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Jack Graham - Is the Church Relevant?


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    Jack Graham - Is the Church Relevant?
TOPICS: Legacy, Church

Is the church relevant? Many are saying not so much. Maybe church was good for my grandparents, maybe church was good for my parents, maybe it's even good for the kids. Send the kids to vacation Bible school. But as for me and my house we don't intend to serve the Lord. That's a fact. And frankly I do understand some of your thoughts, some of your feelings, if you feel this way about the church. But here's what I want to ask you to do today. I want to ask you to take a step back and with an open mind and a willing heart take a fresh look at the church as Jesus designed it and desires for it to be. And then we'll answer that question from Jesus Himself: Is the church relevant?

And as always we're going to do this from the Word of God. So take your Bibles and turn to Matthew chapter 16, the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, the first book of the New Testament, and we're going to read verses 13 through 19. Now let me give you just a bit of background here. This is six weeks before Jesus would die on the cross for our sins, to rise again on the third day. Six weeks before His death. And so it is very important that He solidify the faith of His followers. In particular that band of believers, the disciples who became the apostles of Christ. He needed to make sure that they understood going forward what they were to be about. And He asked His disciples the question of the ages.

Let's begin reading at verse 13: "Now when Jesus came to 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?' And Simon Peter replied, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' 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.'"

Is the church relevant? Ask Jesus, who is the Maker of the church, the Architect of the church, the Founder and the the Framer of the church. Now you've heard it said in the past that the church is not about buildings; it's about people. And that is mostly true. Certainly the church is not about buildings. Certainly not about denomination and faction. But the church is about Jesus. This is His church. He said, "I will build my church". He did not say, "I will build your church", nor did He say, "You will build My church". Jesus is not building the church for us, neither are we building the church for Him. Jesus is building the church for Himself and His own glory! This is His church; He is the mastermind of the church.

So when you say it's not about the people, to some degree that is right. Some get tangled up because they look at people and the failures of people in the church. But let me remind you of who gave us the church. Look to Him; listen to Him. The church belongs to Jesus! Why? Because He is the Savior of the church. The scripture says that He gave Himself for the church. That He died for the church, that the church is the blood-bought possession of Christ. He is not only doing the Savior of the church; He is the Sovereign of the church, which means He rules the church. He is the reigning king of the church.

And let me say that the only way the church will cease to exist is if Jesus will cease to exist. And the fact is that Jesus lives and therefore, the church lived. Jesus has already conquered, therefore, we as His church have already conquered. He is the Sovereign of the church. He is the Shepherd of the church described by Peter in Peter's letter as the Chief Shepherd. What is the responsibility of a shepherd? To lead and to feed the flock of God. He is the Chief Shepherd. I as the pastor of this church and the other ministers of this church and all pastors are under the authority of Jesus who is the Sovereign Ruler and Shepherd of the Church.

Look, the church is not a democracy. You want to talk about who rules the church, who owns the church? The church is not a democracy: the church is a theocracy! God rules the church! And it's our responsibility under God to determine what it is that God wants to do and then get on with doing it! He's the Shepherd of the church, the Sovereign of the church, the Savior of the church, He's the Sustainer of the church. He has assumed the challenge of carrying His church from generation to generation. Has that happened? Absolutely yes! In the past two thousand years we have seen the church grow, burgeoning from it's birth and a very small beginning, now to 1.9 billion, that's with a "b", 1.9 billion, nearly 2 billion members of the church. Members who profess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

But remember this: it's not our numbers, it's not our church strategies, it's not our technologies, it's not the Internet, it's not our great services, none of that, that gives us our strength and our success under God. It is His grace, His glory, His power. Not personalities, not persuasion, not our human abilities. Zechariah 4:6 "'Not by might, not by power but by My Spirit,' says the Lord". And we don't have to depend upon our abilities; we don't have to depend upon our scholarship, our popularity, our personal power and influence. All we need to do is what the disciples did and that is to be full of the Spirit of God, anointed by His power, and preach and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and God will build His church.

