CHURCH IS NOT A BUILDING – CHURCH IS THE PEOPLE OF GOD
WE WILL CONTINUE TO DO CHURCH – WE WILL CONTINUE TO BE CHURCH
2020 VISION – WE NEED TO SEE THINGS CLEARLY – FROM GOD’S POINT OF VIEW
WHO DO YOU SAY HE IS?
This unprecedented time, this Coronavirus Pandemic, is (as we have seen) a “wake-up” call to the world. It is not an understanding of the CAUSE of the virus that is important so much as the RESPONSE that we shall make to the opportunity that God is giving to each one of us. The whole world has the opportunity right now to wake-up to what is really important. Each one of us has an opportunity to wake-up and turn-back to God and be the people, in intimate relationship with our Father in Heaven, that we were always called to be. Father God loves us all, and offers to bring good to all of us out of this bad time.
It is time for all of us to decide – this day – who we say that He is. And then for us all to decide – this day – what we are going to do about this.
So, I want us to look at three well-known times in the Bible when God gave the opportunity to people to choose whether they were going to continue to live their lives in a way that led to eternal DESTRUCTION in hell or were going to change their lives to live in a way that was going to lead to eternal DELIGHT in Heaven.
- “IF THE LORD IS GOD, FOLLOW HIM; BUT IF BAAL IS GOD, FOLLOW HIM”
In 1 Kings 18 we have the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal
Israel was ruled by the wicked king Ahab, who together with his wife, Jezebel, had led the people away from God and into worship of the false gods of Baal and Ashtoreth. Elijah alone stood up to them and told them they were wrong. The consequence for the rebellion (sin) of Israel against God was a drought that had by now lasted three years. And now it was “show-down” time. As king Ahab stood on Mount Carmel with the people of Israel watching on, Elijah threw down the challenge
‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.’ (1 Kings 18: 21)
The people, we are told, said nothing. The prophets of Baal cried out to their god to send fire to burn up their offerings – and nothing happened. But, when Elijah called down fire from Heaven that burnt up his sacrifice, the people woke-up and put the prophets of Baal to death and swore to return faithfully to the LORD.
THE SYMBOLISM AND RELEVANCE FOR TODAY:
- Then, Israel was going through a time of great crisis – the drought meant people were starving and dying of thirst – and they were full of fear and anxiety.
Now, the world is going through a time of great crisis – people are dying of COVID-19 and are full of fear and anxiety.
- Then, Israel were worshipping Baal and Ashtoreth. Baal was the weather god. The weather in those times was all-important. Too much heat or too much cold and the crops would die in the ground. Drought or flood and the crops would rot and die in the ground. So, prayer and worship would be given to Baal in the vain hope that this idol would give them the conditions needed for prosperity. Ashtoreth (or Astarte), on the other hand, was the goddess of pleasure – associated with sex and relationships. Prayer and worship would be given to Ashtoreth in the hope of a pleasant and emotionally gratifying life. This symbolises all that man without God wants – pleasure and prosperity – happiness NOW, rather than hope for TOMORROW.
Now, the world continues to “worship” at the feet of pleasure and prosperity. All people seem to think of is how to be satisfied in love and materialism – to be happy NOW, rather than even thinking about TOMORROW.
- Then, Israel was being given a “wake-up” call. Their gods had failed them! The LORD God was crying out to them, through Elijah, to turn back to Him and to see their land healed. In His mercy God used this crisis to bring the people He loved back to Him.
Now, the world is being given a “wake-up” call. Our gods of pleasure and prosperity have failed. Science and medicine have failed to protect us and we are dying. And the LORD God is crying out to us, through the Crisis of this time, to turn back to Him and see our land healed.
In His mercy the LORD is crying out to us through this pandemic: “If the Lord is God, follow him” – what are YOU going to do.
- “JOHN SAW JESUS COMING TOWARDS HIM”
In the first chapter of his Gospel, John the apostle, gives the account of his namesake, John the Baptist, who was baptising many in the Jordan River for the forgiveness of sins. He was the “voice of one crying out in the wilderness” for people to prepare themselves for the coming of the Saviour of the world.
He, himself, was longing to see the One who was going to change everything. And now we are told
The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, “A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.” 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptising with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.’ (John 1: 29-31)
THE SYMBOLISM AND RELEVANCE FOR TODAY:
- Then, it was Jesus who came to find John. He did not have to go looking for Him
Now, it is still Jesus who is coming towards us – even those who are not looking for Him. He comes for us because He loves us
- Then, John had to be looking for Him – longing to see Him. He recognised Him because the Spirit within him it was the Messiah. But, it was not enough for John to simply recognise Him. John had to receive Him into his life.
