Theme: We Belong to Jesus
1. As Citizens, Saints, and Family
2. As Living Stones on the foundation
3. As a holy temple
We pray: Lord, hear us as we call on Your name and bless us as we call through Your name. Amen.
A famous Christian blogger makes the following assertion about our culture: “a counter-cultural thing you can do is become an engaged member of a faithful local church.” Think about that for a moment. We don’t often consider our church membership to be a very radical or risky thing. Hopefully, we view church and all its aspects as a joyful blessing, not a chore or obligation. But, in our non-committed culture, the author makes a very strong point. It is indeed contrary to modern thinking, and sadly modern Christianity, to commit to a local, Bible-following assembly of believers.
Yet, when you look at the Bible, a committed promise is at its core. That’s why we call it the Old and New Testament. A testament, or covenant, is the strongest of promises known to mankind. God is absolutely about commitment, both in His nature toward us and in His expectation for our lives. And wherever God’s Church has existed on earth, it has been forged through commitment. Our churches today are a lot different than the early Church. We have different customs, practices, traditions, and methods, but what remains the same is God’s commitment to us and our commitment to Him. In just under a month we will attempt to echo that commitment through the annual rite of Confirmation, a time when young members take a vow of faithfulness to the Word of God in which they have been instructed. That practice finds its beginnings in the early Church and it’s one of our links to the first Christians of the New Testament period. And it’s about making a commitment.
Anything worth valuing in life is worth committing to. That’s why we take these matters seriously. Think of other things that you commit to: marriage, your word, your family, promises to loved ones. If we don’t take these things lightly, why would treat our relationship with God as any lesser?
Now, ask anyone who commits to their church membership and the blessing of belonging will be talked about. Church provides a place to belong, to be accepted and treasured by those who share your beliefs. No matter what a person believes, the inner desire to belong is shared by everyone. But, there’s a much greater way that we belong in church, and especially to our Lord Jesus. We belong to Him because He owns us. Consider this Scripture: 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's.
We belong to Jesus, both in that He accepts us by faith and He owns us through His death and resurrection. Church membership gives us a place to receive that blessing as: citizens, saints, and family; a place to be constructed on the foundation as living stones, and a place to grow into a holy temple. We mediate on these truths today from:
Ephesians 2:19-22 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
The three stations of life mentioned in our text kind of comprise every role that life offers. All three, citizen, saint, and family member, apply to the believer. The Holy Spirit is telling us that the love of our Savior extends to all areas of life and the place we learn about that love, church, holds value for every aspect of life. This was especially needed in the early church. A major division and cause for offense at the time was the ethnic differences in the church. The issue involved Jewish / Gentile relationships because of the emphasis of God’s chosen people in the Old Testament. A majority of Paul’s letters address this problem and you can see him getting at it here. He says, “You are no longer strangers and foreigners, but citizens.” Citizens of God’s kingdom by faith. This was extremely encouraging to these early Christians.
In a way, we could say that not a whole lot has changed. Our world today wrestles with divisions involving race and ethnicity too. Even in America, the model of freedom in the world, these divisions create polarizing conflicts. Obviously, the same could be said of family problems too. It’s always sad and disheartening to hear of grudges that last for 10-20 years, or even a lifetime, among close relatives. In a sinful, fallen, broken world like ours, there’s simply no shortage of problems that seek to destroy God’s intended harmony. Every person is touched deeply by these problems, sometimes they are so pervasive in our lives that they shape where we choose to live, go to church, how we spend our holidays, or who we call friends.
What a powerful message the Spirit has for us here! Through Jesus, we have a citizenship, sainthood, and family life that is greater than anything of this earth. There’s no escape here for the problems sin causes in these areas, but God beckons us to look onward and upward to a greater calling. Troubled and frustrated by politics? Gain some perspective by trusting in God’s kingdom. Problems and headaches at home? Remember you are a child of the Heavenly Father. Beaten down by a cruel and vindictive world? Trust in your Savior’s promise that you are His holy one.
In fact, there’s a neat thing about that word “saint.” It’s a common term in today’s Church but back at the time this letter was written it was a new concept. The Greek word actually applies only to a deity, something divine that deserves the status of holy. It’s a testament to the power of Christ’s atonement that the Holy Spirit now creates this new application by calling you, the believer, a saint. Through Christ, you have all the very same blessings He has as God. Not because you deserve it, but because you belong to Jesus. That’s a precious gift in the face of sin.
