Now, there are so many fun topics we could cover today – spiritual gifts, the Holy Spirit, the story of the early church growth, the purpose of the church. But I had another idea. I’m thinking about the church and how we have always defined it. The way I was taught about the church when I was at college years ago, is the Church of God is comprised of people in possession of the Holy Spirit. Would you agree with me on that? Now, that’s not the way most people think about it. They think, “Well, you’ve God up here and Jesus Christ, and then under them are all the groupings of people organized into structures – the Catholics, the Lutherans, the Episcopalians, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, the Methodists, the evangelicals, and then all the cults, and finally, the independent groups, like us – house churches – and all of that in our various splits, schisms, sects and denominations.” And then below those structures, some would place all the people associated – grouped by organization. But I think most of us have come to the conclusion that we still have God at the top, but we would just move out all that central structure with the organizations, and we would say that God sees a vast sea of people in which a lesser percentage possess His Spirit at this time. Am I right? Do we kind of think about it that way – you know, the Church with the big “C?” Right? And we call it the body of Christ.
But what if I told you that that definition, while it is a true definition, leaves out more than it covers. You know, we want our kids to become godly, empathic adults, so we start teaching them about sharing their cookie with their siblings. Thinking about the church as a body of believers is true, but it’s like learning to share cookies. There’s more to it and it’s more complicated. I think, in a similar way, God is so much greater than we are that He has to slowly unfold things for us so we can finally get a glimpse of what He really has on His mind.
In the book of Hebrews – I learned this right after I came into the church – Paul said that when we come to the church, we’re coming to Mount Zion. Now, when I was first in the church, I had a problem with that. I thought Mount Zion was Mount Zion and the church was the church – two different things. “Why did Paul say that?” I would wonder. What does God mean when He calls the church Mount Zion? Well, let’s look at Nelson’s Bible Dictionary. “Zion” – and then in parenthesis, it says – “(fortification).” So the word Zion means fort. That’s what it is.
When Joshua came into the land, the Israelites were not able to dislodge the Jebusites because they had a zion – a fort – with access to an awesome spring of water on a hill with deep valleys on all sides – and historically, very near to where Solomon built his temple in the area of Jerusalem. Now, nobody knows when that fort was built or who built it. It’s origin has passed out of the collective memory of humankind. So, it would be easy to think that the ancient Israelites would have told us, “Zion, the fort, well, it’s always been there,” because nobody could remember a time when it wasn’t. But because of something God did, that’s most definitely not the case. After Joshua, the Jebusites lives there for hundreds of years, mocking the Israelites, and yet were untouched because of their zion – their fort – that protected them from the onslaughts of the Israelites.
Let’s go back to Nelson’s. “The first mention of Zion in the Bible is in 2 Samuel 5:7. David took the stronghold of Zion – that is, the City of David” – that’s what it was called later. “Zion was, therefore, the name of the ancient Jebusite fortress city, situated on the southeast hill of Jerusalem at the junction of the Kidron Valley and Tyropoeon Valley. So the Israelites had looked across that valley at that fort for a long time. But because of its defensible location, it was a very desirable place that they couldn’t get their hands on, until David finally took it.” Nelson says, “The name came to stand not only for the fortress, but for also for the hill on which the fortress stood – Mount Zion.” The mount was named after the fort. And after David captured the stronghold of Zion by defeating the Jebusites, he called it the City of David and the City of God.
So, the meaning of the word Zion underwent a distinct change in its usage at this point in the scripture – an unfolding of meaning. First Zion was the fort – because that’s what it means – and then Mount Zion, so that the hill that it was on was now included in the meaning.” It says: “Further, when Solomon built a temple on Mount Moriah – a hill distinct and separate from Mount Zion, but close to it – and moved the Ark of the Covenant there, the word Zion expanded in meaning to include also the temple and the temple area.” So, it’s bigger now, right, than it was before.
Do you recall what else happened a long time before on Mount Moriah? That’s where Abraham was going to sacrifice his son. Right? Do you think that was an accident? I don’t. I think that God had that place picked out a long time before any Jebusites built any fort on it. Or, maybe they just inhabited one that was already there. How did the temple actually get on Mount Moriah? Well, God sent Gad, the prophet, to David after they had conquered Zion and told him to buy it, for that area of Mount Moriah was now the threshing floor for Aruna, the Jebusite. So he went and bought it from him. And that’s how the temple got built on the place where Abraham was going to sacrifice his son.
This place – Zion, the fort and Mount Zion – the hill it was on – and the temple on Mount Moriah all came to be called Zion. So now we have the fort, the hill it’s on, the temple of Solomon all encompassed by that one word. Now, it’s only a short step until Zion was used as the name for the city of Jerusalem as well. Do you remember that David named the whole area – the fort, the hill and surrounding area – Jerusalem? Jeru – city – and then salem – Jerusalem. Salem has an interesting meaning. It can mean peace – the City of Peace – which is somewhat ironic, given how many people have died over that city. That predicts that there’s going to be a different thing going on there in the future, doesn’t it? But it can also mean undivided or unity, together. It’s also this place – this city of salem – was also a place where a being lived many, many years before. And His name was Melchisedek, the priest of the Most High God.
