THE GREAT MYSTERY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-7-71 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message. Before we went on the air, the announcement was made that Miss Teenage Dallas is in our Chapel Choir, and that the runner-up is in our Chapel Choir, and Miss Teenage Farmer’s Branch is in our Chapel Choir, and they had them stand up—each one of them. And I thought, “I surely would have trouble being a judge in all of those beautiful girls who are in our Chapel Choir.” They all are just glorious, and we are so fortunate to have them—so gifted, and so pulchritudinous, and so dedicated to the work of our Lord.
The title of the sermon this morning is The Great Mystery. In our preaching through the Book of Ephesians, we have come to a precious and tender and meaningful passage, beginning at the twenty-fifth verse of the fifth chapter of Ephesians:
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it;
That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the laver of water by the word,
That He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.
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 mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
And the title of the sermon is from the text, The Great Mystery. “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32]. In this encyclical, this general letter that Paul addressed to the churches, our New Testament happened to have the manuscript in which the Book of Ephesus was inscribed. But it was a general letter to all of the churches, and in that letter, Paul speaks of two great mysteries—two great mustērion. To us, a mystery is defined as an enigmatic development or saying, something un-understandable, a mystery.
It is not that in the Bible. A mystery in the Bible, a mustērion, is a secret that was kept in the heart of God until the day that He chose to reveal it. So Paul speaks in Ephesians of two great mysteries. The first is in the third chapter of the book. He speaks of the dispensation of the grace of God, “which is given to me, how that by revelation” [Ephesians 3:2-3], the self-disclosure of God; a secret that a man could never know by ferreting out, by studying it, by human wisdom. It had to be revealed. It is a self-disclosure of God:
How that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery . . . namely, that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of the same promise in Christ by the gospel: that there should be a new creation.
[Ephesians 3:3, 6]
And in that new creation that the prophets never saw, it was never revealed in the Old Testament [Ephesians 3:5, 9]. It was a secret in the heart of God until the Lord revealed it [Ephesians 3:5]. And that secret is that He was going to make a new creation: a church [Ephesians 3:6-11]. And in that church—Jew and Gentile, bond and free, male and female, black and white, rich and poor—all should be fellow heirs of the same promise [Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 3:6]; inheritors, benefactors of the grace of God in the same household of faith. The church was never seen in the Old Testament. The prophets never knew it [Ephesians 3:9-12]. It is a secret kept in the heart of God until the Lord revealed it, and through His apostles, established it in the earth [Ephesians 3:3-12].
Now the second great mystery He reveals is this one of the message today, “For we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones” [Ephesians 5:30].
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 mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
[Ephesians 5: 30-32]
These are the people to whom, in the first chapter, the apostle Paul addressed them as: in verse 4, “chosen” [Ephesians 1:4]; in verse 5, “adopted” [Ephesians 1:5]; in verse 6, “accepted” [Ephesians 1:6]; and verse 7, “redeemed” [Ephesians 1:7]. We are the members of His body, “of His flesh, and of His bones” [Ephesians 5:30].
Now, Paul quotes here in the passage, in Ephesians 5:30-31, he quotes from the Old Testament, the story of the creation of Eve. For Moses wrote in the second chapter of Genesis that God made Eve out of the side of Adam. “And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept” [Genesis 2:21]. And why they translate tsela, “rib,” I have no idea. That word is used over, and over, and over again in the Bible, tsela—the side of the ark, the side of the tabernacle, the side of the temple—it is always translated “side.” It is the common, ordinary Hebrew word for side, but for some inexplicable and unknown reason, they translate it here “rib.” No!
And He took out of the side of Adam and closed up the place thereof;
And of the side, which the Lord God had taken from man, made He a woman, and brought her to the man.
And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh:
she shall be called ishah [Woman] because she was taken out of ish [Man].
Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they two shall be one flesh.
