God’s Manifold Wisdom
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God’s Manifold Wisdom

Ephesians 3:10  (ID: 3192)

Paul preached that God’s divine plan for all ages is centered on Jesus Christ and is being declared by His church. If we think of the world as a theatre, God is the director, the spectators are the hosts of heaven, the play is the manifold wisdom of God, and the players are His church. Focusing our attention on Ephesians 3:10, Alistair Begg helps listeners understand that it is through the church that God’s purposes are made known as we point to the perfect display of God’s wisdom in the cross of Christ.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Ephesians, Volume 4

The Mystery of the Gospel Ephesians 3:1–21 Series ID: 14904

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn with me to Ephesians and to chapter 3, and we’ll read from verse 7 to verse 13. Ephesians 3:7:

“Of this gospel,” Paul writes, “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, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.”


Father, we have sung of our confidence in your Word, and because we know that it always accomplishes its purposes, we turn to it with a great sense of expectation. Meet us, Lord, where we are, we pray. You know us. You made us. You know exactly where we stand in these things. We look to you in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Well, our verse for this morning is verse 10. You can see that it follows on from verse 9; there’s a comma at the end of verse 9, and 10 begins, “so that”: “so that through the church…” Paul has been reminding himself and telling the Ephesians that when it comes to being a minister of the gospel, he’s absolutely amazed that he would have been entrusted with this privilege, because he regarded himself as not being an obvious choice.

You see there, he describes himself in verse 8 as “the very least of all the saints.” But God’s grace was shown to him, his power was established in him, and so he was enabled “to preach to the Gentiles,” he says in verse 8, “the unsearchable riches of Christ,” and then at the same time “to bring to light for everyone”—notice, this was not exclusive to Jew or to gentile but “for everyone”—“what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things.” The creator God has a plan from all of eternity. And Paul was aware of the fact that he had both received a divine revelation, to which he refers to in verse 3 (“[this] mystery was made known to me by revelation”), and he had at the same time received a divine commission, which is really at the head of verse 7 (“Of this gospel I was made a minister”).

Now, I think it’s very, very important that we understand that as he thinks about this light shining out from him as he’s given this commission to the world, we remind ourselves that this is exactly what had happened to him. In other words, God’s light is not about to shine through those who have not been illumined by the very light of God itself.

Now, if you turn just for a moment—and I won’t ask you to turn a lot of places—but I think it’s helpful to turn to Acts chapter 26 so that we might remind ourselves of Paul’s testimony that he gives before King Agrippa and does with such clarity that nobody’s in any doubt about it. And we’ll just read a couple of verses, 17 and 18. And this is him explaining to Agrippa that in his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road, he was told that Jesus had “appeared to [him] for [the] purpose, to appoint [him] as a servant and [as a] witness to the things which you[’ve] seen me and to those in which I will appear to you”—and then here we go, verse 17—“delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you”—to do what?—“to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”

God’s light is not about to shine through those who have not been illumined by the very light of God itself.

Now, it would be possible for us to stop there and spend the rest of our time on that this morning. The light of the gospel has shone into the heart of Saul of Tarsus. It has shone both externally, as it were—such a bright light that it has blinded him and brought him to the ground—but that light is actually smaller than the eternal light that is shown into his heart. And now he realizes that when he goes out to proclaim this unsearchable gospel to the gentiles and to proclaim this light for everyone, it is in order that their eyes may also be opened.

Let’s just acknowledge that by nature, our eyes are closed. We are by nature blind. It’s not that we are here this morning as a group of individuals, and all of us are in the same capacity. By nature, our eyes are closed to the truth of God. Therefore, they need to be opened. We live in the darkness and are in need of the light. We are bound up in the realm of Satan and of his wrongful desires and designs, and we are in need of the forgiveness of our sins.

Now, clearly, this is something far more than simply deciding that we would like to become a little more spiritual than we have been in the past, or we would like to get a little church into our lives, or we would like to rearrange our moral compass and so on. What is being described here is something not that we do to put ourselves in a right position with God but what God has done in Christ to put us in a right position with him—that the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.[1] And that light has shone into the darkness of Saul’s heart, and now he is preaching in such a way that others might understand the mystery of God’s dealings and that they might believe the gospel.

