The Resurrection And The Church

Tonight we are to think about the Resurrection and the Church. What did the risen Jesus have to say or teach about the Church? At the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles it says that in the period between the Resurrection and Ascension Jesus spent time in teaching the disciples. Acts 1.3:

he showed himself to these men [the disciples] and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom.

But what did the risen Jesus teach? In Acts he taught about the promise and power of the Holy Spirit. In Acts he also taught that "it is not for you to know the times or dates" about when he would establish his kingdom. Those are still two vital lessons for everyone - about the reality of the Holy Spirit and the fact that we just don't know when Christ is going to return. And as the millennium approaches and you hear of all sorts of weird groups predicting all sorts of weird things that last lesson needs to be broadcast from the roof-tops! So much for Acts. What do the Gospels tell us about the risen Jesus and his teaching the disciples? There are five lessons the risen Jesus taught the disciples according to the Gospel writers. First, he taught about the need for evangelism:

(Mat 28:18-20) Jesus ... said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. {19} Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, {20} and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Secondly, he taught about the centrality of the cross and that it would be [and must be] at the heart of evangelism - Luke 24.47:

repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name [that is, the Christ's name] to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem

The focus of evangelism and preaching, said Jesus, was to be "repentance and forgiveness of sins." Thirdly, he was teaching the importance of the Bible. It was because the disciples didn't understand the Bible correctly that they were confused - Luke 24.25:

He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!

Fortunately the disciples were open - as genuine believers always are - to clear exposition of the Bible. So the two on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24.32):

asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?"

Fourthly, Jesus taught the reality of his Resurrection. Jesus wanted to teach that the Resurrection was not a "spiritual" resurrection. It was a bodily resurrection. The tomb really was empty. His was now a glorified body. It was not the "old" body; but it was not less than the old body - it was gloriously more! Luke 24.38-39:

He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? {39} Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have."

It was the same lesson he wanted Thomas to learn. But you ask, what did the risen Jesus teach about the Church? The answer is that after the Resurrection it is not Jesus but the Holy Spirit (through the Apostles) who has taught us most about the Church. After the Resurrection Jesus taught more about the work of the Church rather than its nature. Still Jesus did teach about the Church in John 21. And that is the fifth lesson. That is where he taught of the need to pastor the Church. In John 21 Jesus commands Peter to "feed" and "take care" of the flock of Christ; and he also taught there that the Church would be a suffering Church. Jesus said to Peter:

I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." {19} Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!"

So let me recap - there are fundamentals for the Church to learn that the risen Jesus teaches rather than details about the Church. In Acts he taught about the need for the Holy Spirit; and the folly of speculating on dates for his return. In the Gospels he taught about the need for evangelism; the centrality of the cross; the importance of the Bible; the reality of his Resurrection; but he did teach the need to pastor the Church that would be a suffering Church. And it is tragic how often the Church and its leaders down the centuries have ignored or forgotten some part of these teachings - with sad or disastrous effects. But tonight I just want us to look at that fifth lesson from the words of Jesus in John 21 to Peter to "feed my lambs"; "take care of my sheep"; and to "feed my sheep". What did Peter understand by "feeding" the flock?" Here was Peter recommissioned after his dreadful fall - his denial at the time of Jesus' trial. He had three times denied Christ; and here, three times Christ is recommissioning him. It is as though Jesus is underlining that Peter was restored and forgiven. But what did Peter understand about the flock - the new congregation of Christ's people - the Church that he was to "feed"? What could he have understood about its nature as distinct from its work? There is one piece of crucial teaching that Peter must have remembered from before the Resurrection. It would have been so hard to forget. And it is so important for any body's thinking on the Church - in Peter's day or today. So I want us to focus on it now, fairly briefly, in the time that remains. It is that incident, and what Jesus said to Peter, at Caesarea Philippi - Matthew 16.13-20. And my three headings tonight are very simple, first, THE PAST; secondly, THE PRESENT, and thirdly, THE FUTURE. Let me read you the relevant words again - Matthew 16.16-18:

Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." {17} Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. {18} And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

First, THE PAST What does that teach us about the past, in terms of the Church? Answer: it tells us what its foundation was. It's foundation, said Jesus, was "on this rock". Verse 18:

you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.

