Who do you love?

What might be the defining visible characteristic of one who follows Christ?

Interesting question, isn’t it? Many will automatically respond with faith, or having Jesus in your heart, or being faithful. But none of those, in itself, is a visible characteristic. All must be demonstrated by action.

Jesus and the writers of the New Testament recorded many characteristics of those who are today called Christians.  It seems to me that the single, most emphasized, characteristic mentioned over and over is . . . love.

Think about it.

Jesus used an Old Testament passage to teach about our obligation to love God, as in Mark 12:30. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

Jesus redefined the relationship among his followers when he said, in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Sometimes that is not a very easy thing to do, but it’s not a choice, it’s a command.

As hard as that might be, love, according to Jesus, goes beyond the family of faith. While noting the command to love God is the greatest, Jesus said the second greatest is “love your neighbor as yourself.”

That raises the bar. But that’s not where it stops.

“I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45).

In each of these examples, the Greek word for love is agapao. This is not a love of brotherly affection or emotional connection. Rather, agapao or agape love seeks the best for its object. This love is not based on feelings, but a determined act of the will, a deliberate joyful resolve to put the welfare of others above our own.

Isn’t this essentially what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13? “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

It seems to me that we might have forgotten that love is central to our Christian faith. Love for our God, love for our family of faith, love for those around us, and even love towards those we consider to be our enemies.

If Jesus said we are to love as he loved us, how then did he love? Looking at his interactions with others, we see that He willingly related with all kinds -- sinners, tax collectors, Pharisees, Sadducees, Romans, Samaritans, fisherman, women, children -- with no regard for society’s view of the respectable. Jesus loved these people and treated them out of that love.

No matter how we might feel about politics, race, religion, or the many other divisions in today's world, we must look past the issues to the people involved. We must love them and we must demonstrate that love in ways they can see, understand, and to which they can respond. Anything less is a deliberate rejection of the lordship of the God who “so loved the world that he gave his only son . . .”

Three Truths and Direction

He caught me with the second paragraph!

I recently began reading Follow: A Simple and Profound Call to Live Like Jesus by Pastor Floyd McClung. I knew Pastor McClung by name, but not much more. I liked the title. I got the book for free. As I started, he had a limited amount of time to grab my attention and convince me to read the whole book. He did it with the second paragraph of the Introduction where he said, 


    "All followers and seekers of Jesus must wrestle with three simple yet profound truths . . ."

     1. Worship: to love and obey Jesus as a life-style -- with passion and purpose.

     2. Mission: to love those who don't follow Jesus -- with courage and decency.
     3. Community: to love other followers of Jesus -- with intentionality and transparency.


That resonates with me. It makes me think, Does that description fit me? Do others see that in my life? 

The more I think about McClung's three truths, the more I put them into the context of Jesus' words from Matthew chapter 22, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’"

In a sense, the first part of that is relatively easy. There is only one God to love. We either follow Him or not. Some things really are black and white.

The second commandment is more difficult because there are over 7 billion people out there who could be considered my neighbors. How in the world can I love each or all of them as I do myself?

Maybe this is a case of circular reasoning that actually works. The most important thing for me to do is love the Lord God. Establishing and maintaining that relationship then becomes the best possible thing I can do for myself. If that’s the best I can do for my own good, it makes sense that helping others establish and maintain a relationship with God is the best thing I can do for them. They, in turn, because of their relationship with God, will also pass it to their neighbors. And on and on . . . .

I think that’s something called missions.

Pure, unabashed advertising . . .

We don’t do this often, so I have to make the best of it today. This post is pure, unabashed advertising. Advertising, as in we need Christian workers to fill a variety of positions in South and Southeast Asia.

You’ll remember that Mandate helps send Christian professionals to places where traditional missionaries cannot go. Our workers enter these areas in full-time, legitimate employment which benefits their overseas community. While there, we expect our workers to be as overt as possible in their Christian witness, given their specific situation, seeking to introduce others to Christ and to establish/strengthen His church.

