The Church: God’s Royal House

A godly king, a man after God’s own heart, wants to build a house for God? No wonder Nathan welcomed this (2 Samuel 7). But God had a better plan. He builds his own royal house, as Peter confesses in Matthew 16:13–20

The King builds his church. God graciously promised to build a house for David. David was settled in his new capital, Jerusalem. God had given his people rest from their enemies. (Some of the victories described in 2 Samuel 8 may have come before the events of this chapter.) David knew of the importance which had been attached to building the Tabernacle in the time of Moses. But the time of wandering was over. God had selected Zion as the place for his name to dwell, as the location where he would have the Ark of the covenant reside, the ark which included the mercy seat of God. David had his own palace, where, presumably, his throne stood. It seemed incongruous for the Ark, with its mercy seat, to be housed in a temporary tent. David has proposed to Nathan the prophet his plan to build a temple, and Nathan immediately pronounced his blessing on it, vv. 2, 3. But God had something better planned. God graciously promised to build a house for David. That night God appeared to Nathan with a message for David. David was not the one to build the house, verse 5, see 1 Chronicles 22:6-8. David had shed too much blood. His son, Solomon would perform the task. God was not in need of David to build a house for him (contrary to the pagan notions of a deity’s needs). Instead, God would build a house for David. Salvation is not based on your works. He would give David and his descendants peace, rest from their enemies. That rest anticipates the final Sabbath-rest of God’s people in the new heavens and earth. God had brought David from the sheepfold to the throne. In contrast to Saul’s lack of a dynasty, David’s line would have an established throne. Rather than David giving to God, God first of all gives to David. The grace that underlies our salvation is evident here. It is not what you do for God, but his grace to you that is crucial. Yes, God does require that you respond to his covenant grace. David’s prayer of gratitude, verses 18–29, and his life of obedience and worship are examples of that response. But the initiative belongs to God.

Confess Jesus as your King. Matthew’s Gospel proclaims the coming of the true King of Israel. The Old Testament describes the establishment of God’s kingdom, and anticipates the fullness of it. It looks forward to the trees rejoicing, the nations sounding God’s praise, the islands and deserts proclaiming God’s grace (Isaiah 42; Psalm 98). The parables focus on the kingdom. The miracles are not just “wow!” events, but they put in visible form the reality of the blessing proclaimed verbally in the teaching and preaching of the kingdom. The kingdom is present because the King himself is there. Jesus takes his disciples aside and asks them who they believe he is. Peter properly confesses that Jesus is the glorious Messianic Son of Man, the Christ, but also sees that he is the Son of the living God. “Peter, a despised Galilean fisherman, stands before the Messiah with the chosen elders of the New Covenant. The great Shepherd gathers the remnant of his people and establishes Israel anew to confess his name. Jesus undertakes God’s own work to rebuild his people.” (Edmund P. Clowney, The Church, p. 40). That is a confession that was worked in Peter by the Father in heaven. Matthew records Peter’s confession for a purpose. He is not just informing you of a bit of history (though indeed this happened). He records Peter’s confession so that you can join in that same confession. He wants you to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the great King in David’s line.

Christ builds his church by his death and resurrection. Jesus Christ is the architect and builder. The origin of the church is not human, but divine. He builds on Peter (and his confession). Don’t separate the confession from Peter, but also, don’t separate Peter from his confession–or from the other disciples. Peter has just confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Those who share that confession are added to the church. The church may seem weak and irrelevant. At the time Jesus was speaking it consisted primarily of his twelve disciples and a few women from Galilee. Today it often appears weak and out-numbered. Yet the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. Focus on the majesty of your Savior, and be assured that he will not abandon his church to the forces of Hades. This King conquers in a most unusual way. Although popular expectations of the Messiah were for him to establish a political kingdom and to remove the Romans from rule, Jesus immediately goes on to explain his suffering, death, and resurrection. And Peter, despite his confession, despite being named as the rock on which Christ will build his church, becomes a stumbling stone, Matthew 16:23, as he tries to turn Jesus from his course. Ironically, the life giving message that the church was entrusted to proclaim rests on the death of the Savior. The triumphant power of the King grows out of his being the humble servant. The church is not just a place like-minded people to gather, or for people to gather regardless of what they believe. Rather, it is a body that belongs to its King, and her loyalty belongs there. Look at the glory that belongs to the church as the bride of Christ!

