A PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE BY R.C. SPROUL JR.
I pastor a small church, very small. It is not my desire to pastor a small church. Two hundred to 250 sounds just about right to me. Beyond that and I think I’d like to see the church plant new ones. But right now, 200 seems a million miles, or a million years, away. I came to southwest Virginia with a target “market” for my church. I wasn’t interested in taking disgruntled folks from other Reformed churches. I didn’t want to pastor “First Reformed Church of the Terminally Cranky.” I wanted to rescue the sheep from the wolves of liberal churches, to feed the sheep who were being used as food. So far, most of the sheep prefer the company of wolves.
I drive by the wolves’ dens, those brick and brownstone, besteepled edifices that once said “Solid and conservative” and now say “Slippery and syncretistic.” And I think, “I’d like to have a building like that.” All of which, I believe, makes me rather like the first century Christians. Just as the liberal prelates do today, the leadership in the synagogues and in the temple denied that Jesus was the Son of God. They maintained their respectability and used their power to besmirch the character of the true believers.
But every Sunday in the little church I pastor we are encouraged. I do not stand up and declare, “Expect a miracle from God today,” but I do declare each and every Lord’s Day that the Lord we worship is king over all the world.
Three things happened in the first century to remind us of that truth. First, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Table. I remind my congregation that this picture not only reminds us of what Jesus did for us at Calvary, but also what He will do for us at the end of the age. My daughter Darby, when asked what heaven will be like, answers, “Jesus will feed me.” We know He is king because He weekly invites us to His banquet table.
The second event happened about six weeks later. Jesus went home to His coronation, to ascend to His throne. We know He is Lord because He rode the shekinah cloud to the grandest inauguration in history.
Roughly forty years later this same King came and made war against His enemies. He who ascended now descended in judgment. The third event was Jesus’ destruction of the doubters of His day, the “mainline” Jews. In destroying them through the destruction of Jerusalem, He vindicated His own, those He had warned to flee to the hills.
Our security, whether it be at Saint Peter Itty Bitty Presbyterian Church, or Saint James First Century Presbyterian Church, is found in heaven. Sure the Jews had the big buildings, the long tradition, the connections with the powers of Rome. Sure the wealthy and sophisticated congregated at the toniest synagogues. But that’s insignificant. When the siege hit, none of that mattered. They were no better off than the wealthy and sophisticated Romans at the temple of Diana. In fact, they were worse off. It wasn’t the Romans who cried out, “His blood be upon us and our children.”
Later, Christ our king descended again and made war through the barbarians against His tools of destruction, the Romans. And then those barbarian hordes met the Holy Spirit through the missionary labors of the faithful (though again weak and “powerless”) remnant. Barbarians, too, were destroyed, their stone hearts ripped out and replaced by hearts of flesh.
We serve a Lord who loved us enough to suffer the wrath of the Father on our behalf. But knowing that it was Christ who came in judgment in A.D. 70 reminds us that we serve a Lord who loves us enough to come and judge, indeed to pour His wrath upon those who persecute us.
We serve a Lord whose institutions seem to all the world to be impotent. The first century Christians had nothing. They had no buildings. They had no connections. They had no prestige. They had no television networks. They were slaves and paupers, the foolish things of this world. All they had was union with the Son of God. All they had was His promise that He would be with them wherever they went, even to the end of the age.
So it’s not so bad to have a little tiny church. It’s not so bad to have a little, tiny building. It’s not so bad that I and my sheep are looked at with disgust and suspicion by the wolves. With the faith of children we can stand up to those wolves and say, “Our Big Brother can beat up your big brother.”
I know He can do it because He has done it before. Never before or since has one people been as utterly decimated as the people of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. When His people are being oppressed, my King vindicates them. Whether sooner or later, whether here or there, God’s people will be vindicated, and the wolves with which I daily battle will likewise be destroyed.
Believing that Jesus fulfilled many of His promises in A.D. 70 isn’t just another interesting end-times hypothesis. It isn’t just a convenient way to answer the skeptics. Rather, like all of God’s acts in history, it is a cause of comfort and celebration. The most important thing is not that the first century Christians were vindicated. The most important thing is not that my little congregation will be vindicated. The most important thing is the most certain thing, that God has been, is being, and evermore will be glorified in all that comes to pass. The most important thing is that His Son, His name, His glory be vindicated, and be manifest all the world over. So it shall be done. You have His Word on it.
Tabletalk Magazine, January 1999: Some of You Will Not Sleep (1999), 52–53.