The Eternal Mystery Revealed and Proclaimed (Ephesians Sermon 16 of 54)
October 18, 2015 | Andy Davis
Salvation by Promise, Glory of God, Prophecy
God, the Keeper of Mysteries
Well, this morning we're going to be looking at the 13 magnificent verses, as the Apostle Paul presents, in more detail, his own ministry as a steward of mysteries. Truly God is the keeper of mysteries. Our God is a mysterious God. His sovereign plan is an unfolding of mysteries. He really does keep a lot of secrets. And the passage that we're looking at today gives us an indication of that. If you look at Verse 9, Paul talks about this “mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.” It says in Deuteronomy 29:29, "The secret things belong to the Lord, our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever." So God has a whole array of secrets that He's holding to Himself, and He's paying out these secrets little by little, across redemptive history. Again, 1 Corinthians 2:7 speaks of this same thing. Paul says there, "We speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began." So God's been keeping these secrets, hoarding this mystery to Himself from before the creation of the world. Again, Isaiah 45:15, and this verse, "Truly you are a God who hides Himself, oh God and Savior of Israel. A God who hides Himself." God hides Himself, He hides His plans, but then at the right time and in the right way, He unfolds it for His glory, and for our joy, and for our salvation. We have some of that. Now, that includes His people, His names, their specific names, we heard two testimonies today, of how God works specifically in their lives, and we know that God has chosen individuals by name from “before the creation of the world.”
I remember earlier in our family life as our kids were growing up, they would come across photos of Christy and I standing alone somewhere, and the kids would look at the picture, the little one, toddlers, and they say, "Mommy, daddy where was I? Where was I?" And so, I don't know when this phrase came into my head but I began saying it. "You were in the mind of God." That's where you were, you were in the mind of God. God was loving you and having a relationship with you in His own mind, even before He knit you together in your mother's womb. And so God is a keeper of mysteries. We already learned in Ephesians 1:4-5, "He chose us in Him before the creation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will. God is the keeper of mysteries."
Keeping and Sharing Secrets to His Glory
Now, God has woven together a magnificent plan for His glory, and for our joy, and He is skillfully unfolding that plan a little at a time. He's like a skillful storyteller that has all these techniques. For example, foreshadowing. I was talking to my son about literature and foreshadowing, and I gave him some examples. Our God is a great foreshadower. He gives us hints and indications ahead of time of what he's planning on doing. It's called prophecy. But those prophesies are complex and they're mysterious and it's hard to put the whole picture together. Also, God unfolds His plan for our lives gradually and patiently. We don't always know what's just around the corner. I think it'd be very hard to live life that way, if we knew what was immediately going to come. If God told you by a prophet, "You will break your leg sometime this afternoon," how would you live? I'd want to go wrap myself in bubble wrap or something like that. And God would show all the different ways he can break a leg, even if you are completely protected in bubble wrap. But we wouldn't be able to live our lives and so God hides from us what He's about to do to us, and this is openly taught in scripture.
For example, the call of Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees. We have in Genesis 12:1, "The Lord had said to Abram, leave your country and your people, and your father's household and go to the land I will show you." That's future tense. And so the author to Hebrews, in Hebrews 11, makes much of this. In Hebrews 11:8 he says, "By faith, Abraham when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance obeyed and went even though he did not know where he was going." So God hides from us, His plan. There are mysteries that He is unfolding. How about the Apostle Paul himself in Acts 20 and verse 22. Paul says this to some concerned brothers and sisters who are very, very worried for Paul's future and for his safety. And he says, "And now compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem not knowing what will happen to me there." He doesn't know specifically what's going to happen. He knows he's going to suffer, that he knows. So God's glorious redemptive plan unfolds as a mystery, a mystery kept hidden in God and then revealed.
