From the human perspective, however, God is doing all of these amazing things through the message of the gospel. The Church, motivated by God’s glory and empowered by God’s grace, reaches out and impacts the lives of those around them by heralding the good news of what Jesus has done. According to his grace, God saves sinners and is glorified. This is why we exist as the church. This is our eternal purpose. May we come to realize the divine mystery of the gospel, be driven by the divine motivation of our calling, and more consistently and effectively carry out our mission, by God’s grace, and for God’s glory.
Several years ago, I read a story that has stayed with me. The author described an event in his family’s life, writing the following:
A few years ago Lisa and I took our four children on a day trip to Cunningham Falls State Park in Western Maryland. As we were leaving, a kind, elderly gentleman urged us not to head back toward Baltimore until we got a good look at the sky on what promised to be a crystal clear evening. “You’ll never be able to see such a pretty sight back in the city with all that haze and light pollution blocking your view,” he warned us. We gladly took his advice, stopping at a Dairy Queen drive-through and finding the nearest overlook off Route 70. We sat there in the fading light, finishing our cones, talking and anticipating the natural beauty we were about to behold. As dusk settled in, however, so did our grip on reality: we realized we wouldn’t have been able to see a meteor shooting ten feet away because we were looking through the smudged windshield of a well-used minivan belonging to a family with four small children.
Fortunately, with a little glass cleaner from the glove compartment and the roll of paper towels no family minivan should ever be without, Lisa was able to remove years of nasty film formed by the mysterious substances of childhood. In minutes, the glass was so clean that it blended imperceptibly with the world just outside. As the darkness of a summer evening fell, our family was mesmerized by the stunning splendor of a full moon, vivid in the western Maryland sky and set among what seemed like twice as many stars as there ought to be. We sat in speechless awe as the heavens declared God’s glory. And not once did anyone say, “What a beautifully clear windshield!”1
That story is such a great illustration of God’s purpose for the Church. Although we, as sinful human beings, are prone to smudge up the proverbial windshield, causing our focus to be hindered by many distractions, the Word of God provides us with a glorious picture of the grand, redemptive purpose God has given the Church. If we can simply catch a glimpse of that purpose, then it will radically transform and motivate us to effectively carry out our God ordained mission. There is arguably no better place to see that mission more clearly than in the book of Ephesians.
The Mystery has been Revealed for the Church
Beginning in chapter 3 of Paul’s letter, the Apostle writes:
For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 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 (Eph 3:1-6).
For the sake of context, a great deal of enmity and hostility existed between the Jews and Gentiles in Paul’s day. The Jews saw themselves as God’s chosen people. They viewed their standing as righteous before God and directly in the center of all his plans and purposes. Their view of the Gentiles, however, was just the opposite. Although they knew the promises God made to bless the Gentiles (Is 49:6), their predominate attitude was one of arrogance. Many saw their Gentile neighbors as nothing more than second-class citizens, at best. Against that backdrop, Paul wanted the church to understand that God has revealed a great mystery.
So, what is the mystery? It is that through the gospel, God has provided a way of reconciliation to all humanity, not just for the Jews but also for the Gentiles. In other words, Jews and Gentiles who savingly trust in Jesus are on equal footing before God. Now, for many Jews, this was entirely inconceivable. They couldn’t imagine a scenario in which they would be spiritually equal with the Gentiles. Yet, just as God revealed to Abraham, this was his plan all along (Gen 17:5-7, Gal 3:8). So, throughout redemptive history, God was revealing more and more about this mystery until it was fully unveiled in Christ. As Paul quoted from the prophet Hosea in the ninth chapter of Romans:
Those who were not my people I will call “my people,” and her who was not beloved I will call “beloved.” And in the very place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” there they will be called “sons of the living God” (Rom 9:25-26).