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The Plan of the Mystery (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
July 19, 2023 4:00 am

The Plan of the Mystery (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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July 19, 2023 4:00 am

What’s the role of the church in this everchanging world? Is it different from the responsibilities of the early church? Hear the answer when you join us for a closer look at the apostle Paul’s Godgiven ministry, on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.



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This listener-funded program features the clear, relevant Bible teaching of Alistair Begg. Today’s program and nearly 3,000 messages can be streamed and shared for free at tfl.org thanks to the generous giving from monthly donors called Truthpartners. Learn more about this Gospel-sharing team or become one today. Thanks for listening to Truth For Life!





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What's the role of the church in the 21st century? Is it somehow different from what the church's role was 2,000 years ago? Today on Truth for Life, we continue our study in the Book of Ephesians.

Alistair Begg is taking a close look at the Apostle Paul's God-given ministry. We are entirely dependent upon the work of the Holy Spirit to speak, to listen, to understand, to believe, to trust, to obey. And so we shut ourselves up with you and to you, and we pray that you won't simply provide us with information that we require but that we might have an encounter with you, the living God, through the ministry of your Word by the Holy Spirit. We marvel at this, and we pray in anticipation of this. In Christ's name.

Amen. Well, let me just read, first of all, these verses 7, 8, and 9 in the ESV. Of this gospel writes Paul, I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things. And then, as we have it here in Taylor, God has given me the wonderful privilege of telling everyone about this plan of his, and he has given me his power and special ability to do it well. Just think, though I did nothing to deserve it and though I am the most useless Christian there is, yet I was the one chosen for this special joy of telling the Gentiles the glad news of the endless treasures available to them in Christ, and to explain to everyone that God is the Savior of the Gentiles too, just as he who made all things had secretly planned from the beginning. Well, those of you who were present this morning will know that we looked at verses 7 and 8—we tried to, at least—and we drew our thoughts around, first of all, Paul's identity as a minister of the gospel, telling us that he was made a minister according to God's grace as a result of the exercise of God's effectual power.

We then noted in verse 8 his expression of humility, describing himself as the least at the bottom of the pile. And I was reminded just this afternoon of a quote that I had thought about earlier in the week and omitted this morning. At the height of Dwight L. Moody's influence—and it was considerable influence—F.

B. Meyer, observing him, said of him, Moody is a man who seems never to have heard of himself. I thought that was a quite wonderful quote. So his identity as a minister of the gospel, his humility in his exercise of that ministry, and then his responsibility. And it was with that that we ended, noting, first of all, that he had been given this responsibility to preach to the Gentiles—that was his audience—and his message, the unsearchable riches of Christ. That is, if you like, part one of his responsibility, and part two comes in verse nine, which is our text for this evening.

And to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things. This whole notion of bringing things to light is a reminder of the responsibility of the teacher of the Bible, Paul in this case, to unravel, if you like, things that were knotted in people's minds, to make clear things that were perhaps foggy to them, to speak with a measure of simplicity in areas that would have been regarded as perhaps difficult to comprehend. And it is a reminder, isn't it, of the importance of God gifting those who teach the Bible, and along with that, the vital importance of praying for those who teach the Bible as they preach and teach it? It's good for us to have in mind the members of our pastoral team and those who serve in the various churches around us here. I'm about to go to Midwestern Seminary to address the people there concerning Charles Haddon Spurgeon. And so I can't resist this quote from Spurgeon in direct contrast to the clarity and the light that Paul was to bring to the message of the gospel.

And I think I may have shared this with some of you before, but it's worth a repeat. Spurgeon says, Whatever you may know, you cannot really be a good minister if you are not able to teach. You know ministers who have mistaken their calling and evidently have no gifts for it.

Make sure that none think the same of you. There are brethren in the ministry whose speech is intolerable. Either they rouse you to wrath, or else they send you to sleep. No anesthetic can ever equal some discourses in sleep-giving properties. No human being, unless gifted with infinite patience, could long endure to listen to them.

And nature does well to give the victim deliverance through sleep. I heard one say the other day that a certain preacher had no more gifts for the ministry than an oyster. And in my own judgment, this was a slander on the oyster.

For that worthy bivalve shows great discretion in his openings, and knows when to close. If some men were sentenced to hear their own sermons, it would be a righteous judgment upon them. And they would soon cry out with cane, My punishment is greater than I can bear. Let us not fall under the same condemnation. So here we have it. Paul says, It is a remarkable thing, but God has by his grace and by the effectual working of his power entrusted me with the privilege and the responsibility of making sure that the Gentiles hear of the unsearchable riches of Christ and that I might be enabled to bring to light for everyone, to shed light for everyone, on what is the plan of the mystery hidden in the ages by God.

So let's just give ourselves three simple headings. First of all, Paul is reminding us that God has a plan. That God has a plan. He's actually begun his letter to the Ephesians by making this absolutely central.

