Jesus said, I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. But what is His Church? It means the group, or body of people who have been called out by God and form an assembly of believers. This assembly of believers is the Church -- which Christ said He would build. It is within the Church that you can be moulded and shaped by Christ - to be fit and ready for service when He returns.
This afternoon, I want to share with you one major reason why I regularly go to Church.
This sermon is not directed to those who are not able to attend Church. We have senior citizens and elderly people who are no longer able to travel, we have those who are dealing with serious health problems and getting out and about is very difficult for them. We also have people who live in areas that are some distance from any church congregation and they may only occasionally be able to attend church.
This sermon is directed towards people like me - those of us who still have our health, we have a car, we are mobile, there is transport available, there is a congregation in reasonable distance, and it is within our power and capacity to attend church regularly.
So I want to share with you today one major reason why I, personally, regularly go to church.
Let's begin by turning to:
Matthew 16:13-18 (noting, in particular, verse 18):
13 When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am? 14 So they said, Some say John the Baptist, some 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 answered and said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. 17 Jesus answered and said to 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 also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
I want to focus on the words of Jesus when He said, I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
Notice these points:
When you build something you use certain materials, so what are the materials Christ is using to build His Church.
Let's look for a moment at the word Church itself. Church is an English translation from the Greek word EKKLESIA: EK = out of; KLESIS = a calling; or from the verb KALEO = to call.
Vines Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testaments says that EKKLESIA can mean the whole company of the redeemed throughout the present era; or it can mean a company consisting of professed believers; or it can simply mean a congregation.
If we take the meaning of the Greek word EKKLESIA - that is - a calling out of, or to call out of -- and apply it to the Church, it means the group, or body of people who have been called out by God to be a part of the assembly of believers. This assembly of believers is the Church -- which Christ said He would build.
These called out ones are the building materials by which Christ is building His Church.
A building or house can be built of concrete, brick and timber, steel, and various other materials. But the Church is being built by Christ with people - those whom God has drawn to Christ, those whom God has called.
As it says in:
1 Corinthians 1:26 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.
The Bible clearly shows there is a calling by God, there is a drawing of individuals by the Father to Christ, and those who respond to that calling - the called out ones - are the materials by which Christ is building His Church.
I want to go back to Matthew 16:18 to draw your attention to another point. Christ said, I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
The Church which Christ is building will never be destroyed, it will never decay, it will last forever.
Hades is a Greek word associated with the grave. In other words Christ is saying that death - the ultimate enemy of all physical life - will not be able to overcome the Church which Christ is building.
All the physical creation is temporary. Our physical lives are but for a time. We are born, we live for so many decades, and then we die. And the next generation comes along and suffers the same fate. All physical living things eventually die.
Even the inanimate universe is running down.
Hebrews 1:10-11 And: You, LORD, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You remain; And they will all grow old like a garment;
Yes, Christ remains eternal but the physical creation is for a time only. The physical creation will eventually perish. But the Church which Jesus is building will last forever.
In the analogy, God has called us to be part of a building -- the Church -- which will never end. If the Church lasts forever, then the material of which it is composed must logically last forever, and if we are the building materials, then we are therefore destined to live forever.
But in any building construction, as you know, the builder works with the materials in order to fit each piece into its rightful place. A building must be designed. It has a foundation, a framework, a roof, and interior walls. You don't place the interior walls on the roof, or the frames in the foundation. Each has its place in the building.
John 14:1-3 (Jesus was speaking to His disciples, and to us, today): Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.
These verses have been used by many to prove that when a Christian dies, he or she goes to heaven - assuming that they have an immortal soul which leaves the body and goes to the Father's house in heaven when they die.
However, as you know, this is not what Christ was saying. Jesus was telling his disciples not to worry about what was going to happen to them. Just as they trusted in God, he said they must also trust in Him.
Jesus explained to His disciples that he was going away to prepare a place for them in His Father's house. But more than that, Jesus stated that since He was going to prepare a place for them, He was going to come back, gather them together to be with Him, so they could be with Him wherever He is.
And other Scriptures show that the called out ones - those who comprise the Church that Jesus is building -- will not only have a place in the Father's house, but they will also be given positions of responsibility and service when Christ returns.
And when He returns, when He comes back, Christ, with His people - with the EKKLESIA - the Church -- will be right here on earth, as many Scriptures show. Let's look at a couple.
Revelation 20:6 Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.
Revelation 5:9-10 And they sang a new song, saying: You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.
When I put these two Scriptures together, it is very clear to me that those who comprise the Church will reign with Christ for one thousand years - on this earth.
How can we reign with Christ unless we have been trained for the job?
How can we take on these positions of responsibilities that Christ has prepared unless we are first trained in what to do?
Well, Christ is not only preparing a place in the Father's house for us, but He is also on the job teaching us, educating us, giving us on the job training to fill the position He has prepared for each one of us.
Jesus Christ is building His Church. A builder works with the materials - he measures, he cuts, he trims, he shapes each piece to fit correctly into the building. And God's people are the building materials Christ has worked with, and is working with today.
