God’s Rally Cry: “The Church will not fall!” (September 6, 2020)

God’s Rally Cry: “The Church will not fall!” (September 6, 2020)

September 12, 2020
Benjamin Ehlers

God’s Rally Cry: “The Church will not fall!”

Matthew 16:13-20

View our livestream: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMqMmOTG1kg


Taking his opponents by surprise and creating uncertainty in their minds were key elements in Rommel’s approach to offensive warfare. In the African theater of World War II, he took advantage of sandstorms and the dark of night to conceal the movement of his forces – thus gaining for himself the nickname “The Desert Fox”. The allied troops had recently been pushed back over the Egyptian border, and the commander of the Allied Eighth Army was recently shot down when his aircraft was intercepted. Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery took command of the Eighth Army and gave this speech to his demoralized troops before defeating Rommel’s Afrika Corps:

“Here we will stand and fight; there will be no further withdrawal. I have ordered that all plans and instructions dealing with further withdrawal are to be burned, and at once. We will stand and fight here. If we can’t stay here alive, then let us stay here dead.”

It kind of reminds me of Martin Luther’s statement at the Diet of Worms, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason, I am bound by the Scriptures. My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything. Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me.”

It’s really the reason for Jesus’ questioning in the Bible reading we had today. What are you standing upon? Is it the firm rock of truth, or will it crumble and fall?

Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Mt 16:13). They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Mt 16:14). And before you go through this list and simply say, “Wrong, wrong, and wrong,” Don’t overlook that this is a very illustrious group of people. The people didn’t think Jesus was a slouch or even a fraud. They had great respect for him! Jesus called people to repentance as John the Baptist did, and his disciples baptized. Like Elijah, Jesus was a man of prayer and a great miracle worker. He, too, took issue with the false religions of his day. And, the authorities turned against Jesus; he had no place to lay his head – a suffering prophet like Jeremiah. However, although all these were very complimentary ideas, they all fell short of the mark. None of these convictions of Jesus were spot on. None of them saw him as the promised redeemer he truly was. And therefore, all these convictions were built upon crumbling ground.

But what about you? Who do you say I am?” (Mt 16:15). Jesus is clearly interested in what each person believes about him. He is clearly interested in what you personally confess about Jesus. Now, there was no opportunity for the disciples to hide behind the opinions of others. Jesus put them on the spot and asked his disciples very directly about their convictions. Peter answered on behalf of the disciples. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16).

That title, “Christ” or “Messiah” – they are actually the same word, by the way. They both mean “The Anointed One”. Christ is the Greek word. Messiah is the Hebrew word. This title, “Christ” / “Messiah,” held before the Jewish hearer the promise of the great hero of redemption. Not only did Peter identify Jesus with a prophetic title that went beyond the prevailing views of his day, he showed that he now perceived it in a deeper way. Not only was Jesus the “Son of Man,” but Peter also identified him as “the Son of the living God!” God was living and active right before their very eyes in Jesus, the Christ.

So, what about you? Who do you say Jesus is? Because there is a right and a wrong answer. Even in our day, few people have anything bad to say about Jesus. But, sadly, they never want to say quite enough. Our own thinking and understanding, our own reasoning can only take us so far. It can lead us to speak well of Jesus. It can lead us to value his teachings as principles for good living. But to confess him as the promised Christ, the Son of the Living God, human reason cannot lead us here.

Experiences in life can teach us too. It can teach us that for everything there is a cause and effect, an investment and return. We can maybe apply that and reason that If I do good to you then you will do good to me. Life also teaches us that everything has a beginning and an end. I was born and one day I will die. Everything wears down and meets its end eventually, so the same must be true for me. Eventually I too will wear down and meet my end. And IF there is anything that follows, well… I hope my investment of good, my climbing the spiritual ladder, will be enough to make it through the gates.

Life experience and human reason can only take us so far though. Like the people’s opinion in Jesus’ day and the opinion of many in our day, it can hint at the truth, but it’s never going to be enough. Not every good opinion concerning Jesus is valid or of saving significance. Turn to Scripture and learn what the Father reveals. The Father reveals that I have not done enough. The Father reveals that I will meet my end and I have fallen short of the glory of God. And unless I have some Redeemer to cancel all that out in some way; if I’ve built my hopes upon what I can reason, what I learn through experience, then I’ve built my hopes upon a foundation of sand.

