Sunday, April 14, 2019

Water Baptism

There are some comments and teaching in the audio not contained in the notes below.

Water Baptism

Baptists baptize believers – by submersion. We're in the minority. Denominations that practice "infant baptism" include Roman Catholics, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, some Nazarenes, the United Church of Christ (UCC), Moravian Church, Metropolitan Community Church, Wesleyans, and Episcopalians. There are some who believe baptism is salvific – Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, and those who hold to Federal Vision.

Baptists used to be called “people of the book,” resting on the sure foundation of Scripture and submitting to the authority of Scripture. If we are not tenacious in this matter, we are vulnerable to smooth sounding arguments that end up becoming traditions that cannot be questioned. Just as has happened for those who sprinkle little ones. I do not want to spend much time explaining why the paedobaptist view on baptism is wrong, I will appeal to a few of their finest theologians to tells us they are wrong.

John Calvin: “John and Christ administered baptism totins corpore submersione, by the submission of the whole body … The very word 'baptize' … signifies to immerse entirely, and it is certain that immersion was the practice of the ancient church.”

Martin Luther: “The Greek word baptizo means 'immerse' or 'plunge', and the word baptisma means immersion.”

Ulrich Zwingli: “Immersion of the whole body was used from the beginning, which expresses the force of the word 'baptize', whence John baptized in the river. It was afterward changed into sprinkling, though it is uncertain when or by whom.”

And the great B.B.Warfield: “It is true that there is no express command to baptize infants in the New Testament, no express record of the baptism of infants, and no passages so stringently implying it that we must infer from them that infants were baptized.”

These four giants of the Reformation and the development of Presbyterian theology unabashedly tell us their position is not based on the Scriptures. It’s what I call “white space theology” – derived from the spaces between the words in the Word; what they call "good and necessary inference." When did this great controversy over baptism start? If believers' baptism is what the Bible teaches, why and when did people start baptizing babies? History records the creeping ignorance and superstition that led to this practice and the religion which institutionalized it. In the 3rd century, some people in the church became convinced that baptism was meritorious and had a magical power to help save the soul. At first, people only baptized infants who were sick – as an insurance policy. Quickly, all infants were baptized, sprinkled instead of dipped – for their physical health. Church men began to argue over when the infant should be baptized – saying on the 8th day? Others argued it ought be delayed as long as possible so that more sins would be covered. Such was the case with Constantine, who refused to be “baptized” until he was on his death bed. Lack of knowledge and trust in the Word of God leads men astray, to trust in the imaginations of men. Something that divides people for centuries, shedding no little blood, ought to be based on clear teachings from Scripture - not inferences needed to support that which is not found clearly taught.

When Christianity was legalized, the church, already suffering from an unhealthy view of “holy clergy”, saw infant baptism as an effective way to number the people so they could be taxed and controlled. And to convince the ignorant masses, these compromised churchmen played up the false notion that baptism plays a part in saving one's soul. This is called Sacerdotalism – using a sacrament (a religious rite) as a means of conveying God's favor to the people. When the Reformation broke out, some were called Magisterial Reformers – they maintained the close connection between church and state. One of these, Zwingli, was stuck between his belief that the Bible commands believers' baptism and his practice, which was more than a thousand years old, the union of church and state and control of the people by infant baptism. So he persecuted those who did not practice what the state commanded because he feared the people. Such is the power of our unexamined presuppositions and the influence of the culture. We must be people of the book!

In the early 17th century, the Puritans fled England in search of religious liberty. They had been persecuted because they believed in salvation by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone and they were persecuted because the state church held to a sacerdotal view. Yet they, like Zwingli, failed to escape the trap they fled – they brought it with them, just like Lot did when he fled Zoar. Baptists also fled to the New World to escape religious persecution. In a report, Ill News from New England, early American Baptist John Clark records how he, Obidiah Jones, and John Crandall were arrested because they had discussed baptism over dinner at a boarding house. These three were hauled before the court in Boston, found guilty of not honoring the state religion. They were beaten, fined, and thrown in prison. The Puritans had established state churches in the colonies and they persecuted those who did not agree with their religious views – just like the Church of England which persecuted them. Our theology affects how we live, just as it did these Puritans and these Baptists.

With that brief historical backdrop, I want to explore the deepest meaning of this ordinance. Why is baptism – baptism of believers – important? What does it signify?

We know what Romans 6:4 says, we rightly hear it every time a child of God gets baptized - We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. This gives us a picture of what has been done to us, that as the Lord Jesus was put to death and raised up, so are we. This is an important truth that we must never forget. But I hope we open our eyes to the greater meaning of this simple ordinance and pray that we see together what a glorious picture has been given to us by our great and gracious Lord.

As with most important truths from Scripture, the spiritual significance of what God has revealed is far, far greater than we at first comprehend. Unless we dig into the Word and pray for wisdom, we may not get to the place where we see more and are given even more reason to humbly thank our God, in awe of Who He is and what, in truth, has been done.

I highly recommend a small book by Baptist Pastor Hal Brunson, titled The Rickety Bridge and the Broken Mirror, a book of parables about baptism, which is most helpful.

The metaphor in Romans 6:4 gives us the active or present reality of the meaning of Christ's death, that introspective reality of the first resurrection, when we die to sin and are raised to new life. But this verse and the act of baptism also point back historically to the death of Christ and prophetically forward to the physical resurrection of all the saints when He returns to judge all flesh. Baptism is a multifaceted word picture that ought to remind us of far more than the glorious change wrought in the life of the redeemed sinner. One aspect of baptism that baby sprinklers cannot lay claim to is baptism as a picture of submersion into great waters, portraying the great waters of Divine judgment. We see in Scripture several passages where great waters are graphic symbols of God's judgment and wrath against sin – which Christ took upon His body as the Lamb sacrificed for our sin. He was submersed into the ocean of God's wrath on our account, and raised up on the third day. There are at least four major word pictures used in Scripture that describe baptism.

