Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE GATES OF HELL”

Matthew 16.18

 

If you have your Bible with you today, please turn to Matthew chapter 16. When you find Matthew 16.13, stand, and read along silently while I read aloud:

 

13     When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?

14     And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.

15     He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?

16     And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.

17     And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

18     And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

19     And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

20     Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.

 

This is a perplexing passage in God’s Word. It is perplexing to many who read the Bible because they attached contemporary meanings to archaic words, thinking the phrase “the coasts of Caesaria Philippi,” for example, refers to a shoreline instead of a legal boundary.

To others, the passage is perplexing because we find the Lord Jesus Christ admonishing His disciples not to reveal His identity, “that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.” How do you reconcile that directive with the Great Commission to preach the gospel to every creature?

Over the last ten or fifteen years the phrase “the gates of hell” has perplexed me to some degree. To what does this phrase refer? How are we to understand it? Is this phrase a promise or a warning, or is it both a promise and a warning?

The phrase is not linguistically difficult. The word “gates” translates the straightforward Greek word pulh, which is commonly used to refer to the doors to a house or a temple, or to the gates of a prison or a city.[1] By extension, remembering the numerous places in the Old Testament where we read of those sitting in the gates of various cities, such as Lot in Sodom, and Absalom in Jerusalem, the gates could refer to those of power and persuasion who wield authority in the city gates, the shakers and movers.

The other word, $adou, is the plural of the Greek word we transliterate as Hades, and refers to the underworld, or death.[2] In Psalm 9.13 and 107.18, we find reference made to “the gates of death.” In Isaiah 38.10, we find the phrase “the gates of the grave.” There are numerous examples of “the gates of Jerusalem,” suggesting the possibility that “the gates of Hell” could be a Hebraism referring to the power or influence of a wicked city.

With these thoughts in mind, let me suggest two considerations for you:

 

First, CONSIDER THAT “THE GATES OF HELL” ARE GENTILE CITIES

 

You may remember me saying that the tour guide we will be using when we travel to Israel in February 2008, who is a brilliant fellow named Jackie, suggests the possibility of this phrase referring to Gentile cities.

Jackie’s suggestion is not to be dismissed without consideration, for three reasons: First, he has a PhD in comparative religions from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and is a published scholar in his own right. Second, he has a background in Biblical archaeology from this period. Third, he is well versed in the Talmud, a Jewish commentary on the Hebrew Bible and Jewish life dating from this period.

Jackie suggests the phrase “the gates of Hell” was a first century appellation of derision used by Jews to describe the low opinions they had for Gentile communities and their wicked behavior. Since many Jewish communities in and around Galilee had Gentile neighborhoods immediately next to them, to pass from a Jewish neighborhood to a Gentile neighborhood was to pass through the gates of Hell.

If this be true, the Lord Jesus Christ is promising that the advance of Christ’s church by means of the gospel will succeed, even to the point of penetrating the Gentile cities.

 

As Well, CONSIDER THAT “THE GATES OF HELL” REFERS TO MARTYRDOM, OR AT LEAST THE THREAT OF MARTYRDOM

 

This would be a somewhat broader view than the phrase being limited to referring only to Gentile cities. If this understanding of the phrase is correct, the Lord Jesus Christ is predicting the success of the church even in the face of death or threats of death.

It is precisely this reality that captured my attention as I considered this morning’s message while in the company of Lebanese pastors and other Arabic pastors from throughout the Middle East two weeks ago and last week. Imagine living in Beirut or Sidon in Lebanon, in Damascus, Syria or Baghdad, Iraq, or perhaps in Cairo, Egypt, or in Amman, Jordan. Now imagine living there and serving God there, living there and going to church there, living there and witnessing to your neighbors and coworkers there.

President Bush has recently been reported to have given an interview to an Arabic news agency based in Saudi Arabia in which he said Christians, Jews, and Muslims all pray to the same God. However, Christians in the Middle East, at least those that believe the Bible, completely disagree.

They are the ones who face imminent threats of death each day when they leave their homes to go to work. Then there are the young Nigerian children recently beaten by their classmates for allegedly making disparaging comments about Mohammed and Islam.

