May 23, 2021

“What is Church?”

Church in the Park | Will DuVal | Matthew 16:13-19; 18:15-20

“What IS Church?” That’s our question for this morning, and to begin our answer, I’d like the kids’ help; KIDS – could y’all stand up for just a minute? I promise I won’t embarrass you too much… there’s a little nursery rhyme about church that I bet most of you are familiar with that we need to debunk this morning; does THIS [hands] look familiar to you? Can you recite it with me, ready:

Here’s the church…

Here’s the steeple…

Open the doors…

See all the people!

Kids: did you know that is a LIE! I’m gonna make you question everything you’ve ever learned in kids ministry; don’t even get me STARTED on the theology of “This Little Light of Mine”!

Kids: let me give you a more ecclesiologically accurate version of that rhyme, ready:

This ain’t the church…

It’s just a steeple…

But open the doors…

The church IS the PEOPLE!

Try it with me one time:

This ain’t the church…

It’s just a steeple…

But open the doors…

The church is the PEOPLE!

Very good, thanks for playing along; you can have a seat, and give yourselves a hand!

See, if [THIS] was the church, then we couldn’t call what we’re doing right nowChurch in the Park”; we’d have to call this “taking a BREAK from Church… to meet in the Park”, and our banner isn’t long enough for that! But fortunately, as we’re gonna see in the Gospel of Matthew this morning, the Church really is [THE PEOPLE]!

There are LOTS of great passages in the Bible on the CHURCH. But Jesus INVENTED the Church! So it only makes sense that if we want to know what the church IS, we’ve got to look to JESUS for our answer. And did you know that Jesus only talked about the church by NAME, in 2 passages, Matthew ch.16 and Matthew ch.18.

So if you have your Bibles, and I hope you do – kids: it’s GREAT to bring your Bible with you to church, even church in the PARK; if you don’t HAVE one, we would love to give you a Bible. Adults can get one at the Info Bar; Kids – you get one as a rite of passage into kindergarten, but if you still don’t have one, just see Ms. Ally after the service – But please turn with me to Matthew ch.16; we’re gonna start in ch.16, vv13-19, and then we’ll flip over to chapter 18, vv15-20 as well. _______ and ________ can come on up; they’ve kindly agreed to read for us this morning. And everyone please STAND as you’re able, for the reading of God’s word, first: from Matthew ch16, vv13-19:

Matthew 16:13-19 “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock[b] I will build my church, and the gates of hell[c] shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed[d] in heaven.” ”

Thank you; and now: Matthew ch18, vv15-20 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” This is the word of the Lord… let’s pray…

OVERVIEW: Jesus teaches us 7 important things about HIS Church here. 7 OBSERVATIONS to be made here, about the church. And with each, I’ll offer you an INTERPRETATION of what Jesus is saying, and then leave you with an APPLICATION. By the way – that is how you want to read your Bible; in 3 steps: Observation (“What is this passage SAYING?”;  Interpretation (What does it MEAN?”); and finally, Application (“How should I RESPOND?”).

So, observation #1 – What is the CHURCH?

The Church is an ASSEMBLY, gathered around Jesus’ KINGSHIP. (16:13-16)

The Church is an ASSEMBLY of people, gathered around Jesus’ KINGSHIP. (16:13-16)

The word for church – ekklesia – simply means “assembly”, or “gathering”. At the most basic level, that’s what the church IS.

Not a BUILDING.

Not an INSTITUTION.

Not an EXPERIENCE. I am convinced after these past 14 months, that church CANNOT be virtual, because church isn’t something you “do”. Like, “Shoot, we slept in and missed church; we’ll just do it tonight when the kids are in bed”. You might watch the sermon later, but you won’t be “doing” church. Because church isn’t something you DO. Church is something you ARE. It’s some-ONE you’re WITH. This, what we ARE, right now – God’s people, assembled, around Jesus’s Kingship – THIS is church.

With Covid restrictions easing, you may participate now in various assemblies throughout your week:

-You assemble as a FAMILY, who share the same DNA (or at least the same LAST NAME, if you’re like my family).

