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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:View Christ's Church through the Eyes of Faith
Text:LD 21 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's gathering work
 
Preached:2010-03-21
Added:2011-05-16
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Liturgy from 1984 Book of Praise

Hymn 40:1,2

Psalm 147:4

Psalm 132:6,8,9,10

Hymn 40:4,5

Hymn 46:2

 Read:  Zechariah 2, Matthew 16:13-21.

Text:  Lord’s Day 21

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Dear Church Jesus Christ.

If you were to ask people what they see and experience in the church, you would most likely get a variety of responses.  Some would speak positively of pleasant and caring people, of a sense of belonging, of an anchor for today’s society.  But others would not be so flattering.  We often have carnal and earthly thoughts about the church.  People will often criticise the local church for what is seen as sin and hypocrisy and lifelessness and schisms.  Sometimes that leads to constant negativity and criticism; at other times it leads to people drifting from one church to the other, at other times it leads to people leaving the church altogether.  There are other times when people view the church in what we can call a myopic way. In those cases people fail to reflect sufficiently on the catholicity of the church, that is its universal character.  Then we fail to see what God is doing beyond what we experience here and now in our own local congregation and federation, and then we develop a critical spirit concerning the present and a spirit of fear for the future of the church. 

The Catechism, however, does not ask what we think we see or experience in the church.  This Lord’s Day lifts us beyond that, and asks what we believe concerning the holy catholic Church. That word “believe” encourages us to look at the church in a different way.  As a part of the faith that we must have for our salvation, we must believe what the Bible teaches us about the Church.  And so we have to think and talk and look beyond what we see and observe, and view the church through the eyes of faith.  And that will be the theme of this afternoon’s sermon:

View Christ’s Church through the eyes of faith.

1. The Greatness of Christ’s Church.

2. The Holiness of Christ’s Church.

1. The Greatness of Christ’s Church.

The Hymn "The Church's One Foundation" (Hymn 40 of the 1984 Book of Praise) speaks in quite emotional language about the Church.   It speaks of people scornful of the oppression it is under.  This hymn speaks of schisms and heresies, of toil and tribulation.  When we experience the pain that the church often goes through, we often become despondent.  There are times when it is hard to look beyond the weaknesses of the church and the sinfulness of its members.  We see the church as being “sore oppressed” and we fear for the church’s future. 

The nation of Israel felt a bit like that after they returned from Exile.  The number of Jews who actually returned from Babylon was very small, with many people choosing to remain where they were and not go back to Jerusalem.  There was a time of initial excitement and, under Ezra, the foundation of the temple was laid.  However, when this foundation was laid many of the older people wept, remembering the first temple, and the glory of Israel in days gone by.  And following this, the Jews received intense opposition from the other people of the land, who were not a part of God’s people.  These enemies wrote to Artexerxes the king of Persia, who put a stop to the rebuilding of Jerusalem and of the temple.  And that’s how things remained for over ten years.  A sense of despondency crept into the hearts and minds of those who had returned from exile.  Their knees became feeble and their hands drooped.  They concentrated on their daily existence, building houses and farming the land.  But individually and as a nation, they were getting nowhere.  They could look back to the glory of yesteryear, back to the days of Solomon and even Hezekiah.  But there was little to be happy about concerning the present, and a dubious future to look forward to.  This would have to have been one of the lowest points in the history of God’s people.  The Jews could not see beyond the day they were living in, and for all intents and purposes, God had left them.  Talk about a coming Messiah was the stuff of dreams.  Their singing and giving thanks that God is good and His mercy endures forever towards Israel, that they sang when they laid the foundation of the temple (Ezra 3:11) had died on the lips of the Jews, along with their dreams to complete the building of the Temple.

And in that context the Lord sent the prophet Zechariah.  And one of the strong messages of Zechariah is the call not to be consumed with the present and see God’s work from that perspective alone, but to look upwards and forwards.  In chapter 2, Zechariah saw a vision of a man with a measuring line in his hand.  This man was going off to measure Jerusalem.   He wanted to know how wide and how long it was, presumably to build up the walls around it.  The man’s intention was to build a fortress around Jerusalem in order to protect the Jews and their identity, and keep them safe from the enemies around them. 

But then the LORD instructed Zechariah to run and speak to the man with a measuring line and to tell him four amazing things.

First, there would be no point in putting up walls around Jerusalem, for the city of Jerusalem would become too big!  Zechariah 2:4 says, “Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls, because of the multitude of men and livestock in it.”

