Happy early Thanksgiving and welcome to Hill Community Church, or the Hill for short. Since it is the week after the inaugural, I wanted to spend a few moments talking about our new church name. On Saturday nights, when you see each other, you can say, I’ll see you at the Hill. Sounds cool, right? I’d like to recognize the person who was inspired by God to come up with the name. Brother Jae? I’m sure at some point, in the near future, you will get to hear from him directly in a sermon how he came up with that name.
I like the name because it takes into consideration what I consider to be 3 very important ideas. Last week, Pastor Don mentioned the hymn, The Old Rugged Cross. I want to read it for you. It goes like this–
Hymn: The Old Rugged Cross
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, The emblem of suffering and shame; And I love that old cross where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, Till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, And exchange it some day for a crown.
O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world, Has a wondrous attraction for me; For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above to bear it to dark Calvary.
In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine, A wondrous beauty I see, For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died, To pardon and sanctify me.
To the old rugged cross I will ever be true; Its shame and reproach gladly bear; Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away, Where His glory forever I’ll share.
This is one of my most favorite hymns. I sang it a lot as a college student. I would go to the Berkeley Marina overlooking the bay and the SF cityscape on the other side. And I would pray and sing hymns like The Old Rugged Cross.
On a hill far away. A couple people said, I don’t like the name because it makes me think I have to climb Mt Everest to come to church. It’s true–the name the Hill can give off that impression. But we can’t forget that the hill that Jesus climbed 2000 years ago was one that He alone could climb. We were sinners and no amount of our works or reading self-help books or doing good deeds could bridge the huge gap between us and a holy God. Jesus carried the sins of the world, your sins and mine, he took them up a hill and he was crucified at a place known as Golgatha.
As followers of Christ, we must walk in His footsteps. We, too, must carry our crosses. And die to ourselves in service for our King. Christian life is not easy. But we do so gladly because Jesus first went up to die for the sins of the world ON A HILL FAR AWAY. I love the name the Hill because it reminds me of the cross where my dear Lord Jesus died for my sins.
I also like the name the Hill because it reminds me of our mission as believers. We are the church and in Matthew 5, the church is referred to as a city on a hill. Jesus is the light of the world and we are to shine the light of Jesus before men so that they see our good deeds and become Christian because God uses our good deeds to save them and eventually they will join us in praising our Father in heaven.
City on a hill. A city by definition has to be densely populated. If you have a single lantern on a farm in a cornfield in the middle of nowhere, that light is not going to shine very far. But in a city, you have people packed together in close quarters. So you can see the lights emanating from a city from miles away. The more Christians gather in a single location (i.e. a local church), the greater the output of light.
Why is it a city ON A HILL? Because the higher the light is, the more people can see it. You can have a floodlight but if you keep it in the basement, what good is it? It might be 10,000 watts, but it’s underground, it’s hidden. A Christian or a church that has the light of Jesus inside of them and yet that light is never shared with others, then what use is it? The Bible says, it’s like having a lamp under a bowl. No one can see it. But if you put a lamp on a stand, higher up, it’s visible, more people can see it. Lighthouses are tall structures so that incoming ships can see the light and be warned that they are approaching the shore. The light has to be raised up so that it can be seen.
If you are stranded on an island and there are rescue planes circling above you, your pocket flash light will not do you much good. But if you have a flare gun and you shoot the flare into the air and the flare lights up the sky, how much greater your chances will be that a rescue crew will see you. It’s important to put the light in a place high above where others can see it.
How does being a city on a hill connect with the rest of Scripture? You can break up Scripture into 4 large movements: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration. Creation – God created the world. Genesis 1-2. Then, the Fall when sin entered the world. Genesis 3. Redemption, which we already covered, occurred at the hill of Calvary, the cross. And finally, Restoration when Jesus returns and restores everything. This final restoration will involve heaven crashing down to earth and a new combined heaven and earth will result. Instead of a Garden like you had in Genesis, you will have a heavenly City as we read about in Revelation. And as part of this restoration, Jesus will do 2 things: 1) He will restore the physical material world and 2) he will give all believers resurrected bodies.
Redemption of the entire world–the physical world, the spiritual world, creation, people, everything–was God’s heart ever since the Fall. We were lost in sin. We were objects of wrath. We were without hope and without God. And so, God has been a on a redemption mission ever since the Fall. To redeem is to buy back or to pay off. If you have a coupon, you redeem the coupon and you pay off a portion of the item that you want to purchase. Jesus was our ransom, our payment on the cross and God used the life and death of Jesus to redeem us, to buy us back and to pay off our sins. And God wants to redeem or buy back as many people as he can.
