Gen 1: 1-31 ESV | Ps 19:1-11 ESV | Heb 1:1-4 ESV | John 1:1-18 ESV
Since I believe Dale’s claim in last Sunday’s message that much of the Church, including St Mark’s, is under judgement, is true, I want to pick up this theme, but from a very different angle.
But first I need to warn that any human attempt to preserve the Christian Church in Australia, whether as a religious institution, this diocese, or St Mark’s as a community we all love will fail under the judgement of God because to put the Church first is an act of idolatry.
Christ did not teach us to pray, “Your Church come…” but “Your kingdom come…”. To confuse the visible church with the reign Christ did once entangle up St Mark’s in lengthy fruitless efforts for the redevelopment of our site in order to survive. But survival is never the God’s will in Christ, his will is resurrection life (John 6:39-40 ESV)!
Dale compared the church to a withered plant that desperate needs watering, and quoted John the Baptist, ““the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire”” (Luke 3:9 ESV).
Wilted plants in the spiritual realm are as easy to recognise as they are in the natural realm. (JY brought 2 branches into the church, one healthy the other withered, from the same tree). If there is no-one who has come to Christ or grown in Christ-likeness through my life, then I am a withered branch (John 15:6 ESV).
As an ageing, illness-conscious church with people leaving our fellowship for no apparent kingdom reason we are a wilting plant. But in the Lord, there’s always a way forward no matter what the condition of the tree; read Job 14:7-9 ESV.
Christ is calling us into the deep roots of what the Bible calls “the mystery of God”1)1 Cor 4:1; Eph 3:9 ESV.
This means discovering that the absence of spiritual vitality in the Church is a symptom of being inhibited in our union with the spiritual glory and beauty of Christ our Husband. God calls his people to relate as a faithful Wife to Jesus, enjoying what I can only call a nuptial rapture until we see his splendour face to face (1 John 3:2 ESV).
This is a reality that can be realised in the here and now by the ministry of the Word of Christ. That God’s Word imparts his glory is clearly taught in today’s readings; at climax of the 10-fold “God said” of Genesis 1 “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31 ESV).
“Very good” in the sense expounded in Psalm 19, the entire creation was declaring the glory of God. Hebrews takes this further by explaining that the word through whom the world was created is, “the radiance of the glory of God” (Gen 1:2-3 ESV), and as expounded in John 1, this is the glory of the Word made flesh, the “glory of the only Son of the Father” (Gen 1:14 ESV).
All the glory and beauty of creation is founded and finished in Jesus.
THE OFFERING OF BEAUTY
We must counterbalance the persistent feeling that the world is getting worse with the fact that the world is full of beautiful things. The Church struggles in its partnership with Christ to faithfully release the fulness of such beauties. Donna will insist maths is beautiful, Andrew that music is beautiful, there’s a beauty in theology, and a beauty in cooking, hospitality and certainly in babies and grandchildren. Or, to move closer to the theme of this sermon, no one has ever seen an “ugly bride”.
The Church/us may behave like an “ugly Bride” but she can never be in the eyes of Jesus anything but limitlessly desirable. (He is in rapture over the Woman with whom he will spend eternity!) But how are all the beauties of God’s gifts released to dynamically serve Christ’s kingdom through his Church (Matt 16:16-19 ESV)?
Some people felt uncomfortable when Dale referenced from Malachi the giving of “tithes and offerings” (Malachi 3:8-10 ESV) to the Lord sending a spiritual watering on the withered plant of the Church. People are so hung up about money because they rarely possess the spiritual depth of revelation to understand how money becomes beautiful through the mystery of God!
Is there anything naturally beautiful about money? (JY holds up a $50 note) Not at all. The old term for money as “filthy lucre” reflects this (Tit 1:11 KJV).
But money given sacrificially to prosper the kingdom of God creates a sphere of glory which releases heavenly blessings to further the kingdom of God.
When the people of Israel brought “much more than enough” in gifts to construct the tabernacle the glory of the Lord filled the place2)Ex 36:6 ESV; Ex 40:34 ESV; when in Acts those with more than enough sold it to contribute to the needy believers necessarily “great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:32-33 ESV); when in the midst of a financial crisis in South Korea believers in a fellowship started selling even their rice bowls to contribute to the assembly we shouldn’t be surprised that they grew to the largest church in the world.
There is no limit to the power of God to beautify even the seemingly most ugly things when they are offered up to him.
The wife of friend contracted terminal lung cancer some years ago, but they both became quite excited when the Lord spoke to them through his Word in Ecclesiastes, “God has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 ESV).
Even death can be transformed into something glorious because there is no limit to the transforming power of the beauty and glory of the cross.
