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Description: The Deep Mystery of Christ
The Deep Mystery of Christ
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
Will you turn to Ephesians 3, please. It’s the very last verse — verse 21, “To him be glory in the
church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.” You know as I do that
Christ to everybody means Jesus of Nazareth. It means to them a man who lived in the first century,
and is worshiped by some people as the Son of God, but they think of him simply as that one ordinary
human being who was perhaps elevated in some way, or was in some way that they don’t understand, the
Son of God. But they never, never think of him as being the person in whom they were made. They
never think of him as the person by whom all the stars, and the planets were made. They never think
of him as the person through whose power the whole universe was created.
They never think of him in those elevated and glorious ways, and I think that explains partly why
they even ever come to use him as a swear word. I think it’s part of that that makes them under
interpret Jesus in all kinds of ways. Even I would say when they come to worship him, even when
they begin to believe in him, I think they often think of him as just a self-contained being of some
kind, but they never really accept that they were made inside him, or that it is by his life that
they all hold together. Not for a moment. I don’t know what you think but I honestly think they
would not have the daring, or the chutzpah to regard someone on whom their life depended as a person
that they could in some way despise, or set aside, or use as a swear word. So there is a great
misunderstanding about Jesus in our world, unthinkable though it is.
You and I would believe that surely for generations the church has been communicating these facts to
the world, and we would think, “No, that cannot be.” But, you reflect for a moment and I think
you’ll come to the same conclusion as me, that when people talk about Jesus Christ, they think of
Jesus of Nazareth as a human being that lived in the first century and who may be the Son of God,
and who certainly is worshiped as the Son of God by some people. They don’t think of him as the
great being by whose life and in whom everything hangs together. But to my mind it makes the
humility of Jesus beyond expression, beyond explanation. That he should bear such animosity, and
such contempt, and such disrespect and still keep us together, still hold us together within
himself. Whatever pain it may cause him, he still holds us together. Holds together the very
person who uses his name as a swear word. Holds together the very person who is at that moment
destroying another being inside himself, whose pain he is feeling more intensely than the person
themselves. It is so incredible that there is no word to describe the love that you feel for him
when you think of those things.
Now, that of course – that whole misunderstanding of Jesus as just an ordinary human being is what
Paul is tackling here in this whole chapter, and he is setting forth what he calls the mystery of
Christ. And I would submit to you that the world doesn’t know that phrase. People don’t know what
the mystery of Christ is. They don’t know that there is a mystery in Christ. Indeed, we have
probably done wonders in our Sunday Schools. We probably have done wonders making sure that so many
children know about Jesus of Nazareth but we probably too have done a great disservice because we
have presented him continually from the point of view of a simple person that is easy for a child to
understand. In truth, he is that. I’m sure at the end of this world we will see that he is the
great unifying principle that people like Hawking and Einstein have looked for through the
generations. I’m sure we will see how unbelievably simple the whole explanation is and that it is
as simple as Jesus himself.
But, I think the other side of teaching the children how simple Jesus is, is that we have never
stressed the mystery of Christ. That there are things inside Christ that we do not see when we look
simply upon his face as we see it described in the New Testament as a man in Palestine. Of course,
Paul is correcting that in this chapter because he’s setting forth all the great complexity of
Christ. He’s talking about the mystery of Christ that has been hidden in God for generations.
This mystery that has only recently been made known through the apostles and he points out how this
is the mystery that God had as a plan from the beginning of the world. From before the foundation
of the world God planned to make all of us inside his Son and to bear with all that we would inflict
upon him and upon each other, to bear all that inside his Son.
You remember we said because God himself is responsible and he must understand and feel all the
consequences of his action. Once he determined to make free will beings he had to make them in
such a way that he would bear, even to the point of death, everything they would bring about in
their lives through the exercise of their free will. So Paul sets forth all the wonder, and all
the complexity of that, and makes it clear to us that in Jesus everything that has happened in this
world has been felt by God our Father and has been experienced in him in detail. He explains that
that’s why the world holds together at all.
I was saying to Joe yesterday that it is remarkable how – I suppose it’s the principle of mechanics.
I don’t know how much mechanics you did, but we had to do it in mathematics at some point in our
careers and one of the laws of mechanics is resultants — that every action brings about an opposite
and opposing reaction. And I was saying to Joe that in a deep way that’s part of what God did when
he crucified the world in Christ and redeemed the world to himself. He set forth in the world all
kinds of corrections to the errors that man would bring about himself.
I as a little guy found it just with nettles, I hated nettles. Nettles were the big bane of our
lives when we played around our little bit of wild territory in Belfast. Nettles were horrible
because they left you with this rash that you couldn’t do anything about until someone said, “Oh,
try a docken [dockweed] leaf.” I don’t know how you spell docken even, I just know we called it a
docken leaf and here was these leaves beside the nettles and you rubbed that and that dealt with the
nettles rash. That was my first experience of that principle of reaction and of what God had done
in Christ. Because of course, I think Irene puts it that way, the answer lies to your hand,
everywhere around the answer lies to our hand.
