The Great Mystery
March 25th, 1979 @ 7:30 PM
THE GREAT MYSTERY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-25-79 7:30 p.m.
On the radio, the uncounted hundreds of thousands of you who are listening to this hour on KRLD and on KCBI, this is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Great Mystery.
You will see its title in the sermon text that we are going to read out loud together tonight. Wherever you are, turn to the Book of Ephesians — Ephesians chapter 5. And we shall begin reading at the twenty-fifth verse and read to the end of the chapter. All of us reading out loud together, Ephesians chapter 5, beginning at verse 25, now all of us together, out loud:
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 washing of water by the word,
That He 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.
Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.
As you can so poignantly and impressively see, the title of the message is taken out of this beautiful passage concerning Christ and His church, the paragon of which, in the love of our Lord for His bride, is the paragon and example for the husband as he builds his home with his wife. So the apostle quotes Genesis 2:23-24, and then applying, he says, “This is a great mystery” [Ephesians 5:32].
So the title of the message, The Great Mystery, “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” [Ephesians 5:32]. We turn back therefore to the second chapter of the Book of Genesis to see what is this great mystery that is Christ and His church. And when I turn to the passage that the apostle quoted, this is what I read, Genesis 2, beginning at verse 18:
And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man shall be alone; I will make him a help meet for him; one suitable for him, one like him, that can meet his needs.
And so God brought before Adam all of the things that He had created, and to every one of them Adam gave a name.
But for Adam, there was not found a help meet for him.
And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept, and God took out of his side—
translated here “rib” [Genesis 2:18-21], the only place in the Bible that word is translated “rib.” Everywhere else, it’s the ordinary word for “side”; the side of the ark [Exodus 25:12], the side of the temple [1 Kings 6:8], the side of the tabernacle [Exodus 26:20], the side of the house [Ezekiel 41:26]. Everywhere, it’s translated “side.” Why these translators wanted to use the word “rib,” I have no idea—nor does anybody else. It’s one of those things that has been lost in history. What the Bible says:
God took out of his side, and closed up the flesh thereof; and the side which the Lord God had taken from man, made He a woman, and He brought her unto the man.
And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called ‘ishshâ, because she was taken out of ‘îsh. She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.
Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
So following the word inspired of interpretation by our inspired apostle, the “great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32], first is the mystery of origin. As Eve was taken out of the side of Adam, so the church was born in the sacrifice, and the scars, and the tears, and the sacrifice of our Lord. That is one of the most astonishing of all of the mysteries that one could read in the Word of God.
There has never been an execution for a malefactor, a felon, a criminal, an insurrectionist so terrible, horrible, cruel as the invention of the Roman in crucifixion. And yet out of that horrible death of our Lord [Matthew 27:32-50], and out of that spear thrust into His side [John 19:33-34], out of His blood and sobs and tears was born the church [Ephesians 5:30]. As Eve was taken out of the side of Adam [Genesis 2:21], so the church was taken out of the side of our Lord. This is unique in history of all mankind who have ever died. Out of all mankind, this is the only atoning sacrifice known to the human heart [1 Corinthians 15:21-22]. Let us look at some of the great founders of religion and philosophy.
In 483 BC, Gautama Siddhartha, “the enlightened one,” the Buddha, died. He was traveling northeast of Benares on the Ganges River. He ate a big dinner of pork. He became violently ill and he died. He did not believe in God. He did not believe in prayer. That is the simple, unsensational death of Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha.
Five years later—that would be in 478 BC—five years later, Confucius died. Confucius went to his bed, stayed there for seven days, and after that illness at the age of 72, Confucius died in Shantung and was buried with great pomp and honor.
In 399 BC, Socrates died. The vote of the counsel was 281 against him, and 220 for him, and they humanely executed him. They gave him a poison and he gradually expired. He was a beautiful character; had one of the most lovable dispositions in the world. And as he died, he talked to his friends philosophically. And his last sentence was, “I owe a cock to Asclepius,” that is the god of healing, “be sure to pay it for me.” And then expired; that is the death of Socrates.
In 632 AD, Mohammed died. He was buried in Medina. He was 62 years old. He was seized with a violent fever and pain and expired unsensationally in his bed, and was dead and buried in the second-most holy city of the Muslim world, in Medina, after Mecca. Thus, the death of all of these great founders of either schools of philosophy, or science, or religion, or faiths, all of them unsensationally, they just died and were buried.
