Well, let’s open our Bibles this morning for our study of 1 Timothy chapter 3. We’re back looking at verse 16, 1 Timothy 3:16. You heard it sung a few moments ago by the choir, and now you’re going to hear it preached – a great, great verse of Scripture. It is attached to verses 14 and 15 as a brief little section at the end of the first major part of 1 Timothy and at the beginning of the second major part. The end of chapter 3, the beginning of chapter 4 is really the dividing line in Paul’s thought, and he drops this little three-verse section right in the middle.
Just to give you a perspective on what this little section is about, I was reminded of – and I suppose any sports fan would be – the great Green Bay Packer football coach, Vince Lombardi, who confronted his team of National Football League all-stars with the very unlikely words; he lifted up a ball and said, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” And he has been accused of being very, very basic in his coaching technique, and he was. He started with the most basic thing of all, “This is a football.” He was a fanatic for fundamentals. And anyone who succeeds in any endeavor of life is someone who has mastered the basics, or the fundamentals.
Paul was in the same vein, a man deeply concerned with the basics, with the fundamentals, always going back to the basics. That is precisely what he does here in this text, because, as you remember, the Ephesian church had wandered away from true doctrine, the Ephesian church had wandered into ungodliness and sin, and Paul needed to go back and just tack down the basics again.
In the epistle from beginning to end we sense a corrective spirit. It’s a polemic; that is, he is speaking to issues and he is correcting those issues. And here he goes back to the bottom line corrective as he discusses the heart of the mission and the message of the church. Remember now, he’s left Timothy in Ephesus to set things straight, to put the church on a right footing, to correct its false doctrine and its immoral behavior. And at the bottom of all of this is a proper understanding of the mission and the message of the church.
Now you remember last time we looked at the mission of the church at the end of verse 15. We went through a little of the introductory things that he says in 14 and 15, and then we affirm, the end of verse 15 says, “The church of the living God is the pillar and foundation of the truth.” The heart of the message – pardon me. The heart of the mission of the church is to hold up the truth. We are the foundation and the pillars that support the truth of God.
In the words of Philippians 2:15 and 16, we are to be holding forth the word of life. That’s our basic task. We are the God-appointed trustee of divine truth. We are the guardian of God’s revelation. Churches may be distracted, they may be diverted, but that is the heart of their mission. This is our emphasis. And we saw last time that practically in our own lives we can hold forth the truth by hearing it, memorizing it, meditating on it, studying it, obeying it, defending it, living it, and proclaiming it. And those are the kinds of ingredients that make up a church that holds forth the word of life.
In John 17:14 Jesus said, “I have given them,” – said to the Father – “I have them given them Thy word.” That is the legacy of Christ to His church, entrusting us with the care and proclamation of His word.
And when you go to the book of Acts you see that the early church was really committed to this. In fact, it starts with the commission of our Lord at the end of Luke’s gospel; the Lord Himself laid down the mandate. This is what He said to them: “It is written, ‘And it behooved Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sin should be preached in His name.’” And he went on to describe that the church was to hold forth the message of Christ.
That was picked up in the early church. In the book of Acts we find in chapter 4, verse 31 that they went out boldly proclaiming His name. It says in chapter 6, verse 7, “The word of God increased.” In chapter 12, verse 24, “The word of God grew and multiplied.” In Acts 19:20, “So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.” And so, the calling is to the church to set forth the word.
This goes right on in to the tribulation where the redeemed saints do the very same thing. And in Revelation, you remember, chapter 6, it shows the martyrs out of the tribulation period, and it says they were slain simply for the word of God and the testimony which they held. It has always been the legacy of the church to hold forth the word of truth; nothing has changed. We are not to corrupt it, 2 Corinthians 2:17. We are not to use it deceitfully, 2 Corinthians 4:2. We are to hold it forth in clarity. That’s the mission of the church.
Now specifically within this broad aspect of truth, what is the heart of our message? We find that in verse 16. As Paul is talking about the mission of the church to hold forth the truth, his mind goes to that which is most essential in the truth, and that is the message of Jesus Christ. And verse 16 says, “And by common consent, great is the mystery of godliness. He who was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the nations, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”
As Paul thinks, almost an ecstasy overwhelms him, and he launches into what, no doubt, was an early church hymn, extolling the work of Christ; for Christ is the heart and soul of the message of the truth. This is the core of what we teach and preach.
