February 20, 2011: Temples Reflect Their God

Dear Savior, on this day as we sit in Your house we’re surrounded by Your awesome, loving presence. Your holiness pervades our thinking and our attitude. And from such holiness comes a renewed mindset to present our bodies as living temples and living sacrifices to You. May we carry that same attitude out the door and show it daily in our lives. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE SOURCE OF OUR HOLINESS

TEXT: Leviticus 19: 1,2, 17,18 and I Cor. 3: 10,11, 16-23

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

The architecture of a house of worship should and usually does reflect the god worshiped there. Go to the mother church of Christian science and you’ll be hard pressed to find a cross anywhere in the building. Why? Because they don’t confess Christ to be the eternal Son of God who died on a cross to save them. Go to a Baptist or another reformed church and you’ll be hard pressed to find an altar in the building. Instead, a huge pulpit will dominate the front of the building. They promote the supremacy of God’s Word thereby, but also show their rejection of the reality of the Lord’s Supper, whereby Christ’s sacrifice for our sins is truly given to us personally through His body and blood. The fact is, wherever the truth of the sacraments is downplayed, the more that building will resemble an overgrown convention hall.

Think about our church. We’re not grandiose, but we do proclaim our belief in the Triune God through our building. We have a triangular shape denoting the Trinity. We have triangular windows which do the same. We have an altar, a baptism font, Christian banners, and even a Christ candle burning each week. And to cap it off, the three panel painting of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension into glory dominate the room front and center. Walk into Pinewood and you immediately know what we stand for and what God we worship.

Today we couple together an OT explanation of the 1st commandment along with an additional application of it from St. Paul’s 1st epistle to the Corinthians. In both we see that our worship of God is not and should never be confined to a mere earthly building. Likewise, true worship is never just a matter of external behavior or lip service—both of which touch the senses but don’t reveal the heart. Yes, the heart is finally the heart of the matter when it comes to any temple of God. And that leads into our theme:

TEMPLES REFLECT THEIR GOD

I

Remember when Jesus said to His followers: “The kingdom of God is within you”? Listen anew to Paul’s variation on that truth: “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.”

Through faith the Spirit resides in each of you. He took up residence within your heart when you were baptized and when you embraced the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It was then that you were “born again.” It was then that you became God’s holy dwelling place upon this earth. In the Corinthians case, Paul began that foundation building when he preached the truth of the cross to those gathered heathens and the Spirit converted them. After he left, other pastors continued the process of up-building the Church among them. And finally, each new believer also became a builder, using the tools of: grace, forgiveness, love, obedience to God via repentance, and the many gifts of the Spirit to remold and build up their inner temples, the temple of their hearts. But at every turn, Jesus Christ must be pre-eminent. He must occupy center stage.

II

Any Christian knows that God isn’t honored simply by people going through the motions of faith and worship. He isn’t honored with mere external attempts at good behavior. No, Jesus Christ literally gave us His heart on the cross to save us and now expects us to give our hearts back to Him in faith. This is true love. So, listen to God when He speaks to Moses about what true worship really is and about how the giving of our hearts to Him is all important. “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy. Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

If we wish to be true temples of God in which He resides, the attitude of our hearts is all-important. No one can perfectly obey or keep this 1st commandment without cleansing their heart from all malice, evil intent, or grudge-bearing. So, what about you? When someone crosses you and seeks to hurt you, do you wait until some future moment to strike back against them? Or, do you let go of the hurt and let God handle it? After all, He does say: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” says the Lord.” By holding on to such past hurts, all you really do is darken the temple of our heart and turn out the lights on Christ. Note well that God also addresses the issue of talking to such people about their sins. He tells us to rebuke them—on the basis of God’s Word—but to always do it out of love and concern for their soul. Grudge bearing does the opposite. Most of the time we foster such hurts within our hearts, allow them to fester and grow, and eventually they end up consuming us. This is a far cry from “loving your neighbor as yourself.” It is a far cry from Christ caring enough about all of us to die for the sins of the world.

III

Right now you should be thinking: “I’m not much of a temple for Christ to reside in.” That’s exactly right. None of us is perfect. None of us is holy by our actions. None of us deserves to have the Spirit dwell within us. And none of us has kept this 1st commandment in our thoughts, words, and by our actions. But Christ has! And He has done it for us!

He never bore a grudge—not even against Judas or Pontus Pilate. What did He say on the cross?—”Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” So, in order to truly let your inner temple reflect our loving God, we need to continually plead for the mercy of Christ. We need to embrace His attitude of forgiveness. We need to let go of things beyond our control—including discontented people who extend ill-will our way. We need to practice daily repentance, to search our hearts, to see our own failings, and to humbly ask for and trust Christ’s forgiving love. That’s called: putting on His robe of righteousness. Yes, thereby He makes us into living temples to His glory. And such living temples pray for their enemies, bless those who persecute them, and in the process heap the burning coals of shame upon their heads.

One final thought. Since Christ is risen from the dead and lives awaiting us in glory while guarding and shaping our lives here on earth, we need to reflect our living faith in Him. We need to “let our light shine so that others may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.” You see, Temple’s Reflect Their God. It’s that simple. And since our God is kind, loving, merciful and forgiving, we must be, too. And then the 1st commandment will cease to be an unattainable, crushing judgment, but our living reality always in and through and because of Jesus Christ. Amen