As I read Tim Keller this morning on “the church,” it dovetailed quite easily into Thanksgiving for the local body of believers I call family, and home. I pray it helps you to offer gratitude for your church family as you read, and as you gather together with them this coming Sunday morning. Before we get to Keller though, hear from the Psalmist who was the inspiration for his musings:

Psalm 122
A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem. A psalm of David. 
1 I was glad when they said to me, 
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.” 
2 And now here we are, 
standing inside your gates, O Jerusalem. 
3 Jerusalem is a well-built city; 
its seamless walls cannot be breached. 
4 All the tribes of Israel—the Lord’s people— 
make their pilgrimage here. 
They come to give thanks to the name of the Lord, 
as the law requires of Israel. 
5 Here stand the thrones where judgment is given, 
the thrones of the dynasty of David. 
6 Pray for peace in Jerusalem. 
May all who love this city prosper. 
7 O Jerusalem, may there be peace within your walls
and prosperity in your palaces. 
8 For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, 
“May you have peace.” 
9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, 
I will seek what is best for you, O Jerusalem. 
(Holy Bible: New Living Translation)


Those attending the annual festivals approached Jerusalem with joy (verse 1). They loved the city and prayed for its flourishing (verses 6-7). What Jerusalem was to the ancient Jews the church is to believers in Christ. When we come to faith in Christ, we become citizens in the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22-24; Philippians 3:20). The manifestation of that heavenly (and future) city is the counterculture of the Christian church, a society where the world can see human life lived according to God’s will. Through the [good news of the kingdom of God], different races and nations are “closely compacted together” (verse 3; cf. Ephesians 2:11-22). People who would never get along outside the church love one another inside it. We must joyfully seek out the church; the Bible knows nothing of solitary religion. (Tim Keller, The Songs of Jesus, p. 328)

I think Keller is on to something here from the Psalmist when he writes, “What Jerusalem was to the ancient Jews the church is to believers in Christ.” So that the call to “prayer for Jerusalem” as a call to prayer for all that was representative of Judaism, now, for the Christian, becomes not a call to prayer for a physical place, but to prayer for the peace and prosperity of the people of God who make up the church of Christ. Which should move us to pray Keller’s helpful prayer:

Father, I praise you for what the church could be — an alternative human society that shows the world your glory. But I confess I am part of what the church is, a flawed community far from reflecting your character. Give me understanding and the love I need to become part of the solution, not the problem.
AuthorMatthew Molesky

2 Listen, O heavens! Pay attention, earth! 
This is what the Lord says: 
“The children I raised and cared for
have rebelled against me. 
3 Even an ox knows its owner, 
and a donkey recognizes its master’s care— 
but Israel doesn’t know its master. 
My people don’t recognize my care for them.” 
4 Oh, what a sinful nation they are— 
loaded down with a burden of guilt. 
They are evil people, 
corrupt children who have rejected the Lord. 
They have despised the Holy One of Israel
and turned their backs on him. 
5 Why do you continue to invite punishment? 
Must you rebel forever? 
Your head is injured, 
and your heart is sick. 
6 You are battered from head to foot— 
covered with bruises, welts, and infected wounds— 
without any soothing ointments or bandages. 

(Isaiah 1:2–6, NLT)

We may feel good about ourselves. But what if God thinks we’ve done wrong, a lot of wrong, and not much right? What if he wants to talk to us about it because he also has a remedy for us? What if he can see that our self-protection is really self-imprisonment? God lovingly confronts us with truths embarrassing enough to save us.
What is conviction of sin? It is not an oppressive spirit of uncertainty or paralyzing guilt feelings. Conviction of sin is the lance of the divine Surgeon piercing the infected soul, releasing the pressure, letting the infection pour out. Conviction of sin is a health-giving injury. Conviction of sin is the Holy Spirit being kind to us by confronting us with the light we don’t want to see and the truth we’re afraid to admit and the guilt we prefer to ignore. Conviction of sin is the severe love of God overruling our compulsive dishonesty, our willful blindness, our favorite excuses. Conviction of sin is the violent sweetness of God opposing the sins lying comfortably undisturbed in our lives. Conviction of sin is the merciful God declaring war on the false peace we settle for. Conviction of sin is our escape from malaise to joy, from attending church to worship, from faking it to authenticity. Conviction of sin, with the forgiveness of Jesus pouring over our wounds, is life.  (Raymond Ortlund, Jr., Isaiah: God Saves Sinners, p. 26)

39 Look now; I myself am he! 
There is no other god but me! 
I am the one who kills and gives life; 
I am the one who wounds and heals; 

(Deuteronomy 32:39, NLT)

5 But he was pierced for our rebellion, 
crushed for our sins. 
He was beaten so we could be whole. 
He was whipped so we could be healed. 
6 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. 
We have left God’s paths to follow our own. 
Yet the Lord laid on him
the sins of us all. 

(Isaiah 53:5–6, NLT)

9     Help us, O God of our salvation, 
for the glory of your name; 
        deliver us, and atone for our sins, 
for your name’s sake! 

(Psalm 79:9, ESV)

AuthorMatthew Molesky