So saying, you (or someone you know) may be the person to fill one of the following needs and so become God’s light in a dark place. Please consider the following personnel needs:

·       TESOL teachers needed in Vietnam

·       Medical workers needed in India and Nepal

·       Primary and secondary school teachers needed in India and Nepal

·       Farm managers needed in Laos

·       Agricultural specialists/teachers needed in Laos

·       Spanish teachers needed in India

·       Counselors needed for human trafficking victims in India

·       Occupational instructors needed for human trafficking victims in India

·       Social workers needed for women’s issues in India

·       Family counselors needed to fight human trafficking in India

·       TESOL teachers needed in Nepal

·       Agricultural specialists/teachers needed in India

·       Small business entrepreneurs needed in India

If you are interested, please contact Mandate. If you know of others who might be interested in this type of service, let them know about this, too.

If you are part of a church, church fellowship group, college fellowship, or similar group, you might consider asking a Mandate representative to visit your location and personally share stories of what God is doing and what still needs to be done for Him in Asia. Again, you can contact Mandate to extend an invitation.

Don't Drop the Ball!

I was listening to a Christian radio station when a woman phoned in to share what she considered an exciting spiritual experience. She had driven into a gas station with Christian music flowing from her radio and through the car’s open windows. Another woman, also getting gas, commented on the song playing, then mentioned missing church and wondering if she should find and attend an area church. The first woman thought that was a good idea, said “God bless you,” finished filling her tank . . . and drove off.

Back to the on-air testimony. This woman was excited for the contact and hopeful that God would work on the person she had met. That was it.

Please think with me through this.

This woman made a contact. She connected with another person. She recognized a spiritual need. She heard the second woman acknowledge her need and open the door to talking about it.

Then she drove off without taking any direct action to meet that spiritual need!

She could have asked if the second woman knew Christ – SHE DIDN'T.

She could have asked why the second woman stopped going to church – SHE DIDN'T.

She could have recommended some churches in her area – SHE DIDN'T.

She could have invited the second woman to attend her church – SHE DIDN'T.

She could have exchanged contact information for personal follow-up – SHE DIDN'T.

What upsets me about this story is how much it seems to represent the church as a whole these days. We see, or at least know about, so much spiritual need around the world. But we don’t do anything to directly meet that spiritual need.

I have talked to too many Christians who explain that God did not call them to be preachers, or evangelists, or counselors. Their responsibility (or so they say) is to live good lives and assume that others will see and that God, Himself, will then intervene to bring people to Himself or to solve their problems.

That is a spiritually comfortable philosophy of non-involvement.

It is also against everything we read in the Bible.

The Bible tells us that all who follow Christ should follow all His teachings. This would include His words in Matthew 28:19 “Go into all the world and make disciples among all nations. . .” and Acts 1:9, “You will be my witnesses . . .”

If we are to follow His teachings and His example, we would do well to pay attention to Luke 19:10, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

And let’s not forget 1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

Not everyone who follows Christ has the blend of spiritual gifts to be a preacher or a cross-cultural missionary or an evangelist. But every Christ-follower knows what happened to him or herself when they began their journey with the Lord. The least we can all do is, when given an open opportunity to share our own story with others, to do just that.

I enjoy baseball. My playing days are long gone, but I still enjoy watching the game. I understand how errors happen, especially when a fielder is attempting a difficult play or in a tense situation.

Sometimes – and we’ve all seen this – it's an easy play. The ball might be popped up by the batter directly toward a fielder. He knows what to do. He’s practiced this. He positions himself under the ball, waiting for it to drop into his waiting glove. It hits his glove . . . and then the ball falls to the ground. This might result in no more damage than to the fielder's personal statistics. Or it could lead to a runner on base or a run scored. It could end up as a loss for his team. Because he dropped the ball.

God gives us easy pop-ups, as he did for the woman whose story initiated these thoughts. Faced with an opportunity to bring the second woman to a higher spiritual level, she let it go. She dropped the ball.

If you have the opportunity, please don’t drop the ball.

My gate is warped

I have an aging wooden fence with a funny gate. The wood is warped, so when you open the latch, the gate springs open. Fortunately, it is attached with hinges to the rest of the fence, so it can only spring so far. It cannot leave the fence or the yard; it cannot attack. Despite the warping, this gate, as all gates, is passive by nature.

Think back with me to the book of Matthew. Jesus had begun preparing his followers for His approaching death.  They had to understand that His death would be neither beginning nor end to God's plan, but rather a transfer of responsibility to His followers so they could complete what had be begun.

Here’s a longer passage from Matthew 16:13-18, so you can catch the context.

