Dear radio friends,
On this last Sunday of the year of our Lord 2002, I direct your attention to the Word of the Lord in Matthew 16:18: “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
These words of Jesus Christ are tremendous words of comfort and encouragement to all who love God’s church and know the perilous position of God’s true church in the world. Originally Jesus spoke those words to assure His disciples. He had been laboring for two and a half years. Many were at first attracted to Him, but most of them had eventually rejected His claim to be the Christ and had left Him. Jesus then asked His disciples the question, “Whom do men say that I, the Son of man, am?” Really, that question had this force to it: “What do we have to show for it all? The preaching, the miracles, the mighty works.” The answer of the disciples was not flattering. “They don’t even know who you are. They don’t believe you are the Christ. Some say that Thou art John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” Then the Lord asked, “But whom do you say that I am?” And to this question Peter, in the behalf of the disciples, responded, “Thou art the Son of God, the Christ.”
Then Jesus speaks these words. He speaks to encourage and to comfort. The Lord Jesus Christ is not discouraged. He is not depressed. He is confident! “I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. It is all going exactly as planned. My work is on course.” God’s sure, inflexible, sovereign purpose to gather a church in Jesus Christ knows no setbacks.
We need to hear that word on the last Sunday of this year. I say, those who love the church and know what the church represents on earth and who are awake to all that is against it, need to hear this word of Jesus.
The history of the church is always the same. The true church of God seems always about to be destroyed. In history, revealed in the Scriptures, it was the same. Always God’s people who knew the truth would fall away of themselves in their generations. They would depart from the living God, serve idols, provoke God to wrath. The Bible shows that the church, of herself, has a nature to go a-whoring from God and that it is God alone who preserves His church and brings her to repentance and truth.
The history of the church after the Bible, from the apostles to today, shows the same. It was never very long before heresy found its way into the church. Ungodliness was accepted of church members. Satan sought to corrupt the church within and to conform the church to the world. Always the church stands in need of reformation. And you would think, if you study church history, that the light of the church on the earth is about to be put out. But then God would raise up that light again
We need this encouragement. If we love the church and know her perilous place, we need to have this encouragement. But we also need to have this encouragement if we know ourselves. The devil is not finished when the church rejects false teaching. The devil’s hands are not then tied. His great instrument is our own sinful flesh, which can so hurt and work against the church. Our own backbiting, divisions, fighting, rash judgments of each other, taking offence when none is given, seeds of bitterness — all of these things, too, are great enemies to the church of God. We carry it within us. There is enough spiritual gunpowder, there is enough sin in each one of us, to blow up the visible church on earth and to tear her into shreds. We need to hear that word of encouragement.
What word of encouragement? Simply this: “I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Breathe those words into your soul. Sense something of the strength and the certainty of the Master’s words. This is not the resolve of an impotent man, of whom the prophet speaks in Isaiah 2, “Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils; for wherein is he to be accounted of?” This is not the boast of an architect or an engineer looking over the blueprints for a new skyscraper or hydroelectric dam, all of which will be cast down in a moment in the day of the Lord. This is not the ranting of a crazed world-leader plotting global conquest. These are the words of Him who sits at the right hand of God. It is the calm, yet intense, the certain and sure resolve of God’s own Son, who is Lord of lords and King of kings. “I will build My church.”
Breathe in every word of it to refresh your heart in this day of apostasy and lawlessness. “I, Christ of God, entrusted to perform God’s good pleasure, will (looking into the future — taking into account every conceivable obstacle) build (do everything to bring it together, put it in place) My church. It is Mine. It belongs to Me,” says Jesus. “I laid down My life for it.” As you would say to another person, “Hands off! That’s mine,” He says, “The church is Mine, and I will see this church through, I will build her to completion.”
Now, how shall we live in the church of Jesus Christ? Shall we become downcast over small numbers interested in the truth? Shall we stop trying to witness? Shall we conclude that they are just not interested? Shall we look for a juniper tree and commiserate with Elijah and say, “Well, apostasy has won. There is nothing left. I am left alone”? Or shall we say, “The church has failed me here and there. The church doesn’t provide what I need. I have to look to this group at college. I have to go to this movement for my spiritual needs.” Shall we say that? No!
God’s church is on earth. Are you privileged to be a member of the church in its truth? Then take your stand and hear the words of Jesus spoken with unwavering confidence: “I will build My church.”
