The Church: Sign and Outpost

We are the visible covenant and Kingdom of God.

A Framework of Grace (5)

“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” 
Matthew 16.18

A surprising turn
Jesus had come to fulfill God’s covenant and to bring near His Kingdom. These two spiritual pillars of the divine framework of grace came to concrete, flesh-and-bones reality in our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him, the promises made to the Fathers realized complete fulfillment (Lk. 1.67-75). All the Old Testament laws, writings, and prophesies pointed to Him (Jn. 5.39). He declared Himself to be the true Seed of Abraham, the Son of David, and of Man and God, and thus, the promised King of the Kingdom of David and God. He had allowed Himself to be proclaimed as such as He rode triumphantly but humbly into the capital city of David’s Kingdom.

Jesus taught the Kingdom throughout the course of His ministry. He talked as if He knew it from the inside out. As if, in fact, He had designed it. He described it in wondrous and expansive terms – time-and-history-spanning terms – and made it out to be a thing so precious and so valuable that one would easily give all he had to obtain it. 

We can only imagine the anticipation that was building in the hearts and minds of those closest to Jesus. Here, walking among them, was God’s covenant, embodied. Here was the Herald and Heir of the Kingdom. Surely the promised new day of grace, which prophets like Isaiah had foretold, was about to break into time in the not-of-this-world Kingdom of the covenant-keeping Messiah.

So it must have come like a bolt out of the blue for Jesus to say, in response to Peter’s confession of His Deity and salvation, that He intended to build His Church.

His what? He’s going to build an assembly? Like a synagogue? And how would this fill out the grace framework of covenant and Kingdom that Jesus embodied and taught?

Sign of the Kingdom 
Because the Kingdom of God is not of this world, Jesus brought it near, then firmly established it by the outpouring of His Spirit. But that intangible, spiritual realm – the temporal manifestation of the eternal covenant – requires some more concrete and material form, since Jesus Himself no longer walks among us. The form the covenant and Kingdom would take is the Church, the Body of Christ. The Church – the community of those who believe in Jesus and are seeking the Kingdom and living toward God’s promises – is the sign that the promised Kingdom has come; and it is the outpost from which that Kingdom advances on earth as in heaven, bringing the promises of God’s covenant to people throughout the world. 

The Church is the signof the Kingdom. Just down the road from where we live an assembly of construction equipment showed up and began working. Soon the lot was cleared of trees and vegetation. More equipment arrived, and began to dig a large hole in the ground. Every day, the activity increased, and all who drove past must have asked themselves, “What’s going on here?”

The familiar lot had changed. A new order was being imposed on it. Tremendous power was being brought to bear on the earth. People were coming and going and moving around and doing stuff. But for what end?

Then a sign was posted which said that a new drug store was going to be built on this location. The activity got our attention, but the sign said it all: Coming Soon – a new drugstore.

The Church is the sign of the Kingdom. There’s a lot of activity going on in those many different buildings. Churches have programs such as people in the world don’t quite understand. They meet at strange times and seem to be very busy in whatever they’re up to. Don’t you wonder sometimes what nonbelievers wonder, whenever they drive past a church on a Sunday morning? “What’s going on in there”?

The answer we should sign to the people in our community is: Coming now – the Kingdom of God. Grace, like the renewing rains of spring, has arrived from on high, and by it, God is making all things new. Beginning right here, and throughout this community, with people just like you.

Kingdom outpost
But the local church is not merely a sign announcing the arrival of the Kingdom not of this world. It is the epicenter from which that Kingdom advances on earth as in heaven. Jesus instructed His followers to seek the Kingdom of God as their highest priority, and to pray that it would come to expression on earth as a reflection of the way it exists in heaven.

Churches are the appointed means whereby those priorities are realized. As church members are equipped for good works of ministry and service, they bring the reality of the Kingdom into their everyday lives – all their relationships, roles, and responsibilities. In their Personal Mission Fields, they are a signthat the Kingdom has come, and they represent the front lines of the Kingdom’s advance in the world. As they bring the values of the Kingdom – righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit – to bear on every place and person to which they are daily sent, and as they announce the Good News of the Kingdom, just as Jesus did, they fulfill their calling as ambassadors of that holy, spiritual realm.

Besides being centers for the equipping of Kingdom ambassadors, churches point to the Kingdom and invite others to consider the beauty of its King in their times of worship. And they serve as channels of grace into their community by undertaking corporate efforts of mission to help those in need, and to be a source of beauty and joy to their neighbors (Ps. 48.1-3). When local churches join together for worship and ministry to the needy, they demonstrate the kind of Kingdom unity which Jesus said was essential for the world to believe that He had come from the Father.

Any church that does not sign the Kingdom to its community is a weak link in the grace framework Jesus has established for restoring the world. Do not expect Jesus to put much weight down on it. And any church from which the Kingdom does not advance in the world needs either a new vision, a complete overhaul, or simply to close its doors.

For the Church is the visible token and sign of God’s promises and rule; and it is the conduit through which His grace flows, according to His promises and by the power of His Spirit, like rivers of living water, to a dry and thirsty world.

For reflection
1. Why do God’s covenant and Kingdom require a temporal structure like the Church?

2. How does the local church fulfill its calling as a sign of the Kingdom? As the outpost of the Kingdom?

3. Meditate on John 17.21 and Ephesians 4.3. What prevents local churches from seeking such unity for the sake of the Kingdom and glory of God?

Next Steps – Transformation: Do you see yourself as a Kingdom ambassador? What difference will it make when that role and calling are the defining role in everything you do each day? Talk with a Christian friend about these questions.

Grace flows from our relationship with Jesus Christ. The better we know Him, the more His grace will do its work in us. Our book, 
To Know Him, can help you in drawing closer to Jesus and increasing in Him. Order your copy by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore