Let’s go back to the Word of God, and particularly to Matthew, chapter 16, this morning. We’re talking about the ordinary church. This is Message Number Three in the little series on “The Ordinary Church.” And when I say “ordinary” I mean the church as designed by God: the standard issue, divinely planned church. This is the kind of church that our Lord has designed.
It is not ordinary in terms of its power, it is extraordinary because our Lord is an extraordinary Lord. It is not ordinary in terms of its message, because our message is a supernatural message from heaven contained in the Word of God. So we have an extraordinary God, an extraordinary message. But there is a pattern which the Word of God lays out for what is an ordinary church, and it would be so wonderful if churches would be what Scripture says they should be; and we wouldn’t have to be frightened when some place, some group of people claim to be a church and don’t follow the pattern of Scripture.
Again this morning as virtually, constantly in my life, somebody said to me, “I have to drive an hour-and-a-half to find a church.” And that’s a sad situation, somebody from another part of the country. That is very typical if people are looking for what would be an ordinary church by God’s design in Scripture. So we’re looking at what it is that God wants His church to, how He defines His church, and the life of His church.
And in Matthew, chapter 16, we have the first mention of the church in the New Testament by our Lord who tells us a lot in verse 18 of Matthew 16. He said, “I will build My church. I will build My church.” This is a personal project by our Lord. He will build His church. The church is His; He will build it. In that sense, that is a statement of absolute fact, that is a statement of the invincibility of the church, and the singular power with which the church is built. It is built by the Lord Jesus Christ; it is His church; He will build it.
Now surrounding that statement are a number of other statements in this very interesting 16th chapter of Matthew, which give for us a foundational understanding of the church. This is where we have to start. Now even though the church didn’t actually come into existence until the Day of Pentecost, as we read in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit came and the church was born on that day. The church is defined here by our Lord as to what it is to be, what it will be. And it began on the Day of Pentecost, and of course, it continues forever and ever, amen, as we read this morning in Ephesians. But when we ask the question, “What is the church?” we might get a lot of answers. So we want to clear out all of the wrong answers and just go back to the Lord Himself, and in particular in this passage where He lays down the basics.
Let me begin by saying we use the word “church.” That’s a word that usually conjures up the notion of a building or maybe an organization. But it is a translation of a Greek word ekklésia, from which we get that technical term for the study of the church “ecclesiology.” Ekklésia is a noun form that comes from the verb kaleó, which means “to call.”
So the church then is those people who are called with an “ek” on the front; that means “out of.” So ek-kaleó, “the called out.” Called out of what? Called out of death, called out of ignorance, called out of darkness, called out of the kingdom of Satan. We are the called out ones. And the New Testament makes much of this calling.
In Romans 8:28 you remember that we are “the called according to God’s purpose.” In Ephesians 4, Paul says, “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” We have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father, and one hope of our calling. The word “calling” is essentially the term for church. We are those who were called out.
Now that is not just an invitation that has an optional response possibility, that calling, when described and defined in the epistles of the New Testament means “an effective, effectual, actual divine calling of God on the life of an individual that takes that individual by divine power or divine grace out of the kingdom of darkness, out of the control of Satan, out of death and blindness into light, the kingdom of God, knowledge, and joy. So we’re talking about a calling that is not an optional calling, but an actual calling.
In Romans 1:6 and 7 we read that believers “are the called of Jesus Christ, called to be saints.” In 1 Corinthians 1:2, it says, “To the church of God, saints by calling.” It is a calling that makes us saints. It is a calling that puts us in the church.
First Thessalonians 2:12, “God, who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” It is a divine call into the kingdom and to eternal glory. Second Timothy 1:8 and 9, “God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, according to His own purpose and grace in Christ Jesus. It is a call from God that causes us to become saints, that brings us into His kingdom and eternal glory, and the fulfillment of His purpose.”
First Peter 5:10, “The God of all grace, who called you into His eternal glory in Christ.” I just want you to hear those verses, because I want you to understand that sometimes in the gospels you hear about a call to faith: “Many are called, few are chosen.” But whenever you see the word in the epistles of the New Testament, it is always referring to an actual sovereign, supernatural, loving call to life in the kingdom of God.
