Architect, Owner, Builder and Lord (2)
Scripture: Matthew 16:13–20
Architect, Builder, Owner and Lord
Sunday, June 3, 2001
Pastor Randy Smith
As our society grows more individualistic, there is an increased preponderance on the doctrine of self. People are trained that the world revolves around "me." We hear phrases like, "I am a rock," "I am independent," "I am sufficient," "Look out for number one," "If you want a job done, you have to do it yourself."
The dictionary recaps the emphasis of self: Self-advancement, self-appointed, self-assertion, self-assurance, self-command, self-confidence, self-esteem, self-image, self-interest, self-reliance, self-help, self-righteousness, self-seeking, self-sufficient, self-willed, self, self, self!!! Yet all these definitions contain within them a large degree of self -centeredness and selfishness. This week I came across an ad for The Encyclopedia of the Self , whose focus and content are related to self-help through self-knowledge.
But as the world continues to exalt self, our Lord Jesus exalts selflessness. He comes to those who see their unworthiness and need for a Savior. He delights in those who prefer others above themselves. He abhors the prideful, but uplifts the humble. He takes His rest only in those who die to self and willingly yield to His lordship.
Should it be any wonder that Jesus turns the values of the world upside-down? Should it be any wonder that selfish man does not seek after God? There must be a divine revelation! Should it be any wonder that even spiritual man does not build the church? There must be a divine architect!
The title of this message is Architect, Builder, Owner and Lord. Our purpose this first Lord's Day together is to establish the fact that Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of all that happens within this church. Christianity does not revolve around self; it revolves around Jesus Christ. Though magnificent corporations and cities have been erected on the foundation of great men and women throughout history, Jesus Christ reserves the right to build His church and call His people into existence. Because of this we should not compliment ourselves for our righteous acts, depend on ourselves to further this church or praise ourselves for anything that might occur in this institution, for His prerogatives and glory He will not defer to another!
At this point Jesus was 2-1/2 years into His ministry. Hostility from the religious leaders was on the rise, and the people more than ever wanted to make Him a King, a conqueror over Rome, based on their false expectations of the Messiah. In departing from the multitudes, Jesus now began to spend more time with His inner band of disciples in self-disclosure and preparation for His journey to the cross.
1. REVELATION OF THE MESSIAH
Our account in verse 13 takes us to the secluded, predominantly Gentile community of Caesarea Philippi. When arriving at that town Jesus personally asked His disciples to identify conceptions of His existence, climaxing the personal disclosure that had begun in 4:17. It's fairly straightforward. Jesus did not march into the Palestinian world and go unnoticed! Naturally each person had concocted some sort of a personal impression.
Obviously Jesus knew His identity. His asking was simply to probe the minds of His disciples as to His true character. "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" In this question, He identified Himself as the "Son of Man," His favorite self-designation, a Messianic title from Daniel 7. Unfortunately this title was unnoticed due to popular misconceptions.
According to verse 14, the responses were legend. Some said John the Baptist. Possibly they shared the view of Herod (Mt. 14:1-2). Others said Elijah. The Jews expected a literal, personal appearance of Elijah acting as a forerunner to the Messiah according to Mal. 4:5. Still others said Jeremiah. The connection with Jesus is difficult to determine. Possibly, like Jeremiah, Jesus was a prophet of judgment who was often ignored and persecuted by the religious leaders. Finally, many claimed He was one of the prophets. This was the "catch-all" category- "I don't know for sure, He must be one of the prophets!" At least the other responses, though wrong, were specific! Though not mentioned in this account, the disciples were kind to not remind Him that some even identified Jesus with Satan, the epitome of all blasphemous statements.
Regardless of their answers, nobody saw Jesus for who He really was. Every answer, despite how close it might have come, fell short, because nobody was openly confessing Jesus as the Messiah. Likewise from that day on; well into our society today, much of the world has spoken highly of Jesus without recognizing His deity and lordship. Pilate said, "I find no guilt in this man." Napoleon said, "I know men, and Jesus was no mere man." Diderot referred to Jesus as "The Unsurpassed," Strauss as "the highest model of religion," John Stuart Mill as "the guide of humanity," and Renan as "the greatest amongst the sons of men." Musicals today call Him a Superstar, others a Mighty Leader, Teacher, Moralist or Philosopher. What do you say?
Who is this Jesus? That's a question all of us must face. John MacArthur rightly commented, "A person's answer (to that question) is of monumental importance, because on it hinges his eternal destiny. It is a question that no one can escape or avoid. Every soul, as it were, will be pinned against the wall of eternity and forced to answer that question." Who is Jesus?
