“Make Known the Mystery of the Gospel!”
(Ephesians 3:2-12 – Epiphany – January 6, 2019)
Ephesians 3:2-12 – 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.
Dear Redeemed in Christ Jesus:
Epiphany has been called “the Christmas of the Gentiles,” because on this day in the church year, we observe the first visit of Gentiles to the newborn Christ Child. In Matthew 2:1-11, we hear of wise men from the East following a special star God provided to guide them to the newborn Savior. More importantly, they discovered the place where Jesus had been born by the light of Holy Scripture and God’s promises concerning this Child. When they came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” the chief priests and scribes found the prophecy of Micah 5:2, foretelling the place of the Savior’s birth. Thus the wise men found the baby Jesus in the little town of Bethlehem, and it says: “when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
“Epiphany” is taken from a Greek word meaning “reveal” or “make known.” The good news of Epiphany is that Jesus is revealed as the Savior who came for all people – Jews and Gentiles. With the wise men we have come once again, led by the guiding star of God’s Word, to worship Him who was born as our Savior. Today, by the word of God revealed in our text, we are encouraged to “Make Known the Mystery of the Gospel!” For 1) Jesus Christ has come as the Savior for all people, and 2) He has brought the riches of His salvation to you and me!
1) Jesus Christ has come as the Savior for all people
A mystery is something that is unexplained, unknown, or kept secret. There are many things known only to God – things He has chosen not to explain, which therefore remain a mystery to us. For example, only God knows when the last day will be. Yet, there are many mysteries He has chosen to reveal to us in Holy Scripture, including the Gospel proclamation that Jesus has come as the Savior for all people. Here Paul tell how by revelation God made known to him this mystery in Christ, as he says: “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.”
When the Messiah was born among the Jews, who would have expected the wise men to be the first in a long line of Gentiles coming to see and believe in Jesus as their Savior? Not until the New Testament age did the Gospel proceed to the ends of the earth as Jesus commanded through His apostles, calling Gentiles to faith in such large numbers to this day. Yet in the Old Testament ages God had always extended His promise of salvation to all people, including the Gentiles.
This becomes clear if we just trace the first promise of the Savior back to the time when the first parents of the human race fell to Satan’s temptation. Romans 5:12 tells us that through the fall of the one man, Adam, sin entered the world; and thus death came to all, because all sinned. Yet even then, God promised that there would come one Man, born as the Seed of the woman, to be the Savior of the world (Genesis 3:15). As Paul explains in Romans 5:15-21, by the obedience of this one Man the many will be made righteous. It is He who was born of woman, whom the wise men came from afar to see and worship. Jesus Christ would humble Himself and become obedient even unto death on the cross, to take away the sins of the whole world. So from the beginning, God promised the Savior who would come for all people in the world.
Later the promise was repeated to Abraham, when God told the father of Israel that in his Seed, all the nations and families of the earth would be blessed. Again that Seed is Christ, born of the bloodline of Abraham as the Savior of a world of sinners (Genesis 12:3; 22:18; Galatians 3:16).
Through the Old Testament ages, God welcomed Gentiles to join His people Israel by faith in His promise of salvation, and to enjoy the spiritual privileges of being in His Word and worship. When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt and instituted the Passover feast, He gave special instructions to include Gentiles: “When a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land” (Exodus 12:48). As Solomon dedicated the temple at Jerusalem, he prayed to God: “Concerning a foreigner, who is not of Your people Israel, but has come from a far country for Your name’s sake ‘(for they will hear of Your great name and Your strong hand and Your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this temple, hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, that all peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You, as do Your people Israel” (1 Kings 8:41-43).
As the Israelites awaited the promised Seed of Abraham, the Messiah in whom all the nations would be blessed, they heard prophecies of Gentiles coming to Him from every land. Those living far off in the darkness of sin and unbelief would be brought near by the light of His salvation and become part of His Kingdom by faith. Among these prophecies we read in Isaiah 60:1-6: “The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes all around, and see: they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be nursed at your side… They shall bring gold and incense, and they shall proclaim the praises of the LORD.” And so it happened, that the wise men from the East were drawn by the light of God’s promise, bearing such royal gifts for Him who was born King of the Jews, and King of the Gentiles. And they worshiped Him by faith as their own Savior.
So the mystery that Christ would be born as the Savior for all people could be solved by following the guiding light of prophecy in Scripture. But an even greater mystery in ages past was that the Gentiles would have an equal place with the Jews as God’s chosen people.
