Paul discussed the second dimension of the effect of his ministry — the distribution of universal knowledge. He says it was given to him “to make all men see what the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things is . . .” Isaiah, in that great ninth chapter of his prophecy, predicted that the people who walked in darkness would see a great light, that those who dwelt in the land of deep darkness, would the light shine. And then he goes on in that chapter to write that well-known verse:
For unto us a child is born,
unto us a son is given,
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called,
“Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God,
The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6)
He is the light which illuminates the darkness, and this is exactly what Paul says. The word translated “to make (all men) see” really means “to enlighten” all men — to enlighten all men of the knowledge of this mystery. And it should be the “stewardship” of the mystery, literally, instead of the “plan” of the mystery. Paul took great pride in enlightening men with this great secret. He knew the fantastic benefit that this mystery is when someone understands and believes. Once someone embraces this mystery, their life changes.
And this is why he ties with this the phrase “God who created all things.” God has ordained life to this end, and it is he who enables men to reach out, to learn, to grasp, to understand.
All you have to do is look at the history of the U.S. in the last ten years to see how true this is. When the light of the gospel begins to grow dim, then immediately anarchy, lawlessness, violence, rebellion, and revolution start to increase immediately. Superstition, occultism, perversion, and darkness come flooding in as soon as the light begins to dim. Scriptures teach us this on the physical level. Light a candle in a dark room, and it is mostly darkness with a little light. Enter a room where there are electrical light fixtures, and the darkness is completely gone. The moment you turn on the switch, it disappears. But turn that switch off, the darkness returns.
Paul knew this great secret. He was aware that the enjoyment of human life, of pleasures and recreation, is entirely dependent on the gospel penetrating the hearts of the people. So, he gloried in spreading this word in the dark and weary pagan community into which he came in that first Century.
We need to understand, as this verse tells us, that this mystery was hidden until the world was ready for it. The world needed to be prepared for this great secret. And all the ages of history before the coming of the Lord Jesus were simply the Creator’s way of getting the world ready for the unfolding of this tremendous mystery — the glory of a man, Jesus, who fulfills the wonder of uniting our God and man and makes us partakers of His divine nature. There is nothing in all the world like this great secret. And humanity had to be ready for it. I ran across a very helpful quotation from Dr. Arthur Custance (1910-1985) http://www.custance.org/, the Canadian anthropologist from The Centre for Science and Christianity:
The processes of history have special significance because the crucifixion could not be merely an isolated event occurring in some dark age of lawlessness and barbarism, or in some corner of the earth where knowledge of it might filter back into the world only by accident. It was an event which had to be appropriated, witnessed, and recorded, which had to be performed in an orderly, legal way, according to an accepted standard of behavior and judgment to which mankind as a whole would give rational consent. It had to occur at a time when the event itself would be sufficiently public, one might say publicized, that there could never be doubt about its having happened. It had to come to pass when there was a sufficiently sophisticated and dependable means of communicating the news to a large population that was not merely numerous but fluid, so that word of it could be carried far and wide.
He goes on to discuss the need for a legal code, and for the police force with sufficient strength to prevent a lynching, and a universal language, so the message would be culturally universal. And then he says,
These circumstances may have occurred repeatedly since that time, and perhaps upon occasion in an even more effective way. But it is almost certain that this was the first time that the circumstances had all occurred together. The Roman Empire guaranteed, at least for a short while, a world ideally ordered as a proper setting, both cultural and legal.
This is what Paul meant when, in Galatians, he said, “When the fullness of the time came, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law . . . so that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). This was the beginning of the unfolding of this fantastic mystery which is the secret of the governing of human lives.
The last thing the apostle says is that his ministry had the effect of demonstrating of a unique wisdom: “that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.” This is a revelation in which these “principalities and powers” are learning something by observing the church. What does he mean? Well, this is one of the instances that Scripture clearly states that an invisible spiritual kingdom surrounds us made up both of demons and angels.
In Ephesians 6 Paul says, “We don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers in the heavenly places — wicked spirits from the very headquarters of evil itself” Ephesians 6:12). But we also learn from other passages that angels are watching us. It is as if we are on stage in a great theater, with the angels gathered around, watching us, learning from what is happening here in the lives of believers. This is why, in First Corinthians 11, Paul writes to women that their dress and the way they act toward their husbands teaches the angels something. He says it should be correct “because of the angels” (1 Corinthians 11:10). Angels are watching and learning. What are they learning? Let me share with you another quotation from Dr. Custance:
The key to the existence of such a universe as this lies, I believe, in the fact that God wished to show forth that aspect of his being which the angels have never comprehended, namely his love, without at the same time surrendering that part of his being which they do comprehend, namely his holiness.
