Seven Great Mysteries – Part Three

The third great mystery God has revealed to His people could be called The Mystery of the Kingdom of God or The Mystery of the Body of Christ. Before the foundations of the earth, our Father knew that evil would penetrate His world and He designed and began implementing His rescue plan for humanity (Eph 1:4-5) – the image bearers He was yet to create (Gen 1:26). From the beginning of time He has been drawing to Himself His immortal family, billions of people from all eras and nations, who will live with Him in His Eternal Kingdom.

garden-of-eden

Through His grace and mercy, the people who come to the Creator will be saved  from death, which is humanity’s last enemy (1 Cor 15:26). However, in order to complete His programme of redemption, the Father has kept aspects of His plan and purpose hidden, until the right time for their revelation.

Those who come to the Father are able to do so because of Christ’s redemptive work, which acted retrospectively back to the beginning of time (Romans 4:3-8; Heb 10:1-10, 11). The people Jesus called the Children of the Kingdom are the same people the disciples later called the Body of Christ. Collectively, people who have been born again of His Holy Spirit are called the Body of Christ – they are the true church. These are the people God has been preparing to be with Him in eternity.

Jesus and the apostlesMatthew tells us that Jesus traveled throughout Israel announcing the Good News about the Kingdom (Mat 4:23), which He declared was near at hand (Mat 3:2). Those who chose to follow Jesus at that time had already stepped into God’s Kingdom, because they had accepted the reign and rule of their King, the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Kingdom of God

Jesus told many parables about the Kingdom of God and through them it becomes clear that the Kingdom of God is actually made up of all the peoples of the world who are drawn to God and submit their lives to Him (Mat 13:47-48; 19:14). Those people who recognise their need for forgiveness will come to the Father, accepting His gracious gift of salvation. It is entirely through the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ that they can be made ready for God’s Eternal Kingdom and He will reign over them forever.

When Jesus was talking with His disciples He told them that they could know the Mystery of the Kingdom of God. He said:

Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the Kingdom of God: but unto those people who are outside (the Body of Christ) I speak in parables. (Mark 4:11)

SermonOnTheMountJesus taught that anyone who had not accepted His gift of eternal life and been filled with His Holy Spirit, could never completely understand His message; we can never understand the Mystery of the Kingdom of God with worldly wisdom. It is only as God opens His Word to His people by His Holy Spirit (Luke 24:45; 1 Cor 2:4, 14-15; John 14:26; 1 John 2:27) that the full revelation is complete and the Mystery of the Gospel is further unfolded.

The Lord Knows our Hearts

Jesus made a clear distinction between the children of the Kingdom and the children of the wicked one (Mat 13:38). He is able to truly see what is in the heart of each person, and rightly determine whether we are indeed prepared to be part of His eternal Kingdom: He accepts all who revere God and do what is right (Acts 10:35). God tells us in His Word:

“But I, the LORD, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve.” (Jer 17:10) NLT

Therefore, to be part of God’s Kingdom, we must be in Christ, we must be part of the Body of Christ. It is only then that we can become immortal beings, made incorruptible by God’s great power (1 Cor 15:53) and ready to dwell in God’s Eternal, Holy Kingdom. However, it is my belief that many people will find their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev 20:12), because they have lived their lives responding to God’s love, even though they had never heard the name of Jesus (Rom 2:4-10). When they step into eternity He will be there to greet them, because He is the Lord of heaven and earth (Acts 14:15; Col 1:16).

Out of Darkness and Into the Light

330px-William_wilberforce

William Wilberforce” by Karl Anton Hickel – Image: Bridgeman Art Gallery; Portrait: Wilberforce House, Hull Museum, Hull City Council.

Thankfully, in the last two thousand years, billions of people have heard about how God loved them so much He sent His Son to die for them. Those who have responded to the message of the gospel know the power of God’s Spirit in their lives, which overcomes the darkness of this world.