What does Jesus mean? The word “church” is the Greek ecclesia, which refers to the gathering of those who are called, or a congregation of believers. Although the visible church on earth contains tares, that is, weeds in the wheat field, the true church is, nevertheless, the gathering together of those whom God calls out of the world, or the calling together of believers and their elect children. They are the chosen. They are the irresistibly summoned ones. They are the ones whom Christ has been commanded of the Father to gather out of the world and bring into the sheepfold of Christ.
We hear that the age of the church is over. We hear the false and blasphemous teaching that Christians should abandon visible churches where there are elders and deacons. We are told that the Spirit of God is no longer in the church. All of these teachings are blasphemy against the Word of God and against God’s Son. Christ’s work from the beginning of the world to the end of the world is to gather together His church. “I will build My church.”
What Jesus is saying is simply this: “I fully intend to do exactly what God eternally willed to be done. I will build a church as God’s eternal dwelling place for all eternity. I will build the church universal, yes. Out of all ages and races and nations, true. But I will build that local, that visible, that instituted church with elders and deacons. The Lord Jesus uses this very word “church” in Matthew 18, where He tells us that we must go and tell the church about an impenitent member. I cannot go and tell Moses. I cannot go and tell David. I cannot go and tell the universal church. I can only go and tell the local church with her elders as they lead the church. Jesus Christ is the Builder of every faithful local church on earth. And Jesus Christ says, “That church shall be on the earth. I will build My church. I will see to it that there is pure preaching. I will see to it that there are sacraments. I will see to it that there is Christian discipline. I will build My church.”
Now breathe that into your soul.
The church, Jesus says, is similar to a building. Christ is the foundation, and He continues to build that church out of the dunghill of the earth, out of fallen men and women. He builds a church that will stand to all eternity and that, when completed, will be called the New Jerusalem, the Tabernacle of God. Here is the figure: Jesus is the builder. Before Him are the blueprints of the divine Architect, the eternal will of God. The dimensions and the span of the beams and the color of the stones and the glorious design of this church — all according to God’s intentions. Jesus Christ lays each stone. He chisels and He shapes and He fits as a wise, skilled builder in whose hands are wisdom and understanding. He builds the church.
He says to Peter, “I’m going to build My church upon a foundation.” That foundation was Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. The foundation of the church was not Peter. The foundation of the church is not man.
You could sooner build again the twin towers of New York, only this time build them on top of each other and design it all to rest on a pebble, a little pebble — you could sooner do that than build God’s church on a man. Would you go out and design the Sears Tower to rest upon a grain of sand? Well, you had better try that before you try to build the church on man. No, the church is not built upon man. The church is built upon the confession of the truth — the truth that God gives in holy Scripture; the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God; the truth of Christ, the Son of the Blessed, the author and finisher of our faith. The church is built upon doctrine, upon the creedal “I believe,” upon the personal embracing of the truth of holy Scripture, the infallible, without error, Scripture.
Now, come. Breathe some pure air into your spiritual lungs. Get your nose out of the world. Exhale the smoke and the stench of men and breathe these words in: “I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
The Lord’s work of building the church is opposed, and the Lord’s resolve is challenged. As He goes out to build He sees forces mighty and ruthless seeking to frustrate and destroy His intentions. That is always the case. When, so to speak, the ground-breaking ceremony of the church was held long ago in the Garden of Eden, and God gave the promise of the Seed of the woman who would crush the serpent, then a declaration of war was issued. “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman; between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” The gates of hell rage against the building of the church.
The picture here is of the forces of sin, the kingdom of darkness under the rule of Satan, having one strategic aim — destroy Christ’s church. The gates refer to that which comes out of that kingdom. It refers to the organized, planned expeditions, the campaigns, the marching orders that the enemy receives to attack the building that Christ is making. That is always the case. If you take your membership in the church of Jesus Christ seriously, then you understand that you are in a spiritual war zone. You are in the church militant, the church that is called to take up the battle of faith. You are called to take the armor of the Word of God, in order that you might stand.
Do not be amazed at troubles in the church of Jesus Christ. Do not be amazed that there is evil attacking the work of Jesus Christ in the church from one hundred different directions. Do not be amazed about that. What you ought to be amazed about is if the world loves you and if there is no trouble. Then you should be startled. You should be startled by a false peace. You should be startled in the church if there are no warnings issued against false doctrine and sinful life and seductions of the world. If you do not hear that from your pulpit, you had better be afraid!
