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Why I Believe In The Church … And This Church

Matthew 16:13-20

I am reading from the Gospel of Matthew chapter 16. This is the Word of God.

“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.’ ‘But what about you?’ He asked, ‘Who do you say I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by men but by My Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter. And on this rock I will build My church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then He warned His disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.”

May God bless to us the reading and the hearing of this portion of His Holy Word.

Pray with me, please. Give me Jesus, Lord. Give me Jesus. You can have all the rest, just give me Jesus. Amen.

It is, I dare say, the single most important question in all of the Bible. I refer to the question Jesus addressed to His disciples at a place called Caesarea Philippi. Understand, please, that Caesarea Philippi was the most religious city of that day. It was located right at the base of Mount Hermon, right at the head waters of the Jordan River. It was a seat of government, but much more it was a hot bed of activity for all the faith systems of the world. It was a place filled with temples and colonnades and statues of every kind. It was a place of practicing priests of every variety. Every block contained an altar or a worship center laden in gold. And yet it was there at Caesarea Philippi, surrounded by visible reminders of the faiths of the world, it was there by design, I believe, that Jesus put to His disciples the single most important question in all of the Bible.

Jesus said to them, “Who do you say that I am?” My guess is the answer was not immediately forthcoming. I suspect there was a moment of quiet. There was probably a gasp of shock at the implications of the question, maybe a shuffling of the feet and a darting of the eyes. But then suddenly Peter, oh bless him—good old blustery, impulsive, tell-it-like-it-is Peter—cracked the silence by saying, “I’ll tell you who I think you are. It may sound crazy but I believe you’re the Messiah. I believe you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus must have smiled. The angels must have celebrated. The devil must have trembled. Jesus then said to Peter, “This is not something you just dreamed up on your own. This was given to you straight from God.”

Jesus then went on to declare that Peter had said something which was a truth that was as solid as a rock. And Jesus indicated that on that rock of truth, He would build a movement of faith which would be like nothing the world had ever seen before or since. Oh, dear friends, please, please, please do not miss the magnificence of this moment. This was the coronation day for the Lord’s Messiah. It was right there and then that Jesus was crowned King and head of the church. And from that decisive moment, the whole course of human history has been changed. And so now I want you to freeze frame in your mind the picture of Jesus and His disciples at Caesarea Philippi. And then from that picture, let me try to draw some powerful affirmations.

Affirmation number one: The church is based on Jesus Christ.

Jesus said, “On this rock I will build My church.” Now, when Jesus said to Peter, “On this rock,” He was not highlighting who Peter was. He was highlighting what Peter said. Peter had said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus responded by using a neat play on words. Yes, you remember that Peter’s name literally meant the rock. Well, Jesus used that play on words to go on to say that what Peter had said was rock solid. And it was on that rock solid belief that Jesus would proceed to build His church. The church is not based on the power of Peter. It is based on the power of Peter’s Messiah. It is based on Jesus Christ.

Listen to Jesus Himself. He clearly claimed to be the center, not only of our faith but also of our lives. He did not say, “Listen, I will share with you a string of pat answers to the questions that you have.” No. He said, “Follow me. I am the Answer. I am the Way. I am the Truth. I am the Life.”

Listen to Paul. Paul was one of the most brilliant men of his day, and yet how did Paul choose to focus his life? He said, “For to me to live is Christ. It is not I who lives but Christ who lives in me.”

Or listen to Peter himself. He wanted to storm the kingdom of heaven and he wanted to build the kingdom on earth at the same time, but did he suggest that the answers to the world’s problems are to be found in some social theory or program? No. Peter said, “There is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved. Save the name of Jesus Christ.”

Or listen to Martin Luther. He was a brilliant scholar, but did he base his life on scholarly pursuit? No. Luther said, “I begin my belief and I base my life on the wounds of my Jesus.”

Or listen to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man who was so concerned about the problems of this world that he actually gave his life in an attempt to solve them. But listen to what he wrote in a book called Christ the Center. He said, “On our coming to grips with Jesus Christ, deepen life and death, salvation and damnation, here is the principle upon which everything in life rests: there is salvation and no one else.” The church is based on Jesus Christ.

For 60 years now, this church has been blessed by a wonderful succession of great preachers. People like Purcell and Shed and Ball and Horton and Toole and Peterson. A distinguished line indeed. But let’s remember, dear friends, preachers will come and go. Church leaders will come and go. Church buildings will come and go. Even denominations will come and go. The one immutable factor in the life of the church, the one thing which remains the same yesterday, today, and forever is Jesus Christ. The church is based on Jesus Christ and Christ alone. And this church, for 60 years, has held fast to that rock solid belief. And we dare not forget that now.

Affirmation number two: The church is built by Jesus Christ.

