The Church Christ Builds | Matthew 16:13-20

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  • The Church Christ Builds | Matthew 16:13-20
    • Under Construction. 
    • Excuse Our Mess.
    • Open During Renovation. 

    When you see these signs, what is your response? Do you boycott that establishment until changes are made? You will if that place or thing does not matter to you. If it is important to you, you will continue to patronize it even with some things out of order. 

    We respond that way to every institution except the church. Many people’s commitment to the church is sustained as long as they can maintain some false notion of the perfect church. Once they discover something that fails to live up to expectations, they change churches, devalue the church, or abandon the church. There are no perfect churches. The church is under construction. Yet, despite its flaws, faults, and failures, the church is the hope of the world. John MacArthur is right: “It is impossible to overstate the importance of the church in the eternal plan of God.”

    In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says, “I will build my church.” This is the first mention of the church in the Bible. In the Gospels, Jesus only mentioned the church twice: Matthew 16:18 and Matthew 18:17. Instructing his disciples on how to respond to a sinning brother, Jesus says, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” 

    Matthew 16:18 is a divine promise. Acts 2 records the birth of the church as we know it on the Day of Pentecost, after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus. When Jesus spoke promised to build the church, the church was not formally in existence. Yet its sovereign construction was fully assured. Jesus calls the church “my church.” The church does not belong to pastors, members, denominations. It belongs to Christ. And he is building it.  

    • The Lord did not say I will build your church. 
    • The Lord did not say you will build my church. 

    The church belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is building up his church into what he has called it to be. What is the church Christ builds?  

    The Great Confession 

    Matthew 16:13 says, “Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi.” Caesarea Philippi was a Roman city at the foot of Mt. Hermon, twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee. Built by Herod the Great, it was called Paneas in honor of the Greek god Pan. This mythical half-man, half-goat who played the panpipe was considered the God of wild nature. After the death of Herod the Great, his son Herod Philip was named tetrarch over the area. He rebuilt the city and renamed it Caesarea in tribute to Augustus Caesar. To distinguish the city from the more famous Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast, it was called Caesarea Philipp. It was a hotbed of empower worship. Here is where the Great Confession was made. 

    • It did not take place in Rome because Jesus did not need man’s political endorsement. 
    • It did not take place in Athens because Jesus did not need academic certification. 
    • It did not take place in Jerusalem because Jesus did not need the approval of the religious establishment. 

    Jesus took his disciples to a key headquarter of false religion. Once there, he did not preach a sermon, make a speech, or start a debate. Jesus asked two big questions: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” “But who do you say that I am?” Christianity is not about cultural, political, or theological viewpoints. It is about Jesus.  

    The popular opinion about Jesus. Verse 13 says, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Jesus did not ask this question out of ignorance or curiosity. It was a strategic question. The people heard his words and saw his works. But they did not believe in him. Jesus did not downplay this reality. He made addressed it directly with his disciples. 

    In verse 14, the disciples answered, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Some thought Jesus was John the Baptist. According to Mark 6:16, when Herod heard about Jesus, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” Herod’s opinion was the paranoia of a guilty conscience. Others shared his illogical conclusion. Some thought Jesus was Elijah. Elijah did not die. In 2 Kings 2:11, Elijah was snatched alive to heaven in a whirlwind. Malachi 4:5 says Elijah must come before the day of the Lord. Some thought Jesus was Jeremiah or of the prophets. These answers reflect high approval ratings. The disciples did not mention the negative opinions. The responses indicated a high view of Jesus. There was no consensus about the identity of Jesus. But the different answers were in the same category. People thought Jesus was a prophet. 

    • Like John, Jesus proclaimed the kingdom and called for repentance. 
    • Like Elijah, Jesus demonstrated supernatural power. 
    • Like Jeremiah, the character and conduct of Jesus were prophetic. 

    Their opinion was accurate but inadequate. They viewed Jesus to be a forerunner, at best. They did not consider Jesus to be the Messiah. The high view of Jesus was the wrong view of Jesus. It is wrong to view Jesus as just a wise rabbi, great prophet, or miracle worker. The diverse opinions about Jesus prove he is greater than them all. Jesus is not in a class among many. Jesus is not the head of the class. Jesus is in a class by himself. 

    The personal testimony about Jesus. Jesus asked the disciples who the people said he was. The disciples gave a list of opinions. Jesus did not respond to their answers. He pressed the conversation to who the disciples said he was. The general question about the people set up a direct question to his disciples. The people were confused about Jesus. Where did not the disciples stand? Charles Spurgeon said: “It matters little what others say about Jesus – whether they are right or wrong – but what is your opinion.”

    Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am?” “But” draws a sharp contrast. The plural pronoun “you”is emphatic. This was a big test. It was not a pop quiz. Every moment the disciples spent with Jesus over two years prepared them for this question. Yet this was not the final exam. Within a year, Jesus would die on the cross and rise from the dead. But the disciples do not get to answer this question on the other side of the empty tomb. They are confronted with the question of the identity of Jesus without having all the evidence. It is a call to faith. This the question every person must answer. Your answer is the difference between life and death, salvation and judgment, heaven and hell. 

     Verse 16 says, “Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’” Jesus asked this question to the disciples. Peter answered for them all. Yet his answer is rooted in personal conviction: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This is the Great Confession every disciple makes. Christianity is not about a ritual of worship, body of doctrine, or code of conduct. It is about a Person: Christianity is Christ and Christ is God. True disciples confess Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Let me put a footnote here: Your greatest confession about Christ should always be your latest confession about Christ. Your testimony about Christ should grow deeper, greater, and stronger as the days go by. 

