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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Built on the Foundation of Christ
Text:LD 21 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Building

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 122:1,3                                                                                      

Ps 134:1,2,3  [after Apostles’ Creed]

Reading – 2 Corinthians 5:12 - 6:2; 1 Peter 2:1-10

Ps 118:1,5,6

Sermon – Lord’s Day 21

Hy 52:1,2,3

Hy 52:4,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, what’s the foundation of the church? What is the church built on for its stability and strength? “That all depends,” you might say, “on the church’s location.” Around here, our foundations are usually reinforced concrete. In other countries, you might find churches built onto wooden poles.

That’s one way to understand the foundation of the church—that’s a physical way, for a physical building. But we all know that the church is more than bricks and mortar and wood. And so her foundation is also much more. It was put well in that old hymn, “The Church’s one foundation/ Is Jesus Christ her Lord.”

As church we are built on Christ. You can see that, even if you look at the background of that familiar word “church.” It comes from the Greek word kuriakos, which means literally, “that which belongs to the Lord.” The word kuriakos was passed down a long way, and it got adopted into many languages—in Scotland you still hear about the “kirk.” You can also hear an echo of it in our word “church.”

Interesting word history, but far more important is the reality it still reflects today! As church, we are kuriakos: we belong to the Lord! That’s how we started our confession of faith back in Lord’s Day 1: “What’s your only comfort in life and death? That I am not my own but belong with body and soul, both in life and death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.” We belong to the Lord. This makes the reality of the “church” such a powerful thing. It means that the members of the church have their firm foundation on the Son of God.

So whenever the church meets for worship, like we do today, something wonderful is taking place. A worship service is a meeting between the Triune God and his people! Through the power of his Holy Spirit, and for the sake of Jesus his Son, God himself is moving among us. This points us away from thinking of the church in human terms, and to think of the church as it really is—we are the new creation of the Father, the temple of the Spirit, and the bride of Christ. This is our theme from Lord’s Day 21,

We are members of the holy catholic church, a church that is:

  1. forgiven by the Father
  2. cared for by Christ
  3. supplied with the Spirit


1) forgiven by the Father: Have you ever heard of “the Great Leveler,” or “the Great Equalizer”? It’s how people sometimes describe death. Death is the “Great Leveler,” because it levels all differences between people. No matter your worldly position or status, death happens to everyone. That’s a pointer towards how it will be one day for everyone in God’s judgment. Standing before him, there’s not one thing that a person can claim for distinction: not their fame, not their ability, not wealth. All are sinners, and all fall short of the glory of God.

Yet some people, through no qualities or contributions of their own, are set apart for rescue. Some sinners are selected for life, and they are forgiven. It’s because our God and Maker—the Creator and Judge of all—is pleased to grant them his mercy. The Catechism puts the gospel this way when it explains the forgiveness of sins: “I believe that God, because of Christ’s satisfaction, will no more remember my sins, nor my sinful nature… but will graciously grant me the righteousness of Christ, that I may never come into condemnation” (Q&A 56). There is a marvelous change in our status, because our sins have been cleared away!

This makes it so fitting that the Catechism includes the Apostles’ Creed article about forgiveness with these articles about the church. These truths belong together! For what is the church, but the community of the forgiven? What is the church, but the company of those who are redeemed? There wasn’t anything to set us apart from any other people on this earth. You could say that without forgiveness, the church is just another condemned building, another ruin slated for the divine wrecking ball. Yet on us, “out of the whole human race,” (Q&A 54), the Father bestows sovereign grace.

And we can’t separate God the Father’s forgiveness from what God the Son did to make it possible. Did you notice how Christ’s work is neatly slipped into the Catechism’s answer, “God, because of Christ’s satisfaction, will no more remember my sins” (Q&A 56). It’s all because of Christ, and what Christ did.

Peter speaks about Christ in his first letter, where he calls him “the living stone” (2:4). The background to that is how Scripture pictures our God as a Rock. That image portrays God’s faithfulness, his trustworthiness. For instance, when you go the ocean, you can see these massive boulders along the shore. Hour after hour, day after day, the waves crash into them, and the rocks don’t move. Everything around them is moving—the sand, the water, the people, the wind—but the rocks don’t move. God is our rock, not a God who’ll change with time or crumble under pressure. We can count on him always.

For his church God is a rock, and Christ is our living Stone. Notice that word “living.” Christ might be a rock, but He’s not immobile and uninspiring. He is full of life, and He gives life to his people. This is because God has made him the cornerstone of God’s house. The Father spoke of his Son already centuries ago through the prophet Isaiah, “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chief cornerstone, elect and precious” (2:6).

As you’ve probably learned at some point, the cornerstone is a vital part of any house that’s made of stone. The mason will carefully build up the walls, fitting each stone together according to its size and shape. But he has to start this work somewhere, in one corner. And he does so with a specially-chosen stone as the very first. It’s a weighty decision. This stone needs to be well-shaped, and solid, and of just the right size. For on this single stone, the mason will build all the rest. On this rock, all the rest will depend.

