Ephesians 3:1-6 “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles – Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 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.”
For all sorts of reasons these verses give us such a glimpse into the heart of Paul; I think that even grammatically they are interesting. They show us the living way that he wrote his letters. He starts off, “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of the Gentiles . . .” and we assume he’s going to pray for them, but the thought has entered his mind of the wonders of God dealing so lovingly with the Gentiles, and he puts off praying for them for a few sentences. What Paul does is to expound a little further this theme, the status and privileges of Gentile believers. Then he comes back to his prayer much further on in verse 14. You see there how he takes up the same four words with which he begins the chapter, “For this reason I . . . ” (v.14) and it is then that he takes up his original purpose of praying for them.
So Paul doesn’t yet pray, and in fact the very first thing he does is make this remarkable statement that shows to us his state of mind in his prison in Rome; “I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus” (v.1).
1 PAUL WAS A PRISONER OF CHRIST JESUS.
Her Majesty’s prisons in the British Isles are full of Her Majesty’s subjects whose liberty has been taken from them because they have been convicted of serious crime. They are being incarcerated for what they’ve done as prisoners of the state for the sake of the safety and peace of the rest of us. Paul is in prison, but he doesn’t say that he is a prisoner of Caesar. He considers himself to be a prisoner of the Messiah Jesus. It is the Lord Jesus who is the King of king Caesar and he sits on the throne of the universe and he is working all things after the counsel of his own will. Paul always went to the First Cause whenever anything happened to him. In the hours of darkness, lying on a stone floor in his cell, Paul doesn’t ask himself why he was there, and then go back to the day when an old prophet called Agabus told him that what would happen to him would be the same as what had happened to all the faithful prophets who had spoken in the name of the Lord about the plight of Israel. If he went up to Jerusalem to preach then he would leave it a prisoner, bound in chains. What had happened to his Master, taken captive as a prisoner, was going to happen to him. Agabus warned Paul about danger there in Jerusalem. However, Paul on sleepless nights didn’t go over and over in his mind the question as to whether he’d done the right thing in ignoring Agabus’ warning and going to Jerusalem a year earlier.
Paul didn’t dwell on the actual events of the day of his arrest when Jews from Asia saw Paul near the Temple in Jerusalem and began to shout, “Help us! This is the rebel who has brought Greeks into our temple,” so stirring up the whole city. They had caught Paul and tried to kill him but the Roman commander ran down with his men and rescued him. The commander ordered Paul to be put in chains and flogged, and as they were stretching him out to flog him Paul said to the centurion in charge, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?” (Acts 22:25). So the centurion told the commander, “He is a Roman citizen,” and he realised he’d almost made a big blunder. The commander sent for the Jewish tribunal to bring its accusations against Paul, and there was another uproar. The commander learned that the Jews wanted to assassinate Paul, so the commander sent him off, guarded by the Roman cavalry, to a trial before Felix, and then to another hearing before king Festus, and finally to a trial before Caesar in Rome where he is, in prison in the capital of the empire, where he writes this letter. But for Paul he is not there as Caesar’s prisoner but Christ Jesus’ prisoner.
Paul does not say, “If only . . . if only . . . if only the Jews had not shown their hatred for me and accused me falsely . . . if only Felix had not been a weakling and had released me . . . if only king Festus had found me not guilty I wouldn’t be here waiting for months to go on trial. I am incarcerated here as a prisoner of the Jews and those kings and this emperor.” No, Paul goes back to the great First Cause, Jesus Christ, who sits in the midst of the throne and does whatsoever he pleases with us; the one who can work without human means, and against human means and beyond human means to accomplish his own ends. “Christ Jesus has put me here in prison. It is because of him that I am chained to this soldier. It’s because of Christ I cannot see the blue sky, or sleep in a soft bed, or preach the gospel in the fellowship of worshipping Christians. Christ is working out his purposes for me and I would not wish to be anywhere else today. I am his prisoner.”
