The Lord’s Day Evening
February 20, 2005
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
What a glorious vision that is, that we’ve just been singing, and how appropriate, I think, for the beginning of our reflection this week on the work of missions. Today we begin a week-long series of activities on the work of missions, and this evening I want us to look at a text we’ve looked at fairly recently but in a different account, in the Gospel of Mark. But this evening’s account in Matthew 16 contains some significant additional material that in fact is not to be found in Mark’s gospel, and that has a very particular emphasis on the work of mission.
Some of you will be reading from the King James Version of 1611 (and some other translations that are based in this text) which mentions “the coasts of Caesarea Philippi…” at verse 13. It’s an old chestnut, but some have suggested that this in some way disproves the inerrancy of Scriptures. Why? Because there are no coasts at Caesarea Philippi because this city was almost a hundred miles inland. Well, the answer is very simple. In the seventeenth century the word horion in Greek, rendered as “coasts” in the King James, and in the seventeenth century it simply meant “the borderland” of a country, and Caesarea Philippi is actually on the border of several provinces of Abilene and Phoenicia, and that’s all we need to say to render that red herring dead in the water and God’s word infallible and inerrant. Now let’s ask for God’s Spirit to bless us as we read the Scriptures together.
Lord, we come again a needy people; a people who cannot survive for long without the feeding and the nurturing and the comfort that comes from the Scriptures. And now this evening, come again and grant us understanding, illumination, as we read this passage of Scripture together; and grant that in everything Your great and glorious name might be hallowed and glorified. For Jesus’ sake we ask it, Amen.
This is God’s word:
“When Jesus came into the coast of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, ‘Whom do people say that I, the Son of Man, am?’ And they said, ‘Some say that Thou art John the Baptist; some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.’ He saith unto them, ‘But whom say ye that I am?’ And Simon Peter answered and said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered and said unto him, ‘Blessed art thou, Simon Bar Jonah, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven. And I also say unto thee that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ Then charged He His disciples that they should tell no man that He was Jesus, the Christ.
“From that time forth began Jesus to show unto His disciples how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took Him and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Be it far from Thee, Lord! This shall not be unto Thee.’ But He turned and said unto Peter, ‘Get thee behind Me, Satan! Thou art an offense unto Me; for thou savorest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.’ Then said Jesus unto His disciples, ‘If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and then He shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here which shall not taste of death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.’”
Amen. And may God add His blessing to the reading of His holy and inerrant word.
Now this is one of a half dozen texts in Scripture that is of crucial importance. It’s actually one of those texts that threads together, that enable us to thread together the story of God’s redemptive purposes from Genesis through to Revelation. If you wanted to summarize that in a few minutes—I have no idea why you would want to do it in a few minutes, but if you would want to do that in a few minutes, this would be a passage that you would go to.
It is programmatic; a disclosure by Jesus of His great intent and purpose in this world, and that is to build for Himself a church. Jesus is addressing Peter here, after Peter has made this enormously significant confession, namely that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus has said to Peter that flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And there is a sense in which this is a growing moment for Peter, the disciple. And as Jesus now reflects on this growing moment in the awareness of Peter of Jesus’ identity, He begins to instruct Peter as to one of the core features of discipleship in this world, namely that God puts us and places us in the context of a church that Jesus Christ Himself builds.
I love the church. I love everything about the church. I love the services; I love the quaint things about the church. I love the idiosyncratic members of the church, and that includes myself! We are truly, as Peter says, a peculiar people! I love the worship services, I love the prayer meetings. I love that schedule, that program that every week is the same: that Wednesday night is prayer meeting. It’s like a refuge, it’s a sanctuary. The Lord’s Day morning and evening, and Sunday School—it’s part of the way God builds us up; it’s part of the way God disciples us and grows us as Christians.
I’ve not always loved the church. I didn’t grow up in a church. I never went to church for the first eighteen years of my life, apart from maybe half a dozen occasions that I would rather blot out of my memory, they were so bad.
I love the church. Every Christian should love the church. It’s not something that we can pick and choose; it’s not something that we can decide is for some Christians and not for others. Jesus tells us here He is building His church.
