These are notes for a talk shared with our gathering of the saints on 3 May. Ruth, one of the saints in our meeting, had spoken on the Lamb of God at our previous meeting. She remarked how strange this idea seemed when she first became a believer and how difficult it is to explain to those not familiar with Christian jargon. So I went on from there to explore some other familiar yet strange concepts in Christian jargon using the message from Frank Viola's book "From Eternity to Here: Rediscovering the Ageless Purpose of God".
Maybe I only have one sermon. I think I have said some of this before.
Last time Ruth explained for us the symbolism of Jesus our Saviour being called the 'Lamb of God', and
- how strange that seemed to her when she first became a Christian in relation to the lambs on the Welsh mountains
- how difficult it would be to explain the 'Lamb of God' on the streets of Eindhoven.
This morning I want to go on from there and talk about some other terms, phrases or symbols we use
- on the one hand very familiar
- on the other hand very strange when we start to think about them or explain them
- and certainly problematic to explain on the streets of Eindhoven
I also want to try to put the sacrifice of the Lamb of God into the big picture by considering the questions:
- what is God's purpose?
- what is God aiming to achieve and how does the sacrifice of His Son fit in the plan?
- how could it be explained on the streets of Eindhoven?
Ruth explained the atonement. I don't think she actually used that word. But it is a word that is used to label what happened when Jesus the Lamb of God was crucified. He was the perfect offering. We have sinned. In the system of justice of the universe a price, a punishment has to be paid for our sins. He paid the price and we are freed. There are actually several theological theories about how atonement worked. But the result is that
- we are free of the burden of our past sins
- we are forgiven for them
- we are also free of the burden of our future sins
- we are forgiven for them
- we are totally liberated
- we can do anything
Why has God done that? What is his purpose
- it is not about us ... actually
- it is about God
- he is a great and glorious and just God
- and he loves us and all the creation he has made
- and he has set us free to love Him and to love one-another
- and one of the ways we love Him is by loving one-another
But, ... in the end ... God is looking for something else.
And we have now come to some other phrases (like 'Lamb of God') that, on the one hand are very familiar and on the other hand are very strange and hard to explain on the streets of Eindhoven.
I am thinking in particular of
- the 'Body of Christ', and
- the 'Bride of Christ'
Who are these figures? Where do they fit into the big picture of God's purpose?
The Body of Christ
First the Body of Christ, who or what is that? One of the places the Body of Christ is explained is by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 where he gives this basic tutorial in anatomy:
Then he goes on to say:
So we, the gathered believers, are the Body of Christ and Christ is the head of that body. Christ directs each part and thereby directs the whole. Each of us has a part to play in relationship with the others.
So as we in this fellowship know Christ individually and play our part according to His direction, His Body becomes manifest among us.
Sometimes the Body of Christ is equated to the People of God. We the People of God
form the Body of Christ.
BUT, I think that is not an automatic process. The Body of Christ is a spiritual reality formed of us, the People of God. But the Body only comes into existence, is made manifest, when we are acting under the headship of Christ and in coordination with one another, the other parts of the body.
If we are busy with our own ideas and doing our own things, not those things that Christ has intended for us to do - the Body does not become manifest. We remain just the People of God - we believe in Him, He loves us, but we are not listening to Him, we are doing our own things, and even though they seem like good things, the Body of Christ does not become manifest.
So, just to recap:
The Lamb of God has bought our freedom - we can do anything.
But God's purpose is to form the Body of Christ here on earth ... and that needs us to be using our freedom to listen to the Head and do as the Head says along with our brothers and sisters and thereby allow the Body of Christ to become a reality.
Now, that is not something you can explain on the streets of Eindhoven. But I think it is something that can be manifest on the streets of Eindhoven
- when the time is right
- when we are really obedient and practised
- when the time is right
- when the Head says so
Then there are ways the Body of Christ can be manifest on the streets of Eindhoven
- not because we think it is a great idea
- but because the Head says the time is right and this is how we are going to do it
The Bride of Christ
So .... now we have outlined the 'Body of Christ'. What about the 'Bride of Christ'?
- who is she?
- where does she come from?
- a bride is going to her wedding to be joined with her groom
- when is that wedding?
Now, think back to the first man, Adam, where did his bride come from?
- out of his side
18 The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."
19 Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
23 The man said,
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called 'woman,'
for she was taken out of man."
24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (Gen 2 NIV)
So she was hidden in the first Adam until God put him to sleep and created her from a rib out of his side. Adam recognised her immediately. She was the partner he had been missing. She was beautiful to behold, she was bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. She was his bride.
So it is with the Second Adam, Jesus Christ.
The Bride of Christ is hidden in the Body of Christ and in due time God will bring her forth from the side of the Body and form her into a beautiful Bride for His Son. And now we are getting close to the purpose of God.
- it is to find a Bride for His Son
- that Bride is to be formed out of the side of the Body of Christ
- that Body is to be formed of us the, the believers, the People of God
- and that is why the Lamb of God had to be sacrificed
- not so that we have a guarantee of going to heaven
- but so that the Body of Christ can be manifest on earth
- and eventually the Bride of Christ can emerge
So here we have some of the mysterious, vivid images of the book of Revelation in which John is trying to describe the indescribable. How will it be when God returns to establish his dominion over all the earth. John describes a Holy City, the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And a little further on he is invited by an angel to go and see the bride, the wife of the Lamb and she turns out again to be the Holy City.
Our Place in God's Purpose
So God's purpose is not about us in the sense that we are not the main objective,
- but we are the living stones that God needs to build with
- He has a place for each of us, the living stones have to fit together, so there is a part for each of us to play
- on the way to the wedding
- and we get to be a part of the wedding as it seems
- the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 and 22 foreshadows the perfected, glorious church that Christ will unite Himself with at the end of the age
But first, here and now, we need to learn to use our freedom well
- so that we are hearing the Head and know what part we are to play
And we can't do it as individuals on our own. We need one another ... the parts of the Body have to be coordinated ...and come together for the Body to be manifest.
Now, that is the nutshell version. It probably raises more questions than it does answers. But if we are serious about being the People of God and forming the Body of Christ, we should start to explore those questions together, find and share the answers. So we are prepared and ready to manifest the Body of Christ on the streets of Eindhoven or where ever
'From Eternity to Here: Rediscovering the Ageless Purposes of God' Frank Viola, David C
From Eternity to Here website
Frank Viola's blog