The Christian is called to be broken bread and poured out wine for the life of the world. In the diary of Jim Elliot, the first husband of Elisabeth Elliot, there is one of those places where he is dedicating his future to the life of a missionary, and he writes this text from Scripture, “He makes his ministers a flame of fire.” Then he comments, “Am I ignitable? God deliver me from the ‘asbestos’ of ‘other things.’ Saturate me with the oil of the Spirit, that I may be a flame. But flame is transparent, short-lived. Canst thou bear this, my soul? A short life? In me dwells the Spirit of the Great Short-lived, whose zeal for God’s house consumed him. Make me thy fuel, flame of God!”
There was a Christian woman in France named Madame Guyon who, 300 years ago, was kept in a black dungeon underground for ten years for her faith in Christ. The only light she had was a candle that her warden would bring in at mealtimes. She knew she was there as the prisoner of Christ Jesus, and she wrote these words which are quite famous,
“A little bird I am,
Shut from the fields of air;
Yet in my cage I sit and sing
To Him who placed me there.
Well pleased a prisoner to be,
Because, my God, it pleases Thee.
Nought have I else to do;
I sing the whole day long;
And He whom most I love to please
Doth listen to my song;
He caught and bound my wandering wing
But still He bends to hear me sing.
My cage confines me round;
Abroad I cannot fly;
But though my wing is closely bound
My heart’s at liberty.
My prison walls cannot control
The flight, the freedom of the soul.
Ah! It is good to soar
These bolts and bars above,
To Him whose purpose I adore,
Whose Providence I love;
And in the Thy mighty will to find
The joy, the freedom of the mind.”
Madame Guyon had learned what Paul first had learned in his prison and taught her, that he was in jail as a prisoner of Jesus Christ. I think of a member of our church who has been house-bound for many years, living within four walls, and how well she has learned that same lesson. What a blessing it is to visit her because she hasn’t a bone of self-pity in her body. What a ministry she has from her room. What does the world do? It makes the best of a bad job. That’s all it can do, or it says, “you can always find someone worse off than yourself.” Poor worldling, a prisoner of chance and luck, but the Christian recognises God’s supremacy, and responds with godly fear to the holy Creator, implicit obedience to the Lord, and the entire resignation of himself to a loving Father who can never wrong us in anything he does; too wise to be mistaken; too good to be unkind.
I have walked our garden path hundreds of times and never slipped once, and then this year I walked along it and my foot slipped and in a wild gesture to stop myself from falling I tore a muscle, or damaged a disc and affected some internal organs so that I was in hospital in pain for a week and out of the pulpit for seven weeks. Did I see the hand of God in that, just as I had seen it in all the other times I had walked and not slipped? Of course. Paul talks in verse 11 of this chapter about God’s “eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephs. 3:11). If you ask how much does that purpose embrace? Jesus will answer, “The fall of the sparrow.” He will say, “The numbering of the hairs on your head.” Lying on my sick bed with my aching back I was a prisoner of Christ.
You remember when Joseph spent those years as a slave in Egypt, sold by his brothers who hated him, taken here by the Midianites, and falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife, and forgotten by Pharaoh’s butler whom he had helped? You remember what Joseph said to his brothers when finally he revealed his identity to them as one who had now been taken out of prison and elevated to the prime minister of Egypt with powers of life and death over them? “It was not you who sent me here, but God” (Gen. 45:8). They could have protested and said, “You are mad, Joseph. We were the ones who sold you into slavery. It was because of us the Ishmaelites carried you away to Egypt and put you on the block in the slave market and sold you to Potiphar. We sent you here.” No. They were all the secondary causes, and of course they will all answer to God for what they did. They are held responsible, but Joseph knew who was in ultimate control, who worked all things according to his own purposes. Almighty God had done it all. Not luck! Never luck! It was not good luck that brought Rebecca to the well to welcome Abraham’s servant. It was not bad luck that directed the millstone to crush Abimelech’s head. It was not good luck the guided Pharaoh’s daughter to baby Moses lying in the ark among the bulrushes. It was not bad luck that winged the arrow shot haphazardly to smite the king in the joints of his armour. It was all from God. It was not bad luck that turned the Pharisees and chief priests against Jesus. It was not bad luck that Pilate was a weakling when he examined the innocent Saviour. Our Lord was delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. It was God’s purpose that he was pinned onto Golgotha with nails through his hands and feet. So it is with all of us who find our lives restricted and confined by various providences. The frustrating job, the obstinate members of the family, the tough boss, the bad health, the weak church, the critical people – all ultimately do what they do because of the will of God. We Christians are prisoners of God not men. Paul did not see himself as ill-used. He did not see himself as a victim he was exactly where his Lord and Saviour wanted him to be.
