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Christ and Creation

Unit 3: The Fruits of New Life (Lessons 10-14)

NEW MESSAGE FROM GOD

LESSON 12

INTRODUCTION
A. WHAT'S THE SECRET PASSWORD?

DEVOTIONAL READING: ISAIAH 40: 1-11

When you hear the word mystery, what comes to mind? Sherlock Holmes? BACKGROUND SCRIPTURE: Masterpiece Theater? When biblical writers speak of mystery, they do not refer EPHESIANS 3:1-13 to a fictional story. Rather, they use the word mystery much the same way we PRINTED TEXT: would use the word secret. Thus when they speak of revealing a mystery, they EPHESIANS 3:1-13 intend to reveal a secret to you. In New Testament times, the Greeks were known for their mystCly reli­ gions. These were pagan cults that claimed to have secret knowledge of the LESSON AIMS spirit world. The initiation rites were bizarre. Like kids in a tree house say­ ing, "You can't come in unless you tell us the secret password," members of After participating in this lesson, each student will be the cult were those who had the secret knowledge that (supposedly) gained able to: a person the best kind of afterlife. In our passage today, Paul uses the termi:­ 1. Summwize the content nology of those cults to highlight God's mystery-the revealed secret-that Paul was called to preach. But unlike those mystery religions, God's revealed ofwhat Paul calls the mystery made known to him by rev­ secret is available to all, not just to a select few. Also unlike those mystery religions, mere possession of certain knowledge isn't enough; it has to be put elation. 2. Identify how Paul uses into practice. the term mystery. 3. Plan a class activity that B. LESSON BACKGROUND We take for granted the fact that a person can become a Christian without will demonstrate "one body" converting to Judaism. But that fact wasn't always so clear In the very earliest unity. days of the church, most Christians were Jews first. The common thought in those earliest days was that Christianity was a variation ofjudaism or was a Jewish sect (Acts 24:5, 14). After all, didn'tJesus Christ come to be the Jewish Messiah, to save God's people from their sins? Jesus made it clear that his message was to go "to the ends of the earth," but many assumed that those wanting to become Christians would have to become Jews first, toeing the line with KEY VERSES regard to the Law of Moses. To think of becoming a Christian without be­ coming aJew was like wanting to become a Kentuckian without becoming Although I am less than an American citizen. . the least ofall God's peo­ I pie, this grace was given In a vision to Peter in Acts 10, God revealed that Gentiles were not to me: to preach to the be considered "unclean." The gospel was open to the Gentiles without Gentiles the unsearch­ their having to convert to Judaism. But many in the early church objected able riches of Christ, and to this radical idea. The issue was so hotly debated that the Jerusalem church held a special council just to resolve this issue (Acts 15; compare . to make plain to everyone the Galatians 2). , administration of this mys­ After a long discussion, the apostles confirmed that a Gentile did not tay, which for ages past was have to become aJew in order to become a Christian. The intervention of kept hidda1 in God, who cre­ the Holy Spirit and the courage of the apostles to be obedient to God's call ated all things. ensured that Christianity would not be a mere sect ofjudaism. -Ephesians 3:8,9
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NOTES

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By the time that Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians (about AD 63), the famous Jerusalem Council was more than a decade in the past. The thinking of the church had matured on the issue discussed there. Even so, there was . more yet to be said!

I. GOOD NEWS (EPHESIANS 3:1-6) A. PAUL'S CHAINS (v. 1)

1. For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner ofChristJesus for the sake ofyou Gentiles­ Paul is in prison because of his commitment to take Christ to the Gen­ tiles. The details of this imprisonment can be found beginning in Acts 21:27 through the end of that book. Acts 22:21,22 especially reveals the ire of Paul's opponents regarding his mission to the Gentiles. Yet Paul calls himself a prisoner of Chl1st Jesus. Does Paul believe that his prison warden is Jesus? In essence, yes! (See also Ephesians 4: 1.) We might be more likely to see Paul's prison warden as the devil, not Jesus. But Paul consistently submits to the situations in his life as if God has put him there. Paul sees that even this "evil" of imprisonment can be used (and is being used) by God for good. Perhaps Paul meditates on Joseph's imprisonment (Genesis 39,40) and how that turned out. "God never wastes a hurt," someone has said. Paul's WHAT Do You THINK? imprisonment means he must write letters to his churches since he cannot How can Paul's under­ standing ofbeing a prisoner , visit in person. Since we have those letters to study, Paul's jail time certainly has resulted in good things for us! of Christ Jesus be lived out today?