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"

They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

"But what about you?" he asked, "Who do you say I am?"

Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.  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.

Now that you’ve seen the whole conversation, focus on just one sentence: I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it, or as expressed more poetically in the King James Version, the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

We can’t understand this statement in the same way Jesus’ listeners did. In Old Testament times the foundation of an empire was generally the strongest of several cities, and an empire often took its name from the main city.  This was the case with Samaria, Babylon, and Rome.  The disciples understood that. 

If one empire wanted to conquer another, this could only be accomplished by capturing and either occupying or destroying the central city of that empire.  In a time when arrows, spears and rocks were the strongest offensive weapons, the best protection was a solid wall, so these cities were surrounded by great walls.  The only intentional gaps in the walls were gates so that people could come and go.

City gates were strong and imposing.  But, like my warped wooden gate, they are also passive.  They do not move to attack.  They just stand there.  When Jesus said, "the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it,” the picture was not one of hell attacking His church but of the church attacking - and conquering - the stronghold of Satan.

In other words, the church was and is not meant to be passively defending itself against the world, but actively moving out from where it is.

The church should be moving on the attack. Just as ancient armies would attack one city after another until breaching the final stronghold, the church should be consciously and visibly breaking into some of hell’s strongholds, anticipating and foreshadowing the final victory.

As encouraging as that may be, it is not the end of the story.  If you go back to the passage with which we began, Jesus made it quite clear that He was not going to do all the work.  He was giving the responsibility and authority to His church.  He would provide the heart and power; it is up to the Church to provide the feet and hands.

Who is the church, but you and me, and all those who are following Christ.

And what are these gates of hell? Any person, group, government, nation, geographical area that stands against the church and the Lord we represent. We have the power of Christ in us, the active enabling of the Holy Spirit, and the command to break through to these strongholds of Satan, not to destroy, but to bring them into the kingdom of God.

Seems to me that’s called missions.

Looking to Easter Week

It’s hard to know where to start when talking about this week. Beginning with Palm Sunday, the day we commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, to the following Sunday, Easter, when we commemorate the resurrection of the Christ, there is something special to be celebrated about almost every day.

Right now I’m thinking specifically about the day on which Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples, commonly noted as the Last Supper. This event is adequately recorded by the Gospels writers. We could begin this day from the point at which Jesus instructs some disciples to go prepare a place for the Passover meal (Matthew 26:18). We could note Jesus washing the disciples’ feet or Judas’ betrayal.

Most of our celebration on what we call Maundy Thursday centers around the actual Passover meal, the Last Supper, which has become the Christian ordinance of holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper.

I, too, would like to stop there for a few minutes today, but not as most people do. I don’t want to talk about the theology of the bread and the cup. I don’t want to talk liturgy. I don’t even want to stay in the gospel accounts.

Instead, let’s go to Paul’s recounting of the centerpiece of this meal, as found in 1st Corinthians 11:23- 26:

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

During one phase of my active overseas missionary service, I was administrative head of an isolated ministry centered within a large tribal group. One of my spiritual responsibilities was to lead my fellow missionaries in a monthly observance of the Lord’s Supper. Doing this 12 times a year for three years, I spent a lot of time studying these passages. Each time, I tried to find something new to share with my fellow workers, but after a few months, there just wasn’t that much new to talk about. Part of me was satisfied repeating the same events. Another part wanted to find something new and life-changing within Jesus’ words and actions.

As I look back several decades to that time, the one take-away I have from that study is summed up in the three tenses of English grammar: past, present, and future. Paul wrote, “whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

When we share in the Lord’s Supper, we are, first of all, doing it in the present tense. We are there. We are actively doing something. Following through with Paul, we are pausing to reflect on our spiritual condition at that precise moment. We are examining ourselves and our lives, measuring ourselves by how we are living up to God’s revealed standards. As part of that, if there is anything found wanting, we should be making the conscious decision to correct that situation.

Examining ourselves by God’s standards, of course, presupposes that we are already in a relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. In this sense, we are looking back to the death of Christ as full payment for our sins and guarantee of a position of imputed righteousness before God.

