A Distinct Bugle Sound

28 11 2009

As a kid, I used to really enjoy the cowboy movies, we were shown on TV; especially the ones where the US cavalry, heard of the impending problems on the frontier, and to the sound of music … came charging over the hill, to the rescue – just in time! US flag held aloft, bayonets at the ready, and a fine stream of horses and riders… (back in the days before it was politically correct, to hate all things US).

Like the urgent call of the fire siren, to the CFS volunteers in a country town, so the call of a bugle was once used to awaken the troops – to do battle.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he asks the question: “..if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?” (1Cor. 14:8). Speaking in tongues, a lovely, yet somewhat minor matter, had become the big focus for some, rather than the clear Word of the Gospel, proclaimed to the nations. The Gospel is a bugle blast!  It is a clarion call. It is a trumpeted song of resurrection joy!  It makes great, grand sense of the seemingly sad and sombre notes, that cry forth, in the crucifixion.

The bugle. Yes. For what reason?

Ah, the battle!  The life of faith is undoubtedly, a battle. There is a clash of two kingdoms. The kingdom of the Son of God’s love, and the kingdom of the deceptive, evil one.

We usually nominate the enemies, in our battle, as 1. the world, 2. the flesh, and 3. the devil.  However, a more complete list really comprises of: 1. sin, 2. death, 3. the wrath of God, 4. the law, 5. the conscience, 6. satan, 7. world powers, 8. the world, 9. the flesh, and 10. the idols (see G.C. Bingham, The Things We Firmly Believe, NCPI, p. 115).

People of faith are engaged in a battle, a battle to stand firm in the freedom we have already received. Human beings are being called into freedom, through the gospel, or good news of Christ Jesus. Christians are kept in freedom by that same gospel. However, it really needs to be a clear gospel, a distinct sound. And this needs to be the case, even as we are engaged in the great mysteries, revealed to us.

Clarity. Clarity. Clarity. These three are needed amidst the information overload of our age. Especially, we need gospel clarity. To this end, many rightly turn to modern day teacher, John Piper. I do too.

Recently, however, I reviewed one of John Piper’s small talks: What is the Gospel? I appreciated his words, and work, but felt that they lacked something. I would like to make an important point, therefore. Here is his summary:

The Gospel is

  1. A Plan From Eternity
  2. An Event in History
  3. An Achievement between the Son and Father
  4. A Free offer to the world of these things
  5. Application of this Achievement – Forgiven, Justified (do not stop here, he adds, for many do!)
  6. To Bring us to God (Reconciliation for Fellowship)  (What-Is-The-Gospel—John-Piper).               The wonderful point he makes, is that we are to know, love and enjoy the Triune God. So true. But here in point 7, is a further addition, which connects the benefits of the Gospel, to the setting in which we will always find ourselves, namely – the Creation!
  7. To equip us to participate in running the Universe, together with God, eternally.

In all his writings, and especially in his stories, Geoffrey Bingham taught the significance of Salvation in relation to the Creation, and to the New [renewed] Creation. Only recently, theologians were discussing what was, or is, the priority of God – the story of salvation, or the work of creation, in order to bring humanity into fellowship, eternally.  I think the confusion comes, or the question arises, because we seldom ever glimpse the wonder of creation, from the outset, when all the angels sang and shouted for joy (Job 38:7). As a result, we fail to anticipate the role of humanity in relation to creation, into the future. We, as it were, stop short at fellowship and communion.

The real goal of the plan, is to form ‘a peer community’, together with Jesus the Son, Redeemer, who enjoy one another, in relationship, and in the ongoing action of the creation.

One of the Lord’s dear servants, Geoffrey Bingham, has put it like this: ‘God’s purpose in having a church is to train people up to be able to run the universe, with him, for eternity’.

Now, I believe, this is …. A Distinct Bugle Sound.





The Gift of Hearing the Mysteries

8 08 2009

LISTEN, I WILL TELL YOU A MYSTERY![1]

It is a momentous occasion to stand as a servant of Christ at the graveside of a much loved person – who has died – and to declare these words of the Apostle Paul – Listen, I will tell you a mystery! – to those who are pondering – what’s next? – for that person in the coffin.  The very utterance of the mystery[2]– a word picture -, which follows, can open a person’s ear to hear God, and their heart to respond to the Risen Jesus – bringing all the love, comfort and assurance of Our Father, and the gift of eternal life. But not all will hear.

