When Einstein discovered his theory of relativity, very few people fully understood it. They simply scratched their heads and said, “Huh?” But when people began to operate on its basis, even though they didn’t fully understand it, they began to change the world. Our whole modern era was brought about by the discovery of a secret which was hidden in nature until Einstein stumbled on a few hints of it. And there is much yet to be learned, even in this realm. But how much more are there great riches in store for us who will give some time and thought and effort to grasping this great secret which Paul sets forth before us here — the ultimate secret behind all things: the mystery of Christ. In this next sentence he gives us a brief summary of this great mystery:
You must have heard how God gave me grace to become your minister, and how he allowed me to understand his secret by giving me a direct Revelation. (What I have written briefly of this above will explain to you my knowledge of the mystery of Christ.) This secret was hidden to past generations of mankind, but it has now, by the spirit, been made plain to God’s consecrated messengers and prophets. It is simply this: that the Gentiles, who were previously excluded from God’s agreements, are to be equal heirs with his chosen people, equal members and equal partners in God’s promise given by Christ through the Gospel (Ephesians 3:2-6)
There is the mystery: The first thing he says about it is that it was hidden in the past. That is, the great men of God in the Old Testament never understood the mystery. Although they saw many things, even things into the future far beyond our day; they still did not understand this mystery. The secret was hidden to them. When did it begin to open up? It opened once Jesus Christ fulfilled His atonement. The Lord Jesus himself began to unfold the mystery. Look in Matthew’s Gospel, where our Lord spoke these amazing words:
All these things Jesus spoke to the crowd in parables, and he did not speak to them at all without using parables — to fulfil the prophecy: ‘I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world’ (Matthew 13:34)
From what Paul says here in Ephesians, it is clear that God needed to prepare human beings for the unfolding of this secret. He had to get them ready for it. His first illustration was with the rituals and symbols in the Old Testament. Through the giving of the Law and the sacrifices; the Ark of the Covenant; the altar and everything with it; all were illustrations to show that there is inherently something wrong with us, something which cannot be cured by our making a few good resolutions or pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. No, it is something that is drastically and terribly and deeply wrong.
The only thing that can cure this depravity is death itself. Which doesn’t make a great bumper sticker, but God had to prepare us to be able to grasp that fact and to be ready to believe it. Even then, He had not fully revealed this mystery. In the past, He occasionally provided tiny bits of revelation, of understanding, but the great secret remained shielded from their understanding.
But, by golly, it has now been revealed! Paul says, “To his Holy Apostles and Prophets by the Spirit.” There is a line of teaching called ultra-dispensationalism, where some teach that only Paul knew this secret, that only he was given the privilege of unveiling it for the first time to human minds and hearts. But, as we have already seen, it was the Lord Jesus who began to unveil it. And, as Paul himself says here, it was made known to all the apostles and prophets, i.e., the writers of the Scriptures, such as Luke and James and others who were not apostles, but who were prophets. In the closing verses of Romans 16 there is a very clear statement on the unveiling of this mystery:
Now to him who is able to set you on your feet as his own sons — according to my Gospel, according to the preaching of Jesus Christ himself, and in accordance with the disclosing of that secret purpose which, after long ages of silence, has now been made known (in full agreement with the writings of the prophets long ago), by the command of the everlasting God to all the Gentiles, that they might turn to him in the obedience of faith — to him, I say, the only God who is wise, be glory for ever through Jesus Christ! (Romans 16:25-27)
Now we come to the actual mystery itself. It consists of this great truth: That the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and joint partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel! Here Paul coins words. He runs out of language and unable to put what he wants to say into words that were available. So Paul invents new ones. He puts words together and makes up three words which you don’t find anywhere else in the Greek New Testament. They are, literally: joint-heirs, joint-bodies, and joint-partakers. When they come to Christ, Jews and Gentiles together are joint heirs, joint members of one body, and joint partakers of the promise.
You see, the resurrection of Jesus and the effects it would have in our lives was never taught in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, there was nothing said about the resurrection of the body. The Old Testament believers only had vague thoughts of life beyond death. They certainly didn’t have any idea what kind of life it would be. They died while hoping for something beyond their death, but that hope was not very well defined. The one thing they did not know was that the life beyond death, the resurrection life, would be made available to us while we are still living! Huh? That’s right; they could never understand. You will never find it taught in the Old Testament. But, this is what the apostles were teaching — that God has already broken through the old creation, and, right in the midst of the old, he is creating a new! Men and women today can live by this new creation.
This promise concerned the giving of the Holy Spirit — that God’s Spirit Himself would live in us! That He would empower us to do everything God wants us to do. If we simply cast ourselves in helplessness on the Lord Jesus and trust His Word, we can assume the power of the Spirit to fill us with His power. This power will come flowing into our lives and enable us to do what we could never do.
All this is Paul’s explanation of the great mystery. It is a breakthrough, a new and marvelous way of life which has already begun in our experience, and which, ultimately, will solve any problems we face. The remarkable thing about it is that you can experience it right now! You don’t have to wait for special music or candles burning. No, it is available to you whether you are eating a Bologna sandwich or sitting in a bathtub. In Colossians Paul puts it this way: “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” (Colossians 1:27). It is the only hope you will ever have of living according to the glory God designed for man when he created him in the beginning.
This may seem like old stuff to you, but unfortunately, we have heard these words so many times, we have lost the impact they hold. But I hope you can go back and think again of the breathless wonder of this great mystery which Paul declares to us — how in Jesus Christ we can step out of the old, into the new creation. And the effects of it can be felt in our relationships with others, in our attitudes within and ultimately, in the power of the Holy Spirit imparted to us to make us live as we should live, in the fullness of joy and peace and life and glory and rejoicing before God. One of these days, Springtime is going to come to the world, and when it comes, what God as already been preparing will then become manifest.
How can you wait to climb on the bandwagon; it has already started. This is the great mystery. It has already begun. And you are either participating in the new creation, or you are participating the old; one or the other, but never both. You may live your life as a member of the new creation while you are still in the midst of the old, but not part of it anymore — “no longer strangers, no longer foreigners.” “You have broken with all that. Therefore, live life as members of a new race.” “Stop going on in the old way. Don’t go on any longer subject to all the heartache and misery and malice and hatred and resentment and oppression which comes from the old creation. Rather, break loose and be free in Jesus Christ!”
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I do thank you for your gifts. It is your faithful and continued support that makes these messages possible.