Ephesians 3:1-13: The Mystery of the Church
The billboard and TV adverts exhorting us to obtain a Sky HD box in time for the World Cup proclaims: "50 million believers". Imagine…. I don’t mean England winning the world cup. That will take more than a miracle. No, I mean, imagine Britain with 50 million believers. What would it be like to live in a country where 85% of the population are believers?
50 million believers. Would there be less crime? Fewer burglaries? Less vandalism? Lower stress levels? Less domestic violence? Fewer divorces? Less drug addiction? Lower suicide rates? Fewer abortions? Less child abuse? Lower terror threats? Fewer police? Less social workers? More security? Stronger marriages? Greater harmony? Happier people? A more desirable place to live? Heaven on earth? Possible? Achievable? Could the change of government last week achieve it? I wouldn’t hold your breath. But could the Spirit of God do it working through 5 million believers and around 40,000 churches in the UK?
How many people do you know well? In your circle of family, your friends, your work colleagues, your neighbours? I bet you know at least ten people well enough to have an honest in-depth open conversation about what matters most in your life. At least ten people that should be on your prayer list, your watch list, your Christianity Explored invitational list, your ‘please come with me to this special event’ list.
You see when Christ ascended to heaven, having died to save the world, he entrusted that message to eleven ordinary men.
The fate of the world, humanly speaking, rested in the hands of those eleven 1st Century men. What did he tell them to do? “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
Let me ask you. Has the assignment changed in 2000 years? Do we have the same Holy Spirit that they received on the Day of Pentecost? So what has changed? When you think of ‘church’ what comes to mind? On a spectrum of community groups where would you place the church, say between, Wentworth golf club and say a… Taliban training camp in Afghanistan? I can guess which you would feel most comfortable in, but which is closest to the biblical church?
I’m not talking about methods. I am talking about vision, about dedication, about intentionality, about impact, about sacrifice. If you asked a Taliban leader what his vision is, what do you think he would say? They want to bring the whole world into submission to Almighty God, obedient to the Law of God.
And they are waging a war, a literal war against those they deem as decadent, immoral, disobedient and unbelieving. While we totally repudiate their methods, do we not long to live in a world where at the name of Jesus every knee should bow? Voluntarily? Willingly, freely, joyfully, in grateful thanks for all Jesus has accomplished for us in his death in our place?
Then what are we doing to achieve it? If you are not sure, read my paper on the Christian Jihadist which I gave in Toronto last weekend at a gathering of evangelical and Muslim leaders.
The church is the hope of the world. The only hope of the world. It was true on the Day of Pentecost. It is true today. Please turn with me to Ephesians 3 and lets consider three simple, memorable reasons why you should value your Church - if you want a closer walk with Jesus, if you want to fulfil God’s purposes, if you want to change the world.
1. Come because Jesus is here (3:1-5)
2. Come because the end is near (3:7-11)
3. Come because his family is dear (3:6, 12-13)
1. Come because Jesus is here
“In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets.” (Ephesians 3:4-5)
Jesus is here. Jesus is here principally by His Spirit. If we have received Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, he indwells us personally by his Spirit. Jesus is here therefore by His Spirit because we are gathered together in his name. Jesus promised, "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." (Matthew 18:20). This should be reason enough for showing up each week. Why? Because you might miss something. You might miss something Jesus wants to say to you through a sister or brother. You might miss something Jesus wants you to do for a brother or sister. What do you think Thomas was doing a week after the resurrection when everyone else was gathered together to hear God’s word and talk to Him? What could have been more important to Thomas than meeting with Jesus? He wasn’t there and so he missed Jesus. He spent a whole week disbelieving that the other disciples had seen Jesus. He missed out on meeting the risen Jesus. 4000 years ago, God felt it was so important that his people stop their normal work and meet weekly, he made it mandatory. He made it one of the ten most important commands he gave his people:
"Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work…” (Deut. 5:12-14)
What could possibly be more important to you than meeting with Jesus and his family - for one hour on a Sunday? Remember Jesus words in the Garden of Gethsemane? “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” (Matthew 26:40). When Jesus needed help they were sleeping. Is an hour a week really too demanding for your busy schedule? Think back to last Sunday or the Sunday before. What did you do? How did you spend the day? Did it come close to being with Jesus? Hearing Jesus? Talking to Jesus?
Too busy to meet weekly with Jesus and his family? How is Jesus present with us on Sundays? By His Spirit and also through his Word. “In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets.” (Ephesians 3:4-5).
Notice Paul says - “In reading this” - that is - through the reading of Scripture written by the apostles and prophets the Holy Spirit has revealed the mystery of Christ. In chapter 5 Paul says the same thing – “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.” (Ephesians 5:25-26)
How is Jesus present with us on Sundays? Answer : Through the word. The word communicated through the apostles and prophets. The mystery of Jesus - God’s rescue plan for the world - has been revealed in and through the Bible. That’s one of the primary reasons we meet together on Sundays. For the reading, the hearing, the exposition, the interpretation, the understanding, and the application of God’s word. In Ephesians 5:24 Paul assumes something we should not presume on: “Now as the church submits to Christ…” (Ephesians 5:24). How do we show our submission to Christ? Answer: By showing up to be with Jesus and his family to listen to his word. Jesus said on one occasion, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him." (John 14:21).
