I Love A Good Mystery

Title: I Love A Good Mystery

Bible Book: 1 Timothy 3 : 16

Author: David E. Owen

Subject: Mystery of God; Salvation, Mystery of; Jesus, Nature of



How many of you love a good mystery? That’s the title of my sermon for this morning. “I Love A Good Mystery” And I’m preaching from 1 Timothy 3:16. In preparing for the message this week, I did an online search this week of “The World’s Greatest Mysteries,” and I found lists that included such questions as…

Where are Jimmy Hoffa’s remains?

What happened to Amelia Earhart?

Who was Jack the Ripper?

Who built Stonehenge and why?

Who built the Great Sphinx in Egypt?

I also posted this question on my social media accounts: “From a non-Biblical, non-spiritual standpoint, what do you think of when I mention ‘The World’s Greatest Mystery’?”

And my Facebook friends are so clever! Listen to some of their responses. When “The World’s Greatest Mystery” is mentioned, here’s what they think of…

How do they get the peanut butter inside the Reese’s cup perfectly every single time!

What happens to all those socks that disappear from my washer and dryer?

How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop?

Will we EVER know who let the dogs out?

And another friend said that “The World’s Greatest Mystery” is   …   Marriage!

Well, these may all be unsolvable mysteries.

How many of you read Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys books when you were growing up? When I was in the 6th grade, I became very interested in a mystery series called “Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators.” I probably read about 30 or more of the 43 original books that were published in that series. At one point, a friend and I were so interested in the series that we planned to try and write an installment ourselves. I never fulfilled that goal. But within just a year or two of going through that phase, as a 13 year old boy I felt like the Lord was calling me to preach. And I became increasingly interested in another mystery book.

In this book … the Bible … there is a lot of mystery. In fact, the word “mystery” or “mysteries” is used 27 times in the New Testament, and each time it is translated from the Greek word musterion, which has the idea of something hidden, or secret, or something that is not immediately obvious to the understanding. Generally, it refers to something that has been concealed but is now, or will be, revealed.

Here in 1 Timothy 3, in verse 9 there is the mention of “the mystery of the faith.” And then in our text, in verse 16 there is the mention of “the mystery of godliness.”

In the larger context of this part of the epistle, Paul is writing to Timothy and in…

In verses 1 thru 7 of this chapter, Paul was talking about “The Pastor of the Church” – the bishop

In verses 8 thru 13 of this chapter, Paul was talking about “The Partners in the Church” – the deacons

In verses 14 thru 16 of this chapter, Paul was talking about “The Principles for the Church”

In verses 14 and 15, Paul basically said to Timothy (who was serving at Ephesus) that he hoped to come see him soon. But if his coming was delayed, Paul said that the purpose of his letter was so that Timothy would know how he ought to “behave himself in the house of God.” And “behave” in verse 15 means to busy oneself. So Paul was saying, ‘Timothy, here’s what you need to be doing to stay busy in ministry and here’s how you need to be doing it. Here’s some of the more important things that you need to know about church and pastoral ministry.’

He said in verse 15 that “the church of the living God” is “the house of God.” And he also said that the church is the pillar and ground of the truth.” We might say it this way: the “church supports the true teachings, just as the foundation and post (or, pillar) support and insure the stability of a house.” The Greek word ekklesia translated “church” means “called out.” And as a church, both universally and locally, we who are the “called out” ones are to be holding up truth “just as the foundation and post insure that a house stands firm (or, doesn’t fall down).” (From the UBS – United Bible Societies – New Testament Handbook)

Now moving from verse 15 to verse 16, Paul is still talking about the “truth” that we are to be holding up. And Marvin Vincent said in his Word Studies in the New Testament, “The connection of thought is with ‘the truth’ (from vs. 15), and the words ‘mystery of godliness’ are a paraphrase of that word. … The truth constitutes the mystery of godliness.”

The particular aspect of truth that Paul magnifies in verse 16 is the truth about Christ. And he said that this truth about Christ, this “mystery of godliness” (godliness indicating “gospel truth”) is undeniably (“without controversy”) “great” (from the Greek word megas meaning large or important).

