As a church family I look forward to this time of year every year. Because for us right after baptism Sunday, our tradition is to talk about the foundation of our church. What our heartbeat is about. What Jesus says about the purpose of a church. Why we don’t just show up on Sunday to show up. And use that to then talk about how we relate to what God calls us to in him here in this valley. And so today we’re gonna talk about the foundation of ABC, which is really the foundation of the church in general. And then we’re gonna talk about next week the values that we want to implement as a culture, representing God’s people here in Utah. And what that looks like for us. Being a body of believers pursuing after the Lord together, I don’t need to share with you the significance of what your relationship means here to this valley and how you have an opportunity to be a light for Christ.
But I do want to just rest in Matthew chapter 16 today. This foundational passage of scripture, where God is communicating to us his desire for the church, which sets the foundation for our desire lived out through him. As a church family, something that we reiterate often is that God created us to know him and to delight in him all the days of our lives. But in that we recognize that sin has separated us from God. And the theme of Scripture is God’s redemption for the human soul. It’s God pursuing us in our sin for relationship from the book of Genesis chapter 3, God declares that as we’re made in his image rebelling against him, God promises us. Verse 15, he pursues us. You get to a book like Matthew, he becomes flesh and into the end of revelation where God restores all things in Him, for our sakes, into His glory.
Beautiful story of redemption unfolding. And when you get to Matthew chapter 16, Jesus begins to unravel a little more detailed to the plan, to the broader picture of this redemption for human souls. or the restoring of peace or Shalom in Christ. Up until this point in the book of Matthew, Jesus has demonstrated himself as Messiah through the proclamation of, remember things like Jesus’s baptism where the Father declares his identity as Messiah. The spirit descends. Jesus walks this earth. He performs miracles to demonstrate him as the Messiah that was promised in the Old Testament to come and lead his kingdom for his people. And as Jesus gets to Matthew 16, he begins to unfold the detail of this plan. What that looks like. In Israel’s mind, they’re waiting for this Messiah. They’re waiting for this kingdom. They’re waiting for the restoration of Shalom. This peace that our souls long for. Wanting rest, and not just any rest, but I say rest in the Lord. And Jesus wants us to have a better understanding of exactly how that picture looks.
He starts off in Matthew 16 talking about his death. Which for Israel would have blown them away. The Messiah’s here, the kingdom is coming, all will be settled, right? But Jesus now begins to share this idea of the arrival of his kingdom through his death as a sacrifice for our sins. He goes on to warn us about the 11 of the Pharisees that will lead people astray. When you get to verse 21 he then starts to foretell more specifically with his disciples about his death and then he calls his disciples to count the cost at the end of this chapter to take up their cross and to follow.
In the middle of this chapter, is a statement, a declaration that he gives about the beauty of the church. And Jesus, when he gives this declaration of the church, it starts in verse 13. He does it in a very interesting way. Sort of like he wants to do this big reveal. If you’re going to do something significant in your life, this big reveal, you want the people closest to you especially to know, you want to declare this to the world. How you might set that event up in your life. Invite people, you got the Facebook RSVP, whatever. The declaration afterwards to everyone that missed it so they could be jealous by posting all over the Internet. But what does Jesus do?
Verse 13, it tells us Jesus takes his followers and they came into the district of Cesarea Philippi. Jesus, about to reveal his amazing plan and he chooses Cesarea Philippi. If you’ve ever heard that name, which I doubt many of us have, this is one of the most unimpressive places that you could pick as a Jewish person. And you think about the activity in Israel between the Dead Sea and Sea of Galilee. At the Dead Sea you have Jerusalem and Bethlehem and around the Sea of Galilee is where Jesus gathers his disciples. But Cesarea Philippi is north of the Sea of Galilee to the East a little bit, some 30 miles away.
