We Are Here
“In the beginning, God” (Genesis 1:1). Before there was time, before there was anything else, Father and Son and Holy Spirit existed in a relationship of perfect and glorious love (John 17:24). And there, before times eternal (Titus 1:2), they planned out a story. A story of creation, and fall, and redemption, and restoration. The biggest story every old.
And then the plan was put into motion. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). God created everything for His glory, and He made Adam and Eve in His image, to reflect His glory and represent Him here on earth (Genesis 1:26-27). Adam and Eve were given work to do and a mission to fulfill—to fill the earth and subdue it and reign over it as God’s representatives (Genesis 1:28, 2:15).
But they rebelled. They were seduced by Satan and committed treason against their Creator (Genesis 3:1-7). And God responded by cursing not just Adam and Eve, but the very creation itself (Genesis 3:14-19, Romans 8:20). He brought the whole creation crashing down around Adam and Eve as a physical display of the horror of their sin. From that point on, the world has been broken, and the broken condition of the world we see a reflection of the brokenness of our own sinful hearts.
And yet, in the midst of the curse, God spoke hope. He promised that an offspring of the woman would come and crush the head of the servant (Genesis 3:15). The offspring’s heel would be injured but the damage to the serpent would be fatal and final.
And so from that point on people looked for this saviour to come. Adam and Eve’s hope that one of their own sons might be this offspring were sorely shattered (Genesis 4:1-16), and after generations of disappointment, people “began to call upon the name of the Lord” (Genesis 4:26), asking for Him to keep His promises.
A baby named Noah was finally born in the hope that “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands” (Genesis 5:29). It seems that Noah’s father hoped he was the promised offspring. And while he did save humanity from extinction, and became a partner with God in a covenant of promise, he quickly fell into disgrace, proving that we needed more than a merely human saviour (Genesis 9). We needed more than just a fresh start. We needed a real saviour who could rescue us from our rebellion within.
And so God began a new creation through a man called Abraham, calling him out of the wreckage of Babel and covenanting with him that he would have an offspring, and that through this offspring all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 11:27-12:3).
That promise began to take shape as Abraham’s descendants became a nation. After rescuing them from slavery, God made a covenant with them at the foot of Mount Sinai, promising to dwell with them and bless them above all other nations (Exodus 19:1-6).
If this nation of Israel obeyed God, their land would be blessed like Eden, and like Adam they would represent Him here on earth as His royal priests (Deuteronomy 28). But time and time again, Israel failed in their calling by breaking the covenant and almost begging for God’s curse instead of His blessing. And so God raised up a faithful king to lead them. He made a covenant with David, promising to raise up one of his offspring who would bring God’s blessing and reign over the world forever (2 Samuel 7).
Early reports made it sound like David’s son Solomon was this promised offspring. Israel’s borders grew, her wealth was multiplied, and the nations came to Jerusalem to seek the Lord (1 Kings 9). But like all before him, Solomon proved a disappointment. His heart turned after other gods, and Israel’s golden age came to a quick end as they began their downward slide into exile (1 Kings 11).
And finally, just like Adam and Eve, God’s people were sent away from His presence and their land into the darkness of exile (2 Chronicles 37:17-21). And even though they were able to return after several decades (2 Chronicles 36:22-23), the exile never really ended. Yes, they rebuilt the temple, but God’s presence never came to fill it the way He had with Moses’ tabernacle or Solomon’s temple (Ezra 6:13-18). Even after winning their independence, Israel remained locked in slavery to sin. Captives within their own land, they waited.
One Main Character
And then it happened. One night in David’s hometown, one of David’s descendants had a baby. And in the fields nearby, angel armies appeared to a group of shepherds, telling them that the promised Offspring had finally arrived. The One who had been anticipated in every promise and covenant from the very beginning, the one whom every failed saviour had made us long for all the more, had finally come.
