Ephesians 3:1-13 Sermon Manuscript

PLEASE NOTE: these are the notes I use to preach from, if you would like to hear them in context, please watch our YouTube video.

-magic tricks (penny, card) lose the awe and wonder when you know how they work


  1. The Mystery Revealed to Paul (1-5)

-This should start to feel like 1 long, continuous thought to you! Paul just keeps building on his previous sections/arguments here.

-For what reason? Because of the reality that both Jew and Gentile are now one in Christ. This section seems to be essentially a parenthesis, because take a quick peak at vs. 14, notice Paul starts the exact same way! However, something triggered Paul to remember to talk about some of the implications of what he had talked about in chpt. 2, namely that God has brought us from death into life if we put our faith in Him, then that is demonstrated in and through the local church where Jew and Gentile are now 1 body.

-We also learn something new about Paul’s current state of affairs: he’s a prisoner. Sometimes this “prisoner of Christ Jesus” can refer merely to the fact that we have no life on our own, but in this case, Paul is writing while he is imprisoned, and it is quite literally because of his calling to bring the gospel message to the Gentiles.

Acts 21:27-30 – in Jerusalem, notice the assuming that is going on! Because of God’s call on Paul’s life to preach that Jesus is the Christ, the long promised and awaited Messiah, this lead to Paul’s current imprisonment. The rest of the book of Acts recounts Paul’s various trips from being a prisoner and finally landing in Rome. Even the imprisonment isn’t enough to distract Paul or move him off his primary calling, he continues preaching the gospel everywhere he goes!

-By the time Paul writes this note to the church, it’s been a few years from when he visited, this also is one of the reasons many people believe this letter was meant to be distributed to a variety of churches. 

-But pay careful attention to what Paul is saying here, he’s given a stewardship. Paul didn’t make it up on his own, wasn’t trying to build a platform, he’s just a steward. This is another way Paul is describing God’s plan from eternity past, God knew that He would build His church, and Paul would be the messenger He would use, the steward to share the insights into this plan, which is what Paul says next:

-Mystery is the theme of this section, we’ll get to what he’s talking about in a minute, but first note that the mystery was revealed to Him. 

-When and how? Most likely referring to the Damascus Road encounter! Read a book this summer from a Pauline scholar that has tried to put together a biography about Paul’s life, taking what he’s learned and studied from a 1st century context, the evidence we have from the NT and put them together. His account of the Damascus Road was fascinating to me! 

-One of the common experiences to the Jewish scholars was meditating and asking God to speak again. God wasn’t meant to be silent, all these promises throughout the OT were going to be fulfilled somehow and someway! One of the passages they meditated over was Ezek. 1 where the prophet is given sight into the heavenly temple (which the earthly temple was meant to serve as a model of). Ezekiel’s description starts at the bottom, and slowly works its way up until he lands on someone seated on a throne, was “a likeness with human appearance.” Ezekiel is so overwhelmed by this glimpse that he falls on his face in worship! This passage served as a template for people like Paul to pray to similarly catch a glimpse of God’s throne. Imagine Paul, in his zeal for the one true God, is meditating and praying along the Damascus Road, when suddenly he catches a glimpse of the same things Ezekiel saw, the 4 living creatures, the wings, and as Paul’s eyes continue climbing, sitting in the throne is Jesus, the Nazarene, who asks Paul a simple question: why are you persecuting me? This was enough to change Paul’s zeal against the church to zeal for the church. Every good Jew would have been asking for a revelation to come, but God answered Paul’s prayer, and answered it in a way he hadn’t expected! And then God continues answering it all the way down through today in his Word (we’ll see that in vs. 5)

-I find it funny that Paul describes himself as “writing briefly” Some of his letters are brief, but not all of them! 

-Vs. 4 – these books that we read today were read in the early church gatherings, from front to back. By reading this together, and the Holy Spirit at work in us, Paul knows that is sufficient to understand what he means.

