Week 42 – Jesus Loves His Church
Prayer – Father, we love You. Thank You that in a world of bad news, You are good. We thank You for continually inviting us to participate with You to see Your glory spread among our local and global communities. This is why we desperately need You. Grant us the courage to say yes, Lord, I will join Your mission no matter what. Open our ears today so we can better understand Your love for the church and why it is the hope of the world, hope for SLC, and the hope for our families. In Jesus Name. Amen.
Two thousand years ago there was a guy about 30 who lived in a rural area where his family was very poor. There was no indoor plumbing, heat, or a/c. Then one day He tells his dad that he is leaving the family business so He can go out and teach and demonstrate what everyone has been waiting and praying for, the arrival of God’s kingdom. This sparks many to be curious but only a few decide to follow him on His terms. This man does gather 12 men to be His closest followers. Their sole focus was to become more like Him and they learned early on to grow accustomed to hearing crazy statements like pray for and bless your enemies, or it is hard to enter God’s kingdom if you are rich, or when it comes to forgiving people there are no limits. But one day He gives a prophecy about the future when He says: (show slide 2) I am going to build My church and the gates of hell will not overcome it.
Try to imagine what His followers would be thinking. What would you think? Is this just a selfish statement to attract more followers. After all, the more people you had the more influence you had as a Jewish Teacher. Would this have been the statement that led you to conclude, “I think I may have chosen to follow a lunatic?” But the reality is two thousand years later, this guy, Jesus Christ, was right. His Church still exists and is growing. Many of you are a part of it. Why is this the case? Simply, Jesus loves His church. He really does. Jesus said He would build it and He has and still is. So today I want us to look closer at this prophecy that Jesus spoke which we read this past week in Matthew 16
. So I invite you to open your Bibles there. If you forgot your personal Bible make a note to bring it with you next week. Until then Matthew 16
is on pg. 851 in the Bibles found in your seat pockets. Now as you turn there let me tell you why this is a critical passage for any church in any culture in any century needs to clearly understand. You may not realize it at first but what we are going to read is right up there with the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ. Why? We are going to be talking about the nature of the church. The church is the hope of the world. Now I realize that is not how many see the church. People, including Christians, use words like boring, irrelevant, out of touch, divided, optional, or there to meet my needs. I imagine if we went around this room we could add to that list with how we once saw the church or how our family and friends see the church today. So let’s begin to read in v. 13 of Matthew 16
and we are going to see Jesus giving a totally different picture of church. Read vv. 13-20.
Now if you and I could have been there to see the faces of Jesus’ followers after His words here we would have noticed confusion. Not because they never heard of the word ‘ekklesia’ before which is the word translated as church v. 18. In fact, Ekklesia was a common word to describe a group of people gathering for social and/or political purposes to worship Caesar. Their confusion was in the way Jesus used the word because He was announcing something that He was going to build and it would belong to Him. By definition (show slide 3) Ekklesia means – a group called out for a purpose. So an ekklesia does not exist for itself. So it is safe to say Jesus’ prophecy about His ‘ekklesia’ is a game changer. Now there is great controversy throughout church history on who or what is the rock that Jesus will build His church on. For example, Catholics look at these words and believe Jesus meant Peter so therefore His church should always have a pope. But if we look at the context we see Jesus is using a play on words as Peter’s name means rock. So when Jesus says to Peter upon this rock I will build my church He certainly is acknowledging some kind of foundation in Peter. But what is it? Is it him or the words He said? Look at the text. It was God’s divine revelation and grace that enabled Peter to confess that Jesus was the Messiah and then immediately Jesus says I will build My Church. So it appears based on the context, Jesus is saying to Peter and His disciples that (show slide 4) the rock is you (i.e. God’s people) proclaiming Jesus’ good news of the kingdom. Certainly Peter happens to be the one who first makes that proclamation but we know that Peter was speaking for the disciples. How do we know this? The text. Jesus’ response in v. 19 includes the word ‘you’ which is plural in Greek. In English, it really should say you all or in the South it would just be ya’ll. Now if Peter was speaking for himself then Jesus’ response would be directed just to him but instead it was to all of His disciples. V. 20 also affirms this when Jesus warns all the disciples not to tell anyone, at least not yet, that He is the Messiah.
Now when Jesus mentions ‘the gates of Hades or hell’, he is referring to a Jewish expression to illustrate the powers of death, He is saying that nothing can stop His church. Later on I will mention there is one thing to slow it down but nothing can stop it. Jesus’ words are bold but we know from history Jesus was right. Nations, empires, businesses, leaders, celebrities, the God is dead movement all have come and gone but Jesus’ church remains. Why? Jesus loves His church. It belongs to Him. His words here describe the nature of the church. Let me put it this way: (show slide 5) Jesus’ church is designed to be an unstoppable, dynamic, transformative movement. Now I just want to pause here and have us watch a short video illustrating this idea. Let’s watch it. Play Video – 1 ½ minutes. Again, Jesus’ Church is designed to be an unstoppable, dynamic, transformative movement. Now I hope you are wondering how I came up with those words? Well, v. 18 says that nothing, not even the powers of death, can overcome it. That sounds unstoppable to me. V. 19 refers to Jesus giving His people the keys of His kingdom. Keys illustrate power and authority so Jesus is delegating His work, transferring authority to His people. So (show slide 6) The church serves as living proof of God’s kingdom so the world can see what family life, singleness, retirement, business practices, and serving the poor looks like under the leadership and authority of Jesus. It sure sounds like the words dynamic and transformative accurately describe the call to expand and demonstrate God’s kingdom. Jesus builds the church but the church expands God’s kingdom. This is done when God’s people exercise the power and authority Jesus gave them through making disciples, praying, fasting, and living sacrificially on behalf of others to name a few things. This is the work of the church. This glorifies God because His Kingdom prevails and Satan’s power diminishes. So let’s be clear that this passage is about a Sovereign Savior who is leading an unstoppable, dynamic, transformative movement of His followers. The question for us is: are we allowing God to work in us so that we can participate and experience this?
