In some of my clumsier moments, I’ve been known to speak of inanimate objects as if they were alive, saying things like, “that tree came out of nowhere,” or “those steps were out to get me.” But deep down we all know that inanimate objects don’t go on the offensive!
So how should we read Jesus’ promise in Matthew 16:18, that He will build His church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it? When was the last time you saw gates go on the offensive to attack someone? The picture Jesus is painting is of the gates of Hell on the defensive, trying to hold back the forward march of Christ’s church. But these gates are failing. The church is moving forward in triumphal victory, despite Hell’s best efforts to stop it.
Growing up, I often heard that the church will wither into a tiny, nearly-defeated remnant before Jesus finally raptures it away to safety. But this is not the vision Jesus gives us. He says, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” The church belongs to Jesus, not us. And it is Jesus, not us, who builds it. And He promises that the enemy’s best efforts will not stop the forward march of His church. So according to Jesus, it is Hell, not the church, that is on the retreat!
After a year like 2016, this is a promise we need to hold close. As we look ahead to the questions and uncertainty that face us in 2017, we will need it more than ever. In many ways, our world is growing more evil. There are fronts on which the enemy is gaining ground. But Jesus is building His church. And His church will be victorious. The very ordinary things we do, like preaching God’s Word, loving our neighbors, extending mercy to the hurting, praying fervently, and living on mission, are means God is using to kick open the gates of Hell.
Our victory was secured through the Cross and Resurrection. We now get to live it out. Yes, all around us things look bad and seem to be getting worse. But we are on the winning side. So let us keep plodding forward in everyday acts of faithfulness, with our eyes on Jesus, the triumphant King!