Now there was something very unusual about this guy, Melchisedek. He had no beginning and no end. So who do you think He might be? (Jesus Christ) Absolutely – the King of Peace. That was one of Christ’s names, given to him in the Prophets. It wasn’t just a fort. It was the place from way back where God set up His base of operation on the earth.
And then, after a while, the people of Israel, as a whole, were called the sons of Zion. You can read that in Zechariah 9:13. It wasn’t too long until the whole tribe of Judah, and then all of Israel was called Zion as well. Are you with me? It keeps getting more involved, right?
And then, over time…well, let’s just keep reading what Nelson says here: “The most important use of the word Zion is in a religious or theological sense. Zion is used figuratively of Israel, as the people of God. The spiritual meaning of Zion continued in the New Testament, where it is given the Christian meaning, the Church of God.” So that’s why Paul said, “You come to Mount Zion,” when you become a member of the church – because that’s what the church is. It’s Mount Zion. What do you know?
Now, it’s pretty interesting, isn’t it, because at first the church was comprised of mostly Israelites. But look at what Paul tells us in Galatians 5:6:
Galatians 5:6 – For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.
So it doesn’t matter whether you’re a circumcised Jew now or an uncircumcised Gentile. That stuff is, essentially, irrelevant anymore, because now anybody in the whole wide world can become a Christian – another unfolding of massive proportion. I don’t know what the percentage is of world population to Israelites, but there are a lot more of them then there are of us. What Paul is saying is, that God is now working with the church as He worked with ancient Israel, and then all Gentiles can be in the church. The Israel of God, it was called – the Israel of God. Paul says, “They were grafted in.” Right? So, here Paul is letting us know that God’s plan has undergone another huge unfolding – from a relatively small family of people to the entire population of the world. Even the tribe of Israel began with one man – and then, his family. And that turned into a nation – and now, a church that’s open to everybody – not just Israelites. Once I understood that, I felt a lot better about what Paul said. It wasn’t just a mountain. It’s the church. It’s all the same thing – always has been. We just didn’t know.
So, here we are with our definition of the church as a body of believers – each one imbued with God’s Spirit – an amazing thing. Paul tells us, “Great – great – is the mystery of godliness.” And Peter tells us that “the innumerable host of angels look into God’s plan and wonder how He’s going to move us from where and what we are now to what He says we’re going to become later – to like Christ is now.” It’s a mystery. And it has to do with the Holy Spirit.
So, here we sit today, celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit – the change agent that God has sent to make all this happen. So I want you to take time out, for just a second, to read a scripture. It’s in Mark 4:30.
Mark 4:30 – And He – that’s Jesus – said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It’s like a grain of mustard seed, which when sown on the ground is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. And yet, when it’s sown, it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.
From the smallest to the greatest. While the Church of God is an incredibly great thing, it’s not the whole enchilada. There’s more unfolding to come, isn’t there? We haven’t really gotten to the big stuff yet.
Let’s read what Nelson says: “The spiritual meaning of Zion is continued in the New Testament , where it’s given the Christian meaning of the Church of God – the spiritual kingdom of God.” So, a fort at Jebus; a fort, and the hill it was on; the temple, the fort and the hill; Jerusalem – the city – the temple, the hill and the fort; Judah – the tribe – the city, the temple, the hill, the fort; Israel – the nation – the tribe, the city, the temple, the hill, the fort; and then the church – which is all that – and then the Kingdom of God. They’re all the same thing. God…uh, Nelson – I don’t want to confuse those two (laughter) – calls it the “spiritual kingdom of God,” but the Bible reveals to us – another huge unfolding – it’s not only a spiritual kingdom, but it’s going to be an earthly one as well. We can read about that in Revelation 5:9.
Revelation 5:9-10 – And they sang a new song, “You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, for You were slain and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God, and we shall reign ON THE EARTH.
Revelation 5:10 – a good one to remember. Kings and priests of what kingdom? On the earth, the Kingdom of God. Right? So, this is another massive unfolding. Finally, people are going to know who God is. No devil around, right? So, can we even imagine what life will be like after a thousand years of God’s way on the earth? It’s so hard to fathom. We know it’s going to start getting better right away, too. So, amazing! There’s that – what’s beyond just the church itself. The church is going to get a lot bigger in a hurry, once Christ returns.
And then, we know at the end of that time, everybody who has ever lived and died – isn’t alive an present – will be resurrected. Everybody that’s ever lived will be resurrected – all the Muslims, all the Hindus, all the Buddhists, all the Zoroastrians, all the followers of Aphrodite and Zeus, and all the other pagan gods – and let’s not forget, all agnostics and all atheists. Right? All of them at one time. God is going to have His way. He says His word will not return to Him empty. And it’s not going to. He’s going to have His way. The scripture will come true at that time – that everybody – everybody – will know Him, from the least to the greatest.
