The Church: Confidence Amid Reality

This morning, on Pentecost, the day the Church began, one final sermon in our series on the Church.  For the most part in this series we’ve not tried to be practical.  (Not that that would’ve been wrong.)  But we haven’t talked about how to grow the Church, how much to give to the Church, how the Church could gain more influence in the culture.  Instead, we’ve dealt mainly with the Church as a concept: What is a Church For?  What does the Church do?  What does Church leadership look like?  What is the heartbeat of the Church?  

Today, I wanted to end our series by going back to the beginning, the very beginning, even before the Church started.  In Matthew 16, our Lord Jesus Christ spoke about His plans for a Church, and He spoke confidently, like He knew what He was doing.  God willing, by listening to Him we’ll leave this series with that note of confidence ringing in our ears.  

Please turn to Mathew 16:

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 

I don’t want you to miss something that seems important: when Jesus asked his disciples what the ‘word on the street’ was about who He really was, notice that He was surmised to be one of the tough guys: John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets – none of these were considered wilting daisies, smarmy or obsequious.  You’d never think to say, for instance, John the Baptist, meek and mild.  Point being that Jesus had – has – something strong, even fierce about his manner.  We should keep that in mind.  

V. 17 – Jesus’ initial response to Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, is to call Him blessed.  That word isn’t a small word, although recently evangelicals have trivialized it.  To be blessed means that you – at your essence – align with what God was after when He came up with the idea of humanity.  That you’ve entered into the salvation that God set out to make possible when He called Abraham and told him that through him the families of the earth would be blessed.  Blessed: a true human being.  Blessed: come into the family of Abraham.  Blessed: saved!  

And then Jesus says that Peter didn’t enter this blessing through “flesh and blood,” that is, through anything native in him.  Through any insight or attainment of His own strength.  This blessing, this return to true human-ness, this salvation out of the sin-wrecked world, evidenced by/ activated by Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, was a gift from Jesus’ Father.  

And that’s the case for everyone since Peter.  Whoever believes that Jesus – the Jesus Peter knew – is the Christ…believes that so deeply from his heart that his confession of Jesus is his public identity, keeps acknowledging that Jesus is Lord as long as he has breath – he’s come into contact with God, he’s received this knowledge into his spirit from God’s Spirit.  In short, what we got on our hands is a supernatural situation!

Now we come to the sentence that’ll end our little series on the Church: 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 

Did a smile play around Jesus lips when he incorporates this pun: You are Peter – petros, a word that means stone – and on this Rock I will build my church.  

Peter is the rock, the first foundation block in the building of the Church.  And sure enough, when we read the book of Acts, who is the one preaching the first Christian sermon after the Pentecost when the Spirit came down and created the Church?  ____________  Who sometime later officially opens the door to Gentiles becoming God’s covenant people by his preaching to Cornelius?  _____________  

So, it’s Jesus stated intention that became historical fact: upon the foundation of this Rock, Peter, Christ did erect His Church.  But then, we should say three more things about that, two positive and one negative.  

When Christ says to Peter, upon this rock I will build my Church, he wasn’t just Peter, full stop.  He was Peter who had just confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.  So the one upon whom the Church is raised won’t be Peter the married guy, or Peter the fisherman, or Peter the denier of Christ, or Peter who liked Boston Crème donuts – although some of these were true about Peter, but Peter proclaiming the truth about Christ…that’s the Peter upon which Christ will build his church.    

Secondly, when Christ spoke thus to Peter, he did so as Peter stood among his fellow apostles.  So, it’s likely that Jesus was speaking to Peter and through him to the other apostles.  So, the Church was built on Peter, Peter proclaiming the truth of Jesus, Peter among the other Apostles.  Compressing that: the Church was built on the Apostles.  In the beginning of the book of Acts, wherein we find the record of how the blueprint of this Church was worked out in history, we don’t simply see Peter at the founding of the Church, but all the Apostles, though Peter is the taken-for-granted frontrunner.  

And this interpretation and observation is confirmed in Ephesians 2:20, where we read that the Church is built on the foundation of the Apostles. 

The negative thing we should say is that there’s no indication in this passage or in Acts or in the Epistles that Christ would build His Church upon Peter and Peter’s successors, and how ‘bout we call them popes.  Now, that is how things developed in history, but that development didn’t emerge from anything within God’s Word, and so the wisdom of it is questionable.  

