Church is a Group Activity (3): Common Focus
Churchis a Group Activity (3)
We Have a Common Focus
There was a fellow named Sam who was a golf nut. Loved the game. Lived and breathed golf. His wife, Hilda, was equally nuts about auctions. She was forever looking for a bargain – didn’t really matter whether she really need it or not. It was the thrill of the chase that mattered to her. Well – one night they had an overnight guest staying with them who was startled out of a sound sleep in the middle of the night. It was Sam hollering “Fore” – obviously experiencing the nightmare of an errant golf shot. Almost immediately, Hilda was heard to holler out, “Four and a quarter.” And then peace reigned again.
Now that’s what I call focus. Two people so concentrated on the thing that has grabbed their interest that they live, breathe and sleep it. And we’re going to see today that God has a call on our lives to maintain that same kind of concentration.
We’re in these last 4 verses of Ephesians 2 where Paul is using three images to help the Ephesian believers and us gain greater understanding into this entity called the church. In Ephesus it was comprised of both Jews and Gentiles, but Paul has made the point that they are no more Jew and no more Gentiles, but a whole new entity, so they need to know something about this new entity. We saw how he first likened the church to a country illustrating that we are all equally privileged – no rank or hierarchy in this church. Then we saw that church is like a family – everyone equally accepted. Then in verse 19 he begins to liken church to a building or temple. Emphasis? We are all needed. Four elements of a building are emphasized. A couple of weeks ago we looked at the foundation – the teaching of the apostles and prophets – so to us, basically the Word of God. That’s fundamental to all we do. Today we will look at what our focus should be (what are we living and breathing) and then later our fit and our function.
B. We Have a Focus
One of the shortest music critiques on record appeared in a Detroit paper: “An amateur string quartet played Brahms here last evening. Brahms lost.” Clever, isn’t it? But Brahms might not have been too pleased. And we’re going to see today how important it is that as a believer we have a focus on Jesus. My prayer is that in the end the review of our life together does not read, “Eaton Congregational Church represented Jesus in the early 21st century. Jesus lost.” Wouldn’t that be devastating? We will all answer!
In this new temple that God is building, this church, we have a focus. And that focus is the most important part of the whole thing. Look again at verse 20: built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone. The most important part of this building, as is true of any building, is the cornerstone. And what a cornerstone we have. It is Christ Jesus Himself.
In order to get the full impact of what Paul and his readers would have understood from this imagery, we’re going to have to go a bit deep. Stick with me; we’ll ask the Holy Spirit to teach us as we go through this.
First of all, what was a cornerstone and what was its purpose? Well, the cornerstone was the first stone laid; it had to be strong and it had to be precise because once it was in place, its lines dictated the placement of every other stone in the building. Everything had to line up with it. So, if it was off by an inch at its location, and that discrepancy were spread across the whole of the front of the building, the other side could end up in the street instead of on the intended property! Any of you who have every tried to lay tile understand exactly what I mean. Everything, every line, keys off of that first piece, and if it is wrong, it will look awful. Are you with me? And if the cornerstone wasn’t quite straight up and down, absolutely vertical, you could end up with the leaning tower of Pisa. So if we are going to have a building that is completely aligned in all three axes – width, breadth and height, the cornerstone has to be perfect. It was often a huge stone as well. The cornerstone for Herod’s temple in Jerusalem was well over 20 feet in length – almost boxcar size.
As a believer it is easy to see how Christ perfectly fits the role of a cornerstone. He is the starting point and standard for everything. In describing Christ in this role, Paul was not being original. Several times in the OT, comment is made about a solid, sure and tested cornerstone – prophesies which looked forward to the coming Messiah. But it was also prophesied that this cornerstone would be rejected. So we read in Psalm 118:22, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” That’s Psalm 118:22. Don’t forget this passage. It’ll become important again in a little bit.
To get a little more of flavor of this, let’s turn to Isaiah 28. In Isaiah 28 we are transported back to a time around 690 BC. You will remember that the nation of Israel had been divided into two parts by that time. The Northern part had already been taken captive by then – consumed by the Assyrians in 722 BC. Now, the Assyrians threaten the south as well, but the leaders have made a pact with Egypt and were trying to convince the people that they would be safe as a result of this pact. What they should have been doing was confessing their sin of idolatry and turning to the Lord. He had sent prophets like Isaiah to warn them of their danger. Isaiah had spoken in the most simple terms as identified in verses 10 and 13 where he notes that he had taught them precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little. But that was too simple and childlike for them and they scoffed according to verse 14. How often men of the world find God’s Word too simple. Remember how Paul said in I Cor 1:18: For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. Some things never change. Men of the world will always consider themselves smarter than God, but always to their own detriment, because they never are.
