Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “The Mystery is Revealed!” based on Ephesians 3:2-12 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Sunday, January 6, 2019
The word epiphany means some sort of appearance, an uncovering, or a revealing of something that was, beforehand, hidden or unknown. And, throughout this Epiphany season, God’s Word will reveal some characteristics of Jesus that were, for a time, unknown to the world – how he is the one who works wonders, makes disciples and missionaries, and loves even his enemies. But, before this season discusses those characteristics, it is important to uncover and reveal the mystery about exactly for whom Jesus came and how you can know that to be true.
The account of the Magi, which you heard in the Gospel reading for today, does a great job of showing that those men from the far east knew that Jesus was their King. However, to dig just a bit deeper, to see Jesus as someone who is more than just a king and how he came for more than just those who seek and follow his star, the Apostle Paul, in the second lesson for today, revealed the answer to those mysteries. Listen again:
In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made 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 thousands of years, throughout the Old Testament, God made it clear that he made a distinction between those who were his people and everyone else. He talked to his people through prophets. He revealed himself to some of them, in a burning bush, a cloud, and in visions and dreams. He made promises and agreements specifically with them in mind and had rules and regulations that they alone were to follow.
The men in those generations had every right and every reason to believe that they, and they alone, were God’s people and that God’s promises of a Messiah were made to them alone.
However, God gave the Apostle Paul an epiphany. He uncovered and revealed a truth to him—something that was always true, but was unable to be seen clearly and unable to be known in full. God’s plans certainly had some specific steps for the people of Israel, but his plans, even before the creation of the world, always also had the Gentiles in mind.
And, that revelation given to Paul has profound impact for you and for me. Your latest 23 and me results may show a percentage of Hebrew heritage in your bloodline, but, even with an Israelite ancestor from ages ago, you would not be included if God’s promises were only offered to the people of Israel. Instead, in reading this, you will be able to understand that the truths God taught his people in the past apply to you, too.
But, friends, that’s kind of a “good news, bad news” situation. If all of the Bible’s teachings apply to you, too, that also means that when God told Noah that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time, that included your inclinations. When God spoke through Isaiah and said that your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, it was your iniquity and guilt that built up a barrier between you and him. And, when David realized the reason he committed adultery and murder was because he was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me, it means that from your conception, you, too, have been sinful and, therefore, unqualified to be with the God who included you in his plans.
But that, brothers and sisters, is not a mystery that needed to be solved, is it? You see the implications and results of that every day. Whether you made them or not, have already failed to keep them or not, why do people see the need to make resolutions at this time of year? Isn’t it because they have seen how they failed to be perfect in 2018? You weren’t the best dad you could be. You didn’t always do your job to the best of your ability. You let your habitual sins happen again and again and you numbed your conscience with all sorts of little lies and half-truths to convince yourself that they were all ok, anyway.
Yes, you, together with me and the rest of the world; all people past, present, and future have not and cannot keep up with the commands that God has given or meet the requirements God has made for his people to qualify for eternal life with him in heaven. God’s law is pretty clear about those facts.
No, your sin and its deserved consequences is no mystery, but God’s reaction to your sin most certainly is.
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.
God promised his people that, instead of seeing your sins, iniquities, and transgressions and judging you accordingly for them, he would send his Son to be your brother and to live his life perfectly in your place. He promised that the inclinations of Jesus’ heart would only be honorable all the time. He promised that Jesus’ righteousness would tear down the wall that stands between God and men. He promised that Jesus’ purity and love for mankind, even from the time inside Mary’s womb, would cause him to have no need for a New Year’s resolution for any of his years on this earth.
The mystery is that this good news of Jesus’ perfect life and innocent death was done not just for Israel, but for you, for me, and for all. You receive what you could not deserve from a God who should not love you. It is a mystery that could not have been solved by any of the world’s greatest sleuths. It is a mystery that does not make any sense. But it is a mystery that God has known even since before the creation of the world and, thankfully, as Paul revealed in the second half of this lesson for today, it is a mystery that he revealed to you. Hear again and have an epiphany:
Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given to me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known.
Because you wouldn’t have been able to uncover or understand the mystery of the gospel on your own, your God had someone uncover it to you and for you.
You don’t have to look for a burning bush, a pillar of cloud or fire, or wait for some vision or dream to have your God talk to you and reveal his plans for you. Instead, he put sinful human beings, covered in white cloth, to stand in front of a congregation and he called workers to stand in front of your children in a classroom. Here, through the Church, he administers to you the mystery hidden under words from a centuries-old book, water poured into wood and stone, and wafers and wine placed into your own hands.
Celebrate this epiphany. The mystery is revealed. Jesus is the Savior God planned and promised for you and for all. Amen.