We are moving toward the end of our series on the Apostles’ Creed. As we consider all of the changes in our world over the past few months, it is good to know that God is still in control. And the Creed provides a summary of the timeless truths found in the Bible.
Up to this point, the Creed has been about God. Now the attention turns to the notion of God’s people. The next phrase in the Creed is a stated belief in “the holy catholic church and the communion of saints.”
Now, you may be questioning why I would be preaching about this topic on Resurrection Sunday. That is a fair question. But my argument is that the Resurrection was the beginning of something new – not only life after death, but life while living through the promise of Jesus. One of those promises is the idea of the church.
So, my point today is not that the resurrection does not matter. Indeed, it matters greatly. And I wrote about that here. And the ascension matters as well as I wrote about here. But the resurrection is more than an item in history. We also need to understand why the resurrection happened.
First, and foremost, the resurrection defeated death. Jesus rose again, and now we have the opportunity to do so as well.
But, Jesus made a promise to build the church, and that did not happen before He died. So, either Jesus was unable to do what He said, or He would fulfill the promise in some unexpected way. That unexpected way was by being raised from the dead.
So, let’s look at the promise and the fulfillment through the lens of the resurrection.
The Promise (Matthew 16.18)
Matthew 16.13-20 is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. I have taught on the passage over many different sermons at various times. (A series of links from a sermon series Andy preached on this passage is at the end of this post.) It was also the foundation for my dissertation. The passage is critical to our understanding of the founding of the church. In fact, this passage contains one of only three uses of the word church in all four gospels combined (the other two uses are in Matthew 18.17).
In Matthew 16.18, Jesus says, “I will build my church.” This promise is made in response to Peter’s declaration that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of the living God. That is a substantial promise. Of course, the disciples had no real idea what He meant in that moment, but Jesus did, and that should be enough.
The problem is that this promise was made near the end of Jesus ministry. After this story, Jesus moves south towards Jerusalem where, within a matter of just a few months, He would be killed.
Now, I know we are all guilty of making promises that we cannot keep. I am certain many of us had plans and made promises that have been pre-empted by COVID-19. But if Jesus is God, and He is, then He not only should be able to keep His promises, He should keep them.
But if Jesus is dead, He cannot keep it.
The Solution (John 20.1-10)
Immediately after Peter made the Great Confession, Jesus began to talk about His suffering and death. Then, He mentioned His resurrection. A few of the disciples had witnessed Jesus bringing back people from the dead, and the rest of them, plus many others would soon witness Lazarus coming out of the tomb. But the concept of people returning from the dead was not understood. And particularly for a person to say that He would do it Himself must have been considered foolishness. But that is what Jesus said (see John 2.19). More importantly, that is what Jesus did.
READ John 20.1-10.
In this story, we have not one, but three witnesses mentioned. If we add in the other gospels, we know that a few women went to the tomb that morning (Luke mentions 3 by name and then says “others” were involved as well, see Luke 24.10). So, multiple people saw the empty tomb. The more witnesses, the more credible the story. And the fact that the Bible says that women were the ones to break the news is significant because of their place in society in that day. The story would be much more believable if a man had said it. But since the Bible tells us that it was women, it creates an extra measure of truth because no one would have dared considered a woman’s word in place of man’s unless what she said was true.
The Blueprints (Matthew 28.18-20)
After the resurrection, Jesus eventually gathered His tribe on the side of a mountain one more time to give them instructions. Those instructions were the blueprints for His earlier promise. The instruction was simply two words, “Make disciples” (Matthew 28.19). We do this my going, by baptizing, and by teaching others to observe what He taught. But that is the command. He commissioned us with His authority (v 18). He gave us the blueprints. And now we join Him in laboring to build His Church.
Rest assured, Jesus is the architect and the true builder. But we are co-laborers. Furthermore, we are the materials. Jesus is placing each of us right where He wants us…right where He needs us. Like a master builder placing brick after brick or fastening one joist to another, Jesus is building what He wants, how He wants.
And right now, it appears Jesus is doing some rearranging. Of course, that is our perspective. As Christians around the world celebrate the Resurrection, most do so from their homes, perhaps gathering with just a few other people. Instead of gathering in a building that man has built, we watch and listen online this week and wonder what the future of the church that Jesus is building will look like.
But again, Jesus was not caught off guard. Jesus is still building. And He will continue to build His Church, until He returns. While gathering together as a church can be done in many different ways to do many different things each week, we, the Church at large, often do things that would make little sense to Jesus. We often do things that the early church would have done. And we don’t know things like we should, including following the basics of the blueprints – love God, love others, love one another, and make disciples.
Are we guilty of treating His Church like it is our church? Are we guilty of assuming that Jesus is not active in building His Church today? Do we know that Jesus is risen, but live our lives and treat His Bride as if He is still dead?
Rest assured. Jesus is alive. The tomb is empty. The buildings may be empty this week, but the Church is still alive because Jesus is alive. And His last promise for the Church was as great as His first promise was about the Church – He will be with us always.
Because He is alive.
Why did Jesus raise from the dead?
To show sin and death were defeated? Yes. But also to build His Church!
And the promise of the Church, the truth of the resurrection, and the blueprints we are to use have been passed down for centuries. Now, it is our turn to guard that truth and to pass it on to others, so they can pass it on as well (2 Timothy 1.14, 2.2).
So, yes, I believe in the holy catholic church and the communion of saints, the latest phrase in our look at the Apostles’ Creed. By the way, catholic means whole – as in the whole church, not the belief system/denomination known as Catholicism. And, even though we cannot be in physical communion with one another today, a time is coming when we will gather together again. Why? Because that is what church really is – a gathering of people, specifically those who are called out by God and for God in order that we may serve Him. And that serving includes, making disciples so He can continue to build His Church.
On that Sunday morning, nearly 2000 years ago, the words were spoken that still ring true today, “He has risen; He is not here” (Mark 16.6).
Jesus is still not in that, or any tomb. Instead, He is still active and is building His Church. If you are a follower of Jesus, then that means you are a part of what is being built. If you do not yet know Jesus (not know about, truly know), then He wants you to be a part of what He is building as well.
Peter confessed the identity of Jesus as the Messiah and Jesus gave him a new identity. When we confess Jesus as our Savior, He gives us a new identity as well. And a part of that identity is to be a part of the Church, which therefore must include the local church.
So, what are you doing now?
Being a part of what God is building does not mean that we wait until we die. No, eternal life begins the moment you receive the gift of Jesus – the salvation He purchased on the cross, the resurrection that proved that salvation is real, and the opportunity to live with Him for eternity at His invitation.
But, what do we do while we are living? That is, if you are reading this, then you are not dead, so the resurrection cannot just be about life after death…it has to mean something for this life too. And that something is about each of us being a part of the Church He is building.
One thing I know, one day you and I will be asked a question very similar to the one Jesus asked His disciples. That question, “Who do you say that I am?”
The time to answer is now. Do you know what your answer will be?
While Andy has preached other messages on this passage, the following links are posts (from his sermon notes) from a series on Matthew 16.13-19 preached in January-March 2016.