However, Paul knew more, that he was in prison for a specific purpose, for the sake of the Gentiles. He had shared this conviction on one occasion with his fellow Jews when he was in Jerusalem and giving his testimony to the Jews on the steps of the Roman barracks. He tells them of meeting the Lord on the road to Damascus and how Jehovah said to him, ” ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles'” (Acts 22:21). The Jews went wild at such an idea. They “raised their voices and shouted, ‘Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!'” (Acts 22:22), and they threw off their cloaks and flung dust into the air. They were furious at this suggestion that their God would intervene in the life of one of their own leading men to tell him to take his grace to Gentile dogs! But that was Paul’s conviction that his own ministry and labours were predominantly directed to the salvation of the non-Jews.
This conviction had not deserted Paul in this Roman jail. He knew there was a purpose for his imprisonment: “the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles” (v.1). It was not blind fate that put Paul there in that prison. It all came from the Lord who knew about the Gentiles, and loved the Gentiles, and desired the Gentiles to be saved. This imprisonment was going to serve the cause of the Gentiles. Paul’s chains were going to transform their lives, lift them up, deliver them from the guilt of sin and the fear of death. Paul’s imprisonment was going to save their marriages and protect women and children.
Remember what Joseph said to his brothers? “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20). The Gentiles who put Paul in prison were against him, but the God who was supervising the whole process and putting him in prison was doing all this for the sake of the Gentiles.
There were Roman soldiers to whom he was chained who relieved the boring hours of their watch by talking to Paul about the crimes he’d committed for which he had been put in jail. Paul had an interesting story to tell them. All the Imperial Guard were talking about this extraordinary Jewish prisoner and what he had told them about a man rising from the dead. More than that, there were preachers in Rome who had been galvanised by the example of Paul “to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” (Phils. 1:14). “They are not going to keep us quiet. The Saviour has sent us to preach the gospel to the whole world. Paul might have been stopped, but we won’t be silenced,” and so they bravely told everyone the good news. But more than that, in the freedom that prison provided from the needs to pastor and advise the hundreds of people who came to him Paul could write letters, glorious inspired letters which have been to the blessing of the church for the last two thousand years, the letters to the Philippians, and Colossians, and to Philemon, and to Timothy, and Titus. This letter too came from the solitude of prison. God knew that a congregation of Gentiles in distant Aberystwyth almost two thousand years later would need to read these words. For help on their journey, for wisdom, and deepening hunger for holiness, and practical counsels in marriage and the Christian battle this letter would be indispensable to the Gentiles. God loved them and so Paul was put in prison for the sake of the Gentiles. Paul was confident of all the things he knew about the wisdom of God dealing with him thus. If he had known about the 2,000 years delay before the return of Christ, and of us here in Wales needing his letter it would merely have confirmed his persuasion that Jesus Christ knew what he was doing when he put Paul in the Roman jail.
What comfort there is for us here. Expand this truth as far as it can go and then you will come to this glorious vision; in these words, “prisoner of Christ Jesus”, is the guarantee of the triumph of good over evil. Ever since the day Cain murdered Abel the conflict has gone on. There are many people in prison for Christ today while the wicked are flourishing like the green bay tree. We could easily lie on the floor and wallow in discouragement imagining that right is being defeated and wrong is triumphing everywhere. Let us look above and plainly see a Throne that is set, stable and secure, and the one who is seated on it, the Almighty Jesus.
“One Lord, one empire, all secures;
He reigns, and life and death are yours;
Through earth and heaven one song shall ring,
The Lord omnipotent is King.” (Josiah Conder, 1789-1855).
