Why I Believe That The CHURCH Is The Solution, Part 4
So far in this series of posts we have painted the picture of the Church with broad strokes and a big brush. We had to get a cosmic sized view of the nature of the problem that Jesus came to fix in order to understand the practical workings of the Church as Jesus established it. Over the centuries of the practice of Christianity, the word and concept of church has morphed into a social and cultural institution that has been sterilized and unable to reproduce prodigy with the power to transform the world. If we could go back in time to the moment of the unveiling of the Church that Jesus said He would build, and recapture the essence of this grand plan for the redemption of people and the planet, could it be possible to reset and realign ourselves as a universal body of believers and become THE CHURCH? Let’s rewind the story and watch it unfold from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
Old Testament history was written, the prophets of old had spoken, the nation of Israel was scattered over the face of the civilized world due to their stiff-necked rebellion and idolatry, and Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish world, was under the iron fist of Rome as a tolerated religious sect in its vast empire. It had been more than 400 years since the last prophetic message went out to God’s people. By this time Judaism was reduced to an onerous system of rules and regulations being run by leaders propped up by the Romans who John the Baptist called snakes and vipers, and Jesus described as white-washed tombs. The average Jew was inwardly holding onto the threads of hope for the promised messiah and outwardly ready to cast off the restraints of both Rome and their broken religion. The fuse on the powder kegs of social, political, and religious injustice was lit and it was just a matter of time until it would explode.
We are not told much about the early days of Jesus and after one incident when He was 12 we don’t see Jesus in the public eye for many years. The Gospel writers pick up the story where Jesus is being launched into ministry by the Holy Spirit after His baptism and immediately afterward has a 40-day face to face with nachash (by this time also called satan/the devil, and other names) where Jesus overwhelmingly passed the temptation test that Adam and Eve had failed so miserably millennia before. By virtue of the victory, Jesus had established His rightful authority on the planet and the right to take the mission of redemption of the earth to the next level.
This is where we need to pay close attention to the details and not read into the story our modern Christian church experiences. A good rule of thumb to use when reading scripture is this: The text can’t mean something to me that it did not mean to them, and what it meant to them must mean something to me.
With this axiom in hand, let’s investigate the mission of Jesus from His point of reference which was to be the fulfillment of all the prophetic declarations about His person, His ministry, and His mission.
In the previous post we ended with the prophetic word from Isaiah 9 that Jesus would come to Earth and establish a Kingdom of peace and power that would take over the world and be everlasting. One of the primary purposes of His mission was to establish a governmental system that would enact and sustain the will of God on the earth. Jesus called this, The Kingdom, The Kingdom of God, and The Kingdom of Heaven. This Kingdom would be populated by individuals who yielded their hearts, bowed their knee in humble repentance, and received the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit to become the internal habitation of God on Earth. This Kingdom would be propagated by these Spirit-filled citizens preaching this Good News even to the ends of the earth. And this Kingdom would be gathered into a cohesive unit governed by a heavenly delegated leadership structure that would teach, train, and equip multitudes of Kingdom citizens to take back the planet by making disciples of nations.
Note that when Jesus gave this commission to His initial disciples (Matt 28:18-20), He specifically said to disciple nations not just people in those nations. The intention and emphasis here is that these disciples were to not only invade the heart and mind of people living in foreign places, they were to invade the ungodly governmental structures that were being ruled by Satan and his demonic system of rebellion, death, and destruction. God fully intends to take back His earth and He fully intends for His glory to cover the earth as the waters cover the seas. His chosen plan to make this happen is what Jesus called, “My Church.”
All true adherents to Christianity would hold to the truth that Jesus, God incarnated, came to Earth to save humanity from the eternal death that sin brought into the world through the events at The Fall. Jesus came to save people and bring them into Heaven. It is equally true that Jesus also came to bring Heaven to Earth by destroying the power of sin and taking back rightful ownership and authority over the planet that nachash had deceptively stolen from the first humans (1 John 3:8). In Luke 19:10, Jesus said His mission was totally comprehensive in nature by stating that He came to seek and save all that was lost. The phrase, all that was lost, includes more than people. It includes all that was given to people when they were placed in The Garden by God. Namely, the delegated right to rule the planet and extend the borders of The Garden to eventually cover the earth. The Great Commission of Jesus is nothing more than a recommissioning of the original commission!
