Open your Bible to Matthew chapter 16, Matthew chapter 16. And this is an incredible chapter for many reasons, some of which will unfold to us as we look together at it. But I want to put it in your mind, starting with verse 13. Matthew 16:13. It’s a very understandable narrative.
“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Barjona,’ – son of Jonah – ‘because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.’ Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ,” – or the Messiah.
“From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to You.’ But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.’
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. ‘Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.’”
This is a profound introduction to the church from the lips of our Lord. It sums up so many of the critical realities that define the church. On every first day of the week since the day that Jesus rose from the dead over two thousand years ago, believers have gathered together to celebrate His resurrection. They have gathered together to worship, to fellowship, to sing, to pray, to hear the Scriptures taught.
Sunday has been known, and rightly so since that’s how John identifies it, as the Lord’s Day. And those who belong to the Lord by repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ come together on the Lord’s Day, and they have since the resurrection, to worship Him. This is our joy. This is not a burdensome duty. This is the desire of our heart. We do it with thanksgiving, we do it with love, and we do it with full joy. We are those who have received the forgiveness of sins, and with that we have been placed into a state of no condemnation, because Christ paid in full for our sins on the cross. The church is then the most precious possession that God has. It is His redeemed people.
There are a lot of views about the church. I want to maybe help shape yours a little bit this morning on a biblical level. The church is described in John 6 as the love gift from the Father to the Son. The Father chooses, the Father calls, the Father draws; the Father saves, gives to the Son; the Son keeps and raises at the last day in gratitude for the love gift that the Father gives Him. The church, not only a love gift from the Father to the Son, but an act of love on the part of the Son by which He purchases the church at the cross defines its incalculable value. The highest price ever paid was paid for the church. We were purchased, not with silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Jesus Christ, say the apostle Peter.
The church is the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of Christ. We have been rescued from the kingdom of darkness and placed into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. The church is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit; He inhabits us. The church is the steward of divine truth; we are the pillar and ground of the truth. The church is the best taste of heaven anybody can ever have before getting there. We bring heaven down as much as is possible in this cursed world.
The church is the gathering of true worshipers who worship God in the Spirit, worship Christ and have no confidence in the flesh, says Paul. We worship in spirit and truth, as our Savior said we were called to do. The church is the fellowship of the saints. We stimulate one another to love and good works. We care for one another, love one another, use all of our spiritual gifts and follow the pattern of the multiple one anothers in the New Testament to be mutually strengthening to each other. And we are the launch point for the evangelism. That is the very purpose for our remaining in the world so that we can preach the gospel to the ends of the earth. The church is infinitely more important than all human kingdoms, all human organizations, all human leaders, all human educators, all human politicians, all human rulers. The church is far more important than anything that will burn up – and all of that will. The church is the living body of Christ in the world given the calling to speak the truth of God regarding salvation in love to a lost world.
The church is incomparable in its value. We steward the words, the only words of eternal life. We meet because we must. We meet because we love the Lord and we love each other. We meet because we love His Word. We meet because we love His worship. We meet because we want to shine the light of the gospel in the world. We will not forgo this blessed experience no matter what comes against us. We are the church, and we are the light of the world.
I believe the church is aptly named. I like the name of our church. We’re all basically beneficiaries of divine grace, right? We didn’t earn our way in. And I like community, that speaks of fellowship. But the best word is “church.” I like that we’re a church. It bothers when contemporary religious organizations that meet on Sunday – I don’t know if you can call them a church or not – want to get rid of the word “church” as if somehow disassociating themselves with the redemptive history that the Lord has wrought in the world through His church is somehow a plus. They would, I think, like people to think that they are so novel and so cool and so personally esoteric that they have invented themselves, and they’re the first of their kind ever. All we want to do is make sure that everybody knows that we’re a church and we’re part of the church the Lord is building; and He’s been building it since He came out of the grave. This is not novel, this is just one location of the redeemed church embracing our arms around every previous body of believers on the earth going back to the resurrection.
So what makes a church a church? Well, let’s look at our passage. In the text that I read you I would just call your attention to verse 18, and in the middle of the verse the Lord says, “I will build My church.” I remember a reporter years ago asked me if I had a desire to build the church. He said, “Do you have a desire to build the church?” and I said to him, “Not really.” I said, “The Lord said He would build the church, and I don’t want to compete.” Not my job to build the church, it’s my job to serve the church the Lord is building as best I can.
