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The appearance of God

I Timothy 3:16 Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He

appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was
preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in
I remember quite clearly when this mighty verse was drawn to my attention for
the first time. It was forty years ago this year in the little seaside town of
Greystones, south of Dublin, and I was working in summer evangelism with the
Childrens Special Service Mission. The students in the team were asked one by
one to lead the morning devotions. An Oxford University undergraduate was on
the team whose name, I believe, was John. An eccentric, he informed us he had
his own second-hand hearse, and had driven it to the Swanwick IVF conference
the previous Easter where it had been talked about even by the platform
speakers. He gave me one of his visiting cards which had an engraving of a
hearse on it. It was all enormously impressive for me, a country-bumpkin
student from Wales whose parents never owned a car. How cool and
sophisticated it seemed, and a bit exhibitionist. Very Brideshead Revisited. I
was quite envious at that time.
On the morning when it was Johns turn to take the devotions he began by
reading the words of our text, and he said to us quite simply and earnestly how
much he loved this verse, how comprehensive it was, and that all of the
Christian faith was in these words of the apostle. I cannot remember anything
more of what John said, but the verse and the hearse have stuck indelibly in my
memory for forty years. The verse is, of course, one of the famous 3:16s of
the New Testament. That was a happy time in my life, enjoying meeting a wide
range of Christians in the holy catholic church, and deciding that my future
was going to be always amongst them.
An Excursus: Why the Word God is Omitted from the Verse in the NIV
This verse is more striking in the King James or Authorised Version translation
where it says with a marvellous plainness, God was manifest in the flesh.
Certainly this is its meaning, and no one disputes that. But that is not what the
original says. Even recently someone sent me a sermon on cassette preached
by a friend who is a great defender of the King James version of the Scriptures.
In the sermon he goes OTT, quoting this verse from the New International
Version as a proof that the NIV has been influenced by modernism and has a
low view of both Scripture and the person of our Lord Jesus.
This is the beginning of this particular message, and as you are feeling awake I
must explain to you first of all very briefly why the word God is omitted from
the NIV. You are all aware that today we have none of the original manuscripts
either of the Old Testament or of the New. The earliest substantial parts of the
New Testament we possess date from the fourth century, though there are
some fragments going back to early in the second century. We do have,
however, thousands of manuscripts which give us abundant testimony to the
nature of the original text. There are indeed varieties in these manuscripts,
mostly of a very minor nature, arising from the fallibility of the human eye and
memory. These affect such matters as spelling, names and grammar. About
sixty words of the New Testament are in doubt one in a thousand. Many of

these leave the sense of the passage entirely unaffected, and not one article of
faith or one moral precept depends for its entire support upon a disputed
So imagine this papyrus letter which was written by Paul to Timothy arriving in
Ephesus and soon it was copied and taken to other churches. Then copies of
those copies would have been made. All this was done extremely carefully, and
if mistakes were seen to have been made then the manuscript would have
been torn up and copied again. Damp, mildew and constant use would have
worn out all the original manuscripts of the New Testament. So we have many
copies of this letter and of all the other books of the New Testament, and we
can compare the manuscripts, and there are excellent principles to help us
know what is the likeliest reading where there is any dispute and there is
dispute, you remember, in only a tiny minority of places.
What you have in our particular text is a Greek word which would have been
written down something like our letters OC meaning he who. But there is
another very similar Greek word QC which is an abbreviation for the word
God and the only difference is that in the centre of the first letter in that word
is a sign like a tiny capital H. Sometime during the copying of this verse a
scribe slipped the little H into the word, and thus, when such reverence had
been given to Christ as God, later generations of copyists in the Greek church
would not omit that little H. But the Vulgate translators had actually translated
this verse into Latin before this change from he to God became commonly
copied, and the Latin church has always known this verse as saying he rather
than God. Most men of our century, like Lenski and Hendriksen and Guthrie
and Knight and Warfield, teachers of impeccable conservative views, believe
that he is the original word. They think that a pious scribe with poor eyes was
responsible for this alteration. The doctrine of the incarnation does not hang on
this verse.
Spurgeon says in his sermon on this text: There is very little occasion for
fighting about this matter, for if the text does not say God was manifest in the
flesh, who does it say was manifest in the flesh? Either a man, or an angel, or
a devil. Does it tell us that a man was manifest in the flesh? Assuredly that
cannot be its teaching, for every man is manifest in the flesh, and there is no
sense whatever in making such a statement concerning any mere man, and
then calling it a mystery. Was it an angel, then? But what angel was ever
manifest in the flesh? And if he were, would it be at all a mystery that he
should be seen of angels? Is it a wonder for an angel to see an angel? Can it
be that the devil was manifest in the flesh? If so, he has been received up into
glory, which, let us hope, is not the case. Well, if it was neither a man, nor an
angel, nor a devil, who was manifest in the flesh, surely he must have been
God; and so, if the word be not there, the sense must be there, or else
nonsense (MTP, Volume 18, 1872, The Hexapla of Mystery, p.712).
Let us add one more thing. There are other verses in the NIV New Testament
where Christ is unequivocally called God where in the translation of the
Authorised Version this is not as clear, e.g. 2 Peter 1:1 the righteousness of
our God and Saviour Jesus Christ whereas the AV translates it the
righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ. I hope no one snarls their
disapproval at the AV for that translation. Again the NIV translates Romans 9:5

Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen. But the AV translates it,
Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever, Amen. I hope no one
criticises the AV for modernist tendencies for that translation. Again the NIV
translates Titus 2:13, the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour,
Jesus Christ. But the AV gives the verse some ambivalence, the glorious
appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ. The Jehovahs
Witnesses are happier with the AV at these points, and with the NIV translation
of our text. But both the NIV and the AV are serious translations from the
Greek, one translated over 400 years ago and the other 40 and yet to earn its
spurs or prove it has staying power. Neither translation has any bias against
the deity of Jesus Christ.
There are at least half a dozen serious attempts to translate the Bible, the
Authorised Version, the British Revised Version or American Standard Version,
the New American Standard Version, the Revised Standard Version, the New
International Version, and the New King James Version. There is even a group of
conservative men now working on an adaptation of the Revised Standard
Version which will be a more literal translation of the Bible than the NIV. The
scholars involved in this work have been attempting to translate the original
languages of the Bible. Christians should be careful about foolishly dismissing
any of those versions or undermining the confidence of the Bible which some
Christian is using, and memorising every day. Every version has its strength
and its weakness you think of how often Dr Lloyd-Jones says in his sermons
that the AV translation at a certain point is not as helpful as it should be.
What a terribly long diversion, and I apologise, but once a decade something
on the text of the Bible needs to be mentioned from this pulpit. Some of you
are reading theology at the university and you are meeting the criticism that
we cannot know what is the original text of the New Testament. Others of you
have been in doorstep arguments with Jehovahs Witnesses who have pointed
out that modern translations agree with the errors of that cult and omit the
word God from I Timothy 3:16, and we have sought to tell you the reason why.
1. The Introduction (v.16)
Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great. What has Paul been
talking about? The church of the living God, and that every congregation has
the high calling of upholding and elevating the truth before the world. How is
that church to be structured? By elders and deacons. That is the way it is to be
properly organised and administered that it may function properly. All of us
who own computers take care how we tamper with them lest we mar their
efficiency. So too beware how you tamper with or are indifferent to the divine
organisation of Gods church lest you thereby mar its effectiveness and
enervate it as the pillar and ground of the truth. What, then, is the truth? Paul
tells us here:i] It is a mystery to the non-Christian but not to the disciples of Jesus. God has
hidden such things from the wise and prudent, but the whole supernatural
story of redemption through the incarnate Son of God has been revealed to us
babes! That is the only reason we know it. Sovereign Mercy has enlightened us.
ii] It is the mystery of godliness, that is, the mystery of our Christian religion,
or the mystery of what is mans chief end, or the mystery of this one thing

