Last week I was away on a camp. To say the least – it was extremely encouraging. The theme for the week was the church, and so we explored what it means to be God’s church. Here are my notes from day one – I know that this post is massive, so I’ve put a summary below in case you don’t have much time.
Throughout the Old and New Testaments the theme of God scattering as judgement (Genesis 11, 2 Kings 25, Deuteronomy 32:26) and gathering as blessing (Ezekiel 11:17, Genesis 12:1-3) is clear.
In Genesis 11, the people were scattered because they were trying to make a name for themselves – not for God. In Contrast, in Genesis 12:1-3 God promises to make Abraham’s name great – for his own glory.
The first time that Israel was gathered as God’s people is at Sinai. (Exodus 19). Hebrews 12:18-29 compares that “gathering” to the spiritual gathering of all Christians, past, present and future, in heaven (Mt Zion). We are in some way spiritually gathered in heaven now, even though we are still here on earth. We are gathered as God’s people even though we are scattered throughout time and place now, and we look forward to when Jesus will return and gather us together in heaven.
The church is God’s gathered people – gathered physically when we come to the local church, and gathered spiritually through Jesus in heaven. When we come together on earth we ae reflecting what is happening in heaven.
What is the point of church? To worship and glorify God. To reflect what is happening in heaven. (Revelations 4).
See also Ephesians 1:3-2:6.
How does the bible describe us as Gods people?
A house, branches, servants, children, Gods family, “the church”
What does the word “church” mean?
The Greek word from the NT is ‘Ekklesia’ which means ‘called out’ or ‘called from’. It’s used to describe a gathering of people – it’s the word used for the riot and the law courts in Acts 19:32, 39.
The first true “church” of Israel.
Read Deuteronomy 9:9-10, 4:1-24.
– Mt Sinai, the giving of the law before they head toward the promised land.
– The law is given/taught, they are told to worship God his way, not their own way and God meets with his people and tells them how to relate to him – church is similar for us, we have Gods word taught to us as we gather together as his people.
The problem at the Tower if Babel is that the people are disobeying God (see chapter 9:1). They’re also trying to make a name for themselves, seeking their own glory not Trying to give God the glory.
– God scatters them and confuses their languages.
In contrast, God promises Abraham in ch12:1-3 that he will make him a great nation – gathering a people instead of scattering.
In the bible scattering is often judgement (e.g. The Tower of Babel or Israels exile), while gathering is related to Gods blessing.
– God promises to gather Abrahams descendants for his own glory – to make a name for himself, not ourselves.
God worked through Moses to rescue Israel from slavery on Egypt and to keep his promises to Abraham – that’s why they are at Sinai (Exodus 19, Deuteronomy 4). At Sinai, God declares that he has saved Israel to be his ‘treasured possession’ and he gives them his law to obey so they can be his ‘Holy Nation’.
Gods people Gathered where God is under Gods word. That’s church.
Sadly over time Israel and their kings rebelled against God and his word. This resulted in judgement and scattering (2 Kings 25) like God had promised (Deut 32:26). Lamentations 1:10 tells us that Gods people were laid waste by their enemies – the Babylonians as Nebuchadnezzar.
BUT even while in judgement and experiencing the horror of exile and scattering, Ezekiel promises to gather them back. (Ezekiel 11:17, 39:25-28).
But this promise of blessing wasn’t just for Israel – Isaiah and Zechariah promise that this salvation will come to include other nations (Isaiah 56:8, Zechariah 8:20-23).
But how and when would this happen?
From Acts 12:5, Galatians 1:13, 1:2, 2 Corinthians 8:1, Acts 8:1, 13:1, 1 Corinthians 1:2, 16:19, Philemon 1:2 and Ephesians 1:15-23 we learn that church refers to: all Christians, a specific group of Christians, separate gatherings of Christians or even just a small gathering of Christians in a house. We are also described as a body and as “brothers” – God’s children.
All Christians are gathered as Gods people even though we are still scattered around the world.
The writer of these verses is telling us that church isn’t like it was in Exodus. Now God s with us personally and we do not have to fear condemnation by the law, because through Jesus our sins are removed.
We are no longer separated from God, but we can approach the mountain (Heaven) (whereas the Israelites could not touch the mountain).
