Jesus’ Unstoppable Church

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A sermon idea based on Matthew 16:13-20

The church belongs to Jesus, and when the church remains faithful to the character and teachings of Jesus, the church is unstoppable!

Almost 2,000 years ago, Jesus began a movement that would shake the foundations of the earth and shape the course of history. Today, we call this movement the “church,” but that word is loaded for every one of us.

When we say “church,” do we mean a church building? A particular denominational body? A religious-political voting bloc? Are we talking about the global church of all believers?

It’s complicated because we have a couple thousand years of history between Jesus’ original statement and where we are today. And those two millennia contain a lot of change – Constantine’s vision in 325 a.d., the Creeds, the Dark Ages, the Rennaisance, and so much more, not to mention the complications of the word “church” that we’ve created just in the last generation or two.

Nonetheless, it’s apparent that Jesus believed that his Kingdom values could be carried forward on earth in the years to come after his death by a movement of people he called the church (assembly, gathering, etc.).

He puts it this way:

Matthew 16:13-20 NRSV

[13] Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” [14] And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and 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 Messiah, the Son of the living God.” [17] And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. [18] And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. [19] I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” [20] Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

The word church is special. It comes from the Greek word “ekklesia,” which is a compound of two other Greek words, ek and kaleo. It literally means “a called-out assembly.” It was used in Greek culture to refer to a visibly called together meeting of people to discuss some important civil matter.

As found in the New Testament, it refers primarily to a local, visible gathering of Christian believers, baptized and carrying out the Great Commission, celebrating the sacraments, and extending the good news of God’s love to its surrounding community and beyond.

FOUR INSTRUCTIONS FROM JESUS FOR AN UNSTOPPABLE CHURCH

1. Stay Centered on Jesus (v. 16)

Jesus indicated that Peter’s statement was true and would serve as a vital reminder of what the church is all about. Not merely an agenda of social change, although social change should flow from its work, the real heart of the church’s mission and message has to do with the identity of Jesus as the Christ, the Savior, the Son of God.

Paul, writing many years after Jesus’ statement, agrees…

1 Corinthians 3:11 NRSV

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.

2. Stay Tuned Into the Spirit (v. 17-18a)

Jesus explained that Peter’s knowledge about Jesus’ real identity came not from Jewish tradition or popular cultural opinion but from God. And it would be vital in the ages to come for Jesus’ church to keep a listening ear toward heaven.

He went on to say, as he prepared to depart to heaven:

Acts 1:8 NRSV

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

It is this indwelling and empowering ministry of the Holy Spirit, connecting us to the will of the Father, that makes the church a living, breathing organism rather than merely being another not-for-profit institution in its community.

3. Remember the Certainty of Victory (v. 18b)

When Jesus spoke of the future of his church, he took his rightful place as head of its mission by saying, “I will build my church…”

In our modern, western culture where capitalism and consumerism thrive, it’s entirely possible to grow a large “church” with enough cash, volunteers, charismatic leaders, and properly-aligned systems. And none of those things are bad, in and of themselves, unless they become a substitute for the centrality and empowering work of Jesus.

It is when Jesus is the Head and center of the church’s life that real, spiritual victory is guaranteed. And what kind of victory is that?

The gates of hell (Hades, the realm of death) will not prevail. Death won’t win. Sins will be forgiven. The gospel will have its proper life-giving, regenerating fruit when Jesus is central.

And the best part of all of this is that Jesus’ movement was never intended to be an exclusive gathering of the elite. Jesus spoke these words in front of apostles who were, in many ways, misfits. They’d been passed over by other potential rabbis because they didn’t look the part.

This movement Jesus was launching would be wide open to anyone willing to experience the change the gospel could bring into their lives.

And now, two thousand years later, we get to keep moving forward, with Jesus in the center of all that we do, gathering and collecting into his family all who are in need of grace, love, and hope.


Photo by Samantha Gades on Unsplash.

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