People naturally love mysteries. We love the suspense of a story where all the pieces don’t come together until the very end. As we celebrate Epiphany, we celebrate the revelation of the way the pieces of God’s story suddenly come together in Christ. His mystery is revealed.
Way back in Genesis 12, God made His promise to Abraham to bless all the families on earth. Then there is a long period of suspense to see how exactly God will work this out. God’s people spent hundreds of years searching and wondering about the mystery of how God would fulfill this promise. Ephesians 3:5 says that the mystery wasn’t revealed to previous generations, but it was then finally revealed in Christ.
What is this profound mystery?
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.
God’s power is strong enough, His grace is amazing enough, to extend not only to one small group of chosen people, but to the entire planet. His love is deep enough that people aren’t excluded from His grace just because of the group of people they were born into, but the mystery of the gospel reveals that all people can receive God’s salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
Wherever the gospel is preached, anywhere in this world or even in the heavenly places (v. 10), the mighty power of God is able to save all those who believe. The kingdom of God is spreading through the entire globe – a cosmic shift is taking place through God and His Church!
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 2to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
I love the approach of the Church to the season of Advent, as we compare the “gentle Jesus meek and mild” of the first Advent to the Almighty King whose second coming we anticipate. It requires some thoughtful perspective-taking.
Throughout the book of Job, Job learns that he just doesn’t understand the mighty and wonderful plans that God is working out through the devastating events that he sees happening in his own life. He learns to see things through a heavenly perspective. He says:
I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
Jesus also speaks about the signs of the end of the age from a heavenly perspective in Luke, chapter 21. The events he describes are apocalyptic, but he describes it as a time of “power and great glory” (verse 27). He reminds His hearers that even when we are surrounded by distress, perplexity, and devastation, Christ rules over it all, and He will hold the absolute victory.
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
We have times and seasons in our lives that are distressing and uncomfortable. We can’t put our faith in people and institutions, but we can ALWAYS put our faith in Jesus Christ. His promises are absolutely certain and sure. Be careful to guard your heart and not turn to anything else but Him. Everything else WILL disappoint. Pray, hold your head high, and trust only in Him.
All of who we are is meant to be used as an offering to God. This is what stewardship is. As we continue to consider the Book of Nehemiah and how to apply it to the state of affairs in our day, we recognize that in today’s world, we are considering not so much repairing physical walls, but the absolute crumbling of our cultural standards and truths. How can we rebuild the walls of faith and righteousness in a modern context?
Nehemiah 3:1 says that the high priest and his brothers “rose up” to rebuild the Sheep Gate. I like that terminology. Just like the priests of that time “rose up” and got their hands dirty to accomplish God’s work, we also need to rise up and commit ourselves to God’s work in our day. This month’s Election Day was a great example of the power of people rising up to commit themselves to accomplishing something they are passionate about. Each vote counts.
Verses 1 and 2 go on to show that each group of people was assigned a specific portion of the wall they were responsible for. They weren’t worried about the overwhelming task of rebuilding the entire wall. They were each concerned only with their own assignment, trusting that the group working next to them would take care of their own responsibility. This is a great lesson for the Church of God. We don’t need to be worried or overwhelmed about the enormity of the entire task, and we don’t need to be micromanaging everyone around us. We need to focus on our own assignment and trust everyone else to accomplish theirs.
Then verse 5 goes on to shame one group of nobles who “would not stoop to serve their Lord.” How shameful to be named in the Bible this way! We need to be humble and not consider ourselves above any task in the work of God. Instead, we need to be like our Lord Himself, who stooped to wash the feet of His disciples, and then even gave His own life for us.
There is no task too large or too small to matter in the work of God. You are called to faithfully steward your talents and abilities to serve in whatever way you can. Every job is critically important in the mission of the Church. You are not responsible for the entire work, just for your own assigned responsibility. Just like with the people of Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s day, we will see mighty works accomplished when we all rise up and faithfully fulfill our responsibilities, both large and small.
As we begin a series of sermons on the book of Nehemiah, we want to draw some parallels between the situation of Nehemiah building the walls of the city of Jerusalem and our own situations as we are building the kingdom of God. First, Nehemiah was not an important or influential person in life – he was a cupbearer to the king (Neh. 1:11). This means he was considered to be disposable, since his life was less valuable than the king’s, and everyone would rather he be poisoned rather than the king. However, he still saw himself as a leader with the power to make a difference. Second, he was a man of depth. He cared deeply about what was going on with the people of Jerusalem, even though it didn’t affect him directly in his life in the palace. He didn’t skim over their problems, and he allowed his heart to be impacted (verses 2-4). Third, he trusted the power of God more than any earthly power. When he found his heart affected by the serious issues he learned about, he took them straight to God to find wisdom on how to help (verses 5-11). Fourth, he took personal responsibility. He didn’t pawn it off on anyone else or say, “It’s not my problem.” He was prepared to risk his own self to use whatever influence he had to help his brothers, but he trusted himself in the hands of God and was willing to do whatever it takes. When it comes to our work in building the kingdom of God, we need to be like Nehemiah in these four areas, and we can trust the results to our faithful God.
Paul uses the second half of chapter 4 of his letter to the Ephesians to remind them of what it looks and feels like to be separated from God. Can you see any evidence in our culture today of people whose thinking is futile, whose minds are darkened, and whose hearts are hardened? I sure can. This is clear evidence of separation from God. On the other hand, if you are actually in a relationship with the living God, there should be clear and visible evidence that your thinking, emotions, and behavior have been transformed. Our lives are designed to be a mirror, reflecting the glory and goodness of God. However, in order for a mirror to reflect the light, it has to be facing the light. Turn the mirror away from the light, and it reflects only darkness. In the same way, if we turn ourselves away from Christ, we cannot reflect His glory.
Therefore, even the small things in life matter, because they can turn us ever so slightly away from looking full at God, and our reflections of Him start to dim. Pay close attention to the smallest things that might be deceiving you and distracting you. Do not let your heart become hardened… in your marriages, your family relationships, your friendships, your church communities.
The good news is that you do not have to do this alone. God has given us His Spirit to keep our hearts soft, our minds vigilant, and our thinking true. He allows us to be restored not only to God, but also to one another, that we may flourish not only as individuals but as the people of God. We are beloved children of God, and we are meant to be imitators of Him. He wants to see us flourish, full of His grace and His love and His presence.