[This is a sermon I preached on August 20, 2017 in Nairobi Chapel Karen]
Introduction – Good morning everyone! This month we are beginning a new sermon series exploring the letter to the Ephesians. I am calling it The Mystery. As we get into our exploration of Ephesians, let me share with you two major ways for us to engage with the Bible. One way is for us to look at the big picture, to seek to understand the Bible as a whole. This requires you to read large sections each day, several chapters, to get the entire picture of the Bible, and the whole story. If you have never read through the entire Bible, I would really encourage you to do so, and to do so within one year, because that gives you the story, and when you are finishing you can still remember a bit of the early books, what you were reading at the beginning of the year. If one year is a challenge, you can also do it in two years, and this way you’re sure you have read every book and every chapter of the Bible. For many years this is the way I would engage with the Bible, and I used to read through the entire Bible every single year.
But I have found there are some downsides to reading so much. When I read 4 or 5 chapters, by the time I’m finished, I don’t always remember the first chapter I’ve read. I guess I’m also getting older than I used to be… Sometimes I’ve found myself reading for the sake of checking it off my list, and then later in the day I try to remember what I read in the morning, and I remember hardly anything. One way to help with this is write down the highlights and a summary of what you read, to aid in your comprehension. But there’s also another way to read the Bible – to focus, to take one book or even one chapter, even a few verses, and to saturate yourself in that text.
Over the last few months, that’s what I did for the book of Ephesians. I have studied it before, but over the last several weeks I read it again and again, a few times all six chapters in one sitting. I read it in more than 21 times all the way through, in several different translations.
I am also in the process of writing down the entire text of Ephesians in my prayer journal, from chapter 1 to chapter 6. This can really you to see the flow of a letter, and be able to circle and underline words and sections that seem especially important as you write them out. As I have been reading and writing out Ephesians, I was trying to look for repeated words and phrases to give me an idea of what Paul is trying to say in Ephesians, of what the main ideas are. There was one that really jumped out at me – the idea of the ‘mystery’. That word is actually almost the same in Greek, musterion, and that is where our English word comes from. It comes from the root word ‘to learn the secret’, like when Paul says in Philippians that he has learned the secret of contentment in all things. This word mystery is used 6 times in Ephesians: 1:9, 3:3, 3:4, 3:9, 5:32, 6:19. It is tied with 1 Corinthians as the two books with the most usage of that word, each with 6 occurrences. This concept of mystery will provide a major theme that will guide us in the weeks ahead as we work through the chapters of Ephesians to understand what Paul is saying.
Background – Ephesus was one of the largest and most important cities both in the Roman Empire and in the New Testament. It is both an ancient Greek city with a lot of history, but also a Roman capital city of its province, so wealthy and important. During Roman times, the population was approximately 250,000 people, about the size of Nakuru today. It was the main port for its region (modern day Turkey). Here is a map showing the location of Ephesus. The houses had running water, an amphitheater that could seat 25,000 and still stands today. It had a major library that is also still partially standing today. It also hosted the temple of Artemis, one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. Ephesus is considered a center of magical practice related to worship of Artemis.
I’ve had the amazing privilege of visiting Ephesus, and it was a wonderful experience. For our honeymoon, BG and I did a kind of reverse Paul’s missionary journey, going from Rome to Athens to Ephesus and also Crete, all places that Paul also visited. Here is a picture of us in Ephesus, standing in the front of the remains of the old library. I will never forget how it felt to be in the same place and walk over the same streets and the same stones that those heroes of the Bible walked on thousands of years ago. Here’s another photo that gives a higher view of that library and the street. Also on that note, I’d also like to issue a word of caution, that if you’re a young lady here who is looking for a potential husband, just be very careful that your interests are generally compatible with your fiancé. Especially if you are considering marrying a pastor, and sometimes you don’t even know, because I wasn’t even a pastor then. Otherwise you may end up on a honeymoon like ours…so be very careful. That’s just on a light note.
In the New Testament, Ephesus plays a very prominent role. As we go through the book of Ephesians this month, please take time to read Acts 19, which tells about Paul’s three years of ministry there during his 3rd missionary journey. The ministry I used to lead at Ngong Road was named Tyrannus Hall after the building in Ephesus where Paul instructed new believers in their faith for two years. 1st and possibly 2nd Corinthians were written from Ephesus. Colossae is close to Ephesus and the letter to the Colossians is very similar to Ephesus. 1st and 2nd Timothy were written to instruct and encourage Timothy in his ministry in the church of Ephesus. Finally, Ephesus is one of the seven churches who are addressed in the book of Revelation. Clearly, it will be well worth our time to spend the next month going through the letter to the Ephesians.
