In Matthew's gospel, the first book in the New Testament chapter 16 beginning in verse 13, "When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples saying, 'Who do men say that I the Son of Man am?' And so they said, 'Some say John the Baptist. Some Elijah. Others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.' He said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter and said, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' Jesus answered and said to him, 'blessed are you Simon Barjonah for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.'"
Every month, sixteen hundred ministers quit. One thousand six hundred ministers leave the ministry. For a variety of reasons: discouragement, failure, contention in their churches, burnout. Seventy percent will say they felt like God called them to the ministry before their ministry began but a mere three years afterwards, only fifty percent will say they feel God called them to the ministry. This group, same source, fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged they would leave the ministry but they can't think of another way to make a living. Eighty percent of pastor's wives wish their husbands would chose another profession. And many will divorce. Now those statistics shock you because we don't typically think of a pastor saying, "Church: Who Needs It?" We typically say it's only attendees of a church or outsiders who would say that. But there's a large group of people in the ministry who are saying, "Church: Who Needs That?" No wonder Stuart Briscoe, a pastor from Wisconsin said the qualifications of a pastor is he needs the mind of a scholar, the heart of a child and the hide of a rhinoceros. Not many survive to be honest. I heard a story of a mom who heard her son's alarm clock go off early Sunday morning. He paid no attention to it. Ten minutes later it went off again. Ten minutes later it went off again. He was just pushing the snooze buttom. Finally she, on the fourth time walked into the room and said, "You've got to get up." And he said, "Give me three good reasons why." She said, "Okay, number one, because it's Sunday and you've got to go to church. Reason number two, because you're forty-three years old and you know better than to lie around like this. And number three, you're the pastor of the church and everybody's expecting you to come." You've probably heard that before in a variety of different ways.
The title of this message is "Hey! Look Who's Starting A Church," because I thought this week and I remembered that's what they said of me when we started a little Bible study that became this church many years ago. When we fist started we were called by some a cult. Others said, "It won't last two years." Others said, "They'll never make it, using these silly boxes. They've got to take a formal offering or this thing will never fly." And others said, "Well he doesn't really look like a minister." And one pastor in town, well-meaning, tried to buy me a robe so I would look more presentable to the congregation. Can you imagine? Me in a… I agree with you. I relate to John Haggai who said, "one of the reasons I held back from entering the ministry is that I met so many people who looked like ministers? Could I be a minister and not look like it? Well, yes that's possible but every once in a while I slip and I look ministerial: Kind of slumped over, sad, down in the mouth, judgmental, you know that look," he writes. I heard about a man who was standing in line and a girl said, "Are you minister?" And he said, "No, I've just been sick for the last three weeks."
The text that we are looking at tonight is a reassuring text to me. Honestly, it's one of the great great texts on the church because it is the passage of primary reference when it comes to the church. In other words, the very first occurrence of the word and thus the concept of the church is found here in Matthew chapter 16. Jesus said, "I will build my church." It's a reassuring text. It's not Skip's church. And it's not your church either. It's His church. Now I know that a pastime of Americans has been for several years has been to go church shopping. And there's a lot of churches to choose from in every community across our land. There are young ones, old ones, there's loud ones, there's quiet ones, there's fun ones, there's boring ones, there's ones that have long services with lots of litany and lots of movement and others that are very very short. There are some churches that have a specialty in expository preaching and others that do more of a sermonetter. I once read that sermonettes are for Christianettes who can't wait to get outside and smoke their cigarettes. I thought I'd pass that along, that's no charge.
But in all of this, we've left someone out: The founder and the director of his church. So we look at it tonight in the seconed message in our series, Church: Who Needs It? And we look at Jesus' original design and intention, just by a very single singular text of scripture. He says a lot about the church that he starts. He names it, he builds it, he owns it and he keeps it. And those are the four things we consider tonight.