Ok, all that to say is that Jesus left us in no doubt about how His Church would be built.  #1 – Christ-centeredness – You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.   A Church should be preoccupied with proclaiming Christ.  #2 – The Christ the Church proclaims should be the Christ presented by the Apostles – Upon this Rock I will build my Church.

#1 – Christ-centeredness: Churches rarely go away completely from Christ, though that’s happened.  But Churches have – in the name of charity or relevance or pragmatism or political leverage or popularity – slipped out of Christ-centeredness.  Christ becomes an add-on to social work or speaking politically or staking out positions on cultural issues.  It’s arguable, but I believe this has in large happened in the Congregational/UCC Church.

Also, it’s not uncommon for members of the body of Christ, as individuals, to drop out of Christ-centeredness and instead orient their life by the customs of the surrounding society, entertainment & fun, their family time.  

To say that Jesus is the Christ is to say that Jesus is the Lord of lords…but many professing Christians don’t actually believe that.  Much of the time, as in Jesus’ day, there’s not an outright rejection of Jesus’ lordship, but a procrastination.  First I need to arrange my career, my family, my ___________.  

#2 – The Christ of the Apostles: How can professing Christians live and think as if Jesus weren’t the Christ, and yet still with their mouths acknowledge Jesus is Lord… and still manage to sleep at night?  It’s because, in their mind, they’ve replaced the Jesus of the Apostles with another Christ.  

An easier Christ!  The Christ of the Apostles is, on the surface, hard to understand, commanding, demanding, a setter of almost impossibly high standards, casually calling his followers to lives of rigor, sacrifice, focus, discipline.  We watched that testimony of Andrew Klavan a few months ago in which Klavan called Christ “a hard man.”  I believe that’s right.

Yet if we stop reading the Scripture, stop paying attention to the Christ of the Apostles, we inevitably whittle down Jesus to someone more docile.  We smooth out His edges.  And then we pass down this friendlier Jesus to the next generation, and they get to work shaping Him even more to their liking.  

And yet some believers resist this dumbing down of Christ!  There remains in the world this people who stubbornly keep rejecting the Jesus of their cultures, the Jesus of their own imaginations… and instead they set themselves in the position where the word of Christ lives in them richly.  The Christ of the Apostles – whom John fell terrified before when he saw Him in His splendor – is speaking to them and, instead of forming Christ, they are a Christ-formed people.  

I want to insert an application here.  Pray for me.  You’re hopefully reading your Bible at home, reading/listening to other expositors of Scripture.  But week by week you’re returning to my voice interpreting and applying Scripture.  

Thus, in God’s providence I have a lot to do with Christ being formed in you.  That is, my interpretation and applications of Scripture are shaping the skeleton of your beliefs, your assumptions, your instincts of what is sound or unhealthy.  And in large part my teaching will fill out for you what it looks like to apply the truth of Christ in your family and pocketbook and schedule.  

And even once I’m gone or you leave from here, you’ll carry this Landry-portrayal of Christ into your family, your children, and they’ll take that into the next generation.  And meanwhile, all of you will be working the land and voting and purchasing and taking in art – and society and culture will be taking shape out of what you and your children think about Christ, which they got partly from you which you got partly from me.  

To quote Paul: who is sufficient for these things?  It’s imperative that I be on top of my game right now.  That I don’t get entangled into the affairs of this life, so that I take time for reading, for writing my thoughts clear, for keeping my conscience clean.  You don’t want me getting caught up in theological fads that might momentarily come off as interesting but sooner or later will leave everyone malnourished.  You don’t want me gravitating toward the Christ of Fox News or Christ of CNN – the Christ stoking up people to focus on the world’s sin or the Christ claiming that there is no sin except for whiteness and LGBTQ phobia.  

It takes time and concentration and focused reading and a mind not clouded by sugar and financial worries and greediness for gain to hold onto the Christ of the Apostles.  Pray for me!  Pray every day!  As if, to a degree, your life depended on it.  

