The Eternal Mystery Revealed and Proclaimed (Ephesians Sermon 17 of 54)
November 08, 2015 | Andrew Davis
Grace, Evangelism, Missions
Well, three weeks ago, I was right in the middle of a sermon. So, how do you begin a sermon, like that? So I want you to take that outline that I've given you in the back and just forget about it. I'm not doing that. I did a lot of that last time. I want to do something else. And I want to zero in on Ephesians 3, specifically verses 8-10, and make that the centerpiece of what I want to say to you today. I want to focus in on God's purpose in Paul's proclamation.
Let me just lay my cards on the table. My idea in this sermon is that Paul is an utterly unique individual in redemptive history as the Apostle to the Gentiles. That is true, but he is also a paradigm example of an ordinary Christian, “less than the least of all God's people,” who was given a powerful ministry that has eternal ramifications, and in that way, he's an example for us. We, who are also, we should and could say, “less than the least of all God's people,” less than the least of the saints, we can have a powerful ministry of proclamation of the “unsearchable riches of Christ,” as mentioned here in Ephesians 3. We have that power through the Holy Spirit. We have that calling. Kyle talked about that in his sermon in John 20, "As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." And so I want to heighten awareness of this and this especially comes on the heels of me having been three days in New Orleans as a trustee of the International Mission Board, and these are trying and challenging times for the IMB.
International Mission Board Changes
Many of you may know, many of you may not know that because of financial restrictions the IMB gave out a voluntary retirement initiative, a V.R.I., to missionaries on the field above 50 years and older voluntarily inviting them to retire from missions work. And the numbers are in the range of about 600 missionaries coming off the field. That's obviously a soul-searching time for the IMB, it's a soul-searching time for Southern Baptist churches, and a time for us, I think, as a local church to recommit ourselves as never before to missions to unreached people group missions. And so I want to do some of that through this sermon. I want to zero in on Ephesians 3:8-10, and I want to give you a sense of the grandeur and the glory of what God is doing in the world. I want you to be captivated by it. I want you to be captivated by the work of display that God is doing of His own wisdom and glory in the Church. I want you to see that.
A Divine Masterpiece
A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity, I was going to Serbia and I went with my daughter, Caroline, and we stopped at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and they have some of the most astonishing works of art there by the Dutch masters, some of these incredible paintings, and they're just huge. And one of the biggest paintings in the museum is a painting called The Night Watch by Rembrandt, and it's just absolutely massive. 12 feet wide 14 feet high. I'm thinking, “How much paint went into that, how many cans of paint?” You know how you go to Lowe's and it's like, "Well, I'm... " if Rembrandt were hearing this, "Cans of paint, really?" But this was a masterpiece. And you have this picture of this scene from Dutch history, and I'm not going to go into what's being depicted there, but he uses light and darkness very well, and different colors, and he highlights certain individuals and others are more back in the darkness. And it gave me a picture of just the vast complexity of what God is doing in redemptive history, the vast complexity of light and darkness, of successes and apparent failures, of pleasureful moments, and moments of great affliction and suffering that go together to make this master work.
It's an illustration of God's sovereign design in history, and I want to zero in on missionaries and Christ's servants, that's all of us, as somewhat like various ragged different sized paint brushes that the Lord is using to paint this masterpiece. And He's got a plan, it says in verse 11, that He worked out before the foundation of the world. He's got it all figured out in His mind, and we can be in the hands of the master to paint this incredible masterwork, greater than anything that we can possibly imagine, even greater than a 12 by 14 painting.
