It would have been so easy to pour scorn. The old hall was cold – bitterly cold. There were seats laid out for a hundred people – around twenty of us were there. The worship leader and the person running the laptop openly squabbled about which song was coming up next. The music was all recorded. No coffee, no bookstall, no welcome. I mean, what was the point?
But – for all that the local cafes were buzzing, the supermarket was packed, and the local education groups were packed – this, the drafty cold hall, was where my sisters and brothers were. And this was the centre of God’s attention that morning. Because it showed the gospel was true.
When we gather, we display God’s victory in the heavens
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a sustained, glittering description of the glory of the gospel, and the glory of the church it brings into being. God’s eternal plan was to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ (1:10), and central to this plan was to reconcile Jew and Gentile in Christ. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus (3:6). In other words, and addressing those fundamental needs we have seen, relationships with him and with each other are made possible by the cross: For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 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, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility (2:14-16). Ephesians 1 makes it clear that this was all planned, step by step, in God’s throne room, the heavenly realms (1:3), which is where the ascended Jesus now reigns (1:20), and where our blessings now wait for us (1:3).
Invisible blessings are – a bit wispy, aren’t they?
Invisible blessings are – a bit wispy, aren’t they? A bit cloudy, floaty, even irrelevant. We wouldn’t dare say that out loud, of course, but wouldn’t it be nice if they could have some here-and-now value?
Which is where Paul takes us. First, though, one more glimpse of those heavenly realms: (God’s) intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord (3:10-11). Notice that little phrase, through the church.
As people are reconciled to God, and to each other, through the reconciling work of the cross, as the most fundamental division in humanity, the Jew/Gentile divide is overcome, and to fulfil that foundational promise to Abraham (Gen 12:1-3), what comes into being is a single, united gathering, the church. The mere existence of the church displays God’s promises and plans being fulfilled. It demonstrates the victory of the Lord Jesus in his death and resurrection, won and applied. And as the church is formed, so the hosts of heaven watch, and their rulers and authorities cannot tear their eyes away, whether in praise of the Lord or in appalled terror that their doom is sealed.
‘Church’ displays the victory of God in the heavenly realms. Paul is talking about what as sometimes call the ‘universal’ church or the ‘cosmic’ church, and it’s what we glimpsed in Heb.12. It contains every single believer, from at least Noah’s day, united in the Lord Jesus, gathered round his throne. And it declares his victory just by existing. It is magnificent.
Although it still locks everything up in heaven, doesn’t it? It’s still wispy.
Not at all. Where Ephesians 1-3 is glorious and heavenly, Ephesians 4-6 is gnarly and down to earth. You are going to demonstrate this victory in your local church, week by week in the way you love, and learn, and serve (4:1-16). You are going to demonstrate this victory as you stand for Christ in a dark world, living out love and grace and forgiveness, and demonstrating that you are a changed person, and still changing every day (4:17-33). You are going to demonstrate this victory as you battle your temper, your passions, your relationships, to bring them under Christ’s rule (5:1-20). You are going to demonstrate this victory to the watching heavens in your work, at home, or your marriage (5:21-6:9). You are going to demonstrate this victory as you watch and pray, defeating the evil one in the power of the Spirit, and longing for God’s rule to be even more visible in our world (6:10-20).
You’ll do that seven days a week, on your own or with others. You’ll live out Christ’s victory as you treat a colleague, or serve at the soup kitchen. But then when you gather with your local church, you’ll do it there and then, too, and in a unique way. That local church, by gathering, makes the heavenly church visible, in your street.
As we do that, together, the angels rejoice, and the demons tremble, at the sight of God’s victory. Is that down to earth enough for you?
Does online church display God’s victory at all, just about, quite a bit, or absolutely?
This is an adapted excerpt from @church: is online, off limits?
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