Jews didn’t typically, this was not the vacation spot. It’s like saying in modern day, Utah, now you’ve got a big statement you want to make for everyone around to hear. And you would think, okay, where do you want to go? You want to do this in Salt Lake? Lehi is this up and coming town that’s growing. How about Park City? Get some world attention. Go to Park City. And he’s like, no, let’s do it in Duchesne. Duchesne is so backwards they don’t even know how to pronounce their town. Everyone knows it’s “Dochesney”, right? D, u, c, h, e s, n, e that’s “Dochesney,” if I’ve ever seen it, tight? Duchesne what is this? And that’s what Jesus does. Cesarea Philippi. When’s the last time you vacationed in Dochesney? Why would Jesus picks Cesarea Philippi?
It’s interesting when you study the history behind this town. In Israel’s history you had King Saul, David, Solomon. And after those three kings, Israel goes through a civil war that splits the kingdom. 10 tribes to the north, two tribes to the south. Rehoboam goes to the south, Jeroboam goes to the north and never again did Israel ever follow a godly king in the north. All 10 tribes eventually conquered by the Assyrian people. Gone. When Jeroboam took over for Israel in the land of Cesarea Philippi. It’s known as the location where Jeroboam led his people into idolatry, of which darkness would pursue all the days of the northern kingdom.
When Jesus gives his statement on the purpose of the church, he takes his disciples into a place of darkness in Israel’s history. Into the region of Cesarea Philippi. But not only do I think Jesus chose this location because of what it represented for Israel, I think he chose this location because of also what it represents in Jesus’s day. Cesarea Philippi was run by Roman leadership. Heavily populated with Roman people. It was literally a worship place for what is referred to as the gates of hell. Could you imagine that? What kind of church service going to have today? Hey, everybody, follow me. I’m going to take you to the gates of hell. Who wants to worship here with me here today, right? And that’s where Jesus leads his disciples. There’s something I want to teach you guys, follow me, we’re going to Cesarea Philippi. They’re thinking, “Why?” We’re going to see the gates of Hell and worship today, right? You see the picture of the gates of hell today, on the on the left hand side, you see a rendition of what it would have looked like in Jesus’s day. On the right hand side, sort of the remains of what’s there. But this location literally referred to as the gates of Hell. Why would Jesus go so far to make this statement?
In Jesus’s Day, most people didn’t travel more than a 50 mile radius from where they were born. You’re born, you live, you died, all in that same general area. And here’s Jesus going 30 miles out of the way of the Sea of Galilee to take his disciples to this location. Could you imagine journeying with Jesus on this specific day? Going right outside the gates of hell? To a place of darkness that you’ve even known historically for your own people that took them into idolatry and eventually into captivity. And these 12 disciples, when you think about who they were, Matthew, who worked for Rome. Peter, who was a zealot, who hated Jews that worked for Rome. If there was ever a quarrel among Jesus’s group, these two would have gone to blows with each other. Many of them, fishermen and in that society of the day, fishermen weren’t looked at as highly in the civilization which they lived. In fact, most people belittled them.
And yet Jesus takes these 12 individuals to the gates of hell. Beyond their comfort zone, beyond the place of their own people, into a spot of darkness. And then Jesus gives this statement. It says in verse 18, “I will build my church and not even the gates of hell would prevail against it.” Could you imagine that statement as a disciple, as you look at this place of worship. When Jesus defines it as the gates of hell, he’s defining it as a fortress. You physically see the place that it is a fortress. Hewn right into the side of a mountain, these temples and within these temples, the type of worship that took place was just debauchery. And here they are, this large group of people worshiping outside of this temple and just this ragtag group. And Jesus gives this type of statement. When Jesus makes this statement, he says, notice he says it in a very futuristic way. He says, “I will.” Meaning what the church is to be, it’s not there yet. But what Jesus is desire for this church is that he is going to build it. And when he builds this church, not even the gates of hell can stand against it. As if here’s this mighty fortress and God’s people have the power to storm it down to make a difference.
