THE MYSTERY OF CHRIST (1)*
A Sermon preached by Mr. Kenneth J. Cordle at Swaffham Prior, Cambs. August 24th 1980
We do not know how the gospel first reached the Colossians. It would seem that Epaphras was the first minister settled there. He had apparently appeared to the apostle Paul in Rome with the greetings of the Colossians, and probably with some assistance to Paul in his imprisonment and sorrows in that city. It seems evident that Paul never did go to Colosse, but Epaphras had brought him the news that the gospel had been received there, and also that there were enemies seeking to sow error and seeds of discord among them. Paul was ever ready to refute and to withstand erroneous doctrines, and erroneous teachers. He takes up his pen and writes this remarkable letter which is full of sound doctrine, godly experience, and living practice. This letter has been blessed by God to the church down the ages, and still is at the present time. Paul at this time was in bonds in Rome, though we are told in Acts that he had a certain amount of liberty.
Here the apostle says he is in bonds because he proclaims “the mystery of Christ”. He desires the Colossians to pray that God might make it manifest how he ought to speak. Paul was very anxious that the church should pray for him. This is something greatly lacking today – real prayer for the servants of God. As a minister of the gospel I can sense where it is, and where it is not made. “Brethren, pray for us” says the apostle, on behalf of himself and of other fellow-ministers of the gospel; and here he says, “Withal praying also for us”.
My intention is to look at this wonderful expression “the mystery of Christ”. In Ephesians 3.4 Paul uses the same expression – “the nystery of Christ. We read how “great is the mystery of godliness”. We read of “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven”. In 2 Thessalonians we read of “the mystery of iniquity”. There is in the book of the Revelation the mystery of Babylon, the great enemy of the church of Jesus Christ (Rev. 17.5). The word ‘mystery’ means secret’. You read of the mystery of the wisdom of this world, and the mystery of the wisdom of God. These are wonderful things. I am old in scripture, “The carnal mind is enmity against God; it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be”. This is true in nineteen-eighty. Do you believe it? You will if you fear God. I cannot appeal to those who have no such fear; I appeal to you that fear God; do you not remember when, in your state of unregeneracy, you were in a condition which could be described as a
natural man’, and how you objected to, and how you opposed the things of the Spirit of God? I have such memories. I heard sermons that stirred up something inside me. The pleasantest word to me, as a young man, was ‘amen’. It was the best word of the sermon; then I could get out. I did not understand the preaching, and I did not want to understand it. I “received it not”; I was a “natural man”. You who fear God can enter into that. If you do not fear God, you are like we were before God stepped in and stopped us; you just cannot understand it.
The Lord Jesus said, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes”. The “wise and prudent” in this world, howbeit, unregenerate, may be very intelligent and very educated, but “not many noble, not many mighty are called”; but, blessed be God, there are some! The worldling thinks he can find but eternal verities by his wisdom. We are living in a very terrible day, when men are publicly making fun of all that you and I, who fear God, love, revere, and honour. You get it in the newspapers, you get it over the air; you see that they are making fun of heaven, and they are ridiculing hell. Men who call themselves religious leaders, and bishops, are publishing books in which they laugh at truth revealed in Scripture concerning the deity of Christ. They blaspheme His deity; they deny His Godhead; they claim that they of this generation have received such wonderful light on these things. But the Christ they present to us could never save us. Blessed be His dear Name; His enemies cannot undo the truth, nor can they interfere with His glorious Person. He is now exalted at His Father’s right hand, the God-man mediator who put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, and “destroyed death, and him that had the power of death, that is, the devil”.
The text is relevant to today’s situation: “the mystery of Christ”. The subject is tremendous and takes in all the fundamental doctrines of our religion. In the first chapter of this epistle, Paul speaks of being “made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given me for you . . . Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints; to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1.25-27). Here you have the essence of vital godliness; the work of the Spirit in the soul. This “hath been hid from ages”, this “mystery”, “but now is made manifest” not to the world, for the manifestation of the truth of Christ in living power is to the saints. Men today are doing their utmost to join the world to the church. Spurgeon uses the illustration of a ship sailing grandly and majestically along on the sea, when everything is in perfect
order; but he also asks, “if you get the sea into the ship, you know what would happen?” While the Christian can ride above the world and keep independent, that is good. But today we have the world in the church. Consequently there are few who know anything about this “mystery” being made manifest in their hearts: “which is, Christ in you, the hope of glory”. What do you know about this? We do not know how many more times we shall meet together like this. Life is uncertain; death is sure; eternity is very real. We are surrounded by ungodly enemies to the truth, and we are “not to be soon shaken in mind”. You need to be well grounded in the truth. Don’t think you have enough stability in yourself to stand against the subtleties of this diabolical age. Seek the assistance of God by His blessed Spirit, that you may have Christ formed in you, the hope of glory; that, having done all, you may stand. Therefore, put your feet down; be able to remain sure on your ground, and to “fight the good fight of faith, and lay hold on eternal life”.
