THE MYSTERY OF GODLINESS
Address to Young People
Dr. P. M. Rowell
December llth, 1971
This evening I hope that the Lord will help me to speak very simply so that even the younger ones will understand some of the things that I am going to say, but I am afraid that I am going to read a very difficult text. It has some long words in it, but I don’t want you to be afraid of those long words because I shall try and explain what they mean. So I want you to turn to the first epistle of Paul to Timothy, the third chapter and the last verse. “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”
Now today you have been singing a lot of hymns. You know, when the church first started, when Paul was writing to Timothy, and other believers, those who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ used to meet together and even in those days they would sing hymns. Now it seems that the verse that I read to you this evening was part of one of those hymns that the Church used to sing hundreds of years ago. It doesn’t look like a hymn does it? Well that is because it has been translated. This is not how it was originally written. It’s been translated into our own language, so of course it doesn’t look like a hymn. But these are things that believers used to sing about in the very early days of the Church. They used to sing about the very things that we have been singing about today. And this verse, although it’s got some long words in it, is really about Jesus. One of the things that the believers in the early days of the Church loved to sing about was just this. They loved to sing about Jesus Christ. Paul reminds Timothy of the wonderful things that he has been teaching about Jesus Christ and if any man loved the Lord Jesus Christ, it was the apostle Paul. You won’t read any of his writings very long before you see the name of Jesus Christ. Paul just delighted to speak about his Lord and Master and so he reminds Timothy of some of the wonderful things about Him.
He says, “without controversy great is the mystery of godliness.” Do you know what controversy is? Now that is the first long word, isn’t it? Controversy. Well, if someone went out of this chapel tonight and turned to you and said, “I don’t believe what I’ve been hearing, do you?” and you said, “Yes, I do believe it”. And the other person said, “Well I don’t believe because of this, and because of that, and because of the other.” Now that would be a controversy, because then you would have to say, “Well I do believe it, and I believe it because, well, I know it’s true, or because God has taught me that it’s true.” Or perhaps you little ones would have to say, “Well, I believe it’s true because Mummy and Daddy say it is true.” Now that would be an argument, wouldn’t it? And that’s really what this word means, it means an argument, a discussion, a dispute, where people have different ideas. Now Paul says, all arguments have come to an end, there’s no more argument about this at all. Indeed I am sure that Paul would just not have listened to people who wanted to argue about things like this. If they didn’t believe the things that he believed then there was no argument left. All he could say was simply this, “Well, I believe that this is the truth”. So without controversy, without arguing about it, Paul says, “great is the mystery of godliness.” Now the thing that Paul believed was a great mystery. Do you remember this afternoon the last hymn that we sang was called “the wondrous story”? I was almost afraid we weren’t going to sing that hymn, but anyway we did, and I was very thankful because I want just to look at that hymn for a moment. It says, “Who is He in yonder stall, At whose feet the shepherds fall? ‘Tis the Lord, Oh wondrous story.” Now you all like stories. There are little boys and girls who live at my home and they all like stories. When Daddy is at home in the evenings, (that’s not very often I’m afraid, but when he is,) it’s often “Daddy will read my story” and so Daddy has to read a story. Now the Bible has a story and the particular story that we sang about this afternoon is the story of Jesus Christ. But, Paul says, this isn’t an ordinary story. It’s a mystery story. Now you all like a story with a mystery in it, don’t you? That’s something that you don’t understand at the beginning and as you read on through the book, you read more and more about the mystery until, by the time you get to the end of the book, you know exactly what the mystery was. Well now, this story is indeed a mystery story, it’s a story full of mysteries. There’s more than one mystery in it. There’s lots of mysteries in the story of Jesus Christ and one of the mysteries in this story of Jesus Christ is the mystery of godliness. Do you know what godliness is? Well, it really is an old word that meant something like this: God-like-ness, or being like God. Well that would be a mystery, wouldn’t it? However can we be like God? Who is God? You say “God is a spirit, no man has ever seen God, how then can men like us ever be like God?” Well we can’t, not in that sense at all. We are never going to be the same as God, we never shall be. Well then this must be a mystery. Well I will tell you how men are made like God. Part of the mystery is this, that God was manifest in the flesh! Now there is another long word, “manifest”. “God was manifest in the flesh.” Do you know what that word ‘manifest’ means? Well it means something like this. He appeared so that people could see Him. He showed Himself. Now you see God always did live. There never was