Secondly, whereas at that time the nations were Israel’s enemies and had attacked them and tried to break them up as a nation, in the future these same nations would be flocking to Jerusalem to be a part of God’s people.  Israel would not be swallowed up by the world, but many in the world would be joined to the LORD, and so to Israel.  The LORD speaks of this further in chapter 8:22,23 “Yes, many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and pray before the LORD.  Thus says the LORD of hosts: In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”” 

The third amazing thing that Zechariah was to say to that young man with a measuring line was that there was no need for a wall around Jerusalem, because “I, says the LORD, will be a wall of fire around her.”  The LORD Himself would defend and protect Jerusalem, just as He had protected His people in the days that they wandered through the wilderness. 

And the fourth thing was that God would shine in all His glory in Jerusalem.  Which is repeated in verse 10, “’Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion!  For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst’, says the LORD.”

The vision that Zechariah receives, and the message of it, was a strong message of hope and a future for the people of God and the city of Jerusalem.  It was enough to blow their minds away!  Here was Jerusalem, inhabited by a relatively small band of Jews, struggling to survive and not be swallowed up by the nations.  But the LORD tells them that the future of Jerusalem is going to be huge and wonderful!

But what Jerusalem is being spoken of here?  Is the LORD describing the earthly Jerusalem or a heavenly one?  The physical Jerusalem in the country of Israel did receive walls under the leadership of Nehemiah. And the promises made concerning Jerusalem in the prophecies of Zechariah appear to be too great and grand for the earthly Jerusalem.  And yet, we can not spiritualize things too quickly.

In Old Testament prophecy, there are commonly two fulfilments:  an initial fulfilment and a complete fulfilment later on.  I believe that we need to read the prophecies of Zechariah concerning Jerusalem in that way.  The LORD would bless the actual city of Jerusalem and it would prosper.  Many people from all over the world would go there to worship the LORD.  But Jerusalem is also to be seen as the people of God, with whom He dwells.  And that city of God would ultimately be far greater than that one physical place.  From the city of Jerusalem the kingdom of God would spread throughout the entire earth. 

And this would take place because a new King would come to Jerusalem, a King whose Kingdom would cover the entire earth.  In another prophecy of Zechariah, we read in chapter 9:9,10 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey. . . . He shall speak peace to the nations; His dominion shall be ‘from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.’”

This was the King who would ultimately bring about the fulfilment of the prophecies of Zechariah.  Jesus Christ would be the One who would cause Jerusalem, the city of God, to spill over its borders and so encompass the whole earth.  And then we no longer see Jerusalem only as a physical place, but as the place where God dwells with man.  And that place is His Church.

Hebrews 12:22,23, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven . . .”

We also read together from Matthew 16.  In Matthew 16 Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”  And Peter, speaking for all the disciples said, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God!”  Peter said, “You are the Anointed One, the One who was to come to fulfil all that was promised of old.  You are that King who is to come to Jerusalem.”  And Jesus responded and said, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah.  . . . And I also say that you are Peter (that means, Rock) and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”  (Matt. 16:17,18.) 

“On this rock I will build My church.”  What is this rock that Jesus is referring to?  In one sense the rock that Jesus is referring to is the confession of Peter, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.  What Jesus did in and outside of the walls of Jerusalem, coming in to Jerusalem as its King and then being killed outside the city and further raised on the third day is the foundation, the bedrock of the Church.  All things are built on Christ, the Church’s one foundation, the One who is the chief cornerstone.

But when Jesus says to Simon that his name was Peter, meaning “rock” and that “on this rock” He would build His church, he was also referring to Peter himself.  Peter was the chief spokesman of the apostles, and Christ would establish His Church through them and on their teaching.  Christ Himself commanded His disciples to preach the gospel first in Jerusalem, then in all Judea and Samaria and then to the ends of the earth.  It was through the teaching and preaching of the apostles that Christ would build His Church and that His dominion would extend from sea to sea. 

On the day of Pentecost, there were men and women in Jerusalem from every country in the region.  And then Peter arose and preached the gospel, after which 3000 people were baptized.  And from there the church continued to spread and to grow until now the church is spread throughout almost all of the entire earth. 

The church is truly catholic.  That is, it is the one church of all times and of all places. It is the one body of Christ and it is united in the one true faith.  The one faith that we confess in the Apostles’ Creed, the rock on which Christ has built His Church.

And that is the church that we confess when we say “I believe a holy catholic church.”  And that is how we must view the Church of Christ.  For we so quickly look down and get absorbed with the sin and the weakness and the problems that we see in the church around us.  We so quickly condemn what we see as sin and hypocrisy in the church and then speak ill of the church as if it was no more than a weak human organization.  But lift up your eyes and believe that this church is a part of that Jerusalem that is so big and so great that it has no physical walls.  It is the Church of Christ that continues to expand and to grow.  It is the church that has no boundaries but will continue to grow until the whole world hears.