“I will build My church.” This is the first mention of the church in the New Testament. Didn’t take long, you’re only sixteen chapters into the first book. And while it may seem a somewhat offhanded mention of the church, and you wonder how it all ties in: oh, it all ties in for sure. It contains in the text that I read you the necessary marks for identifying a true church against which all churches have to be measured. And the New Testament epistles, of course, written by the apostles, give us a lot more information, a lot more teaching about the church; but it’s all built on the doctrinal foundation of Matthew 16 and the words of our Lord. Now people have been challenging me as to how long it will take me to get through this section of Scripture because there is so much here. And my goal is simple: I will hopefully stop talking before you stop listening.
How do we know a true church? Let’s start with this: “A true church is known by a great confession.” That’s Point One, a great confession. Verse 13: “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking HIs disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still other, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.’ And He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’”
The first absolute with regard to the church is the biblical view of the Messiah, the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. The foundation of the church is not some personal experience with a Jesus of your imagination, some undefined sentimental notion about God. The church is not built on anything other than a right view of the nature and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. This becomes crystal clear in this passage. The location’s very important: “When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi.”
Caesarea Philippi was originally called Paneas. That area was named for the god Pan. Pan supposedly didn’t exist, but in mythology Pan was born in a cave in that area, and this area was named after the god Pan originally. Now the city, by the time you come to the Lord’s Day, is full of idols. There are idols everywhere. You’ll notice it’s called Caesarea. They renamed it away from Pan to give honor to Caesar; and Caesar Augustus was the Caesar that was given this honor. He, of course, believed that he was a deity and needed to be worshiped.
So from what we know about history this was a place where there were many idols and many gods. You might say it was a kind of plethora of pagan idolatry that was set up in the city for just about any god they wanted to worship. It was the place where the gods all came together; and that means it was a place of blasphemy, blasphemy against the true and living God; but an ideal place for Jesus to say to His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” and an ideal place for Peter to say, “You’re the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Why did he say that?” Because all those other gods were dead. All idols are dead.
You go back to the forty-fourth chapter of Isaiah and there is a divine diatribe against idols that if it were not so serious is almost comical. The prophet Isaiah 44:9, “Those who fashion a graven image are all of them futile, and their precious things are of no profit; even their own witnesses fail to see or know, so that they will be put to shame. Who has fashioned a god or cast an idol to no profit?” He’s asking the obvious question, “How can you make your own god?”
“Behold, all his companions will be put to shame, for the craftsmen themselves are mere men. Let them all assemble themselves, let them stand up, let them tremble, let them together be put to shame. The man shapes iron into a cutting tool and does his work over the coals, fashioning it with hammers and working it with his strong arm. He also gets hungry and his strength fails; he drinks no water and becomes weary,” – working on a metal god – “Another shapes wood, he extends a measuring line; he outlines it with red chalk. He works it with planes and outlines it with a compass, and makes it like the form of a man, like the beauty of a man, so that it may sit in a house. He cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself, and makes a fire to bake bread. And then he also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as roasts a roast and is satisfied. But with the rest of it he makes a god.” What kind of insanity is that?
God is the living God. And that’s exactly what Peter meant when he said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. You are the Messiah. You are the Anointed One, the Anointed Priest, the Anointed Prophet, the Anointed King, the promised Redeemer. John 5:18 says the leaders of Israel wanted to kill Jesus because He made Himself equal with God.
I read a survey last week that I think it was one-third of, quote-unquote, “evangelicals” think Jesus was not God. That’s not evangelical, that’s heresy. That’s damning heresy. John makes that clear in 2 John, you can read it for yourself. That epistle has a main section there that gives warning to those who alter the truth about the nature of Christ. This is the confession that establishes the true church.
The great confession of the church is summed up in, “Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Lord.” This is the confession that establishes the church. It’s not a group of people who come together for a motivational talk. It’s not people who are seeking help for their addictions, not people who feel somehow spiritual and mindlessly go through religious or quasi-religious ritual. It is an assembly of people who make the great confession, “You are the Christ the Son of the living God.” And to say the Son of the living God is to say you share His nature. And that’s what He said; and that’s why the Jews, understanding what that meant, said, “You make Yourself equal with God when You say You are the Son of God.”
