The Church: A Glorious Bride

What do you and I see when we look at the church? Do we see the warts, the wounds, the sin (especially when we look in the mirror)? That kind of honest self-appraisal is important—it keeps us humble. But it is important also to see the church as her Lord sees her, and as he revealed her to the Apostle John and the suffering, sometimes discouraged Christians in the province of Asia. In Revelation 21:1–8 Jesus points you ahead in time, and shows you the church as she will be for all eternity! And that is a note on which to conclude this series of messages on the church.

See the church as she will be. Your home is in the new heavens and earth. The passage uses lots of figurative language, but the symbols describe something real. The symbolism is needed because our minds and imaginations, clouded by sin, cannot fully comprehend what God has in store for us. There have been theories in parts of Christianity that the heavens and earth will be annihilated and brand new ones created. But God pronounced his creation “very good,” hardly pointing to simply a temporary purpose for it. In Romans 8 and 1 Corinthians 15 Paul draws a parallel between our resurrection and the renewal of creation. Your resurrection body will certainly be changed (1 Thessalonians 4), but you will be raised and changed. Similarly the creation will be perfected, as we shall see, purged from sin and its effects, but it is God’s good creation in which you will dwell in the new heavens and earth. An obedient Adam, if you can talk carefully about what would have happened, was not to continue for all eternity in the Garden, continuing to guard against the temptations of Satan. After his period of testing, the fruit of the Tree of Life (from which as a fallen creature he was barred) would have been his to eat. He would have moved on to far greater glory. And, the creation, instead of being cursed by his fall, would have moved on to something even better as well. Now that has been realized, but only because the second Adam has done what the first did not do.

The church is Christ’s glorious bride. God’s covenant relationship with his people is so close, so intimate, so wonderful, that in the Old Testament (Isaiah 62 and elsewhere) the Lord is described as the husband of his people, and in the church in its New Testament form, she is the bride of Christ. She, despite her sins and failures, is a beautiful bride because she has been redeemed by the Lamb. “The bride in Revelation 21:1ff. . . represents the end-time completion of the redeemed, believing community from throughout the ages, finally secured from and dangers and residing in the midst of God’s perfect, full presence. Therefore, the new Jerusalem of ch. 21 has its inaugurated existence throughout the ages in the true Israel of the OT age and the church of the NT age (the latter of which Gal. 4:21–31 and Heb. 12:22–23 testify to).” (B. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, NIGTC, pp. 1045–1046). Traditionally in our culture a groom may not see his bride in her wedding gown until the ceremony itself. But in this case it is the groom who serves the bride and makes her the radiant, holy creature she becomes on that day, Ephesians 5:25–33.

God is with you! At the center of the magnificent garden-city is the throne of God. No one image is sufficient to describe the reality that John witnesses and shows you. A loud voice comes from the throne — you remember who is seated on the throne — focusing your attention on the very heart of the glory you are seeing. God himself tells you what this vision means. He dwells with his people. What old Jerusalem picture imperfectly, has become a permanent reality. God dwells among his people. His voice goes on to reaffirm the heart of the covenant relationship that was expressed repeatedly throughout the Old Testament and into the New: they will be his people, and God will be with them and will be their God. That lay at the heart of the grace shown to our first parents after the fall, and to Noah, as the earth passed through a preliminary judgment and cleansing. It becomes much more explicit in the covenant as God makes it with Abraham, and then with Israel through Moses, and again, with David. It becomes even clearer in the New Testament with the coming of Immanuel.

The curse of sin will be gone. Because the holy God is present with his people, and because they have been both forgiven and fully sanctified, the new heavens and earth have no more curse. Gone also are the effects of the curse. There is no suffering. Were there any tears, God would wipe them from their eyes. There is no death, mourning or pain. The old order is gone. The new has come. Even in this description of blessedness, there is a note of warning. The blessedness of the curse-free heavens and earth can exist only because there is no sin. And just as the description of the final judgment in Revelation 20 mentions those whose names are written in the book of life, so here, amid describing their blessedness, John reminds you that excluded from this blessedness are sinners, rebels against God, verse 8. They face the judgment of fiery lake, the second death. John is warning you not to presume (as so many in our culture do) that you can ignore God, reject his Son, live in rebellion—and expect the blessedness of the new heavens a earth.