Could you imagine that in your own weakness? Where do you have to go to feel as powerless as you can? In Jesus’s day I think this is exactly where he has his disciples. Well beyond their comfort zone in a land of people that are not their people. And a place that’s an open shame to Israel. Right before a temple of a false god. And you’re going to conquer this. What about you? If you believed in the power of the statement of that day, do you believe in the power of his statement today? Because when Jesus is talking about his church, he’s just not talking about the first century. He’s talking about all those that belonged to him. How can such a group of people see the gates of hell stormed down?
I love the image, even in our mind, we say this as a church family: God’s desires for the hearts of people. God loves souls. Jesus came for souls. Jesus died for people. Therefore we should love everyone that we encountered as if they were Jesus before us. God sees this as an act of worship. Jesus gave his life for the hearts of people. When we stormed down those gates, what are we about? You think about storming down these gates. It’s about blowing things up. Sledgehammer and crushing, right? I am in! But on the back end, when you stormed down those gates, what do you do? And I think Jesus, his desire is for us to rescue the souls on the other side. Or at least point to him who rescues the soul on the other side. How could we ever do this?
Well, in between verses 13 to verse 18 Jesus gives us that identity. He says this, “He asked his disciples, in Cesarea Philippi. ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they answered him. ‘Some say John The Baptist, others say Elijah and others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ And he said them. ‘But who do you say that I am?'” And guys, we say this often, right? When it comes to pursuing Jesus in your relationship, in this world, you’re not gonna know everything. Following after God and your life, you’re not gonna know everything. This life is about a journey with the Lord, and in that journey we grow with him. So you’re not gonna know everything all the time or at the beginning when you begin this journey with God. But here’s what you do need to know. Jesus.
When Jesus is giving this distinction of what is going to allow the church to storm down the gates of hell, it’s rooted in the identity of who He is. Who do you say that I? Who is Jesus? “And Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ 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. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church.'”
What is Jesus saying here? Imagine the gates of hell. It’s a fortress, right? Hewn out of rock. And then when Jesus thinks about this rock and he compares the church that will storm down those gates, he gives it under the auspice of him being a greater rock. And he says this of Peter in verse 18, based on the declaration of Peter, he says, “I tell you, Peter, on this rock, I will build my church.” What Jesus is saying in this statement is here’s a rock, but the reality is I am that rock. And Peter gets his name here, rather than Simon Bar-jonah which he calls him in verse 17 he now gives Peter another name and he refers to Peter as “little rock.” In the Greek it literally says it like this, Petra, “great rock.” That’s Jesus. Upon this rock, Peter, on your profession of who I am, that’s the rock. That’s the foundation, Petra, that you Petrus, “little rock” will storm down these gates.
I don’t think Peter ever forgot the power of this statement on this day. The magnitude of what Jesus was declaring as they looked at the gates of hell. In fact, in his book, 1 Peter 2:4, Peter wanted us to understand that he wasn’t the only rock. That when Jesus made this statement, Jesus wasn’t just referring to Peter. Jesus was referring to his people. And Peter as he wrote the book of 1 Peter reflecting on these moments, I think in his letter he wrote to the church so that we could find our understanding as being rocks ourselves. He says in verse four, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men, built in the sight of God, chosen and precious. You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. But you,” verse nine, “are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession that you may proclaim his 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.”
What’s Peter saying? Peter’s thinking of this moment in Matthew 16. This moment of transformation and understanding exactly what God’s plan was in this world. That the Messiah had come and his plan was to move through his people, to storm down the darkness of life around them and to be that light. And Peter heard the very words of Jesus empowered by the authority of Christ, to do what Jesus called him into this world. But Peter, now that Jesus has passed and Peter’s later in his life, and he’s about to give his life as an offering to the Lord and become a martyr. He writes to the church, and this is exactly how you should understand yourself. That is not just me who is a rock and Jesus, but everyone that belongs to Jesus is a rock in Him. And all of us, royal priesthood, holy people, a nation unto Christ called for His purposes in this world.
