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Caesarea Philippi

What’s the good word?

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.”

Situated 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee and at the base of Mt. Hermon, Caesarea Philippi is the location of one of the largest springs feeding the Jordan River.  This abundant water supply made the area very fertile and attractive for religious worship.  In fact, numerous temples were built at this city in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Apparently known as Baal Hermon and Baal Gad in the Old Testament period, this site later was named Panias after the Greek god Pan who was worshiped here.  There were numerous temples being built here, one by Herod the great. As you see below, one of the Temples was built right into the side of the hill in the big hole. That hole was thought to be the entrance to the “dark world” and the land of the dead.

(Look at diagram above and you can see these archways and where they were)

Jesus never entered into the city, that we know of, but it this backdrop that Jesus asks the question of his disciples “Who do people say that I am?” Just placing this question in a place really brings the meaning of this part of Matthew’s gospel home. Here Jesus was, at this place with his disciples, a place many were coming to worship the god of Pan, among other deities, a place where animal sacrifice was being performed (below is a place where the goats were killed and placed). It is here that Jesus asks, “OK, so people are worshipping this god Pan, and all sorts of other deities, and here I am, the Son of God, SO…who do people say that I am? Am I just another among so many?” It’s a pretty impressive field trip and lesson that Jesus has these disciples on.

This is a question I believe is still being asked today, “Who do people say that I am? Am I one among many?” Many people would be quick to answer like Peter because we are attuned to what the “correct” answer should be. And may of us would probably say that Jesus isn’t one among many. But a quick observation of our bank accounts and calendars might show a different story. Jesus wanted to be the rabbi, the one person, in these disciples’ lives, and he wants that for us today as well. Peter gave the right answer, and my prayer is that we may be able to do the same as well.

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