Monday, 17 January 2011

The Four Faces of the Church

In Rev chapter 4 we are introduced to a vision of heaven, a vision of the throne, a vision of Jesus. Around the throne of God stand four living creatures. They offer up worship to God 'day and night'. They declare truth about the nature of God, "Holy, Holy, Holy". In other words, God is altogether special, set apart from everything else and unique. Each of these creatures has a face like that of a lion, an ox, a man and a flying eagle. Four faces.

It is interesting how the number four is significant in the Bible. It is the number most connected with creation and the earth. We talk of the four points of the compass, the four corners of the earth, the elements, earth, air, fire, and water; the divisions of the day, morning, noon, evening, and midnight. Not only that there is a special relationship between the number three, representing the trinity, and one. The Bible begins with, "In the beginning God created....." Thus creation follows on from who God is as Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This three-one relationship making four is also found in Proverbs 30.15-16; 18-19;21-23; 29-31 NIV

There are three things that are never satisfied,
four that never say, ‘Enough!’:
the grave, the barren womb,
land, which is never satisfied with water,
and fire, which never says, ‘Enough!’

There are three things that are too amazing for me,
four that I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a snake on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a young woman.

Under three things the earth trembles,
under four it cannot bear up:
a servant who becomes king,
a godless fool who gets plenty to eat,
a contemptible woman who gets married,
and a servant who displaces her mistress.

There are three things that are stately in their stride,
four that move with stately bearing:
a lion, mighty among beasts,
who retreats before nothing;
a strutting rooster, a he-goat,
and a king secure against revolt.

Proverbs 30.24-28 NIV also highlights four things in creation we can learn from:

Four things on earth are small,
yet they are extremely wise:
Ants are creatures of little strength,
yet they store up their food in the summer;
hyraxes are creatures of little power,
yet they make their home in the crags;
locusts have no king,
yet they advance together in ranks;
a lizard can be caught with the hand,
yet it is found in kings’ palaces.

So the number four is uniquely associated with creation and the God of creation. The living creatures surround God's throne and inspire Heaven's worship. Each face is representative of the four faces of the church. This in turn is a reflection of the four faces of Jesus that we see in the gospels. Matthew is the Lion where Jesus is presented as the King of the Jews. The Lion is the King of the beasts and is the most noble of the wild animals. Jesus is the Lion if the tribe if Judah. Matthew's genealogy shows He descends from David as the rightful King of the Jews. More scriptures are quoted in Matthew than any other prophecy to show that Jesus is the fulfilment of all that the prophets foresaw.

Kings have authority. Authority to rule and reign. But Jesus is not just any King. He is like Melchizedek - King of Righteousness. This is what the name means. So like Jesus we have authority but it is an authority to rule in righteousness. Psalm 89.14 tells us the "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne". If the church is to reflect this aspect of the face of Jesus then we must learn to rule the way He did, with righteousness and justice. Thus Kingdom authority is used to protect the weak and vulnerable not to take advantage of the naive and ignorant.

In Rev 19.11 we see a vision of Jesus riding out of Heaven. We are told, "In righteousness He judges and makes war". He fights unrighteousness. He wars against injustice - wherever it is found. This is why Jesus told us to seek the Kingdom first and His righteousness, Matt 6.33. Righteousness characterises the Kingdom. It means being in right relationship with God in order that we may do right, in life, in relationships, in politics, in business in law, in everything. And when it isn't right we take on the face of a lion. We roar and fight until it comes right.

Prov 28.1 says, "The wicked flee when no one pursues but the righteous are bold as a lion". Lions are characterised by their lack of fear. The wicked on the other hand are slaves to paranoia. They flee when no one pursues. This face is important because the enemy is described as, 'a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour', 1Pet 5.8. He is the ultimate counterfeit using the roar of intimidation to silence the church. But not all lions are the same. There was a big difference between Scar and Mufasa in the Disney production of 'The Lion King'. And that's the difference between Jesus and satan. Let's make sure we are building a church that fights on behalf of the weak and oppressed and doesn't intimidate or exploit them.

Mark has no genealogy for here Jesus is presented as the Servant of the Lord and no-one is interested in where a servant comes from, only what they do. So we see the face of an Ox in this presentation of Jesus. It's also why this gospel is the shortest. It gets straight to the point. The key word in this book is 'immediately'. Mark uses it no less than eight times in the first chapter. For example, he says the "Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness"; (Mark 1:12). "And immediately he called them", (Mk 1:20); "Immediately on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught"; (Mk 1:21); "And immediately the leprosy left him"; (Mk 1:42).

Thus Mark is an action book. Like the Ox, who was both the most valued and productive of all the domesticated animals, Jesus is presented to us as the one who gets on with the job! With this face I can say "I serve in the strength of the Lord" Prov 14.4 says; "Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox".

A crib is a barred storage box where corn and other grain products are kept for feeding cattle and other farm animals. From this usage we have adapted the word to mean the barred small bed for children, which has a similar appearance. A cattle crib is similar to the manger in which Jesus was placed after birth; (Luke 2:7).