Now in turning to His apostles, Jesus asked them in vs. 15, "But who do you say that I am?" Jesus begins the sentence with the adversative "but," marking a point of contrast. Additionally, the "you" in the original language screams with emphasis. Imagine Jesus asking His disciples, "Regardless of what the others say, you have been My followers. You have listened to My teachings and observed My miracles. Who do you say that I am?" Salvation is a personal matter. Each of us must make that decision for ourselves. If the apostles were not exempt, what makes us think we are any different?
Though Jesus addressed the question to all, Peter in vs. 16, acting as a spokesman for the 12 in his typical brashness responded and said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." In that response, Peter revealed that Jesus was not a mere man or solely a prophet from God. Rather, Jesus was the Christ, in Greek the "anointed one," or the popular Hebrew translation, "Messiah." Peter revealed that Jesus was the long-awaited One who would fulfill the OT Messianic hope to bring restoration for God's people, ordained by the Father and anointed by the Spirit.
Now, allow me to back-up. The disciples obviously saw something special in Jesus from the get-go that prompted them to leave all that they had to become a follower of Him. But now the revelation of Him was becoming clearer, though their complete understanding of Him was still at best partial.
For instance, just moments after Jesus revealed His Messianic mission in verse 21 of suffering and dying, the same Peter who confessed Him as the Christ rebuked Him! Peter's expectations did not include a Messiah on the Roman cross. Jesus responded to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's" (Mt. 16:23). Even after the crucifixion, the cowardly disciples huddled behind locked doors in fear of persecution, confident that the plan had gone sour. It was not until after the resurrection, that Peter and the disciples began to realize the plan of the Messiah and proclaim His message boldly.
In addition to the Christ, Peter confessed that Jesus was the Son of the Living God. That confession goes beyond any mere nationalistic pride and highlights the deity of Christ as the eternal Son of God
Far from Jesus ever correcting His response, Jesus pronounced a blessing on Peter in verse 17. "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal thisto you, but My Father who is in heaven." Think of that word, "blessing." How have you either used that word or heard it spoken in the past month? Often it is connected with some aspect of worldly happiness such as a nice house or good health or a successful job. Though these gifts are from God and we should receive them with gratitude, the greatest blessings are ones of religious delight and holy joy. The blessings that should bring us joy are those of the spiritual nature, every spiritual blessing in Christ, according to Ephesians 1:3. When is the last time you heard someone rejoicing in their blessed trial that was teaching them a greater dependence on God? But without a doubt, the greatest blessing is to know God through a revelation of His Son. Jesus exclaimed that Peter was blessed based on His confession of the Messiah. I trust the same could be said of you this morning!
Look at how Jesus addresses Peter. I believe He intentionally addresses him as Simon Barjonah (Simon, the son of John) to emphasize his humanness, his inadequacy, his mortality in being a normal son of a normal father. The text says it was not through "flesh and blood," a common Jewish expression referring to man as a mortal being, that Peter came to his profound conclusion. It was not through human calculations, deductions, intuitions or cleverness. Not manipulation or coercion. Not even the tremendous signs, for many still rejected Jesus on account of these. Jesus makes it adamantly clear that Peter did not discover this revelation based on his own human effort, but rather through a direct revelation from His Father in heaven. It's almost as if Jesus were saying; "It was not your father that revealed this truth to you, Peter, but My Father."
God revealed the truth then in the same way He does today. It is not through a whispering in the ear or a bolt of lightning, but rather through the means of grace. The Spirit opens our hearts and minds as unbelievers, enabling us to respond to the teachings of Christ. John Piper said it this way, "It is not adding to what we see and hear in Jesus Himself, but the opening of the eyes of our hearts to taste the true divine glory of what is really there in Jesus."
With the revelation of Himself disclosed, Jesus now turns to the revelation of His Messianic community, the church.
2. REVELATION OF THE CHURCH
Verse 18 says, "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it." Though his name was formerly Simon, Jesus draws attention to his newly appointed name, Cephas in the Aramaic, Peter in the Greek. The name Peter was given to Simon before this account, but its significance is revealed at this time. Peter, technically Petros, is translated "stone". It was not to describe Peter's character that was at times waffling, but rather his function as a foundation of the church.
