THE GREAT MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-31-82 8:15 a.m.
The series in the morning hour concern the great doctrines of the Bible; and we are looking at the revelation of God concerning the doctrine of His church, Ecclesiology. And the title of the message this hour is The Great Mystery of the Church. And if you have your Bible, I thought we might try following the message this morning in the Bible, just to see if we could take time to do it. So, let’s turn to our basic Scripture text, the fifth chapter of Ephesians, Ephesians chapter 5, and we’re going to read verses 25 to 32; Ephesians chapter 5, verses 25 to 32. This is the reading of the text.
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 loutron, the kiyyor 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 musterion: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
And that gave rise to the subject, The Great Mystery of the Church. "This is a great musterion: but I speak concerning Christ and the church."
To us, a mystery is a riddle, hid in an enigma, wrapped up in a conundrum; something that is beyond our understanding – "It’s a mystery to me." But to the people who read that passage when Paul wrote it, it had an altogether different meaning. Musterion, "mystery", to the Greek it referred to the mystery religions. They were everywhere in the Greek world. And it referred to a religion that was made known only to the initiates. You had to be initiated into, say, the Eleusinian mysteries, to know what it was about. Such a thing as the Masonic Lodge, it is only the initiated who know the things inside of the lodge. And that word musterion, which is spelled out in English "mystery" – not translated, just spelled out – that word "mystery" to them referred to those religions into which you were initiated and only the initiates knew the musterion.
Well, it was taken over into the New Testament. The New Testament writers took that word musterion, and to the New Testament writers it refers to a secret kept in the heart of God until He chose to reveal it to His holy apostles. It refers to something that the mind of man could never know by just searching out. A mystery in the New Testament is a tremendous secret, a great spiritual elective purpose or plan that God kept in His heart until He revealed it to His apostles and to us, through the New Testament.
Now we’re going to look at the use of that word for just a minute; and then explore it as it refers to the church. Turn in your Bible to 1 Timothy chapter 3, verse 16; 1 Timothy chapter 3, verse 16. "Without controversy great is the musterion of godliness, eusebeia, true religion, true worship." Then he defines it: "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." This is a musterion that the world could never have known until it was revealed by the Lord to the holy apostles. "Great is the musterion of true religion: God was manifest in the flesh, incarnate." Who would ever have thought of such a thing as that, that God would be a man?
Turn again in your Bible to 1 Corinthians 4 and verse 1; 1 Corinthians 4 and verse 1. Paul writes concerning his own ministry: "Let a man so account of us, as of the minister of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God." These apostles were set aside as custodians of these great elective plans and purposes that God kept in His heart until He revealed them to the apostles, "stewards of the mysteries of God".
Look again, in Matthew chapter 13, Matthew chapter 13, in verse 11, Matthew 13:11, "Jesus answered and said unto them, It is given unto you" – you who are listening this morning – "it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven." When the Jewish nation rejected our Lord, the kingdom of heaven assumed a mystery form: it is now in the hearts of men, awaiting the great consummation at the end of the age. This world is not now God’s; it is presided over and ruled over by the god of this world, by Satan. But there is coming a time when He will be the visible King over all the earth and we’ll reign with Him. But the kingdom of heaven now has a mystery form; it is in the hearts of men, awaiting that great consummation day.
Will you turn again now, in Romans 11, verse 25; Romans 11, verse 25. This concerns the mystery of the blindness of Israel and her ultimate restoration: "I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this musterion; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in;" the pleroma, until the last Gentile in the elective purpose of God is saved. There is a book in heaven, and in that book are the names of all of the elect, all of the people who are going to be saved. And when that last one has come in, called here "the pleroma of the Gentiles", when that last one has walked down that aisle and given his heart to Christ and is in the kingdom, then the consummation shall come. Then God is going to save all Israel. That is a musterion. Never in the world would you know that; it has to be revealed from heaven, a musterion of God, the elective purpose of God for Israel.
