feast: God Works in Marvelous Ways (Part Three)
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 12-Oct-17; Sermon #FT17-08-PM; 55 minutes
In these times when innovation and knowledge are increasing, time appears to be speeding up as well. If we have not yet experienced persecution, it is around the corner. To combat our weariness, we must turn to God's Word, a document which is totally enigmatic unless we have the power of God's Holy Spirit to put it together slowly like a jig-saw puzzle, understood a little bit at a time. To the carnal mind, the Bible reads like gibberish. But, God's Word has both story line and theme, most prominently including 1.) the prophecy of the promised Seed, 2.) the holy line, beginning with Seth and culminating with Christ, and 3.) the "I will" promises to Abraham. The Bible also contains mysteries (best understood as God's invisible activities on our behalf) which have been 'hidden' in plain sight, but made clear by revelation from God's Holy Spirit. The spiritual cleansing and grafting in of the Gentiles, motivating Judah to jealousy and, ultimately, to repentance, is an example of one such mystery. Another mystery is the revealing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that is, the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, attended by God's granting to those He calls the ability to understand the Gospel's message—God's reproducing Himself, creating the family of God.
We are going to begin this sermon in the Old Testament. Turn to Daniel 12. With this sermon I want to clear up to a very, very limited extent a number of things I said within the two previous sermons I gave in this Feast. This will not be an extensive review at all, but merely a brief review of an overview.
This verse does not apply directly to this subject, but it is close enough for me to use it:
Daniel 12:1 At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time.
Drop down to verse four where it says:
Daniel 12:4 But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.
It was the “many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase” that caught me here as a springboard, because we are in that kind of a time. Things are changing rapidly in the world because of the inventiveness of men, and any others who may be contributing to that inventiveness—things are moving fast. It is entirely possible that some of us will eventually get caught in it. I do not see it happening any time within the next few years, but it is certainly on track.
I began here in Daniel 12 because it highlights that period of history—that period of time when knowledge is increasing and people are running all over the place; be it in their homeland or wherever.
In the first sermon I used the term ‘snafu’ in order to focus on what I feel is perhaps the overall reason for the tremendous increase in our awareness of the religious confusion as the return of Jesus Christ approaches. Men are not getting any smarter in terms of the Bible, that is for sure. In fact, they seem to be getting thicker, dumber, and noisier all at the same time. But it is causing a number of problems, and that is basically what those two sermons just touched on, and that is the confusion that is being generated by all the falsity that is going on in the religious world.
Why is there such a tremendous increase in our awareness of the religious confusion as the return of Jesus Christ approaches? I think I know just a general answer: it is that with God permitting the confusion to occur for His purposes (that is one thing), plus the advancements in the means of electronic communication and rapid transportation, plus Satan and men working hard to get together to take advantage of the confusion which builds upon itself absorbing more and more people into its fold, and thus intensifies for their purposes.
From here I want you to go to Daniel 7. There is an interesting scripture and it says there:
Daniel 7:24-25 . . . He shall be different from the first ones, and he [this is the beast] shall subdue three kings. He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and laws. Then the saints shall be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time.
This is another verse that fits the times. In fact it is a bit of a forerunner of a time to come. That verse, in the King James Bible, says from the Hebrew that is within it, that this beast is going to wear out the saints; it literally says that in the Hebrew. He is going to wear out the saints. From what I heard from a number of you, the world that we live in now, even here in the United States, is tiring. And yet nobody is beating you, nobody is racing you down the street, but it is tiring as a result of having to bear with the tension of the times.
Though we are not getting persecuted yet—and it is not hard, it is not going to hit people of God full force until the beast is governing high and hard—but we are receiving the beginning of a foretaste of it now. It is of low intensity yet, compared to what it is going to be, but if I could say, whether it was moving away from us or toward us, it is likely moving toward us step by step.
At a minimum it is distasteful and at times downright dangerous, but it is clear that God has decreed that we must experience this kind of a lifestyle touching us more directly than ever for our preparation for Christ’s return. This is not something that we think very nicely about—that we need persecution. Well I think we do; I hope that it is not hard, and I am sure that God will keep it within the bounds of what we are able to handle, because He promises, Jesus Christ does in I Corinthians 10, that He will not give us problems that are more difficult than we can handle.
So they will be within reason, even should we be persecuted to death, it will still be within reason that we are able to handle at that time. At a minimum it is going to be distasteful, and at times it is going to be downright dangerous, but God has decreed that we are going to go through some of persecution.