I remember coming across a statement of Calvin’s that “just as God is our Father, so the church is our mother.” Well, I remember the first time I read that. I thought, “Right. That comes from the sixteenth century and perhaps doesn’t gel with me where I am right now.” But the more I’ve reflected on that over the years, the more I see the wisdom of what Calvin was saying. We truly have a bond with the church that is like the bond that some of us have with our mothers, a bond in which we are fed and nurtured and nourished, and helped, and sometimes rebuked.
And Jesus is speaking here on this tremendously significant moment at Caesarea Philippi, and giving to His disciples what we might call a ‘mission statement.’ A mission statement: and it comes in four parts.
I. The first has to do with the shape of that which He intends to do.
And in regard to that, what Jesus says is that the redemptive purposes of God revolve around the building of a church. “I will build My church,” He says in verse 18. It’s very significant in Matthew’s gospel, because this is the first occurrence of the word church in Matthew’s gospel. In fact, the word church is somewhat rare in the gospels as a whole.
And Jesus is taking a word that actually comes in its roots directly from the Old Testament, so that it would not have appeared strange in any way to the disciples who heard it. It comes directly from the Old Testament, and particularly from the Greek translation of the Old Testament. And Jesus is speaking of a word which has as its basic meaning the idea of a people that are called out in order that they might worship God; called together out of the world and into fellowship with each other, and into communion with God. The word synagogue has the same roots, and Jesus is alluding to an idea here that the Apostle Paul and some of the other apostles will take and elaborate: that the church is like sheep in a flock, or branches in a vine, or friends to a bridegroom, or stones in a temple, or citizens in a new Israel. And Jesus is speaking—do you note?—especially here to Peter, and He says something to Peter that has become the occasion of a great deal of controversy. He says to Peter, “You are Peter, and on this rock...”, and alluding to Peter, whose name is ‘Rock’ or ‘Rocky’, Jesus says, “...I will build My church.”
And I think that Peter always from that moment onwards had a fascinating about rocks and stones. I imagine Peter walking down a lane and picking up a rock or a stone, and thinking about that day in Caesarea Philippi when Jesus singled him out and said, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church.” And it’s interesting that when Peter comes to write his first epistle that’s the image that he takes up. Do you remember? He speaks about the church as a house, or a building or a temple; and that you and I by the grace of God are like living stones, chiseled stones, stones that the Grand Mason has worked on and shaped and placed in union and relationship to each other; and Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone of that temple. And I think for the Apostle Peter that metaphor of what a church actually is, of stones—or, to follow the Mission Report this evening, Amos Megazi bricks in a fireplace, perhaps—and that idea of separation in geographical terms, but union and identity in spiritual terms and in harmony and fellowship with Jesus Christ. And Jesus is saying, ‘I have come to build my church.’ Not you in your small corner and I in mine, but a new community, a living temple in which stones are put together in relationship to a chief cornerstone.
Isn’t it interesting, for example, that the Book of Hebrews will elaborate on that image in the second chapter when it quotes, you remember, from Psalm 22, the very psalm that Jesus will cite on the cross; quoting that passage where Jesus is saying, “I am not ashamed to call you brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing praises to You....” and it’s the idea of a worshiping community, a worshiping congregation, and Jesus is right there in the midst of God’s people singing the praises of God along with His brothers!
So here is the first mission statement: that the redemptive purposes of God revolve around the building of a church.
II. The second part of this mission statement involves setting.
If the first involves shape, the second involves setting. And it goes like this: that the redemptive purposes of God unfold in enemy occupied territory. The redemptive purposes of God unfold in enemy occupied territory.
Do you see how sharply it comes right into the middle of this discourse? That Jesus says to Peter, but actually to Satan—Satan, who is right there manipulating everything. Right there as Jesus is announcing His program for redemptive history, the building of His church, Satan comes, reminding us (as though we needed to be reminded) that the church is always going to be built within the very sight and sound of the walls of Hades, or Hell. Do you notice what it is that Jesus says? Not only the reality that mission work will take place in the context of hostility and persecution, but what Jesus says is, “...and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.”