Let’s pick up with Isaiah 28:14: 14) Therefore hear the word of the Lord, you scoffers, who rule this people in Jerusalem! 15) Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol (God considered their pacts with other earthly powers, like Egypt, to be covenants with hell itself, for it was a rejection of Him) we have an agreement, when the overwhelming whip passes through (Assyria) it will not come to us, for we have made lies our refuge, and in falsehood we have taken shelter (the leaders knew they were offering false hope, but they represented that they had airtight alliances and nothing could touch them)”; 16) therefore thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: (Here is hope in the midst of chaos. Grace is never far away, but it is always and ever only for believers. Notice) ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste (that is, will not be scurrying around in anxiety, for their confidence is in God).’ 17) And I will make justice the line, and righteousness the plumb line (standards that can be met only by faith); and hail will sweep away the refuge of lies, and waters will overwhelm the shelter.” 18) Then your covenant with death will be annulled, and your agreement with Sheol will not stand; when the overwhelming scourge passes through, you will be beaten down by it.
This is a Messianic prophesy, meaning it is looking forward to the person of Jesus Christ. Did Isaiah understand everything he was representing here? Almost certainly not. What Isaiah knew was that his message was a message of hope, that refuge was in God and that it was for believers. We, on the other hand, are so fortunate to see exactly what the fulfillment of this prophesy is. Turn with me now to Acts 4:11. In the very early days of the church, just after Christ’s ascension, Peter and John had healed a lame beggar in the temple area in Acts 3. Then they began to preach the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but that made the captain of the temple, the priests and the Sadducees (who specifically did not believe in the resurrection) apoplectic, so they came along and arrested Peter and John, notwithstanding which, 5,000 new believers resulted from that sermon alone. What great days, huh?
The trial was the next day, and, I can only surmise that Annas, the high priest, must have been a brick short of a full load because the question he and his family of counselors asked Peter and John was, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Man, you talk about a hole you could drive a tank through! You talk about meat to a ravenous wolf! I don’t know what answer they expected, but beginning verse 8, here is what they got: 8) Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9) if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10) let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified (that’s pretty bold, isn’t it – until you consider the next phrase), whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11) (Now, watch this closely) This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. (Don’t miss what Peter has done here. What he is saying in essence, and Annas and friends, well verse in OT Scripture would not have missed it – What Peter is saying is, “You, Brother Annas, are the literal fulfillment of Psalm 118:22. You are personally the rejected of God’s cornerstone. When you put that man Jesus to death, you fulfilled this prophesy. Look at it again.) This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12) And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” 13) Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. (I think by this time, Annas and crowd were absolutely beside themselves. Here were two uneducated, rough-hewn fisherman – fishermen of all things, telling them that they had put salvation to death. I have no doubt they just wanted to wring their necks – but they had a problem) 14) But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. (Why? Why would that little fact stop them? Why – because they knew there were 5,000 new converts and probably a few others as well, just outside the door who had seen the same thing and upon whose good will they depended for their position) 15) But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, 16) saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17) But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” 18) So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.
Isn’t that a remarkable passage of Scripture? What would you have given to be in Jerusalem that day? And I think it is most interesting for what did not happen. What did not happen is that they did not march Peter and John out to the very public gravesite of Jesus Christ and say, “Well, fellows. There He lays. Would you like to try your story again?” Why didn’t they do that? Why did it not even seem to cross their mind? I’ll tell you why. It was because they knew full well that all there was out there was a big several ton stone that had been rolled away from that grave and inside was nothing!
Now, remember again what Isaiah 28 said? Isaiah 28:16: 16) therefore thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’ See, that stone who was rejected by men, was in the sight of God tested, precious and sure. Think of that! Tested? How? Well, remember that Jesus had been tested by Satan himself at the beginning of his ministry of which Scripture records a small part. He had been tested by men constantly. You will remember that all the way through his ministry the scribes and Pharisees seemed to be there on every street corner, probing, testing, frantic to catch him -- and they never could, so they killed him. He was tested almost beyond human endurance in the Garden of Gethsemane, and perhaps most of all He was tested by the Father Himself when on the cross he cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” And yet, and yet, he remained obedient. Tested? I guess He was tested. And for us He came through it all unscathed, unbeaten, touched to the depths of his soul, but pure and clean and good and right. That, Beloved, that is our cornerstone. Rejected by men, tossed off as nothing or worse than nothing, but selected by God as the tested, precious, sure foundation. What a Savior! What magnificence attaches to Him! Look at Him. Look at Him and live!
But his very magnificence also means that as the tested and true one, he now becomes the tester. And that’s part of his function as the cornerstone. This part of his task is also there in the OT. Look again at Isaiah 28:16-17: 16) therefore thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’ 17) And I will make justice the line, and righteousness the plumb line; and hail will sweep away the refuge of lies, and waters will overwhelm the shelter.” Don’t miss verse 17. Having been tested himself, he now becomes the standard. Remember the function of the cornerstone? Everything has to line up with the cornerstone. Nothing can be out of alignment or it must go, and look at the standard. Justice is the line and righteousness the plumb line. Oh, oh. If I know one thing, it’s that I’m not just. I’m not righteous. This is not a standard that I or you or any other man or woman could ever meet. We’re done for! But remember Romans 5:20. Remember, “20) but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” Where justice and righteousness is the standard, God invites me to accept Christ as my own and have his righteousness as mine. And I see that I need that. But I also see that failure will mean being absolutely swept away.
