The Mystery of Godliness
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The Mystery of Godliness

1 Timothy 3:14–16  (ID: 1968)

The Gospel is the truth whether we believe it or not. As Alistair Begg explains, the “mystery of godliness” described in 1 Timothy 3 summarizes this truth. The Lord Jesus came in the flesh and was vindicated through His resurrection from death. The apostles proclaimed this among the nations, and Jews and gentiles alike believed in Christ, fulfilling God’s promise to bring blessing to the world. He then ascended to heaven, whence we eagerly anticipate His glorious return.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in 1 Timothy, Volume 1

God’s Household of Faith 1 Timothy 1:1–4:16 Series ID: 15401

Sermon Transcript: Print

As someone who has always enjoyed mystery books ever since I was a small child reading Enid Blyton mysteries—The Castle of Adventure, The River of Adventure, The Ring O’ Bells Mystery, The Rubadub Mystery, and so on—I am intrigued now by how in vogue mystery has become. It is virtually impossible of an evening to scan the television channels without coming on some situation where the cloudiness of the television screen is matched by the depth of the narrator’s voice, and almost, in hearing a split second or two, you can tell we’re into one of these “unsolved mystery” programs. And they abound. And the reason they abound, presumably, is because people love mystery. And they are intrigued particularly by mysteries which remain unsolved. So whether it’s the Bermuda Triangle or whatever else it might be, there’s a tremendous fascination. And in watching a number of these programs, since I enjoy mystery myself, I’m struck by two things: one, how unbelievably facile so much of it proves to be, or, on the other hand, how totally incomprehensible it actually is and how you need, essentially, to take out your brain and put it under your couch if you’re going to watch for more than a couple of minutes. It really is, frankly, ridiculous. But that doesn’t seem to stop the advertisers advertising, presumably because it doesn’t stop us from watching.

Now, given that people are interested in mystery, we have in the verses at the end of 1 Timothy 3 a wonderful opportunity as a transitional bridge for the cause of the gospel, insofar as people will often say in the course of a day, “Did you see that program?” or “Did you read that thing in the newspaper about that particular mystery?”—which then allows us the opportunity to say, “Do you enjoy mystery?” to which, in turn, they will presumably reply, “Oh yes, it intrigues me.” And we can then say, “Well, you know, funnily enough, just the other day we were thinking about a mystery—a group of us were together—and it really is amazing.” If they are the mysterious type, then they will then say, “Well, what mystery was that?” And you will say, “The mystery of godliness.” Now, if that doesn’t immediately stop the conversation, it will allow the possibility for further transition, which will presumably be “What in the world is ‘the mystery of godliness’?” to which you will reply, “That is exactly the question that came to my mind when I saw it in the bulletin as the subject for the morning study. But I can now tell you.” And the reason that you will be able to respond, hopefully, is because of our study which now unfolds.

In these days, we need to become adept at taking the points of departure which are presented to us by the people in our culture. If they want to talk about angels, then we’ll talk angels with them. If they want to talk about out-of-body or post-death experiences, then we’ll talk that with them. If they want to talk spirituality in general, we’ll begin there as well. And if they would like to talk mystery, we’ll talk about mystery too—none other than “the mystery of godliness.”

The True Truth

Now, this all falls out in Paul’s quoting of what was presumably a hymn or a poem which was circulating in the church at that time—an indication, in passing, of the kind of material which would become part of the hymnody of the early church. And in addressing this matter, Paul does so by reminding them that the people to whom he is speaking are those who are members of God’s household. In other words, they are part and parcel of the company who have become the possession and dwelling place of the living God.

These people were in no doubt that the church is not some voluntary association of individuals held together by common ideals and interests. There are many people today for whom church is just that, and so they go in church buildings, and they do church things which have various dimensions to them which are understandable by the culture. They’re actually not in the church. They are not understanding the nature of the mystery of godliness. They need to be evangelized even though they are within the orb of Christendom. But when a believer understands the nature of what it means to know Christ, to be indwelt by his Spirit, to be included in his family, to become a part of the household of faith, then that’s a whole different dimension altogether.

Peter makes this point with great clarity when he picks up Old Testament pictures and, in 1 Peter 2:9, says of his readers, “You[’re] a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” He doesn’t say, “Once you didn’t go to church; now you do go to church. Once you were irreligious; now you have become religious.” Many of these people were patently religious. What they needed was not religion. These people were involved in organized activities which were directly related to worship. What they needed to know was God’s mercy. What they needed to hear was God’s voice. What they needed to respond to was God’s call. And in hearing his voice and in responding to his call and in being born anew of his Spirit, they were then incorporated into the household of faith.

