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What a Mystery (Part 2 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
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July 14, 2023 4:00 am

What a Mystery (Part 2 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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July 14, 2023 4:00 am

In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul wrote about a great mystery that was veiled to previous generations but revealed to him. What was this mystery, and how is it significant to us centuries later? Find out on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.


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In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul talks about a mystery that had been veiled to previous generations but was revealed to him. So what is this great mystery, and how is it significant for us thousands of years later?

We'll find out today on Truth for Life. Alistair Begg is teaching from chapter 3 in the book of Ephesians, but he begins with a reference in 1 Corinthians. He is explaining to the Corinthians, when he writes in 1 Corinthians, how men and women will never come to the truth of the gospel on their own. Now, you see, this explains why educated men and women are able to pick up the Bible, to read it, to make all kinds of deductions from it, and never actually to bow before Jesus Christ and acknowledge him as a Savior and a King. There's hardly a week goes by when somebody says to me, Well, why is it that people would simply not believe? Well, the answer is because the God of this age has blinded their understanding and their minds. And the only way that they will ever come to an understanding of the gospel is a result of God's amazing grace and goodness.

It is tremendously humbling, and it is at the same time reassuring. Because if the burden were to be laid upon the proclaimer of the gospel to take the veil from the eyes of those who are unbelieving, the burden would be unbearable. But the promise of the Bible is that the entrance of God's Word actually brings light.

But men and women do not come to it by their unaided human wisdom. David Wells from Gordon-Conwell is helpful to us in this regard—wonderfully helpful—where he says, essentially, that we possess no intuitive radar, that there is an invisible boundary between ourselves and God, that we are separated from God both in terms of his wrath towards sin and in terms of our rebellion towards him. That barrier is an impenetrable barrier from our side. We have no intuitive radar whereby we may engage God. Therefore, we are without God and without hope in the world.

The story of the gospel is that God has taken the initiative and broken through that impenetrable barrier in the person of his Son, and in his Son discloses to us the glory of his name. Again, it is a truth which humbles us. It is a truth which glorifies God. I know not how this saving faith to me he did impart, or how believing in his name wrought peace within my heart.

But I know whom I have believed. Now, that is the song of every genuine Christian. The genuine Christian is not going around saying, You know, I understand this perfectly, and it's no surprise to me.

After all, I was magna cum laude in my group, and I've investigated a lot of philosophy, and I've discovered these things, and I'm big on spirituality and so on. No, the Christian is saying, It is a mystery to me. Oh, how the grace of God amazes me. Now, when Paul says that he's written about this briefly—back to our text in Ephesians 3—he says, You know, I have actually mentioned this, assuming that you've heard of the stewardship of God's grace, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I've written briefly, the end of verse 3. I take it that that is simply a reference to earlier in this particular letter, that he's not referring to anything other than that which has appeared before, perhaps particularly verses 6 to 10 of the opening chapter, where he speaks of having redemption through the blood of Jesus, the forgiveness of our trespasses, and so on. And then he says, making known to us the mystery of his will according to the purpose which he set forth in Christ. And he says, You know, I have had this made known to me. I have written briefly about it. And then in verse 4, when you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ. Now, don't let's just immediately scan over. When you read this, you will discover this.

Let me ask you a question. Do you think that Paul would be surprised, if it were possible for him, to drop in on us tonight? Do you think he would be surprised that we are reading his letter that he wrote two thousand years ago to the believers in Ephesus? Now, some people would say yes.

I hope you wouldn't, because it'd be the wrong answer. But some people say yes, that Paul would have had no concept whatsoever that what he was dealing with would have this lasting value. I don't think that actually stands up to the scrutiny of Scripture at all. Paul would not have been surprised. He would not have been surprised to discover that we're reading it, nor would he have been surprised to discover that many of us are believing it or that we are seeking to apply it. Because Paul himself was aware of the fact that he, as an apostle, as one who had seen the risen Christ, as one who had received the revelation of Christ, as one who was inspired by the Spirit of Christ, that Paul himself understood that his letters actually carry the authority of God in the same way that the Old Testament Scriptures carried the authority of God.

And there are places where we could go to reinforce this. The most obvious one is in 2 Peter chapter 3, where you will remember Peter when he is speaking about Paul and how difficult it is to understand some of the stuff that he's written. I always find that a great encouragement when I can't work my way through the material. But this is 2 Peter 3, and count the patience of our Lord as salvation, he says, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction. Now, notice the phrase, as they do the other Scriptures. The other Scriptures. In other words, Paul is writing Scripture. His letters are Scripture. That which has been revealed to the apostles in their unique foundational role in the church, which has been illumined in their lives by the ongoing ministry of the Spirit, is then committed, inscripturated, given to us in the Bible, so that we do not need to go and look for other revelation, for the revelation that was necessary has been provided and then has been inscripturated so that we might study it together. It speaks to the reality of apostolic authority. It speaks also to the fact that there is no saving truth apart from the Scriptures.