Now, I was reading recently a sermon by John Piper on this Scripture and I'm indebted to him for the structure. He does a very interesting thing here; he goes right to verse 10 as the centerpiece and then backs out as he often does. Some of you hear this kind of preaching, and it's helpful. He says, "What's the main point of all of this?" And he's going to say in verse 10, the main point is the display of the wisdom of God, that there's a display of the multifaceted various variegated wisdom of God in the Church, to the angels, so the powers and principalities. The means to that, and he backs up one step, is in verse 10, the Church. It is by the Church that the wisdom of God is displayed. The gathering of the people of God, “chosen before the foundation of the world,” elect from before the foundation of the world by sovereign grace completely apart from works, chosen by God, predestined, but then gathered into the Church, the gathering of the people of God, verse 10a, from all Gentile nations. The means to the end of that one step back in verse 9 is the preaching of the unsearchable riches of Christ among the nations. And then one step back from that, the means to that is the “least of the saints,” that's you and me being set apart unto God to do that proclamation. Now, the word preaching may not be incredibly helpful because not many of us are called to be public preachers, but we can proclaim “the unsearchable riches of Christ,” to the end that the Church be gathered from all the Gentile nations, to the end that the manifold wisdom of God would be put on display for the angels to see. That's what's going on in Ephesians 3:8-10.
Manifold Wisdom: God’s Children Across the Globe
And so I want to zero in on this masterpiece and just look at it. I want us to see it. And as you look at verse 10, we've got this idea of the “manifold wisdom of God.” Now what does that word “manifold” mean? It's not an easy word; it's not a word that we usually would use in everyday speech. And for that matter in the Greek, it's a one-off, it's only used this one time, and so it's an unusual word. Half of the word Poikilos. I usually don't say Greek words from the pulpit, but that word, it means variegated, wrought in various colors, a sense of variety. We could use the word diversity, a sense of the complexity of the wisdom of God. It's subtle; it's varied, it's intricate. But then Paul puts a prefix, polu, so the much variegated wisdom of God in the Gentile nations that are coming to faith in Christ; that's what he's talking about. And so we have very many colors in this masterpiece painting, different shades, some bright some dark. It's complex, it's astonishing, it's variegated.
There are people groups from all over the world, every continent on the face of the earth, and you think about it, Europeans, so blond Scandinavians, people from Norway or Sweden, or from the lowlands like Netherlands, Holland, Germany, Britain, and Southern Europe. You've got Italians and Greeks, etcetera. Then you have people from Africa, different tribes, and they have various genetic appearances like the Ethiopians, with what Isaiah calls tall and smooth skin. And then you've got the Congolese or Nigerians, different people groups, and that God has elect from each of these groups and it's an astonishingly varied thing that God is doing here. And you've got people from Asia and Latin America and all over the world, and God is doing all of this incredible work, it says to display His wisdom. So look at verse 10b, it says, "So that through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might be made known." So this is purpose language. There's a reason why all of this has happened and God has a purpose. What is that purpose? The ultimate purpose of missions and evangelism, the ultimate purpose of the Church is display, that God would be put on display. That everyone might know how great a God He is, how glorious and radiant He is to put Him on display.
God’s Glory: The Purpose of All Creation
God does all things for the display of His glory, that's why He created the universe. That's why God said, "Let there be light," and why God created the heavens and the earth, and all of these things were for the display of His glory. Nothing's more important than that. Missions is not more important than that. Nothing's more important. God does everything for the display of His glory, all things. And not only did God create the world and all of its complexity, and it's amazing, I mean this planet Earth. We saw the movie Martian, and the theme of that movie is “Earth is better than Mars.” That's what I get out of that. If you want to live somewhere definitely live on Earth, not Mars. Things just grow better here and it's just better in every respect. There are other themes in that movie, whatever.
Redeemed for His Glory
But Earth is amazing and it's just beautiful and it's rich and complex, and the people that have grown here created in the image of God and spread out to the distant islands, and all over, and mountains, and valleys and all that; they're all over the earth. God did all of this so that the earth would be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. That's why God made everything. Well that's also why He redeemed the elect in Christ. His purpose is for the display. We're His “sons and daughters,” Isaiah 43 says, “so created for His glory.” And redeemed for His glory. And so, we're redeemed. And so Ephesians 2 talks about all of that in terms of the Gentiles, how "They were dead in their transgressions and sins in which they used to live when they followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature following his desires and thoughts, like the rest we were by nature objects of wrath. But God because of His great mercy, with which He loved us, and showed mercy on us in Christ." God made us alive with Christ, and He redeemed us out of “every tribe, and language, and people, and nation,” and He forgave us all our sins. And we, it says in Ephesians 2, second half of the chapter, we were at one point, “aliens and strangers, and excluded.” Now, mysteriously, according to Ephesians 3, we are “equal heirs with the sons and daughters of Abraham.” We are like “wild olive shoots that have been grafted in now.” We'll get into more of that. Romans 11 uses that language, but we, the Gentiles, we have been redeemed, and we are now deriving life-giving sap from this developed complex tree of Abraham's descendants. And we're just drawing, through Christ, drawing life-giving sap through this incredible work that God's doing in redemptive history.
