By Cathy Zhang
22 Apr. 2012 Sunday
|Sermon: The Mystery of God||video||audio||doc|
|Worship song: Believe||video||audio||lyric|
|Worship song: Jesus||video||audio||lyric|
Scripture Reading: Ephesians 3:1-13
1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles--
2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God's grace that was given to me for you,
3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly.
4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ,
5 which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets.
6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of his power.
8 Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,
9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.
10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,
11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
13 I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.
Good morning, please join me in a very short prayer:
Lord, have mercy, please send your Spirit to this place. Fill our heart, open our eyes and ears so we may understand your mystery; so we may have the confidence and boldness to enter into your mystery and to taste all of it. May the words from my mouth, and the meditation from my heart are all from you, and be pleased in your side, in Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
Every year, especially in the season of spring, we have many suicide cases. Last
month, there was a girl from
And then she died.
She was a college student, and many people reviewed all her words, and some even just picked some best words from her blog and put on it. A friend of mine who suffered depression came to me and talked with me about this girl, so I read her blog and was shocked, and I was just touched by her words, especially that kind of deep depression and desperation in her words. It's kind of loneliness, helpless and hopeless, a kind of separation with all the things from her, even her mother.
Separation, that's the point that will make you go to hopeless, and be in the darkness that you cannot see. Actually I look around and later when I talked with many of my friends I notice that actually so many of us are in depression. Life is more and more fast, and there are so many problems, yes, we are developing very fast, and we are materially living a good life now, but we are more depressed. And another friend who told me the other day that he found he has lost his energy in everything, because he said:” I can't find the meaning of life, and the more I ponder over the meaning of my life, the less energy I can get, I think everything is meaningless.” And because of this, he has the habit of the procrastination, You know, “procrastination” (“拖延症”) is a word that I try to remember these days, he said his procrastination is getting worse and worse, and he couldn't help. Yes, maybe you are coming today to this church, you're also mysteriously brought here, you're also pondering over the meaning of life, and want to know that how Christians would think about it. I don't mean that, there is no Christian doing this, killing themselves or being depressed. Yes, Christian also, but we are a little bit luckier that we have a God to turn to, even in the deepest desperation we may still stretch out to ask for help from God. I hope what we reflect today in Ephesians chapter 3 about the mystery of God can help all of us about this issue.
Before I go on we have been reading the Ephesians for several weeks, and the first week David has brought us to review the blessings especially the spiritual blessings in Christian faith. Through believing in Jesus Christ, we receive many spiritual blessings. Later Jessica shared that because of these blessings that we can open our eyes, so we can see the blessings that have already set around us. And we also have the Guest Pastor who shared with us the situation before and after we believed in Jesus Christ, and what are tremendous transformations that can be brought to us if we have this faith. And last week Gloria also shared about the unity, and importance of all can be united together.
So entering into this chapter verse one:
After Paul has been talking about the union of the Jews and Gentiles, now they have become one body in Christ, with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone, and then he is getting ready to pray for them. So verse one: this is the reason I, Paul, and the prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles. He is repeating and he’s starting to pray for them, but at this moment, he turned, he digressed, he said something else, instead of praying. If you read your Bible, you will be told that Chapter 3, verse 1 is connected with Chapter 3, verse 14,, so the prayer will not start until verse14, from verses 2 to 13 is a long sentence in Greek without any punctuation. But when we translate, it has to be cutting into the sentences in Ephesians in this letter, there are about eight long sentences and this is the fourth one. So from verses2to 6 Paul explains the mystery, and the word “mystery” appears twenty-seven times in New Testament, and twenty times used by Paul, so Paul used mystery a lot. And also among this twenty times, 6 times in Ephesians in this letter, and in this chapter we have three times appeared this mystery, that’s the reason we focus on mystery.
OK, verses 2 to 6 Paul explains the mystery, and verses 7to 13 Paul tells us about his ministry to make this mystery known to the Gentiles his ministries, and in 2-6, verse 2 Paul tells us about his responsibilities. So verse 2 is like this, for surely you have already heard the commission of God's grace that was given to me for you, so I was given this mission to you. Verses3to 5 Paul talks about when and to whom this mystery was revealed, and verse6 Paul tells us the content of the mystery.
Now, let us see the content of this mystery. The Scripture said that is the Gentiles have become the fellow heirs and the members of the same body the sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, so the mystery he later told everybody that the mystery was hidden and not known, but now revealed to Paul and to many others, the holy apostles and the prophets, the mystery is the union of believing Jews and Gentiles now in one body. Now remember at Paul's time especially for Paul and those people around them, the world is constituted about just two people: Jews and Non-Jews, especially for Jews. Jews. Non-Jews. What does that mean? Jews are within the circle of God's blessing, Non-Jews are outside the circle of God's blessing. but for Paul, no, there is no such separation of Jews and non-Jews anymore. There is the third reality: that is a new community, you are not called Jews or Gentiles anymore, you are now called Christians, Christ’s followers.
