(25) Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages
(26) but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith--
(27) to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.
“I've Got a Secret” was a CBS TV game show in which the contestant had a secret and a panel, by questioning him or her, tried to figure out what the secret was. It was usually something amazing, embarrassing, or humorous about that person. This was a successful show, running from 1952 to 1967. A number of notable people with secrets, appeared on the show, including Col Harland Sanders ("I started my restaurant with my first Social Security check"), Philo T. Farnsworth ("I invented television"), and an elderly man Samuel J. Seymour who was the last surviving eye witness to Abraham Lincoln's assassination (he was five years old at the time).
I suspect that the “secret” of the TV show's success was simply that everybody wants to know a secret. Everybody wants to be in the know. We fear being out of the loop. Everyone wants that special knowledge that gives special power—even if the power is only to show up for a sale at Wal-Mart. Then too there is a powerful feeling about being in the know. It makes us feel better than other people. “I know something you don’t know” translates as “I'm better than you are.”
The Da Vinci Code is novel written in 2003 by Dan Brown. The novel has a secret that no one else knows: Jesus married Mary Magdalene. The novel tells us about a whole secret history of Europe, whose central plot is that the ancient kings of France were descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The book provoked a lot of speculation about the Holy Grail and Mary Magdalene, and it was very hostile to the Roman Catholic Church. It has also been much criticized for its historical and scientific inaccuracies. The novel nonetheless became a worldwide bestseller that sold 80 million copies as of 2009 and has been translated into 44 languages.
It has been made into a major motion picture, directed by Ron Howard, starring Tom Hanks. The movie earned in excess of $230 million worldwide in its opening weekend, which, at the time, was the third most profitable opening weekend in film history. What is the lure of the movie? What sold all those tickets? “I’ve got a secret.” The church has not been telling you the truth for 2000 years. They have been keeping secrets, and I am going to tell you what they are. Wow, that is motivation. We want to know, everybody wants to know, a 2000-year-old secret.
And there is a secret, but it is not the one The Da Vinci Code talks about. Romans 16 tells us that there is a mystery that has been kept secret for ages and eons. Abraham had faith in God, but he did not know the secret. Moses did not know, nor did David. The prophets had hints and glimpses but they did not really know either. We are privileged because we have the NT, which reveals the mystery, if we are willing to listen.
For example, 1 Corinthians 2:7-8:
(7) But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory:
(8) Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
Speaking to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul says we teach the plan of God for the salvation of people; we make known the divine wisdom concerning the scheme of human redemption. The word “mystery” today is commonly used to mean that which is beyond comprehension, that which we cannot explain. However, this is not the sense in which it is commonly used in the Scriptures. A mystery is that which is “hidden;” that which has not yet been made known. The mystery of God means those truths which, until the revelation of Jesus Christ, were concealed, which were either hidden under obscure types and shadows or prophecies, or which were altogether unknown to the world. Again, the word “mystery” does not necessarily mean something complicated. It was just hidden until the proper time.
In addition, it means that it can only be understood by a certain kind of people, a people of faith. Only people with spiritual discernment can perceive this mystery. In Romans 16, Paul says that it is now made known to all the world, but all the world clearly does not receive it or know it—because the world does not have the right way of thinking, the world does not think spiritually, but to those of spiritual discernment, to those who perceive with the eye of faith, this age-old secret is now made plain.
Of course, when Paul says “Now” he means not today; he means 2000 years ago when he was writing. He means the first century AD. That was the time when God chose to reveal His hidden secret.
Nevertheless, for us, as human beings, to really want to know a secret, any secret, it must be not only previously concealed but also very valuable.
