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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

20130630; The Awesome Power of God

06/30/2013 The Awesome Power of God; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20130630_power-of-god.mp3

We are going to talk about power today. I want to look at the most awesome display of God’s power that exists anywhere in the universe. Where we find the power of God in its greatest concentration might surprise you. We might immediately be drawn to ponder the unfathomable reaches of the galaxies and the delicate complexities of this creation. And that is truly awesome power. The Psalms tell us:

Psalm 33:6 By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.

The heavens and all their hosts, the universe, every planet, every star, every galaxy, every supernova created out of nothing by his word, whispered into existence. Every sea creature, every mammal, every bird, every insect, every reptile, every amphibian, every plant, land and sea, earth and sky, light and darkness, every color, every sound, every molecule ‘he spoke and it came to be; he commanded and it stood firm’ (Psalm 33:9)

Hebrews 1:3 describes Jesus as:

Hebrews 1:3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.

Every solar system, every orbit of every celestial body, every digestive system, every circulatory and respiratory system of every living thing, every proton, every neutron, every electron of every atom, Jesus upholds the universe by the word of his power. That is awesome power.

Colossians 1:16 says about Jesus:

Colossians 1:16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

All the cherubim, all the flaming seraphim, every archangel, every ministering spirit was created by Jesus and for Jesus. That is awesome power.

As mind blowing as this kind of star-breathing, universe-creating, solar system-spinning, life giving power is, this is not where we find the greatest demonstration of the power of God. According to the united testimony of God’s inspired word, the power of God is most magnificently put on display in one specific way. Many things are said to demonstrate the power of God or to be accomplished by the power of God, but only one thing is said to be the power of God.

The Gospel Is the Power of God

Paul begins his letter to the Romans with this declaration:

Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

The gospel is the power of God. In 1 Corinthians, he says that:

1 Corinthians 1:18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

The word of the cross is the power of God. The word of the cross is the gospel, or good news Paul preached, as he makes clear in the following verses.

1 Corinthians 1:23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

The good news, or gospel is Jesus Christ and him crucified. The gospel is centered on the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, so much so that he is declared to be the good news. Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God. The word of the cross is the power of God. The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.

Easier to Punish than to Cover

Nothing is to hard for the Lord. The stars and galaxies and life and breath and everything were breathed out by God, simply spoken into existence by the word of his power. But when God made man, it describes him as it were getting his hands dirty, stooping down to form humankind out of dirt, and breathing into him life. We rebelled against God, directly violating the one command he gave us, distrusting his goodness and truthfulness, disowning his authority. God would have been just to instantly put an end to the rebellion and crush his disobedient creation. It would have been easy for God to exact punishment from sinners. Indeed, one day we are told that the Lord Jesus will inflict vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus (2Thess.1:7-8). He will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming (2Thess.2:8). But although the wages of sin is death, God did not immediately strike them dead. God extended mercy and covered their sin, even promising that one day the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent.

Nothing is too hard for the Lord, but I imagine it would have been much easier to simply punish sin than to cover it. To cover sin meant that one day there would have to be an ultimate sacrifice that would demonstrate the justice of God. This was the much more difficult, the much more costly solution. The Lord himself, the second person of the triune God, the infinite Son of God would have to take on flesh, to become human, in order to bear in his body our sin, so that God might be just and the justifier of sinners who have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom.3:26). The gospel, the good news, Jesus Christ crucified is the power of God. There is no greater demonstration, no greater concentration of the power of God than that which is unleashed in the gospel.

If you think of a number line, it is not as great an advance on the line to make something from nothing, nor is it as great an advance to take something negative and make it nothing, but it is twice the distance to take something negative and make it positive. God created everything out of nothing, and said that it was very good. We took what God made good and made it worse than nothing; we rebelled against him and brought evil and death into his perfect world. God easily could have zeroed out the equation and started over. God’s power in judgment will be terrifyingly awesome, and it is an awesome thing to create life out of nothing, but it is unfathomably greater to take rotting, stinking, decaying, putrefying dead flesh and bring life and healing and wholeness to it. Ephesians 2 says this:

Ephesians 2:3 we … were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Colossians 1:13 puts it this way:

Colossians 1:13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

An Unstoppable Power

Look earlier in Colossians chapter 1 to see how great this power of the gospel is.

Colossians 1:3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth,

Notice that the gospel seems to have a power of its own. The gospel has come to you. He goes on to say that you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant and faithful minister, but the gospel came. It seems that it would have come with or without Epaphras. The word of truth, the gospel has come to you, and the gospel is coming to the whole world. The gospel, the power of God is advancing. And the gospel is bearing fruit and increasing. The gospel is bearing fruit, the fruit of faith and love and hope. The power of God is producing your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the saints, and the hope laid up for you in heaven.

Good News for Believers

Take note, this is not just the fruit of new conversions. It is that, but it is more than that. This is the fruit of the Holy Spirit produced by the power of the gospel at work in the believer. We often act as though the gospel is good news for lost people to get them found, for sinners to get them forgiven, for unbelievers to make them believers. That is true! It is the best news a sinner could ever hear. But it doesn’t stop there. The good news is good news for believers too.

When is the last time you preached the gospel to a believer? When is the last time you preached the gospel to yourself? Did you realize that every letter in the New Testament is addressed to a church, a group of churches, or an individual believer? The entire book of Romans is Paul preaching the gospel to the saints in Rome. We could say that this was to equip them to be better prepared to preach the gospel to unbelievers, but I think it runs deeper than that. The gospel is the power of God for the transformation of believers.