which is every Christians priority, working out day by day his relationship with
his Saviour. Orthodoxy and orthopraxis cannot be separated. Gods work of
grace for us produces a life of grace in us. Accomplished redemption inevitably
leads to applied redemption. It is the gift of faith and the object of faith too. The
sovereign act of the God who sent his Son creates our acts of godliness. The
whole of Christianity focuses upon the person of the revealed Lord Jesus Christ,
and that has immense implications for everyone who bows before him. So, that
word godliness is summing up the whole of true Christianity.
iii] It is beyond all questiongreat. Here is one long Greek word translated
beyond all question, and it is found nowhere else in the Bible but here. It is a
splendid word. It is affirmatory and positive declaring this is most certainly
and confessedly the case. Yet it also negatively states the truth this is
undeniably and without question the case. Whatever way we look at this great
revealed mystery of the coming of the incarnate Son of God, however we
approach it, this is mega! That is the Greek word translated by our over-used
word great. It is positively and negatively mega! What is?
iv] It centres upon the Lord Jesus Christ He. All the rest of this verse
describes him. He is the subject of every clause. Six times Paul speaks of him.
That is why Spurgeon calls one of his two sermons on this text, The Hexapla of
Mystery. He returns to his Lord again and again. Some commentators are so
taken up by this repetition that they tell us that here must be an early Christian
hymn. They dont know much about preaching with the Holy Spirit sent from
heaven, when a man will be consumed by Christ and will spontaneously set up
contrasts about the God-man, unable to stop speaking about him. I turned to
my notes of a lecture given in 1962 at Westminster Seminary by John Murray
on the theme of the incarnation. Mr Murray was taken up in describing the
glories of the great mystery of godliness and he cried to us these words, as I
worshipped while frantically scribbling what he was saying, the infinite
becoming finite: the eternal and supra-temporal entering time and becoming
subject to it: the immutable becoming mutable: the invisible becoming visible:
the Creator becoming created: the sustainer of all becoming dependent: the
Almighty becoming weak. God became man. that is like a hymn, and could be
turned into a hymn, no doubt, but it is simply the fitting response of a Christian
theologian to what is beyond all question the great mystery of godliness.
2. The Son of God has been revealed.
He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit. These are the first two
clauses in which the apostle tells us that the Lord Jesus was made known to
us. At his incarnation he was being introduced to us. His birth in Bethlehem did
not mark his beginning as birth marks the beginning of every other creature.
The world had been in ignorance that God was eternally triune, that the Father
was God, the Son was God and the Holy Spirit was God, and yet that these
three were one God. The world did not know that Christ already existed. He
was rich, Paul tells the Corinthians, yet for your sakes he became poor (2
Cor. 8:9). Let me remind you of that incident during the 1859 revival in our
county of Cardiganshire. Dafydd Morgan, the outstanding figure in that
awakening, was speaking in the Penllwyn Chapel of the Calvinistic Methodists
here in Capel Bangor. He quoted to devastating effect that verse, then,
questioning the congregation where there were some deists, said We know

when he was poor, but when was he rich? It is reported that three unitarians
professed conversion on that occasion. Christ was as rich as God because he
was already and timelessly God. Before he appeared in a body, before he was
born of the virgin Mary he existed in the form of God. His birth was Gods way
of making him known to men.
This pre-existence of Christ is exactly what we have in the prologue to Johns
gospel, In the beginning was the word. Donald MacLeod writes about Johns
marvellously careful use of the tenses. In the absolute beginning the Word had
being, the Word was already in being. But you contrast it with the words of John
1:14, the Word became. It is the aorist tense speaking of a once for all action.
The Word became, definitively, flesh. But in the beginning the Word was in
being. At that moment, when everything that ever was came into existence,
the Word did not come into existence. At that moment of the beginning the
Word already was. He was in being (Donald MacLeod, Philippians 2 and
Christology, a pamphlet published by TSF, 1976, p.3).
Christ was in being as God, that is, as the very fulness of God, with all the
functions of God like creation, providence and judgment. He had the attributes
of God, the titles of God, the prerogatives of God, the rights which the only
living and true God can possess. Whatever constitutes God, whatever makes
God God, that was all his from the beginning. Without him was not anything
made, and what was made was life in him. In Jesus Christ all things are held
together. You remember Isaiahs great vision in the sixth chapter of his
prophecy, I saw the Lord. It was the glory of the Lord Jesus that he saw,
sitting upon a throne. He is Gods equal. There are not three thrones in
heaven, or three sources of sovereignty. There is just one Lord of Hosts, and he
is Father, and he is Son, and he is Holy Spirit. They each have the same
eminence and same status. They also have the same compassion and love, and
that love can be grieved by the same defiances of sin. God is one. Hear O
Israel, the Lord our God is one.
Yet the Lord Jesus is a distinct person from God the Father. One can love the
other, and send the other, and manifest the other to men. It is not the Father
who became incarnate. He did not die upon the cross it was the Son alone.
They are equal yet they are distinct persons. They are the same in substance
I and my Father are one yet distinct in their persons. It is one of the great
New Testament phenomena that the order of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is not
sacrosanct. Salutations, doxologies and benedictions have a tremendous
variation in order. It is sometimes Father, Son and Holy Spirit as in the
baptismal formula at the end of Matthews gospel. It is sometimes Jesus, Father
and Holy Spirit as it is in the words of the grace at the end of 2 Corinthians.
While in I Corinthians 12:4-6 the Spirit comes first and God the Father last,
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds
of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the
same God works all of them in all men. So we must school ourselves in seeing
Christ as absolutely and unreservedly God. That is where the New Testament
always begins, not with the humanity but with the godhead of the redeemer.
He was God before he became man. He is the Son of God before he comes,
when he comes and after he comes. He is always the Son of God,