If a farmer plows, cultivates, and harvests by hand, he only has the strength and endurance to work a very small section of ground. His family may barely survive. The storage crib for corn or other produce will be clean - empty, because he and his family will have eaten all he could plant and harvest.

But if a farmer can buy an ox, he will have invested in something that can give him greater production. This animal can easily weigh one ton and has enormous strength for pulling. It can pull a plow through the soil for many hours a day, 1Kings 19:19
cultivating many acres. The ox can trample the raw corn and separate it from the stalk, Deut 25:4, and it can drive a grinding wheel much better than could Samson, Judges 16:21. It can even pull heavily loaded wagons to market, Num 7:3.

The farmer with an ox now produces much more than he needs to eat and consequently increases his wealth. But increased productivity often means increased mess! And mess sometimes makes us take our eyes off the very thing that is making the mess; the productive ox. What part of your life right now is being blessed and fruitful? What is helping you be productive? Now what kind of mess is also being produced as a result of that? What are you more focused on? The productivity or the mess?

The eagle is a bird that can fly higher than any other. And it does so effortlessly. This is because it relies on the rising thermals that can carry it to great heights. With wing spans of almost 3 metres to help it do this the eagle gains the best perspective on what is going on. It sees from above. It is therefore about having Heaven's perspective on life. The Greek word for wind (and breath) is pneuma which can also be translated spirit. So the eagle is a picture of the church soaring in the Spirit in order to get God's perspective on anything.

The gospel that helps us see this best is John's. It begins, not with a birth but with God; Jesus face to face with the Father. It predates creation for creation flows out of the activity of the Godhead. In this gospel we find people misunderstanding Jesus over and over again. John often gives us retrospective interpretations as to what Jesus meant, John 2.17-22; 4.31-33; 6.55-63; 7.37-39; 8.56-58; 14.7-11. Jesus words are Spirit and life. Without the Spirit we cannot truly understand what is going on.

Jesus reminds Nicodemus he must be born from above, John 3.3. All true ministry comes from above, John 3.27. And John reminds us that Jesus is from above, John 3.31. The disciples looked on the harvest fields in John 4.35 but Jesus saw it differently; 'Do not say, "There are still four months and then comes the harvest"? Behold I say to you lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest'. Notice how he says 'Behold', 'Lift up your eyes, 'look'. This is about seeing with heaven's eyes. Seeing from a different perspective - God's perspective.

So with the face of the eagle we soar in the Spirit. The church needs this. Without revelation we are limited to a natural perspective and if that is all we have we will miss what God is up to. He has Kairos moments, opportunities that must be spiritually discerned. As Jesus wept over Jerusalem He saw the coming destruction on the City. It was the inevitable result of their hardness of heart, "Because you did not know the time of your visitation", Luke 19.44. He reflected on the fact that the things that would bring peace, "Are now hidden from your eyes", Luke 19.42.

With the face of the flying eagle we keep the prophetic vision of the church sharp. We can discern what God is up to and respond in faith. This is why worship is so important. It lifts our spirits. As we lift up the name of the Lord He lifts us up. We begin to see what Heaven sees. We move in revelation by, beholding, seeing and looking. These were all the words Jesus spoke to His disciples in John 4.

Finally there is the face of the man. Man is of course the pinnacle of God's creation, for we are made in His image. The Bible tells us the story of how that image was lost and how it is being restored - through Jesus. "For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ", 2Cor 4.6 Notice that God's glory is seen in the face of Jesus - the face of a man.

Paul tells us that at present we see through a dim mirror, but one day we will see "face to face", 1Cor 13.12. This is powerful. When God spoke with Moses it was different to every other prophet. It was 'face to face'. There was a level of intimacy and trust in that relationship that set it apart and it is God who made the distinction, Number 11.1-8. This aspect of Jesus is best reflected in the Gospel of Luke. Here we see Jesus the man, dependant on God. So in Luke there is a strong focus on the prayer life of Jesus more than any other writer. We have only one account of Jesus growing up as a boy and He is about His Father's business.

In Luke His genealogy is not just traced to David. It goes all the way back to Adam, for He is the Saviour of the world. In Luke Jesus reaches out to everyone, Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles, women, the poor, the sick. All are embraced, accepted and loved. In this gospel you are left with the clear sense, 'I belong'. But Luke's gospel has a part two that shows how the life of Jesus was lived out after His ascension. This is Acts. So it's not just that 'I belong' but that 'I belong in community'.

To be baptised into Jesus is to be baptised into His body, 1Cor 12.12-14. To be added to Jesus is to be added to His church, Acts 5,14 "And believers were increasingly added to the Lord..."; Acts 2.47 "And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved". You can't have one without the other. A relationship with God is worked out in the context of relationship with His people. This is where we grow, share our gifting, find mutual accountability, are built up and strengthened in our faith.

These four faces of the church reflect the four faces of Jesus. We need them all. To focus only on one is loose something of Jesus. He is all things to all men. And the church is called to go into all the world to make Him known. We will find ourselves more naturally attracted to one or two of the face more than the others. But the truth is that we need them all. The task of leadership is to know what season the church is in so that world sees the right face and gets a clearer revelation of Jesus. For He stands in Heaven at the centre of it all. And the church is on earth to give Him his rightful place here too.