“God’s Greatest Mystery: Revealed!”
January 03, 2016
By John Partridge*
Scripture: Isaiah 60:1-6 Ephesians 3:1-12 Matthew 2:1-12
For hundreds of years, perhaps even thousands, there was a great mystery of faith and scripture. Since almost the earliest writings of the prophets, there was a promise that God would send a king, a redeemer, a rescuer, that would lift Israel above the other nations of the earth and who would bring about a time of great justice, righteousness and peace.
But despite a great many clues, despite even knowing where he would be born, no one knew who it would be or when he would come. It was, undoubtedly, God’s greatest mystery. Although a great many prophets had provided a part of the story and a part of the mystery, the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 60:1-6) said this:
60:1 “Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
2 See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
3 Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
4 “Lift up your eyes and look about you:
All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar,
and your daughters are carried on the hip.
5 Then you will look and be radiant,
your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you,
to you the riches of the nations will come.
6 Herds of camels will cover your land,
young camels of Midian and Ephah.
And all from Sheba will come,
bearing gold and incense
and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.
Isaiah proclaims that the coming of the Messiah would be like the dawn of a new day, a time when the darkness was stripped away and a new light appears. He also told that it would be a time of great joy, when the sons and daughters of Israel would return home, when Israel would regain her wealth, and when foreigners would come to Israel, bringing great gifts and lifting praises to God.
This was indeed a great mystery. What would it be like to live in such a time? Would there not be a great fanfare at the birth of such a person? Surely, the entire nation would rejoice. There would be parades and celebrations everywhere. Surely, if visitors from other nations came bearing gifts, then the birth of this amazing person must have been announced everywhere. But what kind of a person would this be? Would it be the son of a king or the high priest? Would there be a great announcement by Israel’s greatest prophets?
But that is not how it happened.
Instead of grand announcements, parades, and fanfare, the Messiah was born in the back room of a tiny forgotten town, to a poor family no one ever heard of.
But even so, the angels sang and heaven rejoiced.
And even so, dignitaries came from far away bearing gifts just as Isaiah has said. (Matthew 2:1-12)
2:1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
The heavens themselves proclaimed the arrival of this child.
They saw his star and knew that the time had come.
But the king in Jerusalem, Herod, himself a foreigner, an Idumean, a descendant of Esau and not of Jacob, whose family had converted to Judaism, missed the signs, and so did all of his advisors and all of the scholars and religious leaders. Until, of course, the magi arrived in search of him. And then Herod wants to know, he wants to find this child, this supposed king of the Jews. Not because he wants to worship, but because he is threatened and afraid. Herod was paranoid and overprotective of his dominance and power. Herod was not a nice man. History tells us that he executed his own wife; sons, brother-in-law, his wife’s grandfather, and several other family members who he thought might threaten his power. And so it is not difficult to understand that Herod’s motives in asking where the child was born were not noble.
Herod wanted to find the child so that he could make this new problem go away.
But Herod’s fear, was as misplaced as it was ironic.
In his letter to the church in Ephesus, an ancient Greek city that is within the borders of modern Turkey, Paul explains that the birth of Jesus was not only the fulfillment of prophecy, but the revelation of the mystery that everyone had been talking about for millennia. (Ephesians 3:1-12)
3:1 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 people 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 the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless 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 that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
Paul’s great insight is that the Magi, the wise men from foreign nations, were the first of a new kind of believer, the first to hear a new invitation from God. This great mystery that is revealed in the birth of Jesus, is that the Gentiles, those people who were not genetically Jewish or converted to Judaism, were also being invited to be followers of God and heirs together with Israel and the Jews, who would be adopted in to one single family of faith.
And that is the ironic part of Herod’s fear. Herod was afraid of being the outsider. He was afraid that this new Jewish king would be a threat to his rule and reign because he was born to be the King of the Jews and, being Jewish by birth, would gain the trust and support of the people over and above Herod who was a foreigner and a convert. But instead of being a threat, the child, the new Jewish king, had come, not to overthrow Herod for his foreignness, but for the particular purpose of inviting the foreigners and Gentiles into God’s family.
Herod was afraid of being the outsider but Jesus had come to invite the outsiders in.
And Paul’s message to the church, beginning with a church full of outsiders, Greeks, Turks, and non-Jews, was that the mission of the church was to tell this good news, this revealed mystery of God, to rulers, authorities, and everyone we can find. The coming of the wise men signified the arrival of, and the invitation of, the foreigners, strangers, and outsiders, Gentiles, non-Jews, people like the Greeks…
…and people like us.
God’s rescuer was not only the fulfillment of a great many promises, he was, and is, an explosion of grace and an amazing expansion of God’s invitation. Jesus came to earth not only to rescue the Jews, but to invite all people, everywhere, regardless of birth, or wealth, or nationality, to follow God.
And Paul’s revelation was not only this understanding of the mystery, or this invitation, but that we, the church, have now been given the responsibility to make this good news known to all people, everywhere. (Luke 2:9-11)
9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.
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