But how different, in another world, is the death of Jesus the Son of God? His death is expiatory, propitiatory [1 John 2:2]. His death is atonement [Romans 3:25]. His death is for the sins of the world [John 3:16], and out of His death, out of His cross and sufferings, was born the church of the living God. “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32].
Not only the mystery of origin, but the mystery of nature. When I go back to the text in the second chapter of Genesis that Paul is using, it is said out of all of the animals and the beasts and the fowls Adam named, out of them all, there was not one that was “meet” [Genesis 2:20], that was like Adam—that could think his thoughts, and visit with him, and talk with him—and be a part of the life of him. And God did something for Adam that He did for Himself in Adam.
When God created all of the vast infinitude above us, beneath us, and around us, they were beautiful. God saw the work of His hands, that it was very good [Genesis 1:1-31]. But stars can’t think God’s thoughts. Mountains can’t glorify God with speech and praise. Oceans and continents cannot speak to God. And the Lord God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness” [Genesis 1:26]. And God created the man for fellowship, that he might know the Lord—think God’s thoughts after Him—be like God.
The Lord made the man in the image of Himself [Genesis 1:27], and the Lord noticed that in Adam.
When God created all of the fowls and beasts of the field and brought them before Adam and he gave each one its name [Genesis 2:19], there was none brought before Adam like him, who could talk to him, think his thoughts, share his life, understand him, meet his needs [Genesis 2:20]. So the Lord God took out of the side of Adam and made a woman from near his heart, from under his arm, to be loved and cherished, nurtured, cared for, esteemed, honored. And God brought her to the man, a help meet for him, made for him, like him, who could think his thoughts, who could be after him as he was [Genesis 2:21-22]. That is a wonderful and a beautiful thing in the creative greatness and goodness and love of the Lord. He is an understanding God, and understanding the man—not good that he live alone—He made for him the woman and brought her and placed her in his arms. Now that is a beautiful and precious thing. That’s the great mystery of the nature of God, and the nature of our Lord, and the nature of the church: somebody to respond, to sympathize, to understand, to share our life and to live our thoughts.
One of the most poignant little stories I have heard was told by one of our staff members down here. A mother was putting her little baby girl, her little girl to bed. And the little girl didn’t want the mother to leave; she wanted the mother to stay with her, and to go bed with her, and to stay with her. And the mother gave the little girl a teddy bear and said, “There, there now, why, you just take this little teddy bear and you cuddle up to your little teddy bear and you go to sleep.” And the little girl replied, “But, Mother, I can cuddle up to my little teddy bear, but the little teddy bear doesn’t cuddle back to me.”
Now that is what’s in the human heart. It is wonderful to have all of these things on the outside—maybe mountains, maybe continents, maybe stars, maybe empires, maybe corporations—but they don’t cuddle back. They don’t talk back, they don’t speak back, they don’t understand and sympathize. That’s why God made the man, and that’s why God created the woman. And that’s why it is used as a great mystery concerning Christ and His church, that we might be together [Ephesians 5:32].
The Lord made the church that it might respond to our blessed Savior, that we might be one in Him. You see, He took our nature. Some of most beautiful passages in the Bible concern the Lord becoming as one of us. In the second chapter of Hebrews, it says, “He took not upon Him the nature of angels; but He took upon Him our nature and was made like unto us” [Hebrews 2:16-17].
And the same beautiful doctrine is expressed in that marvelous passage in the second chapter of Philippians, “He who was in the morphos of God thought it not a thing to be held upon to, to be equal with God, but poured Himself out and was made in the morphos of a man” [Philippians 2:6-7].
He became a man, like us. The ground yielded to Him thorns and briers and thistles. The wind that tossed the boats of other fishermen on the Sea of Galilee tossed His boat. All of the pangs of hunger and poverty and need He experienced.
There are no tears we shed He did not shed. There are no disappointments we sustained He did not sustain. There’s no sorrow of life that we knew that He did not know. And there’s no death that we died He did not die.
He knows all about us, a sympathetic High Priest [Hebrews 2:14, 17-18, 4:14-15]. He took our nature, and He gave us His nature, and we are one in Him [1 Corinthians 6:17]. “This is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32].
