Living in Caesarea America

18 Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”  19 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” 20 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.”  21 Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 21 And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, 22 saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” 23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:18-27)

This week, although we are studying Luke, I need to go to Matthew 16 and Mark 8 for a moment.  These two chapters include the same passage as above, but they add that Jesus and His disciples were in the vicinity of Caesarea Philippi.  It’s this little detail that I want to give a bit of attention to.

Caesarea Philippi is an interesting place.  A quick internet search will show you springs of water, a waterfall, hills with lush green trees.  The internet will also tell you that, for centuries, Caesarea Philippi was a favorite spot for pagan worship.  Baal, Pan, Echo, Hermes, and even Caesar Augustus were worshipped here.  Prostitution was rampant here.  Animal and child sacrifices were offered here.  It was a dark, dark place.

Enter Jesus and His disciples and a question about Jesus’s identity.  Suddenly the passage opens up a little for us, doesn’t it?  He’s not just asking what the disciples think about Him.  He’s asking what they think about Him in relation to all these other “gods.”  He’s making a point.  “See these other deities here?  They offer death.  Me, I offer life.”

Jesus asks us the same question in somewhat the same sort of place.  Sure, we’re in America, but do we not live in a world sickened with pornography and child abuse?  Like Caesarea Philippi, we are surrounded with a multitude of false gods—Allah, Buddha, status, beauty, fast cars, drugs…you get my point.  And here, in this present day land of temples to false gods, here is where Jesus is asking us, “Who do you say I am?”

Oh, He is Messiah, just as Peter said.  And so much more.

He is our rescuer.  Best friend.  Confidant.  Comforter.  Counselor.  Source of wisdom and peace.  Our strength.  Maker of the world.  Holder of the future.  Provider.  Miracle worker.  Our help.  The One we live for.  The One worth giving up everything for.  Worth losing our lives for.  This is what I believe.  I hope you do too.

The difference between that moment in Luke 9 and today comes in the last verse.  Jesus said to Peter and the gang, “Don’t tell anyone.”  There were several reasons He gave that command, not the least of which was that He was on a mission that had a timeline that didn’t need to be hurried along by eager disciples.  We won’t go down that rabbit trail right now.  The point is, they weren’t to tell.

We, however, have a very different command.  We have been commanded to tell what we know—long and loud and clear.  If faced with Jesus’s question, much of today’s crowd would say, “Oh, Jesus, you know, he was a good teacher.  A good man.”  Some people would answer, “Jesus?  That’s just a story.  Someone made that up.”  Some would even say, “He’s a fraud.  A power-hungry maniac.”  In such a crowd, we who know the truth have a very important mandate.  He isn’t any of those things.  He is the giver of life.  I would bet there’s someone in your world who needs to hear that.  When will you tell them?