In March, we begin to explore a new system of the human body. In January, we discussed how making disciples is like the reproductive system. In February, we reviewed the necessity of the respiratory system to sustain life and saw how it is the breath of God breathes life into that which is dead (the bones from Ezekiel 37) and His Word, which builds a strong a connection between the teaching ministry of the church and us living life.
This month our focus will be on the skeletal system. It is the skeletal system that supports the body. We use terms like “big-boned” or “small frame” to indicate the size of the skeletal system of a person, but whether the person is large or small, tall or short, etc. it is their bones that provide the structure to the body. Thus, we will be comparing the body’s structure to the structure of the church.
In the coming weeks, I may mention some specific bones and their functions. For today, let me simply generalize by giving a few facts about our skeletal system. First, human adults have 206 bones. You might be surprised to know that the number of bones in an adult is much less than the number of a small child. In fact, at birth, humans have nearly 300 bones (some say as many as 295). As we grow, some of the bones fuse together which accounts for the decrease. Yet, we also “grow” new bones as we age. The patella (or kneecap as we call it) does not fully form until later as the cartilage begins to change into bone (ossify) about age 3. This very fact is a statement for a Creator and against evolution. Let me briefly explain because the idea does relate to today’s message.
The idea of evolution requires continual progression to something that is better and stronger (survival of the fittest). While subtleties exist, it is too subtle to think that mere chance could keep a bone from forming until a certain age. Evolutionists should consider that a bone which is necessary would form and strengthen at an increasingly earlier age to provide the maximum benefit for the species. This is similar to how the reproductive system has developed in theory. It used to be thought that women could get pregnant in their mid-teens. Many give birth in their early teens now, and in some parts of the world it is not uncommon for 12-year-olds to have babies. (Incidentally, the youngest confirmed pregnancy in the world occurred in Peru in 1933 when a 5-year-old got pregnant and had a baby at 6 years, 5 months.) Again, the idea of evolution would support this.
But why would a kneecap wait until age 3 to develop? Have you watched babies walk, err, I mean, fall? And toddlers? They climb, then fall, on what would be their knees. But because it is still cartilage, the “knee” does not break. Of course, cartilage can be damaged, but imagine how many times a patella might be broken if babies had a bone there. Thus, the building of the body required thoughtful design. And the design of that body changes over time with knees, fused bones, new teeth, etc. But the basic structure remains the same.
The same is true with the Church that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ promised to build. He designed it, and, is building it. Just like doctors and scientists are still trying to understand how to make the human body, created by God, function best, we, as humans, are still attempting to understand the best way for the Church, designed by God, can function best.
For today, let us turn to a familiar passage – one we have reviewed periodically over the past 8 years – to review Jesus words, and their context (from Matthew 16), of the Church He has promised to build. But before something can be built, it must be designed.
If you are designing something – a body, a church, or even a dinner – you have to know who you are (that is, what you are capable of doing) and have an idea of what you want to build. For instance, some people (like me) can cook a few items. Others can cook a meal and still others are gourmet chefs. I will not attempt to provide a fancy full-course meal, but I can grill a burger and hot dogs. But even then, I need a plan. I need to buy the meat, I need to make the patties, put the right seasoning in the mix, have a grill, etc. Many different parts are necessary for even a simple meal. And thus, we must consider the plan, or the design, of the plan. Today, I want to identify four parts, each of which begins with a P that relate to the design process.
The Design Must Have:
The Right Pieces (Matthew 16.16)
Peter makes the Great Confession – that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus was asking His people what they believed. He needed the truth to be known and a people to know it. In other words, for Jesus to build His Church, the design needed both a truth and a people who would proclaim that truth.
Using the metaphor of a building, the people are the Church, so we are like the bricks. The truth is like the mortar which holds us all together. However, to put this into the imagery of the Body of Christ, the people are like the bones, and the truth is like the ligaments (The word ligament comes from the Latin ligare which means to “bind.”)
Thus, those who follow Jesus (whom the Bible calls Disciples) are the skeletal structure of the Church. Like the human body, without disciples, the church would fall flat. Sure, the building might still be there, but that is similar to the skeletal system of a mouse being the support structure for the skin of an elephant.
So, the right pieces are needed – truth and people. That was true when Jesus walked on the earth and it is true as the Spirit lives within us now.
Are you born again? If so, then you are a part of the design for the Church Jesus is building. And it is His truth that will bind us together.
But it is not enough to just have the right pieces, we need to have:
The Right Placement (Matthew 16.17)
Jesus says that Peter’s words have been revealed to him by the Father. So, Peter stated a truth, but it was not his own thought. The thought was placed into Peter by the Father. That is, it is not enough to know a truth, it is important know, and believe, the truth.
Related to the human body, this is the equivalent (in my mind) of having the right bones in the right place. It is one thing to know that the human adult has 206 bones, it is another to know where each bone goes. How functional would we be if one of the bones in your ankle served as your shoulder blade? Or what if your rib cage was around your brain? That would make for a huge head! So, we must not only know some facts, or even some core truths, we must know how to apply them. And the One who is building His Church knows just the right way to place just the right pieces.
Are you born again? Then God has a place for you!
