The best novelists are able to write in such a way that as you read through a story, the ending is a mystery but, when you look back from the end, the clues were there all along.
In today’s New Testament passage, the apostle Paul tells us that God has revealed the mystery of Christ. He writes about ‘the mystery made known to me by revelation... the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit’ (Ephesians 3:3–5).
Reading the Old Testament is like going into a dark room full of furniture. We get a sense of what is inside the room by feeling the sofas, chairs and pictures. But, as we read the New Testament, it is as if a light is switched on and we see the room clearly. Jesus places the Old Testament in new light. To paraphrase St Augustine, ‘In the Old the New is concealed, in the New the Old is revealed.’
Jesus is the climax of God’s great plan for the world. Thus, Paul writes, ‘My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along’ (vv.8–9, MSG). The word that Paul uses (‘photisai’) means ‘to turn the light on so that people can see’.
The secret God reveals in Jesus is reconciliation not only with God but also with one another. Paul tells us, ‘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’ (v.6). Both Jews and Gentiles can now approach God on equal terms.
If we are in Christ, we are all reconciled to God and to one another – regardless of race or social and cultural background. It must also apply to the church: Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal, and so on. In the Old Testament, we see only hints of this – it was concealed to some extent. Now, however, the mystery has been revealed in Christ.
God’s wisdom is revealedPsalm 111:1-10
Knowledge is good: ‘God’s works are so great, worth a lifetime of study’ (v.2, MSG). Wisdom is better. Wisdom is the right use of knowledge.
The psalmist writes that, ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (v.10a). True wisdom begins with respecting, revering, honouring and worshipping God: ‘He is so personal and holy, worthy of our respect’ (v.9, MSG).
Like other Old Testament writers, he caught a glimpse of this wisdom. He saw the greatness of all that God had done (v.2). He saw that the Lord is gracious and compassionate (v.4b). He realised that God loved and wanted to redeem his people (v.9). But his attitude to ‘other nations’ (v.6) is not yet expanded by the revelation of Christ and the gospel (‘None of our ancestors understood this’, Ephesians 3:2 MSG).
In Christ, these nations are included in God’s love and they become part of his church. As we see in today’s New Testament passage, this is how the manifold wisdom of God is revealed.
Lord, help us in the church to reveal the manifold wisdom of God as people are reconciled to you and to one another.
God’s power is revealedEphesians 3:1-21
Do you want to be useful to God? Do you want to make a difference – in your family and with your friends, in your school, university or workplace, to the nation and to the world? This passage not only reveals the mystery of Christ, but it also shows you how, as a result, your life can make an impact.
Paul concludes, ‘God can do anything, you know – far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!’ (v.20, MSG). How is this possible? Paul’s answer is that it is possible ‘according to his power that is at work within us’ (v.20). Where does this power come from?
The power of the gospel
Power does not come from your position, title or circumstances in life. Paul himself was a prisoner (v.1). It doesn’t come from human greatness. Paul writes, ‘I am less than the least of all God’s people’ (v.8). Power doesn’t come from lording over people. Paul writes, ‘I became a servant’ (v.7). Rather, it comes from the message of the gospel, that Paul described in this passage. The gospel is ‘the power of God’ for the salvation of everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).
The power of unity
We are co-heirs, sons and daughters of God the Father. We are brothers and sisters, inheritors together in the promises of Christ Jesus. We are co-members, belonging to the same body of Christ (Ephesians 3:6). We are united in Jesus Christ, co-sharers of the promised Holy Spirit.
This unity is extraordinarily powerful. ‘His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (vv.10–11).
The use of ‘manifold’ here refers to the multi-faceted wisdom of God. It is multi-racial and multicultural. God has brought everybody together in his church. Therefore, not only is disunity (of churches and denominations) harmful to the spread of the gospel but unity is so powerful.
The battle is against ‘the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms’ (v.10). These powers operate through the economic, social and political structures and institutions of human society, and beyond into the entire cosmos. Every time a person is reconciled to God and to their brothers and sisters in Christ, the demons scream and the angels rejoice. The manifold wisdom of God is revealed.
The power of the Holy Spirit
Paul prayed that ‘out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith’ (vv.16–17) and that ‘you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God’ (v.19).
The power of God’s love
Do you really understand the full extent of God’s love for you? Paul prayed that ‘with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God’ (vv.17–19, MSG).
Lord, today I ask that I may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
God’s love is revealedIsaiah 57:14-59:21
In the Old Testament (and particularly in Isaiah), you can see hints of the expansive love of God, and how his love extends beyond the people of Israel to all the people on earth. In this passage for today, we get a glimpse of this love.
The Lord says, ‘Peace, peace, to him who is far off [both Jew and Gentile] and to him who is near!’ (57:19, AMP; see also Ephesians 2:17). Paul seems to interpret these passages of Isaiah as anticipating the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s love (Ephesians 2:17).
Isaiah then goes on to show how God’s people should reflect this amazing love in the way they treat the poor and marginalised around them. Mere religious activity is of no avail. God is looking for a love that will: ‘break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts’ (Isaiah 58:6, MSG).
He is looking for a love that will lead you to ‘sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families’ (v.7, MSG).
This is a love that will ensure that you ‘spend yourself on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed’ (v.10). True love for our neighbour must include a passion for social justice – ‘to loose the chains of injustice’ (v.6a) – and social action. Love means doing something about poverty, homelessness and hunger. These words challenge us today about how we respond to the refugee crisis that is across the whole world; especially Europe.
Isaiah promises that, ‘If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people’s sins, If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight’ (vv.9–10, MSG). The light will be switched on. The secret will be revealed.
Lord, may we be a church that reveals the manifold wisdom of God by our unity and love. Give us wisdom as to how we respond to poverty. Pour out your Spirit on us. May the mystery of Christ be revealed in us.
‘You will be called Repairer of Broken Walls.’
That’s what I would like to be called.
Verse of the Day
‘God can do… far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!’ (Ephesians 3:20, MSG)
Philip Schaff (ed), NPNF1-05. St Augustine: Anti-Pelagian Writings (CCEL, 1886).
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.