  1. The flood of Noah.
  2. The sorrows of David, described as “great waters”.
  3. Jonah being cast into the sea.
  4. Jesus' understanding of His death.

The Apostle Peter points to this great flood of the entire earth as a vivid picture of the believer's baptism as well as a figure or type pointing to the suffering of Christ. In proclaiming (1 Pet 3:18) that Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, Peter then alludes to the flood and how only 8 persons were saved in the ark, brought through the great waters of God's judgment against sin. And Peter goes on in his first letter to tell us that baptism corresponds to this – the flood of Noah, the outpouring of God's wrath in judgment and the only refuge being in the ark which is Christ. In 2 Peter, the flood is listed with another well-known symbol of God's wrath against sin – Sodom and Gomorrah. God's wrath against sin is real, it is certain, it is final. We need a savior, One Who can bear up under this wrath, One Who has no sin of His own to atone for. Not only did Christ provide refuge from God's wrath, He was buried in God's judgment as payment for sin. He is worthy of our praise.

What about the sorrows of David? This man after God's own heart knew of his own sin and the despair of trusting in any mortal man for reconciliation with Holy God. David and other Psalmists described their deep sorrows as a kind of burial beneath the billows and waves of the Almighty. In Psalm 42 we read, Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? In this sorrowful lament with his soul, he describes his afflictions in terms that point to baptism - Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. Three images of water – waterfalls, breakers, and waves – all communicate the idea of a cascading waterfall pummeling the poet, with the brutal breakers and waves of an angry ocean violently washing over his head. These terrifying metaphors of his torment and anguish wash over him, drowning him in his sorrows. Carried along by the Spirit of God to write these things, perhaps the Psalmist knew not that he prophesied of the promised Messiah, but his words anticipate the sufferings and death of Christ as a kind of baptism. The word for deep in the psalm is used as a synonym for sheol, connecting to the death of Christ as a submersion into the deepest waters of sheol. And the water metaphors in this psalm undoubtedly describe the suffering servant of God - Psalm 42:10  As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” This is widely recognized as prophecy of the Lord's sword-pierced side and the cruel mockery of those who blasphemed while He hung on the cross.

David's description of his soul's suffering in deep water takes us more deeply into the sufferings of Jesus. As did the high priest of Israel, we are brought through the first veil, the holy place of Christ's impeccable flesh, gazing upon His physical sufferings; and then through the second veil into the holy of holies, to the very heart of Christ, where we see the spiritual anguish of the Lamb being under the rod of God's wrath. In Psalm 18, David wrote about his persecution at the hand of Saul – but the eternal message of redemption contained in all of Scripture here portrays the Savior's passion, not David's sorrow; death and hell as the persecutor of Christ, not Saul chasing David. The king of Israel describes his trials in terms of sorrow and death and hell which have a human and a divine cause, stark images of his soul's baptism into the lesser sea of man's wrath and the greater ocean of God's wrath. David is immersed in human wrath, Saul's rage is real. But David's words tell of God's judgment on sin and care for His people. Psalm 18:7-17 Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry.  Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water. Out of the brightness before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds. The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones and coals of fire. And he sent out his arrows and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings and routed them. Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils. He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters. He rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.

But as God did not leave David's soul in torment, neither would He suffer His Holy One to see corruption, as Christ was not left buried beneath the sea of God's wrath and the ocean of His judgment. As David cried out in his distress and called upon the Lord from beneath the deep waters of his sufferings, so also the Savior, as it were, from beneath the burning waters of the cross, (Matthew 27:46) Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” As deep calls to deep, the Almighty heard the voices of David and David's seed, and thus He bowed the heavens and came down, riding on a cherub and flying on the wings of the wind; God answered the cry of His Son and sent from above and drew Him out of many waters.

The sorrows of David and other psalmists resonate with all who suffer, but they point us to the One Who suffered what we deserve, to bring many sons and daughters to glory. The love of God for His elect caused the Son of God – David's promised seed – to submit to the baptism of His Father's wrath, so we who are called by His name would be reconciled to our Father and not be left to our just deserts.

When we baptize a new convert, we are not drinking His cup, but we bapize in remembrance of what He did – to cut the New Covenant in His blood to reconcile sinners to Holy God. Paul asks, Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Rom 6:3) And further he tells us, (1 Corinthians 12:13) For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

Oh, the Savior’s love for His Father – and all those He chose to redeem in Christ! Baptism – it's an ordinance which shows how spiritually dead people have been raised to new life in Christ. But, oh my dear brothers and sisters – it is much, much more than that. I pray you got a glimpse of a better picture of the grand and glorious sacrifice of our Lord and Savior was prophesied and pictured in various ways as a baptism into God the Father's judgment. The price He paid and the suffering He took as He drank the cup of wrath due us, summed up the submersion and emersion as one is plunged beneath the waters of baptism and raised up from the deep as did our Savior. Let us never see baptism as only the celebration of a new-born brother in Christ, and not ever the mere sprinkling of water over a little one who knows nothing and fears not the sprinkled water. Let us always remember the One Who was baptized in a way you and I could never survive. Christ paid the price we could not pay. He drank the cup and underwent the baptism we could never do. Every time we see this ordinance, let us think on His sacrifice, His obedience, His submission. And let us be thankful we have a faithful God Who did not allow His Holy One to see corruption – that we would have the firm hope of life eternal. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. It is a glorious picture of our Redeemer, but we won't know that if we are not people of the book!

