Ephesians 3:1-13

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.

Sermon Transcript:

All right. Thank you. I would have stepped on it. All right. Ephesians chapter three, going to read verse one through 13. Really interesting passage. For this reason, and this reason, I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, on behalf of you Gentiles, assuming that you heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation as I have written briefly.

When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ. Which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel, I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace. which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus, our Lord. in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. So I ask you not to lose heart. over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. Lord, we come to you. We love the scriptures. We love even in this portion of scripture, which is sort of a rambling digression of Paul, that it speaks so extraordinarily practically into our lives.

Lord, teach us as we, we seek to understand what the gospel says to discu, discouraged and confused Christians. In Jesus name. Amen. Last week, Pastor Ben highlighted the astounding relational healing that the cross can do in his message walls of hostility versus unity in the rubble on verses 11 to 22 of Ephesians two.

In that passage, there are three metaphors of the church that are presented. That we are a kingdom, that we’re subjects together, that we are a family, we are siblings together, that we are a temple, we are stones fitted together. Now in verse 13, excuse me, in chapter 3 verse 1, a very interesting thing happens.

in this section we just read. Paul starts a conversation and then almost immediately stops it. He seems to get distracted, almost to start rambling. He leaves verse 1 after saying, For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles, And then he, then he goes off script. He doesn’t pick up the script again until verse 14, where he again says, For this reason, I, Paul, and then he says, I’m praying for you.

This is what I’m praying. I bow the knee to you. But in verses 1 through 13, what he actually does is he gives this explanation because he is concerned about how what he has said He’s just said, I, Paul, I’m a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles. And it’s like Paul says, shoot, I know I just said something that caused them pain.

It has potential of discouraging them. Before I go any farther, I need to emphasize some things to you guys. And in verses 1b through 13, he says those things. to help them be encouraged. Now we do this all the time. You’ll start an email or you’ll be writing an email or you’ll be writing a text to somebody.

And all of a sudden you go, I can’t see their face. I don’t know how they’re hearing this. So we have a way of resolving this to try to take the sting out of the words or to make sure it’s not coming across too heavy or too serious. We will do something like this. We’ll pop that baby in and if we’re really worried about it, we’ll do something like this.

And then if we’re really concerned, we come up with a big time emoji, something like this, to really make sure, yeah, it’s all good, man. It’s all good, dude. Verses 1 through 13 are his long emoji. He’s saying, guys, he bookends it. He says, I’m a prisoner of, Here in Rome, for you Gentiles, ah, I got to explain something.

And so he explains this stuff, and then he comes in verse 13, and look at what he says, how he concludes the whole thing, the other bookends. He says, So I ask you not to lose heart. Over what I’m suffering for you, which is your glory. He doesn’t want them to lose heart. The word is translated in the New Testament, often be discouraged.

He says, I don’t want you to be discouraged. I want to tell you what the gospel says to Christians. What it says, particularly to you Christians there in Ephesus, he says. Now, we think of the gospel as for nonbelievers, right? I mean, a person has to embrace the good news of Jesus Christ, the gospel of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord in order to enter the family of God.

Absolutely. We proclaim the gospel, but the gospel also speaks to those that are a part of the family of God. And this passage is a reminder that the gospel has a message for believers, particularly So I’d like to look at three things here, more time we’ll spend on the first two. Three things he reminds them of about the gospel that speak to their lives.

Number one, he reminds them that they are recipients of God’s plan of grace. He says this in verses one through nine, and he tells them it’s a plan that only God could see coming. In verses one through six, he keeps using this word. It is a mystery. Matter of fact, in these first few verses, in this section, he mentions the word mystery four times.

There’s no other passage in the New Testament that is even close to the density of emphasis on mystery. Now, when we think of a mystery. We think of something that it is our job to discover. You know, we spend our time trying to figure out whodunit. We expect at the other end to say, yes, I should have been able to put that together if we didn’t put it together.

My wife and I love mysteries, and we do that like you do. We try to figure out who did the crime. We’re disappointed if we don’t get it right, or we get mad at the story writer if the clues were misleading. And well, nobody could have figured that out. But we’ve also learned with some of our mystery writers that we know we’ve begun to to to get a read on them.