V22 tells us that we have come to the mountain. Through Jesus we are currently spiritually gathered in heaven with all other Christians (past, present and future), worshipping God and made right with him.
The church is of Massive, heavenly significance, and it’s all about Jesus and glorifying God.
Therefore when we come together it’s a reflection of the spiritual reality that we are all gathered as God’s people.
– Side point: Mt Sinai in Exodus was shaken (Exodus 19:18), but Hebrews tells us that our inheritance cannot and will not be shaken – God’s kingdom/Jesus. We will not lose our salvation. What a Great Comfort we have in Jesus!
Through Jesus we are gathered in heaven, even though currently we are scattered as Christians throughout the world.
Why does this matter?
– It moves our perspective from being about us/individuals to being about God and his purpose throughout history
– It moves it from being about me to being about all Christians from all times and in all places, which means all the glory belongs to God.
– It’s all about Jesus! We are no longer condemned and we can come into God’s presence because of what he’s done for us.
Hebrews 12:29 and Deuteronomy 4:24, God hasn’t changed throughout this. This was his plan – not to change himself, but to change us and our state before him through Jesus. The God of the Old Testament is the same God as the one on the New Testament.
God’s goal throughout all history has been to gather a people to himself, for his glory.
Therefore the church, which is the reflection of the heavenly reality has been God’s plan/mission throughout all time. The church is bigger than the local gathering. It’s even bigger then all Christians who are currently alive. It’s all Christians gathered in God’s presence to worship him in his way eternally. Wow!! That’s breath taking!
What is church?
God’s people gathered together through Jesus to praise and worship God.
What is true/acceptable worship (Hebrews 12:28-13:1-3)?
– Be thankful, be in awe of God/worship with reverence by loving one another.
True worship of God doesn’t just happen when we gather together at church. Singing sons isn’t “worship”. Our whole of lives are worship to God.
We worship God by following his law – not because that saves us (for we have been saved already through repentance and faith in Jesus’ death on our behalf). We worship him by obeying him from the heart. That’s how works fit in with Faith!
Consequently, what would you say to someone who says to you:
“Christians at church have let me down again and again. I would prefer to worship God on my own. Besides, we have podcasts and sermons online now to keep me alive.”
How about someone who says
“This means that our local gatherings are but a pale reflection, a half baked attempt at the glorious heavenly reality”
What can we say about our local gatherings in light of the heavenly gathering?
– They are a picture of what is going on spiritually
How has your attitude towards church been challenged or need to change in the light of God’s purposes for his people?
– For me, I need to be more eager to get to church, because it is a chance to glorify God and to reflect what is happening in heaven by being with God’s people and learning about him and worshipping him along with them.
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Hebrews 12, Ephesians 1:3-2:6, Revelations 4-5.
– we will undergo discipline as God’s people: he disciplines those he loves. It proves we are his true children.
– In fact, it is sons who are disciplined, and sons are heirs. We are heirs – co-heirs with Jesus. But true heirs will undergo discipline
o Unlike Esau, who sold his birthright because he wasn’t prepared to make his own soup. He didn’t value his inheritance above food.
– We did not come to Mt Sinai where the people were trembling with fear and had to ask that God speak to Moses and not them out of fear
o We have come to Mt Zion, God’s dwelling place – heaven. We are part of the assembly of the Firstborn
– “Have come” is in the perfect tense – it means we are continually there. It has ongoing significance.
– When we gather at church we express this heavenly reality
– At church we hear God’s voice. Do we respect it like the Israelites? We don’t need to fear condemnation, but we should be in awe of God and his word.
– This is absolutely amazing! Do I recognize it when I go to church? We should be overjoyed!
o E.g. R.C. Sproul. When his wife died he went to church straight after. Why? To hear the gospel again, to be with God’s people and to be with his wife. She was with Jesus and in some sense by going to church he was gathering in some way with God’s people in heaven also.
Ephesians 1:3 -2:6
– In heaven is when we will fully receive every spiritual blessing from God in Christ. (v19 – heaven is where Jesus is)
– Ephesians 2:4-6, we have been raised with Jesus and are spiritually seated with him in some way
– In some sense we also proclaim God’s wisdom to the spiritual authorities in Heaven? We explored this later, and it seems to make sense in this:
o Satan seeks our destruction and disunity between us, others and God
o Through Jesus we are saved, made right with God and our relationships can be right when He’s at the centre
o Therefore by being united and coming together at church and studying God’s word and preaching the gospel, Satan’s defeat is proclaimed to him and God’s wisdom is made clear.