I just read to you Luke 24. Let me remind you again what it says: “Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all witnesses, beginning at Jerusalem.” Christ is the name that is to be proclaimed: His person, His work.
In Acts 10, as Peter preached in the house of Cornelius, he preached how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him. “And we are witnesses of all things which He did, both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem whom they slew and hanged on a tree. Him God raised up the third day and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who did eat and drink with Him after He rose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach unto the people and testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be the judge of living and dead.” Peter says, “We are ordained to preach Christ.” That was the command, and that was Peter’s obedient response.
Paul stands in the great tradition of obedient apostles also. First Corinthians 1:23 he says, “We preach Christ crucified.” First Corinthians 2:2, “I am determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” In 2 Corinthians 1, “The Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, by me and Silas and Timothy.” And so again emphasizes the heart of his message was none other than Christ.
“We preach not ourselves” – he says in 2 Corinthians 4:5 – “but Christ Jesus the Lord.” At the end of Galatians chapter 6, he says in verse 14, “God forbid that I should glory or boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1, he says that, “Christ is preached, and in that I do rejoice, and will rejoice.” The message is always Jesus Christ, always Jesus Christ. And the church can easily be diverted from that; but that’s the heart and soul of our message.
Now I personally would believe that in Paul’s letter to 1 Timothy, because he makes such an issue of the person and work of Christ, calling Him Savior and Lord in verse 1 of chapter 1, in chapter 2 making sure that he emphasizes that He is the Savior who will have all men to be saved, that He is the one mediator between God and man, that He gave Himself a ransom for all to be testified in due time; also noting that he emphasizes in chapter 6 that He is the King of kings, Lord of lords – verse 15 – that He is the immortal God dwelling in unapproachable light that no man can see, that is that He is the one to receive honor and power everlasting; affirming all of those statements about Christ, I conclude that there were some attacking the person and work of Christ right in the church at Ephesus. And no doubt chapter 4 verse 1 mentioning the seducing spirits and doctrine of demons would include some speaking against the truth concerning Christ.
So here we are in the Ephesian church founded by Paul, three years of his life invested there, godly leadership; and only a few years have passed, and already they have begun to see the attack on the very heart of their message: the person and work of Jesus Christ. And so, we have to go back to the basics.
Basic number one, our mission is to hold up the word of God. Basic number two, the heart of that word of God is the message of Jesus Christ. And we must affirm who He is and what He has done again and again and again. That’s what we exist to do. A church can get very busy doing a lot of other things, and be all around the barn but never in. And we want to be where God wants us to be with the message of Christ.
Verse 16 then, let’s look at it together and see the heart of the message of the church. It is a magnificent six-line hymn, built all around the person of Christ and primarily looking at His death, resurrection, and the events that follow that. But let’s begin at the beginning of verse 16 with the phrase in the Authorized. It says, “And without controversy.” The actual word used in the Greek is homologeō, a very familiar word in the New Testament. It means “to confess.” Literally homo from which we get homogeneous, or homogeneous rather, or homogenize. Means “the same.” So we are to say the same. That’s what this verb means: “saying the same thing,” “saying the same.”
So to translate it that way, we read this: “And all say the same thing.” In other words, “Everybody agrees about this. This is by common consent, an affirmation, a confession of the whole church, the unanimous conviction of all believers, everybody agrees on the heart of Christian truth, it is this: great is the mystery of godliness, great is the mystery of godliness.”
Now just what is that phrase intended to say? Go back with me to Acts chapter 19, let me show you a most fascinating comparison. In Acts 19, and verse 28, we’re in Ephesus again, only we’re there before the church was really started. We’re there when Paul first preached and started a riot, and everybody in town was involved in paganism. We’re there when they were worshiping Diana or Artemis, that pagan god of the moon, god of fertility, or goddess; it was both male and female. And here we find a common cry in verse 28 that people started screaming, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” Over in verse 34 it says, “They kept doing that for two hours, screaming out, ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians!’”
Now go back to 1 Timothy. It may well be that Paul is reacting to that kind of common cry heard throughout the years in Ephesus with a new cry, and he says, “Here’s one thing all believers agree on: great is the mystery of godliness.” Here is a truly great reality, far beyond the cultic cry of pagan Ephesians which is to be repudiated: great is the mystery.
