Message 12, I Will Build My Church:
Jesus promised that He would build His church, and through the centuries He has been doing just that—even when forces of darkness seek to destroy it. In pursuing reform, the Reformers knew that the local church was central. This session looks at the importance of our local churches, considers our need for ongoing reform in accordance with the Word of God, and encourages Christians in the ordinary tasks of serving and supporting their local churches for continuing Reformation in the world.
I invite you to take your Bibles and turn to Matthew and to chapter 16, and we’ll read the brief section that begins at verse 13. And as you turn there, I say thank you for a more than generous introduction.
Thank you for the privilege of being included in the group of speakers amongst whom are many to whom I look routinely and from whose lives I have learned much and continue to, so it’s a great privilege for me, and to be here in this place and with you even for a brief time, I don’t take for granted at all.
Matthew 16 and verse 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?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, and others Elijah, and others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.’
And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you’re Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and for whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ Then He strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that He was the Christ.”
Amen. Just a brief prayer. Father, what we know not, teach us, what we have not, give us, what we are not, make us, for Your Son’s sake, amen.
Just as most of us are able to recall where we were when we heard or saw the news of the death of John F. Kennedy, or when we saw the dreadful pictures of the events of 9/11, so I think there is little doubt that all and any who were present on the particular occasion about which we have just read, an event that took place about 25 miles up from the Sea of Galilee in Caesarea of Philippi. Who would ever forget what proved to be a watershed moment?
Certainly I don’t think any of the disciples, the friends of Peter, would ever have forgotten, and when Peter produced the answer to Jesus’ question, I find myself wondering whether or not the disciples were looking at one another, and at least under their breath saying, how did He come up with that? After all, together they were not the brightest bunch and Peter had already betrayed His confidence and lack of confidence. So Jesus answers the question explaining that there is no sense in which Peter had come up with this response, and it was on account of the fact that God the Father had revealed it to him.
Peter’s declaration concerning Jesus then is followed by his opportunity to listen to what Jesus says to him. That actually brings us to one of the most controversial and debated passages in the entire Scriptures, which apparently, R.C. Sproul thought would be good for me to tackle in the dying embers of a very long day.
Now, I want to assume something here and it is this, that you are actually familiar with that particular debate, and so some of you may be relieved, a few perhaps disappointed to learn that I do not intend to enter the fray. The ground has been well covered, and if in the unlikely event you do not know that to which I refer then let me commend you to one of three resources. One, a good study Bible, and you will find there that it covers it in its entirety, and I think there may be a study Bible or two on the premises here.
Secondly, you could turn to Calvin himself who apparently is getting a lot of mention already in a space of 48 hours. Calvin clearly regarded the notion that Peter became the universal head of the church, as quotes, “a foolish inference from the text. And he continued to be elevated as he was to the place of highest honor among a few persons is a different thing from embracing the whole world under his dominion.”
And the role of Peter and the other apostles is clearly foundational, it is indispensable, it is at the same time untransmissable. But it is still a foundation that is built on another. So to the study Bible or to Calvin or to a good hymn book, and in a good hymn book you will find the classic hymn by the Reverend Stone, which begins “The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord; He is its new creation by water and the Word: from heaven He came and sought her to be His holy bride; with His own blood He bought her, and for her life He died.”
So I am telling you that I am not entering into the fray, first of all, because I assume that you are familiar with it. Secondly, because I regard myself as free from it because I am a bit of a literalist, and the invitation that was given to me was to address the phrase, I will build my church. And so that relieves me of the responsibility that I have just mentioned.
And clearly, clearly Jesus is the central figure here, not Peter. Jesus is the central figure. And so rather than spending the time that we have that remains to us, if you like tackling what we may refer to as the problem of Peter I want us instead to focus on the promise of Jesus. To focus on the promise of Jesus.
One of the features that I’ve observed in people as they age is that they tend to become somewhat clichéd, and certain phraseology recurs again and again. I can say it with a measure of confidence now because my family has begun to tell me that I’m doing the exact same thing, and one of the phrases that I have apparently begun to employ with relative frequency in all kinds of situations and in dealing with different circumstances is to say to those who are present at that moment, “Well, then we must consider this in relationship to the vast scheme of things. Let’s make sure that we consider the immediacy of this in light of all that surrounds it.”