First of all, notice what he does name it, notice the designation used by the Lord Jesus. He calls it His church. You will find that term throughout the New Testament a hundred and ten different times, in a singular or in a plural rendition. It's a hundred and ten times used word. But this is the very first time that it's used. Now two modern ears church has a very religious sound to it. And to others a very Western sound, a very outdated sound to it. If you were to ask peoples, "Tell me what you think of church or what it is?" They would say, "Oh, it's a building made out of stones or wood, it's probably got a cross on it or a steeple. It has colored windows" etcetera. To other people it's an institution, a long-standing institution filled with frowning old men who gather together and banter back and forth about things that have nothing to do with real life. Still to other people the church is nothing more than a social club, a social gathering, where everybody goes a few times in their life. That's the place where you're hatched, matched, and dispatched; and that's about it to many people. The original term church carries none of those connotations. In fact, you may not know the original idea of the church, the Greek term, is a secular word and has a governmental usage. The Greek word is ecclesia and it simply means an assembly. And originally it was an assembly of Greek citizens who would gather regularly, many times to adjudicate certain cases in their community. It's even a word used in the book of Acts chapter 20 when Paul's at Ephesus and they gather into that huge arena and shout for a couple hours, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians." And the moderator of that event says, "This is an ekklesia, this ia solemn assembly, this is a gathering of the citizenry of our state." He did not mean that in a spiritual sense but in a pure secular sense.
Now let's go just a little bit deeper with that word. It's that Greek word ekklesia but it comes from the words that are put together. Ek-, which means out or out of or out from; and the work kalleo which means to call. Ek- -kalleo, to call out. And so the meaning of a church is it's a group of people called out separately from the rest of the community who meet frequently over a common goal. That was the original intention of the word church, ekklesia. Now the fact that Jesus uses and chooses this term as the kickoff verse for what he's going to build is to me very very revealing. If he spoke of it as an assembly of people, it means he must want us to what? Assemble. Not rocket science, it's an assembly, we're to assemble. This tells me a couple of things. Number one, Jesus never ever wanted his followers to be isolated from each other but always to be integrated together with each other, hence the term that he used: church. He didn't say, "Upon this rock I will build my monastery." Or, "Upon this rock I will build my private little gathering place for meditation." But, "It's an assembly." There is a proverb that I thought of as I was contemplating this word and that's Proverbs 18 verse 1, you know it or a lot of you do, "A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire. He rages against all wise judgment." The cure for isolation is the gathering together of God's people for the sake of accountability. You see, without a network of people around me I'm easier prey to temptation, I'm easier prey to the value systems that are around me in the world. It's the group gathered together that keeps me on target more and more.
A followup question: How often do I have to assemble? Wrong question. Now we sound like the 43-year-old pastor still in bed. "How often do I have to assemble?" The best question is, "How often do I get to assemble? How often can I?" Not, "Do I have to?" because there's no rules on that, we're just told to do it frequently.
When my wife Lenya was first a believer, it was such a radical departure from her agnostic atheistic background she wanted to learn so much so quickly, she went every night of the week. I couldn't get a date. She had a date with Jesus every night for a period of time. Hebrews 10 tell us very plainly we're not to forsake assembling ourselves together as is the manner of some but exhort one another and so much the more as you see the day approaching." Why is it the manner of some? Why is it the manner of some to just do church on Christmas and Easter and a wedding and maybe a funeral? Why is it the manner of some that it's, you can't drag them to church. And for others you can't drag them out of church. I can't give you the full answer to that in this message but here's a hint perhaps. Listen to what John the apostle writes in I John chapter 3 verse 14, "If we love other Christians, it proves that we pass from death to eternal life. A person who doesn't love them is till dead." I can understand why an unbeliever would not want to go around church, don't' want to be around people who are full of life and talk about Jesus and heaven. And it's like, "You are from Mars. I cannot connect." When you're in death, it's hard to be around those who are in life unless you have a desire to move from death into life.
So, Jesus wants his followers not to be isolated but to be integrated together. And something else, because the word means to call out of, it means to be separate and distinct from, it tells me that this isn't just an assembly, this is a holy assembly. We're not to ape the world or to try to make the church so cool and hip, how can we attract more worldly people to our spiritual gathering by making it so much like that world? No, we're not supposed to ape that, we're to be a different group of people bent on loving God. We're called out from the world. So he names it, he gets to do that.
