I think most of us have grown up knowing that the Church is not a building. From the day the Church was born and for the next few hundred years, there were no buildings and no thought of having any. Many believe that was the best time in the Church’s history. We know that the Church is actually the people of God wherever they are, whatever label they carry; they are the disciples of Christ across the nation and around the world. The Church spans all nationalities, all ethnic groupings and geographical locations. Then there is the local expression of the Church – individual congregations and even small groups of believers – we are the Church Jesus promised to build.
Now getting our thinking right about the nature of the Church and some key concepts in the kingdom of God is very important. It’s just as important we get it right when we think about the purpose of the Church. Now we have all heard and read the Great Commission. That’s when Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all nations. But what many of us don’t know is that in the Greek, the active verb in that verse is not go – it’s actually the word for make disciples. So the verse actually means, “as you go (or in your going) make disciples …” In other words, “In your normal coming and going throughout your whole life, make disciples!”
I believe the Lord is always wanting to equip the Church to fulfill that commission and show us all where the true strength of the Church lies. Now I love large gatherings of God’s people. The largest one I have been part of was in the Brisbane Entertainment Centre many years ago and I will never forget how good it was to worship with over 13,000 brothers and sisters all in the one place. At a local Church level I have pastored congregations from 5 to 500 and everything in between and they have all been special experiences.
In this current season, especially throughout this Pandemic, I believe the Lord is wanting us to re-discover what the early Church knew from the beginning and that is the true strength of the Church actually lies in the two or three committed disciples gathered in His name. Large gatherings are great – it’s good to know we belong to something that is bigger and more significant than our little world of influence. That’s important. But truly authentic discipleship always begins in our own heart as individuals and in the intimacy of 2-3 people gathered in Jesus’ name, worshipping, learning, praying and growing in grace. We wrongly think that power comes in numbers. Power always comes from Jesus, transforming hearts one by one. Let’s re-visit a passage we have studied before.
Matthew 16:13-19 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Let me talk about verse 19. I have mentioned this in previous teaching but it’s important to point out again. In the New American Standard Bible it says, “Whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven.” In the NIV and many other translations, that it just a footnote to read if you can be bothered. But it’s actually a more accurate translation and it’s more correct theologically. Jesus taught that we are to manifest the reality of heaven on earth – to mirror that reality here and that is the overall theme in all of Jesus’ teaching. You can’t change reality in the eternal kingdom of heaven by our actions in this earthly kingdom – but we can reflect what happens in heaven and change the world around us. That’s exactly what Jesus meant when He told us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” So the backbone of the Great Commission for every believer is learning how to partner with God to bring the reality of His reign, His dominion and His kingdom into the specific areas of our human experience in the kingdom of this world. Touching heaven, changing earth – in Christ, through Christ, for Christ.
So Jesus turns to His disciples and says, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus responded, “Blessed are you Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” Jesus was pointing out that something very significant just happened. Heaven invaded earth and it happened through one person speaking God’s truth. Truth from the kingdom was just spoken in our kingdom by one human begin. Jesus then said that it’s upon that rock – Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God – upon that rock, Jesus is going to build His Church. It is the personal revelation of Jesus as the Messiah, the truth that He is the Son of the living God – that is what the Church is actually built on and that revelation comes to individuals one by one.
Think about this. The Church is built upon revelation. The essence of your faith is that God revealed something to you and you responded. There is no salvation apart from the revelation of God. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) There is life continuously flowing in us and through us because of God’s revelation – because we hear from God. Now it’s important to be truthful and humble here and admit that we don’t always hear from God clearly. Our own thoughts and desires and wonky ideas can often get in the way. But we are on a journey to increase our capacity, our ability to perceive what God is saying and doing in and around us.
Part of the problem we have is that God’s first language is not English, or Spanish, or whatever other languages humans speak. God reveals Himself and His Word in a myriad of ways and He gives us the discernment to perceive, to comprehend and to apprehend His word. So here, God gives Peter the discernment to know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God and then Jesus immediately says, “You just heard from the Father and the truth you just spoke will be the foundation of the Church I am going to build.” Then Jesus really blows the minds of the disciples in verse 19 when He says, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” This is a very significant assignment that Jesus gives to every one of us as individuals.
Now if we skip forward to Matthew chapter 18 we see the same statement in verse 18 – Jesus says, “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” But then He goes on and says this:
Matthew 18:19-20 “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”
Now when the Lord said, “I will build my Church …” He did not use a term that would have been very commonplace for the Jewish culture at that time. He did not say synagogue or temple. The word here is ecclesia and it’s an important word to understand. Ecclesia referred to a group of two or three people who are citizens of a particular country, or government. Whenever they gathered together, they actually represented the government of the country they were from. So if you had Roman citizens that were in Greece and they worked together, say at a bakery, and they got together at lunchtime and talked together, they were actually representing the government of Rome. That’s the term that is used here. Jesus used a secular term but I don’t think He was borrowing from the secular world, I think He was taking back what He inspired them to think and to do in the first place. He did this also by using the term Apostle, which was a Greek and eventually a Roman term. That’s what He did here with the word ecclesia.
