The Church

The Church

We are a people called out by God and we are to go out on a mission from God.

Thank you again for singing and worshiping with us. It is always a joy to worship and sing praises to the Lord each and every week as we gather together.  Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles to Matthew Chapter 16 this morning, verse 13 is where we’ll pick up.

Let me say we had a great vacation.  We’re grateful to be able to go away as a family and kind of get rested and recharged, and I spent a lot of time thinking about this message on vacation.  You know, a pastor’s brain never stops. We’re always thinking we’re always meditating.  That’s just kind of who we are.

This morning, I want us to look at a topic from this passage of Scripture about the church.  You know, on March the 14th and 15th of 2020, I prayed very simple prayers.  Lord, why?  Lord, what are you teaching me?  And Lord, what are you teaching us?  See, that’s been a long time ago, but if you remember that week leading up to March 15th was a little bit of a whirlwind week.  I know I wasn’t your pastor in 2020, but I’m sure your church, like my church and other churches, were going through the same conversations.  Early in the week, recommendations were made in light of the COVID outbreak to limit gatherings and for churches to not meet.  I, along with the deacons of the church I was at, had conversations. We were very defiant.  We were very “stand our ground” and I did a video and sent out a video to our church that we would continue to meet, because we would live by faith and not by fear.  Many of you were probably the same way, and those conversations were had, but by the end of that week it was very clear that we were not going to be able to gather in person for a while.  And again, I sent out a video citing more scriptures how we would respect the authority that God has put into place.

But that changed everything, didn’t it for the church?  And ever since then, and even through last week, I have tried to answer and continue to pray those questions. Lord, why are we having to go through this?  And there’s a lot of answers to that question. Lord, what are you teaching me as a person? I can tell you one thing it taught me was just to slow down a little bit.  I mean, I think the world was moving at a breakneck pace and this really forced us to stop and slow down.  Not everybody, but for many we were able to stop and rest a little bit.  But, it always came back to Lord, what are you teaching the church?  What are you teaching the churches?  What are you wanting us to learn through this time of change in time of transition?

And I kept coming back as I wrote about it and I journaled about it and as I thought about it as I studied scriptures like Matthew 16, I kept coming back to a very simple yet complex answer.  God kept revealing to me and sharing with me, I’m reminding you who you are and what you’re here for.  I’m reminding you who you are and what you’re here for through the pandemic. Many of you have probably heard this and you can do it with me.  You know the little thing.  Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the door, here’s all the people.  I love that and I learned that growing up.  I’ll teach my kids that.  And there’s truth in it because you do have a church and you have the people in the church. But through COVID I learned something that the problem is the people were staying in the church.  The people were staying in the building. They were never leaving the building.  They were so called up in themselves that they had forgotten why they existed and who they were.   I heard things from a lot of people like “we just need to get back to having church.”  Or “one person came up back in 2020 and said why have we closed the church?”

Well, here’s what I’ve learned in the year and a half since.  First, the church never closed.  The church has never closed its doors.  God forced us as a church to get outside the walls of the building to do what we were called to do and what we were supposed to do. And you’re maybe asking yourself, why are you bringing this up today?  Well next week, we will be worshiping in the sanctuary. That’s exciting. I’m excited. We talked about this in Sunday school.  I didn’t envision my first year as a pastor not being in a sanctuary or up on a stage.  I mean, it’s been outside, it’s been online. It’s been in here and it’s been fantastic.  So I’m excited for us to gather for, however long we can in the sanctuary.

But I’m also very fearful.  Here’s what I’m fearful of, not just for this church, but for all churches as things go back to a sense of normalcy. I’m fearful that we’re going to lose the lessons that God is trying to teach us.  I am fearful that we will move backwards into accepting the status quo.  I don’t know if you know this, but the way things were being done by churches across America before COVID was not working.  We all know that, right?  Baptisms were declining at a rapid rate.  Church membership was declining faster than it has ever declined in history.  It wasn’t working.  And then COVID happened and God forced us to remember who we are and what we are called to do.  Believe it or not, we’ve seen, although it’s minor, we’ve seen some increases in church growth and in church baptisms.  We’ve seen people receptive to the Gospel who were never receptive before, because let’s be honest, COVID has brought to light the reality of death.  So people are almost like the events of 9/11 where it caused people to fill the churches.  And so as we prepare to go back into the sanctuary, I want us to be reminded by Jesus Himself, who we are and what we are supposed to be doing.  What we’re going to learn is simply this.  Jesus builds His church, with His people for His purpose.

Read with me starting in verse 13.  “When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  “But you,” He asked them, “who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father in heaven.  And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.”  Then He gave the disciples orders to tell no one that He was the Messiah.”

