Jerusalem…to which the tribes go up

“Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that He will choose…” (Deuteronomy 16:16)

“Jerusalem… to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, as a testimony for Israel…” (Psalm 122:3,4)

In the last post we looked at the Old Testament and saw how God had a specific purpose in mind for getting His people into the land of promise. Within that land there was a specific plot of ground upon which the Lord placed great significance. There He chose to dwell and place His name, and out from that mount He wanted to express Himself to the surrounding nations.

Ancient Israel, as you probably know, was divided up into twelve tribes. When Joshua first brought the people into the land each tribe was allotted a certain portion of the land as their inheritance. Within those borders the people of each tribe dwelt. But three times a year everyone who was able was to come to Jerusalem for the annual feasts. These feasts were to be a time of celebration, fellowship, and offering to God. No man was to appear before the Lord in Zion empty-handed. Rather, each family was directed to set aside the very best portion of the produce of the land they had reaped the previous year, and bring it to Jerusalem to display before the Lord and share with their brothers and sisters in fellowship.

All this was a foreshadowing of the church.

Also, we looked at how Jerusalem was set up as a unifying force in the life of the Jewish people. Three times a year the people came up to the Holy City as one man to appear before the Lord and show forth the testimony of God. That is what Psalm 122 indicates. Their gathering together each year on the Lord’s chosen ground was for the testimony of God! And as they caravaned to Jerusalem they would sing the psalms of ascent, such as Psalm 133: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity!”

Furthermore, we noted that when the kingdom became divided after the death of Solomon, Jeroboam set up altars in the cities of Dan and Bethel for the express purpose of keeping his people from going to Jerusalem for the annual feasts, because he knew that if they did their hearts would be turned back to the Lord and he would lose his kingdom.

So then, Mt. Zion was God’s chosen ground. On it was built a city and a temple for the Lord. Out from that temple and city God willed to make Himself known. And Jerusalem was central in the plan of God, a vital factor toward the unity of the people.

Again, all this was a foreshadowing of Christ and the church. The land flowing with milk and honey represents Christ in His unsearchable riches. God’s goal is to get His people into the land, possessing the land, living off the produce which comes from their labor on the land. The temple represents the church, the fullness of Christ, which issues out of God’s people enjoying and applying the riches of the land toward its building. Then around the temple you have the city, where “thrones for judgment were set, the thrones of the house of David” (Psalm 122:5). The city represents the government and rule of God-His kingdom-which is brought into the earth through the church.

All this is getting a little ahead of the present conversation, though. The issue we are considering is the ground of the church. As the temple had a specific ground on which it was built, so the church has a specific ground on which it is built. It is very practical, yet very wonderful. We asked the question in the last post concerning what that ground is. Is it the house (as in, house church)? Is it a theological system or a denomination? What is it?

Every group of believers who come together do so on a certain ground. For some that ground is a particular doctrine. For others it is a specific style of meeting or form of government. For some it is a specific cause, while for others it is a certain demographic of people they hope to reach. Whatever the specifics, every group meets on a certain ground. The question is, what is the true and unique ground of the church? We know that the temple of old could only be built upon one particular plot of ground. When Cyrus released the children of the captivity to go back and rebuild, nobody entertained the thought of throwing up a new temple in Babylon, for the Lord had been very specific: only in Jerusalem, on Mt. Zion, was His House to be built. Even the proclamation from Cyrus to go and rebuild included the very specific injunction, “let the house be rebuilt on its site.”  In other words, on its ground.

People in our day are starting “churches” left and right. House churches, campus churches, legacy churches, organic churches, you name it. Seems all you have to do is have a vision, get some people together, start teaching from the Bible, perhaps gain a non-profit status, serve the bread and wine, and there you have a church. The only problem is there is most likely another congregation of local believers doing the same thing just down the road, only with their own emphasis on truth that forms their particular center. Denominations and organizational divisions abound. Is this honoring to God? Is it really ok for there to be twenty different “churches” in the same city, all employing their own separate administration, fellowship, and life together apart from other believers just down the road? Rarely do we stop to ask upon what ground we are attempting to build the House of God. But it is a question worth asking, and scripture has not left us without an answer to this all-important inquiry.

So I leave you once more with the question: What is the ground of the church? And when I speak of the church, let it be clear that I’m not talking about the “universal” church. I’m talking about the local, visible, attendable Body of believers-the thing you can touch, taste, and feel. What is the true ground upon which a group of believers can come together and actually, rightfully claim the designation of being a church? Keep in mind that my interest in pursuing this question has nothing to do with finding out who has the most bragging rights-that is, who’s doing it right as opposed to who’s doing it wrong (far from it)-but rather to genuinely search out and discover what the mind and heart of the Lord is on this matter. Because if I read the scripture right, having a true expression of His church is a whole lot more important than most of the other things we Christians spend the bulk of our time and effort on.

