ON LOCATION: CAESAREA PHILIPPI
From the ancient pagan shrine of Banias, Steven discusses Yeshua’s timeless question: Who do men say that I am?
Shalom. I’m standing here at what was called once Caesarea Philippi, one of the most northern cities in the Galilee and at the time of the New Testament this was a center of paganism. In fact it became such a center of paganism that after Caesarea Philippi no longer was called after Caesar or Her-Philip the son of Herod who was the ruler here it became known by its more popular name which is Panias. Why was it called Panias? Because it was dedicated to the worship of the god Pan. Now today it’s called Banias because of the corruption of the p to b but nonetheless behind me is a cave where Pan was worshipped.
Now Pan, who am I talking about, Peter Pan? Listen I’m a big fan of Peter Pan, I got a crow, the whole thing, first star to the right and straight on to morning, second star up, whatever I love Peter Pan who doesn’t, but this is not the Disney Peter Pan. This is not the musical Peter Pan. This is the Greek god Pan. So we’re talking about a center of paganism and it’s in this center of paganism on the very outskirts of the kingdom of Israel that Yeshua takes his talmidim, his disciples, for their midterm exam. You know he’s been with them for quite some time and we get to Matthew 16 and we see Jesus administering a test, a midterm exam. It’s a very simple exam because it’s one of those exams you may know of, exams with the bluebooks, or you may know of multiple choice, it’s not a multiple choice, it’s simply a one question exam and what is the exam?
Let’s read together. Chapter 16 verse 13 of Matthew, now when Yeshua came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, you say what in the world is a nice Jewish boy like Jesus a nice Jewish gang of kids like the disciples, what are they doing in sin city? What are they doing in the center of paganism this Caesarea Philippi, this place of pagan worship? Well it’s going to come down to what the question is. Jesus asked his disciples “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” In another words who do men say that I am? I answered, many of them answered saying, “Some say John the Baptist others Elijah.” So you are the double of John the Baptist? I do not know exactly how that works can’t be a reincarnation because you know that they are contemporaries so they throw that answer out, not such a good answer John the Baptist. “Others say that you’re Elijah.” Okay that’s not a bad answer thinking that Elijah is going to perhaps prepare the way for a coming Messiah maybe a prophet still “Others say you’re Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” All of those are beating around the bush getting closer little bit to his identity but all falling short of the correct answer but he said to them okay well that was who men say that I am let’s hear who you say that I am and Simon Peter answered and he said “You are the Messiah, you are the Christ the son of the living God.” Now that’s not two different answers. That’s the same answer stated and then restated, “You are the Messiah. You are the Son of God.” They are not recognizing that Jesus is deity necessarily at this point in their education. It wasn’t necessary for them to recognize that yet. What it was necessary for them to do was to recognize that he was indeed the Messiah and that like David, his father before him, he had a unique relationship with God and such a unique relationship that he shared in the characteristics of God that he was son of or Mr. in the same way that we would say that a great entertainer might be called Mr. Entertainment or a great comic might be called Mr. Warmth or Mr. Excitement perhaps but this phrase “Son of” denoted the characteristics of you so the Messiah would share some. It was unclear at this point how many of the characteristics but some of the characteristics of God as His representative.
Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you but my father who is in heaven and I say to you that you are Peter and upon this rock [upon this confession upon this truth] I will build my church.” So you are Petras and upon this petra this confession “I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”
Now there are many who teach, and it’s very possible that the giant cave that looms, mouth is looming right behind me was known as the gates of hell. It was the center of Pan worship in Biblical times. A waterfall fell from on top of the cave covering the front of the cave very nicely. It was mysterious. It was creepy and it evoked a divine worship not of God but of other divine beings, demons, and idols, and the like. The place is filled with niches and different little carved out places for different gods beside Pan, friends of Pan, Pan and company you might say and so the big mouth of this cave was popularly known as the gates of hell and so here Jesus is saying listen paganism is not going to prevail against this. We’ve already encountered Jewish opposition in the Galilee and of course in Jerusalem and even when I prepare you and you’re not even knowing that you’re being prepared right now to go out into the world but I am preparing you. The gates of hell the worst that paganism has to throw at this confession that I am indeed the Mashiach, the Messiah, the Son of the living God it’s not going to prevail against the gospel message. In fact Peter you are the one to whom I give the keys to the kingdom of heaven, you Peter.
Peter gets such a bad rap. I’ve heard so many sermons in my life denigrating Peter as some country bumpkin as someone who always has his foot in his mouth as someone who always speaks before his mouth actually is connected to the brain. Peter is Jesus’ number one student. Peter is the head of the class. He is teacher’s pet, there’s no question about it and that’s why it’s not such a huge shock when we see he becomes the leader of the church, come Acts chapter 1. So do not short change Peter, In fact Peter’s importance, his leadership the necessity of Peter is very very clear once we get to Acts, once Jesus has ascended and Peter is the defacto leader of the apostolic band of the early church and we see that it is Peter who is the primary agent for Jewish salvation in the temple at Pentecost in Acts chapter 2 and then we see Peter as the primary agent of Gentile salvation. It’s not Paul who is the one who opens the gates of the kingdom of heaven with the keys. It is Peter who was given the specific responsibility to be the instrument of Jewish salvation, of Gentile salvation with Cornelius in Acts chapter 10. Even in Acts chapter 8, where the Samaritans, which are kind of in the gap between Jewish and Gentile, they’re kind of somewhere in between, even then even though they believe under Philip the Evangelist we still see that it takes Peter and his presence for them to receive the Spirit of God for them to have the keys of the kingdom of heaven the gates of heaven open for them.
So Peter is God’s agent opening, up doors of salvation for Jews, for near Jews, and for Gentiles all because Peter provided the confession here. Peter the number one student had the correct answer. “So I give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven whatever you bind that earth will be bound in heaven whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” In another words you have authority. I am delegating my authority to you, to the apostles yes, but to you Peter in particular because you understood this incredible truth. Then he warned disciples that they should tell no one that he was the Christ but lest we think that Peter is all like all gold stars for the day it tells us something else. From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed and be raised up on the third day. This is a concept that of course the disciples should’ve understood based upon the suffering servant passages, especially Isaiah 53. Peter took Jesus aside…special…let me…I’m your star pupil and maybe you didn’t mean to say this. He began to rebuke him saying, “God forbid it Lord, this shall never happen to you” [you’ll never suffer you’ll never die], but Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me. You’re not setting your mind on God’s interest but man’s.” So even after giving this great confession Peter turns around and doesn’t quite understand. He gets the idea that he is the Messiah, yes, but does not understand exactly what the Messiah has to do in order to get to the victorious picture of the victorious king. There is no detour, there is no bypass around the Messiah suffering and dying on behalf of not only Israel but the entire world.
But here we are in Caesarea Philippi the place of Jesus great midterm. That confession is still true so the question I want to ask you watching this at home, is who do you say Jesus is? I’m Steven Ger, I don’t need you to tell me who I am. I need you to decide for yourself, is Jesus the Messiah? I’ve made my decision. Jesus is my Messiah, Yeshua is my Lord and it’s my prayer that He becomes yours as well. Shalom.