And so, what I want to do is that first of all. In fact, let me tell you how I want to navigate my way through this. First of all that we will consider this statement in view of the vast scheme of things. Secondly, secondly, we will acknowledge that this building is presently under construction by means of gospel proclamation. And thirdly, we will recognize that the security of the church has been won by the victory of Christ on the cross. So that is the outline and we proceed from there.
First of all, to consider what Jesus says here in light of the bigger picture. And when we read the Bible we realize that it is God’s unmistakable purpose to gather to Himself a people that are His very own. And so, when we hear these words of Jesus, we set them within the framework, if you like, of eternity. When Jesus says “I will build my church,” that word that is translated ‘church’ there means a congregation or an assembly of peoples gathered together.
It’s actually the usual Greek word employed to translate the Hebrew word, which describes the assembly of Israel. And when you read of that at Sinai, when you read in Deuteronomy, it’s mentioned, and the importance of that assembling of God’s people, it is that to which they are referring. For example, when in Deuteronomy 4, you find it, or again in Deuteronomy 9, you can check and see what I’m saying. And so, the assembly of Israel in the Old Testament is in some senses a prototype church.
A prototype church. And the notion of the gathering of God, of a people, runs all the way through from the beginning. God gathers to Himself Adam and Eve. The people are scattered at Babel, and so the prospect of recovery and reinstatement and regathering runs all the way and along.
To change the picture, to bring it back it back to the actual terminology here, we need also to recognize that these words of Jesus here do not occur out of the blue, but they are actually to be considered because they provide for us in some senses an echo of the promise that was given to David in 2 Samuel. So, “The Lord,” to Samuel 7:11, “The Lord declared to you that the Lord will make you a house. I will raise up your offspring after you. I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name.”
So all the way through in that Old Testament context as the people listened to the Word of God through the servant of God, they had occasion to be looking forward, reaching forward. When the prophets prophesied Peter says they were like men standing on their tiptoes looking forward as it were to see just how the things that they had been prompted to say were going to be brought to fulfillment. Now, why do we mention this?
Well, to make sure that we don’t misunderstand anything and certainly this: when Jesus says I will build my church it is not incidental to His role as Messiah. Indeed it is central to Him, because Jesus is the promised son of David, who is the son of God, who will build a house for God’s name. He will build His church.
Now, when Jesus says this, we shouldn’t think for a moment that this implies in any way that there was no Old Testament ecclesia. But rather what it does is it reflects the plan and purpose of God, if you like, the mission of Jesus to reconstitute the people of God around His own person. Around His now person. Who else can say, “I will build my church,” save Jesus Himself.
And the verb which is used here as ‘building’ is a true future verb. Revealing the fact that the start, if you like, of this project of reconstituting the people of God around Himself, the beginning of that project, this commencement awaits Christ’s death, His resurrection, the great commission, His ascension and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
If you think all the way back to the Sinai assembly and you realize all that was represented there and then you ponder what happens from there as a result of the apostasy of the people. The people turn their backs on what God has so clearly said, and subsequently they are scattered. The prophets reaffirm the promise of God to Abraham, that through His seed the nations of the earth would be blessed.
That there was going to be this great gathering, and there is a sense in which all of these gatherings that you find throughout the Old Testament are like scale models. They’re like little models of the great reality that Christ is promising here. So, the church that the Lord Jesus is building corresponds to the temple in the Old Testament as antitype to type, or as substance to shadow.
And when we push forward all the way if you like to the end of the story, we discover this immense gathering, gathered from the four winds of the earth, is what? Is His church. Made up of a company that no one can count, so vast by number, as vast as the stars of the sky, as the sand on the seashore.
That ought to fuel our desire to see unbelieving people becoming the committed followers of Jesus Christ. This is my plan, says Jesus, this is my promise that I will build my church and eventually on that day from every tribe and nation and people and tongue there will be this gathering.
