Proper 16
Matt. 16:13-20

Only three times in the sacred record is the word church ever on the lips of our Lord Jesus. These three times are in our text for today and in Matthew 18 of this same gospel. He did not use the word the way we typically do. We speak of the church as a building or as a denomination. On the lips of Jesus and indeed in all the New Testament, the church is a society of believers called out of the world by Christ, gathered around his divine person and provided with his almighty power.

I. The Church is an Assembly Called Out of the World by Christ.

The most common New Testament word for church is the word ekklesia (pronounced ek-clay-SEE-a). In earlier times, the Greek word described a body of citizens gathered to discuss affairs of state. It is the word the city clerk of Ephesus used to rebuke the surging mob stirred up by Demetrius, the Silversmith. They gathered in the amphitheater to riot against Paul’s preaching of the gospel. The city clerk told them their issues must be settled in a lawful assembly or ekklesia (Acts 19:39).

In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, it is also the word used to speak of the gathering of Israel in solemn assembly or sacred festival. The church is a gathered community. We are called out of the world as the very word declares.

II. The Church is a Community Gathered Around the Person of Christ.

Peter made his famous confession about Jesus: “You are the Christ, the son of the living God” (Matthew 16:18). And Jesus pointedly affirmed Peter’s affirmation. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven…and on this rock I will build my church…” (Matthew 16:16-18). Some think Jesus meant by the rock Simon, whose nickname was “Rocky.” Others think he was talking about building on that wonderful profession of faith. I’m sure Christ was talking about building His church on Himself. Peter and others may be little building stones, but Jesus is the Rock foundation.

The purpose of the church is to focus on Christ. He is the Founder and the Foundation and the Builder of the church. In the church we have three things to d We worship him, one with God the Father and the Spirit. Two, we bear witness to him. And three, we work his works. That is the meaning of the mysterious words about binding and loosing.

III. The Church is Divinely Provided with the Almighty Power of Christ.

This is power over death and eternal destiny. “I will give you the keys…” That power to give is Christ’s. The keys are the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. We are talking eternal destiny here! Jesus, the eternal Christ, took on a human body to be born in Bethlehem. He took the capacity that every human has to die a physical death. And he did die. To go to the cross was part of his great plan. He died, but he did not stay dead! He came alive again victor over death – rattling the keys of everyman’s grave on his almighty key ring!

Thom Rainer, in Breakout Churches, described Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois as an evangelical church in a Chicago suburb which is one of the most liberal communities in the U.S. The town boasts of what may be the largest gay and lesbian population outside San Francisco. The church struggled for years with internal and external problems. But in 2000 the church changed from an island refuge for conservatives to a mission-minded congregation with an intentional community focus. Now the church’s greatest struggle is how to house all the people coming to Christ. The church today little realizes the power we have been given. In the great commission, Jesus said, “All authority (power) in heaven and on earth has been given to me…therefore go and make disciples…and surely I will be with you always to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:18-19).

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