Why Cities Matter
Why Cities Matter
I live in London. With a population of 8.3 million, it is the largest city in Europe and the twenty-first largest in the world. It receives 15 million visitors a year. It is a city where over 300 languages are spoken.
Cities are strategic places for the spread of the gospel. They always have been. The apostle Paul took the gospel from city to city. As early as AD 100, more than 40 Christian communities existed in cities around the Mediterranean world, including North Africa and parts of Italy. By AD 300 half the citizens of that region were Christian and 90 per cent of the countryside was still pagan. Most of Paul’s letters were written to cities.
Cities tend to be places where culture is formed. Many of the spheres of influence emanate from the city, including government, politicians and law-makers; arts and entertainment; business and the marketplace; universities and other places of education; media and communication centres. The river of influence tends to flow from the city to the suburbs and rural areas. The way to transform a culture is to transform the city.
It is not surprising, therefore, that cities have always had an important role in the purposes of God. In particular, one city has been at the heart of God’s strategy for the world.
1. The power of the cityPsalm 48:1-8
This psalm is all about the ‘City of God’ (Jerusalem). ‘The city’ is mentioned in different ways seven times in the passage. It celebrates the beauty (v.2) and security of the city (v.8). Most of all though, it celebrates the fact that it is the ‘city of our God’ (vv.1,8), the place where God’s Temple had been built and his presence could be found (v.3), and a place that was under his protection (vv.3,8). It was intended to be a source of blessing for the whole world: ‘the joy of all the earth’ (v.2).
Paul contrasts the physical city of Jerusalem with the even greater ‘Jerusalem that is above’ (Galatians 4:26). He sees the Christian church as the new Jerusalem.
In the book of Revelation, John sees ‘the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband’ (Revelation 21:2). The new Jerusalem is the church, the bride of Christ. This is the place where God will dwell forever (v.3).
The church should be amazing: ‘beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth’ (Psalm 48:2). We should sense the presence of God there, know his security and protection and be a blessing to the world around us.
Lord, thank you for the power of your presence in the church. May we be a source of blessing to the world.
2. The passion for the cityLuke 19:11-44
As Jesus approaches the city of Jerusalem (v.11) he tells the parable of the minas. It is a parable that challenges his hearer’s assumptions about the kingdom of God and God’s plans for the earthly city. A mina is worth three months’ wages – a large sum of money. It really matters how you use all that God has entrusted to you.
You are supposed to use not only your money, but all the gifts God has given you – including your time, education, job, skills and opportunities for the benefit of the king and his kingdom.
It is interesting that the reward for trustworthiness in looking after minas was to ‘take charge of ten cities’ or ‘of five cities’ (vv.17,19).
Jesus makes the triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem, ‘the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”’ (vv.37–38).
They see Jesus as the coming Messiah who will reign in the city of Jerusalem, fulfilling all the promises of a Davidic king, freeing the city from its Roman captors.
However, Jesus has a different agenda. As he approaches Jerusalem he weeps over the city (v.41). Jesus was passionate about the city and had compassion on it. He foresees the destruction of Jerusalem, which was to occur in the year AD 70. The temple has never again been rebuilt and the city of Jerusalem remains a place over which many tears are shed.
The tragedy was that Jerusalem ‘did not recognise the time of God’s coming’ (v.44). God had come in the person of Jesus. Yet by his death and resurrection in Jerusalem, he made possible a new Jerusalem.
Lord, give me that same passion and compassion for the people in the place where I live.
3. The person of the cityDeuteronomy 30:11-31:29
Do you ever find yourself bombarded with thoughts of doubt, fear, or even depression, dismay and ‘unnerved with alarm’ (31:8, AMP)?
These are common human emotions. Moses faced them and he knew that his successor, Joshua, and all the people would have to face not only physical battles but also battles of the mind.
As we come to the end of Moses’ life, he urges the people to follow God’s word (30:14, MSG). He urges them to love God and walk in his ways (v.16, MSG). He warns them against having a change of heart and refusing to obey God. He encourages them to ‘choose life’ (v.19, MSG). This choice starts with your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Each day, choose life-giving thoughts.
Moses’ successor is Joshua. He is the new leader of the people of God. He is going to face many battles ahead. He is told, ‘Be strong, courageous, and firm; fear not nor be in terror before them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you; He will not fail you or forsake you... It is the Lord who goes before you… fear not, neither become broken [in spirit – depressed, dismayed, and unnerved with alarm]’ (31:6–8, AMP).
Moses would not have said this if there had been nothing to fear and no cause for discouragement. Rather he knew that there would be causes for fear and lots of discouragement. All leadership requires courage to cling tenaciously to a vision and toughness to endure the blame for every difficulty along the way. Both then and now, the people of God need strong leadership that is courageous and not frightened or discouraged by all the opposition and resistance that there is bound to be.
The answer to fear is this: God promises that he would go with him (‘The Lord your God goes with you’). God makes the same promise to you and me today. When you are assailed by doubts and fear remember that wherever you go, whatever your circumstances, you can ask God to go before you and prepare the way. Therefore, we can be confident and need not be afraid.
Then Moses tells them, ‘During the Feast of Tabernacles, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose, you shall read this law before them in their hearing’ (vv.10–11).
Of course, ‘the place he will choose’ turns out to be the city of Jerusalem. At the Feast of Tabernacles the people would go to Jerusalem to celebrate the time when God, through Moses, brought water from a rock in the desert. They would thank God for providing water in the past year and pray that he would do the same in the coming year. The water was also seen as a sign of God’s favour and a symbol of spiritual refreshment (see, for instance, 1 Corinthians 10:3–4).
It was on the last and greatest day of the Feast of Tabernacles that ‘Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart (‘innermost being) shall flow rivers of living water”’ (John 7:37–38, RSV). He was saying that these promises would not be fulfilled in a place, but in a person.
It is out of the innermost being of Jesus that the river of life will flow. Also, in a derivative sense, the streams of living water will flow from every Christian! (‘Whoever believes in me’, v.38). From us, Jesus says, this river will flow, bringing life, fruitfulness and healing to others.
This picture is picked up again in the book of Revelation, where we see fulfilment of the city of Jerusalem (Revelation 22:1–3). Just as a river had flowed out of Eden at the very beginning of the Bible story (Genesis 2:10), so now at the end, in the new heaven and the earth, a river flows from this city of God, where God makes his home with humanity forever.
Lord, thank you that I need not be afraid or discouraged. Thank you that you promise to be with me wherever I go and that you will never leave me nor forsake me. Fill me with your Holy Spirit so that rivers of living water may flow out of my heart today.
‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.’
This is one of my life verses.