    Divine Revelation

    In verse 17, Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” Jesus announced a personal beatitude on Peter. The reason Jesus blessed Peter had nothing to do with Peter himself. Christ blessed Peter because of the nature of the confession, not the content of it. Jesus stated the nature of the Great Confession positively and negatively. Negatively, Jesus said, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you.” Positively, Jesus said, “But my Father who is in heaven.” This blessing applies to every person to whom the heavenly Father reveals the true identity of Jesus. 

    Not By Flesh and Blood.  “Flesh and blood” is an idiom for humanity. Hebrews 2:14 says, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” Jesus took on flesh and blood to save us. But flesh and blood cannot save us. John 1:12-13 says: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” 

    1 Corinthians 15:50 says, “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” Flesh and blood cannot provide, complete, or securesalvation. It cannot even understand it. Peter could not take personal credit for the Great Confession. It was not the result of his intellect, reason, logic, wisdom, or education. Flesh and blood did not reveal it to him. 

    This is the reality of human depravity the church must come to grips with. The truth of Christ cannot be known, and the message of the gospel believed, by flesh and blood. Matthew 28:18-20 says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The Great Commission tells us what the church is to do and how to do it. 

    • We are to make disciples. 
    • We are to mark disciples. 
    • We are to mature disciples. 

    Iain Murray said, “The church is most evangelistic when she is least concerned about impressing the world or with adding to her numbers.” Many churches try to reach the lost and edify the saints with church growth methodologies, marketing strategies, business paradigms, therapeutic philosophies, self-help theories, worldly entertainment, even signs and wonders. These things may fill buildings but do not make disciples. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

    By the Father in heaven. Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” This is the only way any sinful person confesses saving-faith in Jesus. The Father reveals the Son to the hearts of men. John 17:3 says, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Eternal life is to know the true God and to know Jesus Christ. 

    • It does not come through earthly means. 
    • It does not come through human resources. 
    • It does not come through flesh and blood. 

    Matthew 11:25-26 says, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” It pleases God to hide the truth about Jesus from hardhearted people filled with sinful pride in who they are, what they have, or what they know. God’s gracious will is to reveal it to those who are like little children. Little children cannot take care of themselves. They must depend on someone else. It pleases God to reveal the truth about Christ to people who have childlike faith.

    Peter, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” We are not saved by our futile efforts to reach God. We are saved by the sovereign grace of God that reaches us in Christ. 1 Peter 2:9-10 says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you hare received mercy.”

    The Foundational Rock 

    Verse 18 reads: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” This is not the first time Simon is called Peter. But it is the most significant time. Peter’s name is connected to the most monumental statement about the church. The name Peter means rock or stone. But Peter is not the rock upon which Jesus builds the church. The church is built on the divine revelation of Christ. The church is built on Jesus, not Peter. 1 Peter 2:4-5 says, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”  

    Jesus says, “I will build my church.” Each word in this statement is significant. 

    • I will build my church.” 
    • “I will build my church.” 
    • “I will build my church.” 
    • “I will build my church.” 
    • “I will build my church.”

    The church is the assembly of those who have been called out. Jesus declares his disciples will be a new community made up of those who have been called out of the world to follow him. Colossians 1:18 says, “And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” The church belongs to Christ. The Lord builds the church with those chosen, called, and redeemed by his blood from every nation, tongue, tribe, and people. Jesus never promised to build families, businesses, or governments. The church is the most precious entity on planet earth. 

    • Families will separate. 
    • Businesses will close. 
    • Nations will fall. 

    But the church of Jesus Christ has eternal security. Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” “The gates of hell” is a poetic idiom for death. Death itself cannot stop the mission, progress, and victory of the church. This is the hope we have in Christ. We may suffer persecution for our witness for Christ. It may cost us our lives. But death is not final. Eternity is final. In Christ, we have a hope that transcends the grave. Philippians 1:20-21 says, “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

    Kingdom Authority

    Verse 18 says, “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.” Keys open what is closed and close what is open. One who has keys controls access. Keys signify authority. Christ builds his church with kingdom authority. 

    This promise is first a statement about the authority of Jesus. Matthew 28:19 says, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” You cannot give what you do not have. Jesus is the sovereign Key-Holder. Revelation 1:17-18 says, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” The one who holds the keys gives the keys of the kingdom to his disciples. The “keys of the kingdom” are plural, indicating full and free access to kingdom authority. The Lord promises the church complete authority to conduct kingdom business on the earth. 

    These are not the keys to the kingdom of heaven, which would suggest the disciples were outsiders who needed to enter the kingdom. The disciples were citizens of the kingdom. And the Lord promised them “the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” As the church represents the kingdom on earth, the disciples would need the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said, “And whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Jesus says the same thing to all the disciples in Matthew 18:18.

    Binding and loosing are not about power encounters with demonic forces. It is about carrying out the ministry of reconciliation that the Lord has entrusted to our stewardship. Literally, Jesus says, “And whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” Warren Wiersbe wrote: “The church does not tell heaven what to do, but obeys on earth what heaven commands the church to do!”

    This passage begins with the Great Confession. It ends with a gag order. Verse 20 reports: “Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.” Peter was right. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. But it was not yet time for this good news to be openly published.

    There were popular misconceptions about the coming Messiah. The people were looking for a political-military hero to overthrow the occupying forces of Rome, reestablish Israel as an autonomous state, and usher in a new season of prosperity. They expected the Messiah to make Israel great again! They were not alone. The disciples confessed Jesus was the Christ. But they did not understand what kind of Messiah he would be. 

    Verses 21-23 says, “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 bit 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.’” 

    This is the Lord’s indictment of disciples who compromise the message of the cross for any worldly agenda. Thank God for the righteous life, wise teachings, and mighty miracles of Jesus. But they would have availed nothing if they did not culminate with the payment of our sins at the cross. There is no salvation without the cross of Christ. 


    H.B. Charles Jr.

    Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.