But Paul says in our text that he appeared in a body. He had appeared to
Isaiah high and lifted up on a throne. But when God sent forth from heaven his
Son he did not refuse to come into the closest contact with our sad world. Paul
tells us he was made in the likeness of sinful flesh. It is a daring phrase, in
which he is saved from blasphemy by the word likeness. He did not shake his
head at being made poor. He did not draw the line at having nowhere to lay his
head. He did not despise taking up his abode in Marys womb he who had
filled the heaven of heavens. Milton said that the Son left the courts of
everlasting day, and chose with us a darksome house of mortal clay. Christ did
not say that that would be inconsistent with his personal dignity. He didnt
stand upon his rights and say, Father, I must insist that I retain my equality
and I am not going to compromise on that. He did not say, Father, if I go into
the world, if I am to be sent forth, I must insist that it be like it was at Sinai with
thunderings and lightnings and angels and a thick cloud, or that it be like it was
when I was manifest to Isaiah seated between the cherubim high and lifted up
and glory everywhere, or as when I appeared to Joshua before Jericho as a
mighty warrior. He did not make that request.
Or think of when he will one day come again, and it will be in the glory of the
Father, with all the holy angels with him. He will appear in all the splendour of
his divine eminence, divine nature and divine status. He will sit upon a great
white throne and all the world will confess that Jesus is Lord. All eyes will be
cast down to the ground, every tongue will be silent, and each head will be
bowed in submission.
But when he appeared for the first time it was not like that. He appeared in the
body of a baby. The Ancient of days became an infant of days. He was not a
spirit, nor a phantom, nor a shadow. He was not a deity disguised in human
form. He was manifest in flesh and blood. It was not a sham nor was it a show.
He did not simply look like a man. He began his humiliation where all of us
begin, as a fertilised egg smaller than a comma on this page. Our measureless
Lord was contracted to that span. He became a genuine man with the same
chemical constitution as ours, the same anatomy, the identical physiology, the
same central nervous system. He had a body with a peculiar and distinctive
genetic inheritance, and the same physical limitations that we have. It was not
a body of measureless stamina or of boundless energy. He was bone of our
bones and flesh of our flesh. He became weary, thirsty, exhausted, lacerated,
because he had taken a true body.
Christ took every constituent and component that makes up a human being. It
is our human nature in its low condition that he had taken, addicted to so
many wretchednesses as Calvin says. Every faculty and attribute that make up
manliness were all there. In that body he lived and expressed himself. He could
smell the fine perfumed oil that Mary Magdalene poured over his head. He
could feel her hot tears wetting his feet. He could taste the freshly cooked fish
he prepared for his disciples and ate with them at the Sea of Galilee. In that
body he was whipped and wounded and crucified and died and was entombed.
In that body he rose from the dead it was a physical resurrection.
Christ also had the human mind and affections and will and decision-making
processes that every man has. He had a true human intellect that was not
omniscient but that sought information and grew in wisdom. He had true

