February 17, 2019
I have a car and I know it well. It’s a 2012 Honda Accord. It’s grey on the outside and grey on the inside. The odometer shows almost 80,000 miles on it. And the latch that brings down the rear seats only works half of the time. I know a good bit about my car. And I am thankful that I have it.
But if you sat me down and asked me to explain how everything works underneath the hood - all the science and engineering that makes my car run - I would have no idea what to say. I could tell you that there’s a thing in there called an engine, and that as long as you give it some gas and a nice push of the pedal, the car will go zoom zoom. But sadly, I don’t know how my car really works. But if I did, I’m sure that I would appreciate my car more.
I think the same goes for how we might think about the church. We may know a good bit about the church. And we can be thankful that we are a part of it. But if someone sat us down and asked us to explain how everything works in the church - all the theology and truth underneath what makes a church run - most of us would have no idea where to begin. But if we did, I’m sure that we would appreciate the church more.
In today’s portion of God’s Word, we are given a big picture blueprint perspective of how Jesus runs his church, how it really works, and what makes it go “zoom zoom.” There are four matters that we need to think about. We are to think about Jesus’ victorious ascension. We are to think about Jesus’ loving gifts. We are to think about Jesus’ spiritual body. And we are to think about Jesus’ worthwhile goal.
As we go through these four matters, I hope that we can appreciate all the “science and engineering” that goes into the church, and I hope that we can really own and take hold of what the Lord is doing here at Highland.
First, when we think about how the church works, we are to think about the victorious ascension of Christ. It’s really interesting that Paul starts with this. Forty days after Jesus rose again from the dead, he ascended into heaven. He literally floated into the sky and out of sight. And he was seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven. But this was not a moment of magic or show. This was a moment of glory and victory. Jesus descended into the lower regions of the earth. And in this realm, Jesus triumphantly defeated sin and death and saved us through his incarnation and life and suffering and death and resurrection. After that, Jesus ascended into the heavens above the earth. And in this realm, Jesus’ triumphant rule and authority and power and dominion is now put on full display (Ephesians 1:21), and all things have been put under his feet and he is head over all things (Ephesians 1:22). All of this is Jesus’ victory.
This means that Jesus is the king of the church. When we think about the church, we must remember that Jesus is the head of the church, not us. This is the ultimate starting point for any discussion of or hope for unity at Highland. Many of you here in this room belong to Highland. Praise the Lord. But Highland does not belong to any one of us in this room. Highland belongs to Christ and to Christ alone. The victorious ascension is his.
Second, when we think about how the church works, we are to think about the loving gifts of Christ. Paul brings to attention God’s Word from Psalm 68. In that psalm, we are told a remarkable thing. As a result of his victory, Jesus gives to his church, that is, to his host of captives set free from the slavery of sin and now held captive to the crown of righteousness, gifts. The church receives gifts from the Lord. It is as if the Lord went to war for us, and now we receive his spoils of victory. But what are his gifts to the church? His gifts are the apostles, the prophets, evangelists, and shepherds and teachers. His gifts are men who do his ministry of his word. The church today is no longer gifted with apostles or prophets because the Bible is finished and complete and there is no more need for apostles or prophets. But the church today continues to receive gifts of evangelists and shepherds and teachers from the Lord. Now let’s be clear here. Paul is not talking about spiritual gifts here such as leadership, generosity, administration, or service to others. Paul is talking about how Jesus gives to his church men who do the ministry of his word. This is why ruling elders and deacons don’t show up on Paul’s list here. That doesn’t mean that ruling elders or deacons are less important than evangelists, shepherds or teachers. Paul is just getting at the fact that Jesus, who is the king of his church, builds and strengthens his church through his word, and has therefore gifted his church with men to minister his word. Jesus ordained that qualified but ordinary men would do that work. And Jesus, through the Apostle Paul, describes such men as gifts to the church.
This means that Jesus loves his church. The focus on the word gift should not be on the evangelists or shepherds or teachers of the church. The focus of the word gift should be on the king of the church, Jesus Christ. The word “gift” doesn’t mean that Pastor Jason and I are awesome. The word “gift” gets at the fact that Jesus is awesome. It gets at the wonderful but simple fact that Jesus loves his church. Jesus gives us men who can do the ministry of his word because he loves us. Therefore, may the attention and the glory be given to Christ alone. For greater than the gifts themselves is the gift-giver.
Third, when we think about how the church works, we are to think about the spiritual body of Christ. We are united with Christ. We are one with him. And we are therefore also united with each other. We are one with each other. We are joined together and held together.
This means that it’s not about you. You belong to Christ. And you belong to one another. Christianity is not something we can do all by ourselves. We actually need one another. Every one of us in the church is important. Every one of us in the church has a part to play. We are therefore eager for unity because we are doing it for the sake of Christ and for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
This means that all of us need to think about everyone. We cannot leave anyone behind. We need to be mindful of everyone. Let us think about our youth students and our college students. Let us think about our young adults and married couples. Let us think about the young Korean-speaking families with kids in the Sunday School. Let us think about the elderly Korean-speaking members of our church. Let us think about the whole body of Christ here at Highland.
This means that all of you have something to offer to Highland. You may not be a shepherd or teacher here at Highland. You may not be officially doing the ministry of God’s word. But the shepherds and teachers that God has gifted you with are equipping you. And you have been given the work of ministry in the areas of love and service for one another. You are to build each other up. Grace was given to each one of you according to the measure of Christ’s gift. But God’s grace is not something for you to keep for yourself. God’s grace is something for you to bless and build up and love and lavish upon others. So if you are gifted in leadership, then lead. If you are gifted with generosity, then be generous. If your thing is administration, then do your thing that is administration. If you are good at serving others, then serve others.
