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His Kingdom Is Forever

Matthew 16:13-20

Today I want to invite you to invest yourself and your resources in the Church of Jesus Christ. It’s the soundest investment you will ever make. Let me explain what I mean…

In 1529, Martin Luther wrote these words:

Let goods and kindred go;
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill;
God’s truth abideth still;
His Kingdom is forever.

Now, some 457 years later, his prophecy has been confirmed. Today, the Church of Jesus Christ in the world is stronger than ever before. The Church is more international than ever before. The Church is more influential than ever before. Martin Luther was right: His Kingdom is forever!

But I think it is equally true to say that the Church today is criticized more than ever before. To be sure, throughout its long history there have always been those who have been only too ready to attack the Church, to accuse it, to denigrate it, in every way possible—yet in our time that criticism has been raised to a fever pitch. Still this must be said: They may attack the Church, but they cannot stop it. They may criticize the Church, but they cannot compare with it. I mean by that that I will listen to the critics’ criticisms of the Church when they start to do what the Church is doing better than the Church is doing it. To this point they only criticize. They cannot begin to equal the Church in its service to humanity through Jesus Christ.

Which critic of the Church, for example, can equal the Church’s endurance?

The Church is the oldest institution on the face of the earth. And it is the only institution on the face of the earth which openly acknowledges its shortcomings. Have you ever heard of a business establishment or a political party or a professional organization or a civic club announce that it regularly sins, that it makes the same mistakes today which it made yesterday and a hundred years ago, and that, in fact, sometimes its performance does not live up to its reputation? Yet that is precisely what the Church does. It regularly confesses its sins, its own repeated weaknesses, its own all-too-frequent mistakes. What is so remarkable about that is that in spite of its open and honest acknowledgement of its failings, still the Church endures. Even its own sin cannot kill it.

Across the years, the enemies of the Church have sought to bring the life of the Church to an end—but they have failed. For more than 60 years now, the militant atheism of the Iron Curtain countries has been attacking the Church, seeking to snuff out its life. It has failed. I remember reading a book called The Persecutor. It is the story of a young man in the Soviet Union who was assigned by his superiors in the KGB to the task of inflicting terror and suffering upon Russian Christians. He did his job well. But all of his violence and brutality failed to extinguish the faith of the Christians he attacked. Instead, it seemed to make it stronger.

Recently in a student assembly at the University of Warsaw in Poland, a young student got up and asked the premier professor of the university: “Sir, what is the meaning of life?” At first, the professor thought he was joking; but then he saw the look of seriousness on the student’s face and on the faces of the other students as well. So, he attacked the question as being un-Marxist, unscientific, and inappropriate. But the other students then joined in and pressed the question. Finally the professor was forced to admit that Marxist thought gives no meaning whatever to the individual life. It is concerned solely with the welfare of the state.

Now the point I am trying to make in all of this is that people of whatever political persuasion are desperately seeking a sense of meaning in life. In Africa, in Asia, in South America, they are coming in greater and greater numbers to the Church of Jesus Christ—and they are saying in one way or another: “To whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” So the enemies of the Church have not succeeded in killing it. The Church has endured. Jesus Christ declared that the gates of hell would never close on His Church. They never have—and they never will. Why? Because…

His Kingdom is forever!

And which of the critics of the Church is able to compare with it in the production and the protection of beauty?

We are not animals. Our home is not in the dust. There is within us the overtone of the Almighty. We are possessed of a higher heredity. We may not know where heaven is, but we do know why heaven is. God made us and we belong to Him. Therefore, when we produce that which is beautiful, we are simply responding to the God-like qualities which He has placed in all of us.

And where do you see the search for beauty more frequently than you see it in the Church? Whether you point to the Church commissioning of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo or to a church like this one challenging an architect and a builder to fashion a room so high and lofty and noble that when you walk into it your spirit soars to the ceiling and beyond—in either case, you are seeing the Church at work in the business of producing and protecting that which is beautiful in life.

Or look about this city. Orlando is called “The City Beautiful “—and that it is. But of all its buildings, which buildings are so graceful in design, so soaring in concept, so beautiful in detail that when you look at them you marvel? My friends, the buildings which most grace this city are the buildings which are built by God’s people for His praise. It’s true the Church is engaged in the production and protection of beauty. Therefore, when you invest yourself and your resources in the Church of Jesus Christ, you invest in that which contributes to the beauty of life. And that production and protection of beauty will continue. Why? Because…

His Kingdom is forever!

And then, which of the critics of the Church can rival it in upholding moral truth?

The cry of the world today is this: “Give us people of honor. Give us people who will tell the truth and live by it. Give us societies built securely on truth and integrity.” That is what people in the world are demanding today, and that is what the Church has been preaching for 2000 years. That is why the Church in history has never failed to address great moral and ethical issues. The Church has always been the reservoir of moral truth in our world.

