God’s Word for You
Psalm 102:14-17 The marks of the church
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, July 24, 2019
14 Your servants love her very stones;
even her dust moves them to pity.
This lovely verse can be applied in four ways to the house of the Lord, particularly when we acknowledge that the true Zion is not a city in Canaan near the Dead Sea, but the gathering of God’s people in the name of Jesus Christ wherever they may be.
The stones and dust, then, can be a reminder of the building blocks and mortar of God’s people: the Word of God and the sacraments. On these things God’s church is (1) built, (2) maintained, (3) repaired, and (4) rebuilt.
God’s church is built on the original confession of faith of Jesus’ disciples, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). It was on the rock of that confession (not the one who confessed it) that Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18).
God’s church is maintained by the preaching of the gospel and the regular administration and reception of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Since the gospel has the power to change hearts and to give salvation to all who believe (Romans 1:16), we call the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments (which bring the gospel in a physical form to be received) the “marks of the church.”
God’s church is repaired through the preaching of the word, the law and gospel, to bring repentance to those who err. While repentance and the forgiveness of sins are constantly necessary for all Christians, where the church has been damaged by a public sin or the fall into great sin and shame on the part of a leader, it is necessary to restore the confidence of the people and shore up their faith once again. This, too, can only be done through the Word of God.
Finally, were the church to fall away, nearly or completely, into unbelief or a rejection of the gospel (which has sadly happened in many denominations and branches of Christianity today), any restoration, rebuilding or reformation is only possible through the very same means of grace, the gospel in word and sacrament. Social reforms cannot change or create faith. The making and publishing of many books (to which “there is no end,” Ecclesiastes 12:12) will not produce true and lasting change if they are not rooted in the Book of books. Only through the means of grace is the Pillar of Truth (1 Timothy 3:15) built, maintained, repaired or rebuilt. These are the very stones and dust we love.
15 The nations will fear the name of the LORD,
all the kings of the earth will revere your glory.
16 For the LORD will rebuild Zion
and he will be seen in his glory.
17 He will hear the prayer of the destitute,
and he will not despise their plea.
The rebuilding of Zion might be a reference to the destruction of the city in Judah’s history. This was done, for example, in the days of King Nebuchadnezzar by his general Nebuzaradan, when “every important building he burned down” (2 Kings 25:8-9). But it might equally refer to the rebuilding of the Church of God, no longer bound to an altar in a geographic location. It is, after all, the “prayer of the destitute” that is heard, the prayer of those who have no military or political power, but who simply live their lives in faith. They trust in their Saving God, give him glory with the daily tasks of their lives, and pass along their faith to the next generation using the gospel in word and sacrament. This is the true work of the church, whether led by a pastor from a pulpit, a father at his dinner table, or a poor widow reading her Bible over a cup of coffee morning by morning. Maintain the house of the Lord in your heart, for it is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Trust in God’s grace, for he has saved you.
Pastor Timothy Smith