Salvation only comes to those who confess Jesus as Lord, Romans 10. John writes at the end of his gospel, “These things are written that you might believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that believing, you might have life in His name.” That is the reason for the gospel of John, and that’s the reason for all four of the Gospels.
For a moment, look at 1 Timothy chapter 3, 1 Timothy chapter 3. Sums up in a very memorable way the reality of the deity of Christ. Verse 16, “By common confession,” – this is the common confession, the necessary confession for those who are truly God’s people. The common confession is, “Great is the mystery of godliness.” By common confession, homologoumenōs, saying the same thing. All believers in the church, all true believers say the same thing. They are unanimous about the person of Jesus Christ. I suppose today you might be an evangelical, but you’re not a Christian if you deny the deity of Christ.
And then comes this hymn, no doubt an early hymn, six third person singular aorist verbs with rhythm and parallels, and the subject is, “He who” – meaning the One who is the mystery of godliness. The One now revealed as God is the One who was revealed in the flesh speaks of His virgin birth, His being made visible, even though He is the eternal, invisible God – “vindicated by the Spirit,” – or justified by the Spirit. That is to say the Spirit of God is upon Him at His birth. The Spirit of God plants the Messiah in the womb of Mary without an earthly Father. The Spirit of God comes upon her, and she is with child. Spirit of God anoints Jesus in His ministry. Everything He did He said He did by the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s why when they said He did what He did by Satan, He said, “You’ve blasphemed the Holy Spirit.”
Revealed in the flesh, virgin-born, truly human, vindicated in the Spirit at His birth; throughout His life seen by angels. They were there at His birth, they are there at His temptation, they are there in the garden, and they are there in the resurrection, especially when that angel comes to Him in the garden when He’s sweating drops of blood. That angel came. And you could ask the question, “What did he do? Does he strengthen Him for the victory in the temptation?” No. “What did He do?” He did what angels always do: he worshiped Him. And that was critically important.
God actually sent an angel into the garden when Christ was facing the cross, which was for Him to face the full fury of the wrath of God against all the sins of all the people who would ever believe in Him through all of human history; and He was to absorb that wrath in a few hours of darkness. So horrific to Him because He is the eternally Holy One that His body broke down. His capillaries broke down and blood began to ooze out of His flesh. An angel came. What did the angel do? The angel did what angels always do: the angel worshiped Him; and He got a taste of what was on the other side of the cross when He was glorified.
He was proclaimed among the nations. What happens in the book of Acts? You have the Great Commission in the Gospels. Coming into the book of Acts and He’s proclaimed among the nations. He’s believed on in the world, and He’s taken up in glory. That’s His ascension.
So you have all the elements of the Lord that indicate He is God in flesh. It is the revelation of the One who is God, revealed in the flesh, vindicated or justified by the working of the Spirit through Him. Attended by angels affirms His deity, as angels worship only God. Proclaimed among the nations; believed on in the world; taken up to glory. He, in all the fullness of His deity incarnate, is the one and only Savior. He is the Lord and head of the church.
We’ve looked at that enough, so we don’t need to go over it again. This is not a sentimental view of Jesus. This is not an optional view of Jesus. This is not a self-constructed view of Jesus. This is not an intuitive sense about Jesus. This is not a sacramental sense of Jesus as if He is some kind of icon. This is not a symbolic Jesus or the Jesus of rituals; neither is it the Jesus of liberals who deny His deity or cultists who make Him a spirit brother of Lucifer. And neither is this the Jesus who’s being sacrificed over and over and over and over. This is the One whose work was finished when He said, “It is finished.” And He is the One who reigns in glory.
A church is a gathering of people who believe that. It’s pretty frightening when you have church with people who don’t even know that, let alone necessarily believe it. “You are the Christ,” says Peter, “the Son of the Living God. You are the One who is one with the eternal, living God.”
After His resurrection you remember the familiar words of Thomas: “My Lord and my God.” And you remember in John chapter 6, after some of the disciples decided to leave Jesus, and He said to the remaining ones, “Will you also go away?” And Peter says, “To whom shall we go? You and You alone have the words of eternal life.”