This is a consistent theme throughout Scripture. God’s original design in Genesis 1 was for Adam and Eve to be fruitful, to increase in number, to fill the earth, to subdue and to rule. It’s a spreading out of God’s presence and influence to the whole world. Then, the Fall happened and all hell broke loose, literally. But God raises up Abram, the father of faith. And similar language is used in Gen 12:1-3 where Abram is blessed by God and because he is blessed by God, he is called to be a blessing to all the nations.
Fast forward to the New Testament, what does Jesus say to announce the start of his earthly ministry? He says, repent for the kingdom of heaven is near. A kingdom that began with the nation of Israel and now continues through the person of Jesus Christ and remember, his goal is to advance the kingdom in order to redeem the entire world.
Then, after Jesus calls the disciples to follow him, what does he say next? Follow me and I will make you fishers of men. And Jesus’ final words after the resurrection were captured in the Great Commission in Matthew 28 – go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
This ties in with the command to be a city on a hill. We are saved not so that we can enjoy Jesus amongst ourselves within the church. We are saved so that we can be fruitful and increase in number, to subdue territories, to be blessing to all the nations, to advance the kingdom of God, to be a fisher who catches souls, to make disciples. If we ever forget the mission as a church, we will devolve very quickly into a legalistic Pharisaic rule keeping Christian ghetto separated from the rest of society and we will eventually die spiritually.
We are called to be a city on a hill because a hill is elevated so that more people can see the light of Jesus.
Also, in times of war, hills were strategic posts where fortresses were built. A fortress on a hill had a decisive military advantage against attackers. When you are being attacked, it’s much easier to defend yourself by shooting arrows or pouring molten liquids or firing canons or bullets when you are atop a fortress wall on a hill.
Did you ever wonder why God saved you and placed you in a city like Pasadena, near LA, near Hollywood? Think of the impact that we could have for Christ if our light shined brightly in a city like ours. If we advanced God’s kingdom here and the city of LA fell and was conquered by Christ, think of the ripple effects across the world. I love the name the Hill because it reminds us of our mission. It’s the very heartbeat of God to want to redeem as many people as he can.
Lastly, I came across a passage in Genesis 49 when Jacob was about to die, and in one of his final acts, Jacob gathers his sons around him and he blesses them. And here is the blessing directed toward his favored son, Joseph. Let me read from the ESV. Gen 49:22-26.
Gen 49 (ESV)
22 “Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; his branches run over the wall. 23 The archers bitterly attacked him, shot at him, and harassed him severely, 24 yet his bow remained unmoved; his arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel), 25 by the God of your father who will help you, by the Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that crouches beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. 26 The blessings of your father are mighty beyond the blessings of my parents, up to the bounties of the everlasting hills…
I like that phrase “up to the bounties of the everlasting hills” because the hill is a place of blessing and fruit bearing.
One of the top contenders for our church name was Garden because it has this idea of fruitfulness. But if you are a guy who has never stepped foot into a church and you are manly and you love the NFL and MMA, do you think you would go to a place called the Garden? I wouldn’t. You might go to Tasty Garden because it’s a very delicious Chinese restaurant in Alhambra. But to a church? However, I really like the idea of fruitfulness. So there you have it–a hill is a place of fruitfulness.
How are we going to sustain a life of making disciples and being a city on a hill? It is only possible when we are continually blessed by God and we are bearing fruit. If you are bearing the fruit of the Spirit, then you will be compelled to share your faith. If you are growing in your relationship with the Lord and you are bearing fruit, no one has to twist your arm to evangelize. It just happens naturally. I like the name Hill because it reminds me of the absolute necessity of God’s blessing and personally bearing fruit before we talk about evangelism. Because if we try to be a city on a hill on our own effort, we will burn out. We must bear fruit which comes only as we abide with Christ. This is a Spirit-generated fruit. That’s why Paul refers to it as fruit OF THE SPIRIT.
These are the reasons why I like the name the Hill. I pray that we can be a place where many people will encounter Christ on the hill of Calvary. I pray that as believers we can shine the light of Christ brightly and be a city on a hill so that non-believers will come to faith in Christ and praise our Father in heaven because of our good deeds. And the fuel for all that we do, the only thing that is going to sustain our Christian witness is ongoing fruitfulness in our personal walk with Jesus.
Alright, hope you like the new name. If you don’t like it, it’s too late. Can’t please everyone. Give it some time. The name will grow on you.