For as long as I can remember, I always loved a good mystery novel. Encyclopedia Brown, then the Hardy Boys, Agatha Christie, Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen King, Twilight. No, not Twilight. I even like games when you don’t know who’s who. Like 5 player Hearts, or Bang or Mafia. Secrets, people pretending to be good when they are trying to take you out. Maybe I’m a shady, I don’t know, I just like that sort of thing. I even like it when I am walking with Elijah and he runs ahead and hides behind a trash can and he thinks he is totally hidden but I can see him because his big belly is sticking out. But like a good dad, I play along and pretend to be scared when he jumps and shoots, Boo! It’s fun. Mysteries, secrets, hidden things, little boys hiding and trying to scare adults, these things are fun. Am I right?
In the book of Ephesians, one theme that is mentioned several times is the theme of mystery. Each time that the word “mystery” appears, it is phrased slightly differently and Paul’s use of the word is also slightly different in each of the occurrences of the mystery. I think this is a clue that the theme of mystery is very nuanced. It has many layers, many shades of meaning. To put it in the simplest, most elegant way, this theme of mystery is mysterious. I bet that’s the most profound thing you ever heard me say.
Paul concludes this letter in Eph 6:19 asking for prayers.
19 Pray also for me, that the message may be given to me when I open my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.
The mystery of the gospel. A chapter earlier, you have the famous passage about marriage that we will be covering soon. This passage is indeed mysterious, it’s odd, you think you understand what Paul is saying upon a cursory reading, but then it’s hard to make sense of certain verses that seem to stick out like a sore thumb. Paul starts by addressing the couple. Husbands and wives do this mutually to one another, then husbands do this, and wives do that. Then, Paul throws a curveball. While talking exclusively about marriage, Paul throws in Eph 5:31-32.
31 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. 32 This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church.
What is Paul talking about? Marriage is important. It’s important to struggle to love and serve our spouses better, but actually, that’s not the point. Marriage is a pointer to something greater. The marriage covenant and how we relate to one another as husband and wife mirrors or it reflects the relationship between Christ and the church. This is a PROFOUND mystery and it will take us 2-3 sermons to unpack and still we will barely scratch the surface.
Elsewhere, Paul describes this mystery as the mystery of the Messiah, or the mystery of the church where Jews and Gentiles are one. If you understand this multi-faceted mystery that Paul is talking about, quite literally, I believe you will unlock the secret of the universe. Understanding this mystery will give you a better understanding about who you are, your self-identity, you will gain insight regarding your place in the world and in the universe, you will understand a bit better the relationship between the universal church and the local church.
In this letter to the church at Ephesus, like a mystery novel, Paul is turning the pages and gradually he reveals the plot of the story with its twists and turns and what was hidden is revealed one piece at a time.
The first reference to the mystery is Eph 1:7-10. [READ]
7 We have redemption in Him through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure that He planned in Him 10 for the administration of the days of fulfillment—to bring everything together in the Messiah, both things in heaven and things on earth in Him.
The mystery is part of God’s will. The mystery of His will. God’s will was hidden throughout the ages and now the cat is out of the bag. We’ve reached the climax of the story. We know the twist at the end. We know what will happen at the curtain call of creation when Jesus returns and the world ends.
It’s like in the movie The Sixth Sense. I don’t want to give away the end of the movie in case you haven’t watched it. But early on in the movie, you know that this kid is troubled. He whispers in one of the opening scenes–I see dead people. Then, fast forward to the final scene and the Bruce Willis character is there and you’re like, No way! And the movie flashes back over the key moments of the movie and you see things that you never noticed before. That’s what a good twist does. You’re not expecting it and then the twist comes out of nowhere and that twist changes everything.
For Christians, we’ve read the last chapter of the book. The mystery has been revealed in Christ. Jesus didn’t just come 2,000 years ago and leave us hanging in the middle of the story. The mystery of God’s will is that everything will be brought together in the Messiah, both the church, the spiritual creation as well as the universe, the physical creation, things in heaven and things on earth. Every single thing, physical, spiritual, everything will be brought under the headship of the cosmic Christ.
This means, if you’re a Christian, you don’t have to be anxious. Your life is in God’s good hands. Your destiny is secure. A million years from now, what you got on your midterm won’t matter. Or what your advisor or your boss said to you, in the moment, it might have felt like the world was crashnig down around you, but a million years from now, you won’t even remember what he or she said. If you watch a movie and you know the twist at the end beforehand, it changes the way you react to the events that unfold over the course of the movie.
Like the TV series 24 with Jack Bauer. Jack is a stud. He’s one man out to save the world. He’s up against like 1000 terrorists armed with AK-47s and he’s got a pistol with 2 bullets left. And he’s about to storm the secret hideout. He’s vastly outnumbered and backup still hasn’t arrived. But he says, I’m going in. And I’m thinking, No, Jack, don’t do it! You’re going to die! Then, it dawns on me. This is season 1, episode 1 and there are like 7 more seasons. Jack is going to be fine so I can relax.