But beyond having the right pieces, and then having the right placement, we must have:
The Right Power (Matthew 16.18)
As I have taught before, the location where this scene takes place is extraordinarily pagan. The city was known as Caesarea Philippi and most rabbis taught that no good Jew would go to such a place. Of course, Jesus knew this, but He chose this place to announce the establishment of His Church. Furthermore, Jesus stated that nothing would prevail against the Church – not even the Gates of Hades. (Again, this passage has been covered in great detail before and I explained then precisely what Jesus meant by this statement.)
In other words, the design Jesus was using would allow it to persevere. That does not mean that the Church will not have to weather any storms, but it does prove it will overcome those storms as long as she remains connected to the source of Power – Jesus.
Likewise, the human body must weather a great deal of trials. But our anatomy is built with a strong interior – the skeletal system that withstands far more than we might image. Consider all of the stress our feet and knees undergo. For some of you that means constant pain in your feet. For others it has meant knee replacement. But you are still “standing” so to speak. That is because the structure is strong – just like the Church’s structure is strong when reliant on Jesus.
So, again, I ask, are you born again? Then God has given you power! And that means that God has given us power collectively – to stand as the Body of Christ.
So, we have the right pieces in the right places with the right power. And that is all because the true builder is…
The Right Person (Matthew 16.13-15)
We go back a few verses to pick up the beginning of this pericope. Peter’s response was not unprompted. Jesus knew who He was. He knew what His intention was in this place at this time. But He needed His followers to consider the fullness of the truth. He needed them to know who He really was before unveiling His plan. To highlight this further, let me share that three other groups are present in this story and how each group fits into God’s plan to build His Church.
- The Disciples (v. 13). Jesus is with this group and they are the ones being questioned. But Jesus, as the Builder, chose this group to be His laborers (sub-contractors if you will) – the ones who would serve with Jesus to build the Church. The same is true today – His disciples today are not only the present church, but we are a part of building the Church of the future.
- The Prophets (v. 14). This group is mentioned by the disciples as part of how other people view who Jesus is. But Jesus was the Builder, the prophets were the people who prepared the land and even laid a foundation of sorts. There role was important, but they were not meant to build; they were to prepare for the building to come.
- The Pharisees/Sadducees (v. 1). This chapter begins with the religious leaders looking for a sign. As I have mentioned before Matthew 14 and 15 are filled with signs, but they ignore them because what Jesus is doing does not fit their scheme. These people were not chosen by God (like the prophets) or Jesus (like the disciples) – they had chosen themselves. They were not interested in building something new, but preserving what had been.
Of these three groups, two were chosen by God to be a part of the process of what Jesus would/is building. But neither of these two groups – as important as the are – were the right person for the job. Only Jesus was right. Only Jesus is right. And only Jesus will continue to be right.
So, again, I ask: Are you born again?
If so, you must consider what He is calling you to do. (More on that below.)
If not, it is Jesus whom you must seek. He is the right Person to lead you where you truly want to go – even if you don’t know it yet. And I don’t mean go to heaven, I mean go through life.
CONCLUSION (tie to system)
As we close, you might wonder about today’s reading (if you are reading this post, the Scripture reading in our service was from Numbers 26). If you were here in Jan 2013, you might remember me placing signs around the wall with the different tribes. See the number of Israelites are not just numbers – they represent how many were in each area. – that is how many on each side. What God did in laying out the camp absolutely fascinates me. If each of these tribes is laid out and viewed from overhead, this is what the camp would have looked like.
When God looked down on the people of Israel as they camped in the wilderness, the formation He saw was the cross. In other words, structure is important. God designed the church in the NT (right pieces in the right places with the right power), but only after God structured His people in the OT. And that structure occurred after God provided structure for leading His people (Exodus 18) and in creating His people (our skeletal system).
And that is why our…
JOURNEY letter for today is: J – JESUS.
Jesus is the grand designer. He has given us a structure to support our bodies. He has given a structure to support His Church (truth and people). And He has organized all of it in such a way as to make it work effectively. When it does not work effectively, it is due to either sin or our carelessness. But Jesus had a plan. Jesus has a plan. And we need to find and honor that plan knowing we will prevail if we keep our focus upon Him.
PRINCIPLE: God has designed His body with the right pieces in the right places with the right power because of the right person – Jesus.
QUESTION: If you are born again, you are a piece! Have you found your place? And are you living according to His power given to you because He is the right person.
OPPORTUNITY: Seek to find your place not just by thinking, but by serving – perhaps in many areas until you know where you fit best.
LEARN: How has God designed you? Take time to identify who God has made you to be. Review/Reflect on each point – your skills, abilities/aptitudes, talents, desires/goals/dreams, your giftedness in His body (spiritual gifts) and any of life’s challenges that have led you to be who you are today.
LIVE: Take time to write down the ideas from the LEARN step above. Writing down will help bring focus to these ideas and thus will then help you to LIVE out the principles later.
LOVE: Thank God for the list you have developed. God made you uniquely qualified to serve as a piece in His body. And by identifying the items (in LEARN) and writing them down (in LIVE), you are better equipped to not only know you are a piece, but the place where you best fit.
LEAD: Share the benefits of this process with others. Jesus knew who He was, but asked others so they could know too. As they considered who Jesus was, at a later point (particularly during the time between His death and resurrection) they likely wondered who they were. But once Jesus revealed Himself again, they were ready to serve, because they knew Who had designed them and What they were to do. So, help others to examine their lives so they can be better prepared to serve God as well.