Passover Fulfilled

5 points:
1.       The facts of the crucifixion (the text)
2.       The context – what two groups of people?
3.       The physical pain of the crucifixion
4.       The true suffering
5.       The point for us

1. Mark 15:22-39.

2. Context: Two groups of people. Mark 15:15-21. Paul wrote that men are, by nature, enemies of God and children of wrath (Rom 5:10, Eph 2:3). Those who clamored for Christ to be crucified represent everyone not reconciled by the blood of Christ - this was you and me before He redeemed us. In Luke's account we read that the crowd repeatedly demanded Barabbas be the one set free, not Jesus. Carnal man cannot accept the gospel and they will do what they can to suppress knowledge of it. When we sin, we stand with those who demanded Barabbas be set free. The soldiers mocked the Lord of glory and beat Him.  Enemies of God. 1Cor 2:8 None of the rulers of this age knew this wisdom, for if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

The other group, Jesus' disciples, were not making noise before the throne of this world, they had run away when He was arrested, Matthew 26:56 "But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled. In this passage, we see two things: God had planned Jesus' sacrificial death in pretty precise detail and we see how those who hate God are often more vocal and active in proclaiming their false religion than are the people God has chosen for Himself to proclaim His. Brothers, this should not be so among us!

The two men on either side of Jesus represent these same two groups of people: everyone belongs to the city of man or to the city of God. While both of these criminals initially railed against Christ, Luke reports (23:42) that one became convicted of his sin and cried out for mercy while the other did not. The repentant man represents all the sheep of God and the unrepentant man represents all the goats. There are only these two groups of people. Each one professing the name of Christ needs to examine himself to see if he is in the faith - it is far too easy to think you are a Christian and not be one. We learn from these two men that it matters not when or how I die, what matters is in whom I die ... in sin OR in CHRIST, Who is my righteousness.

In our day, God-haters fill the news, advocating the murder of infants, all sorts of abominations, and the silencing of Christians. Far too many professing Christians are willing to go along to get along with these reprobates who grow bolder by the day; or they remain silent. Just like the scene at the cross. We who are in Christ should take care not to follow after the world; must guard against following Christians who want to compromise with the world in our day; and we must not be silent! No matter our circumstances, we are to be known as God fearing people; making Him known among the people of the world.

3. The Physical Pain of the Cross. Crucifixion is believed to have originated in the Persian Empire; however, Romans are given credit for perfecting it into a heinous means of inflicting death. Romans crafted the cruelty of crucifixion to demonstrate three clear messages. First, it was incredibly painful for the victim (so much so that the person being crucified often was rendered unconscious during the proceedings). Second, it provided a lingering death, which was much preferred for extremely vicious criminal acts. Third, it afforded a horrific deterrent for anyone contemplating a similar offense. Josephus described crucifixion, following the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 66-70, as “the most wretched of deaths.”

Archaeological evidence strongly suggests that criminals during the time of Christ were not forced to carry an entire T-shaped cross, but rather only the crossbeam, which would have weighed between 75 and 125 pounds. The vertical post would be laid down and the cross piece fastened to it, the condemned nailed through the wrists and feet, then the cross would be lifted up and slammed down into the hole made for the post. Archaeological data indicate that the specific nails used during the time of Christ’s crucifixion were tapered iron spikes five to seven inches long with a square shaft approximately three-eighths of an inch across. In John's gospel, Thomas says he would not believe unless he saw and touched the nail marks in Jesus' hands.  

The spikes would have been driven through the wrist, near the heel of the hand. If through the palm, the weight of the man would pull the spike through the flesh. In this part of the wrist (considered part of the hand in ancient times), major nerves and blood vessels would be missed, allowing the man to hang freely, unable to breath. For the feet to be fastened to the post, the knees would be bent and rotated, with the feet lined up side by side and the spike be pounded through the sides of the feet in front of the heel.

To breathe, the man on the cross would have to push up on his feet, scraping his scourged back on the rough wood of the post. With all his weight on the spike through his feet, he couldn't stay up very long - a couple quick breaths. Then back down - scraping his back - to hang from his hands. Intense pain and muscle cramping were inventible, hastening the collapse of the man, leaving him unable to breathe - dying of asphyxiation.

At the ninth hour, which was around 3 PM, Jesus cried out to the Father. We'll look at what He said in a minute. What we need to see now is better recorded by John: John 19:28-30 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. The sour wine on a hyssop branch - same as that used to paint the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts during the last plague of Egypt: Ex 12:21-23 Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you.

These details are God quietly screaming His sovereignty and proclaiming His Son to be the fulfillment of that precious sheep from so long before. The Jewish Passover lamb shed its blood to protect national Israel's firstborn from physical death. The Passover Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus, is the fulfillment of that type. He shed His blood to preserve true Israel's children from eternal death.

Jesus was crucified outside the city, at the garbage dump. All these physical things piled one on top of another to humiliate the condemned. The Creator and Judge of all flesh, treated like the dregs at the bottom of a cup.

The temple veil was torn in half, foretelling the certain doom of the temple building, which, in 70AD, would come tumbling down until no stone was left in place - just as Jesus had said. When the centurion saw and heard all this, he declared that Jesus truly was the Son of God. The repentant thief and the Roman centurion both had their ears and eyes opened to see Christ for Who He is.

But physical death was not the worst of it, nor would it have satisfied our great need.

4. The True Suffering on the Cross. Many people, sadly, were crucified by the Roman government. Only one crucifixion satisfied the Father's wrath against the sin that plagues the sons and daughters of Adam. When Jesus cried out, My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me? He was quoting Psalm 22, which provides a rich description of what was happening at the cross. The death of Christ was not an accident of history; it was God’s plan from before time to redeem sinners. For Christ to be forsaken means He was not being treated as a son, but as an enemy of His Father; for our benefit.