And we know that they’re going to deliberately choose the most obscure, unexpected person to be the perpetrator of the crime, the murder, or whatever it is. So we are on to them. So now we guess who? It must be that person because that’s the last person we would think of. So even that we expect to be able to figure out the mystery.

We just got to get a read on the writer’s style. That’s how we think of the word mystery. That is not what the biblical writers meant by the term mystery. A divine mystery is different. It is something so extraordinary no one could figure it out. A mystery is something you could never figure out. Only God could even know it.

Utterly, unexpected, counterintuitive, never guessed it in a thousand years. The great mystery that the New Testament talks about is the gospel of grace, the good news of God to humanity. In this passage, verse four, he says, it is the mystery of Christ. It’s all centered in Christ, in what he came to do and who he is.

In verse nine, it’s been hidden for ages. in God. He’s the only one that knew it. In verse, in chapter six, in verse 19, he’s going to call it the mystery of the gospel. It is God’s plan to draw people together, to rescue them from sin and its penalty, to make them a people one in unity and oneness. And here in verse six, then, he highlights one element of that gospel when he says this, This mystery, this particular part of the ministry, is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus.

A mystery is utterly unexpected, counterintuitive, nobody could see it coming. Do you know the Ten Commandments are never called a mystery? We get it. Don’t lie. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t murder. They all make sense. Nobody says, Wow, I didn’t see those coming as commandments. We do see it coming. Nobody says about the golden rule.

Wow, that is, I never would have imagined that. Well, yeah, it makes sense. Nobody says about the judgment of God. Wow, that’s a, that’s a, wow, that was, didn’t see that one coming. No, we understand it’s a holy God that’s a creator. We understand there is judgment. But the gospel out of nowhere, no philosopher, poet, theologian comes up with the story of God the judge, the creator becoming the victim to pay the penalty for rebels.

No one saw that the son of God would triumph by death, that God wins by losing. No one could have designed a religion this way. Paul said it’s a mystery. Secondly, he says something about the gospel. He says, secondly, it is a plan that only God could pull off again. Remember, he’s saying all this for a reason to speak to discouraged Christians, which will will highlight in a moment in verse seven through nine of this gospel.

He says, I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace. He’s given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.

He said, I, me, Paul, I was given the mystery, more than anyone else, Paul says, I was the one that was given the mystery of the gospel, particularly as it pertains to the Gentiles being grafted into the tree of grace. He says those first three years after I became a Christian, when I was all alone in the wilderness to study in the Old Testament, listening to the Spirit of God, who is newly entered my life.

He said this whole mystery. was revealed to me and then to the other apostles and prophets. He said, I’m the one God gave it to me, the guy who pushed my way into the homes of Christian families and dragged away parents who were beaten and tortured. And some died. I’m the guy who even the apostles dreaded to be around and didn’t believe that I actually could have become a Christian.

As he says in these verses, guys, I’m the very least of all the saints. To me, Saul of Tarsus, the pitbull of the religious leaders, the hitman of the people that crucified Jesus against the Christians, Verse 8, This grace was given. He said the whole thing of the gospel is about God and His grace. Every part of it, even, even the receipt, even, even the, the proclaimers of it.

He says, look at me, I’m the guy. He says, guys, I’m in prison, but I’m representing a big, glorious God, proclaiming a breathtakingly glorious gospel. And I was sent to you. with this message because you are part of God’s cosmic plan. He says the mystery is that God’s son, God himself, would come and be the Messiah the Jews waited for.

But he would not come to overturn an empire and establish the throne of David in Jerusalem. He would bring a gospel of deliverance and forgiveness and reconciliation with God. And the gospel, the gospel had your names on it. It isn’t just spoken of people who have Jewish sounding names, like Simon and Saul and Joseph and Andrew and Mary and Martha, but Greek sounding names like Tychicus and Theophilus and Apollos and Lydia and Jodeas.

The Lamb’s Book of Life includes those names. And he says, you’re part of this thing. You’re part of this reality. And, and my imprisonment is part of the plan of a God that is, that is superintending His gospel going forth for people just like you. Whose names are written in the Book of Life. But he tells them something more.

He reminds them secondly that they are players in God’s plan of grace. Verse 10, So that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.

