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The Revelation of God’s Mystery (part 1) … the God of Mystery

Sermon Date:August 21, 2016

Sermon Topics:Ephesians 3:1-13

Author:Allen Burns

Scripture Reading: Ephesians 3:1-13

Sermon Title: The Revelation of God’s Mystery (part 1) ... The God of Mystery

Sermon Text: Ephesians 3:1-13

MAIN IDEA:   Worship God who reveals His wisdom through the riches of Christ

Revelation of the Mystery (v.1-3)

The God of Mystery

Revealing the Mystery

Steward of the Mystery

 

NOTE: “Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB."

I provide this manuscript as a courtesy. I do not follow the document word for word during the message. I also do not write the document with the intent of publication; there may be grammatical errors throughout. Unfortunately, there is not always time to proofread. I choose to use my available time for studying, finding ways to explain the truths of Scripture while keeping a balance of time for visiting and discipleship of people in the church. Thanks for understanding.

 

 

Revelation of the Mystery (v.1-3)

We will be spending time in the upcoming weeks mining the gems found in Ephesians 3:1-13. It is a mine filled with incredible truths; precious gems worthy of examining and inspiring in us a sense of awe and reverence for God.

The main teaching of this series of messages is this: Worship God who reveals His wisdom through the riches of Christ. We will see how this is true as we progress through the passage.

Before diving too deep into our text this morning, I want to talk about one of the gems which is laying on the surface. We might be eager to start digging in the mine, but this precious gem is laying right on top and we should be careful to not pass it by without taking a good amount of time to admire its beauty. This gem will inspire in us a sense of awe in the God we worship.

The gem is the truth of God keeping information a mystery that for generations was hidden from mankind. Paul says, that hidden mystery is now being made known. In His wisdom, God kept a secret.

Before we figure out the mystery let’s first think about the fact God actually kept a mystery. That God kept a mystery and then revealed it in the age of the first century is too important a truth to gloss over.

Let’s talk a few moments about this dazzling gem of Scripture: The God of Mystery. My hope and goal is this gem will inspire us to deeper worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The God of Mystery

God works in mysterious ways. God chooses to conceal and reveal truth based upon His will. God’s prerogative as God is to hide truth He wants hidden and reveal truth He wants to make known.

As far as heaven is above the earth, God’s ways are above our ways, and His thoughts are above our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). Throughout the Old and New Testament, we find God does all that He wishes. He takes counsel from no one. God chooses the time and place for all events. We need to keep in mind God’s sovereignty over the universe includes being sovereign over who does and who does not understand His truth.

There are many passages we may look at to help us understand God’s concealing and revealing of truth. This morning, we will consider a few passages in Matthew’s Gospels and then we will look into a passage in one of Paul’s letters.

(Pray)

Turn to Matthew 11.

In verses 20-24, Jesus denounces the cities in which He performed miracles, because they did not repent.

20 Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. 24 Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.” (Matthew 11:20-24)

They had seen much, but did not respond to the glory of God. After denouncing the cities, read what Jesus says:

25At that time Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. 26Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. (Matthew 11:25-26)

Jesus is praising God that those cities did not respond to God’s glory because it was hidden. Jesus praises God for hiding the truth from some and revealing the truth to others. He further praises God because this way is well-pleasing to God.

Look at the next thing Jesus says:

27“All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. (Matthew 11:27)

God handed over to the Son the prerogative of hiding and revealing the Father. God is well pleased in the Son. One of the reasons God is well pleased in the Son is because the Son wills to reveal the Father. It is the Son’s prerogative.  

Nobody knows the Son except the Father. And, nobody knows the Father except the Son, and anyone the Son wills to reveal the Father. If anyone wants to know God the Father, Jesus must first give the okay. If the Son does not reveal the Father to a person, they will not know God. If the Son wills to reveal the Father, they will know God.

Let’s look at another passage in Matthew. Turn to chapter 13. Here, Matthew records an interesting dialogue between Jesus and His disciples. Jesus spoke to large crowds (v.2), and the disciples asked Him:

“Why do You speak to them in parables?” Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted” (Matthew 13:10-11).

Some people are granted to know the mysteries of heaven, but to others, it is not granted. Let that truth sink in for a moment. Why doesn’t God grant people understanding?

God brought large crowds to hear the words of the Messiah. Jesus opened His mouth to teach, but Jesus, in full obedience to the Father, taught in parables. Jesus purposefully spoke in a way so not everyone would understand. Jesus taught in parables, so those who are granted to know the mysteries of heaven would know and so others would not know. Jesus spoke in a way He knew is well-pleasing to His Father.

Doesn’t Scripture say God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4)? If that is true, why speak in parables? Why hide the truth from some and reveal it to others?

