COVID Versus The Church
Scripture: Matthew 16:13–18
COVID Versus The Church
Sunday, October 18, 2020
Pastor Randy Smith
Apart from the masks worn and social distancing observed, today’s three indoor services represent the closest we’ve come to normalcy since March 8th of this year. That represents 31 weeks of combined video and outdoor services due to the pandemic we’ve all experienced, a crisis that has forced all of us (not just in the church) to make adjustments.
And over the past 31 weeks it has hit not just the US, but has caught the entire world by storm. The results have been devastating:
- School and university closures due to COVID-19 were implemented nationwide in 165 countries. Including localized closures, this affects over 1.5 billion students worldwide, accounting for 87% of enrolled learners. Many schools are meeting entirely on a virtual basis. For the children, academic learning, structured time and social experiences have been depleted.
- There has been an increase in fear and stress leading people to greater degrees of isolation, alcohol dependency, drug use, depression and suicide.
- Divorces were 34 percent higher from March through June compared to 2019. Furthermore, the data showed that 31 percent of the couples admitted lockdown has caused irreparable damage to their relationships.
- Unemployed Americans increased to more than 14 million, from 6.2 million in February to 20.5 million in May 2020. As a result, the U.S. unemployment rate shot up from 3.8% in February – among the lowest on record in the post-World War II era – to 13.0% in May of this year.
- Many countries have reported an increase in domestic violence and intimate partner violence attributed to lockdowns.
We can keep going…
Families, businesses, schools, and communities have all been decimated. But what about the church? How have we, specifically at Grace Bible Church been hit? Moreover, what hope do we have that the church will succeed? That brings us to this morning’s message.
1. The Revelation Of The Man
First point” “The Revelation of the Messiah.”
Jesus did not enter the world unnoticed! Naturally, all who came into contact with Him developed a personal opinion of the Man. So, when He arrived at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked His disciples for the word on the street. Verse 13, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” In other words, “How are people identifying Me?”
According to verse 14 the responses were legion. 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 Malachi 4:5. Still others said Jeremiah. Possibly, like Jeremiah, Jesus was a prophet of judgment who was often ignored and persecuted by the religious establishment. Finally, many placed Him in the “catch-all” category. “He is one of the prophets.” At least the disciples were kind to not remind Him that some even identified Jesus with Satan (Mt. 10:25). Bottom line, all these responses fell short. Nobody saw Him for who He really was. Nobody was openly confessing Him as the Messiah.
Nothing has changed. Often the world (even the Muslim!) still speaks 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.
Who is Jesus? That is the ultimate 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 to the world? Who is Jesus to You? No one in the history of the world has been more popular or influential than Jesus. We answer that question not only by our words, but also our actions.
And it has been a joy to witness the commitment of this church to the Lord over the past 31 weeks. If we can’t handle COVID, what will we do if real persecution breaks out?
Now in turning to His apostles, Jesus asked them in vs. 15, “But who do you say that I am?” “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?”
Though Jesus addressed the question to all, Peter in his typical brashness breaks the silence. Acting as a spokesman for the twelve he responded in verse 16 and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
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 Old Testament Messianic hope to bring restoration for God’s people ordained by the Father and anointed by the Spirit. Where the others failed, Peter succeeded. He got it right.
Our Lord’s immediate response is interesting. Verse 17, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” One, Peter was blessed. To see Jesus for who< He really is and then acknowledge Him as your Lord is the greatest blessing in the world. And two, Peter’s acknowledgement of Jesus came, as the verse says, as a gift from above.
Jesus makes it crystal-clear that Peter did not acknowledge Jesus as Christ based on any human effort, but rather through a direct revelation from His Father in heaven.
This is all about God-empowerment – from salvation to daily living.
2. The Revelation Of The Church
With the revelation of Himself disclosed, Jesus now turns to the revelation of His Messianic community, the church – our second point.
In verse 18 Jesus says, “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.”
It’s been impressive to see your commitment to Christ, by your commitment to the church. Sure, some need to be home due to health concerns. On the other hand, others have sadly backslidden, stayed at home for convenience and have left the church. Thankfully, though still sad, this group represents a small minority. Furthermore, your financial giving has continued even though there has not been a “plate passed under your nose.”
Though the new name was given to Simon before this account, its significance is revealed at this time. “Cephas” in the Aramaic. “Peter” in the Greek. Technically Petros which translated means “stone.” Such a name was not to describe Peter’s character which 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.