What is included in these words, “the mystery of Christ” These things are hidden from the eyes of the world; the things of God are foolishness to the natural man. You cannot learn the truth of God as a schoolboy learns his tables. You must have power in your heart by the gracious teaching of the Holy Ghost. And this is an individual matter. We are individual beings; you cannot stand for another; the husband cannot stand for the wife, nor the wife for the husband, and so on. There is only one you; there is only one me! You and I have to face our Maker and give account of the deeds done in the body, whether they be good, or whether they be evil. What account will you give? What account will I give? Do you understand anything of “the mystery of Christ'”? Some of the most ignorant people that this world has known, who could neither read nor write, who had no possessions as this world counts things, nevertheless understood
“the mystery of Christ”: they understood the inner meaning of vital godliness; they had a revelation of Christ. Have you? When the Lord Jesus Christ chose His disciples. He did not go to the Sanhedrin, nor to the Levitical priesthood, nor to the aristocrats. He chose a fisherman. He called a publican. Uneducated as they were, they left on record doctrines that have revolutionized the world down the ages. These are the men of whom they said, they
“have turned the world upside down”. What with? – By the proclamation of “the mystery of Christ”,
The mystery of the Trinity
The first mystery is the mystery of the doctrine of the Trinity. Men laugh at this. They say it is impossible; it is irrational. But man does not understand himself; how can he understand God? God is not a creature; and men would not have known anything about the
doctrine of the trinity had it not been revealed in the word of God. God has seen fit to reveal to us certain things, the full comprehensive reality of which is beyond our grasp because of our finite capacity. There are three persons in the one Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The Father was ever eternal; the Son was ever eternal; and the Holy Ghost was ever eternal. There are three distinct Persons, but not three gods; never imagine that there are three separate deities. “The Lord our God is one Lord”. The Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Father, nor is the Holy Ghost the Father. There is a distinction of personality, but a unity of essence. There is only one glorious, eternal, self-existent, invisible Jehovah. It has been said, “The Father is holy, the Son is holy, and the Holy Ghost is holy. Yet there are not three holies, there is one holy Lord God almighty”. That is true, and it is a mystery. It was not the Father who took our nature and was born in Bethlehem. It was not the Holy Ghost who walked the streets of Jerusalem. It was the Head of the church, the eternal Son of God incarnate who did this; and the Father dwelt in Him, and He was full of the Holy Ghost.
You cannot separate the persons of the Godhead. You cannot separate the essence of the Godhead. ” The mystery of Christ” – and Christ revealed the mystery. He said, “the Father dwelleth in me”;
He constantly declared His unity with the Father- “I and my Father are one”. Here is the mystery of the trinity in unity. Your eternal salvation is wrapped up in this glorious truth. It is the foundation stone, the bedrock on which the fabric of our holy religion stands. Does it mean anything to you? It strikes a chord in my heart; it means something to me! Don’t ask me to explain this mystery. I believe it; there is a relationship, but I cannot explain it. There is a relationship betwixt the Father and the Son that is paternal; and there is a relationship between the Son and the Father of filiation. I cannot explain it; nor can anyone else. The Father ever was the Father, and the Son ever was the Son. You can get no farther than that! Oh “the mystery of Christ”‘.
The mystery of the Incarnation
The next mystery is the mystery of the incarnation of Christ. “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”. You should read A. M. Toplady’s sermon on ‘Jesus seen of angels’. Do you believe these things, or not? If you turn your heart inside out before God in the light of His word, you can have some clear evidence whether you are a believer or not. “He that believeth is not condemned; and he that believeth not is condemned already”. Yet unbelievers can sleep at night!
In these days of infidelity we need to be very firm for the doctrine of Christ. Men are constantly denying His Godhead. But you who fear God will revel in the teaching of Scripture concerning the mystery of the incarnation. Eternity alone will reveal the full glory of it. Remember this, you that have the prospect of glory before you; we shall always be finite. You are a creature; in heaven your capacity will be greatly enlarged from what it now is. You will drop off this body of sin and death and corruption; you will “put on immortality” as Paul tells us; but your capacity will still be limited, YOU will still be a creature. I sometimes wonder how enlarged the Lord will make us; and how much the church will be able to grasp of the mystery of the incarnation. And the mystery is that Jehovah, the maker of heaven and earth, the eternal, self-existent, uncreated, infinite Being, the invisible “I am that I am”, should come to Bethlehem to take up a human nature into union with His divine nature, and be born of a real virgin. Joseph Hart was right:
His shoulders held up heaven and earth,
When Mary held up Him.
