"The Vision Thing"
Texts: Gen. 22:11-14, 16-18 & Matt. 25:34-39
The vision for our church: "That all may know, love and worship God." arose out of much study, prayer and meeting together. It was a wonderful experience of coming together in unity--we were stretched by the process. It tested our love and it demonstrated that love is durable, it is patient, it perseveres. It is indeed all that Paul says it is in 1 Cor. 13; but it took the process, it took the relationships to test, or prove that love. We are members one of another and now we are anticipating an annual meeting--coming right up next Sunday! Our vision is divided into three parts: knowing, loving and worshipping God. I want to spell those things out this morning from scripture: what does it mean to know God. Listen to Colossians:
Col 1:13 For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, Col 1:14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Col 1:15 And He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. Col 1:16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-- all things have been created by Him and for Him. Col 1:17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. Col 1:18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything. Col 1:19 For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, Col 1:20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
To know God is to know Him in His capacity as our Deliverer. It is God who transferred us form the domain of darkness to the light, to the kingdom of God in Christ Jesus. This same Jesus is God and in Him we have both redemption and forgiveness of sins. So we do not think of God abstractly, as if He an idea. We know Him in the work of redemption--particularly, we know Him as the agent of forgiveness. We know this for-giveness first as a transaction with God Himself and on the basis of that forgiveness, we activate forgive-ness for others. We are forgiving because our God originates forgiveness and we, by His grace, have been recast, or remade in that forgiving image. Indeed, Jesus embodies forgiveness; it was His mission, or purpose on this earth. Jesus also made visible that which up until then had been invisible--he made the "unknowable" knowable just as Paul declared on Mars Hill. Acts 17:23 "For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' What therefore you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you." What a wonderful use to put that altar to diversity and inclusivity--that the Greeks probably meant merely to cover all bases! So, in Jesus we "see" the Creator ("If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.") We see divine dominion in Him, over thrones, dominions, ruler and authorities. We also see in Jesus the cohesive center of the whole creation, He is the superglue that binds it all together. We see in Jesus our head, the head of the church. The first-born of all creation by resurrection, it is recorded in the Word what resurrection existence is like. We know the fullness of God through Jesus Christ and we know Godís reconciling power as embodied in Jesus.
We know God in three ways: by His Word, by prayer and by fellowshipping with each other. First, by His Word:
Psa 119:67 Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Thy word. Psa 119:68 Thou art good and doest good; Teach me Thy statutes. Psa 119:69 The arrogant have forged a lie against me; With all my heart I will observe Thy precepts. Psa 119:70 Their heart is covered with fat, But I delight in Thy law. Psa 119:71 It is good for me that I was afflicted, That I may learn Thy statutes. Psa 119:72 The law of Thy mouth is better to me Than thousands of gold and silver pieces.
Heb 4:12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
The Word of the Lord consists of revelations, prophecy, statutes, precepts--these are all "the law of Thy mouth." The character and purposes of our God are disclosed for us in and through Scripture; we know Him as He reveals Himself to us. Of course, this isnít simply a matter of studying the book, but it is a matter of studying under the influence of the Holy Spirit, a matter of reading with faith. And of reading with a heart to obey God, obedience precedes understanding.
We also come to know God through the practice, or discipline of prayer:
Phil 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Phil 4:5 Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Phil 4:6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Phil 4:7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Prayer plays a central role in this passage. Prayer undertaken by the rejoicing heart, by those who know Godís character of forbearance towards us reduces anxiety. How? Anxiety is reduced by two things: first, and foremost, a growing familiarity with the Father and, second, by delegation. When you hand things over to God in prayer, you have delegated the responsibility for outcomes to Him. God takes over, you get a break. Iíve never known anyone who needed instruction in how to worry, but I have known many who need to taught how not to worry. We get to know God through these vital interactions.
Thirdly, we grow in our knowledge of God through fellowshipping. By this I mean more than attending Sunday worship, mid-week home group, Sunday school and even bible studies. As we interact with each other, God is showing Himself powerful in our midst: work days, fairs, public suppers, missionary visits, workshops and bible institutes all provide occasions to learn about God by working with and living with each other:
1 Cor 1:4 I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, 1 Cor 1:5 that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, 1 Cor 1:6 even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you,
1 Cor 1:7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Cor 1:8 who shall also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Cor 1:9 God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 1 Cor 1:10 Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.
Enriched in Him, called into fellowship, we help each other "mature," or advance in completion. This work may never be complete in the entire body, but it must certainly be advanced in particular cases and individuals. Learning to work together is a disclosure of our Godís purpose for us.
Love. The second part of our vision is concerned with love.
Mark 12:29 Jesus answered, "The foremost is, 'HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; Mark 12:30 AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.' Mark 12:31 "The second is this, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' There is no other commandment greater than these." Mark 12:32 And the scribe said to Him, "Right, Teacher, You have truly stated that HE IS ONE; AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE BESIDES HIM; Mark 12:33 AND TO LOVE HIM WITH ALL THE HEART AND WITH ALL THE UNDERSTAND-ING AND WITH ALL THE STRENGTH, AND TO LOVE ONE'S NEIGHBOR AS HIMSELF, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." Mark 12:34 And when Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."
We show our love by obedience:
Rom 12:9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Rom 12:10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; Rom 12:11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; Rom 12:12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, Rom 12:13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.
These verses detail for us what love without hypocrisy looks like. It stitches much of what weíve read in Mark 12 together. There it commands us to love our neighbor, but here a clarification is made: of all the neighbors you are to love, your brothers and sisters in the kingdom and in the church are to have first place. That doesnít mean we are to hold back from doing good to strangers, but it does mean that we are to persons of loyalty who are loyal to God and loyal to the fellowship of the saints--and to those outside the church, we serve them out of our loyalty to the first two parties. Matthew 25 makes this priority, or order very specific and clear.
