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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:The gospel promises encompass the body of Jesus Christ
Text:LD 21 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's gathering work

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 149
Hymn 49 (profession of faith)
Hymn 40
Psalm 133
Psalm 122

Readings: Micah 7:14-20, Eph. 3:1-13, 1 Cor. 12:12-31
Text: Lord's Day 21
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus,


Have you ever been left out?  Forgotten?  Ignored?  I’ll bet that it’s happened to many of us and so you know from personal experience that it’s not pleasant.  We all want to be accepted and included.  We want to belong. 


The gospel promises that we belong to Jesus Christ.  He doesn’t leave us out, forget us or ignore us.  Rather he includes us and accepts us.  The Bible tells us that we have a part in him. 


The Bible uses a special kind of language to describe that belonging to Christ.  It uses the language of a body.  Christ has his physical human body in heaven at the right hand of God.  That’s not what we’re talking about here.  Rather, we’re talking about Christ’s body in the sense of all those who are members of him by faith and by the Holy Spirit.  Paul uses “body” language in 1 Corinthians 12 and elsewhere to speak about the people of God.  Just like one might speak about the members of a physical body, as in my arm is a member of my body, so also with Christ, his spiritual body has members – we are the members of Christ, parts of his body.  He is the head, we are the members. 


The gospel includes this beautiful truth that we have been included in Christ.  This afternoon we’ll see that this body of Christ is at the same time:


1.      A holy catholic church

2.      A communion of saints

3.      A forgiven people


Thomas Paine was one of the founding fathers of the United States.  Sometimes you’ll hear people describe the American founding fathers as devout Christians.  Some of them were.  But Thomas Paine was not.  In fact, Paine once wrote, “I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of.  My own mind is my own church.”  Paine wrote that in 1794, and it was those sorts of sentiments that isolated Paine and made him into a pariah and a very lonely man.  In fact, after Thomas Paine died, only six people attended his funeral.  However, today “my own mind is my own church” is the creed of many people. 


The Apostles’ Creed says something different.  Here we confess belief in “the holy catholic Christian church.”  We confess that this church belongs to Christ.  In fact, the very word “church” reflects that reality.  Where does that English word come from?  If you look carefully, you can see that the word for church in almost every northern European language is related to our English word.  This becomes more clear if you make the soft “ch” sound in church into a hard “k” sound.  Then you would say, “Kurk.”  Which sounds a lot like the Dutch kerk, the Scottish kirk, the German kirche and so on.  All those words go back to a Greek word, kuriake.  In that word you can see the Greek word for “Lord,” kurios.  Kuriake means that which belongs to the Lord.  The church is that which belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ.


As the Lord, he is the one who gathers, defends and preserves this body.  He gathers people together and that action relates to the common New Testament word for the church, ekklesia.  From ekklesia, we get the English word “ecclesiastical.”  Ekklesia refers to the fact that Christ gathers or calls out a people for himself.  He calls people out of darkness and into his church where the light of the gospel shines.  But he doesn’t stop there, he also defends that body against all attackers.  He preserves that body so that it will persevere to the end. 


Christ has been doing this work from the beginning of the human race.  The church did not come into existence in the New Testament.  Rather, it’s been around since the time of Adam.  Christ has always been working to gather together a people for himself. 

And these people come out of “the whole human race.”  In the Old Testament dispensation, God focussed on the descendants of Abraham.  But even there, there were hints that God’s plans for the future were much bigger.  When he first came to Abram in Genesis 12, God said that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through” Abram.  In the centuries following, we see these purposes beginning to come to fulfillment in small ways.  Think of Rahab, Ruth, Naaman, the people of Nineveh, possibly Nebuchadnezzar, and others.  When the Lord Jesus carries out his ministry, he goes outside the boundaries of Israel.  He brings good news to a Samaritan woman and she believes, he goes to the region of the Gerasenes, he goes to Tyre and Sidon.  Clearly, he has a heart for the Gentiles too.  And so when he sends out his disciples with the Great Commission, he sends them not only to Jerusalem and Judea, but to the ends of the earth.  So with the passing of the years, the gospel spreads around the world and eventually makes it to the area we know as the Netherlands and just about everywhere else.  The gospel is not just for one people, the church is not just for one people, people from one ethnic background.  The church is catholic. 


