Sermon: The Church Jesus Is Building

Our latest sermon “The Church Jesus Is Building” is now online.  Here’s an excerpt to get you started:

This week, I believe there is something else Jesus would want to say to us in these difficult days– it’s the very thing He said to His disciples just before He began to warn them that difficult days were ahead for Him and for them.

In Matthew 16, we learn that as Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem for the final time, He “began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21).  Just before He told them these things He said this, “I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

Now, imagine if Jesus had come just a few months before our pastor’s first extended medical leave and said, “Hey Metrocrest.  I am building you.  I am making you into a church who will glorify Me and will be good for you and the people you know.” What would we have said when our pastor had to leave for nine months?  “Jesus, is this what you meant by building Metrocrest?  Are You sure You’re for us and not against us?”

And no wonder Peter rebuked Jesus at this point:  “Wait a minute.  You just said that You will build Your church, Your gathering of Your people; and You said that not even the gates of hell will stop Your people from advancing.  First, You’re talking crowns and now You’re talking crosses.  First You say that evil won’t prevail, now you say it will.  Which is it?  No way, Jesus.  That’s not what building Your church looks like.”

Sounds likes the American church growth philosophy to me.  The American way to build the church says, “Jesus, you don’t understand the ABC’s of building a church.  Let me explain the ABC’s to You:  building a church that overwhelms the gates of hell obviously means bigger and better things should be happening.  We should have bigger and better ABC’s:  A is for bigger and better Attendance, B is for bigger and better Buildings, and C is for bigger and better Cash flow.  All this talk about suffering, taking up a cross, crucifixion, resurrection, blood, sweat, tears . . . Far be it from us, Lord.  This shall never happen to us.”

Remember how Jesus responded to Peter’s philosophy of church building?  I imagine He responds to the ABC’s of church building the same way:  “Get behind Me, Satan!  You are a hindrance to Me.  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:23).

I’m convinced that in these difficult days at Metrocrest, Jesus wants to encourage us with these same words:  “I will build My church.” We must remember that He said I will build MY church . . . the church He planned from all eternity to purchase with His own blood: Acts 20:28 “…the Church of God, which He obtained (ESV) [Greek “acquired”; NASB “purchased”; NIV “bought”] with His own blood.”

So, if building the church isn’t about bigger and better Attendance, Buildings, and Cash flow, then what does He mean when He says He is building His church? Does He have a blueprint for this hell-halting house of God?  The prophets of the OT called it the New Covenant, and our text this morning, Ezekiel 36:22-28 describes what that blueprint includes . . . .”

I’m convinced that we have to believe what He says and not what we see.  Jesus said He is building His church, and the New Covenant tells us He is building us to be a New People who are marked by a New Purity, a New Passion, a New Power, and a New Partnership.

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The Troubled Church

Every church has its troubles.

We may explain the problems in our churches as “symptoms of our dysfunction,” as “signs of God’s displeasure,” or as “the strategy of the devil.”

But regardless of the kind of troubles we encounter, God sovereignly dispatches them for His glorious purpose.

Our dysfunction becomes His function of lovingly refining us.  His momentary displeasure is meant to mold us into vessels for His pleasure forever.  The devil’s strategy becomes his tragedy as God uses those fiery trials to make His people less and less hellish but more and more holy.

“In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus told us, “but take heart, I have overcome the world.”

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How To Know When Your Church Is Beginning To Assume The Gospel

Justin Taylor offers these diagnostic questions from Mack Stiles:

Was the gospel in the sermon Sunday morning?

Could the uninitiated hear that sermon and come to real faith in Christ?

Are gospel principles governing organizational decisions?

Do you hear the gospel in people’s prayers?

Does your fellowship encourage you to say the gospel? And then is it more than just a memorized sketch? Sure, it may follow the form of “God, Man, Christ, Response,” but is it in people’s own words?

Furthermore, do you see it in their actions? Is the gospel lived out?

Is membership based on a true commitment to the gospel or just because someone wants to join an organization—or maybe write an exposé?

The healthy evangelist is asking these questions and looking for answers so as to guard the gospel.  Here is the critical test.

Could you have preached that sermon if Christ had not died on the cross?

Could you have developed that leadership principle had Christ not been crucified?

[HT:  Justin Taylor]

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Those With No Hope Will Make No Plans

Strategic righteousness takes the initiative and dreams of how to make things right . . . Hope helps us dream. Hope helps us think up ways to do good.  Hope helps us pursue our ventures with virtue and integrity.  It’s hopelessness that makes people think they have to lie and steal and seize illicit pleasures for the moment.  But hope, based on the confidence that a sovereign God is for us, gives us a thrilling impulse that I call strategic righteousness.  We see it in Naomi in Ruth 3:1-5 . . .

People who feel like victims rarely make plans. As long as Naomi was oppressed, as long as she could only say, ‘The Amighty has dealt very bitterly with me,’ she conceived no strategy for the future.

One of the terrible effects of depression is the inability to move purposefully and hopefully into the future.  Strategies of righteousness are the overflow of hope.  When Naomi awakes in Ruth 2:20 to the kindness of God, her hope comes alive, and the overflow is strategic righteousness.  She is concerned about finding Ruth a place of provision and protection.  So she makes a plan.

One of the reasons we must help each other “hope in God” (Psalm 42:5) is that only hopeful people, hopeful families, and hopeful churches plan and strategize.

I feel a special calling to impart hope to the church I serve.  Churches that feel no hope develop a maintenance mentality and just go through the motions year in and year out.  But when a church feels the sovereign kindness of God hovering overhead and moving, hope starts to thrive, and righteousness ceases to be simply the avoidance of evil and becomes active and strategic.”

~ John Piper in A Sweet and Bitter Providence: Sex, Race and the Sovereignty of God, pp. 81-82.

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