The King rules! The church exercises the authority of Christ. The keys are given to Peter as the representative of the church, which Christ was about to build on him. It was not limited to him personally, as Matthew 18:18 indicates. The assembly is now seen as an estate, or even a building. The keys involve proclaiming Jesus. When the church is doing that, listen! Pay attention. The kingdom grows as the risen Lord calls people into his church, as he builds it on the confession that Peter made, the confession in which you share. “Our Lord says emphatically ‘I will build,’ and thereby appropri­ates for himself the the objective task of calling this church into existence by his Messianic acts. Though Pe­ter confessing be the foundation, the church is not of Peter’s or of any human making, the Lord him­self will build it. And not only this, he will supremely rule in it, for out of the fullness of his authority he immediately proceeds to invest Peter with the power of the keys: ‘I will give unto thee.’” (Geerhardus Vos, The Kingdom and the Church, pp. 78-79).

Be loyal to your King. Disciples are learners. Peter, by God’s grace, had absorbed what Jesus had been teaching. Christ calls you, his church, to continue to learn from his Word, both in public preaching and teaching, and in your own reading and study. Disciples are servants. The Messiah is the Servant of Isaiah 42 and 53. Washing the disciples’ feet may have confused them, but it set the example for their conduct. Are you following your own agenda, or are you looking for opportunities to serve the body of which you are part? Disciples are witnesses, continuing to confess the name of Jesus to those around them. Notice in Matthew 28:16 the emphatic claim to authority with which Jesus concludes his earthly ministry. Disciples are obedient subjects of their King. They recognize that his kingship involves not only an hour in church on Sunday morning, but rather, he rules over every area of life. “The Church, in short, is a present manifestation of the Kingdom of God and in her the Kingdom’s transforming power operates and from her its life and blessedness flows to form an oasis in the desert of this world’s sin and mis­ery, darkness and death, to which the thirsty traveler may come and drink deeply at the well-springs of salvation.” (Raymond O. Zorn, Church and Kingdom, p. 81).

The church is the house of God, not because of a building, but because the church belongs to the King. Do you trust him? Have you experienced his powerful, triumphant deliverance? If so, serve your King!

The Church: A Body Served by Elders

Why does a church need elders? How important are they to the life of the church? Acts 20:28–32 helps us see how God expects them to function, and how you and I benefit from their work.

Who are the elders? The office began in the Old Testament. Jethro sees his son-in-law, Moses, overwhelmed by his responsibility in leading and judging, and recommends selecting elders to judge the people. That practice was carried on in more or less formal ways throughout the Old Testament. The office became particularly important at the time of the exile as synagogue worship replaced temple worship—following the destruction of the temple. So when Paul on his missionary journeys planted churches, he soon arranged for the selection and establishment of elders in those churches, Acts 14:23.

Elders are kingdom officers. At the time of Moses, God was establishing his people as a theocracy—God was the ultimate King. Elders were a crucial element in the Lord’s rule over his people. As you read on in the Pentateuch you read the laws and procedures that the elders and other leaders were to apply as they led God’s people in his ways. When priests and kings became corrupt and degenerated into false shepherds, the Lord promised to raise up good shepherds (Jeremiah 23:4), culminating in the Good Shepherd, to care for his flock. Here, in the context of exhorting the Ephesian elders, Paul refers to his own preaching of the kingdom, proclaiming the whole counsel of God. Read Paul’s pastoral epistles. As the time came for the apostles to pass on, God did not leave his church without guidance. He gave her the Word, the Scriptures, and he gave her godly elders and deacons, officers to teach, apply, and administer the Word of God. “Jeremiah 23:4 predicts a plurality of faithful shepherds, replacing Israel’s unfaithful kings and priests. The fulfillment of this promise is the body of elders or overseers now given to the church, charged by Paul here and by Peter in 1 Peter 5:2 to shepherd the flock of God—to feed, protect, and discipline God’s people for their growth in grace. Through such shepherds, Jesus, the chief Shepherd, now cares for his sheep.” (Dennis E. Johnson, Let’s Study Acts, p. 255). And even in the heavenly scene in Revelation 4 we find elders around the throne. You have a voice in choosing your elders. You vote. But remember that they are not your representatives. Their authority come from King Jesus. Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit as having made the Ephesian elders overseers of the flock.

What should the elders do? Keep watch over yourselves. In Acts 20 Paul is eager to avoid delays on his way to Jerusalem—but he specifically asks the elders of the church in Ephesus to meet him on the beach. It is not only a moving farewell, but Paul is encouraging and strengthening them for their work. He begins by telling them to keep watch over each other. That’s not only personal self-examination, though that is included. It is a mutual shepherding of one another. It involves being accountable to one another. That’s one of the reasons for the plurality of elders. Elders, if you go astray, how can the flock be kept out of danger? Significantly, the elders have to beware of wolves coming from among themselves.