Drink from the water of life. Satisfy your thirst—as you come to Christ. As John hears the voice of God the Father in Revelation 1:8, he hears that description. It is renewed here, near the end of the book. Alpha and Omega, first and last, God is claiming to be all in all. Here is the fulfillment of what Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:28 tells you of Christ’s work. The Father here offers the water of life. Wait for Revelation 22 for a more full description of that water. Just remember that it is what God offered in Isaiah 55. It is what Jesus spoke of to the Samaritan woman in John 4. It is the Lord’s own cry in John 7:37–39. Are you discouraged? Is your soul thirsty? God himself invites you to drink freely of his Son, the living water. “Revelation is designed not only to assure us of God’s final purposes, but also to increase our longing for him and the realization of his purposes. The sureness of that final bliss comforts the saints during times of temptation and persecution. It purifies our desires by directing them to God and his glory. And then the tawdry counterfeits of this world are seen to be what they are.” (Vern S. Poythress, The Returning King, p. 192).

Overcome, and be the people of God. Remember what comes near the end of each of the messages to the seven churches? God promises his blessing, the blessing of his presence, described in various ways that anticipate what lay ahead in the book, to the one who overcomes. The overcoming is not a military battle. It is entrusting yourself to the faithful Savior and remaining committed to him, despite the trials, temptations, suffering, and persecution that characterizes your life here on earth. Now the old order has come to an end, and as an overcomer, your inheritance is in the new heavens and earth. “[A]ll who overcome the dragon, the beasts, and the harlot through humble, persevering faith are heirs of everything. The homestead they inherit is not the first heaven and earth, sin-stained and curse-infected, but the new heaven and earth in which every impurity, pain, and sorrow has ceased to be.” (Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, p. 307). What you inherit is not just relief from tears and mourning. It is not just streets of gold. What you inherit is God himself. He is your God, and you are his child. Adam rebelled against his Father and lost Eden, not just for himself, but for you and all mankind. But God through his only Son, has undone the curse. The Lamb was slain so that your robes could be washed white in his blood. Now God is your Father, and you are his son, you are his daughter.

Keep the reality of the magnificence of the church as a beautiful bride in mind as you look for comfort in the face of death. Keep it in mind as you struggle with temptation, as you endure suffering. Nothing that you face can possibly be compared with the glory of the direct presence of God in the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, the bride of Christ. Take courage! Stand firm! Overcome!

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The Church: A People Who Worship

What are crucial responsibilities of the church today? How many of them will continue in the new heavens and earth? Hebrews 12:28–29 points you to something that the church does now that will continue for all eternity. You are a people who worship.

The church is God’s unshakable kingdom. Only unshakable things survive. The author of Hebrews is dealing with people who may have come to the Lord from a background in Judaism. The ornate temple, the ceremonies conducted by the priests in their official garments, had all been left behind. Some may have wondered if they had given up too much. The author keeps reminding them that in Christ they have something far better than the shadows, pictures, and types of the Old Testament. God promised through Haggai to shake the heavens. This came as an assurance of the glory of the new temple, Haggai 2:3. The greater glory of the new temple will be that of the presence in it of the Messiah, Haggai 2:6-9. God has shaken the earth and heavens. The reference is to Christ’s coming. The kingdoms of the earth are overthrown before him, Daniel 2:44,45. The old order, including the ceremonial system, was changed. The new covenant, the unchanging kingdom of Christ, is established. You are members of it, Hebrews 12:22ff. God’s shaking of creation includes the entire last days, see Hebrews 1:1,2. The process is complete in the final day, 2 Peter 3:10-14. Even then your kingdom is unshakable, Hebrews 12:28. God’s consuming wrath is a fire which also purifies and refines the church. “The author represents Christ as a portion of heav­en come down to earth. In His voice we hear a heav­enly voice, not a voice of earth. . . . Note that the au­thor lays great stress on the words yet once more; the shaking is one that cannot be repeat­ed; it is the final shaking, and therefore it represents the final transformation of the whole world or universe. The author fur­ther says that this final shaking signi­fies the passing away of all things that were made and therefore can be shaken, in order that the things which cannot be shaken may re­main.” (Geer­hardus Vos, The Teaching of the Epis­tle to the Hebrews, p. 87).

