Big Idea: We get to be the church – we get to be the hope of the world!
INTRODUCTION - ME:
A few weeks ago my 8 year old son, Hudson, asked me about temples. He and his brother had just watched a teaching video about a country in Asia. One aspect of the video highlighted the temples of the religions in that country which led Hudson to ask me what a temple was.
My response: “a place where people go to worship their god or gods.”
His response: “like church”.
“Well… no… not exactly.”
Right? OR wrong?
Is church simply a place of worship? Is it more? Less?
What was becoming implicit in our conversation is that we were really beginning to talk about the nature of the church – what it is.
And based on my answer, that has a lot of implications and leads to more questions.
Depending on what the church is, what does that mean for me? If I say I am part of the church, what are the implications of its identity? What does it mean for me to say I am part of the church?
My answer to the identity of the church – if I say at any level I am part of a church / go to a church – has implications for me.
What about you?
How would you have responded to my son? Is the church just like a temple? Just a place where people go to worship?
What is the church?
I know if we asked people on the street about the church, we’d probably get some colorful answers – and by that I mean colorful-language laced answers. If we had done one of those “person on the street” videos we sometimes do, Mighty might not have had much to work with because of the amount of “bleeps” that could have emerged. “The church” doesn’t have the best reputation in this world – some of it unfairly spoken, but sadly, much of it too true.
But for us: we come to a building on a day we did not choose at a time we only had a few options to choose from and we call that "going to church." But is that right?
What if this sentence was on our sign out there by 146th: “Grace Church meets here"? Is that a better way to speak the identity of the church? Would that impact our definition of “the church”? More than that, would it impact how we participated in the church?
And the implications. Are their differences based on these two signs for our building?
· Grace Church
· Grace Church meets here.
I think this topic hits all of us because all of us are right now presently in a building that we call a church. And many if not most of us hear would consider ourselves part of the church.
So if we are going to give time to the church and many of us, give talents and money to her - investment, it makes sense that we would know what the church is and her role / purpose in our lives and in the world.
It seems we better know and figure it out.
Fortunately, God has plenty to say to us about these subjects, responding to our need to know who / what the church is and what it is meant to be about.
RE-CAP and OVERVIEW:
And that’s where our passage will take us today in our Legacy series as we look at one of the most important references to our understanding of the church. And as one of the foremost passages in Scripture to our understanding of the who and how of the church, it naturally is a pivotal teaching for us at Grace Church in forming our vision, mission, and even statement of faith. This passage is one of the first you will hear out of our mouths when we list off those passages in Scripture that are most formative to who we are today at Grace.
So turn with me to Matthew 16:13 in the Bibles in the auditorium.
· Jesus has just been with crowds of people– the stories of the feeding of the 5,000 and 4,000 immediately precede today’s story.
And that leads to a turning point in the narrative of the Gospels in two ways:
1. The throngs of crowds will no longer gather around Jesus in our stories - Jesus moves to focused, private teaching with His disciples.
2. The focus of the teaching – here’s how Tim Ayers describes it:
“Everything before this moment leads us to this moment of revelation and everything after it prepares us for the coming death, resurrection, and establishment of the Church of Jesus. In this moment we see both who Jesus is and how his mission is to be accomplished through the church – his assembly.” Tim Ayers
· Indebted to Tim for his notes from his class – culled the best from commentators and theologians with his insights and conclusions offered as well.
Don’t miss this last line.
“In this moment we see both who Jesus is and how his mission is to be accomplished through the church”
Let’s keep these ideas in mind as we read today’s passage with an “eye” to answering our questions about the identity and role of the church.
The Story – Matthew 16:13
13When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 14They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.
· Jesus has taken the disciples quite a ways north; Gentile area – very little if at all Jewish presence
This is an interesting place for Jesus to go, but more than likely it was chosen because of the subject of their conversation.
· He is seeking to clear up his identity.
· All appropriate “guesses” for various reasons but…
· …Peter nails it! As Dave said last week – one of his BOLD BRIGHT moments! You are the Messiah!
18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades (death) will not overcome it. 19I 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.”
NOW we have to pause here. This is the pivotal moment and there are a number of words and concepts that need clarification.
So… let me boil down to the key issues / words one by one:
· “on this rock” - Peter
o Simplest explanation, Jesus is referring to Peter.
It is Peter who is the rock meaning Peter will have a foundational role as spokesman for God’s kingdom. It doesn’t mean necessarily an elevated role NOR an exclusive role in the building of the church. But it is a PIVOTAL role (end of John / Acts.)
