The Institution and Confession of the Church - Radical

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The Institution and Confession of the Church

There are many voices today urging us to reimagine the church’s purpose and mission, and this makes sense if the church is merely man’s invention. But if the church belongs to Jesus, then He gets to set the agenda and we should want to know what He says. In this message, David Platt considers the institution and confession of the church based on the words of Christ in Matthew 16. The One who bought the church with His own blood has given us the privilege of knowing Him and proclaiming His gospel. And we can be confident, because Christ has told us that not even death would stop Him from building His church.

If you have Bible, and I hope you do, let me invite you to turn with me to Matthew 16. Today we come back to our journey through Jesus’ life in the book of Matthew. In light of Easter, we have taken the last two weeks to jump ahead to Jesus’ death and resurrection, and now we go back to where we left off, right after Matthew 15. It was a few weeks ago, so let me remind you where we were.

We looked at Matthew 15 on the morning that we commissioned Christ Fellowship Church – sending out about 40 members of The Church of Brook Hills to begin this new work that is now officially meeting in the Southside of the city. They were packed out last week on Easter, almost out of space, and had numerous baptisms, so we praise God for that. A new church has begun.

And on a side note, I was preaching at a conference this week where I got to see and talk with all of the church planters that we have sent out – Andrew in Seattle, John in Kansas City, Josh in New York City, Ben in East Lake, and of course Bart in Homewood/Southside. All of these brothers and their families are doing well. Andrew and Kim are now meeting with a group of around 50 people every week in Hallows Church in Seattle. They are seeing people join the church and come to Christ. John and Amy have officially begun Cross Fellowship Church, and they now have three community groups that are making disciples in some really encouraging ways. Josh and Traci, right after they got to New York, found out that Traci was pregnant, so they are already multiplying in New York City!

In all seriousness, it looks like the Lord has opened the door to partner together with another church there in New York to plant alongside, which Josh was really, really excited about, so things are going well there.

Ben and the East Lake crew are doing well. Ministry in East Lake/Gate City is not easy, but as many of you know who continue to be involved there, the Lord is faithful, and He is providing spiritual fruit in one of the toughest places of our city.

And then you heard me share about Bart, so I praise God, faith family, for the fruit of your lives in others around our city and North America. By God’s grace, we’re doing it—making disciples and multiplying churches. And today we come to the text, not by coincidence, where we see Jesus officially institute, or begin, the church.

Matthew 16: 1–28 Delves into the Roots of the Church

Matthew 16 includes one of only two times that Jesus mentions the “church” in all the Gospels. So this chapter takes us, as the church, back to our roots. It is one of the most important chapters in all of Matthew. One writer called it “THE central or critical chapter in Matthew’s account of [Jesus’] life, death and resurrection….It is THE high point in Jesus’ teaching and the disciples’ growth in spiritual understanding.”

So I want us to read it section by section, and as we walk through it, I want to show you the initial institution and confession of the church in the NT. And in the process I want us to consider the huge implications this text has for us understanding who we are and what we do as a church. So let’s start in verse 1, and we are going to read through 12:

And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.

When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt. 16:1-12).

Okay, let’s pause there and think about this. Chapter 16 begins on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee in the region of Magadan. If you’ll remember, in chapter 15, Jesus had journeyed into explicitly Gentile territory, where he had healed a Canaanite/Gentile woman as well as many others, and then He had fed over 4,000 Gentiles with seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. After this, at the end of chapter 15, He gets into a boat with His disciples and comes back into Jewish territory, and just as soon as He does, He is greeted by a group of Pharisees and Sadducees. It’s like they were waiting to pounce on him again.

The Characters in Matthew 16…

Now there are basically two groups of characters: the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the disciples. So let’s think about them side-by-side here.

The Pharisees and Sadducees…

First, you have the Pharisees and the Sadducees who represented the Sanhedrin and were basically the rulers of Jewish life. And they had likely been sent by the Sanhedrin (the Jewish ruling body) as an official delegation to confront and question Jesus. Now these two groups themselves were very different, with different beliefs and different practices. I’ll try to give you a quick overview of each of them for your notes.

On the one hand, you had the Pharisees, a strictly conservative body of leaders who held to strict observance of the law and tradition. If you’ll remember, back in chapter 15, we saw that the Pharisees had taken their traditions and their teachings and elevated them to the place of God’s Word (even trumping God’s Word in some instances). The very name “Pharisees” means “separated,” and they had basically set themselves apart by their rigid devotion to God’s law and their own teachings. And in the process, they had long ago begun believing that through rigid obedience to the law and tradition, they could be made right before God.

