A New Commandment

from wikimedia commons

from wikimedia commons

Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth. 1 John 2:8

John speaks of a “new commandment” in the second chapter of his first epistle, but what was new about it? It certainly was not the first time that the people of God had heard the commandment to love ones neighbor. Love had been commanded since way back in the time of Moses:

Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the LORD.  Leviticus 19:17-18 

So “love” itself was not a new commandment. But what was new about it this time? It was not the commandment to love itself that was new, it was the new context. The Christians in Ephesus and all over Asia Minor (Modern Day Turkey) had been gathered to the Savior, which produced a change in their lives. Just as God had drawn them to himself, he’d also drawn them to one another. In John’s gospel we find the “new commandment” stated by the Lord Jesus himself.

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. Buy this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. John 13:34 

Jesus Christ was not saying anything new that his disciples had never heard before, being Jewish men well schooled in the requirements of the Torah, the law of God, as written in Leviticus. The newness of the commandment was not what was required: love, but a new context: the Church of Jesus Christ. No longer was the nation of God to be defined along ethnic lines, but by faith in Jesus Christ. And this new body, this community of the redeemed, established at Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, was to be marked apart from the rest of the world by the love that they had for one another. And so we learn in this passage:

Love one another, new people of God, because if you do, you walk in the light, but if you hate one another, you walk in darkness.

9 He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. 

There is a type of church member who has never personally experienced the grace of God in Jesus Christ, who does not know the love of God in Him, but who for various reasons decides to pretend to himself and others that he is a child of God. He goes to church religiously. He carries his Bible, joins in prayers and hymns, and engages in talk about God. But his religion is only external, and not a reality. These are known as false brethren or hypocrites, named after the actors on the Greek stage who played characters wearing masks. But the one thing that he can’t pretend consistently, is to love his fellow Christians. He backbites, criticizes, gossips, and complains, pointing the finger at others, and always to his own benefit. He insults people, whether to their faces or otherwise, and self-aggrandizes. This person is not a true Christian. He has never been born again. If he had ever personally experienced the love of God in Jesus Christ, applied by the Holy Spirit, he would also have that love for others who had been similarly saved. But he does not love them because he is not of them. He is as dead in his sins as the godless pagans whose lives are nowhere near as presentable as his. He is in darkness, blinded, since his life has never been illuminated by the Holy Spirit. He is like someone walking in a pitch black room without any ambient light or lamps to show where he is going, tripping and bumping into things, and falling so that he cannot even see where he is landing. So is the one who claims to be a Christian, who attempts to deceive himself and others, but who hates his brother or sister in his heart. That is the one mark of being a follower of God that is impossible for him to imitate consistently.

10 He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.

In contrast the one who is born again of the Holy Spirit, who has been adopted as a child of God, who has experienced the forgiveness of his sins in Jesus Christ, is equally diligent to do all that God has commanded. He attends church, supports it with his income and time, and engages in godly conversation. His faith is orthodox. He confesses one God in three Persons, Jesus Christ who is God and man in one Person forever as the only Savior, in whom alone he trusts for his salvation. So far he looks a lot like the hypocrite. But the one thing he has, that the other doesn’t, is that he loves all those who are loved by Christ, especially his brothers and sisters in him.

For all those who have experienced the grace of God in Jesus Christ, they show it by loving all the others who have likewise experienced the love of God in Jesus Christ. They love their Lord, and are washed in his precious blood. So they love all the others for whom he died. They find it easier to forgive, remembering what they’ve been forgiven of. Love covers a multitude of sins.

In Christ there is a new family. We who believe in him are all brothers and sisters. This family tie cuts across all distinctions of culture, language, race, and personality cliques. Yet we are still sinners. Though in the body of Christ we annoy one another, and sin against one another, yet love covers over sins, even your own. Others are in need of our grace, just as surely as we need God’s grace. Let us then be assured that we are forgiven of God, by forgiving others their sins against us, especially our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

11 But he that hateth his brother, Jesus said that he who says “you fool” to his brother is in danger of hellfire. Matthew 5:22 This type of hateful rancor is a sure sign of perdition, when one hates his brother or sister in Christ in his heart.

is in darkness, The one who does not love those whom Christ loved and died for, shows that he is still lost in sin. He has not received the Holy Spirit, but is as blind as ever before.

and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not wither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes. He who does not love other Christians shows by the evidence that he is still in darkness.

