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The temple - Ephesians 2:11-22

This is a sermon by Phil from the morning service on 22nd September 2019.

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~~The Church: Temple Ephesians 2v11-22

Intro

1995 a deadly heatwave hit Chicago, where 700 people died. Unsurprisingly it was the poorer, more violent neighbourhoods where more people died.
But here was the surprise: some of these poor neighbourhoods stuck out: they actually had a better survival rate than some rich places.

Why was this? They had places for people to socialise: Parks, libraries, social clubs, churches- places where people could meet face to face, communities could grow, and so when the heatwave hit they knew to check up on each other because they had real relationships.

A society without places to meet is a society without real relationships.

In the 1800s Andrew Carnegie used his immense wealth to build thousands of public libraries. He called then palaces for the people. And they were palaces! High ceilings, big windows, and spacious rooms where a person could read, think, and achieve something that they felt proud of.

But it wasn’t just the beauty of the building that made them brilliant. Libraries are really palaces for the people because they’re places which bring people together.
*Real relationships crave real presence.

Facetime- programme for video calls, like Skype-
Facetime on your iPhone isn’t actually face time, despite the name. You’re not really there with people.

Long distance relationships are hard.

Real relationships are built on real presence with each other.

*Which makes our relationship with God a bit of an odd one.
It feels like we have a long distance relationship with God.

We think, I think, of God as distant. Not relationally distant- we might really know his love.
But we think of him as spacially far away. Like we have a really, really, really good Facetime relationship. But the one thing we’re missing is actual presence with each other.

Today we’ve got some good news. Our relationship with God isn’t long distance. It isn’t devoid of real presence. We have God near, because the church is the temple of God.


1) A Divine Palace For The People
Before we get to the church as the temple, we need to take a bigger look at the whole Bible story.
*It might be said that the big question of the Bible is not so much how can we live in heaven with God, but rather how can God live on earth with us?

God’s goal in making everything and restoring everything is so that he can live on earth with us.
God’s never been interested in a long distance relationship where he checks in now and then via spiritual Facetime. His purpose is his actual presence on earth with us.
And the key to God being able to do that is temple.
The answer to “can God live on earth with us” is: Yes- a temple. That’s how.

Because temples are divine palaces for the people.
In ancient times, and in the Bible, a temple was a divine palace, a house for the gods to live on EARTH with people.

Not just a house, temples were palaces, beautiful, radiant, fit for the divine to live with people fit to live with him.
So if God’s goal is his presence on earth with his people, then a temple is the place where that can actually happen.

So let’s have a look at the story of temples in the Bible.

Where do you first get a place especially created for God to live on earth with humans? Right at the beginning- Eden.

READ Genesis 2v8-15. Eden is a garden temple.
A luxurious palace for the people filled with sumptuous trees; a river of life flowing from the centre- cultivating the land;
like a place fit for a king, it is laced with gold and precious stones;
a man, Adam- a priest- who’s job it is to work at take care of the land.
In this temple garden is the tree of life where divine life is given to sustain human life on earth.

But this isn’t just a superb public park the likes of which Leslie Nope at the Parks and Recreation department would die for.
It’s a divine palace for the people, a place for God to live with the humans he has created.
READ 3v8.
The LORD God, walked, as it were, in this palatial garden temple with his people.

And Eden was just the beginning. The whole earth was to be the palace of God’s presence as humanity filled the earth with the holy, temple worship of God.

The internet is marketed these days on how many different devices you can get on the wifi- everyone can do their own thing in different rooms. God wouldn’t buy that deal.
As a temple God made Eden as a place for physical, intimate, face to face fellowship.
Can God live on earth? *God DID live on earth. In the first temple.

Look at it this way:
Temples are where heaven and earth meet- and cross over for God and humans to enjoy each other.

Which was, of course, possible for a shining yet all too brief moment. Because Adam and Eve were holy- totally morally pure— which is essential for God’s presence.

And you might know what’s coming next. God’s divine palace for the people developed one catastrophic flaw: the people.

Why does pretty much every public park have problems? The public are allowed in.

The people, Adam and Eve, turned on God, broke his word, ate from the tree, tried to steal his majesty for themselves- in his palace temple.

And here’s a rule of the Bible: if the people turn bad, the place turns bad too. Unholy people, unholy place.
*And God can’t live in an unholy place with unholy people.

And so humanity is rightly driven out of God’s garden temple.

Can God live on earth with us? No, not when you’ve done what we’ve done.

The rest of the Bible is the story of the hope that a temple might be possible again one day.

God had a plan to rebuild a divine palace for the people where once more he’d be able to live with us on earth.

We get temple moments along the way. Genesis 28v16-17. Jacob has a temple moment.
In a dream he saw a stairway resting on earth with the top reaching to heaven.
And when Jacob awoke he thought: “surely the LORD is in this place and I was not aware of it” “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven!” The house of God- he names it Bethel- house of God!

Jacob has just experienced a taste of temple- a location where heaven intersects with earth- but just for a moment.

Then we get the big guns: The tabernacle, mobile temple, which is followed by the big temple in Jerusalem.

The LORD rescued his people out of Egypt and of course he wanted to live with them.

Exodus 25v8. Yes! There is once more a place on earth where God can live with his people.

And we don’t have time to read it now, but the tabernacle, and then the permanent temple built in Jerusalem are very Eden like:

with lamp stands with eight branches that look like trees; with basins of water like the rivers;
with palm trees and cherubim woven into the fabric of the curtains;
pomegranates- engraved along the top of the temple evoking the fruit of Eden;
Adam-like priests whose job it was to keep the temple pure and lead the people in worship;
gold everywhere;
and the breastplate of the high priest encrusted with the same precious stone as those in Eden;

and of course, at the centre of it all: the altar for sacrifices to make the people and the place holy, and then the holy of holies where God dwelt on earth.