So the Pharisees were marked by self-righteousness: asserting themselves in the face of God. They were classic legalists working to do good and be good and, in the process, earn God’s favor through their actions. They were marked by self-righteousness.

The Sadducees on the other hand were a bit different. They were more marked by self indulgence: pleasing themselves apart from God. The Sadducees made up the predominantly wealthy class of Jewish people. They didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead, so they thought, “Hey, this life is all there is, so let’s live it up,” and they had the means to do so. Many of them made fortunes on Temple concessions and money changing and ritual sacrifices, and they used this money to indulge themselves in the world.

Now let’s pause for just a second and look at these two groups, and let’s see in them a reflection of tendencies in each of our hearts.

On one hand, you have a group of people who love to twist the rules to fit their own preferences in order to please and indulge themselves in this world. On the other hand, you have people who loved to keep the rules, who would do everything they could to do everything right. And you think about it, every one of us has tendencies toward one of these two extremes.

There are some of us who love to break the rules, to live life according to our own rules, indulging ourselves in the ways of this world—whatever it takes to please ourselves. And then there are others of us who try our best to keep the rules, to do everything right, to live nice, decent, moral, even religious lives. And part of the point of this story is that both of them entirely miss who Jesus is. The self-righteous and the self-indulgent both miss who Jesus is. They both oppose Jesus. And this is where we see them come together, even though they were often at odds with each other, and they were often antagonists of one another in Jewish leadership. Here they stand together. A common opponent always transforms enemies into friends.

So they came to Jesus, wanting to test Him, asking Him to show them a sign from heaven. Now we’ve seen this before, and we’ve seen similar responses from Jesus. “Show us some kind of sign from heaven to testify to who you are” (as if Jesus had not already shown enough demonstrations of His divinity to this point), and I love this, Jesus looks back at them and starts talking about the weather: “When it’s evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times” (Matt. 16:2-3).

Jesus tells these leaders that they were focused on temporal matters. Constantly paying attention to changes in the weather, and predicting what would happen as a result of this or that sign in the sky. Yet all the while, they were blind to eternal realities. Amidst all their supposed knowledge of God and His ways, they were missing all the signs of God with them right in front of them in the promised Christ, the Messiah. They would pay so much attention to changing weather conditions that they were missing epoch-making changes in the history of redemption.

Could they not see? God had broken into the world, coming through a man to heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, quiet storms, and bring salvation. His coming was evidence of the victory of God over sin and suffering, the devil and demons, and He was giving them a foretaste of a kingdom that will never be destroyed. All of this right before their eyes, and instead they’re talking about the weather. Ignoring the signs of far more important realities right in front of them.

And Jesus says, “No sign will be given to you except the sign of Jonah,” which we saw back in Matthew 12:28, which is a reference to Jesus’ resurrection. Just as Jonah was three days in a fish, so Jesus would be three days in the grave, and then He would rise again. But even this would not be enough for these leaders. Even Jesus’ decisive victory over sin, death, and Satan would not be enough to convince these hard-hearted leaders who, in their self righteousness and self-indulgence, were so focused on temporal matters that they had become blind to eternal realities.

Oh, be careful, brothers and sisters. Self-indulgence and self-righteousness will both blind you from seeing and knowing Jesus. Like a little bit of yeast that spreads throughout bread, self-indulgence here or self-righteousness there will slowly ruin your soul. Guard against focus on this world, what you can gain in this world, and what you can achieve in this world to the point where you become blind to the world to come and what matters for all of eternity, beyond your grave.

The Disciples…

Which leads us to the other group of people (or characters) in Matthew 16, the disciples. Now clearly the disciples are slow, as evidenced in this story. Jesus says, “O you of little faith,” and then He asks them various questions: “Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember this or that? How is it that you fail to understand?” And when I read about the disciples, I am tempted to get a bit frustrated with them. They seem to be so clueless at times, particularly with all that Jesus is saying and doing right in front of them. You would think they would get it, right? But then I see myself, and I think, “How many times has the Lord in His mercy taught me the same truths again and again and again?” He has shown Himself so faithful to me in everything, and yet I sometimes doubt His faithfulness. Do you? Praise God for His mercy toward us; His patience with us; His faithfulness when we are faithless. Which is exactly what we see next.