Incidentally, we are not God. We maiy not purposefully hide the truth from anyone. God is the one who hides it. We are to speak the truth plainly, clearly, and as best we can. We are to speak the truth and trust God to open the hearts and minds of people so they may believe. In his letters, Paul asks for prayer that he speak forth the mystery boldly and clearly (Ephesians 6:19-20; Colossians 4:3-4). So, don’t make the Gospel an enigma or a riddle. Speak the truth as plainly as you possibly can. It is God’s prerogative, not ours, to grant understanding.

Turn to Matthew 16. Here we read another dialogue between Jesus and His disciples.

Jesus asks His disciples, “who do the people think I am.” The disciples say, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”

“But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 16:15-17)

Who revealed to Peter that Jesus is the Christ? The Father in heaven. God did not reveal Jesus is the Christ to the other people. Why not?

God allowed Peter to understand and know Jesus is the Christ. Peter is blessed because he did not figure this out on his own. Jesus said, no human in flesh and blood revealed to Peter that Jesus is the Christ. The Father revealed this to Peter, but not to others.

Let’s move from the words of Jesus in Matthew to look at the Apostle Paul’s doctrinal exposition of how God reveals and conceals truth.

An excellent passage explaining this is found in 1 Corinthians chapter two. Paul begins the chapter by teaching the Corinthians that when he was with them, he did not preach to them using his superior speech or wisdom. Instead, Paul determined to preach only Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).

He preached in weakness, fear, and with much trembling. Paul did not rely upon his own persuasive words of wisdom, but instead he relied upon the Holy Spirit. Paul’s reason for doing so was that he did not want their faith to rest on the wisdom of men, but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:3-5).

Paul understands that to reach the spiritual heart of man, there is only one way to do so, and that is to rely upon the truth of the Gospel. Truth is declared and the Holy Spirit carries the truth to reach man’s heart. The Gospel is the means the Holy Spirit reveals knowledge of God. Therefore, Paul relied upon the truth of the Gospel to be the means, the tool, God uses to reveal the glory of Christ.

In verses 6-9, Paul gives the example of how the wisdom of God is not understood by the rulers of his age, but God keeps it hidden as a mystery. The greatest mystery God kept hidden from men is salvation through the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Paul says “for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (v.8). God kept the spiritual truth about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ hidden from men so He might accomplish His purpose.

Listen to how Paul explains how the Holy Spirit reveals God’s truth to His saints:

10 For to us God revealed them (His mysteries) through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.

Paul then asks this rhetorical question in order to make his point:

11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?

In other words, I cannot know your thoughts unless your spirit dwells within me. You may not know my thoughts unless my spirit dwells within you.

Paul explains further:

Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.

This is truly an amazing truth which should definitely inspire worship. God so desires to have us understand Him and His love, that He gives us His Holy Spirit to dwell in us and give us first-hand knowledge of Himself.

We received the Spirit of God (v.12) so that we may know the things freely given to us by God. How may we know the things freely given to us by God? We may know by the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit.

God intimately reveals the truth of His blessings by indwelling His elect with the Holy Spirit.

Listen to how Paul finishes his thought.

14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.

The word appraised means discerned. In other words, Paul is saying. “because they,” the things of God, are only spiritually discerned and that is why the natural man does not accept the things of God. The things of God may not be discerned physically with our minds and intellect. They are only spiritually discerned.

Unless God indwells people with His Spirit, spiritual truth is not understood.

Let me give you an illustration which may help. I had the opportunity to speak at a funeral in another state. Two people were chosen to do the Scripture reading. I chose the passages to read. After the funeral had ended, one of the two shared how difficult it was to read the passage because they did not understand what it said. I was flabbergasted. I thought it was very plain and easy to understand. I know this person well. She graduated in the top five of her large high-school class and went on to obtain an advanced engineering degree. She oversees many other engineers in a Fortune 500 company. I consider her to be very intelligent. With this plain passage of Scripture, she could not understand what it said.

She is not indwelled with God’s Holy Spirit and she could not understand spiritual truth. She understood the definitions of the words, but not the teaching of the passage.

Read how Paul finishes the passage:

16For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.

Who knows the mind of the Lord? Those who know the mind of the Lord are those who have the mind of Christ. Being indwelled with the Holy Spirit is to have the mind of Christ. How incredible is that? Because the Holy Spirit dwells in us, we can understand God’s desires, His motives, His purpose and so forth. It is just as Paul says in verse 10, “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?”

Obviously, we don’t have a complete understanding of all things. But, God has revealed enough to us so we may understand the depth of His love and forgiveness.

Here are two truths to cement in our brain as we contemplate what the Bible says about God concealing and revealing truth.