And when a man or a woman believes the gospel, when a man or a woman is changed by the power of the gospel, then it actually changes everything. It doesn’t change necessarily the way you tie your shoes or the way you work as an engineer in your office or whatever it might be, but it changes our view of the world dramatically—for some of us far more than others. Some of us have been living perhaps with a very cynical view of history, for example. We liked when we read that Henry Ford described history as bunk, that he said that he didn’t care if Napoleon wanted to come here. He didn’t care what happened five hundred or a thousand years ago, he said: “I just don’t care about any of that. All I care about now is that you buy a Model T Ford. And you can have any color you want, as long as it is black.” That’s what we know him for: “History is bunk, and any color as long as is black.” Well, of course, he’s not alone in that kind of notion. Some of us, because we didn’t like history at school and because of the way it was taught, have concluded that that is the case. But when we become Christians, all of a sudden, we get a peculiar interest in history.

Some have actually been rather nihilistic and atheistic in our perspective. You may be here this morning, and you find yourself sitting happily, as it were, in the company of some of the modern atheists of our time—fellows like [Richard Dawkins], who writes in one place, “If there is no God”—which, of course, he believes there isn’t—“if there is no God and we have evolved by chance through millions of years, then everything that happens, good or bad, must be viewed as simply the result of random, pitiless indifference.”[2] In other words, there is no why question, because there is no one to whom we may pose the question. It’s a lot like Einstein, actually, in his “Credo,” where he says, “What a strange thing it is that here we all are, here by chance, with no notion of how we came to be here or where we’re going. We’re just eating and drinking and eking out our time, trying to make sense of everything.”[3] And that is at a fairly high level. If you go down to a very low level, you can go to the ’60s and go to the Kinks, and you’ll get the same thing from them. Remember “We’re living on dead-end street”? That’s how it finished: about twelve times in a row, “We’re living on dead-end street. We’re living on dead-end street.” It begins along the lines of “What am I living for? A two-roomed apartment on the second floor. I mean, what is this about?”[4] And it is an understandable quest.

And what the Bible says is that when we understand that Jesus is the focal point of history, that he is the center and the circumference of everything, that he is the Alpha and he is the Omega, that he is the beginning of the end,[5] that he is the ascended King, he is the reigning Lord, that “in him all things hold together,”[6] then suddenly, we have a dramatically different view of the way in which, for example, the unfolding drama of our political campaign fits into the framework of things.

Now, the contrast, you see, between that kind of nihilism expressed by Hawking and the confidence expressed by Paul, representing the Christian, is quite dramatic. For example, if you just go back to the first page of Ephesians: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, … he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.”[7] Where am I, and where do I fit into the universe? And what has he done? Go down to verse 9: “making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”

“No,” you say, “but surely Stephen Hawking was a very clever man, was he not?” Well, there is no doubt that he was a very clever man. “Well then, shouldn’t we just bow to his intellectual capacity? He’s brighter than you, Begg, by a long way. I mean, we listened to you for years. You don’t even know how to calculate the circumference of a circle, and he’s a theoretical physicist. I mean, what do you know?”

Well, if it were on human wisdom, there’s no question, but that’s what Paul had to find out himself. He writes to the Corinthians, “The word [that we preach] is [foolishness] to those who are perishing”; to those “who are being saved it[’s] the power of God. [Because] it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’”[8] That doesn’t mean God sets aside human wisdom. God is behind every scientific discovery for the good of man. God is behind the whole progression of the arts. No. “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where[’s] the debater of this age?” (“Step forward,” he says.) “Has[n’t] God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”[9]

So, in actual fact, irrespective of your intellectual capacity this morning, there is no one in heaven or on earth more privileged than you or me as a humble believer—because we have, by God’s grace, come to understand the depth of this great mystery. You see, this changes everything: that God, from all of eternity, his plan and his pattern was not Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, but it was actually Christ in the gospel; that according to the eternal counsel of his will, he was going to unite all things in heaven and on earth.[10]

And now Paul is telling the Ephesians here how this is working out, and particularly in relationship to the hosts of the angels. He has revealed himself in his church. It is in his church that his power is displayed, the power that raised him from the dead. It is in the church that his grace is made obvious. It is now in the church where his wisdom is set forward. And that’s our verse: “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known.” “Now.” Previously, this was “hidden for [the] ages” but “now made known.” To whom? “To the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”

Now, when I was mugging this stuff up, I read John Stott, and he had a wonderful little analogy that so fixed in my mind that I decided, “That’s fine. I can’t improve on it; I will use it.” Okay? So this is what he says: he says the world is the theater in which God is at work. And what we have here are the spectators—namely, the rulers and authorities. We have the play, written and directed by God, which is his manifold wisdom. And we have the players or the actors in the program—namely, the church.[11] Okay? So we’ll look at each of these in turn, and we’ll do it in reverse order. All right?

