposed at the very place of the humiliation.
Of course, Hitler soon and rightfully, lost what he had won back, but God will never lose what Christ bought at Calvary. So, dear people, two questions:
1) Have you allowed him to buy you back? If not, please, please do so.
2) If you are His, are you living like the display of His manifold wisdom that you are?