WHY ARE WE HERE … THE NEXT 40 YEARS Trinity
Ephesians Chapter 2 16.8.20
The world of 2020 has become a strange world …
Sneeze in a shop now and people treat you like a mass murderer.
Try and visit family in another state and you may be arrested.
More than 1 million of us are now unemployed.
The year’s public debts won’t be paid for within 60 years.
Meet as a church like always? Don’t even think about it.
We need scientists to discover a vaccine, economists who know the way to bounce back, strong premiers who shut down borders to make us feel safe. What about a church? Is there a place for Jesus’ church?
Has there ever been a place for the church of Jesus? Plenty of people will say: “none at all”. Is it just another hobby, like Rotary or Boys Scouts or the soccer comp? It is certainly not as significant as a hundred other community groups. Have churches now such a chequered history, we’re embarrassed to even say we belong to one or have nothing to say when people disparage churches?
40 years ago, people signed up to form this church. If there is no good place for the church of Jesus, should we exist for even one more year, let alone another 4 or 14 or 40? Might it be better just to pull up stakes, and each of us go and paddle our own canoe?
Today I want to help you to see that rather than being on the back foot, God has given us good reason to be on the front foot. Rather than feeling we need to apologise that we belong to this funny old thing called ‘the church of Jesus’, I am hoping we will see how we can move ahead from 2020 more confidently than we have ever moved.
THE CHURCH OF JESUS IS CENTRAL TO ALL GOD DOES
Track through a few verses in Ephesians with me.
What is God’s goal in choosing his elect? Ephesians 1:5 … “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to the praise of his glorious grace.” He is making a family. A family of adopted sons seen in local churches like ours. It’s not all about me, but us.
Why does he redeem us and forgive us and open our eyes to the truth? He has “a plan for the fulness of time to unite all things in Jesus, things in heaven and things on earth.” (1:10)
To whom does God the Father give Jesus? 1:22, 23 “To the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills everything.”
Where is God’s grace supremely on display to the universe? 3:10 “through the church, the manifold wisdom of God is now made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”
Where is the highest glory for God to be found? 3:21 “In the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.”
For whom, in love, does Jesus give his life? The world? 5:25 “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
All the bits in between those verses tell the same story. The church of Jesus is central to all that God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has planned, and is doing. Not some airy-fairy thing called “the invisible church” or “the body of Christ” that never meets … but the local church where the actions and relationships described in chapters 4 to 6 work out in real churches made up of real people.
This is a clear, basic and vital theme of the Word of God: The local church of Jesus is central to God’s plan.
It is so out of step with God’s thoughts to think:
We can belong to Jesus but not to church.
We can abuse church, or use it for our own ends.
We just fit church into our personal agenda when it suits.
We can’t make something else the centre of life and of history when God says that is the place his church has.
I began by asking whether churches have a role and a place in this world? That rush through some parts of Ephesians proves that God’s answer is plainly ‘yes’. That role and place is not on the edge of what God is doing – it stands front and centre.
Does church have a place in this world? It sure does – because of the place that the Living God gives to it.
1. The church of Jesus is central to God’s plan
THE CHURCH OF JESUS IS CRUCIAL IN GOD’S WORLD
God’s churches have a place in God’s world, this world of 2020, that nothing else has. In hundreds of ways. I’ll mention three:
Last year English writer Douglas Murray released his book, “The Madness of Crowds”. Here he quite brilliantly describes some of the huge changes are shaping what our culture believes about sexuality, gender, technology and race - changes being pushed through universities and schools, workplaces and governments.
These new beliefs do not come out of sound reason or scientific discovery, but prejudice and a fixation on sectional identity. These ideas that are changing everything may be popular, but they are crazy, he says – hence, the title “The Madness of Crowds”.
Once the social justice mob judges that you have put a foot wrong, as judged by current views, you’ve had it. Trolls search the Internet for something you said or wrote or did 20 or 40 years ago, and you will now be dis-endorsed for public office, un-invited to speak on a campus somewhere, or just publicly shamed.
If you owned a slave, you must be written out of the history books.
If you produced a film where wrong words were used, your films must now be banned.
If you want to hold public office, but you said something 20 years ago that sounds like you were against homosexuality, give up now, or atone for it by marching in the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.
You don’t get the chance to nuance what you said or did, or put it in the context of the time? There is to be no forgiveness. Self-righteousness must be satisfied.
This is now everyday life in our culture. We want pay back when from the guy who cuts across us on the road or from the doctor who gives the wrong treatment. Everyone must pay.
