Click here for the reading: Ephesians 3:1-12.
Mysteries are not what they once were. When we hear about mysteries in Bible passages, we think of what was done in the library and deerstalker caps and fingerprints on the windowsill. Paul is not speaking about something dark but precisely about something revealed and now very open. A mystery in the Bible is a mystery because only God could have known it and shown it to men. The mystery of the Gentiles’ inclusion in God’s people is mysterious because no one of Paul’s heritage would ever have expected it.
This is strange to us because the inclusion of Gentiles is now a given, presumptive in practically every Christian congregation across the world. We are no longer surprised, and when we read the Old Testament, prophecies such as Isa. 60 or any other about the coming of the nations to the Messiah leap easily from the page. We see with ease what Paul found hard to see. Why?
Again the gap between expectation and reality is a fruitful vein for preaching. The heirship of the Gentiles, their full and confident standing before God for the sake of Christ, was prophesied, but only in Christ are these things now so clear (“now been revealed” in v. 5). It’s not that this was somehow not really there in the text of the Old Testament. The obscurity, the darkness, is in the hearts of men who read and do not understand what they read. People’s expectations are conditioned by any number of factors that may or may not prepare them for the reality of God’s revelation.
Paul’s calling is specifically to call the Gentiles whom God has saved and to bring to light what God’s wisdom has planned and set forth. If something in Scripture is obscure or the Messiah is unknown or someone does not worship He who is Truth Himself, then the apostolic calling is to make Scripture, Messiah, and Truth known. The theme of mission running throughout the Epiphany season is contained here in a nutshell. If God has revealed His Son, then His Son must be made known. There can be no Messiah whose Name is not preached everywhere. How will they hear without someone preaching?
God’s wisdom is made known to individuals a la Rom. 10 but also to the powers and authorities now extant. “Through the church” (v. 10) the world is put on notice concerning its limits and its true Ruler. The boldness Paul displays and the courage he has and encourages the Ephesians to have (v. 13, just outside the pericope) are great because his understanding of what has happened in Christ is cosmic. Anywhere he goes is somewhere Christ reigns over. Anyone to whom he preaches is someone for whom Christ died, whether the listener heeds the gospel or not. A universal gospel for Jew and Gentile demands universal welcome. This is not mysterious. It is now the plainest thing in the world: Christ is the true King of the Jews and of the Gentiles.