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Summary: Why did Jesus create the church? What is our main objective? Playing off the popular "Lord of the Rings" series, this sermon tells us one of the most powerful goals of the church.

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OPEN: On a spring break trip to Italy, a tour group was standing just inside St. Peter’s Basilica, the 2nd largest church building in the world. The tour guide was trying to explain the enormity of the building and part of his presentation went like this: “This church is so large no man on earth could hit a baseball from one end to the other. Not Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth or even Mark McGwire."

The group stared in silence at the beautiful marble sculptures, intricate paintings and glorious mosaics all around all around the enormous building. Then in an astonished voice one girl interrupted the silence. She said: "You mean, they actually let them hit baseballs in here?"

APPLY: What was it that so astonished and perplexed that young girl? She misunderstood what the tour guide was trying to say. She knew what a church building stood for, but, here was this guide talking about hitting baseballs in the church, and something inside of here told her – you don’t hit baseballs in a church building.

I. Well, what do you do in a church building?

What is the purpose of the “the church?”

Why does the church exist?

ILLUS: One particularly good description of the church’s purpose was written several years ago:

The church is:

* A lifeboat for the rescue of sin-stained and perishing souls.

* A family, where Christians help one another and show love to each other.

* An organized community, designed to help each other continually grow and develop.

* A company of believers who have found the one way of life and obey the one Lord of life.

* A union of those who dedicate themselves to helping those who suffer.

* A center of social worship, where Christians encourage each other

* The representative “body” of Christ on the earth, reflecting His spirit and controlled by His will.

Those are all good descriptions of what the church is meant to be but I think the author of that list missed one of the most significant reasons the church exists. Look again with me to Matthew 16:18 “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Jesus told Peter that He would “build His Church.” Then He declared that there was something that would not overcome it – what was that? What was it that wouldn’t overcome Christ’s Church? (The gates of Hell)

(At this point I put up a picture of "the Gates of Hell" described in the illustration below).

ILLUS: Jesus had taken His disciples to a region of “Caesarea Philippi” which was one of the most thriving areas in Palestine. It was a major seaport and the center of Gentile civilization in the area of Judea. It was littered with pagan idols and was not the place a good Jewish man would have felt comfortable – because of all the evil and paganism that was there.

In that area, there was a large cave opening in a large rock face. The Gentiles considered this cave to be the opening to the abode of the dead.. the gate to hell.

It was to this location that many scholars believe Jesus took His disciples. And He took them there on purpose

· He took them to the very gates of hell

· He took them to the very gates of pagan faith

· He took them to the very gates of Satan’s power

It was an object lesson, like many that Jesus used in His teaching. An object lesson that declared: "No matter how scary this place may be… no matter how powerful paganism may appear… no matter how daunting Satan’s domain may seem. These gates WILL NOT stop My church."

When most people first read that promise (the gates of hell will not prevail against my church) they get the impression that the gates of hell are attacking the church. But that’s not what gates do! Gates don’t attack anybody. Gates are DEFENSIVE tools – not OFFENSIVE weapons. Their purpose is to keep people IN or OUT of a fortress or a stronghold, or a defensive position.

The only time a gate ever hurts anybody is if somebody gets their finger caught in them when they’re slammed shut.

So… if the gates of hell aren’t attacking us, what does it mean for Jesus to say “…the gates of Hades will not overcome (the church)?”

It means: one of the reasons Jesus created the church was to attack the gates of Hell. He intended the church to take the fight to the enemy. We (the church) are the tool that He intends to use to take the Satan down… to tear his strongholds apart.

You see… The church is a training ground for war – but not a war like the ones we’re fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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