The Great Mystery
April 4th, 1965 @ 10:50 AM
THE GREAT MYSTERY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-4-65 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message from God’s Book, entitled The Great Mystery; which itself is a quotation from Ephesians 5:32. Now the reading of the passage; and if you would like to turn in your Bible to the fifth chapter of the Book of Ephesians, you can easily follow the exposition of the message this morning. Paul writes:
For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:
For we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.
For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.
This is a great mustērion: but I speak concerning Christ and His church.
Two times in this brief epistle to the church at Ephesus, Paul discusses this great mustērion. I don’t like to use the word mystery. For mystery in the English language connotes to our minds a riddle or an enigma. But the Greek word mustērion, which translated into English here is mystery, the Greek word mustērion had no part or approach to a riddle or an enigma. But a mustērion was a secret that was not known until it was revealed.
Practically all of the great religions of ancient Greece were mystery religions. And their initiation, and their rights, and their teachings, and all the things that pertained to those fraternities were not known until they were revealed to the initiate. Just like if you join the Masonic Lodge, there are things that the Masons will teach you that are secret; very definitely secret until they are revealed; until you are introduced to the initiation. That is exactly the meaning of this word mustērion.
Now Paul discusses this, what he names, “the great mustērion.” Paul discusses it twice in this Book of Ephesians. The first time is in the passage we read together this morning. In the third chapter of Ephesians, Paul says:
You have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:
How that by revelation He made known unto me the mustērion; (as I wrote afore…
Wherein ye read that you may understand my knowledge in the mustērion of Christ.)
Now what is this mustērion? The first time he discusses it here is in heaven, in glory. It is a secret hid in the heart of God from the foundation of the world before creation. God had in His heart a deep and divinely kept secret that He never revealed until He revealed it to His apostles in the church; which, “in other ages,” He says, “was not made known unto the sons of men” [Ephesians 3:5]. The prophets never saw it. The seers never saw it. Moses never saw it. All of the old covenant, and the old legislation, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by type and by symbol placed it therein. But they didn’t know it. There was a secret kept in the infinitude of the wisdom of God that in other ages was not made known. But now “it is revealed unto us the holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” [Ephesians 3:5] Namely that there should come a time that God would form in this earth, an organism, a unit, a living body, in which Gentiles and Jews “should be fellow heirs of the same household of faith, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel” [Ephesians 3:6],
To make all men know what is the fellowship of this mustērion, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God…
To the intent that now, now, unto principalities and powers in the heavenlies, might be made known by the church this marvelous secret, this wonderful revelation now of the manifold wisdom of God.
[Ephesians 3:9, 10]
Isn’t that an amazing and an astonishing thing that God hath done? All through the ages past, in the Old Testament, from the beginning of the creation, God had it in His heart to bring into this world a body, a living thing; in which Jew, Gentile, Greek, barbarian, Scythian, Provincial, the near, the far, should all be made one in the blood of Christ. And that’s the way Paul discusses it in the third chapter––a mustērion, hid in the heart of the infinite from the beginning of the world, and not known, and not seen until it was revealed by the Holy Spirit to the apostles [Ephesians 3:5].
Now I turn the page and he reverts to that same great mustērion again. But this time, this time he draws a parallel between the body of Christ, the church of our Lord, and the creation of Eve––out of the side, taken full near from the heart of Adam [Genesis 2: 21-23]. So he writes:
To nourish, to cherish, as the Lord the church;
For we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.
This is a great mustērion: but I speak concerning Christ and His church.
So I must turn back and you do so; I must turn back to the second chapter of Genesis to read the parallel that Paul is following as he presents the mustērion of the church in this earth.
Now it begins. “And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone” [Genesis 2:18]. After the Lord had done all of His work [Genesis 1:1-31], brought all of the marvelous infinitude of His hands, the Lord looked and there was Adam alone in the glory of what He had created, but alone. “And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should live alone; I will make him an help meet for him” [Genesis 2:18], In that old English, 1611, “meet”; “I will make him an help meet for him” [Genesis 2:18]. We say today, “a counterpart for him; one like unto him.”