The word “mystery,” I’ve told you many times, means “something hidden in time past, now revealed in the New Testament.” I like to think of it as “a sacred secret now revealed.” So we can say, “Great is the sacred secret now revealed concerning godliness, concerning piety.” It could be piety, holiness, devotion, or even the word “religion” used in the right sense, the proper sense fits eusebeia, which is the Greek word used here.
The idea here is “great is the sacred secret of our saving faith in Christ.” He is the heart of godliness. He is the heart of holiness. It is a phrase not unlike the one in verse 9, “The sacred secret of the faith, the mystery of the faith.” Here, “The mystery of godliness,” the faith and godliness really being parallel. Our faith is basically a faith intended to produce godliness, a faith built on the godliness of the Lord Jesus Christ.
So, “Great” – he says – “is the sacred secret now revealed concerning godliness bound up in Jesus Christ.” He is our faith. He is the source of our godliness. He is the one at the center of all that we believe. God’s redemptive plan is built in Christ.
In fact, it defines it that way. “Great is the sacred secret now revealed concerning godliness. He who” – would be the next word in the Greek, hos. And the preposition “He who” really describes godliness. It really describes the godly one at the center of all that we believe. “Great is He who is the source of true godliness, the one now revealed in the new covenant, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
That’s the cry of the church. The cry of the pagans, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” The cry of the church, “Great is the mystery of godliness. That’s our message; that’s what we proclaim.” When the Ephesians paraded in and out of the temple and went through their worship, they cried, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” That was their evangelism. That was their proclamation.
Ours is “Great is the sacred secret of godliness now revealed in Jesus Christ.” That’s our message. That’s the heart of everything we do. And we can spend a lot of time doing a lot of other things and ignoring this one thing, and thus betray the heart of the message of the church.
Now let’s look at the hymn itself, because it gives us an outline to understand the work of Christ that is to be proclaimed. Six third-person singular aorist verbs; and because of such uniformity, because of such rhythm and such parallelism, it’s very apparent that this is a hymn; and in the Greek language carries the rhyme and the rhythm and the parallelism that appears to be there even in English, and even in a more simple sense in the Greek.
Would you notice that it has some parallels in it? The phrases are very much the same. But the parallels would be between flesh and Spirit. The second parallel between angels and men, or nations. The third parallel between the world and glory. Flesh and Spirit, nations and angels, world and glory. Contrasts, in a sense, between earth and heaven, aren’t they? The weak flesh of human life, the strong Spirit of the eternal person of Christ; the heavenly angels, the earthly nations; the world below, the glory above – a series of parallels.
Now as I said to you, the subject is – the term in the Greek hos or hos, which means “He.” Literally could mean “He.” Here we would say, “He who,” because it makes better sense. Your Authorized Version has the word “God.” That does appear in some manuscripts. But all manuscripts older than the seventh century and all the best manuscripts of any century all have hos, which has the idea of “He who” rather than God.
We assume then that at a later date, some scribe put “God” in there, trying to emphasize the incarnation a little bit; and it’s true, but it just doesn’t appear in the older manuscripts. So we would translate it “He who,” and then it goes on to give six statements about the heart of our faith, the Lord Jesus Christ.
First of all, let’s look together. And this is just review for those of us who know Christ and know His word, but a happy and wonderful review it is. And if you find yourself a bit indifferent, or if it all sounds a little common and familiar, it may well be a commentary on where your heart is in terms of an intimate love for Christ and spirit of gratitude for this that He has done for you and for all of us.
First of all, “He who was manifest in the flesh.” A couple of things to note about that. God became man is the issue here. God came in human form. The word made manifest, phaneroō, means “to make visible.” It does not mean “to bring into existence,” or “to create.” It means “to make visible.” And it speaks then of Jesus Christ in His pre-existent reality. He pre-existed, but was not visible. He took on visible human form. Flesh means “human form.” He made the invisible God who is a transcendent Spirit become visible.
Look back at chapter 1, verse 17: “Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible.” Chapter 6, verse 16, it says of Christ that “He has immortality; He dwells in light which no one can approach, no man has seen nor can see.” So God in His spirit form is invisible, unapproachable; invisible, unapproachable. And God became visible in Jesus Christ.
Colossians 1 says He is the image of the invisible God. He is the image of the invisible God. It says in Hebrews 1 He is the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of His person. Jesus, the man, is God in flesh, God in flesh. In Hebrews chapter 9, an interesting statement is made there that just affirms this. Verse 26 says, “He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”
He always was; He always existed. In John 17 He prays to the Father to return Him to the glory that He had with Him before the world began. He always existed. “Before Abraham was, I am,” He said. He said, “If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father.” He is the eternal Christ, made visible in human flesh in His incarnation.