Mat 25:34 "Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Mat 25:35 'For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; Mat 25:36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' Mat 25:37 "Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You drink? Mat 25:38 'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? Mat 25:39 'And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' Mat 25:40 "And the King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'
Matthew 25 is addressed to the redeemed, those, "you who are blessed of My Father," who are to inherit the kingdom prepared for believers from the foundation of the earth. It is the same "you" here who is cited for feeding, giving drink, visiting and clothing--the saints! Now when saints are ministering to saints, even "these brothers of mine, even least of them," they are ministering to Christ Himself. What distinguishes the Christian from other benevolent persons is precisely this Christ-centeredness and this practice of caring for each other, for the saints is a potent, remarkable witness to the unsaved, to unbelievers. They are to exclaim, "How these Christians love each other!" because we really do love and serve each other. The same principles informs1 Tim 5:8 But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever. It is a shame and a reproach to the church if she fails to care for her own.
Furthermore, and because I do not wish to be misunderstood, I must emphasize that "seeking first the kingdom of God" most certainly cannot mean that witnessing to the lost and caring for the brothers and sisters are in any way opposed. Seeking the kingdom means loyalty to God, to the saints and the church. It also means being concerned for the material and spiritual well-being of those outside the church; it means material blessing and "witnessing" to the lost, soul winning. Deu 15:11 "For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, 'You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.' And Titus 3: 8 says those who have believed God may be careful to engage in good deeds. Incidentally, soul winning cannot be an end in itself, and, scripturally, it is not. Those we bring to Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit, have to be taught, mentored and discipled into the fellowship of the saints--your church if at all possible--where you can continue in love to get to know and serve them better and better. No one converts to church, but to Christ. Churchmen are made our of converts. This is the best service we can render God because the church then reproduces itself.
You know the verse that teaches us "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things, all these needful things will be given unto you"--that is, God makes sure that the real needs of those who put Him first are met. Well, the same thing holds true corporately, for the church: if we love and serve each other, and if we are faithful to bring the salvation message to the lost--we will see growth. God will not only pay the bills, we will wonder that we ever doubted His provision for all He asks us to do. A passion for bringing people to Christ will cause the church to thrive; it will give us a reputation for genuine compassion and spiritual maturity. A passion for missions follows when we internalize Christís own urgency and priorities as our own. A desire to see Godís family grow joined with a desire to grow oneís self will both create unity and promote harmony. Your family is part of the family of God and that part of the family of God gathered in one place is known as the church.
We love God by surrendering our all.
Gen 22:11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." Gen 22:12 And he said, "Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me." Gen 22:13 Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. Gen 22:14 And Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide, as it is said to this day, "In the mount of the LORD it will be provided." And
Gen 22:16 and said, "By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son, Gen 22:17 indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. Gen 22:18 "And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice."
The point of this very challenging passage is blunt: God demands that we surrender all and trust Him completely. Our love of God is to trump all other loves and it is at that point that the blessings flow from Him into our lives.
Finally, we come to worship. Worship entails the cultivation of gratitude, the cultivation of wonder, awe and praise and it issues in the exaltation of Jesus Christ.
Psa 107:8 Let them give thanks to the LORD for His lovingkindness, And for His wonders to the sons of men! Psa 107:9 For He has satisfied the thirsty soul, And the hungry soul He has filled with what is good.
Psa 40:1 I waited patiently for the LORD; And He inclined to me, and heard my cry. Psa 40:2 He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay; And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. Psa 40:3 And He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; Many will see and fear, And will trust in the LORD.
God satisfies the hungry soul means that He meets the needs, or longings of the human soul--the cry for reasonableness and rationality. God is attentive to us and to what we are passing through--and some have experienced remarkable deliverances. All of us have experienced the establishment, the setting of our feet on solid ground and, if we thought about it would embrace that new song, that bubbling up of praise in the grateful trusting heart.
A sense of wonder that issues in praise begins with an acknowledgement of Godís greatness.
Psa 145:1 I will extol Thee, my God, O King; And I will bless Thy name forever and ever.
Psa 145:2 Every day I will bless Thee, And I will praise Thy name forever and ever.
Psa 145:3 Great is the LORD, and highly to be praised; And His greatness is unsearchable.
Isa 57:15 For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, "I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly And to revive the heart of the contrite. Rev 15:3 And they sang^ the song of Moses the bond-servant of God and the song of the Lamb, saying, "Great and marvelous are Thy works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Thy ways, Thou King of the nations. Rev 15:4 "Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Thy name? For Thou alone art holy; For ALL THE NATIONS WILL COME AND WORSHIP BEFORE THEE, For Thy righteous acts have been revealed."
And, finally, there is the mater of exalting Jesus.
John 12:27 "Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour. John 12:28 "Father, glorify Thy name." There came therefore a voice out of heaven: "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again." John 12:29 The multitude therefore, who stood by and heard it, were saying that it had thundered; others were saying, "An angel has spoken to Him." John 12:30 Jesus answered and said, "This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes. John 12:31 "Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world shall be cast out. John 12:32 "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself."
Jesus is worshipful because of who He is and because of the purpose for which He came: to die for the sins of the world and to establish the kingdom of God on earth over which He is King forever. Jesus came to defeat the powers of darkness and death . . .and so He did through the resurrection. But the greatest glory of it all is the love triumphed, and we can know Him still and because of these things our worshipful design is consummated in knowing, loving and worshipping Him.