October 16, 2016
As a faithful minister of the Gospel, Paul focused on the task set before him: to preach in such a way that blind eyes would be opened to the light of the truth. Alistair Begg places this responsibility in the context of Christian mission, reminding us that the God who called Paul to the ministry is the same God who reigns and rules over all things. As the church is built through the ministry of the Word, God displays His purposes through His people and points forward to the day when His kingdom will come in glory.
Sermon Transcript: Print
We’re going to read together again from the Bible, in Ephesians. And what I’d like to do—and I hope you won’t be unsettled by this—but I’d like to read this in Kenneth Taylor’s paraphrase. Every so often, not for my study but just for my help, I like to read The Living Bible. I read The Message. I read J. B. Phillips. I read all different things, just to give me a slant on things, and I don’t use them as a basis for study. But this is Taylor. We thank God for the memory of Kenneth Taylor and the work that he did on this. This is Ephesians chapter 3. You’d probably be best just to listen. It will only distract you to try and follow along in your own text.
“I, Paul, the servant of Christ, am here in jail because of you—for preaching that you Gentiles are … part of God’s house. No doubt you already know that God has given me this special work of showing God’s favor to you Gentiles, as I briefly mentioned before in one of my letters. God himself showed me this secret plan of his, that the Gentiles, too, are included in his kindness. I say this to explain to you how I know about these things. In olden times God did not share this plan with his people, but now he has revealed it by the Holy Spirit to his apostles and prophets.
“And this is the secret: that the Gentiles will have their full share with the Jews in all the riches inherited by God’s sons; both are invited to belong to his Church, and all of God’s promises of mighty blessings through Christ apply to them both when they accept the Good News about Christ and what he has done for them. God has given me the wonderful privilege of telling everyone about this plan of his; and he has given me his power and special ability to do it well.
“Just think! Though I did nothing to deserve it, and though I am the most useless Christian there is, yet I was the one chosen for this special joy of telling the Gentiles the Glad News of the endless treasures available to them in Christ; and to explain to everyone that God is the Savior of the Gentiles too, just as he who made all things had secretly planned from the very beginning.
“And his reason? To show to all the rulers in heaven how perfectly wise he is when all of his family—Jews and Gentiles alike—are seen to be joined together in his Church in just the way he had always planned it through Jesus Christ our Lord.
“Now we can come fearlessly right into God’s presence, assured of his glad welcome when we come with Christ and trust in him.
“So please don’t lose heart at what they are doing to me here. It is for you I am suffering, and you should feel honored and encouraged.
“When I think of the wisdom and scope of his plan, I fall down on my knees and pray to the Father of all the great family of God—some of them already in heaven and some down here on earth—that out of his glorious, unlimited resources he will give you the mighty inner strengthening of his Holy Spirit. And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts, living within you as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love; and may you be able to feel and understand, as all God’s children should, how long, how wide, how deep, and how high his love really is; and to experience this love for yourselves, though it is so great that you will never see the end of it or fully know or understand it. And so at last you will be filled up with God himself.
“Now glory be to God, who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of—infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes. May he be given glory forever and ever through endless ages because of his master plan of salvation for the Church through Jesus Christ.”
And we pause once again and pray:
Father, we are entirely dependent upon the work of the Holy Spirit to speak, to listen, to understand, to believe, to trust, to obey. And so we shut ourselves up with you and to you, and we pray that you won’t simply provide us with information that we require but that we might have an encounter with you, the living God, through the ministry of your Word by the Holy Spirit. We marvel at this, and we pray in anticipation of this. In Christ’s name. Amen.
Well, let me just read, first of all, these verses, 7, 8, and 9, in the ESV:
“Of this gospel,” writes Paul, “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.”
And then as we have it here in Taylor:
“God has given me the wonderful privilege of telling everyone about this plan of his; and he has given me his power and special ability to do it well.
“Just think! Though I did nothing to deserve it, and though I am the most useless Christian there is, yet I was the one chosen for this special joy of telling the Gentiles the Glad News of the endless treasures available to them in Christ; and to explain to everyone that God is the Savior of the Gentiles too, just as he who made all things had secretly planned from the beginning.”