Jesus reveals himself progressively to us as we submit to the Spirit’s leading as His word is explained. Word and Spirit. There are plenty of Churches who emphasize one against the other. All Word and no Spirit and we dry up. All Spirit and no Word and we blow up. Together, Word and Spirit, and we will grow up. Trying to read the Bible without the illuminating work of the Spirit is like trying to read a sun dial by moonlight. It is dull and you get the wrong reading. The Holy Spirit will never teach you something that is not plainly taught in Scripture, for the Word is the Sword of the Spirit. Word and Spirit. I warm to the best of the Evangelical and Charismatic traditions.
Lets treasure both here at Christ Church. We show that we love Jesus by taking his word seriously, by seeking the filling of his Spirit, by meeting with his family weekly. So let me ask you again: Can you think of anything more important than spending an hour on Sundays with Jesus? I can’t, can you? So come first of all, because Jesus is here.
2. Come because the end is near
“…His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Ephesians 3:7-11)
God’s plan for saving the world is reaching its consummation. Have you ever considered that our meeting together, as Christians throughout the world are doing today, is a visible witness to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms? A witness that God is in control? That God is rescuing his people? That evil is defeated? That God’s eternal purposes are being, and will be, accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord?
The parked cars outside are not just witnessing to our neighbours that this is the place to be on Sundays - they are witnessing to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms that in Virginia Water at least, God’s eternal purposes are being accomplished. What do empty churches converted to night clubs say to the devil? Conversely, what do thriving and growing churches say? What we do on Sundays is not just for ourselves. What we do on Sundays should not be based on a casual whim. Paul urges us, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16)
The writer to the Hebrews makes this even more explicit. “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
What day is approaching? The day of his coming. The day of judgement. The day of consummation. Last weekend I was in Toronto meeting with Evangelical and Muslim leaders to explore what we have in common and where we differ on core issues. Some Christians have a hard time with me making friends with Muslims. I can’t understand that mentality. Why am I doing it? Because I don’t want to waste my time. I want to be as impactful as I can for the sake of the kingdom. Because I want to introduce Jesus to people and if I get an invitation to talk about Jesus in a mosque, or a synagogue or a temple, I don’t refuse, I can’t refuse, because like Paul I am a prisoner of Jesus Christ. I do as I am told.
If the Holy Spirit prompts you to do something, you better do it. It grieves me the way some Christians speak of Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists as if they were the enemy. They are not. They may be pawns of the enemy but they are not the enemy. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)
You cannot witness to people with hate in your heart. I remember the first time I spoke at a Muslim conference it was at Leicester University. It was a week after September 11th 2001. During the break after my talk a man and a woman came up to me separately and both asked me the very same question. Did I think that September 11th was a sign that Jesus is coming back? Yes I do. And there are plenty of other signs too if we look carefully enough. Muslims are asking the question. They are expecting Jesus to return. Are you?
Lets get intentional about our meeting together with Jesus and all the more as we see the day of his coming approaching. Why? Because Jesus is here. Because the end is near.
3. Come because his family is dear (3:6, 12-13)
“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 … In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged.” (Ephesians 3:6, 12-13)
In this passage Paul describes us as ‘heirs’ as ‘one body’ and as ‘sharers’. Alone we can get so easily discouraged. When we meet together we can encourage one another. I was speaking to someone recently who is a recovering alcoholic. They described how they can only go three to four days without meeting with their AA friends. They admitted how hard it was to resist just one drink. They said “If I have a one drink today, it will be a bottle tomorrow, and I’ll be in a straight jacket the next day.” They know their limits. Do you? They know they need fellowship every few days. Do you? Have you come to appreciate your fellowship here with that level of intensity? Have you come to value the encouragement we can give one another with that level of intentionality? Or do we seriously think we can go weeks without fellowship and remain immune to temptation? I know I cannot. That is why we value our Church. Because Jesus is here. Because the end is near. Because his family is dear.
“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5:25-26)
Think about it: “radiant … without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” This is why we meet. This is what we are becoming. This is what we look forward to. And this is what will draw others to the Saviour. When they see Jesus is here. The end is near. His family are dear.
50 million believers? How big is your vision for the Church?
Greg Ferguson has written a song that expresses this. Its called “One Life.”
there is an invisible presence
as close as the air we are breathing
there’s a call to a life that’s greater
there’s a hunger for something to believe in
there’s the voice of the risen Saviour
and He’s giving us an invitation
to the Rock we can truly stand on
to a more secure foundation
are you willing to join the adventure?
are you willing to follow onward?
in the steps of the risen Saviour
to the life that you’ve always wanted
this is the life he offers, this is the hope we’ve found
He is our certain future, He is our solid ground
This is the life we’ve chosen. This is the choice we make
This is the Rock we stand on. His is the strength we claim
This risen Saviour calls us. His invitation’s clear
His door is always open. Anyone is welcome here.