Sermon #1552                            Miscellaneous Sermons


     Title:           The Mystery of Godliness

     Text:           1 Timothy 3:16

     Reading:    Psalm 21

     Subject:      The Incarnation, Accomplishments, and Glory of Christ

     Date:          Sunday Morning—December 14, 2003

     Tape #        X-94b



The apostle Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 3:15 that the church (this local assembly) is “the house of God.” This is “the church of the living God.” This is not a social club, an entertainment center, an amusement park, or a theater.


(1 Tim 3:15)  "But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."


This is the church of the living God, the very house of God.

·       The place where God meets with his people.

·       The house where the Lord God makes himself known to his own.

·       The place where the Lord God feeds, instructs, and comforts his people.


He tells Timothy and us plainly that his purpose in writing this Epistle is that we might know how we ought to behave ourselves in the house of God. A man is to be honored in his house, and God Almighty demands that we honor him in his house.

·       In Preparation for Worship

·       In Attire

·       In Attitude

·       In Hearing His Word

·       In All That is Done Here

·       In All That is Preached Here


Then, Paul tells us that the church, this local assembly of blood bought sinners, is by the appointment of God “the pillar and ground of the truth.” This is the place where God’s truth is established, maintained and promoted in this world.

·       The pillar of the house bears inscriptions honoring the one who built it — Christ the Truth!

·       The pillar is that which upholds the house and gives it stability — Christ the Truth!

·       The ground is the basis, the foundation upon which the house is built and stands —Christ the Truth!

·       The ground, the foundation, is that which determines the shape and structure of the house — Christ the Truth!


We are not left to guess about these things. We are not left to form our own opinions about them. In the very next verse the Holy Spirit clearly identifies that body of truth of which we are to be the pillar and ground in this world, that body of truth we are to uphold, maintain and declare in this world.


(1 Tim 3:16)  "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory."


I want you to hold your Bibles open right here and follow me through this rich verse of Holy Scripture. May God the Holy Spirit teach us its meaning and seal it to our hearts.


"And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness.” — Here is a mystery without controversy in the church of God. I am aware of the fact that no point of gospel doctrine is more controversial in the religious world than the incarnation of Christ. Yet, in the church of God, among true believers, there is no controversy at all on this point.


God was manifest in the flesh!” — The greatest mystery in all the world is the mystery of the incarnation. It was a miraculous, supernatural work of God. And that which is supernatural cannot be explained by laws of nature, any more than that which is spiritual can be explained by laws of physics. Here is a matter that can only be received and understood by faith.


When Paul says, “God was manifest in the flesh,” he means for us to understand that God the Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, who in the covenant of grace had assumed the responsibility of saving his people from their sins, became a man so that he might accomplish that great work (Matt. 1:21; Heb. 10:5-10).


(Mat 1:21)  "And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins."


(Heb 10:5-10)  "Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: (6) In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. (7) Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. (8) Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; (9) Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. (10) By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."


The Son of God assumed mortal, human flesh. Though he laid aside his manifest glory as God for a time, he never ceased to be God over all, blessed forever, infinite, eternal, immutable, and incomprehensible. All the fulness of God dwelt in him, and still does (Col. 2:9). Yet, he became a real man, exactly like us, but with one great exception — He had no sin! (John 1:14, 18; Heb. 4:15; 1 John 1:1-3).


(John 1:14)  "And the Word was made 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 1:18)  "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him."


(Heb 4:15)  "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin."


(1 John 1:1-3)  "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (2) (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) (3) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ."


It was necessary that our Redeemer be a man. Man has sinned and man must suffer for sin. But the sufferings of a mere man would have been of no redemptive value to us. If someone is to redeem and save by the merits of his sufferings and death, he must be God as well as man.

·       Because Jesus Christ is a man, he was able to suffer for us.

·       Because he is God, he was able to satisfy God’s offended justice for his people.

·       The sufferings of the God-man unto death were vicarious sufferings of infinite, perpetual merit and efficacy.

·       Christ’s death as the God-man is of infinite merit to God for the satisfaction of his justice.

·       Because God was manifest in the flesh and put to death in the flesh, God can now be just and the Justifier of all who believe.


Justified in the Spirit


The Lord Jesus Christ claimed to be God the Son, in all things equal with the Father (John 5:18; 10:33). Such a claim needed strong, indisputable confirmation. This confirmation was the work of God the Holy Spirit. He justified, or confirmed all the claims of Christ that he is the Messiah, the Son of God (John 15:25-26; 16:8-13).


(John 15:25-26)  "But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause. (26) But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:"


(John 16:8-13)  "And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: (9) Of sin, because they believe not on me; (10) Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; (11) Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. (12) I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. (13) Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come."


