For the Love of God, Volume 1/October 3
From Gospel Translations
1 Kings 6; Ephesians 3; Ezekiel 36; Psalm 86
A MYSTERY IN PAUL’S WRITINGS is not normally something “mysterious,” still less a whodunit. It is a truth or a doctrine which in some measure has been kept hidden in previous generations, and now with the coming of the Gospel has been disclosed and made public. Sometimes the Gospel itself is treated as a mystery; more commonly, some element of the Gospel is labeled a mystery.
In Ephesians 3:2-13, Paul insists that, along with other “apostles and prophets” (3:5), he enjoys deep insight into “the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit” (3:4-5). Then he tells us the content of this mystery: “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” (3:6).
We should reflect on the ways in which this mystery was hidden. Certainly the Old Testament Scriptures sometimes anticipate the extension of the grace of God to men and women of all races. The Abrahamic covenant foresaw that in Abraham’s seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:3; see meditation for January 11). What is hidden about that? Yet the fact remains that the space devoted in the Bible to the Law of Moses, coupled more importantly with the rising body of interpretation that made Mosaic Law the interpretive grid that controlled the reading of much of the Old Testament, ensured that this broader emphasis was often lost to view. So on the one hand, this hiddenness can be viewed as a careful plan of God to hide the glory of “his eternal purpose” (3:11) until the time was ripe for it to be unfolded; on the other, this hiddenness owes something to human perversity, reading the Old Testament Scriptures in a way that domesticates and dwarfs the true dimensions of Old Testament promises.
With the coming of Christ Jesus, the ways in which the Old Testament books pointed forward were made incalculably clearer. Jesus’ Great Commission stamped the mission of his disciples with an internationalism that shames all parochialism. Above all, Jesus’ understanding of the Old Testament established some new paradigms. Read properly, in its linear, historical sequence, the Old Testament storyline does not lay as much emphasis on the Law of Moses as some thought. Indeed, the Mosaic Covenant turns out to be a failure, in terms of how well it changed people. Its brightest success is in providing the models that predict what the ultimate Savior, the ultimate priest, the ultimate temple, the ultimate sacrifice, would look like. And Paul is the apostle who not only preaches this mystery, but does so to the Gentiles, the people most affected by its content.