Now, Jesus actually employs a verb here that is very interesting. It’s a verb that has a particular connotation in the New Testament, the word that’s translated prevail. It’s used again in Luke 23:23. You remember when Jesus was facing His trial that there were two sections of the crowd, and there were those who were saying, “Release Him! Release Him!” And there were those who were saying, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” And the text says, “And those who said ‘Crucify Him!’ prevailed.” And it seems as though that word that Jesus is employing here is always employed within the context of the hostility of the evil one, as though Jesus is saying, ‘Wherever the church goes, wherever mission work is engaged in, there will always be those voices: ‘Build it! Build it!’ some will say; ‘Destroy it! Destroy it!’ others will say. And do you see what Jesus is promising here? That those who say, ‘Build it!’ will prevail, that the gates of Hades will not prevail against His intention to build the church.
Isn’t that in part what you see on the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit is poured out upon this new community? And it is Peter, of all people it is Peter, who begins to preach the gospel with boldness, to preach Jesus and Him crucified with boldness. And what is it that you see? You see in embryo what we sang in that hymn just before this sermon this evening, of communities of people from every tribe and tongue and nation and people coming to faith in Jesus Christ.
It’s a kind of cameo...it’s a kind of small embryonic symbol of that which God intends to do. The gates of Hell with all of its evil machinations will not prevail against the intention of Jesus Christ. He has come. He has come according to that which is laid down in the very opening chapters of Scripture, in Genesis 3:15, that the seed of the woman will crush the head of Satan. That’s always been the mission statement of Scripture. That’s always been God’s plan and design from the very beginning. And what Jesus is saying in Caesarea Philippi is, ‘That seed of Satan will not prevail; the seed of the woman will be the one who prevails; I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail.’ Well, there’s a third aspect to this mission statement. If the first is about shape, and the second is about setting,
III. the third is about sacrifice.
The third is about sacrifice. And it goes like this: that the redemptive purposes of God are costly. The redemptive purposes of God are costly, and they are costly in two senses.
They are costly, first of all, for the One who makes this statement, namely, Jesus Christ Himself. From that time on, from Caesarea Philippi onwards, Jesus began to declare to His disciples in plain language, with a frankness that seemingly He had not entered into before, that now the time was short and that He must needs go to Jerusalem and be handed over and be crucified, and on the third day, rise again. And it cost Him His life. He would lay down His life on behalf of the church. He would shed His blood on behalf of the church. That’s the cost of missions.
“There is a green hill far away, outside a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified, Who died to save us all.
We may not know, We cannot tell what pain He had to bear;
But we believe it was for us He hung and suffered there.
“He died that we might be forgiven, He died to make us good;
That we might go at last to heaven, saved by His precious blood.
There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin;
He only could unlock the gates of heaven and let us in.”
But it was costly not only for Jesus, but as Jesus now goes on to say, it will be costly for His people, too. And Jesus enters into this section of immense significance about what it means to be a disciple in the church of Jesus Christ. It involves us, Jesus says, in a life of cross-bearing and self-denial. Cross-bearing and self-denial. Calvin makes this extraordinary comment somewhere in his commentary on First Peter, that God has so ordered the church from the very beginning that death is the way to life. Death is the way to life, and suffering the way to victory. And here is Jesus saying to Peter, ‘If you would be My disciple, if you would follow after Me, you must be prepared to deny yourself and to take up your cross, and to follow after Me.’
We think, don’t we, of those extraordinary words of Jim Elliot just before he died, in his journal, that “He is no fool to give up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” He is no fool to give up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.
Well, there’s a fourth aspect of this mission statement. If the first is about shape, and the second about setting, and the third about sacrifice,
IV. the fourth is about strategy.
And it goes like this: that the redemptive purposes of God demand that the gospel be taken to the ends of the earth.