This is our confidence that the Lord is governing the affairs of men, angels and devils. His purpose cannot fail, for “he is in one mind, and who can turn him? And what his soul desireth, even that he doeth” (Job 23:13). That was the conviction that kept Richard Wurmbrand during his imprisonment in Romania. My niece’s husband was preaching in that country a month ago. He met a number of the men who shared that prison with him, and they told him that Richard Wurmbrand’s joy in prison was greater than his joy in the pulpit. He gloried in the manacles he had to wear. Christ had put them on him and it was an honour to wear them for the Saviour. When Peter was a young disciple, whipped by orders of the Sanhedrin, he left them rejoicing because he “had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41), and when he was an old man he had not lost that conviction. He wrote a letter to Christians suffering persecution and he said to them, “If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (I Pet. 4:16).
2. THE MYSTERY OF GOD’S LOVE IS NOW DECLARED TO THE GENTILES.
These words of verse two are rather cumbersome, but are more easily understandable in the N.I.V. translation than in the Authorised Version. When he says, “Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you,” (v.2), then he is saying something as simple as this, “Surely you’ve heard that God made me an apostle to the Gentiles.” The administration of grace was God giving him the charisma of apostleship. Then Paul goes on to say that God had revealed to him a divine ‘mystery.’ It is a word found at least ten times in Paul’s letters. People enjoy ‘mysteries’. You sit in front of two people on a bus and they are talking about a murder mystery they’d watched the previous night on TV. “I never imagined that she was the one responsible,” the one says to the other. “She seemed heartbroken when they told her he’d been murdered. I never dreamed that she’d done it, right until the very end. Ooh, I love a good mystery.” Her friend sagely agrees.
However, when the New Testament uses the word ‘mystery’ it is not in that sense. Paul uses the word several times here. He talks about “the mystery made known to me by revelation” (v.3), and “understand my insight into the mystery of Christ” (v.4), and “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel” (v.6), and “to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery” (v.9). This had been a mystery during the Mosaic covenant, but not any longer. It was no mystery to Paul. He’d had the mystery made known to him. He tells us that he has insight into this mystery and that he wants us also to understand it. He wants to make plain to the whole world this mystery. Then he tells us clearly in the sixth verse what this mystery is, that through the gospel the Gentiles have become heirs together with Israel. Christian Gentiles and Christian Jews henceforth were placed on an equal footing, a complete and perfect fusion of the two, making one new man. So this mystery is not some tantalising secret, kept hidden from us until the last pages of the story at the end of the world. No. Paul is right up front about this mystery because God has made it known to the church, and ever since, the people of God have been at work, telling the whole world in synagogues and market places, out of doors and in their homes, what this great mystery actually is. Today men like myself in a million pulpits are telling it to nations in every continent of the world.
In Paul’s day this word was almost the special property of the heathen mystery religions. “Do you want to discover the most marvellous mysteries that will change your life?” their priests would ask. “Then you must become initiated into our group and go through our rites. You must go into a pitch black room underground, and have the blood of a chicken smeared all over you, and then you will hear great mysteries. You must swear that you will never share with any human being these mysteries, not even with your wife or brother, on pain of death!” That was how the word ‘mystery’ was used in Ephesus before the gospel came there, but Paul took the word boldly, and emptied it of all this fake sensationalism. This mystery had been kept hidden in God’s heart and mind for ages past when he was dealing with the Jews alone in their land. There had been just hints of God’s love for Gentiles like Rahab and Ruth and Namaan, and promises that one day the Gentiles would come to the light of God’s glory, but never had the Jews considered what was happening now. The gospel of the Messiah Jesus was spreading everywhere and hundreds of thousands of Gentiles were believing on Christ. Out and out further and further from Jerusalem the church was expanding. The Old Testament Scriptures were being loved and memorised throughout Europe. The Psalms were being sung to the glories of the name of Christ. Now the Old Testament promises were seen as applying to believing Italians and Greeks and Asians who had bowed to Jehovah Jesus. Through the gospel three great privileges had been granted to them – you see this in the threefold repetition of the word ‘together’ which nicely emphasises the Greek word ‘syn’ which is found three times in the original.
