Monthly Archives: December 2008

#1: The foundation of the church

Matthew 16:13-19

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

The foundation of the church

“…and on this rock I will build my church…”

The church belongs to Jesus. It does not belong to any other man. No man, except the God-man, can lord it over the church.  And no man can build the church, except Jesus. Some will plant the seed, some will water the seed, but it is Jesus who will grow the church. The church is His field, His building. (1 Cor 3:6-9)

But what is the rock Jesus refers to? For that matter, what also is the seed that Paul refers to?

It must be clarified that Peter is not the rock, despite his namesake. The rock Jesus speaks of is Peter’s confession of the identity of Christ. The rock on which Christ will build His church is the confession that He is the Son of the living God. Christ is building His church on this one Truth, with a capital T. The church is not going to be on any other ordinary foundation. It will be built by and on the Son of the living God . He is not only the builder, He is also the rock. He is the foundation. Paul affirms as much in 1 Corinthians 3:11 – no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.  The seed Paul plants must likewise be this one Truth, if no other foundation, no other seed can be laid. We perceive as much from the context of the first few chapters of 1 Corinthians.

We can glean something even richer from the context of this letter. Paul clearly resolved to preach nothing but Christ crucified. The churches he planted rested on this glorious Truth. The Truth that Jesus is the Son of the living God and the Truth that Christ was crucified to pay the penalty for our sin and set us free from its dominion is the same Truth. The Son of the living God has no identity apart from that of the crucified Son. It is sad then to hear how often Jesus is reduced to a mere teacher, or moral example to follow. 

This line of thought also appears to run through Matthew, as we see that “from that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

The church will be built on the proclamation of Christ crucified and nothing else.

A neverending Christmas

I just felt I should post something for Christmas. 😀

It’s almost over, but I’ve really enjoyed this Christmas. Below are some reasons why:

1) It’s a worldwide holiday. Everyone’s heard of Christmas. But not all have heard of Christ. So it’s a great opportunity to share the gospel.

2) I love carolling. This was not always the case, but I’ve grown to increasingly appreciate the Advent and Christmas hymns and songs. Also, carolling nights are great bonding times, and are unique opportunities in which to share the gospel.

3) It’s great to see a church working together to pull off a celebration as a witness to non-Christians.

4) I learnt a lot this year, which I will share below.

As Christmas 2008 draws to a close, we must remind ourselves that since the very day Jesus was born – when divinity entered into our humanity, when God took on flesh and became the God-man – we have been living in the greatest of times. For the first Christmas never drew to a close. Jesus remains the God-man. He is our Brother as well as our Lord. He is our high priest forever, making intercession for us at the right hand of God. He is our eternal mediator, through whom we enter into the fellowship of the Godhood.  Jesus never shed His humanity. Instead, He seeks to redeem ours and will on that final day.

This is the blessed hope of Christmas. Just as angels announced the arrival of the baby Jesus on that first Christmas, there will come a day when angels shall sound the trumpet and Christ will return in glory to establish His kingdom permanently, and we shall enter into His glory. On that day, the angels’ song on that first Christmas will reach its glorious consummation:

Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests.

In the knowledge that God’s favour rests on us because of the redeeming power of the blood of Christ, we can trust in this great promise: on the final day, God’s glory will shine brighter than it ever has, and we will finally be at peace, free from the woes of sin and suffering.

We live in the reality of a never ending Christmas, in hopeful anticipation of a greater Christmas. The years will come and go, but Jesus will forever remain the God-man. And that is the true reason for our joy this season.

Emmanuel

This thought came rather forcefully upon me as my mind wandered in today’s sermon. By wander, I mean it seized upon a certain phrase, and starting spinning lots of thoughts.

I think the word Emmanuel has become all to commonplace among us. It means God with us. And if you follow my blog, you’ll probably predict I’m going to say that people nowadays are all too comfortable with an immanent God.

I wish to draw your attention to the biblical perspective on this revelation of God. The name Emmanuel is used mainly in Isaiah 7:14 and the prophecy is cited in Matthew 1:23 to show its fulfillment in the birth of Jesus. So to examine the name, we can either look at the context in which it is mentioned within Isaiah, or against the idea of how Matthew is said to bridge the Old and New Testaments. I’ll quickly do both.

The God of Isaiah is first and foremost shown to be a holy God. We need only read Isaiah 6 to gain a sense of the holiness of God and the utter depravity of man. There is a description of transcendence here that ought to shake our senses. God is seen as high and exalted, not as a mere  man, but one who is enthroned above the earth. We further see this with God demonstrating his utter sovereignty over kingdoms by numbering their days in Chapter 7. Here, the sign of Emmanuel is a sign of judgment against the enemies of Judah. They will be laid to waste.

However, the kingdom of Judah will equally be subjected to a more powerful kingdom. Their days of glory are numbered. Darkness will descend upon them. The Promised Land will be laid to waste. This is God’s judgment upon them for not fearing him as they ought to. They no longer trust his word. They have rejected his gentle flowing waters. He is no longer their sanctuary, their refuge in times of need. We see this in Isaiah 8.

And then in Isaiah 9, against the gloom and despair God’s judgment will bring upon them, we see that the sign of Emmanuel is more than a sign of judgment, it is a sign of hope. The child that is to be born by the virgin, the one they will call Emmanuel, will indeed be the mighty God. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.

Likewise, people often say that the God of the Old Testament is an angry and capricious God, who is often harsh and judgmental. In contrast, the God of the New Testament is loving and gracious. This is a false view. The biblical view of God in the Old Testament is that he first reveals himself as a transcendent God. It is of utmost importance that we see Him in the beauty of His holiness. He is to be feared above all. Sinful men cannot stand in his presence. He is a consuming fire. With this properly in mind, I hope you can see what a joyous mystery it is that this transcendent God, who transgresses both space and time, whose glory ruins the pride of men, who sets up kingdoms and disposes of kings as he wills, constrained himself to become like one of us. The great God laid aside His heavenly glory to be with us. And we soon find in the gospels that Jesus came to die as a ransom for many.

Do you see a similar theme in either context? We have a vision of a transcendent God, who is holy and glorious beyond all comparison. He decides to step down into history, bringing light to a dark world, saving people from their sins, giving them hope and a promise of a glorious future in his everlasting kingdom. The holy God is a gracious and loving God. This is the full measure of His revelation.

It baffles me. Men like to cling to their pride and glory. But Jesus shatters our conceptions of greatness by coming as a suffering servant. In doing so – in humbling himself and becoming obedient to death – he was exalted to the highest place, and given the name that is above every other name, that at his name every knee should bow and every tongue confess him as Lord. He reveals to us that God does not measure greatness by the strength of our accomplishments, but by the object of our love. Jesus was great because only he fully satisfied the two greatest commandments – to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves. He demonstrated His love for God through His perfect obedience. And He demonstrated His love for us by standing in our place and bearing the penalty of our sin.

Therefore, as you celebrate the birth of Jesus – Emmanuel, God with us – this Christmas, don’t lose sight of the greatness of God. He is a holy God. He brings men to ruin. We ought to fear Him who is enthroned over all and does all things as He pleases. But for those who have believed in Christ, our sins are forgiven and through Him, we may confidently come before God on His throne of grace, knowing that he will work all things for our good. The holy God is a gracious God. And we will only praise His grace in proportion to our comprehension of His holiness and our depravity. The measure of our joy and the firmess of our hope requires that we understand the miracle of Christmas, the Incarnation – where God came to dwell with us.