So the revelation of the mystery is essentially the revelation of the love of God — in ways that make the angels amazed and startled as they learn the great secrets of God’s love. We see why Peter wrote in his first letter that our salvation is so tremendous that the angels longed to look into these things. What does he mean? Well, that it is demonstrating Yahweh’s incredible love through the church in such a way as to startle and amaze the angels, as they see the “many-colored” wisdom of God. The word translated manifold here is the “many-colored” wisdom of God.
Why did Peter choose this poetic adjective, which is very rare in the New Testament? Because, as we know, life consists of many colors. There are blue Mondays and red hours of anger and passion. Golden moments of glory, and dark, somber valleys we must pass. And lush, green pastures we are sometimes led. All of these are chosen by the love of our Father. That is what he means. God’s love is manifest in all of these colors of life. His many colors of wisdom are aspects of his love. So, when you go through a blue time, you will see Yahweh’s love. When you go through a dark and pressured time, somber and discouraging, the love of God will be manifested. No, you may not see it immediately, but later, our Father will make it clear.
Even the joyful times are manifestations of the many-colored wisdom of God. And, as the angels watch us, they see us slowly losing our cool and fretting our God’s love. We are so silly that way.
We learn to trust our Father’s care; to turn from our fears, and renew ourselves with His strength. We begin to draw on His great and mighty promises in the hour of pressure and danger. The moment the angels see this, their praise starts to ring out in amazement and wonder at a God am the God of justice, the God of infinite holiness whom they know — who is also able to find a way by which he can lavish his love upon the very ones who deserve his wrath. This makes the angels praise God. They glory as Charles Wesley captured it in that great hymn that I love to sing: “Tis mystery all, the Immortal died.” Imagine that — the Immortal died! “Who can explore this strange design? In vain the first-born serif tries to solve the depths of love divine. ‘Tis mercy all, let earth adore, and angel minds inquire no more.” You can never completely solve the mystery of God’s amazing love, manifested in the many-colored wisdom which leads us into the circumstances of our life. But this edifies the angels (and teaches the demons), of the nature of the greatness of the God we serve. Paul never lets us forget where it all originate. Verse 11:
This was according to the eternal purpose [literally, “the ordering of the ages”] which he has realized[accomplished] in Christ Jesus our Lord, (Ephesians 3:11)
It all comes through him. In Christ, God has ordered the ages so as to produce the unveiling of this great mystery. This means that all of time and all of history is woven together by the hand of God to bring to pass these great events. Paul and the other apostles proclaimed it. And it is now our privilege to declare it among men. And Paul goes on to link it with these words:
. . . in whom[in Jesus Christ our Lord] we have boldness and confidence of access through our faith in him. (Ephesians 3:12)
We weak, frail, fumbling, human creatures have access to come in confidence before such a God boldly and to pour out our needs before him. To find him to be a compassionate, tender, loving father who is concerned to bring to bear all the power of his omnipotence to work out the problems of our lives. Is there any message greater than this that man could ever hear? What a glorious message! No wonder Paul got excited! No wonder he was amazed at the wonder that this message should be committed to him, that he should declare this word and find people discovering these unsearchable riches of Christ! That the universal knowledge of the great secret which explains how to unravel all human misery and heartache and problems results in this tremendous demonstration which teaches the heavenly beings — the angels, the demons, the principalities, the powers — truths about our God they would never know otherwise. No wonder Paul cried out in amazement at the glory of this mystery. The moment I understood this wonder, I began to run around our coffee table shouting, “Family, family! You have to see this!
Now, this was the mystery which was revealed at Bethlehem. Unfolded before all of the Christmas characters and all of the animals was the human babe — nestling in the arms of his mother — who was the full glory of what God has done for man. Maybe you are reading this, but have never found Jesus Christ as your Lord. It is even quite possible, of course, to have come to church regularly, and to heard these truths preached over and over, but never to have made them personally yours. But their whole effect is lost until you are born again — born into this new creation by faith in Jesus Christ. So you may desire, in the quiet and solitude of your own heart, to invite Jesus Christ in and to ask him to be your Lord and your Savior, your Redeemer and your King.
If that is your situation, I invite you to pray:
Jesus, I have heard the story of your birth in Bethlehem. I thought it was mostly childhood fables, like Santa and his reindeer. But I am suddenly driven to boldly embrace the glory of this mystery which breaks the power of darkness in my life. Set me free from the kingdom of Satan, and bring me into the kingdom of your love. Break the chains and habits which have enslaved me and bring me into the liberty that is available to me.
Lord, I want to praise your name with such joy and thanksgiving that your heart is delighted. My desire is to be pleasing in your sight, so that, as you look at me, it will be as the angels sang so long ago: “Glory to God on the highest and on earth, peace among men with whom he is well pleased.” Amen.
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I do thank you for your gifts. It is your faithful and continued support that makes these messages possible.