a time right from the beginning of the world when there was no God. Indeed before ever the world began, before time began. God was. God never did have a beginning. Your stories always have a beginning, don’t they? You open the first page and it sometimes says. “once upon a time”. That’s the beginning of the story. Well you see Paul says that this wonderful story that he is talking about is not like your story books. It never did have a beginning like that, indeed it’s beginning is before time began. Now that’s a wonderful thing isn’t it? Something happened before time happened, before the world began. Even before the beginning, before the world had a beginning, God was, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Three Persons, one God. Now that’s a mystery too isn’t it. God the Father is not the same as God the Son, and God the Son is not the same as God the Holy Spirit, and yet all those three Persons are one God, not three gods. They’re three Persons, but one God. Now that’s another mystery that Paul tells us about and others too in the Bible. But the mystery of our story is that God the Father sent His Son into this world. His Son, well you would think that God’s Son must have been born sometime. Ah, but you see, you would be wrong because God’s Son was not born in time at all. The Bible tells us that He was begotten eternally. He was God’s eternal Son. There never was a time when there was no Son. Well now. God the Father sent His own Son into the world to save sinners and that’s really what Paul means when he says “God was manifest in the flesh” because God’s Son is God just as the Father is God, and God the Father sent His Son into the world. And the Son came. But now there is another mystery. How could God come into the world? God is a spirit, you can’t see God. Well how could we see God then if He came into the world? We couldn’t. And so He was shown to us, or He came. He appeared here on earth in the flesh. What a wonderful mystery that is. God is not man and man is not God and yet “God is manifest in the flesh”. There is no book that you have ever read that has a mystery like this in it. You have never read a book that had so great a mystery in it as this one. God, whom no man had even seen, nor can see with his natural eyes, is manifest in the flesh. You all know where that God was manifest. I’ve explained what manifest means. How did God manifest Himself in the flesh? Did He come as a king? No. He didn’t come as a great king, did He? Did He come in a shining cloud so that everybody could see Him all at once? No, He didn’t come like that either, did He? Did He come as a very famous wise man like a professor or a teacher so that everybody said, what a wonderful man this is? No. He didn’t come like that either. Well, you know how He came. He was born in Bethlehem, He was born a tiny little babe just like you were once, and you know if anyone had seen Him and not been told who He was, they wouldn’t have recognized Him. They wouldn’t have known that this was a special baby. They didn’t know because there was no room for them at the inn. They didn’t know it was going to be a special baby that Mary was going to have. Mary knew, Joseph knew, and before very long the shepherds knew about it, too, but most people just didn’t know. Now what a remarkable mystery. God is so great, so mighty, so powerful, that He made the world. Such a wonderful being that when He speaks, things happen straight away. When He said “Let there be light” there was light.
When He created the world it was just by speaking and it happened. He is as great as that and yet He is manifest in the flesh as a tiny, weak, helpless, little babe. He lies there in His mother’s arms just as weak as any little baby that you have ever seen. Great is this mystery in this story that Paul is telling us, a great mystery. Why should the great and mighty God be manifest in the flesh as a tiny, weak baby? I wonder whether you young people have ever asked yourselves that. You think about Christmas time, you think about the birth of Jesus, and it’s not very long before you begin to think about all the presents you are going to have and the lovely parties that you are going to go to, and all the nice things you are going to eat, and you have altogether forgotten that we are remembering the greatest thing that had ever happened in this world. You have forgotten that that tiny babe, whose birth you remember, is God. Now the mystery is this, that God did not change into a man, he didn’t stop being God so that he could change into being a man. No He was still God. You say well, that’s a wonderful thing. It is a great mystery. That tiny babe in Mary’s arms is still God. All you would have seen if you had been there was a tiny, weak baby. You would have seen the flesh, the body, His mouth.,His eyes ,His nose and His ears. Those are the things that you would have seen and yet Paul says, there is a great mystery because this little baby is truly God, and He is truly man. Now, that can’t be said of anybody else, it never will be, it never was before. Perhaps some people claim to be but they never were. Now that little babe, was really a tiny little human baby and at the same time He is really and truly the eternal God, He is God manifest in the flesh. Now, there is no story book ever written that has such a wonderful person described in it. Some of our hymns speak of Jesus as the hero and Jesus is the hero of this wondrous story, there never was a hero in any book like Jesus, who was indeed God manifest in the flesh.
