Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. (Eph 3:8,9)
For the most part, we in the western church have lost our sense of mystery. Our Gospel––too tame, too predictable, and too small–– is a reflection of too small of a Jesus. For many of us in the evangelical tradition, we were invited to receive Jesus as our personal Savior, as the One who could ensure we would go to heaven. While this seems obviously to be a minimalist, even distorted Gospel, how did we get there?
We have lost sight of what Paul calls “the unsearchable riches of Christ”, and with that, the mystery of Christ. Greatly influenced by the continuing forces of the enlightenment, we began to read the scriptures as propositional truth as though, through enough study, we could figure God out. In doing this, we lost the mystery, especially the mystery of Christ.
While I greatly encourage everyone to consistently read the four Gospels since they reveal the One whom we have been invited to follow, there is a danger of understanding too little of whom Jesus Christ is. This comes from seeing Him only in the Gospels and Acts. In its first thousand years, the church understood that Christ is in all of scripture. It was Christ who appeared to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua and beyond. So the narrative does not begin with an angelic visitation to a young peasant girl named Mary. No, the mystery takes us further back than Abraham, further than Creation; the mystery takes us back before time (I can hardly get my head around that––what is existence without time?).
In a late night encounter with Nicodemus, a religious leader who was in the process of becoming uncomfortable with his own certainties, Jesus said, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?"
The New Testament writers are constantly calling us to expand our way of thinking, to “lift up our eyes”, to perceive whom this Jesus really is. That is why John begins his Gospel with a declaration that immediately challenges us to embrace an infinitely great revelation:
In the beginning was the Word (Logos), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (Jn 1:1)
The writer to the Hebrews begins his letter with a similar proclamation:
God has appointed His Son heir of all things and made the universe through Him. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of His nature, sustaining all things by His powerful word. (Heb 1:2,3)
And Paul begins his powerful hymn in Colossians with these words:
Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. (Col 1:15-16)
Notice the consistent message: Jesus Christ is not only with God, He is God; Jesus is the Son; He is the radiance of God’s glory; He is the exact expression, the visible image of the invisible God; He is not only supreme over all creation, He is in fact the One who created.
This is not merely a theological principle; this is the truth at the core of all creation. This mystery of Christ is what gives ultimate meaning to all of life. At the heart of this mystery is the Incarnation in which God became one of us in order to bring us to participate with Him in His great activity: the reconciliation of all of the universe. As the early church Father Irenaeus said, “Jesus Christ became what we are in order to bring us to be what He is in Himself.” Thus, in the Incarnation of the Logos, the eternal Son of God, we are already included into His relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and their everlasting, joyful, self-emptying, other-celebrating dance.
The mystery of Christ is at the heart of a beautiful, big Gospel. It is a Gospel that will be unfolding forever, with infinite expressions of the love of the Triune God. As we explore the mystery we will look, at least briefly, at:
- The eternal Christ (before time)
- The pre-incarnate Christ (Christ in the Old Testament)
- The Incarnation
- The Trinity
While we pursue this journey together, may the Lord grant us a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. (Eph. 1:17)