Epiphany of the Lord (A) January 6, 2006
The Mystery of Christ (Ephesians 3:1-12)
A mystery, in popular use of the term, is a puzzling event or situation. It is something strange or secret. But in the New Testament, a mystery is something now made known by revelation. It is something we could never have known had God not made it known to us. It was formerly a secret and inscrutable, but God pulled back the curtain to show us what was hidden. The whole story of Jesus is such a mystery. Before God made it known, it was a great secret that we Gentiles should become full participants with the chosen people through Jesus the Messiah.
Paul chose three compound words to describe in verse six our privilege in Christ Jesus. We Gentiles are fellow heirs, fellow members of a body, and fellow partakers of the promise.
I. First, we Gentiles are fellow heirs of Christ with the chosen people (v. 6).
In the old economy, a Gentile might become a proselyte to Judaism and thus share that spiritual inheritance. But now, all sons of men can be heirs along with the sons of Israel.
On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit fell on men and women from all over the Greco-Roman world, but they were all Jews. At Caesarea, Gentiles received this same Spirit.
In her lifetime, multi-billionaire Leona Helmsley had a reputation as “The Queen of Mean.” She died, and recently details of her will became public. She left $12 million for the care of her Maltese terrier “Trouble” and nothing for a couple of her grandchildren who are specifically excluded “for reasons that are known to them.” The pampered pooch may be sure of continuing his diet of chef-prepared gourmet meals. When he dies, his little canine corpse will be laid to rest in the mausoleum with the remains of Mr. and Mrs. Helmsley. Some of the heirs are further required to sign the guest register in that memorial at least once each year or forfeit their inheritance.
We Gentiles, as well as Jews, in Christ are assured of full and equal participation in all the blessings and benefits of being heirs of God in Christ. We too are chosen people – fellow heirs. The Queen of Mean decided who deserved her favor and who did not; the King of Grace opened his arms of love to all of us in Christ.
II. We are also fellow members of Christ’s Body.
Gentiles and Jews alike were folded into the church on the same terms. Together we compose one body. The noun Paul used to describe this privilege, he probably made up on the spot for this purpose. It is a word used only here in the New Testament and not found in classical Greek at all. Paul built the word by melding two Greek words: Su is the preposition “together with.” Soma is the noun for “body.” We Jews and Gentiles are together with one another in the Church, the body of Christ.
In science, soma is the word used to describe all the cells and tissues in the body considered collectively, with the exception of germ cells. We are not all the same in function or form, but we are all essential parts of the body as a whole. Paul was very fond of this word picture. Three times in this epistle to the Ephesians he used the metaphor (Eph. 1:23, 4:25 and 5:30). See also Rom. 12:4 and 1 Cor. 12:12-26.
I once interviewed a man in our state mental hospital. His memory was good, and he recalled with clarity the details of the preacher I was researching. But there was one distracting matter throughout the interview. As we conversed, his right hand walked on two fingers up and down his arm, chest, head and shoulders. I found it very curious; he found it a great irritation.
As the rebel fingers walked over his face, he would take the other hand and seize the unruly member and throw it down to his side. There it would stay for a while and then start wandering again. It was as if it had a mind of its own. I believe he had been treated for his mental disorder with an operation in which the nerves that connect the two lobes of the brain are surgically severed.
God calls us to remember that we are now fellow members in the body of Christ, the church. The mind of Christ is the one brain that ought to control us all.
III. Finally, we are fellow partakers of the Promise in Christ Jesus.
The third word is not one Paul invented; it is found in Classical Greek of Justin and Josephus. Plato used its verb form. The word declares us to be sharing something, and that something is the promise of salvation in Christ Jesus. God is working out a master plan in conformity to the purpose of His own will (Eph. 1:11). We who are Gentiles are assured that we have been a part of that plan from the beginning. It is not just the chosen race of Hebrews who are privileged to participate in covenant relationship with God. We too are fellow partakers.
These three words call us to live a life that conforms to our tremendous privilege in Christ. The chapters that follow call us to the Christian vocation of humility and consideration for each other and to unity in the body of Christ. (Austin B. Tucker)