A sermon based on Ephesians 3:2-12
Sunday, January 7, 2018 – Epiphany 1B
When I was a kid, I loved watching Scooby Doo on TV. As the gang got in the Mystery Machine and drove to their destination, they were sure to see some creepy monsters with some diabolical plot. But Fred and Daphne, Velma and Shaggy, with the help of his dog, Scooby Dooby Doo, would follow the clues, pull the mask off the villain in the final scenes, and solve the mystery.
Then, as I got older, I loved reading books by Sir Arthur Conan Dolye and Agatha Christie. There was always at least one murder, often many. And I, as the reader, got to try to figure out along with Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot who the culprit was while there were still victims left. I loved trying to solve the mystery.
Today, I still like playing Clue with my boys or Mind Trap, a game of brain teaser riddles. Or now we have Escape Room, where you race against the clock to figure out the clues (with creepy dramatic music if you download the app), and, if you're good, you solve the mystery and escape the imaginary room before you die.
In short, I love a good mystery. And I hope you do too, because, well, today, friends, we've got a mystery on our hands. And the solution to this mystery is more important than any other mystery real or imagined. Whether we follow the clues to solve this mystery or not has consequences that are far greater than life or death. We must solve it or else! So, come, dear Watsons, come! The game is afoot! Our text for consideration this morning is found in Ephesians 3:2-12…
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 men 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 God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable 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 which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
Wait. What?! So that's the mystery? "Jesus died to pay for our sins"?! Well, that wasn't much fun. We all knew the answer already. So… now what am I supposed to talk about for another 10 minutes? Should I just say, "Amen," and sit down? Some of you may wish for that. But no.
I think we've heard the solution to this mystery so often, that at times we can really take it for granted like that, just like I used to take for granted that Scooby and the gang would solve the mystery within 30 minutes (commercial breaks included) and the good guys would win in the end. So to really appreciate this mystery, maybe we need to back up a bit…
The mystery before us is really a murder mystery. And it's not just one we watch or read. It's one we're a part of. We're living in the mystery. (And at one point we were totally unaware.) The villain, the murderer, isn't just out to take human life, but to kill souls. That's what satan and his demons do: they try to kill souls—separate them from God and his love for eternity. And this isn't just some horror movie. This is real life—the life in which we live.
The murderer was on the loose and seemed to be winning. He still does, doesn't he? Not only does he take countless souls every day, but he's also succeeded to get us to join his side. He sure had Paul on his side. That's why Paul admitted that he was, "less than the least of all God's people," once arresting and murdering any who sided with Jesus.
And you and I have sided with satan too. How many times haven't we stood in the way of the gospel instead of sharing it with others? How many times haven't we ignored the clues that God has dropped into our lives nudging us to do his will? How many times haven't we acted more like Herod than the Magi, opposing Jesus and his will instead of worshiping him with our lives, our time, and our gifts?
And why do we do it? Why do we act that way? Every good mystery needs a motive, right? Well, our motive was simple enough: like satan we didn't want anyone to tell us what to do. We wanted to be in control of our lives. We wanted to be in charge. And so our selfishness led us to sin against God and side with his enemy.
And you know what we deserve for siding with the enemy. We deserve to have God abandon us to him. And we deserve to be eternally tortured and killed by satan—but without ever actually dying—forever in hell.
So the mystery that we all once faced was this: "How can I be right with God?" We had the clues of his justice and his righteousness written on our hearts, revealed by our consciences, but we could never figure a way to make things right. We could never solve the mystery on our own. The best guess we could come up with was to earn his love by attempting to do more good than bad. But it didn't work. It never could. For starters, we could never do more good than bad because the bad we do is so great. But secondly, even if we could do more good than bad tomorrow it wouldn't undo the bad we've done today or yesterday or last year…
So we were stuck with this unsolvable mystery and it looked like the murderer would strike again with us! It looked like he would get away with another murder or billions. Things were hopeless.