· “the church” – ekklesia – the assembly
o new term!– and assembly or gathering is all it meant
§ NOT a statement about the institution of the church as we know it today or even through the years.
§ First time used in the Scriptures
o It’s a group of gathered people
o Hebrew context - appropriate as describing the “messianic community” of the disciples of Jesus.
o Another way to say it: “the community of God’s people”
· “gates of hades” – “the place of death”
o Hades – not hell
o Literally this phrase in the passage says, “the imprisoning power of death will never gain power over the church”
· “keys of the kingdom” = authority
o There are a couple of literal interpretative possibilities but the bottom line is that this phrase carries the connotation of authority.
§ Jesus was conferring the ability to unlock God’s kingdom authority to Peter to lead this church and subsequently to the church itself.
§ “Kingdom” is reference to the realm where God’s desires and rule reign.
o The image of keys is like the steward of a house having the keys to administrate the house – the authority to administrate the affairs of the house.
This image of authority continues with the final ambiguous phrase:
· “Whatever you bind… loose…” – ability to speak authoritatively about the desires and rule of God.
o What it is NOT referring to is binding Satan or evil powers – there’s other Scriptures to refer to breaking down strongholds or praying against the powers of darkness. This just isn’t it.
o Peter first – the church following – has been given the authority to speak on matters that God’s kingdom speaks to – to speak what is right in God’s eyes and what is wrong!
§ It is in line with the Rabbis of the day who had the authority to pronounce what was right or wrong.
The bottom line is of the passage so far, then, is this:
In response to rightly being called Messiah, Jesus confers the authority of the living God onto this living community of God’s people, a community led by Peter who will live forever serving God in His mission.
The story continues…
20Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. 21From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
There are a number of times Jesus cautions against revealing his identity… and it can cause us to wonder why, but if we remember the desire of the Jews for a Messiah, it makes sense why.
The expectations on him and the ROLE he’s to play – politically especially - if this identity of Messiah is revealed will RUIN his true role and call. No Jew was looking for a Messiah who would die, let alone in the humiliating, shaming way of a Roman cross. And no Jew had a clue nor expectation about some power of the resurrection either.
Yet any revelation about Jesus as Messiah MUST and DOES include what he says next: the cross and resurrection! Jesus began to communicate the road of suffering that he was going to take and all that was to come on it…:
o the suffering way of the cross with its betrayal, denials, beatings, and shame all culminating in death on the cross.
o The triumphant resurrection three days after death!
…so that his naïve followers would come to a place of understanding what God’s mission was all about. And what we see is how unexpected this really was for the disciples as Peter shows us just how naïve they all were to God’s intentions.
22Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” 23Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
· Ouch! A bold moment for Peter, just not a bright one. Rule # 1 of discipleship – don’t correct the teacher.
· Also a moment that Jesus interrupts as akin to the temptation in the wilderness three years or so prior. So he responds in kind.
And he continues, offering God’s contrast to Peter’s human concerns:
24Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. 28“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
In this moment of clearly speaking his identity and the way of his mission as a way of suffering, Jesus clarifies for his disciples that this way is their way as well. They too as disciples are called to the way of suffering where they too say “NO” to self – as Jesus will clearly do later in the Garden when he says to God, “Not my will but as you will” – “NO” to self without defense to follow in their master’s footsteps.
And surprisingly, it will be their way to life. This way of suffering through denial of self and following Jesus is what will save their lives. It will be through their surrender – the giving up of their will in order to give their life TO Jesus, that they will save their life – that they will find their reward.
But it will take their choice.
Discipleship comes from the place of one’s clear, deliberate choice – to deny, take up the cross, and follow Jesus is not something one “falls into” by accident. It is the result of one’s resolute choice to follow - to resolve to become a disciple.
And when that choice is made – to become a disciple, to join the community of God’s people as followers of Messiah Jesus – not only does one step clearly into a new identity, but like Jesus, they step into their mission as well. Their role and purpose – their calling - in this world is set.
SO IT IS in this identity and role that this pivotal passage articulates that we unlock the true nature of the church.
It is NOT a building. It is NOT an institution. It is certainly NOT a social club / civic group. It is NOT even a house of worship like a temple.
· The implications of these change everything for the church.
The church – from that moment of conception to now - is the authoritative disciples of Jesus. It is the assembly of those who have resolutely decided to follow Jesus as their master teacher and savior.
It is the community of God’s people – a community called to serve God in His mission. Called with the authority given to them for this mission.
The church is the community of God’s people CHARGED with God-given authority for the task of changing the world for God’s kingdom sake.
And when we recognize that the church has been given this authority from God to change the world for God’s kingdom sake by bringing the hope of God’s the healing and reconciliation of the broken places in the world, THEN you can understand why we say too that:
The church is the hope of the world!
