The Mystery of the Church

God is using his church to make all things new, and to bring together into one all things in earth and heaven.

Mt. 13:24-30 

Jesus put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was asleep, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and slipped away. When the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the weeds also appeared. 

“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ 

“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. 

“So the servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ 

“‘No,’ he said, ‘if you pull the weeds now, you might uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat into my barn.’ ” 

The church is a mystery. But it’s not an unsolved mystery. All of the truth about the church is out in the open – revealed in the Bible. But nonetheless, it’s still mysterious, especially to the world outside the church, for obvious reasons.  

But the church is mysterious even to the church itself – at least to the members of the church who are alive on earth. That’s you and me. It’s a mystery to us because we can only see part of it – the part of it that’s on earth. But the rest of the church is in heaven, where there isn’t anything mysterious about it for all those who have gone before us to glory – for them, it’s as clear as day. One day, it will be for us too. 

*** 

The word “church” isn’t quite the right word for the church. It’s fine for us nowadays, but if we’re going to nitpick, its original meaning isn’t quite the right word. The roots of the word “church” are in the old Anglo-Saxon language, and the meaning of the word is a place of assembly. Well, a place of assembly is not what Jesus founded. The Biblical Greek uses the word ekklesia instead – which means, assembly

Big difference! The word “church” technically means place of assembly – whereas what Jesus founded was the assembly itself. The congregation. He also called it the Kingdom of God.  

The people of God, the Jews, they already had a place of assembly before Christ – the Temple in Jerusalem. That’s where the people would gather to worship. But Jesus came to bring much more than a place of assembly – he came to establish the assembly of God, a universal Kingdom for all people all across the world. 

Sometimes people ask me, what is this Jesus thing all about? What did Jesus do? Now, there are a lot of answers to that – he came to save sinners. He came to save the world. He came to give the Holy Spirit. He came to reconcile God and man. He came to show the way. Etc.  

Yes, all these are true. But when people ask me, What did Jesus do? Why is he such a big deal? What was his real mission? I say: his mission was to establish the Church. 

Why do I say that? It puzzles some people. “So you’re saying Jesus is really just a founder of an organization?” Yes. But not just any organization – a living organism, the Church. The ekklesia. The Body of Christ. Because all of those things we often say Christ came to do – he does through and in the Church. 

For example. What’s the first step in salvation? Hearing the Good News. Where do you hear the Good News? From the Church – when one of the living stones of this Temple of God opens his or her mouth and sings the glorious gospel. That’s how it begins – faith comes by hearing the preaching of the church

What’s next? Baptism. Where are you going to get baptized? The Church. Just like Moses brings water out of a stone in the desert of Sinai, in the spiritual Mount Zion Jesus sends the waters of baptism upon believers through the living stones of his church. 

*** 

The first creed of the Church, the Apostles’ Creed, lists the blessings of the church in this order: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.” What can we learn from the way the Apostles ordered this creed? It shows us that each proceeds from the next:  

— the church proceeds from the Holy Spirit, since the Church is a spiritual temple founded on Pentecost when Christ sent the Holy Spirit from heaven;  

— the communion of saints proceeds from the church, because we are all one in the Body of Christ Jesus;  

— the forgiveness of sins proceeds from the communion of saints, since Christ gives his saints the authority to forgive and be forgiven;  

— the resurrection of the body proceeds from the forgiveness of sins, since sin is the sting of death, and where sin is forgiven, death has no power;  

— the life everlasting proceeds from the resurrection of the body, since our mortal bodies are sown in corruption but raised as incorruptible spiritual bodies by the power of the immortal spirit. 

The blessings of God for humankind all flow out of the church. Can you expect to find the Holy Spirit outside the church? No – even though the “Spirit blows where it will,” nonetheless, wherever the Spirit is, there the church is. Wherever you find a Spirit-filled person, you have encountered a living stone of the Temple of God – of the ekklesia of Jesus Christ. The Church. You have entered into the communion of saints. You have found an individual who doesn’t judge like the world judges, who doesn’t judge past sins, but believes in forgiveness and non-judgment. You have found someone who believes in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, so they are living a life that looks past the life of this world. You have found someone who is in the world, but not of it – you have met someone who has one foot in the world and the other in heaven. 

Now this last part is important. Because we, members of the church, are half-earthly, half-heavenly. One could say that our earthly life in the church is like being in utero, and when we depart this world we are truly born into a fully spiritual, heavenly existence. Nonetheless, just like a baby in her mother’s womb is also fully present in this world, but hidden, so is our heavenly life fully present in this world, but hidden – in the church. We are half-earthly, half-heavenly – and that means all of our earthly imperfections grow alongside our heavenly growth. 

Jesus talked about this in his parable about the wheat and the weeds. He says that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who sows good seed in a field, while his enemy comes along in secret and sows weeds. Once the good sower discovers weeds growing along with the wheat, he says, “Leave it all alone – if you pull up the weeds while they’re growing, you might accidentally pull up the wheat. Wait until the wheat is fully matured and then harvest them together. We’ll sort them out, separate them, and burn the weeds when we’re done.” 

Now when Jesus says His Kingdom is like this, he’s saying his assembly is like this – his church is like this. His people. There’s good mixed with bad. There’s earthly mixed with heavenly. This applies to all of you. Now, some of you might need to be hard on yourself, and need to be reminded that God is growing heavenliness in you – and some of you might need a little friendly reminder that, hey, you might be plenty heavenly, but for all your wheat you got some weeds to be a little more humble about! 

Don’t worry if you’re not perfect. God knows you’re not. That’s why he sent Jesus, to be our advocate and to deal with our sins. That’s why He set up His Kingdom – that’s why we’re gathered here today, in his Church. We’re here getting right with God, hearing the Good Word which is the Good Seed – we’re getting wheat planted in us as we speak!  

As for the weeds, God’s going to take care of our weeds – because our God baptizes us with the fire of the Holy Spirit that will burn up our weeds when the time is right, on His time. He is a just, merciful God who forgives our sins, and certainly forgiveness is one way in which his fiery spirit burns up our weeds. Because forgiveness is the way of reconciliation, and reconciliation is the purpose of the church. Love is the purpose of the church. 

This is the mystery of the church that is ours to experience, ours to explore, our depths to plumb: we are participants in the reconciliation of heaven and earth. Once upon a time, God sent angels to warn men; he sent fire and brimstone, floods, and fire to punish people and remake the world. But when He wanted to make his dwelling place with humankind, and to establish his everlasting Kingdom, he sent His Son, not warning but making peace by the blood of the cross; not punishing but reconciling all things unto Himself – things earthly and things heavenly.  

In short – God is using his church – His People – us, and all the believers in all places and times – to make all things new, and to bring together into one all things in earth and heaven. This is the God of Love who does this, whom we worship and love. Let us thank God and praise him for this tremendous, mysterious blessing of his church. Amen. 

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