Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Enlightened by Grace

Part 6 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians

You can listen to this sermon here.



"Making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth" (1:9-10).


Mysteries Revealed

Most people are intrigued by mysteries. How did the Egyptians build the pyramids? What’s the truth about the Bermuda Triangle? Who was Jack the Ripper?

God has shown his grace to us by “making known to us the mystery of his will” (v. 9).

In Scripture, a “mystery” is something that was once unknown by man but now revealed by God.

The Greek word for “mystery” (musterion) is found 27 times in the NT (21 times in Paul’s letters).

“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deut. 29:29). A “mystery” is something that was once a secret thing but now a revealed thing.

Even when a mystery is revealed, without God’s Spirit, it cannot be properly understood. “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).

In 1:7-10, Paul mentions two revelations that have been made known to believers.

1. God has revealed to us the power of the cross. 

Redemption is “through [Christ’s] blood” (v. 7).

The word asks, “What’s so special about the cross?”

“The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). In Paul’s day, both Jews and Gentiles did not understand the significance of the cross. “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:22-24).

To Gentiles, the message of the cross was “folly.” “Folly” (moria) could be translated “madness.” “Gentiles wrote off the message of the cross not as eccentric, harmless folly, but as dangerous, almost deranged stupidity” (D. A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry, p. 22). For example, the Alexamenos graffito pictures a donkey on a cross and says, “Alexamenos worships his god.”

To Jews, the message of the cross was a “stumbling block.” “Stumbling block” (skandalon) could be translated “scandal.” The same word is found in Galatians 5:11, which refers to “the offense of the cross.” “‘Scandal’ is in fact closer to the sense than ‘stumbling block,’ since the word does not so much mean something that one is tripped up by as something that offends to the point of arousing opposition” (Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 75).

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Gal. 3:13; cf. Deut. 21:23; Acts 5:30; 13:29). Jews understood Paul’s message of “Christ crucified” as a contradiction. How could the cursed one (“crucified”) be the anointed one (“Christ”)? In the mind of the Jew, the crucifixion of Jesus was proof that he was not the Christ.

“We impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:7-8).

2. God has revealed to us his plan for the cosmos. 

Restoration will occur when “all things” are united “in [Christ]” (v. 10).

The world asks, “What’s so special about Jesus Christ?”


What's the Plan?


God’s plan is to remove chaos and replace it with peace—both in our lives and in the universe. Creation has been broken because of sin, and it needs to be fixed. “Things in heaven and things on earth” refers to all of creation (cf. Gen. 1:1). Paul is probably also referring to two spheres: the seen world and the unseen world (cf. Eph. 3:10; 6:12).

The peace that has been lost will be restored “when the times reach their fulfillment” (NIV). Acts 3:21 refers to “the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.” “The whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Rom. 8:22).

There will be peace when Christ is acknowledged as Lord. 

In other versions, verse 10 says “gather together in one all things in Christ” (KJV); “bring unity to all things…under Christ” (NIV); “the summing up of all things in Christ” (NASB).

Christ is acknowledged as the head of the church, but one day he will be acknowledged as the head of all things. “In [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:19-20).

“God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).

All Christians don’t agree how and when God will restore the universe to its original condition, but the Bible contains God’s promise, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5).