This mystery of the Messiah is revealed to Paul and for the first time to his generation. It doesn’t stop there, though. Interestingly, a second audience is mentioned. Eph 3:8-10–
8 This grace was given to me—the least of all the saints—to proclaim to the Gentiles the incalculable riches of the Messiah, 9 and to shed light for all about the administration of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things. 10 This is so God’s multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavens.
Who’s the audience? The rulers and authorities in the heavens. This is not talking about the literal ruler and authority of Paul’s day like the emperor of Rome. He is talking about THE ruler of this world whose dwelling is not on this world but in the heavens. In other words, a ruler who lives in the spiritual world. If you were here last week, I think you know the answer. He is talking about none other than Satan and his forces of darkness.
So here is what Paul is getting at. It’s really fantastic stuff. The mystery of the Messiah was hidden throughout the ages. Ever since the Fall of Man where Satan scored one of his greatest victories, there has been a chess game going on between God and Satan. If Satan could figure out God’s next move, then he could thwart God’s plan and checkmate God and win. So God had to keep his strategy hidden from Satan for the ages. Satan had no clue that God would send His Son to be a man. And when God did, I’m sure Satan was scratching his head. Why would God allow His Son to come into this world as a man, why would Jesus humble himself and make himself so vulnerable?
Satan must have been confused. What on earth is God up to? Satan did all he could think to do. He worked in the hearts of the Pharisees and the religious leaders and Pontius Pilate and Caiaphas and he stirred hatred in their hearts and he mobilized them to achieve his purposes by killing the Son of God. And it was precisely in that moment when Satan thought he had scored his greatest victory that the cleverest, the most you-never-say-this-coming TWIST came into play.
In the Passion of the Christ, it’s that moment right after the death of Jesus when the camera focuses on Satan and he is screaming in agony, he is furious and the camera pans out and the audience is clued into the fact that Satan knows he’s been outsmarted. At that moment when Jesus died, Satan knew that what he thought was HIS greatest victory was actually his greatest defeat. Conversely, what appeared to be God’s greatest defeat was God’s greatest victory.
Eph 3:10 – God’s multi-faceted wisdom is in full display on the cross where Satan killed Jesus and sinful mankind participated in murdering our Messiah but God in his infinite wisdom flipped this situation upside down and he turned the table by raising Jesus Christ from the dead. And now that wisdom is continuously on display as the church denies itself and carries its cross.
Now for the application. How does this mystery of the gospel and the mystery of Christ and the church and the multi-faceted mystery of the Messiah affect the way we live in community.
13 But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah. 14 For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility…
The fact that this mystery tears down the wall of hostility between sinful humanity and a Holy God is obvious. But I think it’s easy to gloss over the second wall of hostility that the Messiah has torn down–the wall of hostility between man and his fellow man.
Satan loves it when the church is divided. He loves it when the universal church is divided into many local churches that do not partner together in anything. Satan loves it when the universal church splinters into denominations due to theological differences. And I believe Satan is most thrilled when the local church is divided.
What was the cause of division in salvation history? The answer gives us clues as to what can cause division for us here at the Hill?
11 So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh—called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands. 12 At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.
Circumcision was a Jewish practice, which was something all Jewish boys did as a kind of rite of passage into the Jewish community. It was a visible tradition that reminded the nation of Israel that they were the chosen people of God. Spiritually, it was a pointer to Jesus who came to provide a way for the Spirit to circumcise, not the flesh, but our hearts. The fleshly circumcision was a foreshadowing of a future spiritual circumcision.
Circumcision was helpful in that it served as a tangible reminder for the Israelites of them being set apart from the other nations by God and for God’s purposes. Aside from the spiritual aspect, physical circumcision in the Old Testament was a good thing. But what started out as a good thing became a curse. The whole point of being set apart for God was so that God could use the nation of Israel to be a light to the Gentiles. To be a blessing to all nations.
But Israel lost sight of that. Instead, they took pride in the fact that God chose them. They became nationalistic. They became racist. They looked down on others. Those Gentiles are uncircumcised heathens. We don’t want to associate with them and risk becoming defiled. The “circumcised” vs. the “uncircumcised.” These were labels used to divide people into categories–the people of God vs. everyone else, who by the way are not worthy saving.
I think what I said earlier about God’s sovereignty and human choice applies to Christ and the church. When the church, or the people of God become the focus, like the Israelites turning their eyes inward to the group and away from the world, we become a headless body and we risk losing everything. This means that while both the universal church and the local church are important, we cannot put the church on equal footing with Christ. If we put Christ and the church in a 50/50 partnership, we will devolve just like the Israelites did and without knowing it, Jesus will no longer have the preeminence as he ought. He’d be second, third tier in importance. In every church, Jesus has to be the focus. The accent has to be on Christ and not the church in order for the church to grow spiritually.
The early church struggled mighitly with this issue of circumcision and spiritual elitism. The circumcised group thought they were the spiritual elites and as we’ve covered in recent sermons, false teachers started to impose this tradition of circumcision on new Gentile converts.
14 …In His flesh, 15 He made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace.
Things like the circumcision were nothing more than laws and commands and human regulations that were completely done away with by the flesh of Jesus. His flesh, his body was torn to pieces so that the body of Christ could be reconciled, mended together as one.
For us, I have one simple application. Examine your relationships with other Christians from any church, meaning the universal church, and examine your relationships within this particular local church. If Christ died to make us one, what are some ways that Satan is still succeeding in keeping us divided? What are some ways that you put up walls to your fellow brothers and sisters? Oh, that brother is weird. That sister is too different from me. I’m Korean, he’s Chinese. Or I’m white, you’re black. We are different ethnicities. I grew up eating kimchi with chopsticks but you grew up eating brussel sprouts with a fork. We grew up with a different family upbringing and different cultures. I can only associate with people with similar ethnic, social, educational backgrounds.
Rather than seeing others as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, don’t we label people all the time? Take for example, the college student label. Why are there so many college students here? I don’t have a heart for college students. That’s not my ministry. They are not my responsibility. Someone else will take care of them. I only like hanging out with people who are in a similar stage of life. You can understand that, right? I’m married and I have kids so I only enjoy hanging out with other families.
If you are a single who is still in school, sorry, buddy, I’m not going to sit next to you. Or, it can go the other way. College students who only want to talk to other college students. If this is you, then you’ve put a wall between college and non-college. Can’t you see one another at the very least as fellow members of this church, whom you should struggle to love? Or, will you be content with the walls between us?
Without even knowing it, we all put up walls, don’t we? That person just annoys me to no end. Since when does it matter whether or not you like someone. God calls us to love. We are to love enemies, which means we can love people whom we do not like. There are so many walls that Satan puts up between brothers and sisters within the body of Christ.
In closing, this is a spiritual battle. If we are one, we’ve won. Not one in the sense of loving each other and leaving Christ off to the side. That’s a headless body. But one, unified, loving and serving one another because we never lose sight of Jesus and His death and His resurrection. If we are not one in Christ, then Satan has won. A church that is one has won. Pray for yourself. Pray for us corporately as a church. It is my prayer that this church would more accurately represent the one final church in the new heaven and the new earth where there is only one God and one universal body of Christ from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before one throne and before one Lamb. The mystery has been fully revealed to us in Christ. Now, let’s ask for God’s help in living it out.