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Author:Rev. Mark Chen
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Congregation:First Evangelical Reformed Church in Singapore
Preached At:
Title:The Universal, Spiritual, and Joyful Kingdom of Christ
Text:LD 21 Psalm 87:1-7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Building

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Trinity Hymnal Revised 1990, The Psalter 1912

TH 3 - Give to Our God Immortal Praise 
TH 345 - Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken
Psalter 176 - A Revived Church and Missions

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Today, we are looking at Lord’s Day 21 of the Heidelberg Catechism. It speaks about the church of God - not a building, but a people. Question 54 speaks of how God has always wanted a people - from beginning to end. These are his people, distinct from the world. On earth, there are 2 groups of people - those who belong to God and those who don’t belong to God. Those who are God’s people belong to his kingdom the church, they follow God, they are his children, and they will one day be in heaven. On the other hand, there are those who are not God’s people - they do not follow God, and the Bible says they are the children of the devil. They will not be with God in heaven one day.

Question 55 speaks of the communion that the people of God have with one another and with Christ. They are close to him and they are close to one another. They serve one another and love one another. And because they belong to this church, as God’s people, they have forgiveness of sins, as question 56 teaches. They are not sinless by their own effort - but Christ has made them holy. And while they are on earth, the church will struggle with sin, but God will take them to heaven one day and will never condemn them. So the church is our topic for today’s evening service. Who is she? What is she to God? How are we to view her? And I pray that Christians here today will grow in their understanding of the church to love her more. And I pray that unbelieving friends here would realize, that unless they are part of Christ’s church - his saved and holy people - they will never escape the judgment to come.

And when we’re talking about the church, we’re not talking about the building. We are not so much talking about the visible organization of God’s people. Because when you look at that, it can be confusing and discouraging. While the Bible tells us that the church is special to God and a glorious people, we don’t always think that. There’s scandal, embezzlement, division, and false teaching. Then there are small and struggling congregations. And in some parts of the world, the church is so weak and small - Christians are persecuted. But here in Psalm 87, God thinks she’s glorious.

There are three parts to this Psalm, describing God’s church.  Firstly, the church belongs to God.  Secondly, the church is God’s redeemed people. Thirdly, the church is a joyful community.

Firstly, the church belongs to God. Verses 1-3 paint a glorious picture of the city of God. It is Zion - Jerusalem, the city of David. But I thought we were talking about the church!? Well, Zion - the city of God - is a metaphor for the people of God. And here we see that it is not just made of Jews. It has Egyptians, Babylonians, Sidonians, and Ethiopians. It’s an amazing city of different nations. So it’s a metaphor. It doesn’t only speak of the ethnic descendants of Abraham. But it speaks of people coming from all over the world. That’s the meaning of catholic - or universal. There are some who would say they are the only catholic church - but that would mean they are not catholic at all. No, God’s people come from all over.

And there are several things we learn about this church of God. We learn that she is holy - special to God and set apart. She is not like the rest of the world. “His foundation is in the holy mountains.” God has put his foundation there. While God has created all the earth, only this city, this people, have his foundation. Isaiah 28:16 says it a bit clearer, “Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” 

Now, a foundation is important on which to build a city. Bangkok is sinking, because its foundation has lots of groundwater. The tallest building in the world at the moment is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Over 45,000 cubic meters of concrete, weighing more than 110,000 tons were used to construct the concrete and steel foundation, which features 192 piles, with each pile is 1.5 meters in diameter and 43 meters long buried more than 50 m. Because of this massive foundation, the building stands straight up. In contrast, the Tower of Pisa was built on a poor foundation, which was in turn laid on soft ground. This explains the tilt.  

When the illustration of a foundation is used of the church, it’s used to speak about its holiness. What makes the people of God the people of God? It’s our forgiveness of sins - that Jesus died for us to make us holy. So underpinning the church is Christ, who died for these people - making them holy so they can be God’s church.

We also learn that this church is a spiritual people. It’s not the church building or the organization. And when it refers to Zion here, or Jerusalem, the Psalmist is not referring to the physical city. How do we know this? The Bible tells us that Abraham was looking for a city - for a spiritual city.

Hebrews 11:8-10 says, “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”

And we learn that all the saints of old were also looking for this city. Hebrews 11:16 says, “But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” It is a heavenly city, not a physical one.  

And we are told, that all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who call on him personally to be their savior, belong to this heavenly city. Hebrews 12:22-23 says, “But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.”

We also learn that this church is loved by God. In verse 2, “The LORD loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.”  Of all places in the world, God especially loves Zion.  While God is benevolent to all the world, yet God especially loves his people. We are sinful and inglorious, but we are special because God loves us. No matter how small or weak we may be in the sight of the world, God loves us. 

And that’s a wonderful reminder that God didn’t choose us because we are better than others. In Deuteronomy 7:6-7, God said, “For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people.”

The church is also glorious.  Verse 3 says, “Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God.” In other words, while God did not choose Zion because it was beautiful, it is glorious and beautiful in his eyes. Just as God didn’t choose us because we are lovely, but we are still glorious in his eyes. 

In his dream a man once found himself in a city where there were many beautiful buildings - granite temples of finance, towers of business, marble halls of higher education; and costly homes. In the midst there stood a plain structure, humble and modest. Men and women were going into and coming out of it. With smiles on their faces. 

A hundred years passed in the dream, and the man found himself in the same city. But he could hardly recognize it - all the buildings had disappeared, and other buildings took their place. They were even grander than the first buildings. But still in the midst of these great buildings stood the modest frame building, with men and women going in and out, just as he had seen them do a century before.

A thousand years passed, and the man returned to that same city, and saw a complete transformation. All buildings had vanished and new buildings with new architecture had taken their places - all except the little frame building, and out of it he saw men and women coming with the light of joy and satisfaction upon their faces. 