And the God whom they now worship, whose household is the church, is none other than the living God. Now, Paul makes this point clearly, because so many of these people had been involved with gods with a small g. They had had all kinds of paraphernalia that had marked their lives before. Indeed, when he wrote to the Thessalonians, he said, “You know, the wonderful thing about you folks is that when people talk about you in the communities, one of the ways in which they describe you”—in 1 Thessalonians 1:9—“is that they are telling people how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and the true God.”[1]

And that’s why it’s so very, very important that we distinguish between g-o-d and the living and true God. When men and women today talk about an awareness of God, or they’re interested in God, they may be talking about nothing more than a cosmic principle. They may be talking about nothing more than an internal mechanism whereby they tune in to grandeur and to greatness. And therefore, before we simply nod our heads to those kind of statements, we need to penetrate their minds with the notion that is contained here: that when the Bible speaks about God, he is distinguishing himself from the idols, for example, of Jeremiah’s day, which were pathetic little things that were fastened down with bits of chain, and covered over with purple garments, and overlaid with little bits of gold and trinkets, and stuck in people’s yards, and they neither do any good, nor, mercifully, do they do any harm. They fall over with the snow, and they may just as well be buried under the snow for all the good that they do.[2] That’s what he’s saying.

Now, in contrast, the church is the recipient of God’s truth—“the pillar and foundation of the truth.” As the pillar upholds the roof, so the foundation gives a base to the pillar. And the church is the recipient of the truth of the gospel. And the responsibility, then, of the church is to support and to bolster and to safeguard the truth by understanding it, by obeying it, by living it out.

Now, it is important also that we notice that Paul is completely unashamed in speaking about truth. Today, the very notion of truth is on the ropes. The average intelligent university student will challenge you in relationship to the idea of any kind of “true truth,” any idea of an objective truth that can be known and understood. Attorneys who have grown up under the instruction of law teachers in recent years will also tell you that one of the things that they have had driven from their thinking is any notion of natural law—that there is a transcendent law upon which all other law is built. The demise of such a notion is nothing other than the demise of the notion of truth.

Now, Paul makes it clear: the truth of the gospel, the truth of God, exists independently; and if the people of God are going to be living it out, then they need to be understanding it; and if they’re going to understand it, then they need to study it. And loved ones, that is why it is so important that we become increasingly a congregation of the Bible; that we are paying attention to what the Bible has to say; that we understand the Bible, not on a superficial level, not on a pathetic level, but on a level whereby we give ourselves to the truth of God’s Word; that we heed it as we read it, and we memorize it, and we store it, and we take it apart, and we think it out, and we analyze it, and we submit to it, and it becomes part and parcel of who and what we are. Because we live in a generation that says the truth is whatever you conceive it to be, and something becomes true by the forcefulness of our belief, so that it is not because it is true that we believe it, but it is because we believe it that it becomes true. And what Paul is saying here is the antithesis of that: the gospel is true whether we believe it or not. It is not our believing of it that makes it true; it exists as independent, true truth. (I can’t roll my r’s any better than that.)

I was struck this week in reading the little “Through the New Testament in a Year.” We were in Acts chapter 26. Some of you were there as well. And Paul is before Agrippa, and Festus is there, and Paul’s doing his report, and he gets to the point where he says Jesus Christ was prophesied in the Old Testament, and he came to the resurrection, and Festus breaks in, and he says, “Hey, cut it out! That’s ridiculous! You’re not telling me you believe all that stuff. You’re learning is making you insane.”[3] And Luke records this wonderful little statement in Acts 26:25. I had never noticed it before. It just hit me. And Paul turns around, and he says to him, “What I am saying is true and reasonable.” “What I am saying is true and reasonable.” And that, you see, loved ones, is what we have to hold on to in these days. We can’t allow a postmodern world to back us into a corner on account of the fact that they have given up on the notion of truth. When they want to talk, then we will talk. But we talk from the perspective—humbly, graciously, insightfully—but we’re going to be prepared to say, “Listen, what I say is true and reasonable.”

The gospel is true whether we believe it or not.

Now, where do we have a summary of this true reasonableness of Christian conviction? Well, we have it in the mystery of godliness. What is the mystery of godliness? Well, it’s summarized for us here: “The mystery of godliness,” he says, “is great.” It “is great.” The church freely confesses this mystery of godliness. This is not an exhaustive statement—not everything is contained in it—but there is sufficient here as to be helpful.

