Right from the beginning of this time of lockdown, Christians have been declaring a simple message. The church is not the building. The church is the people. And that is the heart of this morning’s message for Pentecost Sunday. A church is a gathering of believers. But even more than that, the church is God’s Holy Temple where he lives by His Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 2 21 In (Christ) the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Paul has already talked about the work of the Holy Spirit several times in Ephesians. Let’s just recap the story so far. In our union with Jesus Christ, Christians have been given every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. God has forgiven our sins and redeemed us. He has made us his children and he has lavished the riches of his grace upon us. When we put our trust in Christ as our Saviour the Holy Spirit brings us all the blessings of salvation. We have been marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit is the deposit guaranteeing our inheritance, the foretaste and the first instalment of heaven.
God has given us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that we may know him better. And it is the Holy Spirit who releases into our lives that incomparably great power of God which raised Jesus from the dead – the resurrection life of Jesus Christ.
All this is part of God’s cosmic masterplan of salvation. Paul goes on in Ephesians 2 to explain more about how God is bringing the whole of creation into unity. Until Jesus came, God’s salvation was just for his chosen people Israel through the covenants he had made with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and with the nation of Israel after the Exodus from Egypt. Salvation came through the Jewish Law revealed to Moses. God is bringing his chosen people Israel into unity with those who had been outside his purposes, everybody else in the world who were not Jews but Gentiles.
2 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
It was Jesus’s death on the cross which has brought everybody back to God.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.
When Jesus died for our sins on the cross, God brought human beings back to himself. More than that he removed the barrier between Jews and non-Jews and created one new human race.
17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Together all believers form one new humanity. The one Holy Spirit gives us all access to the Father – Jews and non-Jews alike. But all these blessings of salvation do not just come to each of us as individual believers. The amazing access to God the Father we experience through the work of the Holy Spirit binds us into God’s new community, the church.
The church is the body of Christ. Ephesians 122 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
And Christ fills His church by the presence of the Holy Spirit in each of our lives.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Listen to the wonderful things Paul says about all those who are saved by God’s grace. We are all fellow citizens with God’s people. We are all members of God’s household – God’s family. And we are a spiritual building, with Christ as the cornerstone, built on the foundations of the apostles and the prophets and the gospel they proclaimed. We are now God’s Holy Temple, and God Himself lives in us all by His Holy Spirit.
This is what sets the church of Jesus Christ apart from any clubs or teams or choirs or organisations or bodies or families. This is what makes the Christian church different from any other religious groups. We are unlike ANY other group of people in the world. We are “a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” God is alive and at work in His church. God dwells in His church, in a way that God does not dwell in ANY other group of people in the world!
In the Old Testament God gave the Temple in Jerusalem to his chosen people the Israelites. It was a very special building in three ways. It was the place where God was to be found. God was present and active in the Temple in ways and to an extent which He was not present anywhere else on earth. So the Temple was the place where people met with God. When the time came to worship and to pray, the Temple was the place to go. And then even more important, the Temple was the place where God dealt with sin. The Temple was where sacrifices were continually offered, and especially at the great festivals of the year and most important of all the sacrifices for sin offered by the High Priest once a year in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. The place where God was to be found, the place people met with God, the place sin is dealt with. But now hear how Paul describes the church of Jesus Christ:
20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.
There aren’t special buildings where you go to meet with God any more. The Church of Jesus Christ is not the buildings – it is the people. WE are the New temple.
We Christians are the new “building” in which God is especially present. We Christians are now the “place” where people go if they want to meet with God. And Jesus Christ the greatest High Priest has offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice for sin. So we Christians are the people with the gospel of salvation. We have the good news of how Jesus has dealt with the problems of sin for all who put their trust in Him. We Christians are the new temple.
1 Peter 2:4 As you come to him, the living Stone- rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
We Christians are the “dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” God the Holy Spirit lives in each and every Christian! But God lives and moves and works in Christians even more wonderfully when we gather together, even if that is only possible virtually on Zoom.
God brings the fruit of the Spirit, Supernatural examples of love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and faithfulness! The Holy Spirit brings a unity which can’t be explained by human effort. God releases spiritual gifts building up the church and changing lives. And the Holy Spirit works in signs and wonders – Almighty God breaking into His broken world to put things right. These are the things we can expect to see in the church of Jesus Christ, the new Temple, the “ dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”. And all of this is still true, even when we cannot gather in person to worship or pray or serve God together. The Holy Spirit still makes us into the church. And the church is not the building. The church is the people.
Spirit of the Living God, Fall afresh on me
Break me, melt me, mould me, fill me
Spirit of the Living God, Fall afresh on me