The Spectators

First of all, who are the spectators? To whom is this being made known? He says it’s being “made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” In other words, the angelic powers are spectators of the drama of salvation.

Now, let’s just pause and acknowledge, too, that here we are at a very advanced place in modern technology. Some of you are even using your phones right now as I speak, and hopefully to good end, but we have made tremendous advances. And here we are, a relatively sensible group of people, and we’ve all gathered together, and we’re turning to a book called the Bible. We’re going to read from a section of it which is written to a group of believers who lived in first-century Ephesus. What possible relevance could this have for us at all? After all, we are in the twenty-first century, and we’re in Cleveland. They were the first century, and they were in Ephesus. What are you doing? And furthermore, we are, you know, very advanced people. And you’re going to talk to us about angels and rulers and cosmic powers?

Yeah. Yeah. The reality of darkness, the reality of evil in our world that is expressed at a very baseline level is representative of the cosmic drama that takes place in the heavenly realms. It’s not our purpose this morning to delay on this, but… So when Paul says that the manifold wisdom of God was going to be revealed to the rulers and to the authorities, we have to determine whether the angels and authorities to whom he refers are the bad ones, as in chapter 6 and so on: “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against … spiritual wickedness in [the heavenly] places.”[12] If that is the case—and I don’t know if it is, because he doesn’t say; therefore, since the main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things, it would be wise for me not to make a dogmatic assertion as to the identity of these rulers and authorities—but to acknowledge that if it is that he has the bad ones in focus, then he is declaring to them they have the declaration that their activities have been dealt a death blow in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

And as they observe what is going on ever since the death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus, they are able to see that their days are numbered and their influence is ultimately limited, and they will be able to conclude that since Jesus, the ascended King, determined that he would build his church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it,[13] then they may be in this instance, in the now, coming to an understanding of that fact. After all, the angels were wanting to look into these things.

Having said that, I think that it is more likely that he has in mind the good angels—the angels who had been the companions of God in eternity, the angels who are described by Peter, in 1 Peter 1, as wishing they knew what salvation was really about. In 1 Peter, about verse 12 or so, he says, you know, “The prophets wrote about this.” “Concerning this salvation, the prophets [wrote].”[14] I think that’s it. And so he gives us a picture of the prophets—Isaiah and the others—standing on their tiptoes, as it were, looking over the horizon, looking into the future to see what will be the fulfillment of the things that they’re writing: “How will it work out that the chastisement of our peace was upon him?”[15] “Who will be this Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world?”[16] “What does this mean that he will be the great shepherd of the sheep?”[17] and so on. So the prophets are standing on their tiptoes looking forward. And then he has a second picture, and he says, “And the angels,” interestingly, “they’re hanging from the ceiling, as it were, they’re hanging from the ramparts, looking down, trying to get their heads around ‘What is going on with this salvation thing?’”

Now, in a quaint old hymn, you get something of an inkling of it. We’ve never sung this hymn, and in fact, I only know this one verse. It goes like this. Well, it goes something like this:

There is singing up in heaven
Such as we have never known,
[As] the angels sing [of victory]
[And] the Lamb upon the throne. …

But when [we] sing redemption’s story,
They will fold their wings,
For angels never knew the [joy]
That our salvation brings.[18]

So on Sunday nights when we sing, “Mine, mine, mine; I know thou art mine!”[19] the angels are nudging one another, as it were, and saying, “How does that work? That’s quite remarkable.”

The wisdom of God weaves through thousands of apparently unrelated threads one glorious pattern.

It’s an interesting exercise, isn’t it? First of all, to think of angels—good ones, bad ones, indifferent ones—and to think of them from this perspective. I imagine that when we sing a song like, every so often at Eastertime, “Who is he in yonder stall at whose feet the shepherds fall?” I think the angels would be nudging one another and going, “That’s exactly what we were thinking. I mean, we were dispatched to sing at his coming, but we’ve often said to one another, ‘What’s that deal?’ You’re talking about the Lord of glory shows up in a stable? How does this work?” “Who is he [who] on [the] tree dies in grief and agony?”[20] The angels are looking down, saying, “Is this the Lord of glory?” That the God, the second person of the Trinity, coequal, coeternal with the Father and the Spirit, has entered down into time? They, as it were, look down on the cruel scenes of the cross, where all hell has apparently triumphed over Christ, and they catch their breath. They are the spectators.