Well, those of you who were present this morning will know that we looked at verses 7 and 8—we tried to, at least—and we drew our thoughts around, first of all, Paul’s identity as a minister of the gospel, telling us that he was made a minister according to God’s grace as a result of the exercise of God’s effectual power. We then noted in verse 8 his expression of humility, describing himself as the least, at the bottom of the pile. And I was reminded just this afternoon of a quote that I had thought about earlier in the week and omitted this morning. At the height of Dwight L. Moody’s influence—and it was considerable influence—F. B. Meyer, observing him, said of him, “Moody is a man who seems never to have heard of himself.” I thought that was a quite wonderful quote. So, his identity as a minister of the gospel, his humility in his exercise of that ministry, and then his responsibility. And it was with that that we ended, noting first of all that he had been given this responsibility “to preach to the Gentiles”—that was his audience—and his message “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” That is, if you like, part one of his responsibility.
And part two comes in verse 9, which is our text for this evening: “and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.” This whole notion of bringing things to light is a reminder of the responsibility of the teacher of the Bible—Paul in this case—to unravel, if you like, things that were knotted in people’s minds, to make clear things that were perhaps foggy to them, to speak with a measure of simplicity in areas that would have been regarded as perhaps difficult to comprehend. And it is a reminder, isn’t it, of the importance of God gifting those who teach the Bible and, along with that, the vital importance of praying for those who teach the Bible as they preach and teach it? And again, as I mentioned this morning on this particular month, it’s good for us to have in mind the members of our pastoral team and those who serve in the various churches around us here.
I’m about to go tomorrow, God willing, to Kansas, to Midwestern Seminary, to address the people there concerning Charles Haddon Spurgeon. And so I can’t resist this quote from Spurgeon in direct contrast to the clarity and the light that Paul was to bring to the message of the gospel. And I think I may have shared this with some of you before, but it’s worth a repeat. Spurgeon says,
Whatever you may know, you cannot [really] be [a good minister] if you are not “[able] to teach.” You know ministers who have mistaken their calling, and evidently have no gifts for it: make sure that none think the same of you. There are brethren in the ministry whose speech is intolerable; either they rouse you to wrath, or else they send you to sleep. No [anesthetic] can ever equal some discourses in sleep-giving properties; no human being, unless gifted with infinite patience, could long endure to listen to them, and nature does well to give the victim deliverance through sleep.
I heard one say the other day that a certain preacher had no more gifts for the ministry than an oyster, and in my own judgment this was a slander on the oyster, for that worthy bivalve shows great discretion in his openings, and knows when to close. If some men were sentenced to hear their own sermons it would be a righteous judgment upon them, and they would soon cry out with Cain, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.” Let us not fall under the same condemnation.
So, here we have it. Paul says, “It is a remarkable thing, but God has, by his grace and by the effectual working of his power, entrusted me with the privilege and the responsibility of making sure that the gentiles hear of the unsearchable riches of Christ and that I might be enabled to bring to light for everyone, to shed light for everyone, on what is the plan of the mystery hidden in the ages by God.”
So, let’s just give ourselves three simple headings. First of all, Paul is reminding us that God has a plan—that God has a plan. He’s actually begun his letter to the Ephesians by making this absolutely central. And if you turn back just a page to the opening chapter, let me point it out to you. For example, verse 4, talking about the spiritual blessings which are ours in Christ: “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” So his plan goes back before the foundation of the world. “He predestined us”—verse 5—“for adoption … as sons through Jesus Christ”—notice—“according to the purpose of his will.” In verse 9: “making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ,” and then, quite gloriously in verse 10, “as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
And Paul, in writing to these Ephesians—who in their day were beleaguered; they were pressed upon; they were surrounded by all kinds of notions and thought forms; many were antagonistic to them—he was concerned that from among their own selves there would be people who would rise up like wolves in sheep’s clothing, who would draw people away after themselves and away from Jesus. And so he writes to remind them, to assure them that God is not working on a contingency basis. He is not reacting to things and coming up with plans, as it were, on the fly, but that from all of eternity, his plan to set things forth in Christ has been there. And it is Paul’s commission to shed light, to throw light on these things which, by nature, men and women are in the dark.
