Dr. Ed Young - The Church Alive
Elvis has left the building. That famous phrase has been applied in these years in many, many different situations. Major League baseball game, someone hits it out of the park, homerun, and the announcer a might say, "Well, that ball has left the building". I think we can say in this moment of history that we can accurately state that the church has left the building. The truth is, the church was never a building, but we have acted like it was. We'd say that's the Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic. We identify churches by buildings, but a church has never been a building. And if at this moment of crisis, when most of our worship services are shut down, we know the church has left the building.
And by the way, that's what the church is always supposed to do. We're gathered to worship and scattered to evangelize and to serve. And now what are we to do in this S.O.S. moment in our history? This virus that's overwhelmed America and the world. And so many people are asking questions. When's it gonna end? Will we ever have a cure? What am I to do? What's the best way to protect myself? And so these questions go on and on, until finally they say, "You know, it looks like God would give us a sign". And we ask, "What is God doing at this moment"?
Did God bring this pestilence on us? Did God cause this pandemic to go across the world and affect so many people? What's going on? Lord, give us some kind of sign. And so now, the church is scattered and a lot of us who are a part of the church, we would like to have some kind of sign as well to try to figure out what God is doing, what he's up to. This is not new in history.
In the book of 1 Chronicles, there's an interesting verse that talks about the tribe of Zebulun. Zebulun, you'll remember, was one of the sons of Jacob and Leah, the night sun in the family constellation. And he was a very gifted man and he had gifted children. And when they came out of Egypt and went back to the promised land, there was that land, that special place with these people. They were prosperous. They were wise. And the Sanhedrin tells us that those who were in the Supreme Court from this particular tribe, they were head and shoulders of everybody else.
And finally, there's that little, obscure verse we find in 1 Chronicles. It says clearly that the people from this tribe could see the signs of the times and they could instruct Israel as to what they needed to do. How we need people like that, wise people who can understand the signs of the time. What is going on? What does all this mean? What is God saying to us? What do we need to hear from one another? Is this a new moment, a turning point in all of history? We need people who can read the signs of the times. This has been asked for all the way through biblical history, all the way through all of history. We know there that Jesus was teaching, and some Pharisees and Sadducees came up to him and they said, "Show us a sign".
Oh, everything was coming down in Israel. The Romans dominated, poverty, privation, families divided, very little worship. Here are the Pharisees, the ultimate, ultimate religious people. Here are the Sadducees, totally secular, nothing to do with the supernatural. The Pagans and the religious people both came to Jesus, said, "Jesus, show us a sign. You're beginning something a whole new era, a whole new kingdom, a whole new understanding of our faith. Show us something".
Now, it's interesting to me that Jesus said already... you know, the blind were seeing, the lame were walking, the dead were coming back to life, and now they want more signs. And remember what Jesus said to them? He said to this Pagan group and to this super religious group, "You know, you can tell signs of the weather". It's like, you know, Red sky at night, sailor's delight. Red sky in the morning, sailor's warning. He said, "You could read the weather, but Jesus says you can't read the signs of the time". And he said, "The only sign I'm gonna give you is the sign of Jonah". What was that sign? It was a word of repentance. Jonah went to Nineveh, unlikely person. He said, "Simply repent". He said, "That's the sign of the time you need".
And maybe that's what we need right now in the world, ladies and gentlemen. Jesus said, "About these, you are a sinful and adulterous generation". We are a sinful and adulterous world. And the message I hear is: repent. The sign of the times. This same kind of discussion was taking place in Matthew chapter 16. And we know that they went to Jesus again, and they still began to talk to him about showing a sign, showing a sign. But at the end of this same chapter, you know what Jesus did? He took them way up into an area outside of Israel, in the Gentile country. It's Caesarea Philippi, there in that Pagan area where they believed the god Pan was born, which became Pantheism, God's in everything.
And Jesus took those apostles there to disciple them, to build the right stuff in their life. And while they were there, he looked at them and said, "I wanna ask you a question. What does everybody say about me? Who does everybody say that I am"? And the apostles said, "Well, some say you're John the Baptist. You've come back alive. Some say Elijah, and Jeremiah, and Isaiah". And then Jesus looked at him and said, "But I want to know, who do you say that I am"? And Peter, hoof-in-mouth disease, always had his foot in his mouth, didn't he? He spoke up and he said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God". And Jesus said, "Peter, flesh and blood didn't tell you that. The Father in heaven gave you that Word".
And then Jesus said, "On this rock," what rock? Not Peter himself, though he was nicknamed Rocky, but on his profession of faith. Jesus said, "On that profession of faith, I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it". A modern translation says, "Jesus spoke, I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy not even the gates of hell can keep it out". Isn't that a beautiful translation of that? "I'll build a church so expansive in energy that even the gates of hell cannot keep it out".
