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Dec 7 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 6, 2020

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.
1 Timothy 3:14-16

Intro: Today is the second Sunday of Advent

This is the season for preparing ourselves for Christmas
– last Sunday our preparation consists of contemplating Jesus
– today, we will be concerned with opening our hearts and minds to mystery
• some may find it too difficult to open their minds,
◦ so at least let’s open our hearts

Biblical mystery does not refer to a difficult mental challenge

It is not a riddle, a puzzle, or a conundrum
– mystery is a truth or reality that is unknowable, a hidden part of reality
• the same Greek word, musterion, is translated “secret”
◦ a synonym for this word is “hidden”
But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God . . . (1 Cor. 2:7)
• mystery defies being grasped by the human intellect
Simone Weil, “The mysteries of the faith cannot be either affirmed or denied; they must be placed above that which we affirm or deny.”
◦ regarding our experience of God in worship (and sacraments), she said
“Only that part of myself which is made for the supernatural should adhere to these mysteries. But this adherence is more a matter of love than of belief.” “The organ in us through which we see truth is the intelligence; the organ in us through which we see God is love.”
◦ and one more quote by this saintly woman:
“With those who have received a Christian education, the lower parts of the soul become attached to these mysteries when they have not right to do so. That is why such people need a purification . . . .”

Mystery, in the Scriptures, is not superstition
– superstition is believing too much – it is credulous, gullible
• it’s how the beliefs of pagan gods and idolaters were viewed
– mystery is the acknowledgment, there are things beyond us
• and the only way we can know them is if God reveals them to us
Moses: The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law (De. 29:29)
Jesus: To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given . . . . blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear (Mt. 13:11 and 16)
Paul: [God] is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages, but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made know to all the nations . . . (Ro. 16:25-26)
When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit (Ep. 3:4-5)

You may feel an immediate negative reaction to mystery
– a few years ago Barb and I hosted a discussion in our home
• we were talking about God’s mysteries
◦ a doctor who was present said, “I’m realizing that I’ve been ‘anti-mystery’”
• this is a hallmark of the modern age
◦ and modern-age theologians attempted to clarify everything
Len Sweet, “Those who sold out to modernity tried to empty the church of its mysteries. Then, when they had largely succeeded, they wondered why the church felt so empty.”
– we can study a subject to death
• if we try to dissect God in the lab, we kill the specimen
◦ not the eternal and living God, but we kill our concepts of him
◦ concepts can retain their definitions by be hollowed out of meaning
Blaise Pascal spoke of “the God of the philosophers”
• beware when God makes perfect sense to you
◦ you are likely missing something important, some mystery

What are some of the mysteries we encounter in the Scriptures?

Information: as we’ve seen, information about the work of Jesus
Paradox : two declarations, mutually exclusive, work together
– the Bible sometimes teases our brains by placing contradictions side-by-side
. . . to all who did receive him, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (Jn. 1:12-13)
. . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Php. 2:12-13)
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Mt. 16:25)
Len Sweet, “In Christianity, when you perceive a truth, look for the opposite truth. Heresy is a truth that has lost its opposite.”
– a frequent example of this is denying either Jesus’ deity or his humanity
Realities we cannot know: because we don’t have the means
– we’re not equipped, What no eye has seen, nor ear heard
[God] is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see (1 Tim. 6:15-16)
Realities we can experience, but not comprehend
And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?” (Jdg. 13:18)
wonderful means “above your pay grade”–to use a current colloquialism
As David said,
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it
(Ps. 139:6)
Ordinary, everyday things: Moses’ staff, the disciples’ fishing nets
– a jar, a stick, salt, a river, five loaves of bread and two fish
– potentially any object, or type of weather, or sensation
This present moment: What’s so mysterious about this moment?
– everything in it that I don’t see – everything I don’t feel
The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear (Mk. 4:26-28)
– all of this is happening apart from the farmer’s effort or consciousness
– the movement of God’s Spirit within you right now
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit (Jn. 3:8)
– the kingdom of God is flowing through every moment of our lives

The mystery Paul reminds Timothy, is Jesus Christ

Some biblical scholars believe Paul is quoting a Christian hymn
– in the history of hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs it is not unusual that the theology of the people is recorded and expressed in what they sing
– if this is indeed a song, it is certainly both lovely and profound

At Christmas, the mystery of Jesus especially the Incarnation
He was manifested in the flesh
– the Hebrew Scriptures emphasize the point that God is not a man
• that he is not flesh, but spirit (1 Sam. 15:29; Job 9:32; Isa. 31:3)
• yet here is God, in the flesh and blood body of Jesus
◦ God giving himself to humankind
◦ God fully revealing himself to humankind

The mystery of Jesus is that his execution is his victory
-listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians (from The Message Bible)
The message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written,
I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head,
I’ll expose so-called experts as crackpots.
So where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense? Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered dumb—preaching, of all things!—to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation. While Jews clamor for miraculous demonstrations and Greeks go in for philosophical wisdom, we go right on proclaiming Christ, the Crucified. Jews treat this like an anti-miracle—and Greeks pass it off as absurd. But to us who are personally called by God himself—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s ultimate miracle and wisdom all wrapped up in one.
(1 Cor. 1:18-25)

The mystery of Jesus is that he makes himself our true home
– one of St. Paul’s favorite terms for the Christian experience:
• “in Christ,” or “in Christ Jesus,” or simply “in him”

The mystery of Jesus is that he makes his home in us
God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27)
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20)
– in fact, Jesus becomes one with his followers
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:31-32)

The mystery of Jesus is forgiveness
Hanna Arendt argues, once an action is performed, can’t be undone-
– possible redemption from “the predicament of irreversibility . . . is the faculty of forgiveness.” “Without being forgiven, released from the consequences of what we have done, our capacity to act would, as it were, be confined to one single deed from which we could never recover; we would remain the victims of its consequences forever . . . .”
• although I would take issue with the term “discoverer,” I do agree mostly with her point that the “discoverer of the role of forgiveness in the realm of human affairs was Jesus of Nazareth.”
• notice how Jesus puts forgiveness in the same class as working miracles
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses (Mk. 11:24-25)
– the generosity of God’s forgiveness through Christ is unexplainable
• equally baffling is fact, he passes on to us ability to forgive

Conclusion: The day to day mystery of our life is that
Surely the LORD is in this place and I did not know it (Gen. 28:16)
– Jacob came to this realization only when he awoke from his sleep
• we will be aware of more of God’s mysteries when we wake up to them

We need to experience God – frequently
– without experience, we forget – how near he is, forget to trust
• it’s like losing a language we had once learned
• if we do not experience it by hearing and speaking it, we lose it
– experiences of God are available to us at all times
• every genuine prayer is an encounter with God
Karl Rahner, “While remaining silent, God is in that depth of our being which opens up to us only when we humbly allow ourselves to be embraced by mystery without wishing to take charge of it. If this happens, then Christmas has already happened in us, the arrival of God, which Christianity says happens by God’s grace, which is granted to those who do not resist it . . . .”

Can we develop a sensitivity to mystery?
To the beauty of the infinite hidden in this moment?
Well, we will try won’t we?
This week’s preparation for Christmas
will be looking not only for the colorful lights
and holiday decorations,
but for the intimations of mystery
that God has hidden in all the old things
as well as new things,
in old places as well as new places,
in the familiar faces
and the faces of strangers
Seek and you will find

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