Big Idea: The Mystery of God is a new creation in the Church
Intro: Well morning friends and visitors. My name is Matt Johnson and today we are continuing our study of Ephesians. Last week – I gave a heap of BACKGROUND on the city of Ephesus and its dark spiritual side of Artemis worship, sorcery and witchcraft. But against this backdrop of darkness and evil Paul is adamant God is doing something wonderful in Ephesus through the Lord Jesus Christ.
Well today I want to speak to you about the ultimate MYSTERY of our world. If you look at Ephesians 1:9, you’ll see that it says “God made known to us the mystery of his will…” This word “MYSTERY” occurs 6 times in Ephesians and Paul wants us to know the mystery God has revealed. But what is the mystery that Paul is speaking about?
I searched MYSTERY on my computer and google told me the biggest mysteries of our world include;
- DARK MATTER; What is this stuff that we know exists, but can’t be measured? Dark matteris composed of PARTICLES that do not ABSORB, REFLECT, or EMIT LIGHT. In other words – dark matter is invisible and impossible to measure by normal scientific method. But scientists are sure that dark matter exists because they can see dark areas of space that are exerting a gravitational pull on other surrounding objects. Google tells me this is the number 1 mystery of our world.
- VOYNICH MANUSCRIPT. This is an illustrated manuscript that dates to the C15thAD. It has 240 pages and is written in a language that no one has ever seen before. So far, no one has been able to translate this book. But linguists who study the manuscript say that it has all the hallmarks of a real language. Where did it come from is a mystery?
- THE KRYPTOS SCULPTURE was erected in 1990 outside of CIA headquarters in Langley Virginia. The Sculpture contains four mathemetical riddles or ciphers AND only two people know the solution. So far three of the four ciphers have been cracked. But this is big business and whoever solves the code – between CIA, FBI, NSA, Homeland Security etc etc basically has bragging rights on being the best agency. But 31 years after its construction the mystery has still not been solved…
- THE BEALE PAPERS supposedly contain directions to $35 million worth of gold hidden in Virginia. The middle section of the Beale papers was decoded in 1840 by counting each of these numbers into the United States Declaration of Independence and writing down the corresponding letter. This then became the basis of the Nicholas Cage movie “national treasure,” but to this day no one has found the treasure…
- THE PHAISTOS DISC – found on the island of Crete – dates to 1800BC. The disc has been deciphered in part. But lack of similar glyphs mean that a proper translation has thus far been impossible. WHAT was the disc’s purpose and WHY was it made? It all remains a mystery – that archaelogists are still trying to crack…
The world is full of mysteries and we love solving mysteries. The book of Ephesians speaks about “A MYSTERY” that has been revealed in Jesus and the church. But what is the mystery? It would be something like; why did God create the world? What was God’s purpose in creating man?
Point 1: God’s Good Purposes are being Realised in Christ
Show: Eph.1:3 (READ)
Explain: Well Paul begins with a note of praise. He says; “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Many of Paul’s letters begin with similar expressions of praise and gratitude. This is consistent with Paul’s Jewish background. The Psalms of the Old Testament made it clear that because God is the source of everything good and wonderful – we should praise Him, give thanks and fall down in worship.
But this has also been common thinking – in most religions. If God is real – we should praise him. Why and how we praise God might differ amnog religions? But most God-fearers agree God is worthy of worship. John Calvin the famous reformer called this the SEED OF RELIGION. All of us as human beings have a God consciousness. The Bible says our God consciousness comes from 1) the fact of creation and 2) our own moral conscience. So knowing there is a God – (our God consciousness) moves us towards praise and worship. But Paul is about to clarify the WHY of Christian praise.
Now overall the Bible is clear that praise, gratitude and worship are the right response to God. If you believe in God – you should praise, worship and thank Him. Instead, of wingeing about everything you don’t have in life, you should learn to be thankful for everything you do have in life. The apostle Paul intentionally cultivated in himself an ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE – which I think was closely linked to Paul’s secret of contentment. Paul learned to be thankfulfor whatever he had (and as he expressed this thankfulness to God) he discovered that he always had more than enough. So as we begin today I want to ask; are you a grateful person or an ungrateful person? If GRATEFUL was 10 and UNGRATEFUL was 1 – where would you be? If we focus on what we don’t have – we’ll always be discontent. But if we focus on what we do have – we might be surprised by how richly we’ve been blessed. So are you 1) a grateful, praise oriented worshiper or 2) a winging, whining discontent consumer? The latter is not good for you or for God.
APPLY: Now when it comes to the WHY OF PRAISE – Paul shifts the normal focus of God’s worship from CREATION and HUMAN LIFE, to Jesus Christ. Look again at verse 3 (READ; Eph.1:3). Notice Paul praises God – not for creation or the material things of creation – like food, or houses or health. No. Paul praises God for blessing him in the HEAVENLY REALMS with every SPIRITUAL BLESSING in Christ. Not earthly, but heavenly. Not material, but spiritual….