We could spend hours talking about that. The Old Testament marvels in prophecy that Israel abides, continues, as a nation, though buried among the peoples of the earth. And you say all of that is just religious superstition: all you have to do is open your eyes and open your heart and open your mind to see whether or not these great revealed truths of God aren’t so. Have you ever seen an Amonite? Have you ever seen a Jebusite? Have you ever seen a Hittite? Have you ever seen a Moabite? Have you ever seen any other of those ‘ites that are named back there in the Old Testament. I can show you the Jewish people all over this world. If you’ll walk with me downtown the streets of Dallas I can show you some of the finest citizens that are in this earth, and they’re Jews. Just like God says. You don’t have to wonder at the revelations of God. If you’ll just open your heart and open your mind you will see the confirmations of God’s revealed truth on every hand, every day. And this is one of them: a musterion God kept in His heart until He chose to reveal it to His prophets and to His apostles.
All right, let’s look again: a musterion of God, in the first chapter of the Book of Ephesians, Ephesians chapter 1, Paul writes in verse 9, Ephesians chapter 1, "Having made known unto us the musterion of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself" – all of this is in the election of God. If you don’t believe in election, you don’t believe the Bible, period; you just don’t. You believe in something else, but you don’t believe in the Bible. All through the Bible God moves in sovereign grace, in omnipotent power. "And He’s made known to us the musterion of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself: That in the oikonomeo, in the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, which are in heaven, which are in earth." Look at verse 20, start at the last part of verse 20,
And has set Him at His own right hand in heavenly places,
Above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but in that which is to come:
And hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church,
Which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.
That’s called a musterion. You never guess it now.
The people of God, of Christ in the church, are a small minority, and getting smaller every day. Would you believe that the day is coming when He will be Lord over all creation? In heaven and earth, in the netherworld, that same kind of a thing is called in the Bible a musterion. In the Book of the Revelation, chapter 10, and verse 7, it says, "In the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the musterion of God shall be finished." And then in verse 15 of chapter 11, the Revelation, "And the seventh angel sounded" – now what did that previous verse say? When that seventh angel sounds the musterion of God will be finished – "and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign forever and ever."
Now look at Ephesians chapter 3, the musterion of God concerning the church. Ephesians chapter 3:
Be revelation there was made known unto me the musterion;
(Whereby, when ye read, ye may be understand my knowledge in the musterion of Christ)
Which in other ages was not made known, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets.
What is the musterion concerning this marvelous thing that God is doing? "That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ by the gospel;" verse 9, "To make all men see what is the fellowship of this musterion, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: to the intent that now to the whole created world there might be seen this marvelous thing that has come to pass, namely that there should be a new body, a new living creation called the church, in which the Jew and the Gentile and all of the people who would listen and harken to the invitation of Christ, that all of them might be fellowheirs." The Jewish nation is elect; it is chosen. But in this new dispensation in which we live, God created a new thing: never seen in the Old Testament – Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, all the prophets never saw it. And whenever you identify Israel and the church, you’re going to have an enigmatic frustration in understanding the Word of God that finally will drive you to giving it up. It’s a confused mass; it has no meaning, and you turn finally to liberalism, to spiritualizing, and finally just quit seeking to interpret the Word of God altogether. Israel is one thing, altogether different. The church is something else: it is a new creation; it was a secret God kept in His heart until the day He revealed it to His holy apostles. And that secret is, the musterion is that in this age of grace, in this new dispensation, God is making a new creation; namely, the church. And in that church you have Jewish converts, you have Gentile converts, male and female, bond and free, slaves and masters, and rich and poor, all alike, fellow members, brothers and sisters in the household of God: a musterion, the church.
