Well, good evening everybody! It's good to be with you, it is a real privilege to be here at Open Arms Church for this special occasion. Thank you to Simon and the leadership for inviting me to come tonight to share in it with you, and I believe that I have something from the Lord to share. Let me just say, before I go on any further, congratulations for entering this new building, and I hope that you have special times with the Lord in it as I will be talking about throughout this message, and indeed the prayer that I will do just at the end with the leadership as we officially dedicate this place to the Lord.
I want you to turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew's Gospel, chapter 16, Matthew's Gospel chapter 16. Before we read the Scripture, I just want us to pray together and ask the Lord's help with our time just now. So let's pray, get the passage if you haven't got it already, or scroll it, or whatever you do these days, and let's pray. Would you pray with me now that God would speak to every heart, whatever our need might be? I believe that can happen, it's amazing, isn't it? On one night, God can speak to everybody who needs something - even if I don't say that particular thing, He can speak into your heart and meet your need - and that's what we long for, isn't it? I certainly want to encounter the Lord tonight in a fresh way again, so let's pray for each other, but pray for yourself now that God will speak to you.
Father, we praise You, we worship You, we extol Your name, we exalt You, and we just say our 'Amen' to all the praise that has already gone up. Lord, You're great, and You're greatly to be praised. We want to honour You, and we just take this moment to worship You tonight. We invite You, as we've been singing, to come into this place, to come to our lives, and to meet with us in a fresh, living way. On this night of special occasion, as we dedicate this building, we pray that there will be revelation, we pray that there will be prophetic word, we pray that there will be something with the life of God in it that will make a difference to this company of believers, and to each of us in our families and our community. Lord, we need You, Portadown needs you desperately; but we believe that You're more willing to give than we are to receive. So, whatever the needs are tonight, Lord, would You give and meet those needs: people who need to come to know You as Saviour and Lord of their lives, people who need restoration, people who need healed, people who need delivered, people who need revived - Lord, would You come and meet every need in this place tonight, as we give You glory and praise, in Jesus' name, everybody said: 'Amen'.
OK, we're going to begin reading at verse 13 of Matthew 16: "When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, 'Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?'. So they said, 'Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets'. He said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?'. Simon Peter answered and said, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God'. Jesus answered and said to 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 also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven'. Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ".
Some of you, I'm sure, are familiar with Isaiah 43, verses 18 and 19, which says: 'Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert". So, we are to give thanks and praise to God for the past - yes? That has been recognized tonight in the testimony of this fellowship from its inception and even how you've got into this moment tonight - and yet we're not to get stuck in the past; [we are to be] appreciative of it, but we're to be looking forward because God is always doing something. I want to ask the question tonight: what on earth is God doing? What on earth is the new thing that God is actually performing? I wonder what the new thing God is doing in Portadown is?
You might think (and a lot of Christians have this perspective) that things have never been worse than they are today; and they're just sitting around waiting for Jesus to come again - when, in fact, Jesus Himself said in John 5:17: 'My father is always at work to this very day. And I too', Jesus said, 'am working'. So, no matter what we see, or for that matter don't see, with the naked eye, Jesus is very clear that the Godhead is always doing something. Do you believe that? Where is the kingdom of God breaking out? Where do you recognize it breaking out? I hope and believe that this is what is happening even here this evening. But what in the world is God doing?
Let me give you a few statistics. These are from the Barna Group who do various polls in the Christian world and otherwise. To give you an idea what God's up to: last Sunday, more Christians were in church in China than in all mainland Europe. Isn't that incredible? China has known a massive revival over the last number of years. There are more Anglicans attending in each of these countries: Kenya, South Africa and Tanzania, than Anglicans that attend church in all of Britain and America combined. Isn't that staggering? More Presbyterians attended church in Ghana than in Scotland, and the evangelical wing of the church - particularly the Pentecostal charismatic wing - has grown to half a billion in the last 60 or 70 years alone. Some more: there's an unprecedented harvest of souls in Latin America, Africa and Asia. One hundred million Chinese Christians are reported to exist; some suggesting that 3,000 a day are coming to Christ in China. There are prayer movements that have sprung up over the last 20 years, not just Houses Of Prayer like we have in Portadown, but other great organizations like 24/7 Prayer etc. that have made a massive impact on the global church. There are more Muslims coming to Jesus in the last 20 years than ever before.