Not Either / Or

In no way do I want to undermine or downplay the necessity of preaching the gospel to unbelievers. Quite the opposite; I think that if we got in the habit of preaching the gospel to ourselves daily, moment by moment, if we made a practice of preaching the gospel to one another in order to truly minister to each others needs, the gospel would become so much a part of us that it would naturally overflow out of us to others.

I think one of the great fears that prevents Christians from engaging in evangelism is that we don’t feel that we know the gospel ourselves well enough, or we are not convinced in our own souls that it is really good news. If we enjoy the gospel ourselves and see the gospel transforming our own hearts and the hearts of our brothers and sisters in Christ, not only will we be more confident to proclaim this good message to others, that message will be undeniably backed by our own experience and will be more irrefutably compelling to unbelievers.

Evangelizing the Saints

In our time remaining, I’d like to evangelize you, my brothers and sisters, and any unbelievers who are with us today. I invite you to take a deep breath and let your souls marinate in gospel truth this morning, and allow the gospel to penetrate into the deepest recesses of your heart with its healing transforming power.

The Diagnosis

At the very beginning of the gospel we need to accurately diagnose our own condition, in order to be able to rightly administer the cure. As we saw in Ephesians, we were dead in our trespasses and sins, by nature children of wrath, enemies of God, fully deserving the flaming fury and vengeance of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2 goes on to describe us as separated from Christ, alienated, strangers, having no hope and without God. Romans 5 describes us as weak or helpless, ungodly, sinners, enemies, and under God’s wrath (v.6-10). Until I feel the weight of my sins, until I own this as my condition, I am not ready or willing to submit to the cure.

The Cure

The cure for my rebellion and my sin is execution. How do you like it when the doctor says that? ‘The wages of sin is death’ (Rom.6:23) and ‘the soul who sins shall die’ (Ezek.18:4,20).

Substitution

The staggering good news is that ‘the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all’ (Is.53:6).

2 Corinthians 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

God the Father made his only Son, his beloved Son in whom he is well pleased to be sin for us.

1 Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

Friend, do you realize that every sin you will ever commit was on Jesus when he was crucified for you?

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
(Horatio G. Spafford, 1873)

Propitiation, Redemption, Justification

We should have been the just recipients of God’s righteous wrath, but ‘it pleased the Lord to crush him’ (Is.53:10); ‘he was crushed for our iniquities’ (Is.53:5).

Romans 3:24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

Propitiation is the appeasing of God’s wrath against our sin by the blood of Jesus. Redemption is the purchase price that God paid to make us his own. Justification is the legal declaration of righteousness, given as a gift to sinners.

This is the overwhelming power of the gospel. A holy, righteous and just God no longer views you as a sinner. ‘The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin’ (1Jn.1:7). No matter what you have ever done, if you are trusting in Jesus, God sees you as perfectly clean. He promises to ‘blot out your transgressions’ and ‘remember your sins no more’ (Is.43:25; Jer.31:34; Heb.8:12; 10:17)

Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

So many Christians live under the burden of the weight of guilt for our sins. We feel shame and failure so we shrink from God in fear. This is unbelief in the gospel. There is now no condemnation! God has blotted out that transgression with the blood of Jesus. He promises to remember it no more! The guilt for every sin is gone! Of course you don’t deserve it – it is grace, an unmerited, undeserved gift. Lift up your head and enjoy the gospel reality that there is now no condemnation. If you are justified, then you will never be held accountable for any sin you ever commit. If God is propitiated, his wrath against you is completely gone and only his love and affection remains for you.

The heart of the Father toward you is that he sees you a long way off, runs to you, embraces you with his love, interrupts your confession, covers you with his best robe, trusts you with his authority, and prepares a celebration in your honor (Lk.15:11-24)

Grace Unmerited Unearned

If the gospel comes to us by God’s grace, and we did nothing ever to earn any part of it, if it is truly ‘not your own doing …not a result of works, so that no one may boast’ (Eph.2:8-9), then God’s love for us is in no way connected or related to our performance. We cannot forfeit his love for us because we feel like we have failed him, and we cannot earn more of his love when we feel we are doing well. He loved us so much that he gave us his Son when we were still his enemies.

The Keeping Power of the Gospel

Since the gospel is God’s work and not mine, I cannot ever de-rail God’s purpose to save me. Jesus said ‘whoever comes to me I will never cast out …and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day’ (Jn.6:37, 39). Jesus said ‘I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand’ (Jn.10:28). God, through the power of his gospel is ‘able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy’ (Jude 24). I can rest confident that although I am often faithless, he will remain faithful (2Tim.2:13).

Transforming Power

We are only scratching the surface of the power of God revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified. Do you begin to see how this good news is the power of God in your life to transform you, to produce in you fruit like love and joy and peace? Do you see how this can create in you patience and faithfulness and gentleness, goodness, kindness and self-control? Enjoy God’s power in the gospel. Preach the gospel to yourself daily, saturate your soul in the gospel, renew your mind with the gospel. Minister the gospel to your brothers and sisters in Christ who desperately need to be reminded of the riches we have in Christ Jesus, to be reminded ‘what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge’ (Eph.3:18-19). Preach the gospel to those who have not yet believed the gospel so that the power of this good news can open their eyes to the reality of Jesus.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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June 30, 2013 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Matthew 16:18; The Church

06/23/2013 The Church – Foundation, Origin, Destiny; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20130623_the-church.mp3

Today I want to answer from Matthew 16 the question ‘What is the church?’ Who are we? What is the foundation of the church? What is the origin and destiny of the church? Where did the church come from and where is she going?.