·       The Holy Spirit, being given to him without measure, fully justified all the claims of the man Christ Jesus that he was indeed the Christ, the Messiah, the Redeemer, the Son of God (John 3:33-34).


·       When our Lord submitted to baptism to fulfill all righteousness, the Holy Spirit confirmed his claim by visibly descending upon him.


·       The miracles he performed in conjunction with the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:20) proved him to be the Son of God, whose mission it was to redeem and save his people (Matt. 1:21).


·       He who was made to be sin for us was justified from sin when he was raised from the dead (Rom. 1:4).


The body of our Savior laid in the tomb under the sentence of death, in an unjustified state for three days. But on the third day the Spirit of life came again into his body and he was “justified in the Spirit”.


In the resurrection, our Savior was justified in the Spirit as the Surety and Representative of his body, the church. Our sins, which were imputed to him, he has put away by the sacrifice of himself. When he was raised from the dead God the Father declared that his work of atonement had effectually accomplished the everlasting justification of his elect (Rom. 4:25).


Augustus Toplady wrote, “When the Sun of Righteousness arose from his sad, but short eclipse, he rose to set no more.” And there is healing for sinners under the wings of that risen Sun of Righteousness!


The Holy Spirit continues to justify the claims of Christ today (1 John 5:6-8).


(1 John 5:6-8)  "This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. (7) For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. (8) And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one."


·       He bears witness to the claims of Christ in the hearts and lives of chosen sinners, raising them from death to life in Christ, delivering them from the dominion of Satan, making them new creatures in Christ, and transforming them into the sons of God by his almighty grace.


Seen of angels” — All the elect angels who were kept by Christ in their holy habitation, whom he made to be ministering spirits sent forth to minister to those who shall be the heirs of eternal salvation, saw the Son of God perform the whole work of redemption as our Mediator.


I do not know when the angels were created, but they appear to be God’s very first creatures. As soon as they were created by him, they saw him, loved him, and adored him. To this day they attend the gatherings of God’s church to learn from redeemed sinners the wonders of redemption (Eph. 3:10; 1 Pet. 1:12). Yet, those holy creatures saw the Lord Jesus Christ as he performed the great work of redemption.


·       The angels of God saw Christ in his preincarnate glory, not only as God, but also as the Mediator, as the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world (Isa. 6:1-7; Rev. 4:8-11; 5:8-10).


They were informed of the covenant of grace, made aware of our Savior’s intentions of grace for his elect, and of the purpose of God in the creation of the universe (Heb. 1:14).


·       When the blessed Son of God actually entered into this world he was “seen of angels.


The angels beheld his miraculous conception. An angel was the first and the second messenger of the incarnation (Matt. 1:18-21; Lk. 1:26-35). An angelic host announced the birth of our Savior (Lk. 2:8-14).


What a place Bethlehem’s stable was for one brief night! The presence of the incarnate God turned a cow stable into a temple of glory! A feeding trough was made a throne of grace in which the King of glory was laid!


·       The angels of God ministered to the God-man in his times of trouble.


In the wilderness of temptation, after he had foiled Satan, the angels ministered to him. In Gethsemane, when his body was covered with the bloody sweat, the angels of God ministered to him. In his death, our Savior was alone. But the angels of God watched over his dead body in the tomb, rolled away the stone on the resurrection morning, and announced his resurrection to his disciples.


·       At last, the angels of God welcomed the triumphant Savior back to glory (Rev. 12:10-12).


They watched him as he entered in once into the holy place, With his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption for us, and sat down on the throne of God!


(Rev 12:10-12)  "And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. (11) And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. (12) Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time."


Preached unto the Gentiles” — There is a great mystery in the fact that Christ was preached unto the Gentiles. Before he came nothing was preached to the Gentiles. The Jews looked upon Gentiles as dogs. Yet, God chose to send saved Jews to be the first preachers of the gospel to the Gentiles. And now the children of the desolate are more than the children of the married wife. The Lord multiplied Abraham’s spiritual seed in the Gentile world, though his physical seed (the nation of Israel) was cut off. The Gentiles were the barbarian, immoral, idolatrous races of the world. The history of the Gentiles, until the gospel of Christ was preached among us, was a history of cruelty, superstition, witchcraft, and decadence. Yet, God sent the gospel to us (1 Cor. 1:26-31).


There is also a great mystery in the method God has ordained for communicating the gospel — preaching! Mark that, my friend, God has ordained that the gospel be made known to men by preaching (1 Cor. 1:21-25). The mightiest weapon of God’s church for offense and defense is the pulpit from which the gospel is preached. It is by the foolishness of preaching, the foolishness of the message we preach (Christ crucified), that God is pleased to save them that believe.


