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INSIGHT INTO A MYSTERY

Ephesians 3:1-6
7th September 2003

I noticed that every one of my grandchildren as small toddlers, have each loved to plunge a chubby finger into the palm of my hand and make some sounds that mean "Can you keep a secret? I don't believe you can. You mustn't laugh, you mustn't cry, but do the best you can." Everybody likes a secret. It is not only children, but adults too. Sometimes grand-dads have secrets. Sometimes dads have a secret about something good happening at work a promotion or a pay rise perhaps. Sometimes mums like having secrets. Sometimes happy, sometimes sad. Sometimes it is a happy secret. A young married couple discover there is a baby on the way. That is a secret, so they do not tell anybody for nearly ten minutes! That is one secret you cannot hide for long. Sometimes it is sad. A person comes home from the doctor after being given a certain diagnosis. There is a lump somewhere. They do not tell anybody, but keep that secret to themselves.

This week commemorates the sixtieth anniversary of the commencement of the Battle For Australia. After the capture of Australian territory in Rabaul, the bombing of Darwin and Japanese submarines off the coast of New South Wales. the war-time Prime Minister, Mr John Curtain, declared that the Battle For Australia had begun. Our troops commenced fighting back at Milne Bay and the Kokoda Track. There were some amazing victories against overwhelming odds, and at the same time heroic and sacrificial fighting by Australian troops that three years later contributed to the victory against Japan. The whole campaign was planned in the utmost of secrecy. The enemy were not to know our plans. Secrets are important. The formulas for making Coca-Cola and Kentucky Fried Chicken are still secrets after decades.

I only wish the Government could learn from private enterprise how to stop industrial espionage and how to keep secrets. No-one else knows how to make Coke-Cola or KFC.. Yet anyone can look up Government sites on the internet and learn how to make a terrorist bomb! God knows how to keep a secret. He kept one for centuries. He revealed it through the Apostle Paul. Nero had Paul in prison. Yet he felt free in his heart, because even in imprisonment was serving Jesus Christ. He had given his life to Christ; he was going to serve Jesus all his life. He wrote: "For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles, pray to God. Surely you have heard that God in His grace has given me this work to do for your good. God revealed His secret plan and made it known to me." Ephesians 3:1-2

Paul was called by God, committed to doing what God wanted him to do for the sake of other people. Ministers are called to lead, to equip themselves to share the secrets of God with others. Paul tells us what this secret plan is all about. For a long time God had a plan that sinful people might be made part of His kingdom. People who had been wicked and astray from God, and who had left God's way might be welcomed into the family of God. How God was going to do that was part of His secret plan. Ephesians 3:3-5 "I have written briefly about this, and if you will read what I have written, you can learn about my understanding of the secret of Christ. In past times human beings were not told this secret, but God has revealed it now by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets. The secret is, that by means of the gospel the Gentiles have a part with the Jews in God's blessings; they are members of the same body and share in the promise that God made through Christ Jesus."

For thousands of years people had written and said that God wanted the Jews to be His family. Now Paul said that the secret was that all people, regardless of race and religion, could be part of the family of God through their faith in Jesus Christ, God's only son. What a secret to share! Roland Barnes is Presbytery Officer for the Uniting Church in central Queensland. He had spent 15 years in the highlands of Papua New Guinea as a Methodist Missionary. There were valleys in New Guinea untouched by white man. In those valleys lived thousands of Papuans. After the war, the Methodist Church decided it should take the message of the gospel to the Mendi and Tari people. My uncle, Rev Harold Keith Gordon was the sole Methodist Superintendent who remained during the Japanese occupation. Rev Roland Barnes told me that the Mendi people were ferocious when he went there in the 1960's. Other white people had been speared. He and his wife trekked from village to village. They sat down with the people but did not do anything. They listened.

A year went by, two years, eventually the people began to trust them. After eight years he was able to talk with the Mendi people. He gathered some people and eventually he said, "Are any of you men here wanting to come with me and I will tell you about a secret of the Great God." Fifteen men came to learn about the secret then 20, 100, then 150 for regular meetings. All the time he began to write the Mendi language. Then others came and helped with the Tari people. Eventually they had 40 stories from the Old and New Testament they were able to tell. The people loved the tales of Jesus. After 15 years he came home and today it is estimated that in the two valleys there are more than 100,000 Christian people because one man had told them the secret of God.

What a privilege it is to be a person like Paul, and to be able to tell people the secret that God has. "In past times mankind was not told this secret, but God has revealed it now by the Spirit to his Holy Apostles and prophets." v5 Do you remember how the book of Hebrews starts? It says, "In the past God spoke to our ancestors many times and in many ways through the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us through His Son." Do you notice it is always God who speaks? It is not us who find out about God's secret by our own learning. It is God who reveals Himself. God tells His story. God reveals His word. We understand it because God has revealed it to us. That is why ordinary people can understand spiritual truth, when sometimes clever people cannot. You do not understand the truth about God because you have scientific understanding, or technological advantage or psychological insight. God chooses to reveal His truth to ordinary people, wherever hearts are humble enough to believe it. That is why the truth of God is ageless and can be understood by a child.

