Epiphany

Preached: January 4, 2009

What a Mystery:
The Gospel of Jesus Is Even for Me!
Ephesians 3:2-12

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus, our Savior is Ephesians 3

If, of course, you heard of the administration of God's grace that was given to me for you, that in line with revelation the mystery was made known to me, just as I had briefly written earlier, which by reading you are able to know my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made know to the sons of men as has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit, namely, that the Gentiles are joint heirs, joint body members, joint sharers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel, of which I have become a servant according to the gift of God's grace that was given to me according to the working of his power to me, less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given: to proclaim to the Gentiles the Good News of the untraceable riches of Christ and to enlighten all as to what is the administration of the mystery hidden away in God since eternity who created all things, in order that the many-faceted wisdom of God may be now known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places through the church, according to the eternal purpose which he made in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in him. (Ephesians 3:2-12)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior,

The devil loves to take one of God's truths and then, without changing a word, to misuse and misapply it, so that his victim ends up even farther away from God but thinks they're closer to him.

Take for example the blessed Christmas truth that God became man. The devil takes that truth and whispers: “Look, God's your brother, your friend, your buddy. He's not much different than you. You can deal with him like you deal with the guy down the street.” With that lie, the devil wipes out the proper fear, reverence, and respect due to God.

Consider how that lie controls our society and has infiltrated our own thinking. Rather than fearing and revering God, his name becomes a common expression of anger. People skip their weekly visit to his house without a second thought. His Word becomes just another dusty book. And we feel comfortable placing him after others, thinking, “ He'll understand. That's why Jesus came, right?”

In some ways the heathen's terror cringing and sacrificing to a god fearing for his life is better than this twisted lie of Satan that abuses the Christmas truth making us imagine we can deal with God in our own way. For that heathen at least would stand in dumb-found astonishment and amazement at what the Apostle Paul writes here. For like a mystery, this truth of God is hidden from human understanding until God himself reveals it through the Gospel. What is that astonishing truth? That the Good News of Jesus is even for someone like that heathen, even for someone like you and me.

How often we brush over that mystery, almost as if we thought, “Well, of course, it's for me. What's so surprising or mysterious about that? Jesus loves me; this I know. Why wouldn't God love someone like me?” What arrogance! What self-conceited pride the devil's lie creates!

So today let's step back and share the true astonishment that this mystery brings to the believing heart. For without God's special revelation in his Word, no one not you nor me nor anyone else, not even the angels in heaven no one would ever have figured out how God would save someone like you and me. But in his Word he makes it known. Through the Gospel reveals the solution to the mystery. Let's think about that as we focus on the theme: What a mystery: The Gospel of Jesus is even for me, even for you!

A. Even we Gentiles have equal access to God through faith in Jesus

1. Why was it so hard to understand that the Gentile Christians had equal status with the Jewish Christians?

The Apostle Paul wanted to bring home to his readers, including us, that this Good News of forgiveness and salvation in Jesus is even for Gentiles, non-Jews like us. Even we Gentiles have equal access to God through faith in Jesus. Though we might take that for granted, that as a mystery no one would have figured out except that God revealed it.

Just think about it. Whom did God chose from out of all nations to bless as the ancestor of the Savior? Abraham, the father of the Jews. Whom did the Lord give his commandments to at Mt. Sinai? The Jews. Who had the temple? The Jews. To whom did the prophets of the Lord preach? The Jews. And most critical of all, what nationality was Jesus, God's Son? He was a Jew. God became a Jew. So at the very least, don't you think that for Gentiles like us to have a share, even a small share in Jesus, the Jewish Savior, we should adapt Jewish practices?

Even the Apostles after Pentecost didn't fully understand the mystery of God's plan for the Gentiles. Only a special vision from God lead the Apostle Peter to go to the house of a Gentile, Cornelius. And only after seeing the Holy Spirit come upon these Gentiles just as he came upon the disciples at Pentecost, only then did Peter realize that these Gentile Christians were to be welcomed into the church on equal footing with the Jewish Christians. That's why the coming of the Magi, Gentile wise men, after Jesus birth was so amazing. Was he to be the Savior for the Gentiles as well?

The Old Testament prophets had foretold this. But their preaching did not go out into the whole world. And even those who heard the prophecies did not fully grasp just how thoroughly God would bring in the Gentiles with equal status for all believers, Jew and Gentile together. So Paul makes the point “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 3:6 NIV).

2) How do we realize how amazing this open access to God is?