Interestingly, in Ephesus, you could find people—as Luke tells us in Acts chapter 19—you could find people going around saying… Acts 19:24: “A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen.” And in the course of his work, people were going around—verse 28—saying, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” And Artemis had a temple—really far-out temple. And it had these wonderful pillars. And the people enjoyed looking at these pillars, because they were representative of all the various dimensions of their religious aspiration. And one pillar represented the interest of one god and another. And so they were concerned with this, and they would greet one another, and they’d say “Hey, great is Artemis of the Ephesians! Nice temple. Nice pillars.” Maybe what Paul is doing is simply picking up on that; he says, “You know, you like to go around and say, ‘Great is Artemis.’ Let me tell you something else: great is the mystery of godliness! You think that stuff is great? Listen to this!” And then in six lines, he encapsulates it. Let me take the six lines and try and summarize them in six words.


Number one: incarnation. Incarnation. Where is that from? Right in front of you: “He appeared in a body.” It is a reference to Christ’s incarnation—that in a moment in time, the Son of God became what he was not (namely, a man) without ever ceasing to be what he was (namely, God).

Meekness and majesty,
Manhood and Deity
In perfect harmony,
The man who is God.[4]

The mystery—which, incidentally, when Paul uses the word “mystery,” it’s simply a reference to that which previously had been secret but which now God has chosen to reveal. And God now has revealed himself in the person of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And the mystery of the incarnation is part of the mystery of godliness. And behind that mystery there is, of course, another mystery, which is the mystery of the Trinity: that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, coequal and coeternal, perfect, plural, powerful, and praiseworthy, God from everlasting to everlasting, coexisted before the world was made. And from the splendor of heaven comes the Son of God.

In hearing myself say that, it makes me smile, because one of the things that’s often leveled against us as Christians is “You know, Christianity is a bunch of stuff that people just made up to get people to believe, you know.” And I always think to myself, “Well, goodness gracious! If somebody made it up, why did they make it as complicated as this? I mean, get rid of some of the really far-out stuff. I mean, if we’re trying to get believers, can’t we start with something a little more ‘down there’ than a triune God who is coequal and coeternal, who invades our time-space capsule by means of an incarnation whereby the creator of the universe became a human fetus?” This is revelation, you see. This is what God has revealed of himself.

And people say, “Well, what do we have of God?”

“Well, what has happened? God is the creator of the earth.”

“Well then, how has he made himself known?”

“He’s made himself known in the world. That’s why you have a Continental Divide. That’s why the rivers flow to the oceans. He’s made himself known in his Word. That’s why the Bible has such compelling impact. And he has made himself known in the incarnation”—in “our God,” as Wesley put it, “contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man.”[5]

There’s no need to be particularly concerned about these little displays—all that stuff everybody gets worked up about every year—as if somehow or another we could adequately convey the incarnation in those crummy little things that sit on tables all around the place, whatever they are. Nativity scenes—people getting all stirred up about where their nativity scene is. Listen, forget the nativity scene; just talk about the nativity! The people should be glad of that! They could say, “Oh, look at this little shrine. Look at this little bit of folklore. Look at this little bit of nonsense they have.” They can reduce us to that little scene. Never mind that! No, I want you to talk about the incarnation: “You’re a mystery watcher? Check this out: the God who made the heaven and the earth came in human flesh in a moment in time. He became what he wasn’t, a man, without ever ceasing to be what he was, God. Now, let’s have a coffee and chew on this one for a little while.” Loved ones, that is what we’ve got to say! We don’t have a mindless faith. We don’t have to go up to people and say, “He lives within my heart; he lives within my heart.” That’s not going to do it! Then people say, “Buddha lives within mine; Buddha lives within mine.” Now what are you going to do then? What have you done? So it becomes total subjectivism.

“Great is the mystery of godliness: He appeared in a body.” And in his appearance there had to be a preexistence, because he appeared from somewhere. And in his incarnation there was humiliation, because not only did he become man, which was humiliation enough, but he became a servant. And not only did he become a servant, but he became a servant who dies. And he becomes a servant who dies the most cruel pain possible for humanity, causing John Murray, the theologian of old, to say, “It is humiliation inimitable, unrepeated, unrepeatable.”[6] Wilbur Chapman encapsulates it in his hymn “One Day!”:

One day when heaven was filled with his praises,
[And] one day when sin was as black as could be,
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin
[And lived] among men; my example is he!