Now a word about flesh. That is not the flesh of Romans 7, sinful flesh; that is simply the flesh of humanness. Galatians 4:4, “In the fullness of time, God brought forth His Son, made of a woman,” that human flesh. John 1 says, “In the beginning was the Word,” – Christ – “ the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” verse 1. And then in verse 14 it says, “And the Word became” – what? – “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.”
The One who is the invisible God became man made visible. “He was made” – Romans 1:3 says – “of the seed of David according to the flesh.” From the fleshly side, He was a man born into the line of David from the loins of Mary. But He was God made visible, God made visible. He literally took upon Himself, Philippians 2 says, the fashion of a man, the form of a man, and thought it not something to hold onto to exist in His pre-incarnate state of equality with God, but willingly took on human form.
He became then one of us, is not ashamed to call us brother, it says in Hebrews. He was tempted like as we are, understood the temptation that comes against human flesh. He is therefore a high priest who can be touched with the feelings of our infirmities. Hebrews 2:14 says He was a partaker of flesh and blood.
Now this is not to say that He was sinful, this is to say that He was human. And you can be human and not sinful. Every one of us in this room has had a few moments like that when we were human and not sinful. All of His moments were like that. He understood the frailty of humanness: its tears, its sadness, its hunger and thirst, its pain, and even its death; but not its sin. “He was in all points tempted like as we are,” – Hebrews 4:15 says – “yet without sin.”
Who is Jesus Christ? God manifest in the flesh, God coming into the world in human form to die for man the death of sin. And that, of course, is the point at which all the cults and isms attack the truth. Whether the Mormons, or Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Christian Science, or whoever else it might be, the attack always comes on the person of Jesus Christ, denying that He is God in human flesh.
Secondly, and very importantly, He was justified in the Spirit, justified in the Spirit. “Justified,” dikaioō; we get the word “righteous” from it. It means “to be declared righteous.”
And I believe the best way to understand this initially is, that in His flesh He was human. In His Spirit He was divine. He was declared to be righteous with respect to His spiritual nature. He was human, yes, in the flesh, but divine, yes, in the Spirit. His human spirit, His spiritual character, spiritual nature, whatever you want to call it, the person living within that physical body was perfectly righteous. And that is why the Father said, “This is My beloved Son,” – Matthew 3:15 – “in whom I am well pleased.”
He needed no Savior. He needed no redeemer. For He was, according to 1 John 2:1, “Jesus Christ the righteous.” What a great title: Jesus Christ the righteous.
And as I said, in Hebrews 4:15, “In all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 5:9, “Being made perfect, He became the author of eternal salvation.” Hebrews 7:26, “He was a high priest who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, higher than the heavens; who needs not any high priest to make a sacrifice for Him.” Why? Because His Spirit was righteous, His Spirit was righteous. Hebrews 9:14, “He presented Himself without spot to God. He presented Himself without spot to God.” Absolutely spotless, perfect, flawless, without sin.
Second Corinthians 5:21, “He who knew no sin became sin for us.” First Peter 2:23 says that when He was reviled, He did not revile back. It says, “He did no sin, neither was any deceit found in His mouth.” “And the man who does not offend with his mouth,” – says James – “the same is a perfect man.”
In the flesh, human; in the Spirit, divine. In the flesh, man; in the Spirit, God: the perfect God-man. He was human, and yet He was divine. As to His human nature, He was man; as to His spiritual nature, He was holy God.
Now what does it mean specifically then, going back to our text, “justified in the Spirit”? Well, I already gave you what I think to be a very basic meaning, that He is justified in His spiritual nature. But some would say that this verse could also apply to the Holy Spirit, that He was also made to be righteous, or declared to be righteous by the Spirit; and that is true. Look for a moment at Romans chapter 1. And here you find a similar parallel.
Romans 1:3 says that “Jesus Christ our Lord was made of the seed of David according to the flesh.” He was human. He came through the line of David. He was, as to His flesh, in the family of David. But, “He was declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead.” And there I would say that it was His resurrection that was the affirmation that He was holy; and the Spirit of holiness, the Holy Spirit affirmed His holiness in the resurrection.
