Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" 14 And they said, "Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." 15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 17 And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." 20 Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ. 21 From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. 22 Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You." 23 But He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's." 24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?"
I listened to Oscar's message last Sunday by tape as soon as I got home from England. It was, as I knew it would be, a powerful call to make disciples and prepare elders for new churches in the age of Jihad, by avoiding unnecessary controversy, being saturated with the Bible, and throwing yourself into difficult ministry where boldness in the Word is necessary. He said the outrageous truth that Jihad is a gift to the American church. Why?
- Because it forces the nominal Christian bluff; either we get make disciples and plant churches or we will be converted. Islam is out to take the world.
- It produces economic instability so we are pressed toward the wartime lifestyle we should have been living all along.
- It helps us identify with the church in the rest of the world, which has known this threat and instability all along. Now we can learn how to prepare elders for the real church.
- It presses us to center the discipling of our children in the home, because the church building and Pastor John may be blown up anyway. You can't lean on the building or the preacher.
- It wakes us up to the glorious truth that in the end what matters is the resurrection with Christ. To live is Christ and to die is gain.
I pick up where Oscar left off and hope I can hold the course that he set. My aim this morning is to be an ambassador for the risen Christ and call all of you to a serious engagement with taking the gospel to unreached peoples either as goers or senders. No neutral people at Bethlehem. No bystanders. No mere spectators. And when I am done I hope to issue a call for all of you who believe God is at work in your lives to lead you into missions as a goer to come forward for prayer and for a plan to pursue this trajectory for your life.
Now let's turn to three focuses related to this text: 1) Christ's triumphant commitment to build his church (v. 18). 2) Christ's unwavering commitment to gather his church from all the peoples of the world, not just Westerners or white or red or black or yellow – but all peoples, every shade, every language, every tribe. 3) Christ's radical way of winning the nations, namely, by the death of himself and the death of his people. The gates of Hades will not prevail. They will be unlocked from the inside.
1. Christ's Triumphant Commitment to Build His church
In Matthew 16:15 Jesus asks his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" Peter answers in verse 16, "You are the Christ [the Messiah], the Son of the living God." To this Jesus says in verse 17-18, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. (18) I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it." In other words, "On you, my authoritative apostle, and my inspired proclaimer of the gospel, I will build my church. I will build my church on the apostolic word."
What I want to drive home here is the triumphant authority of this promise. World missions is not ultimately dependent on human initiative or human wisdom or human perseverance. It is ultimately dependent on the power and wisdom and faithfulness of the risen and living Christ to keep this promise: "I will build my church." Not, "You will build my church." Or, "Missionaries will build my church." Or, "Pastors will build my church." But, "I will build my church."
So Paul was jealous to give this glory to Jesus. In Romans 15:18 he says, "I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed." Christ accomplished it. Christ brought about the obedience of the peoples. Yes, missionaries are crucial. Pastors and elders are crucial. But we are not ultimate. Christ is ultimate. "I will build my church." One missionary plants. Another missionary or pastor waters. Yes. But Christ gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6). Christ builds the church. Church planting and church establishing is supernatural work, or it is not the church that gets built, but only a human organization.
This was the point of the way Matthew ended his gospel in 28:18-19, where Jesus said, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations." I have authority to do it – over all the powers of darkness, over death and hell, over government and terrorists – and I will do it. I will build my church. So go! I will be with you.
Was Jesus Building His Church on September 11?
So to put a point on it: Was Jesus building his church on September 11? Remember well: God's ways are not our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). "How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!" (Romans 11:33). What if Christ saw these planes heading for the destruction of thousands and the upheaval of nations? What if, at the same time, he saw 200 million Hindu untouchables in India, the Dalits. What if he saw that his centuries-long work of dislodging them from Hindu bondage was about to come to consummation and they were contemplating embracing Islam or possibly Christianity or Buddhism to escape the caste system? And what if he foresaw that this Islam-driven terror against civilians in New York would have the mass effect of tilting millions of Dalits away from the falsehood of Islam toward the truth of Christianity? What if he withheld his power from stopping the terrorists because, along with 10,000 other hope-filled effects, he had a view to the everlasting life of thousands or millions of untouchables in India? Was he building his church on September 11?
