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Church – The Essential Service
What do we do when we have an emergency?
When there is fire … we call the Fire Brigade
When there is a street fight … we call the Police.
When there is a car accident and people are injured … we call the Ambulance.
That’s who we think of when we have an emergency isn’t it:- police; fire brigade; ambulance. But did you know there is another institution in our society which is also used as an emergency service … it’s called the church.
I bet you didn’t know that. But it is true.
When people have a baby what do quite a few still do? They go down to the church to have them baptised or christened, or dedicated or a religious naming ceremony. Even though some never intend to come back, for some reason having the church involved, makes people feel their child is safe.
Or what about marriages? There are plenty of marriages that place in a church, or which are conducted by a religious celebrant, between two people who have never really been religious before. But they want “god” to be smiling down on them on their wedding day.
Then of course there is the funeral. So many funerals will have a religious content. Read Psalm 23. Sing Amazing Grace.
Even for people, or for families, where religion has not really been a part of the family ethos.
The church is treated like an emergency service. You go there at specific times for very specific needs. As we think about the way the church is view I want to make two observations.
If it is the situation that people are treating the church as an emergency service … I think we should run with it and help.
Heaps of people ran to Jesus in emergencies, and Jesus walked with them in that moment.
The church would not be the church if she was not willing to help people who are hurt, bruised and suffering.
If we can somehow speak into the key moments of the lives of people … when they have children, when the get married, when they pass away … is we get invited in – even for the wrong reason – then we should take the invitation.
The other observation is a little more closer to home. Even as people who are connected to church, do we treat her as an emergency service?
It is the place we go to on Sunday to be seen – so that we can keep doing the Monday to Saturday stuff with a little less guilt.
When we find ourselves in the spiritual depths we run to the church – but when the crisis is over … well, where are we?
You see where I am coming from.
Church just can’t be an emergency service in our lives. A tack-on. An after-thought. A take-or-leave institution.
Why is that?
Because the church is not just an emergency service. She is an essential service.
Indeed I would say that the church is the most essential service, of all the services you can name in a community.
Now that is a pretty bold statement to make … so let’s test it by Scripture. The question we are asking is this one
Is the church an essential service to the community?
Read Matthew 16:13-20
Jesus is reaching a turning point in His ministry. The next verse, Matthew 16:21, says,
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
We are getting to the pointy end of Jesus’ ministry, so Jesus needs to be sure that the disciples have really got it.
Are they with Him?
Do they understand what He is all about?
These are serious questions that need a serious answer. So Jesus conducts a mini-inquiry.
Who do people say the Son of Man is?
Here is God’s Son asking a group of rough, uneducated, faith-wavering disciples to give an evaluation of ministry.
What is the popular opinion about My work?
How does the public respond to My miracles?
Is the message I preach every day and in every place being received?
What does human logic say when they see Me in action?
That is the question.
And what does human logic conclude? The disciples have heard the public comments, perhaps even from friends and relatives. They have a fair idea about the popular view of Jesus.
Some say You are John the Baptist. A popular itinerate preacher calling people to repent, a man who constantly challenges the establishment. One who is a forerunner to the Messiah.
Some say You are Elijah. They remember how Elijah spent most of His ministry fighting Baal and false worship – and they see this as a characteristic in Your ministry.
Some say You are Jeremiah. They see similarities in the way You suffer for being faithful to the Lord. They see how You are rejected, how people didn’t want to hear Your message.
Some believe Your like all the other prophets – speaking gloom and doom. Speaking about a new age to come. Striving to generate a response to the fact that we are God’s people.
That is what people say … that is what logic says. But no-one sees the truth. Logic does not lead to faith. Logic says that Jesus is a good man, a moral example, humanity at its best or someone who should be admired. Logic doesn’t save.
So Jesus moves on Who do you say I am?
Theological statements and clichés aren't being sought. The popular answer is not necessarily the right answer.
You have seen the miracles I performed.
You have constantly heard Me preaching.
You have seen the times when I have been exhausted.
You waited for Me on those nights when I prayed.
What does faith say when you see Me in action? Jesus is bringing the disciples back to the very basics … the core issues.
Once there was a woman whose car wouldn't go. She called her husband who came and checked the spark-plug leads and battery connections - nothing. So they towed the car to a mechanic. The mechanic put new spark plugs in - that didn't help. He checked all the hoses - they were all fine. He asked the onboard computer what was the matter - it said everything was working perfectly. Finally he checked the fuel injection system. Suddenly all was revealed. There was no petrol in the car … they forgot about the most basic ingredient.
Who do you say I am?
What petrol is to a car … faith is to our relationship with Jesus.
You can give away a million dollars … but only faith will lead to a payment which satisfies the anger of God.
You can spend 40 hours a week serving your fellow citizens … but only faith enable you to be a citizen of heaven.
You could learn the whole Bible off by heart – in Hebrew and Greek … but only faith will enable you to be in eternal fellowship with Jesus who is “the Word.”
Who do you say I am?
What does faith say when you see Me in action?
This is a question which brings us back to the basics. Jesus is looking for a response that comes from the soul.
Then Peter responds, and as he does so he expresses the inner thoughts of all the disciples.
You the Christ, the Son of the living God.
The One promised in Scripture. The One who will come to bring salvation and renewal. Who comes with the power and authority of God Himself. You are the One.
It’s not a logical explanation of what Jesus is doing.