-You assemble as a STAFF, who share the company’s mission and vision.

-You assemble as FANS, who share a common love for Cardinals’ baseball.

But when we assemble as the CHURCH, the common bond we share is the conviction that Jesus is our KING. To confess Jesus as “King” is to affirm 2 important things about him; these 2 monumental statements that Peter first made about Jesus here in v16:
““You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.””

Jesus is “the Christ”. Kids: did you know “Christ” was not Jesus’ last name. It’s a title the Bible uses for Him, starting way back in the OT, when Jesus was prophesied, thousands of years before He was even born; God had told His people, Israel, that He would send them a MESSIAH – mashiach; that’s the Hebrew word from which we get the Greek word christos, Christ – God promised that one day He would send the Messiah to rescue His people. But the Jews of Jesus’ day expected a savior like King David, who would rescue them from Roman oppression. They didn’t realize that JESUS had come to save them from a far greater enemy: SIN. DEATH. HELL.

And He DID it, because Jesus was and IS the “Son of the living God” – in other words, Jesus is LORD. He’s not just a great prophet. Not just a good teacher. Not just one way to understand God. Jesus is the very SON of God – NO ONE comes to the Father, but through Him; “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life.” (Jn 3:36)

So the CHURCH is the assembly of all those who confess Jesus as SAVIOR and LORD. It’s not enough to confess Him as Savior only – “Jesus died for my sins, so I can go on living however I want…” – and it’s not enough to confess Him as LORD – “I believe that Jesus is God, so I’m gonna try my very hardest to live for Him and please Him” – No. He’s got to be your Lord AND Savior – “Jesus, I confess that I am a sinner, and the ONLY way I can be forgiven is by YOUR perfect sacrifice for me on the cross, as my Savior; and BECAUSE of what you’ve done for me, I now lay down my life to follow You wherever you would lead me, as my Lord.”

Friends: if THAT is the cry of your heart this morning, the Bible says, “You will be SAVED.” And you will be included in the church; Acts 20:28 identifies the church as those whom Jesus “purchased with his own blood.”

Jesus’ blood can cover ALL your sins – past, present and future – if you simply repent and believe in Him today. THAT is application point #1: Receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior this morning! If you haven’t yet – kids: maybe that’s you; Why wait?! It’s the BEST decision you’ll ever make in your LIFE! Trust in Jesus today!

#2: The church is all those who are BLESSED and CALLED by God. (16:17)

Jesus replies: ““Blessed are you, Simon [son of] Jonah!” We’re in the middle of the book of Genesis as a church, and back in ch.12 God “blessed” Abram, and promised him that “in you ALL the families of the earth shall be blessed.”” The apostle Paul clarifies that blessing in the NT, where he explains that “if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” (Gal 3:29) In other words, all those who HAVE trusted in Jesus now inherit God’s promise of blessing.

Paul says He has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph 1:3) Not health, wealth and happiness, in this life. God’s blessing is so much BETTER than that: ETERNAL life, ETERNAL riches, ETERNAL joy… in the heavenly places, where moths and rust can’t touch it… where Covid and a bad stock market quarter can’t touch it.

WE have hope for the life to come, a hope that can’t be shaken! Amen?

But just remember: it’s NOT because of anything that YOU’VE done! Jesus said, ““Blessed are you, Simon; not because you’re so much SMARTER than all my other disciples [read the Gospels; Peter may have been the thickest one of them all!]; No: flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, [you didn’t work this out on your own, Peter; it was revealed TO you by…] my Father who is in heaven.” Jesus said “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (Jn 6:44)

If you HAVE received Jesus as your Lord and Savior, it is ONLY because you were CALLED by God the Father.

2 Timothy 1:9 “[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began!”; Why? Why call us before He even created the world? God did it to ensure that we couldn’t take ANY of the credit; our salvation has NOTHING to do with our good works!