We wild, weird Gentiles grafted into that, and now we're heirs with the Jews. How amazing is that? And that's incredibly complicated and it's varied and diverse and beautiful. And that puts the wisdom of God on display. And the audience, if you're going to have display, you're going to have an audience. And the audience here interestingly are the “powers and principalities.” That's language for the angels, the angelic beings. And so, God is putting His wisdom on display to the angels.
Two Kinds of Angels
Now, there are two categories of angels; there are good angels, and there are bad angels. I don't know which he has in mind here. Well, let's go with both for a minute. That God is putting the Church, or putting His wisdom on display, through the Church, to the good angels, who it says in 1 Peter 1:12, "Even angels long to look into these things." They are really into what God's doing in missions. Angels are fascinated with missions; they're fascinated with everything Christ is doing, and they're leaning forward to look at what is happening. And they care about unreached people groups; they care about the lost. They care about lost people in engineering departments and at hospitals; they care about lost neighbors. They're interested in seeing the elect come to Christ, and they celebrate, and they get excited when it happens. So, good angels are watching the unfolding manifold wisdom of God here. They're excited about it, and they don't know what's going to happen. That's why they're longing to look into these things. Like, "What's going to happen next?" And it's so exciting; it's just crackling with energy up there in Heaven. What's the next thing that's going to happen?
Or we could say it's bad angels, as we're going to get in Ephesians 6:12. We're told to “put on the full armor of God, so we can take our stand against our enemies in the heavenly realms,” who are demonic forces, demons, bad angels. And you could see that too, how God is putting the “manifold wisdom of God,” in the Church, on display to the bad angels. "You can't stop them. I will build my Church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. You demons can't stop the spread of the Gospel."
And so that's a beautiful thing whether good angels or bad angels doesn't matter; to the “powers and principalities,” God is putting His wisdom on display, and that's an awesome thing. And you should be drawn into that; it should matter to you more than anything else in the world, the glory of God. So, missions exists to put God's variegated wisdom on display to the angels, good and bad, and to us. God has a lot to show to us too. Doesn't He? It's not just to the angels. We got that back in Ephesians 2:7 "That in the coming ages, he might show the incomparable riches of His grace." God shows no grace to the angels, good or bad. The good angels don't need it; they never sin. You think about Amazing Grace. Were they ever wretches? Were they ever lost? No they weren't. They've never been wretches who were lost and saved by grace. And then the demons, there is no Gospel for them. There's never been any hope of their redemption ever. There's no promise of it. But we can sing and forever. In Ephesians 2:7, “we're going to see in the coming ages just how much grace God has shown to all of us;” it's going to be amazing.
And so all of this is for the display. The masterpiece is being painted now; missionaries and messengers of every type we are the messy brushes God is using to paint that painting. Let me just pause and say "Are you involved?" I mean are you a part of this? Are you involved in the external journey of missions and evangelism? Are you making sacrifices to speak the word Jesus to lost people around you? And if not, I just want to, as winsomely as I can plead with you to come and get involved because this is the work that God iss doing in the world. Alright, so that's the center step, the centerpiece of this, Ephesians 3:8-10.
Riches in His Wisdom
Divine Wisdom Displayed to Angels
Now, let's take one step further removed. It's like a so that, so that, so that journey. So, the ultimate end is the display of God's wisdom. One step back is the gathering of God's worldwide Church, so that His wisdom can be put on display, so that's in verse 10a, “So that through the Church the manifold wisdom of God should be made known.” So the Church being gathered from all nations, that's how it's happening. And Paul talks about his own ministry here in seeing that happen. He says, "to me, 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 bring light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things."
