I’m going to have you look with me this morning at Matthew 16 verses 18 to 20, a very familiar text and one that has been a battleground between the Roman church and the Protestant church, one that has been a very key text traditionally among dispensationalists. But at its very heart, a simple, profound, rich, glorious passage of Scripture. And in order to understand verses 18 to 20 fully, we really need to back up, and so I want you to listen as I read verse 13 through 20 of Matthew 16.
“When Jesus came into the borders of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, ‘Who do men say that I, the Son of man, am?’ And they said, ‘Some say that thou art John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He saith unto them, ‘But who say ye that I am?’ And Simon Peter answered and said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered and said unto him, ‘Blessed art thou, Simon bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee but my Father who is heaven.
“And I say also unto thee that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the Kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ Then charged He His disciples that they should tell no man that He was Jesus the Christ.”
Now, I know when I read that that it is very familiar to you, and yet you’re probably wondering just exactly what it means. For centuries now, the Roman Catholic Church has said that it is a passage that tells us that the church is built on Peter, therefore making Peter the first pope, establishing papal succession, and making the papacy itself the very heart and soul of the divine authority on the earth.
Protestants have reacted to that and said the church is not built on Peter at all but it is rather built on the confession that Peter makes in verse 16, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And it is Christ who is the head of the church and there is no papacy found in the passage. And so it becomes a very critical passage. Dispensationalists have said it is a passage in which Christ introduces something new, “I will” - future tense – “build my church,” the implication being there never has been a church but there will be a church, setting off the church as distinct from Israel.
Non‑dispensationalists say it is not nearly so technical as that, it is simply the Lord saying He will continue to build His people in the future as He has in the past. And then there have been great debates as to what are the gates of Hades or the gates of hell or the gates of the grave, just exactly what does that mean? And in what sense does the church conquer these gates?
And then in verse 19, it says to Peter was given the keys of the Kingdom. What are those keys? And what does he unlock and lock? And what does it mean that whatever he binds on earth or looses on earth is already done in heaven? And why does the Lord say don’t tell anybody that I’m the Messiah? So you can see there are some issues here, can’t you? And those are just samples of what we’ll be looking at.
But to begin with for this morning, I want to introduce the passage by focusing in on one statement of our Lord in verse 18, “I will build my church.” That is the heart of the passage. Everything else amplifies that great statement. That is the affirming reality of the text. Jesus is saying to the disciples, “I will build my ekklesia - my ekklesia.”
Several years ago, there was a gentleman crossing the United States going from church to church, visiting large churches where God had obviously blessed in unique ways. And he was interviewing the various leaders of those churches to find out how it was that they had seen such great growth. He came into my office and sat down and began to ask me questions to try to get at the heart of the matter here at Grace Community Church.
And one of the questions he asked me was this, he said, “All across the country I have found that where there is great growth in the church, those who lead the church have had a great desire to build the church.” And he said, “I want to ask you the same question I have asked them. Do you have a great desire to build the church?” I thought for a moment and I said to him. “No, I have absolutely no desire to build the church, none.” And I let it go at that. And he looked at me rather quizzically and said, “Well, I don’t understand that.”
And I said, “Well, let me explain it to you. I have no desire to build the church because, you see, Christ said He would build the church and I’d rather not compete with Him.” And although that was somewhat facetious, it really truly expresses my feeling. I have no desire to build the church.
I was young as a minister of Christ, I had not yet come to Grace Church, and I was preaching a series of meetings in a church in Beloit, Wisconsin, the People’s Church. Pastor Boyer has been there now about 30 years and he’s a dear man of God. In fact, my father held citywide revivals for him before me, and so I was in some historic territory. And I’ll never forget sitting on the platform with him one service and he pointed, he said, “You see that man on the front row?” and I said, “Yes.” He said, “He’s one of my converts.” And I said, “Well, how wonderful.” He said, “No, you don’t understand. He’s one of my converts, not the Lord’s.”
I never forgot that. And I suppose there are churches that men have built, but that’s different than the Lord building His church - very different. And I confess to you that I have never been and am not now interested in building the church. I’m not interested in gimmicks. I’m not interested in techniques. I’m not interested in programs and plans and promotions and methods that guarantee a crowd. I’m really not interested in building the church at all. However, I am extremely interested in having a church that Christ is building, and I want to make sure we keep a distinction.