And the wonder of it all is that here in the locality of Baldivis you are called to be a living member of it.  Just as the Jews in Babylon were called in Zechariah 2:6,7 to return to Jerusalem to enjoy the blessings of God, so we are called to join Christ’s church and to remain a living member of it in order to receive the blessings Christ pours out on that Church.  As living members of His Church we are a part of those who are called out of darkness and set apart to be His holy people.  And that brings us to our second point.

2. The holiness of Christ’s Church.

In the Apostles’ Creed we confess that the catholic church is holy.  It is the body that Christ gathers, defends and preserves for Himself, and it is chosen to everlasting life.

Holy is, perhaps, a quality that we’d hesitate to give to this local church.  We are not perfect, and many of us (I should say all of us) fall short of the holiness that is required of us.  And yet we do not speak of some invisible church as being holy, nor of the church that is in heaven, nor of the church as it will be seen on the last day.  Rather, this church, here and now today is holy.  And the reason for that is that we are not a community of sinners, but a community of redeemed sinners. 

In Zechariah 2 the LORD declared that He was coming to dwell in the midst of the people of Jerusalem.  And later in the book of Zechariah we read just how that would come about.  Chapter 13:1 says, “In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness.”  A fountain would be opened to take away the sin of all the people of God.  And chapter three of Zechariah teaches that this would be done through the sending of God’s Servant, called the BRANCH, through whom God would remove the sin and iniquity of the land in one day.  And we all know that this BRANCH and this fountain is Jesus Christ.  We are people who are made holy by the blood of Jesus.  When Jesus told Peter about the rock on which He would build His church, He then began to make it clear to His disciples how it would happen.  Christ was on His way to Jerusalem to suffer and to die.  He would make satisfaction for sin and so He would no more remember our sin or our sinful nature.  God would no longer see sin and uncleanness in us, but the righteousness of Christ.  Jesus Christ was the One who came to ensure the fulfilment of the prophecies of Zechariah.

And because Jesus has come and made full satisfaction for all our sins, the church has become holy.  We are not yet perfect and sin still trips us up.  But as the Church of Christ, we have communion with Him and share in all His treasures and gifts.  And in the first place that means that we enjoy the forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of Christ.

It is in His Church that Christ dispenses His treasures and gifts.  That is why the Belgic Confession says in article 28 that there is no salvation outside of the holy assembly and congregation of the redeemed.  It is to the church that Christ has given the keys of the kingdom of heaven.   Christ gave the keys of the preaching of the gospel and Church Discipline so that His church might be gathered, defended and preserved.  And when the kingdom is opened through the use of these keys, the gifts of the forgiveness of sins, the fruits of the Spirit, and all other gifts that are connected to our salvation and our new life in Christ are poured out upon us. 

And so it is that we who were lost sinners are gathered in to be living members of the church of Christ.  We have a rightful place in His Church, and we have a particular place in His Church.  We have been redeemed and sanctified, that is, made holy.  And now we must begin to live as holy members of the Church of Christ.  We must now be  the Church that Christ has made us to be.  We must live and act as His body.  We must use the gifts that Christ has granted to us for the benefit and the well being of the other members.  We must work towards living in an ever greater unity with the body of Christ.  We must seek our fellow members out and do what we can to be a blessing to them.  Just as the Jews in the days of Zechariah were called to pull together and build the physical temple of God in Jerusalem, so we today are called to help one another in the building of God’s spiritual temple, the Church of Christ.  We will also call others to join us that we might be the body of Christ together.  And we will do all of this with confidence for both the present and the future, knowing that God Himself is a wall of fire around His church, defending it and protecting it to His glory.

So how do you view the church?  If we view the church through human eyes, there are many times that we would despair.  If we view the church as no more than a group of people together, then we would get negative and critical, picking out the faults of the leaders and fellow members.  If we stayed with the church for as long as we thought that the church deserved our allegiance, none of us would stay.  But we don’t see the church in that way, do we?  We view the church through the eyes of faith.  We believe that the church is the redeemed body of Christ, chosen to everlasting life.  We believe that the church is far greater than this small community here in Baldivis.  We believe that we are a part of that catholic, worldwide body of Christ, gathered from the beginning of the world until the end.  But we also believe that, in spite of sin and weakness, this is the church of Christ in Baldivis.  And we believe that as living members of this church in this place, we are joined to the body of Christ and we believe that we are and always will be a part of that body.  We believe that the day is coming when the wedding feast is prepared, and Christ the Bridegroom will come to take His Bride, and that we will live with Him forever.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2010, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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