The Ideal Church, Part 2

Westminster Abbey

 This series is called, “The Ideal Church.”  It’s not called, “The Perfect Church,” because there’s no such thing as the “perfect church.”  If somehow, somebody, somewhere could actually start “the perfect church,” the minute you join it, it would cease to be perfect.  The Church of Jesus Christ cannot be perfect because it’s made up of people like you and me: Dreadfully imperfect people, full of faults and foibles.  But there is “the ideal church,” and maybe you’re a member of an “ideal church.”  There are lots of them, all over the world.  You may not hear much about them.  Most of them aren’t pastored by famous, best selling authors.  But some may be.  You probably won’t find Grammy Award winning worship leaders in the “ideal church.”  Or maybe you might.  The “ideal church” isn’t necessarily hard to find.  But you have to look for it.  

The ideal church is not necessarily the “American church,” with it’s steeples and bells and, often with the word “campus” attached to it, with it’s typically American hymns and songs, often projected up on screens, with it’s hip worship leader wearing skinny jeans and a worship band made up a collection of 20-something year old musicians.  If you were to journey to other countries, even in the Western world, to attend a church service, you might be surprised how they “do church.”  Does a church, for example, that only sings the psalms with no musical instruments sound like an ideal church to you?  Or how about a church without a pastor; a church run by a number of elders who take turns preaching and teaching.  Does that sound ideal?  

It might surprise you to know that in terms of how long man has been roaming the earth, the church is fairly recent invention.  It’s true.  Going back to the earliest days of man on the earth, there was no church.  There was no “organized religion.”  There was only the family, and the worship of God all took place within that context.  The family, God’s idea in the first place, became the model for another one of His ideas: The church.  That’s why we often talk about “the church family.”  The church was founded by Jesus on the Day of Pentecost and local churches sprang up after that, and at first there was little or no organization, just a strong bond of love, fellowship, and co-operation.  The church in its simplest form is made of people who love each other, enjoy fellowshipping with each other, study God’s Word together, and work to promote the love of Christ in the larger community.  Is that the ideal church?

Last time out, we talked about the foundation of “the ideal church.”  It’s the Jesus-built church.  The ideal church isn’t built upon the yeast of Pharisees and the Sadducees.  It’s not built upon men like Peter and his teachings.  The ideal church is founded upon the Rock of Jesus Christ, the Christ, the Son of the living God.  It is built by Jesus Christ.  It is not built by clever marketing techniques and slick programs.  Lots of churches come and go, but the ideal church will stand the test of time; it will stand up under the withering blasts of Hell itself.  The Jesus-built church will endure until the very end.

Another thing to note about the ideal church is that it was bought by the very blood of Jesus Christ.

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.  (Acts 20:28 | TNIV)

That’s Paul speaking to a bunch of elders from the church at Ephesus.  There’s a lot of theology crammed in those two English sentences.  For example, there’s a gem of Pastoral Theology tucked in there.  Maybe you missed it.  Paul said that your “overseer” or your pastor is in his position because the Holy Spirit called him to be there.  Yes, the pastorate isn’t just a career a person chooses because he doesn’t like to get his hands dirty or because he likes to sing or impress people with his use of big words – Greek, Hebrew and English big words.  A true “man of the cloth” is so because God has called him to be one.  They are, furthermore, “shepherds of the church of God.”  That’s because churches are full of sheep that need to be led, tended to and cared for.  Of primary significance, though, is the last statement regarding the church of God: Christ bought it with his own blood.  

Blood in the Bible

To the uninitiated, the Christian church’s view of “the blood of Jesus” may seem kind of odd.  Most of us don’t like looking at blood.  Personally, I hate looking at anything outside of the body that belongs inside the body, and certainly singing songs about “blood” might be a bit off-putting, Jesus’ or otherwise.  And the idea of drinking the blood of Jesus during a Communion service could be seen as bizarre.  As a matter of fact, during the earliest days of Christianity, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper proved problematic because it led some Romans to think Christians were no better than cannibals!   So, where does the Christian obsession with “blood” come from?  It all goes back to what God thinks about it.

For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.  Therefore I say to the Israelites, ‘None of you may eat blood, nor may any foreigner residing among you eat blood.’  (Leviticus 17:11, 12 | NIVUK)

As far as God was concerned, blood was all-important because without blood, there could be no life, and as part of His law for His people, they had to treat blood with all the reverence it deserved.  Even as far back as their days in Egypt, before the law was given at Mount Sinai, on the eve of their deliverance, the Israelites were told to put the blood of a sacrificed lamb on their door posts so that the “death angel” might see it and passover their homes.  Again, why blood?  It was to signify to that supernatural visitor that a death had already taken place in that home and that he could move along.  

