The Beauty of the Gathered Church (Part 2)March 22, 2023 Worship 3 Comments
Note: This is Part 2 in a 5 part series on the beauty of the gathered church. To read Part 1 (Biblical Foundations For Gathering As A Church) click here.
The Beauty of Gathering With The Church On Sunday
Over the last 2,000 years, churches have normally gathered together for corporate worship on Sunday. But why? Well, the answer is rooted in the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this article, I want us to examine a few important passages of Scripture that show this and then... I want us to step back and take in the breath-taking, panoramic view of God's redemptive plan.
The Gospel of John & The Old Testament Storyline
In John 19:31 we read that Jesus was crucified on the Sabbath. And that isn't just a minor detail that John decided to include. It packs a theological punch like you wouldn't believe! But to understand it, we first need to remember what the Sabbath was all about in the first place. So let's take a trip to the Old Testament and then we'll gradually make our way back to John 19.
From Adam & Eve To The Nation of Israel
In Genesis 1, we read how God created the heavens and the earth and every living creature. And the pinnacle of His creative work was us! People! We alone are said to be made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). And we alone were given the responsibility to exercise dominion over the world He created (Genesis 1:28). Genesis 2 then gives us a zoomed in shot of the first human pair, Adam and Eve. And here we get a sneak peek of the deep fellowship they enjoyed with God in Eden. Everything was going rather nicely too, until we get to Genesis 3. It's in this chapter that Adam and Eve chose to commit cosmic treason. Instead of trusting God's goodness, they listened to the serpent (who was actually Satan; Rev. 12:9) and they ate fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Now God had told them earlier that if they ate of this tree they would die (Gen. 2:17). And immediately following their disobedience, sure enough they become subject to spiritual death and in years down the road would also become subject to physical death. Sin has been lodged deeply within every human heart ever since. And it's also why we are spiritually dead and subject to physical death.
But there is good news. In Genesis 3:15, the LORD promised that one day there would be one born of woman who would crush the head of the serpent. And that's what sets the remainder of Scripture's storyline in motion. We are now waiting to see when the Serpent Crusher will be born. Okay, now I'm going to skip ahead in the storyline a little.
God calls the nation of Israel to be His people. And it would be through them that the Serpent Crusher would one day be born. Until His birth, however, their role was to live distinct lives as God's covenant people in the midst of a world given over to paganism. As they sought to live holy lives, they would display the nature and character of the one true God to the idolatrous peoples who lived around them. One of those distinct ways of life was Sabbath observance.
From The Nation of Israel To John 19
In Exodus 20:11, the Lord reminded His people that in 6 days He created the world and then rested on the seventh. Therefore, as His people, they were to rest on the seventh day (Sabbath) as well. In other words, Sabbath observance was an identity marker for God's covenant people, Israel. And it was deeply connected with God's work of creation.
Now here's what's interesting about the structure of John's Gospel. In John 1:1 he begins his account of Jesus by echoing the creation account in Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning was the Word..." John wants us to see his portrayal of Jesus in light of creation. And as the Gospel unfolds, we see Jesus perform a series of 6 key signs*, also echoing the days of creation: (1) The turning of water into wine at Cana (John 2:1-11), (2) the healing of the royal official's son (John 4:46-54), (3) the healing of the lame man (John 5:1-9), (4) the feeding of the 5,000 (John 6:1-15), (5) healing of the blind man (John 9:1-7), (6) the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-44). In John 5:17, Jesus describes His ministry in His incarnation as work, just as the Father works. And this work is completed at His crucifixion in John 19:30 when He exclaims "It is finished!"
Jesus: The New Gardener Who Ushers In A New Creation
Here's the theological point John is making: Just as God had brought about the original creation, Jesus's mission was to usher in a new creation. Which is why His resurrection takes place "on the first day of the week" (John 20:1) -- The new creation has now been inaugurated through the resurrection of Christ. We get two more hints of this idea in John 20.
When Mary Magdalene goes to Jesus's grave, she sees that His grave is empty and she begins to weep. Jesus appears to her, but she doesn't immediately recognize Him. In John 20:15, we are told that she supoposed Him to be the gardender. Many commentators have noted that on one level Mary is obviously wrong. But at another level, she is profoundly right. The first gardener, Adam, rebelled against God and plunged all of humanity into sin. Jesus, the new Gardener, is now ushering in a new creation through His resurrection which will be inhabited by a new humanity. And that brings us to another episode in John 20.
In John 20:19 we are reminded again that it is the first day of the week when Jesus later appears to His disciples. After greeting them with peace, He tells them in verse 21 that He is authorizing them to go into the world and tell others about Him. And then in verse 22 He breathes on the disciples and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit. Now what is all that about? Well, the Greek term for "breathe" here is "emphüsaō". And it's the same word used in the Greek Old Testament of Genesis 2:7 to describe God's breathing life into Adam. The point? Jesus is now creating a new humanity.
Putting It All Together
Jesus's resurrection took place on the first day of the week, telegraphing the fact that He is now ushering in a new creation. It was on this first day that He breathed the Holy Spirit into His disciples, also creating a new humanity. This is most likely the reason why the earliest churches established the practice of gathering for corporate worship each Sunday (the Jewish Sabbath is on Saturday, remember) and came to refer to it as "the Lord's Day" (Acts 20:7; Revelation 1:10).
While I would stop short of saying that churches must meet on Sundays for worship, I do think there is something beautiful with making it our pattern. The next time you gather with our church family on Sunday, think about this: The gathering of believers on the first day of the week reminds us that we are a part of the new humanity in Christ who will one day enjoy the new creation with ALL our brothers and sisters from all times and all places. Our gathering on a Sunday morning is intended to offer us just a little foretaste of this coming reality and to help keep our often fickle hearts oriented to it.