Well today we are beginning a brand new series that is called “New”. About 15 years ago Crystal and I entered into a new kind of church and it was a church in Muncie Indiana on the campus of Ball State University. The church on Ball State’s campus was very community & relationship focused. It was a church that didn’t necessarily dance around taboo topics but rather they recognized that these were the realities and struggles of a people who lived in this new millennium and so let’s deal with those struggles and be relevant for today. The church didn’t have any stained glass, didn’t have any pews, it didn’t have a steeple. It met in the student center of the university and didn’t really feel like church. There wasn’t a podium. People were comfortably dressed. During the week there were house churches where people gathered in homes and discussed the Scriptures and how the Scriptures intersected life.
Initially it felt uncomfortable. It even felt incomplete. It didn’t have many if any of the elements that I had grown up with. At the end of the service we didn’t end with the rousing hymn “Family of God”.
From there we went to Genesis Church down in Noblesville Indiana. It was a church that was about 2 years old when we joined the staff team. Our first Sunday at Genesis again was unlike anything I had grown up with. The room was very dark…darker than this room. There were padded chairs. There was a huge kids area & there was a mini age appropriate worship service for them. Again, during the week there were small groups that met in people’s homes.
While at Genesis I got to know the church planting culture pretty well. Very regularly I met with various pastors who were starting new churches. Time after time I heard these pastors say that their church was going to be less focused upon times within the building and more focused upon times where the people would gather outside of the building. Church was becoming more and more decentralized, less formal, and less like it had been for hundreds of years.
In fact on Social Media…when someone posts a picture or comments on how much they love their church 9 times out of 10 it is a church that is relatively new within the last 10 to 15 years and is unlike church was 50 years ago. The church culture in America, Canada, and even parts of Europe is changing like it never has before.
Men and women are dressing more casual as they come to church. The coat and tie in most churches are gone. High heals in most churches are gone. The preaching is more conversational in style. So much of church culture has changed and I think it is great. The church has become way more accessible for people who aren’t really into the whole church thing.
Nothing was wrong with that other stuff but it seemed like it kind of got in the way of what God was doing. If you were at our Partnership Celebration last week you recognized just how different an Annual Business meeting can be when you aren’t so focused on keeping the organizational ship a float. We enjoyed ourselves. We sought out what everyone thought. Afterwards I told one of the people who attended that if we would have done that 10 years ago I would have been drug outside and strung up on the nearest tree.
The fact is when we focus more upon celebrating God’s hand moving in our midst and when we focus more upon changed lives than what is the proper way to vote in a business meeting…I believe that God is honored in that church by the unity that exists. The focus is upon Him and the focus is upon lives.
But, and this is what we are going to be talking about for the next few weeks, with all of those changes and all of this progress we still hold on to things that hold us back. The local church, especially in the United States, even with all the progress and all of the facilities, we still hold onto things that hold us back.
If you are not a church person, and you’ve had a bad church experience and you really don’t like Christians, this is the perfect series for you to be a part of at our church. Because here is what we are going to discover: Most of the things you resist about church are things the church should resist. Most of the things that many of us want to keep at arms length, regarding the local church, are things that the local church should be resisting. We are going to talk about some of those things. What we talk about might make you emotional and that is OK.
Think about it this way. From an outside perspective, not as a church person, what even is the church? From an outsiders perspective the church should really be nothing more than: A community of people who follow the teaching of a man sent from God to explain God and to clear the path to God. As an outsider looks at the church that is really what an outsider should view the church. The should look and see A community of people who follow the teaching of a man sent from God to explain God and to clear the path to God. So as an outsider looks in what is there for that person to resist? They don’t have to agree with the teachings. They don’t have to really like it. But they shouldn’t dislike it unless there is more to it than that.
Not only are we a people who follow a guy who tried to explain God but his primary application points were the least threatening thing that someone could imagine. His top commandment with three application points was love. Love God. Love one another. Love your enemy. So what is there to resist about that? There should be nothing resistible about the local church except one thing…and that is our loyalty to Jesus Christ.
Here’s the incredible thing. For the first 300 years of Christendom the only thing that people resisted about the church was exactly that. People persecuted the Christians because the Christians said Caesar is not our King, or our lord, but Jesus is. Caesar didn’t like that. Nero didn’t like that. The early rulers didn’t like that. So the reason Christians were persecuted wasn’t because they were weird. It wasn’t because of their music. It wasn’t because they were judgmental. As much as they loved other people around them and sought to love their enemies as well…at the end of the day they believed that Jesus was their king and in a kingdom where they already had a king that didn’t go over so well. Yet the first century, second century, third century church thrived in spite of the fact that there was resistance.
Now wouldn’t be awesome if the only bad thing that people had to say about the church…they are great neighbors, they are great bosses, they treat their wives like they are queens, everything about them is amazing but they think that Jesus is God and I just cannot handle that. Wouldn’t it be great if the only thing that people complained about us is that we have such an extraordinary devotion to Jesus.
In all of my lifetime I’ve never heard anyone say that the reason they don’t like the local church, or the reason they don’t like Christians, is because they follow Jesus. I’ve never heard that. I’ve heard a thousand other reasons that make us resistible…but never that. The church should be irresistible except for the fact that we believe that Jesus is Lord and that he was the son of God. It is OK for people to resist that but if there is anything else about ourselves that make us resistible that might be something that we need to resist.
Who doesn’t want their lives to be better? Even if someone from the outside looking in never embraces the fact that Jesus was the Son of God, but yet chooses to put some of the teachings of Jesus into practice, their lives will be better. Right? That is what the teachings of Jesus do to a life. Husbands if you live your wives like Jesus loved the church…your marriage will be better. Ladies if you consider others better than yourself your facebook posts will look less like you are trying to prove your life is awesome and they will be more about building up those who do not live in your immediate household. Who can resist that? Who wouldn’t want the security that you have? I want that…not sure about Jesus being God…but I want that!
How has the North American church become so resistible? How have Christians become so resistible and 99% of the time it has nothing to do that we believe that Jesus was the Son of God? Where did all these other things come from that make us so undesirable? What Happened? How did we become so resistible?
Here is what we are going to discover. Don’t miss any of this series. We are going to discover that the resistible factor is not the result of new things being added but the old things that have got added back in. The thing that makes us resistible is not that new things got added but that old things that should have been left behind got added back in.
So to help you understand where we are going to be going in this series I want to introduce to something that we are going to call: The Temple Model. The temple model represents all ancient religions and represents many of the religions that are a part of the world today. So the temple model goes all the way back to Egypt, Syria, Babylonia, The Greeks, The Romans, The Jewish Temple system. There are even examples of it today.
The temple system always has four components. In the temple system there are always Sacred places. There are Sacred texts. Sacred men and Sincere followers. In the temple model you always have a sacred place that houses sacred texts. Those sacred texts are controlled by or interpreted by Sacred men. Then these Sacred men tell all the followers how they are supposed to live their lives. If you don’t live your life that way God will judge you. He’ll punish you.
In mud regions of the world today you find the same system. You go into just about any mud hut region of the world and you’ll find that the most powerful person in that community is the witch doctor. The witch doctor has a place that everyone fears to go. There is generally some kind of border. He doesn’t need a fence. All he needs are a few well placed skulls or some trinkets and nobody goes close to that sacred place. The witch doctor can curse you, heal you, or control your enemy. The witch doctor controls the truth and controls manifestations and controls what people are supposed to do in that region.
On the other side of the spectrum we have currently in Syria & Iraq we’ve got the same Temple Model. We have some sacred places, with some sacred texts, with some sacred men, interpreting those sacred texts asking people to do things that we think are horrendous. These people are doing things that we think are an abomination to God. But in their minds they are doing what they think the sacred texts say. They are obeying what man has said to do. So the temple model is alive and well among us.
What we are going to discover is that much of this temple thinking is alive and well in the local church as well. And anyone that can stand up and say “If you don’t do the following…you will go to Hell.” That person has a lot of power. In fact, The Temple Model, grants extraordinary power to sacred men in sacred places who determine the meaning of the sacred texts.
Now, if you look at that and say: “Cory, isn’t that exactly what this is? We’ve got this sacred place, with a sacred text, you are up there telling us what we should do, and we are supposed to walk out of here hypnotized and do what you say to do. Aren’t we kind of running the temple model right here in our local church?” Isn’t the temple model the way most local churches are where you’ve got the guy up front telling everyone what to do and if they don’t do it they are going to hell?
What we are going to discover in this series is that even though the temple model has trickled in to the New Testament Church & into the gathering of Believers…it should not be that way. Here’s why: The arrival of Jesus signaled the end of the Temple Model (not just for the jews…but for everyone) and the beginning of something entirely new. In fact at the end of Jesus time here on earth he told His followers I want you to leave Jerusalem. I don’t want you to just stay here in this safe bastion of Judaism…I want you to go all around the world and I want you to tell them what you’ve seen and heart because this is for everyone everywhere.
It was entirely new. Entirely New. That ticked some people off! There would be no more sacred places. You know why? Because Jesus would teach that you are sacred. You are sacred. You are sacred. It doesn’t matter where you are standing on this planet…it could be one of the most sacred spots on earth…the person to your left, the person to your right, and the person behind you is more sacred to God than any piece of dirt that you could step foot on.
There would be no sacred places and there would be no more special sacred people. You would no longer need a high priest. You would no longer need anyone to tell you how to please God. There would never ever be a time where you would need to go somewhere special and have someone go to God on your behalf. All of that would end.
