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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Why the Good News is So Good
Text:Ephesians 3:1-13 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-11-25
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 67:1,2                   

Ps 78:3,4

Reading – Ephesians 3

Ps 147:1,4,6

Sermon – Ephesians 3:1-13

Hy 61:1,2

Ps 32:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, sometimes we get news that dramatically changes our life. We hear something that we know at once will have lasting results. It might be bad news about an illness. It might be good news about a special opportunity. Or it might just be surprising news that’s going to take some time for us to work through.

We’re all well-acquainted with the message of salvation, yet it can be called “news.” There’s a word that we often use to describe it: this message is the gospel, or “the good news.” For God has announced what He’s done for us in Jesus Christ his Son.

And the gospel really is a life-altering message. If you’ve heard about Christ, then you can’t be the same person that you were before. It’s something that changes us, something with massive consequence. So when a person hears the gospel, they have a choice to make. You either accept it in faith, or you reject it. And as a result, we either enjoy God’s gift of salvation, or we suffer the penalty of his wrath.

As I said, we’re deeply familiar with this gospel. And it’s like anything that you hear again and again—it doesn’t take too long before it stops amazing you, or exciting you, or moving you to do something. This is why our text has an important teaching for us. Here Paul explains the glorious good news of grace, and he works out some of its profound implications: How does the gospel shape the unity of the church? How does the gospel give us a message for the world? And how does the gospel give us work to do? I preach God’s Word to you from Ephesians 3:1-13 on this theme,

 

God graciously reveals the good news of Christ Jesus:

1) the gospel’s amazing message of unity

2) the gospel’s powerful result in the church

3) the gospel’s humbling mission for its servants

 

1) the gospel’s amazing message of unity: Our text begins with a quick look in the rear-view mirror, “For this reason I, Paul…” (v 1). The question we should all ask is: For which reason? What is Paul referring to? He is reflecting on everything that he’s written so far in chapters 1 and 2. He’s been busy explaining everything that the Triune God has done for us: the Father elected us in his grace, the Son redeemed us in his blood, the Holy Spirit is renewing us by his power. He has marvelled at how God has made dead sinners alive, how He’s created a new people out of Jews and Gentiles—all who believe.

“For this reason,” says Paul—and then he interrupts himself. If you look down to verse 14 you see where Paul picks up this line of thought again, “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” Thinking about all the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, in verse 1 Paul wants to pray (and he will pray), but he gets side-tracked momentarily. Like teachers sometimes do, he digresses to talk about something interesting.

The subject of his little detour is the amazing message of the gospel. Paul reflects on the ministry that God has given him, and the message that God has entrusted. Paul is deeply aware of what a privilege it is to be a preacher of Christ—something we’ll see a bit later. But for now, let’s look at the good news God gave him.

We pick it up in verse 3, where Paul says that “by revelation [God] made known to me the mystery.” Whenever Paul preached, he wasn’t just pulling words out of thin air, making things up that would sound good. Nor did his knowledge of Christ come through personal discovery. No, it was a mystery, and it came by divine revelation.

First, that word “mystery.” Paul uses the word mystery in a surprising way, different from how we use it. For Paul, a “mystery” is not something that’s strange and unknown. A mystery in the New Testament is something that was concealed but is now revealed. It’s a secret that has been shared with all—you could say that it’s a secret which has been made front page news!

Second, the gospel was made known by “revelation.” If something is a revelation to you, it’s an eye-opener. In the Greek, it’s literally an unveiling. It’s like when you’re playing Hide-n’-Seek, and you’ve got a good spot behind the curtain, until someone pulls it back and exposes you. It took a direct revelation from God to tell Paul about this gospel.

So when did this happen? Think of what took place on the road to Damascus. Then, the risen Lord Jesus appeared to Paul and He spoke to him. Not that Paul suddenly understood everything—it was just the beginning. But this revelation changed everything. Paul had devoted himself to destroying the followers of Christ. He thought these were people all deceived by a lie, and that he was on the side of truth, when suddenly the curtain is pulled back: Jesus Christ is real! He is alive, and He’s on the side of his people. Imagine the shock! From that moment, God continued to reveal his truth to him and even sent him to preach it.

