Ephesians 1:9, 10
December 12, 1999
THERE'S A NEW DAY COMIN'
Robert B. Ives, Ph.D., Pastor
The Grantham Church
Ephesians 1:9, 10
"He made known to us the mystery of his will it seemed good to God to purpose in Christ of what is to be arranged in the fulness of time, the establishing of a new order of which Christ is the head."
Days sure are busy. There is never enough time to do all we want to do; but there's a new day comin'! Paul gives us in Ephesians 1 the Bible's vision for the universe as it will be. The first universe God put into the care of humans and they destroyed it in the guise of controlling and exploiting nature. So God planned a new universe and for a long time his plan was unknown.
1. What is going to happen is a mystery, not in the sense of the Greek mystery religions where you became part of an inner circle by learning esoteric rites and gaining esoteric knowledge that most people didn't know. A mystery in the New Testament is not something incomprehensible to the human mind, but rather something undiscoverable by the unaided human mind. The Gospel is a mystery in the sense that we human beings with our unaided, fallen minds and intellects can never discover it; but when it is revealed to us, we are able to understand it. This may be humiliating to admit but it's how the Bible sees things.
In fact Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 2 that the rulers of this world don't understand the mystery. But a more humble group, the Christians, among whom are "not many wise by human standards; not many influential; not many of noble birth" (1 Corinthians 1:26) were enabled to understand.
One day (the record is in Matthew 13) Jesus was explaining to his disciples, who were a motley crew of fishermen, tax collectors and rural country bumpkins, about the mystery of God's kingdom and he says "Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them (meaning the general population) it is not given."
Let me try to illustrate this using a story Donald Barnhouse once told. Barnhouse had a young woman secretary in the church office. Young women secretaries were notoriously likely, in the 1950s, to become married and leave jobs. But Barnhouse had never known this particular woman to even date. Another person working in the church was a young intern, studying at Princeton Seminary. Barnhouse had never noticed any particular interest between them. One morning as Barnhouse was walking to the church a woman from the congregation said to him, "Max and Elisabeth are engaged!" Barnhouse was astonished and didn't believe it was true. It was against all the evidence he had. At the door to the church, a young man from the church said to Barnhouse, "Max and Elisabeth are engaged." As he entered the church, Barnhouse walked past a couple of college students who said to him, "Max and Elisabeth are engaged." Barnhouse, who was always so authoritative about everything replied, "That's impossible; but everyone is telling me this."
When Barnhouse walked into his office, his secretary was standing there smiling, which gave the thing away; and Barnhouse asked her, "Is it true?" She replied, "Last night. We're going to be married and then we're going to Mexico as missionaries with Wycliffe."
Barnhouse told this story and then he said, "this is a mystery in the New Testament sense. It was completely hidden, and totally unsuspected. Suddenly it is whispered from person to person and the news spread." God's mystery is something that becomes widely known because we're supposed to talk about it. It's a secret, but it is a secret we are supposed to tell. We could read in Romans 11 these words, "O, the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his ways past finding out." But then Jesus is born and the secret is out and that brings us to the second matter here.
2. God's purpose has always been to establish a new order headed by Christ. His purpose is worked out in Christ. The teaching of the New Testament is that believers in Christ have come to know the secret. The mystery has been solv- ed, as Clouseau puts it. Around the edges of Jesus' birth were the hints of this. Angels said to a small group of shepherds, "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born for you; Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:11) Herod the king asked his counselors where the Messiah was to be born, not really believing what he was asking, and the counselors replied, in the words of Micah 5, "But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah..., out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel."
And Jesus grew and began to heal people of illness and to teach people about God's kingdom, and to be a person who was morally pure in spite of Kazantzakis' view of him. Then after Jesus' death and resurrection, Peter, one of the men who knew him personally and knew him as well as any man of that time, said of him, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)
God's purpose involves a new world being worked out in this man, Jesus. And it seems so incredible. In fact, a lot of people can't believe it. But then, the message about the mystery spread in the 1st century, and not among credulous people, but among tough, no-nonsense, hard-lived fishermen and skeptical tax collectors, and politically well connected people like John. They came to believe God's purpose was bring worked out in Jesus. God doesn't have another purpose besides what is being worked out in Christ. A lot of cults and a spate of world religions see this differently, but they don't admit the problem of sin, nor understand how serious sin is. They think this is all going to happen in the future. And that part that is true, but what will happen is connected with Jesus Christ.
