Ephesians – Wayne Barber/Part 37
By: Dr. Wayne Barber
|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©2000|
|Having now revealed the “mystery,” Dr. Barber explains what Paul teaches about the difference this truth should have in our lives.|
God’s Divine Mystery – Part 2
Turn with me to Ephesians chapter 3. We’re looking at Part 2 of “God’s Divine Mystery,” the mystery of salvation. Verses 2-13 are a parenthesis. He stops before he starts praying because he wants them to grasp something as he enters into prayer for them. He wants to talk about this mystery of salvation. It is almost as if he doesn’t want the Gentile believers at Ephesus to ever take their salvation for granted.
We live in a day and age when people take their salvation so lightly and so for granted. Paul does not want that to happen to the Ephesian believers. Paul has a burden on his heart to let them know that this whole thing had to be revealed to him, and now it must be revealed to them. It was not man’s idea. It was God’s idea. God was Redeemer long before He was ever Creator. The heart of God was to redeem His creation that He, in his omnipotence and omniscience, knew would sin against Him.
He has talked about the riches of our salvation in chapter 1, the reasons for our salvation in chapter 2, and in chapter 3 he is talking about the revelation of our salvation. In verses 12 and following, he is going to pray, “God, will You reveal to them what You have revealed to me? Let them see what You’ve done for them.” You don’t discover this by your own pursuit; it is something that God must reveal to our heart. Yes, you seek after it. Yes, you ask and knock, but God has to reveal the things that He Himself has hidden.
He tells them that the salvation of the Gentiles has been a great mystery. He goes on to say how he got in on that great mystery. In verses 1-3, he said it had to be revealed to him. Let’s read it. “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief.”
In Ephesians 1:9, he mentions the mystery but doesn’t really clarify what it is. If you will go over to 2:11-18, he very specifically clarifies what the mystery is all about. Look at what verse 14 says: “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one.” Now Paul is a converted Jew writing to converted Gentiles. The Gentiles had been shut out from the promises that were given to Israel for so long. Now, the door has been thrown wide open. Paul is saying: “He broke down the barrier of the dividing wall. There is nothing now that separates Jew from Gentile in their pursuit of God through the Lord Jesus Christ. Both Jew and Gentile enter in the same way.”
In verse 15 he says: “by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.” Now, what was the mystery that Paul was so excited about that he wants to tell these Gentile believers? It is that the Jew and Gentile are made into one new body through Jesus Christ.
However, that is not really the focus. The focus is not the Jew. The focus is the Gentile. He wants them to realize not so much that the Jew has it, but that the Gentile now has been included into that which God once promised to Israel. He wants them to see that all of the promises of God that were promised to Israel now have been made available to the Gentiles through the Lord Jesus Christ.
We have seen the mystery revealed. Now we are going to look at it explained and then proclaimed. I want you to see the divine work that God did in effecting your salvation and my salvation. We are Gentiles today, and we live in a country that has a Gentile mentality. We think it started with us. It didn’t start with us, we were brought in at the appropriate time. We were shut out until Acts chapter 8 when God singled out the minister named Paul, to preach the message to the Gentiles. The center of evangelism shifted from Jerusalem to Antioch, and then the message went out into all the world that any man, whether Jew or Gentile, can come in through the Lord Jesus Christ. That is what Paul is explaining to the Ephesian believers.
The Mystery Explained
Let’s look, first of all, at the mystery explained in verse 5. I will pick up the thought in verse 4. He says: “And by referring to this, when you read, you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit.” To say that the Old Testament never mentions anything about the Gentiles being allowed in would be wrong. As a matter of fact, Paul continuously spoke of the Old Testament when he spoke before the Jews to let them know he was not preaching heresy. In their own Scriptures, through their own prophets, God had already mentioned that others, who were not called His people, would be allowed in one day. The difference is, as he says in verse 5, it has not been known as it has now been revealed. In other words, yes, it was alluded to, but it had never been as clear as it was in that day. It had been made clear to the apostles and to the prophets in his generation.
You see, the prophets he speaks of there are not Old Testament prophets. The word “now” distinguishes the New Testament prophets from the Old Testament prophets. It has been revealed to them by the Spirit. Since we know what the mystery is, let’s begin to see how he focuses in on how the Gentiles are the whole topic of his conversation. He is writing to Gentile believers. Yes, the mystery includes the Jew, but the Gentile is his focus.
