In his letters, the Apostle Paul refers to the mystery of the Gospel at least fifteen times, eight times saying that it had been hidden in ages past, but “now revealed” to the Church. It is clear that this mystery is important to the Christian life, but what is it? People have proposed different ideas, but when we look at these passages, we find a very clear explanation of this mystery, and we also find that it is a huge key to the success and the health of the Church and of its mission in the world.
Ephesians 3:6 says that this mystery is that “the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ.” To us, this may not seem particularly profound, but in the First Century, this was a radical shift in the way that Israel thought about their relationship to God. Israel saw themselves as the exclusive chosen people of God, which means that no one else had any right to call themselves God’s people, and they saw their purpose as simply keeping themselves separated from the rest of the world. Sound familiar? In many ways, we haven’t come as far in the last 2000 years as we’d like to think. Now, Paul, this follower of a little-known Rabbi named Jesus starts talking about the Gentiles being grafted in. Who could imagine such a thing? That the Gentiles would be members of the same body? Israel is the body. Israel is the only partaker of the promise, and as the people of God, our responsibility is to keep as far away from them as possible.
Now it is true that God’s Word clearly says that we need to be careful not to get mixed up in evil; Revelation tells us to come out and be separate. It makes sense, we must defend the faith, keep the Gospel unstained, but what are we defending? We’re defending this mystery, hidden for ages, but now revealed to His Church; that the wall of separation has been removed and redemption is available to everyone, and look at what this mystery did in Paul’s life. Colossians 1:28 says, “warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” Paul has given his life to warning and teaching so that everyone may have an opportunity to be made complete in Christ. This is the mystery of the Gospel; that God is building for Himself a Kingdom made up of people from every tribe, every tongue, every nation, and every ethnic group. How dare we try to get in the way of this?
Finally, Ephesians 3:10 tells us, “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known.” This mystery is that the Gospel is going to go to the ends of the earth and God’s Kingdom will be preached in all of creation. We heard this from Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, but here we see something even more astonishing. Even those who don’t believe, even those who will never partake in the mystery themselves will be able to see the wisdom of God made known to them through us! Have you ever thought about what an awesome responsibility this is? That through us, God is showing His wisdom to the world. As believers, the way we live and the things we live for demonstrate the Wisdom of God to a watching world. As Russell Moore wrote, “The Church is a preview of what the reign of God in Christ is to look like. A colony of the coming Kingdom.”