Evangelical Community Chapel at Liberal: a Molalla, Oregon Church

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What is the Church?

May 1st, 2011 by Vic

May 1, 2011

Matthew 16

“WHAT IS THE CHURCH”

 

The word for church is used 115 times in the N.T. but only 3 of these times by Jesus.  Jesus uses the word church once in Matthew 16 and 2 times in Matthew 18 where He discusses the responsibility of church discipline and the need of forgiveness.

 

In the last chapter (15:21) Jesus led his disciples into Gentile territory to avoid some bitter Jewish opposition.  Gentiles were looked down on by Jews, yet a woman among these despised people understood the plan of God better than the critical Jews.  Jesus states His mission as the Messiah (“I was not sent”…) and the woman agrees, but she says God’s grace is unlimited.  She does not need the whole loaf of God’s grace.  A couple crumbs could meet her needs.

15:29 Jesus goes into Gentile territory east of the Sea of Galilee again.

15:39 Jesus crossed the sea back to Jewish territory.

16:1 Immediately the opposition appeared.

16:13 So Jesus takes His disciples 30-40 miles north to the ski resort around Caesarea Philippi to get alone with them.

16:1-4 Opposition from these religious leaders is really a paradox.  The Sadducees were wealthy aristocrats willing to cooperate with the Romans to keep their wealth and privileges.  They were liberals.  They believed only the books of Moses were God’s true word.  They did not believe in a resurrection.  The Pharisees were looking for a Messiah; the Sadducees were not.  The Pharisees were the conservatives who tried to keep the letter of the law, the prophets, and the writings.  These were very different groups, but they came together against a common perceived threat.

 

They ask for a sign from heaven.  The rabbis believed that satan had power to do magic and miracles like turning water to blood and sticks into snakes.  But they believed only God can show a sign from heaven, like darken the sun or turn the shadow back.

 

Jesus rebuked them.  They recognized God’s working in the weather, but failed to recognize the work of God happening all around them in the ministry of Jesus.  He says the only sign they will get is the sign of Jonah.  The sign of Jonah was Jonah himself and his message.  Now God’s sign is Jesus and His message.  Jesus is God’s last word.  If men cannot see God in Jesus, they will not be able to see God in anything else.

 

Jesus is standing right in front of them and they did not see.  Who’s really being tested here?  These religious leaders should have been studying their Scriptures.  They should have been looking for the fulfillment of the prophecies.  Are we watching and expecting the coming of Christ?  We should be.

 

16:5-12  Jesus leaves the area and continues to teach His disciples.  In 16:9 He rebukes the disciples for not remembering the 5 loaves, the 5,000 men, and the 12 baskets of leftovers, the 7 loaves, the 4,000 Gentile men and the 7 baskets of leftovers.  Why are you panicking about bread when Jesus is with you?  The multitude of Jews was fed and the multitude of Gentiles was also fed.

 

All those in the presence of Jesus are filled and provided for.  Just as manna was provided in the wilderness, Jesus provides salvation, abundant life, and universal shalom today.  The disciples should have learned that.  Jesus is thinking about the hard hearts of the critics and the disciples are thinking about food.

 

The 12 were so preoccupied with their immediate problem that they had not considered the meaning of the events that had occurred.  Like John Dunton told me last week, he thinks he’s learning something at school, but he has not had time to reflect on it yet.

 

The disciples had not learned to consider the meaning of Jesus activity and words beyond their immediate context.  They had not taken time to meditate.  Jesus says plainly, “I’m talking to you about the teachings of these extreme groups.”  Don’t allow unbelievers to take your eyes off Jesus.  Their teaching has a negative influence.

 

16:13-16  Jesus took them to Caesarea Philippi to teach them.  This is a 25 mile walk beyond the NE shore of the Sea of Galilee.  This city was at the base of a large cliff.  The pagan temple for the god Pan was built around the entrance to a deep cave that was one of three headwaters to the Jordan River.  The cave went down to the water.  The doorway to this cave was called the gate of Hades.  Wicked sacrifices were done inside this cave.