God will build His church. The Maker of the church. But let's talk about the make-up of the church, because that's where the church continues to be relevant. Now Jesus asked a question; really He asked two questions. First question is in verse 13. Do you see it there? He asked His disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is"? This is the question of public consensus. Jesus wasn't looking for information; He knew what was in the hearts of man. And this was in a particular period where many were turning away from Him. He had begun to speak of His cross and of taking up the cross and many didn't want a Messiah like that. They didn't want a dead Savior; they wanted a powerful military solution to the bondage of the Roman Empire and so on, and thus many were rejecting Him.

And yet Jesus was not asking for information; nor was He surveying the disciples or the crowd to find some user-friendly strategy to keep more people coming in. No, He was solidifying the faith of His own men and establishing the perpetual legacy of the church. We don't need to get discouraged when public opinion polls and surveys and essays and editorials say the church is on its way out, because as we just noted, the church is not on its way out; it's on its way up! But there are many who are decrying, even within the body of Christ, they're saying the church is finished. You don't need to get discouraged when your friends think you are nuts for investing your life and following Christ and serving Him in His church. You don't have to worry about what the world is saying about the church, because Jesus did not concern Himself with what the world was saying. It doesn't matter what the world is saying about our Jesus. What matters is what God is saying about Him; what He says about Himself.

So Jesus asked then another question: Who do you, you, yes, you, in fact, you and only you, you and you and you and you and you and you! "Who do you say that I am"? Now that is the question of all questions. That's the question of the ages. It's the question that every person must answer for themselves. I can't answer that question for you as your pastor; your professor can't answer that, your parents can't answer that question; your friends can't answer that question. You and you yourself must answer the question: Who is Jesus? Today we are tolerant of every view. We are much like the day of Jesus when He asked this question: Who do people say that I am? Because people have all kinds of opinions about Jesus, just like they have all kinds of opinions about their own gods or their own ideas or their own ideologies.

Our society, our culture is very inclusive of every belief system. It is pluralistic in this sense. And so in the midst of all of these gods... This is why Jesus took these men in the face of all of these other options. "Who do you say that I am"? You and you only. These charges of intolerance, bigotry. You see, we've made a shift of the way we think regarding tolerance today. Let me tell you what tolerance is. Tolerance is respecting the other person's viewpoint. Tolerance is honoring the other person even though they may believe differently than you believe. Tolerance is loving a person in spite of the fact that they may have viewpoints that are diametrically opposed to your own. That's tolerance. But now we have made this major shift that tolerance has become your truth is as my truth; all truth is equal.

And if I dare to suggest that I possess truth in Jesus Christ then I have become intolerant, which is the greatest sin of our culture! You see the shift? From moving from the position that I respect you, I love you, I recognize that you have a different opinion of than mine. I will treat you the same even though you have a different opinion. That's tolerance! But tolerance is not moving to the position that you have a truth, I have a truth, everybody has a truth, everybody has a god, you've got your own god. Pick one, they're all the same! Untrue! It's a lie of Satan. You have to decide who is Jesus? Is He who He claimed to be? And to follow Jesus; to make this public.

This personal confession is so much more than mental assent or intellectual acknowledgement; it's more than nodding your head and agreeing privately; it is a public as well as a personal commitment to Christ! It is a personal conviction, but it is also a public confession. Peter said this as we are to say it publicly. This is why we give an open invitation, a free invitation of the Gospel in our church, to give people an opportunity to respond. We have other ways that you can respond and confess Christ, but this is the primary way we invite people to Christ. But this also the point where some dismiss church, because they say things like, "Well, my religion... you know, I believe in God, but that's between me and God; not between you and God, me and everybody else".

Ninety percent of the people in this country still say they believe in God, but many are simply keeping that to themselves. There's no stand for Christ; there's no personal commitment. "I don't need the church". It's like that old country song years ago, "Me and Jesus got a good thing going". "I don't need the church, I don't want the church. I love Jesus but I don't love the church". Let me tell you what Jesus said about that. Matthew 10:32-33: "So everyone who acknowledges Me before men I will acknowledge before My Father who is in heaven. Anyone who denies Me before men, I will deny before My Father who is in heaven". Very clear the eternal consequences!