THE UNUTTERABLE BEAUTY OF THE CROSS
Dale’s image of a withered plant moved my mind to the prophecy about Jesus in Isaiah; “My servant grew up in the LORD’s presence like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” (Isa 53:2 ESV)
To ordinary sight the cross was sheer ugliness and a repulsive tragedy, but God does not see as we see. And so the death of Jesus became the one thing in which the Church gloried; “But far be it from me” says Paul, “to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal 6:14 ESV).
Every time I speak of beauty I am constrained to share (2 Cor 5:14 ESV), even if very briefly, my experience in Jerusalem at the site of the crucifixion.
Transfixed by a painting of the face of the crucified Jesus I had a completely transparent sense of Father saying, “This was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.” The love the Son of God showed in becoming a sacrifice for the Father to save the world was inexpressibly beautiful. Baptised into Christ’s death and resurrection we have been immersed in this eternal imperishable beauty (Rom 6:1-4 ESV). Isaiah says, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isa 40:18 ESV).
The Word in which we stand is Jesus and unlike earthly beauties we shall never perish (John 3:16 ESV). The word spoken to us in the gospel has unlimited power to water, purify and beautify.
BEAUTY OF THE CHURCH: WATER AND WORD
Those ““born (again) of water and the Spirit””3)John 3:5 ESV cf. John 15:3 ESV; Tit 3:5-6 ESV have the imperishable seed of the glory of eternity in their hearts (1 Pet 1:3-4, 23 ESV). And the greatest witness to the beautifying power of the Word in scripture is about our Marriage to Christ.
vs.25 “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, vs.26 that he might make her holy, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, vs.27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Eph 5:25-27 ESV).
This extraordinarily lovely image means any unfruitful, wilting, barren church is a Bride resisting the all beautifying power of the Word of Christ. Jesus will Return as our Beloved Husband and Word of God and he will impart to the fullness of the beauty of our Bridal identity so that marital bliss will fill the universe forever (Rev 19:11-16 ESV).
Then our nuptial rapture will be perfected and everlasting. Hallelujah! What might be preventing us from growing irresistibly into such wonders now?
UGLY BAD ROOTS
Instead of being “rooted and grounded” in Christ’s love (Eph 3:17 ESV) we may have an evil and defiling “root of bitterness” that “causes trouble” (Heb 12:15 ESV), or lacking deep roots in the Lord we may have distanced ourselves from him for fear of rejection in the world (Mark 4:16-17 ESV).
If, as taught last week, the people in Malachi’s time were “robbing God” by withholding their material contributions most contemporary Christians are “robbing God” by not offering to him the best of their time.
Too busy to read the scriptures deeply, pray persistently and gather regularly with the saints of God to intercede and study the Bible. Until this satanic strategy is broken the Australian Church will remain crippled and immature.
Underlying all spiritual withering is a chronic unbelief that God’s Word can release his beauty and glory through our own ordinary lives.
But the glory in Christ crucified is without limit. Some years ago, soon after I had a soul-splitting then joy-releasing experience of the Lord’s powerful presence I took a regular communion service for frail, crippled, demented visibly perishing people in an old people’s home.
This time I was granted to see them through the eyes of Christ crucified in the power of his endless love and this hagged bunch were all amazingly beautiful. Loving radiant spiritual beauty covered them breaking in from another world.
Withered though we maybe we can be seeing ourselves as covered in this beauty. But there is a step of obedience most of the Church refuses to embrace.
We are of course back to the cross. As soon as any group of believers obeys the call of God to sacrifice precious things a revelation of his glory will appear (Eph 3:10 ESV). This is the gospel (2 Cor 4:4 ESV).
The mystery of the Church and her fruitfulness and vitality is the mystery of a beautiful Woman loved through immeasurable sacrifice and called by her Beloved (Eph 1:6 ESV) through his Word to share in the power of his sacrificial life and enter into his glory and beauty (Eph 5:26-27 ESV).
When all the wonderful talents and treasures God has given us, with the ordinary and difficult circumstances of life, are placed at the feet of Jesus in living sacrifice (Rom 12:1-2 ESV) we will be inundated by the beautiful life of Christ.
The survival of the name “Anglican” or “St Mark’s” is a very small thing.
What really matters is that Christ manifest his presence in Bassendean and beyond through his beautiful Bride, the Church.
In the light of the revelation of the mystery of Beauty what will you offer Jesus today to make sure what is withered does not die but springs and sprouts radiant with his life?
MESSAGE DELIVERED: 9th December, 2018 Location: St Mark’s
Author: Dr. John Yates
YouTube or PODCAST:
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||1 Cor 4:1; Eph 3:9 ESV|
|2.||↑||Ex 36:6 ESV; Ex 40:34 ESV|
|3.||↑||John 3:5 ESV cf. John 15:3 ESV; Tit 3:5-6 ESV|