Whatever the phrase “the gates of hell” precisely means, it will not prevail against the church. We know this because our Lord Jesus Christ said as much. Thus, Christianity, real Christianity, as practiced by those who are born-again and baptized members of real churches, will advance even in the face of death.

Whether it was Obadiah Holmes who was severely beaten in pre-Revolutionary War Boston for serving God as a Baptist, Bro. K being forcibly ejected from Lebanon for daring to baptize new believers by immersion, or a thirteen year old girl named Saleema being gang raped by more than 50 prison guards after she was arrested for winning a friend to Christ, not even the gates of Hell can withstand our advance by God’s grace.

That is the kind of Christian we find in the Bible. Our church supports that kind of Christian missionary in Jerusalem. The question for this morning, however, is that the kind of Christian you are? Will you prevail against the promise of overtime pay on Sunday? Will you prevail against the threat your dad will cut you off financially? Will you prevail against the threat your spouse will leave you?

 

SERMON:

 

When Jesus promised that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the institution of the church that is founded upon the Rock of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God, He was of course speaking to His apostles, who comprised the church He had only recently brought into existence.

Though there will always be Judas types who seem to gain entrance into the church by means of false professions and baptism under false pretenses, the plan is for sinners to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, for said sinners now saved to then be baptized and by means of that baptism be incorporated into the church in which they link up with other Christian church members to advance the gospel.

Thus, the first order of business for every sinner, and for you if you are not yet saved from your sins, is your conversion to Jesus Christ, the salvation of your eternal and undying soul.

Jesus saves from sins. Only Jesus saves sinners from their sins. Jesus died on the cruel cross at Calvary an atonement for sinner’s sins. Moreover, when a sinner comes to Jesus Christ by faith, embraces Jesus as the only solution to his sin problem, the only remedy for the wrath of God that he deserves, his faith in Christ must be a thoughtful and considered response to the issues that face him.

That understood, and keeping in mind that it was to well-educated and piously religious Nicodemus that Jesus said, “Ye must be born again,” there are three extremely simple yet profound statements I want to lay before those of you who are not saved, for your consideration and immediate response:

 

First, IT COSTS NOTHING TO GET SAVED

 

There are really only two kinds of religion in the world, the kind where you have to do something in order to be saved and the one in which you can do nothing in order to be saved, which is Christianity. Once you come to grips with the fact that faith is given by God and not conjured up by the sinner, since faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God, then you no longer have to wrestle with the false notion that believing is an intellectual work.[3] If God gives faith, and He does not give faith to everyone, then faith is itself a gracious gift from God and not a work of righteousness.[4]

“For by grace are ye saved through faith,” Ephesians 2.8. “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness,” Romans 4.3. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us,” Titus 3.5. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” Romans 5.1.

Therefore, you see from these verses what is born out throughout the Word of God, that sinners actually do nothing to be justified in the sight of God, to be saved from their sins. All that needs to be done to provide for any sinner’s sins has already been done by Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and glorious resurrection from dead.

If you attempt to do something to be saved (and many who profess to be Christians are doing just that), you are not a Christian, but a practitioner of that other religion, that religion of works righteousness, that religion of saving yourself by means of human effort, and that just will not do. Isaiah 64.6 reveals the attitude of God toward that kind of religion: “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”

If, by faith, you are trusting in the righteousness of Jesus Christ to save you from your sins then you are a Christian. However, if you are somehow openly or even subtly relying upon your own righteousness to somehow stand you in good stead with God, you are yet in your sins and stand guilty before God.

To restate then, with respect to personal righteousness and any efforts to save yourself from your sins, it costs nothing to get saved.

 

Next, IT COSTS SOMETHING TO GET SAVED

 

Setting aside any notion of working for your salvation, or doing anything to somehow deserve the salvation that is found in Jesus Christ, I want you to shift gears and consider your sins. I want you to ponder those pleasures and personal gratifications that you hold dear, even those things that you may feel are a part of your identity as a person.