Love one another, new people of God, because if you do, you walk in the light, but if you hate one another, you walk in darkness.

This doctrine is useful to Beware of false brethren. There is no better way to distinguish the goats from the sheep in the fold, than by the test of love. Let us practice loving one another, that we may know ourselves to be the lambs of Christ. Otherwise, we are deceiving ourselves, though others probably are not as deceived as we think. Mark out those in the Church who are unloving, and beware of them. They are tares among the wheat.

Having examined ourselves, let us repent of a lack of love toward our brothers and sisters, and diligently apply ourselves to loving them by the things we do and say, whether to their face or away from it.

This doctrine is useful to inspire us to love all who are Christ’s, despite all.

Let us love as we have been loved. By this, Jesus said, the world will know that we are his disciples. And if the world knows it, how much more shall we?

This doctrine is useful to be faithful disciples of our Lord.

Let us be diligent to keep all of his commandments, especially loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. This commandment is made hard by other Christians who try and exasperate us, but remember what you’ve been forgiven of. Remember the love of Jesus Christ who died for you, and love all of those for whom he also died. In this way we will know that we are truly children of our loving heavenly Father, when we love those whom he loves.

Love one another, new people of God, because if you do, you walk in the light, but if you hate one another, you walk in darkness.

The Apostle John’s Answer to Skeptics

Skeptics and naysayers love to do their best to poke holes in the Bible. They were attempting it even before it was completed, and they’re still at it. What little has changed! The apostle John responds to detractors in the introduction to his first epistle. He states with unvarnished credibility that the things that he and the other apostles had declared of the Lord Jesus Christ were based upon eye-witness testimony. He writes,

1 John 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;

In a court of law the testimony of a credible eyewitness is received as evidence. In the same way we who believe are not following myths, fables, or wishful thinking, but established truth from credible eyewitness testimony. The Lord Jesus had personally chosen messengers to carry his good news to the entire world. These are known as the apostles or “sent ones”, similar to the role of ambassador. Their ministry was to preach the good news of Jesus Christ to the entire world. We do not have apostles today, although they still minister to us through the writings they left behind in the form of the Holy Scriptures. They had a unique ministry intended for the formative and foundational age of the Church of Jesus Christ. While they were walking with Jesus, they heard him preach of who he was, and saw him prove that it was true by performing miracles to validate what he had said about himself, like the time Jesus healed the man with the withered hand, in order that “you may know that the Son of Man has power to forgive sins”, a thing that only God can do. This proved to the apostles that Jesus was God, as he said he was many times in different ways. Our faith in Jesus Christ the Savior is based on the reliable testimony of these chosen men.

John calls the Lord Jesus by the name of “the Word of Life.” This name is packed with meaning. In Greek thought “word” or logos was that rational principle which controlled and upheld the universe. John is saying that he who is the Word is the Creator in the beginning. In this passage we find an echo of the opening verses of John’s gospel. This Word is the Creator. He is the “Word of Life” in that he has life in himself. We have life that depends on God. We are created beings, but not he. He is the Creator, the one who has life in himself, “I AM THAT I AM.” This is what the covenant name of God: “YHWH”, pronounced Yahweh or Jehovah means at its root. He is the self-existent one. He has life in himself, and gives it to others. He is our Creator. Jesus said,

John 5:26 For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself;

The Son has life in himself just as the Father has life in himself. He had no beginning. He was not born. He is eternally preexistent, eternally-begotten, as in the language of the fathers in the Nicene Creed, he is “begotten of the Father before all worlds.” He who gave us life at creation is the same One who gives new life to those who are spiritually dead in trespasses and sins. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. If any man believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” John 11:25

1 John 1:2 (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)

This life is the Son of God, who was manifested in that he became a true human being and walked among John and his other disciples. The love of God the Father was made known to the world in his Son, who is the Word of Life. That Word of Life was seen on earth by thousands of people, and is the same Christ who was proclaimed in the first century A. D. by his chosen messengers, the apostles.

He who was “with the Father”, compare to “with God” John 1:2, was in the bosom of the Father from all eternity. He loved us so much that he became one of us, when he was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, remaining fully God and fully man forever in one person, the God-man that is Christ Jesus.

