Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on 6/25/2017
Open your Bibles this morning to Matthew 16:13-20. Today we are going to examine a subject that seems to be vastly underestimated and undermined, and that is the power of the Church of Jesus Christ.
The reason we are doing this is twofold, and bear with me, for I am going to be a little direct. First, as I look at our Church, and by Church I mean those who attend Cornerstone on a semi-regular basis, I see a significant problem. Too many of us who attend Cornerstone see the regular assembly of Christians as optional or casual. Too many of are flagrantly disobeying the command of God. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Too many of us have the habit of neglecting Church. For some of you, our connection with our brothers and sisters here at Cornerstone is sporadic and/or superficial. This is not God's desire for you, nor is it my desire for you. Now, here me when I say that this morning I am not just speaking to non-members, I am also speaking to some of our members who seem to be fading into the world. I like to call it “pulling out.”
My reason this morning in bringing this up is not to guilt anyone into coming to more Sunday services or more Bible studies. I don't want you to come to Cornerstone because you feel guilty, I want you to come because you see value. I want you to recognize what is at stake and how committing to the local Church is what is ultimately good for you.
So let with that said, let us ask the question, why do some of you casually attend Church, or connect only superficially, or start to “pull out” of the Church? There are perhaps several answers. However, one answer is that some of you are not true Christian. You are deceiving yourself. You like the idea of being a Christian, but you have not actually repented of your sins and fully committed yourself to Christ. And because you are not a real follower of Christ, you make up your own way to live out the Christian life, and it may include Sunday morning, or an occasional Bible study, if it fits into your schedule. This is not the picture of a Christian, it is a picture of a false convert, and the day of judgment is going to be one whopper of a surprise when Christ tells you to depart from his presence.
The second reason that some of you are only casually connected or are “pulling out” of Cornerstone is that you may be a Christian, but you are an immature Christian. You do not fully understand your new circumstances in Christ. You have not fully grasped the spiritual realities that your existence is not about comfort, but it is about combat.
And I think this is exactly how we need to understand this life as Christians, as a war. In fact, this is a common way how the Bible describes the Christian walk. Christians are referred to as fellow soldiers and more than conquerors, we are told we have an enemy that wants to devour us, we are commanded to put on the whole armor of God, to use the sword of God's Word, we are called to fight the fight of faith, and exhorted to not get entangled in civilian pursuits. 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.”
Whether you recognize it or not, we as Christians live in a state of warfare. However, many of us seem to be oblivious to this. Spiritual bullets are flying by us, our spouse, our children, and our fellow Christians and we are preoccupied with our own picket fence life. So what does this have to do with a casual connection to the Church? Everything. Turn with me to Matthew 16:13-20.
Two verses that summarize this partnership are Romans 1:16 and 1 Thessalonians 1:5. Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Proclaiming the Gospel is the means by which people are saved. The gospel must be spoken, and Paul was more than happy to proclaim it from the middle of the town square. 1 Thessalonians 1:5 says, “our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”
The church is built by the proclaiming of the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit. This started with Christ, the disciples, the early Church, and so on and so forth. Listen how the Church is described in Ephesians 2:19, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
This is the Church, the called out assembly of God's people. To be a Christian is no to be casually connected, but to be joined together. The Church is Christ's design for his followers. Christ did not call you out of the world to sit at home. This is why the first thing you tell a new Christian is that they need to join a Church. They need to assemble with other Christians. Christ did not call you to casual, he called you to a covenant community. If you are true Christian, it is un-Biblical and rebellious not to be devoted to a local Church.
The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail
But not only are we commanded and expected to be joined to brothers and sisters, but it is in our best interest. Look at Verse 18, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” What does Jesus mean when he says, “Gates of Hell”? I believe he means two things. First, the literal word for Hell in this passage is hades. Hades is the place for the dead, but not all dead, just those who are not in Christ. Those who are in Christ will not be in Hades, but instead will be in Heaven. We can see this from Jesus' own words in Matthew 11:23, “And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.” So one way to understand the gates of Hell shall not prevail is that those who are are called out by God and see Christ for who he is will not need to worry about Hell or Hades, for we have been saved from Hades, through faith in Jesus Christ.
