Friday, July 17, 2015

The Rock

and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. Matthew 16:18

What is this rock!?  What is that which is eternal, unchangeable and immutable? Where not a single mark of man's chisel or hammer will be endured.

There are many complexities regarding the meaning of this phrase by our Savior. One of the oldest is that the rock is Peter himself.  Many have made a valid - I believe - argument against this interpretation in that the Greek for Peter is petros meaning a stone or boulder and for rock it is petra, a large mass of rock or bedrock foundation.  This juxtaposition creates a most definite delineation.  

Some will indicate some reciprocity here in that as a result of Peter’s volitional confession he is thus warranted to be the foundation of the church. Or if they believe that it is the confession itself - more likely - then worthiness is attributed to Peter as he was the first to utter it.  Personally I believe it is the confession, but I would disagree with the immediate premise as to the source from which it springs.

Divine Choice

That leads to the following conclusion - one that ascribes no inherent quality to the nature of Peter: The rock is nothing less than sovereign grace, nor could it possibly be anything more - it is the divine choice (read: election) of the Father.  

What then is sovereign grace? These phrases describe the doctrine of God’s Absolute Sovereignty in ALL THINGS. Particular reference is made to God’s Sovereignty in the salvation of those whom He chose in Christ from before the foundation of the world. “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:...” Ephesians 1:4

Charles Spurgeon writes: “the streams which take their rise on the mountains of divine sovereignty and infinite love shall ever be full to the brim. Generations melt away, but the course of grace is unaltered.”

There is probably no Biblical character that epitomizes this principle anymore than the Apostle Peter.  The proverb, “He doesn’t choose the qualified, He qualifies the chosen,” quite aptly applies to Peter - indeed to every Biblical figure chosen by God to fulfill His purpose of deliverance.  If a priori goodness can be attributed to the chosen then grace is no longer sovereign - indeed it is not grace at all.  

God’s Interests

Unless Peter should suffer delusively under the proclamation - “blessed are you Simon Barjonah” - for too long and think this was all about him, the Lord’s corrective rebuke followed quite swiftly: ‘But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”’ Matthew 16:23 The Sovereign Lord in His omniscience knew unless this correction came, Peter would not be able to stand the tests that were to come. Yes, they were testings - proofings - not temptations, for each and every one were designed to conform him more and more into the image of his beloved Master. 

Let us ascertain that the blessing comes not by personal acumen, but as a result of sovereign grace and initiative: “because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you,...”  We often piously quote the saying that God blesses obedience. Although obedience is to be valued, we cannot see this principle at work here. (If you ever pray for me, please do not invoke my piety. Plead only the mercy and majesty of God.)

“I Have Prayed!”

"Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat,” Luke 22:31 ESV Yet, the Lord continues: “but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” All of this was of exquisite design: “And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” The temptation to vanity was near at hand: “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Once again the corrective rebuke was delivered swiftly: “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” Nothing more remained to be said.  This whole scenario is nothing more, or nothing less, than Sovereign Grace. He Who is the Alpha and Omega also has the first word and the last - indeed, is the author and perfecter of faith. 

This is the only foundation upon which He will build His church.  “Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it;...” Psalm 127:1 This truth also extrapolates to our current church planting efforts. Not only is it vain to believe a man could build a church, it is vanity - an affront to the Sovereign Lord.  Nancy and I are often credited with being the founders of what became Vineyard In The Hills Christian Fellowship - our rejoinder is quick, “We didn’t find it, we weren’t looking for it. It found us.”

It is this church - and this church alone - that is able to resist the gates (seat of authority) of Hades. Nay, even to overpower them and set the captives free. “And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Ephesians 1:22-23 From the Dutch theologian/politician Abraham Kuyper: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” 

From a modern hymn: 

From life's first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;

A Chosen People

Only a chosen people - who are confident in His choosing - can adequately “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;...” I Peter 2:9 God’s purpose in election is not one of exclusion - but of inclusion.  Sometimes people will recoil at the word election for it is an affront to their sensibilities - which if they will only realize, is a good thing.  ‘For it is written, "I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE."’ 1 Corinthians 1:19 The Greek word translated as chosen in our English versions of the Bible is eklektos. “but to those who are called (kletos), both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:24  Selah! 

This blog is actually part two - the first of which is as yet unpublished: so that God's purpose . . . would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls (Romans 9:11).  What is missing from the above that causes God’s purpose to stand?  It is “according to election.” 

No one has the ability to choose - that is exercise “free moral agency” until he has been set free by the Son. For: “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” 1 John 5:19 The process in the child of God that has been begun, in, through and by the Son of God shall be carried through unto completion: “but He who was born of God keeps (protects) him, and the evil one does not touch him.” 1 John 5:18 NASB  And from the NIV: “the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them.”  A technical term for this is monergism which really means it is all about Him - and the manifestation of His purpose in the elect. “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” Romans 9:16

Unmerited Favor

To hold that the basis of choice is free-will, then merit has to be attributed. The ability to choose positively is thus inherent. Then grace can no longer be defined as unmerited favor.  

This is the pattern by which the Son builds His church in the earth.  Paul expressed this concept so well to the Church in Philippi: “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

And to borrow from John Piper:

How? By ripping down the gates that hold the human heart in hell-bent sin.

How did he build the church in Philippi? With 1) a business woman (Lydia), 2) a demon possessed slave girl, and 3) a pagan city employee who worked in the local jail.

Lydia: The Lord opened her heart to give heed to the word (Acts 16:14).
The demon possessed slave girl: “‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour.” (Acts 16:18)
The jailer: At midnight Paul and Silas were singing in their cell to God, and God blew the doors off the cells with an earthquake—and off the heart of the jailer.

Paul was Jesus’ instrument. Jesus built his church in Philippi, and he will build it (to the remotest parts of the earth).

He began this pattern with Peter - and continues it to this day. "There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” 1 Samuel 2:2 NIV

Fruit Would Remain

In conclusion we can say nothing more authoritative than the words of Christ: "You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.” John 15:16  Eternal, everlasting fruitfulness lies squarely on the foundation stone of sovereign grace as made manifest in the choice and choosing of the Son of God - against which no power in the heavens, on the earth or in hell can prevail.  “But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.” Matthew 13:8 KJV

He shall reign from pole to pole
With illimitable sway;
He shall reign, when, like a scroll
Yonder heavens have passed away:
Then the end; beneath His rod
Man’s last enemy shall fall;
Hallelujah! Christ in God,
God in Christ, is all in all.

James Montgomery - 1818 

Sola Gratia!