And in His birth, and in His life, and in His ministry, and in His death, and in His resurrection and ascension, this Jesus of Nazareth revealed Himself to be the hub of the great wheel to whom all the spokes had been running, the One who had been the main character of the entire story all along.
Jesus is the final Adam, the Father of a new humanity (1 Corinthians 15:21-22). He is God’s true representative and perfect image (Hebrews 1:1-3), and the one who succeeded in every place where Adam failed. He gives His perfect record of righteousness to His people in place of Adam’s guilt (Romans 5:12-21).
Jesus is the Offspring of Eve who came to crush the head of the serpent, just like God promised. In His death on the cross, Jesus delivered the death blow to the Devil, stealing his grounds for accusation and breaking the power of death which he had used to enslave us in fear (Colossians 2:14, Hebrews 2:14-15).
Jesus is the Offspring of Abraham who brings blessing to all the nations, dying to ransom people for God from every tribe, language, people and nation (Revelation 5:9-10) and making them sons through faith (Galatians 3:7-9).
Jesus is the High Priest of the New Covenant who sacrificed Himself on the cross to satisfy God’s justice and pay for our sins once and for all (Hebrews 9:25-26), and now represents us before God in His presence (Hebrews 8:1, Romans 8:34) as our intercessor and advocate.
Jesus is our true Temple—God in flesh who tabernacled among us (John 1:14). Today, we approach the Father not through a building or a geographic location but through the person of Jesus (John 4:21, Hebrews 10:19-20).
Jesus is the Son of David who reigns as king forever (Luke 1:31-33) and who today sits enthroned at the right hand of God just like the Scriptures foretold (Acts 2:33-35).
Jesus is the Son of Man in Daniel’s dream, the One appointed by God to judge humanity and give eternal life to those who are counted righteous in Him (John 5:19-29). Jesus is the one who will establish God’s kingdom and usher in the Age to Come (Daniel 7:13-14, 12:1-4, John 5:19-29). One day, He will reign as king forever over a New Heavens and New Earth (Revelation 11:15)
But some of the best news in the world is that Jesus is not waiting until then to begin this great work. “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (John 5:25). The Age to Come has already begun, breaking into our age when Jesus walked out of his grave as the firstfruits of the final resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20).
And today, this work of resurrection continues as the Holy Spirit causes His people to be born again to new life in Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5). Raised from the spiritual death, we are already a part of the the New Creation in Christ (Romans 6:4, 2 Corinthians 5:17), already sharing in eternal life (John 3:36), and already beginning to live as citizens of His heavenly kingdom (Philippians 3:20).
Builder of the Church
And this group of people—these born-again citizens of the kingdom—they are the church that Jesus is building. The word church means “assembly,” and when Jesus promised to build His church (Matthew 16:18) He pointed us to the day when He will stand on a New Earth, reigning over His kingdom, surrounded by the assembly of His people from all times and places and nations.
And that assembly is being built by Jesus today. With the teaching and confession of His apostles as their foundation, He is gathering citizens into His kingdom, and death itself will not stand against his assembly, his church.
This church is the household of God (1 Timothy 4:15), where we gather as brothers and sisters in Christ and live in a way that fits the great Head of our household. His church is a pillar and foundation of the truth, giving strength and credibility to the claims of the gospel and holding that truth up for all the world to see.
His church is His body (Ephesians 1:22-23). We are the ones who represent Him here on earth, the ones who manifest the fullness of the risen Christ as we gather together.
His church is a living temple, a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (Ephesians 2:22). We manifest His presence to this broken world and live to carry out the mission of God on earth.
His church is His bride (Ephesians 5:25-32). We are the ones transformed by His love for us, who flourish and are made beautiful as we submit to Him in all things. We are a living testament to the powerful love of our saviour.
God’s plans for the world at this part of the story all come down to the church.
How does this church show up in the world today? We know that one day, in the fullness of the kingdom, there will be one assembly. And today, this assembly shows up, manifests itself, in hundreds and thousands and perhaps millions of smaller assemblies. Local churches, where disciples of Jesus come together as outposts and embassies of the reign of Christ.