The true church on the earth is opposed. It is opposed by false doctrine that seeks to spoil you; evil living, which seeks to conform you to the enemy; the seduction of the world and world-conformity. And, I say again, that is not the worst of it. That is not the end of it. Because, you see, the enemy of the church is not simply the one outside. It is the one inside. It is also the one you and I carry in our own flesh. Our flesh goes out to the kingdom of darkness. Our flesh is allured by all of its sins. And our flesh is proud.
As we join in the confession, on this last Sunday of the year, that “we love Thy church, O God, and we pray for her on earth,” then we had better know our own sins, which are able to tear up the church and her fellowship — the sins of jealousy, the sins of cruel judgment, the sins of issuing one’s own judgment as being the rule of the church. I tell you with weeping that our own flesh is able to destroy and mutilate and hurt God’s church on earth.
When Jesus says that the gates of hell are against the church, He is not talking about a theoretical battle. He is not talking about little boys playing with toy soldiers in imaginary wars. I believe there is one work of God in time. That one work of God is: “I will build My church.” I believe that the gates of hell are rising up untiringly against it. I believe that your call and mine is: “To the walls. It’s no time to fight each other in the church over petty issues of jealousy. Rather, it is time to take our stand in the church of Jesus Christ on the side of the truth.”
But the world begins to boast. Satan begins to have glee. He says, “Don’t you know? We destroyed the church long ago. We tore it down and have erected in its place the false church. We have put man on top. We have subjected the church to the traditions of men. We have infiltrated the church, which was once sound in doctrine. It seems as if overnight we have taken away from her her confession of sola scriptura, the Scriptures alone. We have entered into Solomon’s temple and carried away the gold thereof.” The devil says, “Are there churches? Oh, yes. But you know how they’re referred to today? Spiritual aid stations, community revival centers, coliseums for entertainment, dance floors, places where the false prophets speak swelling words of pride. They are no longer church,” he gloats. And what about those traditional, solid churches built upon solid confessions? Ah, says the devil, “look at her children, those who are supposed to be dedicated to the Lord. We have taken her young men. We have taken her young women. We have taken their strength. They left the church. They are with us, now. They are spaced out on drugs. They are in homosexual relationships. And they are sleeping with their boyfriends and girlfriends. The church,” asks the devil, “where is it?”
Then the Lord pictures the devil looking out his front door. And there is Jesus building His church. In Singapore, where the devil had them worshiping the year of the dragon and parading in the streets sticking needles through their cheeks, a church is born. Throughout this land, in a day when the Sabbath is sold over to man, when Mother’s Day is more important than the Sabbath Day, when Sunday is used for sports and gardening, when men call Sunday “my day,” and where men rush on Monday, bumper to bumper, to work, believing that it is all about the great American dream, it is all about checking your stock portfolio, it is all about considering yourself decent folks, being a good guy, and dreaming about Friday night and how drunk you can get — right there, in that land, Jesus Christ, out of the human dunghill, is building His church.
The enemy rages. The fangs of the dragon are bared. A screech is heard from the bowels of hell: “That church again!”
Christ builds His church. Does Christ flinch before the devil? Oh, no. He speaks and judgments fall on them who tempt His wrath and scorn His love. The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved; He uttered His voice, the earth melted. Be not afraid or dismayed by reason of that great multitude, for the battle is not yours, says Jesus to the church. It is God’s. “Ye shall not need to fight in this battle. Set yourself and stand still and see the salvation of the Lord. Hear the Word of the Lord.” Buildings will collapse. Economies will utterly fail. The best-laid plots of men in welfare and social security and health care are all going to be ruined. And man in his mightiest estate is going to be cast down. But the church will never go under. It shall never be overcome. “I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
That is our confidence. Let us labor, then, dependently and faithfully. Let us stick close to the church in our lives. There have always been those who said that the visible church is corrupt and you ought to come out of it. These are the people who forget themselves. Stick close to the church. Center your life in the church. Insist upon the preaching of the truth. Cherish the church. Give yourself for the church. Serve her in her need, for she is glorious. She is God’s holy city. Who can tell of its glory? The day will come when all shall be cast down and the works of men shall be turned out as empty. And they shall vanish in a moment. But not the church which Christ builds. Breathe it in: “I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Father, we thank Thee for Thy word. Bless it to our hearts in Christ, Amen.