Romans 4:23-25 / Matthew 16:13-21
Now today I am going to give you an Easter sermon that you have probably never pondered before. We have covered all the usual topics in previous years, making the evidential case for the resurrection, and giving the encouragements that spring from the hope of the resurrection, and pleading the exhortations to believe because of the resurrection. Those are all biblical, needed, and well-placed sermons for people to hear on Easter Sunday. However, I want to explore another facet of the resurrection that leads to a different sort of life for Christians here on earth. It also is something that unbelievers can see about Jesus and grab a hold of as something to believe in, a reason to accept Christ, a real hope in a seemingly hopeless world.
The resurrection is about Jesus Christ rising from the dead, having atoned for our sins. It is about the fact that because of this, if we believe in Him, and believe He did indeed arise from the dead, we can also have eternal live, and arise from the grave some day. But the resurrection also means many other things, and having preached on it, and referring to it almost every week, and knowing that even the unbelievers here today have probably heard some of that before, I wanted to take a different tack today. This message will be all about the resurrection, but it is also about how it should filter down into our lives in a way that unravels some of the problems we face.
The resurrection takes care of the big picture, but it can also focus in on our specific, little, daily pictures and turn them into portraits of grace, built up by faith. So I am going to cover a little about the traditional Easter sermon, give you some verses to review, and then I am going to take our second text and show you something to enliven your faith and give you some marching orders in our daily battles with the enemy of our souls. If you feel caged in by life, by sin, by the world, by your circumstances today, listen up; this message could set you free.
Considering our text from Romans, it declares that our sin is why Jesus went to the Cross and our salvation is why He arose from the grave. We can be justified by faith because the resurrection proves that God the Father accepted the sacrifice of Christ for our sins. The resurrection is a cornerstone of the Christian faith.
This ties in with Hebrews 11:17-19 – Abraham believed in the resurrection power of God. Also, Job 19:25-27 / Isaiah 26:19-21 / Daniel 12:1-3 all speak of resurrection. Jesus resurrected Lazarus, and Jesus is not only resurrected, as He said He IS the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). To know Him is to know life and to be spiritually resurrected and eventually physically resurrected. Born again to live forever.
Predicting the resurrection was part of the Messianic vision of the Old Testament and what Jesus predicted during His own life: Psalm 16:10 (Acts 2:24-31), Psalm 22:22-31 (Matthew 27:46 alludes to the whole Psalm being fulfilled), Psalm 118:22 (Acts 4:10-11), Isaiah 53:10-12, Mark 9:31, Luke 18:33, John 10:17-18 (He laid it down on His own). Preaching the resurrection was the focal point of the Apostolic witness: Acts 3:15,26, 5:30, 10:40, 13:30-37, 17:3, etc.
Now there is another place where Jesus spoke of His resurrection, and we want to look a little closer today at Matthew 16:18-21 because it contains a fundamental promise that many people have never thought about from this passage. An important area of misunderstanding about the Church has to do with the phrase, "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Many use Matthew 16:18 to affirm that the Church will endure no matter what evil might come against it. People say “the gates of hell” as if it is the forces of hell against the Church but that isn’t what this means primarily. What did our Lord mean by this statement? What are "the gates of hell"?
In biblical times, the gates of a city were the key points in the city's defenses. Massive gates with multiple inner gates were made to withstand opposing armies. To "possess the gate of your enemies" (Genesis 22:17), meant to conquer your enemy. When the gates of the city were breached, the attacking army had won. The city was conquered; the gates had not prevailed.
So what about the gates of hell? The Greek word used here, translated as "hell," is actually the word "Hades." Hades is not the same as hell, or "the lake of fire," but is a word that is used to describe the "realm of the dead". For example, in Luke 16:23 the word "Hades" is used to describe the place where the unbelieving dead await the final judgment. This distinction is also used in Revelation 20:13-15 where "death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire."
This background reminds us that all unbelievers are held captive behind the gates of Hell. John 3:18 says whoever does not believe is condemned already, but in Hebrews 2:14-15 we learn that by His death Jesus destroyed the power of the devil which is the fear of death.
