Monday, June 4, 2012

What is Paul's Mystery of the Messiah?

Reading: Ephesians 2–3  
Paul speaks of the mystery of the Gospel throughout his epistles, but it is more concentrated in Ephesians than any other place. What is this mystery? Paul said it had been kept hidden in times past, but is now revealed (Romans 16:25-26; Colossians 1:26), and it was central to his preaching and ministry (1 Corinthians 2:1, 7; 4:1). At times, identifying this mystery can feel a bit like nailing jello to a wall. However, Ephesians 2–3 probably help us get to a core understanding of it as much as any text.
In order to understand what this mystery of the Gospel let's look at Ephesians 3:4-6:
By reading this you are able to understand my insight about the mystery of the Messiah. 5This was not made known to people in other generations as it is now revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: 6The Gentiles are co-heirs, members of the same body, and partners of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (Ephesians 3:4-6 HCSB)
This is a clear and concise statement of the mystery of the Gospel. Let's break it down a bit.
Why is it a mystery?
It is a mystery because it was not revealed by God's spirit to the people of God in generations past with the same clarity that it is now through the apostles and prophets in the New Covenant era. In other words, while the prophets talked about it, they talked about it with veiled references. It is likely that they were veiled in speaking about it because they themselves didn't not see it clearly (see 1 Peter 1:10-12).
It isn't a mystery because it is hard to understand now, but it is hard to understand or clearly see if all we look at is the Old Testament. We need the New Testament (the writings of the apostles and prophets) in order to clearly understand what is being said in the Old Testament. Last year, we went through Isaiah as a church on Sunday mornings and because we were able to read it through the lens of the New Testament, we could see Jesus and the church all over the pages of Isaiah. (Click here to listen to those messages.)
What is being revealed that was a mystery?
The Gentiles are co-heirs, members of the same body, partners of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.
Co-heirs of what? The inheritance of the promise given to Abraham. In other words, we [I am a gentile by birth] are the children of promise, the children of Abraham, just as much as a Jewish believer in the Messiah is. To put it in Gospel language, you may recall the account of the woman whose daughter was tormented by a demon. Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.... It is not right to take children's bread (Israelites) and cast it to the dogs (Gentiles).” Well here is the mystery simply put: Gentiles who believe in Christ are not dogs any longer, but are the children. So, it is now accurate to say that the lost sheep of the house of Israel are those children God is gathering from all over the world (the distant shores, or islands, as Isaiah would have said it). (For a sermon on the account of Jesus and the woman He called a dog click here.)
Gentile believers are members of the same body, not a different body, but the same body to whom the promises of Abraham were given. Ephesians 2:11-22 makes this perfectly clear.
11Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" … 12remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace... 19Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of his household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
The church is the one body, the one household of God, the one inheritor of the promise given to Abraham in Genesis 12–22. This mystery is revealed all over the pages of the New Testament. As you read through the New Testament look for this mystery and it will begin to pop out at you all over the place. Enjoy your reading.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,