Ephesians 1:9 – 12
There are not many secrets in our world these days. Basic information is available on the internet on almost everyone. If you have ever Googled your name you know just how much is out there. I Googled the office staff and found each one of them on the web.
“WikiLeaks is an international online self-described not-for-profit organization that publishes submissions of private, secret, and classified media from anonymous news sources, news leaks, and whistleblowers.” Through things like Wikileaks and the news media, it is very difficult for political leaders to keep secrets.
Because of that when people try to keep secrets, it doesn’t always turn out well. Recently Harper made an announcement that there could be pension reform coming in which the age of retirement could be changed from 65 to 67. When governments engage in secrecy and then some of the secrets come to light, their credibility comes into question. This was certainly true regarding the issue of pension reform. One news report stated “The Harper government scuttled into damage limitation mode Friday, after the Prime Minister’s speech in Davos in which he promised “necessary” changes to Canada’s retirement system.”
Does God have secrets or does He try to cover up what He is doing? Ephesians 1:9-12 speaks to this and encourages us with another blessing that we have received in Christ.
It seems that God might have a secret when we read the word “mystery” in verse 9, but what does that word mean? What do you think of when you hear the word mystery? What I think of is the Hardy Boys books that I used to read when I was young. I enjoyed books like “The Mystery of Cabin Island” or “The Secret of the Caves” in which Frank and Joe Hardy worked hard to discover something that someone was trying to hide.
When the Bible was written, there were, what have come to be known as, “Mystery religions.” These religious sects claimed to have secret spiritual knowledge which they deliberately hid from others. They believed that they had come to know a special, secret way of getting to know God. When they let people into their select group, they told them their secrets and swore them to secrecy. They were very careful to guard the secrets of their religion so that ordinary people who did not have the spiritual maturity to understand would not defile access to the divine truths.
Both of these pictures of mystery emphasize that a secret is being kept and no one can know that secret except people who work hard to discover it or people who are the elite of the spiritual world. Is that what we are to think of when we hear this word? Has God got secrets that we have to work hard to uncover? Is God keeping secrets from everyone except those who are truly spiritual?
“Mystery” is a recurring term in Ephesians occurring 5 times. Here, as in the rest of the book, it simply means a truth once hidden but now made known. There is a huge difference between mystery novels, mystery religions and the mystery mentioned in this passage. It is not revealed only to those who work hard at discovering it. It is not given only to the spiritually elite. God doesn’t have secrets, but desires to reveal to everyone what was previously not known. What this passage is communicating is that there is no secret about what God is planning or what God is doing. Although previously God’s plan was not revealed, now it is revealed and God has made known to us the mystery of His will. God has opened up the way of understanding His plan. His plan is revealed by Him and the intention is that the whole world needs to know His plan. God has made known to us what He is up to. Tom Neufeld says, “To be sure, this secret is not a puzzle that can be figured out by human ingenuity. It is God’s secret, disclosed at God’s initiative.”
Last week I suggested that the phrase “with all wisdom and insight” can be connected to what precedes or to what follows. So we understand that it is with all wisdom and insight that God has revealed His truth to the world. That wisdom and insight reminds us that before the foundation of the world God had a plan. In 1 Peter 1:20 we learn that God’s plan was already made early on. Speaking of Jesus it says, "He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake." As soon as Adam and Eve sinned, God announced that He had a plan in Genesis 3:15 when he said, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”" All of these verses show that God has always had a plan and has always intended that people would know that plan.
We were spending time with some young children. As we were engaging in conversation, one of them revealed that mommy was going to have a baby. Mommy and Daddy didn’t want people to know that because she was barely pregnant, but when their child revealed the information, they had to reluctantly admit that it was true. God’s revelation of his will is not like that. He isn’t trying to hide the mystery of His will nor is he reluctant about making it known. In fact, the text says that he has made known the mystery of His will, “according to his good pleasure.” God doesn’t have secrets and if Christians sometimes imply that a person has to jump through hoops to know about God’s ways, they are not speaking truth. God rejoices to make His truth known gladly and openly.
So God has revealed His plan, in fact, God has had a specific program designed for the purpose of making His will known. In verse 9 it says that the revelation of His will was a plan “set forth.” This word means that the revelation of God’s will has been made public clearly and according to God’s design. All of Old Testament prophecy, although not clearly understood, was part of God’s plan in making His will known. Immediately after we sinned, God began to reveal His plan. Through Abraham, Moses and all the prophets God clearly declared that He had a plan and many details about that plan. Although people didn’t understand God’s plan, it wasn’t that God was hiding it from them. As we look back at the many prophecies of the Old Testament, we can now see clearly how they pointed to the revelation of God’s plan.
