God's Mystery Story

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Ephesians 3:1-13

Do you like a good mystery? In the biblical sense, a mystery isn’t a whodunit. It’s more a story of what God’s done.

Listen to these words from Paul the Apostle in Ephesians 3 about mystery:

. . . the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Ephesians 3:3-6, nrsv

A DIFFERENT KIND OF MYSTERY

You know what a mystery story is in our ordinary speech. It’s a “whodunit” – some crime committed that is hard to figure out. Many possible suspects, evidence confusing, but the super detective finally unravels it and the mystery is solved. Then, it’s not a mystery any more.

Paul talks about mystery (in Greek, must?rion) in a different way. This is God’s mystery. It has been kept secret for ages and ages but has now been revealed. It’s still a mystery but the secret has now been unveiled. It’s the hidden purpose of God that has now come to light in this world.

Paul says that this mystery has been made known to him by revelation. He didn’t figure it out like a detective does. God has shown it to him, and then he has seen it unfolding before his eyes.

It’s about the Gentiles, the non-Jews, like most of us, now being included in God’s saving purpose. It’s not just Israel any more as the apple of God’s eye, the center of his plan. The Gentiles also have become fellow-heirs in the inheritance. They are now members together with the Israelites in the same body. They now share in the promises made to Israel. This was new, unheard of, marvelous.

It happened, of course, in Christ. He took all of them – Jews and Gentiles – down into death with him, and brought them to life again with him as a new humanity. Now the vital thing was not that they were either Jews or Gentiles, but they were new people in Christ, children together in God’s family.

WHAT THE GOSPEL IS

The apostle saw this happening as the gospel was preached. You know what the gospel is – we read about it in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. It’s all about Christ, his coming, his character, his ministry, his person. Jesus himself is the good news.

But it especially focuses on four events: He died, he was buried, he rose, he appeared. And those four boil down to two tremendous events, really. The burial attests the fact that he really died, and the appearances testify to the fact that he truly rose from the dead.

The gospel means good news, the kind of news, as someone put it, that you could shout across the street, like, “The baby is born!” or “The War is over!,” something like that – news of public import, news that is a great glad tidings to everybody that comes to hear it.

Now we wonder how in the world can it be good news that Jesus died? Died so young? Died as the best person who ever lived? Died in such agony and shame? How could we possibly call that day “Good Friday”?

But we learn that the gospel is not only events but also a divinely given understanding of those events. The gospel is not only that Jesus died but that he died for our sins – on account of them, instead of us, for our sake, because he loves us. It’s like the reading of a will. Have you ever been present for that – when a will was read after someone died? Most wills are made up of hopeless legalese. We read these legal terms that describe a piece of property or some financial vehicle, and it’s very dull and tedious. You can go to sleep in hearing a will read – until you hear your name! And when you hear your name in connection with that will, suddenly you come wide awake because it means someone left something of value to you, thought about you, wanted you to have this which can be a blessing to your life.

For many people, when they hear about Jesus’ dying, it doesn’t mean anything to them. They yawn. But when they hear their name, when they realize that Jesus died for them, died because he loved them, then suddenly it is great good news. It is truly gospel.

And not only that he died, but that he rose – for our justification – again that’s good news for us.

Everything in the faith hinges on those events and what they mean. Here God’s saving purpose comes to light. We have to know that these things really happened. Thus the burial; he really died. Thus the appearings; he truly rose.

If he didn’t rise, the apostle muses in 1 Corinthians about the sad consequences that would result: “If Christ was not raised, then our preaching is vain.” All the sermons ever preached from the first Easter onward have been preached on the basis that Jesus Christ is truly alive. If he isn’t, then all of those sermons are empty. And we are found also, says Paul, false witnesses of God because we testified of God that he did something – he raised up Christ – whom he didn’t raise up if it’s true that no dead person ever rises from the dead. If that were true, Paul says, our faith would also be in vain.

