The Body of Christ

THE FELLOWSHIP OF FAITH PART 1- YOU ARE: THE BODY OF CHRIST
O.T. Lesson: Psalm  51:1-8
N.T. Lesson: Ephesians 4:1-6We live in a society that prides itself in tolerance and concern for others, and protection of rights, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from discrimination, etc.  And sometimes we think we live in a ‘Christian’ country.

The Bible says however that the Christian is to be different from and separate from society at large — that there is something ‘unique’ about those who have put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.

The Greek word for Church is ‘Ekklesia‘.  It literally means “an assembly ‘called out’ for a particular purpose or cause”.  And the N.T. writers use some 96 analogies of the church, which can be grouped into as many as 31 minor images and 4 major ones. Dr Stafford in his book, Theology for Disciples1 suggests that “The fellowship in faith” is a good overall figure of description for the church.  The N.T. uses words like the sanctified, the faithful, the justified, followers, disciples, the witnessing community, confessors, slaves, and friends to define it.  Christ calls the fellowship into existence as people respond to the Holy Spirit’s drawing them into a trusting relationship with Jesus Christ.

I would like to explore the other 3 major analogies, one at a time:

  1. The Body of Christ
  2. One New Humanity
  3. The People of God

You Are:

So this week we will look at The Body of Christ.

The main reference is found in I Corinthians 12:27,28You are Christ’s body– that’s who you are!  You must never forget this.  Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything.  You’re familiar with some of the parts that God has formed in his church, which is his ‘body’; apostles, prophets, teachers, miracle workers, healers, helpers, organizers, those who pray in tongues,” [MSG]. This is how our Lord is making himself known in the history between his first and second coming.

The church then is an organism of divine Grace.  As Believers minister to each other as well as to the surrounding community, they make the Grace of God real to both. [See John 17, and 13:34,35]

The assumption in the early church was that each person in the fellowship loved Jesus and was serious about being His follower.  And so they stuck together and worked at their relationship, which was based on Scripture and the direction of the Holy Spirit. [See Acts 2:37-ff]

But the early church also had its share of problems.  One problem was the dominant religious society each had come from. [See Galatians 1:6,7; 3:1-5]  The most part it was Judaism, with its rules, regulations, and the development of Doctrine set in place by the three main schools of thought- the Pharisees (“the Literalists”), the Sadducees (“the Pragmatists”) and the Hellenists (“the Accomodationists”).

Not very different from today.  Some want to take every word literally and they will go on forever quibbling over words [see Titus 3:9].  Others want to be practical– ‘nothing succeeds like success”.  And the prosperity cults and “name it-claim it” take off on their own.  After all, “God is on my side automatically, because I exist.”

Then there are those who accommodate every one and every doctrine and have concluded that ‘as long as you are sincere’ you are O.K. No one ought to be excluded from God’s heaven — a warm fuzzy place where everybody is right.

However, the Bible says that the gifts God has given to the church are the leaders “to train Christians in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.” [Ephesians 4:12,13 MSG].  Notice that it is a developmental process.

And the early church had its problems. Paul describes the Corinthian Church’s ‘Love Feasts’ in I Cor 11:21 and 14:21,23.   These had some hungry and others drunk, and worship services that were competitions of manifestations.

What God wants is each member of the body, whether in a local assembly or within the framework of the whole universal family of God [all those who have put their faith and trust in Christ], functioning effectively with all of the rest. I’d like to share a note from Max Lucado’s book, No Wonder they call Him the Saviour2.  I believe it will help us past the periphery and get us into the centre of where we can function in the way God intended.

“Those selfish soldiers,” we smirk with our thumbs in lapels. “They were so close to the cross and yet so far from Christ.” And yet, are we so different?”2

1 Structure of discussion from Theology for Disciples, Gilbert Stafford, Warner Press 1996, pages 158-167. [return to text]
2 Lucado, Max, No wonder they call him the Saviour, Multnomah Press 1986. Chapter 24 “Close to the Cross, but far from Christ”. [return to text]
© 2000 D. H. Friesen

The Resurrection

“I am the Resurrection and the life, says the Lord; whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” John 11:25,26

Psalm 116:1-8
Epistle: Romans 8:6-11
O.T. Lesson: Ezekiel 37:1-14
The Gospel: John 11:17-27,41-45

As we prepare for Easter, one of the issues we have to address is the Resurrection of Jesus.   The problem started the moment it happened and is still an issue today.  The key feature of Christianity is the belief in the resurrection. Because of Jesus’ experience, we ourselves have to face the possibility of life beyond what we see.

