Sunday Sermon: ‘What is the Church?’

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This being the first Sunday of a new year, I felt led to begin a series of sermons I have entitled, ‘The Church: Who We Are and Why We Exist.’ What do we mean when we say ‘the church?’ What is the church? Who is the church? What is the purpose of the church? Are we doing what we are supposed to be doing? Is there anything that we need to change? My desire is that through these studies we will get a fresh vision of what the church is supposed to be and that 2018 will be our best year ever.

Let’s begin by reading a portion of scripture from Matthew 16.

Matthew 16:13 When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? 14 And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. 15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? 16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. 17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. 18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  

I. The Church Belongs to Jesus Christ

 A. A Definition of ‘Church’

What does the name ‘church’ mean? The English word church comes from the Greek word for ‘lord.’ Therefore, many define the word church as meaning, ‘belonging to the Lord.’

The particular Greek word that is often translated as church is ‘ekklesia’ which is two words put together. ‘Ek’ means out of or away from, and ‘klesia’ means to be called.

Therefore, we might conclude that the church is the assembly of those who put their faith and trust in Jesus as our Savior. We are the gathering of those who belong to the Lord.

B. A Description of the Church

1. The Church is Christ’s Spiritual House

Ephesians 2:20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord.

Often, we say that the church is not a building but the people who come to worship in that building. Actually, the church is a building, but not a physical building. The church is a spiritual building. According to the passage we have just read, the church is a holy temple built by Christ as a place for Him to dwell.

Jesus is the cornerstone of the church. The corner stone was the first stone laid and it was normally a rather large and steady stone. It not only provided strength for the foundation, how it was laid determined how the building would lie.

The church is built upon Jesus Christ. He is the cornerstone. He is our foundation. Everything we are or will do is to be built upon Him. The Apostle Paul wrote, “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (see 1 Corinthians 3:11) The foundation of this spiritual house is Jesus Christ and everyone who receives Him as their Lord and Savior then becomes a part of that great building.

1 Peter 2:5 You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

When someone receives Christ as their Lord and Savior, they become a part of His church. Peter tells us that we are ‘living stones’ that the Lord uses to build His church.

2. The Church is Christ’s Spiritual Priesthood

1 Peter 2:5 You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Not only is the church a spiritual house for God to dwell, it is also His spiritual priesthood.

When I was a boy growing up, I remember some brothers who bought a piece of land and decided to build a house. They hauled in cinderblocks and mortar and stacked them on the spot where they determined to build their house. But they never built their house. That’s been over fifty years ago and as far as I know, they are still sitting there. Weed and vines have grown over the cinderblocks and the mortar mix has turned to stone. It’s just a pile of building material sitting there.

That’s not what Christ intended when He determined to build Himself a spiritual house. Jesus does not make us a part of His church in order to sit but to serve. Every believer is a part of Christ’s spiritual house and every believer has been chosen to become one of Christ’s spiritual priests.

In 70 AD, the Romans marched into Jerusalem and destroyed the Jewish Temple. They burned it to the ground and carried away all the gold and silver. Shortly after this happened, the Jewish priesthood dissolved. Today there is not temple in Jerusalem and there are no priests offering up sacrifices.

The church is now God’s Temple and believers are His spiritual priests. We do not offer up physical sacrifices for our sins, but rather spiritual sacrifices because of our salvation. There’s a lot more to be said about this, but for now I want us to see that the first spiritual sacrifice God wants us to offer is ourselves.

Romans 12:1 I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

3. The Church is Christ’s Flock

1 Peter 5:2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them…

Jesus said that He was the good shepherd who would give His life for the sheep. Scripture teaches us that Jesus is the Chief Shepherd of the church and that we are now His flock. In addition, the Bible also teaches that He has called men like myself and Pastor Bruce to be His ‘under-shepherds’ and care for His flock. The reason I love the title ‘pastor’ is because it means ‘shepherd.’ I am a shepherd of God’s people.

As your pastor or shepherd, I am directly accountable to God for how I take care of you. The Apostle Paul wrote, “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)

Notice also that Paul refers to the church as being that which He ‘bought with His own blood.’ What happens to the church may not matter to some people, but I can guarantee you that it matters to God. Jesus, God’s Son, gave His life for the church.

4. The Church is the Body of Christ

The church is also the ‘body of Christ.’

1 Corinthians 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Perhaps one of the most descriptive terms used for the church is ‘the body of Christ.’ We will study this aspect in more detail at a later time, but for now let me say that just as our human body has many individual parts that work together for the common good of the body, so it is with Christ’s church. We are the gathering of those who belong to the Lord in order that we might use the gifts and abilities He has given us to serve Him as the head of the body, and each other as fellow members of His body.

5. The Church is the Bride of Christ

Lastly, let me say that the church is the ‘bride of Christ.’

Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

I know how much I love my wife and how upset I would be if someone tried to harm her. How do you think Christ feels when people attack His bride, the church?

Do we have things that need to be changed and corrected? Without a doubt, we do. We’re human. We’re sinners saved by grace whom the Lord is progressively transforming into His own image. We’re a work in progress and therefore we are bound to make mistakes along the way. Perhaps that’s one of the primary reasons Jesus has assembled His church. He knows that we need each other.

This is as far as I can go today. We’ll need to come back to Matthew 16 again next week and take another bite. In closing, stand with me and let’s read this passage of scripture together.

Hebrews 10:19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

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