Later we will talk a little bit about the work of the Church – the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven – binding and loosing. Jesus is giving the Church the authority to forgive sins and to withhold forgiveness in his name. Forgiveness sounds great and loving and kind! But I think the “binding key” the withholding forgiveness sometimes gets a bad rap. It too is loving. It too is meant for your good. Picture it this way. When I was young, I liked going to haunted houses. I remember one in particular where once you enter it is pitch black – you couldn’t see a thing. So you are feeling your way down a hallway with a couple twists and turns, bumping into the walls as you go. Then, suddenly, nothing. It feels like you are finally free from the restricting hallway, finally out into a big open room. But then the lights flip on and you realize that you are in a cage – a prison – and there’s a scary guy in a mask with a fake chainsaw ready to do his worst! That’s what the binding key does – it flips on the lights. Our sins already imprison us. At times we may even feel free as we live in sin, but the reality is we are not. The binding key flips on the lights and reveals the prison of sin we are already living in. It reveals the need for repentance and instills a longing to be freed from sin.

Besides revealing my own shortcomings, flaws, and misconceptions – hemming me into a prison of sin and condemnation – the Father also reveals the great hero of redemption. The hero who unlocks the bonds of sin and death. This Jesus, the Anointed One, paid the price for your sin so that you would not fall short. He unlocks the gates and shows you that there is life even after death for those who stand on the rock-solid confession that Jesus is the Christ, our Redeemer from sin. “What about you? Who do you say I am?” “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God

Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 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” (Mt 16:15-18). “‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! HE gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you!” (1 Cor 15:55-58). The gates of Hades – that is, the gates of death – will not overcome the Church. The Church WILL NOT fall. And those in the Church will merely pass through death, as one passes through a door, and enter into eternal life!

This confession is the “boulder” upon which Christ builds his church. To get the linguistic sense of what Jesus is saying, I’ll paraphrase it this way: “I say to you, you are called ‘rock,’ and on this ‘boulder’ of a confession I will build my church and the powers of death and hell will not overcome it.” It is this confession that is the strength of the Church – the foundation upon which it cannot fall. Christ’s Church (the true Israel) will be built on Peter’s confession and built by him whom Peter confessed.

Although Peter was identified as “the rock,” the Gospels show that he was anything but rock-like. His emotions often overwhelmed him. His actions often belied his nickname. But upon this boulder of a confession, his faith could not be shaken. It was the blessing of the Father that would turn him into a pillar of the church. It is that same blessing of the Father working through Word and Sacrament that also turns you into a pillar of the Church. God’s Word gives you the firm foundation. God’s Holy Supper strengthens you to become boulders! Because it stands on the Rock and not on the pebbles of men who serve it, the Church will stand forever. Its message is changeless, the ramifications of its work are eternal.

What is that message? What is the work that the Church performs, and its people proclaim? “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:19). There is no higher freedom than to be a forgiven sinner. There is no harsher prison than to be bound under guilt and condemnation. And just to remind you, sin has already bound and imprisoned each one of us. The “binding key” is meant to show each person the bars of the prison they are already in so that they can repent of sin and long for the “loosing key” of the gospel. So that they can go to their Savior for the freedom of forgiveness he freely offers.

This is the privilege with eternal consequences that Christ bestows upon the Church. Don’t take this up lightly or use it frivolously. But realize the great power it can have in a person’s life when God works through the Word to reveal the prison of sin and unlock the gates of death and hell. It is the Church’s responsibility to reveal sin and forgive repentant hearts using the Word of God. And you can support your church in doing this by modeling repentance and forgiveness in your own home and among friends, by praying for the work our church does, by supporting the ministry of our church. We are currently working to expand the reach of our church’s work. Yes, that means spreading ourselves out and perhaps being stretched a bit thin at the moment. And although we do not know our future for certain – God doesn’t promise an easy life, but he certainly does amazing things – God has a promise for you: His Church will not fall. You will not be overcome by death, sin, or Satan, because you stand here on the truth of our Redeemer. This is the truth we stand upon, unmoved. This is the truth we proclaim: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.