– It’s the equivalent of inaugurated escatology – so the end of all things that has started already
o We have eternal life now
o We will be in heaven one day if we are Christians – we can be sure of that. We have this secured, and even though we don’t see it, we know it is the truth. Now, but not yet. We see it by faith.
o We are seated with Christ now.
o As we preach the gospel it is declaring the complete defeat of satan
- The church is an expression of all of this. That is what we are taking part in when we meet together.
– Do we think of heaven as like an eternal church service? It is – and so so so much more full and glorious.
– Revelations is so full of symbols.
o Here the throne is the main symbol. It signifies God’s right as our king. His power and worthiness of praise.
o Note – the king (God) is indescribably. John can only try to describe his appearance with symbols.
o The rainbow ties to the flood in Genesis. It is the promise of mercy and salvation from judgment. It is the promise that he will not judge again – and when we are saved in Christ it is true that we will not face God’s wrath eternally. Jesus is our ark.
o Seven-fold Spirit? 7 is the number for fullness, completeness, wholeness. God’s Holy Spirit is perfect.
- Isaiah 11:2 -The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord.
o Lightning and Thunder – potentially link to Mount Sinai
– This is the throne room of the King of Kings. It is glorious. It is terrifying. We are gathered there, and we will be gathered there worshipping him.
– The living creatures (All that is below is speculation)
o Lion, ox, eagle and man – the four main types of living creation? (Livestock, Wild animals on ground and in air, and then man?). All of creation worshipping God? The mightiest of living creation?
o The eyes link to Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 1 – All-seeing?
– Regardless, what is clear that they are all worshipping God. Their place in the universe is always to bring Glory to God. Psalm 19.
– 24 elders join in worshipping
o White garments – a symbol of victory? Purity?
o 12 Patriarchs and 12 apostles? Symbolizing all of God’s people worshipping God?
- Maybe not, because in Revelations 14:3 the 144 000 are mentioned separate from the elders, and the 144 000 cleadly represent the Christians.
– All the symbolism isn’t the main point though – don’t get caught up in it.
– This is the point: They are all falling down before God, worshipping him. He created everything. They worship him. They take their crowns, their works, and throw them at God’s feet, worshipping him with all they have.
– God alone has and deserves all glory, honour and praise. He is the creator and nothing compares to him. We were created to bring glory to him! Isn’t that fantastic!! We were made to delight in God above everything else.
– But there is more to it then simply all creation declaring his praises. Chapter 5 talks about the scroll. God’s plans and purposes. And no one can open it.
– Except Jesus. He alone is worthy – for he is God. No one else is worthy to come before God by their own works – we all sin. We have failed. We are not worthy to come before God. Yet in Jesus there is forgiveness and mercy – we are clothed in his righteousness when we put our faith in him.
– Who is this Jesus? This King? This conqueror? This Lion of Judah and Root of Jesse? A lamb. A lamb who had been slain.
o When we think of power, we choose lions, eagles, oxen. Only the Kingdom of God would dare to choose a lamb as its symbol of power and authority.
– At the very centre of this heavenly drama is the lamb – Jesus, slain for our sins. Purchasing humanity for himself with his blood. The gospel is the centre-piece of everything.
– He was slain so that people of every nation can enter God’s kingdom. Heaven will be full of people from every nation!
– That is Glorious!
– Verse 11 – Jesus is worthy of all praise
The church is the earthly picture of all that is described here.
We were created for God’s glory, and Jesus is the centrepiece of that. By his grace and his death and resurrection on our behalf we can come before God in praise for all eternity. How fantastic is that!
– How do I do that now?
o When I go to church with people who, like me, are sinful, I need to remember and be overjoyed that I am being part of this wider worship of God.
o Love the church, get involved.
(Note: Escatological = End times, Doxological = Giving God the glory. The church is all about glorifying God.)
(Note: Eschatological = End times, Doxological = Giving God the glory. The church is all about glorifying God.)
The church is a group of people gathered by the gospel into eschatological and doxological fellowship with God… (This will get expanded on in the other talks)