B.

GOD'S GRACE (w.

2, 3)

2.... Surely you have heard about the administration of God's grace that was

WHAT

Do You THINK? What irifonnation in the Bible do you believe you are especially responsible for sharing with others?

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given to me for you,
When we hear the word administration, we may think of something being dispensed or managed. Paul is saying, "You know about this particular assign­ ment that God, by his grace, gave me to manage." This thought can cause us to reflect on the things God has entrusted to our own stewardship. The word things may bring to mind material objects such as food, clothing, and money. But have you ever thought that you have irifonnation that God wants you to manage? Mature Christians understand God's grace, God's truth, and God's prom­ ises in ways that others don't understand. God has given you that informa­ tion not just for your own benefit but for the benefit of others: perhaps your children, your coworker, or your neighbor. We have information that has been revealed to us through God's Word, and God eX"pects us to be good stewards , of what we knOw. For Paul, the administration of God's grace is clear and dramatic. There is no question regarding what he is a steward of: it is that God's salvation is avail­ able to Gentile as well asJew. 3.... that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. Paul is about to tell more specifically what he has been given to administer. He refers to this as the mysteJy. He got this mystery by revelation. God reveals himself to humanity in two ways: by general revelation and by special revelation. General revelation is knowledge about God that is available merely by looking around at creation (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:20). Special rev­

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elation includes God's messages to the prophets, apostles, etc., that end up as written Scripture. What Paul is talking about is special revelation. Such messages come directly from God (see Acts 9:5-7; 22:21), Paul notes that he has written bliej/y about this already This may refer to Ephesians 1:9, 10 or 2: 11-22.

C.

EPHESIANS' UNDERSTANDING

(w. 4, 5)

Monday, May 11-God's Dominion over All Gob 12: 13-25) D. GENTILES' STATUS (v. 6) Tuesday, May 12­ 6. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Mysteries of the Kingdom Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in (Matthew 13: 10-17) ChristJesus. Wednesday, May 13­ The revealed mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles can be equal God Reveals Mysteries with Jews. The two can be united together to make up the church. Gentiles (Daniel 2:25-30) are fellow heirs with Israel, lnembers of the same body, and beneficiaries of the Thursday, May 14­ same promise-without having to become Jews first! Everything available to God's Secret Revealed (Amos Jews in Christ is available to Gentiles too. The Gentiles are not second-class 3: 1-8) citizens of the church. Jews and Gentiles should be treating one another as Friday, May 15-The Son brothers and sisters in Christ (see Galatians 3:26-29). Reveals the Father (Matthew To recognize that we are all one in Christ is vital. This does not mean that 11:25-30) we promote tolerance to the point of accepting sinful behavior Being one Saturday, May 16­ in Christ means, rather, that distinctions with regard to race, culture, and Stewards of God's Mysteries economic status are irrelevant. The church should be leading the charge in (I Corinthians 4: 1-5) genuine racial reconciliation in the way she models the interactions of her Sunday, May 17­ members. Christians are all one in Christ. Sharing the Promise in Christ Are you seeking to love members of the body of Christ no matter what their (Ephesians 3: I-B) racial background? Consider the language that you use in describing those of another race: Do you stereotype or demean others by your labels? Look at a list of your friends: Does it include people from other races and socioeco­ nomic backgrounds?

4, 5. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the
mystery ofChrist, 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.
For the Ephesians to understand this mystery ofChrist is Paul's goal. Part of this understanding includes the realization that the mystery has not been revealed only to Paul, but it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets. We may review Acts 10:9-20, where God first reveals the secret of the inclusion of the Gentiles to Peter. Paul repeats his argument in Colossians 1:25-27.

DAILY BIBLE READINGS

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DIVIDED HOUSE?

Chana and Simon Taub shared the same $1 million house for 18 years. Then something went wrong in their 21-year marriage. The result was called "one of New York's strangest divorce batdes." Each accused the other of exaggerated lies to bolster his or her case. Feelings were so intense that neither would give up the house, so the judge ordered interior walls to be built, dividing the house. Chana got possession of the garage, front door, three bathrooms, four bedrooms, the second-floor kitch­ en, the third-floor nursery, and a spiral staircase to reach them. Simon got a side entrance, the living room and bathroom on the first floor, and the dining room on the second floor

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Some in the first-century church were in danger of dividing "the house of God" in a way equally ridiculous. But Paul reminded his readers that both]ewish and Gentile Christians were equally entitled to inherit the blessings of the gospel of Christ. When we see how the twenty-first century church has divided and segre­ gated herself, Paul's words should come to mind. -co R. B.