So “The Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam. And God took out of his side” [Genesis 2:21]—haven’t you heard me say, when I read this passage, “Why in the earth they translated that word tsela rib” nobody knows. Everywhere in the Bible that word tsela is used, it is translated “side.” And that’s what it means, just a plain side; the side of a chair, the side of the ark, the side of a house, the side of anything. Everywhere in the Bible it is translated “side,” but here it is translated rib. Why? Nobody knows.
So let’s stay with the Word of God and read it just as God wrote it. “And the Lord caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and God took out of his side” [Genesis 2:21] and He didn’t replace it. He made a scar in his side. He pulled it together as though a surgeon cut a great piece out of the body. And He didn’t ingraft anything. He just pulled it together. And the suture can be easily followed and seen, left a great scar. “And God took out of the tsela, the side of Adam and He closed up the flesh instead” [Genesis 2:21], left a great scar. “And out of the side, which the Lord God had taken from man, made He a woman, and brought her unto the man” [Genesis 2:22]. And when Adam looked upon her, he said, “This is bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh.” Mine, like me, my counterpart, my other self; “she shall be called Woman… Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” [Genesis 2:23-24].
Now so Paul writes:
We are the members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.
Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave unto his wife, shall be joined unto his wife, and the two shall be one flesh.
This is a great mustērion: but I speak concerning Christ and His church.
Now let’s begin; the great mustērion. First: a mustērion in origin. Where did the church come from? Where was she born? Out of what is she taken? Paul says as Eve was taken out of the side of Adam and a great scar remained; so the church is taken out of the side of our Lord, and a great scar remains [Ephesians 5:30-32]. The visible effects of the love, and the tears, and the sobs, and the blood, and the cross, and the death that gave us birth are evident still in His body. There is a scar in His side [John 19:34, 20:25, 27]. And the memorial of our redemption is writ large even in the palms of His hands [John 20:27-28, Luke 24:39-40].
You know some of the finest and most beautiful theology is in our hymns.
I love Thy church O God,
Her walls before Thee stand
Dear as the apple of Thine eye
And graven on Thy hand
When you see it
There will be nail prints in His hand.
[from “Attachment to the Church; Timothy Dwight]
Out of the suffering, and the tears, and the blood, and the giving of life unto death of our Lord, the church was born [Ephesians 5:25]––taken out of the side of our Lord, near His heart as Eve was taken out of the side of Adam [Ephesians 5:30-32]. Where did we come from? Where did our church come from? Well, my mother belonged to it. My father belonged to it. From the days of my infancy, I was brought up in it. Their father and their mother belonged to it; noble, godly people. Their parents belonged to it, and back, and back, and back. And we press our search back to the origin of this holy temple of God [1 Corinthians 3:16] and where does it come from? Finally, out of the love of Jesus, out of His cross, bathed with His blood, and washed with His tears, the church was born out of the side of Christ. “This is a great mustērion; but I am speaking concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32].
Second: it is a mustērion of nature, a like nature, like Him, and He like us. You see, He followed so carefully the parallel here in the Word. “And the Lord God brought before Adam all of the animals that He had created, all of them. And they were brought before Adam, and Adam gave names to all the cattle, and to the fowl, and every beast of the field” [Genesis 2:19-20]. And when God had brought before Adam all of the creatures that He had made, then the Book adds, “but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him” [Genesis 2:20]; a counterpart for him, somebody like him. All of God’s creation; the stars that shine in the night and the glorious orbits of the day––but you can’t love a star. An orbit can’t love you. And all the beasts and all the fowls, everything God had made; “But there was nothing,” says the Lord God, “But there was nothing like Adam” [Genesis 2:20].