 

Jesus starts by asking the disciples who people think He is.  Was there anyone who understood Him?  How did they classify Him?  What are the rumors on the street about Jesus’ identity?  Identity is very important.  What we all must learn is that we are who we are in God’s eyes, nothing more and nothing less.  The world gives us many false identities.  But who are you really?

 

One rumor is that Jesus is John the Baptist come back from the dead.  Jesus and John preached the same message.  Both attracted large crowds of common people.  There may have been a physical similarity.

 

Another rumor is that Jesus is Elijah.  Both did many mighty acts.  Both raised people from the dead.  Both healed lepers and gave sight to the blind.

 

Another rumor says Jesus is Jeremiah the weeping prophet.  Both had compassion on the people.  Both were men of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

 

Many were saying Jesus is a prophet.  Prophets speak the word of God with authority.  Prophets are good teachers.  Prophets spoke on behalf of the Lord.

 

16:15  “But what about you?  Who do you say I am?”  Our knowledge of Jesus cannot be second hand.  Our knowledge of Jesus is not just knowing about Jesus.

 

Peter says, “You are the Christ”.  Jesus then says, “You are Peter and I’m really happy to hear you say that because it means that God has been talking to your heart.  You’ve been doing some thinking.”  “On this belief I will build my church through people responding to God’s Spirit.”  Several times before the disciples had called Jesus the Christ or the Son of God, but each of those was in the context of a miracle.  This is the first time they have declared Jesus as Christ without any external motivation.  Jesus complements Peter for recognizing Jesus’ true identity.  Then just 2 minutes later he calls Peter satan.

 

25 years after this event Peter wrote that Jesus is the living stone (1P 2:4), the chief cornerstone (1P 2:7), the builder and the building.  Then Peter says, we as Christians are like living stones now being built.  But Peter is clear.  Jesus is the rock and the church He is building is spiritual not physical.

 

Read 16:17-23

 

There are 4 facts assumed about the church.

1. It’s spiritual.  2. It’s personal.  3. It’s future.  4. It’s permanent.

 

The Church is a SPIRITUAL PROJECT.  Jesus said He would build “Upon this rock”.  He was not pointing to the huge cliff above the city.  Some are quick to say that the church was to be built upon Peter.  He was to be the founder of the first church.  No one claims the church was built on Mt. Hermon.  The prophets of the OT said Jesus was the Rock.

 

The Sermon on the Mount taught that reality is spiritual not physical.  The kingdom of heaven is a spiritual reality.  Jesus emphasized the spiritual.  It would be unusual for Him to now be talking about a physical rock.  Although the church is likened to a temple in one sense, the word church is never used to signify a building.

 

The Church is spiritual.  Spiritual laws and principles are used; spiritual sacrifices are offered; spiritual fruits are grown; spiritual abilities are exercised.  We are spiritually a royal priesthood.  We are living stones and the life in us is the Spirit of Jesus.  It all begins with our belief in Jesus as the Christ.

 

The church is a PERSONAL PROJECT.  Jesus said, “I will build MY church.”  Jesus is in charge and He will build His church.  He does not say, “We will build our church.”  He did not say the Church depended on Peter.

 

When Jesus used this word εκκλησίαν or church in that day it only meant an independent, organized, democratic gathering of people for a definite purpose at a particular time.  The word synagogue was used to identify an assembly of the people of God.  A church was a town meeting.

 

Jesus was setting apart the N.T. gathering of people from a regular town meeting by saying, I and My.  In contrast to other groups, Jesus is in charge of this gathering of people.  This gave the disciples a clue that something different was about to happen.

 

Jesus’ relationship with the church is compared to at least 12 different images in the N.T.  Let me mention a couple.

 

Col. 1:18

The church is the body of Christ and He is the head.  This image reminds us of His importance.  He is in control.  Our life and purpose is found in Him.  We are all one in Him. (Col 3:11)  This suggests a close relationship with Jesus and one another.

 

Eph. 5:26-32; Rev. 21:9

The church is the bride of Christ and He is the Bridegroom.  This image reminds us of His love and concern for us.  In his life we occupy a very high position.  We are continually in his thoughts.  He loves us more than we deserve.  When we commit our lives to Him there is a mystery of love and union that nothing else compares to.