Now, when we come to the word mystery we should not think of it like Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles. You can hear this hideous hound baying in the distance, and your blood starts to curdle and you start to accumulate clues as you read the story and try to figure it out. Or Agatha Christie. Murder on the Orient Express, and if you're a good mystery writer, you're going to put clues, but you gotta do some misdirection, so it's not obvious and all that. I was reading about techniques on writing, I'm not planning on writing a mystery novel, but you've got to put in the clue, so that's fair game and you can put it together. It's not that kind of a mystery, it's not like that. Actually we can't have figured it out. It's not something you can reason out by your intellect. It's something that God glorifies Himself by revealing. Something you could not have known. That's what the mystery means in the New Testament. It's something that God has kept back for His own sovereign purposes, and at the right time, He pays it out into human history, by the prophets, by the apostles, He lets us know.
Paul, the Prisoner of the Mystery
The Immediate Focus: Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles
And so Paul here, the apostle, is the revealer of aspects of this mystery. And he is in some ways the secondary focus of this chapter. There's a lot here about Paul, the revealer of the mystery, the prisoner of mystery. And we can begin by looking at Paul the prisoner of this mystery. Look in verse 1, it says, "For this reason, I Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus, for the sake of you Gentiles". So the immediate focus he puts here, the spotlight he puts on himself for this reason, “I, Paul,” he speaks. But what follows is one long glorious interruption. Paul does this from time to time. He'll be going in a certain direction, train of thought, and then just stops and goes off in a different direction and in some ways, never returns. He does this in Romans 5, when he talks about original sin and he interrupts himself and he never comes back, but we get his idea. I find that fascinating.
Now, in this particular case, Paul actually does come back with the same verbal pattern, and that is the language for this reason. So in verse 1, "For this reason, I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ, He is for the sake of you Gentiles," and then verse 14, "For this reason,” like I was saying and then goes on from there. Now Paul's about to pray for these Gentile Christians. That's what he's going to do in verses 14 through 21. The second most glorious prayer in the Bible, that is foreshadowing. So when I get to that you're going to find out what I think is the most glorious prayer in the Bible, we can talk about that. But Paul's about to pray for these Ephesian Christians, and he's going to pray that Christ would dwell in their hearts by faith, and we're going to spend some time richly meditating on that. "And that they would have power together with all the saints to grasp the dimensions of Christ's love for them. How wide, and long, and high, and deep is the love of Christ."
One Long, Glorious Interruption
He's going to pray that for them, but before he does that, we have this long, glorious interruption. If you look at verse 1 and 2, "For this reason, I Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus, for the sake of you Gentiles," verse 2, "Surely you've heard about the administration of God's grace that was given to me for you." Now between verse 1 and 2, in most translations you have a dash. The editors put a dash in there. Not in every one, but in most translations. And so, they're acknowledging Paul's breaking his train of thought here to go in a different direction.
Deeper Knowledge of Paul Before the Prayer
Now, he's wanting to give them, the Ephesian Christians, deeper knowledge about himself before he prays for them. Now, in verse 1 of chapter 1, he's already introduced himself to them as an Apostle. “Paul, an Apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God, to the saints in Ephesus.” He's already done that, so he's introduced himself to them, and they know him, some of them, because he ministered there. But he wants them to understand his special role in the unfolding redemptive plan of God. Paul had a unique role in redemptive history.
Other than Jesus Christ, I would say that the Apostle Paul is the most significant figure of the New Testament. I think that's actually easy to prove. God used the Apostle Paul to write at least 13 books of the New Testament, some debate about the Book of Hebrews. And Paul's conversion, is the most significant event other than things directly tied to Christ, the most significant event in the Book of Acts. Three times, we have an account of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, very significant event. And then, once the story of the Book of Acts is unfolded, once you get to Acts 13, it's pretty much the Apostle Paul from then on. From Acts 13 to 21 is Paul's ministry, and planting churches, his missionary journeys, and all that. And from Acts 22 to 28, it's Paul's imprisonment and his various defenses before the Jews in the Romans. And so Paul's life and his ministry is very much the issue of the whole book of Acts.
Now, the Book of Acts itself, the theme of the Book of Acts is the spreading out of the Gospel. Geographically, yes, but also from Jew only in the upper room, to Jew plus Gentile, to the ends of the earth. That's the theme of the Book of Acts, Acts 1:8, "You'll receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you'll be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." And so, the idea is, we're moving from Jew only to Jew plus Gentile, and there are very significant milestones along the way in the Book of Acts concerning that. The spectacular conversion of Saul of Tarsus, from a church destroying pharisee, to a church building apostle, is a spectacular display of the sovereign power of God and grace. But also it gives us an indication of the mystery that Paul's talking about here in Ephesians 3. Paul would say it's great proof for the power of God in His saving intentions toward the Gentiles. His intention to save the Gentiles. His own conversion is proof of that. “Because of me, you can know how much God wants to save you, Gentiles.”
