“I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The last phrase in this statement has always made me pause. For most of my life, I have interpreted that to mean that Satan and all of his minions would never be able to break down the gates of the Church, that it would be safe from his attacks. That of course is true. The Church has been assailed from the beginning by the forces of evil, both from within and without, but it remains, being as it is, the Body of Christ. But I have recently gained an entirely new understanding of this passage as well.

The figure of speech that Jesus is using here was meant to suggest something quite the opposite in his time. He is speaking in a world and in a culture that is ancient to us. In his day, when armies were attacking walled cities, they would concentrate all of their power on the weakest point in the walls, that is, the gates. Hence, to state that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church was to imply that Hell’s gates would not be able to withstand the assault of the Church of Christ. That is an entirely different idea and one that bears truth in it as well.

If we stop and think about it, we often give too much power to Satan and his minions when, in fact, Satan has no power but that which we give to him by acquiescing to his temptations. He has no power to force us to do his will. When we sin, it is OUR will that chooses to act in rebellion. Satan can only try to fool us through all manner of disguises and temptations, but he has no power in God’s creation to make us do anything. He has only deceit and foolishness. He cannot take our freedom from us, he cannot drag us kicking and screaming into his Hell. If we go his way, it is as a result of our foolish misuse of our God-given freedom, not his power.

On the other hand, when the Church remains true to its calling, preaching the Gospel truthfully and faithfully, and if we, the individual members of the Body of Christ, are, by the Grace of God, living according to his commandments, submitting ourselves freely to his wisdom, by these very acts we are bashing down the gates of Hell, crushing the armies of Satan and he can do nothing about it. There is an old phrase that we have all heard before: “Love conquers all.” In Latin it is “Amor vincit omnia.” Well, if God is love, and He is, then there is nothing in all of creation, seen or unseen, that can prevail against his power of love, and certainly not Satan. The Incarnation and the Cross and Resurrection are the proof of this omnipotent, unconquerable power of God. For, in his death and resurrection, Christ conquered sin and death, once and for all, forever. We need not fear evil, for God is with us, and against him there is no victory.

Lord, Increase in us a trust and love for you so great that against it no fear can prevail. Fill us with your unconquerable love so that we may, with that love, not only withstand the threats of temptation, but conquer them in you name. Amen!

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