Sunday, January 28, 2018

MATTHEW 16:13- 20 - CHRIST WILL BUILD HIS CHURCH

The Eastside Baptist Church was constituted 33 years ago, in June 1985 to be a witness   to the glory of  God. Three goals characterize our church’s ministry: 

(i) We are here learning to love God (WORSHIP) 
(ii) We are here learning to love one another (FELLOWSHIP) 
(iii) we are here learning to love this lost world (MISSIONS & EVANGELISM). 

We do this all under the auspices of the  Eastside Baptist Church. 

But what is the church?  
What is the meaning  of the word, ‘church’ ?    The  English word   ‘church’, or the Afrikaans ‘kerk’, or German ‘Kirche’, or the Oshiwambo ‘ongereka’  are all derived from the Greek word kuriakos,  which translates as  ‘belonging to the Lord’ [1]. But the  Word  used most commonly  in the OT and  NT is the word  ‘assembly’. [OT ‘qahal’ ;  NT  ‘ekklesia’ ].  It is interesting that when Martin Luther translated the NT into vernacular German, he did not use the word “Kirche” to translate ἐκκλησία (ekklesia). He used the German word “Gemeinde”, which relates to the word  assembly. Similarly, when  William Tyndale translated the NT into English in 1536, he also did not use the word “church” to translate the Greek word ἐκκλησία (ekklesia). Instead, he used the word “congregation”[2]another word for ‘assembly’. But somehow, the word church stuck  with us. Taking both words together then we may say that the church is the assembly of the people belonging to the Lord. That would surely constitute a biblical definition of the church. 

So then, the church is not an assembly of a random group of religious people. There are many people assembling in the name of a religion, and even in the Name of Christ. But they are not necessarily the church of Jesus. Jesus would say of them: “I never knew you; depart from me you workers of lawlessness.” [Matt. 7:23]. Neither is a church a building. Neither is it a denomination (e.g. Catholic Church, Lutheran Church, Baptist Church).  

The church is the assembled body of a people born again through the finished work of Christ. They are Spirit-indwelt worshippers of God. 

And so the church comes together for the purpose of (i) worshiping God (ii) fellowshiping with one another (iii) to  help the kingdom of God spread in our sinful  world in every generation, through evangelistic and missionary activity.  
When you become a member of a church, this is what you commit yourself to do.

Next time, God willing, we will take a look at how the early church organised itself in this regard. We are very aware  of the fact that  many people have varied opinions on the subject of  the church  and church membership, and my goal  is to help you to think through  afresh  the primary truths  revealed to us in the  Bible  concerning the church.  This cannot be done in one short sermon, and so we have decided to do a series of sermons entitled, “Life in the Father’s House”. [3]  

Today, we simply want to look at something  fundamental  that Jesus said  about the church, and I draw  your attention to Matthew  16:13-19,  and in particular  to this  phrase in v.18 , where  Jesus says:  “I will build my church, and the gates of hell  shall not prevail  against it .“  
Here the Lord Jesus tells you that the church is His church, and He tells us that, because she is His church, she cannot fail, as long as this world exists.   The church is God’s and not man’s, and if she is God’s then she cannot fail.  The reason why she fails[4] is because sinful men continuously attempt to make the church something which God never designed her to be. 

CONTEXT:

We ought  to be very aware that  the phrase “I will build my church, and the gates of hell  shall not prevail  against it “  occurs  in a context, and  I must take time to explain  this.
  
In v. 13 we are told  that Jesus came into the  district  of Caesarea Philippi  - about  40 km’s north-east of the Sea of Galilee, the modern Golan heights region.  Philip the Tetrarch, son of Herod the Great inherited the north-eastern part of his father’s kingdom, all which of course was ultimately under Roman rule.  Here he built  the city  of Caesarea  Philippi,  in honour of Tiberius Caesar [Roman emperor from 14 - 37 AD]  the reigning  Roman emperor, and  to distinguish it from  the  Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast,  it was called Caesarea Philippi.  It is here  that  Jesus  asked  His disciples a fundamental question:  “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  

It is of great interest to see where Jesus chose to ask this question. This question was  not asked in the heartland of the Jews. In fact, the area was hardly ever truly possessed by Israel as their inheritance. This region was scattered with temples of the ancient Syrian Baal worship. It is here that Mt. Hermon is found, and there is a place here at the foot of Mt. Hermon where there is a very deep cave, from which a strong spring flowed, becoming one of the tributaries of the Jordan river.  Apart from  all the ancient  Baal worship associated  with this area and this cave,the Greeks added  their  mythology to it, and  they believed  that  this cave was the birthplace of  Pan- the   god of nature. He was  portrayed  as a half-goat, half-human creature, and with horns.  Caesarea Philippi was originally named  Panias, by the Greeks, after this god and today  this  place is  known as Banias.[5]  

Now what is significant is that this cave was also sometimes   called the “Gates of Hades”, the gates to the underworld, because it was believed that Baal would enter and leave the underworld through places where water came out of it.  You will see Jesus using this phrase in v.18 in relation to the church. In this  atmosphere  and geographic locality then  that  Jesus  asks,  “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  The truth is that the disciples struggled  to  truly know  who Jesus  was and now it is as if Jesus deliberately set Himself against the background of the world's religions  and all their  history,  and  against that background  He asks this question.
 
