As Jesus began His ministry, everyone was intently scanning the horizon for God’s promised Messiah, but most people did not recognise the image of the Messiah Jesus presented. Yet, somehow, a mere 20 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, there are Christian churches dotted all around the Mediterranean. Amazingly, Paul’s letters to these churches were written as early as AD 50-55. Increasingly, people were persuaded. Jesus did not fit in the existing categories but caused the categories to be redefined around Him. The early church did that: They read Scripture afresh in the light of Jesus and let Him show them what their idea of God should be. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit filled the disciples and they were changed forever. Filled with the Spirit of Jesus, they became part of God’s new creation and subjects in the Kingdom of Heaven. Theologians say the Kingdom of Heaven is ‘now and not yet’. As the apostles preached in several languages, the Holy Spirit illuminated Jesus and thousands were baptised. Something grew, not only in people’s hearts, but in full public view. At the Tower of Babel, because of their self-worship, people ended up divided. At Pentecost, in an act of un-Babel’ing, the Spirit begins to create unity as Christ builds His church. No manmade tower can ever compare to the magnificent splendour of this temple when finished.
God’s creative act can be seen through the lens of ‘purpose’ and ‘role’ and the cosmos as an immense temple. “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool”. The tabernacle, and later the temple(s) in Jerusalem were small models of the huge cosmic temple God created ‘in the beginning’. The temple was where God had chosen to dwell, in real a physical location on a geographical map with a real people. In this microcosmos, heaven and earth met. But when Jesus said, ‘Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days’, a new understanding of ‘temple’ was required. In Jesus’ ministry, heaven intersected with earth and the Kingdom came near, and with His death and resurrection, a new order began. Forgiven and thus, freed from our bondage to sin, we were free to serve God. No longer powerless but filled with the Spirit, through whom God dwells with His people, and not only with them, but within them. “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation.” Not metaphorically speaking, but in real terms. We really are changed. Our nature is wholly different to what it was, and our spirits are infused with His. We made new. Re-created.
Understanding God’s creative work as (also) functional, in this renewed creation we’d expect to find roles assigned that serve a purpose, order appearing and God’s image-bearers becoming, in ways that are new, yet recognisable, more like God. We would expect to see things working. And that is exactly what happens. The gifts of the Spirit are given for the benefit of the church. So is the fruit. It happens gradually as the Spirit works in the hearts and in the community of believers. Lies fade; trust in God is restored. Selfishness yields to self-giving love. Humility wins over pride. Christ is increasingly Lord in all areas of personal and church life. When we say Christ is Lord, we profess that we are not, nor others’ opinion, the majority vote, the media, or our current culture… There is no room for idolatry in the Kingdom. The King is king there.
So, what is the purpose for which Christ builds His church? My suggestion is that our role is the same and yet different from the one we were given at the (first) creation. Recall it? “Multiply, steward, and be image-bearers.” All advance the Kingdom (God’s reign), and thus glorify God. The Great Commission tells us to ‘make disciples of all nations.’ That is how God’s new creation multiplies. We steward when we value people and the creation we live in. We are increasingly image-bearers and light-bringers when we allow the Holy Spirit to form us into the image and the body of Christ. Heaven meets with earth as we continue Jesus mission in small almost unseen ways. When we share our testimony, give someone a drink of water, and decide to forgive. When we express boundaries with kindness. Dance in the rain. Use less plastic and more of our talent. When we trust God enough to take a day off. When the church is of one mind and heart and gets along, we reflect God’s character. Christ is building His church to represent Him. As temples of the Holy Spirit we are plugged into His power and the light of hope can be switched on in a dark world.