That is actually the commission of the gospel preacher in every age—that is, to open up the Scriptures in such a way that the light of the gospel might shine into the darkness of men and women’s hearts. It is a daunting prospect, it is an unenviable challenge, and it is only in the awareness that God opens blind eyes and softens hard hearts that any of us would ever endeavor to take up the task. And at the heart of this mystery and this plan of God from all of eternity, we find not only the fact that individuals come to trust in Jesus and become the followers of Jesus but that, as we’ve seen in the last couple of studies, the same grace that unites us to Christ brings us into union with one another.
And Paul has been making it clear—to particularly these Ephesians, but his message went out beyond Ephesus—that God’s plan and purpose from all of eternity centers, actually, in his people. And we tried last time to make sure that we shy away from any kind of individualistic notion of what it means to be in Christ—that we come to him personally; we come to him individually; he doesn’t adopt us into his family en masse but as individuals; but he places us in Christ in the company of one another.
And at the heart of God’s perspective on our world tonight is his church. At the heart of God’s vision for his unfolding plan are congregations such as yourselves seated here right now. Now, this is a “Wow.” This is a “Are you serious?” Yes. Yes: that from all of eternity, God purposed to save individuals, and he has orchestrated and controls the bounds of our habitation, the faculties of our intellect, the gifts and graces that are ours; and in the economy of his purposes, he has chosen in the mystery of his will to connect this group on the east side of Cleveland at this point in history because of a plan that he has had since before the foundation of the world. Before he created the world, he planned this.
That’s what Paul is saying. And what he is doing here he is doing there and there and there—and even, as I mentioned tonight, Cairo, the congregations that are there; when we’ll be in Delhi in a few weeks from tonight, the congregations there; as we think of the work of the gospel in Peru; as we think of scattered believers throughout North Korea; as we think about people in the central belt of Russia, gathering in little groups. Paul is saying, “You need to understand, dear ones, that God’s plan from all of eternity focuses in his church.”
The church’s one foundation
[Through] Jesus Christ her Lord;
She is his new creation
By water and the Word.
From heav’n he came and sought her
To be his holy bride.
[And] with his own blood he bought her
And for her life he died.
And you can go on through the lyric of that hymn. It is profoundly helpful:
Yet she on earth hath union
With God the Three in One
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won.
It’s one of my favorite couplets: the idea that somehow or another, that I am still united with those that God has taken to himself; that when I think of those who were here, as I mentioned in my prayer, that we are united still in some mystic communion as a result of the wonder of God’s grace.
And so Paul’s charge here, he says, is to let the whole world know that this mystery—that God has brought together both Jew and gentile in his church; that he has, in terms of 2:15, “create[d] in himself one new man in [the] place of two, so making peace”—Paul’s charge is to let the world know, to shed light on this reality, so that people might understand that God’s future purposes for the world are to be seen embryonically in the church. Let me say that to you again: that God’s ultimate plan for the world, that plan is to be seen in embryonic form in the church on earth in time—that church which is Church with a big C but also church with a small c, so that individual congregations cannot shirk from the reality of the kind of union and communion that is to mark those who have been redeemed by God’s grace.
That is why the church is so fundamentally important. That’s why it is so sad when people do not talk to one another within the church or when people isolate from one another within the communion of God’s people. God is showing, in time, amongst his people, a charcoal sketch, if you like, of what he’s going to do finally. It’s very humbling. I think it is exhilarating, also, to think that we are giving this inkling to the world, so that people are supposed to be able to come in—and this is what makes it challenging, isn’t it?—they’re supposed to come in and say, “Oh, I see, this is the kind of idea, is it? That God is going to put together a strange group of people and unite them in the wonder of the love of his Son.”
Incidentally, it’s because of this that the church is under such amazing attack, that the gospel is under such attack. You’ll notice that there’s not a lot of attack on churches that don’t believe the Bible. They’re just withering away. They will always wither away. The Evil One has no interest in them. It’s irrelevant to him—clearly irrelevant. No, the only place where he will find that the subtlety of his attack and the strength of his attack and the sustained and fierce nature of his attack is to be encountered is where the church is prepared to say, “We’ll take seriously this notion of your plan, Lord Jesus Christ, and we are prepared to bow down underneath your dictates in order that we might in some small fashion give an inkling to our world of what it means for all of our brokenness and chaos to be addressed in Jesus.”