The wrath of God was poured out on Christ at Calvary, He drank the cup of death meant for you and me. Earlier in Mark's gospel, we have this response from the Lord Jesus to the request from James and John to sit on either side of Him in glory. Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” (Mark 10:38-39). Note how Jesus connects these two, the cup and baptism. The other disciples heard this. Other than the ten being indignant at these two, what might they have thought about the cup and the baptism? They would soon learn that this cup the Lord spoke of was not the cup of communion and the baptism was not a water baptism. Jesus had spoken in terms that left his disciples uncertain, but we know from the record of Scripture that what He was speaking about was the cup of wrath and the baptism of death that awaited Him; of which He lamented: I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! (Luke 12:50)

The disciples would drink of His cup and be baptized with His baptism vicariously through Him. No mortal man can stand where Jesus did: cursed by God for the sins of others and lay His life down knowing He would pick it back up again. When we take communion, we are not drinking His cup, but we drink in remembrance of what He did – to cut the New Covenant in His blood to reconcile sinners to Holy God. When we are baptized, it is not merely following His example when John baptized Him in the Jordan. Paul asks, Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:3) And further he tells us, (1 Corinthians 12:13) For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. We were baptized into Christ’s death, the death He died for us, to break down what separates us from God and one another, to make one people that will bring honor and glory to His name. The cup and baptism signify our union with Christ, reminding us of what He did for us in drinking our cup and being baptized into the death we deserve.

At the cross of Calvary, what is called the Great Exchange took place: 2 Corinthians 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. This is what Paul spoke of last week in telling us how Christ drank the cup of wrath due us and gave to us the cup of blessing. We have an alien righteousness - that of the God-man - which secures us as beloved in the Father. Without this union with Christ, there can be no peace with God the Father.

Hebrews 8 tells us the priests of the Old Covenant and the sacrifices thereof were copies and shadows of the heavenly things. Because He was the obedient son, the faithful witness, the righteousness of God, He was qualified to appear as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:11-14) The time for the temporary covering of sins with the blood of goats and other animals was finished when Christ shed His blood. There is no need to return to the shadows. The promised One has come and He has finished His redemptive work.

In our day, the news brings us a report of people in the nation of Israel planning to reenact the Jewish Passover in anticipation of rebuilding the Jewish temple. They are trying to move backwards in redemptive history, as if Christ has not come! The Passover was to remind them of God's rescue of His people from bondage in Egypt, with the lamb's blood as the marker. And the Passover was to point to another Lamb who would come and have His blood shed. In a passage where Paul is describing the danger of allowing a bold, unrepentant sinner to remain in the fellowship of saints at Corinth, he uses the image of leaven in in yeast: 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Paul is teaching us that the kingdom of God is pure, undefiled; and we are to work to keep our local fellowship as pure as humanly possible. During the Jewish Passover, they had to make sure no yeast was anywhere in the house, not just in the yeast. This was in preparation for the Passover lamb being sacrificed so its blood could be applied to the doorposts.

Something greater that the blood of animals has been shed on our account: Christ Jesus is the Passover lamb for all who have been given to Him. If the Jews were to be so diligent in getting the leaven out of their homes, Paul tells us, should we not be more so in getting publicly unrepentant sinners out of our fellowship? He applies this to our lives and our message - unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. We should have genuine fellowship with one another and biblical truth in our conversation, teaching, and preaching. We'll review this in our next, final point.

5. What This Means for Us. In real terms, what does the crucifixion of Christ mean to us? Since this happened so long ago, is it necessary to talk about it? Next week we will hear about the resurrection, without which we are no different from those who have no faith. There is no resurrection without a death. And, as mentioned earlier, the death of Christ was no ordinary death. Preaching Christ and Him crucified is the means we’ve been given to bring lost sheep into the fold.

1 Corinthians 1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. This short statement hits three key points that he will explain in more detail in chapter 2. Frist, He was sent; this sending was to preach the gospel, not to baptize; second, the gospel is plain speech, not smooth words; third, the power of redemption is with God, not man.

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. Same three points, amplified.
Preaching with power from God does not rest in human wisdom or cunning. It grieves my soul to see so many Baptists waste their lives embracing worldly ways to attract people of the world into the local assembly of the saints! Flashy programs and emotionally manipulative messages are not of God. When men called of God stand up to preach, there is a recognition of Whom we represent. We are not our own, we preach a message not of our making. Contrary to the values of the world, we exalt the God-man who allowed Himself to be treated horribly, Who has a kingdom not of this world, Who bids us to serve one another with love as He loved us - giving ourselves to one another. He gave Himself to us by submitting to taking the cup of wrath due us.

Crucifixion was a humiliating, grotesque method of killing the dregs of society. The Christian faith embraces what the world considers shameful; we preach a Lord and Savior who was treated like refuse by the powerful of the world. False religions pursue charismatic leaders who gather lots of followers who are eager to hear that they are prized above all. True religion cherishes faithful servants who preach what they need to hear, that they are not good in and of themselves and that the only One Who is good in and of Himself submitted to be crucified by the hands of sinful men and suffer the wrath of God on our account.

Back in 1 Cor chapter 1 we read about carnal behavior, the saints were following this man or that. Paul would have none of it. 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? Notice how he finishes this rebuke of these dear people - three diagnostic questions: Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? When we have a party spirit we follow a man rather than the God-man. Following carries the sense of being in union with the leader. The only true leader was crucified for you - no mere man could have been. Our water baptism reflects our union with the leader, signifying our death and resurrection in him. The Lord’s Supper declares His death for sin and soon return. Can any mere man suffice as your leader or mine? Let us not be drawn aside from the truth of God's Word, the sole sufficiency of the blood of Christ. The time for shapes and shadows is over. The true Passover is our Lamb of God. Seek refuge in Him. Trust Him. Speak gospel truths to one another.

John Owen, The Glory of Christ, as quoted by Rick Holland in Uneclipsing the Son, page 141:
"A constant view of the glory of Christ will revive our souls and cause our spiritual lives to flourish and thrive. The more we behold the glory of Christ by faith now, the more spiritual and the more heavenly will be the state of our souls. The reason why spiritual life in our souls decays and withers is because we fill our mind with other things. ... But then the mind is filled with thoughts of Christ and His glory, these things will be expelled. ... This is how our spiritual lives will be revived."