The word ‘church’ simply means an assembly, a gathering, a group of people who have something in common. Jesus said ‘I will build my church’, so Jesus’ church is a community of people founded on the divinely revealed identity and mission of Jesus of Nazareth. We will see that the church was spoken into existence by the sovereign power of the Lord Jesus, and she will overcome. I pray that we will be encouraged and emboldened as Christ’s church to be who we are.

A Question of Identity

We will focus our attention on Jesus’ statement in Matthew 16:18

Matthew 16:18 …on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Let’s look at the whole passage:

Matthew 16:13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar–Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

The identity and mission of Jesus is what’s at stake here. Jesus raises the question – ‘what’s the word on the street? Who do people say that I am?’ And he receives three answers; John the Baptist, Elijah, and Jeremiah or one of the prophets. I think it’s worth asking why people identified Jesus with these three figures in particular.

Some, like Herod, identified Jesus with John the Baptist, the radical preacher who lived in the desert wearing camel’s hair, eating bugs, and getting in the face of the religious and political leaders of his day and calling for repentance.

Some identified him with Elijah, the fiery prophet who brought a drought on Israel for 3 years, and was fed by the Lord in the wilderness. Elijah raised a young man from the dead, took on the false prophets of Baal, and had all the false priests executed. God took him to heaven in a whirlwind with chariots and horses of fire. There was an expectation that he would come again before the great and awesome day of the Lord (Malachi 4:5).

Some identified Jesus with Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. Jeremiah was both a priest and a prophet, who was called by God to speak to rebellious Israel who were unfaithful to the Lord. Jesus quotes Jeremiah when he says

Luke 19:46 …“It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” (cf. Jeremiah 7:11-27)

Jeremiah was called to prophesy to the nation of Israel with the advance knowledge that his preaching would not bring repentance and restoration but rather greater accountability and condemnation. Because of this he was know as the weeping prophet. Yet he faithfully preached to the people, even suffering arrest and abuse at the hands of the leaders of Israel, up to the day they were carried off into captivity.

I think this gives us some insight into the temperament of Jesus. Jesus was bold, even abrasive and caustic with the hypocritical religious leaders. Jesus was known as ‘a man of sorrows’; Isaiah writes:

Isaiah 53:3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

We are told that Jesus was grieved over hard-heartedness of the people (Mk.3:5); he wept at the death of his friend (Jn.11:35); he wept over Jerusalem (Lk.19:41ff). John tells us:

John 1:11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.

The Identity of Jesus

So the people identified Jesus with John, who confronted the evil of his day and sparked a major revival; with Elijah, a fiery prophet who performed miracles, feeding the hungry and even raising the dead; and with Jeremiah, the weeping prophet who foretold the fall of Jerusalem and was rejected. There is an element of truth in all these identifications of Jesus, but they all fall short.

Jesus said John was the greatest of the prophets (Matt.11:11). But John was discouraged in prison and sent word to Jesus asking if he was the Christ or if they should look for another. Elijah was afraid of Jezebel and ran into the desert to hide and wanted to die. Jeremiah complained to the Lord. These were all prophets of God, used by God to do mighty works, yet they were all mere men, and they all had their own flaws and shortcomings. No one in Jesus day thought that he was just a good man or a great moral teacher or a really nice guy. Even his enemies recognized him as a person invested with supernatural power and authority. He was a radical prophetic voice in the world. But their analysis fell short of who he really is. Jesus is the divine Son of God. He is our great Prophet; he is our great High Priest. He is Messiah, the anointed one, the King of kings.

Divine Revelation

When Peter responded with the right answer, Jesus commended him and called him blessed, but he also clarified the source of this information. Peter did not come up with this on his own. The fact that Peter recognized Jesus for who he is was evidence of divine intervention; supernatural revelation from the Father.

Matthew 16:16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar–Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The identity of Jesus is the foundation stone of the church, and the true identity of Jesus comes as a revelation from the Father. Jesus told Peter that his confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God was not a natural response to the information he had available to him. It was a supernatural work of the Father in his life.

The Cross

The next thing Jesus tells his disciples is extremely important. He corrects their misunderstanding about his mission.

Matthew 16:20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. 21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

Jesus links his own identity to his mission. He will build his church, but he will build it by dying. He ‘came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mt.20:28). The good news message is a message of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The church is built on, as Paul preached, ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’ (1 Cor.1:23; 2:2).

So the church is a community of people founded on the supernaturally revealed identity and mission of Jesus, the infinite Son of God who came to die for our sins.

The Origin of the Church

Jesus said ‘I will build my church’. To fully appreciate what Jesus says here, we need to step back and look again at who he is.

In Colossians 1, we are told that Jesus, the beloved Son of the Father, is the image of the invisible God, Creator of all things in heaven and on earth; all things visible and invisible, and all things were created for his good pleasure. Jesus existed eternally, and it is Jesus that sustains all things. Jesus is first place – preeminent in all things. He is first in time; he existed before anything else. He is first in authority; all thrones and dominions and rulers and authorities ultimately bow to him and do his bidding. He is first in importance; he is the Father’s beloved Son and all things were created for him.