We are witnessing via the electronic media how horrific a horror that evil can become when sin and crime is virtually unchecked. And it is each person’s responsibility to hold himself in check, and that only occurs when the person possesses sufficient truth, believes it, and voluntarily by faith uses it. I am talking about us. God has given us the truth, and that is why we are here.
Now the other two—believing and using—are far more our responsibility. Overall it is going to take the return of Jesus Christ to clean up the mess that mankind has created, but God has invited us to join with His team, and there is absolutely nothing better available for us to do, so let us not let this wonderful, generous offer from Him slip away from our grasp because we did not take action to keep ourselves close to Jesus Christ.
There is no doubt God has made our preparation for His Kingdom challenging, but most certainly not impossible. There is that promise in I Corinthians 10 again.
When we ended the previous sermon we were following one of mankind’s complaints against God and the Bible as being that the Bible is too difficult to understand. This complaint does not come from the church; this complaint comes from the world, and things that I am speaking about here are things that we hear from the world.
It is not too difficult to understand. That is simply not true, and you are the evidence that it is not too difficult. You understand major portions of it. The problem, brethren, is always with man. If they are complaining about God, if they are complaining about His Book, you know that there is something wrong with that person. They are out of touch with God, out of touch with His Word, and that person is a potential troublemaker for us.
I Corinthians 14:33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
With that statement in hand, I have to admit the Bible is written in an unusual way. The way God laid it out it seems to the carnal mind that He was just winging it and putting things together as He went along, experimenting in order to discover what works and does not work. Now what does that tell you about these people’s ideas and conceptions of God? You know they do not consider Him to be the Creator of the earth when they can say that kind of thing about Him. “He can’t even write a book!” It is not true.
It is written in a way, though, that clouds the meaning of everything because you just cannot sit down like you are reading some kind of a novel and pick up the truths that are in the Bible and make good use it of them. The Bible is a book that one has to go through very slowly; it has to be gone through constantly. The more we spend time in it, the better we are going to get at understanding it.
But, as we go along, we have to put our mind to making sure that we are beginning to understand it. You cannot just pick it up and think you are going to grasp what it is saying.
I want you to look with me in Isaiah. We will go through a bit of this. We will not be going through it real slowly word by word, but it is explaining a relationship that God has in His mind against the “crown of pride,” as He calls it, to the drunkards of Ephraim. I do not believe that in this paragraph that He is talking about England; He is talking about the northern tribes of Israel and they bore the title anciently of Ephraim. And so these drunkards were ancient individuals and they lived in the ten northern tribes of Israel:
Isaiah 28:1 Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim. . .
What I want you to see is the way God talks to them, and the kind of mental situation these people are in. They do not understand God at all. And there is a reason.
Isaiah 28:1 Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which is at the head of the verdant valleys, to those who are overcome with wine!
These people are tipsy as far as God is concerned, they are overcome already. Can you imagine trying to understand the Word of God while you are partly tanked?
Isaiah 28:2 Behold, the Lord has a mighty and strong one, like a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, like a flood of mighty waters overflowing, who will bring them down to the earth with His hand.
That is God. He is warning these people about. He is going to bring them down for the discourtesy that they are paying toward Him. They are talking to the great Creator and they are drunk—tipsy!
Isaiah 28:3-7a The crown of pride [proud of themselves], the drunkards of Ephraim, will be trampled underfoot; and the glorious beauty is a fading flower which is at the head of the verdant valley, like the first fruit before the summer, which an observer sees; he eats it up while it is still in his hand. In that day the LORD of hosts will be for a crown of glory and a diadem of beauty to the remnant of His people, for a spirit of justice to him who sits in judgment, and for strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate. But they also have erred through wine.
That is the third time He mentioned some measure of imbibing alcohol.
I had a brother in law (he has since died), but his wife used to always get on him because he would be sitting in the living room with a beer bottle in his hand and read the Bible. And I had to agree with her. Somehow that just did not seem right! And, of course, she used to ask herself, “What does God think of this?” Well, God never said anything to me, so I do not know what he said, or she said, or whatever, but I know that even his wife thought that he was out of place approaching God in this very impious, callous, and stupid manner!
How do you go before God? Do you make sure that whenever you are reading God's Word that you are doing it seriously, and honestly, and diligently, tearing the Bible apart with a verse here, and a verse there, with a stammering lip, as we will see in just a little bit? Are you taking God’s presence in your presence very seriously in the studying of His Word?
Isaiah 28:7 But they also have erred through wine, and through intoxicating drink are out of the way [You do not treat God that way!]; the priest and the prophet have erred through intoxicating drink, they are swallowed up by wine [That is the fourth time now He mentions wine in relation to these Ephraimitish people], they err in vision [they are not seeing things correctly], they stumble in judgment.
Like a drunken person, they cannot make ends meet reasonably in their minds. To figure things out, they err in vision.
Isaiah 28:8-9 For all tables are full of vomit and filth; no place is clean. [Now look at verse nine:] Whom will he [that is God] teach knowledge? And whom will he make to understand the message? [What a contrast with what we just left, in terms of the approach those Ephraimite people had as compared to this.] Those just weaned from milk?
Now who is God going to teach? Is it going to be those who were just weaned from milk? This is an illustration I think of young people who do not have much in the way of judgment. That is the way those Ephraimites would have been in regard to somebody of a sound mind who was well educated and was thoughtfully going through the Bible with God, maybe even on his knees in able to do these things.
Isaiah 28:9-12 Whom will he teach knowledge? And whom will he make to understand the message? Those just weaned from milk? [Not at all, God wants mature people to teach.] Those just drawn from the breasts? [This is another illustration of a baby.] For precept [here is the way the Bible has be put together] must be upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little. For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people, to whom He said, "This is the rest with which You may cause the weary to rest," and, "This is the refreshing;" yet they would not hear.
God wants to teach, and we have been urging you here, time and time again, to make sure that you spend time with Jesus Christ, praying to Him, studying into His Word. And if it is going to be good, you are not going to go to Him as a sleepy time gal or a guy; you are not going to go to Him half under the table with liquor; you are going to be as sharp as you possibly can any time that you are in the presence of God for serious business.
I am not talking about the times when you have to do something quickly and you only have a little bit of time, when you take advantage of that kind of a situation. I am talking about the times when we have something regularly set up in order to make sure we meet with our Maker at a time and place, in a condition that we are enabled to hear and understand.
The Bible is written in an unusual way. We see just a bit of it, here, where He talks about, “precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little and there a little.” That is pretty much the way that God arranged the Bible. The parts of its story are all over the place, and in order to get a complete picture about what God is teaching to us, we have to spend time and go from one place to another to pick up bits and pieces of the clues that God has put together.
I said a little bit earlier that you people can understand; it is not that hard to understand. And the reason why it is not that hard to understand is because God Himself gives us a lot of help in order to understand, leading and guiding our thinking so that we do not waste the time. We have a respectful attitude toward Him because we are in the presence of the greatest Being ever to live, and He wants to teach us.
He says, "Who shall I teach? Will it be babies? No.” He wants to deal with mature people.
God did not lay the Bible out in one, two, three order. Rather, portions of related material must be gathered from here and there within it. But many of mankind are lazy, wanting everything laid out for them.
I know the way I am. To my shame, there are many times that I have sat down in the living room to read the Bible and fifteen minutes later I am sound asleep. We all do that; we do not intend to do it, but we do it. (Especially when you are eighty-four or eighty-five years old.) That is the way we are. Is that really a good time to sleep? Maybe you need to reorient your day so that God gets a better portion of the day than He has been getting.
Are we willing to do things like that? We can do that. We might lose a little bit of sleep, because we had to get up earlier or something, but there are ways that we can make adjustments to give God the best part of our time, so that we make the very best use of it. He will honor that kind of respect for Him, because we are going the extra mile in order to make sure that we do not do anything but bring glory to Him in everything that we do.
The Bible does have a storyline, and it does have a theme. The Fort Mill congregation and the Church of the Great God went through a great deal of that. I can tell you what it is, just ever so briefly, so that it gives you something to hang your thinking, your reading, and your studying on.
Actually the storyline and the theme that runs through it, in one sense, are somewhat laid out in one, two three order right at the beginning of the Bible. We do not go through but twelve chapters, and we have already covered the main themes in the Bible. I could probably get some kid out there to tell me what they are, but I will not do that. It might embarrass me! But here they are:
There is, 1) the promised seed prophecy of Jesus Christ in Genesis 3:15. 2) is the holy line, as it is called, which begins in Genesis the fourth and fifth chapters with the birth of Seth, Adam and Eve’s son. Seth became the father of the line that eventually ended in Jesus Christ, and that line is followed all the way through the Bible. It is there. We do not pick up pieces of it maybe all over the place, but if you see the name Seth you know that is a pretty good name. Seth was a gift to Eve to replace Abel, and he then became the beginning of the holy line. 3) is Father Abraham, and the ‘I will’ promises: seven booming things. Nobody in the history of the world was ever given as much as Abraham. God really trusted that man. Seven great promises that became a complete promise when God made a covenant with him in Genesis the sixteenth chapter.