If you want your spirit revived, fill you mind with thoughts of Christ and His glory. Seek those thing which are above, and spur one another on while it is still today. And tell others where you found bread and water that truly satisifies.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism

There are some brothers in Christ who are so focused on the local assembly of saints that they deny there is any congregation of a universal manner; that is, comprised of all the redeemed from every generation. This focus includes an emphasis on water baptism, to the exclusion of what John foretold - that One was coming who would baptism with fire and the Holy Spirit (Matt 3:11).
One passage that is said to be only about water baptism and the local fellowship is Ephesians 4, where we find this: Ephesians 4:4-5 (ESV) There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
The context of this short passage should shed light on whether it is all and only about the local assembly and water baptism or if it's about something greater.
We know that Paul's letter to the saints at Ephesus was meant to be read to many local assemblies; it's a universal letter to the body of Christ. In the first three verses of chapter 3, Paul stresses identity in Christ and the unity of believers - dealing with one another in humility, gentleness, patience, and so on.
And then we find this: Ephesians 4:4-7 (ESV) There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
This letter reveals Paul's passion for all the saints to understand the unity we have because of our union with Christ Jesus, proclaiming there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. By this union with Christ we each have been given grace according to His gift.
Is there ANYTHING in this passage that hints Paul was addressing only the local assembly or numerous assemblies of saints? Is he not making much of the fact that ALL the saints share in these things, without regard to any temporal circumstances? One body, not numerous local bodies. One Spirit, not a separate Spirit for each locale. One hope, one Lord, one faith, one God and Father of ALL. This speaks to all saints in all locations and all generations. And one baptism.
Water baptism makes no one a child of God. The lack of water baptism keeps no one out of the kingdom of God.
But that baptism John mentioned, the baptism of the Holy Spirit and of fire, corresponds to the circumcision made without hands (Col 2:10-11). This baptism is what brings enemies of God into His kingdom as His friends and children; without this baptism, no one can enter into His domain.
As much as these brothers resist and insist, there is no argument that can be made from Ephesians 4 that restricts Paul's message of union and unity to the local assembly only. They can only make assertions in support of their view. Paul’s concern as an apostle was for the whole body of Christ, redeemed saints from every nation, tribe, and tongue. To deny this universal intent is to constrain the love of God for His people to clumps here and there, denying the communion we have through the Holy Spirit to all the saints.
It's too small a view of God's work and of His body.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Unworthy and Trusting, Luke 7:1-10

Jas 4:10Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
1 When He had concluded all His sayings in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum.
Not until He was finished with His sermon (the one we’ve been learning about these past few weeks, describing the kingdom of God and that of the world) did Jesus move on. Everything Jesus did was deliberate; the Lord is not spontaneous or reckless as some have portrayed Him. He came in the fulness of time, as the Father had appointed. And when He was ready, had finished His sermon, He entered Capernaum - the same place where He had healed many people and His fame grew because of it. Luke 4:42 & 43 tell us the crowds were searching for Him. But He said to them, “I must proclaim the good news about the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because I was sent for this purpose.” Having preached throughout Galilee, he came back to Capernaum.

2 A centurion’s slave, who was highly valued by him, was sick and about to die. 3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to Him, requesting Him to come and save the life of his slave. 4 When they reached Jesus, they pleaded with Him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy for You to grant this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built us a synagogue.”
The centurion in the Roman army was about what a company commander is in ours. These were men known to be responsible and honorable. This un-named centurion had a household slave who was ill unto death. This was a valuable person and this man who had healed so many in this town a few weeks or months ago was back. He could heal this slave!
This centurion was highly regarded by the local Jewish leaders. When he heard Jesus was in town, he sent the Jewish elders to Him; every translation I looked at uses that word, sent. He issued an order, sent the men and they obeyed. These men were accustomed to giving orders, under the guise of advice, to the Jewish people. This Gentile had built them a synagogue and they went when he sent them. They were familiar with a system of being lords and having the Roman government be lord over them. So they went, and spoke to Jesus on his account.
Note the message they spoke to Jesus about the man who sent them: “He is worthy for You to grant this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built us a synagogue.” This is how the world determines a man's worth - what have you done for me lately? Jews had virtually nothing to do with Gentiles. Their law did require the same treatment for Gentiles who joined with Israel as for the Jews themselves. And while our text tells us this Gentile loved the nation and built them a synagogue, we have nothing telling us he joined with them as a covenant member.
When King Cyrus issued the proclamation to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, he was highly favored by the Jews, but not part of their covenant community. When King Artaxerxes issued the orders that facilitated the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem, he was highly favored by the Jews, but not part of their covenant community.
This centurion loved Israel and demonstrated it. In our day, his name would be on building on the campus of a large "church" or on the pew of smaller one, because far too many Christians think the same way these Jewish elders did, honoring men for the kingdom work that God is doing. Our goal should be to be forgotten by all but our family and the Lord and for His name to be exalted by all! The Jewish worldview was based on the idea that wealth and health revealed God's favor. This man had their attention, they felt indebted to him. And to be clear, we are taught that love without evidence thereof is not biblical love, just as faith without works is not saving faith. When love is expressed in tangible ways, we should thank God for what He is doing, thank the person He is working through, but resist the urge to bestow honor on the creature that rightly belongs to the Creator. This was the error of the Jewish elders in our text – they failed to see Jesus for Who he is; and they saw more in the centurion than was there.
But we see that he put more stock in this man Jesus, which the Jewish hated, than he did in the nation of Israel. His slave was ill and he wanted Jesus, not the elders. This is a key point: When life is hard and when life is good, we need Jesus, not our favorite preacher. A faithful preacher will preach Christ and Him crucified, because only Jesus can do poor sinners good. This man wanted Jesus.
Our centurion would benefit by his slave being healed; we have no reason to believe that was his only motive. Slaves in the Roman military would be baggage handlers or camp assistants. During this time, Seneca was beginning to advocate for humane treatment of slaves, believing that well treated slaves would work better than those who were treated badly. Based on what we see in this passage about this centurion, it’s safe to say he was concerned about the welfare of this man who was his slave. And he wanted this man who was well known as a healer to heal him. The elders petitioned Jesus to come, and we see that He did.