The heart of God’s revelation was always that man who appeared on the road: Jesus Christ. His gospel can be called a mystery, because it used to be hidden from so many people, but now it’s been broadcast widely. Whatever your nationality and background, whatever you’ve done wrong, you can come and listen—and if you believe it, you will be forgiven all your sins and saved. This is the great work of God, the amazing revelation of his grace.

And this is how a preacher of the gospel can still speak about his message today. These words I speak to you have come by revelation—not in the same way that Paul first received it, when the Lord Jesus appeared and spoke to him. But this sermon—if it is true to God’s Word—comes to you by divine revelation. It’s the Lord’s own truth, not something I dreamed up, not something that I had to look for.

Beloved, this is our privilege whenever we open Scripture and whenever we listen to faithful preaching: it’s a good news announcement from God himself. And that requires us to hear it with all attention and humility. Don’t dismiss a text because it’s familiar and you assume that you know what it means. Don’t give up on a text because it’s difficult and you’re not sure what to do with it. But delight in the revelation of God’s Word. Take the time to excavate into its depths and to meditate on its riches.

Paul next speaks about another aspect of the gospel, another layer that has been peeled back by Christ. See verse 5: “In other ages [it] was not made known to the sons of men.” There’s a truth which wasn’t known previously, something inaccessible until God chose to reveal it. And now God has made it obvious: “It has now been revealed by the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets” (v 5).

So what is that God has disclosed? It’s not just that Jesus Christ is the living Saviour, but that He’s the Saviour of all people, all who believe, without exception. Paul summarizes this mystery: “that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ through the gospel” (v 6). People from all nations are now included in Christ’s church. And remember, the Gentiles are those about whom the Spirit said in chapter 2, “They are without Christ, strangers to the covenant, with hope and without God.”

But God has reversed their misery. They are, first of all, “fellow-heirs” (v 6). A fellow-heir is someone who shares your inheritance, and the reason he does is because he’s part of your family. Long ago, God had promised Abraham that he would bless his descendants forever. Everyone thought that was just the people of Israel, but now it’s revealed that by faith, the Gentiles too are included in Abraham’s family; as the Spirit says somewhere else, “Abraham is the father of us all.” Those who once were so poor are allowed to share in the inheritance of Christ’s heavenly riches.

The Gentiles are fellow-heirs, and they’re also “of the same body” (v 6). Christ is our glorious Head, and He’s the Head of just one body. It’s a body composed of Jews and Gentiles, Greeks and barbarians, Koreans and Australians and Egyptians and Brazilians. There is just one church, the true communion of all who believe in Christ. 

And a third angle on this mystery: God has made the Gentiles “partakers of his promise in Christ through the gospel” (v 6). A partaker is someone who participates in something. God has allowed the Gentiles to participate in his promise—to share in what He’s done through Christ. It’s for the nations too, all the privileges of believing the gospel.

Because we’re so used to it, we can forget how radical this is. But for Paul and his fellow Jews, it was a shocking newsflash: God’s grace is for the Gentiles too. Paul calls it a mystery, but there were always glimpses in the Old Testament. Already in Genesis 12, God had said to Abraham that “all nations” would be blessed through him. You can hear it in the Psalms as well (like in Psalm 67) and in the prophets (especially Isaiah), but it was never really understood. What did this mean, that Jews and Gentiles would actually be one people? It was unthinkable: how on earth could that hostility and separation ever be overcome?

But God would do it through Jesus Christ. His sacrifice on the cross is so powerful, so effective and complete, it can save people from every background. And then out of all those whom He saves, He can create an amazing unity.

Beloved, this is something else that should make us marvel, for we have to remember that the gospel isn’t ours by rights. It’s good for us to recall that we all are Gentiles by birth. Apart from God revealing himself to us, we’d be utterly lost. Apart from Christ appearing to us in his Word and his Spirit, we’d be completely blind. But God has made us “fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ through the gospel.”