So for Paul, it's very mysterious. He is a Jew. He's a very pious Pharisee, following the deeds, following the Lord. He knows everything. And he is zealously and eagerly pursuing to persecute the Jesus’ followers. Because he knows that what he is doing, he is very sure what he is doing is for God. And it is right. With all kinds of reasons to do that, to persecute them, to send them to prison, until one day, on the way to Damascus, he was hit, he was caught into this mystery. And this mysterious experience changed him, transformed him. And this mystery revealed to him that this Jewish identity is no longer that important actually, the doors are open, yes, the door has been opened by Jesus. And now through believing in Jesus, we can form a new community, and there was no such separation as Jews or Gentiles. And it is very important that through believing in Jesus Christ, you can be included into a new community. So that circle or that separation of outsider and insider has been changed. And also, within this community, you usual, or you previous social status, for instance, like owner, slavery, freeman has been changed. You have a new identity. And this welcome is from God, initiated by God. And Paul knows that, and Paul in many letters, not only in Ephesians, in many other letters as well, he stresses on this universal welcome, God is welcoming everybody. For Jews, you think that you are pious, you follow the laws, you follow the ritual in the right way, you keep yourself very clean form anything that is dirty, you think you have the right to enter into this kingdom. No, that was not God said. Also Paul tells the Gentiles as well, you think that now you have been given the freedom to do everything, and you want to do whatever you want to do, and you can discriminate the others or you can overlook the needs of the widows. No, you are not. This is the universal welcome initiated by God. And this universal welcome is free. For me, actually, it's very touching to think about this universal welcome. That means the mystery is that God has already been in love with you, in love with the world long before we recognized it, long before you know it. In the past, you think that you should do everything to please God so that you can be welcomed. No you don't need to worry about that now, God has already been in love with you, already welcomed you. You don't have to please God. This God does not need you to please with actual deeds, or just superior, behavior. No, God has loved you from the beginning, even you are broken, even you are not that perfect. God knows that, God welcomes you. And maybe for some of us, at least for me, sometimes it's a problem. Think of that, in the place, God welcomes everybody, maybe the one I don’t like, or I hate, or who once persecuted me. God will welcome me.. It's going to be a problem for me.
I have a classmate, a boy, whose character was very fearsome. He's very nasty, I have to say. None of us likes him. He has a girl friend. He beat her. And the girl friend always wants to be with him. We have tried to convince the girl to leave him, but, no use. He did many things that make us very upset. And we think he has his problem, he is evil, he is bad. And one day somebody told me, he is a Christian now. The one who told me is also a Christian, and the way he told me is like this "You know what? That guy is Christian now! Can you believe that?" Then I responded that “Yes! Err!" So immediately I suspect his motivation to become a Christian. I suspect that and I do not feel comfortable. And very interesting, the other thing is that he broke with his girl friend, very suddenly he cut off the relationship and the girl is in a miserable situation, crying everyday. I told this story to another friend, I said “this is a bad guy, he beat his girlfriend, he is nasty, and now he is a Christian!" And my friend very calmly said to me "what's the problem with you? You think that now he cut off the relationship with his girl friend is a bad thing. But for me, I think, maybe it's because now he became a Christian and he realized that what he has done is a disaster to that girl. Now he wants to be responsible, he wants to be serious and to cut off the relationship. And maybe it's because it's the power of faith has transformed him.” I didn't realized that. See, That's the problem! How can we comprehend this universal welcome from God. That is going to welcome everybody even the ones you don't think they are qualified, maybe someone you have known so well, you know all the bad things they have done, and you have not forgiven them, but God has forgiven them long before you can. Are you not going to welcome them? Paul is telling this. Addressing to this problem, because if you are not as open, or if you cannot think from God’s position, but only think from your own position, you are going to shut the door. And you are going to use all kinds of things to shut the door, and you are going to tie God hands with rituals, with doctrines, with your understanding of God. Remember that, it is a universal welcome, that is extended to everybody. And also it's very interesting that this letter people talking about the central theme of Ephesians. Yes, it's a very short letter but it's very interesting. It is a letter that talks about the trinity, it’s a letter that talks a lot about the church ecclesiology, it's also talks a lot about Christology, about Jesus Christ, Jesus the Lord. Focus on that. But I still think that what Paul highlighted here is love, the promotion of love. Because all the things, the unity of the church, that’s centered on Christ. If we don't have love, we can't do anything, and we can't build a community that's going to be different from other community in the world. And love is because of this universal God.