II. ETERNAL PURPOSE (EPHESIANS 3:7-13) · A. PAUL'S TASK (w. 7-9) 7. I became a servant of this gospel by the gift ofGod's grace given me through
· the working ofhis power. Paul says that he is a servant of the now-revealed gospel secret: both]ews and Gentiles have equal parts in the body of Christ and are one in him. Paul feels privileged that this is what he's been commanded by God to do. Paul is a servant, but he is glad to be one. Notice how Paul became a servant of the gospel: it was by God's grace. He knows he doesn't deserve it, especially given his track record of persecut­ ing the church (l Corinthians 15:9). The very fact that he is the primary preacher to the Gentiles is an illustration of God's grace. Paul notes that he has received the gift through the working of God's power. Have you ever been asked to do something and thought, "Why in the world WHAT Do You THINK? did they ask me, of all people? I'm the least likely person to be able to do In what ways do you this!" It is the realization of our inadequacies that forces us to trust that God consideryourself to be an unlikely servant of the gospel? will empower us to do what he has called us to do. Think about all that Paul How does this speak of God's endured! (See 2 Corinthians 11:23-28.) Yet he trusts in God's power to carry him through. He considers himself blessed to be called by God to do this job. grace toward yOU? 8. Although I am less than the least ofall God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, In 1 Corinthians 15:9, just noted above, Paul calls himself "the least of the apostles." In 1 Timothy 1: 15, he refers to himself as the worst of sinners. Here he creates a superlative, saying he's less than the least ofall God's people. You can't get much lower than that! Again, Paul is emphasizing how unlikely he is to be the one chosen to carry this message to the Gentiles. Consider some of the reasons he may · think this way First of all, he is a]ew-a "Hebrew of Hebrews" (Philippians How TO SAY IT 3:5)-not a Gentile. Second, he had persecuted Christians, even to their Corinthians. Ko-RIN-thee• deaths. Third, he had been legalistic, not one naturally to understand grace. unz (th as in thin). But Paul now has the assignment to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches ofChrist. What a startling phrase! Unsearchable conveys the idea of "un­ Ephesians. Ee-FEE-zhunz. traceable" or "unmeasurable." In other words, you can't measure how abun­ Gentiles. JEN-tiles. dant the riches of God are. Hebrews. HEE-brews. Isaiah. Eye-ZAY-uh. An economics professor may tell you that the idea of an abundant comJudaism. JOO-duh-izz-um or modity to be valuable beyond measure is a contradiction in terms, because what usually makes something valuable is its rarity. For example, a flawless JOO-day-izz-um. Manoah. Muh-NO-uh. diamond is difficult to find and thus is very valuable. If the world had as many Messiah. Meh-SIGH-uh. flawless diamonds as grains of sand on the seashore, then diamonds would omniscient. ahm-NISH-unt. not be valuable. But God's gifts have great value not because they are rare but Philippians. Fih-LIP-ee-unz. because of the way they meet our deepest needs. God's riches are etemallove, Thessalonians. joy, grace, inner peace, and so on. And he never runs out of these. He can give THESS-uh-LO-nee-unz you more and more of these blessings, and in Heaven they will be in abun­ (th as in thin). dance even though they will be the most treasured of all possessions.
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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. Not only is Paul to preach these things to the Gentiles, Paul also has been sent to explain to Jew and Gentile alike that we are all one in Christ. That's the idea of everyone. Even though Paul is the preeminent messenger to the Gentiles, he also speaks to Jews as often as he can. Even while writing to the Gentile believers back in Ephesus, Paul speaks to Jews about Christ during his imprisonment in Rome (Acts 28:17-31).
B. GOD'S INTENT (w. 10, 11) 10. His intent was that nmv, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God

should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, The phrase rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms refers to the angelic hierarchy. Evidence for the existence of a hierarchy among angels is seen in the term archangel in 1 Thessalonians 4: 16 and Jude 9. The fact that angels now have information that they did not have before indicates that angels are not all-knowing (omniscient). This mystery-that the Gentiles are to have equal access to the eternal God-has been kept hidden even from the angels. When the secret was re­ vealed, the angels learned something about God's manifold wisdom. The an­ gels already knew of God's power and beauty: they had seen God create the universe Gob 38:4-7). They knew of God's intelligence and character: they have watched him create people and deal with those stiffnecked humans for thousands of years. But they had not understood this part of the extent of his wisdom until his plan of grace and redemption unfolded (see Romans 11:33). 11.... according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in ChristJesus our Lord. God has had this plan from the beginning of time-it has been an eter­ nal purpose. Some have claimed that the church is a sort of "parentheses" in God's salvation-history timeline. Under this idea, the church became God's Plan B, since Jesus was rejected during his first coming. The truth is that God has had this plan from the beginning. It is the way that God chooses to make his glory known and understood. This story of God's grace gives us the great­ est possible glimpse into the character of God.
PLANS AND PURPOSES