The Roman Catholics take Peter to be the rock and sole foundation of the church. They go as far as to say that Peter was the first pope (even though the first pope, Gregory I, was not identified as such until 604 AD), and every pope that has existed has followed in his apostolic succession.
However, the Scriptures make it abundantly clear that the one foundation of the church is not Peter, but rather Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul said, “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 Bible says nothing about Peter’s succession, infallibility or excessive authority. Peter never claimed a superior title, privilege or rank. He frequently identified himself with humbling terms (1 Pet. 5:1; 2 Pet. 1:1). In 1 Peter he called Jesus the “corner stone” (1 Pet. 2:6-7). And if Peter were given the preeminent place of honor in the other apostle’s presence, why would the disciples debate only two chapters later as to who is the greatest in the kingdom (Mt. 18:1)? Had not Jesus already settled that issue?
In protesting the Roman Catholic interpretation Protestant scholars have emphasized that the foundation is not Peter, but Christ, based upon a distinction between the two very similar but different Greek words found in this verse (Petros and Petra). Petros means Peter or stone and Petra means a rocky cliff or ledge. Since Peter is identified as a stone, they say Jesus must be identified as the rocky cliff. Therefore, they say the verse could be translated in this fashion: “You are Petros (Peter-small stone) and upon this Petra (Me/Jesus-rocky cliff), I will build My church.” In other words, “I am the granite foundation and you Peter are a small stone on that foundation.”
Though this interpretation has much to offer, I believe it concludes too much based upon a questionable Greek word study. Furthermore, the context clearly refers to Peter, and I believe more than just his confession: “You are Peter and upon this rock (you, Peter), I will build My church.”
So, I humbly believe the best interpretation lies somewhere in-between the two interpretations I have just presented. 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 also.
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.” Likewise 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.”
The apostles were given a unique function unlike other Christians. God specifically appointed and inspired these men. He would deliver His message through them to all who followed. They directly represented Christ. And Peter specifically could be described as the first among eleven equals. He made the first confession. He was the leader of the twelve.
Church history also highlights 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 biblical list of the twelve. Peter assisted Mark in the writing of his Gospel, and most scholars believe both Luke and Matthew used the Gospel of Mark as a primary source in writing their Gospels.
And the Lord is still building His church upon that foundation with living stones (1 Pet. 2:5), with those who receive apostolic revelation and like Peter confess Jesus as the Christ as God enables them to do so.
It sure has not been easy – no childcare, marks required and social distancing. We have also changed meeting times and places nearly every week! But you have shown your love for the leaders by cooperation and your love for others by respecting their convictions. You love God and others. This is Jesus building His church!
Not only will the church be built on those who confess Jesus, but also Jesus clearly states with no uncertain terms that He will build His church! And He will not stop building His church during COVID! The word “church” (ekklesia) is never used of a building in the Scriptures, because the church is not a building. The church is the people. In the Bible the church often represents a local assembly of believers like Grace Bible Church. It shows Christ distinctively calling this community His own (“My church”). The universal church belongs to Him.
Jesus Christ owns the church. Jesus Christ purchased the church with His blood (Ac. 20:28). And though we are privileged to be used by Him every time we serve in the body or witness to the lost, Jesus Christ builds the church. Since the day I have walked into Grace Bible Church my total trust is that Jesus Christ will build His church. And frankly, I do not wish to compete with Him in the process!
So how has God been building His church? He’s been teaching us perseverance, cooperation, selflessness, adaptation and contentment. He’s been testing our faith. He’s been stretching us to extend ministry to dozens of additional shut-ins. He’s making us appreciate what we once had (like the Harvest Festival) and long to have it again. He’s pushing us to serve in new and creative ways. He’s calling us to shepherd people we can’t see.
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.”
What does that mean? How about a brief word study? “Gates” are not an offensive weapon. Their purpose is not to attack but to prevent one from being attacked. You do not 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.
So, based on this word study and other uses of “Gates of Hades” found in the Old Testament (Job 17:16; 38:17; Psm. 9:13; 107:18; Isa. 38:10), 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 die and will not fail. Read Revelation, we are on the winning team! I cannot guarantee a Jets victory this evening, but I can guarantee that the church will be victorious!
This fact is illustrated well by Gregory Elder. “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.”
God’s church has been through much worse. We have weathered this storm and we will get through this because Christ will never stop building His church. And He will build His church through people regardless of and because of and situations. We have His promise on that!