I know from what the Bible says here that He’s going to build His church, I just want to be part of the church He’s building. You understand? The Lord will build His church, I want to be part of that church, and I want this to be part of that church. And that’s - that’s our commitment. That’s our labor.
Now, I believe this to be a very comforting passage to me because it says that He’ll build His church, and that makes me feel comfortable. That makes me feel confident that the Lord is going to do His work and it isn’t up to me, I just have to get into place where He can do it where I am, you understand?
Now, if that’s comforting to me, imagine how comforting it was to the disciples that day. They were walking along the dusty roads around Caesarea Philippi, which is in the northeastern corner of the land of Palestine. They were really in exile. They had been rejected by the nation Israel. There was really no place of acceptance for them in Judea in the south. There was no place of acceptance for them in Galilee of the north. The Jewish leaders, religious and political, were both after Jesus and would have been well pleased if He were dead. The populace understood only a political economic kingdom, they understood only a military political Messiah. They missed the whole point.
And so the whole Kingdom concept, as the disciples had understood it, with all of its glorious Messianic expectation, the whole idea of the Messiah coming and setting Himself on a throne, the throne of David, and restoring dominion to Israel, and having a Kingdom that swept across the globe with all of the pomp and circumstance and glory and grandeur, all of that Messianic expectation just wasn’t happening. In fact, quite the contrary. They were a little band of nobodies, a sort of a disheveled group of the ill-equipped who were rejected and seemingly going nowhere but toward greater hostility.
They had even to retreat into this obscure place populated mostly by gentiles to find some rest and some privacy and some safety. And there they were with Jesus, wondering whether or not the whole program of God was really on schedule because from external appearance, it looked as if everything was the very opposite of what had been planned.
And so it is in this very special moment when their hopes are beginning to fall, when they are beginning to question their Messianic expectations, when they’re wondering why the Messianic experts, the Pharisees and the scribes, had missed Jesus altogether and were the most venomous and vitriolic and hateful of all those who were against Him. The whole thing was so strange to them. It looked as if the Lord wasn’t building His Kingdom. Quite the contrary.
And then if you’ll notice verse 21 for a moment. If things were strange by now, they were going to get stranger yet because from that time on Jesus began to show unto His disciples how He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed. And this became His message for these last few months. And, of course, Peter’s reaction in verse 22 is, “Lord, Lord, this is not going to happen. Be it far from thee.” I mean, it was bad enough that it had been this bad, but for you to die, that is an inconceivable thought. That the Messiah should be rejected was tough enough; that He should be executed was beyond belief.
They don’t have a lot of confidence, you see. They don’t have a lot of hope. There’s not any comfort in what they’ve seen. And there’ll be even less when Jesus begins to unfold verses 21 to 23, to say nothing of verse 24 when He starts to talk about their cross, not just His. And so there’s coming a lot of bad news, you see - bad news, worse than they’ve even heard before. And in light of this, the Lord needs to reveal to them that in spite of what appears on the surface, the program is moving ahead, you see. And that’s why it’s so marvelous that in this very moment He says, “I will build my church.” There isn’t any variation from the original plan. There isn’t any loss. The program hasn’t changed. He is building the church. And what appears on the surface isn’t the reality at all.
And so they needed that confidence, just like we do, just like those people of God throughout all the history of the ages have needed it when it looked bleak. You can imagine how it looked to the early church when they were being massacred. You can imagine how it looked to the Chinese believers when the communist revolution took over and they were crushed. There have always been times when it looked as if the people of God would be wiped out. You can go into the Old Testament and you can see when Israel was in Egypt, they could have been lost there. When Israel was in Babylon, they could have gone out of existence there. Or when they were worse yet in apostasy and intermarrying with the nations of the world, they could have been lost there. There were always those times when the train of God’s people looked like it was going to come to a halt.
But it never did and it wouldn’t now, and so this is a message of great hope that the beleaguered, persecuted, martyred, rejected, maligned, poor, ignoble people of God are still going to go on, and when they look like losers, you just aren’t looking close enough. There’s victory at the end.
And so He says, “I’ll build my church.” Now, this is the heart of the passage. You have to understand this before you can understand the things around it. So we want to look at it this morning, and I want to just share with you some points that mark a church that Christ builds. What is the church that Christ builds? What are its characteristics? What are its marks? What are its features? What are its elements? What is it like?