Another thing, another wonderful thing about this great mystery is that God is perfect and God is infinitely rich, everything belongs to God. Did you know that? You know when you get your presents on Christmas Day, you say “Look what I’ve got, this is mine.” Well, it is for a little while, but I expect before very long it is either broken, or thrown away, or forgotten, hidden in a cupboard and you’ve forgotten even when you got it. And perhaps some years later you have forgotten whom it belonged to, you couldn’t remember if it was yours or your brothers’ or sisters’ Now you see everything we have and we ourselves, you and I, we all of us without any exception belong to God. God has given us our life. We are here because God says we must be here. We owe everything to God and God owns everything. The psalmist speaks about the cattle upon a thousand hills. You have seen the cattle in the fields, perhaps when you journeyed here today, the cattle, the sheep as well, and you think, “They belong to some rich farmer”. Well they may do, but really they belong to God. God is so rich
you could never count how rich He is. Not only does He have everything but He is everything. He is perfect, He is holy, He is good, He is righteous, He is powerful, He is glorious, Oh He is wonderfully rich. So our story tells us about the mystery of One who is so rich you could never measure how rich He is, and yet Paul tells us writing to the Corinthians, He became poor. Do you know, this infinitely rich God became poorer than any man has ever been. Have you ever thought about that, Jesus was poorer than any man has ever been. Well you may say. His father was a carpenter, we know that they were poor, but really surely there were poorer people than Mary and Joseph. Yes there may have been. Surely there were poorer people than Jesus when He was a little babe like that. Well, there may have been people who had less money, but as Jesus lived His life here. He became poorer and poorer. At first He had a home. He lived at home with His parents, He was obedient to His parents, but there came a time when He said. He had nowhere to lay His head. He had nothing that He called His own. He depended on His friends. Whenever He lay down to sleep it was in someone else’s bed, in someone else’s home, for He possessed nothing. All the money that was given to them was put in Judas’s bag. Jesus didn’t say, “Oh, that’s mine.” He had nothing. He became poorer, because He still had some friends, not many, but He still had some friends. And yet the time came when Jesus hadn’t got a single friend, not a single friend left, at least not a friend who would speak for Him, not a friend who would stand by Him. When He was taken to Pilate and falsely accused of doing things which He wasn’t guilty of, there was no man stood by Him. All His disciples forsook Him and fled. But, Jesus made Himself poorer yet, and He chose to do this. He chose to make Himself so poor. There came a time we read of, when He was hanging on a cross, hanging on a tree, that rough stake stuck in the ground. He was hanging there between two thieves and at first they both began to curse Him. They had no love to Him. One of them did before he died, he learned to love the Lord, but at first neither of those had any regard for Jesus. And there He was alone, and do you know, one of the most mysterious things that Jesus ever said. He said when He was there upon the cross. He said, “My God, my God”Â—(He was speaking to His FatherÂ—He says to His Father, “My God” as though he would say, Father thou art still my God). “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Oh, great is this mystery. Have you ever wondered why Jesus not only came and was born a tiny, helpless babe, but why He should live such a lowly, humble life, and then why should He die, and why should He say something so awful as that. To be there, feeling as though He were utterly deserted and there wasn’t anyone left, even His Father He felt had turned away from Him. I’ll tell you why. It was because God so loved the world. Now I can’t explain all the mysteries that Paul is speaking about here. Your mystery books that you read at home, you