John 1 tells us that Jesus was in the beginning with God and that Jesus is God. Jesus is the Word who spoke everything into existence, become flesh. Jesus is life and light, and the darkness has not overcome it. He makes known to us the invisible Father.

Hebrews 1 tells us that Jesus created the world and upholds the universe by the word of his power. Jesus is God on the throne forever and ever; he never changes and he will have no end.

In Mark 4, Jesus

Mark 4:39 …awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

When Jesus speaks to his creation, all creation obeys his voice.

Jesus is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, and it is this Jesus that said:

Matthew 16:18 … on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

That, my friends, is a statement of sovereign purpose. The Lord of all the universe has made a declaration of purpose. When Jesus says ‘I will’, there is no other will that can thwart his will. There is no power in heaven or on earth or under the earth that can stop him. Jesus did not say that he would try to build his church. In the beginning, Jesus said ‘let there be light’ and there was light. When Jesus said ‘Lazarus, come forth’ the man who had been in the grave for four days came out of the tomb. When Jesus said ‘I will build my church’, that was a sovereign omnipotent creative word that absolutely will be done.

The Destiny of the Church

That leads naturally to the next point – Jesus’ church will overcome. The gates of hell will not prevail against it. The sovereign power of the omnipotent Creator will triumph and his purpose will stand.

Now this requires some clarification What does it mean for the church to overcome? I’ve seen beautiful historic church buildings turned into museums or thrift stores or bicycle shops. Some churches that were once thriving are now merely a monument. Does this mean the word of Christ has failed? How do we understand this in light of what Jesus said? Let’s go to the book of Revelation for help. John is given a vision from God and is told to write what he sees in a book and send it to seven churches in Asia Minor. Listen to what God says to one of these churches:

Revelation 2:1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: …4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

Because the church in the city of Ephesus had left its love for God and for other believers, Jesus is threatening to unplug this church as a light in the world. I think that highlights an important distinction for us that is helpful in our definition of the church. There is the church local and the church universal; or the church visible and the church invisible. There is our local group of believers that gather here in this building, and there is the church of Jesus Christ that consists of every born again follower of Jesus throughout history and around the globe. When Jesus said that he will build his church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, he didn’t have in mind any specific building or geographic location or social/political organization. Peter tells us that:

1 Peter 2:5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

Paul says it this way:

Ephesians 2:19 … you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

We tend to think of the church as a man-made building, organization or institution. It is not. It is a living, growing organism, made up of believers in Jesus Christ. This is a sobering thought. There are many who attend a church service in a church building that are not part of Jesus’ church. There are people who go by the name of ‘Christian’ who do not know the Christ of the Bible and who have not experienced the new birth, and on that fateful day, Jesus will tell them:

Matthew 7:23 … ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

So my first exhortation to you today is be sure you are part of Jesus’ church. Be sure you know Jesus and are being transformed by Jesus. Be sure you have become part of God’s family through the new birth.

Earlier in Ephesians 2, Paul tells us how this happens:

Ephesians 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ––by grace you have been saved–– 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

God in his rich mercy, made us alive by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.

The Gates of Hell and the Keys of the Kingdom

Let’s come back to Matthew 16 and see what we can learn about our role as the church. The church was spoken into existence by the sovereign power of the Lord Jesus Christ, and Jesus says:

Matthew 16:18 … on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The gates of hell will not prevail against it. Literally, it is the gates of Hades -the abode of the dead. I want you to picture a walled fortress. Imagine an army attacking the city. They come against the weakest point in the city – the gates. If the gates are strong, the fortress is safe. If the gates can be penetrated, the city can be taken. Now think about what Jesus said about his church. What posture is the church taking in the war? If the church is not a building but a living organism, and if the gates that are described are not the gates of the church but the gates of Hades, then the church is on the offensive storming the very gates of hell! I think too often we get the image reversed, as if Jesus said ‘I will build my fortress, and hell will not break down its gates’. Come hide inside the fortress and you will be safe. The church on the defensive is not the posture of the church of Jesus! The church of Jesus is to be on the offensive proving his promise true! A few chapters later, after his resurrection, Jesus came to his disciples and said:

Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Go, storm the gates of hell. Proclaim the gospel. Make disciples. I will be with you, Jesus said.

But how can we be sure that the gates will not be too strong for us? How do we know that we will overcome? Jesus said:

Revelation 1:17…“Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.

Jesus died, and he unlocked the gates from the inside! Jesus, our mighty conqueror, has gone before us, won the victory, unlocked the gates, and invites us to the plunder. Jesus now holds the keys of Death and of Hades. That gate can no longer be made secure by the enemy.

Colossians 1:13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus goes on to say

Matthew 16:19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, …

Peter, on the day of Pentecost, proclaimed the forgiveness of sins in Jesus, and unlocked the door of heaven to three thousand Jews. (Acts 2:38-41)

Later, in Acts chapter 10, Peter went to a Gentile’s house and taught about the death and resurrection of Jesus and proclaimed the good news:

Acts 10:43 ..that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

And the door was unlocked to the Gentile nations. But this was not unique to Peter.

When Paul and Barnabas returned from their first missionary journey

Acts 14:27 … they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.

