This morning I want to invite you to put on your walking shoes and join me as we head out of Caesarea, which is where we visited Cornelius last week, and make our way north of the Sea of Galilee to the city of Caesarea Philippi. The distance we will travel this morning is a little over 100 miles, but it will be well worth the journey so let’s head out. I’ll fill you in on a little history of the city before we get to our Scripture for this morning.
The city of Caesarea Philippi was on the southwestern slope of Mount Hermon, the farthest north that Jesus traveled in His ministry. If you have a Bible with maps in the back then take a look and you will find that Caesarea Philippi is located 25 miles northeast of the Sea of Galilee. By the time Jesus visited the city, Herod the Great, who built Caesarea, had died and his Kingdom had been divided between his three sons, Archelaus, Herod Antipas, and Philip. Herod’s son, Philip, is the one who built the city of Caesarea Philippi and named it with a double name, “Caesarea” in honor of Caesar Augustus and Philip’s own name, in order to distinguish it from the city of Caesarea which his father had built.
Caesarea Philippi was not a Jewish city, but it was, and still is, one of the most beautiful places in all of Israel. It is at Caesarea Philippi that we find the beginnings of the Jordan River. There were three streams that flowed from Mount Hermon that made up the Jordan River and one of the beautiful springs originated at Caesarea Philippi.
Caesarea Philippi is situated on a terrace 1,150 above sea level and at the base of Mount Hermon, which rises 9,200 feet above sea level. The water, the mountain, and the large Gentile population made the city fertile ground for pagan worship. In Jesus’ day there were pagan temples, Syrian Baal worship centers, sanctuaries to Greek gods, and a temple in honor of Emperor Augustus, scattered throughout the area. Some of the remains of pagan worship remain even today. Historians say that there were at least fourteen pagan temples scattered throughout the area, but one of the most popular temples was to the Greek god Pan, the god of nature, fields, forests, mountains, flocks, and shepherds. Many of the people of Caesarea Philippi believed that a cave near the city was the birthplace of Pan. A sanctuary was built at the location and if you visit the site today you will find a huge cave with five niches cut into the side of the mountain next to where the sanctuary of Pan once stood. These niches originally held statues and three of the niches have Greek inscriptions that mention Pan, Echo, and Galerius, one of Pan’s priests. The original name of Caesarea Philippi, before Philip built the city, was “Panias.”
The reference to “Echo” probably comes from the Greek myth that Pan fell in love with a virgin named Echo. Echo wasn’t interested in Pan because he was uglier than a mud fence, was super hairy, and he had legs like a goat. That description probably doesn’t stir any of you single ladies either, huh? Anyway, Echo continued to resist Pan until finally he had his minions catch her and rip her to pieces. They buried her remains in many places, and that is why, when someone gives a great shout, the echo comes from many places.
I mentioned earlier that Pan was the god of flocks, shepherds, fields, and nature. The Greeks believed that because of Pan’s goat-like legs that he was the god of goats. Pan would play his flute and stir up the goats until they danced, which according to the Greeks, ensured their fertility and the growth of the herds. The Greeks believed that the abundance of vegetation at Panias, together with the rush of the spring, was a mixture for romance brought about by Pan.
In 20 B.C. the Roman Emperor Augustus gave the city of Panias to Herod the Great. Herod, in order to express his appreciation to the Emperor, built a beautiful white temple of marble in honor of the godhead of Caesar. As I said earlier, it was Herod’s son, Philip, who built the city.
Under Philip’s leadership, Caesarea Philippi became a center of Greek-Roman culture, a city famous for its pagan worship. Philip was a man bent on claiming his place in history and Caesarea Philippi was the exclamation point in his pursuit for prominence. In Matthew 16:13 we read about “the district of Caesarea Philippi” and in Mark 8:27 we read about “the villages of Caesarea Philippi” –these references lead us to believe that Philip had made Caesarea Philippi the center of his power.