3 That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
4 And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.

One of God’s great purposes in this plan of redemption is to bring a people together. The children of God are not just a collection of individuals. We are one family in him. We belong together just as we belong to him. Through Christ, we have fellowship with the Father, just as the Son had fellowship with him since before creation. And having fellowship with the Father and the Son, we also have fellowship, communion with one another in the Church of Jesus Christ.

The apostles declared to us what they had heard, seen, and touched: The Word of Life, that we may have fellowship with one another, through the Father and the Son, and that our joy may be full.

The apostles were those chosen men who had been with Jesus when he was transfigured before them, who had heard the voice of the Father from heaven declaring, “This is my beloved Son, hear him.” They had seen him die. They saw him after he had risen from the dead. Thomas then touched his hands and his side to verify the wounds of his crucifixion. (John 20:27) The testimony of the apostles is worthy to be believed. It is eyewitness testimony. In their message, we have certainty of the truth of those things they spoke to us about the Lord Jesus, that he is the Son of God come to save us sinners. This is our eternal hope. It rests upon sure evidence.

In Christ, the Word of Life was manifested to us. This Word is not a thing, but a Person.  He became known to us by becoming one of us. Without losing any of his former glory or power that he had with the Father form the beginning, albeit disguising it, he came so that we would know him. What love is this that the Father has shown us, by sending his own Son to carry the message of his grace to us! Let us receive it and believe.

There is fellowship in the world based on commonality. Sometimes it’s relatively innocent, like clubs based upon ethnicity, or activities like baseball or hunting. At other times, the world has fellowship in sin, like drunkenness or other revelings. But in Christ, we who have been made alive by him have a fellowship, a “koinonia” or communion, that the world can never know. We have been brought from death to life, from darkness to life. We have experienced the grace of God, the peace that passes understanding, and joy in the Holy Spirit. This brings with it a bond of love between us, among all of God’s children, that the world of sin can never know. This is one reason why it is necessary for us to gather weekly (at a minimum) to pray together and sing God’s praises. There are no “lone ranger” Christians. If we have fellowship with the Father and the Son, we have fellowship with one another. Though some may pretend that they can be Christians just by praying and having devotions on their own at home, to forsake the assembling of ourselves together is not a reflection of that fellowship with one another to which the Lord has brought us.

This fellowship that we have with one another shows itself in many ways. We help each other when we need it. If we’ve experienced the love of God in Christ, how can we not also love those others who have received the same love that we have? We forgive one another, as the Lord has forgiven us our sins, without holding grudges against one another when we sin against each other. We pray together, bearing one another’s burdens and lifting each other up before the mercy seat of the Father. We share a common purpose in life, to glorify God by advancing the kingdom of Jesus Christ, by being his witnesses. We show this when we work together to make his name known, to build his church, and to bring others along too to worship him.

The apostles declared to us what they had heard, seen, and touched: The Word of Life, that we may have fellowship with one another, through the Father and the Son, and that our joy may be full.

If you have never embraced this Word of Life, if you have not yet received the hope of eternal life by taking hold of Christ through faith, he is freely offered to you today. Come to him and be saved. The whole world is going to die. If things continue as they are now, there is not one person who will not be dead in the future. But Jesus Christ offers everlasting life to whoever will believe in him. Do not let anything you love in this world hold you back from receiving that free gift. Leave everything if necessary to get it.

If you’ve received the love of God in Christ by faith, if you have the hope of eternal life, do not let the cares or enjoyments of this world entangle you. Guard your heart, so that nothing, whether love of family members, or friends, or reputation, or money, or influence, draw your heart away from your Lord and Savior. Let him be your hope, now and forever.
Let us have fellowship with one another. Ours is that blessed communion of the saints. We have Christ, and so we have each other. In one love, with one heart, one in prayer, let us help one another, forgive one another, and pray with and for one another. This is one of the greatest blessings of being a child of God.

Finally, let us rejoice in our Savior. For us who have experienced that hope of eternal life, nothing can ever take it away from us. We may have hardships and suffering in this world. But it cannot take away our joy. They may take away our houses, our family, our possessions, our income, or even our liberty by putting us in jail. But they can never take away the joy that we have by being God’s children, our hope of eternal life in Christ. Let us rejoice in him in this world, in all circumstances. Remind yourself to think about the hope that you have in Christ, especially when the world has got you down. It is important for us to remind ourselves to think about the joy that we have because of the grace that we have received in him. Let us rejoice in him now and forever.