You can understand why we as pastors, who are seeking to equip you for the work of God in the world – as Paul speaks of in Ephesians, say about you:
You, Grace Church, are the hope of the world!
This is your identity and role as the community of God’s people gathered in this location with God-given authority to live on mission with God - disciples of Jesus serving God in accomplishing His purposes.
“God has a mission and He has a church for that mission!”
And by virtue of participating in that mission, you serve as God’s hope for the world. You are God’s plan A for the world and, as you’ve heard us say many times, THERE IS NO PLAN B.
You get that, right? You see the connection? This is what we are called to as Jesus’ followers.
Now ok, YES, Jesus is the hope of the world. God in Jesus Christ is the hope of the world. Without God’s love ultimately poured out in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, there would be no hope.
BUT you see too, yes, that the church is the hope of the world because Jesus said so?
If you don’t like what I am saying about the church being the hope of the world, blame Jesus, not me!
He just said it:
“Upon you Peter I will build my assembly of people against whom death will NEVER prevail and I give them the authority to speak and live and accomplish God’s kingdom rule and reign here and now on this earth!”
Crazy isn’t it?
I mean some of you are looking at me thinking, “Hope of the world, seriously?”
You’re looking around this room going, “I know people in this room. We’re the hope of the world? Yikes!”
Yes I am serious.
And so was / is Jesus! And it makes more sense to me now why I can believe this. There was an aspect of discipleship that for a long time I didn’t recognize: Jesus believes in his disciples.
In Jewish tradition, when rabbis chose people to follow them, it was because they believed that their followers – the ones who would be their disciples – could understand / do / become like them. So when Jesus chose the disciples – EVEN MORE, when he leaves his kingdom mission in the hands of his disciples as He is ascending into the heavens– he was saying / is saying:
“You can do it. You can follow me and be like me!”
Oh he made it clear it wouldn’t be easy. It is a road of denying self – dying to self to follow.
But He had given His authority and then His Spirit to his disciples with these instructions:
“As the Father sent me, I am sending you. […] Receive the Holy Spirit” John 20:21-22
He had sent them out to love and live as He loves and lived.
Yes it was Jesus who was saying that the church then and YOU the church now would be the hope of the world, doing even greater things than he had done (John 14:12).
It is Jesus who is saying the same to us today: “The church is the hope of the world.”
What is the church? The hope of the world. More accurately, who is the church?
Disciples of Jesus with God-given authority to do God’s mission who are the hope of the world!
But can I add one more thought to that identity and role for us?
It is this:
We get to be the hope of the world!
We are disciples of Jesus with God-given authority to do God’s mission who get to be the hope of the world!
Don’t miss the privilege that this is that we have been endowed with this mission.
I was asked recently what keeps me doing what I do as a pastor. And as I reflected, this was my answer: I get to be part of what God is doing in the world. I get to participate in God’s mission of love for the world. I get to be the hope the world.
I get to bring hope to the world by living in step with my Master Jesus.
So I get to: be kind
call for God’s deliverance
do the unexpected like turning the other cheek and loving
fight for justice
act in the power of the Spirit
live and be in a way that the systems of this world do not
LOVE as Jesus loved.
And in living and loving in the way of Jesus, I get to be part of reforming the image of the church in this world that is so tarnished by what we have done when we have:
…sought to control and judge
…ignored the brokenness of the world
…manipulated truth for our advantage
…abused our powerful social place
…retaliated with violence or sought revenge
…stood passively by
…lived in opposition to my Master
And yes, we the church – disciples of Jesus, the community of God – have done these actions, and sadly still do at times.
But when we love and live like our master Jesus - we participate in redeeming the name of the church in this world and in doing so, we give ourselves a chance that this hope offered to this world in Jesus Christ will be accepted.
It is an incredible privilege to be part of!
As I was pulling this message together Friday afternoon, I was mindful of one those “get to” experiences recently for me.
· STORY: Penelakut Island
o CG SHOW Picture: “beach at the spit” during telling of the story (uploaded to Planning Center)
That experience last summer? That was a “get to” experience. “I can’t believe I get to experience this, God!”
So my dear son Hudson, there’s your answer.
What is the church? Well it’s really a question of who:
Disciples of Jesus with God-given authority to do God’s mission.
Disciples of Jesus who together are the hope of the world.
Took Dad 30 minutes to tell you, but that’s not a surprise to daddy’s friends – they know I can be a bit long-winded at times.
But just remember most of all that this is an incredible opportunity and privilege:
We get to be the church – we get to be the hope of the world!