God has given you authority to open the door of faith through the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ and him crucified.

The church was spoken into existence by the sovereign power of the Lord Jesus Christ, and she will overcome. Be sure that you are a part of his church by the new birth, and be aggressive to take ground from the enemy, for the victory has already been won. Proclaim the good news, make disciples, and be confident that Jesus will build his church!

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

June 23, 2013 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , | Leave a comment

Luke 5:1-11; Making Disciples

06/16/2013 Making Disciples; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20130616_making-disciples.mp3

Luke 5:1 On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, 2 and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

Matthew and Mark record an abbreviated form of Jesus’ call to discipleship. Jesus is proclaiming good news from God and commanding that people turn and believe that good news. He said ‘follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’. ‘Follow me’ – that is the call of discipleship. Disciples are followers of Jesus. That is what followers of Jesus do; they follow Jesus. I don’t think that’s too hard to understand. It is hard to live out, but it is not hard to understand. Many people claim to be followers of Jesus, but if Jesus says ‘follow me’ and I am going off in a different direction, I can’t really say I am following Jesus. Followers of Jesus follow Jesus. The good news Jesus proclaimed was ‘the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel’ (Mk.1:15). The kingdom of God is at hand because the King has come down! The King is here! The King must be obeyed. When the King says ‘follow me’, immediately, you drop everything and follow the King. This is what a disciples is. Absolute submission to the King. Immediate obedience to King Jesus.

Let Down Your Nets

In Luke’s account, Jesus borrowed Peter’s boat as a platform to teach from. When he was done teaching, he instructed Peter to do some fishing. Peter was obviously a bit put out by this. He was happy to let the Rabbi teach from his boat, because that’s what teachers do. He probably would have been fine if Jesus gave him some pointers on building something, because Peter knew that Jesus had been trained as a carpenter. But now the Carpenter is telling the fisherman how to fish. Peter lets him know that they spent all night working hard doing what fishermen best knew how to do and caught nothing. But with that protest, he obeys. What happens next is nothing short of supernatural. Contrary to all his years of fishing wisdom and experience, they do everything wrong as far as fishing is concerned, and their nets were incapable of holding the multitude of fish that came into their nets. This is grounds for celebration. I would expect shouting and hoots and hollering, a party atmosphere, ‘Jesus, you’re my new best friend and permanent fishing buddy’. But Peter’s reaction is telling. This is no party. He is on his face before Jesus acknowledging his own sinfulness. Peter has realized who got into his boat. This is no ordinary rabbi, no mere carpenter, this is the Lord of land and sea, the God of the universe, the one who spoke all creation into existence, to whom every fish in the sea obeys his command. In the presence of Jesus, Peter is painfully aware of how far he falls short.

I Am A Sinful Man

Why does Peter ask Jesus to depart from him? I think he realizes that as a sinner in the presence of the all-holy God, he is in trouble. Because God is holy, it is his character to judge sin. Peter as a sinner, acutely aware of his own sinfulness, is rightly afraid. That is the right response to God’s presence. God is good, God is righteous, God is holy, and God is just to judge sin. We all have rebelled against him, we have rejected his authority in our lives, we have failed to give thanks to him, we refuse to honor him as God. All that sinners should ever expect from a holy God is judgment. What I have earned by my God dishonoring sin is death. When God shows up in my boat, it means he is coming to pay me what I deserve. Peter is pleading for mercy. ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner’. ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’.

Do Not Be Afraid

Jesus’ response to Peter breathes life and hope. ‘Do not be afraid’. Peter understands his own situation and has every good reason to be terrified to the core of his being, and Jesus says ‘do not be afraid’. Jesus says ‘I did not come to judge the world but to save the world’ (Jn.12:47); I am not here to punish your sins, I am here to pay for your sins. Turn and believe the good news. This is good news indeed! For the sovereign Judge to say to a sinner ‘do not be afraid’ is the best news.

Catching Men

But it does not stop there. Jesus calls us into a relationship with himself. ‘From now on you will be catching men’. ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men’. Jesus calls us to a higher purpose. No longer fish but people. We are called to follow King Jesus, and we are commissioned to invite others to follow Jesus. We are to be disciples and we are to make disciples. Every follower of Jesus is to be a disciple-making disciple. This becomes explicitly clear when we come to the end of the gospels and hear Jesus’ final instructions.

Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus instructs his disciples to make disciples and to teach those disciples to obey everything he has commanded them, which would at least include this command to make disciples. Jesus’ promise confirms this, ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age’. As long as this present age lasts, Jesus promises to be with us, his followers as we obey him in the disciple making task. Not only has King Jesus, Lord of the universe, come not in judgment but with mercy, but he has commissioned us to be the bearers of this good news to the nations.

Make Disciples of All Nations

Why are we commissioned to make disciples of all nations? Why does Jesus place an emphasis on making disciples of different people groups? This helps us get at the end goal of the gospel.

Psalm 22:27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.

Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

Psalm 86:9 All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.

Psalms 117:1 Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol him, all peoples!