Big Concern: Understanding Paul, His Ministry, His Imprisonment
His big concern here in these 13 verses, is that the Ephesian Christians would understand him, his ministry, his imprisonment, so that they understand who it is that's praying for them in the second half of the chapter. Paul talks a lot about himself in verses 1 through 13. He begins with, "I Paul," and then he talks about description of his calling, his insights, his ministry, his preaching, his stewardship of the Gospel. Vital for them to understand Paul's role as the apostle to the Gentiles. He was the apostle to the Gentiles.
So he begins in verse 1, "For this reason.” For this reason." For what reason? Well, when you see a phrase like that, something like therefore, you're going to want to go back and say, "Where were we just now, just a moment ago?" And Ephesians 2, the whole chapter has been about how God raised the Gentiles from the dead spiritually. They were “dead in their transgressions and sins, and how God made them alive in Christ by a miracle of His sovereign grace.” "These Gentiles," he says in verses 11 and following, 11 through 15 or so, "were aliens and strangers, and outsiders and they're excluded by the law of Moses." But how God sent Christ, in Christ and His death on the cross has destroyed the “barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” and He's brought these Gentiles who were once far away, “He's brought them near through the blood of Christ.” And how together, with Jews, Jews and Gentiles together, now borrowing that image from 1 Peter, now as “living stones” spiritually resurrected, they're built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit. He's got this image of a spiritual temple that's rising at the end of Ephesians 2. Rising and becoming more glorious, more magnificent, larger all the time. As more and more unreached people groups are coming to faith in Christ. More and more individuals are being brought into the church, and it's this magnificent living temple, spiritual structure, rising to become a dwelling place in which God lives by His Spirit. "For this reason, I'm going to pray for you that you would know how much God loves you, and you would know how much Christ desires to dwell inside your hearts by faith." He's going to talk about all that. He wants them to understand, he wants to understand his ministry, and he especially wants them to understand his sufferings.
“Prisoner of Christ Jesus,” Not of Man
Look, at the end of this section in verse 13. His great concern is that they not be shocked, or put off by hearing that he's in prison. We've been talking this morning, much about prison ministry, and how the apostle Paul was in prison for the Gospel, and he doesn't want them to be stunned by it. Often, as we've heard this morning, there comes a certain stigma, social stigma, it's reasonable to understand that. And Paul wants them to understand actually, that his imprisonment is for their glory, it actually is their glory. He says in verse 13, he says, "I don't want you to be discouraged when you hear about my imprisonment, or my sufferings for you, my chains which are your glory." Paul's chains, he would say, "Are essential to the spread of the Gospel. They're essential." The messengers of the Gospel must suffer or the Gospel cannot spread.
It's very plain. It's taught again and again. Paul teaches it in a very difficult teaching in Colossians 1:24. And there he says, "Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions for the church." What's lacking? What wasn't finished at the cross. I thought everything was finished. No, no, not everything. Redemption was accomplished at the cross, but it wasn't applied yet. It had to be applied by people, by messengers, by evangelists, and missionaries, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the blood of the Cross is sufficient for redemption, but it had to be applied, and that had to be by suffering. And it's in the exact same pattern of Christ crucified. Jesus said in John 12:24, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a kernel of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains by itself, a single seed, but if it dies, it brings forth much fruit." You think about that. Image much fruit, and in the center of that fruit there are more seeds aren't there? And those seeds, they need to fall into the ground and die, as well. The blood of martyrs is seed for the church, that's how the church spreads. "Now, I don't want you to be discouraged because of my sufferings. They are your glory. You wouldn't have the glory of eternal life if I hadn't been willing to suffer." He's getting them ready, that they would be willing to suffer too. Let me just pause and ask, are you?
