4th Sunday of Easter April 22, 2018
10, 204, 35, 187
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Christ Is Risen! He Is Risen, Indeed!
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.
In Christ Jesus, Dear Fellow Redeemed:
In our text for this morning, the Apostle Paul writes by inspiration of the Holy Spirit to the believers in Ephesus concerning their relationship with God and with their fellow believers. In short, the apostle is writing to them concerning the Holy Christian Church. This Church is made up only of believers, “Fellow citizens with the saints [that is, believers who have died and now live in heaven] and members of the household of God.” They are the Church’s building blocks, “living stones…being built up into a spiritual house.” (1 Peter 2:5)
We cannot point to any one, visible, earthly church and say that it is the Holy Christian Church. While the Roman Catholic Church makes this claim, it is not true. It is not even true of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. In fact, even local congregations are only called churches on account of the fact that where the Gospel is preached there you will find believers, members of the Holy Christian Church.
So what does it matter what outward church we belong to? It’s important that we seek a church that teaches God’s Word in its truth and purity, for it is by that Word that we are made “living stones.”
THE CHURCH IS GOD’S LIVING TEMPLE. As such, He does not want inferior materials used to build it up, as it stands written, “Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal, ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and ‘Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.’” (2 Timothy 2:19) Unless we concern ourselves with purity of teaching, we may weaken our faith so that it crumbles and we are not fit to be stones in that living temple, for this Holy Christian Church is:
“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…”
When a building is constructed, the first thing one lays down is the foundation. Besides being strong enough to hold the building up, the foundation must also be able withstand the eroding forces of nature. This is the point of Christ’s parable of the wise man who built his house on the rock and the foolish man who built his house on the sand. If you will recall, the house built on the rock remained standing when the stream flooded. The house built on sand, however, did not fare so well. “The rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” (Matthew 7:27) The wise man is the one who hears God’s Word and follows it. The foolish man is he who hears Christ’s Word and does not.
God’s Word is our strong foundation because it is laid by God. It does not rely on the shifting sands of man’s opinion to determine the way of salvation, or teaching and practice. It won’t crumble with time. It is God’s Word, as the Bible testifies of itself, “Prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21)
God’s Word is straight and true. Man’s ideas have come and gone over the centuries. Though people and times change, God’s Word remains the sure and certain guide to God’s will. It is still as the psalmist records, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105) The reason for this is that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
What then is the teaching presented in these Holy Scriptures? All of God’s Word, from the first book of the Old Testament to the last book of the New Testament, points to one Person, Jesus Christ, so that our text states, “Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.”
The Cornerstone is the first stone laid for the foundation. It determines all of the angles and the lines for the rest of the building. Without Scripture we would not know Christ. After all, using human reason to judge, the scribes and the Pharisees rejected Him as the Cornerstone. But by His Word, God shows us that “The Stone which the builders rejected has become the chief Cornerstone.” (1 Peter 2:7) Jesus is “A chief Cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” (1 Peter 2:6)
The cornerstone of a building is often ornamented to denote its special role in the building’s construction. Not just any stone will do, thus the cornerstone’s special position. So it is with THE Cornerstone of our salvation, Jesus Christ.
Christ was especially chosen to save mankind from sin, and the condemnation of God that man deserved on account of sin. Man could not, and cannot, save himself because God demands complete perfection. As He commands, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2) No one has done this. We’re all imperfect in God’s sight, for we have all broken God’s law in thought, word, or deed, as the prophet records, “Your iniquities have separated you from your God and your sins have hidden His face from you.” (Isaiah 59:2) The word here for “iniquity” denotes “crookedness.” We are flawed, cracked, and crooked. Completely unfit to be even stones, much less, cornerstones in God’s household.
God Himself chose our Savior. God knew the requirements for His Cornerstone and God alone was able to provide that Cornerstone. As the Apostle Peter told the Jewish rulers, “Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead…This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief Cornerstone. Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:10ff) Jesus is the only One who is worthy, for, as true God and true Man, He is completely without sin.
Our text tells us that it is in Him that “the whole building [that is, the Holy Christian Church, all believers] being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” By giving His innocent life, Jesus Christ paid the ransom for our sins with His precious blood. Christ has brought forgiven sinners into the household of God, growing into a “holy temple in the Lord,” by making peace between God and man. It is written, “For it pleased the Father that in [Christ] all fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself by Him…having made peace through the blood of His cross.” (Colossians 1:19f)
As we have noted, all of Scripture testifies that this Jesus is the Savior from sin. God Himself testified to this by raising up His elect Cornerstone, raising Jesus to life following His redemptive death on the cross. Jesus Christ is the Cornerstone and the Foundation for He is the Christian faith. Without His death all would be lost. We would still be separated from God by our sins. Without His resurrection we would also be lost, for we would still be in our sins. “But now Christ is risen from the dead…” (1 Corinthians 15:20) God and man have been reconciled. Through Christ God sees us, who are by nature sinners, as saints, holy and without sin on account of Jesus.
So God has brought sinners into His household, forgiving sins for the sake of Jesus Christ. He has raised us up from spiritual death, to be living stones in His household, so that we are “no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” Through Christ we have received “the adoption as sons.” (Ephesians 4:5) Through faith in Him we are the children of God (John 1:12).
God’s children are the living stones God uses to construct His living temple.
While it is true that we, as believers, are the building blocks in this spiritual temple called the Church, we are not the ones doing the building. True, we do attend to the foundation by struggling to make certain that God’s Living and written Word is the only foundation of our faith. But we do so by God’s Word. This living temple is being built by God through His life-giving Word, which shows us our Savior “in whom [we] also are being built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit.”
It is God who makes us fit to be a part of this holy temple. Having won for all people the forgiveness of sins through His Son Jesus, our heavenly Father sends His Holy Spirit to bring us to spiritual life. It is He who made us alive, “who were dead in trespasses and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1) The Spirit, without whom “no one can say that Jesus is Lord” (1 Corinthians 12:3), has chosen to use the Gospel in Word and in Sacrament to bring dead sinners to life; working faith and bestowing the forgiveness of sins. So it is written, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17) These are the same Scriptures that the Holy Spirit uses that “are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15)
It is God’s will that we seek out our fellow believers and also join together here on earth, as Paul urges, “Now I plead with you brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)
Unlike God, we cannot read hearts. We must go by outward confession to reveal to us what is in the heart of a person. While we do not deny that there are believers in other churches, even in those churches who promote teachings contrary to God’s Word, the only way that we can fulfill our Lord’s command to “be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” is to compare that church’s teachings with God’s Word. We will be deceived by hypocrites whose confession does not reveal the unbelief in their heart. But this is God’s will, that we strive to remain true to His Word and that we avoid false teachers and those who follow them, lest we give place to error and place the Gospel of Christ and our own faith in jeopardy. All the while we gladly acknowledge that “The Lord knows those who are His.” (2 Timothy 2:19) God will at last gather to Himself all those in whom the Holy Spirit has made members of the Holy Christian Church, even those with whom, on earth, we do not have visible fellowship.
The Apostle Paul asks the Corinthian Christians, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) Here again we have our definition of the kingdom of God, which is made up of all in whom Christ rules by the Holy Spirit.
Through Christ, God has fulfilled, and will fulfill the promise concerning His living temple recorded in the Revelation given to John, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3f) In Jesus Christ, this Is Our Hope Here And In Eternity. 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.