Visual for Lesson 12. Point to this visual as you ask, "What hinders your message's signal strength?"

PRAYER

A few years ago, Sunroad Enterprises built a ISO-foot tall office tower near Montgomery Field in San Diego. It was so near, in fact, that it violated Federal Avi­ ation Administration (FAA) rules that limit buildings within a certain distance of airports to 160 feet in height. Even though warned of the violation by the FAA, the developer finished the superstructure, claiming the right to build according to the architect's plans because the city had approved those plans. City officials got into a name-calling political batde over the matter. The city filed suit against Sunroad; the developer filed a countersuit for $40 million. Finally, on June 26,2007, an "unrepentant" Sunroad (as the San Diego newspaper called the finn) agreed to lower the building to legal height, even while proceeding at full speed with the lawsuit. "The city approved the plans" was the company's reasoning as to why it resisted for months the calls to conform its plans to FAA regulations. Human plans can be illegal, selfish, foolish, changeable, and contradictory to other human plans. However, God's plans are never self-contradictory. The

Father, we confess that at times we have been proud. Sometimes we have consid­ ered ourfellow human beings who are created in your image as less valuable because of various reasons. Please forgive us and ranind us to love oth­ ers as you have loved us. We prayfor the opportunity and courage to express your love to others and to tell than of the free gift ofyour grace that is available to all people who will put theirfaith in your Son Jesus Christ. In his name we pray. Amen.

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question is, do our plans match his plans? If there's a mismatch, guess whose plans need to be changed! -CO R. B.

C.

READERS' REACTION

(w. 12, 13)

12. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. The revealed mystery means that God's plan is to make peace with all hu­ manity,]ew and Gentile alike. We no longer need fear his judgment. Because of our faith in Christ, we can approach God boldly, with confidence (Romans 5:2; Hebrews 4:16; 10:19). This confidence to approach God should not result in undue familiarity, however People have been heard to say, "I can't wait to get to Heaven and WHAT Do You THINK? give]esus a big hug!" But according to the Bible, what reallywiU happen What benefits do we enjoy when we get to Heaven is that "every knee [will] bow" (Philippians 2:10). in being able to boldly draw Think about how people in the Bible react when they realize they are in the near to God? What responsi­ presence of God. Manoah says, "We are doomed to die! ... We have seen bilities are there? God!" Qudges 13:22); Isaiah says, "Woe to me! ... I am ruined!" (Isaiah 6:5); Peter says, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" (Luke 5:8). Nevertheless, Paul says that those who have faith in]esus Christ can ap­ , proach God with freedom and confidence. How different would our prayer . lives be if we really believed this? i 13. 1 ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because ofmy sufferings for you, . which are your glory. If the Ephesian Christians are discouraged about Paul's situation, they i should not be. His trials and sufferings are for their glory. What a great per­ , spective on suffering! Paul is not bitter or angry about all the pain he is enduring. The fact that he is willing to undergo his persecutions shows the Ephesians how much he believes what he preaches. We humans will try to avoid even brief periods of minor irritation. Suffer­ ing often surprises us. We take pills to try to wipe out pain as quickly as pos­ sible. When we can't see any point to our pain, we get angry. Yet Paul embraces his suffering as glorious because he trusts God to make good out of it-not necessarily for Paul, but for others. If we adopt the values of a self-absorbed culture, we may ignore the benefits to others or glory to God that our suffering can bring. When you understand what God is calling WHAT Do You THINK? you to do and are submissive to it, you can withstand great suffering. You can In what WlryS have you personally benifited from suf­ see the glory in it even when it doesn't seem to benefit you personally. God called Paul to suffer greatly (Acts 9: 16). God may not call us to suf­ fering? fer in just the same way Paul did, but we do have our crosses to bear (Mark 8:34). Suffering for Christ will come to each of us in some way. Paul's suf­ fering is for the glory of his beloved Ephesians. When that happens, God ultimately is the one glorified. When we understand our calling, we can with­ stand great suffering and see the glory in it-not for ourselves, but for those we try to reach and ultimately for God himself.