In the verses that follow this dialogue with the disciples about the Pharisees and Sadducees, we see Peter’s confession of Christ, and we learn the implications of what it means to be His disciples. Disciples of Jesus are not marked by self-righteousness or self-indulgence, but disciples of Jesus are marked by self-denial: crucifying themselves for the glory of God.

Matthew 16: 1–28 Reminds Us of the Eternal Pleasures of Following Jesus

As we’re about to see, the lesson they would learn, even more on this day, was that in following Jesus they would leave behind temporal pursuits. Quite literally, they would lose their lives in this world. But in the process, they would live for eternal pleasure. In losing their lives, they would find their lives. Oh, the wonder of this! Particularly in contrast to the ways of the Pharisees and Sadducees—you live your life indulging yourself, or trying to earn the favor of God by following all the rules, then that is a sure recipe for losing your life in this world. But if you want to know the favor of God, and you want to experience the eternal (not temporal, but eternal) pleasure of God, then deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus. For this, as we’ll see in a moment, is what it means to be a disciple. This is what it means to be a part of the Church.

The Church in Matthew 16…

Let’s read verses 13-20, and see the very first mention of the church, the institution of the church, from the mouth of Jesus Himself.

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ (Matt. 16:13-20).

Okay, you might circle “church” in verse 18 – ekklesia is the word Jesus uses there. It refers to an assembly of called out ones, and this is the first glimpse we get into what it means to be the assembly of Christ-followers—the assembly of called-out ones.

So what is a church? And based on these verses, as well as others that we’re about to read, I will give you three characteristics of the people, or the called-out ones, who comprise the church. So let’s take them one-by-one.

The Community of People who Know Jesus Intimately

First, the church is the community of people who know Jesus intimately. Now the contrast in this text is clear, not only between the disciples and the Pharisees and Sadducees, but between the disciples and just about everyone else. Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do people say I am?” and the disciples give back the varied responses that people had posited for who Jesus was. John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah—prophets who have come back from the dead, or at the very least a new prophet like one of these prophets from old. “But no one,” the disciples said, “thinks that you are the Messiah, the Christ.” Instead, a lot of people were thinking that Jesus was a good man or even godly man, but not God Himself.

So then Jesus turns the question on them and says, “Who do you say that I am?” And the “you” there is emphatic and plural, so Jesus is basically confronting all of His disciples with this central question. In response, Peter, representing the other disciples, says, “You are the Christ (which means the Messiah), the Son of the living God.” His language is loaded down with intense theological meaning, and this is the first time we see the disciples truly confess who Jesus is. In response, Jesus says, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

Oh, follow this, this is so key: a true understanding of Christ comes not from human invention. How did Peter come to this realization? “Not by flesh and blood,” Jesus says. In other words, Peter did not figure this out on his own. A true understanding of Christ comes not from human invention, but a true understanding of Christ comes only from divine revelation. “My Father in heaven has revealed this to you, Peter.”

Oh, mark this down: the grace of God is the only way that anyone can behold the beauty of Christ. Just as Jesus says in John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him,” so we know that in and of ourselves, we are blind like the Pharisees and Sadducees. We love the darkness. But God, in His mercy, has opened our eyes to see Jesus, to know who He is, to believe in Him, and to confess Him as the Christ, the Son of the living God. Oh, Christian brother or sister, you and I are in the church only because of the mercy of God the Father to open our eyes to Christ.

And some of you are not Christians today, and yet God has brought you to this point to hear His Word about Jesus to open your eyes. For hundreds of years, God had promised to send the Christ, the promised Messiah, His Son, to save His people from their sins. And he did, and Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave so that all who, by God’s grace, turn from their sin and trust in Him will be saved from their sins forever to know God and enjoy God forever. Oh, may God open your eyes today to Jesus for who He is.

Now this is important, because there were a lot of people in the first century who would have said they believed in Jesus. They just believed a lot of different things about Him (some say Elijah or Jeremiah or John the Baptist). And there’s a lot of people in the twenty first century who would say they believe in Jesus. Approximately 85% of Americans say they believe in Jesus. Eighty-five percent of Americans believe Jesus was a true historical figure. And among that 85%, almost all of them (more than 9 out of 10 of them) believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead. So if I were to ask you the question, “Do you believe in Jesus?” I know with a good bit of certainty that most places where I ask that question, the answer is going to be “yes.” That’s a given in most places.