And if you turn back just a page to the opening chapter, let me point it out to you. For example, verse 4, talking about the spiritual blessings which are ours in Christ, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him. So his plan goes back before the foundation of the world. He predestined us, verse 5, for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, notice, according to the purpose of his will. In verse 9, making known to us the mystery of his will according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ. And then, quite gloriously, in verse 10, has a plan for the fullness of time to unite all things in him, things in heaven, and things on earth. And Paul, in writing to these Ephesians, who in their day were beleaguered, they were pressed upon, they were surrounded by all kinds of notions and thought forms, many were antagonistic to them, he was concerned that from among their own selves there would be people who would rise up like wolves in sheep's clothing, who would draw people away after themselves and away from Jesus. And so he writes to remind them, to assure them, that God is not working on a contingency basis, he is not reacting to things and coming up with plans, as it were, on the fly, but that from all of eternity his plan to set things forth in Christ has been there. And it is Paul's commission to shed light, to throw light on these things which, by nature, men and women are in the dark. That is actually the commission of the gospel preacher in every age—that is, to open up the Scriptures in such a way that the light of the gospel might shine into the darkness of men and women's hearts. It is a daunting prospect.

It is an unenviable challenge. And it is only in the awareness that God opens blind eyes and softens hard hearts that any of us would ever endeavor to take up the task. And at the heart of this mystery and this plan of God from all of eternity, we find not only the fact that individuals come to trust in Jesus and become the followers of Jesus, but that as we've seen in the last couple of studies, by the same grace that unites us to Christ brings us into union with one another. And Paul has been making it clear to particularly these Ephesians—but his message went out beyond Ephesus—that God's plan and purpose from all of eternity centers, actually, in his people. And we tried last time to make sure that we shy away from any kind of individualistic notion of what it means to be in Christ, that we come to him personally, we come to him individually. He doesn't adopt us into his family en masse but as individuals, but he places us in Christ in the company of one another. And at the heart of God's perspective on our world tonight is his church.

At the heart of God's vision for his unfolding plan are congregations such as yourselves, seated here right now. Now, this is a wow. This is a, were you serious? Yes.

Yes. That from all of eternity, God purposed to save individuals, and he has orchestrated and controls the bounds of our habitation, the faculties of our intellect, the gifts and graces that are ours. And in the economy of his purposes, he has chosen, in the mystery of his will, to connect this group on the east side of Cleveland at this point in history because of a plan that he has had since before the foundation of the world—before he created the world, he planned this.

That's what Paul is saying. And what he is doing here, he is doing there and there and there as we think of the work of the gospel in Peru, as we think of scattered believers throughout North Korea, as we think about people in the central belt of Russia gathering in little groups. Paul is saying, you need to understand, dear ones, that God's plan from all of eternity focuses in his church. The church is one foundation through Jesus Christ her Lord. She is his new creation by water and the Word.

From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride, and with his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died. And you can go on through the lyric of that hymn, It is profoundly helpful, Yet she on earth hath union with God the three in one, And mystic, sweet communion with those whose rest is one. It's one of my favorite couplets, the idea that somehow or another that I am still united with those that God has taken to himself, that when I think of those who were here, as I mentioned in my prayer, we are united still in some mystic communion as a result of the wonder of God's grace. And so Paul's charge here, he says, is to let the whole world know that this mystery that God has brought together, both Jew and Gentile, in his church, that he has in terms of verse 15 in chapter 2, created in himself one new man in the place of two, so making peace—Paul's charge is to let the world know, to shed light on this reality, so that people might understand that God's future purposes for the world are to be seen embryonicly in the church. Let me say that to you again—that God's ultimate plan for the world, that plan, is to be seen in embryonic form in the church on earth in time—that church, which is church with a big C, but also church with a small C—so that individual congregations cannot shirk from the reality of the kind of union and communion that is to mark those who have been redeemed by God's grace. That is why the church is so fundamentally important. That's why it is so sad when people do not talk to one another within the church, or when people isolate from one another within the communion of God's people. God is showing in time amongst his people a charcoal sketch, if you like, of what he's going to do finally. It's very humbling.

I think it is exhilarating also to think that we are giving this inkling to the world, so that people are supposed to be able to come in—and this is what makes it challenging, isn't it? They're supposed to come in and say, Oh, I see, this is the kind of idea, is it, that God is going to put together a strange group of people and unite them in the wonder of the love of his Son. Incidentally, it's because of this that the church is under such amazing attack, that the gospel is under such attack. You'll notice that there's not a lot of attack on churches that don't believe the Bible. They're just withering away.

They will always wither away. The evil one has no interest in them. It's irrelevant to him—clearly irrelevant. Now, the only place where he will find that the subtlety of his attack and the strength of his attack and the sustained and fierce nature of his attack is to be encountered is where the church is prepared to say, We'll take seriously this notion of your plan, Lord Jesus Christ, and we are prepared to bow down underneath your dictates in order that we might in some small fashion give an inkling to our world of what it means for all of our brokenness and chaos to be addressed in Jesus. So, that's point number one, that God has a plan. Point number two is that the plan has been hidden. It's been hidden.