First of all, let me speak of the certainty of it. The church that Christ builds is a certain church, assured, secure because in verse 18 it says, “I will build.” Now, what makes it so certain is the “I.” Who was the one who said that? Christ. And He is God. And God cannot lie. And God is the faithful God who always keeps His Word, whose Word never returns void but always accomplishes that to which it is sent, said Isaiah. And when Jesus said, “I will build my church,” then that means the church is certain to be built. It is built on the promise of the divine Savior.
Now, may I say at this juncture that this is not to say that He’s never built it in the past. It is a future tense verb, I will build, it does not mean I never have, it does imply that I will continue to build. In spite of what looks like defeat, we will go on and I will build in the future. Not that He hasn’t in the past, but that He will continue in the future. God has been building and will go on doing so. So the certainty of the church is its unchanging, unwavering absolute foundation, which is the promise and the power of God to fulfill that promise. So the Lord builds the church. That’s the certainty of it.
That is so comforting, people. That is so thrilling to know that it is the Lord who builds the church. And all we want to do is be in the place where He’s building it. You say, “What is that place?” Well, it’s very simple. As you get into the New Testament, you find there are very obvious patterns presented for righteous living. We are called upon to walk in the Spirit. We are called upon to obey the Word of God. And the Scripture tells us how to live and how to think and how to speak and how to act.
The Bible lays out the pattern. And as we begin to live in obedience to God’s Word, people and leadership, as we live in obedience to God’s Word, as we have divine priorities in focus, as we walk within the parameters set by the Word of God, we become a channel through which Christ can build His church. Now, as soon as we stop obeying the Word, as soon as we detour from a life of righteousness and obedience, as soon as we abandon the biblical pattern, then the channel is blocked. The church isn’t blocked, it’ll find another place to go, and it’ll move on being built, but we won’t be a part of it.
And that’s why you can say, “Well, I know a church over here, and nothing’s ever going on there. Nobody ever gets saved there. Nothing ever happens. It’s a dead place, they might as well bar the windows and board up the doors and forget it. Nothing’s happening.” That doesn’t mean the church isn’t being built. That means those people aren’t in the position so that God can do it there. But He’ll cut that fresh channel as many times as He needs to to keep the flow of the life of the church. He’ll build His church.
But isn’t it more exciting to be in the place where He’s doing it? You see, that’s why the commitment in my heart has always been the same: Just do what the New Testament says and when you do whatever the Word of God says in building the church, you’re letting Him build it His way. That’s the joy. I believe with all my heart that Grace Church is what it is because Christ made it this way. And people ask me that all the time, “How did Grace Church get to be like it is? I mean, what gimmicks do you use? What’s your method? What’s your approach?”
We even have people who come here, very often, to our Shepherds’ Conferences, and they’re not looking for the real answer. They don’t know what it is. They’re looking for whatever tricks of the trade we might be using. And the wonderful confidence is the longer they look, the more they come to the awareness that we’re not doing anything that clever. I mean we’re not that bright. We don’t have any foolproof methods.
What’s happening is we have leadership and people committed to righteousness. And where you have a righteous channel, the Lord says, “That’s where I’ll run my church.” And we don’t have any guarantee that that’s permanent, because the day we stop walking in the obedience to God’s Word and we stop doing things by the book, then the Lord’s going to sort of dam up the situation, He’s going to shoot off in another place.
We’ve seen that. You know as well as I do churches at one time that were flourishing and the Lord was building the church and He was using a certain local assembly, and today it’s nothing but a shell of what it was. It’s happened all over the world. The Lord will build His church. God, help us to be in the place where He’s doing it because that’s the exciting reality.
If you look at the book of Acts you see this, this element of God building His church. And let me just run you through quickly, Acts 2:39 - Acts 2:39, and here, after Peter’s sermon, he calls for repentance and baptism. And he says you can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, of course, in salvation, “For the promise is to you, to your children, to all that are afar off” - he’s talking to the Jews and also to the gentiles around the world - “even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”
Now, in Peter’s mind, who’s building the church? Who is calling people? The Lord our God. It is the Lord who’s building His church. Jesus said in John 6, “All that the Father gives to me shall come to me, and him that cometh to me, I will under no circumstances turn away.” But all that the Father gives shall come. It is the Lord building His church. In Acts 2, look at verse 47, the end of the verse, “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” The Lord is building the church.