Let’s move on, and allow me to quickly retreat from that emphasis on your pastor and provide a counterbalance: I will build My Church, Christ said.  You can imagine the scene: Here’s one man speaking to twelve men.  One of those men’s name is Judas.  Within the year the other eleven men will back away from Him.  Peter, the one who will be the first foundation stone of Christ’s Church, within the year will disavow him.  And within the next minute he’ll demonstrate that he’s profoundly ignorant of how real progress works.  

To take away a truism after imagining that scene: if Jesus is reliant totally on these men… or on any human for that matter, we’ve got a problem.  We’re so inconstant!    

In the poem printed on the back of your bulletin, C.S. Lewis is praying, asking God to hear what he’s saying now, to deal with the CS Lewis he’s presenting to God in the moment…because he knows that, just as the demon possessed man said of himself – that he is Legion.  A few hours – or minutes! – after he gets up from praying, he’ll want other things, contradictory things.  Every man has many faces, many desires, most are contradictory.

In this moment I’m convinced about Jesus Christ, I’m ready to do the right thing, “no sacrifice can be too great for me to follow Him” – and in the next moment all I want is to find a nice house to live in, to be comfortable, to have air conditioning, for everyone to like me.

We are so fickle.  (I’m not saying we should continue to be.). We are so gullible about our resolve.  We are so captive to the moment’s impression.  We don’t know ourselves.  

We are weak.  We’re unreliable, to say the least.  Thank God that Christ didn’t say I will build my Church through my work in people… though that would be true in a way.  But he kept it simple: I will build My Church.  

I will.

Back to that scene: there is that Man speaking to those inconstant men, and together they’re inside a room that can hold 13, or perhaps they’re standing in a particular corner of a particular field.  Imagine you’re one of those men, and you’re listening.  For some reason your eyes fasten onto Jesus’ nose hairs.  Hmm.  Then you bat away some gnats that have taken an interest in the group.  As usual Jesus is saying things you only partially understand.  It’s all so ordinary and small.  And you’re….well, you’re you.  

And this Jesus is saying, I will build my Church.  We discover later that what He means is NOT that He’ll create a great building or that – a la Israel – He’d form a Christian nation among non-Christian nations.  We discover that what He meant was He was going to form a world-wide organization that was also a living organism through which His Spirit ran.  And that this organization/organism would be the new Temple of God.  A Temple not confined to a particular place or limited to one generation.  Where, in the Church’s various local expressions, Heaven and earth would intersect during the last days of the old earth.  The greenhouse cultivating eternal life out from whence God will eventually remake the heavens and the earth.  Wow!  

I will build.  Christ would do all that!  He would create and build that.  He would maintain it over the years.  What slim resources He seems to have to work with!  How implausible it all must have seemed in that moment.  

And yet today Nick is in Oregon finishing his preparation to take a group to Tahoe in order that Christ’s Church would be built.  All over CT the Church is gathering in their local expressions.  I’d bet within New England there’s a Church within any 15 minute drive…and this is the most unchurched region of the US.  In Europe right now, Christians are having coffee and cake after already having gathered six hours ago.  Here’s Tonia’s text to our family this morning: Had a wonderful church service at the Arche today. Service was over 2 hours. Great music, great sermon (celebrated Pentecost today) and great mission’s video. All very encouraging. 

Wish you all a blessed Sunday wherever you are. Love you all.

In Sulawesi, Indonesia, Arnie’s son is following in his dad’s footsteps of building Christ’s Church.  My son returned from a mission trip to Uganda on Friday and today is his first official day as an intern in an Indianapolis church.  In Alaska you’ll find the Christ of the Apostles.  In China.  In North Korea.  In Iran.  In Scandinavia.  

Christ did it!  He said He would and He did it!  Christ built and is building His Church.  There are people worldwide who have come into the blessedness of salvation through the proclamation of the Christ of the Apostles.  Hallelujah!  

And this, in spite of opposition.  The gates of hell have risen up against the Church.  You’ll recall that the “gates” aren’t literal gates but – as in Proverbs 31 – the city gates were something like city hall, the place where business was done, transactions happened, things moved forward.  So the gates of hell are the schemes and stratagems and campaigns of demons and death to dismantle Christ’s project.  

