We are going to need to reinvent the church. The last 11 weeks of Covid19 Lockdown have brought all the regular activities and events on our premises to a standstill. Every church in the world is recognizing that coming out of lockdown things are not just going to start up again as they were before. Some of our activities will not be possible for a long time. Maybe some will never happen again. Things could start, and then have to stop again if there is a second spike of Covid19 and a second lockdown.
So all churches are at a turning point. It is not an understatement to say that we need to reinvent the church for a post-Covid society. For many Christians and for those on the fringes, church had become a programme of activities, a cycle of worship and prayer and outreach and service. We need to rediscover what church is really about. We need a vision from God about what His church really is, and what the church can be, and what the church needs to be, in the post-Covid19 world. That may sound scary. In fact, I believe it will be an exciting opportunity for us to work out what it means to be disciples of Jesus in the fellowship and community of his church in the 21st century.
We began to think about this last week when we reminded ourselves that the church is not the building – the church is the people.
Ephesians 2 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
The church is not the building – it is the people. For this morning, Ephesians 3 goes on to lift our eyes beyond our understanding of church, and beyond our experiences of church, and give us a glimpse of God’s cosmic masterplan of salvation and the part which we in the church of Jesus Christ have to play in that.
We all love a good mystery. And Paul writes to the Christians at Ephesus about probably the most exciting mystery in the universe. He wants them to 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.
But I don’t want to confuse anybody. Because when people use the word mystery they are usually talking about detective mysteries, Sherlock Holmes or Chief Inspector Morse. Nowadays a mystery is some kind of puzzle to be solved. But Paul is using the word mystery in its original sense. Something hidden. Something mysterious. Something waiting to be revealed. This morning we are going to talk about what the apostle Paul calls God’s mystery. Something God had shown Paul in a revelation. Something God has been doing in secret throughout history behind the scenes which at the moment is concealed but in the fullness of time will be revealed to everybody. We could call it “God’s cosmic masterplan of salvation.” God’s mysterious plan is at the heart of the message of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. God’s cosmic masterplan which is all wrapped up in God’s new community, the Church.
. 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.
God’s cosmic masterplan is that both Jews and non-Jews alike can experience the blessings of God’s salvation which comes to us all through Jesus Christ. We thought about this last week.
Ephesians 2 14 For (Christ) himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.
Jews and Gentiles together, indeed all races and colours, are now part of God’s one new humanity, the Body of Christ, the church, the spiritual building where God lives by His Holy Spirit. The church, all of us who have access to God through the Holy Spirit living inside us, are God’s big secret, God’s cosmic masterplan. Paul had hinted at this in chapter 1.
Ephesians 1:8 … With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfilment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
God brings the whole of creation into unity in the church, through Christ. That is his mysterious plan. In Ephesians chapter 3 Paul continues,
Ephesians 3:8v 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,
The boundless unsearchable riches of Christ. The endless treasures God pours into our lives through Jesus. Every blessing in the heavenly places! Forgiveness and eternal life and adoption into God’s forever family. All the riches of God’s grace which he has lavished upon us. The power of the Holy Spirit which raised Jesus from the dead, at work in OUR lives and making us into God’s Holy Temple where He dwells by His Holy Spirit. We will spend eternity exploring and enjoying these boundless riches of Christ and never get to the end of them. They are given to us as God’s free gift, never earned or deserved, all by God’s amazing grace, God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. By grace you are saved, through faith. And that is not of yourselves – it is the gift of God. But all these amazing blessings poured into our lives have a far, far greater purpose than just to bless us. They are just a part of God’s cosmic masterplan for the salvation of the whole universe.
Ephesians 3:8 … 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.
The purpose of God’s masterplan of salvation extends far beyond those of us who experience the boundless riches of Christ here and now. This mysterious plan is even bigger than the creation of the church made up of every believer in every place and every age.
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,
The reason God has saved each of us, and all Christians, the reason God has brought Jews and Gentiles together into one new humanity, the reason God has put His Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the church, is this. This cosmic masterplan reveals God’s wisdom in its rich variety to the whole of creation. Not just to every being on earth but to all the unseen spiritual rulers and authorities in heavenly places as well. This is the destiny of the church. You and I, North Springfield Baptist Church and the churches of Chelmsford and every church in the Baptist Union and all the Christians alive around the world today, and every Christian who has ever lived, fit together in God’s mysterious plan to reveal his wisdom to the universe! This is God’s eternal purpose which He has accomplished in Christ and in his church.
The Message translation puts it this way.
… here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels! All this is proceeding along lines planned all along by God and then executed in Christ Jesus.
Most people want their lives to have meaning. Most people want to do something worthwhile in their lives – to play their part in something much greater than themselves. As Christians our lives so have a meaning and a significance far greater than any of us can imagine. As part of Christ’s Body, the Church, we are all participants in something unimaginably huge, God’s cosmic masterplan of salvation. Our lives, the seemingly ordinary lives we live day to day but lived in the resurrection power of Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, even our lives are demonstrating God’s supreme wisdom to the whole of creation. Each one of us is playing our unique part in God’s redemption of the whole universe. That is the reason why God has blessed us so immeasurably with the endless treasures of Christ. For his glory and praise.
This is God’s mysterious plan. This is God’s purpose for the church, the body of Christ, the living Temple where he dwells through the Holy Spirit. So how should we respond to this amazing grace of Christ? By praise and worship and thanksgiving. By obeying God in every part of our lives. By loving God and loving our neighbour and doing all the good works God has lined up ready for us to do. And by allowing the Holy Spirit and the resurrection life of Christ flow through us. Flow, Spirit, flow! Blaze, Spirit, blaze!