The church’s foundation

‘So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone’ (Eph 2:19-20).

Jesus said he would build his church (Matt 16:18). But what is he building his church upon? There have been many so-called churches that have not been built on the correct foundation and so have been found not to be true churches at all!

What is the foundation Christ is building upon? ‘The apostles and prophets’ (Eph 2:20). Who are these apostles and prophets?

While in one sense all Christians are apostles of Jesus, when it is used in its more formal, specific sense it refers to the 12 who were directly chosen by Jesus (Judas Iscariot replaced by Matthias), and also Paul (the exception to the rule, one ‘untimely born’ (1 Cor 15:8)).

In one sense all Christians can also be called prophets; ‘the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy’ (Rev 19:10). Obviously there are prophets in the Old Testament. But in Ephesians, prophets always refer to a specific group of Christians, gifted to speak new revelation from God to guide the church.

Are there apostles and prophets (with those specific definitions) today? No. They were the foundation, bringing direct revelation from God to lead God’s people. Now the foundation has been laid, and is being built upon.

Jesus is building on their testimony, as recorded in the New Testament. This is why we are devoted to God’s word – a true church is not built by attraction or motivational speeches, but by God’s word. Specifically, God’s word about Jesus Christ, the cornerstone. He builds his church as she calls people to repentance and faith in him.

The neglected event of Jesus’ ministry

If you were to write a list of the ten most important events in Jesus’ ministry, what would it include? Three are obvious: his birth, death and resurrection; which even our rapidly de-Christianising culture still celebrate (even as it is detached from the events). What would make up the other seven?

Maybe some of his miracles. Some of his teaching might feature. What about his baptism, temptation in the wilderness, his transfiguration?

There are so many different points in his ministry we could pick, and so many that would be left out! But there is one event whose significance is rarely appreciated: the ascension.

The risen Jesus, after spending 40 days teaching his apostles, physically ascended into the heavens, to sit at God’s right hand. Think of the magnitude of that! There is a man, right now, who for all eternity sits on the throne. He did not shed his humanity like a snake sheds its skin. The second person of the Trinity has forever humbled himself, taking on ‘the form of a servant’ (Phil 2:7).

The ascended Jesus gave gifts to his people. He sent his Holy Spirit (John 16:7), who in turn gives us spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12). He gave ‘the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers’ (Eph 4:11).

Wonderfully, because we are united to Christ, we’ve been raised with him, and we’re to ‘set [our] minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth’ (Col 3:2).

The ascension changes everything. Never before has a man sat on God’s throne. And this perfect, exalted man has given us incomparable gifts, which we would never want to exchange. Of course we would want to set our minds on him. We worship, and wait for, the ascended Christ. He is our boast.

Christ’s family tree

‘So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation of Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.’ (Matt 1:17)

For several years there has been a growing interest among many in our culture of researching one’s family tree. The mysteries of the past are enticing. The ads encouraging the activity intrigue with the possibility of finding interesting characters. Whether the past holds royalty or criminality, the hope is something interesting.

The genealogy of Christ in Matt 1:2-17 is full of intriguing details. But unlike our genealogies which would not shed light on our own character, Christ’s genealogy has much in it to teach us about him. All the Old Testament history was leading up to him, and God has so crafted history that even the purpose of his mission is revealed.

There are glorious heights in this genealogy. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, grounding him in the redemptive purposes of God, bringing blessing to the world. There is Judah, who was promised the sceptre would not pass from him. We see this reality when we get to some of the great kings: David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Josiah. He has a great pedigree. Jesus was born to rule.

But there is embarrassment in this list too. In an odd twist, multiple women are named, each of them a skeleton in the closet. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Uriah’s wife – each with a sordid past (or, in the case of Ruth, embarrassment because she was a Moabitess).

It is perhaps in these women that the glory of Christ is most clearly seen. Unlike us, he chose his family. And he chose one full of shameful and public sin, and of Gentiles. Even in his family he chooses to identify with us.