So here’s your application for point #2: pray for someone in YOUR life who has not yet been called by God. Everyone here knows SOMEONE who isn’t saved, don’t you? PRAY for that person this morning. And regularly. Because you can’t change their heart; only GOD can. But you can ASK Him to do it – that is what God has given YOU to do; pray that God would “draw them”, would call them to Himself. But ALSO recognize…

#3: That the church is Christ’s appointed BUTTRESS OF TRUTH and PLAN FOR REDEMPTION. (16:18)

Who or what is the “rock” that Jesus is building His church on, in v18?” 3 possible interpretations:

1) The rock is PETER. That is the Roman Catholic interpretation. Peter was the first POPE; Jesus built the church on him.

2) The rock is Peter’s CONFESSION. That’s been a leading Protestant interpretation over the centuries: the church is built not on Peter, the man, but on his declaration of FAITH; Martin Luther said, “We are ALL Peters, to the extent that we confess Jesus as the Christ.” But personally, I buy the

THIRD interpretation: that the rock is CHRIST HIMSELF!

-1 Corinthians 3:11 says “No one can lay a foundation other than… Jesus Christ.” That seems pretty open and shut to me.

-But if we look back at the passage itself, Jesus uses a play on words here to give Simon a new name: Peter; petros, it means “stone”. But then Jesus says “on this ROCKpetra – I will build my church. Petra refers to a foundation stone; it’s related to petros, but different. Bigger. Better. Peter is petros; Jesus is petra.

-Jesus said “Everyone who hears MY words – not Peter’s; MINE – and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the PETRA.” (Mt 7:24) On ME.

-Jesus calls himself “‘The stone that the builders rejected [who] has become the cornerstone” (Mt 21:42)

-Peter himself, in HIS letters, points us to Christ as our cornerstone, but then adds that “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house”. Peter didn’t say I’M the living stone; build on me. He said, ALL who come to Christ, the cornerstone, are being built up. We’ll come back to that at the end…

But if Christ is our foundation, then the CHURCH is His appointed BUTTRESS for the truth. That’s straight out of 1 Timothy 3:15 – “the church [is] a pillar and buttress of the truth.” A buttress is “any external prop or support built to steady a structure by opposing its outward thrusts”. We recently built Ellery a ZIPLINE tower. And despite using 4x4s, buried in 2 feet of concrete, the tower still shakes a good bit when she does the zipline. So we considered building some buttresses, to keep the tower from pulling so much with the force of the zipline. A buttress gives support. That’s Scripture’s metaphor for the CHURCH. Christ is all the foundation we NEED. And yet, Christ has appointed the church to PREACH His word, and POINT people to Him as their cornerstone.

But notice in v18: we’re not JUST the supportive buttress, standing for truth in a world sinking deeper and deeper into relativism every day; Jesus actually calls us to go on the OFFENSIVE for His Kingdom! He promises that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against [my church].” Gates are defensive. Satan is on the defense. He’s been given dominion over this world for a time, but he knows that his time is coming. Satan’s just trying to hold ground. But Jesus says, “He WON’T. Because his gates don’t stand a CHANCE against MY Church.” Brothers and sisters: we are, the Church is God’s plan A for the redemption of this world, and He doesn’t have a plan B. God uses US to eternally RESCUE people! Jesus promised that “whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do” (Jn 14:12) – you say, “Wait a minute; Jesus healed diseases! He raised people from the DEAD! And I’m gonna do GREATER works than THAT?!” Yeah, cuz Lazarus died again, and stayed dead the second time. But when you and I share the gospel with someone who doesn’t know Jesus, and we PRAY for them, and God uses us to CALL that person to saving faith in Him, then we get to play an integral part in others being raised to new life FOREVER – ETERNAL life! THAT is the privilege Jesus has left His church with: being co-redeemers with Him, in His plan of salvation for the world.

So your application for point #3 is: DO IT! Do what you say you’re gonna do at the end of every Sunday morning: “Go and make disciples”. Do it.

#4: The church is the MOUTHPIECE of God. (16:19; 18:18-19)

In the OT, God spoke through the prophets. In the NT, God spoke through the apostles. Today, God speaks through the Church, insofar as she accurately reflects God’s revealed word in Scripture. WE are God’s spokespeople.

