The Ideal Church, Part 1

All Saints Church, in Ipswich.

 

Everybody has their own idea of what “the church” should look like.  If you watch TV, you’d get the impression “the church” is a place where you play bingo; a place that serves hot meals to homeless people; a place where kids play basketball with the parish priest; or a place where illegal aliens hide out from the cops.  That’s pretty much our pop culture image of “the church.”  But what does the ideal church look like?  What happens in the ideal church?  Do you belong to the ideal church?  Maybe you do.  Maybe you don’t.  Over the next few weeks, I’d like to look at what the ideal church looks like according to the Bible.  

It used to be not that long ago that church attendance was considered to be a very important part of life for good people.  And people viewed the Church as an important institution in the community.  Churches and clergyman were respected and their views taken seriously.  That’s pretty much a picture of America that doesn’t exist anymore.  You’ve likely heard people say things like, “I don’t need to go to church.  I can be just as good a Christian at home.”  Maybe you’ve even said things like that.  It’s true that you can easily pray at home, read the Bible at home, and worship God at home.  I hope you really are doing those things at home.  However, there are aspects of our Christian life that must take place in the greater Christian community.  Face it.  You need the church and the church needs you!

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.  (1 Corinthians 12:12 | TNIV)

Christians form a body – the Body of Christ.  You may not like the idea, but if you’re a Christian then you are spiritually connected to other Christians and you’re all connected to Jesus.  

Speaking of Jesus, He made an early statement about the church, and this will be our starting point as we consider “the ideal church.”

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of death will not overcome it.  (Matthew 16:18 | TNIV)

Demanding proof  

In the first dozen verses of Matthew 16, those religious pests – the Pharisees and Sadducees – demanded a sign from Jesus that proved the power of Jesus over demons was of God or not.  

Once the Pharisees and the Sadducees arrived together to test him, and asked him to give them a sign from Heaven. But he replied, “When the evening comes you say, ‘Ah, fine weather—the sky is red.’ In the morning you say, ‘There will be a storm today, the sky is red and threatening.’ Yes, you know how to interpret the look of the sky but you have no idea how to interpret the signs of the times! A wicked and unfaithful age insists on a sign; and it will not be given any sign at all but that of the prophet Jonah.” And he turned on his heel and left them.  (Matthew 16:1 – 4 | JBP)

These guys were always pestering Jesus for a “sign from heaven,” but Jesus wouldn’t play that game.  Such a sign could easily be misinterpreted or misunderstood by people who were part of “a wicked and unfaithful age.”  Even the casual Bible-reader can pick up on the vibe that while the ordinary folk seemed to support Jesus – He did have His “fans” for part of His ministry – the influential religious parties, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, opposed our Lord strenuously for different reasons.  The Pharisees’ opposition to Jesus was largely theological while the Saducees, who pretty much objected to everybody but members of their own sect, didn’t care much for Jesus’ politics.  But both parties, in an early example of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” doctrine, wanted to trap Jesus; to trip Him up by using His words against Him.  At worst this could provide a way to silence Him one way or another, and at least they could make Jesus look the fool in front of His followers.  

But Jesus was too clever to take their bait.  Besides, He had been working “signs and wonders” everywhere.  It wasn’t His fault if those religious clowns couldn’t see the signs of healing and deliverance.  They didn’t accept those as evidence that this itinerant preacher was the Messiah.  They were looking for something truly spectacular.  In truth, nothing would have satisfied them.  Their puny minds had already been made up as far as Jesus was concerned.

The yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees

Jesus and His friends once again took their leave of the western shore – where He had experienced His greatest success and popularity and encountered His greatest opposition – and paddled across to the other side of the lake.

When the disciples crossed over to the other side of the lake, they forgot to take any bread. Jesus said to them, “Take care; be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”  (Matthew 16:5, 6 | GNT)

During the crossing of the lake, you can clearly see the cross purposes of Jesus and His disciples.  They were concerned that they hadn’t brought any lunch with them.  This was actually no minor concern.  It would have been hard to find edible food once they landed on shore because it was a sparsely populated area and it was Gentile territory.  Finding acceptable “Kosher” food there would have been difficult.  But Jesus had other things on His mind.  He was concerned about His friends becoming like the Pharisees or the Saducees.  In other words, He didn’t want them to become obsessed with the things those religious hypocrites had become obsessed with.  Interestingly, both parties, but especially the Pharisees, began with the purest of motives: Keeping the faith pure and the faithful practicing of God’s law.  Nobody could find fault with those objectives.  The problem was, over time the once noble goals of the religious leaders got lost amid power struggles, personalities, and false teaching.  Jesus didn’t want His friends to become corrupt and worldly in their thinking and methods like the Pharisees and Sadducees.  So, He was talking about their destructive influence, but the dull-witted disciples, because they were thinking about lunch, assumed Jesus was also thinking about lunch.  