The church is a gathering of people who not only know who Jesus is, but they know Him as their own Lord and Savior. This is the great Christian confession. It’s not that you believe in a religion. It’s not that you’re associated with some moral or ethical worldview. It is that you know Christ. And for those of you who may be new to Grace Community Church, through the years that I’ve been here – this is Year 51 – we have come to know Christ very well.
We went through the gospel of Matthew verse by verse. Took us eight years, and I felt like I didn’t cover it as well as I should have. Then we went through the gospel of Luke and it took over nine years. We went through the gospel of Mark, the shortest of the Gospels, and it took us several years to do that. When I came here in the beginning, way back about 1970, ’69 and ’70, we went through the gospel of John. And a few years ago, the people wanted to go through the gospel of John again.
So 17, 20, 25 – 25 of the 50 years at least we’re looking at the four Gospels; and the subject of every paragraph and every page is Jesus Christ. This congregation knows who He is. And I remember when we finished the New Testament after, I don’t know how many years, 40-some, going through the whole New Testament, we saw Christ not only in the Gospels, we saw Him preached by the apostles in the book of Acts. We saw His work explained in the Epistles. We have gone through the book of Revelation several times and seen His glory.
But I remember when we finished the New Testament I thought, “What am I going to do?” and somebody said, “Well, now you can do the Old.” And I said, “It took me 35 years to do the New. Are you looking at me? Ah, that is not going to happen.” So they said, “Well, we want to know more about the Old Testament,” so I did a series on “Finding Christ in the Old Testament.”
Sometimes the kids have a game called “Where’s Waldo?” Have you seen that? It helps if you know what Waldo looks like. Same thing is true with the Old Testament: once you know what Jesus looks like in the New you can find Him in the Old. He just pops off the page everywhere.
So you all in our congregation wanted to go back through the Old Testament, and we did that, and we went everywhere in the Old Testament where Christ is revealed. And the high point of that, of course, I think was the series we did on Isaiah 53, which I read again today. You never get enough of Him, do you? Never ever. Incomparable. Incomparable.
And there’s a motive in that because the apostle John says that if you are a believer and you say you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, let me put it in His words: “The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” That’s a tall order, right? That’s not very superficial, even though it can be reduced to a wristband “What would Jesus do?” That is not a trite idea. That is so profound as to have gone far beyond most risks in its reality.
You can only walk the way He walked if you are intimately acquainted with how He walked. Paul is the apostle who says, “I am in birth pains” – that’s the strongest word he could use to express his soul angst – “until Christ is fully formed in you.” That’s the goal.
The goal, another way to put it, is love from a pure heart. The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart. Who had love from a pure heart? Christ, the purest: the purest from a standpoint of righteousness and the purest from the standpoint of love. It’s all about Christ. And Paul says, “Look, I preach Christ. I preach Christ. Everywhere I preach Christ.”
So foundational to the church is Christology. And by that I’m not just talking about some kind of systematic articulation of who He is, but a deep, intimate knowledge of all His ways. Not an outline, but 25 years of preaching every single week on the person of Jesus Christ and everybody saying, “Can we get back to this next week and next week?” because there’s never enough of Jesus. And for me, at the same time, to go back and write commentaries – four volumes on Matthew, four volumes on Luke, a volume on Mark, and two volumes on John – put me for the next 30 years back in those four Gospels coming to know Christ. And if there’s anything, if there’s anything of value in my life, it is because I have been so consistently exposed to the person of Jesus Christ. Paul says, “We have the mind of Christ.” What a gift. We know how He thinks because we’ve seen Him in every situation.
The foundational truth in a church then is its Christology: a great confession. Secondly, great communication. Jesus said, verse 17, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona,” – or sone of Jonas – “because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” Peter is blessed. He is graced to have been given from heaven the revelation about Christ. Peter’s confession comes not because of his intuition, but because of God’s communication.
“Reveal” is the word apokaluptō: to disclose, to uncover. And it didn’t come by flesh and blood. “The natural man understands not the things of God,” the apostle Paul said. Paul also said in the same book, 1 Corinthians, that, “The preaching of Christ, the preaching of His cross is to those who perish foolishness.” “He is revealed not from flesh and blood, but by My Father who is in heaven.”