Here's what Romans 10:9-10 says: "If we confess with our mouths the Lord Jesus and believe in our hearts that God has raised Him from the dead, we will be saved; for with the heart man believes unto righteousness and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord will be saved"! It is a personal conviction who Jesus is! But it becomes a public confession. Jesus gave authority to the church to baptize believers. Why? That we might stand and give account of our lives and make the good confession of faith in who Christ is. That I believe in Christ who died on the cross for me, who was buried and on the third day rose again. Baptism does not save; it doesn't even get close to helping to save! But let me tell you this: If the faith that you have won't get you forward to follow Christ openly and publicly through believer's baptism, that faith that won't get you into a baptism, won't get you into heaven, because faith in Jesus Christ is always public and it's always personal! The makeup of the church.

Jesus calls the church then to perpetual construction. Verse 18 again. Look at it quickly. Now don't check out; stay with me these last few minutes. "He said, '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". There's the guarantee of a living legacy of the church. You want a guarantee signed Jesus? "I will build my church... the gates of hell will not prevail". "He said, 'I tell you, You are Peter.'" That's little rock, it's a word of diminutive form which means like a small pebble, like a small rock, like a small stone. You are Peter, and on this rock, this means huge slab of a large rock, a massive stone "...will build my church".

What is Jesus saying here? Is He announcing that Peter is now the Pope? Not at all! To the contrary, He is saying, "Peter, you're a little rock, you're a small stone, and upon this massive stone". And when you're at Caesarea Philippi you can look and there's this massive rock that is there. Perhaps Jesus pointed to it as an illustration. And He said, "Upon this rock". What is this Rock of ages? It is the bedrock conviction and confession that Jesus is who He claimed to be, the living Lord, the Savior, the Messiah! Upon this Rock, upon this confession, upon this conviction "I will construct My church". And we have one mission and that is to share the Gospel, this Good News of Christ, to be open doors, to bring people into the kingdom of God.

Now, the most irrelevant church is a church off mission. This is why so many people view churches as irrelevant; they're off mission. Every church should start as a mission of Christ and stay on mission for Christ. But unfortunately over time many, if not most churches move from being a mission to being a ministry. And rather than the focus be external, as Christ has commanded us to "Go into all the world and make disciples". Rather than it being an external focus, it becomes an internal funhouse, and we got programs for ourselves. When the church moves from mission to mere ministry, there's a step then to maintenance and from maintenance to a memory. You ever been in a church where all they do is talk about what used to happen here? Those good old days? Just a memory, and before long a monument. "What used to be there"? "Oh, I think it used to be a church".

Maybe the question isn't: Is the church relevant? Maybe the question is: Is the church real? Because when the church is real, God will use that church for His glory. And according to the book of Ephesians chapter 3:20, "He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that works within us to HIM... to HIM... to HIM be glory in the church throughout all ages", from generation to generation world without end. So, people, remember, you don't go to church; you are the church! We don't just go to church and gather at church; we go with the church, that is, we connect together and cooperate together! We can turn the world upside down. Don't be an individual out there doing your own thing. Whoever heard of a one-brick building? Just as the church is stacked, brick upon brick, pebble upon pebble, stone upon stone. Founded on Christ and the doctrines of the faith that the church unites and ignites the message of Christ.

Be very suspicious of any organization that is not directly connected with the church, that propones to be a mission organization or a Christian organization or anything else... If it is not connected and consumed with the ministry and the mission of a local church which is home-based for local and global evangelism, it is not according to God's plan and purpose! The church is to be accountable and responsible! Certainly we have partners in ministry, we have people who go with us, who share with us, but it is the church that is to take the Gospel to the world! There are some things in life that are nonnegotiable for me. I have certain allegiances that will never change. One of these is the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. That is a nonnegotiable for me! And another nonnegotiable for me is the church of Jesus Christ. God doesn't intend for you to live life solo, but strengthened and blessed and encouraged to be a blessing to the world.
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