Jesus came, not just to call individuals to new life, but to form a new community. And he calls us to be a part of this.
The focus verse is from Matthew 16:18:
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”
This teaches us, among other things, that Jesus will build his new community on the basis of the apostolic testimony that Peter had just confessed, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (v. 16).
An overview of what the church is
1. It is the assembly of the people of God. This is what the word “church” means – “a regularly assembled political body.” Just as in the Old Testament, God had his own people or nation, apart from all the nations of the world, so the church is God’s people; God’s distinct nation (Matthew 21:43).
2. It is the remnant of Israel, the people of God. Only a portion or remnant of Israel in Jesus’ day responded to him. From this remnant he re-formed the people of God. Just as there had been 12 tribes, now Jesus symbolically chooses 12 apostles to signal this.
Jesus said to the leaders of Israel who rejected him, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits” – Matthew 21:43. This “people,” or “nation” is the church, made up Jews and Gentiles who have responded to Jesus.
3. It is Jesus’ new community. Here is a comparison of the people of God before and after Jesus:
Moses was the leader
|Jesus is the leader – “my church” (Matthew 16:18)|
|The exodus was the foundational event||Jesus’ exodus through death to resurrection is the foundational event|
|The temple/festivals as a focus for worship||Jesus as the focus of worship – the Lord’s Supper, his resurrection, etc.|
Jesus is the foundation and focus of God’s people now.
4. It is made up of those who choose to do God’s will as Jesus teaches this. Jesus said his community is made up of “whoever does the will of God.” – Mark 3:35. He said it is made up of people from all nations who observe all that Jesus has taught – Matthew 28:19. Jesus calls out a remnant from every nation. And we all find a new identity in the nation of Jesus.
So this means you can’t be born into Jesus’ community. It doesn’t matter who your parents are. You have to make the choice yourself! And as Matthew 28:19 indicates, this choice is made through the act of baptism.
An overview of what the church does
We gather together to worship:
- We pray together. We pray “our Father” – Matthew 6:9. We pray as a community.
- We remember, celebrate and recommit to Jesus in the Lord’s supper – Mark 14:22-25; I Corinthians 11:23-26.
- We baptize new Christians – Matthew 28:19.
- We learn the way of Jesus – Matthew 28:20.
We love and support each other. This shows up in the familial language. We are Jesus’ family – Mark 3:33-35; we are all “brothers and sisters” – Matthew 23:8. And as Jesus’ family we love and care for each other:
- We humbly serve each other – Mark 9:35.
- We forgive each other – Mark 11:25, Luke 17:3.
- We work hard to be at peace with one another – Mark 9:50.
- We are careful not to cause others to stumble – Mark 9:42.
- We help each other with needs – Luke 12:33.
We hold each other accountable to our commitment to Jesus. In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus taught: “If your brother (or sister) sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
If someone is not interested in doing God’s will anymore, then they aren’t seen as a part of the community anymore (“a Gentile and a tax collector”). This is determined through the three stage process outlined by Jesus of lovingly calling the person to repentance.
We work and witness for the kingdom. As the parable of the talents indicates, Jesus gives each of us tasks to spread the gospel and build up the kingdom community (Matthew 25:14-30).
Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses” – Acts 1:8. We share with others what Jesus has done for us. This is about inviting people to become disciples of Jesus, as he said, “make disciples of all nations” – Matthew 28:19
And this is not just an individual thing. Jesus said to his community, “You (as a community) are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” – Matthew 5:14. We bear witness to the world of a different way of living and treating each other.
Being a part of Jesus’ community is not optional
To truly follow Jesus you need to be a part of Jesus’ community. Following Jesus is not a private, individualistic experience. This is everywhere assumed by Jesus. For instance:
- we can’t serve one another, if we are isolated by ourselves.
- we can’t help each other with needs, if we aren’t in relationship with each other.
- we can’t be accountable to others, if we don’t belong to the community.
We need the support and help of fellow Christians in order to be faithful in a world that doesn’t follow Jesus and would seek to have us give up our commitment to him. Without others to come alongside and help us, we become weak and give in to the peer pressure around us. We just blend back into the culture and society out of which we came.
Portraits of the early church
Luke records for us in Acts several descriptions of the apostolic church and they present for us an ideal for what the church should be like:
Acts 2:42-47: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
Acts 4:32-35: “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”
Jesus’ promise regarding his church
This comes from our focus verse, where Jesus says, “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” He is saying, death itself will not destroy his community. Just as Jesus overcame death and was raised to new life, so we will be raised and live on as a community in the coming kingdom of God. We will be the only community that will survive death intact and continue on.
Although for now we seem small and insignificant. Then we will reign. Speaking to his disciple community, he said, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:3. He also said, “blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” – Matthew 5:5.