The Second Sunday after Christmas January 4, 2004
718, 127, 108, 132(5)
…if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the Gospel, of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power. To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.
In the name of Jesus of Nazareth who has been revealed to us as the promised Christ, —dear fellow-redeemed:
A few weeks ago, we all had a number of secrets to keep. We knew what was in the packages of gifts we had purchased, but those who would receive those gifts did not know. On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (depending on your family tradition), the secrets of those gifts were revealed. As soon as the wrapping paper is ripped from a present and the box is opened, the gift is no longer a secret. The contents have been revealed.
The truth concerning Jesus our Savior is described in Scripture as a “mystery”—a secret. It is not a secret which God tried to keep from people. It is not a mystery in the sense of something that is unsolvable. Rather, the “mystery of Christ” is something that must be revealed in order for us to see it.
Tuesday is Epiphany. In the coming weeks of the Epiphany season we will be celebrating the epiphany—the “revealing”—of Jesus. So today we “PONDER THE ‘MYSTERY OF CHRIST’ THAT HAS BEEN REVEALED TO YOU” It is I. A revelation for Jews and Gentiles from the beginning II. A revelation for sinners out of God’s grace and power III. A revelation for declaration by the Church.
God so often uses the idea of a “mystery” to speak of our salvation that it is very important that we always remember the nature of the “mystery” as the Scriptures speak of it. Again, when God speaks of the mystery of our salvation or the mystery of Christ, it is not something God wanted to keep a secret, nor is it something unsolvable, but rather this mystery is something we only know if God shows it to us. He has to reveal it to us.
We would know nothing of our Savior if God had not revealed Him to us in His Word. We would know nothing of how we can inherit eternal life if God had not shown us how He so loved us and sent Jesus to be our Savior.
From the very first Gospel promise, the mystery of sinners’ salvation was revealed. God revealed to Adam and Eve that He would send “the seed of the woman” (Genesis 3:15) to crush Satan’s head and give them deliverance from their sin.
God revealed His plan of salvation at the very beginning, but the details of how this would be accomplished or who this promised seed would be were not revealed immediately. Rather, God revealed these things step by step throughout the ages of the Old Testament as the time for Jesus’ birth drew near.
Following Jesus’ ascension another specific aspect of the mystery of salvation was more fully revealed. This part of the mystery is the subject of Paul’s words to the Ephesians, namely, that salvation was also intended for the Gentiles.
Paul writes a great deal about the mystery of Christ. Consider the following examples:
To the Colossians Paul wrote: “…I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints” (Colossians 1:25-26).
In words to the Corinthians, Paul encourages us to guard well the treasure of God’s Word and our salvation when he writes: “Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards (caretakers) of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1).
To the Romans, Paul wrote: “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my Gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began” (Romans 16:25).
And again to the Colossians: “…meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ…” (Colossians 4:3).
So, to the Ephesians, who were themselves, Gentiles, Paul wrote: “…by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ).” [vv.3-4] Paul himself only understood the mystery of Christ when it was revealed to him—when the Holy Spirit worked faith in his heart to believe the truth of Scripture. Now, Paul was conveying this same knowledge to the Ephesians and they believed through his revelation of that same truth.
Paul continues, “which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets (now here is the part of the mystery that of which Paul is particularly speaking) that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel” [vv.5-6]
Many of the Israelites (especially of Jesus’ day) believed that salvation in the Messiah was theirs only and did not belong to the Gentiles. This was never the case. God had chosen the Israelites to be the people from which the Savior would come, but salvation was always there for all. Anyone who would put his trust in the Messiah for the forgiveness of sins would receive the forgiveness which Jesus would earn for all people.
Paul writes in the text, “…to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God…” [v.9] The hidden and then revealed truth of our salvation was established from the very beginning. It hasn’t changed. God has simply pulled back more of the covers so that we can see more. By the time Paul wrote this letter, God had clearly and fully revealed that His grace was also for the Gentiles. All of Scripture bears witness to the truth that salvation is for Jew and Gentile alike:
When God first called Abraham to be the ancestor of His people and of the Christ He promised, “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice” (Genesis 22:18)
In Isaiah God says to His “Servant,” i.e., Christ: “‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth’” (Isaiah 49:6).
To the Galatians, Paul wrote, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26,29). It is faith in Jesus that makes someone Christ’s and part of the family of God, not blood descendency!
There are also examples in the Old Testament of Gentiles being brought to faith. Ruth was a Moabite who began in the heathen belief of her people, but was brought to faith through the revelation of the truth of God’s Word. She even became an ancestor of Jesus Himself! Rahab was a Gentile and a prostitute in Jericho who was brought into the Kingdom of God through the revelation of the mystery of the coming Christ. She put her hope in the God of salvation for rescue both on the earth and eternally.