Now the Scriptures also liken the Church that Christ is building to a temple - a certain type of building used for religious purposes.
Writing to the Church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul reminded the brethren there that they were the Temple of God. The same analogy applies to God's people today.
1 Corinthians 6:19 ... do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you have from God, and you are not your own?
Our body is the temple in which God dwells through the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 3:16-17 Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.
The Church, made up of individual members, is likened to a spiritual temple which Christ is building - and in this type or analogy, the Church is likened to a building that is under construction - it is not yet completed -- and it is a building that is destined to last forever.
Ephesians 2:19-22 (Paul was writing here about the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles through Jesus Christ) Now, therefore, you [gentiles] are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit.
In this analogy we see the Christians at Ephesus being likened to:
Christ is in the process of building His Church -- a holy temple -- composed of those called out by God. And if you will recall Jesus said to His disciples, You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you (John 15:16).
Yes, the ones called out - the EKKLESIA - the ones chosen by God -- are the building blocks by which the construction of the holy temple will be completed.
Now part of the building of the Church has already been completed.
The foundation -- composed of the Apostles and the Prophets has been laid,
and Jesus is the chief cornerstone.
In ancient times it was an accepted practice to begin a building by laying a cornerstone in a particular position from which the whole building was aligned. The cornerstone was literally placed in a corner position and it was oriented in such a way that the foundation and all the walls took their position and alignment from the cornerstone.
It was the principle stone in the construction.
Jesus Christ is the principle person in the construction of the Church.
The whole building, the whole church, takes its orientation from Jesus Christ. He sets the example. He has the chief position in the building. He is the One against whom we measure and align ourselves. He is the Chief Cornerstone.
Now notice in particular:
1 Peter 2:6 Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.
In the context of 1 Peter 2, it is clear that the chief cornerstone is referring to Jesus Christ -- and where is Christ the chief cornerstone laid? IN ZION.
Mount Zion is literally a hill of Jerusalem - but figuratively -- Zion is the Church.
As Bible prophecy shows, when Christ returns to this earth, He will build a new physical temple at MT ZION at Jerusalem.
But in the spiritual type, Christ is already placed or positioned in Zion - He is already dwelling in the Church. As the chief cornerstone He has the pre-eminence. He has the most prominent position in the Church.
This is explained clearly in the first chapter of the Book of Colossians:
Colossians 1:15-18 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.
Now I would like to go back to:
1 Peter 2 and begin reading from verse 1 (we read verse 6 before):
1 Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking,
2 as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby,
3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.
4 Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious,
5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
6 Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.
Notice in particular Verse 5. This verse is speaking directly about members of the Church - about the EKKLESIA - the called out ones - God's people -- you and me. You also, (like Christ) as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house.
Here's the analogy again of a building under construction - a spiritual house being built up - with what - living stones.
This spiritual house, or spiritual temple, is being built from materials called living stones.
Peter, speaking to the Church, said, YOU, -- meaning the brethren - YOU are living stones. We are being likened to living stones. God's people are the building material - the living stones -- Christ is using to complete the building of His Church.
As the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:19 - referring to these living stones - being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.
Now what does living stones mean? How can a stone be living? The word living comes from the Greek word ZOA which means to live or to be alive. The same Greek word is used throughout the New Testament when it talks about the living God. And God is certainly alive. So Peter knew what he was writing about. He was indeed talking about living stones.
Now in reality, is it possible to have live stones and dead stones. Well, no! Stones are inanimate. They do not have life. But, in stone masonry, those who work with stone, they apparently consider certain stones to be live stones and some stones to be dead stones. The living stones are those that can be used and worked with for building purposes. The other stones which cannot be used for this purpose are called dead stones.
A stone mason can apparently recognise the difference between a live stone and a dead stone. A live stone and a dead stone have different characteristics. For example, a living stone is durable, has lasting qualities, and can support tremendous weight in the building. A living stone resists deformation from the weather and exposure to the elements, and is suitable material for building construction. But a dead stone is usually decomposed, weathered, and is easily crushed. It is not suitable for building purposes and cannot support much weight.
Now if we translate those qualities to human beings, what is God doing?
He is working with His people, training them, and developing in them those qualities of character that can bear the weight of responsibility in His Kingdom. The Church is a practical, on-the-job training ground, a school of education, a place of learning and experience, with the ultimate goal of preparing us for service in God's government - in the coming Kingdom of God.
With God's help, we are to be striving to learn and incorporate into our lives the same leadership qualities that Christ has. He is the chief cornerstone. And the other living stones in His temple will be aligning themselves with the chief cornerstone and learning to conduct themselves just like He does.
When Christ returns and gives responsibilities to those in His Church - the EKKLESIA -- He must know that they will not let Him down. They must be like Him.
Christ cannot use a person who is like a dead stone. This is a person who has not developed, or is not willing to develop, the character, the spiritual stamina, the internal spiritual fortitude, in order to bear the weight of responsibility of leadership in the government of God.
Christ is working to produce tried and tested people to work with, and under Him - to be living stones in His Temple, in His spiritual house.