In ch16, Jesus gives PETER the “keys of heaven”; in ch18, Jesus broadens it to ALL his disciples: “whatever Y’ALL (collectively) bind on earth shall be bound in heaven…” What in the world does THAT mean?

John MacArthur explains: “[The Church] has authority to declare that sins are either forgiven or not forgiven, when that declaration is based on the teaching of God’s Word. If a person has received Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, the church can tell him with perfect confidence that his sins are loosed, that is, forgiven… If, on the other hand, a person refuses to receive Christ… the church can tell him with equal confidence that his sins are bound, that is, not forgiven.” (Matthew 16-23, p137)

Now, “Only GOD can forgive sins” (Mk 2:7). So I cannot forgive your sins. But according to Jesus, I can PRONOUNCE your sins to have been forgiven, by Him. That’s the better translation, by the way, of the future perfect passive verbs here: “whatever you bind on earth shall HAVE BEEN bound in heaven…”; the church cannot determine God’s forgiveness. We simply try to discern what God has ALREADY done in a person’s heart, and then ANNOUNCE it. As God’s spokespeople.

But I have to tell you, AS a leader of this church: this is BY FAR the most terrifying part of my job. I will take a DOZEN angry emails about our new Covid policies, over just ONE really “iffy” baptism candidate. There are a couple of folks I’ve baptized, who looking back now, sometimes make me lose sleep. Because what could be worse than assuring someone that God has forgiven their sins, only to discover later that their profession of faith SEEMS to have been totally bogus? That I’ve given the false assurance of Heaven to someone who is actually on the road leading to HELL!

So for your application here, I would humbly ask you, on behalf of my fellow elders as well, for your PRAYERS for wisdom and discernment. I know you’re praying for us with Covid decision-making. That’s great. But I’d rather make a HUNDRED wrong decisions about Covid than ONE wrong decision about who we baptize. Who we admit into church membership. Whose sins we “loose” and pronounce “forgiven”; I don’t want to get that decision wrong! I don’t wanna assure you that your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, if your reservation is actually in the “smoking” section! So please pray for me, your pastors, your elders. This is no small responsibility to “bind and loose”, to be the mouthpiece of God!

#5: The church is a SINFUL, RECONCILING spiritual FAMILY. (18:15)

Now we’re into ch.18; Jesus instructs us in v15: ““If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault”. 3 descriptions of the church there:

First, the church is a spiritual FAMILY. “If your BROTHER sins against you…” – God is our Father. Jesus is our elder brother. And those of us in Christ are now all siblings. But siblings love to FIGHT, don’t they?

Because secondly: we are SINFUL. Jesus has freed us from the PENALTY of our sin, but not the PRESENCE of all sin. So He gets really practical here; He doesn’t paint a vision of a bunch of perfect people all sitting around singing “Kum-Ba-Ya”; No, he addresses the possibility, the inevitability – the “if” here could just as easily be translated “WHEN”; WHEN your brother sins against you – Jesus KNOWS we’re gonna let one another down. So in His mercy, he gives us a blueprint for how to DEAL with sin in the church:

“If your brother sins against you, go and…

-Vent to someone else…?

-Go and Stuff those feelings down deep; try and convince yourself that person didn’t MEAN to hurt you…?

-Be passive aggressive until they get the point and apologize?

-Just ignore them and find a new friend in the church?

-Or find a new church altogether, to avoid the awkwardness?

No. The THIRD mark of the church here in v15 is that when we are sinned against, we “GO” to one another and work it out. Seek to RECONCILE. To restore good relationship.

I got a letter just last week from some long-time members of this church, informing me that they were leaving West Hills because of things that I had said or done, as the pastor. So I immediately picked up the phone and called them. No reply. So I texted them the next day – “Hey, I got your letter. When can we get together and talk?” So they emailed the OTHER elders with a COPY of their letter, to inform THEM that they’d received my text, but had no interest in meeting with me to try and reconcile.

So now I will continue suffering from my same old blind spots…

THEY are now guilty of sin, of disobeying Christ’s clear instructions here in Matthew 18…

And YOU ALL have to keep putting up with an uncorrected pastor.