One person hears the word and understands it, embraces the truth of it, and bears fruit in their life (Matthew 13:23) while another hears the words that are uttered, but at best makes a superficial response, and at worst hears nothing but religious god-speak. This further hardens them to words of eternal life.  Markedly different responses to the Word – apathy, hostility, or joy and gladness – can baffle and perplex[3] the speaker. After telling the parable of the sower to the whole crowd, Jesus later told his disciples:

To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.’ (Matthew 13:11)

The powerful interaction between God’s spoken word, and receptivity – or not, within the human heart is inscrutable (Romans 11:33).  We do know that it has to do with the will, and the degree of readiness to know the will of God, and to do it.[4]

On one occasion Jesus marvelled at the unbelief that he encountered (Mark 6:6), while on another he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit, and gave thanks to the Father for the twin action of revelation and concealment:

At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Luke 11:21-22)

Apart from the gift of new birth – from above, Nicodemus could not even see the kingdom of God let alone enter it. And if he had not begun to comprehend the earthly things: such as the wind-blowing attribute of new birth – then he could never grasp the heavenly things: such as the incarnation (John 3:13), the atonement (John 3:14), God’s love (3:16), cosmic salvation (3:17), condemnation (3:18), and judgment (3:19)[5]. The gift from above is a must.

IT HAS TO BE GIVEN TO YOU

Matthew 13:1-9 is the familiar parable of the sower ((Mark 4:1-9; Luke 8:4-8). We note:

1.     The Sower[6] is Jesus. (Matthew 13:3; 13:37 the one who sowsis the Son of Man).

2.     The seed – the word of the kingdom – falls upon four different soil types, but only the seed, which falls on good soil, bears fruit. This is genuine hearing.

3.     Jesus appeals for willingness to hear: Luke 8:8 says that Jesus “cried out” (Gk: phoneo echo) to the crowd: “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

4.     Within human history, the disciples (in Matthew) are given a unique part to play. Those who were around him along with the twelve (in Mark) – are informed alone (in Mark), of their highly significant role within the vast plan for human history. They are being given something, that other godly people had longed for:

a.      To you it has been given to know the secrets [mysteries] of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. (Matthew 13:11b).

b.     But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it. (Matt. 13:16-17)

5.     Isaiah 6:9-10 is quoted to show ‘the inevitable outcome’ of Jesus simple message will be hardened hearts, and judgment.[7] The disciples learn that this is the way a parable functions. It sifts the hearers: Fruit as faith is present, otherwise judgment.

6.     The setting of Matthew 13, seems to highlight a vital connection between doing the will of my Father in heaven (Matthew12:50) and the deed of hearing Jesus. Cf. Matthew 13:38, where the refusal to hear Jesus, results in unbelief in Nazareth.

More will be given

Jesus urges the disciples to keep listening, hearing and learning, promising them that – more will be given: “For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. (Matthew 13:12).

All of Jesus teaching would be integral to the future role of the disciples. Further mysteries – he told them many things in parables (Matthew 13:3) – were revealed somewhat progressively concerning the kingdom of God.  More would be given to the men who were to be the Apostles – the preachers of the word of the cross – between this point of Jesus ministry, and the full revelation of the mystery of the gospel. They would be given rich insights – revelation – into the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, and the mystery of the gospel – you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16). And even this revelation came out of the blue – from the Father, and would be further transformed in the light of the Cross. All inadequate concepts of both ‘Messiah’ and ‘Son’ would be replaced in future days.

Their ongoing glorious glimpses of Jesus identity (Matthew 17:1-8; 2Peter 1:18), their subsequent failures – when they would all desert Jesus and flee (Matthew 26:56) – and then their being present as Jesus suffered and died – their reception of forgiveness and peace as they witnessed and heard the resurrected living Jesus, his post-resurrection teaching concerning the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3), his astonishing ascension into heaven, and his community shaking outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33), and the further understanding that came at that point (John 16:13) would all constitute a unique ‘living in the mysteries’, and would equip them for their crucial work as apostles and heralds of the gospel. Such insight has been called The Messianic Secret’. [8]

The Apostolic Gospel and the content of the Epistles is Given

The Epistles within the New Testament serve a crucial, unique function in the preaching of the gospel. Although the disciples did not fully understand much of what Jesus taught them at the time – what they did grasp was a deposit, which later came into its own. Jesus’ parables functioned in a cryptic (Gk: kruptos) manner:

“No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden [Gk: kruptov: concealed] that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret [Gk: apokrufov: kept secret] that will not become known and come to light. Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.” (Luke 8:16-18)