Look at verse 6. He is going to start explaining the overwhelmingness of the salvation that the Gentiles have: “to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” Don’t ever take for granted what God has doneThis is what our salvation is all about. This is true of them, and if you are a believer today, it is true of you.
First of all, we are fellow heirs. Now what does that mean? “Fellow heirs” refers to the fact that they, as Gentiles, have the same right to the benefits of the covenant of God’s grace as the Jews did. Can you imagine what happened to Paul when God revealed to him that the promises made to Israel now had been granted to the Gentiles? Then, God gave him the ministry to go tell it to them. This is incredible! We are fellow heirs! All that was promised to Israel in the new covenant is ours through Jesus Christ!
What was promised to Israel? Let’s look in two places. Paul says we are fellow heirs. We inherit these promises that were first promised to Israel. Jeremiah 31:31 says, “‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,’ declares the Lord. ‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it.’”
In Ephesians it says He abolished the law contained in ordinances. That is the ceremonial law, but he didn’t do away with the moral law; He wrote that on our hearts. He promised Israel, “One day I am going to write it on your hearts.” This is also now written on our hearts. We have been allowed into this promise. Well, it goes on in verse 33 and says: “and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” We are going to have a unique relationship that is incredible. This is promised to Israel, and one day that will be fulfilled to the rest of Israel.
We have been allowed into that. Ephesians 2 says we are now part of the family. We are part of the kingdom, part of the Temple, and part of the family. We are part of this promise. It says in Jeremiah 31:34, “‘And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the Lord.” You see, in the Jewish tradition, people couldn’t really know about God except through the priests and those who would teach them in the synagogues. He says here, “Oh no, in that day it is going to be different. The Holy Spirit is going to live in you. You shall all know Me and know Me intimately,” declares the Lord. It says, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
If you are a believer and a Gentile, rejoice! We have been allowed into the very promises of grace that were given to Israel. We have the law written on our hearts now as believers. We have something that we never could have had before. God opened the door to us. The apostle Paul was the herald of the message of the gospel.
Look in Ezekiel 36:26-27. He says something else about this new covenant of grace promised to Israel. It will be fulfilled to Israel one day, but beautifully, we are allowed into it. Look at what it says: “Moreover, I will give you a new heart.” You talk about the miracle of healing, the miracle of raising someone from the dead. What kind of miracle is that? They are still going to die. The miracle is a brand new heart that is eternal, a heart that is God’s heart. God will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you, a new attitude, a new hunger to obey Him: “and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”
That was promised to Israel. One day it will be fulfilled to Israel. Right now, to the Jew individually who comes out, to the Gentile who wants to come, it is given at the moment of belief. We can enter into that which was promised to Israel. We are fellow heirs to the promises made in the covenant of God’s grace. You ought to understand that you’ve got a brand new heart. Israel turned away from God all the time and walked away from Him. He said, “I am going to do something so radically different one day. I am going to make you My children by birth. I am going to give you a relationship to Me, and I am going to cause you to walk in My statutes. You won’t turn away from Me, and I won’t turn away from you.” We are now fellow heirs with those Israelites. We have been allowed into that very covenant. Israel as a nation has not yet experienced it. They will one day. God has not forgotten His people, but this New Covenant has given to you and me the opportunity to enter into the promises once made to Israel.
Can you imagine how the apostle Paul must have felt? Can you imagine how overwhelmed he must have been when God began to reveal this to his heart? Now remember, he was schooled under Gamaliel. He stood there and watched Stephen be stoned to death. He held their garments while they stoned him. He stood against everything that he is now preaching. God had to reveal it to his heart, this educated Jewish man, a Pharisee of the Pharisees. He said in Philippians 3, as to the law, he was absolutely found righteous. Here is a man that found out the Gentiles have now been allowed into everything that he thought was just solely given to a Jew. What an overwhelming truth. We are fellow heirs. Everything that was promised to Israel, we have been allowed to participate in.
Second, he says we are fellow members of the body. We can be just as closely related to Christ as a Jew once we are all believers. We have the same relationship in the family as they do. He doesn’t distinguish the Jew that comes to know Christ from the Gentile who comes to know Christ. We saw that in chapter 2. He makes them both into one brand new body. We are both brand new creations, and we have the same oneness with Him in the family. Gentiles are not in the body because of the courtesy of the Jews. I like that. The Jews didn’t stop and say, “Well, okay guys, we will let you in.” They had nothing to do with it. The Jews are not in by the courtesy of the Gentiles. Both of them are in solely by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have been allowed in. We are fellow heirs. We are fellow members of the body.