So, the words church and Zion, as we go through this, are taking on yet another – even visible – meaning, aren’t they? The church is going to get a whole lot bigger. I mean, I can’t grasp all the people that have lived and died that aren’t Christian – didn’t have a chance to know God – all coming up. It’s going to take a thousand years to prep all the stuff for them, I guess. But – and I’m sure you know this – there is even more after that – an unfolding that blows away all physical limitations altogether – an expansion that’s really still beyond human comprehension. There was one man that actually saw that. I’m thinking of John. He really didn’t know how to describe what he saw. It was amazing!
So, Nelson says: “The spiritual meaning of Zion is continued in the New Testament, where it’s given the Christian meaning of the Church of God, the spiritual kingdom of God, and the heavenly Jerusalem.” He calls it “the heavenly Jerusalem.” I didn’t read past that to see if he knows it’s coming here. Surely he would, if he read Revelation, but there it is in Revelation 21:1.
Revelation 21:1 – Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. He just adds that in there. What does that mean? Think about it. And then I, John, saw the holy city – New Jerusalem – coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven, saying, “Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.” We know that there aren’t going to be any physical people left, because it says: God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying – so everybody is going to be immortal. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away. All the stuff that causes us trouble and pain are gone. Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” Everything is going to be different. It’s going to be new and it’s going to be good. And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful. And He said, “It is done” – it’s a done deal. “I am the Alpha and Omega – the beginning and the end. And I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.”
Everything before that moment was for that moment. It’s all connected. It’s all part of the same thing. It’s all moving toward that – that pinnacle. When Jesus was first here as Melchisedek – maybe I shouldn’t say, “First,” here, because I don’t know that that was His first…probably not – but when He was here as Melchisedek, and He named His camp, His fort, His city Salem, that was just a tiny foreshadowing of what was to happen – that we see at the end of Revelation. All these unfoldings are like pointers to one big thing – the new heaven and the new earth.
Listen to this – Revelation 21:22:
Revelation 21:22 – And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty – and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light. And its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. And its gates will never be shut by day and there will be no night there. So that means they’ll never be shut. Right? God is the temple and He is the city. He is Zion. And Paul said, “You have come to Zion, the city of the living God.” When we come to the church, we’ve come to God.
So, what can we learn from this? Well, that’s not a rhetorical question, folks. Paul tell us what we’re supposed to learn from it – Hebrews 12:18:
Hebrews 12:18 – For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that was burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest. You haven’t come to something physical like that. It’s not just about the fort. It’s not just about the hill. It’s not just about the temple. It’s not just about the city – or the first city. It’s not just about the church – you know, the people with the Holy Spirit. It’s not just about driving to church, or to potluck, or the sermon.
V-22 – But you have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God – the heavenly Jerusalem – to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and the church of the firstborn – wow! – who are registered in heaven, to God, the judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus, the mediator of the New Covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.
You know, we talked about the meanings of the city of Melchisedek – Salem – was unified, undivided, together, and congruently, we see that all these things are the same thing. They’re together. You can’t separate one from another. It’s all a package. It’s undividable. And, if we come to that, if we are a part of that, then we’re a part of that undividable – that together thing. We can’t be separated out from it. I suppose we could walk away from it, but it’s our inheritance and our destiny. And that’s the point that Paul is making here. God, by revealing His plan to us through the device of the annual holy days…. And by the way, did you know that you can jump into this story at any one of those holy days, and it all works? It all fits. It’s all the same thing. So he’s showing us that we’re all each an integral part of the Kingdom. And one of the things that we can learn from this festival about the church is, that when we make a commitment to God, and we’re given the Spirit, God is also making a commitment to us. And no matter how many trials we face…I’m going to stop there and tell you something that happens to me every few years or months in Albuquerque.
My life…every morning I get up and go out of my driveway, and I turn away from the mountains, and I go to my office. And I spend a lot of time at my house, working on stuff like this. But every now and then – like Friday, when I had to go across town to an EMDR training – I get in my car, and I’m racing out, and I stop at that stoplight at Paseo, and I make the left turn, and there it is – the huge expanse of our little mountain range we have – we call it little – it’s about 30 miles wide; it goes up to 10,700 feet – and usually – because Albuquerque is a small town – there’s no pollution and it’s crystal clear, and I’m driving, and I look up, and there it is! You know, it’s kind of the big picture. So I tell myself this story – this unfolding – every so often, so that I can keep my mind on what’s really important.
So, no matter how many trials we face, no matter what troubles appear on our horizon, if we hold to our commitment, God will hold to His! He’s been doing that since Salem, and since before that – since the Garden of Eden. And He really reveals to us, through the holy day plan, that He is unfolding an unstoppable, massive plan that will roll over the whole earth and out into eternity. And we all have a place in that plan. We all do. So He’s showing us, in His unfolding and expansive way, that our future is looking sure. And our future is looking bright.