You say, “How so?” Well, if Jesus had had any sin in His life when He died on the cross He would have stayed – what? – dead. He never would have come out of the grave. If there had been any sin in His life for which He had to pay and there was no Savior for Him, He would have died and it was the end. The affirmation then of His perfect righteousness came when the Holy Spirit raised Him from the dead.
So He is holy and just in His spiritual nature as affirmed by the Holy Spirit. And it may well be that Paul’s intention here is to take both into consideration when he simply says, “justified in the Spirit,” – justified in His own Spirit, which would also be with a capital S, for He is God; and justified by the Holy Spirit in the declaration of His righteousness made when He was raised from the dead, proving He had died in perfect holiness for the sins of others, and did not have to pay for any sins of His own. He is righteous. So when you look at Jesus Christ, there’s no flaw in Him. There’s no flaw in Him. He is perfectly righteous.
A foolish man asked a foolish question of someone I spoke to this week. He was trying to tell him about Christ, and this man said, “Didn’t God produce Jesus through Mary?” And this sort of unsuspecting person said, “Yes.” He said, “Then isn’t God an adulterer? Didn’t God commit adultery with Joseph’s wife or fornication if they weren’t yet married officially? And doesn’t that make Jesus an illegitimate child? And how can I worship any God who is an adulterer and produces a child out of wedlock?”
The folly of that is one thing, the blasphemy of it is something again; serious to consider. God is an infinitely holy and pure God. A man is an absolute fool to assume that God in His creative power creating a seed in the body of Mary, God who is a spirit in no way could cohabitate in some physical way with Mary who was a human being. The very idea betrays a wicked, evil heart, and also a lack of reason.
God is a holy God, and in absolute holiness produced a holy child who is called the Holy Child Jesus; and He too, being absolutely holy because He possesses the nature of God, did not sin, nor could He sin; that’s called the impeccability of Christ. He could not sin, because His nature was righteous. And so He is both man in the flesh, and God in the Spirit, the perfect God-man. As man, He comes to die for man; as God, He is victorious over death; for He does not die, for He has no sin; and in His living, secures our salvation. So the idea then of the flesh and Spirit of Christ take us to the cross, and we see the combination of His humanness and deity in the cross as He substitutes, for us and is the victor over sin and hell and death.
Notice the third thing it says in this hymn: “seen by angels.” Horaō is the Greek word. It means “to see,” “to visit,” “to observe,” “to look after.” It could be the idea of being attendant to; and that’s true. Through His life and ministry the angels observed, and watched, and visited, and looked over Him, and attended to Him.
That was true at His birth. They were there announcing His birth to His earthly father, or step-father, Joseph. They were there telling the shepherds. The angels were a part of His birth, Matthew 1, Matthew 2. The angels were in their particular role as servants to Him throughout His life. They were there to assist Him in His temptation. After He came out of that, the angels came, and in a wonderful way did minister to Him. They are not always mentioned as being a part of the ongoing ministry of Christ, but there’s little doubt in anyone’s mind that they were there serving Him.
When He went into the garden to pray in Luke 22:43, an angel from heaven came and strengthened Him. And we could say, “Well, the angels, yes, He was seen by angels through His life and His ministry, and through the times of His greatest need. And they were there when they needed to be there in those times of weakness; they were there and would have been there if He had called on them.” He said to Pilate, “If I ask God, He’ll give me legions of them.” But the best way to see this is not to see the angels in a broad sense attending to His birth and His temptation and His ministry and so forth, but to see that in His death, which is the focal point of this passage, as He goes to the cross to die, He is seen by the angels.
What do we mean by that? Well, first of all, even the fallen angels. In 1 Peter chapter 3, it says, “Christ suffered for sins, the just for the unjust,” – there’s that same idea of His righteousness – “in order to bring us to God,” – it says – “He was put to death in the flesh, but He was alive in the Spirit;” – His body was dead, His Spirit was alive. His body was dead as His Spirit was alive – “by which He went down and preached” – or proclaimed a triumph – “to the spirits in prison.” And it goes to describe them and says, “He is now gone into heaven, on the right hand of God; angels, authorities, powers being made subject to Him.”
Now here’s the thought. When Jesus died on the cross, His body was dead, His Spirit descended into the place where demons are bound – demons who sinned during the time of Noah and have been in everlasting chains. He went down there and proclaimed a triumph over them. The demons that aren’t bound in chains in the pit, they knew He was dying on the cross; they were right there, they could see all of that. The ones that it might miss, He went right down into the pit and announced His triumph. While His body was dead, His Spirit was alive. He went back again, and you remember, rose from the dead after that.
