ďThe Temple ProjectĒ

Sermon for 28 March 2004

Texts:Matt. 16:13-20; Ephesians2:11-22, 4:11-13; Acts 2:42-47; 1 Peter 2:4-6†††††

 

There are two temple projects that I want us to look at together this morning.The first is the temple rebuilt by King Herod (between 20 B.C. and A.D. 64), a temple built with human hands in which the sacrificial system of religion of first century Judaism took place.The second temple we will call the new temple project; it is an ongoing project and it involves us, the church of Jesus Christ..

 

††††††††††† Last week, I was dumbfounded, totally amazed by a picture of Herodís temple and, according to this illustration, the temple stood approx. 150í tall--the top of our church steeple is only about 90í--and as I read on, I learned that it was also 150í wide.It towered some fifteen stories high, 25 times as high as a six foot tall man.It faced east and a huge altar and basin stood outside the door.It was completed in a mere 18 months--the rest of the temple compound took from 20 B.C. to A.D. 64.The completed structure lasted ; until A.D. 70 when it was demolished by the Romans.The ceiling in the Holy Place and over the Most Holy Place was at 90í which means that our entire church as it stands could have stood inside the temple building! The exterior was beautifully rendered, with tall pillars, ornate capitols and frieze work--the most impressive being the golden grape vine over the entrance to the Holy Place.The curtain between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place--known elsewhere as the Holy of Holies--is the one which was rent at the time of Jesusí death.Again, outside the temple we have the inner court for true Israelites (including the priests and Levites) and around that the outer courts amongst which you would find the Court of the Women and Gentiles.But everyone, except for the high priest on the Day of Atonement, once a year, was excluded from the Holy of Holies where the Presence of God was manifested in Israelís past.

 

††††††††††† What was all this elaboration for?For the Jews of Old Testament religion.The whole structure of the temple was designed to express boundaries of holiness, and the separation between different classes of person: Jew and Gentile, male and female, priest and worshipper.The promises of the Old Testament were made for His Chosen People; they never belonged to the Gentiles and they donít to this day.The covenants of Israel were made to the nation of Israel and not even to individuals--even though the original covenant was made to Abraham, it was made to him as the father of many nations.It was an international event from the beginning, but it was not global in the sense that we use the term.So, we are to understand that the land of Israel was only promised to Godís covenant people in the Old Testament. We, as the New Israel, can lay no claim to either the promises, or to the land of Israel which historically belonged to the Chosen People.Because this is true, you and I might begin to feel somewhat impoverished.But we are told we have a better, future place--the one that Christ is preparing--which in every way excels the territory that Israel once knew, say, in the glory days of King David.Ours is a new and better hope, a more excellent place.Therefore the Jews hold a lesserhope and the Gentiles/unbelievers had no hope at all to this day.

 

††††††††††† Yes, this is still the case.Other religions, other than Judaism properly understood, do not offer a resurrection life with God.Indeed, not knowing very much about the life to come, they tend to be rather fuzzy about eternity and eternal life.Christians are much better off--we have a place to go and someone to be with when we get there.We know furthermore what the first fruits look like as we have seen the resurrection life in Jesus Christ.Other religions do not lead to the same destination let alone to the same God--they do not lead to God at all.

 

††††††††††† Letís return to the court of the Gentiles.It was situated as far from the temple center as it could be and still be in the temple compound.Gentiles were literally and figuratively cut off, excluded and this truth was expressed even in the architecture of this house of worship.Now with Christís coming, all this has changed.And this is where the new temple project comes in.There is a new temple project and that would be us, the church--we are called, set apart and are being built up into a spiritual dwelling place for God Himself, a place of spiritual worship even the family of God--and the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile has come down.Jesus has become our peace.He has abolished in His own person the dividing wall of hostility.The implications of this are huge and contemporary, for example, as I have declared before, Jesus and only Jesus is the way to peace in the Middle East. That is why we must pray for evangelists to work in the Middle East, which is to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and for the reconciliation of Arab and Jew in Jesus.Through belief in Him both Arab and Jew are reborn as believers, as brothers and sisters and the carnage can cease.But before we wax too eloquent on the international plane, we need to learn something more about this new temple project as it effects us here and now.

 

††††††††††† So I want to begin with a picture of the new temple, the project you and I are part of:

 

Acts 2:42And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:43And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. Acts 2:44And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; Acts 2:45and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Acts 2:46And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, Acts 2:47praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

 

You will notice that there are no breath-taking physical dimensions to this temple!That is because it is a spiritual temple.Letís review some facts: the newtemple project began with Jesusí plan for constructing His church: Mat 16:16And Simon Peter answered and said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Mat 16:17And Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. Mat 16:18"And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.Ē

 

††††††††††† Now I need to point out a few truths here: first, the church originates in the revelation and confession of Jesus as the Christ as expressed by Peter--thatís the templeís point of origin, the cornerstone of the whole structure.Second, this temple has an apostolic foundation: you are Peter and on this rock--Peter, standing in for all the apostles as I maintain it to mean--I will build my church.And my church will prevail over all the powers of Hell.We have Christís word on it.We find confirmation for this truth elsewhere in Eph 2:19-22 which is our text for the day

 

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, Eph 2:20having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, Eph 2:21in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; Eph 2:22in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

 

There, beloved, is the same teaching, the church, the Acts church or the new temple is built upon the foundation of the apostles and, yes, prophets and pastors, teachers and evangelists as we learn further in Ephesians 4: 11-13 by the plan and purpose of Christ Jesus:

 

Eph 4:11And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, Eph 4:12for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; Eph 4:13until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

 

Now there is much to be gleaned from these passages, not all of it very comfortable for all of us (more of that to follow) but here letís note that the foundation of apostles is Christís idea (not manís) and that the five-fold ministry is given for the work of, for the completion of the new temple project which is our subject here.