Throughout the ages this verse has been interpreted in a variety of ways, many of them grossly failing to take into account sound exegesis. As many of you know, the Roman Catholics take Peter to be the rock and sole foundation of the church. They go as far to say that Peter was the first pope, and every pope that has existed has followed in his apostolic succession. They believe that the Lord conferred on St. Peter the first place of honor and jurisdiction in the government of the whole church, whereas all succeeding popes now posses that same spiritual authority. Therefore, only the Catholic Church is a continuation of Christ's ministry, and only the Catholic Church can be identified as the true church of God.
However, the Scriptures make it abundantly clear that only Christ alone is the foundation of the church. Paul mentioned that, "According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But let each man be careful how he builds upon it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ " (1 Cor. 3:10-11). Additionally, the text says nothing about Peter's succession, infallibility or excessive authority. Peter never claimed a superior title, privilege or rank. He identified himself with humbling terms such as the Lord's bondservant (2 Pet. 1:1) and a fellow-elder (1 Pet. 5:1). If Peter were given the preeminent place of honor in the other apostle's presence, why would the disciples argue only two chapters later as to the greatest in the kingdom? Had not Jesus already settled that issue?
Ryle summed it up best. "To speak of an erring, fallible child of Adam as the foundation of the spiritual temple, is very unlikely in the ordinary language of Scripture. Above all, no reason can be given why our Lord should not have said, 'I will build my church upon thee,' if such had been His meaning."
In protesting extreme Roman Catholic exegesis, protestant scholars, to the likes of Luther and Augustine, have emphasized that the foundation is not Peter, but Christ. They make a distinction between the two similar, but different Greek words in the sentence. Petros = Peter/stone and Petra = rocky cliff or ledge. Since Peter is identified as a stone, they say Jesus must be identified as the rocky cliff. Therefore it could be translated in this fashion, "You are Peter (small stone-Petros) and upon this rocky cliff (Petra-Jesus), I will build My church." In other words, "I am the granite foundation and you Peter are a small stone on that foundation." After all, did not Peter himself proclaim, "For this is contained in Scripture: 'Behold I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, and he who believes in Him shall not be disappointed.' This precious value, then, is for you who believe. But for those who disbelieve, the stone which the builders rejected, This became the very corner stone" (1 Pet. 2:6-7).
However, though this interpretation has much to offer, it concludes too much based upon a questionable Greek word study. Furthermore, the context clearly refers to Peter, "You are Peter and upon this rock ( you Peter ), I will build My church."
I believe the best explanation for this meaning lays somewhat in-between the two former interpretations. There is no doubt that Jesus is the foundation and cornerstone of the church. Yet in a secondary sense it is legitimate to speak of the apostles, including Peter as their representative, as the church's foundation. Ephesians 2:19-20 says- So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone." Revelation 21:14 says, "And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb."
God had His plan to uniquely appoint and inspire these 12 as teachers of the gospel. Even today, the church still depends on this truth. The Gospel is a revelation from God as delivered through His apostles. Specifically, Peter could be described as the first amongst 11 equals. Because of his confession, stemming from divine revelation, he is the first stone laid and all the other stones are laid on him. They are not laid on Peter the man who is weak and unstable. Rather they are laid on Peter the by-product of grace who is a courageous and enthusiastic witness confessing Jesus as the Messiah.
Church history further defines Peter's predominate role as a foundation of the church. The man is mentioned over 50 times in Acts. He is the most influential tool in the early church. His sermons were used to reap in thousands of converts. His name occurs first in every list of the 12. Peter was Mark's interpreter, and most scholars believe both Luke and Matthew used the Gospel of Mark as a primary source in writing their gospels.
Though protestants are careful not to overextend Peter's authority, RT France said, "The wordplay and the whole structure of the passage, demands that this verse is every bit as much Jesus' declaration about Peter as vs. 16 was Peter's declaration about Jesus." William Barclay put it this way, Jesus "did not mean that the church depended on Peter, as it depended on Himself, and on God, the Rock, alone. He did mean that the church began with Peter; in that sense Peter is the foundation of the church." MacArthur adds, "The Lord builds the church on the truth of Himself, and because His people are inseparable from Him they are inseparable from His truth. And because the apostles were endowed with His truth in a unique way, by their preaching of that truth they were the foundation of His church in a unique way." And the Lord is still building His church upon that foundation with living stones (1 Pet. 2:5), with those who like Peter confess Jesus as the Christ, a confession brought about through divine revelation.