See the glory of the church. God is present in Zion. He was in the Old Testament Jerusalem. The temple was full of his glory. He is present with his people in the New Testament. “Jerusalem” becomes the name for the body of Christ, Galatians 4:26; 6:16. Don’t depreciate the glory of the church. Recognize that its glory lies, not in externals, but in its relationship with its God. Can there be a miss-emphasis on the church as invisible? Some people claim to be Christians, but are part only of “the invisible church.” The fact that the Lord sees those who are his does not minimize the importance of being part of, being involved in, the church as it comes to expression on earth. There are not two churches, visible and invisible, but one church, seen from two perspectives. The assembled church today is part of the great eschatological church. Notice the focus on not neglecting the assembly, Hebrews 10:25. God treats the church as important. So should you. That includes taking seriously membership vows. It includes working on your own sanctification, getting rid of respectable sins. Encourage one another in your progress in the Christian life.

Listen to the God who speaks. God has spoken from heaven, v.25. By comparison, Sinai is an earthly revelation. God came down to the mountain to meet with his people. Now God has spoken in his Son, Hebrews 1:1,2; 2:1-4. The shaking at Sinai (Hebrews 12:18-21), awesome though it was, is minor compared to God’s present speaking in Christ. You are accountable!The content of the message is v. 24, the mediator, Jesus, and the call to repentance, faith, and new obedience in him. This revelation is greater and clearer. Therefore your accountability is higher, see 2:2,3. The speaking in the Son is the ultimate revelation.

Worship God acceptably. Give thanks! Your response comes from God’s gift. The unshakable kingdom you are receiving from him includes: the full revelation in Christ Jesus, Hebrews 1:1,2; God’s rest, which is your salvation, Hebrews 3:7-4:11; your hope, Hebrews 6:18-20; the new covenant, and its high priest, Hebrews 8:6ff. Give thanks instead of speculating about the final shaking. With the eye of faith, the heavenly reality is here for you. “The inheritance of the promised land of the new earth is the author’s [of Hebrews] irreducible summary of what true believers will receive at the eschaton. . . . This final inheritance will be indestructible (12:27–-28) and eternal.” (G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, p. 145).

Worship knowing that your God is a consuming fire. He summons you as his people to worship him. God has a high calling for the church. It’s primary duty is to glorify God. Worship reverently. Reverence grows out of knowing God, understanding who he is, and appreciating the depths of his redeeming love. Your worship is connected with and results in the life described in Hebrews 13. This reverence includes a holy fear and awe. God is the righteous Judge, Hebrews 12:23. God is a consuming fire. He destroys his foes, but purifies you, his people.

Worship with reverence and awe. God created mankind, male and female, to have covenant fellowship with him, to live in a state of worshiping him. That was broken by the fall. But God, in his grace, has reached down in his Son and has drawn us back into fellowship with him. Your life needs to be centered on him. The worship in which you are engaged today is not just an anticipation of the glorious, heavenly worship. It is part of that worship. Recognize the reality of what Hebrews says you are doing.

Listen to your God, and worship him!

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“The Church: A People Who Build up One Another”

Have you ever been told to grow up? Paul, and the Holy Spirit, tell us that in Ephesians 4:14–16

Grow up! Don’t be babies. Infancy is normal–for a time. \Don’t forget that at the beginning of our Christian walk we all were infants. And being a baby Christian is far different from being an unbeliever. However, don’t be satisfied with spiritual immaturity. Christ has blessed his church with word gifts so that you can grow in maturity. Paul contrasts maturity with the weakness and lack of coordination of an infant. The immaturity is also compared to a small boat driven about and influenced, in this case not by the waves of a storm, but by the winds of false teaching. The cults are superb at concealing what they want to.

