Rebuilding the Church 3.The Church at Rest City Church of Christ 23.4.17
This is the third and final sermon in our “Rebuilding the Church” series and this one is titled “The Church at Rest”. This teaching whilst very difficult to live out is urgently appropriate to the times in which we live. I remember a great shaking that went through Western countries in the 60’s and 70’s, this was the time of sexual liberation, the Vietnam War, Marxism on universities, the emergence of a drug culture and hard rock. At the same time there was a spiritual revival which launched the youthful Jesus Movement, saw thousands added to churches, the birth of many parachurch ministries, like YWAM, the spread of the Charismatic Movement and a laid back style of Christianity. Today we are passing through a social shakeup as vigorous as back then. The Christian foundations of morality in Western culture are not only almost discarded but are becoming despised. In the midst of all this God is clearly moving to reorder his Church. A prophetic friend came over to see me last week to discuss what’s happening amongst pastors in Perth. We started with the resignation of the senior pastor at Riverview, the suicide of the youth pastor at Life Centre Church and passed on to speak of others that have burnt out or left the ministry. Often pastors drop out of Christian service when they find they can’t “live the dream”, when the vision they believe God has put before them isn’t coming to pass. This might be a vision for their personal lives, marriages, families, or most commonly a growing “successful” church.
We are in need of a deeper move of the Spirit than has happened in any of our lifetimes. Where a previous generation was too optimistic and ignorant to allow the Spirit to bring us into a mature experience of Christ’s heavenly rest perhaps this time around things can be different. Contrary to popular efforts the rest-oration of God’s glory in the Church cannot centre of ministers or ministries but must be a rediscovery of the gospel (Eph 3:21). To understand the rest into which God calls his people we must begin with his own original rest.
At the climax of the creation story “God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” (Gen 2:2-3). The blessed state of the first Sabbath radiated the Lord’s presence in his total satisfaction over his work of creation (cf. Prov 8:22-31). Solely by his own wisdom and power the Creator had turned the formless dark void into a world of beauty and order teeming with life (Gen 1:1-31; Ps 104). God was at triumphant rest for when he looked at his creation it reflected back to him his glory (Ps 19:1-6). He saw himself most of all in us, creatures uniquely constructed in his own image and given dominion over all things (Gen 1:26-28). The rest destined for humanity was not one of blissful inactivity (we’re not Buddhists) but a state on which no obstacle stood in the way of the co-ruling of the heavenly King with us as his vice-regents on the earth (Gen 2:15 cf. Rev 5:9-10). As long as Adam remained faithful to the call and gift of God to reign according to God’s own word all was at rest. This especially involved obedience to the command not to eat of the tree of knowledge (Gen 2:17).
Being created in God’s image gave to Adam and Eve and all their descendants an indelible sense of the presence of the glory of God; we were made for glory (Isa 43:6-7 cf. Rom 1:19-23). It is the presence of God’s glory that imparts to us our worth; whenever this glory is repressed or denied the result is misery (Rom 1:18ff.). In Eden however the first couple were totally aware that God’s glorious presence was given by a work of his grace free from any of their efforts (Rom 9:16). The Lord was “just there” for them and it was his great delight to see through, hear through and speak through Adam; for man and God to work together in perfect communion was their shared glory– this is at the heart of the rest of God.
Restless: The Spirit of another Builder
The entry of Satan into Eden provided an opportunity for Adam and Eve to become co-workers with God in the power of his Spirit with new spiritual authority (Ps 33:6). Using God’s Word they could have cast evil out of creation so that the glory of the divine King flowed triumphantly over all things (cf. Eph 4:10). Satan knew God’s plan was to perfect his co-working with humanity (2 Cor 6:1) and he knew just how to take humanity out of the blessed rest of God.
The serpent entices Adam and Eve to perform that one act/work explicitly forbidden in Eden; the attempt to achieve God-likeness without God by eating of the tree of knowledge (Gen 3:1-5; Rom 1:32). The original sin is personal spiritual achievement. Since to sin is to lose the glory of God (Rom 3:23) immediately they sinned the first couple knew they had lost God’s pleasing presence, their consciences registered God’s displeasure and they were stricken with an indelible sense of shame for falling short of what they were intended to be (Gen 3:7-12). Cast out of the rest of Eden, mercilessly accused by the devil as moral and spiritual failures and with the fate of death terminating all earthly achievements human beings cannot achieve the “perfect peace” offered by God alone (Gen 3:22-24; Isa 26:3; Heb 2:14-15; Rev 12:10). Money, drugs, meditation, sex, food, friends, family, religion etc. cannot connect you with God’s rest. “But the wicked are like the tossing sea; for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up mire and dirt. There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”” (Isaiah 57:20-21 ESV).
