Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hiking in Caesarea Philippi, asking THEE biggest question ever asked.

As we walked along this trail that dated back to Roman time, to the time of Jesus, we imagined Jesus walking along here with his disciples. In Matthew 16:13-18 we read of Jesus teaching his disciples here and he asked them one of the most profound questions ever asked of them. Jesus chose this region very specifically. But first let's read the passage taken from the New Living Translation before we go into more of the history.

"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, "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, 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 lock on earth will be locked in heaven, and whatever you open on earth will be opened in heaven."
an artists portrait of the area
Then he sternly warned them not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. From then on Jesus began to tell his disiples plainly that he had to go to Jerusalem and he told them what would happen to him there. He would suffer at the hands of the leaders and the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, and he would be raised on the third day. But Peter took him aside and corrected him, "Heaven forbid, Lord," he said. "This will never happen to you!" Jesus turned to Peter and said, "Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, and not from God's." Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you fill find true life. And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process? Is anything worth more than your soul? For I, the Son of Man, will come in the glory of my Father with his angels and will judge all people according to their deeds. And I assure you that some of you standing here right now will not die before you see me, the Son of Man, coming in my Kingdom."

Here in Caesarea Philippi, 25 miles north-east of the Sea of Galilee, the influence of Greek and Roman culture was everywhere and it was full of pagan temples of Syrian Baal gods, up to 14 different ones have been counted. In this region was the temple of the Greek god of Pan, it was believed to be his birthplace in a cave here. The entrance to the cave has 5 niches to the right of it where statues would have been placed. The area of Caesarea Philippi was a place where people believed the Greek gods looked down, it was the place beneath the shadow of ancient gods. Here was also the place where a great temple of white marble had been built to the godhead of Caesar, built by Herod the Great. And it is here that the most important river in Judaism sprang to life, the Jordan River. The River Jordan has 4 main sources but at this cave is the most eastern source of the river.

the Herodian on top of the mountain
Caesarea Philippi is one of the most beautiful scenic areas in Israel, 1,150 feet high overlooking a fertile valley on the southwestern slope of Mount Hermon. Joshua conquered this land (Joshua 11:17) and the children of the half-tribe of Manasseh dwelt here (1 Chronicles 5:23). In the year 2 BC, the place was named Caesarea in honor of Augustus but later caleld Neroneas in honor of Nero. After the destruction of Jerusalem, many Jews were caught and sold as slaves and many of them died in gladiator triumphal games that were celebrated here as well as Rome. (

So, it was here of all places that Jesus chose to ask the question "Who do men say that I am?"  Who do you believe Jesus to be? That is THEE MOST important question of your life because your belief in Jesus Christ WILL give you eternal life.  When Jesus told Peter that "on this rock I will build my church" He was speaking of a few things. Jesus is the Rock, the foundation of the church, upon which the church would be built. Peter began the church after Jesus' death and so some hold Saint Peter up to a very high stature. 
But here at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus was also speaking out against all these "rocks (temples)" and declaring that He was above all of them. The cave here was incredibly deep and was often seen as a pit of hell because of its depths and people would throw their sacrifices into this cave. Some translations say "powers of hell, or the gates of hell, gates of Hades, or the jaws of death" and the people had an incredible fear of death. So Jesus was saying that He himself, and Peter continuing the church, and the confession of Faith that Peter boldly stated as Jesus being the Messiah would overcome death and hell. Whoohoo!! Jesus Himself holds the Keys of the Kingdom, the ONLY Key to eternal life.  Praise God!

It was right after this incident at Caesarea Philippi that the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13) took place, most likely on Mount Hermon, which is Israel's highest mountain. Peter, James and John saw Jesus transfigured "his appearance changed so that his face shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus."  Both of these men had experienced the power of God on a mountain top in the Old Testament (Exodus 34:29, Exodus 31:18, Deut. 34:1-4 with Moses and 1 Kings 19:8-12, 1 Kings 18:20-40 with Elijah). Both of these men left this earth in an unusual manner. Moses was buried in a place that was only known by God (Deut. 34:5-12) and Elijah was talking with Elisha when he was taken up to Heaven by a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11).

The Glory of God rested on Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Christ who gave His life on Calvary so that we could have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Jesus was and still is who Peter boldly proclaimed Him to be "the Messiah, the Son of the Living God." (Matt. 16:16)  Do you say this of Him too my friend?  Do you believe that He is God's One and only Son, who God sent into this world to die on the cross for our sins, was buried, rose after 3 days and ascended into Heaven and is preparing a home for those who love and follow Him? Do you believe that He is the ONE Way, the Truth and the Life and no one enters into Heaven except through Him? Who do you say Jesus is? THAT is THEE most important question of your life.

A short 1 minute video clip of our hike to give you a taste of the sight and sound

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