Sermon for Epiphany based on Ephesians 3:2-12
I’m one of those individuals who loves the shows on TV that show you how magicians do it. Sure it spoils the surprise and it takes away from the mystery and the illusion. But I don’t care. I’d rather know how the magician is doing it. It actually doesn’t ruin anything, because I still enjoy watching, maybe even enjoy watching more because I know how its being done. There are purists of course, “A magician never reveals his secrets.” I want the mystery revealed.
Is there mystery in the gospel? Some probably don’t think so. There were those at the time the Bible was written that probably didn’t think so. There was just the good news of God. Jesus was the Savior from sins. That was the gospel. What’s the mystery? What needs to be revealed?
The Apostle Paul wasn’t the first to be divinely inspired to unpack the mystery. But what he writes in the second lesson is still a major point in the mystery. God never kept it completely hidden. It just wasn’t universally known. God alone knew it completely throughout time. Good thing for us…
The gospel’s mystery is revealed
Unsearchable riches of Christ
All people are equal in Christ
Did you ever start cleaning up a closet and come across boxes you’d forgotten were there? Hey one has pictures in it. There’s that picture of your kid with the first pet. That was a good dog. What was its name? How long did we have him? Deeper in the box are old papers. Report cards from the kids. How’d they do? Why did they get such a low grade in gym? Doctor bills. Remember that one year, seems we were at the doctor all the time. Had to drive a ways to those appointments. Always stopped for lunch at the same place. Doctors weren’t always helpful. Nurses were. There was that one nurse, always said hi. Always smiling. Should put these pictures online. Better research online places that do that. What’s happening on Facebook? Like, like, like. Here’s an article I haven’t read. A video I haven’t watched. What was I doing? Oh, yeah, the closet. Memories can become unsearchable riches. One leads to the next to the next to the next.
That’s much the way it is with the riches of Christ. Christmas is a great place to start the search. Christ is called Immanuel. What a beautiful name because it means God with us. That God, the infinite being would care so much about the state of humanity that he would come to this earth to save us. This earth which God created in his infinite power and wisdom. Saving us, something that required God’s power to accomplish. God is really powerful if he’s keeping all the planets, the whole universe in perfect working order. The universe is huge, what a great God we have. How long has he been keeping this universe in perfect order? Amazing. You can start at Christmas, Christ the Savior being born, and end up at creation, the universe, and God’s amazing wisdom and power. You just scratch the surface of God’s greatness, not even getting to the full depth of Christ who became Immanuel.
Exploring God’s wonder never lets us reach the bottom of one rabbit hole before we bound off for another. Christmas, God being infinite, caring about humanity, powerful, wise, planets, universe, God is amazing. That’s the unsearchable riches of Christ. Always something more to consider. “To me…was given this grace: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” Part of the mystery is that we can never reach the bottom, never fully explore, never fully understand everything God does. Or everything that’s part of his plan for saving us. It’s beyond our full comprehension but not beyond our ability to appreciate.
Part of appreciating the mystery is who got to reveal it. The Apostle Paul would not have been choice one. Even he’d admit that. “To me—even though I am the very least of all the saints—was given this grace.” He considered himself the least, not to be modest or fake humble. His past made him say it. Paul was not a nice guy before faith. He was terrible actually. He hated Christians, persecuted them, and wanted them all arrested. In this he thought he was pleasing God because he was a good Jew. Jews looked down on Christians because Jews were the chosen people. They had the law of God. Obedience got them to heaven, so Jews were better than Christians who cheapened heaven by saying a person could get there without obeying. God cut through that in Paul. Cut through the desire to work his way into heaven and gave him grace. Everything was free. Grace was a gift. Christ had done it all already. God pulled Paul from unbelief and gave him what he didn’t deserve. “I became a servant of this gospel, in keeping with the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of his power.” Unsearchable riches of Christ how God could save a terrible sinner like Paul for free. Beyond our understanding, but not beyond our appreciation.
We aren’t half the person Paul was. Never as confident as he was in thinking we’re doing God pleasing things. Rather we look over our shoulder, hopefully hiding from God and from others our sinfulness. In some cases we avoid what we know is God pleasing because we want to do something else. And we’re never as humble as Paul. We simply demonstrate we don’t care what God says. How we approach money, our language, how we try and relate to others. In some cases we don’t consider any input from God or his Word. Didn’t care about God and didn’t care whether God cared about us.
Come back to the unsearchable riches of Christ. Christ who didn’t owe you anything became a little baby in a manger. Humbled himself to be born as a baby. Let himself be taken care of by others. Grew up under the care of parents he came to save too. Suffered in life. Lived a life he wasn’t obligated to live. That life was the substitute for yours. Perfect substitute. Lived out God’s plan to save sinners, till it was done. Jesus finished the work and completed your salvation.
Jesus saved you and me from our sins and gave us eternal life. Where’s the mystery? Remember, in Paul’s time the Jews were God’s chosen people. No one questioned they were special. Gentiles were anyone not a Jew. What options did Gentiles have for being saved? Most figured they must become like Jews. Not full blooded Jews, but if Gentiles would obey and do the Jewish ceremonies, they could be saved. Do the work and get saved. Paul explained. “This mystery is that in Christ Jesus the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and people who also share in the promise through the gospel.” Gentiles weren’t destined to become partial Jews. Instead God made Gentiles the equal of Jews. No more would there be God’s chosen people of the Jews. All people in Christ are equal. Forgiveness is equal. Access to God is equal. The inheritance of heaven is equal.
Now apply that to the person who has wronged you the most. Are you comfortable thinking the person who tells lies about you, or gossips about you gets the same forgiveness as you? That when someone treats you wrong, they could be getting the same access to God. The person who has done the worst kind of sin against you will be with you in heaven if they believe in Jesus. You’d rather they prove their forgiveness is legit. You’ll hold their sins against them a little bit longer just in case. Make your love a little bit conditional. Equal footing in the kingdom of God doesn’t come easy, and you’ll decide who gets it.
No one deserves any footing in the kingdom of God. You don’t deserve the gospel. I’m not entitled to the Savior. The one gospel, the one Savior, saves people exactly the same and makes them equal. The only reason you’re adopted into the family of God, set to inherit the perfection of heaven, and saved for this life is in Christ. “This was done according to the eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God adopts you and calls you son or daughter because your brother gave his life for you. Jesus represented you in his life and death. Represented you in his resurrection. God’s grace, his wisdom to make all equal in forgiveness and God’s love, is made known in Christ. Your approach to God happens only because of your Savior.
Paul knew the gospel had changed him. He was served by the gospel. It allowed him to serve the gospel. For you and me the mystery isn’t hidden anymore. So we shouldn’t hide it. You were served by the gospel. Now let it out and serve the gospel. Spread the good news. Christ died for all people. No divisions. No ranks. In Christ you and everyone who believes in him are co-heirs, in the same body of believers, getting along and supporting each other. Sharing the promise through the gospel. The gospel’s mystery is revealed. Through the riches of Christ all people are equal in Christ.