And the Sacred Text…the Old Testament…would be fulfilled Jesus would say…with a single verb. A single word. This was the beginning of something brand new. It was all new. It wasn’t temple model 2.0…it was a complete departure. How do I know this?
Jesus predicted a new movement. One day he and his followers are headed up to Caesarea Philippi. So the followers are talking among themselves, and Jesus asks them, “Who do people say that I am?” They answered: “They think you are J the B reincarnated. They think you are a prophet reincarnated..” Jesus says…well who do you guys think that I am? Remember what Peter said? He said I’ll tell you who I think you are. I think you are the Messiah. You are the one we have been waiting for. You are the one the whole Old Testament points to. You are the Christ…the son of the living God.
Jesus said you are exactly right in who you think I am. You didn’t come up with that on your own rather God told you that. Then listen to what Jesus said.
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock (this declaration of who I am) I will build (future tense) my church….
Unfortunately this little word that we read church we are led astray. This word should have never entered the English New Testament. This word as you may remember is the Greek word “ἐκκλησία” and it literally means a “gathering, assembly”. In this moment Jesus announced the beginning not of a sacred place, not of a sacred group of people who have some sort of inside knowledge. Jesus announced the beginning of a brand new movement.
In fact in the first English translation of the Bible the word Church does not appear. Because William Tyndale had the guts to not be politically correct. He had the guts to translate “ἐκκλησία” to be the word that it really was and that was a “congregation”…or a gathering of people. Jesus announced a brand new gathering of people & Tyndale was burned at the stake for making that term the term of his English Bible.
Then the super smart people who try to control everyone decided that they were going to take a German word that actually means “House of the Lord”…that means a specific place & a sacred location…we’ll take that German word and insert it into the English version of the New Testament and that is where we get the word Church. That is why when you think “church” you think place. You think space. Jesus said no…that has come to an end. No more sacred places. I am going to build a gathering of people and I will be with them where ever they go. This is a brand new day. A brand new era.
Jesus instituted a new covenant as well. The word covenant simply means an arrangement. This was a new arrangement with God. Before this New Covenant you had to have a high priest. You had to have someone go to God on your behalf. Jesus said: “No, I am establishing a brand new covenant the old approach to God is done.” Regardless of your religious background and nationality God has opened a way for all mankind to approach him directly. Because the final sacrifice of sin is about to be made known. Here’s what he said as he gathered his disciples towards the end of his ministry:
And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup (they had no clue what he was talking about until later) that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
Now they all knew that they were under a covenant because God had established a covenant with Israel…these were good Jewish boys. “Jesus we already know we are in a covenant…why do we need a new covenant?” Just hang on. Jesus said “Tonight I am establishing a brand new covenant in my blood.” How can you establish a new covenant in your blood? You are sitting right here Jesus and you are not bleeding. I’m so confused.
But as they stood and watched him bleed to death on a Roman Cross eventually it dawned on them that this was the final sacrifice for sin and not just for the good Jews but for all mankind.
Jesus also gave new meaning to the sacred texts. One day he was teaching the crowd went silence. You and I living in 2016, with a non-Jewish background, we miss the significance of this. But I assure you that this day the crowd would have went silent when Jesus spoke these words. These are the kinds of things that they tried to stone Jesus for. Jesus said…
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets (basically the Old Testament); I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
This was a big statement. Jesus claimed that the entire Old Testament funneled down to him as a person. Jesus claimed that all the prophets were prophesying about him. All of the deeds in the Old Testement somehow reflected forward to his arrival. Jesus said “I’m fulfilling the Old Testament law…the law leads to me.” Who would say that? Who would say that to a Jewish Audience? These sorts of things get people killed!
Then about 20 years later the Apostle Paul as he is writing said the entire law is like a tutor bringing us to a place where we are ready to graduate from our tutor and be introduced to our savior. It is like the law was simply a guardrail to get us to a place where we would be introduced to the Messiah. The law played a significant role in history but when Jesus said it was finished it was finished because Jesus fulfilled the law in it’s entirety.
If the law was finished what is the moral code to live by? Jesus instituted a new movement-defining ethic. This is the part that we’ll talk about in week three or week four…again you may have heard this before…but for these Jewish people this is so significant. He gathered with his closest followers and he said to them:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
As he said “As I have loved you so you must love one another” they knew exactly what he meant. This was not random acts of kindness or hold the door for people going into the restaurant. It went way deeper than that. Right before Jesus says this Jesus had just taken off his outer garment…the garment of a rabbi…and put a towel around his waist as a servant or slave would do…and washed their stinking feet. They would have been so uncomfortable with that. These are the hands that healed people. They touched lepers and weren’t contaminated. These were the hands that embraced Lazarus after he was raised from the dead and now these were the hands that were about to wash their feet.