Now, I've already talked about the mystery. It's that Gentiles could be fully heirs with the Jews; that we can be grafted in. It's interesting in Romans 11 when Paul gives us that image of wild olive shoots being grafted into a cultivated olive tree. And then just talks about that and what God's doing with the Jews as well. And at the end of that, he celebrates the same thing. "Oh, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God, how unsearchable His judgments and His paths beyond tracing out. Who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been His counselor?" It's just amazing what God's doing, isn't it? It's stunning. God is gathering His global Church; He's gathering elect people, chosen from before the foundation of the world. He knows who they are, He knows what their names are, He knows where they're living, and He will not fail to bring them in, elect from every nation, but they're called by the proclamation of the Gospel. And so, it is as the Church is being built, it is through the Church, believers in Jesus Christ, that the manifold wisdom of God is on display to the angels.
So that's one step back now let's take the next step back. The preaching of Christ's unsearchable riches builds the Church; that's how it happens. It's the proclamation of Jesus Christ, and not as a historical figure but I mean, as one in whom is all the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God in bodily form, Jesus as unsearchable wealth. The proclamation of that. "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." That's what missionaries get to do. They get to sell everything they own. Christy and I did that to go to Japan. I'll never forget that. I'll never forget that yard sale. I'll never forget. I am not permitted by one of my kids to say that person's name without asking permission first, and I've not asked permission, but that was a hard day for that person as that person saw that person's toys being sold. I will never forget that. I'm not sure if that person has forgotten it. Probably has. But just selling everything. And you go as a missionary, and you go live in a foreign country. And why do you do that? Well, this is what you get to do. What you get to do is proclaim to people who have never heard of Jesus, or have heard of Him, but don't understand who He really is, haven't made a commitment to Him. They get to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ. Do you see that right in the text, the unsearchable riches of Christ. Well, what does that mean, unsearchable?
I think there's another word, like fathomless. Okay, the fathomless depths, you think about it. There's this story about Ferdinand Magellan who was circumnavigating the globe. He got into the Pacific Ocean, and it was just immense, and amazing and all that, and he wanted to find out how deep it was, so he spliced together the rope they found lying around on the deck, attached it to a cannonball, and it's like, didn't hit bottom. So they said, alright, we need more rope. So they went and got more rope and then it didn't hit the bottom, and then they got all the rope they had available and it still didn't hit the bottom; that's fathomless.
So Jesus Christ is so glorious, you can take all the rope you could ever find, in terms of your own mind, and you'll never hit bottom. That's the greatness of Christ. Or the unsearchable riches, another image comes to my mind from my favorite movie Ben Hur. And they're about to have this awesome chariot race, you know what I'm talking about, that's one of the greatest scenes ever in movies. And they're going to have this chariot race. But before that this Arab guy, who owns the team of horses that Charlton Heston is going to drive goes to this Roman enemy and he wants to make a bet; he wants to bet on the race. So he's got a bunch of guys with him carrying heavy boxes of golden coins, and it's really pretty cool because he takes this metal stick, and he opens up the chest and he starts rummaging around and pushing the stick down. Rummage, push, rummage, push, rummage, push. And there's the bottom. And he's got like six boxes like that. And he wants to bet all of this money on Ben Hur. Well you can get, I don't care what size stick you get, you can rummage and push and rummage and push. Jesus' greatness, His infinite glory is immeasurable. It's unsearchable; you're not going to get to the bottom of the gold box. You'll be forever finding out just how great your Savior is, how great He was in saving you, how great He is, how great He always will be.
So perhaps the unsearchable riches of Christ could refer to the infinite mystery of His person, His humanity and deity, fully God fully man. It could refer to that; it's unsearchable. Or the perfection of His life, His sinlessness, that He lived a life “tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin”. Unsearchable. You'll never get done thinking about this. Or you could think about the greatness of the power he displayed in all of the miracles he did; walking on water, changing the water into wine. And raising the dead, Lazarus dead four days, and there was nothing He couldn't do. You could ponder all of the things, speaking to the wind and the waves and it obeyed His voice. “What kind of man is this that even the wind and the waves obey Him?” The “unsearchable riches of Christ.”