[And] living, he loved me; [and] dying, he saved me;
[And] buried, he carried my sins far away;
[And] rising, he justified freely, forever;
[And] one day he’s coming: [what a] glorious day![7]

Do you see why you need to learn your hymnbook as well? You got the whole jolly gospel there in a verse and a chorus! That’s enough to keep you going all through the week: “He lived and loved me. He died and saved me. He was raised for my justification. He ascended to the right hand of God, he intercedes with the Father on high, and he’s coming back for me.” What else do you need to know?


Well, we’d better go to the second word. We’re running out of time here. Incarnation’s the first word. The second word is vindication: “He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit.”

When men and women nailed him to the cross, in carrying out that act of judgment, they were declaring him to be cursed of God. Now, you need to know your Bible to understand this, but Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’” So the people looked at it, and they said, “He can’t possibly be the Messiah, because the Old Testament says that anyone who hangs on a tree is under the curse of God.[8] Therefore, how can you have a Messiah who is under the curse of God?” The answer is because he was bearing the very curse of God on sin—not his sin, because he was perfect, but the sins of those who would believe in him. And God vindicated his Son in the resurrection.

He vindicated his Son all the way through the journey of life. In his baptism, Jesus stands there, and the Spirit alights on him as a dove, and the voice from heaven says, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”[9] And people were going around saying, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t this this guy from Nazareth?”[10] And the voice from heaven says, “This is my beloved Son.” That’s what people say today: “Well, isn’t he just another man? Isn’t he just a teacher? Isn’t he just one on the smorgasbord of religious leaders?” And we come to the Bible, and the Bible says, “No, this is the Son of God incarnate.” And he is vindicated.

You get it in Galatians 4:4: “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,” to do what? “To redeem those under [the] law, [so] that we might receive the full rights of sons. … So you[’re] no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” You’re in the family. You were a slave; you became a son. Since you’re a son, you got stuff coming to you! Obviously making some of you smile.

Romans 1:4, same truth concerning his vindication: “regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendent of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.”[11] Turn to Romans 8:11, and you’ll find the exact same emphasis.


So we have incarnation, and people looked at him. And then we have vindication, in his resurrection uniquely so; all the way through his pilgrimage this was the case. And then what we have here as the third word is the word observation.

Where does the observation come in? Well, “he … was seen by angels.” The angels were observing him. Where and when? Well, we know that they observed him in his birth. We know that they observed him in his temptation in Matthew 4.[12] We know that when he makes his return to heaven, John pictures it in Revelation [5] with all the angelic host as the party of welcome.[13] But I think the emphasis is probably, here, in connection with the resurrection. “He … was seen by angels.” When? When God vindicated him. When he was raised.

That’s what is so wonderful about these scenes at the end of the Gospels. Matthew 28: “[And] there was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. [And] his appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. [And] the guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.”[14] They were frozen stiff. “And the angel said to the woman, ‘Don’t be afraid. I know you’re looking for Jesus. He was crucified. He’s not here; he’s risen, just as he said. Why don’t you come and see where he was?”[15] So the angels were there, observing the wonder of redemption but not participating in it. They were looking, as it were, over the ramparts of heaven—metaphorically so. And Peter pictures that when he describes them in 1 Peter 1:12 concerning the glory of the gospel, concerning the wonder of the gospel being preached by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Then you have this intriguing little sentence: “Even angels long to look into these things.”

That’s why if you want to talk about angels, we’ll talk about angels. And you can tell your friends: “Listen, I’m going to tell you something that angels wish they knew. I know there’s something angels wish they knew.”

“Don’t angels know everything?”

“No, because they’re not omniscient.”

“So, what do they wish they knew?”

“They wish they knew what it was like to become a Christian. They wish they knew what it was like to be redeemed. They wish they knew what it was like to come from darkness to light.” They are, if you like, on the very ramparts of heaven, looking down and saying, “Whoa! Look at this stuff!” Nudging one another: “Hey, Saul of Tarsus! Whoo! My oh my, would you look at that! Cursing, swearing, knives, daggers, truncheons, stones—flat on his sorry butt in the sand. Check this out.” And they wonder at it all. They observe it!

Few years ago, when Sue and I were at the Keswick Convention in England, we attended a late-night thing for some of the young people. And in the course of an event that took place, I think, in a school gymnasium or something, a group of young players depicted a scene whereby the thief on the cross appeared in heaven and was greeted by the two angels who were sitting at the reception desk. And the angels had been talking to one another and saying, “After the death of Christ, I wonder who the first person will be? I wonder who the first person will be to arrive in paradise?” And in, all of a sudden, comes this most unlikely looking character—a total rag heap if ever you saw one. And they look at him, and they say, “What are you doing here?”