So that’s point number one: that God has a plan. Point number two is that the plan has been hidden. It’s been hidden. That’s what it says in the text, isn’t it? “To bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things.” From the beginning of the ages, it is a mystery. Now, remember what we’ve said about “mystery.” This is not like an Agatha Christie book. It’s not something that we can figure out if we’re given sufficient clues. But rather, it is used of that which we are unable to grasp by unaided human wisdom but which becomes ours as a result of God’s revelation. That revelation which has been given to the apostles—which is what Paul is saying; he’s amazed at the fact that God has revealed this to him, especially when he thinks about who he is and where he’s come from—and that which has then been given to the apostles has been written down in the Bible, has been inscripturated, so that we have that revelation, to which we pay attention and by which we understand. And it is the Bible—it is the Bible—that gives us the great revelation of God’s plan and purpose.
I think we’ve said on a number of occasions before that we can’t really grapple with history without a Bible. It’s pretty difficult to read the newspaper, to listen to the news, to watch the events of human history without your Bible. Because, you see, the Bible gives to us the great scheme of all of humanity. The Bible tells us that it is into a dark world that the Messiah came; that he is “the true light, [who] gives light to everyone” in the world; that the words of the prophet are being fulfilled: that “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” And it is into a dark world that the story of God’s plan of redemption comes to shine.
Now, if you think about this, it is wonderfully helpful, isn’t it? Because… And I was intrigued that—I mentioned it this morning in passing—I was intrigued that Dylan got the Nobel Peace Prize for literature. I’m fine with that—not that anybody cares whether I am or not. But that’s all right. He wrote some bizarre stuff but some really, really good stuff, you know:
Come, senators, congressmen,
Please heed the call;
Don’t stand in the doorway,
Don’t block up the hall,
For he that gets hurt
Will be he [that is] stalled.
There’s a battle outside, and it[’s] ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls,
For the times they are a-changin’.
“Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen” and so on. It was good. It was good. It’s old now. The decades have passed. Where are we? The observations, the challenge. The songs of the ’60s, the cries for peace, for reformation, for transformation.
Last night I had the strangest dream
I ever dreamed before;
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war.
I dreamed I saw a mighty room,
[And] the room was filled with men,
And the [people who] were signing said,
“[We’ll] never fight again.”
And when the [records all were filed,
And a million copies made,
[We] all joined hands and bowed [our] heads,
And grateful prayers were prayed,
And the people in the streets below
Were dancing round and round,
[And] guns and swords and uniforms
Were scattered on the ground.
Last night I had the strangest dream
I ever dreamed before.
Well, just read a little history. Read a little history. Read of the anticipation at the end of the nineteenth century into the twentieth century. Read what the historians said. Read what the politicians were writing. Some of them were phenomenally pessimistic at the rise and fall of one generation, the coming of one dictator, his crumbling destruction, and so on—the notion that history is just entirely cyclical, that it has no beginning and no end; it’s going nowhere at all. At the other end of that, you had a kind of superficial optimism, the kind of thing that you found in the writing of Tennyson, who dreamed of the great “Federation of the world”—a kind of United Nations that really, really, really was going to work. Well, where are we? I’m not being strange in saying this. I’m just observing.
The arrival of the twentieth century was supposed to usher in the great denouement. After all, we had so much to put behind us. Certainly, in Great Britain we were going to get it all right. We had introduced socialized medicine, which was going to cure all ills, we had education for everybody that could ever need it, and we were well on our way. Well, I wonder: Have you been there lately? All the benefits of social improvement, technological advance, the increase in education and in social welfare—and two world wars within a matter of decades put the bullet in that whole notion and spoke once again of the darkness that it is in our world.
You see, our politicians are ultimately clueless. You’ve heard it here. Without the wisdom of God—without the wisdom of God—man in his wisdom cannot know God. And if man cannot know God, man cannot ultimately know himself. And if man cannot know himself, then he can’t diagnosis his ills, and he cannot, in turn, execute a cure for undiagnosed ills.
