I want to extract five words from Math.16:18, words spoken by Christ. In these words we discover the answer to some very fundamental questions.
Why did Jesus come into this world? What did He come to do? What would be the central accomplishment or fruit of His coming- of His mission?
In reading through the Old Testament we should keep in mind that the entire document is a prophetic picture always pointing ahead to the Christ who was to come. Having passed through that long gallery of prophetic portraits of Christ, we arrive at the New Testament, and its opening four records of the life of Christ during the days of His flesh.
If the Biblical record ended with the gospel of John, we could distil a host of answers to the question- ‘Why did Jesus come into the world?’
-He came to preach or proclaim the truth.
-He came to heal all manner of diseases- to open blind eyes, to open deaf ears, to cause the mute to speak, to cast out demons, to raise the dead. Or to sum all of that up- He came to destroy the works of the evil one.
-On the basis of those same records, we could say that He came to confront false religion and the dead works born of such deception.
-Beyond this, we could say, that He came to die and to resurrect back to life again victorious over death, and to ascend back to the Father.
Everything I just expressed would constitute a true answer to the question- ‘Why did Jesus come into the world?’- but none of those responses, nor all of them together provide the final answer to the question.
For instance, what is the value of casting out the demon if the house is left empty and vacant? What is the value of healing the sick only to have them die in the end? What is the value of raising Lazarus from the dead if all there is for him is to die at a latter date?
The ministry of Jesus was undeniably miraculous in its effect upon the lives of those He touched, but the purpose of that ministry went far beyond the miracles He performed. In other words Jesus did not come just to minister- even signs, wonders and miracles. He did not come to point us to a ministry- but rather He was given a ministry that through the execution of that ministry He might bring us to that glorious purpose which was central to all that He did, for it was central to the heart of the Father God.
His ministry was never an end in itself- but was a means to an end- a very definite, designed, calculated and intended end.
And by the way, and just in passing we need to be vigilant to guard our hearts against viewing our calling, our gifting, our ministry as being an end in itself. We need to understand that prayer and preaching, and worship and Bible knowledge and personal experience can become idolatrous in our own soul.
This was exactly what Jesus was dealing with in Luke 10, where we have the account of His sending out of the seventy. If you have a red letter edition of the Bible, you will notice that from vs.1 to vs.24 almost all of the letters are printed in red ink- meaning that almost all of the words appearing in these verses are the words of Christ.
But we must not overlook the words in black ink- particularly verses 1 and 17.
Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come.
The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.”
Verse one tells us the purpose for which Christ sent them out- while verse seventeen tells us their reaction to what happened ‘in the ministry.’
The purpose in their being sent out was to prepare the way for Christ, who was to come after them.
That work of preparation was to be done through a definite ministry which Christ Himself gave them. If you read verses 9 and 19 together you discover what that ministry consisted of..
“And heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘ The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
“Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you.
Their ministry consisted of (1) miraculous signs, and (2) a very specific message; ‘ The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
And again just in passing, we should note the organic oneness or unity between Christ and any ministry He gives. “ The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.”
If you have been able to follow these scattered considerations, it should be clear that in them there is this essential truth or characteristic regarding true Christian ministry- It never points to itself; it never magnifies the works or effects it produces. It points steadfastly and solely to the Christ Who gave it. In other words it is always and only, entirely and absolutely about Him.
So here’s a little test. If in the wake of ministry, there is more talk about what happened in terms of personal experience than there is about Christ, we need to be aware. And that was exactly what took place here in Luke 10.
Verse 17 reveals at least two factors. First, the great joy of the seventy regarding the results of their ministry. Please note that the issue of concern is not their joy. The issue of concern is found in the second revelation of the text- namely the basis of their joy: “Even the demons are subject to us in your name.”
What they were saying was true- the demons were subject to them in His name. But there was more here than a mere statement of truth; there was focus- and that focus was the ministry itself- their personal experience in it, as well as what had happened through them.