Paul also locates all these blessings IN CHRIST. Paul is saying true worship is not fixed on the goodness of God in creation, but on the goodness of God in Christ. In other words – Paul is suggesting God’s goodness in Christ, far exceeds God’s goodness in creation. (PAUSE) Paul praises God for the superior, not the inferior. To many this may be a MYSTERY. How is Christ, better than creation? We all know the creation story in Genesis 1. At the end of each day it says; and God saw all that he made and it was good. Most of mans praise of God centers on the good of creation. But Paul says; “I see a greater good” for which I praise God. Yes. God blessed us with many material blessing in this world. But God has now blessed Christians with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms “in Christ.” And the mindjob is that this was always God’s intention. The world was not really God’s intention, Christ crucified was always God’s intention…
Point 2: God’s Good Purposes are revealed in Adoption and Redemption
Show: Eph.1:4-8 (READ with commentary)
Explain: Well these verses, now explain why Paul praises God. But it is a bit complicated. So let me break it down a bit so you can see the key components of God’s blessing. (SLIDE 7) Blessed in the heavenly realms =
- Chosen by God (before creation) to be holy and blameless
- Predestined a) for adoption to sonship* (full heir)
- b) for redemption through Jesus’ blood
- c) for forgiveness of sins
- d) for lavishing with God’s grace
in accordance with His pleasure and will…
Now that LAST PHRASE is actually crucial; in accordance with His pleasure and will. Although, it is found in verse 5 – it is actually modifying all the phrases. God chose us for his pleasure and will. God adopted us (in Jesus) for His pleasure and will. God redeemed usthrough Jesus’ blood for His pleasure and will. God forgave us and God lavished us with His grace for His pleasure and will. What Paul is saying is that this is the real reason God created the world. What was God’s will and pleasure in creating the world? (PAUSE) When we think about the question – why did God create the world – it seems a mystery. Why is their suffering and pain? Why did God make the world the way it is? Well Paul says God’s ultimate pleasure and will in creation (and even before creation) was to accomplish these 5 things in your life. Now when Paul talks about God choosing us and God predestining us – it means we are talking about God’s Sovereign will and Sovereign pleasure. God made sure these 5 things happened in your life as a Christian.
God didn’t create you to know the warmth of the sun. God did not create you to run on beaches or dance in the rain. God created you to know 1) blamelessness and holiness, 2) to know adoption, 3) and redemption, 4) and forgiveness and 5) His wonderful lavishing grace. This was God’s Sovereign, predestined plan…
But if this is true – then sin was always part of God’s plan. Not that God made us sin. But if God’s purpose was for us to know His adoption, his redemption, his forgiveness and his grace then sin was always a necessary part of God’s plan. We couldn’t know 1) the wonder of adoption unless we had experienced being an orphaned. 2) We couldn’t really know the beauty of redemption unless we spent some time in slavery. 3) Indeed, we couldn’t really grasp the joy of forgiveness without first knowing the horror of sin. Paul is saying this was always God’s plan before creating the world. 1) Jesus and his death on the cross wasn’t the back up plan. 2) Jesus and his death on the cross was the plan. Let that sink in… Jesus and his death on the cross was always the plan even before God said “Let their be light…”
So what God did – was give us free wills as human beings. By giving us free-wills it meant evil was a real possibility. If God gave us free wills would we use them for GOOD or for BAD? God knew what we would do. Indeed, God knew that once one person started to sin – we would all sin – and that would be horrendous. But giving us free wills also meant that true love, real relationship and true community was possible – which is wonderful. C.S Lewis – a great Christian apologist in the 1950’s – puts it this way in his book; “The Case for Christianity.” (Slide 8).
So rather than making robots who were programmed to love God and love each other – God gave us free-wills – so that if and when love came, it would be real love. Its only if someone freely chooses to love us, that we experience it as real love. And it is one of the greatest experiences – to be loved. But this freedom of will (necessary for true love) also brought sin and evil into the world. We all know the story of Adam and Eve. Instead of loving God and doing what God said they used their free wills to disobey God. And in no time at all sin then spread out into the world like a cancer causing all sorts of pain and suffering. Now some of the things man has done with a free-will are truly attrocious. And one can only accept that God allowed this because the ultimate good that comes from a free-will will far exceed the terrors caused by free-will.