CONCLUSION
Paul was willing to go to great lengths---even endure great suffering-so that as many people as possible could be told the secret: God's grace is avail­ able to everyone. It doesn't matter what country you were born in, what race I you are, how poor you are, whether you are tall or short, fat or skinny, male

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or female. The God of the universe sent his Son,jesus Christ, to die for your sins, and he wants to have a relationship with you. Are you willing to do what may be awkward or uncomfortable, to suffer a little or a lot, in order to communicate to those who may be different from you thatjesus loves them?

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER

Make sure God's revealed secret remains revealed.

Discovery Learning

The following is an alternative lesson plan emphasizing learning activities.
Classes desiring such student involvement will find these suggestions helpful. At the
back of this book are reproducible student pages to further enhance activity learning.

INTO THE LESSON Place in chairs copies of the reproducible activity "A Mystery in the Puzzle" on page 382 for students to work on as they arrive. If you wish, hand this out at the end of the lesson as take-home work instead. Option # 1: Playa word-association game. Ask students to jot down the very first thing that comes to their minds as you recite the following three words: secret, password, mystery. Allow a few mo­ ments of silence for students to write, then have them share some of their responses. Make the tran­ sition to Bible study by saying, "The word mystery is often used to imply a surprise ending to a great story. Buried in the story is a secret that will be re­ vealed at the end. Paul uses the word mystery to re­ veal]esus in a wonderful way. Let's investigate this mystery in our study today. " Option #2: Have one student write down five activities he or she enjoys or would enjoy dOing. At the same time, have all the other class members write down five activities that they think this stu­ dent enjoys or would enjoy. Then have the first stu­ dent read his or her list aloud so that everyone else can see what they did and didn't get right. Make the transition to Bible study by saying, "For most of you, this was a guessing game based on partial knowledge of [person's name]. Only one of you knew the whole truth about [person's name] 's preferences for activities. This is a bit of a snapshot of today's study about a great mystery hidden for centuries, hinted at, but finally revealed to all."
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use of the word myste1y. Then divide the class into seven study teams of two or three students each. A smaller class may either double up on the assign­ ments or make assignments to individuals rather than teams. The task of the teams is to examine, interpret, and apply words and phrases that come from today's printed text. Give each team a pho­ tocopy of the lesson commentary for their assign­ ments as needed. Display the following prepared instructions on the board or (better) on handouts: "Your tasks are to (1) give the background or interpretation of your assigned word or phrase, (2) draw out the implications for the Ephesians, and (3) set forth the implications for us today. The seven assignments are 1. "the prisoner of Christjesus" (v. 1); 2. "the administration of God's grace" (v. 2); 3. "mystery" (w. 3-6); 4. "servant" and "less than the least" (Vv. 7,8); 5. "unsearchable riches" (v. 8); 6. "rulers and authorities in the heavenlv realms" (v. 10); 7. "eter­ / nal purpose" (v. 11). Allow each team to report its findings.
INTO LIFE Activity # 1: Central Theme. Ask the study teams to define the central theme they think arises from today's text, writing it into one sentence or phrase. Allow each team to report its conclusions. Make the transition to the next activity by saying, "The commentary writer says an important lesson from this text is that 'we are all one in Christ.' Our chal­ lenge is applying that principle to everyday life in our community. How will we do that?" Activity #2: Brainstorming! Prepare two post­ ers. One poster's heading should read People Groups in Our Community. The other poster's heading is Strategies and Ideas. Display the first

INTO THE WORD Start with a brief lecture consisting of a sum­ mary of the Lesson Background. This will give your students a perspective on the first-century

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poster. Ask students to identify different people groups in the community. People groups may refer to ethnic backgrounds, educational or so­ cial status, youth subcultures, etc. List these on the poster board. Then say, "Let's evaluate our effectiveness in reaching these groups with the gospel." After discussion, check mark each group that is being touched by your church. Put a circle around the groups that are not being reached satisfactorily by your church.

Say, "Churches are usually not effective in reaching every people group in the community. However, most churches can improve their out­ reach." Ask the class to discuss ideas and strat­ egies to reach different groups on the list. Jot the ideas on the second poster. Discuss which people group may be your church's greatest op­ portunity to reach. Finally, appoint a team to continue to explore this outreach and develop a plan. The team will make a recommendation for action at an appropriate time in the future.

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