This God universally welcomes everybody. And that is love. Think of that, God loved you long before you could recognize God’s love. And also, the mystery of God is that God welcomes everybody, He opens the door, includes everyone, accept your weakness and your brokenness that God wants to heal. And also, because you belong to this new community, you become His new heir. You are owned now, by God, not anyone else. So each one of us belongs to God; each one of us belongs to God only. That reminds us that we have to respect each other fully because they are also the property of God, and they are also treasure of God, and also precious in God’s eyes. Maybe I do not like them, they are different from us; but they are a treasure of God too. And also because you are owned by God, by Christ, you have a new freedom.
Let God Shape Our Lives
In the past, you are not able to shape your life by yourselves. Yes, we are shaped by our parents maybe – your parents want you to be an economist, but actually you like literature more. And you cannot do anything; you go to the school that your parents want you to. And you go to piano classes because your parents want you to. Yes, and you do a lot of things, and you want to earn a lot of money, and you want to live a good life, because the society, all the customs told you to. In the past, you were not able to shape your life. But now, because of this love that has filled in you, empowered you, you have the power to shape your own life, and this life is Jesus-shaped life. It is God-shaped life.
God – Given Freedom and Hope
And it is going to be quite different. And then, this is the freedom, the freedom that you have a new vision to see the world differently, and you can think differently. So you are not bounded to the traditional customs. And you have the freedom and spaces to do the new things.
Because of this freedom, we can have hope. This is also the mystery of God that by believing in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can have hope. God blessed the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and God will do the same thing to bless us. If we follow Christ, follow the model of Jesus, extend our love to others, and if you have the same faith like Jesus in the same faithful way to follow Jesus Christ, then we are able to have the hope coming into birth in our heart. And then this hope will tell us that we are not separated anymore. You are not alone; you are in a new community; you are given a new hope.
Taking the Leaping Faith
After solving this separation thing, then you can see that your life is meaningful because you have a purpose to live now. The purpose is that you have to live out your faith; and you have to extend the love you have received from God to the others. Again, it is a mystery that how you can carry out all this; how you can be empowered with the energy and wisdom to work out and live out your faith. It is a mystery, and it takes risk. I have to say that faith is a risk. Many people say that, “Yes, give me some time, I want to make it clear. I want to reason out everything before I can have faith.” But I have to say that like marriage, if you want to reason out everything before you getting into marriage; you are not getting into marriage anymore. Marriage also takes risk. But also, after that risk, you have to believe that God is with you, and God is guiding you. Entering into this mystery is a risk; take this risk to enter into this mystery, and you will see the different world.
Understanding Others’ Problems
And still, I have Christian friends who also suffering from depression and a lot of things. And for me, maybe, it is that I certainly have time in depression, it is a blessing; but it is a problem also. I cannot understand their problem. We have sympathy, and we also have empathy. A lot of times, something you have experienced is quite easy for you to understand, but if you have not had that experience, it is very hard. So it is a problem for me that when I do not have the problem of procrastination (which I sometimes have, but not very serious), so I cannot understand my friend who has this procrastination problem. I pushed her too much. So I am hurting her in the name of love. So that is problem for me. Still, what I learn from this is that the mystery of God is love, is wisdom, is universal welcome, and also a respect and service that requires me to have more patience like God, to wait, and also keep praying for her and for him, instead of just pushing and criticizing.
For those who are suffering or coming here today with a problem in your heart, or with this procrastination problem, I hope that you could try to take the risk to enter into the mystery, and do not push away the people around you who try to help you. For no reason, mysteriously, we cannot explain, stay in the circle and stay in touch. And for those who are trying to help the others, we also make this guidance of the mystery that we can understand that God is mysteriously working on them too, that we need the patience.
God Welcomes All of Us
Like the wind, the Holy Spirit has been coming everywhere. And the Holy Spirit came after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are living in the Spirit, and if you pray, the Spirit will be breathed into your heart. And with the Spirit, and by believing in Jesus Christ, we are given the power to get access to God. That is the power, because in the past, we were so stressed by our sin, our brokenness, we were shamed. But now, because of Jesus, because we believe that God sent Jesus to cover our sins so that we can look up to God, and we can access God, and we can pray directly, and ask His help from God. I just hope that all of you can believe that God loves you no matter how bad you are or how good you are, no matter how broken you are or how perfect you are. God welcomes you no matter you are liked or not. God welcomes the others no matter whom we like or not. This is the mystery of God. And what we have to do is to believe in it and hold onto it. May God bless all of us.
Do you believe he is your God, he is your savior no matter what comes? He is rock that you can hold on to. He will never let you fall. He holds our world in his hands, and he will not let us fall.