Ephesians 3:1-2; 8-13
A Mystery Celebrated

About one hundred years after the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians another man by the name of Polycarp served as Bishop of the church in Smyrna, located about 35 miles north of Ephesus, was arrested and sentenced to death for his refusal to worship the gods of the Roman empire. 


At eighty-six years old, Polycarp was the last surviving person to have known an apostle, for he was discipled by the apostle John.  He was greatly revered as a teacher and church leader; he also had suffered the loss of many friends who had gone before him through the death of martyrdom. Although Polycarp heard that the Roman authorities were looking for him so that they could arrest him, he was at peace with whatever was coming.  Three days before his arrest, Polycarp had a vision, while praying, of a pillow under his head that was on fire; he understood his vision to be prophetic concerning the way he would die.  Polycarp said to his friends, “I will be burned alive.” 


It is said when the authorities finally did find the place Polycarp was staying to arrest him, they came with all of their weapons, and while he could have escaped, Polycarp responded to his friends: “God’s will be done.”  When the Roman authorities stepped into the house where Polycarp was staying, he called for food and drinks for the men and asked if they could give him an hour to pray uninterrupted; to which they agreed.  It is said that some of the men who were there to arrest the 86-year-old church leader, regretted it.  Polycarp was made to ride a donkey and was ushered into the arena; some witnesses said they heard a voice from heaven say, “Be strong, Polycarp and play the man!” 


When the crowd saw Polycarp enter the arena, witnesses say there was an uproar as people shouted: “Down with the Atheists!” (this is what Christians were called because they did not worship the gods of the Roman Empire).  While the crowd demanded death for the old saint, the Proconsul urged him to, “reproach Christ, and I will set you free.”  To which Polycarp declared: “86 years I have served him, and He has done me no wrong.  How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”  The Proconsul continued: Swear by the Fortune of Caesar.”  To which Polycarp again replied: “Since you vainly think that I will swear by the Fortune of Caesar, as you say, and pretend not to know who I am, listen carefully: I am a Christian!”


They sentenced Polycarp to death by burning.  They were going to nail him to the stake, but Polycarp insisted, “Leave me like this.  He who gives me to endure the fire will also give me to remain on the pyre without your security from the nails.”  So, they did not nail him to the stake, but did tie him to it.  As they prepared to light the fire, Polycarp’s prayer could be heard:

“O Lord God Almighty, the Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of you, the God of angels, powers and every creature, and of all the righteous who live before you, I give you thanks that you count me worthy to be numbered among your martyrs, sharing the cup of Christ and the resurrection to eternal life, both of soul and body, through the immortality of the Holy Spirit. May I be received this day as an acceptable sacrifice, as you, the true God, have predestined, revealed to me, and now fulfilled. I praise you for all these things, I bless you and glorify you, along with the everlasting Jesus Christ, your beloved Son. To you, with him, through the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and forever. Amen.”[1]


Because the fire did not seem to touch his body, an executioner was commanded to stab him.  Polycarp died about 100 years after the apostle Paul wrote these words that are before us in 2024:

To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to enlighten all people as to what the plan of the mystery is which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things; so that the multifaceted wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.” (Eph. 3:8–12)


There are three truths in the scripture passage before us related to the mystery of God that I want to highlight for your good, and to your encouragement this morning. 


God’s Plan is Great (vv. 8-9)

Since the Garden of Eden, and even before time, the plan has always been the redemption of mankind through a second and greater Adam, a more permanent and perfect sacrifice, a greater Moses who mediates a New Covenant.  The greater Adam, the more permanent and perfect sacrifice, and the One greater than Moses who mediates a New Covenant is Jesus; however, it was not clear in ages past who or what the mystery was until Jesus was born. This is the mystery Paul is talking about in Ephesians, and this is the point of the opening verses of Hebrews:

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom He also made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…” (Heb. 1:1–3)


This is the point of what the resurrected Christ said to the apostle John at the beginning of the book of Revelation: “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man.  And He placed His right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and Hades’” (Rev. 1:17-18).  Of this Jesus, Paul wrote: “To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to enlighten all people as to what the plan of the mystery is which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things…” (Eph. 3:8–9).