Jesus speaks here of keys. He says to Peter, but actually He’s speaking to all of the disciples as a further comment in Matthew 18 makes clear, He says to Peter and the disciples, “I give to you the keys of the kingdom.” And again, without entering into the controversy of those remarks as they were engaged in in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the debate that exists between the Roman Catholic church and the Protestant church on that text, and the text “You are Peter, and on this rock I will built My church”, let me cut through all of that and say this evening simply this: that the keys to which Jesus refers here are not the keys that hang, as it were, from the waist of Peter at the pearly gates of heaven; but, rather, these keys are the very keys of the gospel itself--the keys that unlock doors that either bind or loose; and it’s as though Jesus is saying to Peter, ‘Look, this is My redemptive purpose. This is My mission statement. I am going to build a church in Jackson, Mississippi, in Uganda, in the far-flung continents of the earth, and this is how it will be done. I’m going to give you keys, the keys of the gospel, the keys that are in your pocket, the keys that are in your hands, the keys that are in your lips, to go into all the world and make known the saving purposes of God in Jesus Christ.’
What a grand text that is for seeing the responsibility that is yours and mine in the building of the church of Jesus Christ: “I give you the keys,” Jesus says. ‘This is something I want you to engage in. This is something I want you to be obsessed about. This is something I want you to have in the very forefront of your mind, that this is My grand purpose.’
But you notice something else that Jesus says here. Not only does He say to Peter, “I give you the keys of the kingdom,” but you notice there is a balance here, and it’s not a symmetric balance. It’s an asymmetric balance, because Jesus says—and He prefaces what He says by saying, “I will build My church....” He doesn’t intend by saying that that we have nothing to do. He doesn’t intend by saying that that we don’t have a responsibility to go to the uttermost parts of the world; but he wants us to understand—and what a glory it is!—that this is His work. That this is His doing! That absolutely nothing will be accomplished without His putting forth His power, because without Him we can do nothing. Without his sovereignty we can accomplish absolutely nothing. “I will build My church,” Jesus says.
I remember reading...oh, a good while ago now...in a book by John Stott. There was a rebuke to ministers of the gospel, but we’re all guilty of the way in which we sometimes refer to a church as “my church.” You know, ministers will get together, especially at ministers’ conferences, and they’ll talk about “my church.” And it’s as though Jesus is saying here, ‘It’s not your church, this is the church of Jesus Christ.’ He owns it. He lay down His life to purchase it.
And it’s as though Peter especially needs to hear this, because what is it Peter says? Peter utters two words that cannot go together: “Never, Lord.” Never, Lord. And I think Peter saw...do you see?...the implication of what Jesus was saying. That if this was truly His work and His church, all those proud peacock feathers that were part of the nature of the Apostle Peter, and part of yours and mine, those proud peacock feathers had to go down, because the One to whom glory and honor is to be given in all of this is Jesus Christ.
He intends to build His church. What a word that is to missionaries who are finding it difficult, and we’ll have some with us this week. And be sensitive to them. Missionaries who have known setbacks, and obstacles, and hostility and disappointment, who feel the need to perhaps—particularly in a church as generous as this one—to give glowing reports about grand accomplishments, when in actual fact the going has been terrible and difficult, and hard. And what a word it is to the likes of such that this is Jesus’ work; this is Jesus’ work, it’s not your work. It’s not my work. It’s Jesus’ work, to be built and sustained through spiritual means of prayer.
So what we have here, then, is a grand mission statement on the part of Jesus, as to its shape: that He intends in the sovereign purposes of God to build a church; as to its setting, in the redemptive purposes of God to take place in the very location of enemy occupied territory; as to sacrifice, that it comes at great cost; and as to strategy, that the redemptive purposes of God involve the taking of the gospel, the employment of the keys of the kingdom, into the far nations of the world. Oh, may God bless His word to us in this week of mission now that lies before us, for His name’s sake! Amen.
Let’s pray together.
Our Father in heaven, we thank You for Your word and this grand, glorious text in Matthew’s gospel. We ask that You bless it to us, write it upon our hearts. Help us now this evening to see none but Jesus only, triumphing in glory, gathering His people from the far-flung continents of the world unto Himself. And grant, O Lord, that we might be taken up with awe and wonder that You would call the likes of us into such a grand and glorious task. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Please stand, receive the Lord’s benediction.
Grace be with you all. Amen.