Not only that, third, we are fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. That is the promise of redemption, that if a man comes by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, he can enter into the family of God. I want you to see that in Galatians chapter 3. There are several verses here that tell us now we have been allowed to partake. Look at Galatians 3:13 to catch the whole sentence: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’”
Look at verse 14: “in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” We have been allowed in. We have redemption through the Lord Jesus Christ.
Look down at verse 19. “Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed should come to whom the promise had been made.” The seed was promised to Abraham, and now we are a part of all of this. Remember, He told Abraham, “through you all nations will be blessed.” How can all nations be blessed through the Jewish race? Through the seed that came to them, which was the Lord Jesus Christ. We’ve been allowed in by faith in Him.
Look at verse 22: “But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” There is no distinction there whether they are Jew or Gentile. Now we can enter in to the promise. If we believe, we are a part of the redeemed.
Look down in verse 29: “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” He is talking about spiritual Israel here. He is talking about the Israel that has come, by faith in Jesus Christ, into the family, into the kingdom, into the very holy Temple of God Himself. He is saying to those Gentiles in Ephesus, “Don’t take this thing for granted. It was revealed to me and then explained to me very specifically that you are allowed in. God stopped me on the Damascus Road. He commissioned me and made me an apostle out of due season. I am preaching something to you that God revealed to me. Don’t you dare take it for granted. Gentiles, you have been allowed in. You are fellow heirs, fellow members of the body and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus.”
Do you realize what you have, what I have? We are talking about what you have in Jesus Christ. You are rich beyond measure.
Folks, we take it for granted. We are walking right past something that one day we are going to be sorry we took for granted. When my father died in 1966, he was 60 years old. He was the picture of health. He had some heart problems, but he had come out of them. He was looking forward to retirement. My Dad, on November 12, 1966, was taken out of here. You know, when I stood there that day to minister to the family, God brought something to my mind that has haunted me ever since. I began to think back to the way I took that man for granted for so many years in my life. I took for granted that he was going to live forever. I took for granted his kindness and goodness to me. All of a sudden on that day, it just stopped. It was like God said, “There is not one single thing you can do. You can’t re-live all of that time that you took for granted knowing him.”
Well, folks, it is going to be even more so when we stand before Jesus one day. Oh, yes, we live in America. I understand that. I understand that you can go to any church you want. You can find any Bible Study book you want. Everybody is just taking everything for granted as if we deserve it. But folks, Paul is saying, “Before I even begin to pray for you, understand something. The only reason that you are in is because of God. He revealed it to me. He explained it to me, and then He sent me to proclaim it to you and me.”
The Mystery was Proclaimed
That is the third thing. Not only was the mystery explained, but the mystery was proclaimed. I want you to see that in verses 7-9 of our text. Paul is just overwhelmed by the fact that this is all God’s doing. He had nothing to do with it. This is not some man-made religion. Verse 7 says: “of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power.” Paul says, “Listen, not only was this by revelation and explanation, but it was by the proclamation of it. God made me a minister. I had nothing to do with it. God called me.”
Then he uses the phrase in verse 7, “according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given to me according to the working of His power.” Paul says, “It was God’s divine favor and power.” He took an evil opponent of the gospel and transformed him. Then He gave him the very message which he had spent his life opposing. God did it, every bit of it. He said, “He even gave me the proclamation.” Do you realize how many books of the New Testament Paul wrote? Folks, what he is saying is, “This book right here was not by man. God gave it to us.” All the epistles to those churches that he had gone to are God’s Word, not Paul’s. Paul is trying to back out of the picture. He is saying, “Don’t ever look at me, I am just as overwhelmed as you ought to be. I am just praying that God will reveal to your heart what He has revealed to my heart. Our salvation should never be taken for granted.”
In 3:8 he says, “To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ.” Now that is why I read that verse. Do you know what that word “unfathomable” means? It means “that which is past finding out, past discovering.” In other words, there is so much. Paul is saying, “Even in the preaching of the gospel, I am realizing there is so much more that I don’t even know.” The scriptures are the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel of our salvation, the gospel of eternity, the gospel of creation, and everything else. It is like a well that has no bottom.
Listen, don’t ever take salvation for granted folks. Remember whose you are. Remember who you are. As a matter of fact, we are about to get into chapters 4-6. That’s not the riches. That’s not the reasons. That’s not the revelation. That’s the responsibilities of our salvation, and they are based on everything Paul has said in the first three chapters. If you don’t get this down pat, you’ll never understand why there is so much responsibility for Christians to live as God wants them to live.