This plan centers on one person and that is the person of Jesus Christ. All the prophecies point to Him. God’s plan is carried out completely in and through Jesus. Once again, we see that Jesus is the center of all that God is doing. His plan was made known in the Old Testament, but, when the text speaks about, “the fullness of time” we understand that it has now been made known through the coming, life, death, resurrection, ascension and promised future return of Jesus Christ. God didn’t complete His plan when he first planned it, but over time He has fully revealed it and we have come to know it. It was always in place, but did not come into being until Jesus came and will not be fully completed until Jesus returns.
These thoughts are clearly revealed not only in this passage, but also in the worshipful declaration in Romans 16:25 - 27, "Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen."
God isn’t trying to keep a secret. God has revealed His plan to us in and through Jesus Christ.
What is God’s plan?
The plan of God, the plan which He has had since the beginning of time is to gather up all things in Christ.
This phrase “gathering up,” which is the way NRSV translates it, may illustrate the idea of harvest. One of the things I have enjoyed in the past is being able to visit farmers during harvest season. In modern combines it is always an enjoyable time to sit in the second seat and watch the grain being harvested. Another feature of modern combines is the yield monitor which tells you in real time how many bushel’s per acre are being harvested. Although the farmer may keep an eye on the yield monitor, he doesn’t take it too seriously and doesn’t really know what kind of a harvest it has been until all the grain is in the bin and he can tell exactly how much has been gathered up.
NASB translates the same phrase, “to sum up” which presents the image of identifying the final sum. This afternoon we will meet for our annual finance meeting and one of the questions we will want to answer is, “what is the bottom line?” We will want to know, “How much did we spend last year?” and “What are we projecting to spend this year?” That one number is the summation of all the ideas presented in the financial statement. Every financial action that was taken last year, or planned for this year, is summed up in that one number.
The idea of “bringing together,” which is used in the NIV conveys the idea of people coming together. Each Sunday when we come to church we are brought together under one roof to worship, to fellowship and to hear from God.
Each of these images contributes to our understanding of what God’s plan is. God’s plan is that all God’s people will be gathered together in one body and that in the final end, all that exists will be summed up under the one total, which is Jesus Christ. God’s plan is that all of those who have been scattered by sin, rebellion and the consequences of evil will be brought together in obedience to Christ through the death and resurrection of Christ. God’s plan is that in the end, Jesus will be the supreme one as Philippians 2:9-11 declares when it says, "Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
When I do my personal budgeting I budget on the basis of my salary and I try to make sure that all my expenses are covered by it. However, if someone surprises me with a cash gift in a birthday card, that isn’t included, it is a separate category, it is money that I don’t account for in the budget.
In summing up all things under Christ, there are no separate categories that aren’t included. The text tells us that everything is included under Christ – everything in heaven and on earth.
In the end, every individual will be subject to Christ. That does not mean that every individual will be saved. God still gives us the choice of whether we choose Him or not. Those who choose Him will be included in the body of those who will enjoy Him forever and ever in heaven. Those who reject Him, will, however still be subject to Him in a place of eternal punishment, so every person who has ever lived will be subject to Christ and summed up under Him.
In the end, every situation will be completely right. The judgment of God will make sure that justice is carried out and that every injustice and everything that has been broken in the world will be put together in the right way. This includes all prejudice, injustice, violence and abuse. This is the wonder of the judgment which is promised in Revelation 17 which reveals that Babylon, the symbol of evil and injustice, will be utterly destroyed. I believe that Revelation 17 promises the destruction of every unjust and evil world power which has ever worked against the plan of God. All injustice will be judged and Jesus will stand as righteous king over all.
The summation of “all things” also includes the physical world. Right now because of sin we live in a world that is broken. Whether the cause is God’s judgment on the world or our mishandling of the world by pollution and careless use of resources, we know that currently even the physical world, is, as Romans 8:20, "…subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it…We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now…" This passage tells us that the physical world is now broken, but it also tells us that the whole world is waiting for the day when all things will be gathered together in Christ and be made right. We read, “…the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Wood sums up when he says, “This recognition of his preeminence will ensure that the original harmony of the universe is restored (Rom 8:18–21). The mission of Christ extends beyond the human race and assumes cosmic dimensions.” Tom Neufeld says, “The comprehensiveness inherent in all things leaves nothing—no person and no thing—beyond the reach of God’s saving interest.”