get to the end and you understand all the mysteries don’t you, you are told all the secrets. But, now, in this story there are many mysteries which we shall not really ever understand. Now, I can’t understand all the mystery of what Jesus meant when He said, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?”, but I can explain a little bit to you, and the reason is this, that Jesus though He had lived a perfect life, though He had never sinned, though He was a perfect man, yet there upon the cross He was bearing the sins of those He loved. Now there is another great mystery. This is what Jesus came to do. He came to be made sin for us though He knew no sin, that we who are sinners might be made the righteousness of God in Him. Now, is there someone here, perhaps some young person, or some older person, who has come here today feeling that they are such terrible sinners. Now if you feel that you are a real sinner, you will feel that God will never have mercy on you, you will feel that sin is such a terrible, horrible thing that God could never look at us and be pleased at all, that God will always hate the sin that He sees in you. He will. God always hates sin. He always has hated sin and He always will hate sin, so unless your sin is taken away and someone else takes your sin to himself, then God must always hate the sin He sees in you. Now this is what Jesus came to do. He came to take sin, which belongs to people like you and me, and to take it upon Himself so that when God looks upon these people who have been such sinful people. He says, “That person is altogether forgiven, because the sins that he is guilty of have been laid upon Another, upon my Son, Jesus.” Great is the mystery. Oh, friends, this is a wonderful mystery. This is how God forgives sin. Now, are you still feeling that there is no hope for you? Are you still feeling that because your sins are so wretched and horrible, nothing could ever take them away? Well, then, let me tell you this, that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin. It is because of this wonderful mystery, that because Jesus was what He was, because He was not just man, but God-man, Immanuel God with us, it is because He is so great, because it is such a wondrous story, that our sins which are many are all forgiven us for His dear name’s sake. “Great is the mystery of godliness”. None could be made fit to go and live with God for ever in heaven unless God had been made manifest in the flesh, unless God had come down here on to this very earth where we live, unless He had lived first as a tiny helpless babe, and then as a poor and often despised man, and then at last as a crucified manÂ—and you know where they crucified Him, don’t you? They crucified Him in a place that was specially for wicked people. Isaiah says, “He was numbered amongst the transgressors”, wicked people, although He had done no sin. There was never a sinful thought in His mind, never a sinful word in His mouth. He never did a sinful action, and yet when He died He was in the place that was specially reserved for the most wicked, the most dreadful of men. And worse than that. He felt in Himselfwhat it was to have sin come down, as it were, upon Him. “He bore our sin” says the scripture, a terrible, heavy load came down upon the soul of Jesus, which He never deserved but which He freely accepted. He was willing to suffer, and then He died. Oh, you say. He died. How could God die? Ah, now there is another mystery. God did not die, but Jesus did. God is manifest in the flesh. He came to die. Great is the mystery of godliness. Friends, if Jesus did not die for you and if He did not die for me, then when we come to the end of our life there is nothing but death to look forward to, and it won’t be a death that’s over quickly either. The Bible doesn’t speak about that kind of death, it talks about an eternal death. It is as though we shall be eternally dying. Oh, it is a terrible thing to die without the knowledge of Jesus. But Jesus died. He came to suffer the penalty, the ultimate penalty that was due to sinners. We deserve to die and we deserve to die eternally, we deserve hell. I know people don’t like that word, but it is in the Bible and Jesus spoke much about it, and sinners deserve to go to hell. How could such sinners ever live with God? How could they ever be happy with God anyway if they love their sin so much, and certainly God could never be happy with them because they love their sin so much. Oh. then how can we go to be with God? Great is the mystery of godliness. Why, friends, we may go to be with God if Jesus when He died, died for us, when He suffered He bore our sin, when He died like that He paid the penalty instead, and when He rose again He triumphed over death for us. Now that’s the only way, there is no other way. “Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness”. You never read a book like this before, did you? You never read a book that told you what happens after death and about how a man, although he deserves eternal punishment, may escape eternal punishment, and how God who is infinitely holy can still be infinitely holy and yet forgive the sinner. Ah, you see, Jesus must bear the punishment instead. Well now, says Paul, God was manifest in the flesh, this is why Jesus came. This is why God was manifest in the flesh, so that sinners might be eternally saved, so that they may be brought at last safely to be with God for ever, so that God can be pleased to have them with Him and so that they can be pleased to be with God. You have got both sides of the question in the Bible, you know.