From there on, the Bible is filling in the details and if you just follow even the family of Abraham, which is the easiest family in the entire Bible to follow, it culminates in Jesus Christ. That is where the holy line culminates and that is where the prophecy about the promised seed also culminates in Jesus Christ. All three of the storylines end at the same place.
Now what is so hard about that? I tell you though, it will require a great deal of diligent digging to find all the material that there is about those three men, the least being Seth in terms of the material on him, that his line gave birth to Noah, and you know what happened with him, that is really a prodigious group of people, those from him.
So, the storyline is available right from the beginning and anybody can follow it. It might take a concordance, because there is sometimes a gap here and there and another place, but nonetheless it is in there. Thus, the theme of the storyline is available right from the beginning.
But again, connected to the disbelief in men is a great deal of impatience with finding connecting information. Mankind seems to want things simply handed to them without labor.
Let us turn again to a scripture that I brought up in the previous sermon; I want to use it again because it contains a very interesting word, and that word is “mysteries,” and it appears in Revelation 10. The Bible actually has quite a number of “mysteries” within it.
Revelation 10:7 But in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished, as he declared to His servants the prophets.
These are not mysteries in the ordinary English language sense; the Bible does not use the term in the sense of being a puzzle. The Greek term, translated into the English “mystery,” is “mysterion,” practically spelled the same way—mystery—mysterion.
The Greek term is used more narrowly than the English mystery, and a highly specialized way which I will explain to you. So even when there are some strange words from another language you can find where you can get definitions for those.
Biblically the term is used to indicate any of the divine but invisible activities of God in our behalf for our preparation for His Kingdom and salvation. That is quite a long definition, but it is really not as difficult as it might sound to you.
I am going to give you one that is even a little bit longer, but perhaps it can be understood a little bit better. This is another definition from another source. Biblically, “mysterion,” much more selectively, indicates a revelation of an action taken by God so we, His called and chosen, can grasp more clearly what He has done in our behalf.”
So God even explains what a mystery is. Turn to Ephesians 3 and we are going to see a mystery. The apostle Paul is speaking. He says:
Ephesians 3:8-9 To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given [What grace?] that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God, who created all things through Jesus Christ.
Now follow this, because maybe this will help you to be able to see this mystery a little bit clearer. The subject in the context, here in Ephesians the third chapter, is the Gentiles; get this first, Gentiles fellowshipping in the Christian church along with the Israelites in the same congregations. Yikes! In those days, that was a no-no. The Gentiles and the Israelites did not worship together until Jesus Christ’s ministry, and His death opened the door for the Israelites and the Gentiles to worship together. Until that time occurred a Gentile was supposed to be shot on sight if they came into the temple area and mixed around in there.
This was quite a departure for that period of time, because the Christian church, because of Jesus Christ’s ministry—His life and death—opened the doors for the Gentiles to be in the same room worshipping the same God as the Israelites were.
This, you see, is the mystery that had been hidden; that there was coming a time when the Gentiles were going to be invited into. But it took a special gift on God’s part to open the door, and that gift was grace. That is what it is called in the context here. But the literal gift was Jesus Christ’s death.
You wonder how something like that can be a mystery. I am going to say something here in just a little bit, which I think I said it to you before. These mysteries are not really mysteries. We tend to think of them in a sense of being mysteries like an English word means mystery, a puzzle that is difficult to solve. This is not that type of mystery. But rather, “How in the world did God get those doors opened?”
I am not kidding you! They could, now, worship with the Israelitish people, because it not only took the Israelites to begin to accept the Gentiles into their very presence while they were worshipping, it also took the Gentiles to have the courage to do it. And in order for either one to do that, they had to have faith in Jesus Christ. You see, there comes the Savior. He opens the way so that God could really begin to put both the Israelitish and the Gentile worlds into one. It had to be started.
I will tell you, that is how the mystery got started! God did it through the life and the death of Jesus Christ, and that was His gift to both sides of this issue, so that it could be resolved. You see? It was something that God did in behalf of His children, and so the mystery is solved. That is how it was done.
The other mysteries are somewhat similar. I did this one because I thought it might be the easiest one to see how these mysteries were. Every one of them is God’s mystery; nobody else has any, it is just the Father.
You will find that when you go to read Ephesians 3 that grace is mentioned in that context. So the grace of God, defined as a gift—that is what grace is, a gift of God—was already known biblically as early as Genesis 6. We are a long way from Genesis 6 when grace was given to Noah. Many other gifts of God, besides grace, were also given to others through the centuries. However, this specific form of grace in this context, that is, Gentiles fellowshipping with Israelites, in the same congregations in the same buildings, was new, and made possible by Christ’s sacrificial death as a spiritual cleansing of the Gentiles.
