Starting Point: Invitation

Apr 9, 2017 by: Sam Hestorff| Series: Starting Point
Scripture: Matthew 28:18–28:20

Today we are wrapping up a sermon series called Starting Point and what we’ve been saying is that everything has a starting point . . . including faith.
For most of us, our faith starting point happened somewhere in childhood with a conversation with a parent, or a priest, or a pastor. Maybe it was something you heard in church, or at a camp.
But somewhere in your childhood, you were handed some building blocks and your faith journey began.
But as you got older, you began thinking about the purpose of life and you kind of hope that there’s a God out there somewhere but you’re not sure if it’s the Sunday School God you grew up with.
So, what we've been doing over the past few weeks, is hitting the restart button.
We began this series, with a question . . . “Who is Jesus?” and every week, we built off that foundational question. As we wrap up, we are swinging back around to it because it’s something you have to wrestle to the ground as you think about the starting or restarting point of your faith.
Last week I told you that the reason why I’m a Christian. The reason is because when Jesus died, nobody believed; the disciples, like some of us, gave up their faith in him.
After spending years with Jesus, listening to his sermons, witnessing all his miracles, making the blind to see, the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, after all those cool snappy answers he gave to the religious leaders that were challenging his every word.
After all that stuff, when he died, the disciples believed that he was dead. They believed that he was a powerful speaker whose powerful speaking got him crucified.
And none of them wrote later, “Oh, I believed the whole time. I just didn’t want anyone to know.” All of them Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, and all the other disciples . . . they were all cowards, they all ran and they all lost faith . . . and then they saw something.
They didn’t believe something . . . they saw something. They saw the risen Jesus and something happened on the inside of them, and they were changed.
And today, I want to tell you about something else that happened READ Mathew 16:13-18
Let me put this in to context because . . . context is everything!!
Jesus and his guys were about 150 miles north of Jerusalem, outside the city of Caesarea Philippi. It’s not much to look at now, just some ruins . . . but back in the day it was a thriving city.
It was originally called Paneas, after the Greek god Pan who was the god of desolate places. Which kind of tells you a little bit about the terrain in this area.
Around 14 AD, it was renamed Caesarea Paneas because that was the year that Caesar Augustus died.
Some of you know this from history classes but Caesar Augustus was the adopted son of Julius Caesar who was a deified ruler. They believed that he was a god. Which meant that Caesar Augustus was the son of a god. That’s how they referred to him.
And he was also the first real Roman emperor which means that he was a son of a God to whom all authority had been given.
And when he died they renamed the city to Caesarea Paneas and built temples and shrines throughout the city to honor and worship him. It’s called Caesarea Philippi in scripture for a couple of reasons but primarily because Phillip was the guy in charge of this town.
So, Jesus and his guys are outside this thriving city named after a son of a god with a ton of authority and he says to them, “Ok, so you all know who Caesar Augustus was but who do you think I am?”
And they throw out a bunch of answers but towards the end of the discussion, Peter blurts out, “You are the Messiah. You are the Son of the living God.” And Jesus says, “Bingo, you got it.” But don’t get too cocky because God, my father, gave you the answer to that question.
And then he says something astounding. A prediction that I cannot exaggerate the significance of.
“And on this Rock, I will build my church.”
There’s been a lot of discussion about the rock. Most Christians say that the rock is Peter – after all his name means rock but today I want to focus on the second part of what he said, “I will build my church.”
The word he uses for church was ecclesia which isn’t a religious word. It was a very common Greek term that meant gathering or assembly of people.
So, Jesus is making a declaration to his friends . . . “Guys, I’m going to build my gathering.”
Over the years, there’s been a tragedy in translation . . . this little term ecclesia was translated to church which is a German word meaning house of the Lord.
Instead of the idea of gathering a people, Jesus people, we get this idea that denotes a place.
But here’s what I want you to understand today . . . Jesus did not predict a place, he predicted a people.
After Jesus made this declaration, they headed toward Jerusalem where Jesus would enter as the Messiah and people waived palm branches and laid down their cloaks to honor him in expectation that he had come as the promised one to restore God’s kingdom and overthrow the Roman Government
But instead of conquering Rome, he was arrested, beaten and crucified.
And as we talked about last week, the disciples all believe that was the end and they lost their faith. Even Peter, who had just proclaimed that he was the Messiah, the son of the Living God had given up.
But, as we said last week, something changed.
After Jesus had risen from the dead, he gathered a handful of his followers and he said something else to them that tied into his prediction that one day there would be a Jesus gathering.
Listen to his words . . . READ Matthew 28:18-20
Jesus stands before his followers and he says, “Can I have your attention please. All authority has been given to me.” Remember who else had all authority . . . Caesar Augustus the son of a dead god and when he died all that was left were shrines to honor him.
But now Jesus, the son of the living God, is back from the dead and he has been given all authority in heaven and on earth.
And then he says, “Now, here’s how I want to channel all that authority. I want you, you, you, you, all of you to go and make disciples of all nations.”
Imagine what that sounded like to these guys . . . they are fugitives, no influence, no connections, no money, no organization . . . and Jesus is telling them to go out into all the world to proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who has come to restore all people to God.
I’m sure there were more than a couple of hands that went up to ask, “how exactly do you think that’s going to happen?”