14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Herod Antipas (the brother of Philip) who had John the Baptist killed, thought that Jesus was  John  the Baptist  who had come back from the dead.  Others said that he was Elijah etc. They were also saying that Jesus was the forerunner of the Messiah.  The prophet Malachi linked Elijah to the Messiah "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes" (Malachi 4:5). To this day  religious Jews expect the return of Elijah before the coming of the Messiah, and to this day they leave a chair vacant for Elijah when they celebrate the Passover, for when Elijah comes,  they know that the Messiah will not be far away. So the people looked on Jesus as the forerunner of the Messiah.  But He was more than that!

Jesus said to them (v.15)  …  that is what  others say about me, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”   Peter makes that great statement which ultimately sets Christ apart from all the great men of the Bible … and which, of course, sets Him apart from all the human gods. He is the Christ (The Anointed One, 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.”

Jesus  tells Peter  a  thing of tremendous importance:  “Peter,  this knowledge  has come to you not from what the people say, but  from what  my Father in Heaven has helped you to see. You cannot know me naturally. You have to know me supernaturally.”   
This is really the basis of biblical church membership! A true church member  is a person   who has been helped by God  to see Jesus for who He truly is.  It is called , the new birth in John Chapter 3.

Now unfortunately the Roman Catholic church have really  messed badly with this text.  They say that this text makes Peter the first pope of the church, and that the present pope  Francis, they say,   stands upon  Peter’s shoulders having the same authority!  But this is not what  Jesus  says here.   Let's try to see what Jesus is saying here : 

Jesus is  using Peter’s name  Petros.  His Aramaic name was Cephas. Both names mean ‘rock’. So, Jesus  is using Peter’s name  to   explain  what  He is about to do. In which sense then is Peter, the rock on which Jesus will build his church?  In the Bible God is often referred to as our Rock, and so Peter cannot possibly replace God. No, Peter is in a symbolic sense the first stone (the first NT believer) upon which the Church is founded.  He was, biblically speaking the first man to define and confess who Jesus truly was. And in ages to come, everyone who makes the same discovery as Peter, joins Peter, and thus becomes another rock, another stone added into the building of the Church of Christ.  1 Peter 2:4-8 explains this.   Ephesians 2:20 further explains  that ,Jesus is the chief corner-stone. He is the force who holds the Church together. When Jesus said to Peter that  He  would build His church  on  him,  He did not mean that the Church depended on Peter,  in the same way as it  would depended on Himself and on God the Rock. He meant that the Church began with Peter and only  in that sense   is Peter the foundation of the Church.

Jesus then goes on to say that the gates of Hades shall not prevail against his Church. Do you remember the surroundings in which Jesus spoke these words?  Jesus knew what  the church would be up against, and the book of Acts and subsequent church history bear testimony  to the fact  of how the church has had to  battle against  the odds and sometimes  she has barely survived.  And here in in the shadow of the memory of powerful pagan worship, and the place known as ‘the gates of hell’  Jesus  says ,  “They will not prevail against you”“ because I am with you even until the end of the ages”-  using the closing words of the Gospel of Matthew  [Matt 28:20].  
Here  they were  in a place of powerful pagan worship, a place  where the gates of Hades  were  believed  to have been. The function of gates is to keep things in, to confine them, control them. There was one person whom the gates of Hades could not shut in; and that was Jesus Christ. He overcame death[6]. Jesus is saying here to Peter: "You have discovered that I am the Messiah , the Son of the living God. The time will soon come when I will be crucified, and the gates of Hades will close behind me. But they are powerless to shut me in. The gates of Hades have no power  over me!” But Jesus  is saying even more. He is not only saying that He  is indestructible. He is also saying that the church for which  He is laying down  His life is indestructible!

And with that He gives Peter, the first representative of the church a special sign. He gives to the true church, represented here by Peter the keys of the Kingdom. [See also Rev 1:18; 3:7].  And so the  authority of Christ on earth came to rest in the true church. 
And we see how this came first true at Pentecost.  
The preaching of Peter opened the door to three thousand souls in one day (Acts 2:41) and then many more came. But it is not only Peter who has the keys of the Kingdom. The church, wherever she gathers (even as two or three are gathered - Matt 18:20) has it. And into the hands of the church God has committed great binding and loosening authority (see also Matthew 18:18, where  the authority of the church extends  to  church discipline). 

But this text in Matthew 16  is really about the matter of salvation, and in that sense Peter is the first convert. And the powerful gates of hell that hold so many prisoners (for all have sinned), cannot withstand  the work of the church  in prayer and  in the preaching of the gospel.  That is how Ephesus (see Acts 20)  was  transformed in  Paul’s day. This is how our society is transformed in our day – by the  agency  of  the true church of Jesus Christ. 
That is how Christ builds His church .  
Amen.



[1] In this sense it is used in 1 Corinthians 11:20  - “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s [κυριακόν – kuriakon] supper that you eat” ; Revelation 1:10 “ I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s [κυριακῆ – kuriake] day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet…”
[3] Dr Wayne Mack and David Swavely have written a good and helpful book  with that title on this subject
[4] e.g.  5 of the 7 churches in Revelation 2&3 failed
[6] Acts 2:24; Acts 2:27

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