Stephen Caswell ©1999
A nurse neglected to tell her new patient, a little boy, how his hospital room intercom worked. Soon his light flashed. I called his name and asked what he wanted. There was complete silence. I repeated myself. After a long pause he said, "Jesus, I hear you but I don't see you. Where are you?" Because the little boy didn't know any better he thought the intercom was Jesus trying to talk to Him. He didn't know about this mysterious form of communication. The same is true of God's secret plan for the Church. God's plan was worked out before He created the world. But nobody knew about it until after Christ revealed it. Until then it was a mystery.
Last Sunday morning we looked at God's great peace plan. We saw how that Christ reconciled sinful men to God. We also saw how He reconciled Jew and Gentile to form a new man. Christ broke down the barriers that previously had separated them. Through the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, God has formed one nation, one family and one temple. In Chapter 3 Paul the prisoner of Jesus Christ starts to pray for the Ephesian believers that they might realize this wonderful mystery. But he stops and explains more about the mystery and why He is a prisoner. A mystery is a divine secret that God has now revealed. This mystery is very important to all creation.
I. It Was Important To Paul
II. It Was Important To The Gentiles
III. It Was Important To The Angels
IV. It Is Important To Christians
I. It Was Important To Paul
a. Paul Was Christ's Prisoner
Ephesians 3:1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles—
Paul became a prisoner of Jesus Christ after he took the Gospel to the Gentiles. The reason Paul was awaiting trial in Rome was because of his Gentile ministry. The Jews became very antagonistic towards Paul since he had dared to remove the distinction between Jew and Gentiles. They accused him of being prejudiced against his own people. Paul sought to heal this conflict between the Jews and Gentile churches by bringing a financial gift to help the poor in Judaea. But instead of receiving Paul the Jews accused him of bringing a Gentile into the temple. They tried to kill him and this resulted in his arrest by the local Roman commander. Paul tried to diffuse the situation by speaking to his people. They listened to his testimony of salvation until he shared how God had told him to go to the Gentiles. Then they went wild again. As a result he was transferred to Caesarea to stand trial again. After two years at Caesarea Paul was sent to Rome. Paul had always wanted to go to Rome, He just didn't expect to go as a prisoner. But God used even this to spread the Gospel through out Caesar's household and the Praetorian Guard. Paul was Christ's prisoner. But he gladly suffered because the message was important.
b. Paul Was Also Christ's Steward
Ephesians 3:2 If indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you,
Paul was given a dispensation of grace to serve the Lord among the Gentiles. Dispensation means law of the house or stewardship. God's principles do not change. Salvation has always been by faith. But His methods for dealing with people have changed over the course of history. In the Old Testament God dealt with people according to Law. Now He deals with people according to grace. God gave this dispensation of grace to Paul when He called him on the Damascus Road. Acts 26:15-16 “So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. ‘But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. Paul had received a stewardship, so he must obey the Lord.
c. Christ's Mystery
Ephesians 3:3-5 How that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets:
Paul was commissioned by God to go to the Gentiles and declare to them God's salvation. This message was previously hidden. It had been a mystery. But now God had revealed it. A revelation is religious doctrine viewed on its illuminated side; a mystery is the selfsame doctrine viewed on the side un-illuminated. Paul had written to them about this in chapter one where he called it the mystery of His will in verse 9. We looked at this mystery last week when we saw how Jews and Gentiles formed one nation, family and temple. In previous ages God had not revealed His secret plan. But now He revealed it through His holy apostles and prophets. Paul was given this dispensation to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. God has given us a commission to. This message was so important to Paul that he was gladly imprisoned for it.
We have been commanded to take the Gospel to every creature. We are to make disciples or followers of Christ. The message is important. People are going to hell because they don't know it. Are you obeying Christ's commission? One day we will give an account for our response! Proverbs 24:11-12 Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Surely we did not know this,” Does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it? And will He not render to each man according to his deeds? When was the last time you shared the Gospel with someone who is lost? The Gospel was important to Paul. So important that he was willing to suffer for it.