Acts 5:14, after the death of Ananias and Sapphira for lying to God, “There were many signs and wonders among the people,” and then in verse 14 it says, “and believers were the more” - I love this – “added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.” They weren’t added to the church, they were added to the Lord. You don’t join an organization, you unite with the Lord. He calls. He builds. People are united to Him.
In 11 of Acts, verse 24, talks about Barnabas, says he was righteous, full of the Holy Spirit and faith. “And many people were added” - there it is again – “to the Lord.” To the Lord. The Lord is building, calling, redeeming, adding to Himself His own body. Acts 13:48, “And when the gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the Word of the Lord, and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” The ones that God had chosen and ordained to eternal life believed. He drew the ones He had predetermined to set His love on.
In Acts 18:10, “For I am with thee,” the Lord said to Paul, “no man shall set on thee to hurt thee for I have many people in this city.” Now here the Lord says, “I’ve got a group of people in that city that I’m going to bring into my church, so I’m going to make sure you can reach them.” The Lord knew who they were. See, it’s the Lord who builds His church.
Now, the epistles will add more detail as to how this happens, and it tells us how the church is to function, to be the channel the Lord can bless. It tells us how the leadership is to be chosen, how the leadership is to fit certain qualifications. It tells us about elders and deacons and deaconesses. It tells us about the order of prayer and the teaching of the Word.
It tells us about holiness and righteousness and church discipline. It tells us in the epistles how we’re to conduct ourselves. It just gives us the whole layout of how this works itself out in practical living. But the bottom line is the Lord is building the church. And when we walk in obedience to Him, we become the channel in which He’ll build His church. What a great confidence.
And the goal of it all? Why, that’s Ephesians chapter 5. “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it in order that” - now here’s why He gathers the church, here’s why He builds the church: “to sanctify, to cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word in order that having it cleansed now, He might present it to Himself a glorious church.” You know why the Lord is building the church? To present it to Himself a glorious church.
What does He mean by that? He means to present the church to Himself as a vehicle through which He can manifest His what? His glory. That’s why Ephesians 3:21 says, “Now unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus.” You see, God is building the church so that when the church is built, no man will be able to say, “Look what we did.” But God will say, “This is solely and only to my glory.” And Paul in the Ephesian letter even says that He’s doing this to display to the angels His infinite wisdom. The angels are saying, “Ah, what a God who can make something out of that miserable bunch of human beings.”
So God is building the church, and that is so marvelous to know that, and all we want to do is be in that place where He’s doing it. And that’s why we oppose human wisdom. And that’s why carnality and ineptitude and indifference and apathy and apostasy and liberalism and denominationalism and charismaticism and fanaticism and ritualism and ceremonialism and all the other stuff doesn’t stop the church. It may stop a congregation from being used to be part of it, but the church will go on. And He’ll build His glorious body. And if God is for us, who can be against us? Great to be a part of a winner, isn’t it?
There’s a second truth here. Not only the certainty of the church but the intimacy of it. And I just love this. He says, “I will build” - not the church, not the great church, but – “my church.” I love that personal pronoun. “I will build my church.” He’s the builder. He’s the architect. He’s the owner. We are to be to the praise of His glory. We are His personal possession. We are His body. We are one with Him in marvelous holy intimacy. He purchased us, Acts 20:28 says, with His own precious blood.
In Acts 9, when Saul was persecuting Christians and he was confronted on the Damascus Road, the Lord said to him - and I love this statement. He said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting” the church - is that what He said? That’s not what He said. “Why are you persecuting” - what? – “me?” You touch His church, you touch Him. Now, that’s intimacy. “He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit,” 1 Corinthians 6.
It’s in the Old Testament this way. God says when you touch Israel, you touch the apple of my eye. Now, apple of my eye, we think, well, He’s got a nice apple out here and it’s the prettiest apple in the bunch, and He says when you mess with Israel, boy, you’re messing with that real nice apple that I enjoy looking at. No, no. The apple of the eye means the pupil in Hebrew. God is saying you touch Israel, and you’re poking your finger in my eye and that irritates me.
The most sensitive part of the exposed human anatomy, of course, and so He is saying you touch Israel, you poke your finger in my eye. You touch the church, you irritate me. It’s my church, I gave my life for that church. Acts 20:28, He purchased it with His own blood. He is its architect. He is its builder. He is its foundation for other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Christ Jesus. He is the living cornerstone. He says in John 10, “I am the good shepherd and I know my sheep and have known of mine. I know them and they know my voice.” And He says, “No man is able to pluck them out of my hand.”
