Saturday 29 June 2024

He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" (v. 15)

Matthew 16:13-19 Saturday 29 June 2024

Psalm 125

Caesarea Philippi was not a place that many rabbis visited. It was outside Galilee and Judea, even outside Samaria, in the province of Iturea, an area that had historically been part of Palestine and the ancient kingdom of Israel, but which had long since become occupied by Gentiles.

Most rabbis considered it a pagan city to be avoided. It had shrines dedicated to the Roman Emperor, and also to the god Pan. Most infamously, there was a huge crevice in a rock that had become filled with smaller shrines to every conceivable false deity. The locals referred to this rock as 'the gates to Hell', and many people believed that it was actually a doorway for spirits to travel to and from the underworld.

It was here that Jesus took his disciples and asked them the most profound question: “Who do you say I am?” (v. 15) This is the key question he still asks everyone. What we each believe about Jesus is the most important decision of our whole lives. Do we believe he is a just a good man? A prophet? A reincarnation of some previous holy man? Or do we believe that he is the promised Messiah of God, and the Son of the Living God?

Peter responds with the great revelation that he, and all the disciples, believe that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. And Jesus responds with another fascinating revelation: “... you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (v. 18)

There’s clearly a play on words here about Peter (whose name literally means ‘rock’) being a rock in the Early Church, and that the confession of Jesus as Lord is the foundation stone of the Church. But Jesus is also referring back to the pagan rock of Caesarea Philippi near where they are standing. Even this pagan rock, filled with shrines to every conceivable false and alternate god imaginable, even this will one day bow to Jesus. The kingdom of God can and will extend everywhere.

To Ponder:

  • If someone asks "Who is Jesus?" how do you answer?
  • If Jesus were living in your town, what places do you think he would take his disciples (akin to Caesarea Philippi) to show that there is nowhere his kingdom can't reach?
  • Are there any places where you struggle to believe that Jesus' kingdom can prevail?

Lord Jesus, we pray for your kingdom to continue its growth. We ask that even and especially in the darkest places on this earth, your light will shine and people will respond to your good news. Amen.

Previously published in 2022.

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