Peter said “No Jesus you cannot wash my feet.” Jesus said sit down Peter I will wash your feet. Jesus did for them what none of them would do for each other. Let me repeat that. Jesus did for them what none of them would do for each other. Jesus did for them what none of them would dream of doing for each other. Then he puts his outer garment back on he says: “Now, just as I have loved you…so I want you to love one another.” Guys in that moment when you think you are a big shot. Guys when people sit at your feet to hear what you have had to say because you’ve been with me. In those moments when the crowds gather around you because you were one of my closest disciples…guys I want you to remember this night. Because you will never be greater than your master and I washed your feet.
In this moment Jesus took the entire leadership paradigm and he turned it upside down and they never forgot. It was his way of saying “When you start thinking you are one of those sacred people that just means that you get the towel out and you wash more feet. That is what my movement is going to look like.”
Then he said to them…
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
What I just did for you when I washed your feet I set for you an example of how you are to love one another. Love replaces law keeping. Self sacrifice would replace animal sacrifice. The vertical would be measured by the horizontal. The evidence that you are a Jesus Follower isn’t how well you pray or how consistently you attend church but it is how well you love people who are difficult to love.
Then Jesus does the most unimaginable thing imaginable for that group of people. We read this as gentiles 2,000 years removed and it is just words on a page. But this was staggering. Jesus gave new meaning to Passover. This is the most important Jewish celebration of all Judaism. I’m going to guess that most of us didn’t grow up in devout Jewish homes. So what Jesus is about to say doesn’t really mean much to us.
So I tried to think of what would be as offensive to you as this was to them. The best I could come up with was (this is for those with a protestant background) tomorrow there is a proclamation from the Billy Graham Association that Billy Graham has requested that when he dies and goes home to heaven he has asked that after he dies that every Christmas we celebrate His birthday rather than the birthday of Jesus. So rather than manger scenes out in front of churches it will be a reenactment of a 1918 hospital scene where his mom gives birth to him. There isn’t much more sacrilegious than that. Billy we love you…but you are not Jesus.
If you come from a catholic background…what if as Pope Francis is approaching the end of his life he says: “Since I’ve done some good things as a Pope I want you all to know that here shortly I am going to close my eyes a final time here on earth and I will wake up to Eternity with God.” I want you, after I die, Every Easter morning to celebrate not the resurrection of Jesus…but me waking up to live in Heaven. Celebrate my death and my awaking in heaven!
When Jesus gathered with the 12 for Passover…
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body,
No Jesus…this isn’t your body. This is Passover. This has been going on for about 1400 years Jesus. Jews have celebrated when God, through Moses…our man Moses, delivered the people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. That is why we celebrate the Passover Jesus. The bread is the reminder of that final Passover meal where we had to eat in a hurry because the next day we were leaving. Jesus says “no…”
“This is my body…
You are Jesus and all…but maybe we can start a new tradition. Let’s do this the day after Passover…tomorrow this can be your body. Today, let’s let it represent what it is supposed to represent. This is Passover!
“This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
Jesus, we’ve been pretty flexible so far. We were with you for those miracles and those were great. A lot of people hate us Jesus because we’ve been hanging out with you. You’ve done some great things…but you are not MOSES! Moses saved the whole nation…who have you saved Jesus? “Hang on guys.” Who have you delivered? “It isn’t over yet.”
When Jesus changed the significance of Passover these men should have all gotten up and left the room. But this is Jesus dramatic way of saying this is not the continuation of something. This isn’t temple model 2.0…this is something entirely new. The arrival of Jesus signaled the end of the temple model and the beginning of something entirely new! Something ENTIRELY New.
No more sacred places. No more special people. The Old Testament would be fulfilled and all of it’s laws reduced to a single verb. A single word that would be applied to God, your neighbor, and your enemies.
And after the resurrection and ascension the church got off to an amazing start. But then some temple model thinking started to be blended into Jesus Following thinking. And some things that should have been left behind got blended in. And some traditions and some attitudes and some consciences that were so tied to the old way they just couldn’t let go of. Their consciences had been fine tuned to temple thinking. Unfortunately much of that temple thinking is still part of the church today.
And for most people it is the number reason we are resistible but that wasn’t Jesus plan for us. But my prayer is that we figure it out. That we let go of the things that have been holding us back. We are going to do our best, by God’s Grace, to fully re-embrace what Jesus had in mind when he said “This is something totally new.” It isn’t just a knock off Jewish model. It is completely brand new and it is for everyone.
Go into every single nation. What you saw in me and what you saw me teach it works everywhere for everyone regardless of their prior religious tradition. So by God’s grace perhaps in our generation we will be used to strip away everything that makes the church of the Lord Jesus Christ unnecessarily resistible.