Live truthfully in love. Paul has in view not just physical maturity and coordination, but the development of character as well. Instead of being easily led and influenced, a maturing young person begins to look beyond the self-centeredness of infancy. Although “speaking the truth in love” may express the idea, don’t limit what Paul says to speech. He had ways of talking about speaking in love, see v. 25. Here action is included as well as speech. “Living in truth and love,” or “truthing in love” might express the idea. What Paul is describing involves a concern for union with Christ and for relationships with other believers. These need to be characterized by love. Don’t use Paul’s command as an excuse to avoid confronting falsehood–look at the context of v. 14. But also be careful in how you differ with those you believe may be in error. God is no less concerned with how we oppose error than he is with the fact that we do oppose it. John, in his first epistle, speaks of love as defining, not just Christian maturity, but Christianity itself. Paul comes back to love in v. 16.

Grow in Christ. Grow into Christ. How do you measure growth? Not by marks on a door frame, but by a person. While growth involves each of us as individuals, it is also something corporate. We together grow into the Head, that is Christ. If the image of the church as a strengthening body works, it is because central to the body is the head. Christian maturity involves a clearer, more self-conscious relationship with Christ. Union with Christ defines you. This growth in Christ affects all areas of your life. It happens “in all things.” Nothing that you are or do is not related to him.

Grow from Christ. Paul uses enough athletic imagery that you know that he appreciates what the body can do. Instead of early, wobbling steps, picture a young man running his heart out, or making a move on a basketball court. Picture a young woman performing a triple Lutz on the ice rink, or blocking a rifle shot of a volleyball. All of this activity is connected to the head. True, the athlete doesn’t stop to think, but the eye catches the flight of the line drive, the brain calculates location and timing, then orders the body into motion, leaping and stretching horizontally to make the catch–all faster than one can describe. The head is crucial to the process of growth, and coordinates how the body functions. Paul keeps pushing you back to the basics–Christ working through the Word that he has given his church. Christ working by his Spirit in enabling the preaching and teaching of that Word as the basic means of grace.

Build up one another. Grow as a body. God does not call us to isolate ourselves and work on sanctification. Rather, he unites us to our head, his Son, and united to him, we are connected to one another. There is a centrality to the proclamation of the Word, but it takes place in the context of the fellowship of the saints. We belong to one body. We build up one another. Does that seem like a challenge beyond you? It can start with something as simple as singing together, see Colossians 3:15–17. It means encouraging one another. It involves being willing to listen, to accept correction. It involves truth-speaking in love, Ephesians 4:29. The opposite of that involves grieving the Holy Spirit. (This passage is a powerful testimony to the personality of the Spirit.) “Christians who are already united to Christ and therefore to one another grow nearer to and more and more like Christ and correspondingly nearer to one another in his body, the church. Paul describes this with vivid imagery. Like a human body, the church is held together with joints. Only when every part is working properly does health growth take place. But where there is a wise and nurturing ministry of the Word it will happen. And it will do so almost like a youngster growing to maturity in his or her own body – which seems to ‘grow itself’: the body builds itself up in love.” (Sinclair Ferguson, Let’s Study Ephesians, pp. 113–114).

Be the body of Christ. Notice that Paul, addressing the church at Ephesus, does not tell them to become the body of Christ. As they trust in him, as they have been united with him by faith, as they have been baptized into him. They are the body of Christ. And so are you, if you are part of his church. You need the church. That is where nurture takes place. “Paul’s image of the body of Christ offers profound insights for nurture: all members are needed; gifts are for the body as a whole, and isolation is tragic; and diversity of function produces, not division, but unity (Eph. 4:11–16).” (Edmund P. Clowney, The Church, p. 138). Take part in the life of the church. Don’t treat it as a fast food restaurant. The church is where you can celebrate in times of joy. It is, and should be, the place where you can find comfort in your grief. The other day I heard again of a young mother, wasting away from cancer, who came to church on Sunday, before passing away on Thursday. And the following Sunday her parents were in church, setting up chairs, because it was their rotation.

