I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
— Matthew 16.17
We have entered another year, and we give God thanks for His goodness and mercy. Our New Year’s Text, which is ‘Pursue peace … and holiness’ (Hebrews 12) I am dealing with in our first meetings of the year, so I wanted to share something different with you here.
On my second day in Israel we were taken to modern-day Banias, which is an Arab mispronunciation of the correct name, ‘Paneas’. This place housed a large set of shrines to the pagan god Pan. In Bible times the area was known as Caesarea Philippi, because Philip the Tetrarch made it his headquarters and named it in honour of Caesar Augustus. To distinguish it from the other Caesarea, his name was added to the mix.
Here was located the temple of Pan, and a large cave out of which, at the time, flowed a river. The cave was known to the pagans as ‘Pan’s grotto’, but to the Jews as ‘the gates of hell’. Here is a photograph of this very place. Sacrifices were made there by throwing animals into the water. If they sank, they were deemed to be accepted by ‘the gods’.
Jesus and His disciples were standing nearby this great and awful shrine to wickedness when He said that ‘the gates of hell’ would not prevail against the church that He would build. Without local knowledge, we would miss the reference entirely — but no doubt His disciples knew precisely what he meant to say. There is nothing in this world or out of it which can halt, slow, or reverse the building of the church of Christ. He builds it, and nothing will stand against Him. What an encouragement this is to us in our context!
Sometimes, everything seems against us. Sometimes, nothing seems to go right. Sometimes, we try very hard with particular outreach or effort and there seem to be no results. We need to hear His voice, uttered in defiance of all the powers of darkness and hatred of Him, call out: ‘I will build my church’.
It is His church, never forget it. He will build it, never doubt it. He delights to use us in His service, so don’t shirk it. We may step forward together, in confidence, and even if we are at the very gates of hell, we know, as our chapel’s motto reminds us ‘The Lord God Omnipotent Reigns’.