It still is. That is why the churches of Florida have banded together to oppose casinos and lotteries. Casinos turn cities into neon-lit wastelands where a very few get rich at the expense of many. That’s immoral. Lotteries come disguised as the answer to quality education, when in fact, they are just one more misguided attempt to get something for nothing. That’s not only immoral—it’s not very smart. Churches of all denominations have begun banding together to do something about the pornography which blights our society and poisons the minds of our young and degrades our women and abuses our children. And by the way, don’t tell me that pornography is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. It isn’t. The First Amendment, guaranteeing freedom of speech, has certain exceptions—for example, libel—and also the production and pandering of obscenity. It’s not only immoral—it’s illegal. And, thank God, the Church of Jesus Christ, galvanized by its commitment to moral purity and integrity, is going to win the battle. When the Church sets aside its differences and speaks in unison to the world, the world had better sit up and listen—for it is then that the Church becomes the voice of God in the world. Yes, the Church is the reservoir of moral and ethical truth in the world.

That is why I pray that the Church will never get to the point where we say that the pulpit speaks the truth only “when it agrees with me.” No, I want a pulpit that disagrees with me. I want a pulpit which is unafraid to call a sin “a sin.” I want a pulpit which has the courage to focus the light of the Gospel upon the wrongs in our world. I want a pulpit which dares to confront the forces of evil and hit them and hit them hard! I want a pulpit which challenges me to the uttermost, which afflicts me when I am too comfortable, which demands that I face my own conscience and my own sin, and which forces me to see God’s truth and to change both my mind and myself to be in accord with it. Yes, I want this pulpit and this church to be the reservoir of moral truths.

So when you invest yourself and your resources in the Church of Jesus Christ, you are investing in that which will stand for goodness and truth, honesty and integrity in the world. When Jesus said that His Church would never die, He was declaring that the Church’s task is to uphold the banner of moral truth in the world—and God’s truth is eternal. Why? Because…

His Kingdom is forever!

Or which of the Church’s critics can even approach the Church’s ministry to human need?

For twenty centuries the Church has stood for the worth and dignity of all people, and it has sought to minister especially to people in need. Oh, there have been times when the Church has not given enough. There have been times when the Church has come too late with too little. But still this must be said: The Church has served more people in the name of Christ with the balm that heals their wounds than any other body or organization on this planet.

There are some who would want to argue that some social agencies and humanitarian groups are surpassing the Church in service to those who are in need. No so. Furthermore, recent studies show that the leadership and financial support behind such groups and agencies come almost exclusively from the Body of Christ, which is the Church. The journal, “Philanthropy in America”, declares that fully 90% of America’s civic leaders and 93% of all monies from the charitable causes come from the Christian community. Another study has shown that 95% of the total resources placed into philanthropic activity in the world comes from the hearts and pocketbooks of people in the Church.

Someone says: “The Church is not doing enough for the cause of peace and freedom in the world.” Perhaps that is true, but who is doing more? Someone says: “The Church is not doing enough for the poor and the oppressed.” True, but who is doing more? Some says: “The Church is not doing enough to fight hunger.” I’ll agree, but who is doing more? When the United Mine Workers decided to close nine hospitals in the poverty-stricken regions of Appalachia, who took control of those hospitals and continues to operate them at great loss in order to meet the health needs of the poor? The Church did it. And the Church will keep on doing it.

That verse I read earlier, where Jesus said that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church, somehow created in my own mind a mistaken picture. For some years, I felt that Jesus was simply saying that His Church would remain strong and well-defended against the onslaught of evil in the world. But that’s not the picture at all. What the phrase pictures is not the Church gathered behind strong defenses, but the Church on the march. The promise is that the Church, empowered by Jesus Christ, is going to storm the gates of disease and the gates of ignorance and the gates of poverty and even the gates of hell itself—and those gates will be swept aside. Everything, even death itself, shall ultimately fall before the triumphant march of the Church of Jesus Christ. Why? Because…

His Kingdom is forever!

Therefore…

I say today to every Christian who is part of the Church: give yourself to the Church. Invest your time, your talent, your skills, your financial resources. Give yourself fully and completely to Christ’s Church, for the Church most clearly stands for him in the world.

And…

I say to those who claim the name “Christian” but who are not part of the Church: A hand or a foot cannot live if it is separated from the body. Unite yourself to the Church and you will find the secret of life. Do not stand with the critics of the Church, but stand with the Company of those committed to Jesus Christ and His cause in the world.

And…

I say to those who are not Christian—both inside the Church and outside of it—I say to those who are young and who have the soft dew of the dawn still fresh upon their brows—I say to those who are middle-aged and who are struggling to keep from wasting away at noonday—and I say to those who are older and who are looking through dimming eyes at life’s sun beginning to set—I say to all: you need Jesus!

And there is no place where you will find Him so profoundly and so powerfully as you will find Him in the Church. There is no place where you will serve Him as significantly and as effectively as you will serve Him in the Church. For you see, my friends in Jesus Christ, it is most assuredly true:

His Kingdom is forever!

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