Editor’s note: Since we are praying for cities across China in 2024, we thought we would begin the year by re-posting an excerpt from a sermon on Psalm 46 preached in 2014 by Wang Yi, a Chengdu pastor. In this section, he challenged fellow pastors and church members to view the gospel as the coming of the kingdom of God on earth, not just a means of individual salvation.
Turn Babylon Into Jerusalem
In the past few decades, in China we every day hear news of defeated cities and divided peoples. But every day, we preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in those defeated cities. We hear that one more city has been gathered up and taken in by the Lord himself.
Every day, in each city in China, people flee and re-gather. Meanwhile, each day, in each city in China, the Lord counts his towers, considers his ramparts, and goes through his palaces: his church in that city. In the Old Testament, the captive Israelite people – who continuously failed in God’s grace – changed Jerusalem into a Babylon, into a Sodom and Gomorrah. But in the New Testament, we see the real Israelite people, the real sons of Abraham who are blessed with God’s promises. They came to Babylon and turned Babylon into Jerusalem.
In the Old Testament, the captive Israelite people – who continuously failed in God’s grace – changed Jerusalem into a Babylon, into a Sodom and Gomorrah. But in the New Testament, we see the real Israelite people, the real sons of Abraham who are blessed with God’s promises. They came to Babylon and turned Babylon into Jerusalem.
When the Holy Spirit arrives, we see something. On the day of Pentecost, all the important people of Jerusalem gathered there. There were sacrificial offerings, ceremonies, and celebrations in the temple. But the Holy Spirit did not come to the holy temple. He came to a group of no-name Galileans. Through the salvation made by his Son, God is with his people on earth. God made his lowly people into a holy place, the city of God on earth.
The gospel itself means a city of God, which is built and expanded among earth’s cities. Acts 2:9-11 lists the Jews from every nation under heaven who gathered in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. Interestingly, the huge Roman Empire appears in this list very quietly. Without God’s presence, the city of Rome is one of the “desolations” of the world, the “end of the earth” described in Psalm 46. The job of the gospel is to make the church the city of God. Then, God’s city is to enter every city, unto the ends of the earth.Bottom of Form
Making God’s City Known
Often, I misplace the things I need. Sometimes these are very important things. I search everywhere, but cannot find them. Later, I find a pile. As I clear away the napkins and magazines and books, I finally find what I need, buried at the bottom.
In our lives and in Christ’s church, often the last thing we find is the gospel. When we consider our relationship with our cities, we need to be renewed in the gospel.
The gospel itself means a city of God, which is built and expanded among earth’s cities.
A few weeks ago, I was going to church on my electric bike. As I passed a bus stop, a bus rushed by and pushed me aside. When I fell, I knocked an old lady off the nearby step. I kindly raised the woman to her feet, stayed with her, told her I would provide any help she needed, asked if she needed to be sent to the hospital and where her home was. At the time, I felt my behavior in those 10 minutes was quite good. But later, when I shared about it with my church co-workers, I realized I had behaved like a Pharisee, and only accepted exterior responsibility.
What does it mean to be a Pharisee? I took responsibility, so I could be regarded as a moral person. But in my heart, in those ten minutes, I was not focused on the Lord. My first thought was: “Something is wrong!” I was worried about myself, not about the woman: I messed up, I was in big trouble, I would miss the morning’s meeting. My relationship with her was not a gospel-centered, but morality-centered.
Morality can define responsibilities and evaluate performances. Based on morality, as a pastor, maybe I would receive a good evaluation. But the gospel does not put boundaries on our relationships with others. Dejectedly, I realized that when I, a pastor, knocked down an old lady on the street, the matter did not become a means of expanding and presenting the city of God in Chengdu.
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Why? There was fear in my heart, which made me lose the power and mission of taking Chengdu as my parish. When I knocked down the old lady, I forgot the city of God, the city announced and prophesied in Psalm 46. I forgot Pentecost, when the city of God became present in an earthly city, when a new society appeared suddenly in the midst of an old one. In that moment, I almost did not believe the city belongs to Jesus Christ, the God of resurrection.
I forgot Pentecost, when the city of God became present in an earthly city, when a new society appeared suddenly in the midst of an old one. In that moment, I almost did not believe the city belongs to Jesus Christ, the God of resurrection.
Brothers and sisters, examining myself, I see that when I knocked the old lady down, I faced an identity crisis. I did not act as a pastor or a Christian, but as a knowledgeable, cultured, respectable person: a gentleman, a glasses-wearing intellectual. That identity faced a challenge: I was a perpetrator, a troublemaker. I had to face the crisis. In the ten minutes after I knocked the lady down, I helped myself out of the situation through good deeds, but not by the gospel. I did not allow it to be a chance to make God’s city known in my city.
God allowed it to happen “for those who love God all things work together for good,” so I might believe the gospel more, so his gospel might enter the city more deeply. He did not allow it to happen so I could keep up a respectable image.
Wang Yi is a Chengdu pastor who was arrested on December 9, 2018, as part of a crackdown focused on his church, Early Rain. He was sentenced to nine years in December of 2019, and is currently in prison.
Pray for Chinese Christians to make the city of God known in their own cities across China.