So, Jesus finishes with these words, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
And with that, he left. Which must have added to their confusion, right?
But soon after this those very guys were out on the streets of Jerusalem and they began to proclaim. Their message was simple. Jesus was dead, we saw him die. Jesus rose from the dead, we saw him alive.
And suddenly, the Jesus gathering was born. Suddenly, the movement started moving. The book of Acts tells us that hundreds and eventually thousands of people within the city of Jerusalem believed and the church was born.
For about two years things went really, really well but then something horrible happened; the movement stopped moving, the gathering stopped growing as persecution broke out and these new Christians scattered, just to escape the persecution.
And then something else happened that’s not recorded in scripture so here’s my version. God looked at what was happening and he put his arm around Jesus and had a little conversation with him.
“Son, those guys you chose, they’re great . . . I love that you were inclusive with who you chose to be on your leadership team . . . you’ve got a tax collector, along with some fishermen . . . that’s great but there’s a problem. You said to go into all nations but I think they might have heard you say neighborhoods because that’s all they are doing. I think you need to find somebody else to help you out because those guys just aren’t getting it done. I have my eyes on this guy named Saul. I think you need to go recruit him”
Remember this guy? He was the who made it his life goal to exterminate Christians but God in all his wisdom said, “That’s my guy.”
So, Jesus appears to Saul and he has this crazy conversion experience that you can read about in Acts 9.
He is given a new name, Paul, and he goes to Jerusalem and he gathers together all of the Jesus followers and he says, “Look, this movement has got to move. This isn’t a message just for Jewish people. This isn’t a message just for the people in Jerusalem. This is a message for the entire world. God has done something in our midst and the world needs to know about it.”
So, he put a big map up on the wall and said, “Alright let’s divide up the world.”
He drew a circle around Jerusalem and said, “You guys take Jerusalem and I’ll take everything else.”
And he did. He got on a ship and went all around the Mediterranean, to all the major port cities and he spent the next thirty years of his life starting little ecclesia’s all around the Roman world.
And everywhere he went, he didn’t repeat the sermon on the mount, or retell Jesus’ parables, he preached that God has done something in our midst. Jesus has been raised from the dead as proof of it.
For 30-years, he planted little Jesus gatherings all over the known world.
And then in his 60’s he was arrested and take to Rome. Nero was emperor and this guy was a bad dude who got enjoyment out of torturing and killing Christians . . . so Paul knew that this was going to be the end of his life and I can’t help but wonder if Paul was wondering . . .
“Did it work? Or were we crazy to think that this Jesus gathering, this movement of churches, these little ecclesias, could somehow survive the Roman Empire? Were we crazy to think that when Jesus said, ‘go into all nations’ that somehow that would work?”
And then one morning, they opened his cell, marched him out and that would be his last day on earth.
If only Paul could see what happened because of his thirty years of planting ecclesias.
All those letters Paul wrote in prison and handed to trusted friends in hopes that they made it to Ephesus, and Thessalonica, and those Christians in Rome they survived and have been translated into 1200 different languages and distributed all over the world.
There are ecclesias, gatherings of Jesus people, in just about every major city and country throughout the world.
The Roman empire is dead and gone. Only remnants and ruins remain but the church lives. And the only time that Caesar Augustus is ever mentioned is because he is a footnote in the story of Jesus.
As Paul was sitting in his cell, he could never have imagined what would happen but it happened because Jesus predicted it would happen.
There, outside of Caesarea Philippi, with twelve men, he said, “I will build my gathering, and the gates of Hell, or death, will not overcome it.”
My death, your death, generations of deaths . . . nothing is going to stop the advancement of the church because my spirit will fill it. My presence will inhabit it. The church will be the epicenter of the activity of God on this planet until the end of this age.
And here’s the best part, each of you are invited to participate in the activity of God by being a part of an ecclesia . . . a church . . . a Jesus gathering.
Because this is what God is up to in the world through the compassion of the church, through the message of the church, through the interaction of the church with the community through the influence of the church.
And no, the church hasn’t always gotten it right. And yes, the church, is filled with all kinds of stories that are embarrassing but that’s the point.
In spite of us; in spite of our failure, in spite of our inconsistency, the church continues to grow as the message of the risen Jesus is proclaimed and it’s not because we’re smart. It’s not because there’s a headquarters somewhere that makes it happen. It’s because Jesus said, “I will build my gathering and nothing is going to stop it.”
The question I want you to think about as we wrap up this series is this . . . what’s your next step?
For some of you it is . . .
• to continue to come and learn and contemplate, “Can I really believe this?”
• to place your faith in Jesus and be baptized.
• to find place to serve in our little ecclesia
• For some of you, it’s even bigger because you’ve been wrestling with the call of God on your life and you feel that God is calling you to leave what you’re doing now and devote the rest of your life and your career to serving him.
I don’t know what your next step is but what Jesus predicted outside Caesarea Philippi and what Jesus commissioned his disciples to do that day on the hillside, the message that flooded the city of Jerusalem, the message Paul took all around those major cities of the Roman Empire, that same message is our message.
And it’s not just a responsibility . . . it’s an opportunity to partner with God in what he is doing in this world. So, whatever your next step is, take that step because this step may, in fact, be your adult starting point for faith.

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