Paul had become the recipient of the “unfathomable riches of Christ” for the purpose of sharing the news that the very same grace is available to all who would receive it by faith through Christ.  This is the mission of the Church!  Jesus said of His followers who make up His Church: “You are the salt of the earth…. You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:13-14).  For salt to serve its purpose, it must be applied; the greatest need for the light, is where it is dark.  God’s plan has always been for His people to serve as the salt of the earth and the light of the world!  Adam and Eve were commanded to fill the earth with people like them who worshiped God.  Israel was called to be a kingdom of priests to light up the darkness of the nations and people groups who surrounded them.  Regardless of the failure of Adam and Eve or the failures of the Hebrew people, God promised: “For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name shall be great among the nations, and in every place frankincense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering that is pure; for My name shall be great among the nations,’ says the Lord of Armies” (Mal. 1:11).  Jesus would make God’s plan possible, and He would do it through His Church (Matt. 18:19-20), and Jesus promised, “I will build my church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matt. 16:18). 


The heart of God’s perspective plan for the redemption of the nations is that He will do it through the Church.  Polycarp understood this, the apostle Paul was convinced of this, and the Church can stand on this truth!  It is for the mission of God that we were made for, and it is for the mission of God that God chose you before the foundation of the world, redeemed you through the blood of the Lamb, and sealed you with the Holy Spirit so that you can live out your purpose with power (see Eph. 2:10)!  Now, we who have been redeemed by Christ, can enter into the darkness of a rotten world with the full confidence that we go with the One whom God the Father, “put all things in subjection under His feet and made Him head over all things to the church” (Eph. 1:20-23).


God’s Motive is Central (v. 10)

What is the motive of God?  Why did he redeem a people through His Son?  Is it only because we are, “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph. 2:10)?  We are given clues as to why He chose, redeemed, and sealed us throughout Ephesians; Paul tells us three times in the first fourteen verses: “To the praise of the glory of His grace” (v. 6), to the praise of His glory” (v. 12), and “to the praise of His glory” (v. 14).  And now, in Ephesians 3:10, we are told again: “…so that the multifaceted wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”


So, what is the multifaced wisdom of God that is being made known through the church? It obviously has something to do with the way God redeemed the church: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our wrongdoings, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us” (1:7-8a).  However, note how God’s wisdom is used in 1 Corinthians regarding the way he saved sinners: “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).  But wait, there is more:

For consider your calling, brothers and sisters, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the insignificant things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no human may boast before God. But it is due to Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:26–31)


Do you see it?  Do you see now what Paul is saying in Ephesians 3:10?  The thing that God has done in your life Christian, from choosing you before the foundation of the world (1:4), to the redemption of your soul through the blood of the Son (1:7-8), and the sealing of the Holy Spirit by the same power that raised Jesus from the grave (1:13, 19) is on display through you before the holy angels and the evil demons!  The “rulers” and the “authorities” in the heavenly places is the realm of both the angelic and demonic.  The angels see what God has done, is doing, and will do in you and they are blown away over the rich mercy, great love, and all-sufficient grace God has lavished upon you through Jesus the Son.  We get a snapshot of the way the angels and all of heaven responds to what the Christian has received: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power, wealth, wisdom, might, honor, glory, and blessing…. To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be the blessing, the honor, the glory, and the dominion forever and ever.  Amen” (Rev. 5:12-14).   


