We live in a day that no longer sees truth as something that is absolute.
I have my truth, you have your truth. Today on Truth for Life, however, we'll find out what the Bible says is true, whether we believe it or not. Alistair Begg continues our study in 1 Timothy with a message titled, The Mystery of Godliness. As someone who has always enjoyed mystery books, ever since I was a small child, reading Enid Blyton mysteries—the Castle of Adventure, the River of Adventure, the Ring of Bells mystery, the Rub-a-Dub mystery, and so on—I am intrigued now by how in vogue mystery has become. It is virtually impossible of an evening to scan the television channels without coming on some situation where the cloudiness of the television screen is matched by the depth of the narrator's voice, and almost in hearing a split second or two, you can tell we're into one of these unsolved mystery programs. And they abound, and the reason they abound, presumably, is because people love mystery, and they are intrigued, particularly by mysteries which remain unsolved. So whether it's the Bermuda Triangle or whatever else it might be, there's a tremendous fascination. And in watching a number of these programs, since I enjoy mystery myself, I'm struck by two things. One, how unbelievably facile so much of it proves to be. Or, on the other hand, how totally incomprehensible it actually is, and how you need, essentially, to take out your brain and put it under your couch if you're going to watch for more than a couple of minutes.
It really is, frankly, ridiculous. Now, given that people are interested in mystery, we have in the verses at the end of 1 Timothy 3 a wonderful opportunity as a transitional bridge for the cause of the gospel, insofar as people will often say in the course of a day, Did you see that program? Or did you read that thing in the newspaper about that particular mystery? Which then allows us the opportunity to say, Do you enjoy mystery? Which in turn they will presumably reply, Oh yes, it intrigues me. And we can then say, Well, you know, funnily enough, just the other day we were thinking about a mystery, a group of us were together, and it really is amazing. If they are the mysterious type, then they will then say, Well, what mystery was that? And you will say, The mystery of godliness. Now, if that doesn't immediately stop the conversation, it will allow the possibility for further transition, which will presumably be, What in the world is the mystery of godliness? To which you will reply, That is exactly the question that came to my mind when I saw it in the bulletin as the subject for the morning study. But I can now tell you, and the reason that you will be able to respond, hopefully, is because of our study which now unfolds.
In these days, we need to become adept at taking the points of departure which are presented to us by the people in our culture. If they want to talk about angels, then we'll talk angels with them. If they want to talk about out-of-body or post-death experiences, then we'll talk that with them. If they want to talk spirituality in general, we'll begin there as well.
And if they would like to talk mystery, we'll talk about mystery too. None other than the mystery of godliness. Now, this all falls out in Paul's quoting of what was presumably a hymn or a poem which was circulating in the church at that time—an indication and passing of the kind of material which would become part of the hymnody of the early church. And in addressing this matter, Paul does so by reminding them that the people to whom he is speaking are those who are members of God's household. In other words, they are part and parcel of the company who have become the possession and dwelling place of the living God.
These people were in no doubt that the church is not some voluntary association of individuals held together by common ideals and interests. There are many people today for whom church is just that. And so they go in church buildings and they do church things which have various dimensions to them which are understandable by the culture. They're actually not in the church. They are not understanding the nature of the mystery of godliness. They need to be evangelized even though they are within the orb of Christendom. But when a believer understands the nature of what it means to know Christ, to be indwelt by his Spirit, to be included in his family, to become a part of the household of faith, then that's a whole different dimension altogether. Peter makes this point with great clarity when he picks up Old Testament pictures, and in 1 Peter chapter 2 and verse 9 says of his readers, You're a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light, once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God, once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
He doesn't say, Once you didn't go to church, now you do go to church. Once you were irreligious, now you have become religious. Many of these people were patently religious. All they needed was not religion.
These people were involved in organized activities which were directly related to worship. What they needed to know was God's mercy. What they needed to hear was God's voice. What they needed to respond to was God's call. And in hearing his voice and in responding to his call and in being born anew of his Spirit, they were then incorporated into the household of faith. And the God whom they now worship, whose household is the church, is none other than the living God. Paul makes this point clearly, because so many of these people had been involved with gods with a small g. They'd had all kinds of paraphernalia that had marked their lives before. Indeed, when he wrote to the Thessalonians, he said, You know, the wonderful thing about you folks is that when people talk about you in the communities, one of the ways in which they describe you in 1 Thess. 1-9 is that they are telling people how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and the true God. And that's why it's so very, very important that we distinguish between God and the living and true God. When men and women today talk about an awareness of God, or they're interested in God, they may be talking about nothing more than a cosmic principle. They may be talking about nothing more than an internal mechanism, whereby they tune in to grandeur and to greatness. And therefore, before we simply nod our heads to those kinds of statements, we need to penetrate their minds with the notion that is contained here—that when the Bible speaks about God, he is distinguishing himself from the idols, for example, of Jeremiah's day, which were pathetic little things that were fastened down with bits of chain and covered over with purple garments and overlaid with little bits of gold and trinkets and stuck in people's yards, and they neither do any good nor mercifully do they do any harm. They fall over with the snow, and they may just as well be buried under the snow for all the good that they do.