  1. First, God is the Creator; this is His universe to do as He pleases.  God is a God with mysteries. It is His good pleasure to conceal and reveal truth as He so desires. If God chooses to reveal Himself to some and not to others, that is His prerogative. We may think that is unjust or unfair, but who are we to judge God. We are tiny little beings with limited knowledge. We barely have enough power to open a jar of pickles and God, in the meantime, is spinning galaxies and holding the Universe together. Don’t for a moment ever judge God as being unfair. He chooses to conceal and reveal as He desires. God makes some passages of Scripture plain to children, and other passages of Scripture remain a mystery to the most intellectual of theologians. We do not open our eyes and see God unless God first opens our eyes.
  2. Second, if we have any understanding of spiritual matters, it is only because God has opened our eyes. Understanding and knowing God is a complete work of God’s grace. We never came to an understanding of truth from our wisdom. God did not give us a special brain. Why are people in the world around us ignorant about God? It is because God has not opened their eyes. They are spiritually dead. Why do we understand? It is because of God’s grace.

It pleases God to choose those who will understand the truth. It is only by God’s grace that our eyes are opened. People may might think God wants everyone to know the truth. However, these verses, and many more say God does not reveal the truth to everyone.

Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, that you have hidden these things to some and revealed these things to others.” Do we find this truth pleasing? Is this truth inspiring us to praise God, as Jesus did?

Examine this gem slowly and gaze upon it’s many facets. Understand the brilliance and beauty of this gem because this is the teaching of Scripture. Does this gem appear beautiful? If we find this truth ugly and something we cast aside as a worthless stone, then we are going to be casting aside many other gems of Scripture.

Worship the God of mystery. Praise God the Father, Lord of heaven and earth, who has hidden things from the wise and intelligent and has revealed them to infants.

Let’s turn our attention back to Ephesians and how God kept a secret for generations; a secret from Moses, Elijah, King David, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and all the other prophets who lived before the first century.

Revealing of the Mystery

1For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— 2if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; 3that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief.

The mystery is the central reason why Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians. If we don’t understand the mystery, we will not understand the point of the letter. Paul refers to the mystery at the beginning, middle (here), and once more at the end of the letter.

In verse 3, Paul says, by revelation, there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. Paul spoke about the mystery, as he says, briefly, in the opening of the letter. Let’s look at that brief mention.

He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. (Ephesians 1:9-10)

In the brief mention, Paul says two things about the mystery.

The first is that God made known the mystery of His will according to His kind intention. It is revealed because God is kind. God’s will, once a mystery, but in the age of the first century, by divine revelation is being made known.

The second thing Paul tells the readers is specifically what the revelation encompasses. He says, “that is, the summing up of all things in Christ.” We may read the Old Testament and surmise Christ will have authority.

We see from chapter three, what was mysterious and is now being revealed, is that the “all things” includes the summing up of Gentiles.

It is not rocket science to read the New Testament and surmise the bringing in of the Gentiles into the household of God comes as quite a shocker. The greatest scholars of the Scripture, Godly men, had no idea God intended to save Gentiles. The mentality of the Jews was if you touch a Gentile you had to take a shower. Gentiles were forbidden to be priests and completely excluded from the Temple courtyard and especially the holy of holies. Don’t eat with them and especially don’t eat their food. Bringing Gentiles into the household of God’s people is one of the most radical religious movements of all time.

For century upon century and generation upon generation, the world was composed of two major groups: God-fearing Israelites and everyone else. The two were never supposed to mix. There are only two people groups in the Old Testament. God’s chosen people and Gentiles. Circumcised and uncircumcised. Clean and unclean. Blessed and cursed.

The early church fathers had no clue God intended to pursue and save Gentiles. For them, it was unfathomable. When Gentiles started getting saved, the leaders of the church were entirely blown away.

Acts 10 ad 11 tells us the story of Cornelius, the first Gentile convert in the New Testament. It took a miracle of God to bring Peter and Cornelius together. (Peter is in Joppa, Cornelius is in Caesarea, about 30 miles north.) But, once they were together, Peter shared with Cornelius, and those with him, the Gospel and they got saved.

The other apostles and brethren (Christian, not those still following the Mosaic Covenant) got wind Peter ate with Gentiles and shared with them the word of God. The next time Peter entered Jerusalem they started rebuking Peter. But, Peter tells them how they all came to Christ and were baptized. They all concluded God granted the Gentiles repentance leading to life, and they started to glorify God.

Paul did not lead the first Gentile to Christ, Peter did. God chose Peter for this task because Peter is the leader of the Apostles. His name always appears first.

Once the Gentiles started getting saved in great numbers, the apostles had no clue what to do with them. These are a people they were once forbidden from the Temple courtyard! They had to have a special counsel to figure how this Gentile and Jew Christianity is supposed to work out (Acts 15).