 

††††††††††† It is not possible then to succeed at becoming the new temple, or the Acts church if we depart from the Masterís plan for implementation--or if we substitute for ChristĎs plan one of our own devising.Am I one of those expecting, even advocating that the church exists to meet the needs of the family, am I subtly insisting that the church serve my personal needs?Letís guard our hearts against subversive expectations.The expectation that the church exists to meet my familyís needs parallels an expectation in our consumer-oriented society that church exists to meet the personal, psychological and emotional needs of those who attend--so some look for a church that meets their needs rather than a church that needs their service.But we know that while church is a family, family is not the church.And we know that our personal needs are met by the Lord in the course of obeying His commandments.Our Lord says of Himself that He came not to be served, but rather to serve.Church exists to serve the needs of those outside, to achieve Kingdom goals and to bring glory to God.Knowing this we must take step to insure that our family exists to accommodate the church, to serve others.The way to achieve this is to submit to the church as ordained by Christ and not some other plan!

 

The scriptural foundation for these convictions about the place of family is found in the following places:

 

Mat 12:46While He was still speaking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Mat 12:47And someone said to Him, "Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You." Mat 12:48But He answered the one who was telling Him and said, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?" Mat 12:49And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, "Behold, My mother and My brothers! Mat 12:50"For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother."

 

And again:

 

Mat 19:28And Jesus said to them, "Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Mat 19:29"And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, shall receive many times as much, and shall inherit eternal lifeĒ

 

For some of us the reality of putting aside family for the sake of obedience to the gospel is painfully real.For some it is simply a matter of geographical location, for others itís the lonely challenge of being unequally yoked, others have been isolated by other family members, others formally disowned.What a sweet and necessary comfort it is to know that Jesus will reward you for what youíve done ďfor His Nameís sake,Ē for what you have done to put the kingdom first in obedience to God.The first passage teaches us that our real family is our fellow disciples; they are our true, spiritual family--they may not be identical with our natural family at all.In the second passage, we learn that following Jesus can mean leaving familial relationship behind for the sake of the Kingdom.The vision to reach the lost, however, on its own will not suffice; it needs to be married to a passion. . .a passion to pour ourselves out for those outside without neglecting our mutual service and submission to each other.

 

††††††††††† The foundation of Christís church, the new temple project, let us remember is apostolic; itís the five-fold ministry appointed for the edification of the saints, the body of Christ.That is what we submit to in the local church.It doesnít matter whether you think you can do a better job at home, or through private/parochial schooling because thatís not the plan. It doesnít matter if weíve been assigned to play second, or third trumpet--even for the rest of our lives!An orchestra cannot exist without the humility of all the players taking their place as assigned by the conductor.And where an orchestra refuses to let the conductor lead, or where everyone insists on being first trumpet--or any other leadership position--there is not going to be beautiful music, harmony and unity.Christ has appointed some to lead and others to follow and it is not a matter of being better at all.It is about structure and boundaries and about Christ being fully in charge.

 

††††††††††† We cannot say that we donít know the scriptural plan for the new temple because it has been revealed to us.I had an experience in England that has shaped my life is a profound manner.I was preaching on Palm Sunday, my first sermon at the United Reformed Church in Summertown, England thirty-three years ago.When I arrived in the pulpit, there seated before me was an assembly of some of the finest theological minds in the English-speaking world.George B. Caird was there.He was Principal of Mansfield College and soon to be the Queenís Professor of New Testament.He thanked me for the sermon.He explained to me that he hadnít come to church to critique the sermon, he had simply come to worship.He had come to submit to the preaching of the local church even though he was a excellent scholar and a preeminent preacher himself.What did I learn from his example of humility?I learned to put things in perspective: we need to submit to apostolic authority in all things in the local church--preaching, teaching, prophesying, pastoring and evangelizing--especially to those less credentialed, in worldly standards, because what they have to offer is of the Lord.In a word, we are to do the Lordís work, the Lordís way.

 

††††††††††† The church, the new temple project exists to advance the kingdom.We reach out to the lost by example, by word and deed and by enlarging the temple courtyards.And the deed that shines most brightly in Acts was the mutual devotion of the people of God, the love of teaching and fellowship,commitment to communion and to prayer.These people have a purpose, a plan.The love of the church--not of spouse, not of family, and not of country--inside and outside attracts people to the light.The submission of the people to the purposes of Christ is part of the God-first piece of every ChristianĎs life; itĎs the passion piece.If you are on fire for Christ, people will come to see you burn!

 

Benediction:

 

Eph 3:14For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, Eph 3:15from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, Eph 3:16that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; Eph 3:17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, Eph 3:18may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, Eph 3:19and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

Eph 3:20Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, Eph 3:21to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.