So whatever the bad news is that we get on a daily diet, this is what Kingdom news is, what God is doing on the Earth. Buddhist countries such as Mongolia, Cambodia and Vietnam are seeing unprecedented Christian growth. In 2010, the church in Iran grew 19.5%, there are presently hundreds of believers in Kabul in Afghanistan. Egypt now has over 200 registered prayer watches of 24-hour prayer groups. There have been breakthroughs in India with the Dalits (that's the untouchable people, the oppressed there). Even our own continent, Europe, has reported that there are major stirrings among Anglicans and Catholics. An estimated 25 million people found their way to faith in Jesus Christ last year in 2018.
What on earth is God doing? Contrary to popular opinion, the church is the biggest provider for Aids care in the world. In the UK alone, it is the church that runs more schools, youth, toddler groups, debt counsellors and feeds more families than any other voluntary agency.
Jesus said - we read it, Matthew 16 verse 18 - 'I will build my church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it'. Now there's still a lot of work to be done and let me give you a few more figures - if you're not bamboozled already! There are 16,350 people groups in the world and there are still 6,645 that are categorized as either least-reached or unreached categories - they still need to hear of the Lord Jesus Christ and the good news. That's a total population of 2.84 billion people. Wow! 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, and 90% of those are among the unreached people groups. Of the 7,000 world languages there are, there's 1,778 of them without Scripture.
So there is a lot still to do, isn't there? Yet we can confess tonight - yes? - as we're standing in this new building, this new venture: Jesus is building His church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. But we tend to think of church growth in relation to numbers and nations. Now that's correct on one level of course, Jesus said: 'Go therefore into all the world and make disciples of all nations'. There is a day coming when Revelation chapter 11 verse 15 says that the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ. So the Lord is interested in numbers, He's interested in nations. However, tonight, in the time that we have together, I want you to consider church growth not from a numerical perspective or a national perspective, but from the perspective of authority.
Jesus said, I will build my church. When He gave the Great Commission at the end of the Gospel narrative, He said: 'Go into all the world and preach the gospel'; but He also said, 'And all authority has been given to Me in heaven and upon earth, therefore go and make disciples'. I want us to consider the spread of the kingdom of God, the building of the church, the growth of the Christian global population in relation to the authority of Jesus Christ. So, to understand that, we need to go to the context of our reading tonight. If you look at verse 13, you'll see where Jesus and the disciples were in the region of Caesarea Philippi. Now if you've been to the Holy Land, this is a different Caesarea than the Caesarea on the Mediterranean Coast. I know some of you are going there soon, and you might even visit those spots. But Caesarea Philippi is a beautiful site on the North shore of the lake of Galilee. It's located about 25 miles north of Bethsaida that we read about in the Bible, and it's on the slopes of Mount Herman. It's a city that lay in the territory that was ruled by Philip - that's Herod Antipas' brother - and it was influenced extensively by Greek and Roman culture. You could see it everywhere. It wasn't a Jewish region, it was primarily Gentile, and it was known for its worship of Greek gods and even its temple to Pan who was the god of nature. In fact, it was believed that the actual gateway of hell was there - that's right. If you look at this next slide, and some of you might have been there as I said, there's a great hill at Caesarea Philippi in which is this deep cavern - and it was believed that this was the birthplace of the god 'Pan', the god of nature, but also was an entrance into the underworld; that it was actually the gate of hell itself. I'm not going to go into details tonight, but you can imagine the unspeakable practices that took place around this facility and even in this cave. This piece of land dates right back in its pagan practices to the Old Testament, where there was Baal worship. Baal worship was basically a fertility god, and Baal worshippers engaged in ritual prostitution to placate their god - and as I say, I'll not go into detail, but you can understand what this place was like.