Now  “catholic” is not to be confused with “Roman Catholic.”  In fact, if you think about it Roman Catholic is really an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.  In fact, I would encourage you not to use the word “Catholic” to speak about those who are Roman Catholics.  Just call them Roman Catholics.  Catholic is a beautiful word that refers to the biblical fact that the church is universal.  It encompasses people from everywhere, from all times, from all cultures.  Paul works that out extensively in Ephesians.  In Ephesians 3, for instance, he writes of how the church has come to include the Gentiles.  Together with the Jewish believers in Christ, they are part of one body, “sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.”  This is the mystery that was hidden in ages past, but in Paul’s day it was coming to light.  God wants all people from all nations to rest and trust in Jesus Christ. 


How does Christ gather his catholic church?  It’s through the means of his Spirit and his Word.  The Word is the instrument that the Holy Spirit uses to gather people in.  And he gathers them “in the unity of the true faith.”  That’s important to realize.  “In the unity of the true faith.”  There is a false faith.  There are groups out there that claim to be Christian, but yet reject the clear teachings of the Bible especially when it comes to fundamental points such as the Trinity or how we are right with God.  How can you be “the holy catholic Christian church” when you will not submit to Christ and his Word?  The word “holy” implies that Christ is king and that his Word is final as to what the church will believe and practice. 


With our Catechism , we confess that we believe that we are and forever shall remain living members of this holy catholic Christian church.  We believe that Christ will continue to defend and preserve us with his Spirit and Word.  We trust that he will never let go of us or abandon us.  The gospel includes this wonderful assurance.


The gospel also promises that as the holy catholic Church, believers are also part of the communion of saints.  Right away we again have to explain the terms here.  Communion simply means fellowship.  And saints are simply the holy ones, which means all believers and their children.  It was common for the apostle Paul to address New Testament churches by calling them “saints.”  So, for instance, in Ephesians 1:1, “To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus.”  They (and we with them) are the holy ones, those set apart by God to be his.  They are holy in principle, even if not always in practice. 


So, this is a fellowship of those who are holy in Christ Jesus.  Who is the fellowship with?  First of all, it is a fellowship with Christ.  We have communion with him, together with all our Christian brothers and sisters.  We are part of his body.  As part of his body, we not only have fellowship and communion with him, but then also with everyone else who belongs to his body.      


This communion of saints comes to life as we recognize the gifts that are in ourselves and in others and as these gifts are used.  The apostle Paul spoke about this at length in that well-known passage from 1 Corinthians 12.  The body has many parts and they each have their place and function.  The body needs all of them to function the way that it was designed to.  Each part has concern for all the others and the weaker parts, says Paul, are indispensable.  You can’t do without them.  They bring something unique to the people of God.    


Let’s make this concrete.  How are we doing as a communion of saints with regards to those with special needs or disabilities, whether physical or mental?  Could we do better?  This is not a call for programs, but a call for us to be who we are, the communion of saints.  To use our gifts and to have an eye for all our brothers and sisters while doing so.  To be a church family where no one is neglected, left out, or isolated.  To be a body where all the members appreciate and value one another because that’s what the Head does, that’s what Christ does.


Loved ones, Scripture tells us that all of us have gifts.  A.T. Pierson was a Presbyterian minister who lived in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  He once said, “Everyone has some gifts, therefore all should be encouraged.  Nobody has all the gifts, therefore all should be humble.  All gifts are from the Lord, therefore all should be contented.”  Well said.  And our gifts should be used for the good of everyone else in the body.  What will result from that will be glory for God, which always has to be our highest aim and goal.  We were put down on this earth to praise God and that’s the purpose of our lives (says Calvin commenting on Psalm 6:6).                               


Not only are we a holy, catholic Church and a communion of saints, we’re also a forgiven people.  To speak about forgiveness means that we have something for which we need to be forgiven.  Way back in 1973, the American psychiatrist Dr. Karl Menninger wrote a book, Whatever Became of Sin?  Now he wasn’t a Christian, but Menninger was keen enough to observe that sin as a category for human behaviour was out the door.  That was in 1973, a long time ago already.  Some of our sins just became crimes, but most of them became diseases.  A whole set of organizations has grown up around these diseases, all ending in “Anonymous.”  From Workaholics Anonymous to Messies Anonymous to Overeaters Anonymous, there’s an organization for everyone.  Sin has been redefined and reoriented, and some sins aren’t even regarded as dysfunctional at all.  Some behaviours or mindsets that used to regarded as vices are now considered to be virtues.  Of course, the classic example is pride.  Pride used to be one of the seven deadly sins, but now it’s regarded as something that everybody should have. 