God’s answer to the restlessness created by human rebellion is covenant. Despite popular perception for instance the covenant through Moses is grounded on the Lord’s sovereign gracious initiative in delivering Israel from Egypt (Ex 19:4-5). God was so satisfied with his work of covenant making that he gave to Israel the glory of a day of rest celebrating their deliverance from Egypt and inviting them to share his glorious rest over all creation (Ex 20:8-11; 31:13-17; Deut 5:12-15 cf. Rom 9:4). With God’s presence among them Israel would have experienced relief from the hard labour of slavery and endless fruitless toil. ““My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”” (Ex 32; 33:14). This wasn’t some abstract promise, the visible sign of his favour was “the cloud (of God’s glory) rested over the tabernacle” (Num 9:18).
Almost immediately however Israel rebelled and worshipped idols drawing forth from God a terrible judgement, “Therefore I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.”” (Ps 95:11). A rebellious nation punished with sickness, crop failure and defeat at the hands of their enemies meant Israel was rarely a glory filled people. There were periods of temporary relief from this; as when God gave him and Solomon rest from their enemies (2 Sam 7:1). When the ark came to its rest inside Solomon’s temple (1 Sam 13:14; 1 Chron 28:2) the glory of the Lord filled the whole house, for a God at rest is a wrathless God who manifests his glory (1 Ki 8:11 cf. Isa 27:4). But what happened next, impressed by the works of his hands Solomon turned to idols and the wrath of God blazed against his people until the glory of the Lord departed the Jerusalem temple forever (Ezek 11:23). By the end of the Old Testament period the Lord himself both laments and prophesies a way forward; ““Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?2 All these things my hand has made…But this is the one to whom I will look:he who is humble and contrite in spiritand trembles at my word.”” (Isa 66:1-2). Who is this person?……the one who could declare without contradiction; ““Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”” (Matt 11:28). Only in Jesus can the Father find his final wrathless rest amongst his people.
Rested through Death
“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”” (Matt 3:16-17). The fullness of God’s delight appears as his glory descends in the Spirit and rests on Jesus and he receives the testimony that the Father is perfectly satisfied with him as his Son. This happens before Jesus engages in any acts of public ministry; the rest of God is a gift of grace in a relationship. Christ receives not earns his Father’s rest. The life of Jesus overflowed with the delight of the God’s glorious presence as he taught, healed and delivered, striving people longed to enter into the sphere of the rest Father and Son enjoyed together.
Christ calls people to come to him for rest, ““Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”” (Matt 11:29). By these words Jesus reveals that he is the fulfilment of God’s longing to find a place of rest in humanity, he is the man ““humble and contrite in spiritand trembles at my word.”” Where and why does Christ tremble at his Father’s word? In Gethsemane we see Jesus literally tremble at God’s word over receiving the cup of judgement (Mark 14:32-36; Heb 5:7-8 cf. 1 Cor 2:3; Phil 2:5-13). But his greatest shaking is in the cross.
If restlessness is a sign of God’s dissatisfaction with sinful humanity then Christ must fully bear this penalty for us on the cross. His cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34), comes from the first verse of Psalm 22, which goes on to say, “O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” But because Jesus is so humbly submitted to the Father his immersion in our restlessness could not last long. As his life ends the proclamation, “It is finished.””, declares a complete triumph bringing to perfection the accomplishment felt by the Creator on the “seventh day when he finished his work” (Gen 2:2; John 19:30). The work of God in fashioning a humanity in whom his glory can never be disturbed by sin, sickness, Satan or death has been completed. Now raised, ascended and seated at God’s right hand Jesus is at rest in the glory cloud of heaven putting all his enemies under his feet (1 Cor 15:25; Heb 1:13; 10:13). The Father is totally satisfied with the finished work of Christ.
In Jesus every opposition to God’s rule has been overcome forever (Rev 4:3; 15:2 etc. cf. Heb 4:16). In Jesus a perfect union between God and humanity has been reached to the glory of God. Today the Spirit invites us to share in Christ’s accomplished rest; that in all things we might share in the Father’s great delight in seeing, hearing, speaking, praying, healing and working with Jesus in glory. The rest of God comes as in Christ the Church lives out the gospel of the kingdom. A Church at rest is a powerful testimony to the world and to the evil powers in the heavenly places that Jesus is Lord of all (Acts 10:36; Eph 3:10). All this is really wonderful, but most of the Church has turned Jesus around from being the satisfier of the Father to the satisfier of our personal needs. Restoration requires radical reorientation.