Second, he builds it, he build it. Now notice that Jesus is very very simple in this converation. He asks two questions and the first question almost didn't really count as far as the test is concerned, he was just getting information, he knew what they were saying, he wanted them to say what others were saying. But the second question is the all important: Who do you say that I am? "You're the Messiah," said Peter as the spokesman for all of them, "You're the Son of the living God." And Jesus said, "Blessed are you Simon Peter, (right on buddy boy) upon this rock I will build my church." Now honestly we take a lot of pot shots at Peter. You know he's been beat up by a lot of pastors and non-pastors. You know we say, "Well he's impetuous and he says stupid things." But he among all of this group got an A on the test. He got the answer right. Now I want to look carefully at this because some people think mistakenly that Jesus built his church on Peter because of this verse that we read. Can I just say, if the church of Jesus Christ is built upon Peter we have a very weak foundation, a very weak foundation. Now I know Peter means rock but it might not be the kind of rock you're thinking of. Not some massive boulder but some nugget. So if you're thinking of it in entertainment terms, when he said, "You are Peter, rock man," don't think of Rocky Balboa, I want you to think of Pebbles from The Flintstones and you will have a better idea of what the language originally means. Now let me explain that to you, let me paint the picture: Jesus with his disciples travels twenty-five miles to the north, from the hot plains of the Sea of Galilee to Caesarea Philippi. It was a landmark where they went, it was a base of a huge 10,000-foot mountain in the Middle E$ast, Mount Herman or Hermon. Out of a huge rock, massive rock, flowed water that was the mouth of the Jordan River. The Jews called it the living water. It gushed forth and it fed and refreshed the nation. In that place also were fourteen other religious temples built. Once it was the worship of Baal in that area, at another time it was the worship of Paneas, the Greek god Pan they said was born in a nearby cave. And even Herod the Great built a temple to Caesar Augustus because they deified Caesar and worshipped himi as a god. So it's as if in contrast to those faulty foundational belief systems, Jesus takes them to this rock where the rock is coming out and says, "Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah. Flesh and blood didn't reveal this but my father in heaven. You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church." Now allow me to give it to you in the Greek language, listen to the translation, "You are petros (a pebble) and upon this petra (this massive rock) I will build my church." You see it's a play on words in the original language. The church is not built on Pebble Peter, it's built on Mount Messiah. It was the confession that Peter made, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God, that's what I'm going to build my church on, that confession that I am the Messiah." Not on Peter and what Peter said, that's the massive rock of truth. That's why Paul says in I Corinthians 3, "For no one can lay any other foundation than the one we already have which is Jesus Christ." Now there's a great truth here that emerges. You want to be able to survive church? Now I ask it in that way because I meet people all the time who go, "I've been so burned by churches. I've been so disappointed by churches." You want to be able to survive? Get your eyes off people, get your eyes off Peter, get your eyes off of Apollos or Cephas and get your eyes on Jesus, he is the rock; not the people.
Now let's take it a step further, more than just surviving, are you thriving? Because what the church is built on is this great confession of truth and Jesus builds his church by giving them truth on a consistent basis, especially truth about him that builds them up. So you can go to church and you can sing at church and you can get married at church, you can get buried at church; but if you can't say with deep conviction like Peter, "You are the Son of the living God then you're not a part of the church, that's what it's built on, that solid rock foundation. No wonder Paul said to young Timothy who was just starting in the ministry, he talked about people who have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof. Or as the New Living translation puts it, "They will act as if they are religious but they will reject the power that could make them godly." Those are people who go and sing and do things and are social but they never abide by the solid truths that transform, that's what he builds upon, those great stones of truth for transformation. So, once again, the church is a group of people that is called out separately from the rest of the community who assemble regularly, who confess with deep conviction that Jesus Christ is there Lord. That's what it is. That's what it is. So he names it, he builds it and because of that he owns it. I want you to notice one single pronoun, that's what we want to camp on. "You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church. I just want to zero in on that ownership for just a moment, my church. Notice to whom it belongs. It is not the property of a pastor. It is not the property of a board of directors or of a committee or of a group of bishops or of a pope or of a denomination. Jesus said, "It is my church." Jesus doesn't have to clear his decisions with Rome or London or Springfield or Minneapolis or Costa Mesa. He's Jesus, he can do what he wants because he thought of it. This is his idea and he has the playbook for the church. Not only that, not only did he think of it, he paid for it. He bought us with his blood, that's what the church is, blood-bought believers. Paul says to the Ephesian elders in the 20th chapter of Acts, "Be sure that you feed and shepherd God's church, purchased