Well you might talk about just the infinite mystery of His substitutionary death, how He died in our place on the cross under the infinite wrath of God we all deserve for violating God's laws. For not “loving Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and not loving our neighbor as ourself,” or our corruptions and our immoralities and all of that wickedness. Put on Jesus and the fathomless wrath of God, the infinite wrath of God poured out on Jesus our substitute, unsearchable riches of Christ. And then the glory of His resurrection, the fact that God raised Him from the dead on the third day and He appeared in a resurrection body never to die again, and He ascended through the heavens, through the clouds, and sits at the right hand of Almighty God and from that place, he will return some day to judge the living and the dead, the “unsearchable riches of Christ.” You're never going to get done thinking about the greatness of Christ. And we are witnesses of all this.
A Providential Plane Ride
I had a witnessing opportunity on the plane coming back from New Orleans sitting next to an African-American woman who had a ministry to public defenders. And she talked about some of the problems with the penal system, specifically with African-American men, and what she does, the training she does with public defenders. But as interested as I was in her work, I was more interested in her soul. So at some point, we're going to change the subject a little bit. Talk about Jesus. So I asked her what her spiritual background was. She said, well, she was raised a Muslim. Her mother had converted from being a Baptist to a Muslim to marry a Muslim man, but then he divorced her, so then she converted back to being a Baptist after he left her. But she was kind of raised as a Muslim. She married an atheistic Jew, and now she's kind of in the middle of nothing. I'm thinking, "Alright, God brought her to me." And we had an amazing conversation. She had question after question after question. She said to me, she said, "I swore I would never talk about religion and politics, but here we are talking about religion." I said "It's fine to talk as long as we don't get heated. Treat each other with kindness." And so, she was encouraged and she had questions about Jesus, about substitution, about Islam. There just wasn't enough time on the flight. We get to do that. Brothers and sisters, we get to do that. We get to have conversations like that, and it's a little bumpy to get into those conversations, but once you're in, you may find somebody who really has a lot of questions and who wants to know more about Jesus. We get to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ.
Less than the Least
God Works With All His Children
One step back and the final one. The people who do this proclamation are “less than the least of all God's people,” that's who they are. That's who Paul is. Now Paul, I don't deny I already said it. He is utterly unique in redemptive history. There will never be another Paul ever. And we're not Paul, we can't be. We won't be. But, Paul talks about himself in verse 8, "To me was given although I am less than the least of all God's people of the saints to preach to the Gentiles." But Paul, I believe, is a role model for us, as he is a role model in redemption and forgiveness. In 1 Timothy 1 he says, "This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the worst." "But in order to display His unlimited patience and His mercy to sinners like you, He saved the worst, me, so that you'd be encouraged that He can save you too." That's the logic of 1 Timothy 1.
Well, here's the logic. I'm going with Ephesians 3. The logic is if God can use me to preach the “unsearchable riches of Christ,” Paul would say, “He can definitely use you.” That's what he would say, I think. So, do you qualify as less than the least of all God's people. You're like, "No, I think I'm actually better than most of God's people." Alright, well, tell you what, why don't you just go out and do some witnessing and some missions and you'll start getting sanctified and then you'll say, "You know, I really am a sinner saved by grace. I am less than the least of all God's people." But wherever you think you are, God can use you to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ to elect people who haven't been converted yet, so that the Church can be built, so that the manifold wisdom of God can be put on display to the angels. That's what's going on in this text.
Being God’s Paintbrush
Do you want in? I want in. I want to be part of that. I don't want to waste my life on something God's not doing. He's painting a masterpiece. I want to be a brush in His hand. What about you? What about you? I don't think it's shameful that this VRI is going on. I don't think it's shameful that 600 missionaries are coming off the field. God does amazingly complicated things. And how is He going to use those 600 missionaries; He's going to use them wherever they go. And God's going to raise up national partners in those countries to step up into the gap and do some of those ministries. He prunes trees to make them even more fruitful. I'm not in any way discouraged, but I do think it's a time for reflection, a time for prayer, a time for recommitment. And that's true of every local church; it's true of our church.