You need to build up one another because you are becoming, and are helping one another become, a fragrant offering to the Lord (Ephesians 5:1–2). Jesus Christ is working by his Word and Spirit—and he is using you, his body, to help make you what you will be in glory.

Have you ever been told to grow up? Paul, and the Holy Spirit, tell us that in Ephesians 4:14–16

Grow up! Don’t be babies. Infancy is normal–for a time. \Don’t forget that at the beginning of our Christian walk we all were infants. And being a baby Christian is far different from being an unbeliever. However, don’t be satisfied with spiritual immaturity. Christ has blessed his church with word gifts so that you can grow in maturity. Paul contrasts maturity with the weakness and lack of coordination of an infant. The immaturity is also compared to a small boat driven about and influenced, in this case not by the waves of a storm, but by the winds of false teaching. The cults are superb at concealing what they want to.

Live truthfully in love. Paul has in view not just physical maturity and coordination, but the development of character as well. Instead of being easily led and influenced, a maturing young person begins to look beyond the self-centeredness of infancy. Although “speaking the truth in love” may express the idea, don’t limit what Paul says to speech. He had ways of talking about speaking in love, see v. 25. Here action is included as well as speech. “Living in truth and love,” or “truthing in love” might express the idea. What Paul is describing involves a concern for union with Christ and for relationships with other believers. These need to be characterized by love. Don’t use Paul’s command as an excuse to avoid confronting falsehood–look at the context of v. 14. But also be careful in how you differ with those you believe may be in error. God is no less concerned with how we oppose error than he is with the fact that we do oppose it. John, in his first epistle, speaks of love as defining, not just Christian maturity, but Christianity itself. Paul comes back to love in v. 16.

Grow in Christ. Grow into Christ. How do you measure growth? Not by marks on a door frame, but by a person. While growth involves each of us as individuals, it is also something corporate. We together grow into the Head, that is Christ. If the image of the church as a strengthening body works, it is because central to the body is the head. Christian maturity involves a clearer, more self-conscious relationship with Christ. Union with Christ defines you. This growth in Christ affects all areas of your life. It happens “in all things.” Nothing that you are or do is not related to him.

Grow from Christ. Paul uses enough athletic imagery that you know that he appreciates what the body can do. Instead of early, wobbling steps, picture a young man running his heart out, or making a move on a basketball court. Picture a young woman performing a triple Lutz on the ice rink, or blocking a rifle shot of a volleyball. All of this activity is connected to the head. True, the athlete doesn’t stop to think, but the eye catches the flight of the line drive, the brain calculates location and timing, then orders the body into motion, leaping and stretching horizontally to make the catch–all faster than one can describe. The head is crucial to the process of growth, and coordinates how the body functions. Paul keeps pushing you back to the basics–Christ working through the Word that he has given his church. Christ working by his Spirit in enabling the preaching and teaching of that Word as the basic means of grace.

Build up one another. Grow as a body. God does not call us to isolate ourselves and work on sanctification. Rather, he unites us to our head, his Son, and united to him, we are connected to one another. There is a centrality to the proclamation of the Word, but it takes place in the context of the fellowship of the saints. We belong to one body. We build up one another. Does that seem like a challenge beyond you? It can start with something as simple as singing together, see Colossians 3:15–17. It means encouraging one another. It involves being willing to listen, to accept correction. It involves truth-speaking in love, Ephesians 4:29. The opposite of that involves grieving the Holy Spirit. (This passage is a powerful testimony to the personality of the Spirit.) “Christians who are already united to Christ and therefore to one another grow nearer to and more and more like Christ and correspondingly nearer to one another in his body, the church. Paul describes this with vivid imagery. Like a human body, the church is held together with joints. Only when every part is working properly does health growth take place. But where there is a wise and nurturing ministry of the Word it will happen. And it will do so almost like a youngster growing to maturity in his or her own body – which seems to ‘grow itself’: the body builds itself up in love.” (Sinclair Ferguson, Let’s Study Ephesians, pp. 113–114).

