March 15, 2020


In this issue: Great is the Mystery of Godliness by Stan Cox

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by Stan Cox

In the third chapter of Paul's first letter to Timothy, he explained to his young friend his purpose in writing. This explanation is contained in verses 14-16 of the chapter.

"These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory."

Paul noted the importance of proper conduct in the church. There is a right way, and a wrong way to behave. The instructions given to young Timothy in his work as an evangelist — as well as those given to diverse groups in the church at Ephesus — all are designed to bring about this proper conduct. This truth is demonstrated by the phrase, "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness" (vs. 16). The nature of the mystery is great, and with it are grand ramifications. Paul, of course, spoke here of God's scheme of redemption. Note his words to the Colossians, "the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus" (Col 1:26-28).

In God's revelation, we are blessed with the most important truths known. They are timely, and demand a proper response. Paul affirmed in his letter to the Titus, "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works" (Titus 2:11-14).

Paul's description of this grand mystery is worth examination. First, consider his contention that no controversy surrounds his claim that it is great. This does not mean that unreasonable men might dispute these truths. It is an affirmation that such disputes are, in fact, unreasonable! These things are true. There is no doubt. As Peter proclaimed, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). Just because someone refuses to believe it does not mean it is not so!

God was Manifested in the Flesh

This is a reference to the incarnation of the Son of God. This incarnation was prophesied by Isaiah, "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel" (Matthew 7:14). Matthew translated the name Immanuel, "God with us" (cf. Matthew 1:23).

This truth is universally affirmed among the New Testament writers. It is denied by many. Most today accept that Jesus lived, but many deny His deity. Interestingly, the opposite was true in John's day. Many accepted that Jesus was God, but denied that He was really a man! "By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world" (1 John 4:2-3). To deny either His deity or His humanity is to exhibit the spirit of the Antichrist!

Referring to Jesus, John affirmed, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). The Hebrew writer concurs, "Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Further, John tells us why He came in the flesh, "And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin" (1 John 3:5). "He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8).

Justified in the Spirit

This phrase is difficult. The first consideration is the meaning of the word "justified." As always, context helps to establish meaning. The Greek term can refer either to the act of justifying, or the pronouncement of justification. The latter seems to fit this passage better. Vine puts it this way: "to declare to be righteous, to pronounce righteous."

The second consideration is whether the word "Spirit" here has reference to the Holy Spirit. As seen by the word being capitalized, this is certainly the view of most translators, including those who produced the New King James version. If this is so, and it is the view I hold, the sense of the phrase is the witness of the Holy Spirit that vindicates Jesus as righteous, and His claim to be the Messiah of God. The Holy Spirit certainly is revealed to justify, or legitimize Jesus.

For example, at the baptism of Jesus we have this witness. "When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him." This, and the Father's words, "This is my beloved Son" vindicate His claim to be the Messiah (cf. Matthew 3:16-17).

On another occasion, Jesus promised his disciples that the Holy Spirit would come to them after His death. He said, "But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me" (John 15:26). All the New Testament writings that claim Jesus to be God's Son are examples of His justification in the Spirit.

One final example is found in the miracles Jesus performed. False charges were raised against Him by the Pharisees. "Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. And all the multitudes were amazed and said, 'Could this be the Son of David?' Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, 'This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons'" (Matthew 12:22-24). However, as Jesus said, the demons he cast out were by the Spirit of God. "But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Matthew 12:28). In this, the Holy Spirit vindicated Jesus in His work.

Seen by Angels

The angels were aware of God's plan for redeeming man. They no doubt longed to know the details of that plan, as Peter notes. "To them [the prophets of old] it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into" (1 Peter 1:12).

Angels certainly witnessed and participated in major events of Christ's incarnation. They were there at the beginning, when the Child was born. "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 'Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!'" (Luke 2:13-14).

Angels tended to the Lord after his temptation in the wilderness of Judea. "Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him" (Matthew 4:11). And an angel was present to proclaim His resurrection to the group of women who gathered to tend to His body on the morning of that third day. "But the angel answered and said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay" (Matthew 28:5-6).

Finally, there were two angels who affirmed at His ascension that Jesus would come a second time to judge the world. "Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven" (Acts 1:9-11).

[From the March 29, 2020 issue]

Preached Among the Gentiles

The preaching of Jesus to all the world is a great reason for rejoicing. Prior to Christ's coming, the Gentiles were "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2:12). In fact, at the time of Christ's coming, the favor that God had bestowed upon the Jew had resulted in arrogance, and animosity between the two groups. The Jew believed himself to be so superior to the Gentile that he would not even eat with him.

However, it was God's intent to bring salvation to all men, both Jew and Greek. And he did it by having Jewish disciples share the message of the gospel with the Gentiles. The apostle Paul was given a special dispensation to preach that gospel to the Gentile, as well as the Jew. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith'" (Romans 1:16-17).

In the preaching of the gospel, God brought peace to all men. "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity" (Ephesians 2:13-16). In Christ, all have access to redemption.

Believed on in the World

Belief in Christ is the means of reconciliation with God. Jesus told his disciples, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:15-16). If man were to have authored a plan for redemption, it would have been far different. But God's love for His creation compelled Him to make salvation available to all! Peter tells us of His longsuffering, that He is "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).

Despite the devil's efforts, and the influence that he wields in the world, belief in Jesus has flourished through the millennia since He walked on this earth. The carpenter's son is the most influential individual who has ever lived. This is because He is the Son of God, the unique individual capable of securing the hope of eternal life.

Received up in Glory

Jesus' coming to earth is described as an act of humility. "And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:8). It is because of the success of Jesus' ministry on earth, because of His humiliation on the cross, that God exalted Him. "Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11).

Some may consider the word humiliation to be too strong. But, that is the word used by the evangelist Philip in quoting the Septuagint version of the prophet Isaiah. "In His humiliation His justice was taken away, and who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth" (Acts 8:33).

So, contrast Jesus' treatment at the hands of men with the exaltation bestowed upon Him by His Father following His death. Men brought oppression, torture and death on the cross. He submitted Himself to such indignities for the sake of mankind. God rewarded Him for His faithful obedience to the cause by raising Him from the dead, and receiving Him again into His glorious presence. "This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he says himself: 'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool."' Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:32-36).

Conclusion

The glorious gospel of the exalted Christ is "without controversy." No unbiased man, having examined the truths contained therein, would describe it in any other way. The most important event of mankind, was securing the hope of redemption, accomplished in the person of Jesus. All else pales in comparison.

Since this is so, it is most worthy of our interest and engagement. Paul affirmed that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow." The Lordship of Jesus has been established by God, it only remains that every soul acknowledge it. To do so now brings salvation, "...if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Romans 10:9-10). To do so at the judgment day is to be eternally too late. Our appeal to all men, confess Jesus now! ~

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