affection for his mother she was on his heart as he was dying. She had been a
wonderful mother to him, He loved his friends some of them particularly
warmly, and for a young wealthy man who very nearly followed him. He loved
God above all, passionately and all embracively. Jesus knew the human
emotions of joy and of sorrow, of fear and apprehension, disappointment and
amazement. There was one moment when he was exceeding sorrowful, even
unto death. So that not only is his physique similar to ours, but his psyche too,
his excitements and his griefs are utterly human.
Christ served God with a human brain, arms, legs and physical energy. Each
day he rose he would present his body as a living sacrifice to God. In that body
he put himself where the darkness is, where a woman is shamed publicly and
threatened with being stoned to death. He faced her and her executioners. He
experienced his mothers nephew being imprisoned and beheaded. He faced
Satan head-on, and overcame him as we do by dependence upon the God of
the word and the word of God. He was the oldest son of a poor carpenter living
in a village and working hard each day to survive. There could have been few
vacations by the Sea of Galilee. He knew stress and deprivation at all kinds of
levels. He was exposed to suffering, so that long before confronting Jerusalems
rejection he had shed many a tear. When they stripped him he felt the shame.
He became flesh for ever. That union of eternal deity with true humanity is
indissoluble. He is still today God and man. There are permanently two natures
in the one person of the Son of God. The dust of the earth is on the throne of
the universe.
A man there is, a real Man, With wounds still gaping wide, From which rich
streams of blood once ran, In hands and feet and side.
Tis no wild fancy of our brains, No metaphor we speak; The same dear Man in
heaven now reigns, That suffered for our sake.
This wondrous Man of whom we tell, Is true Almighty God; He bought our souls
from death and hell; The price, His own hearts blood,
That human heart He still retains, Though throned in highest bliss; And feels
each tempted members pains For our afflictions His
(Joseph Hart)
Christs memory cells do not fade and die. He has not forgotten one incident
from his thirty-three years. The wave of excruciating pain that hit his brain
when they drove a nail through the palm of his hand is remembered today as
vividly as when he was being crucified two thousand years ago. That is the
foundation of his compassion towards us. He remembers that we are dust
because he was once dust himself. He knows our frame because he too is that
same glorified frame today. He has been through all our stresses and pressures,
save for the guilt of sin. He will ever be touched by our frustrations and
disappointments. He knows and sympathises with our vulnerability, and he is
completely accessible to us.
He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, says the apostle. Why
did Christ need to be vindicated? There were two aspects to the incarnation:
the Lord taking frail flesh, and the Lord accepting the vocation of a servant.
Firstly, as a man Christ came into our low condition, and he looked

indistinguishable from us sinners. Judas needed to go right up to the group of

disciples in Gethsemane and point him out to the chief priests by kissing him.
Jesus did not have an ethereal glow about him, nor did he wear a distinctive
white robe, nor did he tower over his shorter statured friends. He was found in
fashion as a man, and that was his singular appearance except for the
episode of the transfiguration. He does not seem to have been particularly tall
because he could go to sleep on a pillow in a boat, while Zacchaeus decided to
climb a tree to look over the heads of the people that surrounded the Lord in
order to look down upon the shorter Jesus. So how was this little man
vindicated he who made such great claims to be the promised Messiah, the
Son of God, to go right back before Abraham, and to be one with God? This
man who faced the disdainful opposition of the worlds religious leaders, and
met contemptuous demonic resistance how was he at all credibl e? Paul tells
us in our text that it was by God the Holy Spirit. He was vindicated by the
Or think of his vocation to be the Servant of the Lord: he came under the law.
He was under obligation when asked to perform certain duties. There was a
work assigned to him and commandments given to him. So he was as
answerable as any slave to his master. From Lordship in heaven he plummeted
to the position of earthly servitude. He went down to Nazareth with [his
parents] and was obedient to them (Lk.2:51). He was under the law in both its
active and passive demands. Eventually he says to his Father, I have finished
the work that you gave me to do. There was an assignment given to him
which no other creature under heaven or in heaven could perform. How could
he survive as a man under such high and heavenly demands? How was he at
all credible? Our text says that he was vindicated by the Spirit.
So it is as a man in the low condition of men in a fallen world (unlike Adam in
paradise), and as a man commissioned to do certain things that he is
vindicated by the Spirit. The phrase found in the prophet Isaiah is that Gods
servant was upheld. My servant whom I uphold. His ministry as mediator in
all its dimensions and all its aspects, is also performed by the strength of
Almighty God, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who is filled
with the Spirit from the moment of his conception. He is the one upon whom
the Spirit comes at the moment of baptism or perhaps comes is the wrong
word because the dove may be more an attestation of an existing reality than
the conferring of a new endowment. The dependent humanity of the incarnate
Lord is ministered to constantly by the Spirit and upheld by the Spirit. Even
such things as our Lords understanding of the Old Testament, our Lords
understanding of the divine will, our Lords receptiveness to divine revelation,
are consequences of the ministry of the Holy Spirit; as is also the resoluteness
with which in the Passion he is able to embrace actively the cup which God the
Father has put into his hand. It would be perilous to minimise in any way the
dependence of the Lord, to minimise this great factor of the Holy Spirits
ministry. As Prophet, as Priest, as King he is functioning as one who is upheld.
He himself on the threshold of the Passion uses language of this kind, I am not
alone. The Father who has sent me is with me. You have the tremendous
paradox of the simultaneous forsaking of the Son by the Father and the
upholding of the Son by the Father (Donald MacLeod, Philippians 2 and
Christology, T.S.F., 1976, p.14).