So Jesus says, when two or three of you gather in My name, I am there in their midst. The presence of God is the mark of divine authority and this is the backbone of our assignment to disciple the nations. This is not an optional extra. This is the heart and soul of how you and I were designed. We were designed and then assigned by God to be on this planet as citizens of another world. As a citizen of that world, I am to look for the one or two others with whom I can meet and come into a place of agreement, so that the manifest presence of God will settle upon our gathering together. Then in that position, we touch heaven and change earth; we take what is real in God’s kingdom and make it real in this kingdom; we make decisions that actually shape the course of human history. That’s why Jesus could say what He did in John 15:7, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
So you see any lack of answers to prayer is not a problem on God’s part. The lack of answers to prayer is a problem on our end and it’s connected to our ability and willingness to abide in Christ. The felt presence of God is the absolute key to continuous answers to prayer and living apart from that; doing our best to mimic God’s will; doing our best to pray for things that we think ought to happen – just won’t work. It’s not that our prayers are wrong necessarily, it’s not that what we’ve requested is against His will, we are just missing the strength of abiding in Christ. When we have the manifest presence of God upon us and we come before the Father with a request, there is this spiritual reality into which we have been invited – “Abide in me, let my words abide in you.” It’s the acknowledged, felt presence of God. It’s not just a recognition of the Almighty God being here, it is our engagement with Him.
Abiding is an engaged participation with a person, where there is an encounter, there is an exchange, there is a fellowship, there is an intimacy, there is a connection that is otherworldly. In that connection, we are positioned to think differently, to feel differently, to see differently and if we are sitting with another brother or sister, family member or whoever, then Jesus says in that context the weight of the government of His world is upon our shoulders. That is reason we can bind anything here that’s already bound there. In that position, we are much more prone to see and discern the reality of God’s world.
King David made an interesting statement in Psalm 16 verse 8 when he said, “I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” What did he mean here? Well, he doesn’t mean we can grab hold of God and put Him where we want. He wasn’t saying that. I believe what he is saying is this: since you can’t imagine a place where God isn’t, you might as well imagine Him with you. We believe God is everywhere so that must include here, right now, with me. What is abiding in Christ? It is acknowledging the presence of God who is with you to a point of engagement, relationship, awareness. Something happens in that heartfelt connection with the presence of God, the Spirit of God, Who is with me and will never leave me – something happens in that heartfelt connection so that I live more aware of what He wants; I live more conscious of His will; I live more aware of His heart at that time and little by little my heart is re-programmed, my mind is renewed, my spirit is aligned with His Spirit. That is abiding in Christ.
So I have a dream . . it’s as bold as Martin Luther King’s dream in 1964 . . I have a dream that very soon the people of God across our nation will finally get to the point where we are sick and tired of letting the enemy have his way. I dream that we will all see the truth together and affirm that we are here representing another world, we are representing God Himself, and the Governor of that world is here, present with us. In my dream, God’s people decide to finally connect their heart to His; they decide to live aware of Him and all that He is, the words that He breathes, until we think what He thinks, we want what He wants, we dream what He dreams. Then finally that abiding presence becomes the primary influence in our conscious and unconscious mind. In my dream I see two or three people in prayer here and another two or three over there and still more in the workplace, in hospitals, in every corner or our communities – hundreds and thousands of people manifesting the simplicity and the power of ecclesia – God, in the midst of His people.
Ok, story time. Off the west coast of Scotland is a small group of islands called the Hebrides. Between 1949 and 1952 a wide spread revival swept through these islands in answer to the prayers of God’s people. Instrumental in this revival was the evangelist Duncan Campbell. He came to the Isle of Lewis to conduct a two week evangelistic campaign and ended up staying two years. It was a massive revival which touched tens of thousands of people and impacted a whole generation for years to come. But like many outpourings of God, this all began when two or three gathered. In a small cottage by the roadside in the village of Barvas lived two elderly women, Peggy and Christine Smith. They were eighty-four and eighty-two years old. Peggy was blind and her sister was doubled over with arthritis. Unable to attend public worship, their humble cottage became a sanctuary where they met with God. To them came the promise: “I will pour water upon him that is thirsty and floods upon the dry ground,” and they pleaded this day and night in prayer.