Those two statements are worthy of another fifteen minutes on their own. I resist the temptation. Verse 4. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ. Now, some commentators say that there is a distinction here between what he refers to as the mystery of Christ and this particular mystery in verse 6.

I'm not swayed one way or the other. Surely, when we think of Christ, it is a great mystery. It's a long time since we sang Meekness and Majesty, Manhood and Deity, in perfect harmony, the man who is God.

Oh, what a mystery! What a mystery it is—the mystery of the incarnation, the mystery of the divine and human nature in the one person. People in his day looked at him and said, Isn't he just the carpenter from Nazareth? Isn't he just Joseph's boy? People look at him today and say the same thing. Isn't this Jesus of Nazareth, just another fine fellow, just another religious man from the past, just a teller of tales and a healer of souls, amongst many others?

By nature, such deductions are understandable. Only by the Holy Spirit does a person ever bow down and say, Lord Jesus Christ, you are the very Savior I acknowledge I need. You are my Lord and my God. Now, Jesus Christ is both the substance and the source of that mystery. And in verse 5 he says, This mystery was not made known to the sons of men in other generations, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles. Incidentally, don't go south on the notion of mystery. Some people like to use mystery in a sort of mysterious way.

It goes like this. Well, it's all a big mystery nobody really knows. That is not at all what Paul is saying. He's saying that this truth is clear, this truth is definable, this truth is understandable. It is mysterious in the sense that we cannot come to it by unaided human reason.

But when we enter into the reality of it, we realize how straightforward and wonderful it really is. Well, you say, I get that, but what does it mean that it was not made known to the sons of men in other generations? What about the fact that it begins, the Bible begins with it? Genesis chapter 12, and Abraham, through the seed of Abraham, all the nations of the earth will be blessed.

That sounds as though they had an idea of it, doesn't it? The psalmist, we sing about it in the Getty Song, O church arise, and Christ will have the prize for which he died—a heritage of nations. The prophets anticipated the fact that the streams of the universe would flow, as it were, in the direction of the Lord Jesus Christ, that he was going to be a light for the nations. So what does Paul mean? It was not made known to the sons of men in other generations.

Notice the little word now. As it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets. The prophets were men who were given a special understanding of the inspiration that had been given to the apostles so that they could learn it and teach it. But now the apostles have grasped it in a way that they never understood it.

For Paul, it took this dramatic encounter on the road to Damascus. And for Peter, an equally dramatic discovery. Do you remember the Peter story in Acts chapter 10? Turn to it for just a minute.

I'll point it out to you. I can only get you started, and then you're on your own from there. But it's absolutely amazing, the story in Acts 10 and 11. Essentially, what you have in Acts chapter 10 and 11 and 12 are the acts of Peter. You've got the acts of the apostles. You've got these three chapters that largely feature Peter, and then he's gone.

He doesn't appear again in the record of the acts. But these three chapters are, if I might say so reverently, they're humdingers. Because what is happening here is that Peter is confronting the challenge of racial and religious discrimination. In fact, there is a sense in which what you have in chapter 10 is not so much the conversion of Cornelius as it is the conversion of Peter—that Peter is the one who needs to be converted from his faulty view of the impact of the gospel to the Gentile world. And you will perhaps recall the story.

I daren't start into it, because we'll spend the whole time here. But remember, Cornelius has a vision. He sees this situation, and he's given word to send to Joppa—you remember Joppa, Nineveh, and Joppa, and so on—and you go and get a guy called Peter. He's lodging with one Simon a tanner. That in itself is interesting, because tanners dealt with dead animals, and Jews didn't deal with dead animals. So Peter's already moving a little bit in the right direction in that he's hanging out with Simon, who's fiddling around with dead animals. You're not supposed to do that if you're a good Jewish boy.

All right? The next day, verse 9, while they were on their journey and approaching the city, that's when Peter has this amazing encounter. He's hungry, wants something to eat. He goes into a bit of a daze.

He falls into a trance. He sees the heavens open, and a sheet descends with all these animals and reptiles and birds in the air—all the things that a good Jewish boy has to have nothing to do with at all. And there came a voice to him, verse 13, Rise up, Peter, kill and eat. And Peter, who's good at this response, said, No way!

In other words, he was true to himself. Remember, Jesus says, I'm going up to Jerusalem. I'm going to suffer and die. And he goes, No, you're not. On another occasion, Jesus says, No, I'm going to wash your feet. Says, You're not going to wash my feet.

So get up and kill and eat. And Peter says, No, for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean. Now, I'm going to have to leave you to read the story on your own, but it just gets better and better and better. And the way the whole thing folds together… And eventually, Peter is at the house of Cornelius.

Actually, it's so full of good stuff. Verse 23, when Cornelius and his friends show up, Gentiles, and they tell him that a holy angel has told us to send for you—which is… that's heavy, Judy—and to hear what you have to say, verse 23, So he invited them in to be his guests. You don't do that. That good Jewish boy doesn't do that. That'll make your house unclean.