The Play

What is the play? Well, the play, written and directed by God, is “the manifold wisdom of God.” God’s wisdom is multicolored the way that flowers are multicolored. The beauty of the trees at the moment is just fantastic, isn’t it? Multicolored. Or your favorite embroidered cloth, or your wonderful woven carpet—that’s the kind of idea: the multivarious dimensions of God’s wisdom; the wisdom of God which weaves through thousands of apparently unrelated threads one glorious pattern.

You see, we’re very proud of ourselves and our wisdom by nature, aren’t we? We like to think that we know how things go. That’s why we’re always asking questions, and often sometimes rude questions. And really, you know, the questions that we ask are not as important as the questions the Bible asks about us. So, for example, “Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord, or what man shows him his counsel?”[21] Are you bigger and brighter than the God who created the heavens and the earth, who is weaving a thousand separate threads into a pattern and purpose so as to unite all things in heaven and on earth? That the things that you long for in the United Nations, that the things that you’re trying to do in your peace talks, that all the endeavors of man to try and make sense of our broken world and put it back together and restore it and fix it—have you ever thought to bow before “the manifold wisdom of God”? “Who taught [God] the path of justice[?] [Who] taught him knowledge[?] [Who] showed him the way of understanding? … The nations are like a drop from a bucket …. It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers.”[22] It’s great, isn’t it?

You know, I was in the airport the other day. You just stand and look at all those magazines. I mean, just, phew! I don’t know how you make money on that stuff, but anyway—it’s none of my business. But I just stand and look at it, and you got People magazine and Us magazine and Self magazine and Me magazine. And everybody’s up there, and you look at that and go, “Oh boy, it must be terrific to be to be to be one of those grasshoppers.”

He … sits above the circle of the earth,
 and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; …
[he] brings princes to nothing,
 [he] makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
 scarcely has their stem taken root [on] the earth,
when he blows on them, and they wither,
 and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

To whom then will you compare me [?]
 … says the Holy One.[23]

Now, you see, this is the great proclamation to the angelic host. “The manifold wisdom of God.” “Deep,” as Cowper says,

  in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up his bright [design]
And works his sovereign will.[24]

So that the mystery of his purposes are revealed throughout history. You can imagine the angels looking down and seeing, “Who did he choose, Abraham? Why’d he choose Abraham? He’s a pagan! Don’t you think he would have chosen a nice sort of good fellow? Wow, that’s weird. Now, who have we got next? Isaac and Ishmael. Oh! Jacob and Esau. Well, Esau’s a nice guy. He’s hairy. He’s a hairy guy. Jacob’s a smooth guy. Jacob’s a twister. Jacob’s always hanging around with his mom. Jacob is not the one you want, God. He’s a bad choice; I’m just telling you.” Since when did God consult with you about his choice?

See, what is God doing in the mystery of the unfolding drama? He’s actually pointing to the reality that ultimately dawns when the mystery hidden from the ages reaches its denouement, and he’s making clear that this God operates in such a way that he does not call the righteous, but he calls sinners to repentance.[25] And as you see the unfolding story, which finally reaches itself in the cross, then you realize the manifold wisdom of God.

When you look at the scene on the cross, it appears as though hell has won and heaven has lost. But Paul, when he writes to the Colossians, he says, “No, I know it looks like that.” He says, “But what he was doing on the cross was canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.”[26] None of us would be able to pay the debt we owe to God. We’re so messed up. We’ve loved so many other things, other than him. We haven’t loved him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Even if we were to spend the balance of our lives trying to redress the balance, our indebtedness is so huge. Well, what was he doing? Well, he was “canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.”[27] There was no record of debt against Jesus. Jesus kept the law to its T in its perfection. He had sinned never. So what he’s doing was he was setting it aside, “nailing it to the cross”—and listen to this—“disarm[ing] the rulers and authorities” and “put[ting] them to open shame, by triumphing over them.”[28]

In other words, he actually took the worst of evil against him and turned it on the heads of those who opposed him. In actual fact, it’s a bit like Joseph, isn’t it? “You intended this for evil, but God intended it for good.”[29] The manifold wisdom of God is such that for God to forgive sin, he has to do so in a manner that both declares his love and satisfies his justice. The forgiveness of sin is not an easy matter. It is not an easy matter for God, if we might say so reverently. Because he must now be true to himself as the God of love, and yet he must be true to himself as the one who has promised to execute his judgment upon sin. And in his manifold wisdom, he makes his own perfect, spotless Son to be our Sin-Bearer, so that he satisfies his perfect justice by executing his punishment on sin (that which we deserve) and declaring his love in the gift of Jesus (a forgiveness that we don’t deserve).

