Summary: We're at war with Satan, but too often churches ignore the conflict and avoid doing what has to be done to tear down the gates of Hell. What can we do to avoid going AWOL in this great battle for the souls of the lost?
When I went to Israel, I visited a place about 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee called Caesarea Philippi. The area lays in the shadow of Mt. Hermon, whose ice caps (when they melt) supply clean fresh springs for the waters of the Jordan River. This abundant water supply made the area fertile and attractive as a Roman resort, and also for a place of religious worship. While I was there at Caesarea Philippi, I got a chance to see THE GATES OF HELL. Seriously. The “Gates of Hell” was what the Romans called it. Josephus described it as a deep cavern filled with water, the bottom of which no one had ever reached. And thus (because it seemed bottomless) the Romans believed it was a gate to the underworld. (https://www.thattheworldmayknow.com/scenes-from-caesarea-philippithe-grotto-of-pan)
At the time of Jesus, this cave was called the “Grotto of Pan” - dedicated to Pan, the pagan god of (among other things) fertility. And, as a result, because Pan was the god of fertility, the worship here at the Grotto included sacrifices to Pan, along with a fair amount of drinking and… sex. This was not a place where good Godly Jews would go to hang out - but Jesus took His disciples there!
Jesus took them on a 70-mile trek from Nazareth to Caesarea Philippi - that was about a 3 day hike - and the only thing they visited while there was “the gates of Hell.” It was there, after Peter made the good confession where he declared: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” that Jesus told Peter “upon this rock (Peter’s confession of Who Jesus was) I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.” Matthew 16:16-18
Jesus was essentially telling His disciples: “I’ve come to conquer Hell. I’ve come to rip the gates right off of Satan’s Kingdom. And I want you to know this because it’s my church that’s gonna get it done.” Jesus was gonna build his church (that’s us, along with other believers) and the gates of Hell would not be able to withstand us. This is why we exist. This is why we need to grow deeper in our faith - to defeat Satan and attack his kingdom.
So, (you might ask) how are we going to conquer hell? Well, that’s what Paul was telling Timothy about. “Timothy, you’ve got a job to do but the only way you do that job is to “be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus…” II Tim. 2:1
In other words: “You don’t have to do this by yourself, Timothy.” And as a church we don’t have to do this by ourselves. Jesus is our source of strength. Or as Philippians 4:19 tells us “My God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory b Christ Jesus.” We don’t conquer hell by our own strength; our own wisdom; our own cleverness. We’re are only going to do it by the grace of Jesus.
ILLUS: Someone has noted that the early church started with about 120 people. By the end of the 1st century, it’s believed there were fewer than 10,000 Christians. By the year 200, that climbed to about 200,000 believers. By 250 A.D. more than a million people were Christians. By the year 300, Christians numbered over 6 million. And by 4th century - approximately 35 million Christians in the Ancient World. If you do the math: you find that Christianity grew at about 40% per decade for hundreds of years. The question is, not only - how did they survive, but how did they thrive? In the beginning, Christianity was considered a depraved religion. It was illegal. The persecution of Christians was unending, and at least 2 of the persecutions were empire-wide and intent on destroying church. The earliest Christians didn't have church buildings. They didn’t have access to the mass media. They had very little money, and absolutely NO political influence. They didn't even have a Twitter account. (James Merritt)
So, how did they thrive? Well, they thrived because they depended on grace of Jesus. And… they took their faith seriously. Paul wrote to Timothy: “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” II Timothy 2:2
ILLUS: A lot of congregations have the mistaken impression that they can hire the work done. Someone needs to visit… well that’s what we pay the preacher for. Someone needs to teach the kids, that’s what we pay the youth minister for. And on, and on, and on.
But that’s not how this congregation thinks, because people here do stuff. There’s the folks that run the Sound Booth; the Music ministry; the Food pantry; Free lunches once a month; the Youth ministry; the Clothing ministry … Etc. etc. etc.