Colossians 2:14 says that He, having spoiled principalities and powers, made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in His death. On the cross, He triumphed over the hosts of hell, He triumphed over the fallen angels, He triumphed over the bound angels who were locked in the pit and couldn’t get up to the earth to see what was going on. He went and announced the victory over them. So there on the cross He was seen by fallen angels, and He was seen in all of His wonder and glory as the victor over sin and death and hell.
He was also seen by the holy angels. The holy angels, they were there, they were a part of that. Matthew chapter 28, there was a great earthquake. An angel of the Lord descended from heaven, came, rolled back the stone from the door and sat on it. His countenance, or face, was like lightning; his clothing white as snow; and for fear of him the keepers did shake and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said to the women, “Fear not.” And you know the story. The angel was there.
When later on His tomb became available and they went in to see, they could see angels there. The angels attended the resurrection, they were a part of it. You read about it in Mark 16, you read about it in Luke 24, John chapter 20. The angels also were there later on when He launched things in the book of Acts, and the disciples saw Him going away; and there He was going in the presence of the holy angels.
But what it’s saying is that when Jesus came into the world in human flesh, spiritually He was God, humanly He was man, went to the cross and died, and in His death He triumphed over all angelic beings. The holy angels are in awe and worship Him. The fallen angels are in awe and despise Him; but they are defeated. The whole angelic host saw the wonder of His death and resurrection. And all angels are made subject to Him in that glorious work on the cross.
And so the hymn says the One who is man, the One who is God, came to the cross as the perfect God-man, died in our behalf and the behalf of all, and was seen by the hosts of angels, holy and fallen, who hold in awe the work that He has done, whether they adore Him in their holiness or hate Him in their evil.
The hymn goes on to a fourth: “preached among the nations.” After His resurrection, after His triumph over the angels, after His exaltation in the eyes of the holy angels, after the holy angels celebrated His resurrection and the fallen angels cursed it, He was preached among the nations. You remember that He met with His disciples before His ascension, and He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” He said, “You shall be witnesses unto Me in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost part of the earth.” He told them to go and preach His name across the world. There was to be no nation left without the hearing of the gospel: “Preach to every creature.” He commanded that His name and His work be preached.
And then, of course, He had ordained apostles, which means “sent ones,” and sent them out. They knew from the very beginning they would be fishers of men. They knew from the very beginning that it wouldn’t just be Jews, it would also be Gentiles. After all, He first disclosed who He was to a half-breed Samaritan woman. He Himself ministered over the border into Gentile territory. He ministered at great length in what was known as Galilee of the Gentiles. He would be the Savior of the whole world.
And so, after dying on the cross said that His name was to be proclaimed to all the nations. This is not a Jewish sect, this is not a Jewish religion; this is a truth that goes to every person across the face of the earth. And we there find our mandate, don’t we? This Christ, this God-man, victorious at the cross, triumphant over all of the other great, glorious, powerful beings of the universe, the holy and fallen angels, has said we are to go and preach His name unto the nations of the world.
The next thing the hymn says, very simply, “believed on in the world.” The preaching resulted in faith, it resulted in salvation. The first time the gospel was preached in Jerusalem after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the first time it was publicly preached, three thousand people believed, and three thousand people continued in faith in the life of the church, Acts 2:42 says. There had been belief already.
Go to the gospel of John if you want an interesting study, and just find the word “believe” every time it’s there, and you’ll read starting in chapter 2, and then 4, and then 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 17, chapter 20, and many places in those chapters they believed, they believed, they believed, they believed. There had already been many to believe, but he’s referring particularly here to the post-resurrection proclamation and its response.
And we know what it was like. By the time you get to Acts 4, there are thousands more, maybe twenty-thousand plus. Then you go to chapter 8, the church is persecuted, it’s scattered. Philip takes the gospel to the Samaritans; there’s a great revival there, and they’re being saved. Then an Ethiopian eunuch gets saved. The next thing you know a Gentile gets saved named Cornelius. And then Paul is off on his missionary journey, and multitudes are saved as the word of God is spread across the then known world.
