We all love a good mystery. We’re only given enough of the information to keep us on the edge of our seats, wondering and anxious to flip to the next page. As the novel or movie progresses, we sometimes begin to form theories about what’s going on and guesses as to whodunit. We describe the best mysteries as cliff-hangers or nail-biters because the tension is thick enough to cut with a chain saw.
God also indulges in mysteries. The plan of salvation through history has been one of gradual unfolding, with new characters being introduced and subplots that we didn’t see coming. Initial creation is functional and orderly, when an unexpected turn from Adam & Eve sends the whole kit and caboodle plunging into rebellion, corruption, and wickedness. God can foresee that the wickedness has been severe enough to drown the whole project, so he drowns the wickedness instead and moves on with a man who walks with Him. That man is no saint, however, and humanity continues in its path away from God, though there are some who call on His Name. Out of those God chooses one—a flimsy thread through whom God will make His plan work despite a chain of obstacles, threats, missteps, dangers, toils and snares. Generation after generation it seems that the plan of God is on the verge of extinction as His people wander and falter. He sends prophets who are ignored or persecuted. He invests Himself in kings, though the nation persists in their disobedience. He makes sure that His instructions and revelations get written down for posterity, yet those get as lost as the people (2 Kings 22).
History contains the mystery. Will the plan of God be undone? Are there too many obstacles to expect success? How can salvation come about with so much disruption? After a succession of prophets is summarily ignored, it seems that all is lost. Tragically, the people of the northern kingdom of Israel are exiled and disappear from history, never to be seen again. 150 years later the people of the southern kingdom of Judah are also carried away, and only a remnant endures.
Then comes silence—deafening silence from heaven. No prophets, no word of the Lord, no judges, nothing but emptiness. Has the plan of God failed? Did He finally stop trying?
With an explosion of light, John the Baptist and Jesus appear on the scene. The reaction is mixed, from wildly enthusiastic to murderously opposed. Again the plan seems in jeopardy. Within three years of aggressive ministry, both John and Jesus are killed. This time only 40 hours go by instead of 400 years. Bursting forth from the tomb, Jesus declares that the plan of salvation has been fulfilled and secured for eternity before their very eyes. He simultaneously secures a tiny ragtag army of the world’s most unlikely, commissions them to conquer the world with the message of salvation, and disappears in a cloud of glory. The men stand there looking at each other with an air of uncertainty and mystery. The plan seems to be in jeopardy yet again. How can this possibly succeed?
Fifty days is what it takes. Fifty days since that dreadful darkness when Jesus died. 48 days since hope was resurrected. A sudden violent sound—not a wind, but a sound only. A sudden appearance of God’s fire on each one, and a message to fill the earth and subdue it: God is beginning a new work. The plan of salvation is alive and well. The Spirit of God will see it through to completion.
No one would have foreseen any of this. The clues in the Old Testament were too oblique, though they were there. Hindsight is better than foresight. Divine sight is the best of all, and God opens the eyes of those who are blind. To the apostles is granted the privilege of taking the good news to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and, history suggests to us, Africa, India, Europe, and China. A bulldog of a scholar who is well spoken and well connected—Saul by name—is recruited to the cause. This brings us to Ephesians 3.
Though it’s clear in the messages and prophecies of the Old Testament, somehow it was missed that the gospel of salvation was meant for the whole world—the Gentiles as well as for the Jews. Now that the resurrection had happened and the Spirit had arrived, the time had also come for an ambassador from God to remind the world what had been so from the beginning, though hidden in plain sight: through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus (Eph. 3.6). It was a powerful surprise in the plot line, a veritable revolution of worldview. The unsearchable riches of Christ are right here in this treasure chest known as The Church (3.10), to be distributed freely to all who will come no matter what one’s ethnicity, race, gender, social status, religious background, economic status, I.Q., or political party. This salvation belongs to our God (Rev. 7.10; 19.1). Despite all obstacles, and there are still many more to come, the victory belongs to our God, and He will reign for ever and ever.