“A Mystery Revealed”

Ephesians 3:1-13

Last week we took an in depth contextualized look at the first three verses of Ephesians 3 which explained why Paul was in prison and why he was writing to the Ephesian churches. 


Today we will begin with verses 3-6 where Paul goes on to elaborate his part in revealing the mystery made known to him, the mystery of Christ, the mystery through the Gospels. Here is where we need to again read contextually. The word mystery for the Greeks and Hebrews is not what it means for us today. When we hear the word “mystery” we think of something incomprehensible, not clearly understood. For me, the word mystery is linked to something like an Agatha Christie novel. We think a mystery is a puzzle that no one can figure out, until one person can. 

That’s not what the word mystery means in the Bible. For the Bible it simply means something not known, now made known. Nobody knew anything about it at all, and now it is wide open, public, for everyone to see and know. 

Here’s what Paul is referring to. When you read the Old Testament, you can clearly get the idea that all nations will be blessed. Think of what God said to Abraham, Genesis 18:18, 

“Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.”

But the idea that non-Jewish believers would enter God’s family and all of the Jewish “markers” would be eradicated and done away with, was never entertained. Even the mention of such a concept would have ticked a lot of Jewish people off. No way was that supposed to happen.

But there was Paul, about as excellent a Jew as ever lived, and he was placing everything on that very claim. One did not have to become “Jewish” to follow Jesus. God’s salvation was free for everyone, every nation, every tongue, every culture. The only common thing necessary was faith in Jesus. 

Here is the picture Paul had in his mind. 

First, you need to go back to the beginning. God creates humans. The Garden of Eden scene, all is wonderful.

  1. This all goes well, until humans decide to seize their independence from God. This act of sin divided the human race into a million different fragments of individualized families.

  1. Paul reads the Torah and what he sees is God choosing one of these broken, individualized families, out of all the nations, through whom He is going to bring redemption and healing. That family’s name is “Israel.” 

  1. God gives them the commands of the Torah. He brought them to Mount Sinai and commissions them to become a witness to the other nations through how they live. They were to demonstrate love, mercy and justice. They were also to be different, by having cultural markers such as circumcision, sabbath and dietary laws. Israel does good in some areas, and poorly in others in their part of the commission.

  1. Israel does not fulfill the call to be generous, loving, and full of justice for the other nations. In fact, they actually take the cultural markers God gave them and turn them into the opposite of their purpose. 

They turn them into cultural pride. Every culture has this. Their unique ways of music, food, or dress. It’s a way of asserting our identity. This is what makes me who I am and establishes the boundaries of how to “fit in” to my culture. This is how I know who is in and who is out. If you don’t do things the way my culture says is best, basically you stink. 

  1. Both Paul and Jesus make the point that the Israelites forfeited their claim to be a light to the nations. Jesus Christ came to do what the Israelites couldn’t do. In Jesus’ life of complete obedience to the Torah, and His love and forgiveness to every person He came into contact with, He was not only being the ultimate Jew, He was being the ultimate human. 

  1. Paul sees what Christ does on the cross and in his resurrection as healing the brokenness that was created. Jesus absorbs the train wreck of human pride and sin. He bears this spiritually and literally. It was the hostility of the Jewish leaders with the Roman leaders that created the scene of Jesus hanging on a cross. Go back to chapter 2 in Ephesians and look at what Paul wrote, verse 14 – 16, 

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by 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, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 

This is the story of the Gospel. Paul sees that whomever grabs onto Jesus, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus gets transferred to them. 

God’s love and mercy is so much greater than the worlds’ sin. 

Jesus’ purpose was to create one new humanity, a new family. 

Paul emphasizes that there is only one way to enter this family – by confession of our own pride, 

our own messes and then 

confess the need for a Savior, 

who is Jesus Christ. 

So in this new humanity, or what Paul calls “the Church,” anyone can enter, regardless of their culture, dietary habits, music they play in worship, political bent, you name it, as long as they put their faith in Jesus and then put Jesus Christ as Lord of their lives. 

This is the mystery made known, look again at verse 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.

Paul continues in verse 7 to share that if there is anyone who should be barred from this new family, on his own merits, it would be him. Paul had been a murderer of followers of Jesus. 

But God’s grace invited Paul to be a member of His new family. Paul was given this grace and commissioned by Jesus in verse 9,

to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 

This new humanity doesn’t erase all of our cultural differences. 

It’s just that all of our ugly, sinful, prideful desires get dropped at the cross and what is left is the beautiful cultural differences that God created that remain. 