Beloved, Christ is the chosen and precious stone! He is the one the Father always wanted as the foundation of his temple, his church. He was even set aside for it, Peter says, “before the creation of the world” (1:20). He is the foundation hand-selected by the Architect and Builder. Yet this living stone was “rejected by men” (2:4). The people of Israel discarded the cornerstone, threw him away and said He was worthless. Wasn’t strong enough; wasn’t big enough; wasn’t to their liking. He just could not be the chosen stone.

It needed to be this way, that Christ was rejected and killed. Salvation can only come about if there’s “satisfaction,” the Catechism says (Q&A 56). To grant forgiveness to his people, the Father has conditions that need to be met. That was the whole focus of the ministry of Christ: going to the cross, and dying. Forgiveness was only possible through the paying of the price, the “satisfaction” of the heavenly Judge.

So God turned that earthly rejection of Jesus into something great. The kicking and smashing of the stone actually moved his plan forward. For by his suffering, Jesus became the perfect fit. By his death, He became the Rock we can build on. This is how Paul puts the gospel in his letter to the Corinthians: “If one died for all, then all died” (2 Cor 5:14). God says that every person who believes in Christ Jesus has had his penalty paid in full. Like we sing in that great hymn about the church, “With his own blood He bought her/ And for her life He died.”

And the result is that we have peace with God! Paul calls it the message of “reconciliation.” Reconciliation is the bringing back together of two parties who were estranged from each other. The whole problem was our trespasses and sins, how our offenses separated us from God and kept us from his favour. But the Father has not counted our sins against us. The gospel is about God making peace.

That’s what the church is. The church is rebellious children now out of juvenile detention, and back home with the Father. The church is a wife reconciled to her husband, a former prostitute made a holy bride once more. The church is a nation that was at war and under attack and up to its eyeballs in debt, now enjoying true peace and prosperity.

As members of the church we’re so greatly blessed, for we have a most precious gift. The message of forgiveness is the most important thing that we have—it’s so important, it could be the only thing we have. It’s the message we need to hear: that through him we sinners have been freely forgiven by the Father!

And because of this, we’re so deeply thankful. We’ll talk about this more a bit later, but we can already say this: If we’ve received our lives back from the Father, then we should devote these same lives to his praise. If we’ve been forgiven all our sins, then we should be ready to forgive those who’ve sinned against us. In gratitude to God, the community of the forgiven is a forgiving community!


2) cared for by Christ: Some of the phrases of the Catechism seem to say it all. There’s one of those lines in Lord’s Day 21. You’ll know which one it is: “I believe that the Son of God… gathers, defends, and preserves for Himselfa church chosen to everlasting life” (Q&A 54). “Gathers, defends, and preserves.” That phrase has found its way into many sermons, many prayers, and many discussions about the church. It means the church on earth is cared for by Christ, cared for in every way!

Here we see the divine quality of the church. Compared to other organizations and institutions on earth, the church has an entirely different character. Though it has human leaders who are to care for certain aspects of her life, these lowly men are but instruments in the Redeemer’s hands. Christ is doing the real gathering, the real defending, the real preserving.

That makes sense, because we’re his people! Remember the bit of Greek that you’ve learned: we’re a kuriakos, a people “belonging to the Lord.” We’re the people He bought with his own blood, we’re the bride He came from heaven and sought. We have a saving union with him, with his death and resurrection.

As God’s house, we can be built on Christ. It is Jesus Christ who brings us together, and who keeps us together. Every one of us can only rely on him. Every one of us can only be saved through him. So when we face challenges as a church, we know we can depend on Christ to bring us through. For instance, when we have to deal with sin in the church, Christ will give us the courage. When we have to make decisions for the future, Christ will give us direction. Christ will strengthen us as we bring the gospel to our neighbors. Christ will be patient when we fall short of his commands. Christ will bind us together as brothers and sisters. He’ll do all this—we can count on it! But we need to ask. We need to rely on his care.

This is how the church will stand firm: the Son of God “gathers, defends and preserves” us. Let’s just think for a moment about how we need defending and preserving. We need it because the kingdom of Satan is attacking Christ’s kingdom. Satan is busy every day trying to knock down those who are built on Christ.

And Satan carries out his assault in such a variety of ways. Think of the battering ram that armies used to employ: smashing into the gates of a city until they cracked open, when the soldiers could run through and begin their violence. That’s like one approach of the devil: he comes with a bold and direct attack on Christian truth. “Jesus is not God. The Bible is a nice story, good literature. Science tells us where we’re from. There are other ways to salvation, just as valid as the Jesus-way.” And certainly this battering ram works, and it puts cracks in the walls of faith that used to be firm.