And I wonder have you thought about that much lately? As I was preparing for this address, I realized how much that it was driven into my psyche as a child. Not so much as a result of sermons, although that would be true, but more as a result of songs. That’s why incidentally songs are so important, that we sing truth and children are able to absorb great chunks of truth if the melody is half decent and if the lyric is Biblical.
I wouldn’t say this is the best lyric that I ever heard but I grew up singing things like this: “You have heard of little Moses in the bulrush. You have heard of fearless David and his sling. You have heard the story told of dreaming Joseph, and of Jonah and the whale, I often sing. There are many, many others in the Bible. I should like to meet them all I do declare. And by and by the Lord will surely let me meet them. At that meeting in the air, for there’s going to be a meeting in the air in the great, great by and by.”
And we used to sing of this, and as a boy I used to think well how are we going to figure that out? How will that be? Who will be there? Will my mother be there? What age will she be? What should I do now? And even to this day I still have all of those very same questions.
If that’s not good enough for you what about Fanny Crosby? “On that bright and glorious morning when the dead in Christ shall rise, and the glory of His resurrection share. And with bodies all celestial we will meet Him in the skies, and the roll is called up yonder we’ll be there. What a gathering, what a gathering. What a gathering of the ransomed in that summer land of love. What a gathering, what a gathering, what a gathering in that happy home above.
Now here’s the problem just to anticipate a later point. Our gatherings in our local churches are dress rehearsals for this. Some of us need to think about that a wee bit more. I wouldn’t be one too unkind to you, I don’t know many of you, but I do, Sunday by Sunday, stand and look on all of these faces.
And I may be forgiven for assuming that they don’t like the gathering and that the idea of another gathering or a bigger gathering, if it includes the same people, as it almost inevitably will, is actually not something to which they’re looking forward, which is too bad. Why? Because in the vast scheme of things Jesus said, “I will build my church.”
Secondly, this building of His church is presently under construction by means of the gospel proclamation. How is this promise of Jesus being fulfilled? You remember what Jesus says to His disciples, I want you to go. And then He says I want you to stay. And after you’ve stayed I want you to go. Do not leave without that coming of the Holy Spirit, the one that I have promised to you. The one that is my gift as the ascended Christ to the church.
The one who comes and will enable you to know the reality of the Father and Myself making our home with you. He who is in some sense already with you will be in you. What a transformation this would then bring about. What a revelation. What a difference in these disciples. They were the proof of the pudding as it were as they took to the streets and began to proclaim this good news.
So when we read the unfolding story as the gospel goes out, and we can drop down at any place we choose and make the same point, let’s drop down just for a moment in Acts chapter 20. You needn’t turn to it, I’ll read it to you, but I’ll tell you where I am, and consider the church in Ephesus. Acts chapter 20, and Paul is taking his leave of the church there, and he says to them, “You know that I have served the Lord with humility and with tears,” verse 19, “And with trials that happen to me through the plots of the Jews, how I didn’t shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable in teaching you in public, and from house to house.” I didn’t hold anything back, along the lines of what Steve has just been saying to us.
Testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance towards God and the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now behold I am going to Jerusalem constrained by the Spirit not knowing what will happen to me.” And then you go all the way down, we could read it on, but we won’t for the sake of time, and in verse 32 he says, “I want you to be alert,” (31 I should say), “remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one of you with tears.”
So there’s nothing heavy handed about it. He wasn’t berating them or beating them. The only valid admonition comes with soft eyes and a tender heart. I admonish you with tears, and now I commend you to God and to the Word of His grace which is able to build you up so that the gospel in its proclamation both to those who are outside of Christ and to those who are in Christ is a ministry of grace and it is a ministry of building.
It is just what Jesus said He would do. Now, when you fast forward to Ephesians and Paul writing to the church in Ephesus subsequently, then the work of building is apparent, and in Ephesians chapter 1 referring to the Gentiles he says of them, “And you also,” he says, “when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with a promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it to the praise of His glory.”
So he says, when I came among you I proclaimed this Word of truth. Why did I proclaim the Word of truth? Because Jesus said I should. Why? Because by means of the proclamation of the gospel, Jesus is building His church.
