Summary: Jesus reminds the disciples at Caesarea Philippi that the "Gates of Hell" will not prevail against the church and the confession of faith.
In Jesus Holy Name August 23, 2020
Text: Matthew 16:15-16 Pentecost XII – Redeemer
“An Opinion Poll…What’s the Buzz?”
When Jesus and His disciples arrived at Caesarea Philippi He asked them a critical question about His identity, purpose and mission. It was an opinion poll. Opinion polls are quite popular in this election year. They are not new.
We know that strange rumors had been swirling about this Jesus ever since the prophet John the Baptist referred to Jesus as the “Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world.” (Quote from “The Body” Charles Colson p. 63)
Some people thought that Jesus might be the new king after he fed the 5000 near the Sea of Galilee (John 6). This carpenter’s son from Nazareth taught the crowds with mysterious parables. He healed the sick and fed thousands with meager rations. He annoyed the religious authorities, especially when He raised children from the dead. He flaunted Jewish rules of association by spending a few days talking to a woman, at a Samaritan well. Then he traveled to non Jewish territory to heal a Canaanite woman’s daughter.
And now, on His return to Jewish territory, He and the disciples, stop off at a spring in Caesarea Philippi. This is not a place that Jewish families visited on vacation. It is a city at the base of Mount Hermon. There is a pagan shrine there. Jesus has his reason for this location.
The surroundings are impressive. Flowing springs, Lush gardens. A spring flowing from a cave, but also a place of horrendous pagan worship. Temples and monuments dedicated to the worship of the Greek god Pan line the pathways. A massive white marble temple to Caesar looms tall. Jesus has chosen the location a of a pagan shrine to ask a crucial question for His disciples ..and for us as well.
Those who came to the pagan temple believed that their fertility gods lived in the underworld during the winter and returned to earth each spring. They saw the cave and the water from the spring as the symbol of the underworld. Their gods used the cave and spring to travel to and from that underworld. It was in their mind literally the “gateway to hell”.
Each spring those who came to worship engaged in the old fertility rites of Baal worship, including prostitution and sexual interaction between humans and goats. Imagine the scene as being similar to the “Burning man” event in Nevada’s Black Rock desert. It is a literal orgy of wanton sexual encounters and substance abuse.
You can imagine the questions in the minds of the disciples. This is not a place for us… Jesus why did you bring us here? Jesus always has His reasons. . Jesus leans forward and says rather quietly to a small handful of men… knowing there is not one monument built in His honor, not one building erected to His glory….What is the buzz? Who do people say that I am?”
After Peter and Jesus walked on the water, we know the disciples with
their heart and mind had made a transition from seeing Jesus as a great prophet
to being the long-awaited Messiah. Here they are, standing at the “temple of Pan, at the gates of hell” when Jesus looks them straight in the eye and asks: “Who do people say that I am?” They gave their answers. “But what about you?” “Who do you say that I am?” To which Peter replied: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”
Such faith, Jesus said, could only come from God. This is good third article stuff….. long before Luther even wrote the definition to the 3rd article of the Apostle’s Creed Jesus knows that faith in Him is created by the Holy Spirit.
What happened in that Gentile city changed the course of history. For it was there that he asked the question, “Who do men say that I am?” That is the fundamental question. “But who do you say that I am?”
Here is what we often miss. What was the belief of those who came to the temples at Caesarea Philippi? The streets are lined with prostitutes. The Marti Gras is in full swing. The pagan worshipers believed that the spring and the cave from which it flowed was the entrance to hell. Into their world view, into this world of sexual perversion, the world of Jeffery Epstein, Jesus stands near the cave and spring and says… No matter what you see here in this place. The “gates of hell” will not overcome “my” Church, nor the faith that Peter just confessed.
That is exactly what Ephesians 2:20 says. “For you are…built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” The cornerstone or the bedrock of the church is Jesus Christ Himself. And upon that bedrock are the apostles. Those unlikely men, those uneducated men, those Galilean men, those fishermen, those tax collectors, those political rabble-rousers, those men who left everything to follow our Lord Jesus Christ, are the foundation stones of the church.