However, I also believe the Gates of Hades has another sense to it in this passage, in that it speaks of the power of Satan. The gates of a city determined its strength. The stronger the city, the stronger it's gates. So what is the strength of Hades, the power of Hades. Is it not Satan? We are told in 1 Peter 5:8 that Satan is a prowling lion looking for someone to devour. We are told in John 8:44 that Satan is a murder. Today in Revelation 9 we saw that Satan was given the keys to the bottomless pit. What is Satan's primary mission in this world? To fill Hades with the souls of men. This is why Satan did what he did in Genesis 3 in the temptation of Adam and Eve. His goal was to plunge men into Hades.
Followers of Christ are a direct threat to his domain of darkness, the City of Hades. Satan is the ruler of this world and he is the power of Hades and when we are called out of the world to assemble in the name of Jesus, we are drawing a battle lines against him and it infuriates him.
To see this, turn to Revelation 12:7. We will unpack this more in Sunday School in just a few weeks, but it is useful for us to look at it today. Revelation 12:7, “7Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, 8but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” For the essence of time, skip down to verse 17, “Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”
Revelation is chuck full of symbolism, and this chapter is no exception. As verse 9 says, the dragon is Satan and the women and her offspring represents the Church, those who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Satan began in Heaven as an angel of God, he rebelled against God and war broke out in Heaven. He was thrown out of Heaven, but the war didn't end. Satan now declares war on God's people. Therefore, if you are a Christian, Satan and his legion of demons, are out to get you. Satan is blinded by his pride and anger and is consumed with his desire to destroy you. Satan hates you and wants to make a shipwreck out of your relationship with Christ.
Just to hammer this home a little bit more, we see in Ephesians 6:10 it say, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
Satan is scheming to pin you to the mat. To pick you up and body slam you and hold you down until the bell rings. And as I stated earlier, many of you are oblivious that you are in a wrestling match against cosmic power. Powers that want to drag you to through the gates of Hell.
The Schemes of Satan and the Power of the Church
What are these schemes? They are too numerous to list. However, George Whitefield, a preacher in the 1700s in a sermon titled, “The Schemes of Satan” listed 6 that caught his attention, and perhaps they will resonate with you today: 1) Satan schemes to drive us to despair, to believe that there is no hope for us, 2) Satan tempts us to be proud, or to think more highly of ourselves then we should 3) Satan tempts us to feel perplexed, and to begin to doubt God when our prayers seem to go unanswered, 4) Satan troubles the believer with blasphemous, impure, unbelieving thoughts, 5) Satan tempts us by our carnal friends and relatives, and 6) Lastly, Satan schemes by not tempting us at all, in order to "surprise" us when we least expect it. Can you relate to some of those? I know I can.
These fiery arrows from Satan are shot at you daily by the spiritual forces of evil, and what hope do you have? You have the hope that is spoken of in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The called out assembly of God is the Heavenly outpost of the soldiers of Christ.
Listen to what it says in Ephesians 4:11 regarding the Body of Christ, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”
The purpose of the Church is to equip the saints so that you are no longer pushed around by the schemes of Satan. This is why Cornerstone Church exists, to turn boys into men, citizens into soldiers.
When Christians neglect the regular assembling with other believers, equipping suffers. When Christians are casual about Church they remain immature, easy prey for the prowling lion of Satan. This is not what God wants and this is not what you should want either. Christ has built for you a heavenly institution on earth so that you can be victorious in this life. So that you can finally overcome some of the sins that keep dragging you down week after week and year after year. All you have to do is commit yourself to a local body, to join an assembly of Christians, to devote yourself to Christian fellowship.
And this is why we at Cornerstone take Church membership so seriously. Because we are at war, and many of us are wounded from being tossed about by Satan. And it is time to put those days behind us and become the mighty men that Christ intended.
On July 9th at 6:00 p.m., here at Cornerstone Church we will begin a new members class. It will last for four weeks. My hope is that some of you who are merely playing Church, verses joining the Church will think about coming and committing yourself to the assembly of Christ and join your fellow soldiers as we battle together against the powers of darkness. For you members who are seem to be “pulling out” or are falling asleep, it is time for you to wake up, for the day of the Lord is drawing near.
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