In Romans chapter 10 – I commented on it a moment ago – but in Romans chapter 1 the apostle Paul indicts Israel for their unbelief. He says this: “For not knowing about God’s righteousness, you didn’t know God was as righteous as He is; and seeking to establish their own, you thought He was less righteous than He is and you were more righteous than you are; and so your righteousness was acceptable to God. You were wrong about His righteousness and you were wrong about your own. But because you were convinced that God was less righteous than He is and you were more righteous than you are, you did not subject yourselves to the righteousness of God. You had an errant understanding of how absolutely holy God is. And it was Jesus who said, ‘Be holy, as My Father in heaven is holy.’ Because you thought you were righteous enough by your own efforts, you didn’t subject yourself to the righteousness of God which would cry out for a Savior and an alien righteousness to be credited to you.” The next verse he says, “You didn’t know that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. You didn’t think you needed a Savior, you thought your works got you to God; you didn’t need a Savior.”
He says later in that chapter, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” What was going to make a difference in those people who thought they were righteous enough, thought God was less righteous than He was? They were more righteous than they were so they could get to God through their own works. What did they need? They needed a word from heaven, a word of truth. “My Father who is in heaven.” They were ignorant of God’s righteousness. They were ignorant of Christ’s atonement, His satisfaction of God. They were ignorant of the place of faith, they thought they could earn their way in.
Doesn’t happen by flesh and blood. I go back so often to John’s gospel where Nicodemus says, “What do I do to be born again?” He’s talking spiritual: “What do I do? You say I have to be born again,” which is saying to the guy who was “the” teacher in Israel, “It’s not adding something to your life, you’ve got to go all the way back and start all over at the very beginning. You need to be reborn. You need to start again.” “How does that happen?” And Jesus says to him, “The wind blows where it wills; you hear the sound of it and you don’t know where it’s coming from or where it’s going; so is everyone who’s born of the Spirit.”
What a strange answer. He doesn’t say, “Pray this prayer. Repeat these words.” He says, “That’s a spiritual work. That’s the work of heaven.” “But we know that work is done with an instrument,” – and the instrument according to Peter, 1 Peter 1:23 – “are begotten again by the word of truth.” You cannot confess Jesus as Lord except by the Spirit of God, making clear the Word of God. So a church will focus on the great heavenly communication, the great heavenly communication; and that is the Word of God.
The whole of Scripture is about Christ, that the Old Testament anticipates Him, the anticipation of Christ. The Gospels announce His incarnation. The book of Acts, His proclamation. The Epistles, His explanation. The book of Revelation, His glorification. The church will be submissive to Scripture. It won’t be clever ideas, it’ll be the Word from heaven. What fool would stand and give His own ideas when he could speak a word from heaven? “Word of God is alive and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword.” So we turn to that which comes to us from heaven; and it’s so powerful.
Look at verse 18: “I also say to you that you’re Peter, and on this rock I’ll build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” What is the Lord saying here? He’s saying this: “Upon the rock, Peter, the confession that you have made, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,’ that true confession,” – you could see a play on words here – “you are stone, a small stone; but on this rock bed of your confession I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. My church will be built on divine truth that comes from heaven. And it is so powerful that it allows you to unlock the kingdom of heaven, to bind and loose.”
Now what is that? That’s kind of rabbinic talk. In what sense do believers, not just Peter, but do believers have the keys to the kingdom? In what sense can we say, “You shall be loosed from sins,” or “You shall be bound in sins”? Do we have some kind of authority to say that? No. But because we have the word from heaven, because we have the Word of God, upon which the Lord will build His church, we can tell people, “Your sins are forgiven, your sins are not forgiven.” On the basis of what? On the basis of whether or not they believe the Scripture.
If you say to someone, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, repent of your sin, embrace Christ,” and that person does that, I can say, “Your sins are forgiven.” If I give you the gospel and you say, “I’m not interested, I don’t want any of that; I want to live my life my way,” I can say to you, “You’re bound in your sins,” not because I have personal authority, but because I speak on the authority of the revelation from heaven. That’s the power in the hands of the church. It’s not some priestly authority. It’s not some pontifical authority. If you want to agree with heaven, then you have to agree with what heaven has revealed. Heaven has already made its decision. If you confess your sins and embrace Christ heaven says, “You’ve been freed,” and I can say, “Based on what heaven says, you are free from sin.”