Now it is interesting that it was the Apostle Peter who wrote the expression living stones in 1 Peter 2:5.
Peter was a fisherman by trade so what would he know about stone masonry?
If you will remember, Christ was a carpenter, and with the type of construction used in housing and buildings in Palestine in those days, I have to assume that Jesus was also skilled in stone masonry. Jesus would have used stone from time to time in building and construction work.
As Christ lived and worked with Peter and the apostles, He may have used some of His building skills and experience to teach them spiritual lessons. Perhaps as they passed by a construction site, we can imagine Christ pointing out to His disciples the difference between a living stone and a dead stone.
He may have hit various stones with a hammer to show how one would break under pressure, while another was hard, durable, would support great weight, and was a most useful stone to be included in a building.
Jesus may have thought of Peter as a living stone. If you will remember what Christ said to Peter in:
John 1:42 Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas (which is translated, A Stone).
Yes, a living stone that Christ could use in the foundation of His temple, the Church.
Peter was a living stone - a person able to bear the great weight of responsibility in the government of God and he is now a part of the foundation of the building - the Church - which Christ is building.
I am sure the Apostle Peter, when writing the first book of Peter knew what he was writing about. Drawing on the instruction and teaching from Christ, he wrote that God's spiritual house, God's spiritual temple, was to be built up of living stones.
Now we should take a few more minutes to develop the analogy just a little more.
When a stone has been selected to be used in a particular building, it is in a rough raw condition and must be tooled, or cut, to fit into the foundation, or into the wall of the building. A lot of work on the stone by the stonemason takes place before it is ready for fitting into the building.
In like manner, when God chose us, when God called us to Christ, we were like the stone that needed a considerable amount of work in getting it into the right size, the right shape, so that if fits smoothly into the place selected and prepared for it by the builder.
Acts 14:21-22 And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.
Yes, a living stone in the temple will face trial and testing before entering the Kingdom of God.
Romans 5:3-4 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.
Here in these couple of Scriptures, we see the moulding, the shaping, the preparation of the living stone taking place - in other words, through trial, through test, and Christian experience, our character is being developed to be like the chief cornerstone.
James 1:2-4 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
Jesus Christ as a master builder is preparing us - over time -- so that we may be perfected and complete - lacking nothing. I like that very much.
Christ said He went away so that He could prepare a place for us - there is a place in His spiritual house where He wants us to serve. He is now working with us so that we can not only be made immortal, but also take on positions of responsibility under Him when He returns.
Why do I regularly attend Church?
If I am one of these living stones (and I believe I am) then I want to be a part of the Church that Christ is building. I want to be part of this house that will last forever. I want to be part of the greatest project that has ever been undertaken in the history of the universe.
The universe is awesome, the earth is a creation of enormous magnitude, mortal men have built great buildings and constructions, but the Father and Christ are the master builders of a plan that staggers the imagination.
They are taking limited mortal human beings, made of the dust of the ground, and changing them into immortal sons and daughters - beings who will live forever as members of God's divine family.
If I am one of those living stones which is to be fitly jointed together with other living stones- and if there is no limiting factors like age, health, or distance, or transport -- then I need to have contact with the other living stones in the Church. It is within the Church that Christ is building - it is in His Church that I can be moulded and shaped by Him to fit the place He is preparing for me.
And it is within the Church that you also can be moulded and shaped by Christ - turning this rough raw living stone into a beautifully crafted stone -- fit and ready for service when Christ returns.
And part of our being fully involved in the Church that Jesus is building is to attend Sabbath services regularly. Jesus, who is the Eternal of Old Testament times, and who is our Lord and Saviour, gave a clear instruction in:
Leviticus 23:2-3 Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: The feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation.
A holy convocation is a religious assembly - an assembly of people coming together to worship God. Christ never did away with that command. When He was on this earth, Christ Himself followed His own instruction. It says in:
Luke 4:16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.
Here is the Chief Cornerstone, in the Church, setting the example for all of us to follow.
There are of course many other good reasons for attending church regularly and these could be discussed at another time but I wanted today to focus on the major reason why I regularly attend Church.
Jesus said He would build His Church - and we are involved in that building.
I personally want to submit my life to the master builders -- God the Father and Jesus Christ -- who will mould and shape my life to be aligned with the Chief Cornerstone -- so when Christ returns, which He said He would, I will be ready to take on the responsibility of service He had chosen for me. I know this would be your desire too.
And in the times in which we live, as the master builder of His Church, Christ encourages us with these words:
Hebrews 10:24-25 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
Christ said He would build His Church and you and I have been given the priceless opportunity to be part of His spiritual house, His spiritual home, that will last forever.
This is a major reason why I do my best to regularly attend Church.
That a loving, all-powerful God would allow terrible human anguish perplexes many people. Some even see it as justification for denying God's existence.
The biblical account of the years leading up to defeat and deportation of the ten tribes of Israel by the Assyrians is recorded as a warning of the consequences of turning away from God.
Forgiveness does not come easily for most of us, but the commandment to do so is not optional.