Now THAT is a Set of Keys
August 27, 2017 – Pastor Doug Stratton
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 Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, 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 warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.
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 cave that was used by the priests in this worship was known as the Gates of Hell.
And this is where 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 Galillee. 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!” (show third picture again).
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!”
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. But this week while studying, I ran across and interpretation that is really fascinating. As I mentioned, 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? Perhaps that was 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. We have the responsibility to proclaim the good news of forgiveness and grace and if we remain silent, the world will never hear the message. You see, the gates of Hell will never stand in the way of God’s church.
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.
The Story of Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, Nate Saint, and Roger Youderian, is a story that captured the attention of the Nation in 1956 when the men, missionaries with a longing to bring the gospel to a tribe of people unreached people were speared to death by the very people they had been reaching out to. They were speared in the river with firearms in their hands and they never fired a shot. The bodies of all 5 were found in the river beside their plane. (See the film The End of the Spear here – or watch below).
Immediately their families returned to the States and began to adjust to life as widows and single parents. However, two year later Marj Saint returned to Ecuador to minister to the very people who had killed her husband. The courage of Marj and her children were instrumental in transforming many in the Huaorani Tribe.
In the documentary Beyond the Gates of Splendor the children of Nate Saint tell how God can use forgiveness to heal their grief even as children. In one scene, Kathy and Steve Saint, the children of Nate Saint, speak of their own baptisms administered by the Aucas who now believe. Kimo, a participant in the killings and the baptisms, recalled Steve’s baptism. “By his father’s grave we did it when Steve was a little older. It was right up the river there. He brought his mother too.”
Kathy said, “When I was in High School in the States, I decided I wanted to be baptized. And I wanted the people who baptized me to be people who had a significant role in my spiritual life. I was in the same water where my dad’s body had been thrown, and at either side of me were the two men that in their youth had killed dad. And all I knew was that I really loved these two guys.”
The Gates of Hell can not stop the gospel!
But lest you think the courage to storm the gates is limited to Christians who are missionaries, or people of a different age.
Charles Lyons, the pastor of Armitage Baptist Church in Chicago has led a his people into the gates of Hell. They believe in praying for their neighborhood by going into the neighborhood to pray. He writes:
During the 1980s the OA gang dominated our area. We created a prayer patrol of three or four teams of two men each. These were men with street savvy, men who knew the language and weren’t intimidated easily.
Normally when a gang hangs out on a corner, nobody goes near them. In fact, once a young man puts on the colors, the only adult that may ever speak to him again is a police detective. With the gang watching every car, keeping an eye out for drive-bys, our prayer patrols would slow down and find a place to park. Then the patrol would do the unheard of: walk right up and start talking to the gang.
“I’m Al, this is Moses, and we’re from Armitage Baptist. We’re the prayer patrol. How ya’ doin’? Is there anything we can pray about with you? Baby sick? Brother in jail? Can we pray for you?”
These patrolmen then put their hands on the shoulders of these lost kids and prayed for them. In time, the gangs got to know and respect our prayer patrols.
The OAs had called our block their headquarters for 20 years. Today, the OAs are gone. The gang was overcome by the power of prayer.”
Armitage is still praying for their neighborood. Lyons writes, “When a kid gets shot in our neighborhood, we hold a prayer service on the exact spot where the kid died. We’ve had as many as 350 people show up for one of these.
We walk up and down the street, letting people know they’re not alone and forgotten. We ask if there’s anything we can pray with them about.
These are Kingdom citizens who know that they have been called to be a called out people. They know the power of the Kingdom of God and the gates of Hell will 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.
Join Hatboro Baptist Church, Sundays at 10:30am for fellowship in the Narthex and 10:55am for Worship.
Photos Credit: Pastor Doug Stratton (may not be used without permission)
Watch the Film “The End of the Spear”