These local churches are made up of believing and baptized disciples of Jesus, who assemble together regularly and are committed to one another to be the body of Christ together. 1https://www.imb.org/2016/11/15/what-is-a-church/
These local churches hold the keys of the kingdom, and have been invested with heavenly authority to affirm or deny confessions or confessors of Jesus as the authorized representatives of Jesus here on earth (Matthew 16:19, 18:15-20). They do this through evangelism and teaching, as the gospel is proclaimed and the Scriptures explained, and the door of the kingdom is held open wide for all who will believe and confess in the truth.
They do this through baptism (Matthew 28:19), the sign of the New Covenant, when someone becomes a disciple and publicly identifies with the church.
They do this through church membership, when a disciple publicly identifies with one particular local church.
They do this through the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-24), a regular family meal which helps makes the invisible church visible as the church remembers and proclaims the death and return of Christ together, rehearsing for the great marriage supper of the Lamb (Matthew 26:29, Revelation 19:6-10).
And they do this through church restoration or discipline, in which the members of a church act as the hands and feet of the Great Shepherd, caring for one another and calling each other back to repentance if we wander.
These local churches work to maintain purity of doctrine and life, avoiding the snares of false teaching and the love of money, while they pray for the salvation of all people without distinction (1 Timothy 1:3-5, 2:1-7).
They organize themselves in line with the teaching of Christ’s apostles. Men and women pursue godliness together as they live out their God-given roles (1 Timothy 2:8-15, Titus 2:1-10). Qualified overseers or elders or pastors lead and teach the church, and qualified deacons care for her physical and administrative needs (1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9).
Living together as a family, churches will care for those with genuine needs when their own families are unable to do so (1 Timothy 5:1-16). Understanding the immensity of their mission and the reality of their spiritual enemies, churches will make every effort to be unified and at peace with one another, knowing that, like soldiers, unity is crucial to the fulfillment of their mission (Ephesians 4:1-6, 6:10-20)
And together, they adorn the gospel to the world through lives which are carefully devoted to good works (Titus 2:11-14, 3:3-8), as they shape their existence around the mission Jesus gave us. We build our whole lives and identities around King Jesus, and disciple others to do the same.
This is why the church exists, this is what we are to be all about at this point in the biggest story ever told: to be disciple-making disciples (Matthew 28:19).
The End of This Part of the Story
One day, the mission of the church will be fulfilled. The full number of God’s chosen people will be reached with the gospel and discipled to Christ. Every nation, tribe, language and tongue will be represented before the throne.
And Christ will return. In the fullness of the kingdom, He will drink of the fruit of the vine with His church. And in the New Heavens and the New Earth we will simply continue to live life together in the kingdom, glorifying Jesus forever as we work and worship in His presence (Revelation 21 & 22).
Can you imagine how good it will be to finally be together in a world made new, with no sin to interfere, no death to interrupt, no weakness to slow us down, with a full and unfettered experience of Christ Himself at all times?
The joy that we’ll experience together, and the things that we’ll be able to accomplish together, will be beyond our imagination.
But maybe not entirely beyond our imagination. Because that kingdom life together is a life that we’ve already started to live today. The joy that we have together in each other’s presence today, the excitement that comes from working together and accomplishing something together, the camaraderie we experience as we serve in the mission together—these are the first tastes of the banquet that is waiting for us. These are the firstfruits of the harvest that’s waiting for us. These are the first halting steps down a path that we walk for all of eternity.
Eternal life has already begun, and we’ve already started to live it together.
And this is why the church matters so much today. Because the church is forever. The things we do together today are the first movements in our eternal life, which has already started and will continue forever, interrupted but not ended by death.
Look around the room for a moment. These are the people that you’re going to live forever with. And that eternal life together has already begun.
Conclusion: I Have a Dream
I hope you can see what we’ve done here this morning. What I’ve just done is given us a summary of our journey through God’s word over these past two years.