That's what he's saying. Now, in contrast, the church is the recipient of God's truth—the pillar and foundation of the truth. As the pillar upholds the roof, so the foundation gives a base to the pillar, and the church is the recipient of the truth of the gospel. And the responsibility, then, of the church is to support and to bolster and to safeguard the truth by understanding it, by obeying it, by living it out.
Now, it is important also that we notice that Paul is completely unashamed in speaking about truth. Today, the very notion of truth is on the ropes. The average intelligent university student will challenge you in relationship to the idea of any kind of true truth, any idea of an objective truth that can be known and understood.
Attorneys who have grown up under the instruction of law teachers in recent years will also tell you that one of the things that they have had driven from their thinking is any notion of natural law—that there is a transcendent law upon which all other law is built. The demise of such a notion is nothing other than the demise of the notion of truth. Now, Paul makes it clear. The truth of the gospel, the truth of God, exists independently. And if the people of God are going to be living it out, then they need to be understanding it.
And if they're going to understand it, then they need to study it. And, loved ones, that is why it is so important that we become increasingly a congregation of the Bible—that we are paying attention to what the Bible has to say, that we understand the Bible, not on a superficial level, not on a pathetic level, but on a level whereby we give ourselves to the truth of God's Word, that we heed it as we read it and we memorize it and we store it and we take it apart and we think it out and we analyze it and we submit to it, and it becomes part and parcel of who and what we are. Because we live in a generation that says, The truth is whatever you conceive it to be. And something becomes true by the forcefulness of our belief, so that it is not because it is true that we believe it, but it is because we believe it that it becomes true. And what Paul is saying here is the antithesis of that. The gospel is true whether we believe it or not. It is not our believing of it that makes it true. It exists as independent, true truth.
I can't roll my r's any better than that. I was struck this week in reading the little Through the New Testament in a year. We were in Acts chapter 26.
Some of you were there as well. And Paul is before Agrippa, and Festus is there. And Paul's doing his report, and he gets to the point where he says Jesus Christ was prophesied in the Old Testament and came to the resurrection, and Festus breaks in and he says, Hey, cut it out! That's ridiculous! You're not telling me you believe all that stuff.
Your learning is making you insane. And Luke records this wonderful little statement in the twenty-fifth verse of Acts chapter 26. I had never noticed it before. It just hit me. And Paul turns around, and he says to him, What I am saying is true and reasonable. What I am saying is true and reasonable.
And that, you see, loved ones, is what we have to hold onto in these days. We can't allow a postmodern world to back us into a corner on account of the fact that they have given up on the notion of truth. When they want to talk, then we will talk. But we talk from the perspective humbly, graciously, insightfully, but we're going to be prepared to say, Listen, what I say is true and reasonable. Now, where do we have a summary of this true reasonableness of Christian conviction? Well, we have it in the mystery of godliness. What is the mystery of godliness? Well, it's summarized for us here. The mystery of godliness, he says, is great.
It is great. The church freely confesses this mystery of godliness. This is not an exhaustive statement.
Not everything is contained in it, but there is sufficient here as to be helpful. Interestingly, in Ephesus, you could find people, as Luke tells us in Acts chapter 19, you could find people going around saying, Acts 19, 24, A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsman. And in the course of his work, people were going around, verse 28, saying, Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! And Artemis had a temple, a really far-out temple. And it had these wonderful pillars. And the people enjoyed looking at these pillars, because they were representative of all the various dimensions of their religious aspiration. And one pillar represented the interest of one god and another, and so they were concerned with this. And they would greet one another, and they'd say, Hey, great is Artemis of the Ephesians!
Nice temple, nice pillars. Maybe what Paul is doing is simply picking up on that and says, you know, you like to go around and say, Great is Artemis. Let me tell you something else. Great is the mystery of godliness. You think that stuff is great.
Listen to this! And then in six lines, he encapsulates it. Let me take the six lines and try and summarize them in six words. Number one, incarnation. Incarnation. Where is that from?
Right in front of you. He appeared in a body. It is a reference to Christ's incarnation. That in a moment in time, the Son of God became what he was not, namely a man, without ever ceasing to be what he was, namely God.
Meekness and majesty, manhood and deity, in perfect harmony the man who is God. The mystery—which, incidentally, when Paul uses the word mystery, is simply a reference to that which had previously been secret but which now God has chosen to reveal, and God now has revealed himself in the person of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And the mystery of the incarnation is part of the mystery of godliness. And behind that mystery, there is, of course, another mystery, which is the mystery of the Trinity—that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, coequal and coeternal, perfect, plural, powerful, and praiseworthy, God from everlasting to everlasting, coexisted before the world was made, and from the splendor of heaven comes the Son of God. In hearing myself say that, it makes me smile, because one of the things that's often leveled against us as Christians is, you know, Christianity is a bunch of stuff that people just made up to get people to believe. You know, and I always think to myself, well, goodness gracious, if somebody made it up, why did they make it as complicated as this?