Once a year, during the Day of Atonement celebrations, the High Priest would enter into the Holy of Holies with the blood of the sacrificial goat and sprinkle it all over the altar.  The blood of that goat was given on behalf of the people; poured out in order to secure forgivness for their sins.  The goat suffered and died and shed its blood to satisfy the law of God and in place of the people’s suffering and death. 

The blood of Jesus

In God’s way of thinking, because blood is essential to life, the highest offering that can be made to Him must involve blood.  Going back to the earliest days of the Israelites, God gave the a process whereby the sins of the people could be covered up – made atonement for – by using the blood of animals.  God’s justice demands that sin and sinners be punished.  When you commit a sin, regardless of what it may be, you are committing a sin against an eternal God, therefore your sin is eternal in nature.  Therefore the punishment for that eternal sin must also be eternal in nature: Eternal death.  In the Old Testament, that payment took the form of a perfect animal sacrifice, offered in the way outlined in God’s law.  The animal was slain, it’s blood shed for the sins of the people.  

But over in the New Testament, that all changed with the coming of Jesus Christ.

In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.  (Hebrews 9:22 | NIVUK)

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.  (1 John 1:7 | NIVUK)

So instead of having to slaughter all kinds of animals to satisfy God’s holy and righteous justice, Jesus came to give His life one time, for all the sins of the world.  He shed His blood – He poured out His life – so that your sins could be atoned for.  

The shedding of Jesus’ blood on the cross not only took care of our sin problem, but it also showed the whole universe what human beings are worth to God.  Christ’s blood bought our forgiveness; we are worth the price of Christ’s blood to God.  

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.  (Romans 3:23 – 26 | NIVUK)

So the shed blood of Jesus took care of all the sins of the past, because the blood of all those animals didn’t really provide forgiveness, it just stayed God’s punishment until Jesus came to shed His blood, taking care of all those sins before, and all the sins yet to come.  

The blood of Jesus takes care of your sins when you believe in His work on the cross.  Notice Paul wrote that the benefits of Christ’s shed blood must be “received by faith.”  That means you have to believe in the power of Jesus’ blood.  It’s easy to take His great sacrifice for granted, and that’s why we celebrate Communion, or the Lord’s Supper.  He instituted this “memorial” to help us understand and remember what He did for us.

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.  (Luke 22:20 | NIVUK)  

Jesus’ blood established the “new covenant,” replacing the “old covenant,” which is why we sing hymns about the blood of Jesus and not the blood of goats and lambs.

Acts 20:28

Let’s go back to the verse that started all this.  

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.  (Acts 20:28 | TNIV)

Some things become very apparent in this verse.  First, the primary job of the “overseer,” who would be the pastor or pastors, is to “keep watch over” themselves and then to do the same for the congregation.  We don’t think much about this order, but it is significant.  If the shepherd of a church is to lead his congregation, then his life needs to be right.  Church leaders need to DO before they can encourage the people to DO.  

Second, the Holy Spirit appointed your pastor and elders.  It may not appear that way to you, but it’s a fact.  The pastor of the church, and indeed the elders of that church, are tasked by the Holy Spirit, with loving the congregation and being concerned for their spiritual wellbeing.  

Third, part of that concern involves shepherding God’s church.  Note that carefully.  Not the shepherding part, but the “God’s church” part.  It’s God’s church.  It’s not your pastor’s church.  It’s not your church.  It’s not your denomination’s church.  The church you attend is God’s own church. And why is it God’s church?  The church belongs to God because He bought it for Himself.  The idea here is so simple, yet so profound at the same time.  The thought is that God redeemed for Himself a people known as “the Church.”  How much did God pay for the church?  The cost of our redemption was literally “the blood of His Own.”  The church is God’s special property, and the ideal church realizes this truth.  You’d think all churches would know this, but you’d be surprised many do not.  Many people think the church is owned by its most influential family. Or the board of elders.  Or the presbytery.  But it isn’t.  God bought and paid for the church  – your church – with the blood of His only Son.  He loves the church and He cares very much about the church and He cares about what you think of His church. Do you love it like He does?  Or do you find excuses to avoid it every chance you get?  Do you love its members like they were your own family, which they are, actually?  Or do you talk bad about them and gossip about them whenever you can?  

The ideal church is first and foremost a Jesus-built church.  And in the second place, the ideal church realizes it has been bought by God and owned lock, stock, and barrel by Him.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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