Consider how the Lord was accused of employing occult and demonic power to
do his miracles. He testifies to the vindicating action of the Spirit: if I drive out
demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you
(Matt.12:28). The miracles he wrought were acts he did by the Holy Spirit as a
demonstration that he was Gods beloved Son. Supremely his resurrection is
the Spirits great act of vindication. His death on the cross said that this man
was a liar and a blasphemer, and that God had rejected and condemned him,
though it was the Spirit who loved him who energised him for that great
sacrifice: through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God.
(Hebs. 9:14). And his resurrection came to the very reverse judgment to the
worlds condemnation: who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with
power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our
Lord (Roms.1:4).
3. The Son of God Has Been Witnessed To.
He was seen by angels, was preached among the nations (v.16). To what
places has the vindication of Christ reached? Paul answers, to the heavens, and
also to the remotest corners of the earth. Before he was even conceived, one
day all the angels gathered before God to get their instructions for the day and
Gabriel was told to go to Mary and tell her that she had found favour with God
and was soon to be with child and would give birth to a son whom she was to
call Jesus who would be great and called the Son of the Most High. Soon after
another angel was despatched to the home of a young carpenter named Joseph
to tell him not to be afraid to take to his home Mary his espoused one, even
though she was pregnant, because what was conceived in her was from the
Holy Spirit. So that before even Joseph knew this fact the angels in heaven
knew. The two angels immediately went with the news to Mary and to Joseph.
Then when Jesus was born in Bethlehem God sent an angel to announce to
farm-workers that that day in the town of Bethlehem a Saviour had been born
who was Christ the Lord. Then God opened wide the gates of heaven and
allowed a great company of angels to join their spokemen. They all came down
and stood on the fields around Bethlehem, as numerous as the blades of grass,
carpeting the area with an angelic host, standing amidst the sheep, on the
walls and lanes, and under the trees, praising God with one voice, Glory to
God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests
Then you remember throughout Jesus life there are angels seeing him at the
great crisis times in his life. After his temptations by the devil in the wilderness
angels come and attend him. Can we help you? Is there anything you need?
Do you want food, drink, a pillow for your head? Did they strengthen him by
covering their eyes and covering their feet and crying, Holy, holy, holy!? Did
they assure him that he was the victorious Son of God triumphant over Satan?
When he had prayed in Gethsemane in great agony, and his sweat was as
drops of blood, and angel again was sent by God to that holy scene to comfort
him. Did that angel say, You Father sent me to tell you that you are his
beloved Son in whom he is well pleased?
Then think of the legion of angels waiting, hands upon their swords, in mute
unbelief, as they saw men take their Lord and nail him to a cross and lift him up