It’s the same for the Christian. There might be a villain in your life out to get you or some tragic turn that throws you for a loop and you might lose your bearings for a moment, but quickly, you catch yourself. There is the next season. You remember how the story ends. You are able to take a deep breath and God reminds you, it’s gonna be okay. This is not the end. Your life is not going to end like this. You have an eternal future that is secure.
This mystery of God’s will also means that if you’re not a Christian, you have no solid ground on which to stand. You can have a stable family and good health and a bright future and tons of money in the bank, but you can’t have any ultimate peace about your future. Because all humanity, even with all the ups and down, arrives at the same destiny. Because we all die. And if you are not in Christ, if you are not a believer, then you have no idea what happens the split second after you breathe your last breath. If there is no God, then no harm, no foul. There is just nothingness. You are lost in the oblivion and soon forgotten. It’s as if you never existed because you don’t believe in an afterlife. But, if there is a God, then you will be faced with an eternity of regret.
While you are young, investigate the claims of Christianity. Don’t use the excuse that you are too busy to seek God. Who has time? Nobody has time. I don’t have time. You don’t have time. You make time for things that are important to you. Life just gets busier as you get older. Among the old ones, can anyone vouch for that? Raise your hands, nod your heads if you agree that life gets busier the older you get. When you are young, you can’t wait to retire. Then, you retire when you can barely move around and you are bored out of your mind and you wish you had a job.
Lack of time can’t be an excuse. Isn’t it important to ask the ultimate question first of what happens when I die? Because if you know the end, then you will have wisdom to live in the present. You don’t want to live moment to moment and be caught offguard by the huge twist at the end of your life. You don’t want to live for what you see at present, for what is pressing and urgent right in front of you and then realize at the end that there is a God who says that all of the things you went through during this vapor called life was just a pointer or a means to know the Messiah. And you missed it because you were too busy and you didn’t prioritize the right things.
The second reference to the mystery relates to the Messiah.
3 The mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have briefly written above. 4 By reading this you are able to understand my insight about the mystery of the Messiah.
What is the mystery of the Messiah and why is it even phrased this way? I think the most obvious thing you could say is that for many people in the world, Jesus is a mystery to them. They don’t believe he is the Messiah, the anointed One sent by God to liberate people from their sins. They don’t believe that Jesus is their Savior because many don’t believe that they need a Savior. Savior from what? I’m fine the way I am. So in that sense, Jesus is still a mystery to them. But to those who are believers, the mystery of the Messiah is no longer a personal mystery. He is your personal Lord and Savior.
How was this mystery revealed to you?
1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins 2 in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens, the spirit now working in the disobedient. 3 We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature
children under wrath as the others were also.
How did God save you? I wish that this is a question that every Christian could answer clearly and confidently, but I’m saddened by the fact that many people struggle with giving a clear answer. Here is what I think Paul is saying about salvation. What was your spiritual condition prior to God saving you? You were dead.
When you drive on the road and you see roadkill, like a dead opossum, your heart might go out to the opossum and you might want to bring the rotting opossum home and give it a bath and feed it insects or rodents or whatever opossums eat and you can lie it down with the rest of your stuffed animals, but that thing ain’t gonna respond. It’s dead.
The Bible says, this was our spiritual condition. We were dead. Meaning, there was no spiritual life in you and me. We used to v2 – walk according to the ways of this world and who’s the ruler of this world? It’s Satan. Satan was our master and we didn’t know it, but we were living for him. Satan called the shots and we were living in obedience to Satan and disobedience to God.
We thought we were free, but the Bible is clear. If you don’t know God, then you are a slave of Satan and you are enslaved to fleshly desires and you live to carry out the inclinations of your flesh and your thoughts, and therefore, you are an object of God’s wrath.
These verses are offensive, aren’t they? I bet some of you are thinking, this is too much. I’m not a Christian, but I’m a nice person. I’m not enslaved to Satan. I’m free and I make good choices. I make occasional mistakes, but who’s perfect? How can God be so judgmental? Why is God so angry and wrathful? I don’t hurt anyone. I help others. I try to be a good, moral person. I know plenty of Christians and they are far worse than me morally and in terms of their maturity and character.
These words are offensive. This is unfair. If this is what you are thinking, I fully agree with you. If I were not a Christian, I’d be offended, too. This makes no sense. I am a good citizen who pays his taxes and who pets animals on the street and gives spare change to homeless people–how can God group me with a Hitler or a Stalin or a KKK clan member? On the sliding scale of morality, I am near the top and these other guys are near the bottom. Maybe they should be punished if God is real, but I should be good enough to make it into heaven, if there is a heaven and a hell. Many people think this way and it is perfectly understandable.
But we must be careful. As soon as we say, if God exists, then God should be a certain way, then we have just invented a god of our own making. If we say, God is a God who should judge people on our good works, then we no longer have the God of Christianity. The Christian God says that life is not a scale so that if your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds, then you can make the cut and God will let you enter heaven. This is not the God of the Bible. The Christian God of the Bible is not Play Doh. You can’t morph and change God into whatever you want. God is static, He’s been the same way for all eternity, He’s unchanging and we are the ones who need to change, not the other way around.