The intimacy of it, God’s people, intimate union with Him forever. What a blessed thought. David in the Psalms sensed that intimacy with God, didn’t he? The saints of old did. You and I do and all the saints who’ve ever lived who’ve walked with God have sensed that God is not impersonal, God is not far off, God is not indifferent, but God is a God who draws near. He’s a friend who sticks closer than a brother. The intimacy of it. We don’t belong to some organization, we belong to an intimate union.
This was brought home rather forcefully to me this week. I was at the Moody Bible Institute because I am a member of the board of trustees, and we were having a board meeting. And I got on an airplane to fly home, one of those DC-10s, and I had to take the seat that was given to me, and it was in the very center of the plane, in the coach section. And I was in the middle of the thing, and it was filled, you know, it’s like a cattle car when they fill those things up, you can’t even get around hardly. Although I haven’t traveled a lot in a cattle car, I’m only imagining that.
It looks like what I think one would be like. But anyway, I’m sitting in the middle, and I was reading. I read a book for a couple of hours and finally my eyes were getting a little weary, and I decided I’d get up and crawl over a couple of people and just walk up and stand around for a while and sort of relax myself, and so I walked up the aisle, and I stood by where the door is by where the kitchen is, where they prepare the meals. I just stood in that little area there and - just kind of refreshing myself, looking out a window.
It was dark and I could see a city, that little hole that’s in the door, and I could see a city going by below. And a man all of a sudden tapped me. He was a very well-dressed man, very, very smart-looking man, a nice-looking fellow. And he said, “Say,” - there was a cart there - he said, “is that your drink?” And I said, “No, that’s not my drink.” He said, “Oh, yeah,” he said, “that’s got to be your drink.” He said, “You see, that’s my drink, that must be your drink.” I said, “No, that’s not my drink.”
He said, “Well, I’m sure it’s your drink.” And he was very persistent. And I said, “No, it’s not my drink.” I said, “I don’t even know what it is.” He says, “Well, it’s scotch on the rocks.” I said, “Well, now I know it’s not my drink.” He said, “Well, why don’t you drink it? It’s a good drink. No sense in wasting it.” I said, “I don’t want to drink it.” He said, “Don’t tell me you don’t drink.” And I said - and he was very persistent, you know. I said, “I don’t drink.”
“Never?” I said, “Never.” He said, “Do you have cancer?” I said, “Well, as far as I know I don’t have cancer. I haven’t checked lately, but up to now I don’t know that I have cancer.” He said, “What are you” - he said, “a young man like you,” he says, “I drink every day.” And he was like he was preaching at me. And I was looking around because I knew everybody was listening to this conversation. He says, “I drink every day.” He said - he says, “Someday you’re going to get old and then what are you going to do? All the fun will be behind you.” He says, “You got to drink now while you’re young.”
I said, “I don’t have any desire to drink. None at all.” And he looked at me and he said, “What have you got that you don’t need to drink?” “Oh,” I said, “I’m glad you asked.” I said, “I have total peace and happiness. I don’t need that at all.” He said, “Where’d you get that?” And then I said this - and I don’t always answer the question the same way, but I said it this way, I said, “I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” And he got real quiet and he looked just dumbfounded. And he said, “You mean, you personally know Jesus Christ?” He couldn’t believe that.
And I said, “That’s right. I personally know Jesus Christ.” And he looked at me and said, “Well,” he said, “I went to a school where they taught us about Jesus Christ, but I don’t know Him personally.” I said, “Well, you can.” And so we had a little talk. And then he went back to his seat. And he sat down, and I came down and sat behind him. He didn’t know that I was right behind him. And he pokes the guy next to him who’s traveling with him and he says, “See that guy behind us?” and the guy starts to strain his neck, was a big guy, you know, and he’s trying to turn to see back over the seat and says, “Yeah.”
He says, “You won’t believe this, he personally knows Jesus Christ.” “You’re kidding.” I mean the guy was dumbfounded that somebody could know somebody who died two thousand years ago. And I was just thinking, sitting there thinking, “I do personally know Jesus Christ.” And you know what’s even more astounding? If you asked Him, He’d say, “I personally know John MacArthur,” and that’s even more astounding.
