"The Gates of Hell Shall not Prevail"
Text: Matthew 16:15-19
January 31, 1999
When we visited this text last Sunday, we read: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (v.16) and we established that a solid, firm confession of faith like this confession of Peter is the foundation of the church. Peter’s admission that Jesus is the Anointed One, and the long expected redeemer of the Jews is news! For it is through the Jews that salvation has come to the world as Jesus said, "You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we know for salvation is come from the Jews." John 4:22. What Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman could as well be spoken to our generation because when our confession is weak, lacking in courageous directness (as in Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God), we also worship what we do not know! Jesus is the Christ means that we flatly affirm the second person of the trinity, the Son, as revealed in the flesh of Jesus. Christ is not Jesus’ last name!
With regard to the Jesus’ statement, "salvation is from the Jews" we should note that when Simeon exclaimed, the Christ child in his arms, ". . .my eyes have seen Your salvation," (Luke 2:30) he was attaching divine saving significance to Jesus. His finger was upon the very purpose for which God made visitation "in the sight of all people,": "a revelation to the Gentiles (that would be us) and for glory to your people Israel." (vv31-32). The prophetess Anna concurred in this opinion and she shared her opinion "to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem." (v.38). These are the meanings which attach themselves to the word Christ, then and now. Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One for us, the One who came on a divine mission to rescue and redeem us. Rescue and redeem? By all means. Jesus was the Christ in order to rescue us from a future without God—total, and hopeless annihilation. And that such destruction should be visited upon us and be declared just is beyond dispute. For we, you and I, are not only framed in nature to do wicked, perverse and evil things—indeed such behavior is "natural" for our unregenerate nature. Truly all who deserve eternal punishment have chosen it and all who choose it do receive it unless they throw themselves upon the gracious offer of salvation by our merciful God through this Christ. That’s the redeem part of the mission of Christ in Jesus. While Anna spoke only of the redemption of Jerusalem, that was but a figure for the whole of Israel, and true to this prophecy Jesus did come to His own and they received Him not. As Jesus cried on His approach to Jerusalem: "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace. . .because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you." Luke 19:42 and 44. So, let us be wise and firmly, directly proclaim that Jesus is God, the Christ and Messiah. Just so Peter says, "Son of the living God." A living God, not a dead one. Not a God of ideas only, a mental construct but God the Almighty, the Awe-inspiring One, singular in majesty, and splendor. . . the Creator and the Sustainer. The One who not only makes history happen, but also make history possible! The God of truth, mercy and just terrible and holy. . .the living God, not the God you can put back on the shelf, or compartmentalize. . .the God of science and technology! You know, God, Lord of heaven and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So our confession is to be bold, clear and compelling. Our salvation hinges on knowing Christ and that of others on confessing Christ. Peter’s confession is also a turning point for humankind—now mankind knows, thanks to the revelation given to Peter, who Jesus Christ really is. This is really big! Please note that Jesus affirms and confirms what Peter confesses. Yes, I am the Christ and I am the Son of the living God. But don’t take any credit for realizing this. The Father has, with perfect timing, ordained that this truth should be revealed to you. God’s timing is always perfect. In Peter’s life and in our own lives. When we have followed the light provided, when we have responded with faithful, moral obedience, our preparation coincides with God’s revelation and we come into understanding of a new level of spiritual truth! Salvation can be like that although in the blush of discovering God we may be somewhat oblivious to our "preparation"—we may not be aware of how we’ve been walking in the pathway—we suddenly come to a break through. It comes together, we finally come to, or "get it." Peter’s whole life experience has been leading up to this, but more specifically, his call to follow Jesus and the subsequent exposure to teachings, miracles and even religious controversy, have contributed to Peter’s spiritual preparation as a disciple. He is readied for revelation. So, too, are we. We come to resemble Jesus by the pathway of obedience.
