Sermon - Ordinary 15 Year B - | DB Home | RCL Resources Index |

The mystery of God's plan

He has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, {10} as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:9-10, NRSV)

What is the secret purpose of God? What is his plan? Does it make sense to ask what is the purpose of creation? If there is any point to it, can it be known? Has God revealed his purpose? How? Is it given to us to know? Can we work to discover God's plan and purpose? It is different for different people, or are all people part of the one plan? Paul and his fellow Christians in the early days of the church certainly believed that there was a plan and that God had made it known to them. They believed that the purpose had been secret, but now it was revealed. And what was that purpose? It is was to gather up all things into a unity in Christ -- to gather up all things in him -- and that not only things in this earth, but things in heaven and things on earth (Ephesians 1:10). I usually quote the New Revised Standard Version, but on this test, the Revised English Bible translation puts it more clearly perhaps:

The mystery of his will (NRSV) or his secret purpose (BEB) had been hidden before it was revealed in Christ. Elsewhere, Paul referred to a plan that had been hidden for long ages with God which he was called to make known: to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; (Ephesians 3:9). He referred to it on a number of occasions in several of his letters. For example:

Jesus himself had spoken of the hidden secrets of God which were being made known.

It was as though it was in code. Indeed, the Greek word for hidden here is krypto from which we have the English word cryptic, meaning secret or mysterious, and we "encrypt" messages we wish to keep secret. Luke, when telling of how the teaching of Jesus was often not understood, comments

Jesus described the kingdom of heaven as like a hidden treasure

Jesus even rejoiced that the secrets were hidden from the wise and revealed to the simple:

But it was the task of his disciples at mission to make the secret known:

Why was it hidden? What made it hard to see? How was it that the disciples of Jesus were able to see it?

Did God hide his purpose to deprive people of knowledge for any good reason? Satan suggested that God might have done so when he tempted Eve in the garden. Remember the tree of knowledge, the fruit of which Satan suggested would make them like God; but that was a trick, for the knowledge was of both good and evil, and knowing both good and evil meant knowing through personal experience which would have its unfortunate consequences. There in no message in scripture that God hid what would be useful to people until they worked hard enough or were clever enough to discover it for themselves. God does not play games like that. There are religions based on the idea that secret knowledge about spiritual things is to be discovered by human effort or discipline, but the attitude of scripture is rather that what is for our good is made available to us freely by God's grace. There might be a clue in the garden of Eden story, nevertheless. Trying to outsmart God is not the way to useful knowledge of things that matter. Indeed, people were to learn that rather than competing with God, as Satan encouraged them to do, they would do better if they would co-operate with God and seek to do his will. It was in such a relationship of trust that the truth about God's great secret was to be revealed. As Jesus said, it was to be given not so much to the wise as to those with simple faith, like the trust of a child -- you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Or as Paul wrote to the Corinthians

Or as Paul said of himself:

So here is another clue: the mystery of God has to do with knowing Jesus Christ and if we follow what has been said it must be that personal kind of knowing that is like the trust of a child. We are talking about faith in terms that are familiar in normal human relationships. Then, in this faith in Christ, there is that foolishness of the cross. It is more than knowing Jesus as a great teacher from whom we might learn the secret of God's plan if we listen carefully and trust his word; it is more than that, because it has to do with what he did as well as what he taught, and it is focussed on what in human worldly terms must be the most foolish and unwise thing, to let oneself be killed as a criminal. According to the witness of the apostles, the secret of God's plan and purpose for us is to be found through faith in Christ crucified. How is that?

First, we have learned a great deal if we have learned that the secret is revealed through faith in Jesus, the Christ. See how the gathering of things together in unity is related to faith. Remember the woman who reached out and touch his clothes whose act of faith we recalled in the gospel recently:

Remember what Jesus said to her.

When we were thinking about this we took note of how "being made well" and "going in peace" had the essential character of wholeness and that being made whole is the same thing as being saved. Through this faith in Christ we are made whole in body, mind and spirit, and we are restored to a good relationship with God. People then who are so reconciled with God are able to be reconciled with their neighbours. So all things are being brought into a unity in Christ.

The general fulfilment of the unity of humankind across all the barriers of race, language and nationality is demonstrated most in the way that Jesus changed the relationships between the Jews and the Gentiles. Paul summed up the message about God's mystery in those terms:

The mystery long hidden is now revealed in the process of reconciling people to God and to one another in the great work of Christ. It is the practical demonstration and the actual beginning in our lives of the fulfilment of God's plan for us. See the way things are gathered together in unity and made whole through his work. So you have the revelation

And the cross? Because it was there that sin, the futility of human pride, which separates people from God and from one another, did its worst and failed to defeat the love of God. God's purpose that his human creatures should achieve their potential to become children of God was to be fulfilled there in the foolishness of God's weakness. It was with that knowledge hidden from the wise because of their failure to trust in God alone that the apostles were able to share the great secret. God did have a purpose for us. His creation was being brought to completion through Christ:

Is not knowledge of that purpose a great treasure? It is no small thing to know that the whole point of human history turns on that life lived by the man from Nazareth. Not only did he let out the secret, he actually made it happen. For this we love and worship him, Jesus Christ, our Lord and God. Amen.

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