6 Jesus went with them, and when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to tell Him, “Lord, don’t trouble Yourself, since I am not worthy to have You come under my roof. 7 That is why I didn’t even consider myself worthy to come to You.
People who rightly see the Lord and His Christ will see themselves more clearly. John fell down as one dead when the Lord Jesus appeared to him on Patmos in a vision. When Peter saw all the fish in the boat and realized Jesus was Lord over creation, he said, "Depart from me for I am a sinful man." The man who sees Christ clearly will be broken over his own sin. If someone doesn’t see his sin for what it is, if the focus is on the sin of others, he has not seen Christ aright.
Whatever this centurion had heard about Jesus, he understood enough to know He was not a mere man, as he was himself. Receiving someone into your house was an act of grace, accepting responsibility for the care and safety of the guest. Consider when a commoner is accepted to enter the house of the king. The greater condescends to protect and care for the lesser; as David did with Mephibosheth. This Gentile recognized he was the lesser; not the greater. He was not worthy of having of having this man who healed people in his house.
He was not worthy of even going to Him! A person does not approach a king with being bidden. To do so is to invite death. We see this in Esther 4:11 “All the royal officials and the people of the royal provinces know that one law applies to every man or woman who approaches the king in the inner courtyard and who has not been summoned—the death penalty. Only if the king extends the gold scepter will that person live.” Such was reverence common people had for kings. Such was the reverence this centurion had for the King of kings.
Isaiah was a prophet called by God to proclaim His Word to Israel. He saw the veil pulled back a little, got a glimpse of the thrice holy Creator and Judge of all flesh. And he was undone. Those being called by God will be broken when they fall upon that Rock. He will bind every wound of every sheep He brings into His sheepfold. Let us learn from this Gentile centurion - we are unworthy to have the God-man in our presence. We are not worthy to be in His presence. But at His Word, we come to Him and are healed. Let not conscience make you linger, nor of fitness fondly dream. The only fitness He requires is that you feel your need of Him. This He gives you! The centurion knew He needed Jesus, and Jesus came.

But say the word, and my servant will be cured. 8 For I too am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under my command. I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”
In a song of deliverance, the children of Israel sang out the truth of the power of God's word. Psalm 107:19-20 Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble; He saved them from their distress. He sent His word and healed them; He rescued them from the Pit. Contrary to the nature of gods made by humans, YHWH does not need to touch in order to do. Contrary to those gods which are not Gods, YHWH needs nothing human hands can do. He spoke and everything that is created was created. Say the word, Creator God in human flesh, and my servant will be healed.
This Gentile had more trust in the Messiah from Nazareth than did those who were raised up under and taught the oracles of God. Both the Jews and the centurion had heard the reports of the healing that Jesus performed last time He was in town. The Jewish elders that were friends with the centurion didn't appear to be interested in the Messiah - they wanted to honor their benefactor. But the Gentile had a problem, he wanted something these Jewish elders could not grant him. And his military training served him well in this regard.
Discipline and obedience are keystones of the military, without which it could not function. In our military, lawful orders must be followed; in ancient Rome, ALL orders had to be followed. This centurion knew how to issue and follow orders. He had been taught to trust the chain of command and the system used to get critical messages to where they were needed. With messengers running to and fro, people in the Roman army rarely saw the one giving the orders - they obeyed what was told them without seeing the superior. His entire career was based on orders being given and obeyed, not doubting, only trusting; with the evidence of the signet ring stamped in wax.
We would call this faith. Hebrews 11:1 (KJV) Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. The centurion said, "Say the word and my servant will be healed." The substance of things hoped for - not as the world hopes about winning the lottery. Hope in that which cannot fail. Trust is hope put to use. Faith is also the evidence of things not seen. The centurion had heard much evidence, he trusted in this man about whom he had heard much. And he did more than wish for healing; he sought out the Healer and asked Him to say a word.
Hebrews 11:6 (HCSB) Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him. Those whom God calls, come to Him, often without realizing they’ve been called until they see in Scripture that no one can come to Christ unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). Those who seek God have been drawn by Him, believe on Him; and He rewards them - grants them life eternal and provides the Holy Spirit. Man, in his natural state, has not this saving faith and cannot be pleasing to God. The centurion must have had this kind of faith – see how the Savior responded to him!

9 Jesus heard this and was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following Him, He said, “I tell you, I have not found so great a faith even in Israel!”
It’s fascinating to read how Jesus responds to various people who come to Him in faith. We’ll look at two.
To Nathaniel: Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit! (John 1:47) For a man to have no deceit in his mouth, no guile, is to be without hypocrisy, not doubting about the Lord. This is the man described in Psalm 32:1&2 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. This man does not claim to be without sin; but, like Job, he admits he is sinful and casts himself on holy God. In Job 9:20, after being counseled by his friends, Job declared himself to be righteous, yet condemned by his own mouth, blameless yet perverse in God’s sight. The more mature in Christ we are, the more we will be without deceit, without thinking of self too highly.
To Thomas, Jesus said: Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. Thomas is a type for us: it’s easy to grow dissatisfied with what God has revealed to us and we want more! This is the same discontent Eve suffered. If you believe in Christ, be content with what He has revealed to us! If there be things you or I think are important truths but they are not found in the Scripture, we need to repent! Our faith in Christ will be evidenced by our lives of obedience to what He has told us, even if it goes against what we've been taught from our youth regarding these things.
The centurion saw himself and the Lord rightly and desired nothing more than healing. No sensationalism, no personal glory, no bragging rights. So many in Israel demanded signs. Not this Gentile. He wanted a word from Jesus. Think about that.