Regardless of anyone's background, “In [Jesus] and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:12 NIV). Through faith in Jesus we have equal access to God. We can lay bare our hearts to him in prayer, freely confessing our guilt, unburdening our worries, imploring his mercy, seeking his care. Like a little child running to his dad or mom, knowing that the door is always open, confident that dad's arms will hold him tight, sure that mom's love will never fail him, so also you open access to your Father through faith in Jesus.

Do we marvel at that? Do we continually use that blessed access as our heavenly Father wants us to wants us so much to do it that he gave his only Son to make it possible? How often we take it for granted and don't marvel in amazement at this mystery! We feel that God ought to be there because he owes it to us. We've treated him worse than any child or teenage has treated their parents expecting them to provide food, clothing, shelter, TV, cell phone, car, spending money, and who knows what else as they go and do their own thing.

How does that godly amazement begin in our hearts? Think of those words to one of the best known hymns. “Amazing grace. How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!” Just think about what it says. We often hear these words or the melody at famous funerals. But then what do speakers talk about? How good the person was. How much they did for others. But listen to the song - “saved a wretch like me.”

We like to sing them, but do we take them to heart? Before God, we are every bit of a wretch as John Newton, the slave-trader, who wrote these words, was. No matter how good you look to others, those self-righteous pants are pulled down before God and you're exposed as the perverted sinner you are, and I am too.

Only then do we begin to see how amazing this mystery is that God would include someone like you, someone like me, to be joint heirs, joint body members, joint sharers in the promise of Christ. He opens his throne room and gives us equal access, inviting us in as his dear children. How amazing! How mysterious! For we deserve the exact opposite. We deserve to be excluded from his family, to be cut out of his inheritance, to be isolated from his love and glory forever. But even to Gentiles like you and me he gives equal access through Jesus.

For you see, only Jesus carried our wretchedness to the cross in your place. Only he covered your naked shame with his righteousness. He opened the door of paradise even for you and me. That's grace, amazing grace. What a mystery! This Gospel of Jesus is even for you and me; even Gentiles like us have equal access to God through faith in Jesus.

B. Even we Gentiles are able to make known the unsearchable riches of Christ

1) How did God's grace use Paul in his divine plans?

And Paul marveled at how God's grace worked in such a way that it not only saved him who once persecuted the church, but also made him a minister to proclaim that Gospel. “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery” (Ephesians 3:7-9 NIV).

Think of it. Paul at first hated Christ. He hunted down Christians. He lobbied for their execution. His zeal against the Christians surpassed all the others who were out to get them. God not only calls this persecutor to faith, he makes him the greatest missionary ever to spread the faith. What grace! Who would have every guessed that?

2) What riches of Christ do you know and so can share?

That same grace powerfully works in you and me to open our mouths to make known the unsearchable riches of Christ. Even the angels, the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, stand in amazement at how God administers his grace, carrying out his saving plan. He uses sinful people like you and me to share his Word, which reveals the unsearchable riches of Christ.

Think of those truths, those saving truths that human understanding can not search out or track down, those truths that bring the riches of heaven to all who believe. The child in the manger is the mighty God. The One born from the virgin is the eternal Son of the Father. He lived in poverty and lowliness, yet look at his care and love as he heals the sick, gives sight to the blind, opens the ears of the deaf, makes the lame walk, drives out demons, and raises the dead. See the Father through the Son. Behold the Lamb of God carrying the sins of the world. His suffering so intense. How can the very Son of God be forsaken for the sins of us, his creatures? Oh, the unsearchable riches of his love! His body sacrificed for you. His blood, the atonement that reconciles you to God, that ransoms and redeems you. His blood, holy and precious, for it is the blood of God. His resurrection, sounding the verdict of divine justice, declaring sinners not guilty because the righteous One has paid for our crimes. His resurrection, sounding the victory cry: “Where, O death, is your sting! Where, O death, is your victory!” His ascension and ruling all things at God's right hand for the good of you, his church. His care for you so that nothing snatches you out of his hand and even evil works out for good. His return in glory to judge the living and the dead. O what unsearchable riches! For he is our Rock, our Fortress, our Shepherd, our Forgiveness, our Light, our Way, our Vine, our Resurrection, our Savior, Jesus Christ. What riches! Riches that you know, for God's grace has revealed them to you through his Word. Riches for you to share.

What a mystery! The Gospel of Jesus is even for you. It's even for that neighbor, that acquaintance, that coworker, that friend, that loved one. Share it. Share the riches of Jesus as you speak his Good News to others. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313

Top