Listen to the words of 2 Peter 1:3, “Jesus our Lord, His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness.” How did we get that? “Through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. He has granted us His precious and magnificent promises.” How did we get those promises? Precious and magnificent. How did we get everything pertaining to life and godliness? Through Him who called us. We were called into life, called into godliness, called into promise.
Another verse, 1 John 3:1, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.” If you’re called to be a child of God, you are a child of God. It is an actual calling, not a potential or optional one.
In Hebrews 3:1, we hear about “holy brethren who are partakers of a heavenly calling.” It is a holy calling; it is a heavenly calling.
So when we talk about the church, we’re talking about the assembly of those called out of death and darkness and the domain of Satan into the kingdom of God. The church is the body of Christ called by God sovereignly, powerfully, graciously, lovingly into His eternal kingdom and glory. The true church then is not the product or the expression of the religious genius of man. It is not the result of the power of persuasive speech. It is not because of effective strategies and programs. It is not the result of brilliant leadership. The church is the assembly of those called by God. It is God’s church called into being by Him in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. All the members of the Trinity are involved. So when we say we are the church, we can say we are the called out ones. That’s a church. That explains the goodness of the true church. That explains the blessing of the true church, the joy of the true church, the power of the true church, the love and the richness of the true church. We are the ones called by God into His glorious kingdom. That’s the church. That’s the church.
Paul prays in Ephesians 1 that we would understand this. He says, “I pray” – verse 18 – “that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” It is a gracious call. It is a powerful call. It is an eternally enriching call. This is the true church; this is the ordinary church. Is that simple enough? A church is a gathering of people who have been called by God into His kingdom. It is not an evangelistic event. It is not a gathering of nonbelievers. It is a gathering of those who have been called by God into His eternal kingdom.
Now in thinking about that, let’s go back to Matthew chapter 16 and see the characteristics of the church as a result of that calling. The first one we said last time was those who are part of the church make the great confession; and we looked at that, so we won’t go back into it this morning. Our time is limited anyway. But the great confession comes in verse 16 – we saw it last week. Simon Peter answers our Lord who asks the question, “Who do you say that I am?” And he says, not only for his own sake, but on behalf of all the other apostles and disciples who were with him, “You are the Christ,” – or the Messiah – “the Son of the living God.” That is the first identifying mark of a true church, the great confession. Jesus is the Anointed One promised by God in the Old Testament, the Son of the living God. That is, He is the eternal God, the Son brought into human life in the form of a man.
We can say it simply, the church’s basic doctrine is the doctrine of Christ, the doctrine of Christ. A true church has the right view of Christ. That’s why Mormons are not the true church. That’s why Jehovah’s Witnesses are not the true church. Anybody who has a deviant unbiblical view of Christ is not the church; not a church at all, but part of antichrist kingdom, Satan’s domain.
Christology is where the church declares its unique identity. We say, “Jesus is Lord. He is the Messiah, the Anointed One. He is God the Son. He is the Holy One of God. He is the virgin born Lord and God.” He is the one to whom Peter said, “To whom shall we go? You and You alone have the words of eternal life.” And we are warned in the New Testament that if anybody comes along and alters the doctrine concerning Christ, that person is accursed and we’re not to have anything to do with him. The church is not man-centered. It’s not about you, it’s not about the people. It’s about Christ. It is Christ-centered.
You remember last time we looked at that remarkable statement concerning the church in 1 Timothy 3 – I’ll remind you of it – verse 15. Paul writes to say, “In case I’m delayed, I want you to know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth. I want you to know how to conduct yourself in the church, and here’s how you start: by common confession. That is you all confess the same thing.” And what it? Great is the mystery of godliness. What is the mystery of godliness? That God the Son became a man, “revealed in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, and taken back into glory.” A hymn really, an early church hymn marking notable aspects of the life of Christ. So you are the church of the living God by virtue of a common confession concerning the incarnation of the Son of God. That’s where the church finds its initial life in the confession of Christ, confessing Jesus as Lord and God.
