You say it every week. Actually, you don’t say it— you confess it. Every single Sunday you stand up and openly admit: “I believe in the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints.”
But what does that mean? … the Holy Christian Church? …the communion of saints? You do notice that “Holy Christian Church” is capitalized, right? (And just in case you’re wondering, that’s not a typo in the hymnal.) Why is this “C”hurch capitalized? What is meant by the expression “Holy Christian Church?” And what is this “communion of saints?” More importantly, what do these words have to do with you?
After all, you are in Isaiah’s prophecy. Isaiah is not describing some random group of people in some random land in some random era. Even though Isaiah lives 700 years before the birth of Christ, he sees you, gathered here, in Clare & Harrison, Michigan, worshipping your God, serving him, and praising his name. Dig into our reading again. See where you fit in. Rediscover what you, as God’s child, are equipped to do. God Reveals His Salvation to make foreigners his citizens and to motivate service for him.
It starts with that order. Before you can ever begin reflecting on what you can do to serve God, you must start by recognizing why you can serve God at all. Your service all starts with the Lord. Literally— verse 1 begins: This is what the Lord says[.] Notice who speaks. Yes, the Lord is God, but he uses a special name here. Isaiah does not say: “This is what God says.” It’s: This is what the Lord says[.] That title: the “Lord” (in all capitals) is not a typo; it’s intentional.
The “Lord” (in all capitals) tells you two things about your God (Exodus 34:6-7). (1) God expects all of humanity to live a holy life— to be as perfect as he is; to love what is morally good and to hate evil (Leviticus 19:2; Matthew 5:48). So, The Lord says: Maintain justice and do what is right[.] This is how people of God are to act every day.
If you wish to know if the way you live is “right,” then compare your behavior to God’s every single commandment (Exodus 20:1-17). Love everyone as much as you care for yourself. If you do not enjoy someone hating you, then do not hate anyone. If you do not want your friends gossiping about you, then do not gossip about your friends. If you want the car salesman to treat you honestly, then be honest, kind, patient, compassionate to everyone. Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39).
Do not stop there, but love your God with every fiber of your being. Do not consider worship boring, but rejoice that you get to worship God. Do not feel home devotions and prayer rob you of time. Rather, fight for time to spend with God in prayer and devotion. Treat God’s name better than a curse Word. Recognize what the name “God” means and trust that “God” is powerful enough, wise enough, and available to be in your life.
In case you’re wondering, the Lord is not giving a suggestion; he commands. You are to maintain this morality, this justice, today, tomorrow— always. Do this and you will live; fail and be forever cut off from God (Luke 10:25-28).
How do you measure up? Would you be proud if God saw everything you did last week? The God who is everywhere, dwelling in your home, standing beside you, would he be pleased with your internet search or what you post to Facebook or what you watch on television? Would he be pleased with your thoughts on your way to worship this morning or where your mind was from the start of worship to this moment? Could God say that you loved your family with perfect compassion, that you humbly built up others, that you never complained about the way your congregation functions, but that you always supported decisions and offered your time to help? Have you maintained the justice God expects? Did you always do what is right?
You trust in Jesus as Savior; you love God. Yet, you recognize there’s still a part of you that finds discontentment in being a member of God’s family. Instead of being a citizen of Christ, that sinful nature wants to live as a foreigner— someone God does not recognize as belonging to him!
That is why, when you consider how you serve your God, it can never start by looking at you. Either you will find God’s commands to be a new form of slavery or you will be crushed by the fact you can never be perfect enough.
That is why, when you consider your service to God, it must start with the “Lord” (in all capitals). Your “Lord” (in all capitals) threatens to punish every sinner, but he does something else: (2) the Lord is patient, loving, and forgiving. How do you know? Well, Isaiah says, “[The] salvation [of God] is close at hand and [his] righteousness will soon be revealed.”
The word “salvation” simply means “to deliver” or “rescue.” When Isaiah is alive, God has made a promise to Jesus to blot out the transgressions of the world. Even though Jesus had not yet been born, his arrival comes closer with each passing day. Everyone who lives before the first Christmas could prepare their hearts for the coming Savior.
For all of us who live after the first Christmas, you realize that deliverance and rescue from the wages of sin is found in the forgiveness of Jesus has already won. God’s salvation is always close at hand. You have the privilege to run to the cross again and again and be assured: You are forgiven. God Reveals His Salvation to make foreigners his citizens, to bring forgiven sinners into the family of God.
Not just that, God Reveals His Salvation to make foreigners his citizens— literally. Jesus comes through the bloodlines of the Jews. Yet, the Jews do not keep this message only to themselves. The good news of Jesus has reached all people—Jews and non-Jews included.