But the more important question is, “Who exactly is the Jesus that you believe in?” And that’s where you’ll get all kinds of different answers. This is the crux of the question. Not do you believe in Jesus, but who is the Jesus you believe in? Because, follow this, who you say Jesus is will determine everything about how you follow Him.

Matthew 16: 1–28 Highlights Who Jesus Actually is 

Follow this: if you think Jesus is a good teacher, then you will follow Him like you would a good teacher. If you think Jesus has good ideas, then you will listen to what He says every once in while. If you think Jesus is a good example, then you will try to follow His example. But if you think, if you believe, that Jesus is the promised Messiah who came to the earth to save us from our sins, to conquer sin and death, and to reign and rule over all as Lord, then that changes everything about how you live.

And the church is made up of people who believe in that Jesus. People who have confessed that Jesus is the Savior King, the promised Messiah, and the reigning Lord over our lives and all creation. The church is the community of people who know Jesus intimately. Do you know Jesus intimately? For those who do, this next characteristic of the church just makes sense.

The Community of People who Proclaim Jesus Confidently

The church is the community of people who proclaim Jesus confidently. “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Okay, this one verse has caused all kinds of question and controversy in the history of the church. What does it mean for Jesus to say, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church?” So what is the rock that the church is built on? Peter? Jesus? The Apostles?

The gospel? And the answer is…yes. Let me explain.

What makes this passage somewhat confusing is other metaphors that are used in other parts of the New Testament to describe the church. For example, in 1 Corinthians 3:11, Paul writes that Jesus is the foundation of the church, and in 1 Corinthians 10:4, Jesus is called the rock, and in Ephesians 2:20, Jesus is called the chief cornerstone. So there are other places in the New Testament where rock or foundation metaphors are used to describe Jesus, particularly in relation to the church. But you get to Ephesians 2:19-20, and you see that the Apostles and prophets are referred to as the foundation of the church, and in 1 Corinthians 3:10, Paul describes himself as an expert builder in relationship to the church. So you’ve got a variety of different metaphors used at different times in the New Testament to make different points.

Now this is important simply because it reminds us that we need to understand this text specifically in light of its context, knowing that other New Testament writers are doing different things at different times to make different points. So what’s the point that Jesus is making here? Well, what’s unique is that Peter’s name means “rock,” and so there’s a bit of a play on words here, and basically Jesus is saying, “I tell you, you are rock and on this rock

I will build my church,” which certainly points us to the fact that Jesus is acknowledging some kind of foundation in Peter. “You are the rock, Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”

Well, what was the foundation in Peter? Think about what we just read: by God’s grace alone, Peter had just confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. And immediately after this, Jesus makes this statement about the church that He is building, by His grace, upon Peter and his confession of faith. The point, then, becomes clear: this is Jesus saying, in light of Peter’s confession, “You are my authoritative Apostle, sent out from me to proclaim the gospel, and upon you and your proclamation of the gospel, I will build my church.”

So the rock of the church is: the people of God proclaiming the gospel of Christ. Specifically here, Peter, as the first Apostle to make that declaration. And the Apostle upon whom much of the church’s foundation would be built starting in Acts 2. Peter would preach the gospel, and 3,000 plus people would be saved. As soon as this happens, the early church devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching of the Word, and thousands more came to Christ in the days ahead. Jesus was building His church and Peter is central in what Jesus is doing to build His church all throughout the first 12 chapters of Acts. Which is exactly why Paul said in Ephesians 2:20 that the church is built on the foundation of the Apostles. The reality is: wherever the people of God are proclaiming the gospel of Christ, Jesus will build His church. And all of that started with Peter’s confession right here. Martin Luther said, “All who agree with the confession of Peter (in Matthew 16:16) are Peters themselves setting a sure foundation.”

Now that’s not to take away from the uniqueness of Peter here, but it is to remind us that even as we proclaim the gospel, we are building upon the foundational confession stated by Peter right here in Matthew 16. And as you and I proclaim the good news of Christ, Jesus builds His church.

You think about it, last week we got together for Easter with many, many people who were not saved—did not know Christ. We proclaimed the gospel—Jesus risen from the dead—and as the gospel was proclaimed in this place, Jesus was building His church, drawing people to himself. He’s doing the same thing right now, I pray, as the gospel is being proclaimed.

