Church: A Bigger Deal Than You Realize (Ephesians 3:1-13)
Big idea: The church is a bigger deal than you realize. It displays God’s multifaceted wisdom to spiritual powers.
As we gather today, I want to tell you that what you’re doing right now is a pretty big deal.
I’ve always liked the words of Annie Dillard:
On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.
I love that — we should all be wearing coach helmets. What we’re doing here matters. It’s not safe at all. The church is a bigger deal than you realize. Today we’re going to look at one reason why.
For the next few weeks, we’re looking at life at Liberty Grace. We’re going to get into the nitty-gritty of what we’re all about as a church. I’m going to be telling you things I don’t think I’ve ever told you about our church before. I want to invite you in to join and to be a part.
But first we have to ask: why does it all matter? All of this takes lots of time, energy, and money. Why do we even bother? The answer comes back: The church is a bigger deal than you realize.
Let’s look at why.
Reason One: The Gospel Is for Everyone
We only have one theme here. We keep things pretty simple. The one theme is Jesus and what he’s done for us. We talk about it a lot, and for good reason. It’s the center of everything we do.
The book we’re looking at today, Ephesians, was written to a church plant like ours. The man who wrote it, Paul, was an enemy of Christianity until he met Jesus, and it changed everything. Once he met Jesus and understood what Jesus did for us, he couldn’t stop talking about it. So for the first two chapters of Ephesians, he’s been discussing the incomprehensible fact that Jesus died to save us. You can’t put it better than Paul did in Ephesians 2.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:4-10)
Friends, it doesn’t get any better than that. We were dead — not just sick, but dead. But God has acted in Jesus to make us alive and raise us up to new life. We’ve been saved. It is all of God. It’s a gift that we can simply receive, and it changes everything. I want to encourage you to receive this gift if you haven’t already. There’s nothing more important you could do today than this.
But Paul continues in chapters 2 and 3. Not only does he explain this good news, but he also says that it’s for everyone. But it hasn’t always been that way.
The story of the Bible is the story of God creating a good world, and of us rebelling against him. Instead of writing us off, God has chosen to save his people. But he didn’t choose to work with everyone. He chose to work with a small nation called Israel. He told them back then that he would use this tiny nation to bless the whole world, but they mostly missed this theme. For them, salvation was very much tied to being Jewish — something that leaves the majority of the world out of the picture.
But now things have changed. Paul speaks of a mystery in verse 4. Today, mystery means something that’s impossible or hard to understand. But that’s not what mystery meant in the Greek world. Back then, mystery meant something known only to the initiated. It means that we’ve been let in on a secret. The secret is what God has been up to for all of history. Paul says that he finally has been allowed to understand God’s ultimate purpose in the world. It’s why Paul keeps repeating the word mystery in this passage.
What is this mystery? What is God doing in this world? Verse 6 tells us:
This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
Here’s the great mystery that’s been revealed: Through the gospel, Jesus has made it possible for all people to become members of his body, and to share in the same promise. In other words, the gospel is for everyone.
You know why the church is important? Because the gospel is for everyone. In Liberty Village, there are close to 10,000 people. They’re all different. I know that people think that everyone in Liberty Village is the same. Just go to Metro one day and look around, and you’ll see how different everyone actually is. And here’s what Paul says: the gospel is for every single one of them.
It’s why we’re here. There are 10,000 reasons for us to be here. The gospel is the good news that Jesus saves not just one kind of person, but everyone. The church is a bigger deal than we realize because the gospel is a bigger deal than we realize, and we get to share this news with everyone.
But that’s not all.
Reason Two: The Church Displays God’s Multifaceted Wisdom to Spiritual Powers
When you read Ephesians 3, you see how much this motivates Paul. Paul can’t believe that he gets to be part of the church. He’s in jail, and he’s still excited that he gets to be part of this. He’s so blown away that he can barely finish a sentence because he’s caught up in the wonder of it.
Here’s why. When Paul looked at the church, he saw what God is going. He understood that God is accomplishing something that boggles our minds. He writes:
…so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. (Ephesians 3:10-12)
The church, Paul wrote, has a much higher purpose than we realize. It’s an amazing thing that spiritually dead people are raised to new life, and that God is saving all kinds of people from all kinds of places and backgrounds. This is such a big deal that it is the way that God has chosen to reveal his wisdom in its rich variety.