But what is "this rock"? There is a pun here, because the Greek word for "rock" is the feminine form of the Greek word for "Peter". Some people have said that the "rock" must be Peter. That is unlikely as Jesus could have said, "on you, the rock I will build my church". He certainly goes on to say, "I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven." What, then, is the "rock"? Surely it is the confession that Peter has just made. This is the heart of this passage and this incident at Caesarea Philippi. So if you want to say Peter himself is the "rock", you have to say it is Peter "as confessing". It is his confession, not his person that is important. Jesus has been asking the disciples who do people say that he is. Some say he is John the Baptist; others that he is Elijah; and others that he is Jeremiah or one of the other prophets. But when the disciples were challenged, Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus says, on that confession - the rock of that confession - I will build my church. So the church is built on disciples that confess that Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the living God." And that is vital. It tells us what the Church fundamentally is. It is not an institution; it is not a denomination; it is not the hierarchy of clergy; it is certainly not a building. The church fundamentally is men and women who confess Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. Institutions, denominations, clergy and buildings are necessary. But as old Bishop Ryle used to say, they are like scaffolding to the true building of the Church. Scaffolding is necessary in a building. And some of it can be good. But some of it is like that scaffolding on buildings opposite Newcastle Cathedral just taken down but that over the years has been so obstructive to traffic trying to get to the station. And some of the scaffolding I have seen in the Far East is terrifying - it has been made of lashed together bamboo poles and going high up around modern multi-story office blocks. The structures and institutions of the visible churches are like that. Some of them are quite good. But some of them are obstructive; and some of them are dangerous. Never mistake the scaffolding for the building of the true church. The building is not the institution or structures but men and women who confess Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. Paul summed it up so clearly in Romans 10.9:

if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

That was the foundation - that is still the foundation - confession of Christ. And Peter would have remembered that incident at Caesarea Philippi after the Resurrection. Secondly, THE PRESENT What does Jesus teach here in Matthew 16 about the Church in the present? Answer: he says: "on this rock I will build my church." Three things follow from this. First, the Church is Christ's church. He calls it "my" Church. That is so important. I get unhappy when I hear people talk about John Stott's Church, or Dick Lucas' Church, or whoever's Church. I know what they mean. But Jesus says, it is "my Church". The bible says that the Church is the body of Christ; he is its Saviour; he loved the Church; he gave himself up for it (Eph 5). Secondly, this says that Jesus is the builder of the Church. This present age is the age of the Holy Spirit. But the Spirit is, so to speak, the agent for Jesus Christ in his building work. And Christ is working through his Spirit now in the Church. It is Christ himself who still secures our forgiveness - Rev 1.5:

[he] loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.

It is Christ who gives us new birth - John 10.28: I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. And thirdly, this says that the work that Christ is doing is "building". This is a process. It is adding one stone or one brick or one block of cement to another. This is a picture of "growth". Do you have a "growth mentality"? Peter soon came to understand "growth". In Acts 1 we are told that there were 120 disciples. In Acts 2 there were 3000 disciples on the Day of Pentecost. In Acts 4 there were 5000 men plus women and children. In Acts 6 we are told, "the number disciples was increasing" and so on. Peter was to be a pastor and care for the sheep, but that involved evangelism. Jesus says (Luke 15:7):

there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

Peter was to be (and he was) an evangelist. He was to be a fisher of men as well as a shepherd of sheep. It has been said of Peter that he was to work "by hook and by crook". He had to work with the fishermen's hook and the shepherd's crook. So every Christian has to work evangelistically as well as pastorally - to be concerned for those outside as well as for those inside. Christ is building his Church. And the Church is growing. It is not always evident in Western Europe. In other parts of the world there is phenomenal growth. But in this country where the gospel is preached there are growing churches as Christ builds his church. So remember the Church is Christ's church; he is still at work; and it is building work. Finally, THE FUTURE What did Jesus say about the future of the Church? He said this:

you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

Jesus hinted to Peter after the Resurrection, as we have seen, about future suffering and martyrdom. And Peter understood that the church was to be a suffering church so well. In his first letter he said:

for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.

But he went on:

These have come so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may prove genuine and my result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1.6-7).

Peter knew that nothing could destroy the Church. It would be attacked. But it would never die. And he knew that Christian believers would be safe for ever. There was a wonderful hope of heaven. He knew that if you are born again to new life there is hope beyond the grave. He knew that you have Christ's resurrection life; and you look forward to eternal life with Christ in heaven. So he writes in his first letter, chapter 1 verse 3:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

He knew that the gates of Hades will not overcome the church. And as the church is not the institution but those who confess Christ, the gates of Hades will not overcome the individual Christian. Christ promised eternal security. I must conclude. I do so with three questions. First, are you a member of the true church as Christ defines it here? Have you confessed Christ as your Saviour and Lord? Have you admitted that you do need his forgiveness and new life by the Holy Spirit? If you haven't why not do so tonight? The promises of eternal security are not for everyone - only for this true church. Outside this true church there is judgment. The promise is only for those who trust Christ. My second question is this: do you realise that Christ is building his church? It is growing. But for that growth Christ uses workers. Are you willing to be one of those workers? The first thing to do is to pray for growth. Pray for growth at this church. But then work for growth. Tell your friends, colleagues and neighbours about Jesus Christ. And remember those words of Theresa of Avila:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours.

My third question is this: are you going through a difficult time at the moment? If you do trust in Christ, you will find life hard. God will allow you to face opposition as well as suffering. But, if so, remember God knows best. He has good plans for you. And the gates of Hades - the forces of death and darkness - will not overcome you. For Christ is the victor over death - both in this life and for all eternity. That is the good news of Easter.

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