So what are the gates of hell? The fear of death is what the gates of hell are about. It is the gates of death (cf. Job 38:17, Psalm 9:13, 107:18, Isaiah 38:10). So Matthew 16:18 reads like this – Upon this rock (Jesus as Messiah) I will build my church, and the gates of hell (fear of death) shall not prevail against it. It is not so much about the assault of the powers of darkness but that the Messiah and His Church will never perish, and Jesus will die but not stay dead. This is the main point of the passage, clearly seen by looking at verse 21. He is predicting His own resurrection, and also the resurrection of all believers. The Church will not fail because Jesus will not fail to rise again. This is a prophecy, not just that He will resurrect, but that we will resurrect also (cf. Romans 8:11 / 1 Corinthians 6:14 / 2 Corinthians 4:14).
When Jesus Christ died and rose again, the power of death was broken. Death was unable to keep its hold on our Lord Jesus, and in His death and resurrection He conquered death itself. Now, as members of His Body, we are also members in His victorious army. We can storm the "gates of hell" and rescue people from the clutches of death, rescuing those who are in fear. The gates of hell will not prevail against the assault of Christ's victorious Church. Our mission is to act on the truth of Christ's statement and snatch the captives as "brands from the fire" (Zechariah 3:2, Jude 23). It is not the picture of the forces of Hell attacking Christ’s Church, but of death’s lack of victory over the Church. The Church is built upon the Messiah, and death, the gates of Hell, will not prevail against it by keeping Christ imprisoned. Death cannot stop life (1 Corinthians 15:54). Death cannot overpower the church. The Gates of Hell shall not prevail. Why? Satan has the gates, but Jesus has the keys (Revelation 1:18).
Jesus is saying that death and all its power will never overcome the Church He is building. The fear of death will not prevail against the revelation that Jesus is the Messiah. Now listen, because I wan to go further, deeper into applying this truth. Christ delivered us from eternal hell and from the fear of a living hell. The resurrection takes away the fear of death, physical, spiritual, and leading to a lack of fear in the emotional as well. The resurrection takes away the wrong kind of fear and replaces it with the right kind of fear (Matthew 10:28). Fear is everywhere, but this is the process and progress of the gospel in our lives, the removal of fear. King Jesus takes over and starts clearing the house, as we trust Him (Mark 4:26-29). When we see Him working to remove unholy fear, the fear of men, the fear of being secure, the fear of being lonely, the fear of being poor, and working to instill holy fear (the fear of God), that is when you know resurrection power is working in your life. When we have a holy fear we will lead holy lives, and we will have holy gladness and holy boldness, and the gates of hell will not prevail against us.
Some Christians don’t often realize this, that Christ is working in us to remove fear from our lives. We may not have a fear of death but we let other fears come in and disturb us. This is why we need the ongoing work of the gospel to penetrate our lives, to release us from the smaller fears. The big gates are down but we are inside the inner gates still.
Gates are the things held up to keep people out. The gates of hell are like the caging of our souls in fear. The world the flesh and the devil all try and box us in but Jesus breaks us out those things that would cause us to fear (economy, health, injustice, conspiracy theories). When we find ourselves in fear of the things the world fears, we are obviously being worldly. Now this needs to be understood correctly, I am not saying we just rush into everything haphazardly, or that we shouldn’t make plans, no, not that at all. But we should, as Christians, never be subject to the terror others have about temporal things.
People think everyone is against them, and it is true, all the forces of the enemy want your destruction, but as a Christian, Jesus has His power in you, and you have a choice. Those things that would like to box us in, to cage us, to surround us with gates, those things, and those boundaries are what Jesus Christ has broken. The power of grace is the power to storm the gates as it were, to crash through with the gospel so as to rescue those that are in fear. When we show them the power of Christ over the greatest fear, and how it has transformed us, then we can begin to allow that power to transform the rest of our lives piece by piece. We may have great difficulties but we see Christ and how He overcame it all for us, and so no matter how far down we sink He has been lower and that cry lifts us up, as we know He has been lifted up out of that pit we too can be lifted. When we see Him working to remove unholy fear and working to instill holy fear that is when you know resurrection power is working in your life. When we have a holy fear we will lead holy lives. That is the right kind of fear, the fear of Easter.