Like a cryptic crossword, essential clues were yet to be revealed. The early conversations that the disciples had with Jesus alone  – in the dark – could never have broken open to them fully, until the light of the cross and resurrection, and the day of Pentecost had come (John 16:13). Then, that which had been but whispered was proclaimed ‘from the housetops’.   (Cf. Matthew 10:26-27)

P. T. Forsyth writes:

The apostolic interpretation is an integral part of the revelationary fact, process, and purpose, a real though posthumous part of Christ’s own continued teaching. In the Apostles took place a revelation of revelation – and a revelation of it once for all.[9] And Forsyth again:  The Gospels float in the Apostolic Gospel. Not only is Luke Pauline but even Mark.[10]

Every Message is a Gift

The Apostle Paul asks for prayer, from the church, to enable his daily proclamation.

Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak (Ephesians 6:19-20)

God had set Paul apart before he was born, called him through his grace, and was pleased to reveal his Son “in” him. On the Damascus road, Paul had undergone a ‘Christological explosion’, as the Risen Jesus – a mystery, confronted him. He ‘heard a voice’ (Acts 9:4). That he might proclaim Christ among the Gentiles (Galatians 1:15-16). Yet even Paul was always contingent upon the Lord’s giving him a message, for each occasion.

MYSTERY AND MYSTERIES

The New Testament refers to numerous mysteries, as well as one mystery.  In the parable of the sower, the singular and plural are used of the same incident.[11] Geoff Bingham’s comment is a clear summary of this matter:  We can safely say that ‘the mystery’ is the overall reality of God, and His plan for the history of creation.  We can also safely say that ‘the mysteries’[12], though each one in itself, yet all are parts of the one great mystery[13].

The Mystery of Lawlessness – or Iniquity

‘For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed’. (2 Thessalonians 2:7)

Paul wrote this to alert his readers, that ‘an immense blasphemy will take place, the like of which they would never imagine.  Evil being and evil action do constitute a mystery, but for the believer a revealed mystery, warning him of what lies ahead’.[14]

Insight into the dynamics of the clash of the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan is not something that can be grasped by mere explanation.  Revelation is needed. To perceive dark, sinister elements at work in the world, can be – to say the least – perplexing and disturbing.  Rod James depicts Satan as ‘the cosmic terrorist’.[15] The working of his woe is a mystery.  Also, the deceptive, addictive and seductive powers of sin are yet at work in us who believe. I know that sin and guilt combine to reign o’er every thought of mine, and turn from good to ill.[16] We often feel deeply the hidden evil of our own hearts, and we are shocked to the core at the depths of our corruption, as we discover, by revelation, something of what it means that the thoughts and intentions of the human heart are only evil continually (Genesis 6:5). Evil lies close at hand, and sin clings so closely (Hebrews 12:1) even as we delight in the law of God in our inmost being (Romans 7:22).  The mystery of iniquity, or lawlessness may never be fully understood but we are alerted to it, for wise living.

Mystery a Positive Concept in the NT

A mystery… in the New Testament, is a truth which is revealed to the initiated – the person who is born anew of the Spirit – but which remains closed off from the uninitiated, that is, those unable to receive the truth.[17]

It is crucial to distinguish between hearing the mysteries, and all forms of religious mysticism, including so-called Christian mysticism.[18] A finger placed to the lips is a gesture well known to Buddhist piety.  Such a gesture is made as an affirmation that mystery is ‘that about which one must remain silent and really only can remain silent’.[19] It is not uncommon for theologians, philosophers, and religious leaders to employ the word ‘mystery’ to denote ideas such as ineffability, darkness, and impenetrability. In order to avoid wrong ideas conveyed by the English word ‘mystery’, and to emphasise the revelation that has come in human history, fully disclosed in Jesus, Marcus Barth prefers to translate the Greek ‘mysterion’ as ‘secret’. God’s secret has been make known.  He claims:

It is impossible to demonstrate that at any place in the New Testament it signifies an insoluble puzzle or incomprehensible – and yet believed – mystery, though the English translation ‘mystery’ may suggest this meaning.[20]

In Christian history, a negative spin has often been given to the term ‘mystery’.[21]

One of the dark puzzles of the history of theology is the way in which this positive New Testament understanding of mystery has constantly been suppressed hermeneutically in theology. Talk about God is often understood in the tradition as mysterious talk. But it was thought to be mysterious because its object, God, cannot actually be known by our thinking. Talk about God is accordingly regarded as inauthentic talk. This hermeneutical scepticism with regard to the speakability of God can be so intensified that the demand is made not to speak of God at all because our thought cannot genuinely know him. It is virtually a kind of theological self-commendation to introduce “God” as an unspeakable term. As doubly enlightened theologians, we have been taught that what cannot be known is something we cannot talk about.  And “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” [22]