Now having said that, Paul writes about it in the fifth chapter of the Book of Ephesians, the great mystery of the church. First we’re going to look at the mystery, the musterion of its origin. "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." What the apostle does is he is quoting here Genesis 2:23-24. "And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and He took one of His tsela, He took out of his side, tsela," translated here "rib". No other place in the Old Testament is that ever translated "rib". Tsela is just the ordinary name for "the side"; called the side of the house, the side of the mountain, the side of the ark, the side of the,"He took out of his side, and closed up the flesh thereof; And out of his tsela, out of the side of Adam, the Lord God made 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 called ishshaw because she was taken out of ish. Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh,This is a great musterion: but I speak concerning Christ and the church." As Eve was taken out of the side of Adam, so the church was taken out of the side of our Lord: born in His sobs, and in His tears, and in His agony, and in His suffering, and in His cross. Paul calls that a great musterion. Who would ever have thought that out of a brutal execution would have been born the church? It was a secret in the heart of God that the world could never have guessed for. What a marvelous thing God has done. Look around you.
Then he says, "Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it." As Adam loved Eve, so much so that he chose to die with her rather than live without her – Adam wasn’t under the curse; he had not partaken of that fruit. Eve was the one deceived, and she was the one that ate of the forbidden fruit and she brought it to Adam. And when Adam saw what she had done, all he had to do to live forever was to refuse to share that forbidden fruit with his wife. But rather than live without her, Adam chose to die with her. That’s real love. Christ loved the church as Adam loved Eve.
Out of that travail and out of that agony born the church, a source of extreme depth of love and affection. There’s no mother that doesn’t know the truth of that. I can’t enter into the depths of why God had children born in travail and in agony. I just know this: every mother, because of that agony, has a love for that child that is indescribable. You don’t enter into it unless you have experienced it yourself. There is a mother love that is like Christ’s love; Bible says so. And it comes out of suffering, and pain, and sobs, and tears, and hurt, and travail, and agony. Christ loved the church like that. We are born in His wounds, and in His blood, and in His sufferings.
Will you look again, in this great musterion of church: "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." We are joined to Him; we are members of His body, we are. We are one with Him, with our Lord. We are crucified with Him, as the Scriptures say. We are buried with Him, we are raised with Him, we are ascended with Him, we are in heavenly places with Him; we and our Lord are one, Christ and His body. That’s what the Bible says is a great musterion.
We are the voice of Christ in the world. We are the ministry of Christ teaching and preaching. We are the heart of Christ in compassionate love. Did you ever find in the New Testament where Christ ever said, "Take away this flotsam and jetsam of life. Take away these blind, take away these lepers, and take away these cripples, and take away these poor."? Did you ever read that in the Bible? Isn’t it in His compassionate heart, "Bring them unto Me."? And He healed them all. That’s the Spirit of Christ in His church. And if the church is like that, we open our arms to those who need us, minister to them. We are the heart of Christ in compassion. We are the feet of Christ in visitation and evangelism. And we’re the hands of Christ in serving. We are joined unto Him; "This is a great musterion: but I speak concerning Christ and the church."
If we had forty hours we might relook at this. I want to point out to you how when you are true in the exposition of the Word of God, everything will fit beautifully. Now look at this: there is a doctrine in the Bible denied by so many, but there is a doctrine in the Bible about the eternal security of the believer. If you’ve ever been saved, you are saved. When God saves you, He saves you forever. Now, look at this just for a minute. So we are a part of His body. In the twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul discusses that, that we are members of His body. He will say in the twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians, "For we are members of the body of Christ." And he says, "For by one Spirit, by the Holy Spirit of God, are we all baptized into that body," we are added to the body of Christ. Then in that twelfth chapter he discusses the hand, and the foot, and the ear, and the eye. And he says the foot, and the hand, and the ear, and the eye, and then he also speaks of the nose, are all a part of the body of Christ. And some of us are like a hand, he says, and some of us are like a foot, and some of us are like an eye, or like a nose, or like an ear; and we’re all needed, because we’re members of the body of Christ.