He says, you guys are part of the cast. There is a great theatrical production that God is putting on in the arena of the cosmos. And on the stage are cast members. He says, My job as a preacher of grace is to make plain to everyone God’s plan. In verse 11, he talks about it being according to God’s plan.

Eternal purpose. Well, what was God’s eternal purpose? Well, he tells us in chapter one, verse 10, he says this, God’s purpose was to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth in the world. Everything is falling apart. Everyone falls apart. There’s sickness. Your body falls apart. I remember reading an extract from a, a book that was speaking, I actually got to know him because Marian’s dad was a, biologist, and they had a big, consortium, and they invited in this guy, Jeremy Ripken, and he spoke, and it was, the title of his book was Entropy, and it was fascinating, reading the extract, basically he was talking about, that entropy, which literally is saying, and, and this is a scientific, endorsement by everyone because it is basically according to the second law of thermodynamics, which is saying all of the universe is moving naturally toward disorder and chaos.

But one day that will change. The purpose of God is that bodies will stay together. That relationships will stay together, that everything will be brought together. And what that word is called in the scripture is shalom. God’s glorious cosmic extending shalom, oneness, connectedness, the beauty of all of that, the ultimate harmony to which all things are leading through Christ.

C. S. Lewis depicts The antithesis of this in his book, one of my favorite books, his fabulous allegory called The Great Divorce. In this, he depicts both heaven and hell. Hell, he doesn’t give as much time to, but his picture of it is fascinating to me. He doesn’t depict hell, as a place of fire, as a place of physical suffering.

I, I personally don’t believe that’s the focus of hell either. I mean, it’s primarily designed for the devil and his angels and their spirit beings. So what does he depict there? He depicts hell as a place. of apartness. It’s a place where people keep moving away from each other because they can’t get along.

They’re moving their habitations, and it’s just more and more sad to look at because people are filled with conflict and tension. Shalom is the opposite. God is directing through Christ a universe of shalom, of oneness and wholeness. God’s purpose is to bring together all things through Jesus. In verse 10 he says that In this world now, God is displaying his intended future by reflecting it in the church.

He takes people of all different backgrounds, ethnicities, social status, and personalities, people with deep hurts, deep mistrust, deep wounds, multiple emotional triggers, and somehow blends them together in some level of oneness in Christ. So he does this in Ephesus. He says slaves who hate their position in the world and masters who saw themselves as the haves and believes it was their right and natural superiority are brought together.

As F. F. Bruce says about this passage, he says, chapter three, verse 10, which is the one that pictures believers as the cast before it. audience. He makes his statement. The church here in verse 10 is God’s pilot plan for the reconciled universe of the future. The diverse community will be cast on stage before those watching.

So who is the audience? Well, he tells us in verse 10, the audience that watches is described here

as those that are the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This is truly one of the most remarkable verses in the New Testament. He says God is displaying his wisdom. He is displaying his himself by putting the church. I don’t mean a church, the church, those that have embraced Christ, been, been embraced by Christ,

that they are living life together and depicting life in such a way that angels are looking on and saying, you got to be kidding me. How did God ever come up with this? God took that guy, that girl, that situation, those people groups, and that people group. I mean, these are Israelis and Hamas people. These are Jews and Gentiles, and they’re thrown them together because of one reality centered in Christ.

And he says the, the ability to begin to have oneness, to work through stuff together, to forgive one another. is absolutely stunning to the audience. This audience is depicted here as the authorities and rulers in heavenly places, elect and holy angels, probably millions of angels. If you include the fallen evil angels, which the scripture calls demons.

For the elect angels of God, it is a source of joy. It says in Luke 15 10, they, they, they rejoice when one sinner repents. In first Peter, it says they, they desire, they’re looking, they desire to comprehend and understand this, this message of grace. To the others that are looking on in this theater environment, of the church stumbling along, broken people somehow learning to grace each other and, and, and screwing up, but then having to come back and making it right and, and realize there’s only one reason we’re together.

It’s Christ. It’s who He is in our lives. It’s what we share, different backgrounds, different social structure, everything.

And it is the declaration to the powers of darkness that they will be saved. That Satan’s primary weapon against God is to throw chaos and brokenness, discord and conflict into the face of God’s beloved Shalom. The church, the people of God, are a trophy that Satan’s aim will fail. It’s Shalom will come in places.

