Summary: Paul preaches the Mystery of Christ. To many of us it seems to have remained a mystery! ...
"In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Ephesians 3:4-11)
It’s my privilege today to preach on Ephesians chapter 3 - our Epistle reading.
’Oh great’ somebody says. ’Finally somebody is preaching on Ephesians 3!’
Well, ... somebody might say that. I’ve been here almost 13 years and no one yet, so far as I remember, has ever preached on Ephesians 3 during that time. It’s probably about time someone preached on it. Perhaps someone has been waiting anxiously for this to happen? It’s not likely of course. No one is likely to say ’Great, Ephesians!’ You’re more likely to ask me to spell the word for you, and this despite the fact that we read from the book only a few minutes ago.
This is always the problem with the Epistle reading I think. And I’ve noticed that those who determine our weekly readings keep trimming the length of the Epistle reading down. And this makes sense to me, for unless you’re a bit of an enthusiast it seems to be pretty hard to keep the Epistle reading in your head for too long.
Oh, we remember the Old Testament reading, which was about David and Bathsheeba. And we can probably remember the gospel reading. But we have trouble remembering the Epistle reading, and perhaps especially this Epistle reading. It seems to be particularly forgettable.
Does anyone remember what it was about?
In Ephesians 3 Paul talks about the ’mystery of Christ’.
"When you read this" Paul says, "you will perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ".
This is one of Paul’s last letters. This is a letter written from prison. This is the sort of letter you write to people who you know you are probably never going to see again. It’s the sort of letter where, if you’ve got something important to say, this is the time to say it, because you don’t know how much more time you’ve got left. And for Paul, the important thing he wanted to talk about was the ’mystery of Christ.’
"You will perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ" Paul says. It is a mysterious truth, he says, "that was not made known to the sons of men in other generations", but that has been revealed to him and to his Christian contemporaries by the Holy Spirit! And what is this mysterious truth kept secret for so long but finally revealed in Christ?
1. That Jesus is the Son of God?
2. That He was crucified, died and was buried, but rose again on the 3rd day?
3. That Jesus reconciled the world to Himself on the cross?
No. None of the above. The mystery of Christ, now made know, Paul says is ... "that the Gentiles are fellow heirs" - that Jews and non-Jews are members of the same body, equally partakers of the promises of God, brothers and sisters in the same church!
This is not the climactic answer we might have expected from Paul. What’s so mysterious about the equality of the races? But listen to him eulogize further:
"Now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace."
Is Paul talking about the mystical ’peace’ between humanity and God? No, he’s talking about the peace that Christ brings between people of different races.
"For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility ... that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end."
And so he continues.
This is the heart of Paul’s theology in Ephesians. Does it surprise you? Didn’t Jesus come into the world to save sinners? The death of Jesus on the cross spells for us forgiveness and the possibility of a new beginning. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Well, according to the book of Ephesians, the climactic work of Christ on the cross is that by his blood he broke down the dividing wall of racial hostility between Jew and Greek!