Sermon: God’s Secret Plan (Ephesians 3:1-13)

Text: Ephesians 3:1-13
The Epiphany of our Lord
Listen to the sermon here.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Traditional mysteries often follow a pattern. The classic mysteries are set in a manor house in Scotland with a small cast of characters: an elderly widow, a servant with peculiar habits, and a distant relative who has inexplicably shown up for a visit after many years. The usual event is a tragic death, which turns out to be a murder. As the detective investigates the case, he often finds that there is intrigue going on over who is to receive a sizeable inheritance. The clues in the case are assembled. The police are confused and follow the wrong track. But eventually the master detective solves the case and shows how the pieces of the story fit together. In the final pages, the mystery is solved. The meaning is made known to the readers. The story is over.

“Mystery” is the term that occurs fives times in our reading from Ephesians. But, when Paul uses “mystery,” you shouldn’t be thinking about whodunnits. It’s not that kind of mystery. Then what does Paul means by mystery? Paul tells us what he means by mystery. “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (3:6). What Paul is calling mystery is not a whodunnit mystery. It’s all about God’s secret plan. This secret plan has three points. 

First, gentiles get to share the inheritance. The mystery is not about intrigue surrounding who is to receive the inheritance. It’s God’s secret plan to give the inheritance away too freely. God has written a whole new group of heirs into his will. What might have looked like a strange innovation is in fact what God had had in mind all along. God had drawn up the secret plan for a worldwide, multi-ethnic family right from the very start. It’s one thing to hear news of a family down the street who has come into a large and wealthy inheritance. It’s quite another thing to be told that you are to become full members in that family, with instant privileges identical to theirs! That’s the situation that Christian Gentiles find themselves in. Gentiles are to share in this inheritance — they are now part of God’s people. This doesn’t even shortchange the original heirs, because there are “boundless riches” in Christ (3:8). There’s plenty of grace to go around. 

Second, gentiles are to become fellow members of one body.  This is a story that has to do with the vast group known as the Gentiles — non-Jews, the people of every race, tribe, colour, and language. The scale of God’s mystery does not fit into a Scottish manor house. It takes up the whole world.  The Gentiles are an unlikely group for God to be including in the inheritance. Gentiles were those who worshiped false gods. They were not the worshipers of the God of Israel. God had already promised his people Israel that they will inherit the world (cf. Rom 4:13). When God renews the whole creation, he promised that his people would inherit it. 

But, God’s secret plan is that Gentiles get to enjoy the full rights and privileges of being part of God’s family. Gentiles, used to be separated from God and his people, but now in Christ, the two have been made one. Gentile Christians aren’t simply to be second-class citizens. They are to be just as part of the Body of Christ as Jewish Christians are. The secret plan is that God always intended to bring Gentiles, the non-Jewish peoples of the world, into fellowship with himself, on equal terms with his ancient people the Jews. And the good news—the ‘gospel’—is that God accomplished this through Jesus the Jewish Messiah, Jesus who is also the world’s true Lord.

Third, this means that gentiles get to have an equal share in all the promises. All God’s promises had been made to Abraham and his family; now that family is shown to be a worldwide multi-ethnic family. The promises of God are received by faith, not privilege. It is through faith in Christ that the Gentiles are brought into relationship with God and given the inheritance. The secret plan that was revealed to Paul was that God was not going to let the Gentiles be separated from him. Instead, God has acted to bring them into a new relationship with him. And Jesus was the way God did that. Sin separates all people from God. All people-Jews and Gentiles-have the exact same need of mercy. No one has an inborn right to be an heir of God’s grace. No race gets any special privileges. All people without exception are called to repent and trust in Jesus. To be a part of God’s family and an heir is to relate to God on the basis of faith. People are God’s children now, by faith. And faith trusts the future promise of resurrection, the inheritance of a new creation.

What does this mean for us here today? God’s secret plan is that the death and resurrection of Christ allow all people to enter equally into God’s promises. This secret plan is not just for a special few. No, this secret plan is realised and manifest in the church. Communities which are oppressed and outcast in our world have perfect equality in God’s kingdom. In the Church, different people with different backgrounds, some even hostile to one another, have been united into one family. We need to show this same love to one another. We need to show this same love to everyone no matter who they are. 

The Church is supposed to be a living witness to the power of the gospel to reconcile people both to God and each other. All of the world’s races, tribes, and peoples have been brought into one mighty family, into one organic whole.  And you should be able to see this is in the Church. Christianity is not a European, Anglo-Saxon religion. We need to take serious inventory of our own attitudes in this regard. The Church has always been multi-ethnic. There is absolutely no place in Christianity for racism or prejudice of any kind. God shows no partiality, or prejudice against any race, but his mercy and compassion are extended to all. We are all equally oppressed by sin, and the golden gate of privilege is opened wide for absolutely anyone who trusts in God’s promises. Salvation is a gift of God, from start to finish. Anybody can receive it, but no one can lay claim to it on their own merit or because they had some special privilege. We are all equal before the throne of God. 

This is good news because you were once exiled and excluded from God. You were once on the outside, and because of God’s secret plan, because Christ by his death and resurrection has broken down all divisions, you are able to call yourself a Christian. Because of God’s secret plan, you have an inheritance, you are part of God’s family, you have God’s promises. 

This mystery is the secret plan of God. The Holy Spirit has now made known what used to be concealed. God’s secret plan is that the Gentiles get to share the inheritance, become fellow members of the same family, and fellow participants in the promises. Now that God’s secret plan has been revealed, those who were excluded are now included. This means that you have been included and it implies that you should not exclude anyone else, because God doesn’t exclude you!

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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