A Marvelous Mystery

A Marvelous Mystery

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Everyone loves a mystery, it seems, under the right conditions. It can be rather thrilling to be intrigued, left to figure things out, to wrestle with tidbits of evidence and attempt to form logical, well-reasoned conclusions.

We often don’t like mysteries, however, when they might frighten or threaten us. Some things we like to know with certainty. We want to be sure that what we put into our gas tanks and into our bodies are pure and suitable for the purpose. We want to know that the airplane is going to hold together until we land at the place we intended to go. We want the doctor to tell us exactly what the situation is regarding our health.

The more important the issue, the more we want certainty and the less we like mystery. Yet some things will always baffle us, especially the things of God. No matter how much we learn about His creation and about ourselves, there are always more mysterious questions to surface and to remain. Why has God done what He has done, in the manner in which He has done it, and in the time frame He chose to do it? Sometimes He tells us; sometimes He does not.

The more that we hear, read, and study God’s word, the more we begin to understand the mystery of Scripture revealed. Scripture holds many mysteries that are not always easily, not always completely humanly understood. It is only by faith that we believe God’s mysteries as revealed in God’s holy word. Who fully knows the mind of God? Who can understand His mysterious ways?

In Colossians, for example, we are told Christ lives in us. In other places, we are told that the Holy Spirit also dwells in us. Yet in his letter to the Romans, St. Paul presents another truth:

“So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” [1]

This, too, is a mystery—that sin is alive and well in us. But now Christ is also alive and lives in us, as does God the Holy Spirit. And so, we consider God’s mystery.

Here in the book of Colossians, Paul’s audience is a new generation and nation of believers, Gentiles. They had been strangers to God.

Not just strangers, fact, but they—like us—had had been enemies of God. Their evil thoughts separated them from the truth. As unbelievers, these Gentiles lived opposed to God’s ways and opposed to God’s word. No real surprise or mystery there, it seems. Anyone who pays attention to what Scripture says—and is an honest observer of human behavior and one’s own life—has to admit that we oppose God, left and right, every hour of every day.

However, there’s an important John Madden moment as we move into verse 22; a “Hey, wait a minute!” shift that is more powerful and cataclysmic than an earthquake:

“BUT NOW” God changed everything for these Gentiles. They were forgiven. There were no charges to be held against them. They were holy and blameless in God’s sight. This was the gospel message that these Gentiles had heard and now believed, through the preaching of Paul and others who served the Colossian congregation.

Paul was a servant of Christ to preach this gospel message in all of its truth and purity. It had been unknown to the Gentiles for generations. Now they had heard it, and many—by the grace of God alone—believed it. It was a mystery, as was the other thing that Paul told them: The other mystery is this: Christ lived in them. These Gentiles now belonged to the Lord.

We are all born estranged from God. We are all born as the very enemies of God. The Reformed churches of the Calvinistic tradition call this the “total depravity” of mankind. Other Christians, including Lutherans, call it Original Sin. We also sometimes describe the “concupiscence” that we have—the active desire to do just the opposite of what God would have us do. Since the first sin of Adam and Eve our lives are tainted with the same infection of evil.

With such a corrupted nature, we have to ask the question: Why are we saved? Who would really want to reach out and save their enemy? This is the marvelous mystery Scripture declares to us with God’s gospel. Paul wrote to another congregation, this time in Ephesus: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” [2] We were dead in sin. But now by grace we are made alive in Christ who lives in us. It is a divine mystery.

There is even more to our faith that just having Christ alive in us. Each of us has been redeemed and made alive for Christ. The Holy Spirit has called us to be his own. He has a purpose for us that goes far beyond just being focused on our own personal growth and well-being. The Holy Spirit has called us to be living, serving, giving members of the holy Church.

St. Peter describes it as follows: “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” [3] Christ lives in us. Each one of us has been called by the gospel to be a proclaimer of God’s gospel in the situations in which we find ourselves. The Jews prided themselves in being the children of Abraham. Jesus reminded them that He could create stones to declare His praises. Today you and I are living stones, declaring the praises of our heavenly Father as we serve our families, our employers, our schools, our community, this congregation, and the world beyond.

By birth we are Gentiles—outsiders, unacceptable ones. But now by faith we are made part of the New Israel. This is not an earthly nation or ethnic group seeking success or power, but a house—a family—which offers up spiritual sacrifices.