It comes in its infant portrayal. The gospel of grace, liberating broken, wounded, scarred sinners, to forgive enemies, to embrace aliens, to live at peace with each other, broken, marred people whose backgrounds, personalities, animosities, seemingly guaranteed it could not be so. But the gospel will win, Christ, grace will conquer, and even today, elect Israel.

And evil angels marvel at its power and beauty. It is why the New Testament highlights so much the power of oneness, the power of working through stuff and, and that relationships in the body are so powerful. Why? Because it isn’t just your neighbor will say, Oh, that’s a neat church. They, they get along.

It’s a loving environment. No, there are millions of, of audience That are watching and saying, how in the world can that work? We know that guy. We know where he stands. We know this girl. We know. How does it happen? The gospel of grace somehow unites people. Now Paul gives us the so what of all this in verse 13.

He reminds them then to be practitioners of God’s plan of grace. Here’s what he said. So I ask you not to lose heart over what I’m suffering for you, which is your glory. Let me just try to present what I think he’s saying. He says, be practitioners in confusion. Why, why did they need this? Why do they care that much that Paul is in jail?

Here’s why I think the imprisonment of Paul for five years has really been a struggle for them. Paul had been with them for three years. And those that were in the Ephesian church when he was there know that they know of Paul. But just a few weeks after he left Ephesus, he’s arrested in Jerusalem because he has taken in, among others, a member, two members of their congregation and people in Jerusalem have assumed that those Gentile believers have gone into the temple with him.

We’ve talked to you about this and they’ve arrested Paul and they thought he was desecrating the Jewish temple. He wasn’t, but they assumed that. Well, it’s all because he had their people with him and he got arrested and then he got held in Jerusalem. Then he got taken to Caesarea. Then he got sent on a ship to Rome and he’s sitting in Rome.

He’s been five years in jail since he left Ephesus. But Paul’s their champion. And during those five years, there were Jewish Judaizers that keep coming to their churches and they keep saying, you gotta, you know, maybe, maybe you’ve embraced our Messiah, but you now have got to embrace the other parts of our faith.

You’ve got to be circumcised. You’ve got to follow all the religious practices. And they’re confused. The perception that they’re continually getting is you guys are second class. And they’re looking and saying the one guy that’s our champion sits in jail. And honestly, what does that say about our faith?

I mean, can’t God get him out of jail? I mean, we’re, we need some wins. And the guy that can perp that can most portray our wins is sitting in a Roman prison, as far as we know, awaiting execution. So Paul says, guys,

remember a couple of things. Remember, first of all, that God is the one that has designed this cosmic plan that you are a part of this eternal plan of salvation. I want to talk to you about God, that God has not abandoned you, that God needed you. He needed people like you to be participants in this plan.

It isn’t just grace that he chose you and brought you into the family. He needed people like you. You show the diversity. You show the glory of the gospel. It’s because of people like you, Gentiles, totally different ethnicities and backgrounds than the Jews of Jerusalem, that God declares his wisdom and the glory of his gospel.

God needs you. God chose you. God rescued you. God pursued you.

God takes us into seasons of discouragement and confusion. These people had real questions. These people were struggling with being second class. They were less than even in their faith. They didn’t know what it meant. They didn’t know how to get answers. They couldn’t just check into the website and get some of Paul’s old sermons.

They can’t write them. They have no contact. There’s nothing. This is the second letter we know that he wrote to the Ephesians in five years. What he says is, guys, remember what’s true about you in the plan of God, in the gospel of grace. That, yeah, there are some of you this morning watching here in Collingswood, watching here in Mount Laurel, watching online.

Where things have not turned out as you expected in your faith, personal situation wise, family wise, relationship wise, finance wise, career wise, marriage wise, confused, discouraged. Paul says, remember the cosmic eternal plan you’re on. Remember the grace of God that God that what is going on in your life is God’s working in your life.

He’s doing stuff you never would have thought. I mean, all these mysteries are happening. Nobody could have seen it coming, but he says, I’m looking back and I see all of this is part of what God had purposed to glorify himself through my life, which leads us to the second thing. Paul says in times of affliction, Remember these truths.

