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The Mystery of Godliness
Posted: November 20, 2006

     Have you ever read or watched a really good mystery? I mean the kind that keeps you turning page after page or watching minute by minute until you finally find out "whodunnit."

     Some mysteries, like Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie's stories, tease you with tantalizing clues and red herrings that keep you guessing until the very end. Others, like television's Columbo series, let you know "whodunnit" in the very beginning but the mystery involves how the hero can prove it.

     Still other mysteries do not involve a crime necessarily. They may be based on a mysterious legend or an odd happening that leads to an exciting adventure, or perhaps a chance encounter or revelation of hidden knowledge that profoundly alters the life of those involved.

     In the Bible we are presented with several "mysteries" including: the mystery of the kingdom of God (Mark 4:11); the mystery of the rapture (1 Corinthians 15:51); the mystery of God's will (Ephesians 1:9); the mystery of Christ (Ephesians 3:4); the mystery of the gospel (Ephesians 6:19); the mystery of iniquity (2 Thessalonians 2:7); the mystery of godliness (1 Timothy 3:16); and the mystery of the seven stars and the seven golden candlesticks (Revelation 1:20). These Bible mysteries largely have to do with the revelation of previously unknown or hidden spiritual truths that have profound implications for mankind.

     Time and space do not permit me to discuss all of the various Bible mysteries mentioned above. However, since Christmas is a few weeks away, let's take a look at one in particular, the mystery of godliness revealed by the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul to a young coworker, Timothy, that Paul had left to shepherd the church in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:2-3): "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. (1 Timothy 3:16)"

     Specifically, the mystery of godliness encompasses the life and ministry of Jesus Christ in six short statements. He was "God manifest in the flesh." He was "justified in the Spirit." He was "seen of angels." He was "preached unto the Gentiles." He was "believed on in the world." He was "received up into glory."

     Of these six statements the fact that God was manifest in the flesh is probably the greatest mystery and the greatest revelation. The other five statements help support and verify the fact that Jesus Christ is the incarnation of God Himself in the form of a man.

     The incarnation of God in the form of the man, Christ Jesus, is an incredible mystery revealed to us in the Scriptures. It comes to us through prophecies such as Isaiah 7:14 ( Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.), fulfilled in Matthew 1:23 (Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.).

     Unfortunately, many do not believe that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. Some, such as many Jews and Muslims, believe that He was merely a good man, a great teacher, a philosopher, or even a prophet. Others, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons, think that He is a created being possessing god-like powers and abilities. Some, such as the Hindus and New Agers, even believe that He was an avatar; one of the many incarnations of deity throughout human history such as Buddha, Krishna, and Mohammed. All too many liberal theologians and pastors embrace such views about Christ.

     "Nevertheless what saith the scripture (Galatians 4:30)?"

     John makes it clear to us in his gospel that Jesus is God manifest in the flesh, just as Paul wrote to Timothy. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... 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 1:1, 14)"

     Of course, the Jehovah's Witnesses, who reject the deity of Jesus Christ, have altered this passage in their New World Translation. They changed "and the Word was God" to "and the Word was a god." This change both denies the deity of Christ (little "g" versus capital "G") and reflects their belief that Jesus is actually Michael the Archangel ("a god" but not the God).

     Other passages such as Isaiah 9:6 ("For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.), Colossians 2:9 ("For in him [Jesus] dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." ), Hebrews 1:8 ("But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.", and 1 John 5:7 ("For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one."). It can't get much clearer than that.

     Even so, many still have difficulty with the idea that Jesus Christ can be both God and man at the same time. After all, isn't Jesus, as one lady recently asked me, called "the Son of God" and "the only begotten Son" in the Bible?

     Yes, that is true. But it does not mean that Jesus is a created being, begotten of Jehovah as the Jehovah's Witnesses teach. It does not mean that God the Father fathered a son in the same sense as a man would, as the Mormons teach. Nor does it mean that Mary is the Mother of God as some Catholics teach. In no way does it teach that Jesus Christ had a beginning or origin in any sense.

     In fact, twice in the first chapter of the book of Revelation it is clearly stated that Jesus Christ has always existed. John states in verse four: "...Grace be unto you, and peace, from him [Jesus] which is, and which was, and which is to come;..." Four verses latter, Jesus Himself says, "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty."

     The phrase, "which is, which was, and which is to come" has essentially the same meaning as the phrase, "from everlasting to everlasting" used in Psalm 90:2: "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God." In other words, God has always existed and always will. This is a description of Christ as Jehovah, the self-existent, unchangeable, and eternal God.

     "Son" is actually a title which conveys the meaning of who and what Jesus is. He is the "Son of God," the "Son of man," and the "Son of David." The first title refers to His Deity. The second refers to His humanity. The third refers to His Kingship. You cannot make a big deal out of His being the "Son of God" while ignoring His other two titles as "Son of man" and "Son of David."

     The term, "only begotten Son" is likewise frequently taken out of context in an effort to attack the divinity of Christ. However, we must remember "that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation (2 Peter 1:20)" and compare Scripture with Scripture.

     In doing so we find passages referring to Jesus Christ as the "only begotten of the Father" (John 1:14), and the "only begotten Son" (John 1:18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9). We also find two related phrases: "this day have I begotten thee" (Psalm 2:7; Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5) and "to day have I begotten thee" (Hebrews 5:5).

     In order to understand what the Bible means when it refers to Jesus as the "only begotten Son" we must first determine what day the Bible is referring to when it says "this day have I begotten thee."

     Acts 13:33-34, which shows the fulfillment of Psalms 2:7, reveals that the day in question is the day of Christ's resurrection: "God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption...".

     These passages also help us understand Colossians 1:15 which identifies Jesus as "the firstborn of every creature". However, Jesus is not the first born as in the first created being but rather, as verse 18 clearly states, "the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence." A thought echoed in Revelation 1:5: "And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead...".

     No, "firstborn" does not refer to the origin of Christ. Instead, it refers to the fact that Jesus was the first to die and be resurrected. As such He is the "firstborn among many brethren (Romans 8:29)" and head of the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven (Hebrews 12:23)."

     Jesus Christ is God manifest in the flesh; "the mystery of godliness." He is God the Son who humbled Himself to become a man so that He could go to the cross for us (Philippians 2:7-8; Hebrews 2:9). He is God's gift of salvation through His death and resurrection to all who believe (John 3:16; Romans 10:9-10).

     Don't let the devil take away the "mystery of godliness" and rob you of this precious truth.

-Pastor Al

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