Our Aggressive Assignment
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 16:18b (Holman) “. . .and the forces of Hades will not overpower it.”
Hades, the realm of the dead, is used here as a collective term denoting the powers of death and evil. The Church always has enemies who want to stifle and resist it, but all the powers of darkness will not be able to stop the Church.
Our text is not a blanket promise to any particular denomination, mission agency, or local church. These groups do lose battles at times. Jesus’ meaning was, the war has been won for the Church as a whole.
Our text was a bold prediction for a homeless teacher with twelve followers. Jesus in essence said there will always be Christians to carry on His cause. If a disaster occurs, and two humans are left on Earth, at least one will be a believer, and if a Baptist, will go on Monday night soul winning visitation to win the other.
Since Jesus is building His Church, its superstructure is as impregnable as its foundation. Nothing can destroy it. The Church will outlive her enemies. She will see their funerals. In fact, many of their funerals will be held in a church, and many of their graves will be within eyeshot of a tombstone bearing a Bible verse.
In our text the Greek word for “forces” literally means “gates.” The image was stark and clear. Jesus pictured the kingdom of evil as being on the defensive.
Gates do not conquer. They protect what is behind them. Our text assumes the Church is on offense, not defense, fulfilling an “aggressive mission” (Morgan).
Jesus’ death and resurrection pulverized powers of darkness (Col. 2:15). Thus, all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him (Matthew 28:18). Controlling history, He forbids evil powers to stop the advance of His Church.
God promised Abraham, through him all the nations on earth would be blessed (GN 12:3). This promise seemed to have been thwarted for 2000 years after it was given. Then Jesus came. Since His resurrection, no nation has had a gate strong enough to keep itself from being affected by the kingdom of Christ. Jesus is the seed of Abraham in which all nations of the world will be blessed.
Jesus is leading His Church to crash through gates of darkness. The first gate of Hades to fall before Jesus was the stone on His sepulcher (MK 16:4). It could not prevail against Him. It failed to hold Jesus in. He came through it, thereby picturing His ability to crash through any other gate erected to stop Him.
Jesus’ prediction about His Church’s advance has been miraculously fulfilled, and minutely documented. In 96 A.D. Tacitus, Roman senator/historian complained the “pernicious superstition” (Christianity) had been held in check a while, but broke loose, spreading not only over Judea, but also reaching Rome.
In about 140 A.D. Hermas claimed, “The Son of God has been preached to the ends of the earth.” Justin Martyr wrote, “There is not a nation of Greeks or barbarians,. . .among whom prayer and thanksgiving are not offered up to the Father and Creator of the Universe, in the name of the crucified Jesus.”
About 200 A.D. Tertullian said, “We are but of yesterday, and we have filled your cities, islands, towns, and boroughs, the camp, the senate, and the forum.” Tertullian also liked to tout the fact Christ had followers on the far side of Hadrian’s wall in Britain, where Roman soldiers had not been able to penetrate.
In 230 A.D. Origen claimed people “in every part of the world” had given themselves up to the religion of Christ. In 313 A.D. Constantine granted religious freedom. With this, Christianity spread rapidly throughout the Roman Empire, and became the dominant cultural force in the western world.
In 378 A.D. Jerome wrote, “From India to Britain, all nations resound with the death and resurrection of Christ.” Lest you think I’m exaggerating, overstating my case, I refer you to the Wikipedia article, “Timeline of Christian Missions.”
Our forebears knew Jesus expected His Church to be confident in its forward progress. He still expects it to always be confidently going forth to conquer. I fear we USA Christians are hunkering down with a fox hole mentality, trying to barely survive. In the USA, where are we making progress? Where are we advancing? Where are we turning on the light in a dark room behind a gate?
The USA Church may be floundering, but Jesus is not in retreat. He is still building His Church, using individual believers as living stones in the building. He seeks soldiers He can count on, who know they have received in order to give.
When Jesus fed 5000, had we been on the front row with food repeatedly set before only us, as the pile grew we would feel compelled to share our bounty with the hungry behind us. None of us would horde food while people nearby starve.
We all innately sense, to withhold from others what we have in abundance is unfair. To enjoy eternal life with God, without conveying the same privilege to others, is dastardly, especially when we are assured of victory in the effort.
Jesus is building. He needs living stones right now. Only this generation of believers can reach this generation of unbelievers. Today’s believers are the only hope for today’s unbelievers to hear about Jesus.
God is, near and far, opening many gates of opportunity for us to enter. We must run through these gates quickly, before they close again. Open gates are iffy. They can shut at any moment. Opportunity can pass quickly.
Let’s not be fooled into thinking we can postpone duty till a later day in life, when we will accomplish some huge heroic feat for Jesus. Some are wonderful for God solely in our dreams. Our mind’s eye envisions a huge accomplishment, but it remains ever a fantasy. We all know the disappointment of resolutions left undone. What about this year’s Global Impact Celebration and World Missions Offering commitments? Have we all followed through on all our commitments?
God has a master plan, the Master’s plan, for how He wants to evangelize the world. At wonderful, unexpected moments He chooses to drop a church into the middle of His eternal purposes, letting its members in on what He’s doing.
This happened to us in 1997. God was busy building His Church all over the world, but Second was only marginally involved in missions. Then God, for gracious reasons known only to Him, chose to put us as living stones in the center of what He was doing. You have become a congregation wanting to do right, thirsting to leave a significant heritage of righteousness as your spiritual legacy.
This is a worthy collective mind set. We must also each accept our own personal, individual responsibility to tell the world.
Our Indeed Magazine presented this truth well (June 9, 2009), “God is not a private matter. Our culture tells us otherwise. . . .Our world tells us to keep our convictions private. The Word of God tells us not to. Who will you obey?”
No one can take our church’s collective place; no one can take our individual places. This duty can’t be done by proxy, this buck can’t be passed, God asks each of us to fill a spot only we can fill.
Say it loud and clear, the main hindrance to Church advance comes from within us believers, not from Satan. He can snarl and rattle his chains at us, but cannot hook us. Only we ourselves can thwart the kingdom’s forward progress.
John MacArthur tells a story of John Wanamaker, multimillionaire, founder of the famous Philadelphia department store that bore his name, philanthropist, devoted Christian. Wanamaker was a man loved by Presidents and commoners due to his kindnesses. When he died, the businesses in Philadelphia closed to let people attend his funeral; 15,000 did. Wanamaker had a huge heart for missions.
On a short-term mission trip to China, he entered a small village where Christians had begun building a church but lacked money to complete it. In a nearby field he saw the bizarre sight of a boy yoked together with an ox as they together pulled a plow held by his father. Mr. Wanamaker’s guide explained. The boy had promised his father, “If you will sell one of the oxen and give the money for the building of the church, I will take the ox’s place pulling the plow.”
It is said Wanamaker fell to his knees and prayed, “Lord, let me be hitched to a plow that I may know the joy of sacrificial giving.” If we had the spirit of the boy hitched to an ox, we could accomplish great things for God’s kingdom.