There’s a lot of information in that passage, but I want us to really focus in and dive in on verse 18 this morning, where He says “on you I will build My church.”  This is the first time in the Gospels that word church ever shows up. In fact, it’s really the first time in history that the word church shows up anywhere.  But it’s not the first time the idea has shown up.  And it’s not the first time this particular word that we translate church was used. The Greek word that Jesus uses a word called ekklesia. It is a very common Greek word and very simply, it means an assembly of people. It means an assembly of people. Jesus says I am going to build My assembly of people.  The word is used outside of the Bible in many contexts, including the context where local governments needed to have town halls, and so they would call the people they would say “hey, we got some business to take care of we need to have an ekklesia.”  They would tell the people to come out of your homes and gather. It would be used as an assembly for a concert.

It’s really cool. I’ve seen a lot of pictures of some concerts recently. It’s kind of cool to see people gathering in those venues, but that’s an ekklesia.  That’s an assembly of people coming together. That’s what the word means, generally speaking, is an assembly of people.  Never has it meant an assembly place.

Ekklesia was not the place you assembled, it was the assembly of the people. So Jesus says, I will build My assembly. I will build My church, not out of brick and mortar, not on the bedrock that’s physically under the ground, but I will build My church on a gathered people, on an assembled people.  See Jesus had a different idea than just an assembly. I mean if we were non-Christians, gathered here, it would still be an ekklesia, but it would not be a church.  Jesus has a very different idea, and when you break apart the word, that idea becomes really clear to all of us. The word ekklesia comes from 2 Greek words, Ekk, which is out of.  And then Kaleo, which is called or literally I called.

What Jesus is saying is I’m going to build the people I’m going to build My assembly from the people whom I am calling out of the world and into a relationship with Me.  I am going to build My assembly on people who I have called out of sin and into salvation. I’m going to build My church and the people who I have called out of their pride and in the humility out of their weakness and into My strength out of My selfishness and into selflessness. That is the people He is going to build His church on.

The church has never been a building. It has always been a people, and for many of us we know this.  So this is just a reminder to us of who we are. I had a great little experience at the beach.  I was going to wear the shirt today, it was a T shirt, I was going to wear it but it’s dirty because I wore it at the beach.  I was simply walking by the pool wearing this shirt and this guy’s laying in the pool, floating on his back, having just a great time. I’ve got kids, I’m trying to get back to the golf carts.  He looks at me and he goes “hey, I love your shirt.”  Now I’ll be honest with you, I had no idea what shirt I had put on it.  So I give him the thumbs up right?  He goes, “man, it’s so true.”  And then he goes, “yes, you are.”  He pointed at me.  So I finally looked down.  My shirt is a shirt I had made a few years ago that said this, “I am the church.”  I had that made for my youth group several years ago because I wanted them to understand and I wanted the church to understand that these students were the church.  And I remember I looked at the shirt. I said I am the church and I looked at him and the fact that he brought it up, indicated to me that he was a Christian and I said, “hey, you are too.”  He says “yeah, I know.”  That’s it, we all are.

The shirt communicates a very important truth, but you have to be careful with that truth. Yes, I am the church because I have been called out of my sin into salvation, but I cannot be the church by myself.  Does that make sense?  I cannot be a one-man band. Anybody ever seen the one-man bands? They may start out good, but it ends up being a train wreck. You just can’t play all those instruments.  When I say “I am the church”, I’m not saying by myself I’m the church.  When I say I am the church, I am a part of the body of Christ.

You see, we aren’t a one-man band, we’re an orchestra.  I love hearing orchestras play.  All the different instruments coming together to make beautiful sounds in harmony and unison.  Every instrument unified together and it’s beautiful to listen to. That’s the church. All these individual people who have been called out of their sin and in to salvation come together, unified together to be a beautiful representation of the Kingdom of heaven.  That’s who we are.

But how, I fear we forgot that throughout history.  And I’ll tell you this, I’ll talk about the big mega churches too.  Millions of dollars in buildings. Nothing wrong with that.  But they put all their resources in to brick and mortar.  That’s not the church.  We are the church, the very people whom God has called out of this world to represent Him.  He says He’s going to build it on the rock now. That phrase has been debated and interpreted for a long time.  Peter makes the confession of faith.  Many of us know that Peter’s name means rock. It actually means little stone is the more literal translation. It’s almost as if Jesus is saying Peter, you, your name is a little stone, but on this gigantic rock.  It’s a little play on words and a little bit different. It’s so Peter, just as you are a little stone, I’m going to build my church on this huge rock.  A lot of people debate what that means.  I think it means this. Jesus will build His church on the people who confess Him as Lord and Savior.

