(This is the third post in a series that I hope to flesh out over the next several days/weeks/years at the rate I’m going. These are my thoughts/reflections/ramblings about my recent trip to Israel.)
There are moments in our lives that make us stop and wonder. They range in shape and size from small things (like seeing a really beautiful sunrise) to large things (marriage, the birth of a child). These moments come at odd times and odd places, but they mark, if you will, our lives. In big or small ways, they change us or, at the very least, they make us stop and realize just how much life has changed. It’s in these “watershed” moments that I’m usually blown away by the grace and goodness of the Lord.
I had one of those moments in Israel. It wasn’t at the Garden Tomb (as awesome as that was). It wasn’t upon seeing Jerusalem for the first time (absolutely breathtaking). It wasn’t even on the Sea of Galilee, which was perhaps my absolute favorite place in Israel. We’ll get to all those eventually (it will probably take me a year to write all these!), but the place that really stopped me in my tracks was Caesarea Philippi, the gates of hell.
It was an unlikely place to have a watershed moment, but it happened nonetheless. As you can see from the picture, it wasn’t the beauty of the place that blew me away (it’s really just a big rock). It was what Jesus said there, and what that means to me.
“When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13-19, NKJV)
As with nearly everything in Israel, simply standing in the spot where something took place in the Bible is amazing enough, and no words can describe that. But for me, this place has a very special meaning. I went through a period in my life where I got really sidetracked reading the “words of men”, books on theology and the Bible, instead of reading the Bible itself. I know…novel idea, right? Well, without going on a tirade here, the Catholic church has a major teaching about the guy in Rome that uses this episode from Caesarea Philippi as a proof-text. Going there, standing there, studying the Bible there, and realizing what was really being said by Jesus there was right up at the top of my Israel high points list.
You see, standing in front of this gigantic rock where the Lord stood, it hit me that the rock on which the church was built could never be any man. No, the Rock is Christ, and only on His solid foundation can anything of lasting import be built. How can the rock be Pete when only a few verses later Jesus calls him Satan?!! Standing at the “gates of hell” where pagan worshippers once threw human sacrifices to the “god” Pan, you realize that the literal gates of hell would NEVER prevail against the church that is built on the Rock that is Christ. The church that men build is easily overrun. The church that Jesus builds…it never fails.
Standing there, looking at those ancient shrines now weathering away, standing by this massive rock where my Lord once stood, all the way across the pond in Israel, I realized just how far the Lord had brought me. I remembered how the Word of God has changed my life, and continues to change me every day. I remembered from what the Lord had delivered me from. I remembered that He is good and His mercy endures forever.
This picture below was taken by a friend as I stood with my pastor in front of the “gates of hell.” I didn’t remember taking it until they sent it to me. I’m so glad they got it. It speaks so much to me of where the Lord has brought me from. It reminds me of how the Lord brought me and my family out of a very dry place into a good land, a land full of His promises and grace. It reminds me of how fortunate I am to have a pastor that teaches the Word faithfully and truthfully, and how that Word simply taught changes lives. I look at this picture, and I remember…there is no limit to what God can do.