10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.
Herein we see the difference between the divine and the carnal. When Word of Faith heretics claim to have healed people, there’s a distinct lack of supporting evidence. Was the person in the wheelchair really crippled? None of the highly publicized “healings” claimed by these people has been verified. These charades take place in protected venues where no hostiles are allowed. When the Son of Man went through Capernaum healing all sorts of people with all sorts of ailments, countless saw and all who knew the healed people knew this Man had done something no one else could. When Jesus healed, it was public, in full view of those who wanted to kill him. Recall the man blind from birth. No doubt about his condition or identity or healing. Recall the fear of man his parents were under:
John 9:18-23 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
This fear of man works both ways. In this context, the common folk were in fear of the religious leaders and the religious leaders were believing they were worthy of this fear, which they took as adoration. This is why the Jewish elders took no thought about approaching Jesus on behalf of the centurion – they were the noble religious leaders and this man was a commoner, though well thought of by the common folk. They thought too much of themselves and too little of the God-man.
This is the theme throughout Scripture: There are two kingdoms, two peoples. The kingdom of this world will always try to bring God down so man can see himself as lifted up. The kingdom of God will always lift the Lord Jesus as God so man will see himself as lowly. We are not worthy, apart from His redeeming grace, to draw near to God. We are not worthy, apart from the salvation that is Christ alone for Him to come to our house. But those He predestined, He called. And those He called, He justified; and those He justified, He has glorified. He draws us to be close Him and He makes us His house! It’s a far, far better deal than trying to make ourselves righteous and build a house for Him. For He does not dwell in houses built by human hands as if He had need of anything human hands could do for Him.

Application: Not all who call Jesus Lord are His children. Not all who want healing are citizens of God's kingdom. BUT - no one can truly say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Spirit of God; all who are children of God know Christ as Lord. Every citizen of God's kingdom will be healed, when He returns to make all things new.
Do you see Him as the glorified Son of God, seated at the right hand of God the Father? Are you secure in the knowledge that His blood was shed for you and that you are welcome in the beloved?
Self-love is a sign of the perilous times in which we live. 2 Tim 3:1&2 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy. The list goes on; the point is clear: those who love self are on a pathway to eternal doom. Rather than love self, we are to see ourselves as unworthy servants and love Him Who loved us first.
The citizen of the kingdom of this world lives focused on serving self - do I look good to others, am I well thought of, do I have enough stuff? The citizen of the kingdom of God is focused on being obedient to God as revealed in His Word, bring glory to God in his body (thoughts, speech, actions). Paul summed it up this way: Romans 6:16&22 (HCSB) Don’t you know that if you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of that one you obey—either of sin leading to death or of obedience leading to righteousness? But now, since you have been liberated from sin and have become enslaved to God, you have your fruit, which results in sanctification—and the end is eternal life!
Each one of us who are of Christ's sheepfold will fall into sin from time-to-time; our lives are marked by spiritual warfare. He has given us to one another to teach, reproof, rebuke, weep together, and rejoice together. Christian fellowship is a vital part of our lives as slaves of righteousness.
This is the call we find Paul and Jude alluding to as they refer to themselves as slaves of Christ. Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ and a brother of James: To those who are the called, loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ. Slaves can be sent. Slaves are not worthy of the king's honor, slaves see their lord rightly. Our nature is to be a slave to our fleshly desires. If you are called by God, if you are in Christ, His call is to be a slave to righteousness.
We are unworthy of His redeeming grace, yet He is the faithful One in Whom we can trust.
Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Bruised and broken by the fall
If you tarry 'til you're better
You will never come at all
Not the righteous, not the righteous
Sinners Jesus came to call

Lo! The Incarnate God, ascended
Pleads the merit of His blood
Venture on Him, venture wholly
Let no other trust intrude
None but Jesus, none but Jesus
Can do helpless sinners good

Saturday, February 9, 2019

The Nature of the Church

The Nature of the Church

Stuart L. Brogden

Greek Word: ἐκκλησία
Strong's 1577
Transliteration: ekklēsia
from a compound of <G1537> (ek) and a derivative of <G2564> (kaleo); a calling out, i.e. (concretely) a popular meeting, especially a religious congregation (Jewish synagogue, or Christian community of members on earth or saints in heaven or both), assembly, church.

What is "the church"?
The Greek word ekklesia is most often presented in English Bibles as "church." The word "church" is not a translation of the Greek word, ekklesia; it’s not even a transliterated version of that word. Strong’s concordance shows ekklesia being used in the KJV as either “assembly” or “church.” But the Greek word means “the called ones” and actually shows up in Scripture being applied to an assembly of town-folk (3 times in Acts 19:32-41). As with most words in the Word, the bare definition of the word does not reveal the meaning in every usage.

As for the use of “church” in the Bible, there does not appear to be a clear record of why it was chosen, nor of the meaning of this word. At least twice in the New Testament of the KJV, “church” applies to God’s covenant people in the Old Testament:

Acts 7:37-38 This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear. This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and [with] our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us.

Heb 2:11-12 For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified [are] all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.

It is not possible for anyone to make a categorical statement that every occurrence of “church” means the local assembly of the saints, as some do.

The first known use of this word in English Bibles is found in Wycliffe’s Bible, spelled “chirche.” His work was translated from the Latin Vulgate and we have no clear reason for his use of this word.
In Smith's Bible Dictionary from 1884, page 452, we read:

the derivation of the word 'church' is uncertain. It is found in the Teutonic and Slavonic languages and answers to the derivatives of ekklesia, which are naturally found in the romance languages and by foreign importation elsewhere. The word is generally said to be derived from the Greek kyriakos, meaning the lord's house. But the derivation has been too hastily assumed. It is probably associated with the Scottish kirk, the Latin circus/circulous, the Greek klukos, because the congregations were gathered in circles.

Ebenezer Cobham Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable of 1898 agrees:

The etymology of this word is generally assumed to be from the Greek, Kuriou oikos (house of God); but this is most improbable, as the word existed in all the Celtic dialects long before the introduction of Greek. No doubt the word means "a circle." The places of worship among the German and Celtic nations were always circular. (Welsh, cyrch, French, cirque; Scotch, kirk; Greek, kirk-os, etc.) Compare Anglo-Saxon circe, a church, with circol, a circle.
The first definition in Daniel Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines “church” as “A house consecrated to the worship of God, among Christians; the Lords house. This seems to be the original meaning of the word.”
There two things to bear in mind regarding the apparent definition of the word “church.” The ekklesia of God in the New Testament refers to the redeemed saints, not a location or a building. Secondly, one of the messages Jesus taught the woman at the well (John 4) is that, in the Christian faith, there are no sacred or consecrated places where we must meet God.