Next Jesus says, "You are Peter." How mundane this might appear on first reading! We may be so accustomed to telling Jesus who we are that we have never actually heard Him tell us who we are. Like the religion professor who was asked his opinion of God and responded that he was much more concerned with God’s opinion of himself, let’s consider that God may have some things to say about us that would change us, would alter our self-awareness. I have had the frequent joy of speaking life-giving truth to fellow-strugglers reminding them of their inner beauty, their nobility in Christ, their purity in forgiven lives. God made you beautiful, noble and pure in Jesus Christ. . .you can depend on it, such truth is a rock. . .stand on it! "You Peter are a rock, and on this rock I will build my church." (v.18) Jesus was referring to the rock of a firm, true confession; namely, the truth about Himself. And Jesus was referring to the truth, revealed by God, which had just become factual with Peter’s confession of it. Peter said it, "you are the Christ" and the reality of that truth was affixed at that very moment, more permanent than any geological formation or fact of physical science, the eternal identity of Jesus Christ was established and that is what the church, my church, as Jesus says, is founded. And that is not all, the confession of Peter creates a kairos, or sacred moment, a moment which is at once inside and outside of time as we commonly know it. I’ve already called it a turning point, a watershed moment, and that it is, but we can be more specific, we can also describe it as a "charter moment." A charter moment is that point in time when something is begun, initiated. In this case, it is the church which is inaugurated, begun in the faith confession of Peter. The charter has to do with the "people of God" established by faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of the living God. In one sense this is a new people of God (Christians) but in other senses we are but a continuation of the biblical witness called into being through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in other words the Hebrews, Israelites and all believing Jews. We are a new covenant people, that new covenant being initiated in Jesus Christ. We are that part of the chosen remnant who bear His image—we are "Christ-bearers"—and we are a living temple.
Thus we add the word charter to the word confession. This passage is also about the charter of the church. We are incorporated as a body politic by virtue of a divine grant made by Jesus Christ, a grant which is historically conveyed to Peter as agent on our behalf. Peter is acting for us in a manner analogous to that of Abraham, or of David. Neither of them became the prelate of religion through their agency, nor does Peter. Peter simply receives first and on our behalf the charter of the new covenant community, the church.
The church is a chosen remnant, people joined by faith who bear His image and superscription. If we were to use a coin as an example, the name of Jesus Christ would be imprinted over the image on the coin—establishing that we are His. Or it might be as if we were all under the same corporate title as in "I am an employee of Exxon, ComTel, CMP etc. Our identity would be linked with that title, and in this case, with the name of Christ—only this would not be a job we could leave at the office because Christians are always on call.
Zechariah 6:11—13 depicts Joshua, the high priest, as a pre-figurement of the Messianic Priest-King whom we know to be Jesus Christ. Joshua is called "the Branch"—as found in Isaiah 4:2—the shoot of David, who descended from Jesse even as Jesus did. It is this ‘Branch" who will build the temple: the material and the workmanship are both His! As Paul exults in Ephesians 2:8—10: "For it is by grace that you have been saved through faith—and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." In the same spiritual vein Jesus said, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." Jesus raised His body a spiritual temple in three days by His resurrection from the dead. Carnal men thought that Jesus was referring to the temple of Herod which had taken 46 years to complete, but John 2:21 makes it clear that Jesus was referring to his own body. Therefore we are to understand that "I will build it" refers to the work of the Holy Spirit and the preaching of the gospel; that these are the divine means through which living stones are produced; that is, believers such as you and I, who, taken together form the "spiritual temple" which is the church of Jesus Christ.
Jesus builds His church, His way and it is fixed, sure and permanent—not even the gates of hell shall prevail against it! Think of the historic irony here: the gates of Jerusalem could not stand against the Roman armies. But the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church. Let’s explain this curious figure, "the gates of hell." The opposition pictured here is between the city of God and the city of Satan—heaven versus the world, or the kingdom of God versus the kingdom of this world. The gates seem apt when you picture the people of God under assault by the people of Satan. Two diverse, irreconcilable populations warring against each other. The enemies of the church seeking to suppress, root out and to destroy all vestiges of Christianity and we know, no matter how fierce their opposition, or intense the warfare, no matter how brutal the persecution, they cannot, will not shall not prevail! All the powers and policies of Satan are futility and frustration. Satan cannot unseat the truth of God, nor dislodge the church established by the charter of Jesus Christ!