So the Lord took out of Adam a part of his side, and made He a counterpart, an other self; one like him. And brought her to Adam [Genesis 2:21-22], and when Adam looked upon her, he said, “This is the very bone of my bones, and the very flesh of my flesh; like me” [Genesis 2:23]. Think my thoughts. Dream my dreams. Live my life of a like nature. And we are of a like nature with our Savior, as He is a like nature with us [Philippians 2:7-8].
The mustērion of a common identity and nature: look at it, “For verily,” talking about the nature of our blessed Lord; what is He like? He is like us––a man, in flesh, in bones, in skin, in body, in form, and fashion, like us. I but declare, I don’t invent these things, I just declare what I read in the Word of God. Listen, “For verily,” said the eloquent author of the Hebrews, “For verily, He took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took upon Him the seed of Abraham, a man. Wherefore in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren” [Hebrews 2:16-17]––like us. Whatever Jesus is, He is like us. He is a Man just as we live in this human body, He has a human body, a like nature; “behooved Him in all things to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a faithful High Priest to us in things pertaining to God. For in that He Himself hath suffered being tried, He is able to understand us who are tried and who suffer” [Hebrews 2:17-18].
He also was born of a human mother [Matthew 20:25]. He also knew what it was to hurt in His heart. He also was tried and suffered [Hebrews 4:15]. The heat of the sun that beats upon us beat upon Him. The cold of the wintertime that freezes us touched Him. The same tempest on the sea that tossed His little boat, tosses ours. The land brought up for Him thorns and thistles. He hungered [Matthew 21:18] and He cried. And He was disappointed and He was grieved [Hebrews 3:10]. And He wept [Luke 19:41, John 11:35, Hebrews 5:7], and He sobbed, and He suffered, and He died [Matthew 27:26-50] “in all things like us” [Hebrews 4:15], just as we are.
The mustērion of His nature, but more, and we are like Him. He hath given us His nature. Listen to the wonderful and triumphant fifteenth of 1 Corinthians,
So it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul, but the last Adam, Jesus our Lord, was made a quickening spirit…
As is the earthly, such are they also that are earthly: and as is the heavenly, such are they that are heavenly.
And as we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
[1 Corinthians 15:45, 48-49]
We are alike: Jesus and His church. He became human as we are [Philippians 2:7], and we are exalted and made divine as He is [1 John 3:2]––the mustērion of His people, alike in our natures. We must hasten.
“This is a great mustērion: but I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32], the mustērion of vital union. Look, “We are members of His body, and of His flesh, and of His bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mustērion; but I am speaking concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:30-32], the mustērion of Bible union. The invisible bond of intimacy, and love, and affection, and devotion; sharing all of the joys of life, sharing all of the sorrows of life; not only joined, but made a part of. We are members of His body, not only unity, but identity [Hebrews 5:30].
And no body is complete when it is maimed or cut off and the limbs are missing. We are the members of His body; closer, more intimately related than our hands and our feet––O, how close, how dear, and how precious. There never was somebody whose hands were gone, whose feet were gone, whose leg was cut off; there never was somebody maimed and crippled but that in the hope, and prayer, and intercession before God, O Lord, someday, someday these blind shall see, and these deaf shall hear [Isaiah 35:5-6], and these hands that are maimed and cut off, they’ll be restored and God’s crippled shall live again. Is not that the precious and beautiful ideal of glory? Could you imagine? Could you imagine heaven without the members of our body? It’s unthinkable, for that’s what it is. God shall make us whole even as the body of Christ is whole.
A week ago, about a week ago, I stood at the foot of the bed with a precious family in this dear church. Their aged father, a saint of God, a holy, godly man, their aged father was lying there in the hospital bed, and they were contemplating amputating his leg. I turned to the family and I said, “Oh, no, no. This aged man, now at the very threshold of glory, this godly man, who has loved Jesus all the days of His life—oh, no, don’t.”
