Thus says the Lord: I will encamp at my house as a guard. Zechariah 9:8
Jesus said to Peter, “The gates of Hades will not prevail against my church.” Matthew 16:18
The state of the church in North America is not good. Congregation after congregation is reporting declining attendance. Our own Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod has lost almost 1 Million members since its high point. Even though St. John has been an exception to this decline over the past decade, more recently we have seen a decline in worship attendance. So when Jesus tells Peter that the gates of Hades will not prevail against his church, we have to wonder: are we seeing Jesus’ words evaporate before our eyes? Is this still true?
A look around the world, however, reveals just how true Jesus’ words actually are. Decades ago we were sending missionaries to Africa. Now the largest Lutheran Church in the world is in Ethiopia. The church there is adding thousands upon thousands to the company of believers there each year. They are seeing the same kinds of growth and power of God as is recorded in the book of Acts. There are amazing things happening in India and other areas of East Asia. In fact we support missionaries who work in that area of the world – although we can’t name them or the places they serve.
Luther once warned his dear Germans that the gospel is like a summer rain shower. Therefore, we are to be eager to hear Jesus’ words while they are proclaimed in our midst. The prophet Amos warns of a famine of the Word of God when through man’s persistent rejection, God lets his Word move on to other places. There are places mentioned in the New Testament where once there were Christian congregations alive and thriving, but if you go there today you will find none. Think also of the majestic European cathedrals that today are nearly empty on a typical Sunday. Do you realize that on any given Sunday, there are more people attending Lutheran services in Africa than all of North America and Europe combined? The eternal gospel moves on. – Prof. John T. Pless teaches Pastoral Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN as quoted in Logia Lutheran Theological Journal
The water of the gospel may pass us by for a time. That is largely because we as a nation and people are far too proud, wealthy, and (we think) in control to embrace our need for it. The church has a bad name in many people’s minds because of the truly bad behavior of some who have had the highest offices of trust. We may wonder whether the church can even survive.
God will see that his church is protected – and more. The gates of hades will not prevail against Christ’s church. Whatever the devil may send our way will not overpower, overcome, or defeat the gathering of those called out by God: his Church. We’ve been called out by God for his grace, protection, love, and salvation. That’s what “church” (ἐκκλησία) means in the original – the called-out ones.
This Easter will find thousands upon thousands of people around the world celebrating the victory of Jesus over sin, death, and the devil. His victory was complete. No power of the enemy will ever prevail against Christ and his church. For those who call Jesus Lord, there is protection and safety. The Lord, “will encamp at my house as a guard.” For that we can say, “Thanks be to God!”