Today’s message picks up from last week on Ezra 3. The first thing that the builders did was to build the altar and to start the sacrifice. Being in right relationship with God is the first thing. It hasn’t changed for the people of God today. The foundation of everything is Christ the cornerstone and His finished work.
There are key foundations that make the church what it is. These things are unchanging, and it is vital to remember them in these times of great change. Today we are going to look at one – Christ. Next week, we are going to look at the other – the teaching of God’s word.
Today’s passage doesn’t directly call Jesus the foundation but “cornerstone.” Jesus is called the foundation in 1 Cor 3:11. But the principle is the same. Just as a building cannot stand without a foundation, so it cannot stand without the cornerstone that keeps the rest of the building supported and lined up. Indeed the cornerstone is the first foundation stone. So, even if a group of people call themselves or their building “church”, it is not a church without Christ as the foundation of everything.
I) Christ the life of the church
v4: The church consists of people who have come to Him. Those who have believed – we come to Him in faith.
However the verb here is present tense and it is not just talking about coming in faith to be saved, but the drawing near of people to worship. It is used in Hebrews 4:16, “Let us draw near to the throne of grace.”
So, the church is a people who draw near to Christ, who have come to Him as their Saviour, but who keep coming to Him because He is worthy to receive our worship and because He is the one who has given us life and who preserves our spiritual life.
We came to be saved once but we walk with Him to grow. Notice it is as you come to Him (v4) that you… are being built up (v5). There is a clear connection between the centrality of Christ and a church’s growth Not always numbers attending, but a true spiritual growth.
He is also the One who is alive, and so He gives life to His people. Stones don’t live. This is a contrast between the dead stones of the temple in Jerusalem and the living stones of the church, who gets her life from Him, the Saviour. The church is not built on tombs underneath like many cathedrals, but it is built on the Christ of the empty tomb Because He lives, we live also.
v4: He is the One who was rejected, but before God He is chosen and precious – that is the important thing.
- Elect – He is the One who has come to save in accordance with God’s eternal plan. This doesn’t mean He is less than God, but He willingly gave Himself to be the chosen one who would save.
- Held in honour (by us and Him) – also v6, same word.
To come to the one chosen and held in honour by God is to risk suffering because He is rejected by the world. The church receives her life from Christ and identifies with Him, even if it means suffering.
II) Christ the way to truly worship
v5: He builds His church out of people – living stones. This is the church (you yourselves). We are joined to Christ. His life is our life.
“Being built up” – the combining together of parts. This is why He is central. We come to Him, we keep coming to Him, our life comes from Him and the building and fashioning of our lives together to build His church is from Him.
The people of God are pictured as a temple (a spiritual house – characterised by the Holy Spirit), and so are a place of the Lord’s presence. This is not changed by location. The place where we meet does not take this away. When the church has to function for a period of time without being able to meet together, the Lord’s presence is with each of His people.
He makes us all priests. We are not constrained in our worship of the Lord. We can all draw near. You can pray. You can worship. We come through Christ and not through the “priest”/worship leader.
The church has a purpose – to offer spiritual sacrifices. Not physical sacrifices because Christ has offered once for all. Thus our sacrifices are of worship and obedience, expressions of our thankfulness to Him. We offer up those sacrifices of obedience (Romans 12:1). These are not tied down to a place or a building or a form of worship.
We offer because of His once and for all sacrifice. It is made acceptable through Christ. Our worship is not a sacrifice in the sense of making us right with God (as the Catholic Mass claims to be); it cannot be because Christ has already made the sacrifice. Rather, we sacrifice out of thankfulness because He has made us right with God through His once and for all sacrifice. We worship and live imperfectly, but He takes imperfect praise, prayer, living and makes it very acceptable.
III) Christ the One who holds the church together
v6: Stands in scripture. The authority is scripture – this proves who Jesus is. We will talk about this more next week.
v6: Jesus is the cornerstone, which is a great stone at the bottom of two walls that provides the stability for the walls and the building as a whole. It is a foundation stone. The same idea is found in v7, although it uses a different Greek word. Everything hangs together in Christ and everything must be built according to His design and for the purpose that He came, to give to God a people for His own possession and glory.
“lay” – set/appointed. He is the cornerstone by God’s sovereign plan. God’s purpose is to have a people. This is the story of the Bible – the Lord having a people. We are identified as the people of Christ. Christians – Christ’s ones.
“In Zion” – He has come from the people of God as promised. In Isaiah 28v16, where this verse is quoted from, the people had a false trust in Egypt. So the Lord tells them there that He is going to do something new. Christ is the fulfilment. He is building a new temple made of people. He was not going to dwell in a building but in people.
IV) Christ the honour of the church
V6: “Whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame.” “Shame” is used elsewhere of the coming of Christ. There will be no shame at His coming. The fear and shame at having done wrong is covered by Christ through His death and resurrection.
V7: The traditional translation of this is “to you who believe, He is precious.” (v7) This is not the best translation. The ESV has the right translation. Although it is true to say that the church honours Christ and glory goes to Him as we are built up as living stones, the passage states that we receive honour also. He counts us as precious in His sight. That is truly amazing grace! Sinners made precious!
Knowing Christ removes the shame of sin and places us in a position of honour. We have that in foretaste now, and fully when we stand before Him. That honour will finally be seen when He returns and His people are vindicated.
V) Christ our hope in life and death
v7-8: Without Him, we are nothing.
V7 is a quote from Psalm 118v22 about those who do not believe (lit: refuse to believe).
They reject Him (v7, as v4). They disapprove of Christ. They do not realise (as the Pharisees didn’t when Jesus was on earth) that He is the One who holds it all together – He is the cornerstone.
Furthermore (v8), He is a “stone of stumbling” – people trip over Him, a fall to eternity. He exposes that they are sinners and they don’t want Him.
V8 quotes Is 8:14: “He is a sanctuary and a stone of offence.” He is the safe place – the hope in life and death for every believer in His church – but the stone of offence and stumbling and eternal lostness to all who reject Him.
The way is through Christ and without Him there is nothing. No life; you are not living stones, but you are lost stones, dead stones. You need Jesus. If you are not saved, come to Him.
The difference between hope and no hope is Christ. Without Him we have no hope in life or death. We have no church. We might have religion, but we have nothing.
What does this mean for the local church?
- We must be bold to stand on the exclusiveness of Christ.
- We must honour Him with our worship expressed in words and (where possible) song. We must honour Him with our lives. We must teach how we can bring Him honour.
- Everything in the church has to be about Him. Christ in our preaching. Christ in our living. Christ in our worship. All Him.
The true church unites around Christ and Christ alone. No other.
I would like to close with the beginning of the Heidelberg Catechism, which is a great statement of faith written in the 16th century. It is a series of questions and answers, to teach people the truths of the faith. It starts with Christ. Our only comfort or hope in life and death. I mentioned it at the end of first lockdown sermon – and in a sermon about Christ our only foundation for the church and for our lives, it is a good place to end:
The opening question of the Heidelberg Catechism is this:
Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?
A. That I am not my own,
but belong with body and soul,
both in life and in death,
to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins
with his precious blood,
and has set me free
from all the power of the devil.
He also preserves me in such a way
that without the will of my heavenly Father
not a hair can fall from my head;
indeed, all things must work together
for my salvation.
Therefore, by his Holy Spirit
he also assures me of eternal life
and makes me heartily willing and ready
from now on to live for him.