That is true; and if it is not a mystery to you, it is to me! As Christ lay in Mary’s lap He could have dashed the whole world into nothing. You do believe that, don’t you? I speak reverently. Christ had the same power as Jehovah when He was in heaven, and on the day of His resurrection, as He had when He lay in Mary’s lap. He was the same Jehovah, but His power was hidden, His glory was veiled, His deity was hidden. But in Mary’s lap He had power to overthrow the universe; power that could lift it with His little finger. In Mary’s lap He was the eternal Son of God; He was Jehovah; He submitted to perfect human nature.
What kind of nature did Christ take on Him? He took not on Him the nature of angels, but He was seen of angels. He took spotless, sure, sinless, human nature; and I can go no farther than that. Let us consider what a wonderful mystery this is. His human nature did not humanize His divine nature, nor did His divine nature deify His human nature. There were two distinct natures in the one glorious Christ; and that is beyond our finite comprehension. There is only one Christ; only one glorious Person; God and man in one Person;
and yet the two natures were so united that you cannot draw the line between them; nor can I.
In His sacrificial work it was Christ’s deity that gave infinite value to His glorious sacrifice, thereby sweeping away the sins of the church of God in one glorious atonement. The mystery of the God-man, Jesus Christ! He hungered; He thirsted; He slept; He walked and He talked; and to the outward eye with no faith, there was no difference between Christ and the ordinary man. It was perceived
only by revelation; the mystery was hidden from the world. If Christ were to walk the streets of London, or New York, or Paris, or Moscow today, all men would do would be, in effect, to cry out, Crucify Him’. The same spirit exists today; Christ would not be received any more today than He was by the Jews. We blame the jews in our minds, sometimes, for what they did to Christ, but our generation is no different. Christ was hidden; men did not know Him ; they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son”? – the carpenter’s son? Where did this man get all these words? He claims to be the Son of God. So arose the cry “Stone Him”; and the stones were meant to kill; they were meant to murder Him. Why? Because He said, “I am he Son of God”. And why did they resent His claim? Because they knew nothing of “the mystery of Christ”. And that is what happens today; people do not understand “the mystery of Christ”. Do you know what it is? What is the answer of your hearts? I cannot read your hearts, and I am glad I cannot; but God can. What answer do you give to your Maker as I propound the question: do you know anything of “the mystery of Christ”
Oh! “the mystery of Christ”. It extends to His death, and to His resurrection. How many of you can walk with me here? If everybody denied the doctrine of the resurrection, I know that Jesus is alive. How do I know? Because of what He has done for my soul, and He could never have done this were He not alive to do it. Do you follow me? If so, you know something of “the mystery of Christ”. There is mystery in regeneration. You cannot explain to me how the Spirit of God quickens a soul; how He raises him and implants the immortal principle of grace in his heart. It is part of “the mystery of Christ”. Christ said, “If I depart, I will send Him unto you”. What dealings do you have with Christ by the teaching of the Spirit of God? These things will do to die by. We are on the edge of eternity. You may suddenly be summoned to appear before the Judge of all the earth. Do you know that your soul has received that revelation of the Spirit of God concerning “the mystery of Christ” What is Christ to you? What is He to me? He is the chiefest among ten thousand; yea He is the altogether lovely!
May the Lord make these things a living reality continually. We need a seven-day-a-week religion that we may understand in our souls “the mystery of Christ”. When we stand before God on the day of judgement it will be solemn. I shall not be preaching the gospel to you then; there will be no proclamation of the gospel in the other world. “We must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ”. You will appear as an individual; you who are united to Christ will be a part of His mystical body, the church; you will stand there clothed with His imputed righteousness, and be presented before the face of His Father “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing”.
The account that you will give is an account that Christ will present on your behalf.
You who know nothing of “the mystery of Christ” in this world;
you are “without God, and without hope” when you leave this world. You will hear, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels”. “These shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous”. God’s elect, the
redeemed, the justified, the regenerated members of the mystical body of Christ, these “shall go into life eternal” throughout a never ending eternity, where they will be continually receiving further
revelation concerning “the mystery of Christ”. Where do you stand? Where will you stand when He says, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”? Oh! to be among those who understand a little of “the mystery of Christ”.
*We hope to print a second sermon on the same subject at a later date.