Look with me at Matthew 21: 42: Here’s what Jesus Himself had to say on the subject: 42) Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “ ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 43) Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44) And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” We have two choices folks – we can align ourselves with the cornerstone, but accepting by faith his gift of life – or we will eventually fall on this stone and be broken to smithereens.
Peter summarizes all of this so beautifully. These passages almost speak for themselves they are so clear. Look with me now at I Peter 2 and let’s begin at verse 2: 2) Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk (that’s the Word of God – rejected by those folks we saw in Isaiah), that by it you may grow up into salvation (that is accepting by faith the gift of Christ’s righteousness to be your own in exchange for your life) — 3) if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4) As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men (do you see, in coming to him, you accept his suffering, you share in being rejected by men just as he was rejected by men; you accept the taunts and scoffing of men gloriously happy to share the fate of God’s Son, because as he goes on) As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5) you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house (we’ll see this a bit later), to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6) For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 7) So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” 8) and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
Are you seeing now why I say that in our cornerstone, we have a focus. We have someone to whom we can look. We look not at the teachings and wisdom of men. We trust not in human alliances or human prognostications. We care nothing for any of that. Though the path is sometimes difficult, sometimes scary, threatening and hard, we follow the advice of the writer to the Hebrews when he said, Hebrews 12:2: 2) looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. We willingly go through some of what Christ went through so that we might share with Christ what He now has. He’s our cornerstone, our focus, and as we stay focused on him we have the wonderful promise of I John 3:2: 2) Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
Isn’t that a remarkable statement? We will be like him because we will see him. So, why not get a jump on that. See the more we are seeing Jesus – reading His word, absorbing his teaching, praying, practicing his presence every minute of the day, the more we become like him even now.
Mark Twain had a very distinctive look as you will recall and one easily copied. At one point he was tired of receiving photographs from men claiming to be his double. To cope with the heavy correspondence this entailed, he composed the following form letter and had his printer run off a few hundred copies: “My dear Sir, I thank you very much for your letter and your photograph. In my opinion you are more like me than any other of my numerous doubles. I may even say that you resemble me more closely than I do myself. In fact, I intend to use your picture to shave by. Yours thankfully, S. Clemens.” Beloved, there are two parts to this each equally important. First, we must meet the standard of righteousness and justice that exists in Christ. How? By myself? Never. I must, in fact, have his righteousness covering all my sin so that when the Father looks at me, He sees Him – Christ. Then, having become a believer, we must use the image of Jesus Christ that we have in His Word to cover absolutely everything that you do in life – from your devotions to your work to your hobbies to you home life. Put him in all of those. Never cease to look to your cornerstone. As you are like him legally – you will become more and more like Him in actual fact. And the more you are like Him, the better you will align with your brothers and sisters in this new building – this church – this body of Christ that we are all part of.
I picture it like this. It’s a living building, so it is constantly changing, always moving – all except the perfect cornerstone. So as a new little stone, a new believer gets added somewhere 80 feet in the air, covered in Christ’s righteousness legally, but he or she may be pretty misshapen, pretty rough around the edges in real life, not looking much like the cornerstone at all – someone like you or me. But over time, as that little stone goes through life -- a living, changing, evolving stone -- a miracle starts to happen. It begins to take on little by little the shape of the cornerstone. It looks more and more like that cornerstone with every passing year. Some are moving faster than other. Some have a lot further to go than others. None get there perfectly in this life, but there we are all changing, all becoming better, all taking on the shape of the Master and miraculously all fitting together better as we take on his shape. Beloved, we have a focus. Let’s focus on him so that our review does not read, ““Eaton Congregational Church represented Jesus in the early 21st century. Jesus lost.”
I much prefer what Charles Haddon Spurgeon said when he was about to die. This great man of God, burned out too early at age 57, but still having accomplished more than most of us could literally in 10 lifetimes. He awoke long enough to whisper, “Susie.” His wife bent low and clasped his hand in hers, “Yes, dear Tirshatha,” she said, using her pet name for him. “Yes, dear.” And then he murmured the last words before he saw Jesus face to face, “Oh, wifie, I have had such a blessed time with my Lord.” This from a man who had been through the wringer of hugely unfair criticism and of problems with health and depression – and yet was used mightily for God. “Oh, wifie, I have had such a blessed time with my Lord.” I long for that to be my testimony. And I long for it to be yours too. Together, we have had such a blessed time with our Lord. Dear God, let it be so.