In fact, in Acts chapter 1, the beginning of the book of Acts starts to see when Jesus, remember in Matthew 16 Jesus said, I will build my church. And on what authority is this church built on? The identity of Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection. The power of Christ made known in this world by that authority. And by the time you get to Acts chapter 1, Jesus has been crucified. Jesus has resurrected, and now you see the power of God’s Spirit working through God’s people to accomplish God’s will in this world. And it starts in Acts 1:3. If you want to see how the church made such a difference in this world, it starts to lay that foundation for us in Acts 1. It says this, “And Jesus presented himself alive to his disciples after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during 40 days,” and look what it says he did, “Speaking about the Kingdom of God for 40 days.”
You want to know what Jesus did after his resurrection? He taught about the kingdom. The Shalom, the peace that your soul desires. And so in verse six, “So when they came together, they asked Jesus, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?'” Jesus, now that you’ve come, now that you’ve given your life and you’ve proclaimed the kingdom as Messiah, and you’ve triumphed over death and you paid for sin, where is this king? And Jesus gives them the answer. “He said to them, ‘It’s not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.'” He says this though instead, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Sumeria and to the ends of the earth.” It’s as if Jesus is saying, guys, here’s, here’s why I took you to Cesarea Philippi. Because sometimes when we see the things that God desires for us to do in this world rely on our own strength.
What God calls us to do is rely on supernatural strength. To the ends of the earth. In Jesus sometimes we dream this big. But by the power of his spirit, the possibilities of what God could do should cause us to dream even bigger. What God is saying is I don’t want to just impact where you’re comfortable. I want to impact beyond your comfort zone. To the ends of the earth you will be called by the power of His Spirit.
We say like this is a church, “We want everyone to experience a transformation in Christ that transforms your relationships for Christ. To understand this power that Jesus desires to be made known in our lives because of what he’s done for us. And to allow that to be lived out. Really, the Bible calls that being a disciple. In fact, it goes so far to say if the church isn’t about making disciples, that church isn’t healthy. Because the entire purpose of a church, the reason Jesus created us, is to impact lives through Him. And lives are impacted by making disciples in Christ.
And so on this statement, Jesus declares the authority of the church, resting in his Spirit because of who Christ is. And then when you get to Acts chapter 2, the Spirit has come and then you finally see the church living it out in action. And so in Acts 2:42 it says this, the early church meeting together for the first time, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, and to fellowship, and to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And all came up on every soul. And many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all as any had need. And day by day attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes. They received their food with gladness and generous hearts praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day, those who are being saved.”
The last thought. When you see the church in action, all of the things that the church is doing here, living out the beauty of Jesus in their lives together in community, that last thought is glorious to me. Day by day, God adds to their numbers. Those that are being saved. You know what he’s saying? The gates are stormed, the gates are stormed. Because when you storm the gates, what happens? You rescue, you rescue. Because I think one of the most powerful evangelistic tools, is the church in action.
It’s the church being Jesus to each other, caring for one another souls. I think when the world sees this, there is something innate within all of us that we want to have worth, value and meaning. We want to belong. We want to see our worth beyond just what we do. That someone just loves us for who we are. And in Acts chapter 2, that’s what you see in verse 47. As the church lives out the beauty of Jesus in life with one another, people are attracted to it and and they hear the message of Christ and they begin to belong. Every day the Lord’s adding to their numbers day by day, those who are being saved. When you think about the idea of conquering darkness. Just 12 people outside of this temple or wherever you are. If you feel like God’s got certain strongholds in your life that just look beyond your capability. How in the world could you ever reach such a place? How could you make an impact in such a valley? It seems overwhelming. Well, I think the answer is the same way you eat an elephant. One bite at a time. Each one reach one. It’s carrying the heart of Christ. 100 sheep, 99 are fine. One gets lost. Jesus leaves the 99 for the one then to ask us, who’s your one? Who is it that God’s got in your world to influence for His kingdom’s glory?