Fast forward from the Old Testament. When Philip became ruler, he rebuilt this place and he renamed the city after Caesar Tiberias as Caesarea Philippi, and he even built a great marble temple there to the godhead of Caesar, because the Romans believed that Caesar was god, and he named the city after himself, of course. Now think about this, Jesus deliberately sets Himself against this backdrop to ask the greatest question of all questions: 'Who do people say that I am, the Son of Man? What do they say about Me?'. So, if you like, He chooses the background of all the world's religions and their history; if you like, He steps onto the stage of the theatre of all the rival deities of theologies and beliefs around the world, and all idols you can think possible, and He demands to be compared to them: 'Who do people say that I am?'.
In fact, it's interesting, He actually asks what other people are saying about Him. It's obvious, to me anyway, that the moral and spiritual climate of our present-day generation is very similar to what was going on here in this historic site of Caesarea Philippa, but even in Jesus' day the theories of His identity were varied. Some people said: 'He's a good man'. Some people say: 'Well, I'll give you He's a remarkable teacher. He might be a supreme martyr dying on the cross', but they all miss the point of who Jesus really is. And the disciples begin to answer, if you look at verse 14: 'So they said', to answer this question, 'Some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, others say Jeremiah, or one of the prophets'. It's as if the disciples are answering from popular opinion what people say about Jesus, but the voice of popular opinion is always confused about Jesus. That's why we don't run to the world to find out what they think about Jesus, we go to the Father.
Now I want you to notice Jesus didn't have an identity crisis. He said: 'Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?'. He understood who He was, but He wanted to know what other people were saying. In fact, I don't really think it was popular opinion He was interested in, or the ideas of others, He was chiefly concerned about what His chosen twelve disciples thought about Him. So, in verses 15 through to 17, He quizzes them, and Simon Peter comes out with this answer: 'You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God' - but before that, these, I would say 'religious opinions' came forth. 'Some people say that You're John the Baptist', remember Herod believed that He was John the Baptist come back from the dead. 'Some think You're Elijah', because there's a prophecy in Malachi at the end the Old Testament saying that Elijah would come back in the end times. 'Some say You are Jeremiah', and Jeremiah was believed by the Jews to be immortal, because there's no record of his death and the Apocrypha predicts that he'll return one day with Isaiah the prophet. But Jesus is probing these twelve followers of His: 'What do you really think about Me?'. He's asking for spiritual insight, that's needed to see Christ as He really is. You see, He wanted them, specifically, to see Him in all of His authority.
How do you see Jesus? I'm specifically talking to the church here tonight and Christian believers in the gathering. How do you see Jesus? Do you see Him as He is? Or do you see Him as He was? These disciples needed to change their mind, their perspective, or to put it another way: they needed their mind changed by the Lord Himself. I want to ask you: how do you see Jesus Christ? Or to put it another way: how do you see His authority? What does He say here in verse 18? 'I will build my church' - I will - 'and the gates of hell', or Hades, 'shall not prevail against it'. Do you see the gates of hell prevailing against Christ's church? Do you see the gates of hell advancing against Christ's church? Do you see us on the back foot? Do you see the extension of the kingdom of darkness as being escalated over and above the speed of the extension of the kingdom of light, the kingdom of God's dear Son? Do you have a pessimistic view of what's going on in the world, rather than an optimistic or a triumphant view? Is your concept: 'Let's hold the fort till Jesus comes', or 'I'm a Christian, get me out of here as quick as possible'?
What does this mean, verse 18, 'I will build my church'? It's speaking of the authority of Christ on the earth today. He's doing it and He's going to continue to do it. It's His church - notice that in verse 18, 'I will build my church'. It doesn't belong to Open Arms, it doesn't belong to any other expression of church within Portadown, in Northern Ireland, or across the globe. We need to get this kingdom perspective, rather than just a local church perspective. It's all about Jesus. We're not in competition. We're not in rivalry. We're together. We're meant to be cooperating. We're meant to be a family. It's His church, it belongs to Him.
The world system needs to realize that when they attack the church. You remember Saul of Tarsus attacked the church, to the extent of actually rounding up the Christians and getting them fed to the lions. You remember, Jesus appeared in His glorified risen form to Saul, in all of His authority, and Saul fell to the ground, and he heard Jesus say to him: 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? I am Jesus whom you are persecuting'. The church belongs to Him. You touch the church, you touch Christ.