In the dream, he asked the citizens of that city what that building was and why it was unchanged and why people were going in and out when the other buildings had vanished. Then he learned the secret why that one building stood - it was the house of God, where men found the way of life eternal. The church will continue because the foundation is Christ - he has made her holy, she is loved by him - she’s a spiritual kingdom and glorious.

Secondly, the church is God’s redeemed people. What’s interesting in this Psalm is the fact that these people come from every nation, tongue, and tribe. You have Egyptians, Babylonians, Sidonians, and Ethiopians. But this is very strange - these were historic enemies. But yet, they are in the same city. 

It has Egyptians. Verse 4 says, “Rahab” - that’s how the Israelites spoke about Egypt.  he Egyptians enslaved the Israelites. Then there’s Babylon. They exiled Israel. But we see here that these are people who know God. Historically, they didn’t now God. Then there’s Philistia, Tyre, and Ethiopia - all of them of these ethnicities now belong to God. But they didn’t once upon a time. But remember, God told Abraham in Genesis 12 that in him, shall all families of the earth be blessed. This includes the enemies. And not only were they once enemies of God, they were once enemies of each other. 

The church is comprised of people who would not necessarily get along with each other in the world. Who do you have here? You have people who are of different social strata - you have the rich and the poor. Because we know as Christians that the poor are not better than the rich. You have people who are very educated and you have people who are less educated. And as Christians we know that education does not make a person. You have people who were well-brought up and cultured, while others have a gangster background. But now, those who were so well-brought up grieve for their legalism and hypocrisy while they learn the humility of their redeemed gangster brothers and sisters.

Years ago Captain Cook was sailing in the South Sea. Anchoring at an island, he let his men to go ashore. Suddenly the natives rushed down and captured one of them. The rest were unarmed and were helpless as they saw the natives kill their friend and eat him before their eyes. Twenty years later Captain Cook again sailed those seas. But his ship was damaged in a storm. For days they drifted until the winds blew them to the same island. When Cook saw it, he cried out to the men to use all their strength to keep the boat at sea. But the boat was driven ashore. 

The sailors were filled with fear. So they sent some of the men to explore and bring back fresh water. These men made their way to the top of a hill and looking down at the valley in front of them, they waved to the rest of the sailors to follow them. They cried - “Boys! It’s safe! There’s a church here!” And this is the case all over the world in every age - where there is a church, there are no cannibals. Dearly beloved, makes you think why and how if we were former enemies, that we can bite and devour one another. We believe in the forgiveness of sins - we believe that Christ has changed us, and we must be changed. 

What’s more, is that the people of God are nurtured in the church. While verse 4 talks about all the various converts from other nations coming into Zion; we see in verse 5 the blessing of being born and nurtured in Zion -“This and that man was born in her: and the highest himself shall establish her.”

It is a wonderful thing to be born into a Christian family, into the church. There are great blessings and privileges and responsibilities of being born into the church. A child born into an unbelieving family and saved by grace through Jesus Christ is no less a child of God. But it is a blessing to be born into a Christian household. There are so many who say - I wish I wasn’t born into a Christian family, and that the decision wasn’t made for me; I wish I had that conversion experience.  Isn’t it wonderful that God has spared us those many years of wilderness wandering?  That we were raised to believe? That Jesus has been our own savior ever since we believed? 

But this also speaks about the nurture that Christians have in the church - the highest himself shall establish her. He shall ground her. And how he does it is by these former enemies. We need one another to grow - to serve one another - and that leads to joy.

That’s the next point. The church is a joyful community. Verse 7 says, “As well the singers as the players on instruments shall be there: all my springs are in thee.” The vision the Psalmist sees is of the citizens of that city rejoicing at some festival. Where God is, there must be joy. But the special cause of joy is what God has done - he has reconciled them to himself by Christ, and he has reconciled them to each other. Different people, from different cultures, from different backgrounds, who were enemies, are now part of God’s kingdom.  That’s why we rejoice. 

And we see her holy work. There are singers and there are players on instruments. This speaks of them playing together. There is a common melody, a common festival. Though they be of different singing parts, from different nations and backgrounds, playing different instruments, they are serving God and playing together. 

And this makes us think of our own congregation. There are many of you who have come - how will you integrate, or will you be separate? There are those of you who have grown up here - will you welcome heartily those who are new. There are those of you who have different temperaments - will you get along with those who are very different from you? Will you play together? Will you serve together? There are minor differences in doctrine - will you subdue those notes or play them sharply? 

Remember, we are told in question 55, that as members of Christ, we have communion with him and each other - we are duty bound to use the gifts he has given us, readily, cheerfully, for the benefit and well-being of other members. 

And we see here that when that is done, there will be continual satisfaction - all my springs are in thee. This idea of springs really made sense to the Jews. They lived in a dry land. And so when we seek God, when we are with God’s people - that’s when we find satisfaction. Isaiah 58:11 speaks of this joy - “And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.”

When we trust in Christ as our savior, we join a glorious city, we become the special people of God. Though we may be different from each other, though we may be so sinful, God loves us because Christ has saved us. We can love one another as God as loved us. And when we love one another, then the world know that we are the disciples of Christ. May the Lord continue to build us up as his people, may we be built up by him as his people, and may we build one another up to be his people.

Sermon Outline:

1. The Church Belongs to God

A. She is holy

B. She is spiritual

C. She is loved

D. She is glorious

2. The Church Is God's People

A. People who were enemies

B. People who are nurtured

3. The Church Is a Joyful Community   

A. Her holy work

B. Her continual satisfaction

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mark Chen, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Rev. Mark Chen

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