Well now, “God was manifest in the flesh”, then we have another long word, “justified in the Spirit”. He was justified in the Spirit. Now let me try and explain what ‘justified’ means. Imagine you were at school one day and suddenly teacher came into the classroom and said, “Someone has stolen some money, and I think it was …” Well, I won’t say a name because I don’t know who it was, but let’s imagine it was someone in your class. “Someone has stolen some money and I think it was so-and-so.” So-and-so immediately said, “Oh, it wasn’t me, it wasn’t me.” Teacher said. “But I think it was you.” Then imagine that someone else in the class got up and said, “No, it wasn’t so-and-so it was me.” Oh,
then teacher says, “I’m sorry so-and-so, I’m sorry that I ever said it was you. It wasn’t you at all.” Now so-and-so is justified, or we sometimes say vindicated. It has been proved that it wasn’t so-and-so that was guilty of this particular sin. Well then, when Paul says that Jesus was justified in the Spirit I want you to imagine that you have read through the gospels as we have them in the Bible and you had looked at all the times when people said Jesus was telling lies. Now they often said Jesus was telling lies, they didn’t believe what He said at all. There were ever so many people who just didn’t believe when Jesus said He was the Son of God. They thought He was telling lies. Now Paul says, He was justified in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God proved again and again that Jesus was telling the truth. Do you remember one time when the Holy Spirit especially showed that Jesus was the Son of God? Can you remember a time? Have you ever read about when Jesus was baptized, when John took Him down into the water and baptized Him, and how that when He came up out of the water the heavens opened. A wonderful thing happened. A shape like a dove descended and rested over the head of Jesus and that was a sign to show us that the Holy Spirit was resting on the Lord Jesus Christ. So He was vindicated or justified. What He said was true and a voice came from heaven and said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” He is justified in the Spirit. Do you know that everything Jesus did in His life proves that He is the Son of God. He had power to heal sick people. He had power to cast out devils who were tormenting people. He had power to stop the wind blowing and make the lake of Gennesaret quiet. He had power to open blind eyes. He had power to make poor, weak men walk who had never walked in their lives before. Oh. says Jesus, if you don’t believe what I am saying, believe me for the very work’s sake. The things that I have done prove that I am God’s Son. No-one who was less than God’s Son could do these things. Oh, says Paul. He was justified in the Spirit. Everything He did and everything He said and every time God spoke from heaven about Him, proved that He was the Son of God.
Then He was “seen of angels”. Do you remember the times when angels saw Jesus? I believe angels were watching Jesus every moment He lived on the earth and that was the most wonderful thing the angels had ever seen. Yes, it was. They had seen the world made, at least it would seem that they did, they had seen the world made. They saw the world come into being. What a wonderful thing that must have been. They saw all the history of the world, they saw the flood when Noah was alive, and how Noah was saved. But then they saw the most wonderful thing of all. They saw that Baby born in Bethlehem. “Seen of angels”. And immediately, you know, the angels told those shepherds of that wonderful thing that had come to pass. “Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God”. Well, He
was seen of angels. What a wonderful mystery that is. Angels that you and I cannot see, watch us, and angels that Jesus couldn’t see with His natural eyes, those angels were watching Him. But He knew they were there, because there was a time when He was tempted in the wilderness. He was tempted of the devil and He knew the devil was there by the sort of things that the devil said to Him. He had been hungry and thirsty for forty days and forty nights and the devil had tempted Him to try to change stones into bread and things like that, but He wouldn’t do it. No, He waited for God to help Him and God sent an angel who ministered to Him. An angel helped Him, there in the wilderness where there was nobody else to help Him, when He would not help Himself, an angel helped Him. You know, there was another time, the time when Jesus went into the Garden of Gethsemane. Now that is a great mystery why Jesus should go and weep and be so grief stricken. Oh, Jesus was more grief stricken than anybody in the world has ever been or ever will be. He groaned, He sighed, He was very heavy, it was as though a tremendous weight rested on Him and His sweat poured out of His skin. It wasn’t like your sweat, it was like “drops of blood”, because inside there was such agony in His soul. Do you know, the Father, His own Father, sent an angel to support Him. So terrible was the suffering that Jesus passed through in Gethsemane’s garden that an angel had to come and comfort Him, and help Him. The Father sent that angel. When He could have asked for a legion of angels to deliver Him from Pilate and the high priest. He wouldn’t ask for them. He would only receive the ministry of angels when the Father sent them to Him and if the Father would not send them to Him then He must suffer whatever lay before Him alone. And so He must suffer condemnation and suffer death upon Calvary. He was “seen of angels”. One last thought about this. He was seen on that wondrous third day after He had been laid in the tomb, when there was a great earthquake and an angel came and rolled back the stone of the sepulchre. He was seen when He triumphed over death. Have you ever read such a story, such a great mystery, that Jesus who really died, the third day should be alive again, and that Jesus who was shut in that tomb with a great stone in front of it should come out quite alive and well, able to speak to people and eat and drink with people. Great is this mystery. He was seen of angels the day He rose from the dead.
