Pentecost May 31, 2009
1 Corinthians 2:6-16
226(1-6), 236, 229, 226(7-9)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
Dear friends in Christ Jesus, our dear Lord and God:
Nearly two thousand years ago, a group of Jesus’ followers were gathered in a room in Jerusalem. They were waiting and praying for something Jesus had promised. It was the fiftieth day after Jesus’ resurrection and “incidentally,” it was Pentecost, the harvest festival of the Jews.
You probably know the story: There came a sound like a rushing mighty wind and little tongues of flame appeared upon the heads of the disciples. The disciples also began to speak up in foreign languages—unlearned languages representing the native tongues of the many foreign worshipers who were in town for the Feast. The Holy Spirit had come upon the disciples and the true Christian Church came into being. Through the Holy Spirit, God came to dwell in His Church.
This doesn’t mean that He took up residence in a certain hall in the old city of Jerusalem. It means He took up residence in the believers who were gathered there—and everywhere. The Christian Church is not a building, nor is it an outward organization such as congregation or church body. Those are churches in another sense. God doesn’t live in temples made with hands, nor is He contained by the framework of a church organization. God lives in the collection of those people whom He calls holy and Christian. How that comes to be is brought out in our text on this Pentecost day, where we learn that God lives in a Church the Holy Spirit built
I. Because the Spirit sets Christ as the Cornerstone of the Church, II. Because the Spirit creates a unity within His Church, and III. Because the Spirit leads the Church into every good work.
As we see what the Spirit does for the true Christian Church, we pray that He cause it to occur among us, in our church, also.
God lives in a Church the Spirit built, first of all, because the Spirit sets Christ as the Cornerstone of this Church.
The people who were gathered in that house on Pentecost were there for essentially the same reason as we gather together today. It was “the Lord’s Day,” that is, the day of the week when Jesus rose from the dead. The first day of the week has always had enormous significance in the Christian community because the gift of that one Sunday has been so great. Christ is risen. He conquered death. He completed His work. He atoned for our sins, bore them in Himself, and satisfied a just God’s requirement that the penalty for all sin be paid. It is through Christ Jesus that sinful man is reconciled to God.
The reconciliation is a fact, the problem is in believing it. Dead to God, unspiritual in our hearts, we cannot appreciate the spiritual blessings earned by Christ.
But the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of people. He quickens them, gives them a spiritual pulse, warms them with His life-giving power, and leads them to see and believe that Jesus truly is the Savior—their Savior.
The Holy Spirit sets Christ as the Cornerstone of the Church—the stone which gives the whole building its scale and character. He causes the Church to worship Christ and look to Him as Her Head, Her Salvation, Her Lord. God in Christ has reconciled the world to Himself (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:19), and the Spirit keeps this truth before the Church at all times. This is our Rock in the storms of the Devil’s attacks. It is our truth in the confusing array of human ideas. It is our joy, when the world thinks it has taken everything away from us. The Spirit sets Christ as the Cornerstone of the Church and because of that God dwells in Her. He accepts all these believers as His Holy Place, living in their hearts.
Our text shows us another truth: God dwells in a Church the Spirit built because the Spirit creates a unity within His Church.
In His words to the Ephesian congregation, Paul brought up a bit of racial name-calling that had gone on. From the days of Abraham, the Lord had commanded that all the males of Israel should be circumcised. This act showed that this person and his family accepted the Lord’s oft-repeated covenant to be their God. Circumcision also implied that the man, even as a child, had agreed to the whole body of laws God gave to Moses and the Israelites—keeping the Sabbath, offering the sacrifices, etc. God had His purposes in establishing that distinction. He wanted to keep the Israelites distinct from others and cohesive as His people until the Savior came. But their real standing with God was by grace—God’s free forgiveness and love.
As usual, the blessing God gave the people through circumcision became a problem because of the people’s own sinfulness. They looked at God’s commandments as a means of establishing righteousness before God. In other words, they believed if you did no work on the Sabbath, brought your offerings, and avoided pork, you were all right with God. Meanwhile, the Jews arrogantly lorded themselves over other peoples. Others nations, in turn, tended to be very hostile toward them.