“Yes, but we are told his leg must be amputated.” I said, “Don’t, don’t. Let him go into glory triumphant, victorious. Don’t.” They amputated his leg. In just a little while, he died. A day or so ago I received a letter from the family. And they said to me, “Dear pastor, we wish now we had listened to your words.”
You know, you would think from the way we do and the way we act that there is no such thing as heaven. There is no such thing as the glory of a world that is yet to come. There is no such thing as a triumph on the other side. But what we must do is to take our aged and by every means known to science, let’s see if we can give them one more breath, or one more minute, that they might suffer that much longer, as though there were nothing glorious on the other side of the great divide.
And I had a row of deacons this morning as I have a row of deacons in front of me now. And I want you brethren to remember this. When the time comes for me to die, when my task is finished, and my work is done, you go in to that hospital room and say, “The pastor said, Take away these tubes, and take away this tent, and take away these things, because he preached all his life that it was a victory to die in Christ. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is a gain” [Philippians 1:21]. And you tell them to let me die in the faith of the Lord. I believe the Word of God. It is better for man.
This is a triumph. As long as there’s a task that remains, as long as God has work for me to do, as long as I am able in the sight of God, then fine, then fine. Anything that can make me well or give me strength, or help me to do it, God grant genius to the doctor, and wonderful care and wisdom to the hospital. But when my task is finished and you look on the old pastor, like I look on some of these aged parents, you say, “The pastor said to die is a gain, and I want to go in triumph and in victory [Philippians 1:21].”
The members of His body [Ephesians 5:30], He is not complete without us. Christ must have His people. Yet there is a fullness in Him that filleth all in all [Ephesians 1:23]. Why my brethren, what is a shepherd without his flock? What is a head without his body? What is a king without his subjects? What is our Savior without His saved? We are the members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones [Ephesians 5:30]. We are with our Lord. If He dies and is buried, we have died and are buried, and if He was raised, we are raised the children of the resurrection [Romans 6:4-5]. Death cannot affect us. It’s just a translation. “Brethren, flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. But I show you a mystery; We may not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall all be changed” [1 Corinthians 15:50-52].
We are children of the resurrection. Death cannot touch us [John 11:25-26]. We just go from this veil of tears and this pilgrimage of sorrow to the world of triumph that is yet to come. Is He glorified? We shall be glorified [Romans 8:10]. Does He reign? We shall reign [2 Timothy 2:12]. Does He sit upon a throne? We shall sit upon a throne [Revelation 3:21]. “We are the members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones” [Ephesians 5:30].
Now I have time to say one other word. “This is a great mustērion; but I am speaking concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32]. This is the mystery of eternal security and salvation. Members of His body, taken from His side [Ephesians 5:30], like Him, belonging to Him. Look how he describes it, “For He nourisheth and cherisheth us” [Ephesians 5:29]. And look at our destiny, “That He might present us to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, but that we should be holy and without blemish” [Ephesians 5:27].
Do you suppose, in the great and ultimate assize, when the work is done, and the task is finished, and history is over, do you suppose Christ will be there without some of His members? Do you suppose? This is the mustērion of an eternal security and an everlasting salvation. “I give unto them eternal life,” said our Lord, “and no one is able to pluck them out of My hand” [John 10:28].
Every one of us will be there without loss of one. Every one of us will be there. My brother, as long as the head is above water can you drown a man’s feet? I may be on the sole of His foot, worthy for nothing but to be trodden upon in the mire, but as long as the head is in glory I am saved and I will be there, for I am a member of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones [Ephesians 5:30]. And without loss of one, when the body is made up and all of God’s redemptive work is complete [John 19:28-30], every member, every member, every member will be there. And the body of our Lord will be whole, and fulsome, and glorious. Oh, Oh!