 

2) the gospel’s powerful result in the church: When you get good news, you just want to share it. Say you do really well on an exam, or you get engaged, or you win a prize, you find a way to broadcast it—by posting it to Facebook or calling all your friends. God wants the amazingly good news of Christ to be broadcast too.

We see this purpose in verse 10. The Spirit says that God revealed the gospel “to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places” (v 10). This is too good to keep to yourself, but God wants it to get out everywhere.

What does God want to be made known? His “manifold wisdom.” Literally, it says God’s “multi-coloured wisdom.” The gospel is like something beautiful that’s put together out of a wide array of colours, like a garland of flowers or an elaborate quilt. The Lord’s wisdom is richly diverse, because He works on a timeframe far beyond a human lifetime. He uses one event to prepare for the next in a way nobody can predict. And God surprises us! He uses the weak to accomplish great things, uses suffering to bring healing. In his manifold wisdom, He sent his Son to die, so that many would live.

God’s plan even extends beyond this world, to the world of the unseen. This comes out in verse 10, that “the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.” These principalities and powers are the evil forces of this universe. These are the angelic beings who live in the heavenly places, who try to destroy God’s people, and who follow the prince of the air, Satan.

And the mind-blowing thing is that God wants the church to bring a message to these spiritual forces. He wants his multi-coloured wisdom to be reflected to these Satanic powers “by the church.” Paul doesn’t say a lot about it—we wish he’d say more. But it’s clear that he’s thinking about the powerful result of the gospel among believers. The church is like God’s pilot project; we are the shining example of what God is one day going to accomplish everywhere.

Because if you look around, there reigns the power of sin everywhere. Everywhere there is curse. Everywhere is hostility between people. But the church is the one place on earth where there is peace and healing and restoration. The church is the pattern of something God is going to do a universal scale: He will reverse the power of sin, break the curse and build a true unity among people who used to hate each other. It’s in the church of Christ that the demons can see just how wise and powerful is the Lord God.

And so the church provides a sobering reminder to the demons that their authority has been broken, that they’re part of kingdom that is crumbling. The church is like a billboard that announces a message to the world: God is God, and He is greater than every force of evil and division. It’s like God says to Satan and his hosts, “You want to see what I can do? You want to see my power over sin? Look at the church. Look at this people whom I’m restoring and uniting in my Son.”

Paul loves this idea of unity. He touched on it in chapter 1, he worked it out in chapter 2, and now again here. It’s in chapter 4 as well, the strong emphasis on “one body, one Spirit, one faith.” It makes you wonder why Paul keeps coming back to it. We know there were a lot of Gentiles in Ephesus, alongside a group of Jews—maybe there wasn’t always peace in the congregation, and Paul wanted to teach them why they should be unified in Christ. God delights in unity, and their unity was a message to the world.

It’s a message that we also need to bring. It’s a powerful statement to unbelievers—and even to Satan’s minions—if we’re willing to accept one another and forgive each other. Unity makes a compelling statement, because this isn’t the way that the world normally operates. People isolate themselves and create walls between themselves. But through building and preserving unity, we reflect God’s manifold wisdom.

There’s another aspect to this, and that’s about the diversity of the church. The Spirit says that Jews and Gentiles are united to form the one Body of Christ. The two groups of people considered most unlikely to join have joined, through faith in Christ!

It presents the question about our own diversity: Are we really a diverse body? We have a variety of gifts, and a variety of opinions, but what about a variety of backgrounds and nationalities? Do we reflect something of the startling unity that there was among the Ephesians, where Jew and Gentile came together? Where strangers and enemies were joined as one? Does our congregation show that Christ is gathering people from every tribe and language and nation?

This isn’t something that can be quickly changed. And we shouldn’t be diverse just for the sake of being diverse. But Ephesians is the kind of book that should change our thinking, where we come to see that the church isn’t just for certain kinds of people. It’s not just for those of similar background and colour and character, or those of similar economic status. It’s for our neighbours too, even for those who speak other languages, for those whom we might prefer not to talk to. The powerful results of the gospel are seen when the church is put together with a wide variety of parts—when it’s multi-coloured, like the multi-coloured wisdom of God.