If you look around today, you can see that Isaiah’s prophecy has come true. You are the ones who have been gathered into the family of God. God has come to you in the form of his Word. In this Bible he tells you: God so loved the world that he gave his Son for you— for your eternal benefit— to step into your death sentence and die instead of you.
He takes this truth, packages it up, and delivers it to you in baptism. You see, baptism is not just plain water. The water is not supernatural holy water. God takes plain, ordinary water, and attaches a promise to it. When the words are said, “You are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, + and Holy Spirit,” God says that you enter his family. God has put his name on you. Jesus has signed citizenship papers: “Heir of heaven.” “Child belonging to God.” “God is your Father.” And he thrusts those papers into your hand. God has joined you to his family— just like Isaiah said he would.
To connect it to what I said earlier, you are therefore brought into the [big-C] “C”hurch. A church is a gathering of worshippers. You see these churches. You see how many there are. Some who enter believe; others do not. So, we call those [little-c] “c”hurches.
Yet, the [big-C] “C”hurch refers to the gathering of all believers. All who have faith in Jesus as Savior stand in this gathering. That means, you do not enter heaven just because you sit in a church building. You are not loved by God because your name is in the church membership rolls. You do not earn heaven because you sat for two or three years in catechism class or in adult instruction class. That is how you become part of a visible congregation. You study Bible teachings so that you can confess what you believe. As for entering God’s family, God reveals Jesus, His Salvation, as your Savior from sin. God Reveals His Salvation to make you, once foreigners cut off from God in unbelief, his citizens. God joins you into this [big-C] “C”hurch.
The Holy Christian Church? What is that? That’s you! You are those believers who gather around God and God is your Good Shepherd. Since you belong to this [big-C] “C”hurch, you are called the communion of saints? A “saint” because Jesus washes away your sins and makes you a holy person. A “communion” meaning, a fellowship, or a gathering. As God Reveals His Salvation he motivates you to serve him.
Isaiah describes three things that people brought into the family of God do: (1) serve him, (2) love his name, and (3) worship him.
You serve him by living as the priests you are. No, God is not telling you to enter the seminary and become a Pastor. Neither does he expect you to return to Old Testament worship practices of animal sacrifice. Rather, by faith, God gives you the privilege of coming directly to him just like the Old Testament priests were the only ones able to stand in the presence of God.
Old Testament priests would pray for the people, offer sacrifices for their sins, and share the Word. Now, you are the priest who walks right up to God. You can unload your burdens and frustrations. You can ask God to help your loved ones; you can plead for him to deliver you from trouble. You do not need to ask a Pastor to bring your prayers to God; you get to pray directly to God.
You can preach the Word to yourself. You have Bibles in your home; you get to read devotions. So, when anxiety fills your mind, you remember: Cast your anxiety on God (1 Peter 5:7). When you have a terrible day, you recall: Come to me—all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). When you have no idea where to turn for answers, you hear: Call on me in the day of trouble. I will deliver you (Psalm 50:15).
You love the name of the LORD. God’s “Name” is his reputation. Just think about everything the Name “God” makes you feel. He forgives you—freely, fully, repeatedly. He is patient. He does not afflict you with trouble because you make him angry. He does not make life hell because you missed worship last week. Your God is loving— filling your life with tremendous blessings. Feeding you. Allowing income to flow in. Blessing you through your children, your parents, your grandparents, your friends, and Pastor. You love finding peace and rest in this Name: “God.”
So, you worship him. How? By keep[ing] the Sabbath. Now, remember, in the New Testament, God gives you freedom in selecting your day of worship (Colossians 2:16). In fact, that’s what the Word Sabbath means: “day of rest” (and not “Saturday”). You have selected the first hours of the first day of the week to be devoted to God.
As citizens belonging to God, you get to worship him. You get to sing praises thanking him for all he does. You get to hear his Word so that you have confidence in life. You get to hear a message shared with you so that you can learn applications; you get to see how God fits into every aspect of your life. Those who love God love worshipping God.
Do you see where you fit in? Isaiah paints this gorgeous picture of where you stand. God has brought you to his holy mountain. He has brought you into this the Holy Christian Church. Holy—because Jesus makes you holy from sin. Christian because you follow Christ. Church—because you gather with believers around God. When you confess your faith, you admit that God has made you a citizen.
Now, you spend your days serving him. Loving him. Worshipping him. No, not because you must. Rather, as someone touched by God, you are motivated to serve him with your offerings, talents, and time. God Reveals His Salvation to make foreigners his citizens and to motivate service for him.
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