"Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory" (1 Tim. 3:16, NIV). Some scholars recognize this summary statement of the life of Christ to be a hymn sung by our first century brethren. But regardless of whether these words were sung or read, they express a truth so wonderful, so weighty, that the world is absolutely baffled by their import. How could God manifest Himself in the flesh? Why would God even want to do such a thing? This is a mystery of our religion -- a God who comes near to man. Our God comes near that He actually became flesh so that He could be where we are and feel what we feel.

Ancient Greeks had their "gods" who possessed fleshly attri-butes and appetites. In fact, Greek gods were susceptible to the same sis as their human subjects, and mythological literature is filled with examples of the sinful, fleshly exploits of these gods. The idea of a god who understood the flesh then, was not so foreign to ancient minds. The Greeks even believed it was possible for their gods to assume the "likeness of men" (Acts 14:11) and concluded that Paul and Barnabas were fleshly manifestations of Zeus and Hermes. But a god who would allow himself to suffer as a human -- even to the point of being put to death by disbelievers, was unfamiliar to the Greek mind. When difficulties presented themselves, the ancient Greek gods would escape the scene and retreat to Mt. Olympus. "Confessedly, great is the mystery of godliness" (Henry Alford's New Testament). Our God is great because, unlike the false mythological gods, He is holy and good. But that is not the only reason.

Our God was "manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, and received up in glory." Jesus Christ was Divine and also human. Jesus is the mind, heart, and working of God in the likeness of a man. He was not just a smart Jew who fooled the populace into thinking He was the Son of God, because His claim was vindicated by the Spirit. He did His work by the Spirit of God (Matt. 12:28) and through the power of the Spirit God, God raised Him from the dead (Rom. 1:4). Jesus Christ was seen by angels, possibly meaning that being superior to them (Heb. 1), they beheld His life and work with awe and reverence. Angels not only ministered to the Son while He was in the flesh (Mk. 1:13; Lk. 22:43), but they also witnessed His resurrection (Jno. 20:12). Jesus was preached to the nations -- not to the Jews alone, but to all men everywhere as the Son of God (Acts 13:46,47). Such preaching produced faith in the world, faith confessed by men and women even to their deaths. Jesus Christ was received up in glory where He sits at God's right hand! (Rom. 8: 34; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3,13; 8:1; 10:12; 1 Pet.3:22). The story of Jesus begins and ends in Heaven at God's right hand! He came as a servant; He was treated as a law-breaker; He was crucified like a criminal; but He arose from the dead and ascended into glory! This is proof positive of His Divine nature. Although once concealed from human eyes, we can now behold "His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (Jno. 1:14).

John chapter one states several interesting things about this mystery of God in the flesh. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God" (vs. 1). "He was in the world and the world was made by Him, and the world did not know Him" (vs. 10). "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us..." (vs. 14). To declare that the Word became flesh is strong language. John could have said this a bit more palatably, but he did not. He might have said, "the Word became a body" or "the Word became a man." But inspiration chose the word "flesh." Divinity encased in human flesh! What a mystery! How unthinkable! This is an intense way of declaring that God entered this physical, human life. He came near to man. He became like men. He became flesh. Other gods must be sought, but our God seeks us. He "sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin condemned sin in the flesh" (Rom. 8: 3). This God-man never sinned; yet He was tempted in every way the flesh can be tempted. Praise be to God that we can know this mystery. Our heavenly Father understands us because His Son lived where we do. He is our faithful Mediator and Intercessor touch with the feelings of our infirmities (Heb. 7:25; 4:15).

By Mark White via Gospel Power, Vol. 12, No. 31, July 31, 2005.

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