You have nothing to do with these Gentiles. So now he's hanging around with Simon the Tanner, which is a start. Now he's inviting them into his house, which is progress, but the great denouement is still to come. And Peter puts two and two together as a result of the revelation of the Holy Spirit, and when they have said to him, We'd like to hear your story, verse 34 of Acts chapter 10, so Peter opened his mouth and said, Truly I understand that God does not show favoritism. I get it, he says.

The picture of those creatures in the sheet? I understand. We have been convinced that that should never be part of things. That represents you, Cornelius, and your friends. You have no part in us. We are the people. We have always been the people.

You are not. But he says, Now I know. God, by revelation, has shown me that there is no special nation status—not for the Jew, any more than for Great Britain, or any more for the United States of America. God has no favorites, because the message of the gospel is to the ends of the earth for all the nations of the world. I love language, as you know, and remember I said this morning that the Jews regarded the Gentiles as dogs. Right? So, when Cornelius meets Peter, he falls before Peter, and Peter has to say to him, Hey, get up.

I'm a man just like you. Cornelius had to be dissuaded from treating Peter as a god, and Peter had to be dissuaded from treating Cornelius as a dog. The same two consonants and the same vowel. This is the grace of God. And this, you see, is opening up a whole new vista as the gospel begins to go to the ends of the earth.

And so that's why we can't possibly overestimate the impact of what Paul is conveying here to these Ephesians. This mystery, he says, finally—and it's almost as if he's been teasing it. You know, he's referred to the mystery and then the mystery of Christ.

The people are going, What is the mystery? And then he says, This mystery is—good, what?—that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus. It doesn't come across just as clearly in English as it does in the Greek. But what he's saying is this, that the Gentiles who were previously excluded from the covenants and promises and agreements of God are now equal heirs of the promises, equal members of his body, equal partners in his provision. And all of this, you will notice verse 6, is in Christ Jesus through the gospel. God's plan—and it's not his plan B—God's plan that was previously veiled, Paul says, has now been realized in Jesus and is now revealed to him and is conveyed to us as a result of the apostolic authority being left to us in the Scriptures. So that now we have the great anticipation of the fulfillment represented in Revelation 7, which we quote all the time, that there will be a company that no man can number from every tribe, every nation, every language, every tongue.

Why else would we be sending our friends to the ends of the earth? Because God is committed, and Christ will have the prize, a heritage of nations. You're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life, talking about the commission that Christ has given to his church.

Alistair returns in just a moment to close today's program, so stay with us. I hope you are benefiting from these lessons in the book of Ephesians, if you missed any of this study you can catch up online. All of Alistair's teaching can be heard or watched for free through our mobile app or on our website at

You can also find the current series by using the search feature. Just key in A Study in Ephesians Volume 4. And if you'd like, you can listen to Alistair's teaching through the entire book of Ephesians. The complete 11 volume set is available for purchase on a USB at our cost of just $5. That's more than 80 messages on a convenient flash drive that you can take with you wherever you go.

Find the USB in our online store at slash store. Now today we learned that God doesn't have favorites. The gospel is for everyone, for all nations, to the ends of the earth. And that's our mission at Truth for Life. We love sharing the gospel message and sharing it broadly. And we invite you to join us in this effort by praying each day that God's Spirit will work through the teaching of his word on this program to convert unbelievers, to bring believers into a closer relationship with Jesus, and to build up local churches. You can also come alongside us by making a financial donation.

Truth for Life is entirely listener supported. When you give to the ministry, your partnership helps deliver biblical teaching to a worldwide audience. And when you donate today, we want to encourage you to request a copy of the book Dream Small. The book is our way of saying thanks for your support.

You can give a one-time gift at slash donate, or you can arrange to set up an automatic monthly donation at slash truthpartner. Now here's Alistair to close today with prayer. Oh God our Father, we thank you for the immensity of your love. As Nicodemus, the religious ruler, comes to Jesus by night, speaks so straightforwardly to him, and Jesus cuts to the chase. Nicodemus, unless you're born again, you'll never see the kingdom of God. You'll never enter the kingdom of God. He didn't say, Well, Nicodemus, you've come from a nice home and background, you're an intelligent man, and you have a spirituality of your own.

No. In our hearts, which is somehow or another, we could get it that way. But we're shut up to the truth of your Word, Lord Jesus. And so it behoves us to pay careful attention to the Bible, to seek to understand it properly, to proclaim it kindly and boldly. And we thank you that you are the friend of sinners, and that all who turn to you in repentance and in faith will discover that your welcome is beyond our ability to comprehend. And so we pray that you will so work in us and through us. Help us to think these things out. Help us, Lord Jesus Christ, to examine the Scriptures, to see if these things are so. May it spur us on to think clearly and to believe humbly and to rest assuredly in the great promise of your grace.

For we ask it in Christ's name. Amen. I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for listening this week. Hope you have a great weekend. Hope you're able to worship with your local church. On Monday, we're going to learn how a blasphemer and persecutor of Christians became a servant of the Gospel. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-14 05:17:46 / 2023-07-14 05:26:20 / 9

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