It seems hard to believe that District Conference happened over seven weeks ago. District Conference was an amazing time and it became clear that God was speaking to us as a district and Pastor Barry, Pastor Pam and I felt that God was speaking to us as a church – about the importance of renewal and revival – about making the main thing the main thing. Over the last four weeks we have been hearing about those four main things:
- Evangelism – God has called us to be Fishers of Men
- Worship – God has called us to be a worshiping church
- Prayer – God has called us to be a praying church
- Family – God has called us to be a place where relationships are important.
Last year about this time I was introduced to a book called “When Hurting Helps,” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. One of the key pieces to Parkway’s DNA is missions. You heard about that last week. Several months ago our missions team decided to look at this same book. During our last meeting together, we discussed the first chapter of the book “Why Did Jesus Come to Earth?” The first chapter of the book begins with these two important questions:
- Why did Jesus come to earth?
- What is the primary task of the church?
I know that in a congregation of this size this morning, I could ask this question to each one of you and it’s possible that each person might give me a different answer, especially to the second question.
So let’s take a look at the question, “Why did Jesus come to earth?” If you ask this question of many believers, they would say that Jesus came to earth to save people from their sins. If you said that, you would be correct, but the answer would be incomplete. Some of you may question why, but we will get there.
The second question asks, “What is the primary task of the church?” Like I’ve already said, the answers are all over the map on this one. Some would say the church’s task is evangelism – some would say discipleship – some would say worship – some would say missions – some would say relationships with other believers. Those would probably be the top answers at least. While I was studying for ordination, I read a book “Exploring our Christian Faith.” It was written by Nazarene professors and written in the early 60’s. One of the chapters was “The Nature of the Church” and in that chapter they boiled down the purpose of the church as:
- Ministry Service
Let’s fast forward to 1995, a book was released that year called “The Purpose Driven Church.” Amazing the author came up with the same 5 purposes. The difference is that he created systems for these 5 purposes. If we look at Acts 2:42-47, we find these words:
42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
We can see that the early church – just days after the Holy Spirit came – were involved in these purposes and yet I believe that this passage implies something even deeper. Jesus came for something more and therefore the primary task of the church is something much deeper.
In order to explore this further, I want us to turn to Colossians 1:15-20. We sang these words earlier in our service. It’s appropriate that we did because the “Colossian Hymn” is another ancient hymn that is quoted by Paul in his letters. The last time I preached, we looked at the “Philippian Hymn” that is found in Philippians 2:5-11. The key to why Jesus came to earth and the primary task of the church is found in Colossians 1:15-20:
15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
16 for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
Everything was created through him and for him.
17 He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.
18 Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body.
He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything.
19 For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ,
20 and through him God reconciled everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.
Let’s dive into this passage to answer our two questions. The first question is “Why did Jesus come to earth?” We see from this passage who Jesus is – how he is described. First we are reminded that Jesus is God – that he is the firstborn of all creation and that he existed before anything was created. We are told that Jesus is the creator of the universe, the sustainer of the universe – he holds the whole universe together and he is the reconciler of the universe. So yes, Jesus died to save our souls, but so much more importantly Jesus died to reconcile us back to God – that is to put us back into right relationship with the Father and – all that God and Jesus created.
At Christmas we sing the carol, “Joy to the World” which contains this line, “He comes to make his blessings known, far as the curse is found.” The curse that was put on Adam and Eve in the garden is universal in scope – there is decay, brokenness, and death in every speck of the universe. Jesus – the King of kings and Lord of lords is making all things new and this is the good news of the gospel.
In my research for this sermon, I came across another Christmas carol – one that will be somewhat familiar and yet because of the changes that happen to these songs the original meaning has been lost. It is one of my favorite carols, Charles Wesley’s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”
1. HARK how all the Welkin rings (not angels – but the whole universe)
” Glory to the King of Kings,
” Peace on Earth, and Mercy mild,
” GOD and Sinners reconcil’d !
2. Joyful all ye Nations rise,
Join the Triumph of the Skies;
Universal Nature say,
” Christ the Lord is born to Day!
3. Christ, by highest Heav’n ador’d,
Christ, the Everlasting Lord,
Late in Time behold him come,
Offspring of a Virgin’s Womb.
4. Veil’d in Flesh, the Godhead see,
Hail th’ Incarnate Deity !
Pleas’d as Man with Men t’appear,
Jesus, our Immanuel here !
5. Hail the Heav’nly* Prince of Peace !
Hail the Sun of Righteousness !
Light and Life to All he brings,
Ris’n with Healing in his Wings.