3. Christians believe that there is a time coming when what we have been given a taste of now will be completed. Ephesians 1:10, it is to be worked out in the fulness of time.
There is a Calvin and Hobbes tale that goes like this. Calvin and Hobbes are walking along, talking together, as they are often doing in Bill Watterson's strips.
Calvin: I'm getting disillusioned with these new years. They don't seem very new at all! Each new year is just like the old year!
Here another year has gone by and everything's still the same! There's still pollution and war and stupidity and greed! Things haven't changed!
I say what kind of future is this? I thought things were supposed to improve! I thought the future was supposed to be better!
Hobbes: the problem with the future is it keeps turning into the present.
And Hobbes is right. The future when the times will have reached their fulfillment will come. But there will be a time when the future shall be different from the present. There are some hints in the Bible of when this shall happen, and we who are used to cramming for exams and doing things at the last minute want to unscramble the meaning of all the hints so we can know when to cram. The problem is, and all our teachers said this, the fulness of time works more like exercise, the more regularly you do it, the more it prepares you for a healthy life. You can't cram for the fulness of time.
4. What happens in the fulness of time is what verse 10 tells us, "God will establish a new order of which Christ is head." The New International Version (NIV) leaves out part of the word that stands in the original text. That word begins with a prefix which means "new." The word for resurrection has that same prefix. There it means "to stand anew". When the NEB translates the word it writes of bringing the universe to a unity, but it doesn't make Christ the head of the thing. In Paul's picture there is a new order and Christ is the head of it.
Human political efforts have tried to create this new order: the New Society in America; Marx's vision that created communism with its society run by the proletariat; Thomas Jefferson with his vision of a new Republic. And there have been many others. The problem with all of them was they didn't change people. They only changed the structure under which people were expected to live.
What structure will there be to this new order? Paul answers that question in Ephesians by outlining how Christians are to live. Finally, we don't completely live that way because the old order is all around us and this age led by people like film directors and newspaper reporters and political and literary critics is more hostile to Christianity than Hitler's Nazis were to the Jews. So if we are becoming new inside, the world around us has different standards, different goals and a different vision of the future and it won't leave Christians alone.
Let me try to give a picture of what God's new kingdom is like. In 1894, George, son of Edward VII, king of England, married Princess Mary of Teck. When George became King George V in 1910, Mary of Teck became queen of England. There were a hundred princesses of noble families in Germany in the late 19th and early 20th century. The difference with Mary of Teck was that George loved her. But for him, she would have remained an unknown woman. But in his love for her, she became Queen of England. That is a faint picture of what it means for us to be loved by Christ and become part of his kingdom.
Now why does God make this secret known to us? Christ is not yet administering a new kingdom. He is not yet head of everything since evil rattles around in our world like Morley's ghost in chains. But there is a new day comin' and God wants to encourage us with that hope, but He also wants to prepare us.
What Christ is the head of now according to Ephesians 1:22 is the church, so there is continuity between where we are now and God's new order because we're part of the church now that Christ is head of.
Further in Ephesians 2:10, Paul suggests that when we become new people, when we become married to the king, we are to do good works. The remainder of Ephesians, as we shall see defines those good works in two ways: one is in terms of traditional individual morality. We are to learn humility, gentleness and so forth. As Christians, we are to become different both from what we were, and from what secular people are. This is the old Christian vision of hard work, virtue and discipline as the way to live life. That vision is at odds with the vision of our society.
But there is a second part to Paul's picture of the new order as it is being worked out in the church. We are to be one. We are to use things called gifts to help build up other people. We are to be a church community.
Individual good works, with hard work, virtue and discipline and within the church the group task of using gifts to help others are the part we have to play in preparation for the new order that God will establish. These acts don't earn us a place in the new order, but by doing them, we ward off the forces of evil that would otherwise overwhelm people around us. We pray a prayer to remind us how that is important: "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven." It is that vision Ephesians 1:9, 10 points to.
Advent is a wonderful time because it brings before our minds the beginning of all this newness. It promises us a world where angels speak and miracles are wrought and the wonder of a new order is felt in the world. In many people that awakes a desire that the new order would come. I pray that God would awake that desire in you this Advent. Things in the world may be bleak, but there's a new day comin'!
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The Grantham Church
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Grantham, PA 17027