"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." 1 Tim 3:16
"And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:"
The incarnation of the Lord of Glory was, in the Old Testament dispensations, hidden in shadows, types and veiled promises and prophecies. But on the night the Lord Jesus was born, the mystery of godliness was made known. That night God became flesh (Incarnation), thereby opening the way for sinful man to be reconciled to an all-Holy God. It is strange that some refuse to speak of this glorious age-transforming event at a time of the year when the whole world is making much of Christ's birth, yet understanding little or nothing of its significance. Others are so intimidated by those who oppose the whole concept of Christmas that they shrink from even dealing with what the Bible has to say about the Incarnation. That is wrong. We must make the message plain to all, at all times.
The birth of Jesus Christ may provide only sentimental imagery and religious ceremony for multitudes, but for the one who has trusted Christ as Saviour, the Incarnation of God the Son takes on immeasurable meaning. The commercialism and pagan folklore which characterize the Christmas season must never captivate the Christian, but neither should it deter the child of God from boldly proclaiming the significance of Christ's coming to a lost and dying world.
"God was manifest in the flesh..."
An exposition of 1 Timothy 3:16 provides us with a glorious verse which encapsulates the significance of the coming of our Lord to this sin cursed world nearly 2000 years ago. This is the message that must be told during the holiday season, as well as every season. The Bible certainly does have much to say about the birth of Christ, and the Christian should never yield to any form of pressure which would cause him to lightly regard any aspect of Christ's coming, whether it has to do with His historic first coming or His promised return.
The Person of Christ is of central importance. He is no less than absolute deity after taking on the form of flesh through the virgin birth than He was when being one with the Father from eternity past, "...whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting" (Micah 5:2). Only the sinless Son of God could offer Himself as the perfect, sacrificial substitute to bear the eternal judgment due the sinner. The Son of God came to die so that we, through faith in the power of His shed blood, might live. The KJV is absolutely correct (unlike the new versions) as it says, "God was manifest in the flesh"; the "Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us" (Jn. 1:14). Make no mistake about it, the same Word is one with God, and is in fact God (v. 1). The Christ Who died on the cross had to be much more than a man, or merely "a son of God" as some say. If He was to pay the penalty for you sin, He had to be the Incarnate Lord of Glory, Almighty God-and He is!
"justified in the Spirit,..."
All that Christ did was in perfect conformity to the will of the heavenly Father and was performed by the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. "God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto Him" (Jn. 3:34) i.e., the Spirit was upon Christ without measure. His ministry, life and witness while in the form of human flesh demonstrated perfectly the "walk in the Spirit." Every action, miracle, word, desire and thought were in agreement with His Father's will. The unity, and yet distinctiveness, of each of the three Persons of the Trinity is demonstrated by the walk of the Incarnate Lord before the sons of men. God the Son, empowered and led by God the Spirit, perfectly obeyed the will of God the Father.
The Lord Jesus Christ was no less God because he relied upon the Third Person of the Trinity to perform His ministry. The unity and interrelatedness of the three Persons of the Trinity are evidenced clearly in the Incarnation. Also, the Spirit's empowering, nurturing and leading of the Saviour (Matt 4:1; Lk. 4:1; Lk. 4:18) served as an example of how following generations of believers would be enabled to live a life pleasing to their God. The Lord was "...justified in the Spirit" i.e., He was absolutely righteous, perfectly correct in all that He said and did. He was the Anointed, the One prophesied of old Who would "fulfill all righteousness," thereby satisfying in Himself the righteous demands of the Law. We are, through Him, delivered from the Law's curse (Matt. 3:15; 5:17-18; Lk. 4:18-21, 32; Gal. 3:13;4:4, 5).
"seen of angels,..."
Much attention is given to angels today, especially among some innovative religious leaders of our day who suggest that we can improve our effectiveness as Christians by tapping into the resources offered by the angelic host. The problem with this attention to angels, however, is that it is an undue emphasis, for the Bible never instructs the believer to summon their aid or try to communicate with them in any way. Seeking communion with the unseen spirit world may provide the curious inquirer with a few spiritual contacts and surprises he had not bargained for.
God uses angels to minister to the saints in ways unbeknownst to them (Heb. 1:13-14). When so used, the angels are on a mission doing their Master's will, not hovering around waiting for the Christian to tell them what to do. Also, the angels' will is to direct all praise and attention to their God, not to themselves (Psa. 103:20-21). Spurious occult and charismatic teachings focus on the beings of the spirit world. However, the attention of the saints should be, as is the case with the angels, riveted on Christ. Often the Bible speaks of the angels' participation in the events surrounding the Lord's ministry. His birth was particularly noted by them with praise and jubilation. What a wonderful and marvelous occasion! Their Creator had come to dwell among men. The joyous exultation of the angelic host at His birth, and their deep interest in all things pertaining to their Lord, reveal an attitude we would do well to emulate (Lk. 2:7-14). All glory and praise are due to the Son.