Jesus Christ, manifest in the flesh, righteous in the Spirit, triumphant over the angels who saw Him in His death and resurrection, when preached on unto the nations will be believed on in the world. What a confident hope that is. We are to preach Christ.
And then, finally, after His resurrection, after His triumph, after His call for preaching, after the affirmation of faith that would come, He ascended into heaven, “received up into glory.” Look at Acts 1 for a brief moment.
Acts 1:9, “And when He had spoken these things, while they beheld,” – that is the disciples who were there with Him – “He was taken up,” – He ascended – “and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they were looking steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, two men stood by them in white apparel,” – here are two holy angels – “and they said, ‘You men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing into heaven? The same Jesus taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as you have seen Him go into heaven.’”
There they were with angels. The disciples see the angels; Jesus is taken up into heaven. Why is that important? Because it means that God is pleased, right? God is pleased with the work of Christ. Hebrews 1 sets it straight. It very simply says that, “When He had purged our sins, He sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high, being made so much better than the angels, as He had by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” And He calls on all the angels to worship Him.
In full-cycle Christ has come. From heaven, He was manifest in the flesh, did His perfect work, called to be preachers, the apostles, and all the rest who believed; told them to declare His name and people would trust in Him; and then ascended back into heaven. And going back into heaven, the Father was saying, “I highly exalt Him. I give Him a name above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue should confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father,” Philippians 2:8 and following says.
Now there’s the gospel. God came into the world, took on human form, died on the cross for you and me. Triumphed over hell and all its hosts, so that they are not a victorious foe. Went back into glory of heaven, and left us to preach to the world.
What is the heart of the mission of the church? To hold forth the word of life. And what is the heart of that word? The heart of that word is Jesus Christ. Great is the sacred secret now revealed concerning godliness, even Jesus Christ who provided godliness, righteousness for us in His death and resurrection. He is the heart of our message. Whatever else we do, this is the most needful thing. And whenever you communicate Christ to someone, whenever you talk about the gospel or you witness, this is the issue right here: you want to talk about Jesus Christ.
When I was in New York City with our young people, I spent a session on a Monday morning with them at Calvary Baptist Church across the street from Carnegie Hall. And just sharing with them what to expect as they hit the street, to pass out tens of thousands of tracts and witness to people, “What do you look for, and how can you give people an answer? And how do you know you’re going to be able to handle everything that’s going to come? And all you really have to do is just accept the very core of what our message is and that’s to go out into all the world and announce the truth of Jesus Christ. You don’t have to deal in every other issue.”
People throw up smoke screen, after smoke screen after, smoke screen, even to me. And I don’t get myself into all those discussions, though I might be better able to say than you; I keep going back to Christ: “Well, what about Jesus Christ? Well, who is Jesus Christ? Well, what about His death and resurrection? Are you interested in the forgiveness of sin? Do you want eternal life? Are you interested in facing an infinitely holy God and being let into His heaven, or would you just as soon go to hell?” I mean, those are the basic issues: back to Christ, back to Christ, back to Christ. He is the message. What did Paul say? “We preach Christ crucified.”
There was an old church in England. It had a motto across the front, as old churches do over there: “We preach Christ crucified.” And also, as often happens in England, ivy grows. And the ivy grew, and after a while it said, “We preach Christ.” And the ivy grew, and after a while it said, “We preach.” And the ivy grew, and the church died, and well it should if Christ is not preached. Let’s bow together in prayer.
In this moment of silent prayer, time for you to examine your own heart this morning. Do you love the Lord Jesus Christ? Is your desire to serve Him, to honor His name, to bring Him glory? Have you received the salvation which He graciously offers all those who come to Him in faith? If so, thank Him. Thank Him and praise Him for what He’s done. He who came into the world and returned to the Father’s glory, commended for having wrought a perfect salvation has become your Savior, not by anything you have done or could have done, but by His own grace. Thank Him.
If you do not know Christ as Lord and Savior, if you’ve not received Him as your own, if you have not called upon Him to forgive your sin and control your life with His loving lordship, if you’ve not done that, right now in your heart invite Jesus Christ to be the Lord of your life, your Savior, the one who died and rose for you. Those of us who are Christians ought to ask God for opportunity to give the gospel, to speak a word, to lead someone to Christ; for that is the heart of our message. And we ought to pray for our church, that it would never ever have the ivy grow, so to speak, over the message that God wants us to give.
Father, do Your work in every heart; and with thanksgiving, we praise You. Amen.
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