Today, we will be focusing on Matt 16:13-20, the passage which was read earlier. Let’s re-read v18-19.
18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
This is a difficult passage. Some questions that came to mind as I studied this passage include: Peter, what role does he play? Is he the first Pope? Catholics would argue, yes, he is. What does it mean that the gates of Hades (or hell) shall not prevail against the church? What are the keys and what in the world is binding and loosing? Sounds like a torture device. Speak! Bind him. He’s speaking, loosen him.
All of these auxiliary questions relate to one main question, how do we build a church that mirrors what the kingdom of heaven will be like?
I will attempt to answer these questions as we do a high-level fly by over the entire chapter. The title of this message is “Focusing on the 3 P’s.” 2 P’s are negative, 2 things we ought never to focus on when building a church that mirrors heaven and 1 P is something, rather someone, we ought to focus on.
1) Don’t focus on religious Programs
2) Don’t focus on human Personalities
3) Focus, instead, on the Person of Christ
Not programs, not personalities, but when building a church that mirrors heaven, we need to focus on the Person of Christ.
First P: Don’t focus on religious Programs
Matt 16:1-12 focus on the Pharisees and Sadducees. This has been a recurring theme throughout this gospel of Matthew. Matthew as a Jewish man wants his fellow countrymen to come to salvation so he is going to harp on this same theme over and over again. That religion cannot save you. The Pharisees and Sadducees were the epitome of religious people. They had their programs that were running week after week, month after month, year after year. Prayer times and teaching, bible studies, sermons, the programs were running at the synagogue, whatever they might have been.
Tragically, although they were busy with their programs, God’s presence had left them long ago and they failed to realize it. It’s mind blowing to me that Jesus burst upon the scene and he was doing some amazing things and still the Pharisees and Sadducees, v1, ask Jesus for a sign.
Weren’t they there when Jesus fed 5000 and then fed another 4000 two chapters earlier? Even if they weren’t there, they must have heard about it? They didn’t even pause to wonder, who is this man? Instead, they crossed their arms and asked for more signs. They were not convinced. And so Jesus responds by saying, I’m not giving these guys more signs. They have had enough. They already have the sign of Jonah. In the Old Testament, Jonah, the prophet sent to Nineveh was in the belly of a fish and then came out miraculously three days later.
Jesus mentions Jonah to make a point. Wait until I die on a cross for the sins of the world and descend to the belly of the earth and resurrect 3 days later. Even then, as history shows, you won’t believe. I know your hearts. Even the resurrection will not be a convincing enough sign for you to believe in me.
What do we learn from this? One thing we learn is that miracles never convert a person. They can satisfy a person’s curiosity, but they will never bring that person into a born-again salvation experience. The world says, give me something I can see. If I can see it, then I’ll believe it. Interestingly, the Bible says the reverse. If you believe it, then you’ll see it.
Also, we learn that certain people will never see, people like the Pharisees and the Sadducees, they will never see because they don’t want to see. They made up their minds. Jesus can feed thousands, he can heal the leper, he can be raised to life from the dead, but nothing will convince people to see what they don’t want to see.
In v6, Jesus warns his disciples to be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees. And the disciples heard this and they were still a bit clueless back then and so Jesus clarifies what he meant in v12. Be on guard, be careful of their teaching. Why?
We won’t read it now but if you want to get a full answer, go home and read Matthew 23. What’s so wrong with following religious programs? What’s wrong with religion? A little religion never hurt anyone, right? You’ve heard that saying. Why did Jesus say, be careful, be on guard against their teaching?
Their teaching was not just distributing wrong information. These leaders who were running various religious programs had a goal. Every program has a goal. You go through the 12 Steps Program to overcome addiction. Freedom from addiction is the goal. The military has a program. It’s called boot camp. The goal of their program is to produce a fit soldier who can submit to authority, follow orders and fire a gun on command.
In extreme cases of religious legalism, the goal of this program is loyalty to the group and uniformity of behavior. In legalistic communities, morality is used as a club to beat people into uniformity. There are many rules. Don’t watch this. Don’t do that. Everybody follows the moral program. Nobody watches certain kinds of movies, nobody drives certain kinds of cars, in fact, everyone drives the same car, everyone talks the same, dresses the same. Shuns the same kind of immoral behavior. There is absolutely no freedom in a legalistic religious community.
In addition to loyalty to the group and moral uniformity, religious programs can have a third goal. To build up the egos of the leaders. If you read Matthew 23, you will see as plain as day what Jesus thinks of these leaders. These leaders loved to be greeted and admired and honored at banquets and given special seats at synagogues. They love it when people call them, Rabbi. And in the process of building up the egos of the leaders, the people who followed them were crushed under a heavy load of legalism.
The term binding and loosing was familiar to the Jews of the day. To bind something was to lay down a law. To loose something was to allow for an exception to the law. The Torah in fact consisted of 613 commandments. 365 positive commandments, things you can do which are not a sin. And 248 negative commandments, acts which were prohibited because they are sinful. Things that were permitted and things that were forbidden. Totaling 613–do this but don’t do that. How on earth would any human being be able to remember, keep track of, much less observe, all 613 commandments at every moment? What a crushing burden!
15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.
Scary verse. A person saved into a religious program, a religious system, like legalism, will be bound by laws, chained, and Jesus says, that convert of religion will be twice as much a son of hell as you are. You, as the religious teacher and the religious program director, are bound. Sure enough. But your converts are doubly bound by your laws because they are bound by standards that you yourself do not follow. Hypocrisy produces leaders who place a high standard for others and a standard that is much lower and much more doable for themselves.
Religion cannot save. Religious programs cannot save. Having programs might make me feel good as a leader that everyone is getting with the program, whatever we define our unique program to be. I might feel great that everyone here is becoming like-minded and doing all the same things. But in the end, religious programs cannot save.
13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
The scariest thing is this. Man-made, religious programs is one of the chief obstacles to genuine salvation. It shuts the door to heaven in men’s faces and prevents all from entering.
To build a church that mirrors heaven, let’s not focus on religious Programs.