John 3:16, proclaims, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That familiar passage follows a verse which speaks of Jesus being lifted up, a preview of his death by crucifixion. Paul explains in Romans 6:6-7, “we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin -- because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” Paul again reminds us in Romans 10:13, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

So, as we share the Lord supper in the present tense, we look back 2000 years to the death of Christ which made salvation available to all people. We also look back to the time that we, as individuals, accepted God’s free offer of salvation and committed our lives to the one who gave his life for us.

Finally, Paul reminds us that while we are doing this act of the Lord’s Supper in the present tense, we are actively proclaiming the work of Christ into the future, until he comes again.

What does it mean to proclaim the Lord’s death? Most simply, it means we should be telling other people both what Christ has done, and what it means to us personally. This should be done not just as a historical or factual situation, but with the intent of bringing others into the same relationship so that they too can find salvation in Christ and so have the same personal relationship with God.

This should not be confined within the walls of a church building. Presumably, the people sharing in the Lord’s Supper on any given opportunity within a church setting already know this. No, this proclamation has to burst beyond the immediate present tense and venue. It must be seen in the in light of Jesus’ words to his disciples in Acts chapter 1 where he tells them “you will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth.”

Today – now -- in the present tense -- we who have come to Christ for salvation are his continuing witnesses. We are witnesses to the truth of his life, death, and resurrection as recorded in the Bible. We are witnesses to the unbroken liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, Eucharist, which has come down to us through 2000 years of church doctrine and history. Moreover, we are witnesses to the power of Christ within ourselves. He took us from the realm of darkness and brought us into his marvelous light.

Within this Easter week, let’s take more out of the Last Supper then just a lesson in history or prelude to the death and resurrection which follow in the pages of Scripture. Let’s see this not just as a ceremony or liturgy, but as a corporate and personal three-dimensional act of faith. Once and for all in the past Christ died for us. Today we live because of that action. As we look forward to the time when Christ himself will return to Earth, let’s fulfill this time to come by being active witnesses to what he has done for us and what he wishes to do among all peoples on this earth.

Unbelievable church growth in Nepal

We’ve been talking about how the church has expanded in our time, growing sometimes through the most difficult of circumstances. All of this lines up nicely with Jesus’ words of Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

I first paid spiritual attention to the small Asian nation of Nepal when my daughter spent a summer there in ministry with Teen Missions a few decades ago. She returned to tell about a solidly Hindu country. So solid, it was against the law to convert from Hinduism to, well . . . , anything. She told me about the almost constant ringing of temple bells. She and her teammates decided that whenever they heard a bell ring from then on, they would pray for Nepal.

While our attention was turned elsewhere, God was working in Nepal, and I didn’t even hear about it until five years ago.

Perhaps the growth of Christianity in Nepal is best summed in these words of a national pastor, who wrote . . . 

“. . . missionaries who came from foreign countries were located within their compounds doing just social works.  They were not allowed to go out. They were able to send native missionaries trained by them, to go to the villages. 

“Until 1960, there were only four Churches in four different places with no more than 100 believers. It was the Dark Age of the Nepali Church.

“In 1970, the numbers of Christian had increased to 2,000, and in 1980 it was 20,000. In 1990, the number of the Christians was estimated at 100,000. By the end of 2001, there were over 500,000 Christians and 500 Churches in the country. Now [2010] we have 1,250,000 Christians in more than 1500 Churches around the country.”

Just five years ago, a Nepali Hindu leader wrote, “After the country was declared a Secular Republic [2006], some 1,000,000 plus Hindus have already been converted to Christianity.  In fifty years’ time, Nepal will have completely lost its Hindu identity.”

His prophecy seems to have come true. In 2015, the government structure changed, ensuring a true secular republic, with religious equality and freedom of choice.

That move was so dramatic that many in the international community feel neighboring India is now putting pressure on Nepal to return to its roots. Apparently the present pro-Hindu government of India is afraid this same pattern of Christian church growth could move into their own country!

Even with Christians now making up about 25% of its population, Nepal is still a relatively unreached country.  Its population of about 30 million is divided into 339 people groups, of which 317 are classified as least reached.  Recent history has shown that the relatively small church has done amazing things in reaching out, especially during national crises like the recent earthquake.  They need continued help from the outside to provide training and tools to maintain their forward momentum.  Judging by what has taken place over the past 60 years, it is not inconceivable that Christianity could become the majority religion in Nepal within our lifetimes.