Jesus said, “On this rock I will build My church.” Do you realize that this is the only task Jesus never gave to anyone else? You know how sometimes we say, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself”? Well, Jesus must’ve believed that because this was the one responsibility that Jesus did not assign to anyone else. He did not delegate this job. Jesus knew He wanted it done right and so He said, “This one I handle myself. I will build My church.” And that is precisely what He has done and what He is continuing to do at this very moment. Jesus is building His church.

Isn’t it a comforting thought to realize that it’s not preachers or elders or missionaries or evangelists or church members who are going to have to build the church? No. The church is being built by Jesus Christ. The Messiah is the master contractor. He is constantly drawing people to Himself, including them in the number of the church. And as a result, the church is now all over the world. It’s in every land and nation. It’s in every state of this union. It’s in every city, every town, every country village within these golden shores. Now, there are more than two and half billion people who belong to the church of Jesus Christ in the world, one billion more than any other religion in the world. And that number is increasing day by day. And in some places in the world, it is increasing at a staggering rate. Jesus is building the church. He is bringing people to Him and adding to the number of His church.

I know not all of those people take the churches seriously as they should. I mean, I’m very much aware of the fact that some people invent all kinds of excuses about why they’re not in church. It’s the weather, or their golf game, or soccer practice, or out of town company, or weariness from work. I actually had a fellow in a church that I once served who was never in church the whole time I was there. His wife was there every single Sunday. He was never there, and yet I kept running into him at crowded basketball games and at crowded theaters and crowded malls and crowded parties. And he would always come rushing up to me and apologize for not being in church. And then he would say, “You know, I have a problem being in crowds.” Go figure.

Ah, but dear friends, for all of our human weaknesses and for all of our human excuses, Jesus is continuing to build His church. He is continuing to draw people to Himself and to add to the number of those who are truly committed to Him. Oh, the church is not perfect, not by a long shot, but He is building His church. And He is building this church.

January the 9th 1955. A small band of Christ-followers met together for the first worship service in a church that would be called, ultimately, the Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church. And by the power of Christ, from that rather inauspicious beginning, there was laid the foundation for a church which through the next sixty years would draw literally multiple thousands of people into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Do you understand, my beloved people, that if you and I in this church today are possessed of a divine dynamism—a dynamism which can freshen the wellsprings of our faith, which can infuse our inertia with zeal, which can energize our evangelistic efforts with boldness—that if we are possessed of a divine dynamism in this church, there is no limit to what Jesus Christ may do in this church in the future? Make no mistake about it. This church is built by Jesus Christ and we dare not forget that now.

Affirmation number three: The church belongs to Jesus Christ.

Jesus said, “On this rock I will build My church.” Do you remember where we are told in the Bible that the risen Christ encountered Paul on the Damascus Road? And the risen Christ said to Paul, “Why are you persecuting me?” Isn’t that a rather strange thing to say? I mean, after all, Jesus was no longer in this world, in the flesh. And Paul was actually attacking people who belong to the church, and yet Jesus said to him, “Why are you persecuting me?” It is clear that Jesus equated the church with Himself. And therefore, when we persecute the church, we persecute Christ. When we ignore the church, we ignore Christ. When we disparage the church, we disparage Christ. When we oppose the church, we oppose Christ. But do you understand that the exact opposite is also true? When we praise and honor and support and glorify the church, we are praising, honoring, supporting, and glorifying Christ.

The church is His. It belongs to Him. And because it belongs to Him, it is inevitable. It is invincible. It is indomitable. It is unconquerable. It is unstoppable. Nothing can stop it. Nothing can kill it. And therefore, the church will continue to march like a mighty army through history until the day the Lord returns.

Today we begin a year-long celebration of incredible life in this great church. Through those years, this church has exercised a transforming and powerful effect in this city and the people who live in it. Through the years, this church has produced great leaders both for the church and the community. Through the years, this church has initiated and implemented a vast array of programs and ministries designed to meet the deepest needs people encounter in the living of their days. And through all those years, nothing has ever been able to stop this church.

And I tell you today, nothing in the future will stop this church either because this church belongs to Jesus Christ. It is His. And because it is His, it will continue its unswerving 60-year march. Nothing will stop it. Nothing will kill it. It’s His. It’s not yours. It’s not mine. It’s His. And because it’s His, this church will never die. And we dare not forget that now.

So I come to this pulpit with the one motivation, one thing that possesses me, is wanting to let you know about the love of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one thing that burns me and consumes me with desire is that you should claim Him as your very own. That you should commit yourself anew or afresh to the church, to this church. A church which is based on Jesus Christ. A church which is built by Jesus Christ. A church which belongs to Jesus Christ.

You see, you and I, like the disciples at Caesarea Philippi, stand at a decisive crossroads in our lives and in the life of this church. And like the disciples at Caesarea Philippi, you and I are confronted with the single most important question in all of the Bible. The Lord Jesus asks, “Who do you say I am?” And it is my hope and prayer that, like Peter at Caesarea Philippi, we shall answer with our lips and with our lives, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Soli Deo Gloria.
To God alone be the glory.
Amen and amen.


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