And not just when we gather together, but when you scatter this week and have the opportunity to look at your coworker, neighbor, and have a conversation and share the gospel with them. As you proclaim the gospel to them, Jesus Himself is building His church. That’s what’s happening in North Africa with these brothers and sister that we’re praying for as they share the gospel with their language teachers, as they share the gospel with women who are part of this goat program. As they do that, Jesus is building His church.

And the good news is, as the people of God proclaim the gospel of Christ, and as Jesus builds His church through this, the gates of Hell will not be able to stop the Church. Oh, this is great – “gates of hell” is basically a Jewish idiom for “powers of death.” And this text is making clear that, first and foremost, the powers of death cannot stop this Messiah.

He will, in the sign of Jonah already mentioned in this chapter, rise from the dead in victory over the grave. But not just Him… Death cannot stop this Messiah, and death will not stop His messengers. As we’re about to see in a minute, we take up our cross and follow Him, willing to lose our lives for the spread of the gospel, knowing that to live is Christ and to die is gain. As the people of God proclaim the gospel of Christ, Jesus will build His church, and nothing will be able to stop it. J.C. Ryle said,

“Nothing can altogether overthrow and destroy [the church]. Its members may be persecuted, oppressed, imprisoned, beaten, beheaded, burned; but the true church is never altogether extinguished; it rises again from its afflictions; it lives on through fire and water. When crushed in one land it springs up in another. The Pharaohs, the Herods, the Neros, have labored in vain to put down this church; they slay their thousands, and then pass away and go to their own place. The true Church outlives them all, and sees them buried each in his turn. [The church] is an anvil that has broken many a hammer in this world, and will break many a hammer still; [the church] is a bush which is often burning, and yet is not consumed.”

Death cannot stop this Messiah, and death will not stop His messengers…and we know this because… Christ gives His authority to the church. More debate and discussion about these verses: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Based on these verses, you’ve got all kinds of errant ideas and practices, people walking around binding this or that in this world, all the while claiming the authority of Jesus, but don’t miss the point. Remember…context!

Think about it…when Peter or the other Apostles or you and I as the people of God proclaim the gospel of Christ, we do so under whose authority? Under Jesus’ authority! His authority to save sinners and His authority to damn sinners…right?

Jesus has authority to save all who turn from their sin and trust in Him…and you can say to any person in the world, “If you turn from your sin and trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord, you will be free from sin, loosed from sin forever,” and you can guarantee them that based on the authority of Christ and His Word. At the same time, you can (and we should) say to any person in this world, “If you do not turn from your sin and trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord, you will spend eternity in hell, apart from him, bound to your sin and its payment for all of eternity.” Do you realize this…the authority that has been entrusted to us as the church? We tell people whether or not they are going to heaven or to hell…whether or not they are in the kingdom of heaven or not. Which is why – and we’re going to talk about this more when we get to the other conversation about the church in the book of Matthew, chapter 18 – where Jesus talks about church discipline – and there comes a point where we remove someone from the church if they do not show evidence of God’s grace in confession of Christ as Savior and Lord…because we don’t want someone to assume that they are a Christian, a part of the church, when they are not. This is why before anyone joins with the church, they sit down with an elder or deacon and talk about their confession of faith in Christ…because being a part of the church is not just like joining a club – this is a huge confession with eternal ramifications. And ramifications not just for being a part of the church, but for what we do as a church.

Christ gives His authority to the church, and we speak with the authority of Christ. This whole passage fuels the urgency and priority of evangelism in the church. Brothers and sisters, through the apostolic teaching of the Word and the gospel of Jesus Christ, we know what determines the eternal destiny of every single person in this city, and every single person in the world. So we must go this week every day, and next week, and next month, and next year all throughout this city and throughout North America and around the world to proclaim this gospel, calling people to repentance and faith not based on any authority in us, but based upon the authority of Christ that has been entrusted to us. This is huge.

Now, unfortunately, this great passage has been used and abused throughout church history, particularly in its exaltation of Peter and a supposed line of succession of leaders after him. I put the question here: Is Peter the first pope? And I want to be careful here, because I know there are likely some people here today who have been or are even now a part of the Catholic Church. And I want to ask you just to bear with me for a minute, and to think with me for a minute, about this passage.

The Catholic Church teaches that:

(CCC 881) “The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the ‘rock’ of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church, and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock. The office of binding and loosing which was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of Apostles united to its head. This pastoral office of Peter and the other Apostles belongs to the Church’s very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope.”