What is God's answer to this coronavirus? It is simply the body of Christ, a group of individuals called out, set aside to make a difference in this world in every moment of history. This was the foundation of the church, a profession of faith that Jesus is Lord and he is Savior. And upon that profession of faith, there we have the church. Now, we know the church was born at Pentecost. And we know on Palm Sunday, Jesus went in with, "Hallelujah"! Before long it was, "Crucify"! He was executed on that cross, died, rose again, and then the disciples went and they were hiding in that upper room until the Holy Spirit came. And then Peter stood up and preached that powerful sermon of Pentecost, affirming the resurrection of Jesus, affirming that he was indeed who he said he was there at Caesarea Philippi, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God".
That is the birthday of the church, and look how the church proceeded. My, we can see the development of it. Jesus had already put in baptism, his own example. He'd already, we know prior to the cross, put in the Lord's Supper ordinance of the church. And then we see the church is beginning to be formed there in the book of Acts, as Luke tells us this supernatural story of the explosive growth of the body of Christ in the book of Acts. What an amazing thing. And then we see what consists the church.
The church, "ekklesia," means called out ones. It's mentioned 109 time in the New Testament. And then we know in that church there is that fellowship that takes place. There is that "koinonia" that is there. And maybe you need to think about all the one anothers that you find in the church. You look at it and say, "One another". We're first of all we're to serve one another, serve one another in the church. That's the mark of the growth of the body of Christ. We're to serve one another.
Not only are we to serve one another, we're to encourage one another. We serve one another, that's Galatians 5. We encourage one another, that's 1 Thessalonians 5. And then he says we are to accept one another, and that is Romans 15. And then he says we are to forgive one another, that's Colossians 3. And then in John 13, we're to love one another. In other words, Jesus built this body of Christ, and there is baptism when we receive him, there's reminder of what it took for us to be saved, and then we see the church is growing these relationships.
Look at all the names we have for the church. My goodness, it's called, well, it's like Israel, in a sense. Israel was the foregleam of it, the first covenant, and then we have the new covenant. And we see in the church all the predictions, the ideas, the philosophies we find in Israel are fulfilled under the new covenant. That's the church. It has a understanding, a background of Israel as a called out people, exclusive and shut up to God, exclusive for God. And then we see also it's called the tabernacle of God. It's called the people of God. It's called the bride of Christ. It's called the body of Christ. In this moment of extremity right now in our world, what does the body of Christ do? What are the signs of the time that the body of Christ can go and make a difference in our world?
The answer to the coronavirus is the church. Just like in every moment, every crisis, every S.O.S., it has been the church who has been there. Well, how do you know a church is authentic? How do you know a church is really the body of Christ? We see how it is functioning. We see whether or not we who are in the church are actually living out the assignment that Jesus gave to us. That's the great commission, "Go ye therefore all the world. Make disciples, baptizing them in name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I've commanded you".
So what are we to do? How do you find an authentic, real church? It's a church that reaches and a church that teaches. This is a wonderful moment for the body of Christ. God has designed his people for this kind of crisis in which we find all of the world. If you'll go back in history, you remember that the church was a little fledgling offshoot of the synagogue of the Jewish religion. And it was thought sort of in a backwoods kind of place. Didn't do anything for ten years. Stayed primarily in the Jerusalem area for over ten years. What happened to that church that was persecuted and began to reach out into the Roman World? What took place that by 312 AD, the church was declared by the Emperor Constantine to be the official religion of all the Empire? What took place? Were there crusades? Was there a lot of evangelism? What happened?
I'll tell you what happened. Two plagues. The first plague that took place was in 165 AD. Marcus Aurelius was the Caesar there, and we know he himself even died in a plague. And in this first plague, one-third plus of the Roman Empire died. They could not stop it. One-third died. About 80 plus, almost 100 years later, in 265, they had another plague and this plague swept over the Roman world. Another half to one-third of everybody who lived in the Roman world died. For example, they said there were days in which over 5,000 people a day were carried out dead in the city of Rome alone. Alexandria in Egypt, they lost half of their population.
Now, what was going on? There was a famous doctor in Rome, Galen, famous medical. You read in medical journals today about what Galen did. But when that first plague came, guess what he did? He ran. He went to an estate. What did all the Pagan priests do and all the synagogues that were there that were Pagan? They left town. They ran. They went into hiding. They went into exclusion. And we see the Pagans who could, they ran. All the leaders ran. All the phony priests ran and all the idolaters ran. And the Christians remained in the first plague and the second plague. And what did they do? They nursed one another and they nursed the Pagans who were left behind, the nobodies in the kingdom. And guess what? In the plague, if they are nursed, they're given soup and prayer. That's what they offered, soup and prayer. Water and bread. Two-thirds of those lived. They survived.
So therefore, when the first plague was over, all the Pagan worshipers, all the Pagan temples were disenfranchised. The priests came back and they had no ground upon which to stand because now it was the Christians who said, "I am my brother's keeper". The Pagans knew nothing of that. "I'll lay down my life for a friend". The Pagans knew nothing of that. And those Christians who died, they had hope and confidence in the resurrection of Christ, so there's a whole new understanding of death. And you see, people began to see these Christians are legitimate. This God they worship is the true and living God. This Jesus who conquered the grave, I want him in my life.
