Sermon for January 17, 2021

The Mystery of His Will

Ephesians 1:7-10

Some of us love mystery.  Some of us love movies of mystery and suspense.  I have ruined many of movies for my wife as I reveal something from observation that reveals the whole plot.  I can remember watching the movie “The Sixth Sense” when Jess and I were dating in which I blurted out “Bruce Willis’ character is dead”.  In fact, almost every M. Night Shyamalan movie he has written and directed are hard for me to watch.  That is the thing about mystery and suspense, for some it is gripping an armrest of a theater seat or perhaps your date for the evening, setting up for some climax in the movie where you jump out of your seat or even perhaps scream.  For some of us though, we can see it coming from a mile away and it does not move us at all.

This is what Paul says in his opening statement to the church in Ephesus.  What was once a mystery for everyone is now an uncommon knowledge.  While most of the world scrambles trying to find meaning presently, there are some who are enlightened.  How do we attain this knowledge?

Ephesus was an ancient Greek city on the coast of Ionia, three kilometers southwest of present-day Selçuk in İzmir Province, Turkey. It was built in the 10th century BC on the site of the former Arzawan capital by Attic and Ionian Greek colonists. During the Classical Greek era it was one of the twelve cities of the Ionian League. The city flourished after it came under the control of the Roman Republic in 129 BC. [1] The city was famed for the nearby Temple of Artemis (completed around 550 BC), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Among many other monumental buildings are the Library of Celsus, and a theatre capable of holding 25,000 spectators. Ephesus was one of the seven churches of Asia that are cited in the Book of Revelation.  The Gospel of John may have been written here.[2]

Artemis is the Greek goddess of the hunt, the wilderness, wild animals, the Moon and chastity. The goddess Diana is her Roman equivalent.  Artemis is the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the twin sister of Apollo.[3]  ancient sanctuary where her cult image depicted the “Lady of Ephesus” adorned with multiple large beads. Excavation at the site of the Artemision in 1987–88 identified a multitude of tear-shaped amber beads that had been hung on the original wooden statue (xoanon), and these were probably carried over into later sculpted copies. In Acts, Ephesian metalsmiths who felt threatened by Paul’s preaching of Jesus, jealously rioted in her defense, shouting “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” Of the 121 columns of her temple, only one composite, made up of fragments, still stands as a marker of the temple’s location.[4]

The ancient Spartans used to sacrifice to her as one of their patron goddesses before starting a new military campaign. (If you have watched the movie 300, this might be useful information, something that happened 400 years earlier near Corinth)

Paul is going into an area of an extraordinarily strong history of Greek Mytholithic gods who have been worshipped and been given credit for human growth in understanding and philosophy and for some of the greatest victories in battle that we still talk about today.  Artemis, a goddess of chastity, a virgin is often pictured as a huntress and the protector of young women.  Now imagine a Jew coming into your community giving testimony of a virgin giving birth to a Savior who is God incarnate, Jesus of Nazareth.  This would certainly raise a few eyebrows yet intrigue some of the possibility.  After all, their celebrated hero, Alexander the Great, once possessed this territory as part of his kingdom!

The Ability to Solve Mysteries…

The Greeks believed that through human understanding and rationalization, the mysterious could be discovered.  However, they also understood the limit of human enlightenment.  Here is what Paul has to say to counter this Greco-Roman thinking…

Ephesians 1:7-10 New International Version

7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he[a] made known to us the mystery of his will* according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. (Underline is mine)

And further…

Ephesians 1:17-21 New International Version

17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[a] of wisdom and revelation*, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.  (Underline is mine)

So, what Paul is saying is…another fruit of the Spirit is…. Wisdom…a supernatural type of wisdom, something the Greeks cherished! 

[1] Michael Gagarin (2010). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome. Oxford University Press. pp. 2. Historical Overview A Greek city-state on the Aegean coast of Asia Minor, at the mouth of Cayster River (Küçük Menderes)

[2] Sharon R. Steadman; Gregory McMahon; John Gregory McMahon (15 September 2011). The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Anatolia: (10,000–323 BCE). Oxford University Press. p. 366

[3] Roman, Luke; Roman, Monica (2010). Encyclopedia of Greek and Roman Mythology. Infobase Publishing. p. 85.

[4] “Potnia Aswia: Anatolian Contributions to Greek Religion” by Sarah P. Morris”.

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