One thing is sure. "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations" (Matthew 24:14). The Christ who rules earth and heaven said, "I will build my church." Do you hear God's call in that on your life? Do you want to pursue something absolutely certain? Do you want to give yourself to something invincible? Nothing done for this Christ is ever done in vain. Give yourself to his cause.
2. Christ's Unwavering Commitment to Gather His Church from All Peoples
My second point is that Christ has an unwavering commitment to gather his church from all the peoples of the world, not just Westerners or white or red or black or yellow – but all peoples, every shade, every language, every tribe.
This is plain from Matthew 28:19, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations." It's plain from Matthew 24:14, "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations." It's plain from Romans 15:11 where Paul quotes Psalm 117:1, "praise the lord all you gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him." And it is plain from Revelation 5:9, "You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation."
And here I have a special burden this morning to say Christ has a commitment to gather a church from all the Muslim peoples of the world – not with the sword or the bullet, but with the Spirit and the Word. Islam is not ethnically uniform or monolithic. The largest Muslim country is Indonesia: 228 million people (Javanese, Sundanese, Madurese, Malays, etc.). Most of Northern Africa is Muslim. Indian peoples, Chinese peoples, Central Asian peoples. Christ is committed to building his church of all the Muslim peoples of the world.
The issue in the Muslim world today – as in every other religion and every other era – is Who is Jesus, and will we treasure him and trust him and honor him for who he really is? And the reason the matter is urgent with the Muslim peoples is because they give the same wrong answer to this question that some Jews gave in verse Matthew 16:14. Who is Jesus? "And they said, 'Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.'" For Islam, Jesus is "one of the prophets." He is not the Son of God. He is not the crucified and risen Redeemer of fallen man. He is not the Creator of the universe. And every knee will not bow to him and confess that Jesus is Lord of all to the glory of God the Father.
Therefore Islam profoundly dishonors Jesus Christ and is not the way to everlasting joy in God. There is "one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5). There is one way, one truth, one life, Jesus Christ, and no one comes to the Father but by him (John 14:6). He who has the Son has life, and he who has not the Son does not have life (1 John 5:12).
This is why missions is absolutely necessary. "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36). "How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?" (Romans 10:14). Christ will build his church. But he will do it through the hearing of the gospel of Christ. He will do it through the word carried by human ambassadors. We call them missionaries. One of the most exalted titles in the world. People of whom the world is not worthy – no matter how many struggles they have.
Which leads us to one last point. How will it be done?
3. Christ's Radical Way of Winning the Nations
Christ's radical way of winning the nations is by the death of himself and the death of his people. The gates of Hades will not prevail. They will be unlocked from the inside.
Consider verse 18b: "I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it." The gates of Hades are the gates of death. Hades is the place of the dead in Jewish thought. The gates of Hades are the gates that make death look powerful and secure invincible – as if what is dead is dead forever and can never get out of death. But Jesus says, "These gates will not stop me from rescuing people from death."
How will he do it? He tells us in verse 21. After he makes it plain that he is the Christ and the Son of God and that all authority belongs to him in the universe and that he has the power over death, it says, "From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day." He will open the doors of Hades from the inside. He gets in by dying. He gets out by resurrection. And now the gates are his. Revelation 1:18, "I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades." The keys were kept on the inside. That is why he went in. And when he came out he brought the keys with him. Now he will build his church. Death will take none and keep none that he finally wills to have.
And what about us? How do we figure in? He tells us in verses 24-25, "Jesus said to His disciples, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. (25) For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." To follow Jesus means to join him on the Calvary road that leads into death and then out of death. "Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." Lose it to find it. Die so you can live.
We Win the Nations by Dying and Living with Jesus, by Faith
This is how we win the peoples with Jesus Christ. We do what he did. "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me" (Galatians 2:20). We die with him and live with him, by faith.
Jesus died and rose again to save his church among all the peoples. "I will build my church." Now he calls us this morning: Will we join him in dying to the world and living to Christ that we may win the peoples in his name? Whoever loses his life for Christ and the gospel will find it and will bring others through the gates from death to life. Amen!