EVERYBODY loses. When we refuse to do things GOD’S way.

I mean, if we’re really a FAMILY, it’s the way things SHOULD be done, isn’t it? Kids – what do you think your parents would say, if you wrote them a letter to tell them you didn’t approve of some things they’d done recently, so you were going to join a new family?

By contrast, I want to THANK Sallie, Abbe, Taylor, Rob, Steve, Thad, Andy… SO many of y’all who have come to me, and “told me my fault”; God knows there are plenty of them! I am CHIEF of sinners! But I so appreciate those brothers and sisters who love me enough to do what is, I’m sure, VERY uncomfortable, and call out their PASTOR’S sin. That has got to be hard. But it is RIGHT. It’s GOOD. It honors the Lord, and His church. And your pastor. So thank you.

Application: Examine your heart this morning – is there any sin in YOUR life that you need to repent of? Anyone you need to ask forgiveness of? GO to them – TODAY! Don’t wait! – and seek to reconcile.

#6: The Church is a SUPPORTIVE, CARING means of ACCOUNTABILITY (18:16-17).

This is the other side of point #5 – in the same way that YOU will at times be the sinful one who needs reproof, at other times, you will be the one who SEES a brother or sister straying, in need of reproof, and you’ll have to decide whether YOU care about them enough to offer them that support and accountability.

Proverbs 27 says, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend”

A true friend wants what is BEST for you. And she KNOWS that continuing on in SIN is NOT God’s best.

So Jesus exhorts us, “if [your brother] does not listen [and let’s be honest; we are sinful ENOUGH; our first reaction is sometimes to get DEFENSIVE. And lash BACK. So what do you do next? Give them a couple days to cool off, then…] take one or two others along with you… If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Sometimes the most loving thing you can do for an unrepentant sinner is to excommunicate them; put them outside the fellowship of the church. Paul orders in 1 Corinthians 5: “deliver this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” The hope and prayer is still restoration. But just like loving parents don’t let their kids talk back to them and sit around eating candy all day long, Hebrews 12 says God disciplines us because He LOVES us; so too we ought to love one ANOTHER enough to want what’s BEST for them: holiness. Godliness. NOT Sin.

So I exhort you to APPLY this: commit yourself, or RE-commit yourself this morning, to loving others enough to confront them when need be. Maybe it’s TODAY! Some of you conflict-avoiders may have some stuff bottled up, you keep trying to tell yourself it’s not a big deal, but it hasn’t gone away, it keeps eating at you – Examine yourself first; take the log out of your OWN eye first. SO THAT you will be able to see clearly to help your brother see the speck in HIS eye. (Mt 7:5)

Lastly, #7 – the Church is God’s TEMPLE. (18:20)

Jesus promises in v20: “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them”

This is precisely WHY church discipline should be so effective – because Christians can’t imagine NOT being in the church! This fellowship, this assembly, is where GOD is! Remember the plural pronouns from last week:

1 Corinthians 3:16 “Y’all are God’s temple… God’s Spirit dwells in y’all”

Ephesians 2: “Y’all are… the household of God… a holy temple in the Lord… a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (19-22)

And 1 Peter 2 from earlier: “Y’all [are] like living stones being built up as a spiritual house… to God through Christ”

So IF that’s true, brothers and sisters, my final exhortation, application for you, is to recommit yourself to THIS assembly going forward. I know it’s been a really weird, hard 14-month stretch for many of us. For some of you, this morning is your FIRST time finally back with us again – it is SO good to have you back! Now it’s time to get back to Hebrews 10:24-25 “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together… but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” 2020 felt like Jesus was coming back any minute! But what is the church’s response supposed to be, even in the “End Times”? To ASSEMBLE. So we can encourage one another. You all are such an encouragement to me. I hope our corporate worship together on Sundays is such an encouragement to you.

So let me leave you with this blessing of encouragement, FOR the church, from the rest of that great 1 Peter 2 passage: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for Christ’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Amen. Let’s pray…

May 9, 2021

“Four Wrongs Can Make a Right”

Origins | Will DuVal | Genesis 27-28:9