John 1:18a says: “No one has ever seen God”. But what follows, is at the heart of the New Testament:  “It is God the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, who has made him known” (John 1:18b). The Word has become flesh. God himself is now accessible:

One can discover what distinguishes the Christian mystery from all others. In the Hellenistic mysteries revelation took place through special rites and ecstasies. In the apocalyptic literature the mysteries of God are revealed by visions or angelic beings.  But in the NT the disciples meet the revelation or mystery of God in a historical event, in Jesus who is the Christ.[23]

TAKE HEED HOW YOU HEAR

Take heed then how you hear; for to him who has will more be given, and from him who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away. (Luke 8:18 – RSV)

Jesus was and is genuinely concerned that people should hear him. P. T. Forsyth wrote:

“The more we fix our attention on the object of our certitude, the more we humbly realise that it is a something given. Its source is not in us. It is of grace.  The men of discovery, of inspiration, tell the same tale.  Truth finds them not they it.  All that is in us is a welcome, a response, a correspondence to it – not indeed a passivity but a receptivity.”[24]

Hebrews 3:12-19 amd 4:2 warns and exhorts believers, to exhort one another every day to keep hearing. Sin is deceitful. Any of us can become hardened! Our ministries can become crusty. Our participation in the mysteries is dependent upon continually hearing God’s voice with faith. This always necessitates a personal encounter with the Giver – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and a subsequent worshipful action in life. Struggle and genuine disturbance are likely at this point. Open our ears Lord! And help us to listen.

These mysteries are so wonderful – marriage – the profound mystery, and the mystery of glorification, to name but two, and all that they mean for the future of creation.  How could we grow dull about such things?  It was said that deficient ecclesiology kills soteriology.  Perhaps it often has. How could we as Christians ever sing of the mysteries as a Sunday morning dirge?  How could we really grow tired of the mystery?  It happens.

Substitutes are devised daily, in our ‘idol factory’ (Calvin), as replacements for the authentic mystery.  Of ourselves, we can never reason our way to know God, as he is in Christ, although we may fathom out some conclusion that there is a God: theism (Antony Flew)[25] But this is neither hearing God, nor a saving faith. We can easily look on at unbelievers dabbling in religious endeavour, in the occult, in atheistic philosophy, and new age forms of age-old Gnosticism, in secret societies, and the like. All are a rejection of God’s word to us in history, and are the judgment of a crass refusal to hear the mysteries of God. However, as believers, we too can devise our substitutes for living in the mysteries.

When this occurs, faith must come once again by hearing. Hearing must be given by the preaching of Christ – the Living Jesus preaching to us. We hear him (Romans 10:17). He deals with our guilt, he obliterates our dullness, he imparts his love (a joyous mystery) we hear him gladly – and he gives to us the knowledge of, and a share in the whole dynamic plan of God’s history, from the beginning of creation through to the new creation, and all that this entails – the whole counsel of God.  The key to our stewardship is to be a person who is ‘always living in the mystery’[26]. We must be persistently acting upon what we hear, and not giving way to cowardice, laziness or apathy. I will tell you a mystery: in Christ, that person in the coffin has a great future!

* Paper Previously published as © 2005 T. R. Faggotter New Creation Teaching Ministry School


[1] 1Corinthians 15:51 Also1Corinthians 4:1  ‘Think of us in this way as…stewards of God’s mysteries’.

[2] ‘A mystery is a reality disclosed, a reality, which could not be otherwise known’. See Geoffrey C. Bingham, The Glory of the Mystery and the Mystery of the Glory, NCPI, 1998, p. 17

[3] ‘…mysteries are not puzzles to be solved, but realities in which to live’ ,  Ibid. p. 5

[4] Leslie Newbigin, in Proper Confidence, Eerdmans, 1995, p. 38-9 says: “Because the ultimate reality in the Bible is personal, we are brought into conformity with this reality not by the two-step process of theory and practice, vision and action, but by a single action comprised of hearing, believing, and obeying. The operative contrast is not between theory and practice; it is between believing and obeying on the one hand and the refusal of belief and obedience on the other.  Believing and obeying are not two separate moves. When Jesus says to Simon, “Follow me,” the response is a single act of faith and obedience; there is no gap between a mental action of believing and a bodily action of following.  The human person is not a mind attached to a body but a single psychosomatic being.’