You heard it, you believed it, and you were sealed with the Holy Spirit and you will never be the same again. Our task is not to expound Ephesians, but if your Bible is open at all you will notice how wonderful it is that he says to them, you’re not what you once were, you are all made radically new in Jesus. And in verse 19, “You’re no longer strangers and aliens, what you once were outside of Christ in Adam. But now you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God built on the foundation.” What foundation?
Of “the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone.” What foundation of the apostles and prophets? God’s Word revealed to them, God’s Word proclaimed by them, God’s Word inscripturated by the power of the Holy Spirit. So there is a sense in which the foundation of the church is the Bible in that sense. In so far as the very written Word of God is presenting to us Christ who is the living Word.
So He builds His church, and what does it look like? Well, he puts them together: as fellow citizens. Fellow citizens. Now, they all were going to have the same relationship. Their backgrounds had been diverse but no longer do these things matter the way they once did. They were once outsiders and they didn’t belong but now they do belong. Now, they have a new identity, they are in Christians. And in Christ they are brought into a new community. They are also family members, he says, family members. Wow.
That means intimacy. That demands honesty. That reveals an undeniable sense of reality. Family members. After all, you can choose your friends. Some of you have come out of a context in which you’d like to sing that old Gaither song, “I’m so glad that you’re part of the family of God.” It is quite lovely. At Parkside we’ve begun to sing, “I’m surprised that you’re a part of the family of God.” And we don’t want to be facetious with that either.
Unfortunately and sadly I may give occasion for my brothers and sisters to look at me and say, “Come on now, Alistair, you’re not acting like a member of the family of God. Aren’t you a citizen of heaven? Isn’t Christ building His church? Aren’t you — and you will notice the other picture — aren’t you a stone built into the holy temple of the Lord?
So He builds a church. Citizens together. Family together. Stones put together in the temple that He is building. Allowing us to answer a fundamental question that is often asked even by some of our tiniest children. “Dad, where does God live?” Or they may even say, “Where on earth does God live?” What would you say? Well, you have the answer right here. First of all you could say, well He doesn’t live in a tabernacle in the wilderness, nor does He live in a temple in Jerusalem.
But He lives in the church which He is building. A church to which both the tabernacle and the temple pointed. I wonder if you’ve seen the paraphrase of Psalm 84 in your congregation, “O Lord of hosts, how lovely is your dwelling place.” It’s a wonderful, wonderful paraphrase of Psalm 84. “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts.”
I hope you understand what we’re singing about when we sing that. When we sing about Zion. We’re not singing about Jerusalem. We’re not singing about a temple, a temple that is there. But we are singing about a temple in some sense. A multinational temple constructed of living stones. “How lovely is your dwelling place.” Because you see the same grace that brought us into union with Christ has brought us into communion with one another so that by His Spirit through the gospel the Lord Jesus is building His church.
I think it’s only fair to give Peter a shake of the stick as well and to recognize that when Peter writes in his first letter to the elect scattered throughout the then known world he tells them the same thing. He reminds them that they belong together. How is it that they belong together? Having come to Christ. In Christ they belong together. Even though they may never have met one another. Even though they who’ve never had coffee with one another. Even though they may never meet one another in their entire lifetime, they belong together.
And here as we sit tonight in south Florida where there are brothers and sisters whom we will never meet this side of eternity, we belong with them. They belong with us. We are part and parcel of the church that Jesus Christ is building. He is putting together these living stones that are being built into a spiritual house. You see the resurrection of Jesus radically changed all of this.
Changed the nature of the temple. Remember Jesus said, you destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days, and they said well how could that possibly be? Well, it’s no longer a building, but it’s a person, it’s a people. Do you sing the hymn that begins “Jesus where’er thy people meet, there they behold the mercy seat; and he who knows the worth of prayer but wishes to be often there.”
Now, you may say, well, what are we talking about here? Are we talking about church with a capital ‘C’ or a lowercase ‘c’? Are we talking about the church visible or the church invisible? Well, the New Testament speaks of both, and we needn’t get tied up in it, but the Reformers — and we should, I think, mention them with that big 500 up there. The Reformers used those terms visible and invisible, and when they did so they weren’t talking about two churches.
