2015-10-04 The Mystery

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          October 4, 2015

“The Mystery”

Text: Ephesians 3:1-6

We continue this week in our punctuated sermon series through Ephesians, and we note that two weeks ago we concluded chapter two.  The Apostle Paul, as led by the Holy Spirit, concluded some rich doctrinal instruction at the end of that chapter, and it appears, as chapter three opens, that next he shall pray.  Yet, just as Paul begins to pray, the Spirit interrupts his prayer for a time.  The prayer will commence at verse fourteen, but for now it seems good to the Holy Spirit to impart other needful information here.  Paul, the Spirit’s inspired penman, alludes to his continuance in prison on behalf of the Gentile Christians at Ephesus (and, as we know, Gentile Christians elsewhere).  Then he speaks of a mystery now revealed (Ephesians iii.1-6) and of ministering that mystery to others (Ephesians iii.7-13).  The latter we treat next week, God willing, but the former we treat now.  May the Lord give us eyes to see, and ears to hear, His Word this day.


Most of the time, passages like ours today—passages which impart doctrinal or ethical instruction—proceed deductively.  They have the main point at the beginning of the passage, and the supporting sentences follow the main point.  Today we have the main point at the end of the passage with suggestive remarks preceding.  The clear statement of the mystery that Paul introduces early in the text occurs at its end: Gentiles, with Jews, partake of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.  Let’s look at some facets of this central claim in greater detail.

The text gives us two important things to know about this glorious mystery.  First, it was not revealed in full earlier under the Old Covenant.  Certainly the Lord gave hints and suggestions in various ways in His Word about this.  Consider the human ancestry of Jesus.  There appear at least two ladies born outside the covenant family: Rahab, from one of the peoples inhabiting Canaan at the time of the Israelite conquest (Joshua 2:1 ff.) and Ruth, a Moabitess (Ruth 1:4 ff.).  Yet both became ingrafted by faith into the covenant family that looked for a Savior yet to come.  Also, in the so-called Suffering Servant songs of Isaiah, we read that Jesus, the ultimate suffering Servant, would be a light to the nations (Isaiah 42:6, 49:6).  Though we have these and other hints, foreshadowings, and the like of God’s plan to include the Gentiles among His people, yet He did not reveal this in full in Old Covenant times—and, obviously, His people at the time largely failed to grasp His plan in full.

Second, in the fullness of time, God revealed fully His plan to Paul to include the Gentiles among His people—among other favored ones of his time.  Paul had a sense of this even at his conversion (Acts 9:1-19), and Peter gained knowledge of this when Cornelius and his company received the Holy Spirit at Peter’s preaching (Acts 10:1 ff.).  Others came to grasp this plan of God’s as Peter testified of what happened at the house of Cornelius.  Apparently, God’s intended from the beginning to include the Gentiles as part of the blood-bought people of God.  The Ephesians of Paul’s day, almost exclusively Gentile, must have rejoiced as God’s gracious providence—as should we.

Now let us look at the degree to which Gentiles participate in the Gospel.  Paul piles up words in the Greek original of his own invention (according to some commentators)—three of which we shall note here—because words strain to bear the freight of such glorious truth.  First, Paul uses a Greek word to denote that the Gentiles are fellow heirs with non-Gentiles.  To the Jews belonged the legacies listed by Paul in Romans 9:4-5: adoption, glory of God, covenants, giving of the Law, worship, promises, and patriarchs.  This continues true to both Jew and Gentile who may believe on Jesus Christ—Himself descended humanly from the patriarchs.  Hence, Jewish and Gentile Christians are heirs of God and co-heirs of Christ (Romans 8:17), and the Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance (Ephesians 1:14).

Second, Gentiles are fellow members of the same body with non-Gentiles.  The body of Christ is the Church (1 Corinthians 12:12-31), and the two at historic enmity—the Jew and the Gentile—are reconciled each to Christ and both to each other (Ephesians 2:14-18).  Hence, the two stand in organic union one with another because of Christ.  Third, Gentiles are fellow partakers with non-Gentiles of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.  The promise of God, considered holistically, is salvation and all that entails.  The Apostle John, in his Spirit-led Gospel, sums life with God as abundant life (John 10:10) and eternal life (John 3:16)—a life unending in scope and supernaturally rich in purpose and in divine blessings.[1]  All of this comes to Jewish believer in Jesus and to Gentile believer in Jesus, for no matter how many promises God has made, they are, “Yea,” and, “Amen,” in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20).

In today’s text, Paul alluded to his teaching earlier in Ephesians to buttress this passage.  Therefore, I too allude to my preaching earlier in this sermon series—namely, to repeat for you the fact that God is calling a people to Himself in His Son.  He does this by calling people from every nation, as John declares in Revelation 7:9-17.  God also calls people to faith in Christ from every imaginable demographic division.  He calls men and women, boys and girls—and He calls folks in childhood, at mid-life, and near the end of earthly existence.  He calls people of every skin color and shade thereof.  He calls people from the Deep South, New England, the various Appalachian and Ozark subcultures, and every other subculture represented in our great nations.  God calls the rich and the poor, the educated and the unlearned, the well-connected and the lonely.  All of these together, and more, shall be part of God’s family in Christ Jesus and family one with another because of Him.

Is God calling you this day?  Is He calling you for the very first time to respond to Him favorably?  Turn to Him then in repentance and faith—and rejoice in finding yourself found by Him.  Is God, having called you initially some time ago to Himself, calling you to more of His purpose in your life?  If so, then follow whithersoever He may lead without hesitation or fear.  He delights to see you walking with Him in closer fellowship than before.  This, then, is the mystery: People from all human groups and sub-groups will find themselves singing the praises of the Lamb to all eternity.


[1] A fuller statement of what is ours in salvation occurs in the classic Presbyterian and Reformed understanding of the order of salvation (the ordo salutis).  These facets of our salvation are (in the order listed) predestination, election, (effectual) calling, regeneration, (saving) faith, repentance, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification.  (“Ordo salutis,” at en.wikipedia.org., accessed October 1, 2015).