And the church gathers together to worship Christ, to exalt Christ. We’re not here for you, we’re here for Him. You’re not the audience, He is; you bring worship to Him.
Now as foundational as that is – and we went over it a little bit last time – as foundational as that is to say that the church makes the great confession, the true church, there is a sort of subfoundation. Under the foundation, there is a pillar of truth on which that foundation rests. And what is that? It is the great communication – we’ll call it – the great communication. If we’re going to confess Jesus as Lord, where are we going to receive the truth that brings about that confession? Where’s that going to come from? And the answer comes immediately from the lips of our Lord in verse 17 after Peter, on behalf of the rest, makes the confession, “You are the Messiah, You are the mystery of godliness, the incarnate Son of the living God.” Jesus said to Him, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonas, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”
The knowledge of Christ does not come through human intuition. It does not come through human intellectual pursuit. It does not come as a result of some scientific methodology. The revelation of the truth concerning Christ comes from heaven. It comes from the Father who is in heaven. Peter’s confession came, because God communicated the truth to Him from heaven. You see the word in verse 17 “reveal” there. That is the Greek verb apokaluptó from which we get the word “apocalypse.”
Now we think of apocalypse as the end of the world when everything disintegrates in some kind of massive disaster – and that will occur. But the verb apokaluptó means “to uncover, or disclose, or make known.” And our Lord says to Peter, “You didn’t come up with this on your own. This didn’t come to you by any flesh and blood means,” that is any human means. There’s no human source of this saving confession.
As Paul begins to write his epistle to the Galatians in chapter 1 and verse 11, he says, “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” Now listen to this: this is the only revelation from God. All other supposed religions are from men or demons. You can’t receive this through any human means. “The natural man understands not the things of God,” 1 Corinthians 2:14. The preaching of the cross to the natural man is foolishness to all who are perishing. There’s no human source of this truth about Christ. “It came” – Jesus says – “from My Father who is in heaven.”
Now how did the Father reveal to Peter the truth concerning Christ from heaven? Through Christ Himself. Peter didn’t have a New Testament, but God revealed Himself and revealed the truth concerning the mystery of godliness in Christ through the person of Jesus Christ Himself.
Now listen to what I say. For us, that revelation comes not through the person of Christ, but through the word of the New Testament written concerning the life and ministry and significance of Christ. You say, “Wow, it would have been great to be alive when Christ was actually here.” You have the better part. If you were here when Christ was here, you would have only known what you experienced with Christ. Now we have not only the record of the four gospels set down, but we have the record of the preaching of the gospel in the book of Acts inspired by the Holy Spirit, and we have all the epistles of the New Testament explaining everything that God wants us to know about Christ and the fullness of His ministry.
This is far beyond what Peter experienced. And Peter says it when he says, “We were with Him in the mountain when He was transfigured, but we have a far more sure word of prophecy.” Scripture inspired as men were moved along by the Holy Spirit. So Peter had the revelation of the truth in the man Jesus Christ. We have the revelation of the truth in the record of the man Jesus Christ and all that the apostles wrote about Him.
So this is the church’s second great characteristic. We not only make the great confession, but we submit to the great communication. We understand that we possess, as did Israel of old, the oracles of God, the word of the living God. We are the pillar and ground of the truth.
The truth saves. We’re begotten again by the word of truth, 1 Peter 1:23. The truth sanctifies, John 17:17. Jesus prays, “Sanctify them by Thy truth; Thy word is truth.” The truth is what conforms us to Christlikeness. As we speak the Word in love, the body grows into Christlikeness, as we read in Ephesians 4. So the foundation of the life of the church is the Word of God. You should be able to know you’re in a church, because that church is focused on exalting Jesus Christ and proclaiming the transforming, saving, sanctifying Word of God. It’s that simple; that’s a church.