with his blood, over whom the Holy Spirit has made you elders. Now we have become so used to an anthropocentric church, a man-centered church, "What kind of church do I want? What kind of church am I looking for? What kind of activities do they have for my family? That's how we have done church in this country, we're anthropocentric. We're supposed to used evaluating songs and worship leaders and sermons that we have forgotten who's evaluation us. As D. James Kennedy now in heaven once said, "Most people think of the church as a drama with the minister as the chief actor, God as the prompter and the congregation as the critic. What is actually the case is the congregation is the chief actor, the minister is the prompter and God is the critic. He's the one that's evaluating each one of our lives. That's the opinion that matters most. And every pastor and every church board member should remember this, whose church it is. It would sure take a load off, people who feel so burdened, "I've got to produce. I've got to do this, I've got to build the church." I remember coming here when we were building this addition and knowing what it was costing, I'd get all nervous. And as I'd stand there getting nervous, the Lord would remind me, "It's my church." And I'd sigh heavily, "Whew, good thing Lord because now you've got to pay the bills." When our church was experiencing its crisis three years ago, the Lord reminded me it's his church. When I see people come every week almost, and sometimes crowds of them and wonder where are we going to put more of them and how are we going to do this, disciple them; I'm reminded it's His church. Acts chapter 2, "The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." And I certainly wish more Christians, more church members could remember this church as well, that the other people that are around you in this community who are Christians, belong to him, they belong to him. And that means something special if you belong to Christ. Hear me. I Thessalonians opens up by saying "From Paul, Silas and Timothy to the church in Thessalonica, you who belong to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Titus chapter 2 verse 14 he has come to purify for himself a people that are his very own. Just for a moment look around, don't look at me, look around at people in this room. Whoever your eye falls upon, if you're reasonably certain they're a believer, you are looking at blood-bought believers that belong (sorry for all the b's) to Jesus Christ. They belong to him. In fact, isn't it safe to say you couldn't get some of us together apart from Christ, with all of our differences and all of our backgrounds, there's no other way. And so just remember, if you're ever inclines to speak against a fellow brother or sister, please, I pray the Holy Spirit wil remind you of this truth tonight, you're speaking against someone who belongs to him. And last time I checked, he takes it really personally. Like Saul of Tarsus who was beating up on Christians and Jesus said, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" He took it very very personally. Think twice, hesitate long before you speak out against another church or another believer, they're God's kids. And there's room for us all. There's a little quip in Moody Monthly trying to show that the church is varied and there's room for all different kinds and it said, "There's a lot of different kinds of nuts in the Lord's fruitcake." Aren't you glad for that? He names it, he builds it, he owns it, perhaps part of the best news he keeps it. He keeps it. And Jesus said, "I will build my church and the gates of hell (or here the word Hades) shall not prevail against it." I'm so glad to hear that because so many voices out there are predicting the death and the demise of the church. From Bulkman to Barna, "It's not going to last, it's going away." From Dennit to Dawkins, "It's not going to last," they say. Sam Harris who wrote a book called The End of Faith said, "All churches are equally demented in their belief." And he predicts the demise of it. Brent Staples who wrote for The New York Times in The New York Times wrote, "Visit a church at random next Sunday and you'll probably encounter a few dozen people sprinkled over a sanctuary that was built to accommodate hundred or even thousands. When I read that I thought, "Staples you are in the wrong neighborhood. You need to get out more and visit a lot of other churches not only in America but especially around the world." Because here's the truth while pastors in America do ask their congregations to invite people and almost seem to have to beg people to come, boy not in Africa, not in China, not in India. In fact, did you know that some African pastors are asking their congregation not to come every Sunday but every second or third Sunday to make room for other people who may want to hear the message because there's so many of them. In the last few years in China alone 37,000 new churches have been planted. I know those are just statistics but just imagine, 37,000 new congregations, people of faith in one province alone in the last few years. Wow, love it. The gates of hell, gates speak of authority, entrance, the gates of hell speaks of the authority of Satan, the organized power or Satan. In other words, open up all the windows and all the doors of hell and unleash every foul attack on the church; you can persecute it, you can kill its members or its leaders, you can torture them, you can burn their buildings like they're doing still in India; and the church is not going away. It's not going away. They've tried that already, for the last two thousand years, from the very beginning, but it wasn't going away. Back in 1776, David Hume the skeptic made a prediction. He said, "I see the twilight of Christianity." Hmm, 1776, I see the twilight of Christianity. The old boy couldn't tell the difference between the sunset and the sunrise. It was just underway. And it spread.
If you were to ask people who were there at the cross of Jesus Christ two thousand years ago and watched Jesus die. If you were interview them and ask them about the future of this movement, people who followed Him, what do you think they'd tell you, that day on the cross he died? I bet they'd say, "It's over. Their founder is dead (or dying). It's over, its' not going to happen, it's dissolved. It's just the beginning. I'm encouraged by this verse of scripture, I'm encouraged by all the nuances and all the promises and especially encouraged by this one, he'll keep it. "And the gates of hell will not prevail against it." I remember and I still get it, people who were around in the 60s or the 70s talk about the Jesus movements or here in the 80s, "You remember the Jesus movement, man, wasn't that great?" You know last time I checked Jesus is still moving, he hasn't stopped. It's not like he moved a little bit, now he's just sort of hanging out. The way I see it, from my perspective, I see Him moving in hearts and lives all over the place, in our own community, I see it week by week, I'm encouraged month by month. I can't think of anything better to be apart of than the enterprise that Jesus came to start, build, and maintain called the church. I can't think of any other endeavor worthy of my time, talent and treasure than this. It seems to me that every other project that we engage ourselves in will one day end up in a pile of rubble. If there's one cause that we should get involved in, its' this one. Now think about to that 43-year-old pastor still in bed, he was apathetic toward the church. I don't want you to answer it out loud because we'd have a variety of answers, but I want you to consider honestly what your attitude is toward church. Strip away whose church or what it's called or where they meet or how they sing or, all of that, think of His church, His church. What is your attitude toward His church? And as you're contemplating that you may want to throw this in as part of it: If everyone in my church was just like me what kind of a church would it be? That's a good place to start is with our own inward meditation, because while we're complaining or wishing, just start with ourselves, "If everyone in my church were just like me, what kind of church would it be?" Wondeful? Joyful? Grumpy? Sporadic? A variety of ways to answer that.
Finally, as we close tonight, I am thrilled honestly week by week to do what I do, to prepare messages and speak. I still do, I still pinch myself, I can't think of anything better. Of those that get burned out, yeah I've had low times burt I'm certainly far from that. I don't want you to think, "Oh, he must have shared that up front because he's like really burdened." And I'll no doubt get an e-mail, "You looked kind of cross-eyed at me tonight so I think you must be really weirded out or something." None of that is true. I love what I do. God does refresh me. You refresh me. But if you come to church but you haven't come to Christ yet, then I am deeply concerned for you. I don't want you to just come to church, I want you to come to him. I want you to come into his group, be a part of his family. And if you've never stopped in your life and said, "You know, I'm going to make a decision at this point in my life to turn my life completely over to Him f or His purpose, for His glory, for His will; iv you've never done that yet, where you have consciously made a decision. None of this, "I was always raised in the church," but you've never made a decision to follow Christ. Or maybe you did that a long time ago but you're not as a matter of daily life following him in obedience; then I'm going to ask you to make a decision to not just come to church but to come to Christ. I'm going to give you an opportunity to make a decision for Christ in just a moment.
Let's pray. Heavenly Father, we come before you in the name of your son Jesus who was sent to this earth for the very purpose of selecting a people of his own, those who would uniquely be called apart from society, who meet regularly, who would live differently, and would do it on a regular basis. It's not an enterprise, it's not an institution, it's not a building, it's a group of people, your people in particular, those who belong to you. And Lord, our prayer is for anybody who's come but doesn't belong to Jesus. They may belong to another church, they may have attended and belonged to this church but they don't yet belong to Christ; we pray that they would come all the way to Christ. In Jesus' name we pray.