April 15, 2018

Marveling at the Mysteries of God

Preacher: Cyril Pickering Series: Stand-Alone Messages Topic: Glory of God Passage: Ephesians 3:1–12

Ephesians 3:1-12:

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have 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[a] 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[b] 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.

The Westminster shorter Catechism is a series of a few dozen questions and answers about God and the Bible. The Westminster catechism begins with foundational truths about God and begins to venture into more specific doctrines. The first question of the Westminster catechism asks this question: "What is the chief end of man?" How would you answer that question? It is a question that underlies any philosophical system or search for truth. Why are we here? Some of you may be familiar with the response given by the Westminster catechism: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

As we read through the Bible, this statement rings true. Much is written about the Glory of God. We talk frequently about giving God glory. How do we give Glory to God? Specifically, for the Christian, that is one of the big questions to consider. We know that there isn't any way to make God more glorious, be we announce, pronounce, and point out the glory of God. There are some obvious ways. We pray. When we gather for corporate prayer, we declare the glory of God and when we pray individually, we express our reliance on God. We sing. The words that we lift up to worship describe God and ascribe worth to God. We gather as a church. In doing so, we express the unity that comes in God.

There is another aspect, however. We can't limit our God glorifying actions to what we do when we gather, or the moments of quiet time that we have very day. That would leave out the vast majority of our time. If truly our chief end is to glorify God, then our God glorifying actions can't just be limited to a few hours a week. The Bible declare that the heavens declare the Glory of God. all of God's creation announces the majesty of God. How does it do that? We find wonder in God's creation because creation does what it is designed to do. The Sun glorifies God by shining. The birds glorify God by singing. In the Psalm 8, David looks at God's creation and marvel's at the work of God in them says this:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
    and the son of man that you care for him?

The very fact that the creator of all cares for man was enough for David to break out in song. Creation glorifies God by doing what it was designed to do. And we can do the same.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul says that whatever we do, whether we eat or drink or anything else, to do everything for the glory of God. Something as mundane as eating your evening meal can be done for the glory of God. We can glorify God through our rest. the poet glorifies God through the composition of poetry. It's why an athlete can honestly say that she gives God glory in the way that she competes.

We also glorify God by viewing his creation and his works and sitting back and marveling at them. When we stand amazed at God, we are not learning anything new. there is nothing new about God that a sunset, or the northern lights teach us, but we stand witness to the work of God and marvel at it. What were your thoughts going through the last series? We highlighted God's sovereignty, and often can apply these lessons to our lives, but the story of Joseph happened thousands of years ago. What was your reaction as you saw how God weaved the story together, connected the threads, accomplished his goal and fit it within his plan for salvation of all people? The sovereignty of God should cause us to stand amazed.

In our text this morning, we find Paul talking about another thread to this salvation story.

v1-6- For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have 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.

Here Paul is making it clear that God is revealing his plan in stages. There are truths being written down by Paul and taught by the apostles that previous generations have not learned about. We are jumping in at an odd time, that makes it seem a bit more suspenseful than it actually is, but Paul begins with the phrase, "for this reason" referencing something that he had just said and is reiterating. Here he calls it a mystery that would be revealed in time. This mystery is that the children of Israel, the Jewish people, and those who were Gentiles, who had not received God's revelation, are now being brought together. Not just that they are being brought together, but they are now fellow heirs of the Gospel message.

This truly was a mystery, because at the time, this was controversial. We would probably still find this to be a mystery now. First of all, we should marvel at this. We are beneficiaries of this mystery. If you told me that you checked your lineage and can prove a link to one of the tribes of Israel, I would be highly skeptical to say the least. But consider how controversial this would have been at the time. The Gospel is not going out to "those people". People got nervous when the Samaritans got introduced in the conversation and they were in the family. But to go outside the tribes of Israel sharing the Gospel with "those people", that was a bridge too far for some. And everybody has "those people". It took revelation from God to reveal this truth, and not without pushback. In the book of Acts, God prepared Peter to reach the gentiles by giving him a vision. God changes Peter's mind about the truth to reach others. The book of Galatians is all about Paul railing against the church for clinging to old practices that were meant to put shackles on the Gentiles and perverted the Gospel. The mystery of God revealed is that Christ is good news for Jews and Gentiles.

