by Pastor Doug Stratton — August 23, 2020
Matthew 16: 13-20
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
CCI: Darkness will never defeat the Light of Truth.
Intro: In 1996, Sheryl and I were privileged to go to Israel. On that trip, we went to the place of this story. The place where Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say I am?”
Caesarea Philippi is a fascinating biblical site. It is the sight of the mouth of the Jordan river. It is located at the foot of Mount Hermon, a group of mountains in the north of Israel and Jordan. The summits are snow-capped throughout the year and are the source of the largest spring that feeds the Jordan River.
Because the region was a bit cooler and the scenery was beautiful, Ceasarea Philippi became a favorite vacation spot of the elite of Judea and Galilee. The spring and the grotto where the spring emerged, became a place of worship for the Greek and later the Roman occupying forces. Pan, the Greek god of shepherds and woodlands, a god who could inspire sudden fear, (which is where we get the word panic), was worshiped at Caesarea Philippi. To the Jew, he was the picture of evil, and is probably the source of the depictions of the devil in the middle ages.
The grotto that developed around the spring was filled with niches for images of gods and goddesses. Here you can see the niches cut out in the stone wall. Some of these are dedicated to the people who gave large sums to money to the priests of Pan. When Pan was worshiped, goats would be sacrificed and thrown into the mouth of the cave.
If blood appeared in the water of the spring, it was believed the sacrifice had not been accepted and more were offered. The violence of the sacrifices was frightening. The cave that was used by the priests in this worship was known as the Gates of Hell.
And it was in this place that Jesus chose to reveal his identity as the Messiah to his disciples.
It is a beautiful place and it was here that Jesus came for a rest. I think we can say he was on vacation. It is one of the few times he left the shores of Galilee. But even on vacation he did not go off message. The disciples had recently been traveling around Galilee sharing the good news. Now that they had gathered together again, it was time for them to be debriefed. So they went to this place of pagan worship and Jesus asked, “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples had been among the people, they had their finger on the pulse of Galilee and so Jesus asked them this very important question, he wanted to know if the message was getting across.
And they answered, “Some people think you are John the Baptist back from the dead, some think you are Elijah, the one who will announce the messiah, and some think you are Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Each of these answers suggested that Jesus was actually a reincarnation of one of God’s servants. People did not think God could do anything new. So they assumed if there was a man of God around, it must be a second coming of one of the other great men. While that sounds strange, it let the people off the hook. If Jesus was not really a person, then what he was asking of them could be dismissed. If he was someone returned from death, then he was a novelty who did not really understand what it was like to live each day. It made it easier to hear him, because he was different.
I got to ask you, how do we fall into that same trap? We are far too sophisticated to think that Augustine, or Spurgeon, or Paul have returned from the grave, but when we see people who live faithful kingdom lives, we try to find ways to dismiss them. We say, “They do not have families to deal with, of course they can experiment with simplicity.” Or we decide that they are just different than us and since they are different, the obedience they live is beyond us.
But Jesus would not let them off the hook just be talking about who others thought he was. “Who do you say I am?” And that is the question that counts. Peter responded, “You are the Messiah, the anointed one, the son of the Living God.” And Jesus smiled at him and said, “Pete, I don’t know where you got it, but you got it. And from this day forward, my called out people, my church (cause that is what church means) will be built on people like you, people who are not afraid to take a risk, people who are not afraid to shout truth, people who will live as Kingdom citizens without fear. And I am telling you, when you go forward, not even the gates of Hell will be able to stop you!”
And still today, when God’s people go forward without fear to be Kingdom citizens, nothing can stop them. Have you ever heard people say, “I don’t know about you, but I don’t think the church should not get mixed up in that!” And Jesus says, “Uh, not even the gates of Hell are off limits to my Kingdom!” Or, “Issues of racism and marriage equality are just too controversial for the Church to address.” And Jesus says, “Not even the gates of Hell are off limits to my Kingdom!”