What's Christ intention for the church in this verse of ours tonight? 'I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it' - now that's lost on a lot of us, because we don't have the background history and context of some of these phrases. 'Gates', in ancient society, 'Gates' were the place of authority. Did you know that? The gate of a city was the place that you would go to get a judgment, it was a legal place, it was the place where the governing authorities would meet together. That's why sometimes, when there was an execution, it happened out at the gates. What Jesus is saying here is: 'I will build my church and the governing authority of hell or Hades shall not prevail against it'. Now that's interesting, isn't it? The Puritan, John Trapp, explains this phrase 'gates of hell' to mean 'All the power and policy of hell combined'.
Do you understand what's being said now? Stay with me now, progress a little bit further: 'I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it'. The word for 'church' there is 'ekklesia' or 'ecclesia' in the original Greek language. We're familiar with the word 'church', aren't we, as it's translated into English, and the Scottish word is 'Kirk', the German is 'Kirche' but that's not actually the word that's being used here. The understanding, the only Gospel that uses it is Matthew's Gospel, and the people who were listening to Jesus, the disciples and anybody else, when they heard that word 'ekklesia', would not have heard your word 'church' because it didn't exist.
Do you know what an 'ekklesia' was in Bible times? They would have known this word - it was a governing assembly, a bit like Stormont (probably did a wee bit more), but a legislative assembly, a parliament. So now think of what Jesus is saying: 'I will build My governing assembly and the authorities of hell that are presently ruling and reigning in society will not be able to prevail against My authority'. Now just let that sink in for a moment, because for some of you, that will be the first time you've ever heard that verse like that before: 'I will build My ekklesia, My legislative assembly that I've given authority to, but the gates of hell, the authority of darkness that has been in power for so long since Adam's fall, will not have the ability to resist what I'm doing'.
That means that we are agents of change, that means that you if you're a Christian here tonight, and if you represent a church body, you are the most powerful people in the universe today. We don't behave it, do we? We are the ones who are bringing heaven's influence on the earth supernaturally. I love this verse in Ephesians 3 verse 10 in the NIV: 'God's intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms'. I don't want to go into this in detail, except to say that there were gods, as it were, with small 'g's, ruling authorities, angelic beings who were cast out of heaven at the rebellion of Lucifer, and they were given certain authorities over this planet, they were sent to earth. But man's commission was to subdue the earth under God's domain and authority, and he succumbed to Satan, and he came under the clutches of Satan - but Jesus Christ came into this world, was manifested in the flesh to destroy the works of the wicked one. When He went to the cross and He bled and he died, He wrested from the hands of Satan the authority over this world. Now we, as His church, have been given by Him the authority to go and subdue the earth again.
That's who you are, if you're Christian, what this verse is saying is: the whole universe is like a stadium and those principalities and powers, those gods with a small 'g', and those demons are looking on, the angels even they are in awe and wonder at the authority that God has given us, and they are watching and waiting till we should make known the manifold wisdom of God on the earth. We live, often as Christians, in a puny existence and many times in the church we have this back-foot mentality of cowering in a corner, and being afraid to raise our voice, and being intimidated by darkness. When this is the authority that we have, this is the calling that we have been given - and how is it done? Look at verse 19 Jesus said: 'I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven' Now that wasn't exclusively to Peter, in chapter 18 He says it again in verse 18 - I remember preaching on it years ago, and I preached under the heading 'Earth Governing Heaven' - how does that sit with you? Earth governing Heaven? Well, that's what it says.
Jesus is saying, 'I've given you authority to bind certain things on earth that are not in keeping with My will in heaven, and I'm giving you authority to lose certain things on earth that are according to My will in heaven'. Do you know what binding and loosing is? It's a huge subject, but do you know effectively what it is? It's forbidding certain things, and it's allowing other things - and that's the church's job in community. Not doing it through law or through politics, but doing it in the spiritual realm through the weapons of our warfare that God has given us. So you need to get into binding and loosing, we do this at the House of Prayer, often through praying over the spiritual gates of the town and the city or society; spiritual gates are the things that we either close to evil, or we open to evil, or we open to righteousness.