So there was an explosive growth of Christianity all over the Roman Empire until that was when Constantine said, "We are a Christian people". Opportunity. The answer to COVID-19 is the church. Now, what we've done in our church is just a small thing in Metropolitan Houston. First of all, we began to call all of our members. And we've called about three-fourths of them now. And we ask two questions. First of all, how may we help you? Secondly, what can I pray with you about? You'll not believe the response. It's been overwhelming. And the members are saying, "I need this," or "Let me help and serve in some other way".
And we have 300 or 400 of our members who are just calling other members, asking those questions. And out of those questions, many needs come out. Food, medicine, clothing, transportation, children, masks, all kinds of needs. And we've sought to step out and meet all of those needs, wherever they are. Worried about job and vocation? We've been there. Sometimes they have emotional problems. We put them online, FaceTime with godly counselors. And so we see here, the church, we're just simply trying to reach out and say, "We care for everybody". We're trying to live up to that which the early church did when they had that kind of growth. Matthew 25, Jesus said, "I was hungry, you gave me bread. I was thirsty, you gave me water. I was a stranger, you took me in. I was sick, and you came unto me".
This is what the church is. This is what the church does. It's a wonderful opportunity and we know God will do wonderful things. The church in this crisis should be stronger, more powerful, deeper, and wider than it's ever been in its history. What is the answer? The signs of the times, oh, they're so dark, but the church needs to be there with the light, and the love, and the therapy, and the touch, and the generosity of the body of Christ. The church is to be the hands, and the arms, and the eyes of Jesus. Jesus is not here. He left us here empowered by the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, "I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell, not even coronavirus can keep it out".
It will go and destroy, and heal, and touch. Nothing can stop the church. It is marching on and on. So how do you know a church is authentic body of Christ? First of all, it is reaching, and it is ministry, and it is loving, and it's introducing people to him who gives life meaningful here and life meaningful forever in heaven. What's the second thing? We also teach. We reach and we teach. We teach families and homes. And what a wonderful time of teaching we have now.
I can't tell you how many families have said, "It's been great to be with my kids. It's been great to go to school with my kids". What a moment. It's been great to have quality time. And somebody said, "Well, the only problem is I've told my wife all these years, 'Well, when I have time, I'll clean out the garage'". And guess what? We have time. We have time to do it. What a sacred moment. Who could plan it? All the other things that distract families, and kids, and wives, and husbands, now we're just in there together to built, I trust, a relationship and a love, and to enhance the body of Christ.
Those who can are reaching out and serving. We have over a thousand involved in all kinds of ministries in this time of seriousness in our city. But also in the homes, God is doing some magnificent things. The answer to this virus is the body of Christ, a church so expansive with energy that even whatever comes up, the gates of hell will not keep it out. Life, death, victory, the body of Christ. I had a friend years ago. He was in Puerto Rico, and he'd been there for many months. And he was so glad to go home, he went to the airport, and he was seated there, and he got a "USA Today," and got a cup of coffee, waiting for his plane to arrive. While he was sitting there, he heard two little boys arguing. It was across the way and he assumed they were brothers. One looked to be about eight and one was probably five.
And before long he heard, "Pow". And the older brother had slapped the little five-year-old. And the five-year-old, you see the whip on his face. He began to cry. And in a minute, he looked over there and said, "Where's the mom and dad"? And then he looked away again, and then he heard, "Whap, whap, whap," and that eight-year-old had that five-year-old down on the floor in that airport lounge, and he was pounding and pounding him. Blood was coming off his face and he said, "Where's his mom and dad"? He said, "I got up there, and I got the older boy, and I pulled him off. And I got the little boy up who was crying hysterically and bleeding on his face". He said, "Where's the mom and dad"? And then the announcement came, "Last call for flight to Miami".
And he said, "All right". He looked to other people there who were disinterested and he said, "You keep these boys apart. Find their parents". And he went and got on the plane and sat down. He said, "I was so upset and broken. I tried to read. I couldn't do it". He said, "Then I began to think, what's the answer for that, particularly the eight-year-old? If he is using his fist at eight, beating up his brother who was totally defensive, I wonder what he'll be doing when he's 18".
Would he be throwing knives or bullets? Then he said, "What is the answer for that guy? Do you think he's gonna grow up, and marry, and have children, and have a home, and a life that counts? What's gonna make a difference in his life"? He said, "Well, maybe they could elect some better people in government and they'll pass some laws and", he said, "No, that really won't help him". He said, "Well, maybe he'll go and get a fine education. He'll wake up and realize some values and that will change him". He said, "No, that won't help him".
He said, I realized the only thing, the only thing that would change that boy, and heal that younger brother, and awaken the family in which they were living was the body of Christ, the church. The church is the answer. To virus today, to confusion tomorrow, to all the world's maladies, it is the body of Christ. In such a time as this, we try to read the signs of the time. God's answer is the church, alive and functioning as he intends for it to live, as he intends for it to function.