PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

Matthew 16:18; The Church

06/23/2013 The Church – Foundation, Origin, Destiny; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20130623_the-church.mp3

Today I want to answer from Matthew 16 the question ‘What is the church?’ Who are we? What is the foundation of the church? What is the origin and destiny of the church? Where did the church come from and where is she going?.

The word ‘church’ simply means an assembly, a gathering, a group of people who have something in common. Jesus said ‘I will build my church’, so Jesus’ church is a community of people founded on the divinely revealed identity and mission of Jesus of Nazareth. We will see that the church was spoken into existence by the sovereign power of the Lord Jesus, and she will overcome. I pray that we will be encouraged and emboldened as Christ’s church to be who we are.

A Question of Identity

We will focus our attention on Jesus’ statement in Matthew 16:18

Matthew 16:18 …on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Let’s look at the whole passage:

Matthew 16:13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar–Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

The identity and mission of Jesus is what’s at stake here. Jesus raises the question – ‘what’s the word on the street? Who do people say that I am?’ And he receives three answers; John the Baptist, Elijah, and Jeremiah or one of the prophets. I think it’s worth asking why people identified Jesus with these three figures in particular.

Some, like Herod, identified Jesus with John the Baptist, the radical preacher who lived in the desert wearing camel’s hair, eating bugs, and getting in the face of the religious and political leaders of his day and calling for repentance.

Some identified him with Elijah, the fiery prophet who brought a drought on Israel for 3 years, and was fed by the Lord in the wilderness. Elijah raised a young man from the dead, took on the false prophets of Baal, and had all the false priests executed. God took him to heaven in a whirlwind with chariots and horses of fire. There was an expectation that he would come again before the great and awesome day of the Lord (Malachi 4:5).

Some identified Jesus with Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. Jeremiah was both a priest and a prophet, who was called by God to speak to rebellious Israel who were unfaithful to the Lord. Jesus quotes Jeremiah when he says

Luke 19:46 …“It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” (cf. Jeremiah 7:11-27)

Jeremiah was called to prophesy to the nation of Israel with the advance knowledge that his preaching would not bring repentance and restoration but rather greater accountability and condemnation. Because of this he was know as the weeping prophet. Yet he faithfully preached to the people, even suffering arrest and abuse at the hands of the leaders of Israel, up to the day they were carried off into captivity.

I think this gives us some insight into the temperament of Jesus. Jesus was bold, even abrasive and caustic with the hypocritical religious leaders. Jesus was known as ‘a man of sorrows’; Isaiah writes:

Isaiah 53:3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

We are told that Jesus was grieved over hard-heartedness of the people (Mk.3:5); he wept at the death of his friend (Jn.11:35); he wept over Jerusalem (Lk.19:41ff). John tells us:

John 1:11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.

The Identity of Jesus

So the people identified Jesus with John, who confronted the evil of his day and sparked a major revival; with Elijah, a fiery prophet who performed miracles, feeding the hungry and even raising the dead; and with Jeremiah, the weeping prophet who foretold the fall of Jerusalem and was rejected. There is an element of truth in all these identifications of Jesus, but they all fall short.

Jesus said John was the greatest of the prophets (Matt.11:11). But John was discouraged in prison and sent word to Jesus asking if he was the Christ or if they should look for another. Elijah was afraid of Jezebel and ran into the desert to hide and wanted to die. Jeremiah complained to the Lord. These were all prophets of God, used by God to do mighty works, yet they were all mere men, and they all had their own flaws and shortcomings. No one in Jesus day thought that he was just a good man or a great moral teacher or a really nice guy. Even his enemies recognized him as a person invested with supernatural power and authority. He was a radical prophetic voice in the world. But their analysis fell short of who he really is. Jesus is the divine Son of God. He is our great Prophet; he is our great High Priest. He is Messiah, the anointed one, the King of kings.

Divine Revelation

When Peter responded with the right answer, Jesus commended him and called him blessed, but he also clarified the source of this information. Peter did not come up with this on his own. The fact that Peter recognized Jesus for who he is was evidence of divine intervention; supernatural revelation from the Father.

Matthew 16:16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar–Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The identity of Jesus is the foundation stone of the church, and the true identity of Jesus comes as a revelation from the Father. Jesus told Peter that his confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God was not a natural response to the information he had available to him. It was a supernatural work of the Father in his life.

The Cross

The next thing Jesus tells his disciples is extremely important. He corrects their misunderstanding about his mission.

Matthew 16:20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. 21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

Jesus links his own identity to his mission. He will build his church, but he will build it by dying. He ‘came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mt.20:28). The good news message is a message of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The church is built on, as Paul preached, ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’ (1 Cor.1:23; 2:2).

So the church is a community of people founded on the supernaturally revealed identity and mission of Jesus, the infinite Son of God who came to die for our sins.

The Origin of the Church

Jesus said ‘I will build my church’. To fully appreciate what Jesus says here, we need to step back and look again at who he is.

In Colossians 1, we are told that Jesus, the beloved Son of the Father, is the image of the invisible God, Creator of all things in heaven and on earth; all things visible and invisible, and all things were created for his good pleasure. Jesus existed eternally, and it is Jesus that sustains all things. Jesus is first place – preeminent in all things. He is first in time; he existed before anything else. He is first in authority; all thrones and dominions and rulers and authorities ultimately bow to him and do his bidding. He is first in importance; he is the Father’s beloved Son and all things were created for him.

