Summary: Paul spoke of a mystery in Ephesians 3:1-13. That mystery is...the Gentiles would share equally in God's provision for them in the future.
I’m not a big fan of talk shows. But years ago, there was a talk show host, I think it was Arsenio Hall who had a segment, about things that appeared mysterious. He called that segment, Things That Make You Say Hmmm…
This story is one of those stories that make you say, Hmmm…
The media billed it as a major event. At the conclusion of the Super Bowl in 1996, the winner of the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes was to be announced live on national television. Who would the winner be? It was a secret, a mystery.
With cameras rolling the prize patrol knocked on the door of a home and greeted the winners with a giant-size $10 million check. The people who won could hardly believe their good fortune. Their lives would be transformed by the surprise windfall. The mystery had been solved. America now rejoiced with the new millionaires.
But, was the mystery really resolved during those brief minutes on national television. The truth is, the winning numbers had been chosen two years earlier.
What was labeled a mystery to the public was common knowledge to top company officials.
Our text in Ephesians 3 is another one of those things that make you say, Hmmm…
Four times in Ephesians 3:1-13 Paul refers to "mystery" (3:3, 4, 5, 9). What does he mean by mystery? I have always believed that God operates by what the government calls the "sunshine law." That is, He is open, above-board, and fair in all that He does. Now I am told that He is up to something shrouded in mystery. What does this mean?
Confronting the Mystery
There is no mystery as to the identity of the writer of Ephesians. It is Paul.
He writes, literally, I Paul. At the time of this writing he is a prisoner for Jesus in a Roman jail. The only mystery is why Paul waited until the third chapter to refer to himself and then, only briefly. It is likely, Paul wanted nothing, including himself, to diminish his focus on Christ and the church.
So what is the mystery to which Paul refers?
Could it be…
The mystery of life?
I stand in awe and wonder when I remember that a tiny sperm can engage a tiny egg and produce a precious baby that is so unique that no one else in all the world has its set of fingerprints. Is this miracle what Paul was writing about? NO! Then what is the mystery? Is it…
The mystery of death?
There is so much that we do not know about death. What happens after death?
Of course, the body decomposes. What then? Where does the human spirit go? To God? For judgment? For reward? To heaven? To hell?
Much mystery surrounds death. But this is not the mystery Paul is referring to.
Then is it…
The mystery or evil? How does evil work in the world? How does it infiltrate people and perpetuate its sinister purpose? How can we best avoid evil and its grip upon us? All of these questions are important ones that we struggle with.
But Paul is referring to another sort of mystery.
The mystery of human suffering?
Why do we suffer? Why must the innocent suffer? Why do evil-doers seemingly not suffer? Will human suffering ever end? Who wouldn't want more insight into this mystery? But again this is not the mystery Paul is referring to.
The mystery of family relationship?
On the lighter side, family members sometimes admit the mystery within relationships. The husband remarks: "I've lived with her for forty years and I still don't understand my wife." Maybe the wife would say the same thing.
Parents often don't understand their children, though parents may think they do or claim they do. And how many times have we heard teenagers say, "My parents don't understand me!"
Or possibly, "If I live to be a hundred, I will never understand my parents."
But Paul refers to a greater mystery.
The mystery of Christ?
I confess that the historical Jesus has always been a mystery to me. I don't understand how a young Jewish virgin could become pregnant by the Holy Spirit to produce a baby called Jesus. I don't understand it, even though I believe it.
I don't understand how Jesus embodied two distinct natures, deity and humanity, and expressed each fully even as He expressed both fully. I don't understand how Jesus could die on a cross and atone for human sin. But I believe it. I don't understand how Jesus could be raised up from the dead. But I believe it.
However, Paul is speaking of yet another mystery.
Is this mystery…
The mystery of God?
In the Old Testament, God was wrapped in smoke and thunder, symbols of mystery.