I got off the plane and got his card and - I asked him for his card and he didn’t have one. He said, “I’ll get my luggage.” I didn’t know if he’d do that, but he got a hold of his bag and he walked up to me and he says, “Here’s my card.” He said, “I just - I just want to hug you.” And so he hugged me and he said, “I just want to know - want you to know how special it is to meet somebody who personally knows Jesus Christ.” And he said, “I want you to help me, I want you to help me.”
So he gave me his card, and I’ve sent him already some material and some tape. And he said, “Now you call me and I want to have lunch and you tell me more.” You see, that’s the intimacy of the church. That’s the intimacy of the church that we personally know Jesus Christ. We’re His. His redeemed people are His possession.
There’s a third point here that I sense in just looking at this phrase and trying to just sort of explode it on our minds, and that’s the identity of the church. “I will build” - the certainty of it – “my church” - the intimacy of it - and the church - the identity of it. What does He mean by ekklesia? Well, some people would have us believe that here He’s talking about the church as we know it. That all of a sudden if we’re walking down the road in Caesarea Philippi and He says, “I will build my church,” immediately all the disciples are supposed to see a dispensational chart. “Aha,” and figured out the whole plan.
Or they’re supposed to understand First Baptist or Second Presbyterian or United Methodist or Episcopalian or Church of Christ or Grace Community or they’re supposed to see a big building with a steeple on it or - in other words, we can’t read into the text a twentieth century technical definition of the church because the word used here is ekklesia. And if you want to really do justice to the passage, just change the word “church” to “assembly” because that’s what the word means, called-out ones, people called together under a certain authority or under a certain banner or under a certain purpose.
There were no Baptists, no Presbyterians, no Lutherans, no Grace Churchites, no denominations, no organizations, no pastors, no elders, no deacons, no congregations, no nothing, no dispensational chart, no anythings. He’s using the term - listen carefully - in a nontechnical sense. He’s using the term in a very general sense. It’s the first time the word ekklesia appears in the New Testament. It is later translated “church” and it’s well understood as church by the time we get to the epistles, which help to define it for us. But it’s a very general word.
It’s used once here in Matthew 16, once again in Matthew 18, those are the only two times it’s ever used in the gospel. And it cannot be seen as a technical term for it was used in that period of time as a general term for an assembly of people. For example, the Greeks used ekklesia for a town meeting. They used it for a group of people who came together as free men under the government of a certain state. It was a very secular word. The Jew would understand it in the same way you would understand the word synagogue, in a nontechnical way, a gathering together, a collection of people.
It is not a technical term for the institution that we have come to know at this point. It doesn’t have the full – a fullness of definition that it later gathers as it moves through the epistles and is added to it the fullness of Pauline and Petrine and Johannine meaning.
In fact, very likely if Jesus spoke in Aramaic, He would have used the term qahal which means congregation, a very general nontechnical term. And so He’s really saying, “I will build my assembly. I will build my congregation. I will build my people. I will build my redeemed community.”
Now, if you want to get a little better feeling for this, you can just go a little bit further in the New Testament and look with me for a moment at the seventh chapter of Acts. For in the seventh chapter of Acts we find the word ekklesia again used, and this is early in the life of the church. And we see here that in the seventh chapter, Stephen is speaking, and he uses the word to refer to the nation Israel. Verse 38, “This is he that was in the ekklesia in the wilderness.” And he’s identifying Moses with the assembled people of God in the wilderness.
So ekklesia there refers to the assembly of Jews gathered in the wilderness. They haven’t even really gone into the land yet, they’re not a duly constituted nation quite as yet in their own land. And the word ekklesia is general enough even in the seventh chapter of Acts, general enough even in the sermon of Stephen to refer to an assembled group of Jews under the old covenant. So we certainly don’t want to read too technical a meaning into it in the sixteenth chapter of Matthew if it doesn’t even have that technical meaning in the seventh chapter of Acts.
Then if you’ll notice the nineteenth chapter of Acts, you’ll notice something even more interesting because in Acts 19, verse 32, we have a riot. And the riot is precipitated in Ephesus because of the miracles and the ministry of Paul, and this big riot breaks out and it is described in verse 32, “Some therefore cried one thing and some another for the ekklesia was in confusion.” Now, there’s the word that we translate church and it has to do with a mob of gentiles who rejected the gospel. So, again, I only point out that the word cannot be forced into a very technical meaning early in the revelation.