And that leads me to the third great mystery. I speak concerning Christ and His church, the unity, the vital unity we have in Him. “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh . . . Therefore shall a man leave His father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they two shall be one flesh” [Genesis 2:23-24; Ephesians 5:31].
The intimacy of marriage, of the man and his wife, is the mystery that describes the intimacy of our Lord and His church, no longer two, but one. There is no head without a body, and He is the head of the church [Ephesians 5:23]. There is no king without a kingdom, without subjects, and He is the Lord and King [Matthew 25:31]. There is no shepherd without his flock, and He is the great Shepherd [Hebrews 13:20]. There is no Savior without the saved, and He is our great Savior [Titus 2:13]. We are one in Him [Romans 12:5].
“This is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32]. All of the things of Christ are also all of the things of us. We are one in Him [1 Corinthians 6:17]. We are crucified with Him [Galatians 2:20]. We are buried with Him [Romans 6:4]. We are raised with Him [Colossians 2:12]. We ascend with Him [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. And we are at session with Him [Ephesians 2:6]. Our Head is in heaven [Acts 1:2].
These are some of the most brilliant and beautiful of all of the revelations given to us in the holy and inerrant and infallible Word of God. These great spiritual doctrines of the unity, the koinōnia, the fellowship, the oneness, the vital unity that we have in Christ, these are beautifully set forth in our two holy and heavenly ordinances.
In baptism [Matthew 28:19-20], we are buried with the Lord, dead to the world, buried with Christ, and we are raised with Christ to live a new and a beautiful life in Him [Romans 6:3-5]. In the holy ordinance of the Lord’s Supper [1 Corinthians 11:23-26], this is the communion of the body of Christ [1 Corinthians 10:16], and this is the communion of the blood of Christ [1 Corinthians 10:16]. The communion, the koinōnia, the fellowship; this signifies our vital union with Christ [John 17:21]. This bread, this crushed fruit of the vine signifies our vital oneness with our Lord, the koinōnia with our blessed and risen Savior [1 Corinthians 10:17].
Paul said it in another way like this, “We being many are one loaf, for all of us partake of that one loaf” [1 Corinthians 10:17]. We are one loaf in our Lord. The Lord and His people; we are one in koinōnia, in fellowship. We’re with Him in vital and significant and eternal union. “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32].
Now the last, not only the mystery of origin [Genesis 2:12; Ephesians 5:30], and the mystery of nature [Genesis 1:26-27, 2:20], and the mystery of vital union [Genesis 2:23-24; Ephesians 5:31], but also the mystery of eternal security; you listen. No man in this earth would ever invent the doctrine of the perseverance and the eternal security of the saints. He wouldn’t do it. When a man seeks to formulate that kind of a doctrine, this is the way he will do it: “Now, we are saved if, if”—and then they put a whole lot of things—“if we observe the sacraments, if we keep the law, if we are circumcised, if we obey the commandments, if we do good works, if we live a virtuous life.” That’s the way a man does it, and it’s very easily understood why a man does that. That’s the way he thinks.
But God doesn’t think like that. “I speak concerning Christ and the church,” the great mystery [Ephesians 5:32]. The great mystery of the church is this: that we are members of His body, of His bones, and of His flesh [Ephesians 5:30]. And the members of Christ are never broken or ever lost; “There shall not be a bone in His body broken” [Exodus 12:46; John 19:36]. As John stood there and looked at the cross and the soldiers came and they break the bones of the first malefactor, and they brake the bones of the second malefactor [John 19:31-32]—but the Man who was crucified on the center cross, they break not His bones. A Roman soldier took a spear and thrust it into His heart, and crimson of His life flowed out [John 19:33-34]. “But they break not His bones.”
And John standing there seeing it remembered the word of the Lord, the prophecy, “Not a bone of His body shall be broken” [John 19:36]. “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32]. Not a member of the church, not a member of the true body of Christ will ever be broken or torn from the Master. They belong to Him. “By one Spirit are we all baptized into the body of Christ” [1 Corinthians 12:13]. And being members of His body, we are members of His body forever and forever and forever. “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32]. Added to the body of our Lord, we are added there forever, forever, forever. What a wonderful thing, and the whole presentation of the gospel of Christ is just like that.
