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Church Builder

 

Matthew 16:13-19; Ephesians 2:17-22
Related Sunday School Lesson, Family Bible Series, April 18

Is it an atmosphere of excitement and purpose, a noticeably spotless facility, or a well- prepared presentation? Could it be an impressive menu of ministry benefits or a culturally relevant blend of message and music? Is it the hair style of the preacher or the illumination of the sign in the front yard? Might it be linked to the testimony of a few well-known celebrities? Perhaps the pocketbook of several wealthy givers is to be partially credited. What could it be that sets the New Testament church apart from other organizations?

The indisputable answers to these questions are found in a conversation between Jesus and Peter in Matthew 16. Jesus, speaking prophetically to His disciples, explained three preserving characteristics of the New Testament church. These characteristics might as well be considered requirements for true “church” status in our modern-day culture. I might call myself a golfer because I have played golf before, but my self-declared title changes nothing of the reality of my existence. A golfer, I am not.

Likewise, groups of people might declare themselves to be a “church,” but this title alone does not bring the power of God on a particular congregation. So, what makes us the church?

 

The Imperative Confession of the Church (v. 16)

Entering Caesarea Philippi, Jesus began to question the disciples about men’s perception of Him. Though many saw Jesus as a man or prophet of God, most of the population had completely missed the reality of His person. Peter, however, had received this eye-opening truth from the Father. As Jesus turned to Peter, the foundational confession of the New Testament church was uttered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Like never before, this indisputable truth is being questioned by many who call themselves Christians. Instead of directly demeaning the validity of Jesus as the Christ, many attempt to validate the significance of additional religions and faiths, folding to the pluralistic inclusivism of our present age.

By choosing the exclusive truth of Jesus Christ over the plural paths of political correctness, the Church stands out, confessing that Christ is the only Truth in the midst of a world of deceit. The most foundational qualification for the Church must be its confession of Jesus as the unique Son of God, the only path to a loving God in Heaven.

 

The Internal Consistency of the Church (v. 18a)

From what materials would Christ build His body on earth? Of what substance would the church of Jesus Christ be assembled? Much debate has focused on Christ’s statement in verse 18 – “this rock.” Some have incorrectly suggested that Peter himself was appointed here by Jesus as the first Pope. Others have suggested that Peter’s verbal confession was the rock.

However, in his later epistle, Peter himself confesses that Jesus was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesies of the chief cornerstone in I Peter 2:6-7. While the confession, “Jesus is the Christ, Son of the living God,” is an imperative to the consistency of the church, the foundation on which that church was built is none other than Jesus Christ Himself (Ephesians 2:20). The significance of this truth can be linked back to ownership. Jesus explained that He would construct His church.

Where then do Peter, the apostles, and even we as modern-day believers fit into the construct of the body of Christ? Ephesians 2:20-21 mentions the apostles’ and prophets’ involvement in the process of ecclesiastical construction. They, with us, are being “fitted together” as God’s house, “a holy temple of the Lord.”

Jesus offers insight into this discussion as we review our text in Matthew 16:18. “You are Peter (Petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build My church.” Jesus uses a play on words to demonstrate the significance of His position in the church, as well as that of His followers. The word petros means a piece of rock or a small stone, but the word petra relates to a foundation boulder. Peter, supports the significance of this point again in I Peter 2:4-5: “Coming to Him, Jesus, as to a living stone…you also as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house.” The church truly consists of a group of many small stones fitly joined together, united by the grace of God, for the glory of God, on the foundation of Jesus Christ.

 

The Inevitable Confrontation of the Church (v. 18)

So the church is recognized by an imperative confession, which is followed by an internal consistency, forming the body of Christ on earth. The final characteristic mentioned in our text of Matthew 16 is the inevitable confrontation from the enemy. A church which never goes to war with Satan has ceased to fulfill its purpose of being salt and light (Matthew 5:13-14). Paul warns the church in Ephesians 6:12 of the warfare we must expect, stating that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age.”

Interestingly, Jesus uses the word “gates” to describe the portion of Hades we would confront. I find it significant to consider that the church is not to sit back, waiting on Satan’s offensive attacks. Our efforts have proven this to be an unsuccessful tactic in years past. The church must stand strong and charge the defensive gates of Hell in the name of Jesus. We are not a house built on the shifting sands of social change, nor does this building consist of an inferior arsenal. Its confession is true; the structure is indestructible, and the battle will end in triumph! May the church stand up and charge on to victory!