(show slide 7) And just to make sure we are all on the same page a movement is all about its mission. It will grow and stretch itself to fulfill its mission. However, an institution exists for itself. They are content with information. But Jesus intended His church to be a movement but that does not mean structure and organization should be thrown out. The N.T. describes how the church leaders had to delegate work to others or how Paul put Christians in positions of leadership to lead and care for the people of God into the mission of Christ. So how do you determine if a church, our church, is becoming more like an institution than a movement? It will cater to the preferences of those who are already there than the people who are not yet there. It will spend much of its time on cherishing traditions but when this happens Jesus’ church loses the joy and wonder of God doing miraculously transforming things through miraculously transforming people. God is still at work but His people are choosing to miss Him. In other words, the church becomes stoppable and loses its dynamic edge of Spirit-led obedience.
It seems like if you want to make the church stoppable all you have to do is change the music, eliminate or revise church programs, change pastors, lengthen the Sunday service or make it more participatory. This will cause some to say, “this is too much, I am going to find another church that will provide for my needs and preferences.” This hurts the church. It also seems that another reason Jesus’ church seems so stoppable is Christians tell themselves I am not gifted enough, smart enough, courageous enough, talented enough, qualified enough, or worthy enough. So let me set the record straight we are not qualified and worthy enough but it is through Jesus that He makes us qualified and worthy. It is because of Him and the power of the Holy Spirit that dwells within any believer. This is our identity. Now did you know there is one thing that can slow down the Church? It is not Satan, not any government or education system, or any false teaching. The only thing that can slow down Jesus’ Church is the people of God. Some of you may be wondering is that really true? Yes, but don’t take my word for it. Here is what the word of the Lord says in 2 Peter 3:12
: (show slide 8) Look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. This verse demonstrates that the church (that’s Sandy Ridge, God’s One Church in Utah, the American Church) can speed up Jesus’ return. And the reason why God has given His church that capacity is because of Jesus’ words in Matthew 16
. So as you read the rest of the N.T. in the next 2 months pay attention to all the things God’s people do that speeds up or slows down the return of Christ.
So people of Sandy Ridge, let us humbly embrace this responsibility. Let us surround ourselves with people who will encourage us to speed up the return of Christ. People of Sandy Ridge, let’s pray that God would protect us from becoming an institution. Let’s pray that our ears would be open how we might be doing church primarily for ourselves. Let’s pray that we cling to God’s grace that enables us to live out what we claim to believe. Let’s pray that we do not settle for good, well-meaning intentions but rather allow the Holy Spirit to lead us into the messiness of our local and global communities. Now in a room this size this distinction between movement and institution is why many people, perhaps some of you, read Jesus’ words here and look at their experience with church and the dots do not connect. I don’t know but perhaps church was communicated to you as a bunch of rules to follow, a social event, a refugee from the world, a place to hear tips on how to be a better you, or the unspoken idea that a Christian is about having a relationship with the right set of beliefs rather than a right relationship with the living Jesus. People of Sandy Ridge, God does not want His church to survive but rather be the dynamic, unstoppable, transformative movement that it is. Now if this is your first time hearing this than praise God. If you have heard this before but today is the first time you really believed it, how God wrote you into His story, how you are part of fulfilling the prophecy of Matthew 16
then praise God.
Here let me pause here and ask you a question: (show slide 9) What are some of the greatest, most meaningful experiences you have had with God? Think about that question this coming week. Now most Christians in America will think of individual experiences between them and God. This is not surprising because the American Church does place so much of an emphasis on individual growth. It is common that people today believe that you can have a great, growing relationship with Jesus without other Christians in your life or just a few that you select. However, that belief is nowhere to be found in the Bible. This is going to sound really strange to some of you but participating in Jesus’ mission with others is as close as any of us will get to experiencing God’s presence until He returns or we die; whichever comes sooner. To be clear I am saying your individual experiences are not real or even life-changing. But what I am saying is since Jesus intended His church to be a dynamic, unstoppable, transformative movement then we are missing something if we do not include some of our greatest, most meaningful experiences with other Christians. Personally, some of my most meaningful experiences with God have been with this faith family. The times when I was overwhelmed with God’s presence as I prayed, served, or studied Gods’ Word with my community group. Or the time last year when the music team and myself were invited by another faith tradition to proclaim Jesus’ birth through song and a Christmas devotional. Or the money we raised last year and again last month to fund a rescue operation to free slaves. Or what we are doing now to raise money to see that a group of people, the Amdo Tibetans, will be able to read and hear the Bible in their own language.
So people of Sandy Ridge, is your love for the Church fueled by Jesus’ love? Do you see Jesus’ designed for His church to be? Do you see why He wrote you into the story? Now before ? comes up to pray for us I want us to pray in groups of 5-6 people. No need to move your chairs just find a few people and thank Jesus for His faithful love to the Church. In fact, here is a suggested prayer that you could start and then just finish the sentence on the screen:(show slide 10) Lord, thank You that You Love Your Church even when . . . May Jesus’ perfect love grow more and more in you and me to heal whatever hurts and bad experiences we may have towards His church. Prayer Time of 3 mins.