The saving of the Gentiles is a mystery hidden until the first century. The only way one may read the Old Testament and understand Jesus Christ would call Gentiles into the household of God is by divine revelation. As Paul says, “by revelation there was made known to me the mystery.” God intervenes. The Holy Spirit illumines. The Holy Spirit is the Teacher; He is the Spirit of Truth, and our Guide.

It is only because of the Spirit of Truth that, what looks so clear to us now, was not so clear to many generations. It is only made clear to us because of the grace of God and the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit.

God chooses those who will understand spiritual truth.

This brings us to the last thing we want to look at today and that is God chose Paul (among others) for the purpose of making the mystery known. Paul is a steward of the mystery.

Steward of the Mystery

Verses 1-3 compose a compound sentence. It is easier to understand if we just take out the middle section. Once it is simplified, the point of the sentence is this, “For this reason there was made known to me the mystery.”

 (The chapter break doesn’t help.) We need to remember what Paul said in the previous paragraph. Paul says, because of that, “for this reason”, I am chosen to reveal the mystery.

What is the reason? The reason is because God is building the household of God by bringing in Jews and Gentiles and making them into one building. For that reason, Paul is chosen and given a dispensation of grace.

The stewardship of God’s grace is the stewardship of the Gospel. God gave Paul the Gospel and Paul was to be a steward, which is a guardian or overseer of that grace. The best steward does not just take care of the item they are overseeing, but they improve upon it. A good bank that is a steward of money will make the money grow with interest.

Paul says the stewardship of grace was given to him for the sake of the Ephesians; the Gentiles. Paul knows he is the Apostle of the Gentiles, and he refers to himself in this way a few times in his letters (Romans 11:3; Galatians 2:8).

God gave Paul the message of grace and said, “I want you to be a steward of that grace. Be a good steward by bringing prosperity to this mystery. This is your responsibility.”

Paul knows the whole purpose of his life, the reason he is born, is to unveil this great mystery to the world.

Paul is completely driven by this former mystery which is now being made known. Imagine if something of this magnitude is revealed to you! Imagine being a zealous Israelite, and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob blinds you and speaks to you and says, preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. Do you think an event such as this would change your life? It should.

Do you ever sit around thinking about how Paul’s life was turned upside down? Imagine the sense of responsibility along with the great excitement. Imagine knowing in your heart of hearts, God wants you to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.

It is because Paul was completely engulfed with the magnitude of his ministry, he was willing to continue even though all the Israelite kinsmen tried to stop him. Paul is driven with such incredible purpose. He is a man on a mission.

All those people, those scum of the earth Gentiles, people he once looked down upon, perhaps even pitied, instantly became his brothers and sisters in Christ. He is begging and pleading with Gentiles to be saved. Every city he enters is filled with potential God-fearing Christians.

Paul fully recognizes God opened His eyes to an incredible mystery. And all Paul can say is, “Woe is me. I am not worthy of such great things, oh Lord God. Your grace is too wonderful for me. Here I am Lord, send me.”

Paul counted his life as nothing compared to having the knowledge of God’s mystery made known. The stewardship of the Gospel was everything to Paul. It changed His life.

So What:

How should we respond to these great truths? We are not Paul and we are not first century people. So then, how do we apply these principals of Scripture in our modern day?

Know we are blessed

Jesus said to Peter that he was blessed because he knew Jesus is the Christ. Jesus said to His disciples they are blessed because of the things they understood. Right after He told them about why He speaks in parables, Jesus said this:

But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. (Matthew 13:16-17)

Do you see? If you do, you are blessed. If you understood the message this morning it is not because I am such a great speaker. It is only because the Holy Spirit opened your heart to the truth of God’s word.

You are blessed.

Know we are stewards of the mystery

Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. (1 Corinthians 4:1)

We are also stewards of the mysteries. Why should our response and dedication to the Gospel be any different than the Apostle Paul?

If we read this Scripture and it speaks to our heart, then the same Holy Spirit who empowered Paul to preach the Gospel is the same Holy Spirit who lives in us. We have been given great privilege. The Lord God of the Universe, Creator of all things, is mindful enough of you and I that He has whispered in our ear and said, “Jesus is Lord and Savior. This is a mystery, be a steward of this mystery. Make Him known among the Nations. Declare Him in the marketplace. Tell of His glorious wonders to your children. Proclaim Him to your neighbors and friends. I trust you with this truth.”

How will you respond? Will you be found faithful to the calling? Will you say, “Here am I Lord, send me?”

Jesus said what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim it upon the housetops (Matthew 10:27)!

Do not be ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God to save. The God of Mystery is not hidden. Go and tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere, go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is Lord.