They weren’t talking about if you like the real church which is invisible, and the visible church which is not really the church at all. Jim Packer helpfully says, “Rather, visible and invisible refer to two aspects of the one church. That which it means to the eyes of men who see only the appearance, and that which it has to the eye of God who looks on the heart and knows things as they are, and whose estimate of spiritual realities unlike our own is unquestionable.”
Well, then when is a church a church? I should quote from the Westminster Confession, but I’m going to quote from the 39 Articles. I think it’s only fair to give the Anglicans a fair play as well. Article 19 of 30 says, “The visible church is a congregation of faithful men” — I think if it was written today it would say faithful men and women, and rightly so — “in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly administered according to God’s ordinance in all those things that are of necessity are requisite to the same.”
In other words, the church is really the church, where there is a gathering of those who have been gathered by the Holy Spirit into union with the Lord Jesus Christ and into communion with one another. Therefore, not every church that has the name church in it is the church.
Let me give to you a quote from John Woodhouse who — this quote comes with all the reserve that we’ve come to expect from our Australian brothers. Speaking about the nature of the true church, he says, “Conversely, a gathering of unbelievers who have not been gathered by God to Himself, who are not sons of God, and where the word of God is not heard, is a not a church, no matter how many ecclesiastical credentials of ‘apostolic succession,’ liturgical magnificence, irreproachable order, impeccable denominational credentials are claimed.
Nothing of the New Testament doctrine of the church applies to such a gathering. It is of no more consequence than a golf club. Indeed, it is of markedly less value, due to its blatant hypocrisy!”
So the church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints is not a church. The Church of Scientology is not a church. Neither are churches those that are filled with people unregenerate listening to sermons that have diluted, denied, despised the Scriptures. We gain nothing by pretending otherwise. Are you still with me? I’ll go to my third point.
The first point was about the scheme of things, the second was that this building is presently under construction by means of gospel proclamation, and my final point is that the security of the church has been won by the victory of Jesus on the cross. The security of the church has been won by the victory of Jesus on the cross. Actually, let me just back up for one minute and say something concerning the unity of the family of God, and of our citizenship, and of our fitting together as stones in the body.
Paul particularly in Ephesians is saying to these folks, you know, don’t miss the wonder of what God has done in making one new man out of the two. Don’t miss the wonder of what God has done in breaking down the wall of hostility that existed between the Jew and the Gentile in the gospel.
In the gospel these things have been radically transformed, and in the gospel, and in the church, the things that divide men and women from one another, that still exist within the framework of the social context of our day, are not to be the things that are the basis of division amongst those who are in Christ, so neither race nor class nor education nor status.
The things that usually we subdivide on are completely subsumed under the reality of a new family membership, a new citizenship and being put together as a stone. And it is this dimension which creates a phenomenal opportunity in our broken and fractured world. Think about all of the attempts of humanity without God to create unity. All throughout history of the trying again and again, if we could get these people together, if they could this if they could that. Then it doesn’t work. Marginal, little progress, but by and large, disintegration.
Think about the attempts that has been represented largely by ecumenicity in trying to create union amongst God’s people minus the gospel. Or think about how tempted some of us are to try on the basis of fear. The basis of desiring to be tolerant, the desire to make sure that no one is upset. To try and create a unity that is not the unity that Jesus creates, because any consideration of church history makes it perfectly clear that what binds evangelicals together has always been and must always be the gospel itself. So that whether it’s Whitfield or Edwards or Wesley or Spurgeon, whatever it is.
Spurgeon, you remember, my creed is Christ. He was clear about his understanding of the gospel and Biblical salvation. But he was quite magnanimous, you know. What kind of Baptist is it that dies and gives his congregation to an American Presbyterian minister?
One special kind of Baptist I suggest to you. What kind of man is it who holds such deeply held foundational beliefs, and is happy to invite William Booth of the Salvation Army to address his students. Why does he do this? Because of the nature of evangelical unity in the gospel. In the gospel. Now, it is on account of the gospel that the security of those who are in Christ then is absolutely guaranteed.