i] The Gentiles had become heirs together with Israel (v.6). The Jewish King David spoke about the inheritance that lay before him in the 23rd psalm: “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” We Gentiles have now inherited that house. God has willed it to us also through Christ. Jesus himself has promised it to us, “In my father’s house are many mansions . . . I go to prepare a place for you and there I am going to take you. Where I am there you will be.” We have a wonderful inheritance. The house of the Lord is not segregated. There are no rooms for first class believers only, the Jews, and then other rooms for second class believers, Gentiles Christians. We are heirs together with Israel of the same glory, a new heavens and a new earth for all who trust in Christ. What lies beyond death is no mystery for the disciple of Jesus. An inheritance incorruptible and undefiled that doesn’t fade away, one that is reserved in heaven for us who are being kept by the power of God through faith. That is the glory that awaits all the heirs of God.
ii] The Gentiles had become members together of one body (v.6). There was obviously not one body in the Old Testament. The whole design of the Temple reminded the women that they were second class, and the Gentiles were third class. They were all segregated into different courts. The Jews could enter the men’s courtyard, but only the priests could enter the Temple and only the High Priest for an hour on one day of the year could enter the Holy of Holies, into the presence of God. They were not one body. Even the Pharisees and the Sadducees hated one another. But in Christ there is now one body, one new man, one new humanity, this living alternative society scattered through the whole world, the city of God, the Lord’s own family, the holy temple of God. Not two cities, not two families, and not two temples. One body only, self integrated, and at peace with all its members. You know how a human body reacts to any foreign elements that are introduced into it, such as catheters, or transplanted organs. It fights against them and resists their presence. There is no such resistance in this divine body to the Gentiles being grafted onto the new Israel of God. Members together of one body.
Paul compresses it all in that phrase “the mystery of Christ” (v.4). In the one physical body of Jesus Christ this world saw a life of blameless righteousness lived out, which righteousness was sufficient to cover Jewish and Gentile sinners – as many as the sands on the seashore. In the one body of Christ the Lamb of God suffered as the great sacrifice propitiating the wrath of a sin-hating God, not of the Jews only but of all the Gentiles too in the one offering Christ once made on Golgotha. All the blood of lambs and goats in the Old Testament found their potency and fulfilment in the blood of the Lamb of God. Their blood – the blood of animals – couldn’t take away our guilt and blame, but Christ’s blood is a sacrifice of richer blood and nobler name.
iii] The Gentiles had become sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus (v.6). What are we sharing together? “The promise in Christ Jesus,” says Paul. God made a promise in Eden: “I will send the seed of the woman who will bruise the serpent’s head.” God made a promise that through someone born of the line of Abraham all the nations of the world would be blessed. God made a promise through Isaiah of the Servant of the Lord who would one day come. On him God would lay the iniquity of us all. “He will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him” (Is. 52:15). Then through the prophet Joel God promised that he would pour out his Spirit on all flesh, not on the Jews only, and through Christ Jesus this promises has become ours. Remember how in Jerusalem at Pentecost men and women were gathered there from all the nations of the earth and on every one of them the promised Spirit was poured. We Gentiles who live in Wales, 2000 years after the Messiah was born in Bethlehem, now share in these promises in Christ Jesus. God promised he would come, and come he did. We share together in the promise of Christ Jesus. We Gentiles are in him; we are in his Spirit; we are in God.
3. A REVELATION OF GOD WAS GIVEN TO THE APOSTLE PAUL.
That was a mystery to the people of God who lived in Israel under the old covenant. Paul says that it “was not made known to men in other generations,” (v.5), but it has been made clear to all of us because the Spirit of God has revealed it. He did this pre-eminently to Paul because he was set apart as the apostle to the Gentiles. After his conversion on the road to Damascus Paul went on to a quiet place in Arabia. There he studied the Scriptures, and he thought and prayed, and the Lord in his grace met with him during that time there. By the Spirit Christ went on to reveal to him, more clearly than to Peter and James and John and the rest of the apostles, the glorious equal status from now on of the Gentiles. See how he says it in the third verse, “the mystery was made known to me by revelation” from God. He had been given these insights into the mystery of Christ, but not Paul alone. He quickly adds that this revelation has also come to “God’s holy apostles and prophets” (v.5). We are not to think that there was some exclusive Pauline insights that the other apostles were not given. I do not believe that there is any truth in the New Testament that is exclusively Paul’s.