Now, we are in a time of Crisis when more and more people are looking for the Truth. They will recognise Jesus because the Spirit wants them to recognise Him. However, it is not enough for us to simply see Jesus coming towards us in this time of Crisis. We have to receive Him into our lives. And we are told that
to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1: 12)
In His mercy, at this time of Coronavirus Crisis, Jesus is coming towards you. Are you looking for Him? Will you recognise Him? Will you receive Him – or will you say “Uh Oh! Here comes that crazy guy!” Will you mock Him? Will you tell Him to go away? Will you run away from Him because you just want things back to how they always used to be? Or will you receive Him and be changed forever by Him? It’s your choice.
- “WHO DO YOU SAY I AM?”
Jesus had just performed the miracles of the feeding of the 5000 with just 5 loaves and 2 fishes, and then the feeding of the 4000 with just 7 loaves and a few small fish. The crowds followed Him. But now He moved away from the crowd and crossed the lake and came into the region of Caesarea Philippi. Here He asked His disciples:
‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’
14 They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’
15 ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’
16 Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’
17 Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter,[b] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[c] will not overcome it.’ (Matthew 16: 13-18)
THE SYMBOLISM AND RELEVANCE FOR TODAY:
- Then, the crowd followed Jesus for what He could give them immediately. They were awed by His teaching. They were delighted by the way that He supported them against the establishment. They were stunned by His miracles. But most of all they wanted food – they were hungry; and they wanted healing – they were sick.
Now, the world is in Crisis. And it is crying out for someone to save them – to feed them and to heal them from this awful pandemic. They want a miracle-worker who can save them at this time from death. And if Jesus can do this for them then they will ask Him. But Jesus asked His disciples “Who do you say I am?”
- Then, the crowd saw Him as a good man, a prophet, a teacher, a healer. They were willing to follow Him as long as He was giving them what they wanted, but they weren’t willing to get into the boat and follow Him across the lake (known for its sudden storms) and to the other side.
Now, the world is in Crisis and may see Jesus as a good man, a prophet and the one who can heal them now – but when they have been satisfied will they be willing to cross the water and follow Him wherever He goes? Will you?
- Jesus asked the disciples who THEY said He was – and Peter replied (on their behalf) “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God”. The disciples understood – and had accepted – that Jesus was so much more than a good man, a teacher and a healer. He was God-made-flesh. He was the Son of God. He was the anointed One. He was the Saviour of the world. He was the door to eternal life. What about you? Who do YOU say that He is?
This is the most important question of your entire life. This Coronavirus Crisis has shown that our life hangs by a thread – no-one knows whether they are going to live or die at this time.
The answer that you give today to this question is going to determine your eternal destination.
Limit Jesus to being a good man and your sins will not be forgiven and you condemn yourself to the PUNISHMENT of eternal death.
Receive Jesus as the Messiah, receive the forgiveness that He offered to you on the Cross, and you release yourself to the PARADISE of eternal life in Heaven – with Him forever.
The choice is yours.
This time IS a wake-up call for the world – and a wake-up call for you.
CHALLENGE – HOW IS THIS GOING TO AFFECT YOUR LIFE NOW?
There is more to say about this occasion when Jesus asked His disciples “who do you say I am”.
Nothing in the Bible is there by chance.
- This incident took place in the district of Caesarea Philippi. This city was known to be a “hot bed of sin”. It was a Gentile city. It was a cultic centre dedicated to Pan – the god of (amongst other things) drunkenness and sexual debauchery. It was a really worldly city – far from godliness.
- It was a city built on (and by) a huge outcrop of rock.
- In the rock face was the entrance to a cave that was dark and deep and traditionally seen as the entrance (or gate) to Hades (or hell)
- Jesus did not accidentally come to this place and say the things he said:
- He asked the disciples who they said He was and established that they were His true disciples.
- So, he named Simon as “Peter” – a small pebble
- He – maybe looking at the huge rock face before Him – declared that He was the true rock
- That upon this “rock” He would build His church. Now get the imagery here – this worldly city was built on this rock. Was Jesus not also telling His disciples that His church was to be built in such a worldly place as Caesarea Philippi? He loves the whole world – His church is to be built up in the world – to bring the Good News to the worst that the world has to offer.
Here, then, is the challenge for us now:
- To wake-up and set out hearts and minds now upon eternal things at a time when we realise that our lives always hang by a thread
- To become a true child of God
- Which means becoming a disciple of Jesus
- Which means building His Church in the world by being His Church in the world
It is truly time to “wake-up and smell the coffee” and to be the people of God that He has called us to be.