That’s why a hymn is so helpful, isn’t it?

How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure,
That he [would] give his only Son
To make a wretch his treasure.
How deep the pain of searing loss—
The Father turns his face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.[30]

In Sunday school terms, he was forsaken in order that we might be forgiven.

Now, the fact that you know that does not mean you have entered into the reality of it. If this truth dawns upon you, make it your own. Tell him from where you’re seated, “Oh, I get it. You died in my place. I know what I am, and you know what I am. What a mystery! What amazing wisdom, that you would be both true to yourself in the execution of your justice and in the amazing expression of your love.”

Now, let’s acknowledge again that to speak in this way is to speak in a way that’s not on the agenda of the average person. I say to you routinely—and I believe it sincerely—that the kind of spiritual vibe of our extended community that is represented in our congregation is largely this: we live in a community of people who regard themselves as quite nice—businessmen who are like the businessmen C. S. Lewis mentions in Mere Christianity. They have white starched cuffs. They have their initials on their cuffs. They have nicely lit corner offices. And he said they are nice men lost in their niceness[31]—so that the prevailing view is “If there is a God and he is a good God, he will reward nice people if they just try their best.” But loved ones, that falls down before the manifold wisdom of God, which finds its focus in the death of his Son.

In Corinth, when Paul went there, nobody actually was interested in this story. And nobody by nature is any more interested in it in Cleveland than they were in Corinth. In fact, he was aware of the fact that certain groups, certain people were asking for him to do sort of dramatic signs, and others were asking him to just really sound particularly wise and get involved with the rhetoric of the time and the understanding of philosophy and so on. In other words, they basically said to him, “Just show the people what they came to see. Just do for us what we’re asking.” And Paul says, “No, I can’t do that.” He says, “No, we have to preach Jesus Christ and him crucified, which is regarded as absolute folly to the gentile and as a stumbling block to the Jew.”[32]

The Players

Finally, the spectators are the angels; the play is the manifold wisdom of God and the players the church: “through the church.” This, I hope, really stirs you in a number of ways as this recurring theme is stirring me in these days.

What Paul is making clear here is that the church is the final expression of the wisdom of God, the thing above any other thing that enables the angels to comprehend God’s plan and purpose. That the church—that is, Church with a big C. So today, this is church with a small c, Parkside “church” (small c), which is part of Church (big C) as we go out through our community and as we go into the greater Cleveland community and into Ohio and beyond and on and on and on, and we go into the great, vast world that is out there. The “Church,” this great purpose of God, is the sphere in which God makes his wisdom known both on earth and in heaven.

Now, let that settle in your mind for just a moment—especially if you’re tempted to regard the church in contemporary terms. Men and women regard the church today… You know, it’s not uncommon to read the report that says, “You know, the church is on its way out. It is redundant. It is irrelevant. Millennials have no interest in the church. There will be no church in the next century,” and so on. Well, there’s nothing new in this. That’s been going on all the way along through history. And in contrast to those assertions, the Bible tells us that the church is the very center of God’s unfolding purpose in history. The church is.

The ‘Church,’ this great purpose of God, is the sphere in which God makes his wisdom known both on earth and in heaven.

Now, this, you see, ought to help you, again, with the elections. The church is the focus of God’s purpose in history—Church with a big C. Therefore, it is not the United States of America that is the focus of God’s purpose in history. We’re concerned. We’re citizens! But that’s not God’s concern. The nations—Isaiah 40—are like a drop in a bucket. Kings come, kings go. Presidents rise, presidents fall. No sooner are they planted than the wind blows over them and—gone. It makes perfect sense. That is not dismissive of the unfolding drama of political history, but it is so that the Christian person may see, “Oh, well, if that is the case, then, number one, this engagement with church with a small c ought to be increasingly important to me, increasingly precious to me, and my concern to see the planting of local churches should be a large part of my agenda.” And my desire to see Andrew James go down to Uruguay and be involved in planting churches in Uruguay is not because we have got some, you know, particular unique agenda for Parkside Church but because this is the focus of God’s purpose in the world. The church!