Johnny Erickson Tata. Many of you know, she’ll actually be speaking at the Global Leadership Summit, which we’re hosting again this, summer. She’ll be on video. I don’t want you. I don’t want to over promise. but Johnny Erickson Tata as a 17 year old, had a swimming accident that left her, a paraplegic in a wheelchair from the neck down.

And soon after she had had the accident, she attended a group of young people that had had life altering accidents. And one of the girls that was there was a 17 year old high school cheerleader, named Denise Walt, Denise Walters. Denise Walters was a Christian, as Johnny was, and she had been at her high school, and one day going up the steps, running up the steps at her school, her legs just gave out, and she fell, and she went home, and by the next day, she woke up, and she was paralyzed from the waist down.

A week later, she was paralyzed from the neck down. A few weeks later she was blind and they found out that she had a, progressive, rapid progressive multiple sclerosis. She died five years later. She was a gentle, God loving, Christ centered believer. Very quiet, very content in her faith. And Johnny did life with her.

The more she did life with her friend, the more she admired her, but the more she struggled with God. And she said, how did this make any sense? And she said, you know, I’m, I’m an outgoing personality. I, I, you know, I, but this girl, how did this help anything? How did this benefit anything? And Johnny tells the story of being in a Bible study and she was expressing her own anguish after Denise’s death.

And a friend of hers read to her Ephesians 3 10. that Denise was living her life with an audience all the time. She then read to her Luke 15 10, where angels are rejoicing over one sinner that repents. She read her the story of Job, Job 1, where angels are so actively involved in the process of Job’s situation and are actually talking about Job before God.

And Johnny looked at that and reflected on those passages and realized that all that was happening in her life, Denise’s life, and everyone’s life, happens in front of a council of angels and devils, maybe millions. And if you were to tell somebody today that, man, if I could just before I die, if I could just go on, you know, get before a camera and declare my faith and my love for Christ and what Jesus means to me and impact, well,

brother or sister, you’re on camera today, and the camera isn’t just before your neighbors or friends or even all Americans. It’s angelic beings, myriads, millions, pros and cons towards God and His grace. And our response is this. reflecting

how great a God we really have. How I respond. I’ve thought about this many times. How I respond to temptation, which no one will ever know when I’m sitting in front of a computer. How I respond to worries, which nobody would know are actually eating my lunch. And there have been those seasons where I didn’t win the victory.

But how precious are those moments when I’ve been able to say, Lord, Right now, I want to honor you before the audience and say, he’s better. He’s better than this thing. He’s better than my giving way to my worry. He’s trustworthy. I can give it to him. John Erickson, after reflecting on this passage, went to the mother of Denise Walters, and she wrote this statement.

She said, I am sure that the angels and demons looked on with amazement and awe as they watched your daughter honor her savior by praise, trust, and contentment.

You’re never too alone. You’re never too abandoned. You’re never in too lone, too much lonely darkness to not be bringing glory to the one who rescued you, who wanted you. Paul says to these believers, guys, I know I probably sort of, I hit a trigger here when I mentioned that I’m in prison for you Gentiles.

But it was true. It was because of his identifying with them that he had been hated by the Jews and was ultimately in jail. But he said, I love this. It’s for your glory. And my theater stage is a little nine by nine or whatever it is. That’s the cell that in Rome, they actually associated with where Paul was.

My little place. is where I am declaring your grace. You’re there in Ephesus. You’re part of a cosmic plan. You’re not only a part. You’re not only recipients of grace. You are participants in grace declaring the wonder and the greatness of God. He said the gospel made all this happen. The gospel speaks to discouraged people.

It speaks to people that feel alone, that feel confused, that feel second class, that feel less than. And he said, Man, it’s not how God looks at this at all. Remember who he is. Remember who you are. And he says, I hope that you will then not lose heart. Because of heavy things that you’re hearing about my situation, Lord

is going to come stuff today, certainly tomorrow, where we’re going to have an opportunity to remind ourselves that we’re living before a celestial audience. Lord, help us by your grace to remember the joy. of trusting you, of glorifying you. An audience infinitely bigger and wider and more prominent than we’ll ever have in a human arena.

Lord, thank you for the tapestry of grace you’ve created in the body of Christ, that the very people whose triggers are so different from ours and make it hard to do life together are also there to declare this thing only works because of God. All glory, is only God’s. Lord, may we find encouragement in that gospel today.

In Jesus name. Amen.