Be the body of Christ. Notice that Paul, addressing the church at Ephesus, does not tell them to become the body of Christ. As they trust in him, as they have been united with him by faith, as they have been baptized into him. They are the body of Christ. And so are you, if you are part of his church. You need the church. That is where nurture takes place. “Paul’s image of the body of Christ offers profound insights for nurture: all members are needed; gifts are for the body as a whole, and isolation is tragic; and diversity of function produces, not division, but unity (Eph. 4:11–16).” (Edmund P. Clowney, The Church, p. 138). Take part in the life of the church. Don’t treat it as a fast food restaurant. The church is where you can celebrate in times of joy. It is, and should be, the place where you can find comfort in your grief. The other day I heard again of a young mother, wasting away from cancer, who came to church on Sunday, before passing away on Thursday. And the following Sunday her parents were in church, setting up chairs, because it was their rotation.

You need to build up one another because you are becoming, and are helping one another become, a fragrant offering to the Lord (Ephesians 5:1–2). Jesus Christ is working by his Word and Spirit—and he is using you, his body, to help make you what you will be in glory.

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The Church: A Body of Witnesses

Was last Thursday important? Look at Acts 1 and at the command Jesus gives in verse 8. Your King has ascended, and you, his church, his body, have been given the responsibility of making the good news known to the ends of the earth.

The good news is that your Lord has ascended. Serve your great King. Acts 1 makes clear that the ascended Lord is still very much in charge of his church. This account also is the antidote to a practical ignoring of the kingship of Christ. Your daily life, lived between his ascension and his return, is lived in the presence of and subject to the King. The life of the church and the lives of members of the church, is the life of the kingdom. Psalm 24 celebrates the entering of the King of glory into his city. Perhaps written by David for the bringing of the ark to Jerusalem, it anticipates the ascent of Christ. Notice how the universal King (Psalm 24:1) who goes up to the cries of his people, expects his people to have clean hands and pure hearts. Remember that the ascension of Jesus means that he is the great King. Because he is the great and good King, you can trust him and serve him. He ascended as the God-man. Our human nature is there at the right hand of the Father. As the God-man he intercedes for you.

Look for your Lord to return in the clouds. As he ascends, a cloud receives him out of their sight. This is not just a meteorological observation. Rather the cloud calls to mind Daniel 7 and the coming of the Son of Man. It reminds of Mt. Sinai and of the theophonic appearances in the Psalms. This is the King of Glory who is entering triumphantly. There is celebration, joy, triumph involved. Death cannot hold Jesus. After a suitable time of appearing to his disciples, it is time to ascend to his throne. Share in that triumph. It is not a triumphalism, but rather the sovereign Lord is there for his people in their suffering as well as in their joy. When the good news is proclaimed in Acts, it is the news of the Savior who had been betrayed and crucified, but now has been raised to life and exalted to the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:33). When Stephen, the first martyr is being stoned, he sees heaven open and the Son of Man ready to receive him. The ascended Lord is so connected to his suffering church that he asks Saul, “Why do you persecute me? When you go through suffering, it is with the knowledge that the ascended Lord continues to see you and care for you. The angels promise that he will return in the same way. You live your life bracketed by the comings of Christ.

Be the witnesses that you are. The ascended Lord empowers you to be his witnesses. Acts 1:8 ties the gift of the Spirit with the idea of power. Haggai contrasts human might and power with the Spirit. That Spirit, according to Paul, was active in raising Christ from the dead. This empowerment with the Spirit is not just an example, a paradigm that we are to reproduce in our lives. Rather, this event, one event though mutli-faceted, is the resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost–all part of the history of what Christ has done to accomplish your salvation. The power is given to the apostles, but also to the church—built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets–with Christ Jesus the chief cornerstone. “The single most im­portant activity of the apostles is surely that. . . of witness to Christ (e.g., John 15:27; Acts 1:8; 13:31). The apostles bear wit­ness, authorized and empowered by Christ himself, to his resur­rection as the fulfill­ment of covenant his­tory.” (Richard B. Gaf­fin, Jr., Perspectives on Pente­cost, p. 91). Where do you get the power to endure suffering–graciously? From the power of the indwelling Spirit, with whom the church has been baptized. Where do you find the strength to resist temptation? From the powerful Spirit whom the Lord, having ascended into the cloud of glory, poured out upon the church. How can you learn to forgive? Through the Spirit, whom the Lord gave after he purchased your forgiveness. You may think of being witnesses as something novel with the Great Commission. But Jesus uses language from Isaiah 43:10, 12; 44:8, where Israel is described by the Lord as “my witnesses.” The nation of Israel, corporately, as well as individually, are witnesses. Don’t underestimate the importance of the official heralding of the name of Christ. Acts has plenty of that. But also avoid the reactionary view that only ordained preachers can be witnesses about Jesus. See Acts 8:4. Focus on ways that you can reach out with the good news to those around you.

