George Jackson: Hell loses … again
“And upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18b).”
After a retreat to the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon, where he healed the demon-possessed daughter of a Canaanite woman and fed over 4,000 with seven loaves and a few fish, Jesus and his disciples sailed to a village on the west coast of the Sea of Galilee called Magdala. Crossing the Galilee from west to east, he led his entourage north to a remote community called Caesarea Philippi where he took a poll.
He asked them a probing question, “Who do you say that I am?” Simon was quick to respond, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Hearing this, Jesus elevated Simon to a position of leadership and surnamed him Peter.
The apostle’s declaration prompted Jesus to announce, “Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” He did not say that the church would be exempt from attack, but that the church would not ever be defeated.
The church has suffered much since our Lord made his great declaration almost 2,000 years ago. Its founder crucified. Its early leaders beheaded, stoned to death and cast into prison. Its concepts and principles banned and considered treason. Its devotees persecuted and run out of town. In Antioch they mocked and ridiculed them, calling them Christians (imitation Christ).
In the antebellum South, some slave masters sought to neutralize and evangelize their African slaves. They recruited missionaries to teach the slaves about sweet Jesus and how he died on the Cross. They were told that the blood of Jesus would wash away their sins. This gave hopeless people courage and enough joy to press on through weary years and silent tears. They believed that Jesus was more than “The Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world.” They also saw Him as one who makes you free indeed.
Out of the cruelty of slavery the Black Church in America emerged. From its inception in brush arbors and secret late night meetings on the plantation, it has been a hiding place for those with no place in society. It has been under attack constantly.
Many black churches have been burned to the ground. Many of it pastors have been dragged out of the pulpit and lynched by angry mobs of whites who opposed the preaching of freedom and liberation through Christ. The bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four little black girls on Sunday, September 15, 1963, is a painful reminder of how far Satan will go to destroy the church.
On June 17, 2015, at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, hell tried to destroy the church again. Satan realized that the ecclesia is in the people not the facility. He sent his demon to Bible study (an event that was illegal for slaves to participate in 200 years ago) with instructions to kill as many black people as possible and start a race war.
After killing nine of God’s beloved children, the hit man drove away into the night satisfied that his diabolical plan would work and that by the morning blood would fill the streets of Charleston. But this gross injustice did not take place on Canfield Drive in Ferguson, or in the back of a paddy wagon in Baltimore, or a playground in Cleveland. It happened at a church and the church has a built-in promise, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” That’s why the families of the dead could, like their slave ancestors, look beyond the grief and say, “Though you took my loved one away, I forgive you.” That’s why thousands of God’s children of every race, creed and color gathered in the streets, joined hands and sang, “We Shall Overcome.”
Time and time again the Black Church (which still remains the cornerstone of Black America) has been ridiculed, persecuted, marginalized and discounted, but never defeated. Jesus is our great champion, His word never fails. Inevitably, Hell will attack again, but the church shall not succumb.
Dr. George B. Jackson
June 24, 2015