The World’s Only Hope

The World’s Only Hope

Matthew 16:13-20

James C. Denison

Since I was born and raised in Texas, I’ve always been proud to be a Texan. But I didn’t know how good we have it until last week, when a friend sent me this geography lesson, a list of actual places in Texas.

Anyone need cheering up today? You can go to Happy, Pep, Smiley, Paradise, Rainbow, Sweet Home, or Comfort–all in Texas. Hungry? Try Bacon, Noodle, Oatmeal, Turkey, Trout, Sugar Land, Salty, Rice, or Sweetwater, Texas.

Why travel out of the state? We have Detroit, Colorado City, Denver City, Nevada, Memphis, Miami, Boston, and Santa Fe, Texas. Why leave the country? We have Athens, Moscow, China, Egypt, Italy, Turkey, London, New London, and Paris, Texas. We even have Earth, Texas.

If you’re cold, you should go to Blanket, Texas. If you need office supplies, try Staples, Texas. Kids should visit Kermit, Elmo, Nemo, Tarzan, Winnie, and Sylvester, Texas. The rest of us should try Frognot, Bigfoot, Hogeye, Notrees (I’ve actually been there!), Best, Veribest, Telephone, Telegraph, Twitty, and Ding Dong. When we’re done, we should go to Farewell, Texas.

There’s only one place on earth better to be than Texas. Jesus identified it: “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). How can you and I get on that rock? Why is standing on that rock the best decision you can make this morning, the only hope of the world and your soul today?

Who owns the church?

The scene is one of the most dramatic locations on earth. Standing 1150 feet above sea level, the massive rock outcropping at Caesarea Philippi is the largest I’ve ever seen, gray with streaks of metallic brown, flat and imposing. And towering above it is a gigantic cliff, dwarfing the valley below in every direction.

High up on that cliff our tour group could see a cave, the famous “Gates of Hades.” This cave leads to a shaft which bores down through the mountain and this rocky plateau on which it stands, deep into the earth. That shaft is so deep that its bottom has never been found. Even the most sophisticated measuring devices have not been able to determine its complete depth.

I will never forget standing on that rock, looking up at that cave, as long as I live. As I looked in awe, my mind traveled back to a time when another man stood where I was this day. As he himself looked around, he could feel the religious significance of the place.

Just a short distance away stood the brilliant white marble temple built by Herod the Great as an altar to the worship of the Roman Caesar, hence the name of the place, “Caesarea.” He knew the emperor was worshiped here.

Beneath his feet was that cavern where the Greeks said Pan, their god of nature, was born. He knew the Greek and Roman gods were worshiped here. Scattered around the place were fourteen temples to Baal, the Canaanite fertility god, where the pagan Syrians worshiped.

Somewhere below was the origin of the Jordan River, the holiest river in all the Jewish faith, the water Joshua and the people walked through to inherit the Promised Land, and he thought of his own Jewish traditions and worship.

On this gigantic rock, standing in the midst of temples to every kind of god known to their culture, a Galilean carpenter asked his followers, “Who do you say that I am?” And one of them, standing where I stood, said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And he hears the Galilean say, “Upon this rock I will build my church, and”–pointing to the cave towering above them, dwarfing this small group of peasants gathered below–“even the gates of hell will not withstand your assault.”

Who owns the Church?

A survey was recently conducted, asking members and pastors whether the church exists to reach the world or to meet members’ needs. 90 percent of the members said it exists to meet members’ needs; 10 percent said it exists to reach the world. 90 percent of the pastors said it exists to reach the world; 10 percent said it exists to meet members’ needs.

Isn’t it easy to think that the members own the church? After all, it’s your tithes and offerings which keep the doors open and the lights on. You pay my salary and that of the rest of our staff, don’t you? And you come to be fed and inspired in worship, for your children to grow up in faith and moral teaching, to be with your friends and get help for your family. Don’t we all measure church by what we “get out of it”?

Isn’t the church something like a country club, where the head pro knows more about golf than anyone else? He has a staff to help him do what the members want done. But the head pro doesn’t run the club–that’s the job of the board of directors. They do this on behalf of the members. The members in turn pay dues for services received. If you don’t play golf, don’t pay for golf. Go to your club as it meets your needs.

Isn’t that the consumer church of our day, where I’m supposed to teach you how to find success without stress and the church exists to help you improve your life? Where therapy is the nature of preaching, and programs exist to meet all your needs?

Except that Jesus said, “I will build my church.” The Greek is emphatic–the Church belongs to him. The Bible says that Jesus is the “head” of the church (Ephesus 5:23). We are the “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27). Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given unto me” (Matthew 28:18).

The Church is his. This church is his. He is the Lord of this Church, or we are not a church. We may be a charitable organization, a civic society, a benevolent institution, but we are not a church. If we’re in charge, we’re not a church. If we’re doing what we want, coming to meet our needs, leading the church to do what we want it to do, we’re not the church of Jesus Christ.