Please turn with me to Ephesians chapter 1, from verse 3 to 14. The letters of Bible times generally began by saying the author of the letter, in this case Paul, then the recipient of the letter, and then a prayer of thanksgiving. What we are about to read is both a prayer of thanksgiving and an introductory summary of what his letter is about, the themes he will unpack in the chapters to come. Let’s read it together.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
To understand our passage better, I’d like to point out that in the original text verses 3 – 14 is one sentence! Can you believe that, the entire passage I just read was originally one sentence in Greek. In English, it would be very hard to read that way, so almost every translation has broken it up into many sentences. This must be one of the longest sentences in the Bible. Literally it begins in verse 3 by saying ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,’ and that is the main verb, the main clause, and all the rest of the sentence is explaining why God is blessed, and what he has done for us through salvation.
Our message today is called ‘What is the mystery?’ Today we are asking why Paul uses this term, and why does he repeat it 6 times within this short letter? Let’s review verses 8 and 9 again: “With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to use the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” It sounds like this mystery is pretty important, if it can bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth.
To define what Paul means by mystery, we will need to look at chapter 3. Chapter 3 is where Paul gives the clearest definition of what the mystery is. Please turn with me to chapter 3, and I’m going to read from verse 4 to verse 6.
4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 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. (Eph 3:4-6 NIV)
At the time Paul was writing, this was still a ground breaking development. The Jews had been the chosen people of God for generations, hundreds and hundreds of years. In order to receive the promises of God in the Old Testament, it had to be done through the Jewish revelation of God. Many people, including Rahab, Ruth, Cyrus, and others, and participated in God’s promises in various ways, but it was connected to the Jewish people and the work God was doing through Israel.
God revealed this mystery through the apostles and prophets, leaders such as Peter, Paul, John and others, and the focus of the entire New Testament is to unpack what this means, and how we live because of it. Do we need to be circumcised? Can we eat pork? Do we need to observe the Sabbath and the Jewish feasts? Can we eat with Romans and Greeks and other heathen non-believers? These are the questions that dominate the New Testament. In this passage, Paul is trying to explain and answer some of these questions.
Main Point: The mystery is that salvation has been given to everyone.
I believe that many of us probably take this for granted, but this was an amazing development that we need to understand and appreciate. Most likely none of us in this room right now are Jews. And yet all of us have heard the message of salvation, and we all participate in the promises originally given to Israel. Did you know that you participate in the promises made to Israel? Notice exactly how Paul explains it in chapter 3 verse 6. He gives three things:
- We are heirs together with Israel
- Members together of one body
- Sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus
Being an heir means that you have an inheritance – it means God has set aside certain things that are designated just for us. All of us are eligible to receive the Holy Spirit when we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior. We are all entitled to the gifts, the fruits, and power, the intercession, and the enabling of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Paul explains that the Holy Spirit is actually a deposit, a down-payment to guarantee that the rest of our inheritance is coming. You know when you move into a new house, and you have a pay a deposit first? Or when you’re buying a car and you make your first payment, with a balance remaining you can pay off later? God has given us the Holy Spirit as His first payout of our inheritance, and He is promising that once everyone has been redeemed, He will deliver all the rest.
If you are wondering what else our inheritance includes, I would encourage you to review the promises given to Israel in the Old Testament, especially in Jeremiah, Isaiah, and some of the other prophets. In the Old Testament, God promised Israel many things, including an everlasting King, and a time of peace, stability, and prosperity. We are still waiting for many of these promises. God promised that the lion would lie down with the lamb, that our weapons would be beaten into tools of agriculture – that all war would end. We haven’t experienced that yet. We are also waiting for the promise of eternal life, after our death.
God promises that there will come a time when we don’t need to do any evangelism – because everyone will know God. Can you imagine that? We won’t need plugin, or Man Enough, or any of the teaching or discipleship courses we do. Jeremiah says that they will not teach any more about how to know the Lord, because everyone will know the Lord. We haven’t gotten there yet, but because of the mystery we are the ones who will inherit those promises and others.
Paul says that we are members of one body. Next week I am going to talk about how difficult it was to join the Jews and the Gentiles, who were very deeply divided and opposed to each other. Bringing together these two groups was even more difficult in many ways that unifying Kikuyus with Luos, or Hutus with Tutsis, or blacks with whites. Next week we will look at chapter 2 which explores this topic in greater detail. For the rest of our time I’d like to explore three ways that we can apply this mystery. Here is the first one.
1) Our salvation is a precious gift.
God has chosen all of us, and He has initiated and begun the work of salvation in us. Paul mentions thanksgiving a few times in this letter, and I hope that all of us can develop the habit of regularly giving thanks to God for His grace is extending the gift of salvation to us.