Speaking out of the Scriptures, the Heidelberg Catechism runs against the current in our culture.  Same with the Apostles’ Creed from centuries earlier.  There is something called “sin,” moreover there are even things known as “my sins.”  Sin is something that I own, that belongs to me, it’s mine, and the biblical reality is sin is not just what I do, but who I am.  Of myself, apart from the Spirit’s work in me, I have a sinful heart.  I am a sinful person.  That’s why the Lord Jesus is said in 2 Cor. 5:21 to have become sin.  He not only took our sins on himself, he became sin.  He became what we are; he became what he was not, so that we could become what we are not.  He became sin so that we could be declared and accounted righteous by God.


And what is sin?  I think the best short answer is found in QA 14 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “What is sin?  Sin is disobeying or not conforming to God’s law in any way.”  We can go further and say that sin is missing the mark of God’s law.  It is transgressing, going where you should not.  It is iniquity, wickedness.  There are a whole range of biblical words that capture what sin is.  The bottom line is that sin is that which displeases God and arouses his anger.  The holy God hates sin.  Which is obviously a problem, if sin is not only what we do, but what we are.


The gospel addresses this problem with Christ’s satisfaction.  Loved ones, Christ took all our sins (past, present and future) on himself at the cross.  He became sin for us.  Because of our Lord Jesus, God will no more remember our sins.  That means that he will no longer hold our sins against us, against you.  You can see that very clearly in that beautiful passage from Micah 5.  The prophet expresses his confidence that God will pardon sin and forgive transgression.  What will that look like?  The prophet says that God will tread our sins underfoot.  The image there is of a big person stepping on sins and having them under his feet so that they can no longer be seen.  They’re out of sight.  He’s taken care of them by taking the action of stepping on them.  And just in case you don’t get the point, the prophet adds one more vivid picture:  God taking those sins and throwing them as hard as he can, as far as he can.  He throws them into the deepest parts of the ocean where no one can ever recover them.  They’re way gone, they’re no longer an obstacle to a friendly, healthy relationship. 


Brothers and sisters, the gospel promises that, looking to Christ and resting and trusting in him, we are forgiven and we are in a relationship of fellowship with God.  Our sins will not be used against us by God, nor will our sinful nature with which we have to continue to struggle.  All of it is forgiven because of what Christ has done.  Isn’t the gospel beautiful and encouraging?  Doesn’t it lift up your heart in love for God and in praise for God?   


God’s grace gives us the righteousness of Christ as our own.  God looks at us and he sees his Son with all his perfections.  God looks at us then in fatherly love and with affection.  Because of Christ, we will never come into condemnation, not in this age nor in the age to come.  You know those familiar, incredible words of Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus...”    


Loved ones, this is a promise that we all share together as God’s people.  Look around you.  See brothers and sisters who are forgiven with you, no matter how deeply they’ve fallen.  See fellow members of the body of Christ who’ve been graciously given the righteousness of Christ so that they will never come into condemnation.  This is something that isn’t just for you, but for all of God’s people.  Together we are rich with the gospel! 


And so together, we belong and live as God’s people, rejoicing in this gospel.  Together, we belong and live as a forgiven people, members of the body of Christ.  Together we belong and share our gifts, whatever they might be. Together we belong to Christ’s church work, his body.  May we all belong to all this together for him, so that he is made much of by us and others.  AMEN. 




Our God and Father in heaven,


We thank you for the forgiveness of our sins.  Thank you for hurling our sins into the depths of the sea and treading them under your feet.  Thank you for putting them out of sight and allowing us to have fellowship with you.  We praise you for the work of Christ which makes this happen.  We’re glad also to be a part of the communion of saints.  We’re thankful for the gifts that you’ve given to each one of us.  Father, we especially thank you for the weaker members and for what they contribute.  Truly Father, your goodness and grace is seen through them too.  We praise you and we pray that you would help us to continue to see this and even improve on it.  May we be a congregation where every member is loved and appreciated and no one is lonely or isolated.  Father, we also thank you for calling us to be part of your church.  We pray that you would continue working here in this local church to keep us faithful to you.  Please bless our congregation and use us for your purposes in this world, for the good of our community and for the glory of your Name.   

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

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