6. Mild he lays his Glory by ;
Born ; that Man no more may die,
Born ; to raise the Sons of Earth,
Born ; to give them Second Birth.
7. Come, Desire of Nations, come,
Fix in Us thy humble Home,
Rise, the Woman’s Conqu’ring Seed,
Bruise in Us the Serpent’s Head.
8. Now display thy saving Pow’r,
Ruin’d Nature now restore,
Now in Mystic Union join
Thine to Ours, and Ours to Thine.
9. Adam‘s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp thy Image in its Place,
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in thy Love.
10. Let us Thee, tho’ lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the Heav’nly* Man:
O ! to All Thyself impart,
Form’d in each Believing Heart.
I’ve always loved this carol, but I’ve found a new love in this carol, especially with the original lyrics – Jesus has come to restore his creation. On Sunday mornings, we have been hearing about this during our “Faith Lessons” series. God through Jesus is restoring Shalom back to the earth. One of the things that we have learned over the last year, is that the Egyptians believed that God wanted to reign over chaos. However in their scheme of things – it was Pharaoh’s job. Can you imagine being a Pharaoh and knowing that the job of bringing peace and balance to the whole universe was on your shoulders – because you were considered God? I wouldn’t want that kind of responsibility.
So Jesus came to reconcile the world back to himself. That is the Good News. Jesus gave us a great example of what the church was to be and what the church should be. In Luke’s gospel, John the Baptist is trying to figure out if Jesus is truly the Messiah or if there is someone else. Here is Jesus’ reply:
22 Then he told John’s disciples, “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard—the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. 23 And tell him, ‘God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.’” (Luke 7:22-23)
So what do we learn here? Jesus’ deeds were essential to proving that he truly was the promised Messiah, Jesus preached the good news of the kingdom, and He showed the good news of the kingdom.
Which brings us to the second question: “What is the primary task of the church?” The task of God’s people is rooted in Christ’s mission. “Simply stated,” say Corbett and Fikkert “Jesus preached the good news of the kingdom in word and in deed, so the church must do the same.”
In the Old Testament, the Israelites were to be a sneak preview of the coming attraction of Jesus – they were to give their viewers an idea of what the main event would be like. When people saw the people of Israel they were supposed to say, “Wow! These people are really different. I can’t wait to meet their King. He must really be something special.” Hence since King Jesus would bring good news for the poor, it is not surprising that God wanted Israel to care for the poor as well. We hear these declarations over and over in the Old Testament – take care of the widows – take care of the orphans – take care of the stranger – take care of the foreigner. If you read Isaiah, one of the Lord’s accusations of Israel is they forgot to do exactly that. Yes, they made themselves an adulterous nation – they worshiped idols instead of the true god, but they also forgot those who were downtrodden. So what does that have to do with us?
The church is God’s people and we are more than just a sneak preview of Jesus – we are the body, the bride, and the very fullness of Christ. When people look at the church, they should see the very embodiment of Jesus! Wow! I wonder just how many people see Jesus when they look at the church.
In the letter of James, we find these words, “27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.”
In 1 John 3:16-18 we hear these words:
16 We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?
18 Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.
What is the task of the church? We are to embody Jesus Christ by declaring what He did and what He continues to do through us; declare – using both words and deeds – that Jesus is the King of kings, and Lord of lords who is bringing a kingdom of righteousness, justice, and peace.
So what does that have to do with us? What does that have to do with Parkway Wesleyan? Several weeks ago we were discussing this book amongst the Global Ministry Team. We asked ourselves the question, “How do we meet the needs of our community and at the same time – just like Jesus did – share the good news?” We heard several great testimonies last week during the El Salvador Team presentation about the doctor and his wife and their team that not only attend to the physical and health needs of their patients, but also to the spiritual needs of their patients. This is a great example of the church at work.
Over the past two Saturday evenings, there have been a small group of people meeting for prayer. We have been asking God for several things:
- For the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives
- For revival
- For salvation for those who don’t know Jesus
- For us to be able to reach our community more effectively
- Preaching the Good News
- Touching them in tangible ways.
As the praise team comes to close the service with a song of commitment, let me share one final thought:
One of the things that we talk about at Chick-fil-A all the time is creating emotional connections – creating raving fans. What if we could do that as a church – what if we could create emotional connections as a church – what if we could create raving followers of Jesus? What would that look like? Could we make a change in Staunton, Waynesboro and Augusta County? I really believe that we can. It will take much prayer and it will require our commitment to doing the things that Jesus did. As we close, I’d like us to sing this song that says, “Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee.”