In our wacky worldly society, you can never tell what is valuable. For example, have you heard about the Honus Wagner baseball card? Back at the beginning of the twentieth century, Honus Wagner played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and was considered to be one of the greatest players of the time. The actual baseball card was issued by the American Tobacco Company (ATC) from 1909 to 1911 as part of its T206 series. However, Wagner refused to allow production of his baseball card to continue because he did not want children buying cigarette packs to get his card. That is refreshing--a baseball player who is actually concerned about his fans. Anyway, the ATC ended production of the Wagner card and only 60 to 200 cards were ever distributed to the public. We do not know exactly how many cards were issued, and we do not know what happened to most of them, but we know about one. The most famous baseball card is the "Gretzky T206 Honus Wagner." The Gretzky T206 Wagner was first sold by Alan Ray to a baseball memorabilia collector named Bill Mastro, who sold the card two years later to Jim Copeland. Copeland sold the card to ice hockey figures Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall for $451,000. Gretzky resold the card four years later to Wal-Mart for $500,000, for use as the top prize in a promotional contest. The next year, a Florida postal worker won the card and auctioned it at Christie's for $640,000 to collector Michael Gidwitz. In 2000, the card was sold again to Brian Seigel, this time for $1.27 million. In February 2007, Seigel sold the card privately to an anonymous collector for $2.35 million. Less than six months later, the card was sold to another anonymous collector for $2.8 million. In April 2011, that anonymous purchaser was revealed to be Ken Kendrick, owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
And you thought baseball cards were a kid’s hobby. Not likely.
It seems like the older a thing is the more value it has. At Summerfest, the Gideons were giving away copies of the Bible for free, but I remember looking at 7th century hand copied biblical manuscripts in the British Museum that were literally priceless.
But if older means more precious, then nothing can match the Gospel’s value. Paul calls it an ancient mystery that dates from the beginning of the world. The cross was always in the mind of God. The gospel has always existed, people just did not know about it.
But we have to qualify any emphasis on age. Just because something is old does not mean it is valuable. As a kid, I had baseball cards, and I knew some adults with books of cards, some of them quite old, but I never even heard of a Honus Wagner, and I know that most of those cards probably were not worth much. Why not? It was not because the cardboard on which they were printed was inferior to the cardboard used for the Honus Wagner card. No. The Honus Wagner card is not worth millions because it used a gold-fibered cardboard. It is worth millions because of what is printed on the card.
So it is with the Gospel message. It is not valuable just because it is old. It is valuable because of what it says. The Gospel message reveals God’s thoughts. That is what Paul meant when he called the gospel an ancient mystery (Romans 16:25). The Gospel is not a mystery because it is hard to understand, it is a mystery because we would not know it unless someone told us about it. That is exactly what the NT does; it reveals to us the plan of salvation, which had already existed for eons.
How much would you pay to find out what God thinks about? Back in 2007, a love letter that Napoleon wrote to his future wife Josephine was auctioned off for over half a million dollars. Someone wanted to know what Napoleon thought about. If a person was willing to pay that much to get their hands on a letter not even addressed to them, how much more precious is the Gospel. The Gospel is God’s letter to us. Without it, we are lost. We are like millions of people today who never think of God at all, or if they do think of God, they think that they can do something good and everything is all right with God. The gospel says they are wrong. They are all wrong. The gospel is that God ought to hate us for our sins and evil doings. But through Christ God offers us his love.
C. S. Lewis in his children's book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe tells us that when little Edmund deceived himself into thinking that the Witch was a good person, he willingly betrayed his brother and sisters to her for more candy. Although the Witch was never able to lay hands on Edmund’s brother and sisters, she still claimed Edmund as her own saying that anyone who had willingly gone over to her side deserved death. Aslan, the Christ-like lion figure in the story, agreed, and then took Edmund’s place and died for him. That is what Jesus did. He took our place and died for us.
Thus, God sees us through Jesus and treats us as if we were Jesus, as if we were his children. We were not children of God and we did not deserve to be children of God. No act or decision of ours can make us children of God, but God has decided to adopt us as his children through Christ.
This is what infant baptism is about. In baptism, the baby is washed clean of her sins and accepted into the Christian community. The baby has done nothing to deserve this acceptance. Even so, in Christ, God washes us free of our sins and accepts us, even though we have done nothing to deserve such acceptance.
This is the gospel of grace and forgiveness that has been kept secret from the beginning of time but now in his love God has revealed it to you and to me. This is the most valuable thing you will ever possess. I do not doubt that the owner of the Honus Wagner card has it in the depth of the deepest bank vault in the world. But we do not keep the gospel that way. The Gospel is a strange secret. The best way to keep it is to give it away, because no matter how much you give it away, you can never lose it.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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