Now, I love a good mystery and a good puzzle. I love hunting for the solution, exploring every angle, searching for the clues. But I admit that I get frustrated when I can't figure it out. But the truth is that no one can figure out the truth about salvation by their super sleuthing no matter how good they are. It's an unsolvable mystery. Unless… God chooses to reveal the answer. And thank God he has. And thank God he's revealed the answer to you…
Throughout the centuries God's people searched the Scriptures—the writings of Moses and the Prophets—looking for the clues to see how things could be made right. For they knew that God had left many clues there for them to see. But it wasn't until Christmas that the solution began to be seen clearly. And there, God, the author of the greatest mystery story ever, stepped into the story and, breaking the fourth wall, revealed the solution to the mystery. He revealed it to Mary, and Joseph, to the shepherds, to the apostles, to Paul, and through all of them to you and to me.
Surely you have heard about the administration of God's grace… for you, that is, the mystery made known… by revelation… the mystery of Christ… as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets.
You know—thank God!—the solution to that mystery of how to be right with him. You know how the God-man, Jesus, had come to make things right. You know how God took on flesh so he could live a perfect life in our place and die an innocent death in our place. You know, "the unsearchable riches of Christ…" You know the peace of forgiveness because the mystery has been revealed to you.
And why did God do it? Every good mystery needs a motive right? Well, God's motive was nothing in us, nothing we did or would do. God's motive was his great love for us! His love moved him to act and rescue mankind from sin, death, satan, and hell.
But there was another mystery for God's people to solve in Paul's day—another mystery we so often take for granted. And it was this: "Who is this salvation for?" And while some thought it was only for God's specially chosen people, the Jews, Paul acted like Sherlock Holmes and, by the revelation of the Holy Spirit, he solved the mystery so many others could never solve: "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… This grace was given me:" Paul said, "to preach to the Gentiles…"
Mystery solved! God's grace isn't just for the Jews. And in hindsight (just like reading a mystery novel) the clues were all there: God's grace was given to Ruth, from Moab not from Israel. It was given to Magi from the East, given the clue of the star to follow. That's why Epiphany is called the Gentile Christmas! But now, through the apostle Paul, it couldn't be spelled out more clearly: God's grace is for Gentiles! God's grace is for non-Jews! God's grace is for you, dear friends! Jesus died for you! You are forgiven! The murderer of souls can't hurt you! You belong to God, Gentile that you are!
Thank God that he has revealed the solution to these mysteries to you! These mysteries are solved! The problem of sin: solved! The problem of death: solved! The problem of hell: solved! The problem of who this is all for: solved! It's for you!
But it's not just for you. It's for the whole world. And there's no way that others can figure out the solution on their own. They need someone to reveal the mystery to them. "Through the church," Paul said, "the manifold wisdom of God should be made known…" That is to say, through you and me.
So that leaves us with a few new mysteries to solve—mysteries that haven't yet been revealed. And in these mysteries lies all the fun: How can I advance the Kingdom? What can I do to further the cause of the Gospel? How can I help others see the solution to the great mystery—the mystery that's already been revealed to me? How can I share God's grace with my neighbor, my co-worker, or friend? Where are they hurting? What needs do they feel that God's Word addresses? How can I use those to build a bridge for Jesus to cross over from my heart into theirs?
Talk to them. Ask them questions. And listen for the clues they give. And listen to God as he speaks to you in his Word. For these mysteries, while yet unknown, can be solved with a little effort, with the help of a pastor or friend, with the Word of God, and above all, with God's help. So ask him for it. "In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence." And you know he'll give you the help you need.
Go solve those mysteries, super sleuths, to bring glory to God for the mystery he's revealed to you: That in Christ, and by his work for you, your sin is forgiven! The enemy can't kill you! You will join God in his paradise! That this salvation isn't just for a few, or just for the Jew. It's for Gentiles too. It's for you and me. It's for everyone. So, go reveal the mystery to them, so they too can say, "Mystery solved!" In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.