A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com
Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 11/2/1997
How do you know that you are saved? That God loves you and is prepared to accept you and forgive your sins and give you eternal life as a free gift throught faith in Jesus Christ, who died to pay for your sins? How do you know that God is your heavenly Father by adoption, that he plans to include you in his eternal purpose and share with you his glory and the riches of his grace? How do you know that he takes a personal interest in you? How could you ever come to know--not just speculate about, wonder about, hope for, believe in a kind of wishful thinking, but know such exalted and mind-boggling truths without insufferable arrogance? And how would you know that you knew? The simple answer is, "How do I know? / The Bible tells me so." And it is true. But there is an even more basic answer which lies behind that one, and Paul gives it to us today in another great affirmation of what God has done to bring us to himself. He has not only chosen to save us, not only predestined those he saves to adoption, not only redemmed us through the blood of Christ, but he has made known unto us the mystery of his will.I. WHAT HAS HE MADE KNOWN?
It is not just that in the Bible we have the Plan of Salvation (though we do, and it is a good thing we do, for out eternal well-being depends on it). It is not just that we have the Law of God (though we do, and it is a good thing we do, for our knowledge of right and wrong largely depends on it). It is not just that we have principles for living (though we do, and it is a good thing we do, for our present temporal well-being depends on it). It is not just that we have the Stories of Creation, the Flood, Abraham, the Exodus, Jesus, etc. (though we do, and it is a good thing we do, for our knowledge of God depends on it). It is not just that we have the great treasury of the Hebrew poets in the Psalms (though we do, and it is a good thing we do, for our ability to praise God depends on it). It is not just that we have infallible prophecies of things to come (though we do, and it is a good thing we do, for our understanding of the times depends on it). But more than these things, beyond these things, deeper than these things, though indeed involving theses things, he has made known unto us the mystery of his will..
MYSTERION does not mean primarily "something mysterious" or ineffable or impossible to understand, as its English descendant might suggest, but rather something formerly secret or hidden that has now been revealed or made known. It was used by the pagan "mystery" religions for secrets known only to adepts or initiates. The Christian faith was radical in making its MYSTERIA open to all; everyone is let in on the secret!
Therefore in context "the mystery of his will" means the eternal purpose of God's mind, the everlasting intention of his will, the most cherished dreams of his heart, the deepest desire and longing of his soul, the most secret and treasured counsel and yearning of his innermost being--the kind of thing a person shares only with that small circle of intimate friends who are loved and trusted most supremely. And what is this secret? It is Eph. 3:4-6. The Gentiles--i.e., anybody--i.e., you--can be the "us" in the Great Blessing of chap. 1: chosen, predestined, adopted, redeemed. And--this is the significance of what we add today--TOLD about it, brought into the most intimate level of fellowship with God imaginable, as a person to whom he has revealed the mystery of his will.II. HOW HAS HE MADE IT KNOWN?
God reveals his existence and his glory through his creation (Ps. 19:1). He reveals something of his righteousness and his law (though this revelation is often distorted) through human conscience. This is known as "general revelation," available to all men. But there is also a "special revelation," given not to all but only to people of faith. He has only revealed the mystery of his will in Scripture as it is received by faith in a heart illumined by the Holy Spirit.
First, the Bible. Do you think the age of miracles has passed? Each one of you holds in your hand right now a mystery, a miracle, a marvel greater than the staff of Moses, greater than the water that was turned into wine, greater than the resurrected body of Lazarus. Yet how familiarity has bred contempt of it! A library of 66 books written by some 40 human authors over a period of 1600 years: yet through it shines the unity of one mind, one meaning, one message, all pointing to the Lord Jesus Christ. Modern science has given us much information about the mechanics of creation; but no one has ever improved on the Bible's account of the meaning of creation. The Bible alone of all the sacred texts of the world's religions has an adequate diagnosis of our condition (sin) and it has the only adequate prescription for our cure (the blood of Christ). Robert E. Lee said, "The Bible is a book in comparison to which all others are of minor importance. In all my perplexities and distresses the Bible has never failed to give me light and strength." John Ruskin said, "All I have ever taught, everything I've written, whatever goodness there has been in any thought of mine, has simply been due to the fact that when I was a child, my Mother daily read me a portion of the Bible and daily made me learn a portion of it by heart." But all these testimonials pale into insignificance next to Paul's: in this book he has made known to us the mystery of his will.
But the Bible alone would not suffice to communicate this message to us were it not now wielded by the same Spirit who inspired it. Only when the Spirit applies its message to our minds and seals it to our hearts do we receive the communication God wants to give us of what he has done for us. All the affirmations of the Great Blessing are personal and particular, not general. God did not chose to make some unspecified group of people holy, sons, redeemed, and forgiven--he chose to do this for US, for believers in Christ. This blessing is not described as generally available; it is described as OURS if we are in Christ. When the words jump off the page and enter your heart, when you find yourself personally addressed by them, when it hits you like a ton of bricks that this is talking about YOU, that is the Holy Spirit using the Word to accomplish its purpose. The miracle then is not just the inspiration and preservation and existence of this book (though that is marvelous enough), but the fact that it is a book through which the Holy Spirit speaks personally and particularly and individually to open up the inmost and most intimate secrets in direct communication from God's heart to yours. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ--and who tells us that it is so!III. WHY AREN'T WE LISTENING?
And yet . . . and yet. The term "religious awakening" has not inaccurately been defined as "what takes place when the sermon is over." A man went to see his physician about his snoring. "Does it disturb your wife?" he was asked. "My wife?" he replied, "It disturbs the whole congregation!" Well did Churchill say, "Men occasionally stumble over the Truth, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened." According to a recent Gallup poll, less than one half of those who attend church could name all four Gospels, three of the Ten Commandments, five of the Disciples, or tell who gave the Sermon on the Mount. Why? Less than 7% of Roman Catholics read their Bibles daily. Only 17% of liberal Protestants do. How many Fundamental, Evangelical Christians read their Bibles daily? Only 30%.
It is as if a man, after much thought, decides to share the most intimate thoughts of his heart, to reveal dreams and hopes he has never shared with anyone. He rehearses it over and over, works up his nerve, and lets it all out. His very heart now is lying there on the breakfast table. And his spouse looks up from her coffee and replies, "Did you say something?"
I do not know what the solution is, except to try to explain once again what it is that we neglect so flippantly and easily. It is the revelation, straight form the heart of God, of the mystery of his will.
Ah, but some of us have begun to learn what it is to be a Christian, i.e., to find that God has made known to us the very mystery of his will. For there is one more way that he does this. If the Spirit has begun to apply the written Word to your heart, then on that basis he may apply the visible Word as well. Then, when you receive the Lord's Supper in faith, you may legitimately hear the Father saying, "Oh, my beloved, did you know that I chose you? That I predestined you to be my son or daughter? That I redeemed you through the blood of my Son? I am making known to you the mystery of my will. Now, what do you think of that?" And when you receive the Bread and the Wine, you are saying, "Oh, it's beautiful! Thank you! I love it! And I love you." So let us partake, for he has made--and is now making--known unto us the mystery of his will.
Here endeth the lesson. Dr. Donald T. Williams