Now, it is clear from what we read here in the statement made by Jesus, the implication is, and is borne out by the rest of Scripture, that the gates of hell will be seeking to press against the followers of Jesus. The evil one is radically opposed to Christ and to all who are in Christ. Consequently, when we read church history we realize that the story of the church is warfare. It’s a long time since many of us were prepared to sing “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war.” Why? Well, it’s not politically correct. We can’t be having a war around here, can we? After all, we’re supposed to be united.
Now, there is a unity that is right, and there is a unity that is wrong. There is a division that is wrong, there’s division that is right. You can think it out, you’re sensible. The story of the Scriptures, and then of church history, whether it’s Peter, or John, or Polycarp, or Chrysostom, or Augustine, or Bunyan, or Luther, or Calvin, or Latimer, or Baxter. Makes sense of what Jesus says, “The gates of hell,” He says, as I build my church, “will not prevail.”
Now, you can get a PhD on the gates of hell. Let me give you the thumbnail of it as best I understand it. The gates of hell, or the gates of Hades, on the one hand represent, if you like, the evil powers that dwell there. The principalities and powers, about which Paul will eventually speak at the end of Ephesians. We don’t wrestle against flesh and blood but against spiritual wickedness in the heavenly places. This is the realm of our warfare.
D.E. Huss — D.E. Host who followed Hudson Taylor as the general secretary of the China inland mission, said on one occasion, “I would not appoint a man or a woman to the mission field unless he had learned to wrestle with the evil one. For if he has not learned to wrestle with the evil one he will wrestle with his fellow missionaries, and when you find a congregation that has begun to wrestle with one another internally, then it almost inevitable that they have lost sight of where the battle lines are drawn. The gates of hell press in against the church in terms of the powers that dwell there. Also, the gates of hell or Hades represent, if you like, the realm of the dead. The realm of the dead.
And so the evil one, if he cannot prevent us from coming to trust in Christ, which he can’t, then he will do his best to try and tyrannize us, and unsettle us, and destabilize us, and cause disunity among and all of these things, and we need to be alert to his schemes. He’s not a big friendly golden retriever. He’s a roaring, roaring lion, seeking those whom he may devour.
That includes you if you’re in Christ. And so he thought he could take care of it all the way through. Maybe in the slaughter of the innocents when Christ was born, unsuccessful. So many different attempts, even back beyond that, I think tonight is the celebration of Purim, the story of Esther, the amazing preservation of God. The work of God in securing for His people all the way through. And he says, well finally we’ve got Him. We’ve got Him in the cross.
Once He’s dead He’ll be dead. I remember when I first came here in the early 80’s, I was just excited about everything. Not that I’m any less excited now, but everything was new and fresh, and we had a man sing at I think at our first Easter service. He was a large African American man. He had a big voice, and he sang a song called “I’ll Rise Again” “I’ll Rise Again.” And, even when I say I’ll rise again, I can feel it in the small of my back, because I remember sitting out there, and he went, “Go ahead.” I was like, Whoa.
“Go ahead drive those nails in my hands.” I’m like, here we go, here we go. “Laugh at me, where you stand. Do your best. Because I’ll rise again. I’ll rise again. There ain’t no power in earth can tie me down! I’ll rise again.” Remember what he says to the Ephesians? He says, and you need the eyes of your hearts enlightened so that you might realize the hope to which He has called you that you in Christ have risen too. You have been raised and seated with Him in the heavenly places, and your security is in the reality and victory of what Jesus Himself has done.
So when Peter finally grasps it, when the Holy Spirit is given — you don’t need to do that, I don’t like that anyway. But when the Holy Spirit — when the Holy Spirit is given and Peter steps up, and the light shines into his heart and he gets a grasp of what he was saying when he came out with a right answer to the question in Matthew 16 (in the big scheme of things), and when he said that — when he said that, he then proclaimed this Jesus. And remember he says, He was not abandoned to Hades. He was not abandoned to Hades.
The gates of hell pressed against them but there was nothing for them to do. Why? Because this Jesus God raised up. This Jesus God raised up. Standing at the grave of my mother we sang, long, long time ago because I was 20. “Low in the grave He lay, Jesus, my Savior. Waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord, and up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o’er His foes. He arose a victor from the dark domain, and He lives forever with His saints to reign. He arose, He rose.” And then “Death cannot keep its prey, Jesus my Savior; He tore the bars away. Jesus my Lord.”