Once again we see that the center of all things is Christ. The phrase “in Christ” or “in Him” is repeated three times in verses 9-11. When Scripture repeats things three times, we cannot miss the importance of that phrase. God has put all His eggs in one basket – Jesus Christ. Everything is going to be summed up in Christ. The implications of that are staggering.
God’s prophetic announcements all point in one direction and that is towards the coming of Jesus Christ. God’s plan for redemption of all things is centered in one person and that is in Jesus Christ. It is centered in His coming to earth. It is centered in the only solution in the entire universe for redeeming all things and that is through the death and resurrection of Christ. It is centered in the present rule of Christ in heaven and it will be completed in one signal event and that is in the return of Jesus Christ to gather up all things in Himself.
If Jesus is the center of God’s plan past, present and future, then our life also must find Him at the center. Therefore, if we don’t know Him, we need to get to know Him and enter into a relationship with Him. As we live our lives - eating, sleeping, working, playing - everything we are and everything we do must be centered in Him. What does that mean for our purpose in life? If Jesus is the center and if all things will be summed up in Him, then we must make His name known. We are not only here to help people become nice people. We are not here to build a church. We are not here to teach people a list of truths. The center of our existence as people who belong to God is to make Jesus known. Furthermore, if Jesus is the one in whom all things will ultimately be summed up, then we need to live every day ready to meet Him.
This is the plan of God. I have made a lot of plans and sometimes they don’t happen the way I wish they would. In fact, I am always amazed when things work out exactly as I plan because I know that there are so many things which could derail them. Right now as we look around in our world, we may think that God’s plan is being derailed - murders in Mexico, earthquakes in Peru, financial crises in Europe and rejection of the gospel with mocking laughter all over the world. But verse 11b assures us that there is no uncertainty about God’s plan. There we read that “He accomplishes all things according to His counsel and will.”
There is no doubt that God’s plan will happen.
The wonderful thing is that we have a part in this plan. We belong and we have a purpose
Paul separates between we and you in this passage. It is most likely that he is speaking of the Jews who were the first to receive the gospel message and all the others who came later. The distinction, however, is not intended as a separation as “we/you” so often is. In this text, it is intended as an inclusion. Jews, who were God’s first chosen people have an inheritance, as do all those who came to know Christ later. We are among those who came to know Him later and the good news is that we also belong. In the next message, I would like to talk a little more about that inheritance. This morning, I would simply like to mention it as part of the good news that when it comes to God’s plan, those who have put their faith in Christ are already gathered in under Christ and belong to Him.
But the good news of the knowledge of being included and having an inheritance is not only so that we can smile and rest in that knowledge. That knowledge focuses our life powerfully and intentionally on a purpose for life that is all consuming and works towards the fulfillment of God’s plan.
If the plan of God is to center everything in Christ, then our lives must also be centered in Him and they will be if we live according to the purpose set forth in this passage. In verse 12 we read that God’s purpose is that we “live for His glory.” The work of Christ has made us into people who are able to live for His glory and the supremacy of Christ invites us to be people who choose to live for His glory. May we live in such a way that the glory and wonder of God’s plan will shine through us and reveal that plan to the entire universe so that in us and through us God will be glorified!
Once in a while we have the joy of looking after our grand-children. It is interesting watching them play. The younger they are the shorter their attention span. They go from one toy to another, from one activity to another and it is difficult to keep them focused on one thing for more than a few minutes.
God has been focused on one thing since the creation of the world. That is the summing up of all things under Christ. All of His involvement in the world has been directed to this one task. To know this is to rejoice in God and what His intentions. As we realize this, how can we help but praise and thank Him for the amazing way in which He has accomplished all things through Christ.
I suspect that we are more like children. So many things distract us. We go from one activity to another and can’t sustain our attention on what is really important for very long.
Yet as we reflect on God’s purpose in the world and realize the all encompassing nature of it, surely that must evoke a response in us. Surely it must encourage us to make God’s purposes, our purposes and commit ourselves to staying on task for Him. What does that mean for us? How is our life lined up with God’s purpose? How are our activities centered on the ultimate purpose which God has planned for the entire universe?
May the revelation of the mystery of God’s will move us to serve Him and glorify him!