"preached unto the Gentiles,..."
Most scripture dealing with the first advent of Christ has to do with promises made to Israel that will yet be fulfilled when He returns to inaugurate His earthly millennial kingdom. Texts detailing the birth of Christ Jesus in Bethlehem's manger primarily announce peace and goodwill to the Jewish people, as prophesied in the Old Testament, if they would receive the newborn Messiah as their Lord and King. There is certainly no "peace and goodwill" offered in Christ Jesus to anyone, either Jew or Gentile, unless they first acknowledge themselves to be sinners and humbly come, by faith, and receive the Lord Jesus Christ as their Sin-bearer.
The Son of God was rejected by His own, the nation Israel, and as a result His death on the Roman cross opened the way for all men, not just the Jew, to become members of the household of God. This is why 1 Timothy 3:16 is such a blessed verse, and in a sense the real message, the Good News, which resulted from the birth of the Incarnate Lord of Glory. Now both Jew and Gentile can know the peace and goodwill of God if they only believe. Now peace is preached to the Gentiles "which were afar off" but are now "made nigh" by the blood of Christ (please study "Eph. 2:11-18; Rom.1:15-17). Because Christ came, "whosoever will" may come and partake of the water of life freely (Rev. 22:17). Merely celebrating the birth of Christ will not save anyone, but receiving the living Christ as Saviour certainly will. We must herald this Good News to all and God uses regenerated men, not angels, to do this.
"believed on in the world,..."
The vast majority of those who "celebrate Christmas" have no reason to celebrate. On the contrary, if they have not found peace with God through Jesus Christ, then judgment is in fact but a heartbeat away and the merriment is ill-advised (Jn.3: 18). It is comparable to those in Ezekiel's day who were making "mirth," were having a merry time, but who failed to realize the precarious situation their souls were in (Ezek. 21:8-10). Only those who have received by faith the Biblical testimony of Christ's eternal Person and His perfect and finished work on Calvary's cross, and have believed on Him for their salvation, can rightfully call God their Heavenly Father and claim the promise of everlasting life. The problem with seeing the coming of Christ as only a hope for peace and goodwill among men and nations, and a symbol of God's grace and love extended to mankind, is that the question of sin is completely disregarded. Yes, our text does tell us of God's love in sending His Son, and the forgiveness afforded all who believe and thereby receive Him as their Lord and Saviour (Jn. 3:15-17). But few truly do believe. Why? Because men love "darkness rather than light, because their deeds [are] evil" (Jn. 3:19, 20).
People love to talk about the "Christmas spirit," of warm feelings and philanthropic deeds, but few see Christ's coming as the God-sent remedy for sin. The Incarnation of the Lord of Glory demonstrated God's love for sinful man, but man must receive God's gift of salvation through His Son or His "unspeakable gift" will profit him nothing (Rom. 5:69; 2 Cor. 9:15). All who have not believed are not friends of God, but enemies (Jn. 3:36). Sin is at the heart of the question-Jesus Christ is the answer!
"received up into glory."
The physical resurrection and ascension of the Lord into heaven were public acknowledgments of the Father's acceptance of the work Christ had wrought on behalf of sinful man. His earthly ministry was now complete, and a finished salvation had been provided through His sinless life, substitutionary death on Calvary's cross and triumphant resurrection from the grave. Christ was "received up into glory"—He had perfectly fulfilled the Father's will. The fact that the risen, living Saviour was "received up into glory" also reminds us of our Lord's present, High Priestly ministry at the right hand of the Father. We have an "...advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 Jn. 2:1). Believers are perfectly represented before the throne by their Lord. By the authority of the precious blood He shed on their behalf, no accusation leveled against them by "the accuser of the brethren" will stand. All "in Christ" are saved "to the uttermost... seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25).
Christ's ascension into glory was accompanied by a promise made to those who witnessed the event, "...this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner (Acts 1:11). Yes, we are thankful for His birth, His walk and His work while He lived among men, but praise God for the Blessed Hope of His return-the same Christ Jesus who came to die so that we might live is coming back again. It could be today!
Used with permission of Fundamental Evangelistic Association, 2251 East Beechwood Avenue, Fresno, California 93720.
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