“I will build my church,” said the Lord.

Inroads to Islam

    Islam was born in the deserts of Arabia over 1300 years ago.  As a new religion it poured out like a tidal wave, engulfing the Middle East and North Africa, washing over Southern Asia as far as Indonesia and even crashing on the shores of Western Europe.  Instead of the church breaking down its gates, it looked for a time as if Islam would sweep Christianity from the face of the earth.

    Although Islam’s expansion slowed, stalled, and even receded from Europe, it seemed to stand as a unyielding fortress against the church.  As the church rediscovered its own mandate to spread the gospel, some missionaries labored for years in Muslim countries, seeing only a handful of converts, if that many, in their lifetimes.  That became the normal experience.  Christians did not really expect Muslims to come to Christ.

    Then some Christians began asking the right questions. Instead of why don’t they understand?, the better question became if Muslims are not responding to the offer of salvation as we were presenting it, might there not be a better way to make that presentation? One such movement of questions began in Bangladesh, where one missionary couple began seeing Muslims convert to Christianity.

    As other missionaries followed this lead, they saw more Muslims come to Christ in Bangladesh over the following ten years than all who had converted in the previous 100 years!  What started as an innocent question to a missionary decades ago has become the basis for most modern ministry to Muslims.

    As I traveled in Central Europe some years ago I met a Bulgarian pastor.  During our conversation he took out some photos of a preaching point outside of his own pastorate.  He explained that this was over an hour's drive from home, but he traveled there weekly because he was planting a Muslim convert church among ethnic Turks.  In amazement I looked at him and blurted out, "I've never heard about this."  He simply smiled and replied, "I know, and that's the way it should be."  He didn’t want to draw outside attention to this ministry, because he didn't want to draw Muslim --  or Christian -- opposition.  At the time I talked to him, he had over 70 converts already organized into a functioning church.

    Over the past 50 years the church has taken another look at Islam and realized that it is not as solid and forbidding as once thought. Today there are more missionaries than ever working among Muslims.   Patrick Johnstone wrote in Operation World, that recent years "have been a time of more Muslims coming to Christ that ever before in history.  These are the beginnings of what we believe could be a flood -- if it is to be demonstrated Jesus is Lord even over Islam."

    I personally believe today’s militant Islam is, in part, a reaction to the success of the gospel in penetrating the gates of this stronghold. We can react with fear or make it a political issue, but then we lose sight of the fact that this is an example of the truth of Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

     The gates, walls, or whatever represents this world’s strongholds of resistance to the kingdom of God cannot stop the truth of the gospel carried by those who faithfully follow and obey Jesus Christ.

Please note: As we present this series of examples of the church triumphant, you might have noticed that we are not sharing specific names or places. This is a conscious effort to protect real people who might still be at work in these situations. If you would like to know more details, you may contact Mandate directly on our comment page.

From one to eighty million believers in a generation . . .

Short wave radio was the entertainment. Three decades ago I lived in a remote area of Indonesia. Those were the days before the internet. We had no local radio, no television, no electricity. It was so bad I used to read the encyclopedia just for relaxation! We could, however, pick up international radio broadcasts, in English, from most of the major countries of the world.

Radio Beijing, coming out of China’s capital, was one of those. Mostly political, it carried a strong signal, some music and was good for background noise through the work day. And through the late 1980s, it was interesting to pick up a political shift in China. I hoped it would one day lead to the re-opening of that massive country to the gospel.

One day I heard some vaguely familiar music coming from my radio, then tuned to Radio Beijing. Enough to draw me from my desk to the radio, I tried to place the tune I was hearing, sung in stereotypical sing-song Chinese. Then it hit me! This was a Chinese woman singing the American song Home on the Range! At that moment, I realized something significant was happening in China, but didn’t know where it would lead.

 Writing around that time, Dr. C. Gordon Olson noted in his book What in the World is God Doing?:

When missionaries were forced out [of China] in 1950, there were less than one million Protestant church members.  Recent estimates range from 30 to 70 million Christians.  This represents the largest influx of new believers into the Christian church, by confession of faith, anytime, anywhere, in two thousand years of church history.

Through my early days as a follower of Christ, I prayed for China. I have to admit, I stopped. I did not see any results. Everything I knew or heard about that country indicated the church was virtually non-existent and powerless. I hoped that God would one day re-open the country, but lost sight of that hope in the busyness of my own ministry.