Are you willing to suffer for the spread of the Gospel? Are you willing to suffer to bring the Gospel to co-workers, and fellow students, and neighbors? Are you willing to suffer anything at all for the reaching of unreached people groups? Are you willing to disadvantage yourself at all, financially? Are you willing to suffer at all in terms of the way you spend your life because without suffering those unreached unengaged people groups that people haven't heard of Jesus yet, will not be reached. What's going to happen is, God is going to raise up messengers who are willing like Paul to suffer, and they know that their sufferings will be the glory of those people, and that's what Paul's getting at. So he's introducing them to himself and he calls himself a prisoner of Christ Jesus. Isn't that a great expression? He's a prisoner of Christ Jesus. “I'm not a prisoner of the Jews, I'm not a prisoner of the Romans, I'm not a prisoner of any human being. Haven't you heard what God did to my brother Peter? How he was in chains and Herod was going to kill him the next day, and God sent one angel, and the chains fell off, the prison door swung open, and Peter walked out.” God could do that for me. Any time, but He doesn't choose to. I'm a prisoner of Christ Jesus.
It's the very thing that the Lord had said to Ananias, when he sent Ananias to go baptize Paul, Saul of Tarsus, that one. Says, "Lord. I don't want to go, send someone else." I love that moment. He says, "Go. This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."” So my sufferings are your glory and I'm a prisoner of Christ Jesus. That's why I'm in chains. Christ Jesus wants me in chains. And it's for your benefit, for the sake of you Gentiles,” he's saying that. “So don't be discouraged because of my sufferings.”
Paul, the Revealer of the Mystery
“Surely You Have Heard of Me”
In verses 2 through 5, we see Paul the reveal of the mystery. “Surely you've heard about the administration of God's grace that was given to me for you. That is the mystery made known to be by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this then, you'll be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets.” So he begins in verse 2, "Surely, you have heard of me, you've heard a lot of things about me. How God made me a steward of His grace." That's the idea here, administration, a steward of the grace of God. Another word, that idea, is of management, somebody who is entrusted with someone else's possessions. You think about a servant in a household, a wealthy man, a wealthy owner gives to a servant management over his household. Now, the possessions in the household aren't his, they belong to the master. Some day, the master's going to return and ask for an accounting. Paul saw himself that way, as a steward of the mysteries of God. He's administering the grace of God, he's administering God's grace. "It was given to me for you," he says. And so they managed them. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, "So then men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now," he says in the next verse, 1 Corinthians 4:2, "it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful." “So, someday I'm going to give an account to God, for my ministry,” Paul's saying. “Some day I'm going to give an account to God, to Christ, for what I did with the Gospel and these opportunities He's given me, I'm a steward of it. And it was given to me for you, for your benefit so that you might receive”.
Now he gets into mystery language, as we've already seen in verse 3. “That is, the mystery made known to me by Revelation, as I have already written briefly.” That's something we could never have figured out by reason or by science. You can't set up experiments at MIT or any other place, where you can reason out or tease out these mysteries. It's not like that. Paul uses the word mystery again in verse 4, "And reading this then you'll be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ." Paul has special insight into the mystery of Christ. God took the scales off of his eyes, physically so he'd be physically able to see, but then he also showed him things that he had never shown anyone that had ever lived up to that point. And those things he wrote about in the book of Romans and his other epistles, they're just staggering, the kind of things you could spend your whole lifetime studying and not fully grasp. These moments of illumination, these moments of radiant light, of “seeing the glory of God in the face of Christ,” in ways that we can hardly even imagine. “You'll be able to understand my insight, my illumination into the mystery of Christ.”
And this mystery, he says, was not previously revealed. Look at verse five, "It was not made known to men and other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets." This is how we know the mystery. No one discovered it in a cave anywhere, or figured it out by reason. Plato, Aristotle, none of these brilliant men could do it. God revealed it by His holy apostles and prophets, that's what he's saying here. He revealed it by them and it's now been made known. Now, we are told in Romans chapter 1, that people all over the world are able to figure out by looking at creation that there is a God, a creator God. They're able to reason that out that He is powerful, and perhaps that He's loving or compassionate. The attributes of God, “His invisible nature and His eternal power are clearly seen being understood from what has been made,” Romans 1. But you can't do that with Christ. You can't reason Christ out by natural revelation. It has to be revealed by the word, by special revelation, by apostles and prophets, that's what he's saying.