What an ugly culture that is. That’s why Douglas Murray pleads for forgiveness to be out there. He is not a Christian, but he writes “The consensus for centuries was that only God could forgive the ultimate sins. However, on a day-to-day level the Christian tradition, among others, also stressed the desirability – if not the necessity – of forgiveness, even to the point of infinite forgiveness.”
Who is going to show you that it’s possible to live in a way that forgets the past, and allow for fresh starts? Where is forgiveness going to be on display?
In the church of Jesus. Eph 4:32 “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another”. Why? How? … “as God in Christ forgave you.”
We know what it is to have been treated with a tender forgiving heart … 1:7 says “In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses.” My sins against the eternal God are huge, and they are serious. If we are forgiven much, we can forgive what is little in comparison.
Is there a place for a church like ours? Yes: as I keep saying and keep showing there is another way – a far better way than the ugly way that is fast becoming the feature of our culture.
There are chapters in all our lives that make us weep – and some of them are long. There have been sad chapters like that in our 40- year history as a church. None of us is immune from trouble … there are always tears in this world.
It’s getting blacker as everything is catastrophised, from melting ice caps to race tensions to Covid 19. No wonder levels of depression, anxiety and suicide are way up among young people. No wonder the lives of so many people are shaped by fear rather than joy, self-protection rather than celebration.
Australian singer-songwriter Nick Cave was asked about the current cancel-culture … where you silence everyone who disagrees with you. He writes: “Political correctness has grown to become the unhappiest religion in the world … without mercy, society grows inflexible, fearful, vindictive and humourless.”
Not fearful and humourless here, surely. We know …
God has“blessed us in Christ with every blessing in the heavenly places” (1:4)
God “works all things to the counsel of his will” (1:11) – all things including pandemic viruses are in his hand for good not evil
the love of God towards us has a “breadth and length and height and depth … that surpasses understanding (3:18,19)
Nick Cave calls the cancel-culture “moral certainty and self-righteousness shorn even of the capacity of redemption. It has become quite literally, bad religion run amok.”
This humourless bad religion feeds the humanities faculties in the universities, shapes comment on social media and has big companies like Qantas and ANZ Bank trying to socially engineer us all. It silences good people and has all of us running for cover.
A church like ours is counter-cultural. We celebrate that we are so blessed, that the world and everything in it is in the hands of a wise and good God, in whose love we revel and party.
A place for a church of Jesus in this new world? You bet there is. A unique and life-changing place:
A wall ran right down the middle of the city of Ephesus that was higher and stronger than Donald Trump’s wall. It divided every town and city in that world. Jews on one side, Gentile dogs on the other.
Our divisions of black and white, male and female, rich and poor are just blips compared to this one. The Jews said they belong to God, while the Gentiles were “alienated from God, having no hope and without God in the world” (2:12). Some are in, some are out.
BUT NOW (v13) … “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Verse 14 “He has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” … Verse 15 … “that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, thus making peace …”
The Jews had been as lost and as dead as the Gentiles, in fact. Now, in Jesus, Jew and Gentile are joined together in one structure, the local church, which is “a holy temple in the Lord” (v21).
Israel and the United Arab Emirates signed a treaty this week. They agreed to swap ambassadors and start direct flights, but that doesn’t mean they have embraced each other as “one new man”.
Do you think our world doesn’t need God’s kind of change-of-heart treaty? Parents to be restored to estranged children? Nations to other nations? White to black? Young to old? You see it in a decent church and you hear it as that church speaks about Jesus.
When we are “one new man” in practice, in heart, we are saying to a divided world, there is hope it can be different.
No place for the church of Jesus in God’s world? We are crucial. Demonstrating mercy. Celebrating goodness. Healing division by the gospel of Jesus. Are we up to the vision?
The Proclamation Trust was founded 35 years ago to stimulate sound Bible teaching in British churches. When it reached the 15 year mark, the director, David Jackman was asked what were the challenges ahead. He answered “to keep doing what we’ve been doing for the past 15 years. It is so hard to keep doing the same things.”
I am not calling on us today to stop doing what we’ve been doing for 40 years but to keep doing it. In a fresh way that is just right for our sad and lost culture of 2020, and 2021 and on. Continue doing what we’ve always done. Being committed to the same doctrine. Focussing on the Word preached. Being a community of Jesus together.
What place is there for us?
The local church is the focal point of God’s plan to display the glory of Jesus to the world.
We do that, in part, by demonstrating mercy, confidently celebrating goodness, and being one new man together.
In God’s world, and in his plan, churches of Jesus are as necessary in 2020 as they have always been. For his glory and for the blessing that will come to many, let’s press on with deliberateness, determination, and with delight at the privilege that is ours.
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