Jesus said that the gates of hell would not prevail against His church. This saying is interesting to consider today when certain voices have classified churches and their services "non-essential." I want to explore these two ideas today, the one, that the church is not essential for the well being of society, and the other, that the church is so enduring that the gates of hell will not prevail against her.
The Church Nonessential?
We will come to our passage soon, but first, what about the church being viewed as non-essential? How can it be that the church has gone from being an important part of life, to its being viewed as an anachronism?
The society we live in mostly worships a different God than Jesus. Strangely, many are still convinced they are Christians, and yet neither the Bible nor the church form any important part of their life. Idolatry is much more subtle than anyone thinks.
The church is no longer the voice of morality or reason or hope. "Science" is.
And the result is that the past century was the most deadly, the most violent, the most hopeless, in all history, by a long ways. In comparison, our ne century looks like it will be very much worse. But this is what happens when you forget God. The culture becomes empty, merciless, heartless, soulless. The essential pieces are missing.
Hear this pararaph from The Great Controversy, p. 48:
There is another and more important question that should engage the attention of the churches of today. The apostle Paul declares that 'All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.' 2 Timothy 3:12. Why is it, then, that persecution seems in a great degree to slumber? The only reason is that the church has conformed to the world's standard and therefore awakens no opposition. The religion which is current in our day is not of the pure and holy character that marked the Christian fath in the days of Christ and His apostles. It is only because of the spirit of compromise with sin, because the great truths of the word of God are so indifferently regarded, because there is so little vital godliness in the church, that Christianity is apparently so popular with the world. Let there be a revival of the faith and power of the early church, and the spirit of persecution will be revived, and the fires of persecution will be rekindled.
So we know what is missing. We know what it must become again.i We know what the church will be.
The church is God's fortress on earth. He holds it in a revolted world. You can beat it down, forbid it, close it, suppress it, but it will remain. It is Heaven's essential conduit for the oracles of truth. It is essential as the guardian of the family and the individual. It is essential as the primary societal institution for the promotion of morality and ethics . It is essential as a physical manifestation of the kingdom of God. It is essential for human thriving and well-being.
We are formed in God's image. All of that goes away when we trade out the Bible narrative for evolution. It is really nothing to be surprised about that a rapidly secularizing state would keep liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries open, and close churches as non-essential. In case we have not gotten it through our head yet, let's be explicit: the worldviews involved are utterly incompatible. We do not fit into their worldview and they do not fit into ours.
Tolerance is something they received from our worldview. Truth authentic can afford to wage war in terms of an extended demonstration; we call it the great controversy between good and evil. But error can never demonstrate its superiority, so it is always ultimately intolerant. That attitude stems from its desperation to prove itself correct, while deep down inside of people there remains a continuous nagging doubt, a sense of moral evil, that in standing with self-interest, one is standing on the side of an actual evil.
[Read excerpt from George Orwell's 1984]. So much of that sounds so familar.
The devil has come down to us with great wrath because he (at least) knows his time is short.
What God Builds His Church on
But our study today is found in Matthew 16. It is a familiar passage: Matthew 16:13-20.
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?' So they said, 'Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.' He said to them, 'But who do you say I am?' Simon Peter answered and said, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' Jesus answered and said to 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 say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell 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, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.' Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ.
This is about faith. Jesus knows it is time to broach the question of faith. There is what the world says about Jesus, and there is what the Father says about Jesus. For Peter, the fundamental issue is what God has revealed to Him. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
Eyes of faith see beyond the standard view. We see more than those who watch their world through everyday eyes. Jesus is more than a mere man. He is altogether human, indistinguishable from other men biologically. But He is also God with us. Not on Peter as supposedly the rock would God build His church--Peter, who vacillated and prevaricated and was off and on for Jesus--but on the reality of a people of faith for Christ; on the reality of supernatural revelation and faithful personal connection with God.
This kind of faith is a confiding trust by which the soul becomes a conquering power. It is very personal, a very close bond between two persons. It is faith in God, not faith in ourselves; not a faith in Peter or a pope or a president.
Right here we come to the central statement we have in mind. "And on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it."
Jesus is building. And the material is faith. The gates of hell will not prevail, they will not overcome that church, that group of believers in Jesus, who believe in Him from the depths of faith.
