Last week, in our first week of exploring the nature and practice of the Church, we spent our time together looking at the Majesty of the Church and, while we often can feel fairly “un-majestic”, we saw that our majesty is rooted in God’s view of us… not in our own. In His calling us into a relationship with Him and His presentation of us as a gift to His Son. It is a reflection of His majesty as He transforms us into His image and brings us into His presence and our eternal destiny. This week, we will be looking at the Master of the Church…the One from whom we get our direction … our “marching orders”.
As Paul opens his letter to the Colossian church , he reminds them of how they came to be in a renewed relationship with the Living God, through the redemptive work of His Son. In Col 1:13ff. He writes, “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. 19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross”
This passage has much to say about the Master of the Church. Vs 18 clearly identifies who it is. Speaking of Jesus, it says, “ He is also head of the body, the church”. Paul says much the same to the Ephesians in Eph 5:23, where he writes, “Christ also is the head of the church” “Head” speaks to one having authority, empowered to give direction and leadership. The very metaphor used illustrates the church’s dependence upon, and obedience to, its “head”, Jesus. No deliberative movement is possible apart from the brain…the head… directing that movement. If the brain is compromised, the body is compromised. If the brain is cut off from the body, the body is unresponsive and inert. The body can do nothing without direction from the head.
Jesus, using the illustration of the vine, says the same thing in John 15:4,5. “ Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing”. So, the Master…the Head… of the Church is clear…it is Jesus. But this leads to additional questions…Why is Jesus the Head of the Church? By whom was He appointed or elected? In what way is He qualified? If we are to see Jesus rightly…as the legitimate Head over the Church…and ourselves rightly as subservient and obedient to the Head, then these are important questions to answer.
The first thing that we see that makes Jesus the legitimate Head of the Church is that He is the owner of it. Remember last week where we saw that the Church was a gift from God the Father to His Son, Jesus? That the Church was hand selected by God to Himself, to then be given over to His Son? As owner, He has the legitimate right to exercise authority over, and give direction to, His Church. Paul recognizes this truth when he refers to himself in Romans 1 as a “bond servant”…a slave… of Jesus Christ. But Jesus’ ownership of the Church goes beyond this gifting by the Father. Jesus is also the owner of the Church through His purchase of it.
We are told, in Acts and Revelation, that Jesus purchased the Church with His own blood. In speaking to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28, Paul writes, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” And in Rev 5:8-10, the 4 living creatures and the 24 elders assembled before the throne of God , proclaim concerning Jesus, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood, men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.Beloved, Jesus is worthy to be our Head…our Master…because he is the rightful owner of His Church…both by gifting from the Father as well as by purchase with His precious and innocent blood, shed at the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.
A second reason that Jesus is the Head of the Church comes through his ancestry. As Alan showed us several weeks ago, Jesus was in the royal lineage of King David and heir to the Davidic throne established by God. 2 Sam 7:8ff says, “Now therefore, thus you shall say to My servant David…The LORD also declares to you that the LORD will make a house for you. 12 When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me” As Messiah, Jesus is ruler over His people…those with whom He has a covenantal relationship. This includes His covenental relationship with Israel, as well as His covenetal relationship with His Church. He is the legitimate Head of the Church because he is the legitimate King over His Church.
A third reason that Jesus stands as the Head of the Church is that He is the Author and Creator of the church. He designed and crafted the church to function as He purposed. Look back to the passage in Colossians we just read. In vs 16 it says, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him” The author of Hebrews puts it more succinctly, simply calling Jesus the “author and perfecter of our faith”. Is it, then, any wonder that He would serve in a position to give the Church direction and guide its operations? Doesn’t it make sense to have the creator and designer of the Church…the One who knows everything about its make up, purpose, and destiny… oversee and shepherd the Church?
But there are yet other reasons that Jesus is the Head of the Church. One that can not be overstated is that He has the ability…the power…the wisdom… to lead His Church. Beloved, wouldn’t it be tragic to have the Headship of the Church in the hands of one who had insufficient ability to build it? Insufficient power to protect it? Insufficient wisdom to guide it? Paul, with all his training…all his experience…all his wisdom…all his zeal and love for God…knew that he was not up to that task. Read his words with me in 2 Cor 2:14ff. “ But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. 15 For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?” He is asking, “Who is adequate to discern the ones who are being saved from the ones who are perishing”? To empower the gospel unto salvation? To illuminate the Word of God unto sanctification? To “lead in triumph”? Beloved, it is not your pastors. It is not your elders. It is not your teachers. We are, as Peter calls us in 1 Pet 5, “under-shepherds”, but we are not the “Chief Shepherd”. That title, as does the title of “Head”, belongs to Christ alone. Only He is truly “adequate for these things”. Being God, He is all knowing… He is all seeing… He is all powerful…He is the One who is “able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think”. He stands, through the infinite grace and love of God, as our Head. He is the “perfecter“ and sustainer of our faith. Yet, in His grace, he allows us to participate in His triumph and manifest His fragrance to those being saved and those perishing.
There is a final quality of Christ that we want to look at this evening… Jesus’ affection for His Church. While I suppose it could be argued that it is not an absolute necessity for “headship” it is difficult to see how it could operate effectively without it. Just a moment ago, we looked at the tragedy of headship exercised by one with insufficient ability… insufficient power… insufficient wisdom… Can you imagine the tragedy of “headship” being exercised with insufficient love? Of what value is ability or power or wisdom if the Head lacks sufficient care and concern to exercise them? Beloved, we have a Head “who (to quote Phl 2:6), although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross”. And His love for us is not only expressed at a point in the past, as monumental as that moment in history is. Jesus continues to lavish His love upon us through His ongoing faithfulness in spite of our occasions of sin and rebellion. He comforts us in the midst of hardship and loss. He upholds us in our weakness and fatigue. He refines us so that we might become more like Him and enter into the joy of fellowship with Him and the Father and participate more fully in the wonders of His kingdom. He stands as an advocate, interceding before God the Father on our behalf. From the throne room of heaven, He calls us brother …and beloved bride… two images that reflect His deep love for us and His intimate connection to us.
So, why have we spent this evening looking into the truths about the Head of the Church…the Great Shepherd? As we look at the headship of Christ, we can find comfort in His great love for us and in His ability and desire to make a way for us…to go before us and give us guidance and sustenance…to search out green pastures and protect us from the dangers that surround us.
Likewise, we can have confidence in, and submission to, His exhortation and instruction…that His counsel is righteous and profitable…that we have a Head who can be trusted with our very lives and souls. That His heart is for our edification and the joy and satisfaction that unfolds before us as we become like Him. That He is entitled to our obedience and to submissive hearts filled with love for Him.
Finally, it is in our understanding of Christ as our head, that we find understanding of our role as His Body. While we will look at this more fully in weeks to come, we see that we are entirely dependent upon His life… His strength…His direction… as we seek to do His will and bring His gospel to a lost world. When we, as the Body of Christ, forget to listen to and rely on the Head to empower our work and our witness, we embark on a task that is dependent upon our own insufficient strength and understanding, doomed to failure. Beloved, let us look to our Head to guide our steps and our thoughts…
Let us pray