“This,” and here Paul picks it up,”This is a great mustērion: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” [Ephesians 5:32]. It would be first then, a mystery—a mustērion—of origin. Eve was taken out of the side of Adam; out of the wound, and out of the scar was Eve created [Genesis 2:21-22]. So the church was taken out of the side of our Lord [Ephesians 5:30-32]. We were born in the cross, in the blood, in the sobs, and in the tears of our Savior [Ephesians 2:4-10]. Trace the church back, and back, and back, and back, and its redemption finally is found in the wound, and in the scars, and in the suffering, and in the sobs, and in the cross of our Savior [Ephesians 1:7]. As Eve was taken out of the side of Adam [Genesis 2:21-22], so the church is taken out of the side of our Lord. “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” [Ephesians 5:30-32].
For just a moment, let us look at that stupendous, amazing, and astonishing development, that out of the sufferings of Christ should come this great institution, the redeemed body of the Lord, the church [Ephesians 1:4-7, 22-23]. There are several great founders of religion, and just to compare them with Christ is to see an astonishing difference! For example, in 483 BC, Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha, the Enlightened One died at about 80 years of age. He was traveling northeast of Benares, the sacred Hindu city on the Ganges River. He ate a large meal of pork, became violently ill, and died. They cremated his body and the Rajas buried him there near Benares. Five years later in 478 BC, Confucius, at about the age of seventy-two years, became ill, went to bed. Remained there about seven days and died—without belief in God, as Buddha; without prayer, as did Buddha—and was buried with great pomp and honor in Shandong. In 400 BC, the civil war between Athens and Sparta came to an end. And in Athens, there was a political reaction. They tried Socrates and voted 281 to 220 to put him to death. He died humanely. They drugged him, and he expired quietly, philosophizing with his friends. His last words were, “I owe a cock to Asclepius, the god of healing, don’t forget to pay it.” And at seventy-two years of age, the same age of Confucius, Socrates died.
In 642 AD, unsensationally, at the age of about seventy, Mohammed died. He became violently ill of headaches and fever, and died in his bed—buried in Medina, the most sacred place in Islam, next to Mecca.
But in no instance was there ever any redemptive side or quality or teaching to the death of any these great religious and philosophical leaders.
But when we come to the execution of Christ, no one ever suffered as did He. “God shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied” [Isaiah 53:11]. And out of the suffering, and the tears, and the blood, and the cross of our Lord did God take the church. As Eve was taken out of the side of Adam [Genesis 2:21-22], so the church was taken out of the side of Christ [Ephesians 5:30]. We were born in His suffering, in His sorrows, and in His cross. “This is a great mustērion: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” [Ephesians 5:30-32].
Second: it is a mystery of nature. Not only a mystery of origin, where we came from—in the cross of Christ, we are a redeemed and blood-bought people— not only the mystery of origin, but also the mystery of nature. Look at the story: “And God said, It is not good that the man should live alone; I will make an help—fitted, suited—meet for him” [Genesis 2:18]. And God caused all of the animals that He had made—the fowls, the beasts, all of the creation, every creature—and brought them before Adam, and he named them all; all of the work of God’s hand, “but for Adam there was not found a help” suitable, fitted-“meet for him” [Genesis 2:19-20].
Could I illustrate that by God Himself? When God created the whole infinitude of the universe above and the world, the planet on which we live, God still was alone, and God said, “Let us make man in Our image, and after Our likeness, [Genesis 1:26] that he may think Our thoughts and in love and fellowship, respond and commune with Us.” An ocean can’t think God’s thoughts. Planets can’t return God’s love. The great Milky Way and the mountain ranges and all that God had made, it still had in it no communion, and no fellowship, and no response. And God created the man that he might love God, and talk to God, and commune with God, and fellowship with God, and live with God!
That identical thing with Adam, with all that the Lord had made, there was not found one like him. So God said, “Let Us make for Adam a help [meet] suitable, fitted for him, one that can think his thoughts, and live his life, and love and respond to him” [Genesis 2:18].