Now, it’s supposed to be, as it becomes what God wants it to be, multicultural, diverse, united, multigifted. It’s a new community. It’s a new society. It’s not a Jewish one. It’s not a gentile one. It’s the church one. He has made one new man out of the two.[33] So we ought not immediately to be down on ourselves if we don’t see church with a small c in Bainbridge, Ohio, for goodness’ sake. Where is Bainbridge? It’s not exactly the center of, you know, multicultural diversity; let’s just be honest. So we cannot chastise ourselves for not managing to become like the huge, variegated, multicultural picture of the church throughout the world. But we ought to know that deep in our hearts, we would if we could, and we will if we can. And we’re absolutely convinced about the fact that when God saves people, the issues of status and color and gender and race and all those things are obliterated in the gospel. It’s not like the person who comes from a Jewish background is no longer representative of Judaism (he is!) or that a gentile is no longer a gentile, or that a woman is no longer a woman, or a man no longer a man, but that it is that those things are now radically altered in the cross—and that in the church, this, then, is displayed to the world.

It’s just quite amazing. Belonging to Jesus, belonging to the church—there’s nothing like it in the entire world. There’s nothing like it in the world. In fact, the thing that the world longs for and can’t produce is that which God has determined to bring to completion on the day when he puts together a company that no one can number from every tribe, nation, language, and tongue.[34]

God’s manifold wisdom. The angels look down and say, “Wow!” And we look around and say, “You mean you’re going to use us? Us?” Yeah.

Last Sunday, I had a little notion of it when I went out after the evening service, and I was immediately talking to somebody from North Africa, an Arabic speaker; and while we were engaged in conversation, someone else came along, a Portuguese speaker from Brazil; and then me, trying to speak English, from Scotland. But as I walked away, I said, “How do you get this clever doctor from Brazil, this Arabic-speaking little Egyptian, and this funny little Scotsman, all together in this place, in this moment, at this time?” And the answer is: according to God’s manifold wisdom.

All of the threads in the unfolding purposes of God—threads that we try and unravel to our own destruction; threads that we cannot always unscramble, and we’re not sure how they all fit. But we may rest in this: that God knows best and that his manifold wisdom, through the church, declared to the hosts of heaven, will eventually redound to his honor and his praise and his glory.

[1] See Romans 6:23.

[2] Richard Dawkins, River out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (New York: Basic, 1995), 132–33. Paraphrased.

[3] Albert Einstein, “Mein Glaubensbekenntnis” [My Credo] (speech, German League of Human Rights, Berlin, 1932), quoted in Michael White and John Gribbin, Einstein: A Life in Science (New York: Dutton, 1994), 262. Paraphrased.

[4] Ray Davies, “Dead-End Street” (1966). Paraphrased.

[5] See Revelation 1:8; 21:6; 22:13.

[6] Colossians 1:17 (ESV).

[7] Ephesians 1:3–4 (ESV).

[8] 1 Corinthians 1:18–19 (ESV).

[9] 1 Corinthians 1:20–21 (ESV).

[10] See Ephesians 1:10–11.

[11] John R. W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians: God’s New Society, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1979), 123–24.

[12] Ephesians 6:12 (KJV).

[13] See Matthew 16:18 (paraphrased).

[14] 1 Peter 1:10 (ESV).

[15] See Isaiah 53:5.

[16] See John 1:29.

[17] See Isaiah 40:11.

[18] Johnson Oatman Jr., “Holy, Holy Is What the Angels Sing” (1894).

[19] Anna Hudson, “Dear Savior, Thou Art Mine.”

[20] Benjamin R. Hanby, “Who Is He in Yonder Stall?” (1866).

[21] Isaiah 40:13 (ESV).

[22] Isaiah 40:14–15, 22 (ESV).

[23] Isaiah 40:22–25 (ESV).

[24] William Cowper, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” (1774).

[25] See Matthew 9:13; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:32.

[26] Colossians 2:14 (paraphrased).

[27] Colossians 2:14 (ESV).

[28] Colossians 2:14–15 (ESV).

[29] Genesis 50:20 (paraphrased).

[30] Stuart Townend, “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” (1995).

[31] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952), bk. 4, chap. 10.

[32] 1 Corinthians 1:23 (paraphrased).

[33] See Ephesians 2:15.

[34] See Revelation 7:9.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.