The apostles declared to us what they had heard, seen, and touched: The Word of Life, that we may have fellowship with one another, through the Father and the Son, and that our joy may be full.  Amen.

Be Strong and Work, the LORD of Hosts is With You

Westminster Abbey, London

The gray hairs and old bitties looked on, underwhelmed, at the sight of the new temple. They had memories from their childhood years of a glorious structure that reached upward and sparkled in the Middle-Eastern sun. How pitiful the modern recreation must have seemed to them. The temple had been destroyed by the Chaldean army under Nebuchadnezzar, and now the rebuilding had begun. But the people were discouraged. Even the foundation seemed to pale in comparison to the former glory of the temple. It was during this scene that a word came from the Lord to the prophet Haggai.

Haggai 2:1 KJV* In the seventh month, in the one and twentieth day of the month, came the word of the LORD by the prophet Haggai, saying,
2 Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and to the residue of the people, saying,
3 Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?
4 Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the Lord; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts:
5 According to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so my spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not.
6 For thus saith the LORD of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land;
7 And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts.
8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the LORD of hosts.
9 The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the LORD of hosts.

The essence of Haggai’s message from the Lord for was this: Be strong and work, for the Lord of Hosts is still with us, and the glory of his house will be greater than in previous years.

When it comes to the great promises of the Lord through the prophet Haggai, although much was anticipated, and a good deal experienced by the Jews in his day, It was not fulfilled fully in the 2nd Jewish temple. The heavens and the earth could have hardly seemed shaken in their favor when the Jews were ruled by a filthy pagan gentile hundreds of miles away to the East, under the Persian Empire. Yet God gives a bold promise. It takes faith to believe God in the midst of hardship. The Lord promises that he who was with the Hebrews when they walked out of Egypt, and got away from Pharaoh and his great army, is yet with them. The temple would be rebuilt, but much was lacking, as the old timers were already starting to notice when this word was preached. The glory of the Lord’s house did not seem to be what it had been in generations past. The governor Zerubbabel and the Joshua the high priest must have been at a loss as to how to motivate this people to finish the rebuilding effort. But how could that be, when the Lord was promising such a glorious blessing for the future? There came time when the earthly building was superseded by that building not made with hands, in which the Lord has his dwelling forever. This, brothers and sisters, is the Church of Jesus Christ. It is that temple which was restored at the resurrection, and dedicated on the day of Pentecost, the pillar and ground of truth.

God’s promise of the rebuilding of the Temple is fulfilled in the church today in Christ. We are that holy nation, that peculiar people, according to Peter. We are stones fit together tightly, placed upon that foundation which no man can lay, which is Jesus Christ our Lord. Verses 7-9 prophesy about the wealth of the nations being brought to the temple of the Lord, to replace that which had been stolen by the Chaldeans, but how far off this promise must have seemed to the people of God in Haggai’s day! They were beholden to the Persians to even have permission to build on the mount where YHWH (the LORD) had placed his name, and now they were being promised that the nations would bring tribute to Jerusalem??? These things are more than fulfilled in the Church of Jesus Christ. He who is called the LORD of hosts cannot fail to execute that which he has promised.

The glory of the Church consists: in her being gathered from many nations, in the fellowship of the family of God, and in the grace and peace in Christ experienced by her members.

The Church of Jesus Christ is gathered of many nations. No longer constricted to the Jewish nation, our Lord now calls through the preaching of his good news throughout the world, sons and daughters from every nation under heaven, to come taste and see that the Lord is good. We are one family in Christ. The riches of the nations coming to him are the peoples themselves, of every nation, who come and give fealty to our King, having been invited by the preaching of the gospel and drawn by his Spirit to a loving submission. This temple is rich indeed.

In the Church of Christ, members have a family of God. Though many have given up much to bear the name of Christ, yet our Lord assures us that we will gain all the more, in the family that he has created:

Mark 10:28 Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee.
29 And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, 30 But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. 31 But many that are first shall be last; and the last first.

There is sacrifice in the Church of Christ, as many of us have experienced, but there is also a blessing. There is that love that the world cannot know. There is a unity between brothers and sisters in Christ: a love that causes us to share our goods and efforts with one another. So the person who has forsaken much for the name of Christ feels like he has gained all the more, through the bonds of love that he has received with all of his brothers and sisters who are blood-brothers, having commonly been bought by the precious blood of the Lamb.