Since the etymology of “church” is based on location rather than on people, it is a poor choice for ekklesia. In practice, so many Christians think of the building as the church, which many refer to as “the house of God,” it is a constant battle to keep the true meaning of ekklesia in front of people. In contrast, the Scriptures use myriad examples of buildings to refer to God’s redeemed people (1 Cor 3:15-17; 6:19; Eph 2:19-22; 1 Pet 2:5; Gal 4:26; Rev 21:2), and never refers to a temporal location within the New Covenant context. Why do we carry on with this word that people consistently understand to mean a temporal location rather than the people of God?

After Wycliffe's Bible (1382), the early English Bibles took a different view. Tyndale's Bible (1526), the Coverdale Bible (1535), Matthew Bible (1537), The Great Bible (1539), and the Bishop's Bible (1568) all translated ekklesia as "congregation," a term that conveys the idea of people called to be together. The Geneva Bible (1560) followed Wycliffe and used "church" in place of ekklesia, as did the KJV.
When work on the King James Bible began, the king provided 15 rules that the translators had to follow. Rules 1 & 3 are of particular interest to the topic of this paper:

1. The ordinary Bible, read in the church, commonly called the Bishop’s Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the original will permit.
3. The old ecclesiastical words to be kept; as the word church, not to be translated congregation, &c.
Rule 1 shows that the king wanted his Bible to be in the common tongue, accessible to the people, who were used to having the Great Bible and the Bishop's Bible used in the state-churches. It is not true, as some KJV defenders claim, that the KJV was a unique Bible; it was based on the Bishop's Bible. Rule 3 came into play in two prominent words that were not translated, but merely used in place of (as with "church") or transliterated (as with "baptism"). Translating these two words would have provided us a clearer picture of what God was communicating. Ekklesia rendered as "congregation" or "assembly" shows we are talking about people, not places. Baptizo rendered as "dipping" or "dunking" shows we are talking about being identified with Christ in His death and resurrection by going down into the waters as if unto death and rising up from them as if unto new life. Advocates of the state-church have a history of building geo-political empires with ostentatious buildings for their gatherings and sprinkling infants rather than baptizing disciples.

There are at least eight passages where ekklesia refers to what is called "the universal church," all the redeemed in Christ, called according to His name.

Matthew 16:18 (KJV) And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
1 Corinthians 15:9 (KJV) For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
Ephesians 1:22-23 (KJV) And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.
Ephesians 3:9-11 (KJV) And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Ephesians 3:21 (KJV) Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
Ephesians 5:23-32 (KJV) For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
Philippians 3:6 (KJV) Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
Colossians 1:18 (KJV) And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
Colossians 1:24 (KJV) Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church.
Hebrews 12:23 (KJV) To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,
In each of these passages, the bolded phrases make consistent sense when seen as references to the total number of God's redeemed; not as references to any given local ekklesia. In his 1858 book, Manual of Church Order, John Leadly Dagg spent chapter 3 discussing the universal church, beginning with this: "The Church Universal is the whole company of those who are saved by Christ."

In his book, Concise Theology, chapter "The Church," J. I. Packer, describes the universal church:

The New Testament defines the church in terms of the fulfillment of Old Testament hopes and patterns through a relationship to all three Persons of the Godhead, brought about by the mediatorial ministry of Jesus Christ. The church is seen as the family and flock of God (Eph. 2:18; 3:15; 4:6; John 10:16; 1 Pet. 5:2-4), his Israel (Gal. 6:16); the body and bride of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23; 5:25-28; Rev. 19:7; 21:2, 9-27); and the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16; cf. Eph. 2:19-22). Those in the church are called the “elect” (chosen), the “saints” (consecrated ones, set apart for God), and the “brothers” (adopted children of God).
A dear brother pointed out that where local gatherings are referred to as ekklesia, the reference is a subset of the whole rather than a division. This is particularly emphasized in the first Letter the Holy Spirit wrote to the Corinthians through the hand of Paul:

“To the [ekklesia] of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Co 1:2–3 ESV).

The Holy Spirit through Paul then specifically admonishes them about dividing, quarreling, and following specific men/ideologies to the exclusion of others:

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Co 1:10–13 ESV).

The truest, purest expression of ekklesia is the vision of heavenly Jerusalem, coming down from heaven with the Lord Jesus upon His second advent (Rev 21:2). Therefore, those New Testament passages which appear to speak of the universal assembly of God’s redeemed should be embraced rather than cast in the shadow, so the references to the local gathering of saints would be established as THE “church.” The primary focus on the “local church” by some brothers is so prominent in their doctrine that one can easily lose sight of the fact that the ekklesia of Christ is a heavenly body. Our citizenship is in heaven, we are pilgrims and sojourners in this age.

It is true that the overwhelming occurrences of ekklesia in the New Testament refers to local assemblies; there is no reason to pretend otherwise. The point is that the local assembly is not the only ekklesia of God's people mentioned in Scripture. It's easier to see this when we use a term that clearly portrays the people of God and not merely a place on the ground. The local ekklesia is important for the saints - this is where critical spiritual growth takes place, this is where the Spirit of God gathers and gifts us as it pleased Him. But in each local assembly of saints, there is likely to be false brothers in the pale. In this way, the local ekklesia is a type of the true ekklesia, the universal church, because in that gathering, there are only true sons and daughters of our Holy God; no pretenders.

The congregation is the people of God. Christ gave Himself for His sheep - all and each of them, whether they belong to a local congregation or are awaiting the resurrection of their bodies. After all, the Bible is all about the Lord Jesus and we ought to be, also. Let us not get so earthly focused that we take our eyes off Him.