The Bible Knowledge Commentary says that…

Godliness being a mystery means that it was hidden but now is revealed. Further, it is a great “mystery” in that it is overwhelmingly large in scope and sublimely important in significance. Paul cited the content of this truth in the form of an excerpt from an early hymn about Christ, who is the essence of the “mystery” (Colossians 1:27). … The six elements of the excerpt are as follows:

God was manifest in the flesh

Justified in the Spirit

Seen of angels

Preached unto the Gentiles

Believed on in the world

Received up into glory

I believe that these six elements are best presented in three couplets of truth that show us …

1. Christ’s Revelation

2. Christ’s Recognition

3. Christ’s Reception

I love a good mystery! But this is not just a “good mystery.” This doctrine of Christ that had once been concealed but had now been revealed is an undeniably “great mystery”! And as we begin to dig into this verse and this exposed mystery, let me say first that…

I. This Mystery Involves His Revelation

A. Jesus Was Revealed In His Incarnation – He Was “Manifest In The Flesh”

(1 Timothy 3:16) And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

1. There Was The Method Of His Incarnation

When the message of the incarnation was revealed to Mary, the angel Gabriel said…

(Luke 1:31) And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.

Thus fulfilling Isaiah’s ancient prophecy…

(Isaiah 7:14) Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Bob Russell, who is pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY, said in an interview with Preaching Magazine...

I was invited to a high school to speak to some kind of social studies class on world religions. I was supposed to talk about evangelical Christianity. After I finished the brief presentation, I asked if there were any questions. One girl said, “Yes. How would you convert a Jewish person to your faith?” The class snickered, and I knew why they were snickering. The teacher’s name was Mrs. Steinberg. I thought, “Here we go.”

I decided that this was one of those times when I thought I would be better off just hitting head on. I said, ‘Well, first, it depends on whether the person is an orthodox Jew or a reformed Jew. For example, Mrs. Steinberg, you are Jewish aren’t you, what is your background?” And she said, “Well, if you could convince me that it is possible for a virgin to give birth to a child, maybe I would consider your religion.”

It’s not often that I answer questions well on my feet, but this was one of those times where I think the Lord provided me with an answer. I said, “Well you know what? With artificial insemination we have discovered that it is possible for a virgin to give birth to a child. God created it, and I’m sure He knew about it before we discovered it.”

We don’t even have to consider the possibilities in terms of artificial insemination, but in terms of supernatural intervention.

(Luke 1:34-35) Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? {35} And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

2. There Was The Melding In His Incarnation (God And Man Brought Together)

(John 1:14) And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

3. There Was The Manifestation Of His Incarnation

(Galatians 4:4) But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,

B. Jesus Was Revealed In His Innocence – He Was “Justified In The Spirit”

(1 Timothy 3:16) And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

The word “justified” generally means to render just or innocent. So when Paul says in Titus 3:17 that we are “justified by His grace,” he means that we have been rendered just, not because of our good works, but because of the grace of God. We are told here that Jesus was “justified in the Spirit” which indicates that He was vindicated and shown to be righteous by the fact that the Holy Spirit.

1. Think About The Weakness Of Justification In The Law

(Romans 3:20) Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

(Did the law prove Christ’s innocence? Yes, but there was more!)

2. Think About The Way Of Justification In The Lord

(Romans 3:24-26) Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: {25} Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation (an atoning and reconciling element) through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; {26} To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

Christ was able to justify us because He Himself was just. His righteousness was declared, and therefore we can trust in His blood for the atonement and remission of our sins.

(Did Christ show His own innocence? Yes, but there was more!)

3. Think About The Witness Of Justification In His Life

(The Spirit Proved His Innocence By Lighting Upon Him – Holy Spirit Upon Holy Son!)

(Matthew 3:16-17) And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: {17} And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Albert Barnes wrote that…

The Holy Spirit furnished the evidence that He was the Son of God, or “justified” His claims. Thus he descended on Him at His baptism, Matt. 3:16; he was sent to convince the world of sin because it did not believe on Him, John 16:8-9; the Savior cast out devils by him, Matt. 12:28; the Spirit was given to Him without measure, John 3:34, and the Spirit was sent down in accordance with His promise, to convert the hearts of people; Acts 2:33.

We are shown in this verse that This Mystery Involves Christ’s Revelation. But let me say in a further way that...

II. This Mystery Involves His Recognition

A. Glorious Beings Recognized Him As They Looked At The God Man

He Was “Seen Of Angels”

(1 Timothy 3:16) And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

What did the angels see? They certainly saw His glory prior to the incarnation, but the sequence of the verse seems to point to what they saw in Jesus’ time on earth.

1. The Angels Saw The Birth At Bethlehem

(Luke 2:9) And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

2. The Angels Saw The Burden Of Temptation

(Matthew 4:11) Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.

3. The Angels Saw The Brokenness Of Gethsemane

(Luke 22:43) And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.

4. The Angels Saw The Brutality Of His Arrest And Trial And Calvary

(Matthew 26:53) Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?

5. The Angels Saw The Blessing Of The Resurrection

(Matthew 28:2) And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.

B. Gentile Beings Recognized Him As They Listened To The Gospel Message

He Was “Preached Unto The Gentiles”

(1 Timothy 3:16) And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

This is where most of us entered into the story.

