Epiphany - The Mystery of Christ

Star of Bethlehem by Edward Burne-Jones - Scanned from Stephen Wildman, Edward Burne-Jones: Victorian Artist-Dreamer, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998, ISBN 0870998595, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4925077

Star of Bethlehem by Edward Burne-Jones - Scanned from Stephen Wildman, Edward Burne-Jones: Victorian Artist-Dreamer, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998, ISBN 0870998595, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4925077

3 For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.
— Ephesians 3:1-12

Grace, peace, and mercy to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Epiphany is a day we do not get to celebrate much because it rarely falls on a Sunday. However, its story is familiar. The wise men come and visit Jesus. They give frankincense, myrrh, and gold. Yada, yada, yada, old news.

It is such old hat that we forget how revolutionary it all is. In our Epistle Lesson today (Eph. 3:1-12) we get a bomb shell and we just blow over it. Through the centuries it has lost its force. What Paul is writing here, in his time, is a major scandal. Verse six, “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” Everybody knew that somehow the Gentiles would become part of the church, this was promised as far back as Genesis 12:3 [The Lord said:] “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” But the question was how? What would it look like? How would Gentiles become Jews?

From Sinai on, the requirements of the law had distinguished Jews from Gentiles. But, in his life, death, and resurrection, Christ brought down the “dividing wall of hostility” made of “the law of commandments” (Eph 2:14–15). In his life, he was accused of not upholding the Law (healed on the Sabbath, etc), and he openly engaged and brought blessings to sinners, Samaritans, Canaanites, and other Gentiles. He did so, even to the point of being rejected and crucified (2:16; cf. Gal 3:10–14; 4:4–7). But, God raised Jesus from dead, which vindicated Jesus on all counts, including his stance toward the law and toward Gentiles. Now, instead of the law separating Jews and Gentiles, God offered salvation apart from works of the law to both Jews and Gentiles. As Paul explained, Gentiles had become “fellow heirs and members of the body and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph 3:6).

To see how the Israelite church reacted to this you must go no farther than Acts 13. Paul and Barnabas are in Antioch.  They has preached about Jesus in the synagogue and the people were so desperate to hear it again they begged Paul and Barnabas to return the next Saturday.

44 The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. 46 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,

“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. 49 And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. 50 But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district.
— Acts 13:44-50
Adorazione dei Magi  by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, c. 1655. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21880092

Adorazione dei Magi by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, c. 1655. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21880092

Gentiles were not becoming Jews by following the Old Testament ceremonial laws. Instead, they were being brought into God’s family simply by faith in Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2: 

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
— Ephesians 2:11-22

Today, the mystery continues. People around the world are still being brought into the family of Christ. There is a ministry of the LCMS to Muslims called PABLO. They relate countless testimonies of Muslims moving to the United States and having dreams of Jesus to the point that they seek out Christians to try and figure out what is going on. But, it is not happening only in America but in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. There are missionaries around the world, both abroad and close by, who are preaching the word of God to those who have never heard it. The mystery still continues. God is still knitting His body together.

So we, like Paul, are prisoners of Christ on behalf of fellow Gentiles. We have been made ministers of the Gospel, a royal priesthood though we are the least of the saints. We have been given the gift of faith. But, not a faith to bury and hide. But, a faith to grow and expand. A faith to witness about. We are to lead lives worthy of our calling (Eph. 4:1), and to “walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8). For our light has come. And we are to shine for the whole world to see, calling all to faith in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

And now may the peace that surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.