Not only will the church be built on those who confess the apostolic doctrine, but also Jesus clearly states with no uncertain terms that He will build His church! "Church" (ekklesia) is never used of a building in the Scriptures, because the church is not a building, it's the people. "Church" in the Scriptures often represents a local or universal assembly of believers. In this context however, church represents the Messianic movement, God's continued assembly of the redeemed in a non-technical sense. Drawing the elect into God's assembly has occurred throughout the recorded pages of the OT; however, Christ distinctively calling this community His own marks a bold new revelation in the plans of God. Jesus Christ builds His church which means Jesus builds The Grace Tabernacle, like every other local church in the universal church community. Let me be clear, Jesus Christ is the Lord of this church and you as His sheep belong to Him. It is my responsibility to function as an under shepherd. It is not my responsibility to build this church, and frankly, I would not wish to compete with Him in the process! But even though Christ builds His church, believers are not abdicated of their responsibilities. Faithful believers don't build the church; Christ builds the church through faithful believers. We must forever remain steadfast to our calling as He works through us for His eternal purposes unto His glory.
Since the builder of the church is Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, the church will obviously be invincible. Verse 18 confirms this fact. "The gates of Hades shall not overpower it." However, these terms have also caused much confusion amongst interpreters. Let's do a brief word study. "Gates" are not an offensive weapon; rather they are part of the defense. Their purpose is not to attack, but prevent one from being attacked. You don't attack someone with a gate! "Hades" is the abode of the dead, corresponding to the Hebrew word Sheol. Hades is not the Greek word for Hell, that word is Gehenna.
Based on this word study and other uses of "Gates of Hades" found in early writings, it appears logical to conclude that this metaphor represents the strength of the church to overcome the clinches of death and defeat. Though death will assault Christ's church by attempting to hold it within, the church will overcome and nothing will prevent her ultimate triumph. We have great hope that Jesus the Messiah will build His assembly without frustration. Regardless of what happens, we belong to an organization that will not fail. This fact is illustrated well by Gregory Elder. "Growing up on the Atlantic Coast, I spent long hours working on intricate sand castles; whole cities would appear beneath my hands. One year, for several days in a row, I was accosted by bullies who smashed my creations. Finally I tried an experiment: I placed cinder blocks, rocks, and chunks of concrete in the base of my castles. Then I built the sand kingdoms on top of the rocks. When the local toughs appeared (and I disappeared), their bare feet suddenly met their match." Elder continues, "Many people see the church in grave peril from a variety of dangers: secularism, politics, heresies, and plain old sin. They forget that the church is built upon a Rock (Mt. 16:16), over which the gates of Hades itself shall not prevail."
If we understand that the church belongs to Jesus, is built by Jesus, naturally we confer upon the church an authority derived from Jesus. That authority is described in verse 19. "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." It sounds contradictory that the authority of the church is somehow delegated to the apostles. Yet I ask you, does the teachings of the apostles contradict the teachings of Christ? Absolutely not! When we understand that the apostles spoke not of themselves, but the inspired words of Jesus, whereas Christ's words were their words, we realize that both He and they are linked as one inseparable unit. Remember earlier, the church is built on the doctrine of the apostles, but isn't the doctrine of the apostles synonymous with doctrine of Christ? Therefore, the only authority the apostles have is the authority delegated to them by Christ as they represent every thought, word and action of the Messiah Himself.
Let's get more specific. The text speaks of "keys." Biblically, "keys" according to Revelation 9:16 and 20:1-3 speak of the power to exclude or permit entrance. Is this passage then suggesting that St. Peter stands up between the pearly gates and grants acceptance to those he feels worthy of eternal life? I hope not! Jesus spoke against that in Matthew 23:13. Salvation is not based on man's best estimations, but God's eternal decree through Christ Jesus. Therefore the keys, as we mentioned earlier, must correspond with the teachings of Christ entrusted to the apostles. Simply put, the apostles had the responsibility to proclaim the gospel and then the authority to dogmatically declare those worthy of heaven based on either the listener's acceptance or rejection of the message. DA Carson said, "Peter (and the apostles) proclaim a gospel that has already been given, (they) have no direct pipeline to heaven, still less do their decisions (expect) heaven to comply. Those (they) usher in have already been bound or loosed by God according to the gospel already revealed and which (the apostles) most clearly grasped."
For instance, let's take a positive example. "Now when they heard this (Peter's speech) they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brethren, what shall we do?' And Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.' And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, 'Be saved from this perverse generation!' So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls" (Ac. 2:37-41). Salvation is promised by receiving the gospel truth.
On the contrary salvation is denied for rejecting the gospel truth. "But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy, and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, 'It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles" (Ac. 13:45-46). This helps shed light on another misunderstood verse, "If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained" (Jn. 20:23).