Our salvation is the result of thousands of years of prophecy to Israel, and the fulfillment of the promises to Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and so many others. God sent His own Son, His only Son, to live and to die for us. Jesus overcame centuries of prejudice and division to extent salvation to the Gentiles and lay the foundation for the gospel to reach all people and nations.
Let us never take our salvation for granted. We must push ourselves to understand what it means, to study to understand it, and to make sure that our live matches the standards of the salvation given to us. Next week we are looking at the effects of the mystery to see how this affects our relationship with other people, and then we are looking at how we must live out the mystery of the gospel. Then we will conclude with looking at how we must fight for the mystery. But it starts with our gratitude, with our appreciation of the value of our salvation.
2) We must live a life of mission!
All of us must live a life of mission, of joining God in the work God is already doing around us to bring people to Himself. We must continue to carry on the message, and to make sure it reaches every people group, every language, and every region. Someone gave you the message, and so you must carry it on to those who haven’t heard. Often we need to hear the message several times before it takes root in our heart, so we need to continue praying for our friends and family members who don’t know Christ and continue to share the gospel with them.
We have opportunities for outreach here at NC Karen – we have begun doing a visitation at the Rosewood Manor retirement home on the last Wed of each month. These are people who may not receive many visitors and would greatly appreciate a chance to connect with people who want to spend time with them. We are also working on beginning visitation and prayer at Karen Hospital, we are just waiting for the administration and the chaplain to confirm a few details with us.
We also do Coffee Runs here at NC Karen, which involves offering people coffee, inviting them to church, and sharing the gospel with them. I realise that not all of us are comfortable doing evangelism that involves going up to strangers. If that describes you, I would encourage you to find ways to connect your interests and passion to find someone. For me my biggest struggle is moving out of Christian circles, so what I did last year is sign up for an international group that holds different functions around Nairobi. I’ve attended their business networking events, book club, movie club, and even one evening of drinks, and I am quite sure I was the only pastor who was there, in fact I’m pretty much always the only pastor at every event, and probably one of the few Christians. It takes time to get to know people, but I’ve met a lot of different people, shared what I do and some of what I believe when I have the chance, and have invited them to church.
We are preparing to plant a new church in Dagoretti, focused on reaching the area around the market and slaughter house on Dagoretti road. There is large population there that might not agree to come all the way to Hillcrest for a service, but would be willing to visit a church that is located in their neighborhood and is inviting them on a journey of spiritual growth and discipleship. We’ll be sharing more details about how you can serve and support that new ministry, and if you’d like to support it with your tithe, your networks, your ideas, and your service, please see Pastor Fred about how you can connect with Dagoretti. However you do it, all of us must live a life of mission, to explain and share the mystery with everyone we know.
3) All of God’s creation is important.
In the passage I read earlier from chapter 1, Paul also clearly explains the purpose of the mystery. He says it is “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” To bring unity. I find this to be a very interesting idea. What would it take to bring everything in heaven and on earth, all things, to unity under Christ? That would take a ton of work! Right now so many things on earth are in disunity with each other, not to mention the things of heaven. Ultimately this is God’s mission, so we don’t need to worry about how we can figure this out on our own, but part of our salvation is God calling us to join Him in this tremendous task. He has chosen to use us to bring all people into salvation, and through that mystery to bring all things in creation into unity, into peace, into their proper place and proper role.
Here at Nairobi Chapel Karen our mission is to grow deep to reach wide. The WIDE stands for witness, impact, disciple, and establish churches. WIDE. We describe the impact as touching all of the six sectors of society, including education, politics, business, family, media, arts, government, religion, and every aspect of our culture and society. Paul says that bringing together the Jews and Gentiles will result in unity of all things, and there is no way to unify all things unless we are bringing unity in each of the sectors we represent as this church. This means that your business is also part of God’s mission. Politics and running for office is also part of God’s mission.
It means taking care of your yard or your shamba or even your farm upcountry is part of God’s mission. Caring for the environment is such an important part of bringing unity to all things, and it is a part of salvation, of the gospel itself. All of us can help care for our environment through being more careful with trash, how we use our resources, how we use water, and anything else we do that affects the earth. I’m still reflecting on what it means to bring all things into unity, and in a minute I’ll be putting that question for you to discuss.
When all things are brought into unity in heaven and on earth under Christ, we won’t have droughts, or pollution, or trash littering our streets. We won’t have hatred or violence. We won’t have corruption or theft or lack of education or opportunity. God is working in our world to accomplish His purposes, and He is inviting us to join Him. I hope that all of us will do so.
- Our salvation is a precious gift.
- We must live a life of mission!
- All of God’s creation is important.