The line here may be very subtle and very thin- and only the very discerning will ever see it- but see it we must. Jesus certainly saw it- and after strengthening the validity of their ministry in verse 19, He brought them beyond ministry in verse 20, and instructed them that the true basis of Christian joy and rejoicing is not ministry but the fact that (in the words of the text) ‘your names are recorded in heaven.’
Against all of this background let us now return to the question- ‘Why did Jesus come into this world?
We know that He came exercising a ministry- a ministry prophetically portrayed on every page of the Old Testament- a ministry very really reported by those who walked with Him in the days of His flesh. Moreover, we understand that He himself has given this same ministry to His disciples. And if ministry is an end in itself- if its only about ministry then that’s the end of the story.
But those five words extracted from Math.16:18- words in red ink, words of Christ make it abundantly clear that there was a single purpose running through every detail, every word, every sign and wonder of His ministry- and that purpose is this: “I will build my church.”
To catch the impact of this let me do a quick and limited word study from the Greek text.
“I”- ‘ego’: a primary pronoun of the first person. In Math.16:18 we know that Christ is the speaker, therefore the primary pronoun refers to Him.
“Will”- ‘thelo/ethelo: desire, design, to will, to wish; implies volition and purpose; strong determination- that is to determine as an act from subjective impulse.
This tells us that it is the desire, the design, the will, the wish, the volition the purpose and determination of Christ to build a church. But it tells us far more than that- it tells us where that determination comes from.
The Greek word indicates ‘subjective impulse’ which means that our Lord’s determination to build a church comes entirely from within His own being, for purposes known only to Him or within the Godhead. And whatever else this means it certainly means that the church is God’s idea and not mans. It means that the church is no mere afterthought with God; it is not ‘plan B’ behind anything in the universe. From the opening words of Gen.1 to the last words of Revelations it is ‘plan A’; and in fact there never was nor ever shall be a ‘planB’.
If this whole idea of the church is entirely the determination of the heart of God in Christ Jesus, then who can undo it- who can alter it- who can withstand it? What demon can destroy her? What violence and hatred and persecution from without can drive her into oblivion? What attitude of bitter and critical judgement from within can bring her down? What measure of scandal can undo her?
Jesus said, “I will”, and that “I will” guarantees the ultimate victory of the church- and it is not because of our merit or because we are brilliant and so expert in our Christianity.
‘Build’- “oikodomeo- (First part of the word) -‘oikos’: a dwelling- more or less extensive; by implication a family dwelling, a family home or a family household.
(Second part of the word)- doma: to build- including both the architecture and construction.
This word teaches us two vital facts concerning Christ with respect to the church. First, He is the architect, designer, as well as the builder or constructor of the church. Second, it tells us the nature of what He is building- namely an extensive family dwelling- which is to say, He is building a family in which He himself dwells.
“My”- ‘emos’: a possessive adjective of the first person- often used as a possessive pronoun.
In the Greek language this word carried a measure of stress which should always be observed. That stress or strength of the word is best expressed as follows: all that is mine, or all that I have, or that which is mine.
In other words it implies absolute ownership and refers to something that is the exclusive property of the owner.
The church is the exclusive property of Jesus Christ, and is His by the rite of absolute ownership. This reality must govern my attitude towards her, my conversations about her, and my actions within her. In relation to the church I must live out of a attitude of faith and trust that Christ is able to sanctify and perfect that which is His.
“Church”- ‘ekklesia’: a calling out of/ a calling out from.
In Greek culture everyone knew what an ekklesia was. Every village, town and city had one. It was the body of people called out and set apart to govern the affairs of the city.
This means that the church is a called out body, set in authority for the purpose of governing.
Everyday my heart must rise to this challenge concerning all that I call ministry, Jesus came to build a church, What am I building?
When it comes to death the question for the believer is not- Where will I spend eternity? The question is- If I were to die today, what would I have built over the course of my life in the midst of all this stuff I call ministry? And the sobering reality is that only that which has flowed into that which Christ is building (the church) will show up on the other side of this life.