You see the heart of the church laid out in how they manifest the beauty of Jesus and community together, attracting people as an evangelistic tool to reach the world. But not only that, when you look at Acts chapter 2 you see people do this often. They’ll think about, okay, we want to be a church and we want to make a difference. What can we do? And they’ll go to Acts chapter 2, which is the first gathering really that you see of God’s people, once the spirit of God comes, when Jesus says, I will build my church. And so they ask the question, okay, what can we do? And they read through this list and they start to make a list. And I don’t think that that’s necessarily a bad thing to say, okay, what should the early church do? When you read the New Testament, there’s nowhere you can turn in the New Testament that says, okay guys, this is how a church service should look. When you gather together, this is what it should look like in your gathering as you’re being the church. There’s no structure order given us in the Bible.
There are places that you can go in the New Testament that describes some of the things. And probably one of the most detailed sections of scriptures Acts chapter 2. So people will say, okay, what should we do as God’s people to make a difference. And they they’ll go through this list and they’ll make a list: devoted to the teaching of the apostles and fellowship together and eating together and communion together. And this all among us as we worship and praying together and giving for the cause of Christ together. And then you just list that.
But can I tell you the secret to this passage and making a difference? It’s not the list. I don’t think the list is necessarily a bad thing, to see Godly things laid out, but it’s not the list. In fact, I think that you can make a list and miss the beauty of what Jesus wants to do in our midst. I think the secret to seeing the power of this church is really the third word in this first verse. And they devote. They were devoted. The foundation who Jesus was was their identity. What made the early church so powerful in making a difference in this world. It wasn’t the list. The hearts were devoted. Because you can make a list all day long with godly things that you think you should or shouldn’t do. But if your heart doesn’t hunger for God, it doesn’t matter.
But if your heart hungers for God, you’re going to naturally do the things that draws the Lord near to you. You’re going to crave His Word because you want to know Him more. You’re going to want to fellowship with believers because you want to see His name proclaimed in this world and there’s far more power in a group than just by yourself. In fact, you’re going to understand that God’s given you spiritual gifts and when God gives you spiritual gifts, you can’t do what Jesus calls you to do without people to give those gifts away to. You can’t manifest the fruit of the Spirit in your life. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness without someone else beside you to manifest those towards.
And so when the church hungered for the things of God, the thing that made them so powerful in making an impact on this world wasn’t the list that they performed, though that list of things are certainly godly, but it was the motivation, the heart behind that list. They were devoted.
And so we say with our church. Our desire as God’s people is this devotion to Jesus to be his disciples. You think about what the devoted represents. It’s the idea of being a disciple. It’s a discipline. That’s the root of disciple, being disciplined in the things of Christ in order to make a difference in this world. To come to know Jesus and to make Jesus known as He has given himself toward us and revealed himself through the pages of His Word. How does the church make a difference? To understand the purpose for which Jesus created it. Not just simply what we do, but why we do it. Jesus told us one of the darkest places his power can pierce it with light and not even the gates of hell can prevail. So what does this mean for us?
How do we live out as gate storming people, loving, devoted to Jesus, living in this world around us? When you read the book of Acts, one of the beautiful things that I really first didn’t like as a Christian but came to appreciate was when you get to the end of the book of Acts, you see the church living out what Jesus tells us in Matthew 16. Acts chapter 28, the last chapter, in Acts chapter 28, just sort of ends without any real ending. It just stops as if you feel like the author’s pen should not have quit flowing. But I think it’s a reminder to the church today that what Jesus wanted to do through the church is continuing to be done. Meaning today we’re riding Acts chapter 29, and how do we do that in the world around us?
So let me just remind us of a church family, the significance of our time. Of what it means to be a light for Jesus where we are. I think about at the end of the service today we’re going to have Pastor Greg come up here. You guys don’t know Pastor Greg yet. But when ABC first began, we started a little over 10 years ago. My wife and I came on some trips to visit Utah previous to starting ABC. But I remember coming out here and visiting Utah, going to Wines Park, praying in the middle of that park. Willing before the Lord, “God, if you would just allow us to come here, our lives for your glory. Could we be a part of just storming down what gates are?”