When God reveals His will to us, it comes through the Apostles by the Holy Spirit. The word of the apostles is what we find in the Scripture today. If you want to find out more about God start reading the Bible. Start with the four gospels about Jesus. God will reveal His will and let you know His secret. What is this secret? "The secret is, that by means of the gospel the Gentiles have a part with the Jews in God's blessings; they are members of the same body and share in the promise that God made through Christ Jesus."v6 Now because of what Jesus Christ has done you share the promises of God. You share the family of God. You share the covenant of God. You share the blessings of God. You share in God's kingdom.

The secret is that because of the gospel, what Jesus Christ has done in forgiving your sin, you can now belong with His own chosen people as part of the family of God. No matter how sinful or bad you are, no matter how apart from God you are, you have already been reconciled and redeemed. All you must do is believe it and accept it for yourself, because without believing, without accepting, you are still a foreigner, you are still alienated and outside of God. The secret is that God has redeemed you and that in Jesus you have a new future and a new way of life. The Scripture says that when you are apart from God you are lost in sin and the ultimate end of that is death. You are identified with the most sinful of people.

Someone will ask, "How am I identified like that?" I read of a Jew who took part in the trial that led to the conviction and death of one of the most wicked men who ever lived. His name was Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann had given the instruction to put to death six million Jewish people in crematoria and gas chambers. He wiped out whole families, caused untold suffering to millions of people. One man, a Jew named Numea, survived the gas chambers several times. On one occasion the room was so stuffed with people there was not room to close the doors and he was sent back. On another occasion he was in a truck in which they were gassed with carbon monoxide as the truck drove along, when the engine broke down and they were saved. But he saw and lived to tell the tale of this monstrous man, Eichmann. For years Jewish Nazi hunters sought Eichmann after the war. He was eventually found in South America and brought back to face trial. That old man Numea was brought in to give evidence.

He looked at Eichmann behind the protective glass screen and saw a little old, grey haired man with glasses. Numea broke down and sobbed. Attendants said to Numea, "Is it the thought of what that man has done that has so upset you?" He said, "No it is not that. I knew for years that he was the most cruel beast who ever lived, but when I saw him I saw he was just another ordinary person, and that I could have done the same things that he did." That is called sharing in the sin of humanity. None of us are different. "There, but for the grace of God, go I." Because outside of God all of us share that alienation and sin.

This week I sat on a jury of 40 men and women meeting in the august Legislative Council of the New South Wales Parliament. For only the second time in 160 years a member of the Legislative Council was explaining why he should not face criminal charges after the Independent Commission Against Corruption found him guilty of misusing his parliamentary entitlements and wrongly claiming an allowance. Mr Malcolm Jones, an Outdoor Recreation Party MLC, argued and pleaded, even with tears, for his peers to find him not guilty with its penalty of expulsion from the Parliament in disgrace and prosecution by the courts. Last July, Independent Commission Against Corruption Commissioner Irene Moss found Mr Jones had claimed an allowance to which he was not entitled and had misused his parliamentary entitlements to fund non-parliamentary activities. She also recommended the Director of Public Prosecutions consider pursuing criminal charges. His forty Parliamentary colleagues listened in absolute silence and have retired to consider their verdict. We will meet again on September 16th trooping in solemnly to vote him either guilty or not guilty. In the meantime he just waits not knowing his fate.

Each of us awaits our trial before God on a charge of misusing our privileges, doing what we are not entitled to do, of speaking lies and behaving sinfully. We stand guilty before God. We may plead our case. We may present our excuses. We may beg forgiveness but nothing takes away the knowledge that we have done it to ourselves. It is by our own words and actions we stand before God, condemned by what we have said and done. Do not pretend it doesn't matter. Do not hope that the day of judgment will not come. It may take time, but slowly and inexorably the judgments of God are known.

Hear the Good news! Jesus Christ came into the world not to condemn sinners but to save them. The Apostle John put it vividly: "in the same way the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. For God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not die but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its Saviour. Those who believe in the Son are not judged; but those who do not believe have already been judged, because they have not believed in God's only Son." John 3:16-17

That secret is unknown by some. So we boldly declare that God in Christ has chosen you, and by the death of Jesus enables you to belong to His family and to share in the blessings and the covenant and the future and the kingdom, if only you believe it and accept it. That is the gospel. That is God's secret. Do you believe it? Do you accept it? If you do believe and accept, you should respond. God's secret- your acquittal- is now made known!

Wesley Mission, Sydney.