God wants His church to be a light in the darkness (Mat 5:14). He not only wants us to individually work for good, He has given us His unifying Spirit to bind His people together to be a powerful force for good in this world – and so they have been. No Christian person would claim to be perfect (1 John 1:8-10), just as no one church community is perfect, but over the centuries numerous members of the true church and many church communities have brought invaluable assistance and reforms to the world (see Impact on Modern Society ).

Follow Jesus & Change the World

William Wilberforce, who headed the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade, was just one of many such believers. He, and many other believers, brought light to their communities, showing the people around them how to apply Jesus’ teachings to everyday life. Jesus declared that the Kingdom was within us (Luke 17:21). When we allow the Holy Spirit to take over our lives God’s Kingdom infiltrates the world.

Paul taught the early church about the Mystery of the Body of Christ. He declared that those who are indwelt by God’s Holy Spirit are all part of one body of people. He wrote:

God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made Him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is His body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with Himself. (Eph 1:22-23)

And also

….. by revelation He made known unto me the mystery …… which in other ages was not made known to people, as it has only now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles can be fellow heirs and fellow members of that body of believers who are partakers of God’s promise in Christ by the gospel. I ….. was made a minister of this gospel ….. so that I could preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ and make known to all people just what participation in this mystery means, which from the beginning of the world has been hidden by God, who created all things by Jesus Christ. (Eph 3:1-9)

Men arrive from Cornelius Acts101723Throughout Jesus’ ministry He did not openly extend to Gentiles the promises God had given to the Jewish nation (Mat 15:24). But after His death, resurrection and ascension a great change was announced to the people of God. Acts 10 records the story of Peter’s revelation of a new direction for God’s people. Until this point the Jewish people were required to keep their distance from Gentiles, whom they considered unclean.

The Jews saw themselves as God’s chosen people, set aside for God’s work. They had not all realised that this work was that they would be the nation into which their God would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14). However, after Pentecost, Peter (a Jew) was told by God to enter the house of Cornelius, who was a godly Gentile. As he came to a new understanding of God’s plan for humanity, Peter addressed Cornelius and those gathered in his home:

Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. (Act 10:28) NLT

Peter with Cornelius Acts102448Cornelius explained to Peter that an angel had instructed him in a vision to ask Peter to come to his home. Peter was an elder in the new church and God had also given him a vision concerning the Gentiles. God showed Peter that He no longer required His people to be separated from those around them. God had accomplished the main work He set out to do through the Jewish nation; Jesus had been born into their community to bring salvation to the world, the whole world, not just the Jews.

A New Covenant

After hearing Cornelius’ story, Peter realised that God had also spoken to Cornelius. Luke recorded their meeting:

Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. In every nation He accepts those who fear Him and do what is right. This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. (Act 10:34-36)NLT

Once again the Father revealed the fullness of this third mystery after the ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. God revealed to the disciples that the people of the New Covenant (2 Cor 3:6), the new Christian community, would consist of people from all nations and be united by far more than blood ties, beliefs or traditions – they would be united by God’s indwelling Holy Spirit.

Israel in the first century was a bustling place filled with a large variety of ethnic groups. The Jewish people had established communities in many different nations but many Jewish people made the trip back to Israel to visit their holy places. When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Christian believers in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, there were people from many different cultural groups in the city. Luke records the response of the crowd when the believers started speaking in tongues:

…..”These people are all from Galilee, and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages! Here we are—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs. And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!” (Act 2:7-11)NLT

Paul writingWe Are One In the Spirit

Although all of these people came from culturally different backgrounds, their belief in the God of Israel gave them a certain unity. But beliefs alone are not always sufficient to unify people. The conflicts within the Jewish community recorded in the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles exemplify this reality. As the above passage indicates (Eph 3), Paul told the new church in Ephesus that it would be God’s Holy Spirit that would unify them. God would adopt them into a new family (Romans 8:14-16; Gal 4:5-7; Eph 1:4-5), His eternal family, the Body of Christ (Eph 4:12).