-But this is also gets to some of what we believe about the purpose of the Bible. I spent some time with some other pastors this past week and we spent some time talking about Isa. 55:10-11 “As the rain and snow come down from heaven…so shall my word be, it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” 

-The Word of God is living and active, yet so many people I talk to forget that. I forget that! I was sharing this week that I want to get a sign that sits on my desk that says “let the Word do the work.” Friends, it’s so tempting to not look to God’s chosen means of revealing Himself to us, isn’t it?

-Remember, the way God has chosen to reveal Himself to us is through His Word. I’ve read some people say that conservative evangelicals (which is us) worship the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Scriptures, and I take offense at that! We recited it today, we believe in the Father, Son and HS, but what is God’s chosen means of revealing Himself to the world? Through His Word! I didn’t make this book up, no mere mortal could come up with the beauty of this story, or the way the gospel subversively fulfills every other competing way of trying to put the world together. I’ve been told to not limit God to His Word, and I don’t since God did, and He can’t and won’t contradict Himself!

-But this revelation is something that previous generations didn’t get to see. 

-Think of the “hall of faith” in Heb. 11. Noah, Abraham, Moses all these heroes of the faith didn’t get to see the reality of what they hoped for. Sometimes that’s a hard reality for me to believe, think of the things those guys saw. Noah saw humanity wiped out, water covering every mountain, rain coming for 40 days and 40 nights. Abraham saw his wife who was “well advanced in years” become pregnant because God promised it would happen. Moses was spared certain death from the Egyptians and walked across a dry ocean bed, he witnessed plagues strike the greatest nation on earth, and then got to talk to God on a mountain. And we’re in a more privileged position than any of them. Why? Because we live on this side of Jesus’ arrival. 

-I saw a friend recently post on FB that you can prove most of the events of Jesus’ life and the rest of the NT without using the Bible and just using other 1st century documents. Did you know that? There are historical reasons to believe in Jesus outside the NT, but what we have here has been proven time and time again to be true. And again, we’re not the first generation to see these things! Nor is Paul the only one God is revealing these truths to:

-God revealed it to “his holy apostles and prophets”

-Something similar to 2:20 last week, those specific offices in the early church that God used to begin the church. More on Scraps tomorrow

-“by the Spirit”

-The same Spirit alive in us today

  • The Mystery Is… (6-7)

-Paul is explicit! This mystery that he’s been talking about is…(drumroll please) Gentiles are now a part of God’s chosen family. 

-Those who were far off have been brought near, the promised Messiah came and changed everything.

-What is it Paul means when he talks about mystery? Many of the scholars make note of how frequently “mystery” is used throughout this book because in many of the other religions the “mystery” was some hidden secret that you could only achieve through their religion. 

-This chapter isn’t the first time using mystery in this book, 1:9 “making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ.”

-Mystery is the revealing of God’s eternal plan that previous generations longed to see, that God gave glimpses of throughout history, and knew just the right time to send His Son to earth. 

Gal. 4:4-5 “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

-This mystery was promised all the way back to Father Abraham in Gen. 12:3 “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 

-Paul specifically mentions 3 things that are now true about the Gentiles: fellow heirs, same body, partakers. In the Greek he uses the class preacher move: alliteration to make his point 

-No Jew would have expected this to happen. Fellow heirs? In the same body? Partakers of the same promise? All those things they’d been waiting for are now available to their sworn enemies? Blasphemy!

-Through the gospel. What is the gospel? The good news that Jesus is the second person of the Godhead, who lived the perfect life we couldn’t live, then died in our place and rose on the third day validating everything He said, therefore we should respond in faith and trust in Him and spend the rest of our lives becoming more and more obedient to how He commanded us to live. God, man, Christ, response. 

-Paul then goes on to share one of the ways we should respond to the truths of the gospel. The mystery revealed through the gospel is evidenced by ministry, service. The word translated in your Bibles as “minister” is where we get the word for “deacon” or one translation put “servant” there. There’s a lot of cultural baggage associated with that term today: is it another name for pastor? Don’t have time to dig too far, but let me just note that all of us are called to minister, or serve each other. When Christ saves us, He equips us with a gift for the good of our body, and if you’re not actively using your gift for the good of others, our body will be dysfunctional and unhealthy. But it’s not just for kicks and giggles, not to build yourself up, this is:

-Only because of God’s grace. Anyone who is now “in Christ” has been given grace as a free gift, grace that overwhelms like a flood in our lives, bringing us from death into life, transferring us from being far away from God to near to Him, and co-heirs with Him, seated in the heavenly places! 