Yes but why? Verse 10 & 11,

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, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul again brings up the idea of “the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” This isn’t the first time we have heard about these powers. Paul has a conviction that evil in our world cannot be explained by human condition. He has told us about this realm where spiritual beings or demons exist. They influence and speak lies to human beings in order to destroy. 

When Paul talks about people giving into these spiritual beings he talks about Satan or the devil, but when he talks about whole cultures or people groups giving in, he talks about the “powers.” This is intentional. 

Paul tells us that God’s intent of creating a new humanity, or the Church, 

which is made up of culturally different human beings, with their myriad of differences, 

with only one thing in common, 

their belief in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, 

is proof of God’s wisdom and 

challenges the Powers. 

The Powers is Paul’s way of talking about how evil distorts and reflects whole human societies in the manner of cultural pride.  

It’s happening everywhere humans exist. There is a way to describe this, “the homogeneous principle.” It’s defined as 

“people who have learned 

via their cultural conditioning 

to prefer each other, 

do in fact, 

prefer to be together.”

In the article, “Re-Thinking Homogeneity: The Biblical Case for Multi-Ethnic Churches” which I allude to on the back of today’s bulleting in the Pastor’s Pondering, Aubrey Sequeira writes:

Both in North America and in missions work worldwide, the “homogeneous unit principle” of church growth has been unquestioningly assumed as the most effective way to multiply disciples and plant “strategic” churches.¹ 

Churches grow fastest, church growth gurus say, when the gospel is propagated along existing social lines and networks and when people do not have to cross ethnic, cultural, or class barriers to become Christians.2 People are thus grouped together into churches demarcated by ethno-linguistic distinctions, tribal or caste distinctions, social and economic status, education level, profession, and even common affinity groups—such as churches for cowboys or NASCAR-lovers (this is not hyperbole, Google them!).

We exist in a time when whether you like it or not, someone is going to put you in a category. I find it happens to me wherever I go. If I meet with a group of Christians who consider themselves “conservative” within minutes of talking with them I am considered an outsider and labeled, “liberal.” When I meet with liberal Christians, and we start discussing topics I am quickly seen as “conservative.” Never the twain shall meet. 

Unless we are at the foot of the cross. 

Paul explains that whenever we allow any sort of identifiable marker or identity to determine who we are, the powers will be right on it, 

to divide human beings. 

It may be serious, 

it may be silly, 

but it is the world we live in. 

Paul calls us to belong to a group of human beings, that no longer let the distorted tribal prejudices and pride, wreak havoc in our relationships. 

The existence of the Church, the family of God should be just that. 

We should be ones who humble ourselves at the foot of the cross and say, “I am a sinner, saved by God’s grace.”  I belong to a community of people who are also sinners saved by God’s grace. I may hate the music they listen to, and I don’t understand why they wear those clothes or pierce their nose, and the way they talk makes me feel uncomfortable sometimes, but you know what, I probably come across that way sometimes to them. 



I am really glad Jesus saved us. 

Paul is telling us that when we live like the Church that God intended, we cancel out the ability of the Powers to have influence and divide. When we live like the Church that God intended, the powers don’t get to define what happens in God’s Church. 

This is how Paul puts it in Galatians 3:28

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, – ethnicity doesn’t rule

neither slave nor free, – economics doesn’t rule

nor is there male and female, – gender doesn’t rule

for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – we are equal in God’s family

Check in time.

How should reading this passage change our lives? 

There are a couple of ways I believe it should affect us:

First – It should humble our tribal pride. Whether it is on a personal level or the group level, the majority of our disagreements boil down to the fact that one or both sides think they are better than the other, or more correct than the other. 

Paul reminds us that membership in the family of God should humble us all to the same place, sinners before God in need of grace. 

Second – The powers will try to introduce division to us. Paul’s answer to this… we need to go to Ephesians 4:26

“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. 

In this new family, Paul knows you are going to get angry. Notice Paul didn’t write, 

Do not get angry and do not sin.” 

That’s because he knew that when different types of people get together, they have the tendency to tick each other off. Different people do things we don’t like, a given. Paul tells us, when it happens, don’t sin, don’t let the sun go down, deal with it right away. 

Don’t harbor nasty feelings. Because when you do, the devil steps in and gets a foothold. 

The sign of a healthy church is not the absence of conflict but the presence of the willingness to meet together and work it out. Move towards the person, forgive and  reconcile. No matter what the issues, there is common ground before the cross. His name is Jesus.

Ask the Lord to show you if you have an area of personal pride. Then ask Him to help you let it go. 

May the grace given to us, be the grace we offer others. 

Let’s pray.

God’s Grace Received ~ God’s Grace Shared