The Jewish leaders proposed a way of handling the political fall-out of the resurrection on that first Easter by instructing the soldiers to start a rumour. They gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, ‘You are to say, “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.”‘  So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed, [Matt 28:12,13,15].

A modern notion proposed is that Jesus fainted and revived in the coolness of the tomb (The ‘Swoon Theory’).  Another hypothesis is that the Roman soldiers moved the body.  One of the other theories proposed is the ‘Hallucinations Theory”- they just thought they saw Jesus.  However, each of these theories begs credulity in one form or the other1.

The reluctant disciples of Jesus struggled with the idea of Jesus’ resurrection, and at first were like those “from Missouri”- (“I won’t believe until you show me!”).  And the Bible records that only after Pentecost did they really have the courage to believe it. [see Acts 4:31].  After that, it didn’t matter what was done to them; they carried on boldly telling what they had experienced [see Acts 5:41,42].

The one we know as Saint Paul was a Jewish leader and a member of the Pharisee sect [a very strict conservative group] who was faced with a revelation of the Risen Lord. It dramatically changed his life and he became the foremost missionary of the Good News to the non-Jewish world of the first century [see Acts 9 and the rest of Acts].  The pattern has continued through time, and the history of the martyrs is a colourful story of pain, suffering, and death rather than accommodation or even compromise their faith and beliefs.  (For modern and historical information on martyrs, visit The Voice of the Martyrs website.)

Even in modern times, many have believed in the truth of the Power of God demonstrated in the resurrection of Jesus Christ; so much so, that they have taken the message to every corner of our world.  Often they will learn the language and construct a method of writing in order to give the message of the Good News in such a form that it could be taken to every corner of the earth in the native language of every person in the world2.

The Jewish people had a belief in resurrection and life after death, [not all, of course – see Mark 12:18] and as Jesus prepared Martha and Mary for the ‘Raising of Lazarus’ their brother, Jesus spoke of resurrection as being a part of His own character. “I am the Resurrection and the Life, [John 11:25].  In John 10:14-18 he also explained “I have authority to lay it [my life] down and authority to take it up again”, and then proceeded to do exactly that on the days  we call Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

But if this is just another story to you, the truth of the resurrection won’t do you any good.  The only way to demonstrate its reality is to put your belief into action.

I want to share with you a story.  Its based on fact, but could be told with variations by every one who has come to experience what the Apostle Paul calls “The power of the resurrection” [Phil 3:10, compare Romans 8:11].  Edith Burns3 had a habit of introducing herself, “Hello, my name is Edith Burns.  Do you believe in Easter?” Then she would explain the meaning of Easter, and many times people would respond to the Gospel.

Her doctor Will Phillips called her in one day, and with a heavy heart said “Edith, your lab report came back and it says you have cancer.  You are not going to live very long.”

“Why, Will Phillips,” was Edith’s reply, “Shame on you.  Why are you so sad?  Do you think God makes mistakes?  You have just told me I’m going to see my precious Lord Jesus, my husband, and my friends.  You have just told me that I am going to celebrate Easter forever, and here you are having difficulty giving me my ticket!”

She landed in the hospital, a few months later, just after New Years.  Everyone was exited about her except the head nurse Phyllis.  Phyllis had been a nurse in an army hospital.  She had seen it all and heard it all.  She was the original G.I. Jane.  She had been married three times; she was hard, cold, and did everything by the book.  To her, Edith was a “Religious Nut”.

When she walked into the room, Edith said with a smile, “Phyllis, God loves you and I love you, and I have been praying for you.  And I have asked God not to let me go home until you come into the family.”

One day Phyllis was drawn to Edith’s room like a magnet.  “You have asked everybody here the question, ‘Do you believe in Easter?’ but you have never asked me.”

“Phyllis, I wanted to many times, but God told me to wait until you asked, and now that you have asked…”

Easter Sunday, Phyllis came into work, did some of her duties, and went to the flower shop and got some Easter lilies to wish Edith a happy Easter.

There lay Edith, a sweet smile on her face, and her hands in her big black Bible…

Phyllis left Edith’s body walked out of the room and over to two student nurses.  “My name is Phyllis Cross.  Do you believe in Easter?”

