Day 267

Mystery

Wisdom Psalm 111:1-10
New Testament Ephesians 3:1-21
Old Testament Isaiah 57:14-59:21

Introduction

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.

Wisdom

Psalm 111:1-10

Psalm 111

1 Praise the Lord.

I will extol the Lord with all my heart
   in the council of the upright and in the assembly.

2 Great are the works of the Lord;
   they are pondered by all who delight in them.
3 Glorious and majestic are his deeds,
   and his righteousness endures forever.
4 He has caused his wonders to be remembered;
   the Lord is gracious and compassionate.
5 He provides food for those who fear him;
   he remembers his covenant forever.

6 He has shown his people the power of his works,
   giving them the lands of other nations.
7 The works of his hands are faithful and just;
   all his precepts are trustworthy.
8 They are established for ever and ever,
   enacted in faithfulness and uprightness.
9 He provided redemption for his people;
   he ordained his covenant forever—
   holy and awesome is his name.

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
   all who follow his precepts have good understanding.
   To him belongs eternal praise.

Commentary

God’s wisdom is revealed

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.

Prayer

Lord, help us in the church to reveal the manifold wisdom of God as people are reconciled to you and to one another.

New Testament

Ephesians 3:1-21

God’s Marvelous Plan for the Gentiles

3 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—

2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 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.

7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 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, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. 13 I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

A Prayer for the Ephesians

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Commentary

God’s power is revealed

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?

  1. The power of the gospel

    Power does not come from your position, wealth, 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).

  2. 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.

  3. 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).

  4. 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).

Prayer

Lord, today I ask that I may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Old Testament

Isaiah 57:14-59:21

Comfort for the Contrite

57
14 And it will be said:

“Build up, build up, prepare the road!
   Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”
15 For this is what the high and exalted One says—
   he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
   but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
   and to revive the heart of the contrite.
16 I will not accuse them forever,
   nor will I always be angry,
for then they would faint away because of me—
   the very people I have created.
17 I was enraged by their sinful greed;
   I punished them, and hid my face in anger,
   yet they kept on in their willful ways.
18 I have seen their ways, but I will heal them;
   I will guide them and restore comfort to Israel’s mourners,
19 creating praise on their lips.
Peace, peace, to those far and near,”
   says the Lord. “And I will heal them.”
20 But the wicked are like the tossing sea,
   which cannot rest,
   whose waves cast up mire and mud.
21 “There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”

True Fasting

58 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
   Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
   and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
2 For day after day they seek me out;
   they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
   and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
   and seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
   ‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
   and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
   and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
   and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
   and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
   only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
   and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
   a day acceptable to the Lord?

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
   and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
   and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
   and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter —
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
   and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
   and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
   and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
   you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
   with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
   and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
   and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
   he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
   and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
   like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
   and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
   Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
   and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
   and the Lord’s holy day honourable,
and if you honour it by not going your own way
   and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
14 then you will find your joy in the Lord,
   and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
   and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
   For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Sin, Confession and Redemption

59 Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save,
   nor his ear too dull to hear.
2 But your iniquities have separated
   you from your God;
your sins have hidden his face from you,
   so that he will not hear.
3 For your hands are stained with blood,
   your fingers with guilt.
Your lips have spoken falsely,
   and your tongue mutters wicked things.
4 No one calls for justice;
   no one pleads a case with integrity.
They rely on empty arguments, they utter lies;
   they conceive trouble and give birth to evil.
5 They hatch the eggs of vipers
   and spin a spider’s web.
Whoever eats their eggs will die,
   and when one is broken, an adder is hatched.
6 Their cobwebs are useless for clothing;
   they cannot cover themselves with what they make.
Their deeds are evil deeds,
   and acts of violence are in their hands.
7 Their feet rush into sin;
   they are swift to shed innocent blood.
They pursue evil schemes;
   acts of violence mark their ways.
8 The way of peace they do not know;
   there is no justice in their paths.
They have turned them into crooked roads;
   no one who walks along them will know peace.

9 So justice is far from us,
   and righteousness does not reach us.
We look for light, but all is darkness;
   for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows.
10 Like the blind we grope along the wall,
   feeling our way like people without eyes.
At midday we stumble as if it were twilight;
   among the strong, we are like the dead.
11 We all growl like bears;
   we moan mournfully like doves.
We look for justice, but find none;
   for deliverance, but it is far away.

12 For our offenses are many in your sight,
   and our sins testify against us.
Our offenses are ever with us,
   and we acknowledge our iniquities:
13 rebellion and treachery against the Lord,
   turning our backs on our God,
inciting revolt and oppression,
   uttering lies our hearts have conceived.
14 So justice is driven back,
   and righteousness stands at a distance;
truth has stumbled in the streets,
   honesty cannot enter.
15 Truth is nowhere to be found,
   and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.

The Lord looked and was displeased
   that there was no justice.
16 He saw that there was no one,
   he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm achieved salvation for him,
   and his own righteousness sustained him.
17 He put on righteousness as his breastplate,
   and the helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on the garments of vengeance
   and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.
18 According to what they have done,
   so will he repay
wrath to his enemies
   and retribution to his foes;
   he will repay the islands their due.
19 From the west, people will fear the name of the Lord,
   and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory.
For he will come like a pent-up flood
   that the breath of the Lord drives along.

20 “The Redeemer will come to Zion,
   to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,”
   declares the Lord.

21 “As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,” says the Lord.

Commentary

God’s love is revealed

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 poverty, climate change, racial injustice and the refugee crisis that is across the whole world.

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.

Prayer

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.

Pippa adds

Isaiah 58:12

‘You will be called Repairer of Broken Walls.’

I would like to be called a restorer of broken walls. Is there something that is broken around you – a relationship, something that is not working at work, that should be working – that’s around you, or around me that I could restore today?

Verse of the Day

Ephesians 3:20, MSG

‘God can do… far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!’
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References

The One Year® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers. Used by permission.

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.

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