to die. Just one signal, a nod of the head, a request from their master and they
would come at enormous speed and deliver and wreak divine vengeance on
those who would torture their God and King so despicably. But they waited in
baffled grief in vain.
When he came from the dead there were again angels to greet him risen from
the tomb, to supply all he needed now that was fight was oer and the battle
won. One rolled the stone away. Others simply sat at the head and foot of the
place where his body had lain. They were the first preachers of the resurrection
to the women who came to embalm his body.
Angels saw him throughout his life. Little wonder that they sing so joyfully and
with such fresh delight, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain. They were there
when the great events of cosmic redemption took place. They know just what it
cost him and all he achieved. these are the angels who are spirits who minister
to us day by day. Their head who gives them orders is our Shepherd and King
of love.
One question, have you seen Jesus? He was seen by angels. Have your eyes
seen him your spiritual inner eyes, we mean those eyes that see a certain
person so that you fall in love with him? Have you seen Jesus Christ to love
him? If not, the Lord help you this day to look to him and be saved. It is nothing
that he was seen of angels, unless he be seen by me also.
But Paul adds this, that the Lord Jesus was preached among the nations.
This was one of the marks of the new covenant, that the word of God would be
taken and declared outside the community of Israel, and that in Africa and in
the islands of the distant seas, men would hear the word of Jehovah God. Under
the old covenant the god of this world kept the nations in darkness. They were
gentile dogs who had to be satisfied with a few crumbs that fell from the
masters table. But after our Lord ascended he was preached from Jerusalem
through Judea and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth. We are
taken along in Pauls first and second and third missionary journeys. The Word
of God is sent to Rome and Corinth and Philippi and Galatia and Ephesus. Those
places have the means of grace in preaching. Paul becomes a minister to the
uncircumcision, and what a wonderful work he does among the Gentiles. He is
what he urges us to be, steadfast, unmoveable and abounding in the work of
the Lord. Christ is preached among the nations. Spurgeon says,
Preached, mark you. For he is to be set forth in that manner. the church is
ever to maintain this great, uncontroverted mystery, that the setting forth of
Christ to the Gentiles is to be by preaching, and not by any other means of
mans devising. Suppose I could take my pencil now, and draw the Saviour with
such matchless skill, that a Raffaelle or a Titian could not rival me: God has
never ordained that so Christ should be set forth to the Gentiles. Or, suppose I
should perform the ceremony of the mass with al the exactness, and with all
the gorgeousness which the church of Rom would require; such a setting forth
of Christ among the Gentiles would not be according to the divine mystery.
Christ is to be preached among the Gentiles; the appointed way of manifesting
the incarnate God to the sons of men is by preaching the church must always
maintain this (MTP, Vol. 18, p172).

So you read the Acts narrative and see how speedily the message of those
men spreads from the twelve in the Upper Room to the 500 on the Mount of
Ascension to the 3000 on the Day of Pentecost. Then they quickly conquered
Samaria and penetrated Asia Minor and took the message across to Europe, to
Greece and to Rome. There in the capital they planted the cross of Christ, and
their eyes were always further afield. No place was untrodden by the Christian
missionary. No nation unaffected by the gospel declared with the Holy Ghost
sent down from heaven. This is a great mystery which the Lord repeats again
and again. O that such preaching might go on in this new millennium through
the whole world, for the voice of truth in the preaching of Jesus is the great
power of God.
But have you heard it? There is power in the preaching and God saves through
this means, as many of you can testify, but there is a warning too Take heed
how you hear. If God waits to bless by hearing then woe to that man who
hears disrespectfully and irreverently. Woe to the hearers who are not doers
also. God grant that we who preach may give a good account at the last that
our ministries may not have been in vain.
4. The Son of God has Been Accepted.
He was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory, Paul concludes.
Spurgeon calls this the most glorious of the six points. What a fascinating
remark! In other words, God might become incarnate and die and rise, but if
the world would snarl, Poppycock! then what will it avail? But the message
they preached everywhere about these astounding events was actually
believed. It was a world plunged into darkness and superstition. It had no
history of 2000 years of the expansion of Christianity behind it. There were
temples and altars at every corner of the Gentile world. How unprepared the
first preachers must have been for the reception they were given. Peter is a
young fisherman, and how diffident and uninitiated he was in the arts of
rhetoric. He gets up on the day of Pentecost and declares the Word and
discovered that thousands of men were convicted at what he said, and cried
mightily to God to have mercy on them. Could Peter have slept a wink the night
that followed that service? For nights in a restlessness that only the joy of the
Holy Spirit can bring he thought to himself, Three thousand were prepared to
believe my testimony to Christ!
How amazed Paul was when he saw Asia Minor fall before Christ and then to go
into Europe and meet there great numbers willing to suffer the loss of al thing
for the excellency of believing upon the Saviour. What a happy man he was.
This was the great mystery that Christ was believed on in the world, that is to
say, trusted as Saviour. Men will leave their other trusts, and trust in him. They
will give up their self-righteousness. They leave their vaunted sacraments.
They forsake all ways of self-salvation and they come to Christ as he is freely
offered to them in the gospel and they trust in him. That is a mystery. For a
sinner to say, From now on all my hope of peace with God lies in the one name
of Jesus Christ. Only a miracle of grace can explain that.
You say you do not think that is a mystery. Have you believed on him? If you
have then you too will say, That was the finger of God. He changed me, and
saved me. I did not work up faith myself. He drew me and I came to him.
Someone may say that they will believe if we can persuade them. Very likely,