God had been at work in that seemingly closed country, despite what it seemed from the outside. God used His people, from within, weak as they seemed, to spread the gospel by word, deed and example. The result was church growth unheard of in 2000 years.

Last week I opened this blog series with the biblical thought that Christ intends his church to attack the strongholds of Satan and this world, and to break through their gates (closed countries?) with the gospel. Even when we don’t see it happening, God is at work. China was God’s great revelation to me (and so many others) that the church is and should continue to be a spiritually conquering force in this world.

A man I know personally was in China some years ago.  He was taken outside the city by a communist government official with whom he had become friendly.  This official took my friend to a hill overlooking a small town.  Pointing down he said, “I think you should start a church in that town.”

My friend looked up with surprise and suspicion.

The Chinese official quickly said, “I am not religious.  I am a communist and atheist.  But we in the Communist party know that Christians make good citizens and workers.  They do not steal or lie; they do an honest day’s work for their pay.

“I know that people like you used to start churches in towns like that,” he said pointing downward again.  "There is no church there now.  It would be good to see one there.”

That was the end of the conversation, but what had he actually said?  The government of China recognizes a difference – for the good -- in Christians.  The government looks favorably on Christianity.  The government does not want the church mixed up in politics, but, then again, they don’t want anyone except themselves mixed up in politics.

Today, China is more open to Christianity than ever before.  People are coming to Christ; both registered and unregistered churches are growing. The government is at least passively supportive of the church and, in many cases, is taking active steps to help the church. 

Who could have imagined that only 40 years ago?!

Who could have imagined that 2000 years ago?

Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18, KJV).

Now we see what he was talking about.

 Are there more examples?

 Come back to this site next week to read about another gate shattered.

Breaking through the gates

 

At a certain point in His ministry, Jesus began preparing his followers for His approaching death.  They had to understand that His death would be neither beginning nor end to God's plan, but rather a transfer of responsibility to His followers so they could complete what had be begun.  Let me read from Matthew 16:13-18.

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?

They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

"But what about you?" he asked, "Who do you say I am?"

Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.  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. (Matthew 16:13-18).

Let's focus on just one sentence here: "I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." I do like the way it's expressed in the King James Version, "I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

We can’t understand this statement in the same way Jesus’ listeners did. The history of Israel was one of kingdoms and empires, controlling or being controlled.  In Old Testament times the foundation of an empire was generally the strongest of several cities, and an empire often took its name from the main city.  This was the case with Samaria, Babylon, Rome.  Jesus' disciples could probably think of several empires which ruled until another kingdom grew up right under their noses and eventually conquered them.  While Assyria ruled, Babylon grew to challenge and then overcome it; Babylon became an empire, then fell to Persia; and so on. 

If one empire wanted to conquer another, this could only be accomplished by capturing and either occupying or destroying the central city of that empire.  In a time when arrows, spears and rocks were the strongest offensive weapons, the best protection was a solid wall, so these cities were surrounded by great walls.  The only intentional gaps in the walls were gates so that people could come and go in good times.

Can you picture the gates? That image was familiar enough to the disciples.  The word gate actually describes the entire area of entry into a city, not just the part that opened and closed.  A gate area could have several barriers, often constructed of thick wood with iron reinforcement.  Some gates were actually twisting passage ways through which an enemy would have to sustain weapon fire from the high passage walls. 

Gates were strong and imposing.  But gates are also passive.  They do not move to attack.  They just stand there.  When Jesus said, "the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it,” the picture was not one of hell attacking His church but of the church attacking - and conquering - the stronghold(s) of Satan. 

Just as ancient armies would attack one city after another until breaching the final stronghold, the church should be consciously and visibly breaking into some of hell’s strongholds, anticipating and foreshadowing the final victory.

If this is so; if the Lord is still building His church; if His church is to be attacking the strongholds of Satan; if the church should be breaking through the gates of those strongholds; then we should see this taking place now, even as the church looks to the final confrontation between Satan's evil empire and the kingdom of God.

Over the next few weeks, I’d like to share some of the stories of church growth and kingdom expansion that illustrate this picture. I hope you’ll be as encouraged as I am when we look realistically at what God is doing through His church in our time.