Summary: The church today is tasked with advancing the Kingdom of heaven, here’s how.
Being a Kingdom Church
Almost sixty years ago, our nation was shocked by the sudden death of our president, Franklin D. Roosevelt. We all remember the somber pageantry and mood in our nation Ronald Reagan died. But this was far more momentous because our nation was in the darkness of World War II and our leader was suddenly taken. The vice president, Harry Truman, had only been in office a few months and was not proven in the least.
Because of Roosevelt’s declining health, Truman rarely spoke to or even saw the president. Truman came to the presidency not even knowing about the “Manhattan Project,” that is, the atomic bomb. Commenting on his swift entry to the oval office, Truman said, “I felt like the moon, the stars and the planets had all fallen on me.”
President Truman had to be brought up to speed quickly on the bomb. Then he had to go through the agonizing process of deciding whether or not to use the bomb to bring the war to an end. We know of course that two atomic bombs were detonated over Japan in August of 1945. Much of what we know from this period has come through declassified information; documents that were once top secret but are now available to anyone who wants to see them.
When Jesus walked the earth, he had a number of what you might call high level secret meetings with his disciples. Thanks to the gospel writers some of these events have been “declassified” and are available to us. Today we’re going to be looking at a transcript, or perhaps a partial transcript, of one of those secret meetings. Matthew recorded this meeting in chapter sixteen of his gospel, and it concerns his kingdom coming on earth. If you have your Bible, please open it to Matthew chapter sixteen. We will read verses thirteen through twenty, and I’ll be reading from a fairly new translation, the English Standard Version:
[Read text here]
In this passage, Jesus told the disciples that the kingdom of heaven would advance on earth through his church. Before I continue, I have to tell you that this passage presents a number of interpretational difficulties. Godly scholars across the ages have disagreed on some of its precise meaning. Today I want to give you what I understand this to mean after a rather lengthy period of study, meditation, and prayer.
One of those differences in interpretation concerns whether Jesus was only talking to Peter, the apostles, or all of us. I happen to believe the latter, that Jesus was talking to us as well as them. Jesus has given us the glorious privilege of participating in his kingdom, and seeing that kingdom’s influence right here today. We must be clear on this point, though: the church is not the kingdom, but it is the vehicle through which the kingdom is advanced.
If you were to ask people what the church is, you would get a variety of answers. To some, the church is a building. To others, it is a club whose meetings may or may not be enjoyable. To some, it is an outdated social convention. Still others look on the church with scorn and contempt, believing that the church is only there to ruin everybody’s fun.
Many of our wrong ideas about the church can be corrected by returning to what Jesus intended it to be. He intended the church to be the primary agent of bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth. Since Jesus did not talk an awful lot about the church while he walked the earth, this passage can’t tell us everything that’s true about the church. Even so, this passage gives us a number of RECOGNITIONS of the church in advancing God’s kingdom on earth.
1. We advance the kingdom by recognizing that Jesus is God.
You’ll notice in verse thirteen that Jesus begins this meeting with a question. Now Jesus wasn’t asking to learn. He who created everything and everyone didn’t need to learn anything. No, he wasn’t asking to learn, he was asking to give his disciples an opportunity to show themselves and each other what they were learning about their master.
Notice the question: “Who do people say that the Son of Man Is?” Jesus wasn’t working with a focus group, he wasn’t taking a poll. He wasn’t trying to craft the message according to what people wanted to hear. Jesus was getting ready to tell his disciples something important, but before they could hear it, they had to know exactly who Jesus is.
Now, look at the answers they gave. They complimented Jesus by keeping the answers positive. They had probably heard cynical people in the crowds saying that Jesus was a drunk, or a friend of prostitutes and tax collectors, or just plain crazy. My guess is that they sensed Jesus was leading to something important and chose to keep the conversation on a high plane.