So we see that from the beginning of God’s plan of salvation, His revelation and salvation were intended for Jews and Gentiles. In the verses leading up to our text, Paul explained to the Ephesian Gentiles that “yes” they were joined together with the Israelites in Christ. Yes, salvation was theirs too. Yes, they were once “outside” without hope and without God in the world, but now they were brought near by the blood of Christ (cf: Ephesians 2:11ff). They would inherit salvation together, they would be part of the body of Christ together, and they would partake in the blessings of salvation together with believing Jews, and with all who believe in Jesus.
We, as Gentiles, can take great comfort from this truth. We have had that revelation of light and salvation also given to us, namely that our sins are forgiven and that we too live with Christ.
This revelation of salvation for us sinners comes out of God’s grace and power. Out of all whom God used to record Scripture there is no one who understood this better than Paul who writes, “To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” [v.8]
The grace of which Paul was particularly thinking was the privilege of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles. However, before Paul could ever be called to be the apostle to the Gentiles, he himself had to be brought to faith. The revelation of salvation had to be brought to his heart and that too was part of God’s grace and power.
Paul was a persecutor of the Church. He, like us, was born in trespasses and sin and was pursuing that sin in his life, but God snatched Paul out of his unbelief and made him His apostle. By the grace and power of God, salvation was revealed to Paul and Paul believed.
Each one of us could come up with a large list of reasons why we don’t deserve to have eternal life. Every sin we commit is a reason. We could come up with all sorts of blessings—both spiritual and physical—which we know we don’t deserve, but which God showers upon us We might think, “God, I’m surprised you would do this wonderful thing for me, considering who and what I am.” Therein lies the beauty of the revelation of the mystery of Christ. No, we don’t deserve that salvation, but God’s undeserved love—His grace—has brought salvation to us and His power has effected saving faith in us.
Paul hints at a parallel between the creation of the world and creation of faith through revelation when he writes, “…the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ;” [v.9] In 2 Corinthians Paul draws an even more clear connection and says, “It is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
The power that God used to create the world is the same power He used to create faith in your hearts, and the creation is no less miraculous. If we think of creation and how God’s powerful Word brought everything into existence—how impressive that is! It is equally impressive that He has brought us to faith having been born dead in trespasses and sin. The power of God’s Word creates faith in the stone cold and hard hearts of unbelief. God’s love for sinners (grace) leads Him to use His power to bring the revelation of the mystery of Christ to us so that we might believe and live!
Paul speaks of what the grace and power of God working in our lives means to us. He writes, “in Christ Jesus our Lord…we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.” [v.12]
We are bold because the revelation of the mystery of Christ has been given to us by God’s grace and power. We are bold in going to the throne of God because we know that even though we are approaching the holy and almighty God, we are coming as holy children because Jesus has washed those sins completely away. We are bold in facing the trials and tribulations of this life because we know that Jesus is there with us. He has revealed His presence to us. He has pulled away the shades of darkness to show us that He is guiding us and controlling all things in this life for our blessing. There is nothing about which we cannot be bold because we have confidence through faith in Christ Jesus!
The confidence you have is the result of God revealing the mystery of Christ to you by His grace and with His power.
This revelation which God has given to us by His grace and power is one that is to be declared by the Church. Paul was called specifically to preach to the Gentiles. At the time of Paul’s conversion, God told the prophet, Ananias, just what He had in mind for the newly converted Paul. God said, “Go [to Paul] for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the Children of Israel” (Acts 9:15-16). We too, like Paul are called to declare this mystery, to reveal the Light of Christ and the glory of our salvation to those who are still walking in darkness.
Paul also says, “To me…this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles…and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery…to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places…” [vv. 8ff] Paul speaks of making the manifold wisdom of God known to the angels in heaven! In his first letter, Peter writes, “…the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the Gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into” (1 Peter 1:12).
The angels rejoice every time a sinner is brought to repentance (cf: Luke 15:7,10). The angels rejoice to see the revelation of the mystery of Christ brought to the Gentiles. The angels rejoice to see in us and through us and declared by us the wonderful mystery of the Gospel of salvation. They glorify God when they see His manifold wisdom, His grace, and power at work to save sinners! God has given us the revelation of His salvation to declare on earth and as that declaration goes forth converting sinners it leads to joy and the glory of God in heaven.
The multi-faceted wisdom of God is what has been revealed to us and what we now declare. His wisdom is unified and true but it applies in every aspect, every angle, every part of life. Paul writes in Romans, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor? Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him? For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:33-36).
This multi-faceted all encompassing wisdom of God has been revealed to us so that it might be declared by us. Paul says, “to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church…according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord…” [vv.10-11]
The eternal purpose of God (even when it was still hidden to mankind) was that sinners would be saved. Step-by-step, generation-by-generation God revealed His plan to us. We have the full revelation—the wonderful news of salvation accomplished by God through Christ, His Son, our Savior. This we declare in order to accomplish the purpose which God had established even before time began.
Truly we are blessed to have this revelation given to us, to be able to see in fulfillment God’s plan of salvation, and to know that what He says is true: Jesus our Savior is the Son of God who redeems us from all sin.
Ponder and cherish the wonderful mystery of Christ. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.