Paul gave further details about the Body of Christ when he wrote to the Corinthians:

Just as the human body has many parts and all those parts make up one body, so it is also with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether we are Jews or Greeks, bond or free, we were all partakers of the one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. (1Co 12:12-14)

God indwells us by His Holy Spirit, enabling us to love other members of His body and demonstrate His message of love to the world. As John explained:

No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and His love is brought to full expression in us. And God has given us His Spirit as proof that we live in Him and He in us. (1 John 4:12-13)

Paul also explained to the Colossians that he wanted them to be “united in love,” having complete confidence that they understood God’s mysterious plan, which is only to be found in Christ Himself. It is only when we are in Him and He is in us that the hidden treasures of true wisdom and knowledge can be found (Col 2:2-3) and the Mystery of the Kingdom is revealed to us. Paul also reminded the Colossians:

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow Him. Let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. (Col 2:6-8)NLT

bibleWe can be truly thankful that our Father has carefully preserved Jesus’ teachings in the Bible, His inerrant Word, for the Body of Christ unto this day. Throughout the era that many call the Church Age, God’s Word, the Holy Bible, has been guiding His people. It has been our authoritative source of direction and truth and our Father has ensured it has endured and will endure until the full number of God’s people comes to Christ (Romans 11:25).

Go And Preach the Gospel

Jesus told His disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel (Mark 16:15). From before the world began He knew who would respond to His call (Eph 1:4; John 6:44) and, while He was yet on the earth, He prayed for all the people who would enter His Kingdom. John recorded this prayer:

“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in Me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as You and I are one—as You are in Me, Father, and I am in You. And may they be in Us so that the world will believe You sent Me. “I have given them the glory You gave Me, so they may be one as We are one. I am in them and You are in Me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that You sent Me and that You love them as much as You love Me. Father, I want these whom You have given Me to be with Me where I am. Then they can see all the glory You gave Me because You loved Me even before the world began! “O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know You, but I do; and these disciples know You sent Me. I have revealed You to them, and I will continue to do so. Then Your love for Me will be in them, and I will be in them.” (John 17:20-26)NLT

When Jesus was born into the world He was born into the nation God had chosen and prepared for His incarnation. God had blessed and guided the Jewish people, but when He was born into their midst, many of them were so caught up in their own human traditions and positions of power they did not even recognise the God they claimed to worship.

St_Peter's_Square,_Vatican_City_-_April_2007

St Peter’s Square, Vatican City – Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

Today, the Body of Christ appears to lack unity, one could say it is so fractured by human traditions and people holding onto positions of power, it no longer displays the love and unity Jesus asked the Father to supply. The Body of Christ was not created for people to hold onto positions of power and human traditions, nor is it simply a place to socialise or to separate ourselves away from those we consider unclean.

Like Paul, Christians are called to be ambassadors of the mystery of the gospel (Eph 6:19-20) – the message of God’s great love for the world He created. But sadly, some individuals who call themselves Christians, and some church institutions, have not seen this as their main priority.

God gave gifts of ministry to His church to bring unity and maturity to His people. In his letter to the Ephesians Paul outlined the role of leaders:

Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do His work and build up the church, the Body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. (Eph 4:12-13)

Bereans Acts171011The only way we can come to maturity and enhance our unity is to base our doctrines on the teachings Jesus carefully prepared for us. These teaching are to be found in God’s Word alone, and should never be superseded by human traditions. Together, we can be just like the Berean Christians, who searched the scriptures to see if the teachings they were hearing were from God (Acts 17:11).

As our western culture drifts away from its Christian roots we too can throw off the shackles of entrenched religious traditions and stand together as the true church. We have God’s Word and God’s Holy Spirit to guide us, but as Jesus asked:

When the Son of Man returns, how many will He find on the earth who have faith? (Luke 18:8)

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s