A holy life: that is what people are afraid of, that is the fear of Easter, the wrong kind. “I’m afraid if I trust Jesus I won’t enjoy my life.” Well, if you don’t trust Jesus you are already dead. Christians fear that if they fully surrender to God He’s going to make them miserable. Friends you need to get to know God better than that!
Jesus sets new boundaries for us, not the gates of fear but the guard of grace, the yoke of Christ. His school teaches us to live in Godly fear while losing worldly fear. People think they live without boundaries but they are actually caged in by their own sin and living in fear of the unknown. People think Christians are caged in but they are the ones who are truly free. Free from the power of sin, death, and hell. Yes we still sin and we put up the gates, put the chains back on in a sense but again, when we see Him working to remove unholy fear and working to instill holy fear that is when you know resurrection power is working in your life when we have a holy fear we will lead holy lives. The resurrection takes away the wrong kind of fear and replaces it with the right kind of fear (Matthew 10:28).
We know how the resurrection affects our eternal destiny, but in the here and now it is about the gates of hell, of fear. 1 John 4:18 – Perfect love casts out fear. This verse is speaking primarily of the fear of death and eternal judgment, and that is the first fear that Jesus drives out with His perfect love. For fear to be cast out means it must have tried to enter in, or that fear can be driven out. It is not that we won’t ever have any fear at all but that fear is overcome by love, and we see His love in the crucifixion and resurrection. Sometimes fear has come in and we need to have it cast out by perfect love. Fear has many manifestations. Remember last week (Matthew 27:46) – we see His compassion but it is undergirded by a real conviction. The more we become convinced about the resurrection the more it can help us to overcome fear in this life. We need to ponder it and preach it to ourselves every day, to preach the gospel to ourselves.
We may not know all the answers but we can know Him is the answer and begins to give us answers as we trust in Him, as to why people suffer, why evil and war plague our planet, and why Christians have lost so much credibility as people who know how to love. When we see our Savior suffer the pains of hell for us, and yet still cry a very certain call out to the Father, we begin to see that He can deliver us from any depth of despair, and that we can trust Him no matter how far we have sunk into sin or sorrow.
Resurrection removes fear. Now fearless faith doesn’t mean reckless in the sense of tempting God it means trusting God. Not, “I have no fear so I am going to spend all my money on some project”, but, “I am without fear so I can withstand any onslaught”. We do need to get these things categorized in our minds correctly. I am not saying that we will live these spotless lives of super triumph in every situation. No I am saying we can have real feelings and still have real hope. We can be like Jesus and feel and be real, hurting in the short term but looking to the long term. Seeing through both the narrow and wider lens.
Proper distinction will lead to proper understanding. Fear is not sadness or depression; we can have sorrow but still have joy. Not having fear doesn’t mean we are foolhardy, and it doesn’t mean not taking care, or a lack of respect or disobeying authority. Freedom from fear is the freedom of faith. The fruits of faith are the fruits of a fearless life (Romans 8:31-39).
He has delivered us from the greatest fear, the fear of the unknown. When we see Him working to remove unholy fear and working to instill holy fear that is when you know resurrection power is working in your life. When we have a holy fear we will lead holy lives. We will not only feel free to die but we will feel free to live. We have talked of trusting the truth to set us free, and we have talked about connecting with Christ and with other about Christ in a real way, and the bridge between conception and connection is compassion. But that must be undergirded by conviction. We can bring true compassion because we have true conviction. If you get real with God He will be real to you. If you trust in Jesus Christ and in the resurrection, the gates of hell will not prevail against you. When you fear God you don’t have to fear anything else.
“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©
Labels: Gospel, Justification, Matthew, Romans, Sermon