The demons see the same thing the holy angels see, but they tremble as they look upon the power of God at work in you in great and terrifying fear.  The cross that made our redemption possible serves as a reminder of God’s redemptive plan while it also serves to remind the demons that all evil has already been defeated at the cross; you Christian remind the demonic world that their final judgment is coming, and you will stand over them as the Bride of Christ in judgment over them (1 Cor. 6:1-3). Their response is certainly terrifying fear, but also violence towards the saints any chance they get.  Polycarp experienced their worst, and although his hair was singed with fire, he was received by the Great and Good Shepard of the sheep with these words: “Come Polycarp, you are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34).


God’s motive is to display His glory through His people, and that is good news!  Think about who God is.  He is as good as it gets, there is none higher than Himself and the motive to glorify Himself is the motive to give you the greatest reality that has no equal, namely Himself!  This is why when it comes to the salvation, redemption, and rescuing of His people, God is clear: “For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can My name be profaned?  And I will not give My glory to another” (Isa. 48:11). 


What this means is that when angels see you, they see the power of God on full display as He is committed to do the very thing He determined to do before the foundation of the world in and through you: “In Him we also have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things in accordance with the plan of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in the Christ would be to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:11–12).  The demonic see the same power on display in you, knowing that God’s rich mercy, great love, and sufficient grace is something they will never experience as they wait for God’s perfect justice, infinite wrath, and final judgment. 


So, when Polycarp and the countless others who suffered for the name of Christ, understood that because of their identity in Christ, the world could do its worst and still not a hair on the head of the one covered under the blood of the Lamb would perish (Luke 21:18). 


God’s Purpose is Eternal (vv. 11-13)

As we inch our way closer to the conclusion of Ephesians 3, we come closer to the second half of this magnificent epistle.  If there was a transitional statement to mark the shift from Ephesians 1-3 to Ephesians 4-6, it would be this: “Now that you know who you are in Christ, let me explain who you are as the Church.”  In verses 11-12, Paul gives us a peek into what he will unpack in the second half of his epistle: “This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.


What is the “This” Paul is referring to in verse 11?  It is the “unfathomable riches of Christ” Paul received and was commissioned to bring to the Gentiles through the foolishness of the Cross preached.  It is the “unfathomable riches of Christ” that Polycarp was sentenced to death for preaching.  It is the “unfathomable riches of Christ” that the Christian has received and also has been commissioned to bring to all peoples as the Church of Jesus Christ.  Listen to me carefully: It is because you, Christian, have received the “unfathomable riches of Christ” that places you into a third category of a people group that transcends any people group you were physically born into, and that people group is the “People of God” and tethers you to both Old Testament saints and New Testament saints; it also tethers you to every other person who has received the “unfathomable riches of Christ.  This is also the mystery Paul is talking about, and this mystery includes the Bride of Jesus Christ, who is the Church!  What this means is that the Church has been, is, and will continue to be, “the eternal purpose which God carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord…” (v. 11).


Christian, you are the Church and because you are the Church, Jesus is your Groom, and you are His Bride!  Christian, you are the apple of the Redeemer’s eye, and this is why Paul could write that in Christ Jesus our Lord… “we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him” (v. 12).  Oh dear Christian, do not think lightly of the people you are now joined to in faith through the Christ who not only suffered and died in your place, but shed His blood to redeem and purchase a Bride for Himself that now includes you!  The Church is the Beloved Bride of Christ, which means the local expression of Her such as Meadowbrooke Church and thousands like Her is the way, “that the multifaceted wisdom of God might now be made known…. In accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him” (vv. 10-12). 


Warren Wiersbe’s sage advice is a fitting way to conclude this sermon: “This great truth concerning the church is not a divine afterthought. It is a part of God’s eternal purpose in Christ (Eph. 3:11). To ignore this truth is to sin against the Father who planned it, the Son whose death made it possible, and the Spirit who today seeks to work in our lives to accomplish what God has planned.”[2]  Amen.

[1] John Foxe and The Voice of the Martyrs, Foxe: Voices of the Martyrs (Orlando, FL: The Voice of the Martyrs; 2007), 51-55.
[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 30.