People love to quote Christ’s words, ““Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”” But they fail to understand this promise is only true because it is introduced by an infinitely greater word, ““All things have been handed over to me by my Father….”” (Matt 11:27-28). If we grasp this order of events we will understand that when this same Gospel (Matthew) concluded with Christ’s Great Commission to the Church, ““All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me, go and make disciples of every nation….”” the discipling of the nations means bringing them into the rest of God (Matt 28:18). There is only one possible way doing this; this great vision can only be achieved through the power of the gospel in its ability to set the human conscience at rest (Rom 1:16; 15:19; 1 Cor 1:17; Eph 3:7 etc.).
Eighty years ago an American theologian described the malady of the Church in his day; “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” (H. Richard Niebuhr). This is hardly different from the insipid preaching of most churches today where it is not “politically or spiritually correct” to teach that the blood of the cross has satisfied the wrath of God (Rom 3:21-25; Col 1:19-20). Only when the human conscience has been satisfied by the power of the blood of Christ can the human heart be opened to the abiding fiery presence of the Spirit of God (Acts 2:3; Heb 10:22). Genuine revival can only flow from a rediscovery of the power of the gospel. The dominant culture of the Church today is that Christians are only contented when things are going well, but the power of God’s grace rested on the early church in the midst of “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” because their consciences had been cleansed (by the blood) from dead works to serve the living God (Acts 4:33; 2 Cor 12:9-10; Heb 9: 8-10, 14, 22ff.). Since in Christ there is no dissatisfied God our consciences need never be restless (1 Tim 1:11).
I remember praying in the church where I was pastor decades ago, a place where not so long afterwards the people rioted to force me to leave, and the Spirit spoke to me, “I am satisfied with these people.” Against all natural appearances that’s what I told them as a statement, not of their performance but of the gospel! David Wilkerson was near breakdown when he prayed Jeremiah, “Correct me, O Lord, but in justice; not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing.” (Jer 10:24). Then the Lord corrected him, “”David, if I choose to correct you, it’s because I love you. This test is not about my judgment at all. I am merciful, gracious, loving, long-suffering toward you. Now, stand still and see my glory!” This knowledge of his glory carried me through to a place of total rest…..Beloved, once you have this revelation of God’s glory, you need never again fear he’ll correct you in anger….””
We can be truly satisfied and rested in Christ but most Christians are trying to prove something to themselves, others and the Lord – as if Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t sufficient to satisfy the Father. Some of the most “successful” pastors are driven people who know no rest. I was in a ministers gathering where the speaker appealed to Isaiah 6, a passage where the Lord appeared without invitation and where the cloud of glory filled the temple and “the foundations of the thresholds shook…and the house was filled with smoke.” (Isa 6:4 cf. Rev 15:8). He used this text to justify to teach the need to “build atmosphere” services. An exhortation to religious works if ever I heard one. No wonder a related church uses smoke machines to do this in its services; if you haven’t got the real cloud of glory you must find some substitute. The true glory that brings God’s rest is a sheer gift of grace. Where leaders are working hard striving for perfection to build the Church in their own energy they will inevitably exert control on others – this is everywhere in the Church today.
Busy restless churches will try to justify themselves by appealing to their numbers, influence, or fame….but there is one thing they will not point to, deep discipleship. The Spirit informed conscience of every Christian knows the difference between our own works (Rom 9:1) and “works that have been carried out in God.”” (John 3:21). Only these works are filled with a glory that will stand the fire of the Day of Judgement; Paul testifies, “each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done” (1 Cor 3:13, 15). Those works, however gifted their performers may be, carried out in a spirit of stress, activism, control, competition and insecurity will be “burned up” by the fire. For these works share in the eternal state of the wicked, who “have no rest, day or night” (Rev 14:11).
The super-churches of today, whether they regard themselves as such through depth of teaching, length of tradition, contemporary on the edge ideology or size and influence, cannot avoid the testimony of their own consciences that despite all their works they are failing to produce men and women of Christlike character in whom the glory of Christ is visibly seen (2 Cor 10:12; 11:5). Such congregations cannot enter God’s rest.