So the responsibility of the church in the world in every generation is not, then, to try and take on those causes, whatever role individuals may play, but the responsibility of the church is to do what Paul is to do here, and that is to shine light into a dark world—the light that shines in the plan of the mystery hidden from all of time. I mean, let me ask you: Is global warming really the ultimate issue for our world? It can’t be. It can’t be. And yet, isn’t it fascinating that irrespective of people’s political allegiances, throughout the world, this is about the only area in which you get agreement in humanity. It doesn’t matter if the person’s a Muslim or a Jew or a Hindu or a Jain or a Christian, provided they’re agreed that it’s a good thing not to put your towel on the floor when you’re staying at the Holiday Inn Express, not to brush your teeth for more than a minute and a half, because this is the great issue of the world. Well, I’m not up on these things. I got thrown out of every science class I ever took. I’m not making a comment on whether there’s validity to this or not. All I’m saying is, it isn’t the ultimate problem. It’s not a bigger problem than the problems that we have in terms of morality and economic situations and many, many others. It can’t be.
And even if you leave that out, the Bible says it’s not the problem. And the Bible knows what the problem is, and the Bible knows how the problem gets fixed. And God has had a plan from all of eternity, which he is making known in the person of his Son, in the community of his church, and the church is to be a light in the darkness, so that, both corporately as we shine together and individually as we go about our days… Some of you, I hope, will go into journalism. We can sure use some journalism from a Christian-worldview perspective. Many of you are already involved in science and in commerce, in art. You live your life in the mainstream of culture—unlike myself; I live in a strange little world. And in that world, to which we all return tomorrow, God desires for us to be bold enough—to be bold enough—to be prepared to say or to say, ask, “Have you ever considered the possibility that in Jesus there is a hope that stands the test of time? Have you ever considered the possibility that Jesus is actually the person that he claimed to be? Have you ever read the Bible? Would you like to read the Bible with me? Will you just read the Bible and see what it says? Because I think if you will read it with me, you will discover that God has a plan. And that plan has been hidden but now revealed.”
And my last point is—as you will notice in the text—that this plan of the mystery, hidden for the ages, is “in God, who created all things.” It’s interesting that he says that. Why did he not just say “in God,” full stop? “In God, who created all things.” What is he doing? Well, he’s affirming the fact that God is in charge. It all belongs to him. He created everything.
Here’s a staggering thought: this is God’s world. This is God’s world. He made the world.
All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small.
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.
Now, try that in your science class tomorrow morning.
It’s impossible to make sense of our world and of our own little worlds without beginning here. If you don’t begin here, you can’t make sense of anything. And that’s why people can’t make sense of anything. Because we’re at the end of about three or four or five decades where, as a result of the influences in our Western culture, young people have been born into our world with no idea of how they come into existence at all. They regard themselves as being born without reason, prolonged by chance, and if they die, they die, because there’s nothing at the end, even as there was nothing at the beginning. So you’ve just got this hopelessness, this sense of abject poverty of spirit and of soul. And the gospel says, “No, wait a minute. God the Creator is in control.”
I find it tremendously encouraging that when Paul was invited to the intelligentsia in Athens—and Luke records it for us in Acts 17—the opening part that Luke records for us, at least, is exactly this. How does he begin? Well, he begins by saying, “You’re a nice group of people. I know you’re very religious, and you’ve got a bunch of stuff here, and I was looking at it earlier in the day.” He says, “But… And I hear you’ve got one to a god you don’t even know. Well, the God that you know nothing about,” he says, “I want to tell you about.” And then what does he say? First line: “The God who made the world and everything in it…” That’s his opening line: “The God who made the world and everything in it…” There are direct repercussions, loved ones, from buying the myth of Darwinian evolutionary hypothesis. There are direct repercussions—moral repercussions, intellectual repercussions. It devalues everything about yourself and about humanity. “The God who made the world” is in control.
