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The Mystery Revealed (Epiphany)

[Ephesians 3:4-9] When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 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. 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. 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. 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, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things.

The Mystery Revealed

What place has the nation of Israel today? Who are the Gentiles? Does today’s nation of Israel play a unique role in the last days or in God’s plan of salvation? Does salvation work the same for all people? What are ‘Jew’ and ‘Gentile’?

There are many nationalities. But in the Scriptures, the basic breakdown of humanity is Jew and Gentile. In the world of the New Testament, sometimes this is phrased instead “Jew and Greek” because of the overwhelming influent of the former Greek Empire. You either lived like a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or you lived like a Greek, a Gentile.

“Gentile” in the Bible is actually just the word for “nation”. “Gentiles” means “all those other nations”, as opposed to the one nation of Israel. You are either Jew or Gentile.

But now, a mystery has been revealed. In past, we knew this: The Israelites had the Scriptures, the Law of Moses, the light of God’s Word. The Israelites had the covenant with God – the covenant of circumcision and the covenant of the Law of Moses. The Israelites had the sacrifices of the Temple to atone for sin. They had God’s presence in the Holy of Holies.

The other nations of the world – the Gentiles – were without God. They lived in the world without God and without hope. They were far off. [Ephesians 2:12,13]

This was not because of unfairness, but because of the sins in which they walked [Ephesians 2:1-2]. It was because the nations did not honor God as God but instead worshiped the creation and not the Creator [Romans 1:21-25]. God’s’ existence was clear to the nations, yet the nations, the Gentiles, lived their lives as estranged from Him.

The Jews had the light of God’s Word. The Gentiles lived in the darkness of their own minds.

And, in time, the Jewish nation also – in truth - drifted far off from God. They ceased to live by faith in God’s promises. They began to trust instead in themselves. Meaning this: They now sought salvation in the Law of Moses itself – in their obedience to the Law of Moses – instead of trusting in the promise of a Savior to which that Law pointed. And their covenant with God became more a source of national pride than a promise of God to sinners.

Nevertheless, the dividing line was Jew and Gentile. But now the mystery of God has been revealed. Through Jesus, “the plan of the mystery hidden for ages” is revealed.

Today, we are celebrating the Epiphany of our Lord. “Epiphany” means “a manifestation”, a revealing. “Epiphany” means that something has been made visible, it’s been made known, it’s become apparent, it’s been revealed. Epiphany – manifested, revealed.

So, for our closing hymn today, for example, we’ll sing, Songs of Thankfulness and Praise, in which we sing the refrain, God in man made manifest, referring to Jesus. We are saying, “Jesus, you are God made manifest – revealed – in human flesh”. God in man made manifest, God revealed. This is Epiphany. God revealed in the human flesh of Jesus.

So, Epiphany is the day in which we read the event of the wise men, the magi. These are Gentiles who come from the East to see God-revealed-in-human-flesh and to worship Him. They worship Jesus.

Jesus is God revealed to the Jews and to the Gentiles, the nations. And, when God-in-human-flesh dies on the cross, a further mystery is revealed – that “mystery hidden for ages” of which the Apostle Paul spoke in our Epistle lesson today. A mystery revealed for Jew and Gentile.

The Apostle Paul was appointed an apostle to make this mystery known to all. Paul says, “The mystery is this: that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” [Ephesians 3:6]

The Gentiles are fellow heirs – heirs with the children of Abraham - members of the same body – members of the same body as the Jews - and partakers of the promise. Partakers of the same promise, members of the same body, heirs together of heaven’s kingdom, in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

The Mystery Revealed: Jew and Gentile are one people in Jesus. This is a great mystery to the Jews and Gentiles of Paul’s time. And it’s a mystery that many in the Church today do not grasp. There is no distinction. Jew and Gentile – any nationality – are one people in Jesus.

This mystery revealed is the mystery of the Gospel – the mystery that all people are now saved by God’s grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Not by works. Not by human wisdom. Not by personal righteousness. But by the finished work and activity of God-in-flesh-made-manifest having died on the cross for you.

13But 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. [Ephesians 2:13-15]

The Law of God distinguished the Jew from the Gentile. But more than that, the Law of God estranged both Jew and Gentile from God – not because the Law is no good – but because all people have sinned. Jesus, on the cross, died for all the sin. The sin was put away. Therefore, the dividing condemnation of God’s Law was put away. The sin is forgiven. Man – Jew and Gentile – who was far off, is now near to God.

“You, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” [Colossians 2:13-14].

And now, because of the cross, in regard to salvation “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” For “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” And “as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” [Galatians 3:26-28]

Brothers and sisters, we can see easily that any hate or animosity toward any nationality, Jew or Gentile, European or African or Asian, is, of course, contrary to this Gospel. The many are one in Christ Jesus – this mystery has been revealed.

Just as contrary to this Gospel, therefore, is the belief that certain nations have special status in God’s plan of salvation. No nation – not the United States and not Israel – has a special role to play in God’s plan of salvation or of the end times. “There is neither Jew nor Greek.” In fact, God’s kingdom is not of this world [John 18:36].

All of you present, be thankful for Epiphany. The mystery of who God is for you is revealed. He is your Savior, no matter who you are. Amen.

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