Let’s do this for Jesus. Let’s do this for his people, his church, his beloved.
Fourth, when we think about how the church works, we are to think about the worthwhile goal of Christ. This is Jesus’ goal for us. He wants us to have maturity. He wants us to be more like him and have godly character and holiness. He wants us to know the truth and be sound in our doctrine instead of being childishly gullible and be led astray by false teaching or malicious deception. He wants us to grow. He wants us to love him and love others.
This means that church is exciting. God has a plan for us. We have wonderful things to look forward to. And there is good work for us to do. We are growing. We are being more mature and more like Jesus. We are knowing more of the truth and becoming wiser in doctrine. We are being built up and equipped. Believers might think that church is exciting because of fun events or competitive games. Some might think that church becomes exciting when there is a new building or a new pastor or new members. Others might think that church becomes exciting when there is impact in the community or when there is a momentum or movement toward something big. But the real exciting thing about church is Jesus’ plan for us. Jesus is the head of our church. And his plan is for us to grow and change and mature in him.
Praise the Lord! Praise the ascended and exalted Lord Jesus Christ! Jesus victoriously ascended into heaven. Jesus lovingly gives gifts of evangelists, shepherds and teachers to his church. Jesus’ church is his body. And Jesus’ plan is to grow and equip and build us up. This is what is happening here at Highland. This is the “science and engineering” of how the church works and runs. It’s amazing! And we don’t have to figure this stuff out on our own. Jesus is the head of the church. And he gave this all to us.
I would like to make a humble prayer request before I close. Brothers and sisters, please pray that God would give us more gifts. What I mean here is this. Let us pray that God would give us more men who can minister God’s word in particular (evangelists, shepherds, teachers). And let us pray that God would give us more men who can minister God’s grace in general (ruling elders and deacons). Functionally speaking and realistically speaking, I am basically your pastor. But I want you to know that I cannot do everything. I can focus on the ministry of God’s word. And I am committed to doing that for you all right now as either the assistant pastor or the assistant to the pastor. But I think it is good and right for God to provide other men who can provide additional shepherding and rule (elders) and practical care and love (deacons). And I can argue from Scripture that the situation we are in is not ideal. We need more gifts. We need more men. May the Lord give us more men as elders who can oversee the spiritual wellbeing of the flock and do visitations and lead with decisions and serve and love and equip the body of the ascended and exalted Lord Jesus Christ. And may the Lord give us more men as deacons who can oversee the needs of brothers and sisters who are in need and foster giving for the sake of the sick and the poor and the friendless and the widowed and handle the church’s money and property with integrity and honor and serve and love and equip the body of the ascended and exalted Lord Jesus Christ. I am just one man. We need more men. Think carefully here. Elevating me to the position of associate pastor may solve the problem of politics and the power of a vote. But I tell you the truth, it will not solve the problem of our need for pastoral care and practical care that is more robust, more stacked, and more genuinely presbyterian. Please don’t elevate me. Elevate other men in this room. We need more men. Let us pray that the Lord Jesus Christ will give us and gift us with men that he can use to grow his body and build it up in love.
In closing, these are exciting times for our church behind the gas station. I am excited to see what this church will look like five years from now and ten years from now. I am excited to see what the ascended and exalted Lord Jesus will do in this church in the future before he returns. Our King is the best. He knows what he is doing. In him we trust. Let’s see what he has in store for Highland!
Summary of Sermon
In this text, we are given a big picture blueprint perspective of how Jesus runs the church.
First, when we think about how the church works, we are to think about the victorious ascension of Christ. Jesus’ ascension was a moment of glory and victory. His triumphant rule and authority and power and dominion is now put on full display, and all things have been put under his feet, and he is head over all things.
This means that Jesus is the king of the church. Highland belongs to Christ and Christ alone.
Second, when we think about how the church works, we are to think about the loving gifts of Christ. His gifts are men who do his ministry of his word. It is through his word that he builds and strengthens his church.
This means that Jesus loves his church. The word “gifts” does not mean that the men who minister God’s word are awesome. The word “gifts” gets at the fact that Jesus is awesome.
Third, when we think about how the church works, we are to think about the spiritual body of Christ. We are united with Christ. We are one with him. And we are therefore also united with each other.
This means that we need one another. Every one of us in the church has a part to play. We ought to be mindful of everyone. Grace was given to each one of us. Let us love and serve one another.
Fourth, when we think about how the church works, we are to think about the worthwhile goal of Christ. Jesus wants us to have maturity. He wants us to be more like him. He wants us to know more of the truth and be more sound in our doctrine.
This means that church is exciting. We have wonderful things to look forward to. And there is good work for us to do.
Praise be to our ascended and exalted Lord Jesus Christ! This is what is happening here at Highland. This is the “science and engineering” of how the church works and runs. Our king is the best. Let us see what he has in store for Highland!
Questions for Discussion & Sharing
Our Lord Jesus Christ has ascended. And he is the king and the head of the church. How might these truths change the way that you view our church?
Our Lord gifts his church with men who minister his word. And as a result, the whole body of the church is equipped and encouraged to use their own gifts to love God and serve others. What does all this “science and engineering” reveal about Jesus’ wonderful love for us?
Consider all the parts of the body of Christ and individuals that we have here at Highland. In what ways are we currently loving and serving one another? What are some areas that we can look into for improvement or change? What might you have to offer to Highland? In what ways can you own and take hold of what the Lord is doing here at Highland?
What makes Highland exciting to you? What do you think the Lord might have in store for our church in the future?