As you know, for two years in this pulpit, I preached through the Revelation. Never such a fullness came to my soul as I preached through those glorious chapters. Look at this. Look at this, talking about the mustērion, the mustērion of the eternal security and eternal salvation of the members of the body of Christ, of His people, of His church. You look at this; chapter 7, before the dark and awful days of the visitation of the wrath and judgement of God, chapter 7:
And I heard a voice from heaven saying, Hurt not, hurt not, till we have sealed the servants of our God…
And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed [a] hundred forty and four thousand, [a] hundred and forty and four thousand.”
[Revelation 7:2- 4]
That’s in the seventh chapter of the Revelation.
Now turn with me to chapter 14, chapter 14. Before the storm, and before the trial, and before the judgment; one hundred forty-four thousand sealed. These belonged to God [Revelation 7:1-17]. Now chapter 14, after the storms have raged, and the rise of the Antichrist, the false prophet, and the judgments [Revelation 8:1-13, 18],, oh, my soul, in chapter 14, “And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on Mount Zion, and with Him” [Revelation 14:1]—how many?—and with Him a hundred thirty-nine thousand, nine hundred ninety-nine? Did it say that? “And the Lord lost one, and the Lord lost one.” There were a hundred and forty-four thousand sealed, and after the tribulation, God lost one. He wasn’t able to keep him. He wasn’t able to save him. He wasn’t able to present him. Does it say that? Why my brother look, “and, lo, a Lamb stood on Mount Zion, and with Him an hundred forty and four thousand” [Revelation 14:1]. Every single one of them that God sealed [Revelation 7:1-4] there in the presence of the great Deliverer [Revelation 14:1]. Man, we’re going to make it. We’re going to make it.
There will be a lot of valleys I know, but we are going to make it. There will be a lot tears, and a lot of sorrows, and a lot of disappointments. Just lots of things happened to God’s people in this pilgrimage. But cheer up my brother, we’re going to make it. A hundred forty-four thousand sealed before the storm [Revelation 7:1-4] and without loss of one, a hundred forty-four thousand in the presence of God at the end of the age [Revelation 14:1].
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I’ll never, no, never desert to its foes
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake
I’ll never, no, never, no, never, no never forsake
[“How Firm a Foundation,” John Rippon]
“This is a great mustērion: but I am speaking concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32]. Bless His name and praise His name forever.
While we sing this hymn of appeal, you, somebody you, give his heart to Jesus, come [Romans 10:8-13]. Somebody you, put your life in the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25], come. A family you, or just one, a child, a youth; as the Spirit of Jesus shall press the appeal to your heart, make it this morning. “Pastor, this is my wife, these are our children, all of us are coming today.” A couple you, one somebody, as God’s Holy Spirit shall speak to your heart, make it today, make it now. Come, come, while we stand and while we sing.
I. Mystery of the church twice discussed
“mystery” – a secret not known until it was revealed
mystery in heaven – a secret hid in the heart of God from before creation(Ephesians 3:2-5)
there was to be a new, living body, made up of Gentile and Jew(Ephesians 3:6, 9-10)
C. The mystery in earth – the
between body of Christ and creation of Eve(Ephesians
a. Not good that man
should be alone(Genesis 2:18)
b. God took from Adam’s
side and created Eve(Genesis 2:21-25)
II. Mystery in origin
Eve was taken out of Adam, so the church is taken out of our Lord
of the suffering, tears, blood of our Lord the church was born
III. Mystery of nature
A. God made a
counterpart for Adam (Genesis 2:20)
like nature – we like Him, He like us(Hebrews
2:17-18, 1 Corinthians 15:45-)
IV. Mystery of vital union(Ephesians 5:31)
A. Invisible bond of
intimacy, love, affection devotion
B. We are members of
1. He will make
us whole as the body of Christ is whole(Philippians
C. We are one with Him
1. We are
children of the resurrection(1 Corinthians
V. Mystery of eternal security and
A. The care of the Lord
for His church (Ephesians 5:29)
B. His gift of eternal