COLUMN: A revelation wrapped in mystery

Published 6:53 pm Wednesday, January 17, 2024

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Imagine the scene. I don’t know about you, but thanks be to God I’ve never been there. Here’s the scene. You are in prison. It may be house arrest, it may be legitimate jail. But you have been arrested and detained. 

You believe the charges have been leveled against you wrongly, and you believe you can prove so. Now you wait for the justice system to give you the hearing you have requested. They have told you it could be years. 

So you sit. Day after day, you sit locked up. There is a world outside going about its business. Life has moved right on for everyone except for you. 

How do you think you might feel? How do you think you might manage your emotional and mental health? How do you think you might occupy your time? I know. You’d be telling someone about what you believe to be the boundless love of God. At least that’s what the apostle Paul did. 

Because as Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesian believers in Jesus Christ, what I’ve just described was his life. What Paul calls a mystery in Ephesians 3: 1-12, again and again, is God’s choice to now reveal Godself in Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. 

That was a big announcement. A revelation. I know that whenever I say out loud the word “revelation,” someone’s eyes probably glaze over. You hear it with a capital “R.” But far and wider, the Bible uses the notion differently with a little ‘r.’

God revealed Godself in many ways, and indeed continues to in our day. Here the apostle Paul says that the big revelation, indeed an Epiphany in mystery and in words, is that the good news of Jesus Christ was now for everyone. Gentiles included, and that’s you and me

We read the book of Acts. What is it that was most difficult for them to reach agreement on? This was the argument: do people have to become Jews first before they can become Christians?

Paul and Peter squabbled over this. They saw it quite differently. Paul was the one who kicked the door open. He felt like we needed to open the door to all. 

So now in his letter to the Ephesians, he’s got time on his hands. He’s in a mood to talk about the mystery of this Divine Disruption into humanity. Jesus Christ had come to live among us. God had been with us. Mystery.

There is a danger to Epiphany if we take it seriously. This past week across the Christian world, we celebrated just that: Epiphany. The Magi were the symbols of it. They were foreigners. Not a Jew among them. 

If we take Epiphany seriously, we let everyone in. That’ll feel dangerous to some of you. But, the best news is that it also means there’s room for you and for me. Because when Paul proclaimed the mystery of God’s inclusion of the Gentiles, he was talking about us. 

One pastor I know says, “Sometimes when I read the letters Paul wrote, especially at Epiphany, I really long for the Gospel story. But I have to remember that these letters were written before the Gospels were written.” They were what the apostle Paul knew.

Paul wasn’t worried so much about the story of Jesus’ life. He was worried about the implications of the story. The big news that presented the mystery. 

Jesus drew in these astrologers who plumbed the mystery, these Magi. They weren’t Jews. Now, Paul writes to the Ephesians and says, “God has gifted me in letting me share the boundless riches of Christ, the love of God, with Gentiles just like them.”

Sometimes it’s threatening when we’re faced with the fact that God can love people who are a little different from us. It’s been a problem since the days of the early church. 

But maybe we ought to stop and consider: we’re all Gentiles here. We’re all different. We’re all a little less-than, somehow.

Sometimes we get caught up looking at someone. We’ll say, “I can’t believe that she can be that way. I can’t believe she’s like that.” Or, we might say, “He’s this way and I’m that way. I can’t believe he can be like that.” 

Paul might say to us, “Well, she IS that way. And Christ’s good news was just as much for her as it was for you.” I hope you’ll join me in considering how great a revelation this one was. Starting with you and with me.

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.