But the devil tries a different approach too. He tries the subtle way, takes the hidden route of assault. Compare it to how armies used to dig secretly under city walls—bit by bit undermining them, until suddenly the wall would crumble for lack of foundation. This kind of undermining happens when Satan is able to work a spirit of complacency. He knows we think that we’re safe behind our thick Reformed walls—after all, we’ve got our doctrine and schools and church buildings and everything’s going just fine. Meanwhile, we might’ve become inwardly focused, and might not be as watchful for sin, and might not be ready to endure a season of persecution. Until all of a sudden, a wall crumbles and we’ve forgotten what we believe and why we’re here.

Or Satan will try do his work from within. I read once that besieging armies used to do this too: they would get a catapult and throw disease-ridden corpses into a city, to start the spread of a contagious disease, and cause fear among the population. Turn them against them each other! Doesn’t the devil try that, to cause division among God’s people? Doesn’t he get us to scorn each other at times? To talk about each other, instead of to each other? To fight over things that really aren’t that important?

Whatever the strategy, the devil’s attacks on the church do not cease: schisms, heresies, toil and tribulation. We need to beware of these attacks. Resist the devil’s power, and pray the church’s preservation. But then also remember who’s on our side. On his heavenly throne Christ is busy with us, and for us, “gathering, defending, and preserving” his church. So we can be certain that the gates of hell will not prevail against us!

Just remember that we’re his: his possession, his bride! As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for her, to make her holy” (5:25). After each day’s battle, take your sins to Christ. Take your stains and blemishes and injuries to the Commander. Receive his washing and his healing. Rest in his care. Recommit yourself to your Saviour. And then carry on the fight with a new spirit!


3) supplied with the Spirit: At first glance, I expect that few people would pick us out as being much different from our neighbours. On the outside we look ordinary enough, but inside there’s been a wondrous transformation. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (v 17). That’s what the church is: A miracle of God’s own making. “She is his new creation!”

For God is working to restore us the way He wants. He’s making us in his own image once more. He’s getting rid of the old—the sinful, the corrupt—and He’s bringing in the new. And He’s doing all this through his Spirit. Remember how that’s what the church is: the Trinity’s very own project. It comes back in that old hymn that we’ll sing: “She on earth has union/ With God, the Three in One.” Through the work of the Spirit, the Father works in us the gift of saving faith in Christ Jesus.

And one of the results of being joined to Christ is how “we… share in all his treasures and gifts” (Q&A 55). He supplies the church with his Spirit, so that we receive his gifts of love and peace and wisdom and compassion and generosity and leadership. And in God’s way of looking at things, gifts are never given in isolation, where He says, “This is just for you. It’s all yours.” No, gifts are given in community. God supplies us with this Spirit so that we use his treasures “to the benefit and well-being of the other members” (Q&A 55).

Peter speaks of this too. If Christ is our cornerstone, then we are “living stones… being built up [into] a spiritual house” (2:5). Like Christ, we are living stones: alive in him. And as stones, Christ doesn’t want us to scattered here and there, on our own, or gathered in small clusters. When you drive through the countryside, you might see this: piles of rocks pulled from the fields and heaped up into formless mounds along the edges. Individually those rocks don’t look like much, and without being joined together they don’t have a purpose. But then you drive a bit further, and you might see how someone has taken local stone and formed a dwelling out of it, built up into a house! Together those rocks have purpose, and permanence.

So it is in the church. As living stones, we’re not meant to be apart. You shouldn’t have a church full of strangers, people ignorant of each other, doing their own thing, not participating or not being included. We’re meant to be built together, each of us “a building block,” rising up to be a spiritual home for Christ. If you’re building your life on Christ, then you need to join with others who are doing the same!

Listen to how the Catechism puts it, “Everyone is duty-bound to use his gifts readily and cheerfully for the benefit and well-being of the other members” (Q&A 55). “Duty-bound” is a strong word, and it’s Biblical. As living stones, we must overcome our tendency to be scattered. Overcome it, by getting to know each other in a meaningful way. Then strengthen unity by praying with each other, and for each other. Be joined together through showing hospitality.

When are part of Christ’s household, reconciled to the Father through him, and supplied with the Spirit, for us there is a great change in purpose and direction. Paul tells us what it is: “Christ died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Cor 5:15). If Christ has died for us, then we must no longer live for ourselves, but live for him!

If as church we truly belong to the Saviour, then our first priority has to be doing his will. Putting our trust in his Word. Being filled with his Spirit. Using our gifts so that we can benefit the other members, and so that we can be a witness to this world. Is that what we’re doing, beloved? Are we living for Christ? Are we living for the one who died in our place?

No, the church will not be made up of stones that are perfectly formed and fitted. The church is a group of sinners who have humbly come to Christ for salvation. It’s a collection of weak saints who are now committed to serving him, despite all our flaws and shortcomings. So we’ve got lots of work to do, and lots of rough edges to knock off.

But let’s remember how God looks at us. He looks at us, living stones, and He sees great potential. He see those who are being renewed in the Holy Spirit, and who are being built onto Christ the Cornerstone. In us God sees a church who can be his dwelling-place today, and a people who will dwell with him forever!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2017, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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