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God’s Church (I): Freedom through Mercy

This piece is addressing all those who feel like a prisoner in faith, where we don’t see progress in our own personal journey, which sometimes impacts our faith towards God’s church.

While studying Zechariah recently with fellow workers, we spent time to pray and encourage one another with the truth found in God’s word. The mystery of the true church in the end-time has already been planted in the word of God and has now been reserved for the strengthening of our faith.

The Former and Latter Temple

The book of Zechariah was written when some of God’s repentant people had returned and started rebuilding the temple, the foundation, but stopped. So God, through Prophet Haggai and Prophet Zechariah, encouraged the people to restart and finish God’s temple. The connection between their days and the true church in the end-time is seen through the former temple (the apostolic church) and the latter temple (the restored church).

How do we know that the good news in Zerabbabel’s time also has to do with the church? First, we need to refer to Zechariah 9:9 which says, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.” This verse is highlighted in the gospels as the prophecy of Christ’s coming (Mt 21:5; Jn 12:15).

It is a well-known fact that Christ came to establish the kingdom of God on earth, which is His church (Mt 16:18; cf. Col 1:13). If we continue to read Zechariah 9:9-10, we can capture the spiritual understanding that Christ’s kingdom has two phases. The first phase was “from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria” and the second phase is “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit through the apostolic church had not yet preached the gospel of peace to the Americas or indeed Australia, and other lands as we know today. But Zechariah 9:10b prophesies of the second phase: “He shall speak peace to the nations; His dominion shall be ‘from sea to sea, and from the River to the  of the earth.'”

God’s Mercy and Righteousness

Try not to let the past and present human failings stop us from seeing clearly what God is doing. If you think about it carefully, despite human failings God has given humanity chances upon chances, and He still continues to fulfill His salvation plan.

The generation whom God saved in Noah’s generation, quickly descended into a people who rebelled against God. Then again, Abraham’s descendants had so many misgivings and committed great evil. When we come to Moses’ generation, again and again, God’s people tempted Him even to the point He wanted to obliterate them. After God led Israel into Canaan through Joshua, they failed to clean the land of idolatrous worship and indeed they even joined the local people in their immoral ways of life as can be seen in Judges.

Despite God raising numerous judges, His people continued to be hardened time after time. After Samuel’s ministry, Saul’s heart was never steadfast in obeying God’s commandments. After David was raised and anointed as king over all of Israel, he himself had failings. Then came the departure of Solomon’s heart from the one true God (despite God having appeared to him twice), because he followed his wives to worship idols.

If you trace all the human failings from the Davidic dynasty down through the torn kingdoms of the North (Israel – ten tribes) and the South (Judah – two tribes), you can see how unworthy they were of God’s grace. Even after God had already decided to destroy the holy temple at Jerusalem, God promised that after seventy years, He would return and build them up again!

So everyone in Jesus’ time was waiting for the coming of the Messiah. Everything about God returning to rebuild the temple and the holy city had been fulfilled. The only thing missing was the presence of the anointed one, the King of Israel. Unfortunately, the Jewish leaders at that time, and even Jesus’ disciples had their minds set on a political revival. Christ’s coming was to bring about a spiritual kingdom, not a political one.

Despite the Lord Jesus manifesting God’s power and spreading the truth through the gospel, the Jews rejected their King and nailed the Christ to death. But God did not let man’s failings stop Him from saving many beyond His own people, the Jews. After the resurrection, appearing to His disciples for forty days, He ascended into heaven in the very sight of His disciples.

Afterwards, on the Day of Pentecost, the disciples received the Holy Spirit. God’s grace was not only to the priests (Acts 6:7), but also to one such as Paul (Acts 9:1-3). But despite the efforts of good and sincere workers like Peter, James and John, and the apostles with the addition of Paul, the church is known to have degenerated into oblivion:

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! (2 Tim 3:1-5)

Without turning to the whole of the New Testament, you can see from reference to Revelation that the church had indeed descended into departure from the truth, not only in terms of the common faith, which Jesus had brought to the church, but also morally speaking. Now, think for a moment: What was Jesus’ heart like towards the church when He saw that they were departing from the truth? It was probably depicted by this verse in Ephesians 4:30: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

Was God willing for His Spirit to depart from His church just like His glory had departed from the temple in Ezekiel’s time (cf. Ezek 10:18)? Was Christ willing to follow through with this threat: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent” (Rev 2:5)?

If you collect a list of all the injustices that God has allowed to be recorded through history in His Holy Scripture and realize that God’s heart never once departed from His eternal purpose of saving all, what is the conclusion of the action God wants to see in us?

The faith-picture that forms in all those who are sincere, rely on God’s word, and believe in His whole gospel is that God is so merciful and righteous at the same time. Righteous means that He will not call white black and black white. This means all that is unforgivable, God will vanquish from His kingdom. But for all of us who are willing to repent, despite our human inadequacies, God will be merciful. As long as we are not hard-hearted, but have mercy on other’s weaknesses and look towards God’s mercy, we can together be free from our prisons.

To be continued…

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