There was a little girl who asked her mother at bedtime to sleep with her. And the mother said, “Oh, no. Here—here is your teddy bear. Now you cuddle up to your teddy bear and go to sleep.” And the little girl replied, “But mother, I want someone who can cuddle back to me.”
In a story I read, there was a little blind girl named Naomi. Her mother had died and her father was rearing the little child. And many times, at night—for the day and night were alike to little Naomi—many times at night the father would wake up in the dark and there was standing by his bed, as close to him as she could get, the little blind child, Naomi, in her white nightgown and her hair flowing over her shoulders, just to be near.
And God made Eve a help meet for him, suitable for him, of the same nature of him; bone of his bones, and flesh of his flesh [Genesis 2:21-23]. “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32]. He took our nature and gave us His nature that we might be one in Him. What a beautiful and eloquent passage in the second chapter of Hebrews:
For He took not upon Him the nature of angels; but He took upon Him the nature of the seed of Abraham.
For it behooved Him in all things to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a faithful and merciful High Priest…for in that He Himself
hath suffered being tried, He is able to succor them who are tried.
He took our nature. He was born of a woman [Galatians 4:4; Matthew 1:20-25]. He grew up in an unfriendly and inhospitable world. The cold and the rain and the heat beat upon His head. The ground yielded for Him thorns and thistles. He was crowned with those thorns. The seas that tossed other little ships, tossed His little boat. And the sufferings of our life, He knew, and He died our death. He took our nature, and He has given us His nature. We are alike. “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32].
As we have borne the image of the earthly, so some day we shall bear the image of the heavenly . . .This frame—this house—it is buried in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is planted in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is planted in weakness; it is raised in power: it is planted a mortal body; it is raised a spiritual body.
[1 Corinthians 15:42-44]
We are alike in nature, Christ and His people. As the apostle Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:4: “For there have been given unto us in the knowledge of Christ exceeding great and precious promises: that we might be made partakers of the divine nature.” “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32].
Third: not only the mystery of origin, and not only the mystery of nature, but also the mystery of vital unity: “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh . . . Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife; and they two shall be one flesh” [Genesis 2:23-24]. The mystery of vital union: we are one in Him. The relationship between the man and his wife is the most intimate of all relationships: they are one in every trial and sorrow, in every joy and success, held together in enduring and in dissolvable bonds, a oneness in vital union.
So we are necessary to our Lord. We are vital to Him. There is no head without a body [Ephesians 1:22-23]. There is no Savior without the saved [Luke 2:11]. There is no King without His subjects [1 Timothy 6:15]. There’s no Shepherd without His flock [John 10:11]. There’s no kingdom without God’s people [Luke 12:32]. And we are one, vitally united in Him [Galatians 3:28]. We are crucified with Him [Galatians 2:20]. We are buried with Him [Romans 6:4]. We are raised with Him [Romans 6:5]. We are ascended with Him [Ephesians 2:6]. We reign with Him [Revelation 5:10]. If He triumphs, we shall triumph [1 Corinthians 15:57]. If He is victorious, we shall be victorious [1 Corinthians 15:54-57]. “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” [Ephesians 5:32].
This is the whole substance and meaning of the two ordinances. “We are buried with Christ in the likeness of His death. We are raised with Christ, in the likeness of His resurrection” [Romans 6:4-5].
The cup which we bless, is it not the communion, the fellowship, the koinōnia of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body; for we are all partakers of that one loaf.
[1 Corinthians 10:16-17]
We are vitally united with Christ, the great mystery [Ephesians 5:32].
Not only the mystery of origin, and the mystery of nature, and the mystery of vital union, but last: the mystery of eternal security and salvation. Look:
For no man yet ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth
and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church…”
To nourish, and to cherish, even as the Lord the church:
We are His members and no man yet ever hated his own flesh;
but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church.
