The Church of Jesus Christ


            I have enjoyed the time that we have spent together looking at what it means for us to be the church.  We began two weeks ago by reminding ourselves that we are resident aliens.  We are those who belong to a different Kingdom; those who have different priorities than the world and those who realize that there is more to life than what we have been offered by the world.  Then, last week, we looked at what it means for the church to be the temple of the Holy Spirit.  We remembered that we are not the church because of something that we have accomplished, but instead, we are the church because the Spirit called us and restored us and healed us—and we need to continue to be people of the Spirit and a church who welcomes the Spirit!

            Today we are going to turn our attention from the Spirit to Jesus himself and look at where Jesus fits into the church and look at the place that we give Jesus in our church.  We need to begin by looking at what Jesus says about the church.  One brief line from our reading in Matthew gives us a perfect place to start.  Jesus said: “I will build my church” (Matt 16:18).  So, right from the start, we know a few things about Jesus’ relationship to us in the church.  First, we know that Jesus is committed to building the church and that building the church is Jesus’ work.  The second thing that we know about Jesus’ relationship to the church is that the church is Jesus’ church—he calls us “my church.”  Now, it might sound obvious for me to stand up here and declare that we are Jesus’ church—I doubt any of you were surprised to hear those words—but our task for today is to take a hard look at what it means to be Jesus’ church and then look to see if we are living out the life of those who are Christ’s!

            In our short reading from Matthew, Jesus points out two things that result from our being Jesus’ church.  The first is his act and the second is ours.  The next thing that Jesus says after he tells us that we are his church is that “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against the church” (Matt 16:18).  So, the fact that we are Christ’s church means that Jesus is both building the church and sustaining the church.  In today’s world where the numbers of people who identify themselves as part of the church are dropping, we need to remember that Jesus is the Lord of his church and his promise is that the church will endure and find new ways to reach people in a changing culture.  There is something deeply comforting in knowing that Jesus has the church in his hands and that he is committed to the church—his church—until he returns.

            As comforting as it is to know that we are Jesus’ church and he is committed to sustaining the church no matter what, Jesus does not leave us with the perception that the church is only about what he does and has nothing to do with how we live.  In fact, the opposite is true.  Because we are Jesus’ church, we are in a unique place in this world as those who represent Jesus to the world around us.  Like many of the things that we have talked about regarding what it means to be the church over the last few weeks, I am not saying that we are commanded to represent Jesus in the word, but instead that we do represent Jesus—whether we like it or not!  The world around us sees Jesus through the lens of the church, because the world has never seen Jesus face to face, but they have and do see the church.  When they are challenged and encouraged by what they see, they are often drawn to faith.  When they encounter hate, apathy and self-centeredness, then they are pushed away from Jesus.  It doesn’t matter if we want to take a day off from representing Christ or not—the people around us are going to look at what we do and how we live as the church and that is going to influence how they see Jesus.

            I hope that sounds like a big responsibility to you, because it is.  We have been entrusted with the image of Jesus!  In our passage today, Jesus explains our responsibility in this way (Matthew 16:19): “ I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus means that we have the ability to open the gates of heaven for people—based on the way we proclaim Jesus with our words and our lives.  We hold the keys to heaven—that is a sobering thought about what it means to be Jesus’ church!  We have the opportunity to be those who help lead others into God’s presence or those who, like the Pharisees pull people away from God.  Listen to how Jesus address the Pharisees in Matthew 23 (:13): “13 woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.  We, the body of Christ on earth, those who have the keys to the kingdom, are instead to follow the example of Jesus who presented himself as a shepherd whose mission was to bring the sheep—even sheep from other flocks—into the sheepfold (see John 10).  We are the body of Christ and the world sees Jesus through his church.  May we truly show the world what the Lord of the church is like!

            Being Jesus’ church gives us both the assurance of his presence and his care as well as the responsibility of representing Christ in the world.  Let me give you another example of how Jesus sees this working.  Listen to this from two chapters later, Matthew 18:

15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

            Jesus is talking here about the importance of the church as a people who call one another back to following God when we stray, but what I want you to see is that here Jesus gives us both a promise of his help and presence in the church and a responsibility for the church to be his presence in the world.  The promise he offers is us that “if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”  But that promise comes in the context of people who are living as the church of God and calling people away from sin and back to living fully for God.  Jesus even declares that we have his authority to bind and to loose.  We love the promises, but being Jesus’ church means that we have both the responsibility and the promise!

Our second reading from Acts shows us what it looks like to be the church of Jesus Christ when the rubber hits the road.  The story begins with Jesus’ act—the healing of a man who had been lame since birth.  This was how Jesus was working to build his church at that moment—an incredible miracle that led not only the man who was healed, but also all those who were around him to be filled with wonder and amazement.  Jesus was clearly at work in his church that day.  His power was present to heal and his love was there to restore, but not everyone was pleased with seeing Jesus answer the prayer that Peter and John had offered, and so we read that the temple guards were sent to arrest Peter and John and they were taken before the Jewish court that had authority to throw people in jail for as long as they saw fit.  It is before that religious court that we see Peter and John embracing the responsibility that comes with being the church of Jesus Christ.  Let me read these words to you again (Acts 4:8-13, 18-20):

8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11 This Jesus is

‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;

it has become the cornerstone.’

12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus… they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; 20 for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

There is no way they are going to stop talking about Jesus, because that is who they are!  They are part of Jesus’ church, so no court is going to be able to silence them.  That is a good thing, because whatever course of action Peter and John had chosen to take, their actions were going to reflect on Jesus.  You see, just like people know that you and I are part of Jesus’ church and our actions either draw people to Christ or push them away, the religious leaders recognized that Peter and John were companions of Jesus, and, as such, their impressions of Jesus were going to be shaped by how these men responded.

            This is what it means to be the church of Jesus Christ.  We are blessed with Jesus’ presence.  We have his promise that nothing can overcome the church he is building.  We have his power to heal and restore.  Alongside Jesus’ promises we have been placed in the spot where we are representing Jesus to the world.  It doesn’t matter if we would rather not represent Christ to the world—simply being a part of Jesus’ church means that how we live and act and speak is going to impact how the world sees Jesus.  That is what it means to be the church!

            Peter and John give us a great example of how we can live as the church to glorify God and enjoy the presence and power of Christ with us.  Now it is our turn.  Peter and John have died and gone on to celebrate lives well lived with Jesus.  We are the church of Jesus Christ today, and the world around us will see Jesus through us.  My we celebrate his presence and be faithful to reflecting Jesus to the world.  Amen.