Jesus builds His church. Secretly and mysteriously at times, but always triumphantly, every opposition to gospel truth is over-turned. Satan tries to pervert the gospel ordinances; he brings corruption into the church through sin, carelessness and spiritual sloth. He uses enticement, convenience, threats, expedience and cruelty. . .indeed, everything that is contrary to God. Oh, if only we had vigilant eyes to see things for what they truly are! The godly do godly things in godly ways. Satan seeks to nullify, neuter, or neutralize the gospel. But those who know the truth, steeled by this confidence that "the gates of hell shall not prevail," resist Satan and proclaim the gospel to his face. The saints appropriate all the evil Satan visits upon them and render it back as precious and refined gold. . . returning good for evil, love for hate, kindness for cruelty, welcome for rejection, truth for lies until evil shall be no more!
Our divine charter also establishes order and government in the church. Jesus delivers the keys to Peter, and through him to the disciples as officers in the church, as apostles who, while they lived ruled, guided and served the church. They appointed officers under them as needed, brought order to worship, to the spiritual gifts, to missions, to doctrine and even to the selection of authoritative scripture. Their delegated power was spiritual. It’s domain was the kingdom of God and of that kingdom they were stewards—just as ministers are today. They had the authority to bind and to loose. The same kind of authority that was granted to Joseph as governor of Egypt; the power to close up the stores and the treasures of the house when it came to matters of provisioning the people. They had the power to bind up sin and wickedness and to loose forgiveness and righteousness among the faithful. . .to rebuke and to encourage, to commission and to decom-mission. They established the rule of the gospel in the hearts and the minds of those who were teachable and they brought salvation through the authoritative preaching of the gospel. The word of God in the mouth of faithful men was received as the very word of God.
The keys are at least two: doctrine and discipline. The key of knowledge as regards the will of God, especially as it pertained to truth and to duty, was delivered to the faithful following the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Only then were they positioned to understand the truths of the Scripture as Jesus Christ had presented them through His earthly ministry. By virtue of their knowledge of the truth, they could distinguish between what was lawful and what was lawlessness. From them we have received what it is that we know of the whole counsel of God; they knew the revelation of Jesus Christ authoritatively. That is why we must attend so closely to the New Testament and the Old Testament. Scripture interprets scripture.
Church discipline, rooted in love and grounded in truth, is an exercise of judicial power. The church, through careful study of Scripture and true Christian experience, can and must make right estimates of character and action when it comes to members. Declaring what is lawful is, by itself, insufficient! After declaring truth, that which is lawful, the church, after impartial inquiry, must render judgment on unrepentant sin. While there is peace and pardon for the penitent, for the impenitent, there can only be wrath and cursing—discipline should quicken those in danger to their condition by the sober and loving judgments of those who care for them. Of course, the church benefits from "discerning of spirits," the gift of God to see what is in another’s heart but, ever mindful of the perils of pride and the flesh in those so gifted, we must not cast off the ability to judge men aright outwardly. The church is not helped by those who, exalting themselves, would over-spiritualize and so claim greater weight for their insights (through the discerning of spirits) and then reject the process of Christian judgment, common to all believers, through plain old common sense-- as in testing the fruit. Again, we remember that the godly do godly things in a godly manner. Gossip, slander, murmuring, false witness, envy, bitterness, refusal to reconcile and ambition are plain old rotten fruit!
A church is in good order when the gate-keepers do their job, disciplining the rolls of membership lovingly and spiritually—guarding against the destructive influences of sin in themselves and, then, others. For those captivated by sin do not feel, think, nor act aright. Those who forfeit the privilege of membership must be dealt with strongly, but lovingly in hopes of restoration. So those who wander away are noticed, and those who wander and turn back are eagerly sought out and brought home with great rejoicing. There is great joy over the sinners found and the wanderer restored.
If doctrine and discipline are not in correct order, the preparation of the church is incomplete. In Proverbs 24:27 we read:
Finish your outdoor work
And get your fields ready;
After that, build your house.
In this I hear the Lord saying, "Prepare." Prepare your work and then build. Jesus is our example in this. Before the work of the resurrection, He relied on the demonstration of miracles. What miracle does He expect of us? The miracle of a Christ-centered and spiritually ordered life—a demonstration of the gospel’s power. Then you can "preach" with conviction and reach out with confidence. Prepare your heart, engage your mind, and then you will witness with power. Before we, as a church, can venture forth with power in evangelism, we have to complete our preparation which is getting our lives and our church in gospel order. We need to enact our charter, restore and renew our charter. If we wish to entertain guests, we do the preparations of hospitality. If we wish to save the lost, we had best have prepared an ark for them to come to. That, and nothing less, is our gospel mandate.