Thinking he was scolding them for forgetting bread, they discussed in whispers what to do. Jesus knew what they were doing and said, “Why all these worried whispers about forgetting the bread? Runt believers! Haven’t you caught on yet? Don’t you remember the five loaves of bread and the five thousand people, and how many baskets of fragments you picked up? Or the seven loaves that fed four thousand, and how many baskets of leftovers you collected? Haven’t you realized yet that bread isn’t the problem? The problem is yeast, Pharisee-Sadducee yeast.” Then they got it: that he wasn’t concerned about eating, but teaching—the Pharisee-Sadducee kind of teaching.  (Matthew 16:7 – 12 | MSG)

How soon these men had forgotten the miracle of the feeding of the thousands of people.  And here they were.  Worried about food!  Did they think Jesus would let them starve?  Had they become that caught up in themselves and in their own ability (or lack of ability) to get food?  It would be easy to stand in judgment of the disciples, but it would be hypocritical because the modern Christian is probably even more thick-headed than they were.  When we have a need, do we not lose sleep contriving clever ways to meet that need without giving God a thought?  Or worse, if we do think of God, we utter the expected prayer, then go about fretting and wringing our hands as we try to figure out a way to find a solution to the problem we just prayed about?

That’s what was bothering our Lord.  It wasn’t the food.  It was the fact that these men were already becoming like the Pharisees and Sadducees and the didn’t know it.  Like the religious leaders, the disciples were more concerned with the externals – the things they could see and experience – than with the most important matter of the heart: faith in God.

Peter gets it

Jesus and His traveling companions arrived at Caesarea Philippi.  He’s really heading to Jerusalem to meet His fate: The Cross.  But before things start happening that will bring about the end of this earthly ministry of Jesus, He wanted to make a couple of things very clear in the minds of the disciples:  First, He needed them to know exactly who He is.  Second, they needed to know exactly what He was about to do.  By the way, those are still things we need to be convinced of and sure about even today.

When Jesus came to Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who are the people saying I am?”  “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist; some, Elijah; some, Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”  (Matthew 16:13, 14 | TLB)

He’s still just as controversial today as He was back then.  The Pharisees and Sadducess had their own ideas about this Jesus.  Some of the people who where following Him around also had their own ideas.  The disciples with Jesus this day had heard all rumors and they shared with Jesus the thoughts of the people.  John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah…all great men who had done great things for the Lord.  The crowd of fans didn’t get Jesus.  Most people today don’t get Him either.  Even after two millennia, Jesus remains a mystery to many people.

Then he asked them, “Who do you think I am?”  Simon Peter answered, “The Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  Matthew 16:15, 16 | TLB)

The time had come for Jesus to push the disciples for a decision and make a confession.  It was Peter, the spokesman for the group who uttered the greatest, most profound statement in human history.  This Jesus was and is “the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  

“God has blessed you, Simon, son of Jonah,” Jesus said, “for my Father in heaven has personally revealed this to you—this is not from any human source.  You are Peter, a stone; and upon this rock I will build my church; and all the powers of hell shall not prevail against it.  (Matthew 16:17, 18 | TLB)

Peter didn’t figure this out on his own.  And the truth is, no human being can come to the conclusion Peter came to without the help of the Holy Spirit.  Only the Spirit of God can make the things of God known to man.  You might think that these people who had been walking around with Jesus for three years, seeing all the miracles and hearing all the teachings would have figured it all out, but no.  It took an act of God to reveal the truth about Jesus to Peter and it takes that today, too.  You can know Jesus as Peter confessed only because the Holy Spirit makes Him real to you.

Then Jesus said something odd.  He called Peter a “stone.”  But the church would be built upon “this rock.”  There are all kinds ideas about what Jesus meant, but the most logical way to read this is that Peter was “a stone” but Jesus Himself the much larger “rock” and the church would be built upon the foundation of “the rock,” Jesus.   Paul taught this:

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.  (1 Corinthians 3:10, 11 | TNIV)

Peter made an important confession; one never made before: This Jesus Christ is the Messiah, God’s anointed one, the Son of the living God.  And Peter, said Jesus, was a stone, just a part of the church He was going to build.  But the church Jesus was building wouldn’t be built upon Peter or Peter’s ideas or the Pharisees ideas, rather, it would be built upon Jesus and the fact that He is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.  And the church built upon Jesus will never fail.  It will never die out.  Even the powers of hell cannot stop the Jesus-built church from moving forward.  

But there are other churches out there built upon other things and other people.  And that’s always the temptation.  The yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees is hard to resist.  A lot of people, even Christians, want to build a church on signs and wonders.  Really, what Jesus said is so simple.  The true church is the one He is building.  Stone by stone. Person by person. Only His church will stand the test of time.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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