But we can’t exercise any – I don’t have any authority other than the Word of God. My position gives me no authority. My experience gives me no authority. My intellect gives me no authority. My education gives me no authority. My knowledge gives me no authority. I never have any authority at all unless I speak to you the Word from heaven. That comes with all authority. And on the basis of that and your response to that, I can tell you what Scripture says about your consequences.
The church is built on a great confession and a great communication. So much more to say about that. But let’s look at a third thing: a great contrast – and this is remarkable. Verse 20: “Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ.” This is just so strange. Why? Why would He say don’t tell anyone that He is the Christ? If you have acknowledged Him as Lord and made the great confession, and you have submitted yourselves to the revelation of God, and you know He is Lord and God and Messiah, this is so counterintuitive, this seems so bizarre. Why are you warning somebody, laying out a prohibition to tell no one that He is the Christ? Is this like anti-evangelism? Why would He ever say that? Makes no sense on the surface, unless you know one thing.
In John chapter 6 – you don’t have to turn there – verse 15, it says that they tried to force Him to be a king. Do you remember what caused them to force Him to be a king? Free food. Yeah, He created food. Yeah, five thousand men. You can be sure there were at least five thousand women and fifteen thousand kids on the side of the hill, so maybe twenty, twenty-five thousands people and the disciples had not enough money to buy food, nor was there enough food around; so He just started creating it, and He created enough to feed everybody everything they wanted, and enough was left over to feed the apostles who had served the people.
This was pretty exciting stuff. This is like the ultimate welfare. He shows up and that’s it. No planting, no harvesting, no fishing, no nothing; He just shows up and we eat until we’re full. So they tried by force to make Him a king. And He did not let it happen, He disappeared. Why? Because they had a wrong view of His role, wrong view of what it was to be the Messiah. They had kind of a social view of it, or maybe you could call it an economic view of it. More than that, they figured if He could feed everybody like that, that was incredible. That was more dramatic even than what happened with Moses in the wilderness.
He certainly has enough power to overthrow the Romans. And they had a completely militarized and politicized view of Messiah. When Messiah came, this is how it was going to be: He was going to make Jerusalem and Israel the jewel of the world, and it was going to be a welfare state, and there would be food for everyone and an abundance of everything that everybody ever wanted or needed. He would defeat all their enemies, and He would establish the throne of David and fulfill all the promises of the covenant of Abraham. That was their definition of Messiah. But the one thing they did not need a Messiah to do was come and deal with their sins. No. They didn’t accept it, they were sinful. They were the people of God. They were the sons of Abraham. The reason they killed Jesus, he said, was because He told them they were sinful. That’s why they hated Him.
So He says, “Look, don’t tell them I’m the Messiah because their view is so warped that it’s going to cause problems. I can’t be bound by their foolish, self-indulgent, messianic expectations. My kingdom is not of this world,” He said. “It is irrelevant to the kingdom of salvation what the earthly governments are doing. I don’t answer people’s superficial needs, I’m here for soul salvation.”
Just expanding on that idea, the kingdom of God has no connection to earthly kingdoms. It’s irrelevant what happens to earthly kingdoms. The kingdom of God is not carried along in redemptive history by any earthly kingdom or kingdoms. The church has no direct role in rearranging sinners into a more acceptable lifestyle. This is not the true church. We understand a hybrid, composite society. We reject a national religion. We reject a sacral society. The kingdom of God is not anything connected to this world. Whatever politics the world has, whether it succeeds or fails at whatever political efforts it makes has zero affect on the kingdom of God, zero. Jesus said, “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” And that means death itself.
They had wrong messianic expectations. I suppose we could say they were into the prosperity gospel, or they were into the social gospel. In our generation, so called Christians in churches and denominations have become consumed with trying to upgrade society, trying to upgrade morality, trying to move the furniture around in the kingdom of darkness. Social activism, moralism, cultural conquest, social reconstruction or deconstruction is not the mission of the church. We can’t get caught up in any of that. It’s a sad, sad thing to see the church caught up in it today, so divisive doing so much damage. It always destroys churches, it has through its history, and it’s doing it now. We do not exist to propagate traditional values. We do not exist to create some kind of Christian ethic. We don’t march for anything but the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our mission is not better government, our mission is better people through salvation.