-Don’t be afraid to use your gifts! Everyone has one, God wouldn’t call you here if you didn’t! Don’t be afraid to try new things to figure out where and how God has uniquely wired you to steward your gifts for the good of the body, the building up of the church, and the glory of God. One pastor said it this way:

-“The mystery demands ministry.” (Kent Hughes) If God has saved you, you have a job to do! You have a ministry/service to pursue, and none of us are off the hook! This is part of the reason I play music on Sunday mornings, I’m not above using my gifts for our body, and neither are you!

-The power is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead (Eph. 1:19-20)

  • The Mystery Made Visible (8-13)

-“very least” he says something similar in 1 Cor. 15:9 “For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. and 1 Tim. 1:15 “he saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”

-Is Paul just a pessimist? Like Eeyore who sits around moping all day? Unless we understand and meditate on the reality that we are sinners, we’ll never truly understand just how amazing God’s grace is! Unless you wake up everyday marveling and praising God that He could save someone like you, you’ll have a tendency to become self-righteous and look down on other people. God doesn’t let us get away with that kind of thinking! When we know and understand our place in relation to God it frees us to no longer worry about ourselves, but instead this is the starting point of faithful ministry/service to God and others.

-“Unsearchable riches”

-Friends, we’ll never be able to plumb the depths of what God has done for us in Christ. The Marianna trench, the deepest point on Earth can’t contain it, millions of galaxies can’t contain it. “If we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made. To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry.” We’ll have eternity to explore this idea, yet even eternity isn’t enough time for us to properly come to understand how God has worked this out! 

-Notice how this mystery is made visible today in vs 10

“It is through the old creation (the universe) that God reveals his glory to humans; it is through the new creation (the church) that he reveals his wisdom to angels.” (Stott, 124)

-This manifold wisdom is full of connotations. It means “many colored” think of a beautiful rug, flowers, or jewelry. It was also used in Gen. to describe Joseph’s “coat of many colors.” The church is meant to serve as a beautiful tapestry, weaving together people from every race, nation, tribe, and tongue together. What other community can accurately reflect this reality? People from different socio-economic backgrounds, different gifts, different interests, different ages, different vocations, but the same God. The church is God’s chosen means of demonstrating to the world (and the spiritual world) what this gospel message looks like. It means we have a huge burden to bear!

-I onetime heard a pastor/comedian share how he talks about his job on a place. He tells people he works for a global nonprofit that serves billions of people. His boss owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and provides everything he could ever need. The lady was amazed until the punchline: I’m a pastor. Now that we’re saved we need to use a different measuring stick than money and stuff. How effective are we at demonstrating the “manifold (many colored) wisdom of God”? 

-Eternal purpose – God has a plan. History is moving somewhere. Mark Twain “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” Those rhymes, allusions point to a Creator with a plan.

-This plan is centered around a person, who created a new group of people that are to be gathered under Him as the head, that he called “the church”

– Stott: The church is central to history (11) The church is central to the gospel, The church is central to Christian living (13) So become a member!

-It is in the church that we have boldness and access with confidence. The church brings us together, affirms our faith, and allows us to serve each other.

-Paul’s call to service means he’s even willing to suffer on their behalf. Similar to today, being imprisoned was a disgrace, people would start to question his call. Yet the reason he’s suffering is for their sake. Do we suffer for our brothers and sisters? That’s what we’re called to! In fact, suffering is the only guarantee we have while we’re on this earth.

-Suffering reveals our hearts (Matt. 13:20-21 “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.”)

-Comes with this side of heaven (John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”)

-The means by which we can comfort others (a ministry/service) (2 Cor. 1:3-6 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.) 

-What looks like magic to the world is common for God. God has shown us His hand, he’s revealed this mystery to us, now it’s up to us to continue sharing the peek behind that curtain to others, and live it out in a way that shows it to be true!

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