Before this occurred, the Israelites always looked upon the Gentiles as contaminated, that there was something wrong with them. Well, there was nothing wrong with them in that area at all, but they believed that they were wrong, so God opened the way miraculously for them to meet in the same congregations.
Here is another way, maybe I can explain it a little bit. The activity that freed these two groups of people so that they could join with each other in the same congregation was God’s grace. That was not literally hidden for centuries as it might seem, but the mystery indeed was probably obscure even in its time context then. But then, what happened is, God revealed the solution, and this is the pattern that He followed in the past. He would either get a prophet or an apostle and appear before people and make an announcement regarding what He, God Himself, was doing.
Who did it in this context? Paul did: an apostle. Paul was the one who broke the news that this was occurring. This news was not easy to take for either of those groups to accept the other. This is something that had been going on for thousands of years, that they were not allowed to have services together. And in the blink of an eye practically, the mystery is resolved, God opens the way, and He had legal means to do so, if I can put it that way, through the forgiveness of Jesus Christ in His death; and it purified things.
God did it, through Jesus Christ. If any of you can remember what happened whenever Nicodemus came to Jesus, and Jesus began speaking to him, Nicodemus was not getting it. But he did get it, because Jesus opened the way to him to understanding it. What happened there was put in the Bible and it becomes clear to us as well, now, when we read the Bible, what was taking place.
This sort of revealing is given to encourage our faith that God indeed is working in our behalf, and these mysteries—I hope you will understand—are really not technically hidden. And as I mentioned before, we might want to call them something akin to hidden in plain sight, within the pages of the Bible. But sometimes there are things where God makes a pronouncement, “Oh! Is that what that means?” That is basically what He did with Nicodemus. And he got it. He understood it. But, until that point of time, he was dumbfounded as to what in the world was going on—he could not understand.
We might want to call it, like I said, something hidden in plain sight within the pages of the Bible, but not understood. They have been there all the while, but we needed some explanation given to us for clarity’s sake. It might be better for understanding to know them as something unrevealed in the past, but vital once God flips the switch.
Here are some examples of a number of biblical mysteries that once were not clearly understood but are now much more fully revealed for our benefit. But the reality is, these truths were there all along.
Let us go to Ephesians 1. I am going to go back to verse seven so that I pick up the beginning of a sentence.
Ephesians 1:7-9 In Him [in Jesus Christ], we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace; which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence; having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself.
I will explain what this mystery is here. It was the gospel, most specifically, it was the ministry of Jesus Christ. It tells you right there, “in His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself.” Jesus explains things clearly, and now we can understand the gospel. That is what Jesus did.
What did He do? Mark 1: He came in into Galilee preaching the gospel—nobody had ever done that before—and the mystery is revealed.
What is God’s message? It is the good news of the Kingdom of God. Jesus began preaching it, and He gave it a title so it is no longer a mystery.
Turn to Romans 16. I am going to give you four or five of these fairly rapidly, because there are quite a number of them in the bible, and they are directly called mysteries.
Romans 16:25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel [that is Paul speaking there, or writing], and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began.
That is the gospel message. If we did not have Jesus Christ named in there, we might not know what it is; but now we know according the revelation of the mystery.
Romans 16:26-27 But now is made manifest, and by the prophetic scriptures made known to all nations according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for the obedience to the faith—to God alone, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.
That was a mystery before it was revealed. Turn to Romans 11:
Romans 11:25 For I do not desire brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion; that blindness in part has happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.
He is letting the church brethren know that Israel has been blinded by God.
Turn to I Corinthians 2. Let us not lose track here—what we are reading through here are mysteries, and this is one of the things, one of the items that people in the world criticize God for. They do not like the fact that there are things that are mysterious. They want everything to just be given to them. That is not the way the real world is.
I Corinthians 2:7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the ages for our glory.
Again, there is a clue there that these are things that God is working out for our benefit and little by little He peels away the mystery that is in these mysteries. So once He peels away, so that we can understand it, we have a great better understanding than we had before.
Ephesians 3:1-5 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles—if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), [his ‘knowledge in the mystery of Christ] which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets.
That is for our benefit that revelation was made.
Ephesians 3:9 And to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ.
There is the mystery: Jesus Christ is the real Creator.
Colossians 1:25-26 Of which I became a minister, according to the stewardship from God which is given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God; the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.
It is already a revelation.
Colossians 4:2-3 Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains.
It is very interesting what is happening in the world as a result of the tumult that is going on in the world and we need to have this under control in our own lives so that it does not cause us loss of our spiritual life.