READ 1 Kings 8v10-13. When the temple was built by Solomon.
Every Israelite could point at the temple and say “God is there”.

As long as they didn’t replay Adam and Eve’s sin. Which of course they did.

After generations of rebellion God withdrew his presence once more and the people were carried away far from the temple presence of God.
And they never again fully recaptured that temple relationship, though they lived in hope.

Can God live on earth? We actually still haven’t reached God’s final answer to that.

Until we get to Jesus.
On to the earth stepped God himself in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Now, take all that temple story we’ve seen and listen to one of your favourite Christmas verses now as a big whopping temple verse, John 1v14: “The Word, [the Son] became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son who came from the father.”

Can God live on earth? Can we ever have the presence of God with us again? Yes! Christ is here- he is the temple!
If you want to know WHERE we can now meet God the answer is: in Christ.

On the cross Jesus offered himself as the temple sacrifice to pay for our sin and make us holy, fit for a holy God.

And there, in his body, he joined heaven and earth once more. Hebrews says his body is the temple curtain through which humans can walk into the presence of God.

We can come into God’s presence by faith in the risen Jesus Christ. By being connected to him, where God meets humanity in love.

But that’s still not the end of the temple story.
Because we’ve just read in Ephesians that the church is the temple.

Now if that’s ever felt like a weird, if not irrelevant description of the church, I hope now we’ll realise just how incredible it is.


2) The church is the temple
READ Ephesians 2v19-22.

Putting our trust in Christ doesn’t bring us into a long distance relationship with God.

Think about it: that would make our relationship with God worse than what the Israelites had in the OT.

“I thought it was meant to be better now Jesus has come! Adam and Eve walked with God in the luscious Garden of Eden! The Israelites had the temple, the actual present of God in the holy of holies with a thick cloud and the glory of the LORD.
What do we get? Facetime, a post card, a phone call. He’s there in heaven, we’re here on earth!”

No, we don’t get Facetime. We get a temple.
 Rather- we ARE the temple.

V21- in him- in Christ- the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.
When we come to God through Christ we become part of his God on earth, temple reality.

V22- In him- connected to Christ- you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
It doesn’t get clearer than that.

*Like the gold covered stones of the OT temple, we the church are in the process of being built up and up as the place on earth where God lives.

We are the new Eden, the new Bethel, the new tabernacle, the new temple.

But wait, isn’t God everywhere?
Yes- God is everywhere, but he has particular special relationships with particular special places.
And on earth there’s one place where we can point to and say “God is there”- and it’s wherever God’s people are.

Let’s be clear: this is not metaphor, this is reality.
Paul doesn’t say: “we’re like a dwelling place for God. It’s as if God lives in you. You’re a bit like the temple where God lives on earth.”
No, he says to the Ephesian church: In Christ you are a holy temple where God dwells.
I don’t know about you, but this is something I’m just generally not aware of in my Christian life.
Why is that?

One of the reasons is that it’s an invisible reality. There isn’t a cloud and the gold and all that.
You don’t leave St John’s with a tan because you’ve basked in the shakinah glory of the Lord on a Sunday morning.
 In that sense his presence is invisible.

*But invisible doesn’t mean unreal.
And actually the visibility of this temple is sitting in the chair next to you.
 
“Built together to become a dwelling.” The visible reality of the temple is the fact that we are here, connected to Christ and, the most random bunch of people, connected together as bricks in the temple.


3) THIS church is a temple
What difference should it make to us knowing that THIS church is a temple of the living God?

*It means that no-one’s a brick on the scrap heap.

There are so many reasons we find to look at other Christians and consider them not worthy of being here.
Or we consider ourselves unfit to be in God’s church.

Our pasts, our presents, our ethnicity, our class, our dress sense, characters-
In Ephesus it was Jews who belonged, non-Jews didn’t.

And so we consider, according to our own categories, some fit to be stones in the temple of God and others who belong on the scrap heap.

But there’s only one category here that matters: in Christ- faith in him.
And if that’s true of you,
or true of the person sitting next to you, then we’re not bricks on the scrap heap anymore, but precious stones in the palace of God on earth and, as we saw last week, in heaven itself.

*If God the Father, Son, and Spirit considers someone fit to be part of his holy, palatial presence, who are we to say they’re not?

In ourselves, none of us are fit for the presence of God amongst us.

As parents we look back in horror whenever we leave a restaurant table our children have been at. It’s like a bomb site.
 We just get out of there quickly.

Morally, that’s every one us. We don’t belong with God.

But for this:
Arranged around Christ who makes us holy everyone belongs in this magnificent palace for God.
 You do. They do.

Also, to know the church is the temple of God transforms how we view our relationship with God and the church.

Real relationships crave real presence- and it feels like we have a long distance relationship with God.

But it’s not true- God’s nearness is found in the church.

Now- We’re not in the new heavens and the new earth yet where we’ll see God face to face and experience him in all his awesome presence.

But that doesn’t mean that meanwhile God isn’t right here with us as a real foretaste of that eternal temple life.

Do you want to be in God’s presence?
 Look no further than right here.

So we don’t hunt, tirelessly, for the presence of God in some deeper experience-
it’s right here every Sunday
and round every shared dinner table
and every prayer prayed for each other
and in our relationships of love for each other.
 His presence is in THIS church.

Nor should we think that God’s presence is something we shouldn’t talk about or desire, it’s a bit too much to expect or too mystic. That’s settling for the long distance, Facetime relationship with God.
 In THIS church he’s here.

Having seen all this, perhaps like Jacob we might now say of the church: surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.

But now we can look around at each other, gathered as his people and say: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; in Christ- this is the gate of heaven!”

 

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