But against this bleak backdrop God then had the opportunity to show us the depths of His love and win our love – freely. God does not FORCE US to love Him. Nor does He MAKE US to love Him. Rather, God woo’s us to love Him by showing us bucket loads of grace. UltimatelyGod did this for us in Jesus. The penalty for using our free wills in a sinful way is that it breaks our relationship with God and we become orphans. The penalty for using our free wills in a sinful, selfish way is that we deserve to be punished. The penalty for using our free-wills in a sinful way is that we also become enslaved. When we start sinning – we find we can’t stop sinning. Sinning is like an addiction. Once we start sinning we become slaves to sin (and in the process we actually lose our free wills). So what we then need is someone to fix the mess.
Apply: Thankfully God did this for us in love. In rejecting God we deserve to be rejected by God. But in Jesus God adopts us and brings us back into his family despite all that we have done. The word adoption as sons – literally means as full heirs entitled to a share in the will. So God not only brings us back – he gives us a full cut in the estate – despite all we’ve done. This is love. What’s more, Jesus took the punishment for our sins when he died upon the cross. We did the wrong thing with our free-will and we deserve to be punished. But Jesus took the punishment for us, so that we can be spared – this is also love.
Then, God also freely offered to forgive us. God assured us in Jesus that if we truly say sorry and make an effort to change our ways – then God will forgive us and take us to heaven when we die – even though we are not perfect. All we have to do is believe in Jesus and say sorry. This is love. But not only does God forgive us – God also empowers us by His Holy Spirit to regain our free wills. Instead of being slaves to sin – God lovingly gives us back our free wills so we can pursue holiness and blamelessness in Jesus. This too is love. And God lavishes all this love and grace upon us (within the context of sin) so that we might freely of our own will love Him in return. This is then true love, not robotic love.
The fact that God 1) graciously loves us, 2) forgives us, 3) frees us from sin and 4) brings us back into his family through Jesus brings forth in us a genuine response of love, gratitude and praise – that now naturally flows from our free-will. And this was always God’s pleasure and will.
Point 3: God’s Good Purpose is a world united in love, under Christs Rule
Show: Eph.1:8b-10 (READ)
Explain: Well again – notice the words in verse 9 the mystery of his WILL and his good PLEASURE.The exact same words were used in verse 5. What is God’s will for humanity? What brings God pleasure? Well, we could say these 5 things. God’s will – is for people to become holy & blameless, be adopted as God’s children, know redemption in Christ, appreciate forgiveness and experience God’s grace towards them…
But you might say these 5 things are God’s penultimate will. These 5 things are not God’s ultimate will. But they are the 5 things necessary for God’s ultimate pleasure and will. God’s ultimate pleasure and will is that through these 5 things in Jesus – God is creating a kingdom of people (and dare I say angels) who are truly united around Jesus in real love. Not united because we have to be. Nor united because we were made that way. But united because we really do A) love God for saving us and B) we love each other as brothers and sisters. As we come to Jesus (and accept him as our Saviour and Lord) he tells us that in gratitude we should love God with all our heart and love our neighbor as ourselves. And as we use our free-wills to do that in Christian community God’s Sovereign will and good pleasure is realised. For many aeons this was all a mystery. Why did God create the world? Why did he choose the Jews and give them the 10 Commandments? But now as Christians we see that Gods ultimate purpose was not just to create a world, nor to save the Jews per se. GOD ULTIMATE PURPOSE was to create in Jesus a multicultural community that truly loves God and loves each other. THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH is not the by product of creation, nor an afterthought of creation. No! The Christian church is the real creation. This is the mystery revealed.
Show: Slide 11-12
Apply: Do you know the mystery of God? The mystery is the universal Christian church. What God is really doing (in the world) is creating a people who freely love Him and freely love each other – under Christ’s rule. (Not because they have to, but because they want to…) This means the church is the firstfruits of heaven. The church (united in the love of the Lord Jesus Christ) is the beginning and the end of all God’s purposes. How dare we then say that we love God, but despise His church? How dare we say we long for heaven, but have no time for church? If you find church family boring and a bit of a chore, what makes you think you’ll delight in heaven later.
Even in its imperfections, the church is a perfect beaker for cultivating love. The imperfections of other people in the church – grow us in patience, and perseverance and forgiveness and gentleness with one another – so that our love becomes more and more like Christ’s love. THE POINT IS – once we see that all God’s purposes (even before the creation of the world) center on the formation of the church – you really begin to see “I need to be committed to church.” The church is not for our entertainment. The church is not take it or leave it. THE CHURCH IS THE BRIDE OF CHRIST. The church is God’s pleasure and will. And when creation is truly said and done – and we cross the Jordan, enter the age of Jubilee, (the 8th day) – the bridal dance and the heavenly banquet will be reserved for the church (and no other). The question is A) will you know the perichoretic bridal dance that is free love and 2) will you be a part of that community that has forever been the true apple of God’s eye. The mystery Paul wants us to appreciate, preserve and cultivate is true Christian Community – for this is God’s good pleasure and will.