Isn’t this the foundation of Christianity, that God has revealed himself and his purpose in actual words and teaching? God taught Adam certain things, and you have only to read Adam’s history to know what these things are. God taught Noah certain things, and again the record tells you what these things are. God made plain to Abraham what was his purpose and what was not his purpose, and God took up patriarchs, prophets, and priests who all received this self-disclosure. The Lord did this to his apostles as he had promised them. They would be given the Spirit of truth and he would lead them into all truth. God told them what was to be put on record. In other words, as well as revealing himself in the great redemptive deeds and acts of history God has given his explanation and his exposition of those deeds in the Bible. This is what matters. Men cavil at the redemptive deeds of history. Men say you cannot believe in the virgin birth. It is not what men say that matters, it is God’s exposition of these things in his Word that matters, and it is all a revelation and a disclosure of himself.
The bedrock of gospel salvation is revelation. If God had not spoken we would know nothing, and any man could think what he liked, and do what was right in his own eyes. If God had not spoken there would have been no such thing as doctrines about sin, salvation, grace, heaven, or hell. So I say this is one of the things most surely believed among us, that God has spoken, that he has revealed himself and his gracious purposes. That is why we have the Bible. If you find it dry doctrine I have not much hope for you. Does it not drop like the dew of heaven into your soul when you see that without God’s initiative, God’s action, God’s self-revelation, you are lost? He came to the apostle Paul and he ended the mystery of the future of the Gentiles.
John the Baptist once said, “A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.” If you know some of the least things about God, and grace, and gospel, and glory in Jesus Christ, it is only because God has revealed it and God has spoken about himself, his Son and his salvation. If you know anything about this it is not your discovery, but as our Saviour said to Peter, “Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” Whence comes the least grain of gospel truth, the least bit of gospel comfort, solace, and salvation, the least knowledge of the whole scheme and plan of redemption, but from God’s initiative in revealing himself? The doctrine of revelation is and must be the very first and foremost of those things which are most surely believed among us. The Lord help us in our belief. The Lord by his Spirit help us to appreciate more and more of the revelation, and the Lord give us by his Spirit more and more to enter into the record of that revelation and the understanding of his Word and the application of it to our lives.
“Canst thou by searching find out God?” No, but God in Christ has come searching for us and he has found all his people. The message he has come to bring is clear in nature, providence and history where God has reveals his power, but God has also revealed his grace. He has put the record of his redemption on record in a Book. The object of the record in his Word is that, by his Spirit, his gracious purpose shall be revealed to the souls of his people. What a glorious entity, the revelation of God, speaking, declaring, showing himself to God’s holy apostles and prophets. There is a great scene portrayed to us of a church council summoned to meet in Jerusalem to discuss the thorny issue of the relationship of Gentiles with their fellow Jewish believers in the church. There is James, the half-brother of our Lord, and there is Peter, and there is Paul and Barnabas and they are absolutely united in what they have decided, not to make it difficult for the Gentiles to come into full membership in the church. We are told of the right hand of fellowship being given by Paul to Peter and John and James. They are united in their Spirit-given understanding of this mystery that the Gentiles are to share in all the privileges of the people of God.