John 1 tells us that Jesus was in the beginning with God and that Jesus is God. Jesus is the Word who spoke everything into existence, become flesh. Jesus is life and light, and the darkness has not overcome it. He makes known to us the invisible Father.

Hebrews 1 tells us that Jesus created the world and upholds the universe by the word of his power. Jesus is God on the throne forever and ever; he never changes and he will have no end.

In Mark 4, Jesus

Mark 4:39 …awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

When Jesus speaks to his creation, all creation obeys his voice.

Jesus is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, and it is this Jesus that said:

Matthew 16:18 … on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

That, my friends, is a statement of sovereign purpose. The Lord of all the universe has made a declaration of purpose. When Jesus says ‘I will’, there is no other will that can thwart his will. There is no power in heaven or on earth or under the earth that can stop him. Jesus did not say that he would try to build his church. In the beginning, Jesus said ‘let there be light’ and there was light. When Jesus said ‘Lazarus, come forth’ the man who had been in the grave for four days came out of the tomb. When Jesus said ‘I will build my church’, that was a sovereign omnipotent creative word that absolutely will be done.

The Destiny of the Church

That leads naturally to the next point – Jesus’ church will overcome. The gates of hell will not prevail against it. The sovereign power of the omnipotent Creator will triumph and his purpose will stand.

Now this requires some clarification What does it mean for the church to overcome? I’ve seen beautiful historic church buildings turned into museums or thrift stores or bicycle shops. Some churches that were once thriving are now merely a monument. Does this mean the word of Christ has failed? How do we understand this in light of what Jesus said? Let’s go to the book of Revelation for help. John is given a vision from God and is told to write what he sees in a book and send it to seven churches in Asia Minor. Listen to what God says to one of these churches:

Revelation 2:1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: …4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

Because the church in the city of Ephesus had left its love for God and for other believers, Jesus is threatening to unplug this church as a light in the world. I think that highlights an important distinction for us that is helpful in our definition of the church. There is the church local and the church universal; or the church visible and the church invisible. There is our local group of believers that gather here in this building, and there is the church of Jesus Christ that consists of every born again follower of Jesus throughout history and around the globe. When Jesus said that he will build his church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, he didn’t have in mind any specific building or geographic location or social/political organization. Peter tells us that:

1 Peter 2:5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

Paul says it this way:

Ephesians 2:19 … you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

We tend to think of the church as a man-made building, organization or institution. It is not. It is a living, growing organism, made up of believers in Jesus Christ. This is a sobering thought. There are many who attend a church service in a church building that are not part of Jesus’ church. There are people who go by the name of ‘Christian’ who do not know the Christ of the Bible and who have not experienced the new birth, and on that fateful day, Jesus will tell them:

Matthew 7:23 … ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

So my first exhortation to you today is be sure you are part of Jesus’ church. Be sure you know Jesus and are being transformed by Jesus. Be sure you have become part of God’s family through the new birth.

Earlier in Ephesians 2, Paul tells us how this happens:

Ephesians 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ––by grace you have been saved–– 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

God in his rich mercy, made us alive by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.

The Gates of Hell and the Keys of the Kingdom

Let’s come back to Matthew 16 and see what we can learn about our role as the church. The church was spoken into existence by the sovereign power of the Lord Jesus Christ, and Jesus says:

Matthew 16:18 … on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The gates of hell will not prevail against it. Literally, it is the gates of Hades -the abode of the dead. I want you to picture a walled fortress. Imagine an army attacking the city. They come against the weakest point in the city – the gates. If the gates are strong, the fortress is safe. If the gates can be penetrated, the city can be taken. Now think about what Jesus said about his church. What posture is the church taking in the war? If the church is not a building but a living organism, and if the gates that are described are not the gates of the church but the gates of Hades, then the church is on the offensive storming the very gates of hell! I think too often we get the image reversed, as if Jesus said ‘I will build my fortress, and hell will not break down its gates’. Come hide inside the fortress and you will be safe. The church on the defensive is not the posture of the church of Jesus! The church of Jesus is to be on the offensive proving his promise true! A few chapters later, after his resurrection, Jesus came to his disciples and said:

Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Go, storm the gates of hell. Proclaim the gospel. Make disciples. I will be with you, Jesus said.

But how can we be sure that the gates will not be too strong for us? How do we know that we will overcome? Jesus said:

Revelation 1:17…“Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.

Jesus died, and he unlocked the gates from the inside! Jesus, our mighty conqueror, has gone before us, won the victory, unlocked the gates, and invites us to the plunder. Jesus now holds the keys of Death and of Hades. That gate can no longer be made secure by the enemy.

Colossians 1:13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus goes on to say

Matthew 16:19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, …

Peter, on the day of Pentecost, proclaimed the forgiveness of sins in Jesus, and unlocked the door of heaven to three thousand Jews. (Acts 2:38-41)

Later, in Acts chapter 10, Peter went to a Gentile’s house and taught about the death and resurrection of Jesus and proclaimed the good news:

Acts 10:43 ..that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

And the door was unlocked to the Gentile nations. But this was not unique to Peter.

When Paul and Barnabas returned from their first missionary journey

Acts 14:27 … they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.

God has given you authority to open the door of faith through the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ and him crucified.

The church was spoken into existence by the sovereign power of the Lord Jesus Christ, and she will overcome. Be sure that you are a part of his church by the new birth, and be aggressive to take ground from the enemy, for the victory has already been won. Proclaim the good news, make disciples, and be confident that Jesus will build his church!

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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June 23, 2013 - Posted by | occasional, podcast | , , , ,

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