Show me in the Bible where the Lord ever said, “Take these lepers away; take these blind, and halt and crippled away, they are a burden to My soul.” No! The Scriptures say, rather, “And He healed them all” [Matthew 12:15]. Look, we may be the most unworthy and the humblest of all of the members of the body of Christ, but we are secure in Him. He does not give His members away. Not one does He loose, look:
When they came to Jesus, they saw that He was dead already, and they brake not His legs. He that saw it bare record, and his record is true: for these things were done, that the Scripture should be fulfilled, a bone of Him shall not be broken.
[John 19: 33-36]
There is no member of the body of Christ that shall ever be lost, or destroyed, or taken away. We are the members of His flesh, and of His bones, and we are one for ever in Him [Ephesians 5:30]. Our destiny is glorious, “That He might sanctify and present to Himself a glorious church, without spot, or wrinkle; but that it should be holy and without blemish” [Ephesians 5:26-27].
Little flock, we shall not fail of the kingdom. Our destiny is in heaven where our Savor reigns [John 14:3; 1 Corinthians 15:25]; nor should we ever fear, or with forbidding and dread face that ultimate and final and inevitable translation [Psalm 23:4; 1 Timothy 1:12; 1 John 4:18].
One of the dear, sweet, sainted members of our church, a godly old lady, out here in one of our hospitals, died. And by all of the mechanical means of resuscitation, and with tubes, and massage, and chemicals, they brought her back to life. And when she gained consciousness, for just a moment again, she cried, “Oh, must I die again?” As though it is not a triumph and a victory and a glory when one of God’s redeemed in age and at the fullness of life and at the end of assigned work, falls asleep in Jesus. We’re with Him, one with him [1 Thessalonians 4:14]; and when the task is finished, God hath prepared some better thing for us [1 Corinthians 2:9]. And we will not fail of it. “I give unto them,” He said, “eternal life; and they shall never, ever perish” [John 10:28]. As long as my head is above water, my feet cannot drown. As long as my Lord and Savior is in heaven, I cannot be lost, though I am but the sole of His feet.
Because He lives, we shall live also [John 14:19]. I think that’s the reason the apostle Peter wrote that marvelous assurance in the first chapter of his second letter and the fourth verse, “For in the knowledge of Christ, there is given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that we might be made partakers of the divine nature” [2 Peter 1:4].
The mystery of assurance and salvation, “bone of His bones, and flesh of His flesh” [Ephesians 5:30].
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said
You who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?
When thro’ fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace all-sufficient shall be thy supply;
The flames shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
The soul that on Jesus hath lean’d for repose,
I will never, no never, desert to his foes;
That soul, tho’ all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never, forsake!
[“How Firm a Foundation,” John Rippon, ed. 1787]
“This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and his church” [Ephesians 5:32], bone of His bones, flesh of His flesh [Ephesians 5:30], nourished, and cherished and kept in Him [Ephesians 5:29].
Isn’t that the most wonderful thing anybody could ever think of? It’s just a tragedy that I can’t preach it better than I do. I cannot tell you the number of times I see these things in the Book, and then when I preach them, I fall so far short of what it actually and really is. The Spirit must take the truth and bear it with heavenly meaning to our hearts.
Our time is far spent, and we sing our hymn of appeal. You, a family; or you, a couple; or you, just you, to give your heart to Christ [Romans 10:9-10], to come into the fellowship of this dear church, as the Spirit would make appeal and press the invitation to your heart, would you come on the first note of the first stanza? I’ll give you opportunity in just a moment to go up to your Sunday school assignment, but right now, all of us in the spirit of prayer and waiting, as we make this appeal, as God shall speak; if it is to you, come today. Into that aisle, down one of these stairways and to the front, “Here I am and here I come. I make it now.” Into that aisle, on the first note of that first stanza, take that first step. Angels will precede you. God will see you through. He will bless you in your coming. Do it now, while we stand, and while we sing.