So we have a contrast here. We have a great confession, a great communication, the Word of God from heaven, but we have a contrast: we can’t reduce our message to what the world wants. That’s what’s wrong with pragmatism in the church – giving unbelievers what they want in their ungodly hearts.
The church is built, fourthly, on a great conquest, verse 21: “From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up the third day.” There it is: the cross. He must be killed. He must go to Jerusalem, suffer many things from the elders and the chief priests and scribes – that’s all the mock trials that He went through, scourging – be killed, be raised; and it happened.
He couldn’t be the Savior without the cross and the resurrection. You remember when Satan took Him to the wilderness to – Spirit drove Him into the wilderness, Satan showed up to tempt Him and temp Him, and said, “I’ll give You everything the Father’s promised You, only You can miss the cross.” The devil tried to tempt Him away from that. The cross is everything, absolutely everything.
Even in His birth there was a shadow over the manger. The cross was absolutely essential. “God” – in the death of Christ – “made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” In other words, on the cross Jesus took all the punishment for all the sins of all the people who had every believed through all of human history, and He absorbed it in three hours of darkness. How could one person absorb all that sin in three hours? Because He’s an infinite person. And so satisfied was God, that atonement was finished, and the price was paid for all who would ever believe. That’s why the apostles preached Christ and Him crucified.
Even when the preaching of the cross was to those who were perishing foolishness, it was a hard sell to go into the Gentile world and say, “Look, there’s only one God. There’s only one true God. Not all the gods that you think are gods, and certainly not Caesar. There’s only one God, the true and living God; and He has come in the form of His Son into the world as a man over in Israel, a Jewish carpenter who became a teacher. And, oh, by the way, He was rejected by the whole nation, including all the leaders. He was handed over to the Romans. The Romans crucified Him, executed Him as a criminal; and He rose from the dead three days later. And through Him and Him alone is eternal salvation.”
That was so offensive. “You’re telling these people in the Gentile world that the only hope of entering into a blissful afterlife was to believe in a Jewish carpenter rejected by all the leaders of His own nation and executed as a criminal by the Romans?” This is the offense of the cross. It offended the Jews; it was a stumbling block to them, too. They expected the Messiah to come in the clouds in the air. It is at the cross where we see the righteousness of God satisfied.
You say, “Well, couldn’t God just forgive all the sins?” No, He can’t. Every sin has to be punished. Do you understand the justice of God? Every sin ever committed by every person who’s ever lived will be punished either in that person eternally or on the cross in Christ as a substitute. God is too holy to overlook sin, but He can justify the sinner by punishing his Son in the sinner’s place. This is the great conquest, and this is why we preach the cross. There’s no salvation in any other than acknowledgment of the cross and the resurrection.
A great confession marks the church: “Jesus is Lord, Son of the living God.” A great communication: the Word from heaven inscripturated in the Bible. A great contrast: we are separate, we are transcendent, we are not part of the kingdom of this world. A great conquest: the cross and the resurrection. And then we’re introduced to a great conflict.
Just immediately, immediately, Peter goes from being a rock to a stumbling block. Just after our Lord had said He was going to die, “Peter took Him aside, began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.’ But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You’re a stumbling block to Me; for you’re not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.’”
Just a reminder that a true church is actively engaged in a war against Satan. In the strongest language possible, Peter who has just heard, “Blessed are you, Simon,” now hears, “Get behind Me, Satan,” just a few minutes later. Don’t get on the wrong side of divine purpose. The worst battles the church fights are not outside, but inside, because you have people defecting to Satan’s agenda. Anything contrary to the will of God puts you on Satan’s side. And you can go pretty fast from being a paragon of biblical revelation to being the devil’s tool, from being a rock to being a stumbling block.
So we understand that; this is spiritual warfare. Second Corinthians 10 – that passage comes to me so often because it defines so much. Second Corinthians 10:3, Paul says that we are fighting a warfare against fortresses. He says, “We don’t war according to the flesh.” We don’t use human weapons. We have to use a supernatural weapon, which as we know is the sword of the Spirit, the word of God. But what we’re doing in this war, he says in 2 Corinthians 10:5, “destroying speculations.” That’s the Greek word logismos: ideas, theories, viewpoints, perspectives, religions, ideologies. “We’re destroying ideologies,” – what ideologies? – “even every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God.” Any ungodly idea. Our spiritual war is constantly waged against any ungodly idea.
