JESUS CHRIST, OVER AND FOR THE CHURCH
These are my notes for teaching the Wednesday Bible Study at the Cornerstone on June 17, 2020.
Part 7 of Ephesians
Today, we're going to explore what it means that Jesus Christ is the head over everything (including the church) for the benefit of the church. Last week, we discussed the exaltation of Christ over all things and this is a continuation of that line of thinking.
Before we go any further, let's read Ephesians 4:19b-23:
(Ephesians 1:19-23) That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 God exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
To summarize: The Lord Jesus Christ is raised from the dead, living and exalted to the right hand of God in heaven. As the victorious God-Man, he shares in the supremacy of God over all things. He is above all visible and invisible rulers of any kind. He is head - ruler - over everything (including the church) for the sake of the church.
What does that mean? How does it impact on our lives and on our local church?
JESUS IS HEAD OVER THE CHURCH
I suspect that we don't think about this very often. But it is very important, so important in fact that many faithful Christians have been martyred for it.
John Huss was a 15th century priest in the Roman Catholic Church. He was born in modern day Croatia and was a very smart and good Bible expositor. He was a bit of a radical in his day. For example, he preached in the language of the people rather than in Latin. He wrote a book called The Church which rattled a few cages. In it, he claimed that the Bible has greater authority than the church.
He might have got away with his out-of-the-box thinking except he also taught and wrote that Jesus Christ is the only head of the church. That was contrary to the doctrine of the Roman church of his day and when he refused to recant, he was burned at the stake.
Today's catechism of the Roman Church describes the place of the Pope or supreme pontiff of the church:
The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter's successor, "is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful. For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.
Huss did not agree with that statement but what was so important that Huss was willing to die for it?
Our passage explains what is so important. The apostle Paul was very careful to make it absolutely clear that Jesus Christ is the one and only supreme head over everything and thus, by implication, over the church. With all due respect, the suggestion that anyone but Christ has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church is to miss the point of Paul's language in Ephesians 1:22-23. Jesus does not share power with anyone. Dominion is his and his alone. He is head over everything - without exception. The Bible describes Jesus and no one else as the head of the church. He is the source, the sustainer, and the ruler of his church, as the following passages make clear:
Jesus builds his church: (Matthew 16:16-18) Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
Jesus has supreme authority to govern the mission of his church: (Matthew 28:16-20) Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Jesus rules the church: (Colossians 1:18) He is the head of the body, the church;
Jesus is Lord of the church: (Ephesians 4:4-6) There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Jesus is the church's cornerstone - on which the church is built and reaches its true identity: (Ephesians 2:19-22) Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Jesus appoints church leaders: (Ephesians 4:11-12) Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
Jesus grows the church: (Ephesians 4:16) From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Jesus formed the church for himself: (Ephesians 5:25-27) Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
Jesus sustains the church: (Ephesians 5:28-30) In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body.
I don't see any room, either logically or theologically, for another supreme authority in the church. There cannot be a second supreme ruler of the church because that undermines Jesus' exclusive and unique dominion. Jesus is head over everything, period, end of story.
Now, think about the implications of that idea:
Only Jesus is qualified to exercise absolute rule over the church because he alone has absolute power and authority.
Jesus is the only appropriate object of our worship. We should be very careful about giving too much prominence to a church teacher or leader.
Jesus will not abuse his power because his character is perfect: he is perfectly holy, good, true, and wise. The same cannot be said for any of us.
Those of us who lead and teach the church do so under the dominion of Jesus. He appoints us and directs us in our mission. We are not free to appoint ourselves or to do our own thing.
Jesus is the supreme teacher. Everyone else makes mistakes and must be held accountable to the authority of Scripture. Historic creeds, councils, catechisms, creeds, confessions, books, and teachings have great value only to the extent that they accurately and faithfully reflect the Scriptures, which alone are God-breathed.
It is spiritually harmful to teach God's people to look away from Jesus to someone else.
JESUS IS SUPREME FOR THE CHURCH
Jesus rules for our good and his glory. As Paul wrote, "Jesus is head over everything FOR the church;" that is, for the benefit of the church.
One thing those passages make very clear is that the supremacy of Jesus over the church has a benevolent purpose. In other words, it is not so that he can abuse the church, but so that he can build and nourish his body.
No one else loves and cares for the church in the same way or to the extent that Jesus does:
No one else came from heaven to earth for the church.
No one else shed his blood to purify the church and make her holy.
No one else died for the church.
No one else defeated Satan and the power of sin for the church.
No one else fills the church with his own Spirit.
No one else blesses, protects, builds and nourishes the church to its full maturity.
And on and on.
Look to Jesus. Depend on Jesus. Expect Jesus. Praise Jesus. Amen!