Is it a sin? It does not matter how familiar you are with it or how much you identify with it.

Is it a sin? Neither does it matter how socially acceptable it is.

Is it a sin? If it is a sin, then that is what it will cost you to get saved.

Please, do not get me wrong. The Bible teaches, and I believe, in the concept of being saved while sinning. Sin has so completely gotten a hold of us that it is not possible for us not to sin. However, salvation involves this idea of repentance, you see, this evangelical changing of the mind toward sin and toward sinning.

When they asked what they should do on that day of Pentecost, Peter, speaking by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said, “Repent.”[5] As well, did not Jesus tell Cleopas and his friend on the road to Emmaus that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem,”?[6]

Therefore, you see, those who are saved from their sins are very definitely sinners, but they are sinners who wish to turn from their sins, they are sinners who wish to be saved from their sins, they are sinners who have a different attitude toward sins and sinning than they had before.

Modern evangelicals are really not Christians, by my way of thinking, because they embrace the notion of Jesus saving them in their sins, while the angel of the Lord told Joseph, in Matthew 1.21, that He would save His people from their sins.

Therefore, becoming a Christian costs you something. It certainly does not cost you any sort of righteousness, since we have none of that. However, it does cost you your sins, or at least your enjoyment of sins, your embracing of sins, your desire to commit sins.

You see, when choosing Christ you are choosing Christ over sins, you are choosing Christ instead of sins, you are choosing the One Who is victorious over sins, and you are choosing the One Who died on the cross to save you from your sins. Recognizing that the greatest of evils is that which deprives a soul from the greatest good, you see that sin is the greatest evil, since it brings on a person the worst fate and deprives him of the best fate.

Therefore, yes, it does cost something to be a Christian. It does cost something to get saved from your sins. It costs you your sins, or at least the attitude toward them you have had up to this point in your life. It will cost you your selfishness, and your self-centeredness, as well as costing you your high opinion of yourself. It will cost you these things to get saved, since real salvation means Christ instead of these things, and a lifetime of pressing toward Christ while leaving these things behind.

 

Which Brings Me To The Final Point. IT COSTS SOMETHING TO BE SAVED

 

If it costs nothing to get saved, in the way of personal righteousness or in any way deserving your salvation in Christ, and if it costs something to get saved, in the way of repenting of your sins, consider what the cost will be after you get saved, because it does cost something to be a Christian.

In Matthew 16.24, Jesus said, “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” And in Luke 14.27, Jesus reiterated by saying, “And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”

I know that there are many people who think you can be a Christian and remain devoted to yourself, remain committed to personal gratification, and steeped in self-interest. However, what does the Bible show? Does the Bible not show people who are radically transformed by the gospel? Does the Bible not show men and women who are by and large selfless and devoted to serving God and preaching Christ?

What do you think Paul meant when he wrote Second Corinthians 5.17, and said, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new”? Does that verse apply to everyone else but you? I don’t think so.

 

What affect to you think traveling to the Middle East should have on a preacher of the gospel, and speaking in a church on a Wednesday night that experienced the assassination of one of their members a few months back? Her name was Bonnie, and she had left Seattle to serve God in the Middle East with her husband. A fanatic knocked on her door in Sidon, Lebanon and put a bullet in her head when she opened the door. Her crime? Administering health care and the gospel to impoverished Palestinians. Her salvation and service to Christ cost her life. She died a martyr, while this Pakistani girl (now a young woman) lives a martyr.

You really have only two choices in life. If you are a Christian, you will engage in a church ministry that will assault the gates of Hell and will experience victory in spiritual conflict. If you are not a Christian, but are instead satisfied by the anemic evangelical approach that pretends to be Christian, you will be swallowed by the gates of Hell rather than prevail against them, and will suffer the wrath of God for all eternity.

Which will it be for you, Christ and living and perhaps dying as a martyr, or a self-absorbed life of pleasure and selfish ends that will end in endless punishment?



[1] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 897.

[2] Ibid., page 19.

[3] Romans 10.17

[4] Ephesians 2.8

[5] Acts 2.38

[6] Luke 24.47

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org