Think for a minute of all the ways that God could show to angels and demons that he is wise. The human genome shows that God is wise. Scientists are unravelling all the ways that information is stored in our DNA that makes us who we are. It’s amazing. The universe shows God’s wisdom. I could think of many ways that God could choose to show angels and demons his wisdom.
But look at how God has chosen to reveal his wisdom: through the church. The history of the Christian church has become a graduate school for angels. Demons thought they had Jesus killed once and for all. All of his followers were scattered. But he rose from the dead. But then he left. You can’t expect much from a small group of followers who had never amounted to much. But then Peter – yes, that Peter – got up to preach, and thousands joined the church. Satan and demons threw everything they could at the church, but the church continued to spread all throughout the Roman Empire, so that this obscure, marginal movement became the dominant religious force in the western world for centuries.
The very existence of the church is a sign to demons that their authority has been broken, and that their final defeat is imminent. God shows through the church that his purposes are being fulfilled and they’re moving toward their climax. F.F. Bruce says that the church is “God’s pilot scheme for the reconciled universe of the future.” God has chosen to display his wisdom in all its dimensions through, of all things, the church. It blows my mind.
This is why John Piper can say:
The church of Jesus Christ is the most important institution in the world. The assembly of the redeemed, the company of the saints, the children of God are more significant in world history than any other group, organization, or nation. The United States of America compares to the church of Jesus Christ like a speck of dust compares to the sun … Lift up your eyes, O Christians! You belong to a society that will never cease, to the apple of God’s eye, to the eternal and cosmic church of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Why? Because of the cosmic mission of the church. Because of the magnitude of what the church is. The church is a bigger deal than you realize. It displays God’s multifaceted wisdom to spiritual powers.
For centuries, Satan and his demons have been throwing everything they can at the church. They’re pretty good at what they do. To make it worse, humans are pretty good at messing things up, and the church is full of humans.
After centuries of this, the church has made plenty of missteps and mistakes. And yet throughout the world today hundreds of millions of people are bowing before the God who has made the mystery of salvation known, brought dead people to life, and turned enemies into family. You’re part of that today.
As we begin this series looking at life at Liberty Grace, I want to remind you that what we’re doing here really matters. It’s worth caring about. It’s worth investing in. The church is a bigger deal than we realize because the gospel is a bigger deal than we realize, and we get to share this news with everyone. The church is a bigger deal than we realize because it displays God’s multifaceted wisdom to spiritual powers.
James Boice says:
So God let history unfold like a great drama upon a cosmic stage. The angels are the audience. We are the actors. Satan is there to do everything he can to resist and thwart God’s purposes. This drama unfolds across the centuries as Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, Paul, and all the other dramatis personae of Christian history, both the great persons and the minor persons, are brought on stage to play the part God has assigned them and speak words that come from hearts that love him…
Now you and I are the players in this drama. Satan is attacking, and the angels are straining forward to look on. Are they seeing the “manifold wisdom” of God in you as you go through your part and speak your lines? They must see it, for it can be seen in you alone. It is there—where you work and play and think and speak—that the meaning and end of history is found.
So let’s put on our crash helmets. Let’s plug in. I’m going to invite you in to the grand story these coming weeks so that you can be part of proclaiming the gospel in this community and God’s wisdom to spiritual powers.
Let me close with these words:
So when times get challenging in ministry, remember this grand story. God is gathering a people to himself, and he displays his glory through us in this great mission. May this promise give you confidence as you share the gospel. May this motivation drive your social action.
Finally, let this unfolding story encourage you as you survey your local gathering. See it in light of the bigger picture. As you gather for corporate worship in a storefront, a home, a school, a secret location, or an old church building, remember that you are a microcosm of something greater, something diverse and beautiful, something global and glorious, something in the present that will extend to the future—and beyond to eternity.
God’s purpose has always been to have a people for himself—real people who gather around the Word, break bread together, sing together, laugh together, weep together, pray together, dream together, and do ministry together. God is in our midst, revealing his glory to us, and displaying his glory through us. Let’s not lose the wonder of this grace.