II. It Was Also Important To The Gentiles
Ephesians 3:6 That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel,
Nebuchadnezar's Great Image
While Daniel was in Babylon, King Nebuchadnezar had an amazing dream. He saw a great image standing before him. He knew this mystery was important and wanted to know its meaning. He believed that it related to his kingdom. But he forgot the dream. He summoned the wise men to tell them of his dilemma. They couldn't help him. Eventually Daniel was able to reveal the dream to him and what it meant. God's mysteries are important and that is why people want to know their meanings. They relate to us and the future. They declare good news.
a. Christ's Message
God's mystery was revealed through the Gospel. Last week we saw how the Gentiles were previously without Christ, without citizenship, without covenants, without hope and without God. But God has given the Gentiles citizenship, hope and covenants in Christ. They are no longer separated from God, but have become part of God's people by faith. The Gospel brings salvation to all who receive it. Paul repeats this again emphasizing that Jews and Gentiles are united in the body of Christ. This mystery was unknown in previous ages, but is now revealed.
1. fellow heirs Gentile believers share in the inheritance God promised His people through Abraham. There is no advantage in being a Jew or Gentile regarding God's inheritance.
2. members of the same body Through the new birth Gentile believers become part of Christ's body. 1 Corinthians 12:13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.
3. partakers of God's promises The promises of God were given through the covenants. Gentiles have been included in the New Covenant. The Gentiles rejoiced over this wonderful message.
b. Christ's Minister
Ephesians 3:7-8a Of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power. To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given,
Earlier we saw that Paul was Christ's prisoner and steward. Here we are told that he is Christ's minister. The word minister here is diakono" and stresses service. Paul believed that his calling to be God's servant was a special gift of God's grace to him. He believed that he was unworthy for such a high privilege. Probably because previously he had persecuted the church and blasphemed Christ's name. Certainly Paul was very humble and received his ministry as a great privilege. 1 Corinthians 15:9-10 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. As God's minister, Paul had two tasks to perform.
1. To Preach Among The Gentiles
Ephesians 3:8b that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,
Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. Although he did preach to the Jews his main focus was to the Gentiles. He traveled throughout Asia to fulfill his heavenly commission. The message Paul preached was the unsearchable riches of Christ. Unsearchable means that you can't trace it back. God's ways are deep and mysterious. We can't fathom the depths of His wisdom and grace. This may also relate to fact that the church was not revealed in the past. God planned it in eternity past but didn't reveal it until Christ came. God chose to have mercy upon all men. The Jews had the law but broke it. The Gentiles were without Law and yet still lost. But God has shown mercy on all. Romans 11:32-33
For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! Paul preached the unsearchable riches of Christ to all men. The purpose he had for doing this is given in verse 9.
Ephesians 3:9 and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ;
2. To Make All See
Paul wanted all people to see the full extent of the mystery. That God's new creation had begun through Jesus Christ. God had always planned to do this but had kept it hidden. Even before Jesus Christ created the worlds God planned to redeem a peculiar people to Himself. He would abolish the separation caused by sin. He would restore perfect fellowship. And He would do it through Christ Who made it all to start with.
Our Task in the Darkness
At age twelve, Robert Louis Stevenson was looking out into the dark from his upstairs window watching a man light the street lamps. Stevenson's governess came into the room and asked what he was doing. He replied, "I am watching a man cut holes in the darkness." This is a marvelous picture of what our task should be as sharers of God's light--people who are busy cutting holes in the spiritual darkness of our world. Similarly, God had commissioned Paul to help men see. Acts 26:18 'I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you ‘to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’ The message is important. Paul thought he was privileged to share it.
III. It Was Important To Angels
Ephesians 3:10-11 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord,
a. God's Wisdom Is Intricate
You might ask, why did God keep His secret about the church hidden for so many centuries? Because the principalities and powers are involved in this great secret. God is instructing the angels through the church. The word manifold means variegated or many colored. This word was used to describe an embroidered piece of cloth. There is more to it than meets the eye. It is like an amazing pattern. As the angels see God's plan of salvation being worked out through the church they recognize just how wise God is. The angels look into God's salvation. 1 Peter 1:12 To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into.
b. God's Wisdom Is Instructive
Pharaoh's Baker And Butler
Whilst Joseph was imprisoned in Egypt two of Pharaoh's servants were sent to him. The butler and the baker. Pharaoh was displeased with them and sent them to jail while he decided what to do about them. While they were in prison both men had a dream at night. The dreams were important to them because they believed it spoke of their future. They wanted to know what their dreams meant. Joseph was able to interpret the dreams for them both. Their dreams did in fact relate to them and were important. In the same way God's plan of salvation relates to the angels. God is instructing them about His wisdom through the church. Therefore they are very interested in the Lord's church. What are they learning through all of this? A number of things.