Belonging to Jesus also means you are a living stone. This is really where we see an application to Church. The imagery of our text is pretty clear. Jesus is the Chief Cornerstone, the foundation of our faith. The purpose of this foundation is to create a holy temple, which we’ll get to in a second. But, what you really see here is the construction plan for a church building, but as a metaphor for the Christian faith. Jesus employed a similar image before, when He used the literal temple building in Jerusalem as a picture for His body and a message of His death and resurrection. Here, the temple is a picture of the Holy Christian Church in the heart of each believer.
Where do we, as living stones, come into play? Well, in the book of 1 Peter actually. There he writes, “You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Jesus is the foundation, and like any church building, the walls, windows, doors, and whatever else is in it rests of that foundation. When a person comes to faith in Jesus, they become a stone in that structure, in the Church. But, not just any stone, a living stone; one that has been sanctified by a Savior who came back from the dead. A living stone is also active in faith and holiness, not stagnant or dead.
Our link to the cornerstone, the foundation of Jesus, are the ones who came before. Our text says, the “prophets and apostles.” This is certainly an indication of believers from the past, but also the very believers whom God used to record His holy Word. We stand onf the legacy of Christians who came before us. We have what we have today in large part to their ministry and example in the past. Likewise, Christians of the future will stand on our legacy. It’s a humbling thing to consider, what are we leaving to the next generation? Will we be the salt of the world that preserves the truth?
But it’s the Word of God that holds everything together in this structure called the Church. It doesn’t matter if the stone is right next to the foundation or at the very top, if it is held by the mortar of God’s Word it is part of the structure, and it serves a purpose.
We get a sense of the Church’s strength in v. 21 when Paul writes that it is “fitted together.” Christians, as living stones, are placed by God into the precise place where they fit the best. But there’s even more to this thought. There’s one word used in the Greek for the translation of “fitted together.” The thing is, this word is unique to the Bible. A variation is used in other Greek writings, but a new twist was put on it here in Ephesians (it comes up again in Ephesians 4:16). Very literally, the typically Greek word is simply a combination of the words, “join” and “together.” That’s how the word commonly reads, but another thought was added in verse 21. The Holy Spirit also added the word “logew” on the end. Literally, to “join together through speaking or words.” Most Christians are familiar with logos from John 1, where Jesus is called the “Word made flesh.”
Put it all together and what you see is that the Christians are held in God’s Church by His Word, His logos. The mortar that binds living stones to other saints and to the Savior is all about the preaching of God’s grace. We belong to Jesus because He comes to us in the Bible. We know who to follow and what to trust because it is true in His Word.
Our final point is that goal that we mentioned earlier, to become a holy temple. We belong to Jesus because He wants to dwell in us. Through sin, we are separated from Christ. Paul wrote earlier, Ephesians 2:14 For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, 15 having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace.” The hatred of sin had to be destroyed. There was a division, a wall, that existed between us and eternal life. Christ abolished it through His death and resurrection and now, we are not only with Him, but He is in us. We become His temple by faith, so that we are “always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body (2 Corinthians 4:10).”
We were once separate from God because we are unholy. But, renewed by faith, we are made into a holy temple, a dwelling place worthy of a holy God. And with the Lord Jesus, we grow. You know, a lot is made these days about spiritual growth, or church growth. Several things immediately get mentioned: an attractive property (I get flyers all the time about how a beautiful new church sign will increase membership), a welcoming atmosphere, a healthy fundraising program, beautiful new music and worship styles, an inclusive approach to preaching, an entertaining message. All these really end up becoming “What I want.” If church can be that for me then I’ll come, if not I’ll find something else.
But, when God talks about growth, it only starts when the holy temple is present. To get to that point, a person needs forgiveness and cleansing from the Chief Cornerstone, not whatever their heart desires. True growth is not about any of those things that are so often mentioned. Growth happens wherever the Word of God is present.
Growth without Christ and His Word is like trying to belong without belonging to anyone. If belonging in a church is all about the acceptance type of belonging, the kind where I fit in so I feel okay, there will be no room for the Cornerstone, for His all-strength mortar of Word and sacrament, and for living stones of all shapes and sizes; stones that don’t necessarily fit in without a common bond. Belonging is also about being bought, owned by God, paid for, redeemed by the blood of the righteous Lamb. You are not of yourself. Christ is your Lord and Master and you need not fear.
You belong to Jesus. You are His own and His Church is your home. In all areas of life. In a living and active way, and in a way you will grow. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.