In the Church of Jesus Christ, believers experience the grace of God and peace that passes understanding.

Forgiveness of sins, and adoption into God’s family. What more could anyone ask for? What further riches could be sought after? We who know the grace of God count the riches of the world but dung for the sake of Christ. We have that peace with God. I don’t know if you knew this, but he owns everything. If we are trusting in him, we are confident that our heavenly Father will withhold from us no good thing. Let us revel in that grace of God that we have experienced, in the peace, and joy that we have known by God’s grace to us through Christ, that surpasses every earthly bauble.

Be strong in faith, and work, for the LORD of hosts is on our side. He has not left us. He who has saved us from our sins and redeemed us by the blood of Christ will also establish his name here in this place where we gather. He does not have his name placed only on one mountain in Jerusalem, but in every place. Let us be diligent in prayer and in action that God will establish his Church here in this place. He has given to each one of us gifts with which to bless the body: whether hospitality, or service, or being a witness to friends and neighbors. Let us all use our gifts as he has enabled us with the intention of growing his church here in this place, for he has promised that the glory of his Church will surpass that of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. Let us work to establish his kingdom here in this place where he has planted us. We cannot fail with the LORD of hosts on our side, with him who controls all the armies of heaven, and works everything according to the counsel of his will. Everything he intends will come to pass. All the silver and the gold belongs to him. If we have him, we have all riches.

Be strong and work, for the Lord of Hosts is still with us, and the glory of his house is greater than in previous years.

*The King James Version has been used because it is free from copyright restriction within the United States of America.

The preceding is a short synopsis of a sermon preached at the Reformed Fellowship of Bellevue, on December 7, 2014, in Bellevue, Nebraska.

Build the Church of God

Text: Haggai 1:1-15

KJV*
1 In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, in the first day of the month, came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet unto Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, saying,
2 Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time that the LORD’s house should be built.
3 Then came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet, saying,
4 Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste?
5 Now therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways.
6 Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.
7 Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Consider your ways.
8 Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the LORD.
9 Ye looked for much, and, lo it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the LORD of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house.
10 Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit.
11 And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labour of the hands.
12 Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, with all the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him, and the people did fear before the LORD.
13 Then spake Haggai the LORD’s messenger in the LORD’s message unto the people, saying, I am with you, saith the LORD.
14 And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the LORD of hosts, their God,
15 In the four and twentieth day of the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king.

image from joynusstaffing.com

Introduction: Have you ever felt like you had a hole in your wallet, like no matter how much you worked, you never had enough money to get by? This was the situation that the Jews found themselves in, in 520 BC (Aucker). They had been restored to the land of Judah, after a time when their best and brightest were taken captive to Babylon, and the temple was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar almost seventy years before. They were not entirely free. They were subject to a foreign King, a distressing detail highlighted by the words “in the second year of Darius the king”, where a Medo-Persian Emperor is now used to count the year instead of a Jewish King as would have been done before the exile. It is at this time that God speaks to them by the mouth, literally “by the hand” of his chosen messenger, the prophet Haggai. This prophetic oracle was given on August 29, 520 B. C. Now those who had been left behind all those years, and those that had come back, were working hard to plant their farms, but not getting much crop to harvest. The LORD was blowing away all their income, like a strong wind blows away kernels from a wheat crop in a field. They were hungry and thirsty despite all their hard work, and the LORD tells them why. He tells them through his prophet Haggai, Consider your ways. Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the LORD.  Ye looked for much, and, lo it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the LORD of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house. Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit. And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labour of the hands.

God takes away the prosperity of his people to bring them back to him, as a loving father chastens his children. The blessings that God gives are meant to drive them back to him, but how often, like the Jews, do we take the blessings that God gives and use them for our own comfort and pleasure, instead of his glory, while at the same time the more important causes of helping those in need, and providing for the gospel ministry, go neglected.