Our churches need no attraction but Christ crucified set forth clearly and constantly in the pulpit. Oh, how we need preachers to set him forth! The most prominent feature of the early church and the most prominent feature of every true church is the preaching of the gospel. This is the trumpet of heaven and the battering ram before which the gates of hell must fall! God’s means of creating life and faith in the hearts of chosen, redeemed sinners is the preaching of the gospel (James 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23-25; Rom. 10:17).


Another great part of the mystery of godliness is seen in the men God uses to preach the gospel. The first were poor, unlearned fishermen. Yet, by these men the gospel was soon carried into every nation of the world! So it is to this day. A few bright lights in God’s church have been men of great learning, but most are just ordinary men, saved by grace, gifted and empowered by God the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel.


Believed on in the world” — The Lord Jesus Christ is God “manifest in the flesh.” God the Son came into the world as a man. He died under the penalty of sin as the Substitute for God’s elect. He was raised from the dead, thereby being “justified in the Spirit.” In all this he was seen, watched, and reverently observed by the holy angels. This Christ is the subject of all true preaching.


In the book of Acts, which records the preaching ministry of the church during the apostolic era, the words “preach,” “preached,” and “preaching” are used thirty-seven times. Every time the theme of preaching is the Lord Jesus Christ. He was and is, by divine appointment, preached unto the Gentiles…


·       Preached in his twofold character as God and man, the only mediator between God and men (1 Tim. 2:5-6).


·       Preached as the only and all-sufficient Sacrifice for sin (Heb. 10:1-14), the only one by whom sin could be put away and the one who has effectually put away the sins of his people by the sacrifice of himself (Heb. 1:3; 9:26; Rom. 5:19; 2 Cor. 5:21). As our sins were imputed to him, so his righteousness has been imputed to us! As he was made to be sin for us, so we are made the righteousness of God in him.


·       Preached by all who faithfully preach the gospel (1 Cor. 2:2). All true preachers in every age have preached Christ crucified. In the Old Testament all the prophets spoke of him. In the New Testament all the apostles spoke of him. Today all true preachers preach him constantly. He who preaches the Book of God preaches the Son of God. “And,” Augustus Toplady wrote, “he will still be preached to the end of time, as long as there is one elect sinner uncalled, and until all the vessels of mercy are brought to the saving knowledge and love of himself.”


This blessed Christ who was preached unto the Gentiles, was, and is, and shall be until the end of time, “believed on in the world.” The Spirit of God makes the preaching of Christ crucified the means by which sinners are converted. Christ alone is the Object of faith, and the preaching of Christ crucified is the means by which faith is granted to sinners (John 3:14-15; 12:32; Rom. 10:17). Through the preaching of the gospel God the Holy Spirit gives faith to the chosen.


Received up into glory” — Our Savior, the incarnate God, was “received up into glory” because his work on earth was finished (John 17:4; 19:30). He sat down in heaven and “received gifts for men; yea for the rebellious also” (Psa. 68:18). As the Representative, Surety, and Forerunner of God’s elect, he received all the fulness of salvation and glory that he might give the gifts of grace to us (Heb. 6:20). All the gifts of grace and glory come to us freely; but he earned and purchased them for us by his obedience unto death.


William Hendrickson wrote,  “While the echo of men’s voices, ‘Crucify, crucify,’ had scarcely died, heaven opened wide its portals, and upon receiving back its victorious King, resounded with echoes of jubilant anthem, sung by ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, ‘Worthy is the Lamb!’”


Since Christ is in glory, we also are in glory representatively. We are risen together and seated with him in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). That which we possess with him representatively now, we shall possess with him personally in the resurrection (Rom. 8:17).


It is every believer’s great joy to know that Christ our Savior is the King of glory. The God-man who died to redeem us now sits upon the throne of God in heaven. There he makes perpetual intercession for chosen, redeemed sinners (Heb. 7:25). From his lofty throne in heaven he rules the universe for the ever- lasting good of his elect (Rom. 8:28). Seated upon the throne of universal monarchy, the Son of God sovereignly executes his purpose of grace and gives eternal life to all that the Father gave him to save (John 17:2).


This glorious, exalted Christ, who has been “received up into glory”, cannot fail to accomplish his purpose and do all his will (Isa. 42:4). Men deny him, but they cannot harm him. He is exalted! Men mock his people, despise his work, make light of his name, and belittle his doctrine, but they do him no harm. Christ is exalted! His purpose and work are sure. All he came to redeem, he has redeemed (Gal. 3:13). All for whom he makes intercession are forgiven (1 John 2:1-2). All he seeks to save shall be saved (Matt. 1:21). All who believe on him have everlasting life (John 3:14-16).