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Catechism Class – The Mystery of Godliness!

10/05/2021

The Mystery of Godliness! Lord’s Day 5, Q15

 Jesus is God.  Jesus is a Man. Jesus is ONE PERSON. 

Jesus was God and man in one person, that God and man might be happy together again.

George Whitfield

READ:  1st Timothy 3:16

Catechism Reference: Lord’s Day 5Q/A 15 What kind of mediator and redeemer, then, must we seek? One who is a true and righteous man, and yet more powerful than all creatures, that is, one who is also true God.

We must be able, ready and willing to confess the true humanity and true divinity of Christ, that He is two distinct natures in one person forever.  This is vital, because his divine offices of prophet, priest and king are all dependent upon the fact of his person.  Furthermore, his saving work demands that we confess this doctrine.  For:-

  1. If Jesus is not fully human, then how could He have perfectly fulfilled the law on our behalf?  Done what we so miserably failed to do, and the represented us on the Cross?  
  2. If He is not fully divine, how could he have borne the weight and awfulness of the sins of mankind?
  3. If He is not fully human and fully divine, how then could he have taken upon himself the role of the mediator, the Daysman, so longed for by Job?

So, there you are – I have stated it.  Now, can you help me to understand it?  If your answer is ‘NO, I simply cannot work that one out!’ then you are not only honest, but you are in very good company indeed!  Listen to the words of the Apostle Paul.  And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh

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1. The Mystery of Godliness

 Now, what is the mystery of Godliness?  It is CHRIST!  We cannot by our own minds, reason out the doctrine of the trinity – the eternal three in one and one in three, ONE GOD in three distinct persons, his incarnation, how God brought about his sinless birth, by the Virgin Mary, how he was both fully man, and fully God, two distinct natures in ONE INDIVISIBLE person, for ever!  Let’s look at our text for a moment or two:-

  1. We serve a LIVING GOD.  the house of God, which is the church of the living God.  
  2. The Church is the REPOSITORY/THE DEFENDER OF TRUTH!  I would be so bold as to assert that it is the only repository of absolute truth, and that the truth it defends is not its traditions or its councils or even its creeds.  It is the absolute truth of the written word of God – the Bible.
  3. There are some things we are not MEANT to understand!  God has revealed to us sufficient truth for our salvation and our sanctification.  There is only so much that our human minds can work out, can comprehend, so there must be a vast amount of information about this world, this Universe, about God and His plans and purposes that we will understand only when we arrive in Glory.  Right now it is a mystery!   The word mystery in Greek (μυστηριον) simply means God’s hidden purpose or will.  There is enough truth revealed, to satisfy our quest for truth, and to point to us the way of salvation.

So, in the verse we see:-

  • It is not controversial to admit that the mystery is beyond us!  The word here for ‘without controversy’ is used to indicate that we ALL have the same difficulty when it comes to the Person of Christ.  We can tell you what it is, but we can’t hope to work it out.   It is beyond us! 
  • It is a great mystery!  Great is the mystery!  This statement is not just doctrinal, it is apologetic.  It is a defence of the faith.  Paul is writing to Timothy who at that time is the local pastor in the church at Ephesus.  Ephesus was dominated by a huge pagan temple, – the temple of Diana / Artemus. Acts 19:34  To the rioting Ephesians proclaiming ‘Great is Diana of Ephesus’ Paul says, Great is the Mystery of Godliness!  Diana is a statue, whose religion is a debased immorality. Christ is God incarnate in the flesh, crucified, risen ascended and glorified and soon returning Saviour of mankind.
  • It is a godly mystery! This is a mystery that will lead you into godliness.  It is designed by God, to induce Godliness in us  – and that makes it different from the mystery religions of the Gentiles –  Paul talks of those mysteries in 2 Thessalonians 2:7  
  • It is a Christ-centred mystery! In fact Paul makes it clear here, in the form of a hymn or a statement of faith, that every area of Christ’s life is to some extent, too much for us to work out.  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.  From Christ’s incarnation, to His ascension and glorification, great is the mystery of Godliness! (Arn’t you looking forward to meeting Christ in heaven?  To understand it all better?)

2. Beyond Human Reasoning!

Do you know, if God has chosen not to reveal this to us, it is not our business to pry into it!  We must not attempt to rationalise this doctrine by means of human wisdom alone.  We are not meant to rationalise it, we are to BELIEVE it, as it is laid out for us in Scripture. In 1 Cor 4:6. Paul warns us about going beyond what the Scripture teaches us: I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favour of one against another. Attempts to rationalise this doctrine have led to some of the most damning Christological errors.  It was because of all these errors that the Church was forced to systematise it’s teaching on the Person of Christ at the Council of Chalcedon in 451AD.  At Chalcedon, the church didn’t try to rationalise the mystery of two distinct natures in One Person, but rather stopped us from doing so, and thus falling into grievous error.   

3. Never to be Neglected!

So, here is a great and important truth.  God was manifest in the flesh.  God/Man.  Jesus was a complete human being. A Man.  Yet he was God.  Completely divine.  Even though we can’t fully explain that, we can’t ignore it either! This is SO important for us.  It is always easy to claim that we do not need to hear sermons or attend Bible Studies on such difficult aspects of theology.  History teaches us that neglect of doctrine is never neutral, it always leads to error, and doctrinal error is deadly for the soul.  The fact of Christ’s Person, his two distinct natures in one person is so VITAL that even if we can’t fully grasp it, we must believe it and rest in it.

© Bob McEvoy May 2021

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