Thursday, July 19, 2018

"The Church Is Built by God"

Ephesians 2:11-22 Every church wants to grow.  I want this congregation to grow.  I want us to have more members and more ministries.  I want to see our school expand.  I want to see our enrollment go up.  I want to add workers.  I want to increase our opportunities for service. 
But not as an end unto itself.  Not so that we can claim to be the biggest church or largest school.  But because growth and enrolment and expansion means people—people who are hearing about Jesus—people who are growing in their faith—people who are taking their place in God’s kingdom—people who have a life with God for time and eternity. 
Growth matters because the salvation of people matters and we want that to be true for as many people in our community as possible.  And so we make long-term plans and begin ministries and buy buildings and call workers and invite people to worship—all of us doing our part to make sure that our ministry in this place is growing and reaching as many as possible.
But what we are reminded of today—what is important for us to remember—is that God is the One who ultimately grows the church—he is the builder of the Body of Christ in this place.  About the early church, the Bible says that, “The Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”  That promise ought to give us a great deal of courage and comfort and confidence, that God can be counted on to grow his church.
What we discover today in God’s Word is that God builds the church with all kinds of different people, all who need his salvation; he builds it in the Lord Jesus Christ, in his death and resurrection; and God builds the Church through the Good News of Jesus.  The Bible says:
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 
            In the seventh chapter of Revelation we have a beautiful picture of the church in glory.  The Bible says that there are people from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and the Lamb, clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, salvation belongs to our God.
            That was a faith challenge for the Jews—to believe that Gentiles could ever have a life with God.  The faith challenge for us is to believe that the great multitude that will live forever in heaven, the great multitude that is clothed in the righteousness of Jesus, that great multitude that joins in eternal praises for the victory of Jesus over sin and death-- is comprised of the people in our community that we interact with each and every day.  Jesus says:  open your eyes, the fields are white for harvest.  He can see it!  Can we?
The young family who have given their children everything except the one thing needful; the bitter old man who has heaped scorn on the church his whole life; the rebellious young person who is caught up in some terrible sin; the countless people whose lifestyles appall us and whose native cultures we have no natural connection to, are separated from God and without hope waiting to take their place in the church.
Every one of them, without exception, are objects of Christ’s redeeming love.  Perhaps we have a difficulty seeing them that way—as people that God wants to see in that great multitude in heaven—because we have forgotten that we were once just like them: knowing nothing of Christ, alienated from God, without hope.  That’s who we are by nature.
That’s why God wants us to remember where we came from, so that we would understand that the divisions between us and others that make those around us seem so foreign to us-- are nowhere near so great is what unites us to them and to every person on earth:  and that is the great need to be brought to God by the blood of Christ.  The Bible says:
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
            During his earthly ministry our Lord Jesus Christ said, I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except by me.  No one comes to the Father except by me.  We struggle to believe that-not that he said it, we all know that—but the implications of what it means for all people and the claim it makes upon our own life!
No one will have a life with God, no one will be forgiven, no one will be saved, apart from Jesus.  No one!  Not the young or old.  Not the sincere believer in another religion.  Not the generous or kind.  Not the good citizen or friendly neighbor or brave patriot or sweet little child in our classroom.  No one comes to the Father except by Jesus.  Instead…
Everyone by nature, without exception, is separated from God.  He is holy and we are not.  He has a will for our lives expressed in the commandments that we have not fulfilled and he expects a perfection from us that is exactly like his own, every day and in every way and yet we do not come close.  And so then…
The relationship that sinful mankind has with a holy God by nature is one of hostility and enmity and outright rebellion so that his righteous wrath rests upon every person without exception and would remain for eternity if someone had not come to our rescue. 
Thanks be to God, Jesus has!  God has not changed, in the least little bit, his expectations for how we are to live our lives but Jesus Christ has met that expectation for all of us in his perfectly holy life.  God has not withheld his holy, righteous wrath that punishes sin but has poured it out upon his Son at the cross instead of on us in the fires of hell.  Because of this…
Jesus Christ is the peace treaty between God and man.  He is the narrow way by which the chasm of sin and death is bridged so that we can come into God’s presence.  His is the righteousness that allows us to life in God’s presence and be counted as his children and enter into the courts of heaven, having his victory over sin and death.
That is what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  That is how God builds the Church in Jesus Christ.  That is what God wants to do for every person in this world—to remove that dividing wall of hostility that keeps people form having a life with God and to remove the dividing wall of hostility that keeps us from having real fellowship with one another.
In the early church, the greatest divisions that separated men from one another was the division between Jew and Gentile.  But God wanted them to understand:  the great need that they both had for Christ’ salvation and that once they were members of the Body of Christ through the man of the cross, those human divisions of race and ethnicity no longer mattered. 
They were one man in Christ—no matter how divided one from another they had been before—they were brethren in the same family, citizens of the same kingdom, members of the same body.  That spiritual is to be seen in the church that is built by God in Christ.  And yet…
Martin Luther King Jr. said that, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning."  He was absolutely right. 
From the very beginning, God has built his church in Jesus Christ with all kinds of different people taking their place in it.  Our Lord Jesus Christ reached out to Jews and Greeks and Samaritans.  The Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost on people from all over the world.  An Ethiopian eunuch took his place in the church alongside Jewish priests and Greek women and citizens of Rome. 
The picture from Revelation is a church made up of people from every nation, tribe, people and language.  So it must be for us as God builds his church in this place and the Lord adds to our number those he is saving—that our hearts and arms are welcome to all people. 
We are a fairly homogenous congregation when it comes to the ethnic makeup of our membership, but brothers and sisters, our community is not.  38.5% of the population of San Angelo is Hispanic and so as we think about reaching out into our community, we must look at it with the Lord’s eyes who saw every person as someone who need to hear the Good News and come to him in faith.  The Bible says that Jesus:
came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
            Humanly speaking, when it comes to building the church, we can hire the right staff and call the right workers and develop long range plans and adapt our worship style and music choices and especially try to avoid doing things that tear down the church rather than build it up.
But it is God who builds the church with all kinds of people, in his Son Jesus Christ, and he does that in only one way:  through the proclamation of the Gospel of peace that is found in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 
That’s it—the whole thing—and it always has been.  There may be twenty thousand people sitting in your arena but if they have not heard and believed the gospel of Jesus Christ you do not have, in that place, the church that God is building.
When Jesus commissioned to the apostles to make disciples, he gave them the water and the Word of the Gospel.  And that was enough!  It was enough because God promised that the Holy Spirit would work through these humble means and the humble lives of those who used these means. 
So it continues today.  Through the Words of the prophets and apostles the peace and hope we have in Jesus Christ is being proclaimed in this place and throughout the world so that people ARE being joined together in the church, a spiritual kingdom is growing, and the church is being built by God.
What a blessing it is to know that we are also part of that building and joining together and that growing that the Spirit is doing in this world!  What a comfort to know that we will one day take our place with those who are clothed in the righteousness of Christ and enter into our heavenly home!  And what a challenge we have to make sure that we are doing all within our power to make sure that as many as possible on our community of part of that eternal multitude who can say:  salvation belongs to our God!.  Amen.

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