1. Consider The Gospel For The Gentiles

At the end of Paul’s 1st missionary journey…

(Acts 14:27) And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.

At the end of the book of Acts, Paul said…

(Acts 28:28) Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.

2. Consider The Gladness Of The Gentiles

(Acts 13:46-48) Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. {47} For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. {48} And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.

3. Consider The God Of The Gentiles

(Romans 3:29) Is he the God of the Jews only? Is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also:

(Ephesians 2:11-14) Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; {12} That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: {13} But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. {14} For He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;

J. Erskine said…

It was mysterious that, for a long period, God suffered (Gentiles) to walk in their own ways, giving His statutes unto Jacob and His testimonies unto Israel. … Still, however, it remains a mystery that to the Gentiles Christ was preached when they were at the very worst. (From The Biblical Illustrator)

Notice the flow of the stanzas in this hymn. There is a focus on the earthy (the flesh), and then a focus on the heavenly (the Spirit). Those in heaven (angels) are looking towards earth, and then those on earth (Gentiles) are being pointed to heaven. And finally Christ is believed on earth, and He is received in heaven.

So we are shown in this verse that This Mystery Involves Christ’s Revelation. And we are shown in this verse that This Mystery Involves Christ’s Recognition. But let me say finally that...

III. This Mystery Involves His Reception

A. Christ Is Received In The Human Realm – “Believed On In The World”

1. There Is A World Element In How He Is Received

(1 Timothy 3:16) And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

In other words, among the inhabitants of this world, there have been those who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ.

2. There Is A “Whosoever” Element In How He Is Received

(John 3:16) For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

3. There Is A Wonderful Element In How He Is Received

Mary, after hearing of the holy conception, said…

(Luke 1:49) For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.

On the day of Pentecost when the Jews from every nation heard the apostles declaring God’s message, they said…

(Acts 2:11) … we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.

The phrase “great things” in Luke 1:49 and the phrase “wonderful works” in Acts 2:11 are both translated from the Greek word megaleios, which means magnificent, or perfect.

B. Christ Is Received In The Heavenly Realm – “Received Up Into Glory”

1. Notice The Place Of His Heavenly Reception

(1 Timothy 3:16) And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

We start out in this verse seeing Jesus as our Kinsman, the One who was “manifest in the flesh.” And we end up in the verse seeing Jesus as our King, the One who is “received up into glory.”

I love that the Bible uses this term “glory” to refer to a place.

glory – Greek 1391. doxa, dox'-ah; from the base of G1380; glory (as very apparent), in a wide application (lit. or fig., obj. or subj.):--dignity, glory (-ious), honour, praise, worship.

2. Notice The Purpose Of His Heavenly Reception

(To Be An Intercessor At God’s Right Hand)

(Mark 16:19) So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.

(1 John 2:1) My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:

advocate – Greek 3875. parakletos, par-ak'-lay-tos; an intercessor, consoler:--advocate, comforter.

3. Notice The Promise Of His Heavenly Reception

(Acts 1:9-11) And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. {10} And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; {11} Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.


In the mid 60’s, Dottie Rambo wrote a song called “There’s Nothing That My God Can’t Do.” And in the song there’s a line that says, “It’s a mystery, great mystery, but oh so true. There’s nothing, no nothing that my God can’t do.” I want to apply those first few words to these marvelous aspects of gospel truth found in this verse: “IT’S A MYSTERY, GREAT MYSTERY, BUT OH SO TRUE!” (continued)

As I’ve studied this great revealed mystery, I’ve thought about the late Dr. John Phillips who was one of the great expositors and commentators of our day. John Phillips said…

A whole book could be written on 1 Timothy 3:16 alone. It is an amazing verse. It begins with Jesus as God and ends with Jesus in glory. It begins with His incarnation and ends with His ascension.

I’ve also thought about John Phillips because I remember him saying that he enjoyed reading a good mystery novel to refresh his mind, mystery novels like those written by Agatha Christie. Agatha Christie had the ability to weave such a story that you felt like you entered into the story yourself. And in the plots of her mystery novels, she dropped enough clues like bread crumbs along the way that you might be able to figure out “who done it.”

God has written this great unveiled mystery in His redemption story, and He has done it in such a way that we can actually become part of the story. And I might add that this great mystery is a “Who Done It” thriller. And I’ll tell you who did it. HE DID IT! Christ did it all!

Has the mystery been solved in your life? Have you ever deduced and figured out that Jesus is the One who did it. He has certainly put enough clues in His Word AND in your life so that any questions you once had about salvation and your eternal destiny have now been revealed.

It’s not about turning over a new leaf, but it’s about trusting Christ to save you so that an entirely new book and chapter begins for you. Trust Jesus today!

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