Jesus Christ: The Mystery of Redemption
A couple of years ago, my wife and I watched a documentary called Man on Wire. On August 7, 1974, Philippe Petit, a French high-wire walker, juggler, and street performer days shy of his 25th birthday, spent 45 minutes walking, dancing, kneeling, and lying on a wire he and friends had covertly and illegally strung between the rooftops of the Twin Towers in New York City. As I watched Philippe take that first step onto the wire, suspended a quarter of a mile above the ground, my heart stopped and my jaw dropped. I was amazed. I marveled at the danger and the beauty of this act. A man was walking on a ¾” wire that was stretched at that time between two of the worlds tallest buildings.
What amazes you? What do you marvel at? What blows your mind? We’re amazed at a lot of things. We’re amazed at movies and great music. We’re amazed when our favorite team wins the big game in overtime or with that buzzer beater shot (I’m thinking March Madness here!). We’re amazed when our kids say their first words and take their first steps. We’re amazed when we get the job offer for a position that we really want or need. We’re amazed at a lot of things in our lives and in our world.
But the thing I think that we should be amazed at the most is the world changing, mind blowing reality that a perfect, holy, transcendent God left the heights of heaven to don human flesh, to walk our dusty roads, to die on a cross, and to be raised so that sin and death are defeated and so that we might be brought back into life-giving and life-transforming relationship with Him. This is what should amaze us above all else. This is what we should marvel at daily. This is what we are going to talk about as we explore the reality that Jesus Christ is the “mystery of redemption”
The heavenly reality of the gospel has broken into the history of the world
The last installment of the Story of God focused on Jesus Christ and the promise of redemption. All of the Old Testament Scriptures point forward to the person and work of Jesus. In this installment, we’ll discover the profound mystery of that reality: the heavenly reality of the gospel has broken into the history of the world. To help us explore this profound idea, we are going to the last three verses of Paul’s letter to the church at Rome in Romans 16:25-27.
Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.
Theme #1: The heavenly reality of the gospel (v. 25)
Paul ends his letter to the church at Rome with what we call a doxology. He has spent 16 chapters (some of the best 16 chapters in the Bible) telling the story of God and telling us the incredible reality that has occurred because Jesus came, Jesus died, and Jesus is now the Risen Lord of lords and King of kings. And at the end, as he often does throughout the letter, Paul uses the phrase “now to Him” as he gives honor, praise, and glory to the God of this magnificent new reality. And in this doxology, this giving of praise and honor, Paul explains the profound mystery of the gospel by sharing three things about the gospel.
The gospel strengthens the heart. Before Paul explains the mystery of the gospel, he tells us that the gospel, this good news that God has come to restore us to Himself and re-create for His glory and for our good, has the power to strengthen and firmly establishes us in this dynamic relationship with our God. As we fully embrace the gospel, there is a steadfastness and a perseverance that follows because of the work of God and the work of the gospel inside of us.
The gospel reveals the mystery of God. Now Paul begins to get into the “revelation of the mystery” of the gospel.
The word “revelation” means to uncover or to disclose. God has now more fully made Himself known to us. In the Old Testament, God revealed and manifested Himself as the Creator and Sustainer of the world. He revealed that He is holy and gracious, and He revealed that He is the Lord of history. He has entered into His story in relationship with His people Israel. But in the New Testament, the revelation and manifestation of God reveals Himself much more fully with the coming of Jesus Christ, God Himself, the God-Man.
Now we get into a profound word in the New Testament and especially in the writings of the apostle Paul–the word “mystery.” Paul uses this word 21 times throughout his letters. The word means something that was hidden or secret but has now been revealed. The word implies that this mystery is “too profound for human ingenuity.” At the heart of the word “mystery” in the New Testament is the mystery of Christ, the profound mystery that God left heaven, put on flesh, walked with us, died for us, and was raised from the dead to defeat sin and death so that we might be brought back into unhindered and “un-obscured” relationship with Him for His glory and for our good. This is the gospel.
Paul explains more about this mystery being Christ Himself in Colossians 2:1-3:
For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
All the wisdom and knowledge of God are in Christ Jesus because Christ Jesus is God incarnate… God with flesh… the God-Man… and this was (and in some sense continues to be) a mystery.
The gospel is the eternal plan of God. This mystery was and is part of the eternal plan of God. The reality that Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, God Himself, would come, die, be raised, and ascend back to heaven to accomplish redemption and re-creation was never Plan B. It was always the plan. It was not something that had to be devised once sin entered into the world. I know thinking in these terms can blow our circuit board, but the gospel, the good news that we can be restored to behold, see, and savor God above all else, is in the eternal plan of God. “Long ages past” in v. 25 literally means “time eternal.” Paul explains this in 1 Corinthians 2:7-8 with “predestined before the ages to our glory.”
Before time began, the omniscient (all-knowing) and omnisapient (all-wise) God determined in advance the history of salvation that centers upon the person and work of Jesus Christ. Once again, I know that there is a theological and philosophical tension between divine predestination and human freewill, and there will continue to be this tension in our finite minds, but the texts of the New Testament show that this mystery of Jesus Christ, this gospel of redemption and re-creation is part of the eternal plan of God, for His glory and for our good. This is the heavenly reality of the gospel.
I want you to spend time pondering and meditating upon the reality of the gospel… the strengthening of the gospel, the mystery of the gospel, and the reality that the gospel is the eternal plan of God. So often we don’t spend the time and energy to think about the deeper things of God. Remember our very first installment in the story of God, I said two things: (1) our thoughts on God are our most important thoughts because they will determine everything else in our lives; and (2) Christian character cannot be formed without a kind of thinking that strains the soul. I believe this. I’m not asking us to go get doctorates in theology and Bible, but I am calling us to think deeply about our faith and what we believe. Because once again, as Paul puts in the beginning of v. 25, the gospel, this heavenly reality, strengthens and firmly establishes us. It gives us perseverance and steadfastness to know that our sin has been paid for by God Himself and that we have been graciously brought back into life-giving and life-transforming relationship with Him. If we don’t know this, understand this, and marvel in this, we will not experience the strengthening and sustaining grace of God. And Lord knows that we need His grace to live life well!