But allow me to take it a step further. Does this truth only apply to the apostles? No, it applies to the church, because we, like the early church, are devoting ourselves to the Apostle's doctrine (Acts 2:42)! That doctrine clearly teaches that there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved. We too can boldly proclaim that all who reject this divine truth are under the wrath of God, and all who sincerely accept the proclamation of the gospel have the assurance that their sins are forgiven. The Heidelberg Catechism, question 84, sums it up well. "By proclaiming and openly witnessing, according to the command of Christ, to believers, one and all, that, whenever they receive the promise of the gospel by true faith, all their sins are really forgiven them of God for the sake of Christ's merits; and on the contrary, by proclaiming and witnessing to all unbelievers and such as do not sincerely repent that the wrath of God and eternal condemnation abide on them so long as they are not converted. According to this witness of the gospel, God will judge both in this life and in that which is to come." For now the keys of the kingdom are confided to men and women like us. We must proclaim the good news, forbid entrance and urge conversion until Jesus brings an end at His second coming.
Furthermore, the authority of the church goes beyond the gospel call to all aspects within God's church, yet distinctively only those outlined in the pages of Scripture. The church which goes beyond that boundary is equally as wrong as the church which ignores the mandate altogether. The church has the permission and authority to bind (forbid) and loose (permit) anything outlined in the Scriptures. The text says that whatever is bound or loosed on earth shall be bound or loosed in heaven. It's not that heaven will ratify our independent decisions, but rather that our decisions will be those which have already been made in heaven, because our decisions are based on God's eternal Word.
For example, we see this concept of binding and loosing elsewhere, two chapters later in Matthew 18. "Truly I say to you, whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst" (Mt. 18:18-20). Do you remember the context? It's not a prayer meeting…it's church discipline!
But you may be thinking, what authority do we have to say that something is wrong, especially in a pluralistic, postmodern society? The reason is that our authority is not ourselves, but the Word of God. When we judge according to the Word, we have confidence that we have the agreement of heaven on our side. We are not simply an audience, we are a living organism responsible to uphold and proclaim the doctrine entrusted to our care. Jesus Christ is our Head and we are His body. We are inextricably linked. Do we see ourselves this way? Does the world see us this way? Is there unity between the two or are we the disjointed, disfigured body like the wooden clown cut-out at the carnival with a normal head sticking out of the hole, a head that is often mocked by the disunity of the body.
Finally in verse 20, Jesus concluded by warning the disciples that they should tell no one that He is the Christ. It is not that Jesus reluctantly accepted the title or chose to keep His identity a secret as some have argued. Rather, the disciples were urged not to go beyond their Master in His timetable of self-disclosure. Jesus needed to squelch all nationalistic expectations of the Messiah; He wanted His followers to be sincere and devoted to Him as the Suffering Servant who would soon shed His blood for the many. All public acclaim must be postponed until after His death and resurrection. Then proclamation should be conducted unhindered and without hesitation.
We have been given a revelation of Jesus Christ that has enabled us to see Him for who is, to love Him, embrace Him and worship Him. We have been given a revelation of His church, a church that is firm, invincible and authoritative. And we have been given a mission to function as His body as we teach, enforce and apply apostolic doctrine until His return. But unfortunately the church has failed to live up to her calling…
Backward Christian soldiers, Fleeing from the fight, With the cross of Jesus, Nearly out of sight. Christ our rightful master, Stands against the foe, Onward into battle, we seem afraid to go. (Chorus): Backward Christian soldiers, Fleeing from the fight, With the cross of Jesus, Nearly out of sight. Like a mighty tortoise, Moves the church of God, Brothers we are treading, Where we've often trod. We are much divided, Many bodies we, Having different doctrines, but Not much charity. Crowns and thrones may perish, Kingdoms rise and wane, But the cross of Jesus, Hidden does remain. Gates of Hades should never 'gainst the Church prevail, We have Christ's own promise, but we think the promise might fail. Sit here then ye people, Join our sleeping throng, Blend with ours, your voices in a feeble song. Blessings, ease and comfort, Ask from Christ the King, But with our modern thinking, We won't do any thing.
How will we respond? Will we blend in with the world? Will we rely upon our own strength and wisdom? Or will we acknowledge and praise Jesus as our sovereign Architect, Builder, Owner and Lord? He is the One who enables us as broken vessels to be used mightily for His glory in the building of His eternal kingdom.