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Discovering Church

By Charles Swindoll | Senior Pastor of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas.

Matthew 16:13-18: Let's enter an imaginary time tunnel and journey back about 20 centuries. As we do, remember that in the place we find ourselves there is no United States of America. The modern civilizations of Europe, Australia and Canada, as well as other contemporary cultures do not exist. Even the nation of Israel looks completely different.

In the first century, there are no Christian traditions, and we certainly find no denominations or churches. Where we're imagining ourselves standing, no one has even heard the word church before; and the Jewish culture of the day exists in the context of a pagan Roman government that dominates the land of Israel. On top of all that, the official religious leaders of the day are proud, self-serving and corrupt. It was in such an environment that the church began.

Whenever we want to understand a topic or term such as church, we should begin at the passage of primary reference. It helps to ask where the word first appeared and in what context it was used. Surprisingly, the first mention in the New Testament of the word church wasn't from the the apostle Paul. Peter didn't coin the term, nor did any of the other apostles. It was Jesus.

Matthew describes the scene for us. He writes of the time Jesus took His disciples north into the Gentile area of Caesarea Philippi. While there, the Lord asks His men what the public is saying about His identity: "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" They said, "Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." He said to them, "Who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:13-16).

The culture around Jesus viewed Him as nothing more than a great man, but Peter voiced a different opinion. Speaking for the disciples as a whole, Peter was never more accurate: "You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One…the Son of the living God." Peter nailed it! At that point in the discussion, Jesus changed the dialogue to a monologue and commended Peter for his statement: Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it" (Matthew 16:17-18).

In commending Simon Peter for his spiritual insight about who Jesus was, the Lord unveiled even more truth about what He would do. In essence, Jesus told Peter, "Your words about Me are true. In fact, they are a foundational statement: like a rock. On this rocklike declaration I will build My church."

He also promised the gates of Hades would not erode it or erase it. The church would have staying power. Against all odds, it would prevail. Not even the adversary would overpower it. "I will build My church." Let's examine the implications of those five monosyllabic words in this primary reference.

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