The world as we know it, the Bible says, is not as God made it. He made it, and it was good. He looked on it, and he said it was good. He made it in absolute perfection. So people say, “Well, why is our world so messed up? Why is our world so broken? If you’ve got this good God who made a good world, I don’t see it.” I’m not making this up. My most recent conversation was with a Russian Jew a few weeks ago in Tel Aviv. And as we sat together in conversation, we started talking about Putin, and then we worked from there, and we finally got down to the big issues of life. And he said to me, he says, “I don’t believe in God. There’s too much—I’ve seen too much bad. There’s so much bad.”
I said, “Well, there is a lot of bad, isn’t there?” I said, “Imagine I made… What’s your favorite meal?” So he told me; I can’t remember what it was. I said, “Well, imagine I made you your meal, and I did a really, really nice job of it. And I served it up to you and put it there, and you made a right mess of it. You spilled things in it, and you fiddled with it, and it just got out of control. You’ve got cigarette ash in it from your cigarette. Whose fault would that be?”
He said, “That would be my fault.”
I said, “Yeah. So how about the idea that the world that God has made is a good world, that the world that we know today is not the world the way God made it, but it is the world as man has spoiled it?” I said, “That is what the Bible says. It says that the reason for all of the rape, all of the pillage, all of the hostility, all of the injustice, all of the inequality, all of the chaos, all of the heartache, all of the shame is tied directly to the fact that man is a rebel in a world that God has made. And the answer is in Jesus and only in Jesus.”
I have this little framework that I use all the time, and you can pick it up from what I’m saying: good, bad, new. Good, bad, new. A good world, bad by sin, made new in Jesus. That’s what Paul is saying. He’s saying, “Jesus is the answer for the world today. And that answer is in the gospel.” It’s not in the ethics of Jesus. A lot of people are prepared to go for that: “Oh, well, yeah, I like the ethics of Jesus. I like the Sermon on the Mount. Why don’t we try that a little harder? Maybe we can fix the world that way.” No, you can’t. Because that’s from the outside in. The change in the gospel is from the inside out, so that the gospel is not about what we are to do, but it is about what God has done in Christ: that we live in a world that is alienated, and he has dealt with our alienations by putting our sins upon his only beloved Son. He has punished them in him, and it is only on account of that that he’s able to look on us and to forgive us and to adopt us into his family.
All the movements of our world throughout history point to the fact that man is scrambling, constantly and in every generation, to make sense of things. And what the Bible is claiming and what we are affirming, if we truly believe the Bible and we are honest Christians, is that through all of these movements, throughout all of world history, God has been executing his plan—the plan that he had put in place before the creation of the world—and that he had planned to create a community, as we know from Revelation, of every tribe and nation and language and people and tongue. And he continues to do that. And when he has completed it, the King will come. When he has completed it, Jesus will come.
You see, Jesus, when he steps onto the stage of human history, does not launch into some new program. He ties himself directly to everything that has gone before. His opening gambit in the Gospel of Mark is “The time is fulfilled, … the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe … the [good news].” In other words, the kingdom comes first of all in the person of Jesus, then it comes in the proclamation of the gospel in the world through the church, and then, ultimately and finally, it will come when Christ returns as King.
You see, all of the injustices of our world, all of the evil stuff, all of the shysters that got by and think that they’re in the clear—all of that will be dealt with. When the King comes, he will resolve it all. When the King comes, Satan and his forces will be cast into the lake of fire. When he comes, all who have refused his claims, have rebelled against him, have turned their backs on him and said, “We’ll do it our own way, thank you very much,” will suffer his punishment. The universe will then be cleansed and purified, and there will be a “new [heaven] and a new earth in which dwells righteousness”—2 Peter 3:13. And here’s the deal: Jesus Christ is both the center and the circumference of all of this. He is both the epicenter of it and at the broadest territories of it, you’ll find Christ there. There is no hope for peace on earth—there is no hope for peace on earth—except in he who is the Prince of Peace.
Doesn’t it make sense? That man tries to muscle it together throughout all of the centuries. Do we stand against that? Not for a moment. Are we engaged in it? I hope we are. Do we long for it? Yes, we do. Do we labor to that end through the systems of government and the execution of justice? Yes, we do. But when we put our heads on the pillow at night, we know this: that the best we’ve been able to do is an approximation, but one day the King will come, and when the King comes, then his plan will prevail.