Two years ago we dove deep into the big story, seeing how the Bible is one story, Jesus Christ is the main character, and we—we—are a part of this story today.
And this year we focused on the truth that the part that we play in the biggest story ever told is a part we play together. And today we come to the end of this sermon, the end of this series on the church, and the the end of a two-year journey on the biggest story ever told.
But I hope we all know that this isn’t the end. We’re in the story, and we get to go live our part in the story together—week in, week out—until the Lord returns. We get to be the church.
So here’s my question for us as we end. Will we be the kind of church we’ve been called to be? Will we live out what we know and what we’ve learned in these past two years? Will we leave our selfishness and our individualism and our personal agendas nailed to the cross, and walk together in the newness of life given to us by Jesus?
That’s my heart for us, my dream for us.
As so as I end today, I want to share with you some words written by John Stott. This comes from his book “The Living Church,” and a chapter titled “I Have a Dream of a Living Church.” He wrote these words as his church celebrated their 150th anniversary, and they sum up so well my heart for Emmanuel Baptist Church. As we look back over where we’ve been, what we’ve learned, and prepare to move in to the future together, I pray that these words will express your heart as well.
Here’s what John Stott wrote:
I have a dream of a church which is a biblical church—
which is loyal in every particular to the revelation of God in Scripture,
whose pastors expound Scripture with integrity and relevance, and so seek to present every member mature in Christ,
whose people love the word of God, and adorn it with an obedient and Christ-like life,
which is preserved from all unbiblical emphases,
whose whole life manifests the health and beauty of biblical balance.
I have a dream of a biblical church.
“I have a dream of a church which is a worshipping church—
whose people come together to meet God and worship him,
who know God is always in their midst and who bow down before him in great humility,
who regularly frequent the table of the Lord Jesus, to celebrate his mighty act of redemption on the cross,
who enrich the worship with their musical skills,
who believe in prayer and lay hold of God in prayer,
whose worship is expressed not in Sunday services and prayer gatherings only but also in their homes, their weekday work and the common things of life.
I have a dream of a worshipping church.
“I have a dream of a church which is a caring church—
whose congregation is drawn from many races, nations, ages and social backgrounds, and exhibits the unity and diversity of the family of God,
whose fellowship is warm and welcoming,
and never marred by anger, selfishness, jealousy or pride,
whose members love one another with a pure heart fervently, forbearing one another, forgiving one another, and bearing one another’s burdens,
which offers friendship to the lonely, support to the weak, and acceptance to those who are despised and rejected by society,
whose love spills over to the world outside, attractive, infectious, irresistible, the love of God himself.
I have a dream of a caring church.
“I have a dream of a church which is a serving church— which has seen Christ as the Servant and has heard his call to be a servant too,
which is delivered from self-interest, turned inside out, and giving itself selflessly to the service of others,
whose members obey Christ’s command to live in the world, to permeate secular society, to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world,
whose people share the good news of Jesus simply, naturally and enthusiastically with their friends,
which diligently serves its own parish, residents and workers, families and single people, nationals and immigrants, old folk and little children,
which is alert to the changing needs of society, sensitive and flexible enough to keep adapting its program to serve more usefully,
which has a global vision and is constantly challenging its young people to give their lives in service, and constantly sending its people out to serve.
I have a dream of a serving church.
“I have a dream of a church which is an expectant church— whose members can never settle down in material affluence or comfort, because they remember that they are strangers and pilgrims on earth,
which is all the more faithful and active because it is waiting and looking for its Lord to return,
which keeps the flame of the Christian hope burning brightly in a dark, despairing world,
which on the day of Christ will not shrink from him in shame, but rise up joyfully to greet him.
I have a dream of an expectant church.”2Stott, John. The Living Church: Convictions of a Lifelong Pastor (p. 167-9). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
Let’s sing together to ask the Holy Spirit to empower us for this together.