The goal of the gospel is worship. God deserves to be worshiped. He deserves to be worshiped from all his creation. We see this unfolding in Revelation:

Revelation 5:9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,

Revelation 7:9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Jesus tells us to go and make disciples of all nations. We are not done yet. According to the global research department of the international mission board May 2013 data, they categorize 11,301 people groups in the world. They define a people group as ‘the largest group through which the gospel can flow without encountering significant barriers of understanding and acceptance’. Of these 11,301 people groups, 6,941 are considered unreached, that is, less than 2% of the total population are Evangelical Christians. Of these 6,941 unreached people groups, 3,041 are considered unengaged, where there is no known Evangelical church planting underway. We have some work left to do. For the glory of Christ, we must engage every tribe with the good news.

What Does It Take?

What does it take to engage people with the gospel? Romans gives us the missionary outline of gospel advancement to the unreached nations.

Romans 10:12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Anyone from any ethnic background who calls out to Jesus will be saved. In order to call out to him for salvation, they must believe in him. In order to believe in Jesus, they must have heard of him. There are people in the world today who have never heard of Jesus. For anyone to hear about Jesus, someone needs to go and preach to them. So some of us need to go. Some of us need to follow Jesus to the ends of the earth. Some of us need to learn new languages so that we can communicate the truth about Jesus to people who have never heard. Some of us need to let go of the comforts and conveniences that we enjoy, say goodbye to friends and relatives and go. Some of us need to let go of the illusion of safety and security and take some risks, even lay down our lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus. ‘How are they to hear without someone preaching?’

But there is another step behind gospel advancement. ‘How are they to preach unless they are sent?’ Some of us need to give. Without sending, gospel advancement doesn’t happen and unreached peoples stay unreached. A very practical part of sending is financial. If we are serious about the glory of God, some of us need to change our lifestyles and sacrifice deeply and give generously so that others can go. Paul points to the grace of God demonstrated among the Macedonian believers:

2 Corinthians 8:1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—

What an interesting recipe for abundant generosity. Most of us think that if we could only win the lottery or make a lot more money, then we could really be generous. But the Macedonians were experiencing a severe test of affliction. Their extreme poverty combined with their abundant joy to overflow in a wealth of generosity.

But sending is more than financial. Paul on several occasions asked for prayer and thanked the churches for their prayers and their encouragement. Even the apostle Paul needed prayer and encouragement. Paul described the relationship between the senders and the goers as a partnership in the gospel (Phil.1:5).

This is a historic moment for this local church. We are a church plant in a difficult mission field. Today, we have the great privilege of sending out workers into the nations to make disciples for the glory of Christ.

I want to end with some gospel encouragement. 6,941 unreached people groups, over 3,000 unengaged people groups may sound overwhelming. And remember, Jesus said ‘apart from me you can do nothing’ (Jn.15:5). I want to encourage us with a few of the ‘I will’ statements in the bible. Peter told Jesus ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing’. But the one who is sovereign over the fish of the sea and over the hearts of men said ‘I will make you fishers of men’. We might be saying ‘I can’t do this; depart from me, for I am a sinful man O Lord’ But it is not our job to become expert evangelists. Jesus says ‘I will make you fishers of men’. The one who can cause fish to swim into a net can also give faith to those who are vehemently opposed to him. The Carpenter from Nazareth said ‘I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’ (Mt.16:18). Our job is not to build the church; our job is to follow Jesus, and to invite others to follow Jesus. God says:

Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

Psalm 86:9 All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.

This mission cannot fail. We as individuals can fail, we can fail to follow Jesus, but Jesus’ promises will not fail. The followers of Jesus will succeed in making disciples of all nations because Jesus is with us to the end of the age, He purchased with his blood people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, he will build his church and he will be worshiped by the nations.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

June 16, 2013 Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

1 Corinthians 3:16-17; The Jealous God of His Temple

06/02 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 The Jealous God of the Temple;Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20130602_1cor3_16-17.mp3

1Cor 3 [SBLGNT]

10 Κατὰ τὴν χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ τὴν δοθεῖσάν μοι ὡς σοφὸς ἀρχιτέκτων θεμέλιον ἔθηκα, ἄλλος δὲ ἐποικοδομεῖ. ἕκαστος δὲ βλεπέτω πῶς ἐποικοδομεῖ· 11 θεμέλιον γὰρ ἄλλον οὐδεὶς δύναται θεῖναι παρὰ τὸν κείμενον, ὅς ἐστιν Ἰησοῦς Χριστός· 12 εἰ δέ τις ἐποικοδομεῖ ἐπὶ τὸν θεμέλιον χρυσόν, ἄργυρον, λίθους τιμίους, ξύλα, χόρτον, καλάμην, 13 ἑκάστου τὸ ἔργον φανερὸν γενήσεται, ἡ γὰρ ἡμέρα δηλώσει· ὅτι ἐν πυρὶ ἀποκαλύπτεται, καὶ ἑκάστου τὸ ἔργον ὁποῖόν ἐστιν τὸ πῦρ αὐτὸ δοκιμάσει. 14 εἴ τινος τὸ ἔργον μενεῖ ὃ ἐποικοδόμησεν, μισθὸν λήμψεται· 15 εἴ τινος τὸ ἔργον κατακαήσεται, ζημιωθήσεται, αὐτὸς δὲ σωθήσεται, οὕτως δὲ ὡς διὰ πυρός.

16 Οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι ναὸς θεοῦ ἐστε καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ θεοῦ οἰκεῖ ἐν ὑμῖν; 17 εἴ τις τὸν ναὸν τοῦ θεοῦ φθείρει, φθερεῖ τοῦτον ὁ θεός· ὁ γὰρ ναὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ἅγιός ἐστιν, οἵτινές ἐστε ὑμεῖς.