 

Heb. 4:14; I Peter 2:9

The church is like a royal priesthood and Christ is the High Priest.  This image reminds us of our responsibility to the world.  Our relationship to Christ gives us responsibility.  We can encourage people to come to God.  We can pray for others.

 

John 10:27-30

The church is the flock and Jesus is the Great Shepherd.  He owns us, He leads us, He feeds us, and He cares for us.  We can choose not to follow, but we were created to follow and will enjoy life more if we do.

 

The church is compared to a grape plant.  It is organic.  It is alive.  The vine is Jesus.  The branches are the Christians.  Jesus supplies the strength and we produce the fruit because he is working through us.

 

The church is compared to a building and all the Christians are living stones.  Jesus is a cornerstone, the keystone, the foundation, and the builder.

 

The Church is spiritual – This Rock is Jesus.

The Church is personal – I…My

 

The Church is a FUTURE PROJECT.  Jesus was not starting the Church with his disciples.  He said, “I will build.”  That means in the future.  Actually He sent His Holy Spirit to build His church.

 

The church was born at Pentecost.  There were a lot of other assemblies and gatherings of people, but this is the spiritual project, the personal project, and the future project.

 

The Church is a PERMANENT PROJECT.  Jesus said, “the gates of Hades cannot overcome the church.”  I Cor 3:11 says that the foundation of the church is Jesus.  The only way to destroy the church is to destroy the foundation.  Gates do not attack.  Satan is on the defense.

 

In 1940 Hitler said, “I will tear up the Christian church by the roots.”  But Hitler was not in control.

 

Hades is a word used for the unseen world, the land of the departed, the city of death.  The pagan temple in Caesarea Philippi used it for their cave.

 

The Church in one sense is more the activity of God’s people than the people.

 

If the church was so powerful, why would Jesus have to die?  Peter took Jesus aside to assure Him that His disciples would protect Him.  They would protect Him and keep Him out of Jewish territory.  Jesus won’t have to die.

 

Jesus had just said He must go to Jerusalem, but Peter did not understand the ‘must’.  Jesus’ purpose in life was not the same as Peter’s.  Peter had just called Jesus the Christ and now he wants to take charge.  Peter becomes like a stumbling block; no longer a rock.

 

Sometimes we try to correct God and tell him how to act.  We have our own agenda and forget that we are part of His story.  He is not part of our story.

 

We do not build the church.  The Church of God is more than a gathering of people of similar interests.  We are not compared to a washing machine, but a body.  God’s Spirit flows through us.  We are not compared to a cluster of fiber optic cables supporting a computer network.  We receive our nourishment from the vine.  The substance of the Church is not us but God.  The fellowship of the Church is not mutual caring, but life in the Spirit.  Common interests may hold a club together, but the glue of the Church is the grace of God given by His Spirit.  The church is different from a social club or sport club.  It exists because of God, not because of man.

 

The church as a body has a ministry in the world to be light, salt, leaven, a royal priesthood.  We are a preserving agent in our world.  The people of God have a ministry as the Church to exercise our gifts.  The church has never been a perfect body, bride, or branches.  It is being perfected.  But the church is God’s plan to change the world.

 

We are to relate to one another as The Trinity relates.  We really do need each other.

Jesus said, “I will build My Church” and satan has no power over the Church.  The Church has power over the gates of Hades.  The Church is built to attack the gates of Hades and overpower it.

 

16:21-23  Immediately Jesus predicts His suffering and death.  There are 4 more predictions in Matthew with increasing clarity.  But the cross is not the end.

 

16:24-28  Jesus continues to teach his disciples.  Rather than taking charge they must take up their cross.  This is not a cross of sickness, but an attitude of willingness to suffer to follow in Jesus’ steps.  It is a radical choice to deny self and find life in Him.

 

There are 2 reasons to deny self and take up our cross to follow Jesus.  The most compelling is Jesus’ example.  The second is the coming judgment.

 

1 Peter 2:9-12

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