After Jesus commended Peter and told him that his name would be Rocky, He then said, “And upon this rock I will be build my church.” There have been many different interpretations that have arisen from this passage. Historically the Catholic Church has said that this was the commissioning of Peter to be the first Bishop of Rome. Others have suggested that the declaration of Peter is the rock upon which the church is founded. Let’s try a different way of looking at this declaration. CP was the center of pagan worship in the area. It was also a very rocky region. Could it be that Jesus was calling for his church to be built in Pagan centers in CP and throughout the world?
Jesus’ vision, that his followers, his people would enter the heart of Satan’s territory and build a church that nothing will stop. And when we do, we are given a set of keys. Keys that will open the doors to the prisons where people are found. Keys of forgiveness that free people from prisons of guilt. Keys of grace that open the door to new relationships.
Keys of love the cross boundaries of race and language. Keys of mercy that minister to the dying and outcast. And if we do not use these keys the world will never hear the message. You see, the gates of Hell will never stand in the way of God’s church. The Keys to the kingdom are not a ring of keys that Peter holds at the pearly gates, they are the keys of the good news of Jesus that free people today. Throughout the history of the church there are wonderful stories of men and women, Kingdom Citizens, who decided that they would not let the gates of Hell stop them.
In 2010 a group of eight people from two churches felt called to the Detroit Boulevard neighborhood of Sacramento. It was known as one of the most notorious crime-ridden neighborhoods in all of Sacramento. Each house in that neighborhood was a place of danger. Nonetheless this group of eight decided to walk through the neighborhood praying over each home and praying for the presence of Christ to reign over violence, addiction, and satanic oppression. They began walking through the neighborhood, praying over each home and rebuking the demonic strongholds of addiction and violence.
One of the eight, former Sacramento police officer and gang detective Michael Xiong, reported that each time we prayed over the houses, we felt the weight of oppression becoming lighter. A woman from one of the houses confronted them. When she discovered they were praying for the community, she asked for healing, and God healed her.
The group soon physically moved into the neighborhood and started what they called Detroit Life Church. A couple years later a local newspaper, the Sacramento Bee, reported that there were no homicides, robberies, or sex crimes, and only one assault in Detroit Boulevard between 2013 and 2014. Detroit Boulevard had been transformed by a small group of people who began their ministry in the neighborhood by praying around houses, streets, and parks for the power of Satan to be vanquished. Kingdom prayer in body is what it means to be faithfully present to his presence in the world.
The Gates of Hell can not stop the gospel!
But lest you think the courage to storm the gates is limited to Christians in another place and circumstance. The history of Hatboro Baptist Church tells us that in 1823, in the village of Crooked Billet (which would become known as Hatboro) Mrs Hannah Yerkes wrote to her friends, “I have located in a heathen land.” You see there was no Christian body meeting in the village. This community was her CP. However, she was not dissuaded.
In 1824 she started a Sunday School at Loller Academy, and despite many setbacks, 12 years later, following two revival meetings during the Summer of 1835, Hatboro Baptist Church was formed on September 8. Jesus promised to build his church and not even the Gates of Hell would get in the way.
These Kingdom citizens knew that they were a “called-out” people. They knew the power of the Kingdom of God and the gates of Hell did not intimidate them. To be a citizen of the Kingdom, is to reject the way of the world, to refuse to accept the philosophy of the Gates of Hell that teaches that violence and hatred will bring peace, and follow the way of Christ. It is not easy, but it is the only way that will ever work. Martin Luther King Jr said, “through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate. Darkness cannot put out darkness. Only light can do that.”
The Kingdom of God is not bounded by the doors of the church. You may not have a gang in your neighborhood that you are called to pray with, but you may have a teenager next door who needs the love of an adult. You may not be called to stand before headhunters, but you may be asked to stand with a sister who has AIDS. There is no place that is off limits for a citizen of the Kingdom of God, because the gates of Hell will fall to the advance of Kingdom citizens, not through violence, but through light.
App: The Kingdom of God, that radical, life changing rule of Christ in our lives and hearts and church, will not be stopped. It is God’s power today. If we will submit to His rule, confess our sins, and humbly receive his forgiveness, we will have victory no matter what we face.
~ Pastor Doug