You see, this is the great underpinning of our security in Christ. Some of us need to give ourselves a nice Biblical shake and to realize that in certain cases our charismatic friends have done a better job of grasping the nettle of these kind of things and teaching us to get it right. Here is Jamie Owens from the 1960’s (or early 70’s) in ‘Come Together.’ Do you remember this song? You say, ‘Are you kidding me, we don’t go to those things.’ Well, I’m disappointed with you.
This is how it goes: “You are the children of the Kingdom of God.” Tell me where this goes wrong. “You’re the chosen ones of whom the Savior came — for whom the Savior came. You’re His noble new creation by the Spirit and the blood, you’re the Church that He has built to bear His name! And the gates of hell shall not prevail against you! And the hordes of darkness cannot quench your light. And the hosts of God shall stand and fight beside you till your king shall reign triumphant in His might.”
Victory my loved ones, is ours in Christ, and that then is the basis of our security. Kingdoms will rise, kingdoms will fall, nations refuse to heed God’s call, but the Word of the Lord endures forevermore. The grass withers, the flower falls, but the Word of the Lord endures forever, and this, says Peter is the gospel that was preached to you. To who? To you who have now believed. To the elect of God united in the wonder of the Trinity, the work of the Father choosing the Son dying, the Holy Spirit applying. What an amazing and wonderful thing it is.
Oh, in quick succession the empires go; Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Rome, Persia, Great Britain, the United States of America too. But listen here, He who declared on that day in Caesarea of Philippi will say to His father in the last day, “Of those whom You gave Me I have lost not one.” Not one. Why, you see, because in Christ it is an ontological impossibility for us then, to be anything other than in Christ. “In Christ alone my hope is found.” J.C. Ryle —
I’m happy to finish with J.C. Ryle, since I’ve been mentioning the Anglicans. J.C. Ryle, I’ll give you just two quotes from him, preaching along these lines. I just wish I could have heard J.C. Ryle preach once. Goodness, it reads so well I can’t imagine what it was like to hear it. He says, “When a lion came and took a lamb out of David’s flock, David arose and delivered the lamb from his mouth. Christ will do the same. Not a single sick lamb in Christ’ flock shall perish.”
You’re here tonight and you feel yourself to just be a single, sick lamb, broken and bruised and disabled by all kinds of things, aware of the frailty of your own heart, the proneness to wander and all these things. In what lies, where does your security lie? It lies in this: Christ said, “I will build my church,” as the gospel was proclaimed, as you came to believe.
And then Ryle, commenting on what happens in every generation, it’s happening now. You hear people saying, well, what’s going to happen? Do you know how old Mr. X is? Do you know how old Mr. Y is? They’re all about the same age, they’re all going to die, the whole thing’s shot. What are we going to do? All the ministers are dying, the thing’s going to be over before we know it. Or maybe I’ve been just moving in the wrong circles.
This is Ryle, “Fear not for the church of Christ when ministers die, and saints are taken away. Christ can ever maintain His own cause. He will raise up better servants and brighter stars. The stars are all in His right hand. Leave off all anxious thought about the future. Cease to be cast down by the activities of statesmen, or the plots of wolves in sheep’s clothing. Christ will ever provide for His own church. Christ will take care that the ‘gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’
All is going on well, though our eyes may not see it. But kingdoms of this world shall yet become the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ.” And then his sermon says, “I will now conclude with a few words of practical application.” I’m going, are you kidding me, Ryle? That was amazing, finish. You should finish right now. Which is what I’m going to do. Let us pray.
Father, thank You for Your Word, the Bible. Thank You for Your Son the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank You that we can rest in the promise of Jesus. Thank You that that the Lord Jesus is able to save to the uttermost all who come to You in Him. Thank You that there will be no empty seats at the great banquet that You have prepared.
Thank You that no one will look around the gathering and say, where is this or that that You had promised? Thank You that even the sick lambs are pulled into safety, safe in the arms of Jesus, safe in His gentle care. Lord, thank You for Your promise. In Jesus name, amen.