And he says, “That’s what I was going to ask you.”

And they say to him, “Well, you know, what do you—are you justified?”

And he said, “I don’t know.”

They say, “Well, what do you… Have you…”

“So,” the one of them said, “listen, just sit there for a minute. Just wait there.” And he said to his colleague, the other angel, he says, “You watch him. I’m going to check, ’cause there’s something really irregular about this. This guy is—this is the most unlikely person to show up here.”

So the one angel goes off and checks with Gabriel—has a little chat with Gabriel, comes back, and this is what he says: “I’ve just gone and made a fool of myself with the archangel Gabriel. I told him, ‘There’s been a dreadful mistake. This man’s a common criminal. He’s nobody special at all.’ And Gabriel said, ‘Well, he is now.’ And I said, ‘What?’ Then he said, ‘What’s your definition of special?’ And before I had time to reply, he said he thought a personal invitation to paradise from the Lord of life made a person quite special enough, thank you very much. Then all the seraphim laughed their heads off. I tell you, if angels could blush, I would have gone golden!”


Incarnation, vindication, observation, proclamation. Proclamation. Now this mystery is that which is proclaimed and “preached among the nations.”

All over the world, the Spirit of God is moving. Says Donald Guthrie, “It must never be forgotten that a Hebrew Christ had become a Christ for the nations.”[16] “A Christ for the nations.” Let that phrase grab our hearts: “a Christ for the nations.” Who will go to the nations? Who’s next up in the batting order? Who is ready now to go, to take your place? “I will go here; I will go there. No matter what it costs, no matter what it means, I am ready to go for you to the nations.” There are no closed nations.

Loved ones, God has to grip our hearts with this. When we see the princes from Saudi Arabia, we need to remind ourselves, “Listen, Christ is the Christ of the nations.” When the people come out of Eastern Europe and we hear their stories of further affluence and the inroads of BT and technology and all those other things that we might rejoice in because of our interests in material prosperity, we need to remind ourselves, “Christ is Christ of the nations.” The vast resources of the world are here, and the vast majority of the resources are being used to talk to ourselves. One of the greatest burdens that I bear is people keep on telling me all the time, “Well, why would you be so concerned about people who don’t know? Don’t you care about us?” I care about you passionately. But the ninety and nine that are safely in the fold are in the fold.[17] It’s the one who isn’t in the fold! We do not exist for ourselves.

God is a missionary God. He came down on earth that he might send us out into all the world to preach the gospel.

He is “preached [to] the nations.” God is a missionary God. He came down on earth that he might send us out into all the world to preach the gospel. When Eric Liddell left Edinburgh after his Olympic victory in 1924 and he was there at Waverly Station, first to London and from London on then to China, and the crowd gathered to say goodbye to him, and some were his friends and family and folks from church, and others were people who were intrigued because he played rugby for Scotland and was an Olympic gold medalist; and as they gathered all around, he seized the opportunity, and he dropped the window in his train compartment, and he shouted to the silenced crowd, “Christ for the world, for the world needs Christ!” And then he led them in the singing of [“Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun”] and took his journey on. And he died in a prisoner-of-war camp. Why? Because he understood the mystery of godliness. It had burned itself into his soul. He could never be the same again. There wasn’t a gold medal that had been minted that could meet the aspiration of his heart to see unbelieving people become committed followers of Jesus Christ.


The penultimate word is affirmation. Affirmation: “He … was believed on in the world.” “Believed on in the world.”

God’s promise to Abraham is fulfilled—Genesis 12:3: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” The words of the psalmist as he anticipates men and women bowing before his footstool[18] are fulfilled.

From utmost east to utmost west
Where’er man’s foot hath trod,
By the mouth of many messengers
Goes forth the voice of God.
Give ear to me, ye continents,
Ye isles, give ear to me,
That the earth may be filled with the glory of God
As the waters cover the sea.[19]

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[20]

including Sun Myung Moon and the sorry spectacle of yesterday.[21]

Incidentally and in passing, loved ones, do you see what happens when something other than the gospel becomes the point of unity? Listen to me carefully: I know some of you think I am distinctly weird, but believe me, my words will be fulfilled. And I’ll tell you why: because as soon as men and women take their eye off the mystery of godliness and put it on any other agenda, be it political, be it family, be it whatever it is, you can unite with everyone and their uncle! Are you interested in a good family? “Sign me up.” Are you interested in being a good dad? “Sign me up.” Would you like to do this? “Yes, I would like to do that.” Well then, let’s all get together and admit this—Louis Farrakhan and everybody and his jolly uncle. What’s the problem? How can people in the church in America be so dense as to miss this? Because they are untaught. Because they do not know their Bibles. Because they are susceptible to a spiritual three-dollar bill.