The Gates of Hell
What are the gates of hell, or, the gates of hades? Remember, "hell" here simply means the grave. The gates of the grave are the ground that covers, entombs. The Gates of hell represent also the failure of the church to do and die for Jesus. When the church lingers on, sees the world a mall rather than a temporary sojourning station, she is not being a faithful worker for Him. Then lethargy and worldliness keeps us at our toiling. More bricks, more bricks, endlessly for our pharaohs.
When we come to the final church era, the Laodicean period, (Revelation 3), we see a church bored, satiated, self-confident, indifferent, off-mission, maintaining a form of religion, an empty-of-Jesus-shell, a placeholder. She is half in and half out, useless to God in that stupor. She is up to her eyeballs in iPads, waiting at the mailbox for the ext government stimulus check.
From a human standpoint, she looks hopeless. Jesus says that her behavior makes Him feel ill, ready to spew her lukewarmness out of His mouth. This is not the end. God has a plan to rouse all those within her who can be roused. He will shake His church, wake His church, enliven all who are willing to receive His latter rain gift.
The gates of hell will not prevail against His church. The graves will finally be opened. Many of those who sleep on the very edge of eternity, will persist and rise, and resist the spell of sleep.
Those who, with strong faith, and agonizing cries, plead with God, will refuse to be shrouded by that so all-darkness look of things. What they see at every side is so deflating, so hopeless. But they keep their eyes directed upward. They are looking to Jesus. They are praying and pleading with God. He sends His angels. They call on God with all the perseverance He gives them. Their faith is not feeble. It is red hot.
They raise the standard. They pour forth the straight message of God. These were believers who were determined to have the victory. They received help from God, they experienced victory, and their joy was unbounded. They proclaim the truth about God, and their faithfulness leads to measures taken against them by the powers of earth. They feel unworthy, but they persevere.
They demonstrate entire submission to God, wrestling with Him for deliverance. As they have become wholly Christ's, the earthly bonds have slipped away and they have separated themselves from allegiances which before had seemed right to them but which now they recognized having created bonds of friendship with the world and which have separated them from He who died on the cross for them.
But is the State's Power and Technology Invincible?
But what about the extraordinary power of the modern technological superstate with its extreme surveillance abilities? How can the church survive that?
The fact is that the church has always done well under persecution. Times of prosperity fill the church with the half-hearted; times of danger, when it costs something to be a Christian, those are times when the church actually grows. My favorite book besides the Bible, Ellen White's The Great Controversy, a volume of 678 pages, uses the word "persecution" 145 times.
It was under persecution that the church thrived in Russia, when Seventh-day Adventists used typewriters and carbons and typed out the pages of books like The Great Controversy and The Desire of Ages while sweating under piles of blankets to muffle the sound. There are Asian countries today where vast numbers of underground Christians communicate by encrypted email and message systems and meet secretly.
Under persecution the church will thrive. Many will seal their testimony for God with martyr blood. But God will have His finished work. People will discover how to keep organized as God's people even under the most stringent surveillance and persecution.
We have had it easy. In the months and years just ahead it will cost us something to follow Jesus. But let us complete our main thought. Jesus said that the gates of hell would not prevail against His church. The church will not be persecuted and whither away and die out in a whimper. Rather, she will return to her Lord and become vibrant again.
Matthew 16:19-20 show that the church retains an authority. Bt we will not linger on that point right now.
Those who die trusting in Jesus will be raised. The gates of hell will not keep them down. God will prevail. Jesus will come again. He will raise His people. The gates of the grave will open and those who were slain while believing in Jesus will rise in newness of life. Those who are alive and remain until Jesus comes will be saved, preserved by Him.
He will have his way. Our eyes should see it. The church will outlast the present human order. It always has in the past, and it will until the very end. The church will learn all over again how to trust Jesus. And then the end will come. This is an adventure we have the privilege of participating in.
I do not fear for the success of the Jesus and His church. We will learn how to work more effectively for souls in whatever comes upon us, not because we are clever, but because Jesus is faithful. Jesus encouraged His church in the Smyrna period, "Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life." This is our calling also. Maranatha.
2020-05-23 Muskegon-Fremont MI churche via Zoom internet