Now let’s kind of follow the thought here into verse 18, because it gets very interesting. “I also say to you that you’re Peter, and upon this rock I’ll build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” That verse has unleashed hell in the world by its misinterpretation through Roman Catholicism. “Upon this rock I will build My church,” and they say that’s Peter. And they build Satan’s church, not Christ’s church, and the gates of hell will overpower it. They’ve turned this verse inside-out and upside-down.
What is it actually saying? “You are Peter.” It’s almost an adversative. “You’re a small stone,” in the original. “But” – the word kai is “and” or “but” – “but upon this rock bed I will build My church.” “You’re Peter, but upon this rock bed, you’re a small stone,” – it’s a contrast – “but on this rock bed I will build My church.”
What is this rock bed? The rock bed is what He just said. The revelation from the Father who is in heaven regarding the Lord Jesus Christ; the gospel, the glory of the gospel. Upon the revelation of God, the gospel – listen – given through the apostles. It’s not that they have no role to play, not at all; they do, Ephesians 2:20. The church has as its foundation the apostles and the prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone.
What role did the apostles play? Was it some authoritative role? Was Peter some kind of pope who was like a king? No. The apostles were the ones, along with their associates, that the Holy Spirit used to write down the New Testament.
So what is our Lord saying? “You’re just a small pebble. Upon this rock bed of divine revelation by My Father who is in heaven, I will build My church, and the apostles will be the ones, and their associates, who write it down.” The church is not built on the supremacy of Peter, it is built on the revelation that Peter received and believed, as did the other apostles. The church is the gathering of people who are subject to the truth and the power and authority of God’s revelation, not some man, not even Peter.
The Word has the ultimate authority, that is why the early church in Acts 2:42 got together and studied the apostles’ doctrine, the apostles’ teaching. That is why toward the end of the New Testament, the last epistle of Jude, we read, “Beloved, you ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In other words, he’s writing about false teachers. “Turn away from false teachers, and go back to the words of the apostles.” It is the apostolic writing under inspiration, the apostolic preaching of the cross that is the divine revelation. This is where the Father in heaven has placed His revealed truth about His Son. During the lifetime of the apostles, the revelation was in Christ Himself; and once Christ had gone back into glory, the Lord began to inspire the writers to put together the New Testament, which is now the revelation.
Let me say this: the New Testament is as true and pure and divine and heavenly and accurate, a presentation and revelation of Jesus Christ as was the incarnation. That’s a remarkable thing to say, but it’s true. Has to be true, if we’re begotten again by the word that is written. If we’re sanctified by the word that is written, it has to be true and it has to be as true as the revelation of God in Christ was true. The church is not built on any man or any group of men; there’s no apostolic succession of popes. The church is the gathering of people who confess that Jesus is the Son of the living God, Lord and God, Christ, because they have come to understand that revelation from the pages of Holy Scripture. This is so critical and so foundational.
Notice the next verse, verse 19, another one that is misrepresented. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” This is an interesting statement. In order to get the keys to anything you have to be trustworthy and you have to have some authority, or you don’t get the keys, right? You know how it is. Keys mean access, authority.
Now if you could have a key to anything – if I could have a key to anything, I’d say, “Give me the keys to the kingdom of heaven, right? Give me that key.” If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ you have it.
What is the key? It is that revelation of our Father who is in heaven concerning His Son, written on the pages of Holy Scripture. It is the gospel of the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ – to borrow Paul’s language in 2 Corinthians 4. You have the keys to the kingdom; it is the gospel. To those who are perishing, it is foolishness. But to those who believe, it is the power of God. Literally, we as believers posses the keys to the kingdom of God. This is not for some pope. This is not for some cardinal, or some bishop, or some priest, or some religious leader. Every believer who understands the gospel enough to believe it and be saved possesses the keys to the kingdom.
Amazing trust the Lord has given you. You can go into the world and preach the gospel. You can fulfill the Great Commission. You say, “Well, I don’t know if I’m adequate.” You’ve got the key to unlock the kingdom, what else do you want? What is the key to unlock the kingdom? It is the understanding of the revelation of the gospel of the glory of God in the face of Christ revealed in Scripture, particularly the New Testament.