And that, loved ones, is why we will give our dying breath to instruct you: that in a subsequent generation, long after we are gone, there will be those who can arise and say, “Great is the mystery of godliness.” For it ends with exultation. “He … was believed on in the world,” and he “was taken up in[to] glory.”

The head that once was crowned with thorns
Is crowned with glory now;
A royal diadem adorns
the mighty victor’s brow.

The highest place that heav’n affords
[Was] his by sovereign right,
the King of Kings, [the] Lord of Lords
And heav’n’s eternal light.[22]

While the cruel taunts and jeers of men, with the ringing of their hammers and with the scrambling of their antagonism towards this Suffering Servant there on Golgotha—while their breath was still hanging in the air, the gates of heaven were opened wide, and the angels sang,

All his work is ended;
Joyfully we sing;
Jesus has ascended:
Glory to our King![23]

Now, this doesn’t sound very believable, all this, does it? How could you ever get anybody to swallow this? You can’t. You don’t have to. For all of this mystery of godliness is veiled before the eyes of those who are perishing.[24] But when God shines the light of the glory of his gospel into the darkness of the hearts of men and women,[25] and when they discover the work of the Spirit way in the recesses of their lives long before they ever understood, then they’ll stand, and they’ll declare the same with us.

Some of you are here this morning, and you’re agnostic. And I’m glad you’re here. You don’t know if you believe or not. Well, I didn’t try and make it a real easy little talk for you. I think you would agree that. Didn’t try and give you a little thing—you know, “Jesus is a nice man, and wouldn’t you like to know a nice man? And after all, your mortgage is a little tough at the moment, and Christmas is coming, and you need a little peace in your life, and wouldn’t you like to sign up for it?” I could do that, but that’d be a flat-out lie. The only thing I can do is do what it says, and that’s tell you this most unbelievable story, this incredible mystery. Today, if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your heart.[26]

Let us pray:

Father, there isn’t language enough to get our words around the immensity of these truths. And so we’re left where we need to be: before you, to say, “Lord, turn our darkness into light. Give us, for our mourning, joy; for our lostness, the wonder of your truth. Make us bold in these things—gracious but bold. May the only offense that comes be the offense of the wonder of your cross.”

And now unto him who is able to keep us from falling, to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, now and forevermore. Amen.

[1] 1 Thessalonians 1:9 (paraphrased).

[2] See Jeremiah 10:3–5.

[3] Acts 26:24 (paraphrased).

[4] Graham Kendrick, “Meekness and Majesty” (2002).

[5] Charles Wesley, “They Shall Call His Name Immanuel” (1745).

[6] John Murray, “The Mystery of Godliness,” in Collected Writings of John Murray, vol. 3, Life of John Murray: Sermons and Reviews (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982), 239.

[7] J. Wilbur Chapman, “One Day!” (1910).

[8] See Deuteronomy 21:22–23.

[9] Matthew 3:17 (KJV).

[10] Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3; Luke 4:22; John 6:42 (paraphrased).

[11] Romans 1:3–4 (NIV 1984).

[12] See Matthew 4:11.

[13] See Revelation 5:11–12.

[14] Matthew 28:2–4 (NIV 1984).

[15] Matthew 28:5–6 (paraphrased).

[16] Donald Guthrie, The Pastoral Epistles: An Introduction and Commentary, rev. ed., The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1990), 104.

[17] Elizabeth Cecilia Clephane, “There Were Ninety and Nine” (1868).

[18] See Psalm 110:1.

[19] Arthur Campbell Ainger, “God Is Working His Purpose Out” (1894).

[20] Isaac Watts, “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun” (1719).

[21] See Laurie Goodstein, “35,000 Couples Are Invited to a Blessing by Rev. Moon,” New York Times, November 28, 1997,

[22] Thomas Kelly, “The Head That Once Was Crowned with Thorns” (1820).

[23] Frances Ridley Havergal, “Golden Harps Are Sounding” (1871).

[24] See 2 Corinthians 4:3.

[25] See 2 Corinthians 4:6.

[26] See Psalm 95:7–8; Hebrews 3:7–8, 15; 4:7 (paraphrased).

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.