Most people sense that beyond the visible and material world another world exists. The attraction of Star Wars and the level of interest in Harry Potter, especially amongst the young, are indicators that the notion of the supernatural abounds.
Despite what cultural voices and social media insist, there are a significant number of research scientists and mathematicians who believe in the existence of a supreme being, a creator God. Dr. John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics (Emeritus), University of Oxford, and Dr. H.F. (Fritz) Schaefer III, Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry, Director of the Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry at UGA, speakers at this year’s Anglican Connection Online Conference, are two.
The question arises: ‘What is God like?’ Can we penetrate the veil and unlock the secrets that lie beyond? Over the centuries, people in the West have reckoned they could find God by using their minds. In the East, mysticism is said to be the key: we can find the energy or force behind the universe through religious experience such as meditation and yoga.
In the Letter to the Ephesians, chapter 3, we find another option. We can come to know God, not through reasoning nor by mystical experience, but though revelation. God himself has chosen to open a window on the mystery of his great cosmic plan.
Consider verse 1: This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles … and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation,…
The Letter was written in a culture where mystery referred to the pagan secret religious teachings into which a spiritual elite was admitted. Christianity never espouses secret teachings known only to a spiritual elite. Ephesians uses mystery in much the same way as we do in English today – something previously hidden and unknown, but now revealed and open to everyone.
What then is the mystery that Ephesians tells us had been hidden for so long? Verse 4 indicates that it is bound up with the person and work of Jesus Christ – something more fully explained in verse 6: the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
The mystery has to do with the complete union in Christ of both the Jewish and non-Jewish believers. This was radical. And it has far-reaching implications today when ‘critical race theory’ is being promulgated and promoted. Almost two millennia ago St Paul the Apostle was saying that there is now available a unique union between us and Jesus Christ, and between believing men and women across the nations.
We sometimes forget that in New Testament times the divide between the Jewish and the non-Jewish peoples was huge. If a Jewish man or woman married a Gentile, the Jewish family would often declare such a family member dead.
Yes, the Jewish people knew that through them God would bless the nations. This was the promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:3). And Isaiah 49:6 tells us that Israel would be the light to the nations. Furthermore, in Matthew 28:19, Jesus commissioned his followers to make disciples of all nations.
There is no hint in the Old Testament or in Jesus’ teaching that God’s radical plan involved moving beyond his unique relationship with just one nation group. Yet here Paul explains that God’s plan involved the development of an international community under the rule of Jesus Christ. This new society, the church, would include Jewish and non-Jewish believers, on equal terms. This was the mystery that had been hidden but was now open for everyone to see.
Understanding that all men and women are created equal under God, and knowing that God is building a new community across the nations, at the end of the 19th century leaders in England, such as William Wilberforce, worked at and achieved the abolition of the slave trade. In similar fashion, both black and white Christians in South Africa prayed for and played a part in ending Apartheid. Indeed, some commentators consider that the transition was achieved relatively peacefully because of the involvement of God’s people.
Revelation and commission. In verse 7 we have Paul’s testimony: Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power.
There is a development of thought here. In verse 6 Paul speaks of the mystery. Now in verse 7 he speaks of the mystery as this gospel – God’s good news. Furthermore, he understood that it was by God’s gift of grace, that he was to proclaim the gospel through the work of God’s power. He was to preach to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ,… (3:8).
Preach translates the word from which we get ‘evangel’ – the announcement of good news. God’s good news is the announcement of the boundless riches of Christ. And, while our English translators find it challenging to express the meaning of the phrase, boundless riches of Christ, it is best understood as the unsearchable, inexhaustible, and incalculable riches of Christ. We shall never come to the end of the wealth of the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is an important theme throughout these verses as Paul brings together the ideas of revelation and commission. God’s truth is to be passed on through the ages!
John Stott once commented, if scientists cannot keep their discoveries to themselves, how much less should we keep to ourselves what God has made known to us? We need to recover the assurance of God’s truth and the commitment to share Christ’s riches. Just think: if we were sure that the gospel is God’s truth and the riches of Christ are for all men and women, nobody would be able to keep us quiet.
Let me ask, what was the difference between the first Christians and us today? They believed and their lives were changed; they lived and talked their faith! The question is, ‘Do we?’
A prayer. Almighty God, we thank you for the gift of your holy word. May it be a lantern to our feet, a light to our paths, and strength to our lives. Take us and use us to love and serve all people in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.