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About Joshua

Writer, husband, father, friend. View all posts by Joshua

7 responses to “Jerusalem…to which the tribes go up

  • mike

    In recent years I’ve thought of churches like Christians. They each have a passion for Jesus and His will. However, they also have a particular vision based upon various callings. They are still one in Spirit, and on a path to one Lord, but fulfilling different eternal purposes for God’s glory.
    My neighbor may love Jesus, and we may fellowship on some level, but our vision based upon our calling doesn’t always permit for us to walk hand in hand; although, we are both walking hand in hand with Jesus. Many churches apparently separate based on vision and purpose, but yet one church serving one Lord walking in one Spirit fulfilling many purposes for God’s glory. We don’t need more churches, but we do need more churches with a vision. Where there is no vision the people perish- doesn’t sound like church. 7 billion people on earth presents a need for a church planting movement where the great commission can be truly fulfilled. Churches with the same or similar vision can certainly come together. Just like 2 Christians with the same calling and vision will find themselves on the same path. I believe it’s Luke 5 that gives a cool picture of this for the sake of a great harvest. The disciples are fishing. When they cast a net in obedience to Christ that make a great catch, so much so that the net begins to break. The cool part is that there was another boat of disciples near by, and when the net began to break they came along side the other boat and reaped together. Both boats were filled and began to sink- working together led to a great blessing. In John 21 we see a similar story, but the net doesn’t break and there is only one boat. This tells me that in some areas one church is enough, and in others there is a need for not only a mother church, but one or more daughter churches, or partner churches. Just some thoughts. Thanks for the blog. Very thought provoking. Thanks brother and God bless!

  • Duane Czaicki

    I have been going thru some changes in my walk with Christ lately. God has been opening His word to me like never before. Thru that God has been showing me that my relationship with His Son has been one of trying to do what Jesus would do, not learning to love Him. Or even seeing that He loves me. Of course the place I’ve been going to that I called church dosn’t teach this well. Naturaly I started thinking I should start some kind of group that meets together with the same beliefs. After reading this it makes more sence to seach out the local believers in my area to see if anyone meets like this first. Please keep this in prayer for me.

  • lawdawg23

    That’s an awesome testimony, Duane. Many people have nothing more than a “what would Jesus do” kind of Christianity which completely ignores the source of Jesus’ living, which was his inner love relationship and fellowship with the Father. He was very clear in saying that in the same way He lived by His Father’s life we would also live by His life. We are called not to imitate Christ but to participate in His life.

    You are in our thoughts and prayers, brother. I would love nothing more than to hear of the raising up of the church in your city. I pray the Lord leads you to find others who are seeking Him in this same way.

  • lawdawg23

    Thanks for the comment, Mike. I agree very much with the spirit in which you are saying it, though practically we may differ in our outlook. The main point I was trying to make with the comment about churches is that a particular burden or calling should not be the basis of our fellowship. If you are talking about the church as an organization, then yes, there is ample reason why two brothers cannot walk hand in hand. But if we see that Christ and the church are one, then there can be no separation between believers. To walk hand in hand with Christ is to walk hand in hand with each other.

  • andrew wehrheim

    What could be a stronger bond than a common Father, a common Lord, and a common indwelling Spirit?

  • mike

    Doesn’t your group have a vision that separates it from other groups. Although, we are not separate spiritually. Even if we don’t state a specific vision we all have our emphasis, which takes us in different directions. Not one direction being more spiritual or true then the other, but different. I think the best thing that we can do to encourage unity among Christians in each location is to have a biblical balance. The balance is maintained through teaching that is more expository in nature rather than topical, especially if there is a prevailing topic all the time.

  • lawdawg23

    I see what you’re saying, Mike. To some degree we can’t get away from the kind of separation you are talking about, sure. Even with the remnant of Jews who returned to rebuild the temple there was a certain level of separation from their brothers and sisters who remained in Babylon. But it was not one of exclusivity. They were following the Lord’s call to return and rebuild the house, which naturally made it impossible for them to identify in many ways with those who were not. For example, you and I will have fellowship with any brother or sister we find in the Roman Catholic church who is truly a member of Christ’s Body. We may not be able to participate in many of the things that are part of the system he is in, but we will have fellowship with him in the Lord and in life. That kind of separation is good and forms a clear testimony. But the kind of separation that causes brothers in one “church” to not reach out and try to get to know brothers in another “church” down the road simply because they’re not part of the same program is not right. This is the congregational view of church that perpetuates the very thing I believe the Lord is seeking to get us past. The vision of the local church is entirely inclusive of all believers in a city. The concept of “spiritual unity” is true, but it can also be a cop-out. Watchman Nee had some interesting things to say about this, referring to it as “holding hands over the fence” of our different organizations. Until the fences are removed, or we remove ourselves from them, there can be no practical display of the spiritual unity we have in Christ.

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