You know if you’ve been part of Grace Church very long that I’ve been engaged in that the whole time I’ve been here. I was reading yesterday the biography of John Knox, and they said about John Knox that he had amazing discernment. He could see the battle taking shape when others couldn’t. That’s the vigilance that is required, because Satan comes in the form of a believer so often. Satan wants to do his work through the people of God who lack discernment. So we have to understand that these fortresses – that word “fortress” means fort. It means tomb as well – same word – people’s anti-god fortresses. Their ideological fortresses become their tombs.
So we have to destroy all these ideologies lifted up against the knowledge of God, and then – I love this – take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. We have to cause people to think the way Christ does, to have the mind of Christ. It’s foundational to the church then to understand that there is a very, very subtle conflict going on all the time; and it isn’t that you want to be unloving, it isn’t that you want to be a fighter all the time, but it is that, for the sake of the safety and protection of the church, you have to know what’s coming and you have to fight with the weapon of the truth.
Looking at verses 24 to 26 – and I won’t keep you longer other than to say there are two things that wrap this up that I think are important. True church makes the great confession concerning Christ; submits to the great communication from heaven, the Word of God; lives out the great contrast, separation from the world; acknowledges the great conquest at the cross and the resurrection; is willing to face the great conflict with Satan and not be ignorant of his devices. And just two more.
There’s a great contradiction: life in the church. “Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?’”
Do you see the great contradiction? If you want to save your life, you what? Lose it. If you want to save your life, you lose it. Jesus said it’s hard to be a Christian, it’s hard. Many people try and they can’t; they love themselves too much. Unless you hate your own life, John 12, unless you hate the world and all that is in it, unless you’re weary of your own sin, Jesus said in Luke 9, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny” – who? – “himself, take up his cross and follow Me.” Count the cost. Count the cost.
I wrote a book along that line called Hard to Believe, because you have to humble yourself. You have to let go of everything you want in your natural flesh and embrace only what God knows is best for you. The gospel does not offer you what you want, it offers you what God wants, which is far better. But that’s what keeps people from Christ: they want what they want, not what He wants. A church is not a place where people come to get what they want, it’s a place where people come to hear what Christ wants.
Then a final word in verses 27 and 28. The church looks to a great consummation: “Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds.” We look for the return of Christ, don’t we? He’s going to make things right, that’s the promise: set up His kingdom; punish the ungodly, repaying them for their deeds, those who have rejected Him.
And then our Lord says something in verse 28. “Some of you who are standing here who will not taste death till you see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” You say, “Are they going to live till the second coming?” No, they’re just going to live till the next chapter, because in the next chapter is the transfiguration; that’s a preview of the second coming.
That’s a church. That’s a church. It’s marked by those things, established by our Lord. The word is used where it shouldn’t be used, but that’s a biblical church. Our thanks goes to the Lord for all these many years of leading us to understand His Word, leading us to be the church He wants us to be. And I’m telling you, if we haven’t seen anything else, we’ve seen this in a massive, massive display in the last few months, the last couple of months. There’s a hunger, even among believing people, for a church that is a church. And many of you have come, and we are so thankful that you’ve come. We hope you find here that which honors Christ and satisfies the desire of your heart; that’s our prayer.
Father, we thank You for Your Word; so much to think about. But it all comes down to the fact that You have given us Your Scripture to guide us, Your Holy Spirit to be our internal truth-teacher. Lord, now we come to time around Your Table. This is for Christians to acknowledge Your death, Your body given for them, Your blood shed to ratify the covenant of salvation. This is our time to be obedient. You instituted this in that last Passover. You said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”
Thank You for giving us the opportunity, Lord, to do this together. May we not do it in an unworthy way. Scripture warns us about that. We can bring judgment on ourselves if we take these symbols and do it in a frivolous way or superficial way, or we haven’t really dealt with the sin in our lives. This is a time for confession, cleansing of heart, so that we can partake in a way that pleases You. Amen.
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