All right, now look at that doctrine just for a moment. It is strange and alien to the Bible that one is added to the body of Christ, let’s say His hand, and then it’s lopped off, and then it’s added back. Or one is like a foot, and added to the body of Christ, and cut off, and then put back on, maybe. Or, or is His eye is taken out and thrown away and lost, and then it’s put back in. That kind of a doctrine is alien to the holy Word of God. When we are added to the body of Christ, a hand, or a foot, or an eye, or an ear, we’re added to it forever. As long as a man’s head is above water, you can’t drown his foot. And as long as our head is in heaven, I may be but the sole of His foot but I am safe, and I am saved, and forever. There is no such doctrine in the Bible as that we are added to and then taken out of or away from. When we are baptized by the Spirit of God into the body of Christ, we are there forever. Ah, what a comfort! What a strength, and what a blessing!
That doesn’t mean we don’t fall, and don’t sin, and don’t err, and don’t fall into a thousand different things that bring hurt to the heart of our Lord; but we never ultimately fall away, never. We’re a part of the body of Christ.
Well I’ve just got started good. Let’s close; we’ll have to.
He says here, in this wonderful passage, he says here, "Husbands, love your wives" – and men ought to love their wives as their own bodies – "He that loveth his wife, loveth himself." There is a bond of commitment between husband and wife that is as real, as tangible as any other tangible expression of God’s creation seen or felt or heard. It is real, that commitment. And he says, "This is a great musterion: but I speak concerning Christ and His church." Now I say, if we had forty hours we’d talk about that. I choose just one, just one little thing, talking about that commitment in Christ and among His people. Their love for Him, His love for them, and their commitment to the message of our dear Lord in the earth.
All over this earth, all over this world, there are great areas of darkness where humanity is helpless and hopeless and sodden. And wherever you find that helplessness in this earth, there you will find the church of Jesus Christ, committed to Him, loving Him. If you will go with me to the stone age Indians in the Amazon Jungle, there you’ll find His dear people witnessing to His saving grace. I’ve been there. If you will go with me under the Arctic Circle, I’ve been there; there you’ll find the church of the blessed Jesus magnified. I’ve been there. If you will go to the heart of Africa, look at those outcast lepers, there you’ll find the church ministering to those miserable and hopeless people. I’ve been there. If you will go to the very ends of this earth where you’ll find humanity in its most helpless form, there you’ll find the church magnifying the Lord Jesus.
I want to ask you something. If you were looking for a man, a man of high heritage and culture and education, and you were looking for a man to go to the heart of Africa, or under the Arctic Circle, or in the steaming jungles of the Amazon, and he goes without earthly reward, just for the love of God, where would you find him? I’ll tell you where you’ll find him: you’ll find him in the church of Jesus Christ, and you will find him all over the earth. Paul says, "This is a musterion: but I speak concerning Christ and His church." It’s a wonderful thing, to me, this house of faith, these people of God, with all of our foibles and peccadillos, and with all of our human weaknesses and stumblings and stammerings, we are still precious in His sight, and He is dear to us.
Now may we stand together?
Our Lord, what a glory shines from Thy dear face, loving us, teaching us, guiding us, dying for us, saving us, helping us, encouraging us, walking with us a fellow pilgrim. O Lord, and how we thank Thee for the encouragement of the household of faith, these who pray for us, and stand by us, and lead us. O, Holy Spirit of God, magnify Jesus in our midst, and form Him whole and complete in our hearts, and make us conformable to His image. We love Thee, Lord, and we love Thy church.
For her our tears shall fall,
For her our prayers ascend,
To her our toils and cares be given,
Till toils and cares shall end.
["We Love Thy Kingdom, Lord"; Timothy Dwight]
And in this moment that we wait, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, "Pastor, today we have decided for God, and here we stand." Down that stairway from the balcony, down one of these aisles on this lower floor, "Here I am, pastor, I have decided for God, and I am coming."
And thank Thee, Lord, for the sweet harvest You give us. In Thy precious, loving, saving name, amen. While we sing, welcome, come, while we sing.