And here’s some amazing news. You might say to yourself, “Well, I don’t want to be running around using my keys and not being sure God is with me in this.” Well, don’t worry about it. Go back to verse 19: “Whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” When you use the gospel as the key, heaven is in perfect agreement with you. When you use the gospel of the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ, heaven is in perfect agreement with you.
What is the binding and loosing part of it? It doesn’t mean you have some authority to say to somebody, “You’re bound in your sins,” just because you desire to say it, or somebody else, “You’re loosed from your sins.” It’s not because you’re sitting in a box and somebody confesses to you.
What does it mean? It’s an old rabbinical idea. The rabbis would say to someone who was not repentant, “You’re bound in your sin.” They would say to someone who was repentant, “You’re loosed from your sin.” They were simply reflecting what God had said. If you confess your sin, God will forgive your sin.
That’s exactly what we do. I have the authority to say to somebody, “You’re bound in your sin. You are bound by your sin,” based upon their response to the gospel, right? If they reject the gospel, I can say, “You’re bound in your sin and you’re headed to hell.” If somebody accepts the gospel, I can say, “You’re loosed from your sins,” and what I say on earth has already been said in heaven, because I’m simply applying the word that came from heaven. This is the church. The church is the assembly of those people who have the keys to the kingdom and can open the door and let folks in.
Now listen, there’s another side of this. If you ever deviate from the revelation, from the will of God in the revelation, you have stepped into Satan’s kingdom. Illustration, verse 23; verse 22 first. Jesus talking about His death: “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.” Really amazing brashness, isn’t it? “Pulls Him aside and starts rebuking Him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.’” That’s not the plan. Jesus had just said He was going to suffer and be killed. Peter says, “That will never happen.”
Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Ah, that’s a bad idea.” No. “You need a little work on your theology.” No. “Get behind Me,” – what? Any deviation from the truth of Scripture is satanic. “You’re a stumbling block to Me; for you’re not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” How do you know God’s interests? Listen to God. He had just said, “I’m going to suffer and be killed.” In other words, “You submit to My word or you do Satan’s work.” Anyone who departs from the revelation of the will of God takes the side of Satan.
Now back to verse 18 for a moment. When the church is built on this great communication of divine revelation, the gospel of the glory of God in the face of Christ, when the church is built that way by our Lord, end of verse 18, “the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”
What are the gates of hades? Well, Hades is the domain of the dead. The gate is simply dying to get into the place of the dead. So He’s simply saying death can’t stop it. Death is the most powerful weapon Satan has Hebrews tells us. But even Satan using his most powerful weapon of death can’t stop Christ from building the church. In fact, it seems in history, the more believers Satan kills, the faster the church grows.
The point is simply to say, of all available temporal weapons that Satan has, even death itself cannot stop the church. The church is invincible, because it is being built by Christ. He will build His church, and He will build it by the Spirit of God through the Word of God. The church exalts Christ, because Christ is the theme of the revelation that we call the New Testament. The true sign of a church then is the preaching of the New Testament and the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ contained there.
If you want people to join in Peter’s great confession and thus be admitted into the saving company of Christ’s people, you cannot – listen – you cannot rely on flesh and blood devices. You cannot be tempted by the things that appeal to men and women in the secular world, especially the entertainment that dominates our culture, and sadly much of the church, or so-called church. We may make the most effective appeals to flesh and blood. They may like it; they may superficially respond to it. But you will never bring anyone to saving faith apart from the one means God has provided, and that is the Word. Faith comes by hearing the Word concerning Christ. As we teach and preach and proclaim God’s Word, the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father in heaven reveals the truth to the heart of men and women, and brings them to true saving faith.
So let me say it again. The church is the pillar and ground of the truth. The church exalts the person of Jesus Christ and the message of the apostles in the Old Testament. That’s why Paul said he was a minister of the mysteries revealed in the New Testament.
Now let me drive this a little deeper into your thinking. Let’s listen to Peter himself over in 1 Peter 5. Peter learned his lesson not to deviate from the will of God, or he would be back in Satan’s domain. Peter understood. So Peter gives some instruction in 1 Peter 5 to all who shepherd God’s flock, verse 1: “I exhort the elders” – elders, pastors – “among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory to be revealed.”
