Week Commencing 22nd April 2018   With a PDF found here

Notes for next Sunday’s sermon on Ephesians 3:1-13

Week 3: CONFIDENT FREEDOM

“In the second half of Ephesians 2, Paul painted a vivid contrast between the double alienation the Gentiles endured before Christ (from God and Israel) and their double reconciliation through Christ. For by his death Christ demolished the Jew-Gentile and God-man barriers, and is now creating a single, new multi-cultural human society, which is both the family God loves and the temple he lives in!” John Stott.

DAY 1: Read Ephesians 3:1-6

Whilst literally a prisoner of the Emperor Nero, Paul sees himself as a prisoner of Jesus and understands that this is for the Gentiles. Paul understands that God is sovereign in all things and so sees that the whole of his life, including his being locked up is under the lordship of Jesus. What led to his arrest in Jerusalem, his imprisonment, his trials and his appeal to Caesar which had brought him to Rome was fanatical opposition to his mission to the Gentiles. As he preached his vision of this new humanity he has just outlined, he suffered for doing so!

It would appear from v14, that Paul was just about to share more about how he prays for the Ephesians, but then interrupting himself, wants to return the theme of the Gentile mission to further unpack the plans and purposes of God.

Paul speaks of “God’s grace that was given to me” both in v2 and v7. Here, the grace consists of a revelation – something that was made known to Paul. In v7, he refers to his commission to proclaim that revelation, but we’ll get to that in a moment. What was revealed to Paul? We don’t have to guess for v4 tells us – that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body and sharers together in the promise of Christ Jesus.

Paul is wanting his readers to reflect again on what he has said in the previous passage because it is so ground-breaking! It is such a radical, watershed, eye-opening moment that Gentiles can be welcomed into God’s family and be one with the people of Israel!

I’m not sure that we Gentiles in 2018, will ever fully grasp the Jew-Gentile divide. And although we know that God’s plan way back in Genesis 12:1-3 was that through Israel, Gentiles would be drawn to him, Israel itself had lost sight of that as a nation. But praise God friends, that by God’s grace, God’s great world mission was made known to Paul, and through him to us! Rejoice again this morning in the incomparable riches of his grace to you!

DAY 2: Read again Ephesians 3:1-6

Three times in this short paragraph, Paul uses the word ‘mystery’. We think of mystery as something dark, obscure, secret and puzzling. However, the Greek word means a secret which has now been made known. The ‘mystery’ of the Gospel and God’s plans, have now been revealed to us and belong openly to the whole church. It is something once hidden from human knowledge or understanding, but now disclosed because God has revealed it.

Here, as commented yesterday, it refers to how Gentiles are fellow heirs. It concerns Christ and his one Jewish-Gentile people. Paul is declaring that Gentile and Jewish Christians together are now fellow heirs of the same blessing, fellow-members of the same body and fellow-partakers of the same promise!

So, the ‘mystery of Christ’ is the complete union of Jews and Gentiles with each other through the union of both with Christ. It is this double union, with Christ and with each other, which was the substance of the ‘mystery’. God has revealed it particularly to Paul, but it has also been made known to God’s holy apostles and prophets (v5).

Although God had revealed his purposes to one day bring the Gentiles to himself and that Israel was to be a light to the nations, what is new here is that the theocracy (the Jewish nation under God’s rule) would be terminated and replaced by a new international community, the church ‘that this church would be the ‘body of Christ’, organically united to him’ and that Jews and Gentiles would be incorporated into Christ and his church on equal terms without any distinction! It was this complete union of Jews, Gentiles and Christ which was radically new and which God revealed to Paul – thereby overturning, the entrenched Jewish prejudice of Paul and so many Jews!

DAY 3: Read Ephesians 3:7-13

Now that this amazing mystery has been made known, it need to be proclaimed. And Paul celebrates another gift of God’s grace, namely, that to him was given the awesome privilege of telling Gentiles that they could now be included in Christ and reconciled to God. Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace which was given me. He would exercise this grace, through the working of God’s power.

Paul sees this as an enormous privilege especially because he sees himself as less than the least of God’s people. It’s possible he was playing on the meaning of his name – Paulus is Latin for ‘little’ or ‘small’ and tradition says he was a little man. ‘I am little’, he may be saying, ‘little by name, little in stature and morally, and spiritually littler than the littlest of all Christians’. “In affirming this, he is neither indulging in hypocrisy nor grovelling in self-depreciation. He means it. He is deeply conscious both of his own unworthiness because he ‘formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted’ Jesus Christ”. Stott. He is also deeply aware of Christ’s overflowing mercy towards him.

We are not Paul, nor have we been given his charge. But we are similarly, recipients of the riches of God’s grace and mercy and we are called on to salt and light, to give an answer for the hope we have and to be part of that great work as God’s people to ‘make disciples of all nations’. An amazing and awesome privilege!

DAY 4: Read again Ephesians 3:7-13

Paul was to announce the riches of God’s mercy made available through the cross: resurrection from the death of sin, victorious enthronement with Christ in the heavenlies, reconciliation with God, incorporation with Jewish believers in his new society, the end of hostility and the beginning of peace, access to the Father through Christ and by the Spirit, membership of his kingdom and household, being an integral part of his dwelling place (his temple), and all this, only a foretaste of yet more riches to come, namely the riches of the glory of the inheritance which God will give to all his people on the last day. No wonder Paul calls these riches unsearchable!

Paul is to announce these riches, not only to Gentiles, v8, not only to ‘everyone’ v9, but through the church, they are to be announced to rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms! We are to think of them as spectators of the drama of salvation, as God fulfils his plan to bring everything under Christ! How wonderful, that supernatural beings are also seeing the riches of God’s grace!

Finally, don’t miss the outcome of these riches: v12 – that we may now approach God with freedom and confidence!! Revel in that freedom and confidence today!! Praise God!

References: “The Message of Ephesians”, John Stott. Some words and sentences used without change.