Paul’s point in our text is that with the coming of Christ, that hostility is taken out of the picture in the Church. Jesus had commanded His disciples to go out into all the world, and “make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19). It became clear as the infant church matured that it was not just a Jewish sect, but rather, the emergence of God’s true religion from the soil of Jewish culture. Paul said it well: “Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to all who believe” (Romans 10:4).
The Church, guided by the Spirit, began to shed its Jewish appearance because all the ceremonial commandments were fulfilled and completed in Jesus and His work. He was the true sacrifice. He was the true Sabbath. He was their cleansing and all of this was to be given to all people, Jew and Gentile alike. In Jesus, all people find the same free forgiveness. Through Jesus all have the same perfect peace with God. As Paul says so elegantly to the Galatians: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27-28).
Christ Himself is our peace. Having peace with God through Christ and having the example of Christ in His faithfulness toward God, His love for truth, and His love for man, means that we have reason to be at peace with one another, in our congregation, in our homes, in our daily lives. The Holy Spirit has built a Church that is made up of all kinds of people, but all are called to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). God lives in a Church where He Himself creates peace. Let us preserve that peace through truth, love, and humility.
Finally, God lives in a Church the Spirit built because the Spirit leads the Church into every good work. A good share of the Holy Spirit’s work in a believer, beyond the creation of faith and spiritual life, is producing a Christian life— “sanctification” in the narrow sense (in the broad sense “sanctification” refers to all of the Holy Spirit’s work in bringing us to faith, etc.). This is where the believer’s good works come into play. We do not base our salvation upon our own works. The church is not made up of people who are trying to work their way into heaven—if that’s what a person thinks he is doing, he is not in the true Church and does not truly believe in Christ.
But sanctification—a holy, God-pleasing life—is the will of God for those who do believe in Him. We have been called out of a wicked and godless world and with that the Holy Spirit does create the will within us to do what is pleasing to Him. By His gracious work, we come to hate sin, to strive to overcome it, and seek what is good and truly righteous.
This was part of God’s gracious will in saving us, for “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” [v.10] This is a rather amazing statement. First of all, it confirms what we already suspected, namely, God saved us so we could live to do what is right and not to go back to sinful ways. Secondly, it says that we have been created—made anew. We are the workmanship of God and as such will finally will be to His glory. Thirdly, it says that the good works we will do will not be some accidental events along the way, but that they will have been plotted out, presented as opportunities, springing up as we walk along in life. Opportunities will arise in which the Holy Spirit will lead us and help us to choose what is good.
But what is “good”? In our culture of relativism with the abandonment of firm standards, people often think either that true “good” is vague and uncertain or that it can be whatever you want it to be. Neither of these ideas is true.
The Holy Spirit leads the Church to choose those things that are in line with the commandments of God. God foresaw the Christian Church when He said through Ezekiel, “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36:27). God has made His will clear to us through His ten commandments which can be boiled down simply to the word, “love.” Paul urges us to “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8).
The other quality of true, Spirit-bred good works, is that these works are done out of love for God. True good works are so selfless that we are unlikely to be aware of them. The minute we start thinking, “Say, I’m doing pretty well!” they may become spoiled by pride, self-righteousness, or self-interest.
God lives in a Church that is continually producing works of thanks and praise to Him. They may take the form of kindnesses to our neighbors, diligence in rearing and disciplining our families, erecting structures to the glory of God, or sharing the Gospel with others.
In the Old Testament there is a Psalm that says that the Holy God “Inhabits the praises of Israel” (cf. Psalm 22:3). In the end, that is the nature of the Holy Christian Church—through the Spirit’s work of bringing her to faith in the Son of God, by uniting her as one harmonious people, by making her a holy people who glorifies God from the heart, God dwells in Her. He inhabits the praises of the Church. May He inhabit all our praises in the same way. Amen
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.