Christ lives in us. This is the marvelous, miraculous mystery explained in God’s gospel. Christ lives in us that we would have eternal life. Christ lives in us to remind us just how much our loving Lord cares for everyone, and especially believers, those of His house of faith. By that faith, our lives are changed. By that faith we live changed lives because of God’s great, great love for us.

God tells us through Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” [4] Christ lives in us that we might honor him with our lives. This is a divine mystery that we believe and confess by grace through faith. It is also our glorious hope!

Notice the great joy that the apostle Paul had in being a servant of the Lord, especially in verses 23 and 25. Even in intense suffering, Paul found great joy in freely proclaiming God’s gospel. Once, having been stoned by a crowd and left for dead, Paul continued on to encourage the churches of Asia Minor. In spite of all the obstacles and persecutions, Paul was excited to proclaim that deep, profound, powerful mystery—“Christ lives in you!”

This was the message of God’s saving gospel that all people needed to hear to be saved. Paul used God’s word to teach and encourage everyone he encountered and who would listen. He informed them using God’s wisdom, not man’s. And so, these Gentiles and many others heard the Gospel through Paul, through the other apostles, and through those they subsequently trained and appointed to carry on the work of Christ.

And—when and where He willed it—the Holy Spirit worked faith in the hearts of these Gentiles, just as He had for many of the Jews. They believed.

There was only one condition for these new believers to enjoy eternity. It’s this: Just like it is for us, these Gentile converts were to hold fast to God’s word, and stand firm in their faith. This is not something we can do of ourselves, though. Only by the constant presence and uplifting of the Holy Spirit can we remain in the faith.

Over the generations nothing has changed. As believers also saved by God’s grace, we will always want to hold to fast to God’s word. We will always want to stand firm in the Christian faith revealed to us in the Scriptures.

Today there seem to be so many misconceptions and competing voices concerning the teachings of what God’s word really says. Our modern era tries to corrupt the true meaning of Scripture so that man’s will prevails, not God’s. Sin is often defined or explained away as merely a sickness or a disease, for which modern medicine has—or will soon find—a cure.

All kinds of immorality are excused because “everyone is doing it”, or because of a belief that those informed by God in earlier ages were somehow less enlightened than those who ignore Him today. God’s gospel is trampled under the feet of deniers and rejecters of Christ, just as it always has been in various quarters.

These are the continuing end times that the Lord warns us about. “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear,” Timothy was told by his mentor, Paul. [5] But God’s word is still God’s word. Man cannot destroy the truth of Gods’ gospel.

At times, we may find ourselves trapped by depression, discouragement, and even despair. After all, day after day the news only seems to get worse and worse and worse. Everything seems to be collapsing all at once all around us. The experts tell us one thing only to have the opposite results take place. Our ongoing moments of doom, in fact, come about because we have put far too much hope and confidence in this life or the things of this life. Our hearts are simply in the wrong place. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” [6] Jesus told His listeners. You have the real treasures—forgiveness, salvation, life eternal. Rejoice – Christ lives in us. This marvelous, miraculous mystery is truly our glorious hope in a hopeless world.

God’s word and promises never ever fail. Everything else around us will fail but not God’s word. God’s word is the solid foundation upon which we base our glorious hope. The author of Hebrews wrote: “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf.” [7]

God’s gospel hope is our glorious hope: “An anchor for the soul, firm and secure”! We can come confidently and boldly before God’s throne of grace. Christ, our perfect High Priest has paid for our sins and the sins of the whole world. We know the glorious riches of the mystery and the hope of glory — heaven is our home, now and forever.

Who can truly, fully understand the mind of God, then? Sin is alive and well in each of us. But now Christ is even more alive and well in each of us. Christ is far, far greater and much more powerful than anything else in all of creation. It is a divine mystery that Christ would dwell with us and in us. But now this marvelous, miraculous mystery is also our glorious hope. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” [8]

Christ lives in us. Christ lives in every believer. Christ lives in you! It is a divine mystery of glorious proportions. It is our glorious hope of divine origin. This is the simple, yet powerful saving truth of God’s gospel—for us and for all of creation. For us, and for our salvation. In Jesus’ holy name. Amen.

[1] Romans 7:17-20

[2] Ephesians 2:4-5

[3] 1 Peter 2:5

[4] 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

[5] 2 Timothy 4:3

[6] Matthew 6:21-22

[7] Hebrews 6:19-20a

[8] Galatians 2:20