One night Peggy had a revelation, revival was coming and the church of her fathers would be crowded again with young people! She sent for the minister, the Rev. James Murray MacKay, and told him what God had shown her, asking him to call his elders and deacons together for special times of waiting upon God. In the same district a group of men praying in a barn also experienced a foretaste of coming blessing. One night as they waited upon God a young deacon rose and read part of the twenty-fourth Psalm: “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the Lord.” Turning to the others he said: “Brethren, it seems to me just so much humbug to be waiting and praying as we are, if we ourselves are not rightly related to God.” Then lifting his hands toward heaven he cried: “Oh God, are my hands clean? Is my heart pure?” He got no further, but fell prostrate to the floor. An awareness of God filled the barn and a stream of supernatural power was let lose in their lives. They had moved into a new sphere of God awareness, believing implicitly in the promise of revival.
But before we leave Peggy and her sister, another story must be told which further illustrates the holy intimacy the Lord desires to have with us. When the movement was at its height Peggy sent for Duncan Campbell, asking him to go to a small, isolated village to hold a meeting. The people of this village did not favour the revival and had already made clear their policy of noninvolvement. Duncan explained the situation to Peggy and told her that he questioned the wisdom of her request. “Besides,” he added, “I have no leadings to go to that place.” She turned in the direction of his voice, her sightless eyes seemed to penetrate his soul. “Mr. Campbell, if you were living as near to God as you ought to be, He would reveal His secrets to you also.” Duncan felt like a subordinate being reprimanded for defying his general. He humbly accepted the rebuke as from the Lord, and asked if he and Mr. MacKay could spend the morning in prayer with them. She agreed, and later as they knelt together in the cottage, Peggy prayed: “Lord, You remember what You told me this morning, that in this village You are going to save seven men who will become pillars in the church of my fathers. Lord, I have given Your message to Mr. Campbell and it seems he is not prepared to receive it. Oh Lord, give him wisdom, because he badly needs it!”
“All right, Peggy, I’ll go to the village,” said Duncan when they had finished praying. She replied, “You’d better! And God will give you a congregation.” Arriving in the village at seven o’clock they found a large bungalow crowded to capacity with many assembled outside waiting for God to move. When he had finished preaching, a minister beckoned him to the end of the house to speak again to a number of people who were mourning over their sins. Duncan entered the room and was not surprised at all to find seven men – Peggy’s seven men – each of whom embraced the gospel and accepted the Lord that night. When two or three gather … mighty things can happen.
Another story …
It was always evident how much Billy Graham loved and respected his father, Frank. He was a dairy farmer in Charlotte, North Carolina, who almost lost everything in the Great Depression but managed to slowly recover and leave a legacy of faith, hard work and determination. In May 1934, Billy Graham was just a lanky, mischievous teenager when his father and a group of local men gathered under a grove of shade trees at the edge of a pasture on the Grahams’ dairy farm. They had met several times before – always outdoors – at different locations around Charlotte to pray for God to send revival to their city, their state and beyond.
Billy Graham was 15 years old and doing his afternoon chores in this barn when his father and a group of local businessmen prayed for God to raise up someone who would take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. But this particular May prayer gathering is still being talked about almost 90 years later. That’s because at this meeting, as Frank Graham recalled later, a paper salesman named Vernon Patterson suggested a bold new prayer: that God would raise up someone from Charlotte, North Carolina, who would take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. The day his father joined the others in their bold new prayer, Billy was in the barn doing his afternoon chores, and the Gospel was likely the farthest thing from his mind. That changed just six months later when a traveling evangelist, Dr. Mordecai Ham, caught the gangly, blue-eyed teenager’s attention. It wasn’t easy to get young Billy Graham to set foot inside the tent where Dr. Ham was preaching night after night but he eventually decided to see what all the fuss was about.
It was at that tent meeting on November 1st, 1934 – just six days before Billy Graham’s 16th birthday – that the future “Evangelist to the World” and “Pastor to Presidents” embraced Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord and the rest is history. Both Billy Graham and his father gave all the glory to God, Who answered a sincere prayer from a group of men on a dairy farm in 1934. When two or three gather … with God in their midst … things happen.
My dream is to dream what God dreams. My passion is to think what God thinks. My focus is to do what God is doing and speak only the words God gives me to speak. My hope is that every disciple of Christ will soon burn with this unquenchable fire which is only found deep in the heart and presence of God Himself. Let me pray with you now.
Father, I ask first and foremost that there would be a fresh impartation, a deep realization in each of us of the presence of God. Then I pray that in that discovery of Your manifest presence upon us, we would come to know more and more Your thoughts, Your heart, Your focus and what You feel about everything we face each day. I pray that this partnership with the Almighty God and the two or three gathered in His name, that we would see in this abiding presence, the will of God being manifested on the earth in ways that have been thought to be impossible … until now. Give us the faith to believe and the courage to embrace your last days plan as You demonstrate the presence and power and Lordship of Jesus Christ in every aspect of our society. Together we pray Lord, may Your kingdom will come and Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Manifest your Kingdom rule and reign right here in our midst, in our families, in our community, our nation and across this sick and sorry world. Come, Lord Jesus, come. Amen