It would be like a little child on the playroom floor clutching for sunbeams and never closing on anything substantial if there’s no living Jesus to whom our faith can be directed. Then our redemption also is a failure. What assurance could we have that sin has been forgiven and overcome if Jesus remained in the grave? Then all our hope for the future would be gone. We would be, of all people most miserable.

Further, those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished if there is no resurrection. That’s why it’s so central, so essential, this glorious fact that Jesus rose. And after peering over into the dark abyss of those possibilities if Jesus had not been raised, the apostle affirms, “Now is Christ risen from the dead and become the first fruits of those who slept.”

Now there’s one more piece. It happened, says Paul, “according to the scriptures.” These were not isolated events in histor y- not chance happenings. This was all foretold in the law and the prophets and the psalms.

When I used to teach preaching I was always reading great sermons from the past. I would often think: of all the sermons ever preached, what was the one I most would want to have heard? To be there? To understand it in the language in which it was preached? And I thought about John Chrysostom, called “Golden Mouth” because of his marvelous eloquence and power of illustration. They had riots in the city of Constantinople when this great preacher was exiled from the city. I’ve often thought: I’d love to hear Golden Mouth preach.

And then I thought of George Whitefield, the evangelist of the first Great Awakening. It was said he could be heard for a half mile when he preached out of doors and yet had such a mellifluous voice that people would weep just to hear him pronounce something like “Mesopotamia.” I’ve been to one of the places where George Whitefield preached: Pulpit Rock. And I would love to have been there when he preached.

And then there’s Charles Spurgeon. Charles Spurgeon was the great preacher of the latter half of the 19th century. He preached nine times a week. His sermons were printed around the world. When I was a pastor, I used to read his sermons on Saturday nights even if they didn’t have anything to do with what I was preaching on because they charged my batteries. They excited me about preaching the gospel. I would love to have heard him.

But of all the sermons ever preached, this is the one that I most would have wanted to hear, the one described in Luke 24:27: “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he [that is, Jesus] interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things about himself” – Jesus, speaking about his own life and ministry, his death and rising, from the Old Testament. I’d love to have heard which verses he quoted and what he had to say about them and how he wove them together.

SHARING THE GOOD NEWS

This is what the gospel is about. It’s the good news of Jesus Christ, all working out according to the purpose of God. Now Paul says, “I have become a servant of this gospel.” He sees it as a gift of God’s grace that he can do this, by the working of God’s power. He sees himself utterly unworthy – less than the least of all saints. But this gift is given him – as it’s given to us – to preach among the nations, to preach to all the peoples, “the unsearchable riches of Christ.”

Now the idea here is not that Jesus himself was rich. He became poor for us. The riches are what he gives, what he brings, what he does, what he is for those who come to know him.

What can people receive in Jesus? The “treasure hid in a field.” A sense of purpose, something to live for bigger than their own security and success. Forgiveness of sins, hope, joy, the power to love, his presence with us all the days, the new fellowship of his people.

God wants the world now, says Paul, to see this mystery unfolded. He wants the spiritual rulers and powers in the heavenly places to see in the church the multi-faceted, complex wisdom of God. So we have to proclaim the good news to people, as we seek to do here at Words of Hope. We have to make known this gospel to everyone on the face of the earth. That’s our calling. And then we have to embody the good news in the church as a godly, loving, forgiving, welcoming community. When people see that, and when the principalities and powers in heavenly places see that, then the unveiled purpose of God is moving toward fulfillment.

We Christians haven’t done a very good job at all that. We need to repent for our failure both to evangelize (to share the gospel with the world) and to express the gospel in the way we live. But this is our calling, and we are given the Holy Spirit’s power to be able to fulfill it. Beloved friends, we have to proclaim and express and embody the mystery of the gospel. That’s our high calling. And for you, if you’ve never embraced it, it’s for you to receive this gospel and trust in Jesus Christ.