Will the Real Church Please Stand Up?
September 25, 2011
Matthew 16:13-19 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 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. 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. 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.”
Over the next 5 to 6 weeks my desire is for us to take a journey toward a greater understanding of how to define the church, what makes a church successful and why we need to support and participate in the life of the church. During this series we will look at a number of things:
- How do we define the church?
- What does a godly church look like?
- What is the mission and purpose of the church?
- Why do we have so many different denominations?
- Why do some churches make it and others fail?
- What are the ordinances of the church: baptism and Lord’s Supper? How do we interpret these and how do we apply them into the life of the church as well as into personal lives.
- How do things work here at PCC? How are decisions made? Who runs the church?
- What is the vision and purpose of PCC?
- What does it mean to be a member of a local congregation? Why should I consider membership?
These and other questions will be answered during the course of this study. The goal of this series is to be biblical, to be fun, to be practical and to be able address as many questions about the church as possible.
This morning I would like to begin the series by looking at how we should define the church. In our scripture text, we see Jesus asking an important question; “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” This is an important question because our response to the question “Who do people say that the son of Man is?” or “Who do you say I am?” will determine our view of the church and of our life as a believer. Secondarily, our view of Christ is will determine the kind of church that we will have since Christ is the foundation and focus of the church. We must remember that he is the Great Shepherd and we are the under shepherds.
As our understanding of Christ grows so will our understanding of the church. In the world there are many different thoughts about who Christ is. Some say that he is only a great teacher, others say that he is only a great prophet. There has also been some that have an understanding that Jesus is a mystical being that does not have any impact in the world today. Others believe that while Jesus lived he did not do the miracles that were ascribed to Him. Others believe that whatever we ask He will give us even though what we ask could be against His will. IF you have a small view of Christ you will have a small view and a misguided view of what the church should be. But to be effective we must know that Jesus is a teacher and he is a prophet but he is the Messiah, the promised one who will redeem the world. As our understanding grows we will begin live as if He is real and that He will do what He says that He will do.
Peter who is often the spokesman for the group answers the question on behalf of the other disciples. He states that you are Christ, the son of the living God.” Peter is recognizing that Jesus is more than a church planter but that He is the one who will build, keep and redeem the church.
It is at this stage that Jesus makes a prophetic proclamation. He proclaims that “Upon this rock I will build my church.” It is critical that we look at a couple of things in this passage. First, Jesus uses a play on words here. When he says “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” what he is saying is “Peter you are a small stone (PETROS) but on a great solid rock (PETRA) I will build my church.” Two things can be seen through this passage. For one Peter might be a part of the church but he is not the foundation or the basis of the church. As 1 Peter 1:5 states we are all living stones that are built into a spiritual house. Peter may be a part of the church but he is not the church by himself. All of the disciples and all believers past and present make up the church.
Secondly, we must see that this is a triumphant promise which represents Christ’s authority. In essence, the church’s success is not ultimately dependent on human initiative or human wisdom or human perseverance. It is ultimately dependent on the power and wisdom and faithfulness of the risen and living Christ to keep the promise that “I will build my church.” Not, “You will build my church.” Or, “Missionaries will build my church.” Or, “Pastors will build my church.” But, “I will build my church.” That is the promise and that is what we must hold onto.
When Jesus references the church here he is speaking of the church-at-large – the universal church. We must understand that there is a local expression of Christ’s church but here in this passage Jesus is relating to the church as a whole and not just a local expression.
The basis of a good understanding will be realized as we understand that His church will be built on the revelation that He is the Messiah and all that He accomplished on the cross and in the Resurrection. He died for the church so that the church will be a powerful influence in the community and to bring the reign of God into every sphere of influence they may have.
What Jesus wants us to know is that there is nothing that can destroy God’s church. Not even the gates of hell can destroy the universal church. Unfortunately, we have seen some local churches fall apart and be destroyed. While time does not allow us to facilitate a complete discussion of this issue at this time we will cover this issue in full in a later sermon.
To fully understand the church we must also recognize that there is the visible and invisible church. The visible church is what everyone sees regardless of their commitment to Christ. When you drive down the road you will see churches of all sizes, shapes and beliefs but that does not make them a true church of Christ. The invisible church is made up of those within the visible church that have made a commitment to follow Christ whatever the cost. You see the church is not a building. It’s a people, with or without a building.
While Jesus promised that the universal church would not be destroyed there are challenges for both the local church and the universal church, today. What are some of these challenges?
- First, the church has lost its influence in the culture.
- Secondly, many churches have compromised the gospel.
- But this does not mean that God’s church will not be successful because it is His church. You see Jesus says that this church is my church and “I will build my church.” God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). And not only us, but millions more scattered throughout the earth (John 11:52). And he has many people in this community that follow him and serve him (Acts 18:10). Each one of these has been bought by his own blood (Acts 20:28). And he makes us a kingdom of priests that will serve and follow God completely. We will be and are his church. We are not their own. We are bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). We are his. He will gather us to himself and He will build his church.