 

3) the gospel’s humbling mission for its servants: Paul was allowed to preach and teach this glorious gospel of Christ. And this was the mission that landed him in prison. He was writing this letter from jail (probably from Rome), and in verse 1 he reflects on his situation, “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles…” And it really was for the Gentiles that Paul was captive—in Acts you can read how he was arrested as a direct result of his stand on welcoming Gentiles into the church.

His mission had landed him in prison, but Paul doesn’t want pity. As he writes in verse 13, “I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.” The Ephesians might’ve despaired on account of their beloved minister, but Paul points to the greater good, because even in prison he continued to tell others about Christ.

And this was Paul’s whole purpose on earth: the ministry of the gospel. As he says in verse 2, “You have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you.” Dispensation isn’t a common word for us, but it means something like administration, an official office. God had given Paul a mandate to administer God’s grace, to preach far and wide the gospel of Christ.

His task wasn’t a burden, even if it meant prison. Rather, Paul sees his ministry as a gift from God: “this dispensation was given to me for you.” He counted it a deep privilege to be a gospel preacher. As Paul says again in verse 7, “I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me.” It was an act of God’s grace.

What made Paul so thankful to be a servant of Christ, so humbled by being in ministry? It was the awareness of his own sin and unworthiness. This comes out in verse 8, “To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”

See how he refers to himself as “less than the least.” It’s hard to go lower than that! Paul is moved by the wonder of the grace of God toward him, a sinner. And he wasn’t just thinking about his ongoing struggle with sin, but especially his past persecutions of God’s people. There was a time in his life when he had had Christians killed. Paul had done evil things against the church, against Christ himself. Some of these things could not be undone. So even now, years later, Paul felt the heavy burden of his sins. More than once in his letters Paul refers to this, calling himself the greatest of sinners.

The more he meditated on God’s blessings in Christ, the more he realized that he wasn’t deserving of such mercy. He had no standing or worthiness, that he should receive the grace of forgiveness. But God showed him the unsearchable riches of Christ, counting him as righteous and holy through him.

And then to think that God wanted him to be a minister, a gospel preacher—to think that God would use him mightily for his kingdom! To him, “less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that [he] should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (v 8). To tell others what he had learned himself! To share the grace that was shown to him! This gave Paul an inner drive and conviction: he wanted to use all his strength for the cause of the gospel, to devote himself to the God who had changed his entire life. As he writes somewhere else, “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor 15:9). 

We can learn a lot from Paul’s deep humility. I think there are times that we can feel deeply unworthy of God, when we feel like the greatest of sinners, “less than the least” of all God’s people. For we know that we continually fail in our daily calling. We know that our hearts are a mess of corrupt desires and selfish motivations. We can also remember evil things we’ve done, even things that can’t be reversed and that have long-term effects. When we consider our sinfulness, or when we reflect on how we’ve failed in some terrible ways, we start to feel the true weight of our guilt. Less than the least—the chief of sinners—dead in trespasses and sins.

But in a sense, that’s a good place to be. Because it’s exactly then—when we see our unworthiness, when we’re confronted with our sinfulness, when we know how bad it really is for us—it’s then that the good news sounds so good. We are forgiven! We are a new creation! We have a glorious future! And it moves us and sends us to our knees. We come to understand anew that we live by his grace alone. By the grace of God we are what we are.

In verse 12 Paul sketches out this beautiful gospel, saying that in Christ “we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in him.” The word “boldness” is interesting—literally it means, “freedom of speech.” That’s what we have in Christ: freedom of speech with God. You’re a desperate sinner, your hands are empty and your life is in shambles, but you’re allowed to draw near to God as your loving Father and faithful Saviour.

God’s grace turns you from a sinner into a saint, and from a saint into a servant. That’s our humbling mission, because now God wants you to be an instrument of his grace toward others.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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