The Anatomy of the Church

The Head

This morning we come to the most important message in our study of the Anatomy of the Church.  In fact, in retrospect, perhaps this is where we should have begun.

We've talked about the skeleton, basic foundational truths the church must be committed to. We've talked about the internal systems, spiritual attitudes that must exist in the hearts of its people. We've talked about muscle, the function of ministry; and we've talked about flesh, the form that ministry takes.

But a body is incomplete without a head.  In fact, without a head it is dead, and with more than one head it is a freak.  So in our study this morning, I want us to look to the Word of God to gain an understanding of the head of the body who is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ.

And to help us with that I want to us to turn to

Hebrews 13 and I want us to use this passage as kind of a launching point for some othere Scriptures .  But we will begin here. 

Now much of what we’ve been talking about for the last few weeks has centered on what we do.  We believe the right things we have the right attitude; we get involved in the right functions and ministries; we do what Jesus did while He was here on the earth. 

Now we're going to talk about what Christ does for His church. And this should really be a series of its own, but I’ll try to just boil it down to one message this morning. 

And it’s kind of interesting that this passage is just dropped into the closing of the book of Hebrews but notice what it says:

Hebrews 13:20-21

Now obviously that is a benediction, a closing to the book of Hebrews, but beyond that it provides a summary of the work of Christ on behalf of His church. 

First of all,

1. He Is the Savior of His Church

Several things in this text point to the saving work of Christ in behalf of His church. The first one that I noted was His name.  You see that in veerse 20.

That’s consistent because according to Matthew 1:21, Joseph was instructed to name the baby Jesus.  Why?  Because he shall save His people from their sins. 

That name, “Jesus”, is Yeshua or Joshua from the Old Testament.  And it means “Jehovah Saves”. So His very name is the name of one who saves.

Then I notice the emphasis on the blood.  He is not only a Savior, but He accomplishes that work of salvation "Through the blood of the everlasting covenant."

That's quite a phrase!  You see, the Jews always knew that sin had to be atoned for by blood. There was no other way.  By God's design that there had to be bloodshed to deal with sin.

So for centuries, they would make that pilgrimage to the altar to kill animals and offer blood sacrifice. 

But notice what verse 20 says.  It says it is "the blood of the everlasting covenant."

The first one didn’t last.  It was not everlasting. It was a temporary covenant. It was only a shadow of things to come. It is replaced by the everlasting covenant.

So we see in this passage that He's the Savior of His church. We see it in His name and through His blood.  Then notice at the first of verse 20 there is a reference to His resurrection. 

It was the God of peace who brought up Jesus from the dead.  There we find the Father’s stamp of approval on the work of Christ.  When He raised Him from the dead, He was affirming that He had accomplished what He had gone to the cross to do.

So no doubt about it, Jesus is the Savior of His Church.  Now think about what that means: The church is not some human organization or idea.  You don't get into it by signing up and paying dues.  You don't just become a member because you like the kind of folks that hang out here or you think it might be good for business or it might sort of upgrade your lifestyle or you might like to get in on some of the fun things that we do or you might enjoy the music or it makes you feel better about yourself.

No, you come into the church by virtue of the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ; and entrance belongs to those who are redeemed and washed through His precious blood. We're not building the church. He's building it. It's His church. He's the Savior of His church. He brings people into His church.

Now there are two things in particular in regard to that I want to point out to you: 

 

  • First, He loves His church.

His saving work is built upon His saving love. We love Him, because He first loved us. It is God who initiated the love relationship with us before we ever existed and loved us while we hated Him. 

And even when we were enemies, God, through His great love, reconciled us to Himself through the death of His Son. He loves us. It was His love that redeemed us. It was His love that motivated Him go to the cross and shed His precious blood. 

Romans 5:8 reminds us that God was demonstrating His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. 

It's wonderful to know you're loved. It's wonderful to know that. He loves the church. He loves the church so much, He gave Himself for the church.

He loves His church, and having loved them, it says in John 13, "Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto perfection."

He doesn't stop loving His people because they fail. He doesn't stop loving His people because they fall. He doesn't stop loving His people because they are indifferent, because they don't take advantage of opportunity, resource, and privilege.

In fact, in Romans 8, Paul asks that question:  “And what shall separate us from that love? Shall tribulation? Stress? Persecution? Famine? Nakedness? Peril? Sword? How about life? Death? Angels? Principalities? Things present? Things to come? Powers? Height? Depth? Any other creation? Never.

Nothing shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. 

He is the Savior of the Church and as such He loves His church.

Here’s the second thing:  He builds His church.