The Gospel writers, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, piece together the main events of Jesus’ ministry to show us how the Kingdom of God was launched and established under the laser precision and locked-step obedience of Jesus to the Master Plan. The unveiling comes immediately after Jesus’ victory during His 40-day testing in the wilderness against Satan. He walks into His home town and goes to the Sabbath services as was His custom. It was His turn to read from the scriptures. The portion chosen (not be Him but by the leader of the synagogue) was the familiar passage from Isaiah 61: “…The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…”. After reading, Jesus announces that this passage of the prophecy was being fulfilled that very moment. He is announcing that He is the Messiah! At first the announcement was met with excitement. But after the people in His home town realized that this was just a local boy, they wanted to throw Him off a cliff!
It is important to understand the context of this prophetic word. In our modern times we tend to spiritualize the meaning to only apply to Jesus saving people trapped in sin. However, a careful reading of the context points to Jesus stating that He was coming to pull down governmental (demonic/spiritual) power structures that have created oppression, bondage, inequity, and injustice. Thus His reference to the “favorable year of the Lord” - the Year of Jubilee - (see Lev. 25 and Deut. 15) is all about the actual release of debt and the equity brought about by God’s righteous rule. These diabolical power structures must be pulled down and replaced with the righteousness and justice that can only come through the Kingdom of God. This is setting captives free not only from personal bondages to sin, but also setting captives free from earthly systems of bondage.
From this pronouncement Jesus begins His mission in earnest with only 3 or so years to complete it. He goes from town to town proclaiming that the Kingdom of God has landed on the planet (the Gospel of the Kingdom). He starts His assault on darkness by casting out demons in individual people and healing all who were physically oppressed by Satan and his demonic army. Jesus told the crowds that if He was casting out these demons then surely the Kingdom of God had come (Luke 11:20). He constantly made reference to His miracles as being signs that the Kingdom was being established. He moved from casting out demons from individuals to casting out demons from geographical places (Mark 5). The Kingdom was taking back God’s people and His property.
He trained and empowered His disciples to go out and practice the same ministry He was doing and they came back after their sorties with fabulous stories of how demons were cast out and sick people were healed. His team was getting it! They were being groomed to take over the mission and Jesus needed to make sure that they had the rightful authority, full access to power, and a thorough understanding of the expansive nature of the mission. For about 3 years this OJT (on-the-job-training) was in full gear with Jesus, single-focused on passing the baton successfully after He fulfilled His ultimate destiny of destroying the power of death through His own death and His resurrection.
We now come to the defining moment of what the passing of this baton would look like. Near the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus takes His disciples on a long road trip up into the outer reaches of the Judean region, almost pagan Gentile land. There in a town called Caesarea Philippi Jesus decides to have “the talk” with His key disciples (Matthew 16). He looks at them and asks the question, “Who do people say that I am?” They responded with various answers that came from the word on the streets - reincarnated prophet, a good teacher, miracle worker... Then, Jesus asks them, “Who do you say that I am?” Their answer (and, indeed, our answer) would determine if these highly fallible men would make the connection between the Man, His miracles, and His real mission. God bless impetuous Peter! He blurts out the truth, which Jesus praises and then redirects to the heavenly source of his answer. This revelation, of who Jesus really is and what His true mission is, becomes the foundation for the grand pronouncement of Jesus. More on this in the next post...
Jesus was absolutely intentional in every detail of His life and ministry. Why did He have to take such a long trip to this pagan Roman town to have this discussion? That’s an awfully long walk just for a talk! From the account in scripture we don’t see Jesus doing any other ministry in that region. Right after this staff meeting Jesus and His disciples head back down into Judea and right into the scene of the “Transfiguration” (Matt 17) where Jesus reveals, in person, to 3 of His disciples the nature of His true splendorous identity.
If we keep reading through the Gospel account without considering why this town was chosen we might miss the significance of the location Jesus selected for the unveiling of the greatest redemption project to ever come to Earth. Just like in our modern times, the backdrop for important announcements is chosen to frame the purpose and context of the announcement. Much like a real estate developer would stand in front of a broken down housing complex when making the announcement that a brand new beautiful housing complex is going to be built right here in this place. The old will be torn down to make room for the new. The neighborhood was being redeemed. Could something like this have been in the mind of Jesus when he made His redemption-of-Earth plan public in Caesarea Philippi?
If you are interested in my answer you’ll have to wait for the next post! My answer to this question is also my foundation stone for why I believe that the Church is the solution. So, stay tuned and tune in...
by Pastor Jim Anan