The Mystery: Gentiles One with Jews
The Mystery Plainly Declared: Full Jew-Gentile Unity
Now, he says a bit of a strange thing here, he's saying now, the Old Testament people didn't know this; they didn't understand. Now, what is this mystery? I'm going to tell you what it is, and I'll show you how amazing this is. The mystery is that the Gentiles are every bit as much a part of the Body of Christ, every bit as much heirs with Abraham, of the promises of God and Abraham as are the Jews. That's the mystery. Is the equality of Jews and Gentiles in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That's the mystery. He said they didn't know it in the past as we know it now. Now, that's strange, because those of you that heard much of the preaching that I did in the Book of Isaiah, you'll see again and again and again, there are missions themes that flow from Isaiah. Again and again, it almost seems like a New Testament book sometimes it's so clear. You remember how in Isaiah 49:6, God the Father speaks to Jesus, to God the son, saying to Him, "It is too small a thing for you to be my servant, to restore the tribes of Jacob, and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the Earth." Well, that's seven centuries before the Apostle Paul was doing this ministry. So what do you mean, Paul? What do you mean that people in the old covenant era and previous generations didn't know it? Well, I think it's pretty clear that they didn't put it all together. It's kind of like this, it's like prophecy, Old Testament prophecy, like a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle. Have you ever done one of those really, really big jigsaw puzzles? I bet you don't take the approach I take. You can talk to my wife about what I do with jigsaw puzzles, it's pathetic. My engineer side comes out, and I take all of 1000 or 500 pieces, and I put them in a matrix X by Y, and I just go systematically and find the next piece. That's what I do. And you're saying, where's the art in that? There's no art in that, but it works, alright? And you, by your weird techniques, you're looking at that same piece again and again, trying to make it fit where it didn't fit 20 minutes ago. You know you've done it, alright? I never do that, I pick it up, try it once, doesn't work, put it back.
Now, my kids all say I'm a geek. You figure that out, see if I am. But at any rate, it is clear from the reaction of Jewish Christians to the advance of the Gospel to the Gentiles, how they hadn't put it together. Isn't that obvious? How did Peter react to going to Cornelius' house to preach to him? He did not want to do it. And God had to show him three times a sheet let down from Heaven with unclean animals that Jesus had already declared clean, but Peter hadn't gotten that message yet. And that he was told, "Get up Peter, kill and eat," and he said, "Never, Lord, I've never eaten anything impure or unclean,” “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean!" Three times, like drilling into concrete. And then the Holy Spirit comes powerfully on him, telling him to go to Cornelius the Gentile's house, and he gets there and finds a house full of Gentiles waiting to hear the Gospel. And you can imagine the moment as he gets to the threshold, and he's like, “yeah,” and then steps across. This is the most movement I'll ever do in preaching right here. But at any rate, right across the threshold. And he says right at that moment, Acts 10:28, "You were well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him, but God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean." Ah, he made the connection. He wasn't talking about animals, He's talking about people. God can make an impure man, or woman, or child clean. He has the power to do that. And he's thinking about Gentiles. And then while he's preaching, the Holy Spirit comes down on these assembled Gentiles, very much like what happened on the day of Pentecost. And this is what it says in Acts 10:24-25. "While Peter were still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came and all heard the message," verse 45, "the circumcised believers" Jewish believers in Jesus, Jewish Christians, "who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles." They're amazed, they just never thought that would ever happen. That shows they hadn't put it together. It was not revealed to people in previous generations.
And then in chapter 11, the whole first half of the chapter is they have to go back over the same ground again with other Jews, Jewish Christians, who weren't there and who didn't believe it and were upset: "You went into the house of uncircumcised men, and you ate with them!" Then Peter goes through the whole thing again, the whole thing's repeated. He explains it, how the Holy Spirit came down, there were all these witnesses that said, yes, that's exactly what happened. "And when they heard it, they had no further objections, and they praised God, saying, so then God has granted even to the Gentiles repentance unto life."
So, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, all of those profits hadn't figured it out yet. Not the way Paul has. "It is now revealed" verse 5, "now revealed by God's Holy apostles and prophets, now at this time by these specially gifted anointed ones," apostles we know, the 12 that the Lord chose, and then he was replaced at the end of Acts 1, and then along came Paul “as one untimely born,” those are the apostles. Prophets in this context, I think, must be New Testament prophets, like James and Jude who are not apostles and others who are able to speak immediately the Word of God in that apostolic era. There's a lot of debate on whether the gift of prophecy still goes on today, but we know at least then, in local churches, prophets were able to speak immediately and say, "Thus says the Lord." So the apostles and prophets now are able to reveal this mystery, that's what he's saying.
Gentiles Heirs Together with Israel
Now, what is the mystery? I've already told you, but look at it in verse 6, plainly declared, "This mystery is that through the Gospel, the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise that is in Christ Jesus." Oh, the riches of those words. We Gentile believers in Jesus, we are heirs of everything God promised to Israel. We're heirs with Israel. We are going to inherit everything promised to the sons of Abraham. That is staggering. Would have been staggering, it was staggering to the Jewish believers, heirs together with Israel. And what was that, what was promised to Abraham? Well, first and foremost, God himself: "Fear not, Abram. I am your shield, I am your very great reward." You'll get me, Abraham at the end of your life. Gentiles are heirs together with that promise.
Well, but not only that, Abraham, we're told in Romans 4:13, was designated to be “heir of the world.” So that means that through Abraham, the blessings of not just the Promised Land, but of the whole world comes to his sons and daughters. So that means that we stand to inherit the whole world, we are heirs of the world through Abraham. That's amazing. We are heirs together with Israel, we are members together of the same body. We're not second-class citizens, we're not going to be licking the dust off the feet of the Jews and kissing the hem of the garment and all of that, these images of total domination that some Jewish patriots might have had, zealots might have had back then. No, no, no, we're equal citizens with Jewish believers in Christ. And we are sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. Sharers in that promise.
You know what I think of that? There's this image in Romans 11 of a cultivated olive tree, with the root system in the patriarchs; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And Paul speaks of nourishing sap being drawn through that root system up to the branches. And we, Gentile believers in Christ, were cut out of some wild olive tree, cut out, and we were grafted in, and now are drinking in life-giving, spiritually life-giving sap from the root system of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. What is that sap? It's the Word of God, it's the promises made to Israel, the promises of Christ.
Gentiles Sharers Together of the Promise in Christ
And so in Christ, “all the promises of God are yes and amen,” and that includes too us Gentile believers. So we are able to drink in benefit from the promises made to Israel. Now, you may say, well, give me an example. Alright, here's a good example, how about this? How about Jeremiah 29:11? Some people say, oh, that's my favorite verse. What is it? Well, it goes like this, "I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord. 'Plans for your welfare and not for evil. To give you a future and a hope.'" I know a lot of Christians that say, that's my life verse, I love that verse. Well, how do you know, oh Gentile, that you have anything to do with that verse at all? Read the context, it's all about God restoring the Jews to the Promised Land. You could be accused of ripping it out of context; not so fast. We are able to suck benefit from the promises made to Israel now in the New Covenant. And we're able to see beyond the mere restoration of a small number of Jews to the Promised Land to the big picture of what God is doing in the restoration language. He's giving us a home forever in the New Heaven and New Earth. And we're able to get happy about that as Gentile believers in Jesus. We are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus, that only through the Gospel. Not by the Law of Moses, but through the Gospel.
Paul, the Proclaimer of the Mystery
Paul a Servant of the Gospel
That's the mystery, that's what's being revealed now. Paul is the proclaimer of that mystery. Look at verse 7-9: "I became a servant of this Gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of His power. Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given to me, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things." So Paul calls himself here a servant of the Gospel. "I am a servant of the Gospel." He said in another place, "I consider my life worth nothing to me if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me, the task of testifying to the Gospel of God's grace." So Paul considered his ministry a gift of God's grace, and his ministry also a display of God's power. "I became a servant of this Gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of His power."