I mean, get rid of some of the really far-out stuff. I mean, if we're trying to get believers, can't we start with something a little more down there than a triune God who is coequal and coeternal, who invades our time-space capsule by means of an incarnation whereby the Creator of the universe became a human fetus? This is revelation, you see. This is what God has revealed of himself. And people say, well, what do we have of God?
Well, what has happened? Well, God is the Creator of the earth. Well, then how has he made himself known? He's made himself known in the world. That's why you have a continental divide.
That's why the rivers flow to the oceans. He's made himself known in his word. That's why the Bible has such compelling impact.
And he has made himself known in the incarnation, in our God, as Wesley put it, contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man. People get all stirred up about where their nativity scene is. Listen, forget the nativity scene. Just talk about the nativity.
But people should be glad of that. They can say, oh, look at this little shrine. Look at this little bit of folklore. Look at this little bit of nonsense they have.
They can reduce us to that little scene. Never mind that. No, I want you to talk about the incarnation. You're a mystery watcher?
Check this out. The God who made the heaven and the earth came in human flesh in a moment in time. He became what he wasn't, a man, without ever ceasing to be what he was, God. Now, let's have a coffee and chew on this one for a little while. Loved ones, that is what we've got to say. We don't have a mindless faith. We don't have to go to people and say, he lives within my heart, he lives within my heart.
That's not going to do it. People say, Buddha lives within mine, Buddha lives within mine. Now what are you going to do then?
What have you done? So it becomes total subjectivism. Great is the mystery of godliness. He appeared in a body. And in his appearance, there had to be a pre-existence, because he appeared from somewhere. And in his incarnation, there was humiliation. Because not only did he become man, which was humiliation enough, but he became a servant. And not only did he become a servant, but he became a servant who dies. And he becomes a servant who dies the most cruel pain possible for humanity, causing John Murray, the theologian of old, to say, It is humiliation, inimitable, unrepeated.
Unrepeatable! Wilbur Chapman encapsulates it in his hymn, One day, one day when heaven was filled with his praises, and one day when sin was as black as could be, Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin and lived among men. My example is he, and living he loved me, and dying he saved me, and buried he carried my sins far away, and rising he justified freely, forever, and one day he's coming.
What a glorious day! Do you see why you need to learn your hymnbook as well? You've got the whole jolly gospel there in a verse and a chorus.
That's enough to keep you going all through the week. He lived and loved me. He died and saved me. He was raised for my justification. He ascended to the right hand of God. He intercedes with the Father on high, and he's coming back for me.
What else do you need to know? Well, we'd better go to the second word. We're running out of time here. Incarnation is the first word. The second word is vindication. He appeared in a body that was vindicated by the Spirit. When men and women nailed him to the cross, in carrying out that act of judgment, they were declaring him to be cursed of God. Now, you need to know your Bible to understand this, but Galatians 3.13 says, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree. So the people looked at it, and they said, He can't possibly be the Messiah.
Because the Old Testament says that anyone who hangs on a tree is under the curse of God. Therefore, how can you have a Messiah who is under the curse of God? The answer is because he was bearing the very curse of God on sin, and not his sin, because he was perfect, but the sins of those who would believe in him. And God vindicated his Son in the resurrection. He vindicated his Son all the way through the journey of life. In his baptism, Jesus stands there, and the Spirit alights on him as a dove, and the voice from heaven says, This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. And people were going around saying, Isn't this the carpenter's son? Isn't this this guy from Nazareth? And the voice from heaven says, This is my beloved Son.
That's what people say today. Well, isn't he just another man? Isn't he just a teacher? Isn't he just one on the smartest board of religious leaders?
And we come to the Bible, and the Bible says, No, this is the Son of God incarnate. And he is vindicated. You're listening to Truth for Life. That is Alistair Begg explaining for us the truth that is at the heart of every conviction we hold as Christians.
We'll hear more on Monday. Along with the teaching you hear on Truth for Life from Alistair, we love selecting books that we can recommend to you, books that will increase your confidence in the reliability of the Bible. And today we want to encourage you to get a copy of a book titled How Christianity Transformed the World. As you read this book, you'll learn how Christian men and women influenced the culture, and how Jesus' teaching and Christian values have had a positive impact on society since the Church was first formed. Ask for your copy of the book today when you donate to the Ministry of Truth for Life.
You can give a gift through our mobile app or online at truthforlife.org slash donate, or call us at 888-588-7884. And before we wrap up today, let me tell you about a series that is beginning on Truth for Life on June 5th. It's an instructional study about how we share our faith.
It's called Crossing the Barriers. This is more of a course than a verse by verse biblical exposition from Alistair. Alistair's aim in this study is to equip us to become more confident about sharing the gospel with others. And there is a study guide that comes along with this series to help you track along and remember the important things you'll learn. You can download the study guide for free at truthforlife.org slash crossing barriers, or if you'd prefer a hard copy, you can purchase the study guide booklet for just three dollars at truthforlife.org slash store. Order or download your copy today so that you'll be all set to go when the study begins. Again, it's called Crossing the Barriers.
Ask for the study guide. The series starts on our program on June 5th. I'm Bob Lapine. We hope you have a great weekend. Hope you're able to worship with your local church family this weekend. Join us Monday as we find out what we know that angels only wish they knew. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
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