Christ extends his kingdom to the ends of the earth. The question of the disciples betrays a very limited, ethnocentric, notion of the kingdom. Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth are not simply a paradigm for local, regional, and international witnessing. Rather, Acts 1:8 outlines the book Acts 1-7 takes place in Jerusalem, 8-12 in Judea and Samaria, and 13-28 shows the good news spreading through the world until it reaches the great imperial city. The kingdom of the ascended King cannot be limited to one nation. Jesus makes explicit the universal scope of that witness. Your relationship with him, your being part of his church today, is witness to the fact that your Lord has ascended in triumph. You are the ends of the earth who have heard and have believed. Jesus declares to the apostles that they are witnesses. This is directed specifically to the apostles (they are the ones taking the gospel to Jerusalem to Rome), but by implication declares that you also, as part of the ends of the earth, are witnesses. “Jesus is claiming to be this unique Lord, the God and Savior of the new Israel, whom he empowers with the Spirit and commis­sions as his witnesses. Those who worship Jesus as Lord, who pray to him and serve him, bear witness that he, not the idols, is the only God and Savior. The Spirit is sent to empower us to testify to the divine glory that the Son deserves.” (Dennis B. Johnson, The Message of Acts in the History of Re­demption, p. 44). The goal of the apostolic witness is to build the church. (Note the objectives of OPC foreign missions. While not direct witnesses of the resurrection, you do bear testimony to the work of God and to the reality of his grace. Notice the indicative, not imperative. Your life, your words, are testifying about your God, about what he has done. Either the testimony is true or it is not. You are witnesses of what God has done in sending Jesus to die for your sins and to shape you into his holy people.

The ancient doors have lifted up their heads, for the King of glory has come in. The cloud has received the Son of Man in his glory. You, brothers and sisters, are the witnesses of his triumphal victory. Continue to bear testimony to his glory.

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The Church: A Forgiven and Forgiving People

When you grasp something of the holiness of God, you come to realize that you can stand before him only as a forgiven people. In Exodus 34:4–7 God reveals to Moses and to you that forgiveness is part of his character. If you, the church, are God’s forgiven people, then you must also be a forgiving people.

Listen to the name of the Lord! You cannot see the face of God and live. In Exodus 34 Moses had just experienced the holy justice of God, his righteous anger against his people. The Lord is a God who is infinitely just. He does not tolerate or overlook disobedience. God holds you accountable for your sin. You cannot escape judgment. That justice of God can be frightening, yet it is comforting. God will not allow the wickedness and rebellion of the world to go unchallenged. And for you, if he has already punished your sins in the person of his Son, he will not, he cannot, still hold you liable. Moses had stepped between God and Israel to serve as a mediator, offering that his name be blotted out of God’s book if he would have mercy on his people. But only the greater Mediator could give his life for his people. Moses asked to see God. But you cannot see God’s face and live. God is a Spirit, as Jesus told the Samaritan woman. The perfection and glory of God precludes anything sinful or imperfect in his presence. He is perfectly holy. Nothing sinful can stand in his presence.