Keep watch over the flock. This flock is precious, because God purchased it with his own blood. (Paul touches on the mystery of the incarnation, the Good Shepherd who is both God and man, who is the Shepherd because he is also the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We are all sheep—and as pervasive as that imagery is in the Scriptures, remember that it is not a compliment to us. Sheep can be foolish, headstrong, wandering, tending to get lost. Elders, your work will be challenging at times—but your Shepherd, who is utterly faithful, calls you to be faithful. You are not exercising your own authority. You can only do what Paul did, proclaim the whole counsel of God as you teach and lead.

What should the flock do? Pay attention to your elders. Respond positively, willingly, to what the Apostle told the elders to do. Listen to them. Christ speaking in his Word is the final authority, but as the elders apply that Word to you and your situation, pay attention. Hebrews 13:17 reminds you to make the work of the elders a joyful one—not just for their sake, but for yours as well.

Keep moving towards your goal. As Paul exhorts the Ephesian elders, he points them towards the goal. They, and the flock they are leading, are journeying towards the inheritance among all who are sanctified. And they reach it by the Word of God’s grace. God, by his powerful Holy Spirit, uses the Word to build you up, to preserve you, and to bring you to glory. “And now he [Paul] was leaving them; they could no longer count upon his personal presence for such pastoral guidance and wise admonition. But, though Paul might go, God was ever with them, and so was God’s word which they had received—the word that proclaimed His grace in redeeming them and His grace in sanctifying them. To God, then, and to this word of His, Paul solemnly committed them.” (F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, NICNT, p. 417). We know that Paul did not expect to see the Ephesians again. How that worked out we don’t know. But whether or not they ever saw Paul again, they were entrusted to the faithful God of grace. And as you, the church of Jesus Christ, move forward into an unknown and increasingly challenging world, you have the same faithful Good Shepherd watching over you.

To you elders, watch over yourselves and over the flock which the Holy Spirit has entrusted to you. To you, the church of Jesus Christ, pay attention, respond joyfully, to the men the Lord is using to help you in your Christian walk. And together keep your eyes on the inheritance which the Lord has in store for all of those who love him.

The Church: Heirs of the Prophets

What makes a prophet a prophet? Why does Peter in Acts 3:24–26 refer to his hearers as heirs of the prophets? And what do our Old Testament readings from Numbers 12:1–9 and Deuteronomy 18:14–22 have to do with the church. Are you, this congregation, heirs of the prophets?

What makes a prophet? A prophet fore-tells and tells forth God’s Word. His job is two-fold. We often think of a prophet as giving what we call prophecy, a foretelling of the future. Certainly the Old Testament prophets did that, as Peter mentions in his message in the Temple as he preaches to the crowd attracted by the formerly lame man leaping and praising God. But a prophet also forth-tells or proclaims God’s Word. That is also involved in Peter’s view of what the prophets did, and what he was doing. The miracle of healing the lame man and the sermon went hand in hand. Why did this miracle take place? What is the blessing of the one whom Peter repeatedly refers to as the Servant? Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Peter records this miracle to show you that God is going to give you whatever healing or blessing you claim. Tragically, one of America’s prominent religious exports to the third world is the health and wealth gospel—which is no gospel at all. The focus moves away from Christ and his work to the healer and his supposed miracles. Instead, Peter tells you, this miracle of healing (note that Dr. Luke describes specifically the feet and ankles that are healed) is the result of the exaltation of the Messiah. Isaiah 35 looked forward to the coming of the messianic kingdom. In it the lame would leap for joy. Peter, in effect is saying, “Look! That’s what has happened here!” This miracle, like the ones Jesus performed during his earthly ministry, are visible forms of the proclamation of the kingdom. It is a foretaste of the times of refreshing which the Servant brings about by his suffering, death, and resurrection. The kingdom Jesus established is here, ever since his resurrection and ascension. But it is also future. Times of refreshing are anticipated! “Viewed against the background of prophetic promise, these early signs of Jesus’ power to rescue and repair by his Spirit reveal that the church’s life is now a first installment and preview of the peace, purity, love, and joy of the world to come, even in the midst of the old creation’s present pollution, decay, and death.” (Dennis E. Johnson, The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption, p. 56).

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The Church: God’s Treasured People

What is the most awe-inspiring experience you have had? Israel had experienced much as they had been delivered from Egypt—but what God was doing at Sinai was greater. Although centuries earlier God had made his covenant with Abraham, from whom Israel descended (and you can look all the way back to Eden and find the substance of God entering into a covenant with our first parents), here in Exodus 19:3–6 God makes his covenant with his people, Israel. As we will see, this is not just historical trivia, but it is a specific instance of the covenant relationship God has with you, his people.

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