Now, we know that just from reading the Bible. Just read all the way through the Bible. As soon as he starts things off, the serpent comes and says, “Hey, do you really believe this stuff?” And the opposition begins. Trace it all the way through. Remember our studies in Daniel. Who could forget? You fell asleep in many of them, as we got into Daniel. And we saw the people of God there: “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? We had to hang our harps on the willow trees. We couldn’t do anything. Look at the mess we’re. Look at Nebuchadnezzar. Look at this guy. Have you’ve seen this fellow? Look at what’s happening here.” And Daniel’s going, “Hang on, guys. God the greater has a plan from all of eternity. You’re going to be okay. You’ll be all right.”
And guess what? They were all right. And Jesus came. The Messiah came. And within a split second, Herod decides he’ll kill him. He’ll kill all the boys under the age of two, in order that he might wipe out the Messiah. What is that but it is the antagonism of hell against the truth and reality of the plan of God from all of eternity? But was he successful? No, he wasn’t. So they said, “Well then, we will abuse him, and we will finally kill him,” and they crucified him. And he rose again. And he is alive. That’s what the Bible says. That’s what is the plan hidden from all of eternity.
So if you’re a believer tonight—and many of you are—then let me encourage you to make sure that as you view the world and our world, that you do so in light of these truths. Bring your mind—I want to bring my mind—under the glory and wonder of what Paul is declaring. Listen to Lloyd-Jones—and I’ll stop with this. This is Lloyd-Jones in an earlier era. He says this plan by God “will not be modified to suit the whims and fancies … of any nation. Indeed we must be prepared for some strange surprises with regard to [his] plan.” I thought that was a good sentence. And he’s writing it early twentieth-century Britain.
We must be prepared for some strange surprises …. We may think at times that everything is going wrong. The churches may be empty and people will ask, Where is your God’s plan? The answer is that the churches have been empty many times before; but in the fulness of His time God sends a revival, and if it is His will He will send one again.
So let the fearful look down, around. Let the pessimist look down. Let the Christian lift her eyes and look up. For
Jesus shall reign where’er the sun.
Doth his successive journeys run,
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.
And what a mystery! Can it possibly be that from all of eternity, he wrote your name in his book, because in the unfolding drama of his plan and purpose, he has you right here at Parkside Church, October 16, 2016, in order that, like Paul, you may shine into the darkness of a world that is without God and without hope and so that those who find themselves there may be drawn to the light of Christ?
Let us pray:
God our Father, we bow before the instruction of your Word, and we thank you for it. We thank you that you raised up Paul. What a strange choice he thought it was. What a strange man to write so much of the New Testament, to give us all of this. And so we thank you that you are sovereign over these affairs, that you do have a plan—hidden it may have been, revealed now in Christ and in the church. And it is the plan of you, the creator of the ends of the earth, and you don’t grow weary, and your understanding is unsearchable. And no one can say to you, “Why did you make me this way?” No one knows the mind of the Lord. So, Lord, humble us. Humble us before the cross of Christ. Grant that your mercy towards us may be a stimulus to our living unreservedly for your Son, Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.
 C. H. Spurgeon, “The Necessity of Ministerial Progress,” in Lectures to My Students (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2008), 252.
 See Acts 20:29–30.
 Samuel J. Stone, “The Church’s One Foundation” (1866).
 John 1:9 (ESV).
 Isaiah 9:2 (ESV).
 Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are A-Changin’” (1963).
 Ed McCurdy, “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” (1956).
 Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Locksley Hall” (1842).
 Cecil Frances Alexander, “All Things Bright and Beautiful” (1848).
 Acts 17:22–23 (paraphrased).
 Acts 17:24 (ESV).
 See Revelation 7:9.
 Mark 1:15 (ESV).
 Genesis 3:1 (paraphrased).
 Psalm 137:2, 4 (paraphrased).
 See Matthew 2:16.
 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Unsearchable Riches of Christ: An Exposition of Ephesians 3 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 78.
 Isaac Watts, “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun” (1719).
 See Isaiah 40:28.
 See Romans 9:20.
 See Isaiah 40:13; Romans 11:34; 1 Corinthians 2:16.
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.