1Cor 3 [ESV2011]

9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Paul is rebuking the Corinthians for their quarreling and divisiveness, and showing them that their attitudes are not in keeping with the gospel. He has compared the work of Christian ministers to field hands in God’s field and builders constructing a building. In both metaphors, unity and cooperation is essential, but competition and division would be disastrous. In verses 16 and 17, he continues the building metaphor, and we find out that there is a very specific building that he has in mind. The reason great care must be taken in how each of us build; the reason that each of our works will be revealed with fire, is that the building he refers to is God’s holy temple. Only the best methods, only the best materials are suitable for building up God’s holy temple.

1 Corinthians 3:16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Do You Not Know

This is the first of 10 times in this letter that Paul uses the phrase ‘do you not know’. To the Corinthians, who prided themselves on their keen insight and intellect, this would come as a biting rebuke. You, who think you have advanced into the deeper things of God, you who claim to have penetrated the secret and hidden wisdom, you who think yourselves mature and spiritual above others, you have lost sight of the plain, clear, simple, obvious, basic truths! Do you not know? Every believer in Jesus should know this. To continue the building metaphor, you think you are building a skyscraper, but you’ve neglected the ground floor! You are shaky on the foundation truths of the gospel. This reminds me of the Far Side cartoon where the scholar with a stack of books is trying to enter the ‘school for the gifted’, and he is pushing with all his might on a door that is clearly labeled ‘pull’. {Far Side Cartoon for PPT}

You are priding yourself in your great wisdom, but you have lost sight of the basics, of common sense.

The ‘You’ is Plural

We need to make a grammatical point here so that we don’t misunderstand or misapply what Paul is saying. Many take this verse to say that each one of us personally and individually is God’s temple. That is true, but that is not what this verse is saying. We could jump over to chapter 6, where Paul says that each of you is responsible for what you do with your own physical body, because your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (6:19), and conclude that each of us individually is a temple of God. But to import that meaning back into chapter 3 would be to deviate from what this text is teaching. Here, the context is clear that each of us individually are being built into a building and that building is the temple of God. When Paul says ‘you’, the ‘you’ is plural. We may be helped by adopting some southern grammar. If I am speaking to an individual, I address him or her as ‘you’. But if I am speaking to a group of people, I address them as ‘y’all’. This verse would read: ‘Do you not know that y’all are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in y’all?’ Paul is speaking to the group as a group, saying that you all together as a group make up the temple of God. He is not saying that you all are a bunch of little temples running around, but that each of you is built together into God’s temple. Peter brings some vivid clarity to this image.

1 Peter 2:5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

A stone on its own is not a temple. A bunch of stones scattered around, each standing on its own looks more like a graveyard. But lots of stones cemented together on the same foundation become a building. Remember, the one foundation, the only possible foundation, for the church is Jesus Christ and him crucified.

ναός not ἱερόν

We together are being built on the one unmovable unshakeable unalterable irreplaceable foundation of Jesus Christ. We are being built into a building. This is not just any building, so it matters how we build and with what we build. We are being built into God’s temple.

This is another place where our English language lacks the clarity to communicate clearly. We can look in the Old Testament and see that it was unlawful for anyone other than a priest, a descendant of Aaron to enter the temple of God. And we might be confused when we turn to the New Testament and see Jesus, who was of the tribe of Judah, entering the temple to teach or heal or throw out the moneychangers. We see the first followers of Jesus meeting daily in the temple (Lk.24:53; Act.2:46; 5:42). This could be confusing if we don’t realize that there are distinct words that are both translated ‘temple’ in English. When Jesus and the disciples entered the temple, it was the ἱερόν, the temple complex, including the courtyard. But when Jesus said ‘destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up’ (Jn.2:19), he used a different word, ναός , which specifically refers to the structure containing the holy place and most holy place, the sanctuary. Jesus and his Jewish disciples could enter the gates of the ἱερόν, the temple grounds, but would not be allowed to enter the ναός, the temple sanctuary.

Jesus identified his own human body as the ναός, the sanctuary. Here, when Paul refers to us being built together into the temple of God, he calls us the ναός, the sanctuary, the very dwelling place of God.

1 Corinthians 3:16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

The Divinity of the Holy Spirit

This is what makes the sanctuary the sanctuary. It is the special dwelling place of God. Wherever God takes up residence, that is the temple sanctuary. When God’s special presence leaves the building due to his people’s sin, as he did in Ezekiel, that structure may continue to be referred to as the temple in name, but it is no longer the dwelling place of God, and it is subject to being destroyed.

This verse is important because of what it teaches us about God. God’s sanctuary is the place where God dwells. If the Holy Spirit is a different being from God, less than God, an angel or an impersonal force or a created being, then we as the assembly of believers could not be called the dwelling place of God simply because the Spirit inhabits us. But Paul says that being inhabited by the Spirit of God means that we can rightly be called the temple of God. So the Spirit must be fully God, a distinct personality from the Father and the Son, but sharing the very being or existence of God. What makes us, a group of believers, the sanctuary of God, is that God has taken up residence in us. God the Holy Spirit makes his home in us!