When we look at the situation of the Jews in the mid to late sixth century before Christ, we find much that reminds us of our own day. The Church of Jesus Christ seems at best a nostalgic memory, like something that once existed in its defining force and vigor many decades ago, but is long since become a heap of ruins. Where once the good news was proclaimed fearlessly, now the world is imitated. Where God was once worshipped in Spirit and in Truth, now a Me-centered feel-good experience is sought. Meanwhile, families are working harder than ever, with two incomes often required to raise a family where one used to be enough, to procure stuff, goods for themselves, whether larger houses, nice cars, or the latest gadgets as Christmas gifts, and the true churches of Jesus Christ are either non-existent or struggle to keep their doors open. Would not God be merciful to withdraw our material blessings to drive us back to him and cause us to maintain stated worship in his house? For although it is worship from the heart which is truly pleasing to God, the external is not to be neglected, or the internal will be in danger of being extinguished. God draws his true followers from the heart, but he does it using specific means, especially, public worship on the Sabbath day, where his people gather to hear his word to them, to praise him together, confess their sins, and be blessed by him. It is not enough to go to church on Sunday. Yet it is also not safe to neglect it. God who commanded us to Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy knows what is best for us. He knows our weaknesses, and has instructed us for our good, to keep the flame of the fire of our faith alive. Just as fire is not started by wood or oxygen, it uses these things to burn. And so the Spirit stirs up our faith through the word of God, especially as it is preached, and increases our faith as we lift up our hearts to God in prayer, not only individually, but together as one body in Christ. So, brothers and sisters, let us diligently work together to establish a new church here in this area which is faithful to God in doctrine and practice.

Doctrine: Build the Church of God, for Christ Jesus is building it through you.

The Church of God is his dwelling place and temple, the assembly of the saints. It is made up of believers, though it is not merely another word for believers. It is the Lord’s flock assembled. When we are gathered to do everything that God commanded, and to build up one another in love and truth, our hearts united in the truth and walking together in love and the fear of the Lord, it is then that we represent the Church of God, and not merely as a formless collection of individuals with something in common. The stones of the temple of the Lord were not a temple when they were loosely lying on the hills and in the mountains before they were gathered and “fit together”, as we are by his Spirit into one house of God, the Church. (Ephesians 2:22) But how are we “fit together” in this house? The ties that bind us together are not mortar and nails, but a common confession of faith, the election of officers, times of formal worship, godly and loving church discipline, and vows of membership. These things will make us one more tightly than any cement or mortar, should the Lord will to establish a new church here among us. To build this church, let us continue to gather, assembling regularly to hear the word of the Lord, to pray together, and receive his blessing. Let us give of our income, gifts, and time to build this church, and invite others to come and join the effort as well. Your work is a labor of love, that the Lord takes pleasure in.

Private devotion cannot ordinarily be kept up without the means that God has provided of gathering to pray and to hear the preaching of the word as the visible church. It is not enough to go through the motions without having the reality of faith that is expressed in our words, but without expression in the ways that God has appointed, the faith of us feeble, sinful, human beings will eventually wither away. Let us build the church of God here in this place.

Let us build the Church of God, because in doing so we will ensure our own prosperity. In the New Covenant this blessed promise is to be understood differently from the way it was understood in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament material possessions were a sign of God’s blessing. Although in the New Testament everything we have is a gift from God, and we ought to give thanks to him for our income, and use it for his glory, yet we are not promised material wealth as Christians. The prosperity that God promises to us who are faithful to him in this time before Christ’s second coming, and after his first coming, is a spiritual happiness in the Lord in keeping with the fulness of his revelation to us in Christ, as we commune with him now in true faith, in prayer, and look forward to enjoying our life with him in eternity. As the apostle writes in the epistle to the church in Rome:

Romans 8:35-39 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In the New Testament we are not promised wealth. Our Lord promises to send us persecution for his name’s sake, so that we may be a testimony to the world in this age when the gospel is being freely preached throughout the whole world, and the nations are being gathered in. But will the Lord bless our testimony if we are not diligent to build his church? Will he continue to shower us with blessed signs of his presence in our lives, and a foretaste of eternity? Surely not. Let us build the Church of God.