It's not the confession a man who has gone through some emotional experience.
It is not the words of someone regurgitating their ecclesiastical tradition.
These are the words of a man, a man who has been touched by God.
That’s the confession.
A confession which becomes the foundation.
A confession which, when made with others, transforms into an institution.
An institution called my church by Jesus.
What is one purpose of the church? That it will be a place where the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
This is what makes church an essential service. It is the only institution which the gates of Hades cannot overcome
You see Hades is a pretty powerful place
Hades is the domain of Satan. It’s the place where Satan thinks he can rule with authority and stand against everything God represents.
Hades is the place of those who have wilfully and stubbornly turned against God … a place which God uses to bring about judgement and punishment.
Hades is a place you enter after this life therefore the entrance requirement for Hades is death.
Hades is where the demons, and fallen angels, and all manner of evil creatures make their home.
Hades exists because mankind introduced sin into this world. Therefore Hades is a monument to our desire to go our own way rather then follow God’s way.
It represent rebellion.
It represents judgement.
It represents hopelessness.
It represents everything that is anti-God.
All Hades wants to do is destroy God’s work, destroy God’s plan, and destroy God’s people. Hades wants to devour, and manipulate, and coerce.
Against all of this Jesus,
in no uncertain terms,
says that church – and only the church – will be the institution which will prevail against the gates of Hades.
Which gives us a powerful perspective on what church looks like.
Because sometimes we can think that the church is some sort of punching-bag for Satan.
We picture Satan’s little devils flying around all over the place. They sit on our shoulder and whisper in our ear. They try to tempt and persuade us to sin. At times, when we think about our response, it actually feels like they are playing an easy game.
Or we think about the way Satan has used modern invention to invade our lives. TV. The internet. Digital medium.
It takes our time and distracts us. It causes us to lose momentum. It eats into our spiritual focus. Again it feels like it might be an easy game for Hades.
Then we start to look at the church. Especially the church in the Western world. People are leaving in droves. More and more we are standing on the back foot because the church is seen to becoming irrelevant. On so many fronts we are under attack … and it seems we are losing.
So, because we feel at times like the punching bag of Hades we, we view this gate as a gate that you would have in a fortress. There is a wall protecting the church, with a gate, that at times is struggling to hold back the tide of evil. Hades is knocking … and knocking hard.
That’s the picture we can have of the gate … but that is not the picture Jesus wants us to have. Notice what Jesus says, the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
That is the way the NIV translates the verse.
Other versions say:-
… and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (ESV)
… and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it (NKJV)
To see what is happening I want you to picture a battle that might have taken place in World War 1.
Over on this side you have a series of trenches with French troops in them.
Over on the other side you have German troops.
The next thing you know the Germans are calling out “angriff” … which means “attack!”.
The French look out over the trenches and a group of German troops are running to the trenches with a gate on their shoulders
… one of those big wrought iron gates you see on fancy country estates.
Then they just throw the gate at the enemy in the trenches with a triumphant cry. “You better watch out … there is much more where that came from”.
It doesn’t happen that way does it. Because a gate is not an instrument of attack. It is an instrument of defence.
This is not a fortress gate … or certainly not the gate of the church.
This is the gate of Hades … which is trying to hold out the church. Try, in vain, the stand against the people of God.
The church is going forward and overcoming
… against the gates of Hades.
… against Satan’s domain.
… against the hopelessness of torment.
… against the stubbornness.
… against sin and death.
… against the desire not to follow God’s way.
The church goes out against all of this
… and rebellion is turned into repentance.
… and judgement is turned into grace.
… and hopelessness is turned into forgiveness.
… and the gates of Hades groan and crumble as the church overcomes.
No other institution or organisation can do that.
It is only possible in the church.
Let’s turn to Colossians 1:9-18 (read)
Why is the church the only Hades-gate-breaker?
Because only the church has the power of the name of Jesus behind it.
Through his name we can have wisdom and spiritual understanding.
Through his name we can be fruitful and pleasing and worthy.
Through his name we have an inheritance that takes us out of the hands of the powers of darkness.
Through his name we are forgiven and redeemed.
Remember Peter’s confession?
You are the Christ the Son of the living God. In response to that confession Jesus says: I tell you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church.
Is Jesus saying that Peter will be the foundation of the church? No.
The church is built by Jesus and it grows when people confess His name.
Peter doesn’t realise it just yet but, soon, Jesus is really going to put His name on the line.
You see the name “Jesus” means “he saves”
- He saves … by coming as a child and showing God wanted to do something about our rebellion.
- He saves … by being willing to be baptised identifying with us and our sin even though it had no right to claim Him.
- He saves … by silently enduring the mocking and beating and scorn of men who wanted Him dead.
- He saves … by going to the cross and taking the wrath of the Father.
- He saves … by rising from the dead so that all who trust in Jesus can shout with Him, Where O death is your victory. Where O death is your sting?
Satan has lost. Sin has lost. Death has lost. The gates of Hades will not overcome.
When you confess Jesus you are part of essential service … the spiritually essential service.
That is who we are.
That’s the community we commit ourselves to.
That’s why we tell those who are not here .. to be here.
That’s why we witness.
That’s the reason we have a hope for the future.
That’s why we raise our children as we do.
Our struggle … against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
But their gate is groaning … crumbling … unable to prevail … being overcome.
Let’s never doubt or underestimate what can be done in the name of Jesus.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church.