The essential content of Christian preaching, Paul says, is the mystery of the gospel. He writes that the preaching of the Word of God is seen in “the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints” (Col. 1:26). A mystery? All around Asia Minor and the ancient world at this time, there were mystery religions and mystery cults, and there were some who thought, especially from the Roman perspective, that Christianity was just another one of them. After all, it had its mystery. And Paul said, “Guilty as charged.” Yet this is not a mystery of esoteric knowledge. This is not a gnosticism of elitist intellectuals. No, this is a mystery that was hidden by God until it could be publicly revealed in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, in His death, burial, and resurrection. This is a mystery!
There is something deeply mysterious about Christian preaching, both in terms of its communication and in terms of its content. After all, what we preach is not what the world expects to hear. It is not a message they will hear anywhere else. No human wisdom, no school of philosophy, no secular salesman, no TVcommercial speaker selling his CDs is ever going to come up with this on his own. Take a look at what is selling in the bookstores and who is hosting the big conferences. You’ll realize that if you can tell people how to buy property and profit from its renovation, you can sell your messages. If you can tell people how to lose weight, you can sell just about anything. If you can tell people how to become handsome and wise, raise children who are well-behaved, and have their pets like them, you will find yourself to be a very popular speaker. You could put your DVDs and CDs together and write books that would be sold in bookstores and hawked on television.
But if you preach the gospel, you just might discover that it is not quite so popular. But it is powerful and it is mysterious. Why? Because it was a mystery that God hid from previous generations in order that it might be displayed publicly at the time of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Look at Paul’s statement in verses 26–27: “that is, the mystery which has been hidden from past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” As Paul quite personally knew, true preaching often leads to a riot. But the true preaching of the gospel is the preaching of the mystery of God. It was hidden, but now it is revealed to the Gentiles. The Gentiles had been understanding God’s way about as correctly as someone using a Ouija board. But out of that darkness, out of that confusion, out of that sinful depravity, out of that backwardness, and out of that ignorance had come the shining light of the gospel, which is a mystery. It is the mystery of mysteries: Christ in us, the hope of glory.
There is glory, and this glory can even come to us, but it is not ours. There is a glory we should seek, but it is not glory for ourselves, but the glory of Christ. And that glory is most evident not just when Christ is preached as an abstract and objective truth, but when Christ becomes in us the hope of glory. Paul’s concern was not just that his hearers would come to a correct cognitive understanding of the gospel, although that was essential. His concern was that the gospel would be received by faith and that lives would be transformed. Paul’s wonderfully symphonic presentation of the gospel in the book of Romans helps us to understand how sinners become saints, how we are justified by faith, and how we are adopted as sons and daughters of the Most High God.
Paul understood this to be a mystery. And if it is a mystery for the Jews, it is even more a mystery for the Gentiles. Indeed, in those central passages in Romans, Paul helps to explain how it is that the branch of the wild olive tree has been grafted onto Israel. It is a mystery, and if you do not get excited about preaching this, I’m not sure what will excite you! The gospel is simply the most transformative, the most powerful, and the most explosive message there is. If you have a problem finding something to preach, I guarantee that you are not preaching the gospel.