He was there at the transfiguration; he reminds of that. He’s showing that he is not only a fellow elder, not only one who saw Christ suffer, but who also saw His glory. Those are his apostolic credentials. But here with all of the strength, all of the might that he can muster from those credentials, he says, “I exhort you, shepherd the flock of God among you.” That’s what we do in the church, we shepherd the flock of God.
First of all, the church is the flock of God. It is the redeemed people. It is the assembly of those who confess Jesus as Lord and live under the authority of His Word by which they have been saved and are being sanctified. “Shepherd the flock.” Well, this is a sum up of all that ministry is: “Shepherd the flock of God.” Shepherd means “to guide, protect, feed, nurture.” “Shepherd the flock of God among you.”
There are so many people who call whatever they have going a church and they have no interest in shepherding the flock of God. All they want to do is entertain nonbelievers. That’s not a church. This is our mandate. Our calling is not to entertain the culture, it is to shepherd the flock of God. Do you understand, there can be no greater responsibility than that?
What a stewardship that is; and that’s why Paul says it’s an obvious thing foundational to all that we do, that stewards be found faithful. And according to Hebrews 13, we have to give an account, we have to give an account. You’re supposed to help us along the way, so we do it without grief, because we have to give an account to God. I’m accountable to God for how I’ve shepherded the flock of God. This is God’s flock, this isn’t mine; this is God’s flock.
Back to Ephesians 4, which we read earlier. You get a more explicit insight into what this means down in verse 11: “He gave some as apostles,” – that’s chronological. First, there were the apostles, and then New Testament prophets, and now evangelists and pastor/teachers.
And what is our job? “For the equipping of the saints.” Did you see that? “For the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” No more like children tossed around.
What is the goal and objective of ministry? To build people up into Christlikeness. That’s how you shepherd the flock of God. What is the one instrument to do that? It is the Word of God.
There’s even a negative side of that. It’s not just the positive feeding and building, there’s also the necessary protection and warning. Listen to Paul to the Ephesian elders in the 20th chapter of Acts, verse 28: “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” So Peter says, “You are to shepherd the flock of God.”
Here Paul says, “You are to take careful guard over yourself and the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers,” – again – “to shepherd the church of God which He” – of course, the Lord Jesus Christ – “purchased with His own blood.” The Spirit’s involved, the Son’s involved, the Father’s involved, and they have turned over into our care the flock. “Be on guard.” Why? “Because after My departure, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your won selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Be on the alert, remembering that nigh and day for a period of three years I didn’t cease to admonish and warn each one with tears. And now I commend you to God and the word of His grace, which is able to build you up.” There’s constant warning, because we are in danger of attacks from the enemy.
What is the desire then of the Lord of the church, the head of the church, the Father and the Spirit? That we would feed the flock of God. I can’t tell you how many people say, “I can’t find a church that feeds me.” Well, what is it? That’s what pastors and shepherds do; that’s their job.
Peter says, adding the strong words, “Feed the flock, or shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion,” – not because you have to – “but voluntarily, according to the will of God; not for sordid gain,” – not for money – “but with eagerness; not as lording it over those allotted to your charge.” What a phrase. “Whatever church the Lord has given me is what he’s allotted to my charge. I can’t lord it over them, but rather prove to be an example to the flock.”
And then the promise: “When the Chief Shepherd appears, you’ll received the unfading crown of glory.” Ministry is that simple. You’ve been given a stewardship like no other stewardship in the world. You have been given the flock of God purchased with the blood of Jesus Christ, and basically called together by the Holy Spirit. The whole Trinity is involved and they’ve been put into your hands to make sure that you shepherd them with the Word. That’s a church.
And the Chief Shepherd has given us a model to follow. Listen to what He prayed to the Father as you look back over His ministry in John 17, verse 12. He said, “While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name. I guarded them, I guarded them. I guarded them from the son of perdition,” – the influence of Judas – “I guarded them from error, I guarded them even from Satan. I guarded them. Not one of them perished.”