And so the law, policing, education, entertainment, religion, we could go through them all, there are several of them, but this is our job here on the earth. We need to - and I hope this is a word from the Lord for you tonight - as you open this building, you need to realize who you are, and you need to realize who Christ is. He's not somebody who's just gone away and keeping quiet until He returns again and conquers the world, but He is building His church today and Satan is no match for Him.
So think about this: Jesus literally and metaphorically travelled to the very gates of hell at Banias, that place that we showed you on the slide, Caesarea Philippi. He went to the very gates of hell, the mouth of Hades, and He proclaimed all authority in heaven and earth was given to Him - but He asked His disciples: 'Do you believe it?'. It's all down to whether we believe it or not. You know, another phrase 2,000 years ago that was familiar to the society, but we would assume it wasn't because we have adopted it as a Christian word is 'apostle'. It was not a religious title at all. It was a concept that lent itself to the idea of what Jesus taught us to pray when He said, 'After this manner pray: Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven'; that we live under an open heaven in Jesus Christ, that all the promises of God are 'yes and amen' to us. He has given us this authority to bind and loose to see heaven come down.
This word 'apostle' was used in secular language to describe a king who was sending out a fleet of battleships to a specific mission. They were to sail to a foreign land, they were to colonise new territory and make it just like the land they had been sent from. The captain of that ship was called an 'apostle', and he would lead a team - and along with him there were skilled tradesmen, there were teachers of languages, culture, architects, builders, soldiers to fight and maintain the order, there were even doctors and others with these foundational occupations for the success and expansion of a new colony of the kingdom. So this apostle was sent out with exclusive authority from the king to oversee and to direct all that was done. Listen: his end goal was to make sure that if the emperor or the king ever visited that province and colony of his kingdom, that he would immediately, as he stepped off his boat, feel that he was back in the capital again, it was a little piece of the Empire but in a different place.
That brings a different aspect to 'Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven'. Listen, I know things are bad in Portadown, things are bad everywhere, and sometimes we need to stop saying 'Things are hard here, things are hard there, things are hard everywhere', and we need to pray about the drug abuse, we need to pray about the prostitution, we need to do the binding and loosing, we need to do all the spiritual warfare - but let's not have our eyes in our boots, and realize that there's a God in heaven, the Son of God is risen, He is exalted, He is ascended, He has poured out His Spirit at Pentecost, and He gives you and me authority to bring His rule and reign in the world, in Portadown!
Are you up for that, because that's why you're here. I thank God for you Open Arms, I don't know an awful lot about you, and I know that there's a group of people have gathered together and many of you have hurts, and many of you have issues - sure we all have, and we've got baggage and all the rest. Show me a person that doesn't! But do you know something, there's healing in the Gospel. There's great saving salvation, soul healing, but listen: we're not called just to that, we are called to be wounded healers who go out and change the world through the redemptive power of grace. That's your commission. I believe I'm here by God to remind you of that. God has given you a lovely place, but He wants you to break out, break out with the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit and see - this is what He wants for every church in Portadown - He wants them all to break out until they all nearly come together, they are one anyway, to see Jesus standing, tall, risen, glorified in our midst in this town - and I believe for it, I believe for it. I believe for a day when the sectarian hatred and brokenness and bigotry will be gone, I believe, I can see that, can you see it? It's possible, when dead religion will not matter any more, and blind distinctions will all dissolve, and it'll be Christ and Christ alone. One Lord, one faith, one baptism - that's God's heartbeat for this place, for this island, will you get with the program?
This [building] is just a facility, this is an instrument to do that, for Jesus to build His church. Don't you walk around with your head down again, thinking 'Oh, isn't everything terrible? Oh, let's not ever hear that word 'Brexit' again, and everything's going to hell in a handcart and...', do you know what I mean? That's the enemy’s weight on us. Let's hold our heads high, and believe who we are and whose we are and who He is. I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not, shall not, never prevail against it.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Open Arms Church in Portadown, N. Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "What On Earth Is God Doing?" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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