“He was preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world.” Well, you know what preaching is. Perhaps you think I’ve been preaching long enough. If you really wanted to know the Lord Jesus Christ, if you really wanted to know that your sins were forgiven, there is one thing that you would love and that is, you would love to hear people preaching about Jesus, and you would go hoping that you would hear something about Jesus Christ. Well, very wonderfully, before Jesus went back to heaven He told his disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every
creature, not just to the Jews but to every creature. And did you know that you are a Gentile, at least I think you are, I don’t suppose there are any Jews here this evening. We are Gentiles, it is people like you and me that Jesus said must have the gospel preached to them. He is still being preached unto the Gentiles, and, when Jesus is preached like this, the wonderful thing that He has done is declared to you, it is preached unto the Gentiles. If you are one of those who really desire to know Him, who really desire the salvation which is in Him, then He was preached unto you in the gospel and the gospel declares that He is yours. Why He says, “seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you”, and He says, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” He is preached unto the Gentiles, He is believed on in the world. Now did you know that the people who heard the most about Jesus mostly did not believe. Now that is a very, very sad thing, the people who heard most about Jesus mostly did not believe. But the people who had never heard about what Isaiah says, people who had never read what Jeremiah said, about how there was going to come into this world a wonderful person, born of a virgin, whose name would be Immanuel, people who had never heard about things like that, when they heard about Jesus they believed. He was believed on in the world. Let me ask you one simple question tonight. Do you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ? I love that little word “on” because you see it tells us that when a person believes, he relies upon something which is solid, something that won’t let him down. He believes on, his soul rests on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Well then, the last thing in this wonderful story which is full of mysteries is this, that He was “received up into glory”. The disciples saw Him go. A lot of people didn’t believe on Him and thought they were just telling stories, just telling tales. Oh, but the disciples believed it, they knew that Jesus had gone back into glory, to be with His Father. He was received up into glory. You have never read a story with such a mystery in it. A man, a real man, with the marks of the nails still in His hands and the mark of that dreadful spear in His side, that real man who could still eat and drink, and talk and comfort those who were sad, that same man. He was received up into glory. And He didn’t stop being a man when He went back into glory. That same real body is in heaven. I can’t tell you where that is, I can’t explain that mystery to you, but it is still there and there is a day coming when we shall all see it again. We shall. It won’t be just to a few shepherds next time that this wonderful mystery will be made known. Every eye shall see Him. Ah, but it says, all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him. Let me ask you one last question. Will you be glad to see Him or will that make you terribly afraid? Now if it makes you terribly afraid to think that Jesus will come again, it is because your sins have not yet been forgiven. If your sins are forgiven then there is no reason to be afraid. It will be a blessed,
glorious day when He comes again. He was received up into glory. Now the mystery hasn’t finish yet, has it? No, the mystery is still going on, the story is still being told, there are still those who believe on Him in the world and there will be, right down to the very end of the world, there will still be those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. To one troubled man who asked that anxious question “What must I do to be saved?” a simple answer was given. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”