That is the exact statement He makes in Matthew 16.  “I will build My church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.”

He brings us in. He adds to His church. He frames it together that it might grow as a holy temple to Himself. We're not in the church building business...He is. It's not my job to build the church or anybody else's. It is not our job to come up with programs and schemes and human wisdom to try and build the church.

He'll build His church, and the gates of Hades won't prevail against it. That is a Hebrew euphemism for death. Death is the ultimate weapon that's in the hand of the adversary.  According to Hebrews 2 it is Satan who has the power of death. 

And what He is saying is, "I will build My church, and the worst that could be done, killing them, won't prevail against it. You kill the church, and all you're doing is populating glory.

I'll build My church." And I’ll tell you something: I just want to be a part of the church He's building. That's why I'm so committed to the fact that we have to work by the book. We don't ever want to do anything that's going to confuse people or compromise the gospel.  We want it to be unavoidable and without question that He built the church and not us. 

And I love what He says there, "I will build, not the church, but My church." What a great truth. He's the possessor. He purchased it with His own precious blood. He owns it. He builds it and He adds to the church daily such as should be saved. He's in the church building business.

So as the Head of the Church, He's the Savior of the church, and He loves and builds His church.

Here’s the second thing in Hebrews 13:20.  As the Head of the Church,

2.  He's the Shepherd of His Church

As the Savior, He loves and builds and as the Shepherd, He has some very unique and special functions, too.

And before I mention those, just notice He’s not just your run of the mill shephered, He is the Great Shepherd. 

Jesus is identified as a Shepherd three times in the New Testament. 

John 10, He's the good Shepherd.

In 1 Peter 5, He's the chief Shepherd.

And here is Hebrews 13, He's the great Shepherd.

Now that is significant because at least a half a dozen places in the Bible those without God are identified as “sheep without a shepherd." So if we are believers, we are sheep with a Shepherd.

And here we discover that not only is our shepherd a Good Shepherd, and not only is He the Chief Shepherd, He is a Great Shepherd. 

And the Great Shepherd knows how to take care of His sheep.  Now listen:  it is a privilege to be a pastor and all that, but I want you to hear what I’m about to say.  As pastor’s we can’t fix all your problems.  We’ll work hard to do what we can and take our responsibilities seriously, but you know something? He'll build His church with or without me.

Listen, if the gates of hell can't prevail against you, you don’t need me nearly as much as I think you do.  He'll build His church without me.

Listen:  our work as pastors is not to help God do what He otherwise couldn't do. It's just to get to be a part of what He's doing. So we shepherd with all our hearts in the best way we can; but when we run out of resources, and we don't know what to do or what to say, and we just don't know how to take care of people and meet their needs the way they ought to be met, we have to lean back and say, "We can’t but we know One Who can!  We are under shepherds, but He is the Great Shepherd!”

Now as such, let me give you two things He does as our Great Shepherd.

 

  • - First, He equips

verse 21

Now watch what’s happening there.  The reason He loved us and shed His blood and rose from the grave and saved us was to cause us to do His will. He's at work as the Great Shepherd perfecting us to do His will. He's equipping us to do His will.

How does He accomplish that? 

He’s given us Scripture.  That’s what 2 Timothy 3:16 says,, “that the man of God may be perfect, equipped, thoroughly furnished to all good works”

And then He's given us gifted men. Ephesians 4 reminds us that “He gave some apostles and prophets and evangelists and teaching pastors or teaching shepherds for “the equipping of the saints to do the work of the ministry”. 

And then according to 1 Peter 5:10, it says, "After you've suffered a while, the Lord make you perfect." He gives us trials in which the Word can work.

So the Lord, as the Great Shepherd, equips, builds up, strengthens. He gives us the power of the Holy Spirit. What does Acts 1:8 say, "You shall be my witnesses after the Spirit's power comes upon you in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost part of the earth."

"And you'll go forth...He says in John 15...and bear much fruit." "And out of your belly...in John 7...will flow rivers of living water." And so He's equipping His church.

Listen:  He may have finished His work on the Cross as Savior, but He’s still at work to equip us.  He's moving His church along. He's equipping His church.

Secondly, as the Great Shepherd,

- He intercedes

Just like a shepherd would go out and fight off the wolf, the Lord Jesus Christ fights off the adversary who comes constantly before the throne of God to accuse the brethren. He comes before the throne of God to accuse us, as he did to accuse Job; and Jesus comes to our rescue and defends us. He is our defender. He is our intercessor. He is our advocate. He is our empathizer. He is our sympathizer. He is our high Priest.

If you want to encounter the heartbeat of Christ for His church, read John 17 as He prays to the Father for the church. 