Here’s from an article in the Federalist I read this week:

Bud Light enlists a trans ladyface minstrel to sell beer. Target hires a trans Satanist to design LGBT clothes for kids and starts selling “binding” and “tucking” swimwear. North Face launches a marketing campaign featuring a creepy drag performer hocking LGBT gear to children ages 2 to 7. The Los Angeles Dodgers gives an award to a demonic hate group whose sole purpose is to blaspheme and profane the Catholic faith….

On the other side [of faith] is what the writer Paul Kingsnorth, among others, has called the Machine, which at its root is a Nietzschean rebellion against God that turns out also to be “a rebellion against everything: roots, culture, community, families, biology itself.” …The religion of the Machine, of progress and technology and will to power, has a very long pedigree. It goes back to the Garden of Eden, where the serpent assured Eve, “You will not surely die,” that if she ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, she would become like God.

That was the first rebellion; we have been reenacting it ever since. It is perhaps easier to see in our own time how every rebellion against God, from the Garden to now, is also an attempt to overthrow Him, to become like God. Indeed, the desire to play God is the dark heart of both transgenderism and its close cousin, transhumanism. Like other evils of our age — abortion and euthanasia, to name the obvious ones — these are, at their roots, extremely candid manifestations of pride, the source of all sin. – John Daniel Davidson, the Federalist

And so, we’ve seen since the beginning of time this assault against God, the powers of Hell setting out to destroy the image bearers of God and through them the rest of creation… and thus dishonor the Creator.  At many times these power brokers of hell have been quite successful: in history the light of truth has flickered, you had to look far and wide to find true faith.  Indeed, the sturdiest and godliest have sometimes despairingly concluded: I’m the only one left following God.  

And the attacks against God have only grown in intensity since the Church began that first Pentecost after Christ’s Resurrection.  We have been targeted by the Enemy.  The thrust of the attack, however, has not come from outside the church, as this article might be implying.  The powers of hell have been more sinister, corrupting the Church from within through worldliness, sloth, envy, covetousness etc of professing Christians.  

Brothers and sisters, don’t you find in your own inner life this current that runs against Christ and His Church?  I know I do in mine.  There’s something foolish in us that, like the Woman Folly, wants to tear down her own house.  In me, Pastor Colin, that would join the powers of hell in destroying the Church. 

And yet, with all this demonic opposition that even has a beachhead in the Church itself, the Church still stands.  How do we know in our experience that Christ is the King of kings and Lord of lords?  Because in spite of secular sitcoms and religious hypocrisy and Pottery Barn marketing and bad Christian art and the proliferation of entertainment and persecution from the strongest governments and church marketing movements and the advent of Pride Month and the sometimes blustering, un-self-aware Christian backlash against Pride Month and the lack of prayer in the Church and immature youth pastors and a thousand other traps set against the Church….Jesus Christ still builds His Church.

GK Chesterton had it right:  At least five times … with the Arian and the Albigensian, with the Humanist sceptic, after Voltaire and after Darwin, the Faith has to all appearance gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases it was the dog that died. – G.K. Chesterton

Brothers and sisters, Somers Baptist Church is a church resuscitation.  Every church has its problems; we are a church on the brink.  Since I’ve been here, there have been days when I thought, Man this is easy, we’re going to coast back to restored health.  There are just as many days when I think I doubt this is going to work…just too many complications.  

If we look to one another for encouragement, we’ll be up and down.  Because sometimes we’ll find one another wise and courageous and godly.  But then other times in each other we’ll see doubt and impatience and immaturity…a lack of seriousness.  

Christ is not limited by us, though.  He could do something with us, even us.  I know He will build His Church globally.  I don’t know… I don’t know if He’ll keep this church’s doors open.  

But while we don’t know Christ’s plans for SBC, we know the doors are still open.  And we know what to do as long as they are:  As individuals in the Body of Christ, and in the Church as a local expression of Christ’s Body, let’s work at Christ-centeredness.  And let part of that effort be in keeping the Christ of the Apostles, the Christ of Holy Scripture in front of us.  May the Word of Christ live regally among us.  May God give us diligence and focus in that.  May we be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves.      

We come to the end of our little series on the Church and pray, Christ, have mercy on us. Hold not your peace at our ignorance, our immaturity, our lack of seriousness, but send Your Spirit to teach us.  Unto the glory of God, send out Your light and truth and strengthen us – not necessarily with other wealth – but with riches of faith and understanding.  We would see Christ.  Amen. 

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