Now, just another note on that is the twelfth chapter of Hebrews where you have in verse 22 this statement. Hebrews 12:22. “You are come to Mount Zion to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable number of angels - innumerable company of angels.” Here’s a picture of heaven, and all the redeemed and all the angels and God is there and everybody’s there. And he calls it in verse 23 the general assembly and ekklesia of the firstborn. And there, ekklesia is big enough to encompass all the people of God in God’s heaven. It is to all the spirits of just men made perfect.
So, even in Hebrews you have this concept of ekklesia in a nontechnical sense referring to the whole redeemed community. So it’s a very general term. Now, go back to Matthew chapter 16, and I think you find it here used very much like it’s used in Hebrews, to refer to the whole company of redeemed people, Old Testament, New Testament, in general.
And what the Lord is saying is “I will continue to build my assembled redeemed people.” In fact, it is a synonym with the Kingdom of heaven in verse 19, and that’s really the key interpretive concept. You interpret the word “church” in verse 18 by the word “Kingdom” in verse 19 because He uses them in a synonym fashion, parallel. So He is saying “I’m still building my Kingdom.”
Now let me note this: The future tense of the word “build” does not mean He never has built but will in the future. The idea here is that He will continue to build, the emphasis being on the continuing, not that it has never been done in the past. Now, that’s important for you to understand. So what the Lord is saying is “I have been gathering my redeemed people and this rejection of me and this hostility and what you see going on is not going to change that, I will go on gathering my redeemed people.”
So the essence of the text is there is continuity in the church. In fact, maybe that’s a better word than identity, the continuity of the church, its certainty and its intimacy. So the church here is the assembly of redeemed people gathered to God. It is the same as His Kingdom. And He is building it. And He will build it. And that’s so important.
You know, just this key thought. Jesus is saying, “No matter what the world does, no matter how the world reacts to me, to you, to the gospel, I will go on building the church. No matter how apostate the nation Israel, I will build the church.”
And we could say today no matter how liberal the church gets - quote/unquote church – no matter how apostate Christianity becomes, no matter how decadent America gets, no matter how godless and Christless our society gets, that will not thwart the building of the church, will it? People ask me all the time about that. They ask me, you know, “Are you a member of the Moral Majority? Do you believe in political action? Do you believe in political lobbying?” and et cetera and et cetera.
And when I tell them that I believe in preaching the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and the principles of the Word of God and I believe in changing men from the inside and then as a citizen outside of my ministry, I’ll do the best to vote my conscience and do what is right and preach on sin and morality when it conflicts with the Word of God and all that - and I don’t aver to being totally committed to a political approach, they inevitably will say to me, “Well, what do you think’s going to happen to the church if America falls?” And you know what my answer is? Absolutely nothing.
Now, I don’t want America to fall, but I’ll tell you one thing, whether America rises or falls will have absolutely nothing to do with the church. That isn’t the issue in building the church, that never is the issue. Jesus said, “I’ll build my church” – “I’ll build my church” - certainty, intimacy, and the identity, the continuity of God’s redeemed people.
So, beloved, we’re a part of something marvelously successful. And my prayer for Grace Community Church is that we will always be, as long as Jesus tarries, we will always be so committed to the Word of God, so committed to the Spirit of God that we will be a place where He can be building His church because there are a lot of places that call themselves church where God can’t build His church. True? Let’s pray.
Our Father, we have come again this morning with anticipation, and that anticipation has been fulfilled. We wanted to meet you. We wanted to have our hungry hearts fed. We wanted to pour out our praise. We wanted to be lifted to a new vision of you. We’ve had that happen by the grace of your Spirit. Thank you. Thank you for ministering to us when we have come to minister to you. Thank you that in our worship to you, we have been fed, and our hearts delight that we are a part of your church.
Thank you for this place, Grace Community Church, one little place where because of the godliness of the people, because of the holiness of the leadership, because of all of our commitment to go by the Word of God, you’ve been able to build your church for your glory and for our consummate joy. Thank you. Help us to be faithful to that, to be unwavering. May this place always be a channel where you can build the Kingdom, where you can continue to gather to yourself in intimacy your redeemed people. That’s our joy, to be a little part of that and then to spend forever in the throng of those, the church of the firstborn, praising and glorifying your blessed name.
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