Then down in verse 14. How did You guard them? “I have given them Your word.” So that was His method. You want to improve on that? The Great Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd, the Good Shepherd cared for the flock that the Lord God His Father allotted to His charge by giving them His word. “And the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”
I don’t know how to say this any other way: the world hates a true church. Why? Because the world of unregenerate people hate God. They don’t hate the god of their own invention, but they hate the God of Holy Scripture, the true God. Jesus said, “I kept them and I protected them. I guarded them, and I gave them Your word, and they are sanctified by Your word.” This is just what the church is. It’s that assembly of the flock of God put into the care of faithful shepherds who protect and feed the sheep.
We don’t expect to be popular with the world. Jesus said, “The world hated them.” People today might think Jesus was a very unsuccessful leader, because the world not only hated them, the world hated Him. They killed Him, and then over a period of years, they killed all of them.
Let me wrap it up by having you look at John 8, which is really a seminal portion of Scripture – we’ll just consider it for a moment – but very foundational to your understanding of the world around you. John 8, Jesus is speaking to the Jews, Jewish leaders, verse 43. He says, “Why do you not understand what I’m saying? Why do you not understand what I’m saying? It’s because you can’t hear My word.” We assume that the world cannot understand the truth.
I hear pastors of sort of quasi churches say, “Well, we don’t believe in expositing the Bible, because nonbelievers aren’t interested in that.” Oh, really? Of course they’re not interested in that. That isn’t news. So you’re going to eliminate the only hope that they have, because you discovered that they didn’t like it. “Why do you not understand what I’m saying?” John 8:43, “It’s because you cannot hear My word.” So if you have a successful quasi church with a whole lot of nonbelievers very comfortable, you have abandoned the truth.
Listen further: “You do not understand what I’m saying? It’s because you can’t hear My word.” Why? “You’re of your father, the devil. You want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, doesn’t stand in the truth because there’s no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature. He is a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me. Which of you convict Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you’re not of God.” Understand this: if unbelievers come in, they will not hear the Word of God.
I asked some seminary students this last week, “Who’s the most hated person in the world?” They didn’t say much at first, then I said, “God.” The whole fallen human race is identified as God haters. They hate the Word of God.
Scripture is the single supernatural, indispensable agent that saves and sanctifies. We’re begotten again by the word of truth and sanctified by it. It is the only source for growth in holiness into Christlikeness. It is the only food that the shepherd can give to his flock. But outside the church it is resented, it is hated, it is despised, it is rejected. That’s a natural. That’s a natural hostility. It’s not even personal, it’s just natural.
The truth will always be resisted, always be rejected by those who have not been given life by the power of the Holy Spirit. Fallen man’s natural tendency is to side with the devil, because the devil is his king. So resistance to Scripture is not psychological, it’s not cultural, it’s not because there’s a lack of marketing savvy. Resistance to Scripture is not anything other than the most natural thing for nonbelievers to do.
There never was a better preacher than Jesus and they killed Him. And the best preachers after Him were the apostles and they killed them. You have to face the reality: the church is never going to be a place where nonbelievers are happy if the church is exalting Christ and proclaiming His Word. If you have a church where unbelievers are happy, you have stepped out of God’s will, and you might hear Jesus say, “Get behind Me, Satan.”
What is the church? It is an assembly of people who make the great confession. It is the assembly of people who come under the authority of the great communication or revelation, the Word of God.
Lord, we are so grateful that You have left us such a complete and full and blessed revelation, that we lack nothing of the truth. Lord, raise up ordinary churches; ordinary churches are so needed, ordinary in that they follow the pattern of Scripture, to be what You want Your church to be. And when people wonder, “Well, what about evangelism?” Oh, it’s the power of those transformed lives that screams Your glory. That’s what Paul said, that You desire glory in the church, that You wanted Your church to adorn the truth about You, put You on display by its spiritual life and power. We thank You, Lord, that You’ve made us a part of the church who are so unworthy, and we pray that we might walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which You’ve called us. Amen.
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