He says, "Oh, Father, I pray not for those that are in the world, but for those that you've given unto Me that they may be one. Oh, Father, I pray that they may be one with Me as I am one with You."

And He prays for His own in that marvelous passage, and you see continuing through the New Testament His high priestly work.

First John 2 says, "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." In other words, when you sin and the accusation of your sin is brought before the throne of God, Jesus stands as your advocate and says, "Father, that sin is paid for. My blood paid for that sin." And that's why no sin can be charged against God's children. 

Why?  Because He intercedes for His church. He talks to the Father about our needs.  He is not a high priest who cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. He knows exactly what we go through; and so He's able to help us.

We are told in Hebrews 7:25 that “He ever lives to make intercession for us." He was hungry. He was thirsty. He was overcome with fatigue. He slept. He was taught. He grew. He was loved. He was hated. He loved. He hated. He was astonished. He marveled. He was glad. He was sad. He was angry. He was indignant. He was sarcastic. He was grieved. He was troubled. He was overcome by future events. He exercised faith. He read Scripture. He prayed all night. He poured out His heart over the pain of men, and He wept when His own heart ached.

He's been there. Sympathetic. Empathetic, and defending us. He is our faithful, great high Priest.

So as the Head of the Church, He’s our Savior.  He loves and builds His church. 

He’s our Shepherd, and He equips and intercedes for His church.

Then thirdly, as the Head of the Church He is

3.  The Sovereign of His Church

Look again at the text and notice the word Lord.

Ninety-two times that word is used in the New Testament.  Now we can fuss and discuss the various shades of meanings of the word, but one thing is very clear. When it is used in the New Testament in reference to the Son of God, it means Sovereign One. He is the One who is in complete authority. He is the Lord.

It tells us in Ephesians chapter 1 that, "God has put all things under His feet and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all."

He is in charge. Colossians chapter 1 says essentially the same thing in verse 19. It says, "It pleased the Father that in Him should all divine fullness dwell. Therefore...verse 18 says...He's the head of the church. He is the beginning, the preeminent One that in all things He might have the preeminence."

So the concept of Lord has to do with the fact that Jesus Christ is the Sovereign One.

Now again, that means a couple of things in particular that I want to emphasize. 

First, as Sovereign of His Church,

 

  • He rules His church

As the Lord of His church, He rules His church.  Now let’s just be real clear of something.  If anyone asks you who is in charge of Trinity Baptist Church, you tell 'em Jesus Christ; and that is not being said facetiously.

Jesus Christ is the head of His church. Ephesians 5:23 says He's the head. Now the word used there is basically has to do with being first or being prominent or being supreme or being the determiner; the one who's calling the shots.

That's repeated several places in the New Testament. And, as the head, He has the authority in His church. He rules in His church. You see Him in Revelation 1, and He's moving among the candlesticks, each representative of His church, and He's trimming the lamps, and He's coming with bronzed feet and burning, penetrating eyes as He searches out the sin that needs to be crushed out of His church.  He is the Lord of His church.

By the way, that is seen in Matthew 18 and I really want to make this point because I hear people all the time misquoting and misapplying this verse and it needs to straightened out. 

Notice Matthew 18:19

I hear people all the time talking about praying together and they use this verse to talk about Jesus being there with them.  Listen:  This verse has nothing to do with a prayer meeting. 

It’s all about church discipline.  And the two or three who are gathered together are witnesses who confirm the sin of someone in a discipline. The whole passage is about discipline, and He says, "Don't hesitate to do it, because when you call together the right witnesses and affirm the sin, you don't need to hold back, because I'm there in the midst doing it with you and you're only demonstrating on earth what has already been done in heaven”.

And the emphasis is on acting in behalf of Christ in a matter of church discipline.  And the point is, He rules His church.  And the leaders of the church on the earth are merely to reflect the will of the Sovereign Ruler of the Church Who is in Heaven. 

It’s not up to us to decide what we ought to do in certain situations on the earth.  We don’t rely on human wisdom and intellect.  We rely on God.  It’s His church.  He’s the Head.  He makes the decisions. 

Secondly, as we think about the Lord Jesus Christ as the Sovereign of His church, He not only rules His church, but

 

  • He teaches His church

He teaches His church. That's part of His ruling. He has authority to exercise in all matters, and He has authority to reveal in all truth. He's our teacher. His will is revealed through His Word. His will is revealed through human instruments, but He's the teacher.

Notice John 14:19-20

In other words, there are some things that I’m going to see to it that you find out.  How will that happen? 

verse 26

You find that repeated in chapter 16: 12-13

It is the Lord who rules and feeds and teaches His church through the Word and the Spirit. That’s why you are so much smarter than the rest of the world. 

