On March 13th, we trekked to northern Israel where three rivers merge to form the Jordan River. Where the tribe of Dan fortified itself to protect the northern borders. Where the view to the north is Syria. A beautiful serene mountain stands in the distance. To believe that such strife happens between nations is almost hard to believe in such beauty. But beauty alone will not save us.
Caesarea Philippi was our destination that day. This was a hopping, party town in the time of the Roman Empire. There is a cave dedicated to Pan, the god of the wild and fertility. So the pagan parties were full of debauchery and letting inhibitions go. The beauty of the place is that part of the river runs through the town. The landscape works with the land, so the river is part of the man-made setting. Instead of bridges to cross, there are gapped, concrete steps, so one can walk just above, but amidst the water. In the Roman time, a sacrifice was thrown into the cave, where a pool of water resides. If the water ran red, the sacrifice was accepted by the gods.
In Caesarea Philippi, imagine: a multitude of Romans partying worshipping the gods, drinking, being raucous and loud; laughter, debauchery, wildness. Here the disciples, with Jesus, passed through. Jesus asks the question, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, “The Son of God.” Jesus says, “By the Holy Spirit, you have said this. But do not tell anyone.” Why would Jesus say this? The context is Romans worshipping the gods, the gods of their culture, the gods of their Empire. If it was announced there in Caesarea Philippi that Jesus is the Son of God, there would have been a riot, Jesus and all the disciples killed.
In a culture that only had appetite for self and worshipped pleasure, wildness and fertility, Jesus was an outcast and the disciples also. A man who claimed to be divine? A man who claimed to be not of this world that there was another kingdom, the Kingdom of God. How could a Roman accept this? The Empire was the way of the world. The gods fated all things to be as they are without any opposing human or One God’s interference.
Do we not live in a similar culture today? Our passions rule. Our relative morality dictating. The way of the State of subjectivity rules. Any opposition to the State is seen as anathema. Being nice, being tolerant of “new” ways of thinking is the highest virtue. At least the Roman Empire had understanding of virtue, which cannot save a civilization alone. How can faith in Jesus Christ, hope and divine love be a part of this current culture? Jesus Christ and Christianity are old and worn out. They have no relevance today. This is Western civilization today.
“Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” Today, this is controversy and heresy.
The multitudes absorbed in worshipping false gods riots and rages against Christians, in certain parts of the world—kills us. That day in Caesarea Philippi, I said Jesus Christ is the Son of God, recommitting to the truth. In a raging world, we as the church must proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ in love. He is meek and kind, but Jesus Christ is King, and he will not tolerate sin. He came to set free those captive to self and sin. It is not with ease that one is made perfect, it hurts and sometimes is not pleasant, but it reaps joy, eternal joy at that.
After Caesarea Philippi, Jesus went on to Jerusalem, on to his death. He ascended to Jerusalem to lay his life down for the world. Let us turn toward Christ and walk this formative, difficult path with Christ, following him. Lord, form us and free us. Turn our hearts, minds, our whole being toward you. Transform us, transfigure us. In turn, we offer the world to you, giving it back to you in gratitude that you may redeem it. Only you have the power to redeem the world. We are your servants giving you back what is yours. Redeem the world, redeem us.
“Be still my soul. The Lord is on thy side; Bear patiently the cross of grief and pain; Leave to thy God to order and provide; In every change, He faithful will remain. Be still my soul. Thy best thy heavenly friend. Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.” Katherine Von Sclegal