DURHAM, N.C. — Recently the Holy Spirit has been drawing me back to Matthew 16:13-20 again and again. After Peter confesses Jesus to be the Messiah, Jesus responds, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:17-18 CSB).
This is a promise that we in the SBC need to claim, and it is one that will produce in us a spirit of humility and hope.
On one hand, Jesus’ promise should lead us to humility. In this same passage, Jesus calls Peter “Satan” when he attempts to correct Jesus on His path to the cross (Matthew 16:23). Yes, Jesus promises that He will build His church, but He never shies away from chastising His people when they oppose His methods. God will accomplish His purposes. That is as guaranteed as Jesus’ resurrection.
But what is not clear is whether He’ll use us to accomplish those purposes.
We would not be the first people God had set aside. The Jews of Jesus’ day assumed God would never set them aside. But Jesus warned them, “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruit” (Matthew 21:43).
He gives the same warning to us: The grace of God is overwhelming and overflowing, but we must never take it for granted.
God is stirring in the SBC. He has exposed a startling amount of sin in our midst. He has shaken many of our foundations. I actually think that’s good news because whom the Lord loves, He chastens. He is inviting us, I believe, into an era of unprecedented effectiveness for the Great Commission, if we repent.
Which leads to the other aspect of Jesus’ promise: hope. The hope of the church (or the SBC) is not in the quality of our leaders. We are not God’s “last best hope on earth.”
The grace of God is our best hope, and when a preacher falls, praise God, the promise remains. Even when everything around us crumbles, His promise of grace remains.
In one of my favorite stories from the Gospels, a Canaanite woman comes to Jesus asking for healing for her daughter, who is being tormented by a demon. Jesus’ initial response is harsh: “It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:26). But the woman is unflinching, because she knew He wasn’t speaking to her gender or her race; he was speaking to her unworthiness. So she responds with desperate faith in his grace: “Yes, Lord … yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” (Matthew 15:27).
In other words, the grace of God is so rich and so abundant that it flows off of the table so that even those with no more worthiness than dogs can eat until they are satisfied.
Jesus said this Canaanite woman had faith like none in Israel. And she is our example. We can never hope too much in the grace of God, never lean too fully into it. Would we rather be dogs feasting on the crumbs off God’s table or “heroes” asking God to reward us for our greatness? I’ll take the path of the dog every single time.
William Carey once said that the future is always as bright as the promises of God. When I think of the future of the SBC, I believe that the Holy Spirit has great days ahead. If we believe Christ’s promises, heed the voice of the Holy Spirit, turn from our sin and cast ourselves upon the mercy of His grace, the gates of hell will not stand a chance.
God is not done with the SBC. There are still more than 6,000 unreached people groups in our world. I believe God wants to bless us for their sake. With the unchanging Word as our foundation, soul-winning as our focus, and the Holy Spirit as our guide, we can once again “expect great things of God and attempt great things for God.” He desires to be merciful to us and bless us and cause His face to shine upon us — not for our sake but so that His way may be known in all the earth (Psalm 67).