So basically, Catholicism claims that Peter was given a special authority here that is now passed down to a succession of church leaders, specifically bishops, under the primacy of the Pope. And while this text absolutely acknowledges Peter for this initial confession of faith in Christ, and, as we’ve seen, points us to Peter’s instrumental role in the foundation of the church, the clear reality of Matthew 16 is that this text is not about a supreme pope; it’s about a sovereign Savior. “I will build my church,” Jesus says. Jesus is the architect of the church here. Peter’s authority is completely tied to Jesus’ authority as the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus alone is pre-eminent in this text, and His Word alone is supreme.

This text is not about a necessary pope; it’s about a non-negotiable declaration. A pope is not primary in the church; a proclamation is primary in the church. Wherever the gospel of Christ is proclaimed, the church will be built and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

This text is not about an infallible pope; it’s about an invincible mission. This text is not about an infallible pope who can speak, as Catholics claim, new revelation that carries with it the weight of Christ’s authority. No, this text is about a church with an invincible mission; a church that knows that as long as we proclaim old revelation—the revelation of God saving sinners through Christ—then and then alone will we have Christ’s authority to call people to be saved, and the gates of hell will not prevail against us. The church is the community of people who not only know Jesus intimately, but the community of people who proclaim Jesus confidently.

The Community of People who Obey Jesus Sacrificially

And the church, finally here in Matthew 16, is the community of people who obey Jesus sacrificially. Let take a looks at Matthew 16:21-23,

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matt. 16:21-23).

Pause for a second here, and see that Jesus would suffer necessarily. This detailed prediction of Jesus’ sufferings, death, and resurrection “must” happen (verse 21).

It will happen. And just when you thought Peter was getting it, he steps up and rebukes Jesus. Clearly, Peter was not infallible. He goes from rock to stumbling block, which is the literal meaning of that word “hindrance” in verse 23. “Get behind me Satan!” seems like strong language, but you remember back to Matthew 4, when the devil in the desert tempted Jesus to gain His rightful rule and authority apart from His suffering and death, and you realize that this temptation is still there. But Jesus knows that He must go, and He will go. The question is, “Will we follow Him?”

Look at Matthew 16:24-28,

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matt. 16:24-28).

Jesus would suffer necessarily, and we now suffer willingly. What does it mean to follow Jesus? Follow this progression, for this is what it means to be a part of the church: die to yourself—“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself…” Put aside self righteousness. Put aside self-indulgence. Put aside your sin and yourself: your desires, your ambitions, your thoughts, your plans, your dreams, your possessions—die to yourself.

Take up your cross. As soon as they heard that language, these disciples would immediately recognize images of crucifixion. Anyone carrying his cross was a dead man walking. Your life as you knew it is over.

Die to yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus—“Take up your cross and follow me.” The same words used back in Jesus’ initial invitation in Matthew 4:19 – “Follow me.” Pursue Me. Walk in My footsteps, according to My Word, adhering to My ways, trusting in My power, living for My praise.” You hear echoes of this in Paul’s language: be crucified with Christ, and no longer live; not you, but Christ, will live in you.

And as you die to yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus, you will find life—“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Oh, the great reversal! Live for yourself, and you will die. Die to yourself, and you will live.

And as you live eagerly expect the King to come—“The Son of Man is going to come…” He could come at any moment! The last verse in Matthew 16 has also caused a bit of debate, and we don’t have time for an in-depth exploration of it today, but suffice to say that the coming of Christ’s kingdom here can be a very general concept throughout the New Testament, and here it clearly refers to the spread of the gospel in the early church through the power of the Son of Man.

Some of these men, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, would be the manifestation of Christ’s kingly reign expanding throughout the Roman empire, ushering hosts of people into the kingdom. And so the disciples not only eagerly expect the King to come, but, by God’s grace, disciples also eternally experience the kingdom to come. Oh, are you ready?

Let me ask every single person: Have you died to yourself? Have you taken up your cross? Are you following Jesus? Have you found your life in Him? Are you eagerly expecting His coming? This is what it means to be a disciple. This is what it means to be in the church.

David Platt serves as a pastor in metro Washington, D.C. He is the founder of Radical.

David received his Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of Don’t Hold Back, Radical, Follow MeCounter CultureSomething Needs to ChangeBefore You Vote, as well as the multiple volumes of the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary series.

Along with his wife and children, he lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area.


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