“He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:15–18, ESV)
We come to a great and glorious time in the life of our church and in our lives together: the installation of a new pastor. The process, like all things presbyterian, is conducted very specifically, full of particulars and peculiarities, all of which have a purpose. Next week we will explore some of the particulars, Lord willing. For now, it is perhaps helpful to take a step back and consider the larger context.
“I will build my church…” In the process of installing a pastor, we are witnessing, and taking part in, the fulfillment of God’s great plan and purpose to redeem and to gather a people for his own possession, to the glory of God and the exaltation of Jesus Christ. What God is doing is greater than John Stovall and our local flock. God is building his church. He is the one who does the building. He is sovereign over all things, including the human heart. He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, and in love he predestined us for adoption to himself. He sent his one and only Son, who willingly gave up glory, took on flesh and blood, lived perfectly, died, rose, and ascended, who now reigns and rules from his exalted position at right hand of the throne of God, preeminent above all things. It is God who calls and redeems his people, brings the dead to life, removes hearts of stone and gives hearts of flesh, brings about repentance and faith, justifies us, adopts us as his children, renews and sanctifies us, causes us to persevere, and promises to glorify us. We, who were once slaves to sin are now slaves to righteousness; we who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
God works in individual hearts, to be sure. But He is building the church, the people of God, the gathering or assembly of the saints. Christians are united to the Triune God and to one another, all part of the same body, in one living, organic relationship. He is building us together into a temple, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone. He is making us into one body; he is joining and knitting us together to be a dwelling place for God. It is he who makes us, who were once not a people, to be the people of God. Jesus Christ has always been gathering his people to himself, a people who will one day assemble around the throne of God and together sing, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.” We are watching God fulfill his promise that John heard in his vision, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” (Revelation 21:3, ESV)
“I will build my church…” Jesus Christ is building his church; it belongs to him. He is king and Lord of the church, because it is his — purchased, ransomed, and redeemed with his precious blood. He is the head of the body, the church. Imagine, God has chosen us as a people for his own possession! Jesus Christ is redeeming us for God. We are his; we are not our own, as Calvin says. He is the sovereign shepherd who cares for and watches over his flock, the bridegroom who tenderly cares for his bride, having given his own life to redeem her. He rejoices over us with gladness, he quiets us with his love. He says to us, “I have called you by name, you are mine.” He warns, protects, corrects, teaches, strengthens, sanctifies, grows, sustains, comforts, and preserves his church, as we wait for that great day, the marriage supper of the Lamb. We are his body, his family, his temple, his bride, the dwelling place of God! We are united to Christ as he is united to the Father, and through Christ to the Father himself. What a mystery! – The great mystery, which is Christ in us, the hope of glory. We belong to Christ; indeed, we are the very body of Christ, with Jesus as our head. United. Inseparable. Eternal. We are Christ’s, and Christ is ours.
As we joyfully celebrate this event in the life of our church, we are watching a great covenant promise fulfilled before our very eyes, and even taking part in that promise, a promise made to Adam and Eve, to Abraham and to David, even the covenant of redemption made in eternity past between God the Father and his eternal Son, to redeem and to gather a people for himself. Installing a pastor is a joyful and glorious link in that great chain as Christ works to build his church. “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20–21, ESV)