Paul’s Ministry: A Display of God’s Power
Now, you know what I mean by that, it's a transforming power. Paul began that day breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples, hating Christ; hating him. Hating Christians. Hardened in his heart. And he was nearing Damascus with letters in his hand from the high priest, and he was about to beat up more Christians and arrest them, when suddenly a light came from Heaven and he fell to the ground. “And he heard a voice speaking to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ he answered, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. Now, get up and go into the city and you'll be told what you must do.’" Somewhere in there came the sovereign power of God through Christ, through the Holy Spirit, transforming Saul and making him a Christian. Somewhere in there he had a vision of the glory of God in the face of the resurrected Christ. Maybe right before he said, "Who are you, Lord?" Somewhere in there in he called Jesus Lord. I think he already knew the answer to the question when he said, "Who are you, Lord?" “Well, just to make it clear, I am Jesus.”
Paul’s Deep Humility about Himself
Somewhere in there was the power of God for Saul's conversion, and that's when his ministry began. And he had deep humility about himself. He said, "I'm less than the least of all God's people, and this grace was given me. I am nothing. God is everything. God is everything.” Paul often made little of himself, often. He said, "I am less than the least of all God's saints here, less than the least of all God's people. I'm the worst Christian on Earth," that's what he would say. Actually in another place in 1 Timothy 1, we've been studying on Wednesday nights, how Paul says in 1 Timothy 1, he says, "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst." Not was the worst, I am the worst. "But for that very reason, I was shown mercy, so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life." And he says in 1 Corinthians 15:9-10, "I am the least of the apostles, and I do not even deserve to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God, I am what I am."
So Paul makes very little of himself. If you came to Paul and said, "Paul, how do you explain your great success? You're an author, you're a successful revival speaker, you're a successful church planner. How do you explain your success? Tell me about yourself." He's like, "It has nothing to do with me. It was in spite of who I am and was, not because of it." Now, we have another 7 or 8 pages to go on this sermon, we're stopping here. I hate doing this, but I'm not going to hurry through all this good material. How do you hurry through the “unspeakable riches of Christ” that's coming in the next phrase? So let me just stop here, and we'll resume in a couple of weeks. I'm going on vacation. So this is a big interruption, an interruption in the middle of an interruption, but it's okay, because I am not going to hurry through the “unspeakable riches of Christ.
Just by way of application, let me begin by just inviting any of you who are here who know yourselves to be outside of Christ, I just believe with all my heart that God sovereignly brought you here today. You've heard two testimonies of men whose lives have been radically changed by the Gospel. And then we've been looking at the Apostle Paul and how his life was radically changed by the Gospel. There's no accident that God brought you here today. I'm just pleading with you to repent and trust in Christ crucified and resurrected for the forgiveness of your sins. And if you have any questions about that, any question about the Gospel, come and talk to us, talk to Steve, talk to Mark, talk to Jack, talk to me, talk to any of the elders at the corner or the doors of the church, talk to us.
And then secondly, if I could just urge you to consider the great majesty of God in the unfolding of mysteries. God has more mysteries to show us. It makes life really exciting. Go to Him and say, "Lord, I don't want to miss your purpose for my life. I don't want to live a boring, unexciting life, a life that is not filled with the glory of God and with the work of God. God, am I missing it? Do you have a calling on my life, a ministry for me to do? God, show me what it is. You put a calling on the Apostle Paul's life. I'm not going to be the apostle to the Gentiles, but God what do you have for me to do? It might be prison ministry, as we've already talked about; it fits perfectly. Paul is talking about his being a prisoner. But it might be something else, might be international ministry, it might be others. I'm asking you to assess and see how is God calling you to serve?
Close with me in prayer. Father, we thank you for the things that we've learned today, we thank you for Ephesians 3, and we thank you for the joy that we have in studying these words. I thank you for the Apostle Paul, and the way you worked in his life sovereignly. And God, I pray that you would just be taking these words and pressing them to the hearts of all that are hearing today, that they would know the Gospel and that they would find joy in the Gospel and salvation. And Lord, those of us who are already Christians, help us to see the glory of God in the face of Christ and the fact that he has revealed, Lord, you have revealed the mystery of Christ to us already, help us to be thankful. And help us to find our place of service, whatever it may be. We pray in Jesus' name, amen.