On the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation we are in as great need as back then. A spiritual struggle going on for the soul of the Church. Whilst scripture teaches that we sit with Christ in the heavenlies through grace alone by faith alone doing only the works that God has prepared in advance for us (Eph 2:8-10) sincere believers everywhere are attempting to be seated with Christ by human effort. Since we read in Thessalonians that “the man of lawlessness…takeshis seat in the temple of God” i.e. the Church, it is plain that the spirit of antichrist has invaded the Church today and expelled the rest of God (1 Cor 3:16; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21; 2 Thess 2:4). The only way to enter this rest is, as Paul puts it in Romans, by the “obedience of faith”- a sheer trust in the power of the gospel (Rom 1:5,16; Heb 3:12; 4:3, 11).
I believe the hyperactive Church culture which surrounds us has reached its summit, and that the loving Father will soon act to heal his tumultuous household for his own glory. As Austin Sparks puts it, “if the Lord can have people…who are perfectly satisfied with Him and enjoying His rest…He will have a tremendous witness in the earth, because one thing which is the mark of Satanic working…is the seething, restless dissatisfaction, the longing, the craving, that is never being met.” God’s pleasure in Christ will alight upon the rested Church as the Spirit of glory bringing the revival many are seeking (1 Pet 4:14). When the Church in Perth has a reformation/revival/visitation of the true presence of the Holy God; what will happen to the smoke machine churches then?
The character of the coming of the Lord’s glory will clash with the complacent prosperity culture of most of our churches. When the angel rider of Zechariah returns with a report to the Lord that “the nations are at peace” whilst God’s people are in exile the Lord becomes angry (Zech 1:11-15). For it is only through a shaking that removes but his kingdom can his glory come to rest (Isa 26:9; Hag 2:6-7; Heb 12:26-29). The period of extended peace and escalating affluence that Western nations have enjoyed since WW II must for the sake of the Church end. God will act sovereignly to do this; but how will we respond? We can be bystanders doing nothing at all, this plainly is not the way of Christ, we can be lamenters over the loss of the good times when no one troubled us, this would be to mourn the fall of Babylon in the Church (Rev 18 cf. Jer 44:15-19), or we can be part of an advance pioneer guard praying with a God-induced holy restlessness that for the sake of generations to come the Lord might intensify his work in shaking the Church bringing her into a rest where our faith might no longer be in men but in Christ alone to the glory of God (1 Cor 2:5; 2 Cor 2:13; 7:5; Heb 12:2; 2 Pet 3:12). The choice is plain.
Appendix: A Prophetic Picture for Perth 2009
The foreshore at Trinity Beach Cairns terminates on the southern end with a rocky outcrop and forested hill. A path leads up to a point where the ocean stretches to the horizon in the east. A cement seat faces the ocean.
On my first morning at Trinity I walked past all these features as I was fixated on climbing the hill behind the beach. This I achieved, though it was very difficult and I bruised some ribs in the process. I really had to work hard both to climb the hill and beat my way through the tropical undergrowth on the way down.
The next time I headed towards this section of the beach, a few days later, I was in a much less driven frame of mind, I had enough space to notice some things that I believe add up to a prophetic message.
As I was praying I sensed that the Christ who dwells in me must be the seated Christ of the post-ascension accounts of the New Testament. For the first time I realised that the Father, not simply “God”, is at rest. He is anxious about nothing; he rests fully in the completed/perfected humanity of Jesus. In Jesus his Father-heart is beautifully restful. In this state of richly sensing the divine presence I started to see things that were already there.
Firstly, I saw that a word had been painted on the back of the cement seat, this word was PERTH. (Cairns is 3247 air kilometres from Perth.)
Secondly, I observed a cross painted on the rock above the seat, the cross pointed to the seat. (Then I felt moved to sit on the PERTH seat.)
Thirdly, the horizon beyond the cross and the seat took on a new meaning. I recalled that the English word for “horizon” derives from the Greek term (prooridzo e.g. Rom 8:29) used in the New Testament for “predestination/foreordained”
I believe the prophetic message was this: the finished work of the cross points us to the present position of Jesus resting on the judgement seat of God at the Father’s right hand. From this exalted position Jesus is going to bring to pass all that his Father has ordained for the city of Perth. This includes all his promises to you and me about the destiny of our city. This will not happen through our striving but through abiding in God’s rest in Christ. As we (spiritually) sit with Jesus in a posture of rest on his seat of judgement and look to what the Father is doing we will see his purposes come to pass.