I remember I went back to my home church in West Virginia. I walked into the pastor’s office and I just said, Pastor Jerry was a pastor and some of you guys have met him over the years. He’s since retired and Pastor Greg took over. I remember telling him my heart is broken for this place. Remember that song “Hosannah” that we just sang? I probably should not have picked that before I got up on stage today. But when I think about those words, right? “Heal my heart and make it clean, open up my eyes to the things unseen. Show me how to love like you have loved me. Break my heart for what breaks yours. Everything I am for your kingdom’s calls. Show me how to love like you have loved me.” And that is powerful. And I want my heart for a place like that, to His glory as He’s given His heart from me in the same way.
And I remember coming to this valley and going back home and going to his office and just saying, I am going. And thank God the Lord worked in his heart enough to say, and we’re going with you. And I remember loading my little Toyota Corolla up to the brim, with a little Yorkie packed in the back, with my wife and just coming across this country. Just saying, God, you said it. You said you could storm down gates for the hearts of people. You did it for me and you can do it again. Coming across this valley and to this place into Lehi and saying with the pastor there, we’re going to build the first church building to ever exist in this city. And that church in a little poor West Virginia, not the economically strong area that we are at in comparison, giving tens of thousands of dollars, even for us to get this building. To be able to worship the Lord and the have a church.
And you think about Utah County. One mainstream church for every 22,000 people. In our county, there are still eight towns, eight towns that have never had a mainstream Christian Church. When you think about what God calls us to guys, it’s bigger than just our little church. It’s not about our kingdom, but about His kingdom. But Jesus’s statement gives us the opportunity to dream big. To recognize the significance that every soul is precious to God. That each one of us has a place to reach someone to see that same power that Christ made known in our lives to storm down the gates of our own hearts to reach others around us. To be devoted to Jesus in this statement that by his authority we become rocks in Him. And in that devotion watch the power of God be made known.
I think about our church today. How we’ve gone from a living room, to a hotel, to a print shop that smell horrible. To a storefront to another storefront to now we have a bar that’s open on Sunday for happy hour. It’s a beautiful story. It’s a beautiful story that all of us get to be a part of, to share the goodness of God in this world.
Last night I was just going through all the pictures of our history and I thought, man, people will find this boring if I just sat and talked about the history our church. But you think about where we’ve come from as a church family. If you look at the way this room used to look, the top two pictures, this room used to look. I remember the first day we bought this and we’re working. I’m working up in the ceiling, putting metal beams up in. A homeless guy comes and asks me for money and I don’t have any money, I’m dripping sweat off of working with the steel and welding. And he just says, “I don’t know why you guys bought this place. You just burn it down some piece of garbage.” And he walks out and that was day one, man. Day one of converting this building. It was awful. I was like, what where are we thinking? Can we get out yet? But to see how God has taken that. I know some of you have visited this place back in this old days. And all I can think of is you must have visited only at night cause it was nasty. But the Lord’s beautiful picture of redemption. A beautiful picture of redemption.
And even to think in the bottom right now we’re talking about adding onto the courtyard and putting on that little section there just to have a better entry so we don’t have to crab walk any more down the hallway. But beautiful thought. And then I know it’s not just about buildings, but it’s about the impact that we’re having on people. Lives. Like in the last year, going to Colorado City, up to Idaho falls to encourage the Clark’s and over around the world to India and in outreach in our own community and even building a Christian camp in Fillmore for kids. Baptisms we just celebrated.
That’s a picture of what Jesus says in Matthew 16. Storming down the gates. So how do we do it? How do we do it? Jesus said it for us simplistically. It’s by our rest in the power of God, devoted to our Lord, growing in him and caring heart for the lost of the world around us. That when we stormed down gates, our love is for the people on the inside.