The Mystery of Godliness
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:
God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit,
Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles,
Believed on in the world, Received up in glory.
~1 Timothy 3.16 (NKJV)
The whole of the Christian religion rests upon two events which are completely beyond our capacity to understand. The first is the incarnation of God – the truth that the God who spoke our reality into existence became a part of the reality He created. That God could create a human being within the womb of a virgin is no big miracle to me. After all, if He spoke the whole universe into existence and created the first man from dirt, I do not see that it would be a problem to Him to create a human without using normal means.
What I cannot fit within my brain is how the infinite God became finite yet remained the infinite God at the same time. It would be like Shakespeare actually entering the reality of Romeo and Juliet and interacting with them yet, at the same time, remaining the author of their reality.
The incarnation of our God is a profound mystery, and many think it a foolish belief. But if it is not true, then we, as Christians may as well fold up shop, for if Jesus of Nazareth is not the eternal God, then nothing He said or did is of any eternal consequence and our hope is utterly vain.
The second unexplainable event is the death of Jesus. He is God. How then could he die? Or, as Martin Luther is reported to have said, "God forsaking God: who can understand that!" He who is the life and the source of all life, died – impossible to comprehend! But, despite our inability to rationally understand or explain this or His incarnation, we believe these things to be true, and we rest the eternal welfare of our souls upon their truth.
Evidently, the early church had a creedal statement (or possibly it was a hymn) that expressed the mystery of these realities. It is found beginning at 1 Timothy 3.16. Several years ago, I made a poem of it so that we could sing it during worship. We use the hymn tune "Diademata" most commonly associated with "Crown Him with Many Crowns."
Did God become a man? Put on our mortal frame?
Are Jesus, born in Bethlehem, and God one and the same?
My soul is mystified; I cannot comprehend.
Such thoughts, alas, are much too high for mortal thoughts and minds.
But it is solemn truth, that God in flesh has come,
And by His Spirit, God has shown that Jesus is that One.
His messengers have seen; His name is preached abroad;
And many in this sin-cursed world have owned Christ as their God.
Jesus, we cannot know, nor can we fully see,
How you possess created flesh and yet are Deity.
But in that sacred bond, God's wisdom is displayed:
He who could never die has died, and, thus, our ransom paid.
At this time of year, and even at all times, may your heart be filled with the wonder of this "mystery of godliness." May your souls find rest in the knowledge that, for the salvation of our wretched souls, our God did what is beyond our comprehension: He became one of us, and as one of us, He died for sin. Don't try to understand how these things could be so, just rejoice that they are! -Joe Terrell