[5] Nicodemus was quite possibly born from above, but we don’t quite know. (John 7:50; 19:39)

[6] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, IVP, 1992, p. 335

[7] Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, IVP, 1993, p.79

[8] William Wrede, The Messianic Secret, Cambridge: Mowbrays, 1971. See also J.D.G. Dunn, “The Messianic Secret in Mark”, TSF Bulletin 69, 1974, p. 7-14.

[9] P.T. Forsyth, The Principle of Authority, NCPI, 2004, p. 133

[10] Ibid. p. 140

[11] Mathew 13:11 and Luke 8:10 refer to “the mysteries” (ta mysteria) – plural, of the kingdom of God, while in Mark 4:11 the word used is “mystery” (ton mysterion) – singular.  When Jesus likened the Kingdom of heaven to various examples: a mustard seed – yeast that a woman mixed – treasure hidden – a merchant searching for pearls – a net thrown out for fish – and so on, each parable is really a mystery within the primary mystery.  Likewise, Paul writes in 1Corinthians 4:1 of being stewards of “the mysteries”  – plural, while in Ephesians 3:9 the reference is to “the mystery” – singular.

[12] A comprehensive list of the NT mysteries would include the following references:

1.     The Mystery of the Kingdom (Matthew 13:11, Mark 4:11, Luke 8:10)

2.     The Mystery of the Hardening of Israel (Romans 11:25)

3.     The Revelation of the Mystery (Romans 11:25-26)

4.     The Mystery of God (1Corinthians 2:1)

5.     The Mystery of Glorification (1Corinthians 2:7)

6.     The Mysteries of God (1Corinthians 4:1) –Stewards

7.     All Mysteries (1Corinthians 13:2)

8.     A Mystery (1Corinthians 15:51f)

9.     Mysteries uttered in the Spirit (1Corinthians 14:2)

10.   The Mystery of His will (Ephesians 1:9)

11.   The Mystery of Christ (Ephesians 3:3)

12.   The Mystery of the Integration of the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:6, 3:9)

13.   Marriage: the Profound Mystery (Ephesians 5:32)

14.   The Mystery of the Gospel (Ephesians 6:19)

15.   The Mystery hidden throughout the ages (Colossians 1:25-27)

16.   God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself (Colossians 2:2; 4:3)

17.   The Mystery of Iniquity – or Lawlessness (2Thessalonians 2:7)

18.   The Mystery of our Faith (1Timothy 3:9)

19.   The Mystery of our Religion (1Timothy 3:16)

20.   The Mystery of the Seven Stars (Revelation 1:20)

21.   They Mystery of God (Revelation 10:7)

22.   The Mystery of the Woman – Babylon (Revelation 17:5-7)

Many mysteries are not directly named as mysteries, but can be classified as such: For example:(1) Sanctification: See Walter Marshall, Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, Tyndale Bible Society.(2) The revelation of God, as love, and the central matter of the propitiation and God’s wrath, in order to deal with sin, and establish peace is a mystery unveiled in the text of 1John 4:7-10.

[13] G.C. Bingham, p. 73 gives further insight into the meaning of the passage.

[14] Ibid, p. 67

[15] Rod James, Unity ‘Fails’ in All the Earth, in The Ministry and Message of Reconciliation, NCTM Ministry School, 2003, p. 141

[16] Frank B. St. John, c. 1879, in New Creation Hymn Book, No. 218

[17] G. C. Bingham, p. 27

[18] ‘Are you listening to God?’ can be an ambiguous question, without Apostolic substance to the teaching.

[19] Eberhard Jüngel, God As The Mystery Of The World, Eerdmans, 1983, p. 251

[20] Markus Barth, Ephesians: Translation and Commentary on Chapters 1-3, The Anchor Bible, vol. 34, Doubleday, New York, 1974, p. 124

[21] This has a long history dating back to around 482 AD and the work of a theologian known as Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite (not to be confused with the person of Acts 17:34). His teaching has had an enormously detrimental influence on thinking concerning God. He says: “We approach Deity in its concealment only after we have set aside all thinking.”  See E. Jüngel, p. 8

[22] E. Jüngel, p. 251

[23] G.W. Barker, ‘Mystery’ in The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Vol. III, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1986, p. 453

[24] P.T. Forsyth, p. 82

[25] See ‘Why the world’s most famous atheist, now believes in God’ by James A Beverley, Christianity Today:, April 2005, Vol. 49, No. 4, p. 80 http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/004/29.80.html

[26] G.C. Bingham, p. 30








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