Theme #2: has broken into the history of the world (v. 26)
The heavenly and eternal plan of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ has now been made known, has now been revealed, and has now been manifested to the world so that humanity might be called by faith and obedience back into that life-transforming relationship with the Creator God.
“but now is manifested” – the word “manifested” means to make visible and make clear. The mystery of Christ, hidden in ages past, is now present and clear. God has come. The good news of God Himself in Jesus Christ has broken into the history of the world… and the world is never the same. In fact, we chronicle history and time by the coming of Jesus Christ… BC = before Christ & AD = “anno domini” (in the year of our Lord). The curtains of heaven have been pulled back and we can now see into the heart and eternal plan of God.
Here’s a powerful picture of the curtains being pulled back and us seeing in the heart and eternal plan of God through the person and work of Jesus Christ.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; and a voice came out of the heavens: “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11)
God has “opened” the heavens and come to us in the person of Jesus Christ. God has literally “ripped open” or “torn open” the heavens and come to us through Jesus Christ. The Greek word translated “opening” in v. 10 is schidzo and it means to “split, tear, or rip.” The word indicates that God is about to speak or act. It’s not as if God rips open the heavens and then peaks down to check on us… no, He tears open the curtains and shines the spotlight on the main character… and we see into the heavenly reality of the gospel of Jesus Christ and see that it has broken into the history of the world.
Craig Brian Larson, a pastor and author in Chicago, tells a story about the unfolding “mystery of God.”
On my desk I like to display the kind of books you put on the coffee table—those filled with professional photos of nature or tourist destinations. My current book is called America’s Spectacular National Parks. For several days I have had the book open to a photo of the Grand Teton Mountains, an extra-wide photo that filled not only the left page, but crossed the fold and took half of the page on the right. It’s a majestic display of deep blue sky; rugged, gray, snow-capped mountains; and a calm lake in the foreground.
This morning I decided to turn the page to the next photo, and as I did I discovered that I had missed something important. The right page of the Grand Tetons photo was actually an extra-long page folded over, covering part of the Grand Tetons. So when I opened it up, it not only revealed what was covered, but added another eight inches to the Grand Tetons photo. In other words, when I opened the fold, I added some 16 inches to the width of the photo. Wow! The Grand Tetons became even grander.
The Christian life has unfolding moments like this, when we discover there is much more to God and His kingdom than we knew, much more to His purpose for us than we imagined. Abraham experienced that at age 75, Moses at age 80, the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus. Again and again in the Bible, when God met people, He opened a glorious page for them that had previously been folded.
The Story of God unfolds in greater grandeur. And the grandeur is this–the heavenly reality of the gospel has broken into the history of the world. The page has been turned, the curtain opened, the mystery revealed.
“and by the Scriptures of the prophets” – Jesus Christ is the promise of redemption. Once again, over 300 Old Testament prophecies are fully and finally fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. As Paul explains, this is “according to the commandment (the decree) of the eternal God. And it is for the world and the nations.
leading to obedience of faith” – the purpose of this revelation of Jesus Christ, this manifestation of the gospel, the good news that God is here and we can behold Him and be back in relationship with Him, is that we might believe in faith and obey the gospel. There is an interesting relationship between faith and obedience. Faith always involves obedience and obedience always involves faith. We can obey Jesus as Lord, we are strengthened and established in Him and His gospel, only when we have given ourselves to Him in faith. And at the end of this doxology, which ends this most famous letter to the ancient church in Rome, Paul calls us to believe the gospel. He calls us to believe that God Himself, Jesus Christ, has come and died in our stead, that He has been raised from the dead to defeat sin and death. And therefore, we are redeemed, we are rescued, we are restored to Him and therefore, we have been empowered through the presence of the Holy Spirit, dwelling within us (the promise of the New Covenant), to live in joy-filled, life-transforming obedience for God’s glory and for our good.
I want you to look at the very last verse in our passage, the very last phrase in Paul’s epic letter to the church at Rome: “to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.” I want you to fully enter into the marvelous and mysterious wisdom of God. I want you to marvel at the mystery that God would put on flesh to come and die and be raised so that we might be redeemed, rescued, and restored. I want you to embrace this world-changing, life-transforming reality with your head and your heart.
In the fourth century AD, a hymn was written to somehow capture the profound mystery that God had come. This hymn was called “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” The church has sung and meditated upon this song for 1700 years, sometimes before communion, sometimes during the Christmas season, or sometimes during the Passion Week. It is a beautiful hymn of God coming pointing us to the overwhelming, marvelous reality that the King of kings and Lord of lords has descended to earth to vanquish the powers of hell.
I want you to see the powerful words of this ancient hymn. I want you enter into the reality that God has come. I want you to be amazed at the mystery of redemption… the heavenly reality of the gospel has broken into the history of the world.
“Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”
Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded, For with blessing is His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth, Our full homage to demand.
King of Kings, Yet born of Mary, As of old earth He stood,
Lord of Lords, In human vesture, In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful. His own self for heavenly food.
Rank on rank the host of heaven spreads it’s vanguard on the way,
As Light of light descendeth from the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish as the darkness clears away.
At His feet the six-winged seraph, Cherubim, With sleeples eye,
Veil their faces to His presence as with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Lord Most High!