In the time of Christ there was a strong feeling of division. The circumcised Jews spoke with contempt about Gentiles as “the uncircumcised.” The Jews ate only clean foods, and avoided the unclean foods of the Gentiles. Jews would not eat or associate closely with Gentiles, lest they become ceremonially unclean. This was underscored by the fact that in Herod’s Temple at Jerusalem, there was a dividing wall separating the inner court of the Jews from the outer court of the Gentiles. “Sure,” many Jews thought, “God might have a place for Gentiles in the coming Kingdom of the Messiah, but it will not be on equal terms with us, the children of Abraham.”
Therefore, the mystery that man could not conceive, God had to make known by His Gospel: “that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel.” One does not become an heir of salvation by being born children of certain blood. One does not become part of the spiritual body of Christ by outward treatment of the physical body, like circumcision or eating of kosher foods. Rather, both Jew and Gentile alike are equally partakers of salvation and eternal life through faith in Christ and His gospel.
“As I have briefly written already,” Paul notes. Back in Ephesians 2:12-14, he had explained to his Gentile hearers the great change that had been brought about in their lives by the grace of God: “At that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation.” By shedding His blood on the cross, Jesus reconciled the world of sinners to God. By fulfilling the laws of the Old Covenant that foreshadowed His coming, He has broken down all that once separated Jew from Gentile. He has brought them together by faith as members of His one Body, the Church, of which He is Head (Ephesians 4).
Let us stop and ponder the grace of God by which anyone is saved – whether Jew or Gentile. You and I and all people were by nature living in a spiritual condition that can only be described as darkness, having no hope and without God in the world. As sinful children of Adam, we all had lost the perfect image of God. He would have remained a complete mystery to us, as far as who He is, and how we might possibly have a right relationship with Him, let alone finally come to live in His holy presence forever in heaven. Left to our own way, we would go on seeking life in the dark lusts of the flesh, in the dark hopes of a fallen world. Left to ourselves, guided only by the dark lies of Satan, we all would have gone down in eternal death and hopelessness of hell.
But by the grace of God, He came to us to change all that. Jesus was born as the Light of the world, bringing new life and hope to sinners. He shed His blood on the cross to take away our sin, breaking down the barrier between us and the holy God. Jesus shone the light of His Gospel on us and brought us to saving faith. He clothed us in His own perfect righteousness, presenting us before God as children of our heavenly Father. He brought us into the fellowship of His Church with believers from every age, both Jew and Gentile. As Paul wrote in Galatians 3:26-29: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
2) He has brought the riches of His salvation to you and me
So we come to see the true mystery of the gospel. Not only has Christ come as the Savior for all people. But most amazingly, He has brought the riches of His salvation to you and me.
When God provided that special star to guide the wise men from far away in the East, connected to His promise of the Savior in Scripture, they must have marveled at the grace of God in choosing them. He led them out of the darkness of a pagan land, living in idolatry, sin, and unbelief, “without hope and without God in the world.” And He enlightened them by the Gospel, giving them eyes of faith to see the riches of His salvation and eternal life in Christ.
The apostle Paul himself marveled at the grace of God in saving him, as the chief of sinners. As a Jew and former Pharisee, he had been living in the darkness of works-righteous religion. He had been living without hope in Christ, and thus without God. In his misplaced zeal, he was a persecutor of the church. But then, the ascended Lord Jesus confronted him in a blinding light from heaven. By the grace of God, Paul was enlightened by the Gospel, and his eyes were opened to see the riches of God’s salvation – apart from works, by faith alone in Christ’s redeeming work. In addition, here Paul marvels in the grace of God, who came to him and chose him for a new purpose in life. “To me,” he exclaims, “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.”
Whether Jew or Gentile, must not you and I also marvel at the grace of God in choosing us, in bringing the riches of His salvation to us? No matter how dark our background may be, no matter how black the sins of our life, God is shining the light of His Gospel on us today, declaring us fully forgiven and reconciled to Him in Christ. He has brought us near, as Paul says: “in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.”
With the wise men, led by the light of God’s Word, we come boldly and confidently to see and worship the Son of God who was born as our Savior. We kneel before our heavenly King, bearing our offerings of thanks and praise to Him for the unsearchable riches He has given us in His eternal Kingdom. And like the Paul, having beheld our Savior with eyes of faith, we go forth with a new purpose in life. What a privilege is ours to make known the mystery of His Gospel, to shine His light in the world – to tell everyone that Jesus Christ has come as the Savior for all!
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.