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Without Christ, there is no church: our story begins and ends with His example, His teachings, His purpose and His commission for us.
Around AD30, a man by the name of Jesus of Nazareth would begin preaching in the Roman protectorates of Judea & Syria (modern-day Israel & Lebanon), teaching a new message of love, forgiveness and forbearance of our fellow man. He performed miracles and healings, told parables that changed the way his audience thought about religion & society, and challenged the hypocrisy & legalism of the political/religious elite.
He claimed to be the Messiah, or Saviour of mankind, with the power not only to take away pain or physical ailment, but the power to forgive sin, to blot out our own transgressions, and even offer his disciples the exclusive pathway to eternal life. He was not only the prophesied Son of Man, but the living, breathing Son of God.
Within 3 years, He had amassed a following of witnesses (who would later record His account in the Gospels) and multitudes of crowds, eager to to hear Him speak and see Him perform micacles, so much so that He was considered a political threat to the ruling Roman & Jewish authorities. During the Jewish religious festival of Passover, where more than 3 Million Hebrews gathered from around the world in Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples willingly left the protection of the crowds, to pray on the Mount of Olives, where He was betrayed by Judas Iscariot (one of His disciples) for a bag of silver.
He was abandoned and denied by His disciples. He was tried by an extra-judicial hearing in the middle of the night, and sentenced to death for blasphemy against the ruling religious elite. He was whipped, beaten, and mocked, before being crucified on the hill of Golgotha.
After 3 days in the tomb, Jesus was resurrected, defeating death, and appeared to his disciples and many witnesses who recorded these events in the Gospels.
Until this point, most of His followers did not understand who He was: God, come to earth as a man, and died willingly for their own mistakes. But after the resurrection, the Gospel - the good news of God made man, for all mankind - was revealed, and His followers (Christians), began laying down their lives for Him, and the love for mankind He taught. It is this resurrection which gives the Christian hope in our own resurrection.
Jesus did not just come to save us from death, to give us new life in the hereafter, He came to save us from our sin: take away the very thing that separates us from God in this life. Just as Jesus endured death, burial and resurrection in order to defeat death, so too does the Christian undergo this process in their admittance to the universal church, in baptism.
The Bible speaks of baptism, or baptizo (literally "to immerse"), as the point at which we accept God's forgiveness. It is not a rite of passage for infants, nor is it a work of personal piety; it is our taking up of God's free gift of saving grace, calling on His name in faith.
But baptism does not only mirror Christ's death & burial, this is only the beginning: for after the baptised believer dies to himself, and takes up the cross of Christ, he is resurrected to life anew, mirroring His resurrection, and is born again to the life God calls us to live.
God is working, through His word (the Bible), and through His Spirit, to sanctify us - remake us in the image of His Son - each day more than the last. The fruit that the Christian (Christ-follower) is called to bear; the life choices and good works Christ emulates for us, are not an attempt to make ourselves acceptable to God, they are living worthily of how God has already accepted us through Christ, His Son.
The church does not pretend that the baptised believer is now perfect; it knows that all have sinned, all stand before God condemned, and all need desperately the perfection that only Christ provides. Yet, it is this same knowledge, that we are all powerless before God to save ourselves, that compels our lives, our words, and our hearts to be changed. This is the gospel: the good news of saving grace.
Among the commands asked of His disciples, Jesus instituted a memorial, the night just prior to His arrest and crucifixion, using simple elements of unleavened bread and unfermented grape juice, to be symbols of remembrance of what He was about to do for them, and for all humanity.
This Lord's Supper serves firstly as a moment of thanksgiving for the grace we have received in Christ, secondly, a sharing of the communion we enjoy with all believers and with God, and thirdly, a proclamation, a heralding, of what Jesus death means to us - and for the world.
The bread, being broken, represents Christ's body, broken on the cross for us, in our place, and all of the suffering, slander and shame he guiltlessly bore on our behalf. The fruit of the vine, being poured out, represents His blood, which washes us clean of our sin, harks back to our baptism, and brings us into communion with God.
In following the example of the first-century church, we at Eastern Shore observe this Lord's Supper every Sunday, along with millions of other Christians around the world. The day is not arbitrary or insignificant: this commemorates the weekly observance of the very day of Christ's resurrection, and the remembrance of the very reason for our resurrection as disciples of Christ.
Before the resurrected Jesus left this earth, his left his followers one final command: to spread this good news to all the earth, making followers of all nations. It is our conviction that this commission is given to every Christian: to shine the light that God has worked in us to each other, to our neighbours, to our colleagues, and even our enemies.
This is not just for the frontier missionary, but for every believer; that through their words and conduct, their jobs and their lives, wherever they might be, that they witness to the world their active faith in the risen Christ, that they, too, might believe.
After this commission, Jesus ascended into Heaven, the spiritual domain of God the Father, to be seated at His right hand, and from there, reigns over the Kingdom of God, the rule of heaven on earth: the church. Jesus promised that He would return one day (though no-one knows the day nor hour), to bring about the resurrection of the dead, and restoration of heaven and earth: to dwell with His people for eternity.
This is what it means to be and to build His church: to further the Kingdom of God in all the kingdoms of men; that He might rule in all of our hearts, and that, one day, every knee would bow to His will for us: eternal life.