4. THIS GLORIOUS MYSTERY IS MANIFESTED TO FAVOURED SINNERS.
How does this message come to us? “In reading this” (v.4), Paul says. In other words, in reading this letter and the other letters and gospel in the New Testament. Then you will be able to understand the insights given to Paul and Peter and James and the others. I read a testimony this week written by a man named Richard Blackmarr. He is in his early seventies, and he has won several prizes for his poetry. Only a few years ago he found a flier in his mail, the sort of unsolicited material he would normally have thrown out. Its headline caught his eye; it announced, “Reasons to Believe.” He was not enjoying life at that time and he read the contents. It was about the many miracles of Jesus Christ. This man from Nazareth healed all the sick who were brought to him, with no exceptions. When he spoke the winds and waves obeyed him. He raised the dead, and so on. At four o’clock the next afternoon Richard arrived at the church whose name was on this leaflet. It was a little building and the pastor was there, David Anderson, but the man who had written it was not in town that day. So Richard Blackmarr asked David many questions about the Bible, questions that had bothered him for 70 years. The pastor didn’t know the answers to 25 percent of the questions but because of the ones he did answer a new affection for Jesus came about in Richard’s life. He appreciated it when Pastor David prayed with him at the end; it was the first time anyone had prayed for him. The next Sunday he was in church and he has never stopped attending since that day, and everyone who knows him comments on the change that has taken place in his life. This is what he wrote, “I don’t have more money, fame or power than before, but I love my life more; I love people more; I love challenges more and I’ve turned all my problems over to Christ. What a load off my back! I’ve been forgiven of all my sins, and I believe that when I die I will go to heaven.” What a change in a man, and it all began when he read some Christian truths, the “Reasons to Believe” in Jesus Christ and then went to find out more. That is what Paul says here to you, “In reading this, then, you will be able to understand” (v.6). Read the Bible and the mystery about your life, why you are here, what’s the meaning of it all, will be made known. Read Christian books about the Bible. Come and hear the Bible explained.
How does this message come to us? Paul tells us again in our text like this, “through the gospel” (v.6) this mystery comes to you. Not through some special separate initiation; not through a second blessing but through believing the simple good news that God loved the world and gave his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but become an heir together with Israel, a member of one eternal body and a sharer in the promise in Christ. That is the way your life can be changed. Behold I tell you a mystery. We shall all die, but some of us shall be gloriously changed. Our earthly bodies are going to put on heavenly bodies. Our poor homes are going to be replaced with heavenly mansions. Our earthly divisions are going to end, and we are going to become one body of love and peace for ever. This mystery is revealed to you through the good news of Jesus that you might believe upon him, turning from your sin, and entrusting yourself to him.
When God has mercy on a soul like Richard Blackmarr, that soul is so moved by his emptiness and guilt that any resistance of his own is also overthrown. Up to that point he has resisted grace, he has resisted God, and he has hated the truth. He has put up with religion if it has been expected of him, but inwardly he has hated it. When the Spirit of God acts, all his resistance is gone. A man will read and think about what he has refused to read and think about all his life until then. He will attend a church which he has refused to attend all his life hitherto. Whereas he despised the things of God before, now he cherishes them. Whereas he murmured and rebelled, now he runs to anything to do with God and grace and Christianity. God’s people, says the psalmist, “shall be willing in the day of thy power.” As a gracious Saviour embraces him, so he eagerly embraces Christ. His will was a slave to sin, but now is made free. His soul delights in the tearing down of the barriers of resistance. Thanks be to God for irresistible grace, because were it not so, nobody would ever come to Christ. There would never have been a Christian in the world. Left to themselves, men never would choose God, because they do not have the power of choice in that respect. It would all be a mystery to them. When God dispels the darkness they come with freedom and delight, and they do what otherwise they would not and could not do. When God shines in the heart with the light of his own glory in the face of Jesus Christ, then the mystery is over and a sinner can quote the hymn:
“Just as I am, Thy love unknown
Has broken every barrier down;
Now to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come!” (Charlotte Elliott, 1789-1871)
He has done what I could not do. He has done it for me, and I am thankful, I am glad; I am rejoicing. Oh! how glorious is our sovereign God; He speaks and it is done. To quote another hymn:
“The Lord is King! who then shall dare
Resist His will, distrust His care,
Or murmur at His wise decrees,
Or doubt His royal promises?” (Josiah Condor, 1789-1855).
“In the beginning God,” whether it is the beginning of the heaven and the earth, or the beginning of the salvation of a soul. When I think of my great and glorious God looking down on the blackness of my human nature and saying, “Let there be light,” I can only magnify his person, his name, his glory and his grace. How has it come about? What has brought the change? In the words of a hymn:
“For Thou hast made the blind to see,
The deaf to hear, the dumb to speak,
The dead to live; and Thou didst break
The chains of my captivity!” (William Matson, 1833-1899).
“If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are become new!” To his name be the praise and the glory. May he be pleased to give us the benefit, the blessing, the inexpressible joy of knowing the mystery of Christ and share together in God’s promise.
20th June 2004 GEOFF THOMAS