Tell me, did you ever hear the Lord Jesus say, “Take away these blind, and take away these crippled, and take away these lepers, and take away these poor”? Did you ever read that in the Word of God? On the contrary, we read, “And they brought to Him all who were sick, and blind, and hurt, and crippled, and He healed them all” [Matthew 11:5; Luke 4:40].
That is the glorious mystery of the Lord and His church. No one is broken. No one is torn loose. No one is separated. They all belong to Jesus—the poor, the blind, the lame, the halt—and He heals them, and He remakes them, and He gives them life, and purpose, and meaning, and calling, and destiny. And He keeps us in His love and in His grace forever.
“This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32]. And if the Lord lives, we shall live. And if the Lord is in heaven, we shall be in heaven. And if the Lord keeps His promise, “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish” [John 10:28], if the Lord keeps His promise, we shall make it. We shall be in heaven someday.
As long as the head is above water, the feet do not drown. And I may be the lowest on the soles of His feet, but as long as the head of my Lord is in heaven, I am saved. I may be the humblest of all of the members of the body of Christ, and the most unworthy, but as long as He lives, I shall live. And as long as the Lord is King forever, I shall be a member of His family, belonging, adopted into the family of God [Ephesians 1:5]. “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32].
Now I close. To belong to the body of our Lord [Ephesians 1:23], is of all opportunities an open door, the most precious and the most vitally significant and rewarding. It is like being in heaven before the day. It is like living in the presence of the living Lord before we see Him face to face [Revelation 22:3-4]. Heaven doesn’t start there. It starts here. Our glorious pilgrimage does not begin at the pearly gates [Revelation 21:21], it starts here. It does not continue only on golden streets [Revelation 21:21], but it begins now on the streets of the city where we live, walking with the Lord, talking with the Lord, living with the Lord, members of the body of our Lord [1 Corinthians 12:27], a koinōnia, a fellowship, a great mystery when I speak of Christ and His church [Ephesians 5:32].
That is our prayerful invitation to your heart tonight. Come, be one with us, a part of the loaf of the Lord [1 Corinthians 10:17], a part of the koinōnia of Christ, a part of the fellowship of our wonderful Lord [Romans 12:5]. Come, be with us. Walk by our sides, pilgrimage in our company, for our faces are upward, and our destiny is heaven. And God walks with us, blesses us, strengthens us, encourages us every step of the way.
In a moment, we shall stand and sing our hymn of appeal, and as we sing it, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, give himself to Jesus, come into the fellowship of His church. “Pastor, tonight, I take the Lord as my Savior and here I stand.” Or, “Pastor, I want to be baptized just as God has commanded in His holy Word [Matthew 28:19-20]. And down that aisle, I’m on the way.”
Make it now. Make the decision in your heart, and in a moment when we stand to sing, stand up walking down that stairway, coming down this aisle, “Here I am, pastor, I have decided for God, and here I stand.” May the angels attend you and the Holy Spirit support you and strengthen you as you answer with your life. “Now, I’m on the way, pastor. God bless me as I come,” as we stand and as we sing.
THE GREAT MYSTERY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. The love of the Lord for His bride the church the example for the husband and his wife(Ephesians 5:25-33)
B. Apostle refers to the creation of Eve(Genesis 2:18-24)II. Mystery of origin
A. As Eve was taken out of the side of Adam, so the church was born in the sacrifice of our Lord
B. Out of all mankind, this is the only atoning sacrifice know to human heart
1. Deaths of great founders of religion and philosophy – they just died and were buried
2. How different the expiatory, propitiatory death of ChristIII. Mystery of nature
A. Looked upon Eve
1. Out of whole creation there was none found like Adam(Genesis 2:20)
2. God created us for fellowship(Genesis 1:26)
3. God created Eve; brought her to Adam(Genesis 2:21-22)
B. Looked upon Hischurch
1. He made the church that it might respond to the Savior; that we might be one in Him(Hebrews 2:16-17, Philippians 2:6-7)IV. Mystery of vital union(Ephesians 5:31-32)
A. Intimacy of marriage describes the intimacy of our Lord and His church
B. We are vital to Him
C. We are one with Him(Romans 6:3-4, 1 Corinthians 10:17)V. Mystery of eternal security
A. We are members of His body – members of Christ are never broken or lost (Exodus 12:46, John 19:33-36, 1 Corinthians 12:13, Matthew 11:5)
B. The ultimate destiny of His people(John 10:28)