That's what it says in the text, isn't it? To bring to light for everyone, what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things? From the beginning of the ages, it is a mystery. Now, remember what we said about mystery. This is not like an Agatha Christie book.

It's not something that we can figure out if we're given sufficient clues. But rather, it is used of that which we are unable to grasp by unaided human wisdom but which becomes ours as a result of God's revelation—that revelation which has been given to the apostles, which is what Paul is saying. He's amazed at the fact that God has revealed this to him, especially when he thinks about who he is and where he's come from. And that which has then been given to the apostles has been written down in the Bible, has been inscripturated, so that we have that revelation to which we pay attention and by which we understand. And it is the Bible—it is the Bible—that gives us the great revelation of God's plan and purpose. I think we've said on a number of occasions before that we can't really grapple with history without a Bible. It's pretty difficult to read the newspaper, to listen to the news, to watch the events of human history without your Bible. Because, you see, the Bible gives to us the great scheme of all of humanity.

The Bible tells us that it is into a dark world that the Messiah came, that he is the true light who gives light to everyone in the world, that the words of the prophet are being fulfilled, that the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, and it is into a dark world that the story of God's plan of redemption comes to shine. Now, if you think about this, it is wonderfully helpful, isn't it? Because—and I was intrigued that—I mentioned it this morning in passing—I was intrigued that Dylan got the Nobel Peace Prize for literature. I'm fine with that, not that anybody cares whether I am or not. But that's all right.

He wrote some bizarre stuff, but some really, really good stuff, you know? Come, senators, congressmen, please heed the call. Don't stand in the doorway.

Don't block up the hall, for he that gets hurt will be he that is stalled. There's a battle outside, and it's raging. It'll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls, for the times they are a-changin'. Come, writers and critics who prophesy with your pen, and so on. It was good.

It was good. It's old now. The decades have passed.

Where are we? The observations, the challenge, the songs of the sixties, the cries for peace, for reformation, for transformation. Well, just read a little history. Read a little history. Read of the anticipation at the end of the nineteenth century into the twentieth century. Read what the historians said.

Read what the politicians were writing. Some of them were phenomenally pessimistic—the rise and fall of one generation, the coming of one dictator, his crumbling destruction, and so on, the notion that history is just entirely cyclical, that it has no beginning and no end, it's going nowhere at all. At the other end of that, you had a kind of superficial optimism, the kind of thing that you found in the writing of Tennyson, who dreamed of the great federation of the world, a kind of United Nations that really, really, really was going to work. Well, where are we? I'm not being strange in saying this.

I'm just observing. The arrival of the twentieth century was supposed to usher in the great denouement. After all, we had so much to put behind us. Certainly in Great Britain we were going to get it all right. We had introduced socialized medicine, which was going to cure all ills. We had education for everybody that could ever need it. And we were well on our way.

Well, I wonder, have you been there lately? All the benefits of social improvement, technological advance, the increase in education and in social welfare, and two world wars within a matter of decades put the bullet in that whole notion and spoke once again of the darkness that is in our world. You see, our politicians are ultimately clueless.

You've heard it here. Without the wisdom of God, without the wisdom of God, man in his wisdom cannot know God. And if man cannot know God, man cannot ultimately know himself.

And if man cannot know himself, then he can't diagnose his ills, and he cannot in turn execute a cure for undiagnosed ills. So the responsibility of the church in the world in every generation is not, then, to try and take on those causes—whatever role individuals may play—but the responsibility of the church is to do what Paul is to do here, and that is to shine light into a dark world, the light that shines in the plan of the mystery hidden from all of time. Is your church shining a light into a dark world? Listening to Truth for Life, that is Alistair Begg with a message that challenges our own priorities as Christians, both individually and corporately.

We'll hear more from Alistair tomorrow. If this study of the Apostle Paul's ministry inspires you to share your faith with others, but you're not sure where to begin, let me point you to a brand new study from Truth for Life called The Basics of the Christian Faith. This is a teaching series designed for you to lead a friend through the foundational beliefs of Christianity. This study combines discussion and scripture reading, which you do together with the person you're discipling, along with independent listening to 13 messages from Alistair. In the study, Alistair does all the teaching. All you have to do is follow the study's outline and answer any questions your friend might have along the way.

Everything is prepared for you. The course comes with two booklets. There's a leader's guide for you that includes discussion prompts. There's a disciple guide for the person you're leading. You could purchase both of these study guides together when you go to truthforlife.org slash store. There's another resource we want to recommend to you, a book titled Knowable Word, helping ordinary people learn to study the Bible. And this book does just that. It's a short book that gives you practical steps for how to better understand the Bible when you study it on your own. In this book, you'll learn how to observe the text, how to apply what you've learned, and how to better understand how the whole Bible fits together. Ask for your copy of the book Knowable Word when you give a donation to Truth for Life at truthforlife.org slash donate, or call us at 888-588-7884. I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for listening today. Tomorrow we'll find out why it's utterly impossible to make sense of the world unless you start with a sovereign creator. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-19 05:09:56 / 2023-07-19 05:18:25 / 8

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