1 Corinthians 3:16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Destroyers of God’s Temple

This is a stern warning. Paul has cautioned the builders to take care how they build and with what materials they build. He has warned that we must only ever build on the one foundation which has been once for all laid down. He has warned that the fire of testing is coming and many who build with wood, hay and straw will come away with nothing to show for their labor. But even they will be saved, if only by the skin of their teeth. Some build with enduring materials; some build with worthless combustible materials. Now he moves on to say that some are not building, but destroying. Some, who claim to be part of the building, are actually demolition experts, tearing apart the building from the inside.

Some well meaning Christians feel that it is their spiritual calling to evaluate everyone else’s quality of building and rip it down if it doesn’t meet their own standards. According to this passage, all building will be tested by Jesus Christ on that great day. There is room for variety within the body of Christ, and it is not ours to tear down the building efforts of others. Addressing secondary issues, Paul says:

Romans 14:4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

This does not mean that we should not be vigilant to protect the flock of God from wolves. Paul as a caring shepherd exhorts us to take care how we build; he points out quarreling and division and pride as evidence of unspirituality and indicators that we are building with sub-standard materials. He even encourages restorative church discipline for the health of the body (1Cor.5). He rebukes publicly church leaders who are deviating from the gospel (Gal.2:11-14). He warns the church to beware of those who are building on another foundation (Gal.1:8-9; 5:7-12; Phil.3:2), and he is not afraid to name names (1Tim.1:20; 2Tim.2:17). But he does not come in and tear down the building. That is the job of our Lord Christ alone.

This raises the question, what does it look like to destroy God’s sanctuary? If we as believers gathered together are the dwelling of the Holy Spirit, then anything that causes disunity, division, or harm to other believers could be considered destructive to God’s temple. Is your quarreling, gossip, or strife destroying the temple of God?

Jealous God

Jesus loves his church. He died to purchase the church as his bride and he will present her to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle, holy and without blemish. Jesus nourishes and cherishes his church. Jesus is the one who will build his church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against her. Jesus loves his church and he will make certain that she stands for all time. Understand, the church is not this building or any physical structure, but is made up of people, all true followers of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is passionate about his church. His temple, his people are holy, set apart for him alone, and he will jealously guard his people. If someone dared violate the temple in the Old Testament, he would die. If God so zealously guarded the type and shadow, how much more will he be passionate to defend the reality!

1 Corinthians 3:17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Examples of Destruction

God is serious about his church. This is a severe warning and it is not meant to be taken lightly. Some examples will be both sobering and encouraging.

Acts chapter 4 ends with the newborn church self-sacrificially caring for each other’s needs. Acts 5 tells of one couple, Ananias and Sapphira, who conspired together to lie to the church about their giving. They were not obligated to give. They were not pressured to give. It seems they were looking for status and recognition in the church by a generous donation. They made themselves out to look more generous than they really were. They were using Christ’s church as a means to gain popularity and praise. Peter said that they were testing the Spirit of the Lord and lying to God. God struck them both dead on the spot.

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul deals with an incestuous relationship within the church. Rather than grieving over the sin and confronting it; they are proud, flaunting their so-called freedom in Christ. He warns that toleration of those who refuse to repent of sin will taint the purity of the church. He says:

1 Corinthians 5:4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

He extends this disassociation to any who claim to be brothers who are unrepentantly immoral, greedy, an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or a swindler. Delivering someone to Satan for the destruction of the flesh is a sobering prospect, but the goal is that his spirit would be saved in the end.

In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul confronts divisions and factions in the church that showed up at the Lord’s Supper. At this fellowship meal some went hungry and some were getting drunk. He accuses them of despising the church of God and humiliating those who have nothing. He says that if they eat and drink in an unworthy manner, they are guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. He says that anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. The unworthy manner in which they participated in communion was not that they had unconfessed sin in their lives. They failed to discern the body, they failed to recognize that they all were part of one body, each members of one another, united as sinners saved by God’s grace alone, equal at the foot of the cross. They were allowing social status and popularity and money to divide the church, and in doing this, they were despising the church of God and profaning the body and blood of the Lord. God loves his church and he takes this kind of disunity personally. Paul concludes:

1 Corinthians 11:30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

God was judging his people and disciplining those who were despising his church with weakness, sickness, even death. God is dead serious about unity in his church!

We will close with one positive example of God destroying someone who is destroying his temple. Saul of Tarsus was ‘ravaging the church’, ‘he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison’. He was ‘breathing out threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord’ (Acts 8:3; 9:1). In Galatians he says ‘I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it’ (Gal.1:13). Saul was attacking the church, and Jesus took this personally. Jesus showed up in blinding light that knocked Saul to the ground. And he confronted him; ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ Not ‘why are you persecuting my church?’ but ‘why are you persecuting me?’ In persecuting the church, he was persecuting Jesus. He had touched the apple of his eye, and Jesus is passionate to defend his bride. He said ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’ (Acts 9:4-5). Jesus showed up in blazing fire to destroy him.

And Saul was destroyed that day. He was undone. His hard heart was conquered, conquered by God’s grace, by his unfailing mercy, his undeserved, unsought forgiveness. He was no longer Saul the persecutor of the church. He was now Paul, the master builder of the church, madly in love with Jesus and death-defyingly passionate about building up Christ’s church. Jesus conquered his greatest enemy and put him to work ‘preaching the very faith he once tried to destroy’ (Gal.1:23). 

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

June 2, 2013 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment