Third Sunday after Epiphany January 24, 2021
1 Corinthians 2:6-16
16, 359, 138, 294
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen. +
However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For “who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
Do you like a good mystery? I am a big fan of mystery and suspense books and movies. What I love most about them is how they keep you guessing. They keep your mind working all the way through the plot and the story line trying to figure out “who done it,” or the surprise twist will be at the end. Usually, while I am reading a mystery novel or watching a mystery/suspense movie I’ll make my guess inside my head about halfway through what I think the solution to the big mystery is going to be. The problem is I’m just not very good at it!
Well, our text speaks of a “mystery” that no one on earth could have ever figured out on their own no matter how clever or intelligent they are. Paul says in verse seven, “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory.” What is this “mystery,” this “hidden wisdom” of God? It is the very Gospel itself. It is God’s plan of salvation for all people through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son Jesus. This “plan,” God’s “hidden wisdom” that He “ordained before the ages for our glory” (v.7). That means He had made the plans for our eternal salvation and “glory” from eternity, “before the ages” of time even began.
Well, you might ask, why is God’s plan of salvation for mankind called a “mystery” and the “hidden wisdom” of God? Before we go any further this morning we need to define a few key words that we will be speaking about. First of all, let’s define the word “mystery.” That word in English is derived from the Greek word used in verse seven of our text, “mystarion.” This word means secret or mystery. When used in the New Testament this word refers to “something hidden, or secret, that God must reveal.”
The other word we need to define this morning is a word you’ve probably been hearing for the past few weeks: “Epiphany.” Epiphany is the season of the church year we are in right now. “Epiphany” means “to show, or to reveal.” During the Epiphany season we celebrate God revealing of Himself to mankind through His Son, Jesus Christ, beginning with His revelation to the Gentile wise men.
Today we are really dealing with two words that are complete opposites: “Mystery,” something secret or hidden; and “Epiphany,” to reveal or show. As a result, today we will be considering “The Mystery of God’s Epiphany.” We will be taking a look at the hidden secret that God Himself has revealed.
God’s “mystery,” His “hidden wisdom,” and His Epiphany, His revelation, are both centered in Jesus Christ. It is called a “mystery” because no human being on their own could have conceptualized it, figured it out, or accepted it. Paul quotes from Isaiah when he speaks of this very fact, But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (v.9)
Think about it: Who could have even imagined God’s plan of salvation? Our human nature leads us to believe that whatever favor or salvation we want to receive from God must be worked for and earned ourselves. The wisdom of our own flesh, the wisdom of man, tells us “There is no ‘free lunch.’” Everything worth getting must be worked for. And yet that is NOT how God’s plan of salvation works! Mankind’s natural knowledge and wisdom falls short. Paul says in our text that He is not speaking of “the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God…which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (v.6-8) The best wisdom human beings can muster, Paul says, is “coming to nothing!” It is limited and it is always temporary. The wisest people of Paul’s day and of Jesus’ day really didn’t know much compared to the wisest men and women of the industrial revolution, for example. And the wisest people of that day pale in comparison to the knowledge of science and learning that the wisest men and women of our day have. In just a few years we’ll look back on the wisest people of our day and think the very same thing! The wisdom of this world is so ignorant, in fact, that, as Paul reminds us, mankind and its rulers crucified God Himself when they killed Jesus, “the Lord of glory,” on the cross of Calvary!
No the “mystery” of God’s “hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory” is not dependent on our wisdom or our works. God’s wisdom tells us the Good News that in Jesus there is free forgiveness, free life, and free salvation for all eternity in heaven! God’s wisdom tells us that the solution to mankind’s problem with sin and death and his inevitable destruction in hell is not found in working to become worthy of God’s favor and forgiveness, but rather that He—God Himself!—took care of the problem for us. He gave us His grace and forgiveness when He gave us His Son Jesus as our substitute sacrifice for our sins!
That’s a “mystery,” isn’t it? Why would God choose to save us rebellious, hateful people by sentencing His only Son to death in hell for our sins? Why would God choose to make His “Epiphany” to us, and reveal Himself and His salvation to you and me? Who are we, anyway? He did so for one simple, but unimaginably incredible reason: He loves us! He loves all (cf. John 3:16)! This is a “mystery” so profound and unthinkable that even the greatest of all human minds could not have seen, heard, or imagined it on their own (v.9). And yet, it is so profoundly simple that even a two-year-old child can say confidently, “Jesus loves me this I know!”
How is it possible then that we too can know this “mystery” of the “wisdom of God” if the greatest minds of humanity could never come up with it; if “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (v.9—NIV)? Look at the very next verse of our text: “But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.” (v.10) We did not figure out the “mystery” of the “wisdom of God”—the message of salvation through His Son Jesus—on our own. We couldn’t have! Paul says in verse 14, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (v.14) Paul would later remind the Corinthians in this very same letter, “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3) God had to reveal the “mystery” of salvation in Jesus to us. Remember what that word “Epiphany” means? To reveal. Therefore God had to make an “Epiphany” to reveal for us His “mystery!” He did this through His Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is like the “code breaker” that God uses to reveal to us the “mystery” of His plan of salvation in Jesus. God gives us His Holy Spirit and “reveals” this “mystery” to us in His #1 all-time-best-seller, the Bible! Talk about a great “mystery” novel! The Holy Spirit Himself is the author of these Words of God. Paul says in our text, “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches.” (v.13) Paul reminds us that as true God Himself, “the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God…Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.” (v.10, 11)
Jesus is God’s Epiphany, His revelation of Himself to the world. The Holy Spirit is the one who reveals Jesus to our hearts through faith. He is the one who raises our spiritually dead hearts to life. He is the one who unlocks the “mystery” of the “hidden wisdom of God;” the “mystery” of Christ’s blood-covered cross and His empty tomb. He is the one who makes us “know the things that have been freely given to us by God” (v.12b)—love, life, forgiveness, and salvation FREELY through Jesus! God has also given us His Spirit to share with us His will, His thoughts, and as Paul tells us in the last verse of our text, through the Holy Spirit’s work in the Word “we have the mind of Christ”! (v.16)
The “new man” the Spirit has raised in us through faith moves us to think as Christ does, to understand the things of God. Why then would we want to listen to our “old self,” our sinful flesh, which leads to destruction, or to the “wisdom of this age, [or] of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing”? (v.6) Why would we listen to Satan and His temptations which lead to death, when we already have been given the Spirit of God who tells us we have been given life—real life; the life that never ends—in Christ!? When our flesh, when people in the world around us—including those who are “wiser” than us by human standards—when even the devil Himself tries to convince us to believe, say, or do anything that goes against what God has said then draw on the power of God’s Spirit who lives in you who gives you “the mind of Christ” (v.16) and reminds you of the “things that have been freely given to us by God.” (v.12) Draw out your powerful “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17) and take your stand, knowing that you are standing on the very “wisdom” and power of God and His Word, “not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” (v.13)
This “wisdom” is a “mystery” still, but now a revealed mystery, which we too know, but which is still hidden from the world. As Martin Luther once wrote, “And so the Gospel and knowledge of Christ remains a secret, hidden thing; not that it is not proclaimed to all the world publicly enough, and placed clearly into the light, but that the world despises it and considers it as compared with its wisdom folly and offense, and is believed only by the simple, who are not offended by the unattractive picture of the cross of Christ, and by this faith learn and experience consolation, power, victory, life, and salvation.” (Quoted by Lenski, Eisenach Epistle Selections—Vol. 1, p. 231)
You have been given this “wisdom,” the “hidden wisdom of God.” God has revealed (Epiphany) this “mystery” to you by giving you His Spirit through His Word, the Bible. God’s Word is the one “mystery” novel that you’ll want to share with others and give away the ending—the very blessed ending: Victory over sin and death, and eternal life in heaven through 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.
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