1 Little, Paul E., Know What You Believe, Chicago, Inter-Varsity Press, 1968, chapter 4.  [return to sermon] also see McDowell, Josh. Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Here’s Life Publishing, 1979.  (Amazon.com has both Volume 1 and Volume 2 available.)

2 See Richardson, Don. Peace Child, Ventura Cal, Regal Books, 1974. [return to sermon]         See also Olsson, Bruce. Bruckho.

3E-mail story courtesy of Walt Seward. [return to sermon]

Reconciliation in Preparation for Easter

What does it take to be reconciled to God?

RECONCILIATION IN PREPARATION FOR EASTER

CALL TO WORSHIP:

I am the light of the world, says the LORD; those who follow me will have the light of life. John 8:12

Scriptures: Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; I Samuel 16:1-13; John 9:1-41.

Month end statements and Income Tax filing get us involved in trying to make numbers add up.  We sweat over them and get frustrated and sometimes hire someone else to do it.  New Years and family reunions get us involved in considering another kind of reconciliation– that of relationships.  We look back and see hurt feelings, wrongs done, practical jokes that got out of hand, and recognize ‘something should be done’– whether or not anything happens.

The Bible is full of such stories and incidents, but I would like us to consider just a few.

The story in John 9 is a study of contrasts and potentials and reconciliation.

On the one hand you have the blind man– unable to function completely in society.  His condition was considered a punishment, and a just one at that.  And the man seems to have accepted the situation.

Jesus comes on the scene and is challenged by his disciples regarding the man’s condition.  Jesus uses the challenge to demonstrate who he really is (and what God’s program really is) by restoring the blind man’s sight.

The Pharisees have their own agenda, and because it does not fit the true agenda of the Father, Jesus challenges it.  God is in the business of restoring what has been broken apart, what has been damaged; the things that have begun to disintegrate and rot.  God wants to restore society to what it should be from His perspective.  The focus in society needs to be on God and bringing praise to him, and then the relationships with other people will be resolved and become all they are meant to be.

Some are like ‘lost sheep’.  They don’t know where they are and they don’t know where the Father is; they just know they can’t help themselves. They need help from someone else.  There are those like the ‘prodigal son’: they know where home is; they know the father.  But they will not come to Him until they get to the end of their own devices and have come to the realization that their own way is a dead-end street.  Very often they think that parents and God are hopelessly out-of-date and irrelevant to their situation and to life.

Peter the apostle was like that. Like a rebellious two-year old, his attitude was, I do it self, until Jesus showed him up at the trial.  Can you imagine the look on Jesus’ face when Peter SAW Jesus?  We know Peter was filled with remorse.  But in the end Jesus has a word for him.  Look at John 21:15-19: “Feed my lambs; take care of my sheep; feed my sheep.”  Peter couldn’t respond to the way Jesus asked him, because Jesus asked, “Do you truly love me?” [Agapeo] and Peter’s reply was “You know I love you.” [Phileo].  The difference in the two Greek words represents the difference between a self-abandoning, selfless love, and a deep friendship.   But notice that Jesus takes Peter from where he is, to where He knows Peter could be.

Romans 5:6-8 says that “at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us“.  II Cor 5:16-21 sums it up: ” … All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ… not counting men’s sins against them.  We implore you on Christ’s behalf; be reconciled to God…

What does it take to be reconciled to God?

  • Abandon your disbelief, and turn to Christ, trusting Him completely.  [The Amplified Bible explains believe as– trust in, cling to, rely on. John 3:16]
  • Abandon your hate and forgive others the way Christ has forgiven you– without strings attached. [Matthew 6:9, 18:21-35]
  • Abandon your grudges and hurt feelings, and respond with God’s love from hearts full of gratitude for the immense amount of forgiveness he has poured out on you.  [Colossians 3:12-17]
  • Abandon feelings of revenge and manipulation, and set aside your own agendas and plans to sacrificially serve.   [Ephesians 4:30-5:2]

Look at the contrast between Judas and Peter– both had disappointed Jesus, both had failed in following through on their commitment to Him.  One went out and committed suicide because he couldn’t face it; the other wept and came for forgiveness.

II Peter 3:9 says,  “He is not slow…but patient…not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

Will you allow God to reconcile you to Himself? For more information, go here.

© 2000 D. H. Friesen