The Lord is merciful, gracious, and forgiving. The Lord did proclaim his name to Moses. The proclamation of the name reveals the character, the nature of the person. Your God is the Lord. That name means “I am,” Exodus 3:13,14. God is who he is. He is not defined by anything or anyone else. Yet his very name reflects his covenantal faithfulness. He is the God who has redeemed his people and has entered into covenant with them. He is the God who graciously sends his Presence with his people, even after the idolatry of the golden calf. “That peculiar sight which Moses had of God (Exodus 34), was a gospel sight, a sight of God as ‘gracious,’ etc., and yet it is called his ‘back parts,’ that is but low and mean in comparison to his excellencies and perfections.” (John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation, edited by Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor, p. 112). As God he is beyond any limitation. He is perfect in all that he is. Although you can never know God exhaustively, you can know him truly. he Lord cannot speak his name to Moses without describing his compassion and graciousness. He is overflowing in love and faithfulness. That character of God is evident as he reveals himself to Moses, the leader of God’s rebellious people. That character is evident as Jesus graciously violates the mores of his culture and asks the Samaritan woman for a drink—and then guides the conversation to confront her with her sin and her need of a Savior.

Know that you are God’s forgiven people in Christ. That grace comes to its richest expression in the presence of the God-man, the Messiah, the One who is God’s Presence. In him you have, not just a temporary glimpse of God’s character, but the full revelation of the depth of the love of your God. “[God’s] full glory would accessible tot he Mediator Christ but could not be seen by anyone in this sinful life. The Mediator would see that glory, but Moses was only a shadow of the true Mediator. . . . Christ is now our Mediator, and in heaven he beholds God’s face. What is there that he cannot do for us?” (S. G. De Graaf, Promise and Deliverance, Vol. 1, p. 308).

Forgive in the name of the Lord. Live as a forgiven community. Every morning and evening sacrifice offered in the Tabernacle and later the Temple, graphically reminded God’s people that they were a forgiven people. Notice how Peter emphasizes that the church in the New Testament is God’s forgiven people. You once stood outside God’s favor and love. By nature you are an enemy of God. Hosea not only had a son named Lo-Ammi (not my people), he also had a daughter named Lo-Ruhamah (no mercy), but their names were later reversed. In order to understand what it is to be the people of God, you have to recognize your sin, your inability. Whether or not you use the term, you have to recognize the idea of total depravity–even if it is expressed simply in the cry of the tax collector, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Your position is all due to God’s undeserved favor. The initiative in the titles of 1 Peter 2:9 is all God’s. The credit and glory belong to him as well. The mercy you receive is yours in Christ.

Forgive, because you have been forgiven. Peter came to Jesus in Matthew 18:21 recognizing that as a forgiven person he had a responsibility to forgive. He thought he was doing well by suggesting seven times. But Jesus response essentially is, don’t count the times! He went on to tell the parable of the unmerciful servant. Note how Jesus drives home his point in Matthew 18:35. You must forgive—because you have been forgiven. A heart that refuses to forgive is one that stands outside being a recipient of God’s grace. Harboring bitterness eats you up. Jesus is pointing you to the character of God, revealed in himself! He is a God who has forgiven you more than you ever realize. How can you not forgive? But what of the tenderhearted Christian who asks himself, “I find it so difficult to forgive. Am I really forgiven?” Remember that God’s forgiveness of you is not grounded in what you do, even in forgiving. It is grounded in God’s mercy in Christ. In him, he forgives even your failures to forgive! Even Paul struggled with finding himself unable to do the things that he wanted to do. Keep turning to Christ each day.

Live as a forgiven and forgiving people—because you have seen the face of God in Christ Jesus. Moses, who had experienced God forgiving Israel in response to his prayer of intercession asked to see the glory of God (was he showing a Peter-like naivete?). Have you wished you could have stood there with Moses that day? Well, you have experienced something better. You have seen the glory of God in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. What Moses could not see, you have experienced if you trust in Christ! “The grace of God is love freely shown towards guilty sinners, contrary to their merit and indeed in defiance of their demerit. It is God showing goodness to persons who deserve only severity, and had no reason to expect anything but severity.” (J. I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 120). Have you been forgiven? That is a crucial question for you, not just for today, but for all eternity. It is only God’s forgiven people who inherit his kingdom, who dwell in the new heavens and earth.

Why did the Word become flesh? Why did God become man? So that you, his people, his church, could, as his forgiven people, see his face in Christ. How can you not forgive?

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