That's 1 John 2:20 and 27. It says, "We have an anointing from God. We don't need human teachers. We have an anointing from God." Listen all the brains in the world today don’t know enough about what really matters to fill a thimble.  Earthly, worldly teachers outside the Kingdom who don't know the Word of God have nothing to teach you about what really matters in the world. 

We don't need that kind of wisdom, because we have an anointing from God; and that anointing is none other than the Holy Spirit. So we have the Word of God and the author, the Spirit of God, pouring truth though the gifted men of God; and, thus, Christ is leading His church.

I'm not here in this pulpit to give you my opinion on anything. If I ever do that, you ought to run me out of town. I'm not here to talk about social issues that aren't relative to the Word of God. I'm here to open to you the Word of God that you may know the mind of God and the heart of the Savior, that He may teach His church.

Listen:  I'm just the waiter.  I don’t cook the meal. I'm just trying to deliver it without messing it up, and make sure it’s hot when it gets to the table. 

One final thing.  Man there’s a lot in this little verse! 

He's not only the Savior who loves and builds His church and the Shepherd who equips and intercedes for His church and the Sovereign who rules and teaches His church, but

4. He's the Sanctifier of His Church

Look at verse 21

Now the ultimate goal is to work in you. Aren’t you glad to know that He’s at work in you?  He's the Sanctifier.

How does He do it?  Well first of all,

 

  • He is the Purifier

He's the one setting us apart from sin. He's the one purifying us.  It may be that He'll purify His church with removal. It may be He'll purify His church with a death of a believer who's unfaithful, as in 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 John 5. It may be that He'll purify His church by strengthening that Christian and drawing him into holiness. That's for Him to do. But His goal is to do that.

That's what it says in Ephesians 5:25-26

He wants His church pure and clean in order that ultimately He might present it to Himself a glorious church. That's the glory of the church.

He purifies it to bring it to glory that He might have a church which is without spot, without wrinkle, or any such thing, but holy and without blemish.

So He's the Purifier and

 

  • He is the Glorifier

Now glorification is just the ultimate purification.  God is at work in us to ultimately bring us to glory.  And when we get up there, we'll all be perfect, without spot, without blemish.

Isn’t it great to get to be a part of the church?  To know that of all the people in the world, we have the privilege of knowing the key, fundamental, unchanging truths of the universe about God and doctrine and right living.  We have this structure that gives us form and shape. 

And Flowing through can be the very mind of Christ.  His attitudes can be seen in us as we learn to be obedient and develop His love and humility and unity.  We can have joy and peace as we serve the Lord and we can do it with thanksgiving and self-control. 

And as we learn to be generous and forgiving and dependent we learn how to trust God and we get to see Him at work in and through us.  And growth and flexibility and faithfulness develop as we live in the hope that is ours through Jesus Christ. 

And the preaching and teaching and ministry and worship and prayer are not some have-to expression of religious duty, but are the very lifeblood of who we are as the people of God so that when they see us and rub shoulders with us and encounter us its just like it was when Jesus walked on the earth.

Why?  Because He is the Head.  He loves and builds His church as its Savior.  He equips and intercedes as its Shepherd.  He is ruling and teaching as its Sovereign and He is purifying and glorifying as its Sanctifier. 

That’s His church, His body as He designed it to operate.  And I will say to you there is no more marvelous, thrilling, glorious, joy-producing, soul-satisfying function than to be a part of what Jesus Christ is building for His eternal glory.

A reporter came up to the construction site of St. Paul's Cathedral in London many years ago. He was doing a story on the building of that great cathedral. He said to a guy there with a bunch of stones in his hand, he said, "What are you doing?"

He said, "Can't you see what I'm doing? I'm sticking stones in here to build this thing. Just more stones all the time. Just carrying these stones."

He went to a second guy, and he said, "What are you doing?" He said, "I'm earning a living. I got a family, a bunch of children to take care of.  I'm earning a living." He went to a third fellow and said, "What are you doing?" "Oh," he said, "I'm helping Sir Christopher Wren build St. Paul's Cathedral." That's a different perspective, isn't it?

What are you doing? "Well, I'm just sticking these stones in here. I’ve got to teach this Sunday School lesson.  What are you doing?  Oh, I’m a Christian.  I have this obligation.  I have a responsibility.  I have to be spiritual. 

But what are we doing?   I am a part of the body of Christ, and together with Him I have the privilege of building His eternal Kingdom.  

Let’s pray.

 
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