Here, Paul is pumping this up. This is something he is highlighting, that the family of God has been opened up. Ordinarily, we would expect exclusivity to be the object of bragging. "We have the truth and they don't." in the previous chapter, Paul mentions that there had been a dividing wall of hostility previously, but Christ has eliminated that in his flesh. But isn't it just human nature to want to be exclusive. This mystery is marvelous because it could not have been designed by man. Nobody at that time would have expected this. When Christ was resurrected, his disciples were still asking if it was finally time for the Kingdom to come. church councils were convened to talk about the Gentile issue. It is difficult to believe that God would reach out to "them" until we remember that "them" is "us". That we who were far of have been brought near by the blood of Christ. The mystery of Christ is that Christ is the savior for Jews and Gentiles. There are no second class citizens in the Kingdom of God. We are all co-heirs and participants in the same promise. Without this mystery, we can have no confidence in our own salvation, but Christ is able to forgive. Regardless of your history, your background, your sin, the blood of Christ is available to you.

Who will carry this message? Who will be the one to carry the message of the Gospel to the gentiles? Any volunteers? Not a job that any were racing to volunteer for.

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.

Who would have been your ideal candidate? Can we be honest? Not Paul. He didn't exactly have the most sparkling resume. Sure he has the pedigree, but some of his choices were not great. The bulldog for the Pharisees, hunting down Christians, not is not only a Christian, but wants to take the message to the gentiles. He'd have a hard time joining many churches. Paul was entrusted to carry the message to those who had never heard the message.  You might think that he would be sent in the midst of the Pharisees, to try to get them the stop blocking the work of Christ. But no, he was sent outside the nation, to people that he probably hated at one point.

Here is Paul, carrying the most precious message in the world to those who needed it the most. God didn't reveal this message to Moses. God didn't deliver this through the prophets. The religious leaders at the time would have rejected this message. Paul was going into a lost world with answers to questions that they didn't know that they were looking for. They probably felt that they have a good handle on things.

And that is probably true today. The systems of the world are all seeking to find answers to the fundamental questions that we all have. Where did I come from? why am I here? Where do I go from here? What is right and wrong. People look for answers in all sorts of different places. Religions of the world seek the answers to these questions. Philosophers have been debating these questions for centuries. People seek the answers through political affiliations, through scientific exploration. There is truth in many of these perspectives. We don't need to deny that partial truth may be found elsewhere. So when a mathematician examines the world and gains insight through mathematics, we can acknowledge that he has found truth in what he has found. But comprehensive truth is found in Christ.

God, the creator of all of the universe, divinely orchestrated his revelation. Why did God do this? Why go through the stages that he did? It was not just for the Gentiles that Paul was going out. v. 8-9. Grace was given to Paul to preach to the Gentiles, but to bring light to everyone. God does this to display his wisdom to all. His manifold wisdom. The many sided wisdom of God. Had God left it to his people, they would have done things differently. Maybe the gentiles do hear the Gospel, but they join the fellowship with preconditions. We separate into our tribes. We form a caste system where the group that we happen to be in is on top.

There are no second class citizens in the kingdom of God. The wisdom of God is that, by revelation, those divisions that once existed are not gone. When we zoom out, we see that this is not just something done at a particular time. God did not just wake up in the morning and decide that it is time to break the wall down. In the Old Testament God dropped breadcrumbs that his promise would include all people. During the life of Christ, he is constantly challenging the understanding of the religious leaders. We see God weaving his truth throughout the ages. We see the sovereignty of God as he uses different means to reach his people. Here it might be an Egyptian pharaoh. there, it may be a widow in the middle of a desert. Here it may be a converted tax collector, here it may be a former murderer. 

Why do we study the sovereignty of God? What impact does it have on my life? God's sovereignty is still as true today as it was in the scriptures, but it is not something that we have control over. There may be a number of reasons, and I can't answer that question for you. But for me, I marvel at God's work in history. I stand amazed at the way the God works. In the same way that we stand amazed at a musician who has full mastery of his instrument, and we can't help but stand up an applaud when we see a masterful performance, when we see God conducting the symphony that is the universe, knowing that there is not a single detail that goes beyond his notice. We stand in awe at God.

That the Gospel is good news for the Gentiles is something that directly affects us. And we can be thankful to God that he has made a way for use to have access to Him. We can directly be thankful for that. But we should also zoom out and take a look at the big picture. That the story of salvation didn't begin the day we were born. It didn't even begin on the day that Christ was born. Not when Adam and Eve were created and not when the world was spoken into existence. The wisdom of God being reveled through his church, the unity of formerly hostile entities, under the banner of Christ was accomplished according to the eternal purpose of God and realized in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The revelation of God's mystery should cause us to sit back in amazement at the work of God.