but no preacher can create true faith. No father can place his hands on a
darling childs head and infuse faith. No parent can argue or pressure a son or
daughter into believing. It takes a mightier work than a preachers or a
parents. It takes the divine power of grace. Faith is a blessed gift of God, not of
works lest any should boast.
Have you this faith? Do you believe in Jesus? Everything else in the text leads
to this. If he be manifest in the flesh, what is that unless I believe on him? If he
be justified by the Spirit, what is that unless my faith in him justifies me in the
sight of God? What if he be seen of angels, how does that help me unless I see
him too? And even if he is preached week after week here and in other
congregations in this town, and I hear it and know it, does not that mean
greater guilt for me if, after hearing, I have not believed on him? O that my
preaching became effectual by the blessing of God to your salvation. O that
God would use it to persuade you irresistibly to believe on his Son Jesus Christ!
Most of you, I am convinced, are true believers, but how many of you still hear,
and hear, and hear, and that is all. You are yet in the world and not in Christ.
But these words tell me that it was in the world that Christ was trusted.
Believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.
Christ was taken up in glory. Those are the last words of the great saying.
When that extraordinary life was over it was to glory he returned. From glory he
came, and to that same glory he returned but now as the God-man for ever. In
his human nature he is extravagantly exalted, seated in the midst of the throne
of God. He goes directly to glory because all that needed to be said to us
sinners has been said. All that needed to be done for us sinners has been done.
All his toil was over, and now was the reward, the welcome and the seat at
Gods right hand. He takes possession of all that he has purchased. Ask of me
and I shall give Thee the heathen for thine inheritance and the uttermost parts
of the world for thine inheritance. And this exalted Lord has asked on the basis
of his accomplished mission for all those whom he was given by the Father
before the foundation of the world. They are as many as the sands on the
seashores and he has asked for them every single one. The Father, loving his
Son now more than ever, has granted him all he asks, that they all shall be with
Father, Son and Holy Spirit in heaven and see their glory.
He is taken up in glory. They will niggardly give him a corner in Faith Zone in
the Millennium Dome and place all other faiths and their founders alongside
him. But what of that slight? They cannot hurt him for he is taken up in glory.
They would slay his people and throw them into slavery in the southern Sudan
and East Timor, but he is taken up in glory. They revile his gospel and say, We
cant go back to that again. But they cannot dim the lustre of his crown. He is
taken up in glory. The rockets of the United Nations cant dislodge him from
that throne. He sits in heaven and does whatsoever he pleases. What matters
is his triumph. He is everlastingly exalted, and every hour is bringing nearer the
time when he shall lay bare his sword in the midst of his foes, and unveil his
face in the midst of his friends. Let us rejoice in him today and bear our six-fold
testimony to him.
Spurgeon ends by saying, When I am preaching the gospel, many will say,
Oh, he is only telling us commonplace truth. Just so, I know that; and yet I feel
within myself as I were wheeling up Gods great cannon, which will blow the

gates of hell to pieces yet. What! none of the venerable mysteries of Rome?
What, none of the new philosophical discoveries? None of the imposing
ceremonies? No, brethren, not one of them, they are all wooden guns, shames
and counterfeits, and if they ever are fired off they will go to shivers. This plain
truth, that God was made flesh and dwelt among us, is Gods great batteringram against which nothing can stand. never lose heart in the gospel, my
brethren, but think you hear the apostle calling across the ages, Great is the
mystery of godliness. Look for nothing greater, the gospel is great enough.
keep to it, never think you have told men times enough about it. As Napoleon
told his warriors at the pyramids, A thousand ages look down upon you!
bleeding martyrs who from their graves, call to you to be faithful; confessors
who ascended to haven in fiery chariots, implore you to be steadfast. Hold fast
that ye have received! Attempt not to mend the truth, venture not to shape it
according to the fancy of the times, but proclaim it in all its native purity. By
this hammer the gods of Rome and Greece were dashed to shivers, by this
lever the world was turned upside down; it is this gospel which has brought
glory to God, filled heaven with redeemed souls, and made hell to tremble in all
its palaces of flame. bind it about your heart, and defy the hosts of Rome or
hell to unloose its folds. Wrap it about your loins in death, and hold it as a
standard in both your hands in life. This simple truth, that Jesus Christ has
come to seek and to save that which is lost, and that whosoever believeth in
him shall not perish, but have everlasting life, must be your jewel, your
treasure, your life (MTP, Volume 13, 1867, The Great Mystery of Godliness
12 December 1999 Geoff Thomas