There are antidotes for all – it seems for all the diseases and all the sicknesses and then of
course, there are antidotes for all the economic ills because what we do is we get cheaper and
cheaper products from China, and cheaper and cheaper until it’s not worth us running our own
manufacturing operations so we let our whole manufacturing base in America or in the west die, and
all the production goes abroad until eventually we discover that all the people who made hammers,
and made refrigerators have no money now to buy the goods the rest of us make. So we decide, “Oh
well, we better bring the manufacturing back so that we have a balanced society.” In economics
there are all kinds of balances that seem to occur and that God has worked out carefully and much of
it brings tremendous pain to himself because there isn’t a person who suffers, there isn’t a little
poverty stricken person in the Rust Belt that suffers but he does not suffer inside him.
So God has borne with all our foolishness and yet has corrected it, even as he has borne it. Part
of that is what God has done in Jesus and that’s all part of the mystery of Christ and that’s why
Paul ends the chapter as he does you see. That’s why he says in that last verse, “To him be glory
in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.” ‘Aionon’ at the
very end means literally “eon.” You can see to the ages of the ages. It means forever. It’s the
Greek idiom for ever. “To the ages of the ages, throughout the ages of the ages to him be glory in
the Church and to Christ Jesus to all generations.” Glory actually is the Greek word for opinion.
In the New Testament it always means good opinion, but of course, it also means glory and praise.
So, to God and to his Son Jesus, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus because it is in
Christ that that glory will be.
I would just point out the phrase ‘in the church’ because it is interesting that he brings the
church right in there in the middle. It’s because he believes that people like ourselves will be
among the foremost to allow Christ’s miracle to work in us. And that there will be seen in us the
joy, and delight, and liberty, and freedom that comes from knowing that God has corrected everything
in us. That God has foreseen every difficulty that would come up in our lives and has met it. That
God has made all the rough places plain and has taken all the bends out of the road, and therefore,
that we ourselves will live a life of lighthearted joy and that’s why he says, “To him be praise and
to be glory in the Church.” Not just let the praise and glory rise from angels. Not just let
everybody at the end praise and glorify God for what he has done in Jesus, but let that glory be
seen in us. Let our lives be part of that peon of praise that goes up through the universe.
So, it is part of our praise that we don’t just lift our hands up and say, “Praise God,” or,
“Hallelujah,” or even sing our hymns, but part of our praise is the joy and delight that we live
tomorrow morning on the road going out to our first store, and going out with a joy in our hearts
that we are in Jesus at God’s right hand, and that we are above every rule, and authority, and
dominion, and power. And then the first thing that goes wrong, the first person that cuts in front
of the car on the road, at that very moment there is in us a thanksgiving going up to God, “Lord,
thank you that you knew this would happen. Thank you Lord, that you have a way out of this for me
and you have the way plain before me despite what others may think or do.” And that is part of the
praise that goes up to God.
So you know, it can’t go up to him if it’s a kind of deliberate, “Oh, I must remember this.” It
really goes up to him only when it rises delightfully from our own hearts. So it is our privilege
to receive all that God has set forth here in Ephesians 3, and then to live in the reality of that
mystery. In the sheer simple reality that there is not one thing that will occur this coming week
in our lives that God has not foreseen, and has not borne in Jesus, and has not provided an antidote
for, and there is not one trial come upon us above what we are able to bear.
Of course, that applies if you would just dust around the inside of that cobwebbed mind that applies
to all the little dusty corners that you have there. It applies to all the little uncertain things
that you’re not sure of — all the little vague fears and apprehensions. Every little place where
there’s a tiny little anxiety hiding, bring that right out and acknowledge it and say, “Lord, that
too not only shall pass but has already passed and has already been borne by you in Christ.” And as
you do that the praise and the glory goes up to God and will continue to be ages of the ages.
Let us pray.
Dear Father, we thank you that it is a great joy to you when you see the immediate effects of the
deliverance that you have wrought for us from before the foundation of the world. Lord, we thank
you that that brings a joy to you, a fullness of satisfaction that no words can cause.
So, Father, we would live in the glorious reality that is included in the mystery of Christ whereby
you have foreseen every item of our lives and have answered them all. You have not only delivered us
but turned them right around and brought good out of them so that there lies before us a path of
beauty, and victory, and glory. Not simply a second best, but your very best for us, the perfect
way that you have planned for us to travel into your presence.
So Lord, we would lift up our hearts. We would lift them up and see the everlasting gates, and see
the king of Glory come in, and see that our lives had been transformed and changed and elevated in
him. Lord, we thank you.
Now the grace of our Lord Jesus, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us
now and forever. Amen.