So where are we at in all of this? Are we committed to missions? Are we committed to evangelism? Are we ready to take the Gospel to people that we know that are lost? Are we willing to bear the burden of their reaction to our witnessing? Put up with that so that we can get over that and talk about Jesus and His unsearchable riches? Are we willing to suffer? Are you involved in evangelism? Do you have five lost people that you're praying for by name that God would raise up someone to witness to them? Someone to share the Gospel with them. Maybe you're ready to say, "Hey, maybe I could be that person." It doesn't have to be you; just you're praying for that person.
Greater Commitment to the Masterpiece
Are we, as a church, ready to be more than ever before committed to unreached people group missions. We're going into our Lottie Moon Christmas offering season; Southern Baptist Churches have a time when we sacrificial give to missions that pays the salary of career missions and missionaries and others that are serving. We set goals and we always seem to meet them. I don't want to set a goal that we wouldn't meet. "We are going to raise $5,000,000." God can do anything, but I think for me, I would love to see us give more money to Lottie Moon than we've ever given before. I would love to see the number go up from generally in the $132,000 range up to something like $150,000. And where is that extra $20,000 going to come from? Well, it's going to come from us. It's going to come from us asking questions about our lifestyle, about what we eat, where we go, what we do for entertainment, what we wear, and say, "What can I sacrifice? Missionaries are sacrificing, what can I sacrifice to give? But that's not enough. I want us to be heart and soul committed, not just financially.
I want us to say, "Maybe God wants me to go." I mean, we have a lot of younger people. There could be people in the youth ministry. I think about the youth retreat. I was praying for you guys, so thrilled at the work Kevin's doing. But there could be some young people, youth, who are going to go as missionaries in the future. I want this to be a sending church, a church where you caught the vision for missions here. There are college students, a lot of you all sit over here in this area, but you could be scattered around, what are you going to do with your life? What are you going to do with your talents and your abilities? What are you called to do vocationally? And there's going to be more and more opportunities for people to go, not as traditional missionaries, but what has been called tent makers, etcetera, where you go use your vocation in a cross-cultural setting to lead people to Christ.
Now, as I close, I want to say one thing, and I've been talking to you as Christians, but I know that God may well have brought unbelievers here today. And for me, I've had the privilege of proclaiming the unsearchable riches of Christ to all of you, but I'm speaking to you, who know yourself to be outsiders. You're lost right now. I want to plead with you to repent and believe in Jesus, just like I pled with Illi, that's her name, that young woman that I talked to and I just wanted her to know Christ. I said to her, I said, "You know, I really believe that God wants to know you in an intimate relationship.” She said, "Oh He knows me." I said, "Well I know He knows all about you, but I want you to know Him through Christ." And she was quiet listening to that, so I'm pleading with you if you know yourself to be an outsider God wants to forgive your sins through faith in Christ, trust in Him.
Now, I'm going to close the sermon and a prayer and then we're going to have a time of celebration of the ordinance, the Lord's supper. So let's close this sermon then we'll go to the table. Father, I thank you for Ephesians 3. We thank you for what you have taught us; thank you for the manifolds, the variegated, the incredibly diverse display of the wisdom of God in the Church. Thank you that you do that through the proclamation of the unsearchable riches of Christ. You can do that through “less than the least of all God's people.” I pray that we would be faithfully involved in evangelism and missions for your glory. And now, Lord, as we turn to the table, we pray that you would just send forth your Spirit in Jesus' name, amen.
Like to invite the deacons to come now. Please hear the words of institution from 1 Corinthians Chapter 11. Apostle Paul writes this: "For I receive from the Lord, what I also passed on to you, the Lord Jesus on the night He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, he broke it, and said, 'This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.'" Please pray. Father, we thank you for the Lord's supper. We thank you for instituting it through your Son. We pray that you would now send the Spirit of Christ in this very place, so that this would not be a bare memorial, O Lord, but it would be an encounter with the living God, by faith in the words of God. We pray in Jesus name, amen.