So, in a real sense, the church is built on Peter because of his confession of faith. But we are also every one of us are like Peter who have made that same confession of faith.  That is what he is building his church on. I don’t know how much of this Peter understood when Jesus said it.  Because we’ve talked about this a few weeks ago and a few verses Peter is going to be rebuked and Jesus is going to call him Satan.  So it’s like, hey Peter, you get it then 5 seconds later, you don’t.  But I know this many years later, Peter is going to write these words in first Peter chapter two. First, let me read verse 5 to give you the context.  He says “you yourselves, as living stones (Peter writing to a church, you yourselves, the people are living stones. See that?), a spiritual house, are being built to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Peter gets it now.  He says you the people are being built into a spiritual house. I say this phrase a lot and I hear a lot of people say it.  “We’re going to go to the Lord’s house.”  Anyway, ever said that? I’m saying we’re going to the Lord’s house on Sunday mornings. I’m gonna be honest with you. That is nowhere close to accurate.  It’s not.  That’s not the Lord’s house. This is not the Lord’s house. This is the Lord’s house, my heart, your heart.  There was a time when God resided in the temple, but now Paul teaches us that we are all temples and our bodies are temples.  God lives here.  Not in the building, not in this building, not outside. He lives here.  And all of us together are being built into the church, the spiritual house.

Look at 1 Peter 2:9.  “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession.  That’s the church. A chosen people means you have value.  God chose you because He loves you and He values you. Anybody ever played pickup sports in elementary school middle school, where you got 2 captains who picking teams?  I was always the last one picked for baseball and kickball, always the last one. You know how that made me feel as the last person.  It was almost like nobody really wanted me, so I’m stuck. If I played my cards right, I could always worm my way onto the team with the best players. So I was going to win even though nobody wanted me.  That that made me feel terrible.

Peter says you’re chosen.  Nobody’s chosen last because you’re valuable to Him. He loves you. You are valued. He chose you. He called you out and then He says you are a royal priesthood.  Now there’s this idea that a priest has this kind of access to God that nobody else has.  People come to me and say, “hey, you must be really tight with God because you’re a preacher.”  I’m like, “well, if you’re a Christian you’re just as tight with God as I am.”  We all have access to the father because we’re all a royal priesthood. We’re a holy nation.  Do you know what that means?  When we go back to Philippians where says we are citizens of the Kingdom of heaven, this is not our home.  We are ambassadors of Christ here on Earth. And then he says, we are His possession. God loves you, you are His possession.  And here’s the great thing about being a possession of Christ. Once He has you, He will never let you go.  Once you are a part of His family, there’s nothing that you can do that will get you kicked out of that family.  You are His possession. You are His people. You are chosen. You are called out to represent Him. That’s the church.  That’s who we are called to be, His people.

But I love how it ends in verse nine in 1 Peter 2.  “You are his possession, so that here we go so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light.”  Church, we are a people called out by God and we are to go out on a mission from God.  That’s who we are. A people, not a place.  But we’re a people with a purpose.  You need to think about what God has done in your life.  You need to think and always be reminded about how God pulled you out of those dark places. How God pulled you out of the darkness of sin.  And you are called out to go out and proclaim that message to the world.  One of the things I loved about outdoor worship, maybe the thing I loved the most about it, was the message was being heard by anybody within earshot of those speakers.  I loved that ’cause we were proclaiming the message of Christ.

And so as we make preparations to get back to a sense of normalcy, let us not lose sight of what we have learned, that we, the people, are the church and we have a purpose.  And that is to proclaim the Gospel to anybody and everybody.  That we are to be outward focused in everything that we do.  Because we are called out to go out.

I was up late last night thinking about how I would summarize this and to close it up.  I was listening to Robbie Gallaty, one of the preachers I really enjoy listening to, and he described it this way.  “We are an embassy of the Kingdom of heaven.  When you think about an American embassy on a foreign shore.  It is a building. It is a people who represent the United States in a foreign land. All of our values, all of our morals, everything that is good, is in that embassy. They are a part of the United States of America.  But they’re in a foreign country.”  Church we are an embassy. The people that make up First Baptist Church, China Grove, we are an embassy of the Kingdom of heaven.  We are to live our lives as representations of that.  All local churches, on every corner, are little embassies of the Kingdom of heaven. So are we?  This is my question.  Am I as an individual, are we as a church representing the Kingdom of heaven like we have been called to do?  Are we focused on the mission?  Let us never lose sight of what we have learned over the last 18, 19, 20 months.  And let’s continue to advance the Gospel, as people called out to go out.

Let’s pray together,

Father. I am so grateful for You choosing us to be in this place. Father, You have planted this church right here. It has a great history.  A great ministry throughout the many, many generations, and it will be great and wonderful ministry for many generations to come. But Father helped us never to lose sight of who we are.  We are Your people that You have brought together and we can worship and we can and we can have church whether we’re online in here, out, there, wherever You may lead us, we can have church because we are the church.  But we also have a mission, and Father embolden us to not be afraid to proclaim that message.  Father, Your Word promises that when we are united and when we are building and when we are moving in the direction You have leading us, that the gates of Hades will not be able to stop us.  There’s not a force on heaven or earth that can stop the church from expanding when we are following Your will and Your ways.  Father help us to never lose sight of that truth.  We pray all these things in Jesus’ Name, Amen, Amen.