And in this work, we are not alone. It is Christ himself who is building his church through us. In the time that Haggai spoke the word of the Lord to the inhabitants of Judah, there was a king, who was really a vassal governor, named Zerubbabel. He is listed as an ancestor to Jesus the Messiah in the gospels. There is a high priest named Joshua, whose name in Hebrew is identical to the name of Jesus. (In the Greek versions of the Old testament, “Joshua” is iesous, where we get the name Jesus.) His name means, “the LORD saves.” These men both fell short of the status that their lineage and office would suggest. Zerubbabel was forced to do homage to Darius the Emperor, and Joshua was a high priest without a temple or altar in which to make offerings and sacrifices. Scholars even wonder what it could mean that Joshua was the “high priest” despite the ruined condition of the temple. What was it that he did as priest without a temple? Doubtless he had an important role in leading and stirring up the people to the work of rebuilding the temple, but the priesthood was diminished by the very lack of a temple. More than that, the promised restoration of God’s people in the land of promise was something much greater than that experienced under the terms of these two officers, Zerubbabel the king and Joshua the high priest. Not only was the nation not free, and the temple unbuilt, but the northern tribes had not been restored to the land as had been prophesied (Jeremiah 3:18). The inadequacy of the rule of Zerubbabel and the service of Joshua, due to limitations outside of their control, and the stunted fulfillment of the promises of restoration, point to something greater to come. A descendant of Zerubbabel, according to Matthew’s gospel, and the namesake of Joshua the high priest, is foreshadowed in this, Jesus Christ our Priest and King. It is under his blessed monarchy that Israel is finally restored, and the nations gathered, not so that God’s people may do obeisance to them, but so that they will submit to King Jesus. And he is the one who has the authority, power, and work of building his church. He expresses this in words such as all authority has been given unto me in heaven and on earth, and I will build my Church. As we labor to establish a church here let us do so in prayer and faith, because Christ is building his church in and through us. Just as the builder uses the lower rows of stones upon which to set more stones, so he is using each of you to build his church in this place. You are like the lower rows upon which more rows of stones will be set by him, as he builds us up into a glorious dwelling for himself.

Use: Build the Church of God, for Christ Jesus is building it through you.

Build the Church of God by regular attendance at worship, because this is where and when his church is gathered as one. Build the church of God by giving of your income. It’s tempting to cut corners on giving to the Lord, and spend money on ourselves. But let us remember that all that we have is a gift from the generous hand of our loving father, and that he has blessed us to bless others through the sharing of the gospel that we are engaged in together as his church. Give of your income to support the gospel ministry and the work of the church in this place, before we spend it on making ourselves and our lives comfortable. And give of your time and effort to build his church. Look for opportunities to share Christ with people that live around and work with you, and invite them to come and experience the presence of the Lord in his church. God has gifted each member of the body with different and specific gifts that can be used to bless and build his church: whether helping, hospitality, or many other kinds of work, and prayer. Let us work to establish a church in this area which is faithful to the good news of Jesus Christ and submitted to him as he has spoken to us in his word by the hand of the apostles and prophets. For they are God’s messengers to us, the ones by whose hands the bucket of cool clear water of life is carried to us so that we may drink it and live. And everything that we do as a church is to be conducted according to this rule: God’s inerrant word in the holy Scriptures. By establishing a faithful church, we are laboring to the end that God’s blessed presence will be experienced and known in this place for generations to come, for us and for our children and grandchildren. In this way souls will be saved, the saints will be built up and prepared for life with God forever, with the one who said, “I am with you.”

Remember that it is Christ Jesus who is building his Church through you. Let this knowledge sustain us when trials come. This is no easy work, and the enemy will seek to divide us between one another. The world will bite at us from the outside, and even neighbors will oppose God’s work among us, just as he did in the days when the temple was being built, and neighbors to the Jews complained to the Emperor to force the Jews to stop the work, making up lies about what they were doing. The same kinds of things will happen to us. Know that we are not doing this in our own strength. Christ who is building his church through us will accomplish his purpose. We can trust him securely knowing that his will shall be accomplished, and that we do not have to worry about the outcome. This will sustain us in the difficult work of forming a new church. It is our Priest and King Jesus Christ, much greater than either Joshua or Zerubbabel, who will build a church here through us.

Conclusion: Build the Church of God, for Christ Jesus is building it through you.

Let us labor to build the Church of God. Even here in this place, let us work to establish a faithful church, for in this way we will have God’s presence among us, and he will bless us spiritually as we commune with him. Let us build it knowing that the work is not dependent upon the strength of our own hands, but that it is Christ Jesus who is building his Church through us. May he grant that there be a faithful church established here through us. Amen.

The preceding is a synopsis of a sermon to be preached on the Lord’s Day, November 30th, if the Lord wills.  

*The King James Version has been used because it is free of copyright restriction in the United States of America.