The elect angels marvel at the depth of God's mercy, grace and love to fallen humanity. They can see God's righteousness and how He alone is worthy of ruling over the universe. The fallen angels marvel at God's justice in saving man yet upholding the Law. Christ conquered Satan on the cross when He provided salvation for mankind. The fallen angels also marvel at how their own leader Satan has no wisdom. Because although he knew the Old Testament Scriptures promised that a Savior would come he didn't understand God's plans to form a new creation. Satan didn't see how Jew and Gentile united in one body seated with Christ in the heavenlies would be victorious over him. 1 Corinthians 2:7-8 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. All the angels will see the wonder of God's wisdom.
God has reconciled Jews and Gentiles in one body to Himself. He will one day reconcile all things to Himself. Colossians 1:20 And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. One day Christ will reconcile the elect angels together with saved mankind. He will also reconcile the fallen angels with sinful men to everlasting punishment. This will be a cosmic reconciliation because God will no longer allow an opposing kingdom. All rebels will be permanently confined to the lake of fire. The cross decides the destiny of elect and evil angels. This mystery is important to the angels because it marks the start of God's cosmic reconciliation.
IV. Finally It Is Important To Christians
Ephesians 3:12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.
a. Salvation Gives Us Equal Access To God
This message is just as important to Christians today. Gentiles and Jews both have access to God through Jesus Christ. The same salvation that provided access to God's throne in Paul's time is just as effective today. The riches of God's grace are still available to us today. We must not lose sight of these rich truth's. The early Church thought that the Gospel belonged to the Jews because it had come to them first. The Lord had to reveal to Peter that this sort of thinking was wrong. Jews and Gentiles both have equal access to God. They don't need to become Jews first through circumcision or the Law. We are all equal in Christ!
b. Salvation Message Is Worth Suffering For
3:13 Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.
Paul suffered as a minister of the Gospel. But he knew that this was a part of God's plan. He told the Gentiles not to be discouraged about his imprisonment since God was using this to spread the word amongst the Gentiles. The message is worth suffering for. God's mystery is too good to be kept a secret. If Paul hadn't been faithful to God's commission we might not be here today. During the apostolic days God's mystery, the Gospel was guarded, preached and handed down to faithful men. Church history reveals that one by one these basic truths were lost during the following centuries. It took the reformation to bring them to light again. The Church is only one generation from extinction. We must be ever vigilant or the Church will become weak. They won't know their position in Christ. How can we prevent this from happening? By guarding the Gospel from those who would change it. By proclaiming this mystery to a needy world.
Today we have looked at God's mystery of the church. We saw why it's important to all creation.
I. It Was Important To Paul
Paul received a dispensation from God to proclaim the mystery to the Gentiles. He thought it was important enough to suffer for. He believed it was a privilege. I shared with an elderly lady last Thursday about salvation. She said I was wasting my time on her. I said that it was like warning someone walking towards a cliff hidden by fog. I must warn them. They must know the danger.
II. It Was Important To The Gentiles
The Gospel was important to the Gentiles because it brought them hope. Previously they had none. But now in Jesus Christ they received salvation becoming part of God's people.
No longer is their enmity between Jew and Gentiles, there is now one new man, one body. They are fellow heirs of God's salvation.
III. It Was Important To Angels
It was important to the angels who have looked into God's plan from the beginning of time. They marvel at God's wisdom in saving sinners. They are also instructed through the Church concerning their own destiny. The cross affects them as well as mankind.
IV. It Is Important To Christians
The message is just as important to Christians today. The Gospel announces hope for all men. It also teaches us of the unity we have in Christ. Are you preserving the unity? We have been entrusted to pass on the mystery of God's salvation to the next generation. If we fail the Church will become weak. They won't know the position they have in Christ.
How can we prevent this from happening? By guarding the Gospel from those who would change it. By proclaiming this mystery to a needy world. We are stewards of God's mystery. Are you defending it? Are you sharing the Gospel to a needy world? Are you willing to suffer for the Gospel? I trust that you are! This message is far to good to keep to ourselves! Let us accept the privilege we have gladly! Let us fulfill our commission, for one day we will give an account!
Romans 16:25-27 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now has been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith— to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.