Even though the city was largely populated with Gentiles, there were Jews in the area. After the fall of Jerusalem, in 70 A.D., we find that there were thousands upon thousands of Jews in the area that were enslaved or killed. Will Durant, in his book, Caesar and Christ, writes,
The victors gave no quarter, but slew all Jews upon whom they could lay their hands; 97,000 fugitives were caught and sold as slaves; many of them died as unwilling gladiators in the triumphal games that were celebrated at Berytus, Caesarea Philippi and Rome. (Will Durant, Caesar And Christ, p. 545).
What a backdrop for the Scripture that we will study for today. The worship of the one true and living God was deplorable to those in Caesarea Philippi. The worship of anything and everything, except for God, was welcomed with open arms. Everywhere the people turned in the city there were reminders of the gods claim upon their lives. Set against this backdrop we find Jesus and His disciples heading towards the city. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in Matthew 16:13-20.
13When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 14They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. (Matthew 16:13-17 NIV)
My prayer for us this morning is that by understanding the background for this Scripture, the religious pluralism and paganism of Caesarea Philippi, that we will better understand the importance of Jesus’ question to His disciples. Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” What was their reply? Well, some say John the Baptist. John was a highly visible figure leading up to Jesus’ arrival on the scene. He was preparing the way for the Lord, but Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, had him beheaded. After John the Baptist’s death, when Jesus’ popularity was on the rise, Herod thought that Jesus was John the Baptist come back to life. Matthew tells us,
1At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, 2 and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” (Matthew 14:1-2 NIV)
Some were saying that Jesus was John the Baptist reincarnated. There were others who were saying that Jesus was Elijah the prophet. There were some similarities between the ministries of Jesus and the ministry of Elijah. Both performed miracles and both exposed the waywardness of the human heart. Elijah’s ministry was during the time of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. Ahab reigned from 874-853 B.C. Some 400 years after Ahab’s death, the prophet Malachi records God’s promise in Malachi 4:5.
5 “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. (Malachi 4:5 NIV)
Rather than understanding this statement as referring to one who would come who would be like Elijah, the Jews took it to mean that Elijah himself would return. When the Jews in Israel would celebrate Passover they would pour a cup at the table for Elijah and the door to the house would be opened in anticipation of Elijah’s return.
Some said that Jesus was John the Baptist; others said that He was Elijah, and still others said that He was Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. Jeremiah was the weeping prophet who spoke boldly for God and wept over what he saw. Some saw similarities in the lives of Jeremiah and Jesus. Others concluded that Jesus must be one of the prophets who had returned. All of those who had drawn these conclusions about Jesus were wrong. They stopped short of understanding who He truly was and why He had come. Even Jesus’ followers weren’t sure about these matters. When John had been put in prison for standing up to Herod, we read about the questions that were running through his head in Matthew 11:1-3.
1After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee. 2 When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:1-3 NIV)
“Who are you Jesus?” That has been the question of the ages hasn’t it? That is still the question of our day isn’t it? Dan Brown, in his movie, The DaVinci Code, portrays Jesus as someone that I don’t recognize as I read the Scriptures. The liberal theologians of The Jesus Seminar portray Jesus as someone less than who He portrayed Himself as while He was ministering in His day. The world’s religions speak about Jesus as a good man, a great prophet, but they, like those around Caesarea Philippi, stopped short of saying about Jesus what Jesus said about Himself. Let me give you just a few samples of what Jesus said about Himself. In John 5:17-18 we read where Jesus was speaking to the Jews.
17Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” 18For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. (John 5:17-18 NIV)
Once again, in John 8:56-59, Jesus was speaking to the Jews who were opposing Him when He said.
56Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” 57“You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” 58“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. (John 8:56-59 NIV)
In John 14 Jesus was preparing His disciples for His death on the cross. He told them that He was going away to prepare a place for them. He said, “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” At the end of His statement Jesus said, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” Then we read, in John 14:5-6,
5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 6Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:5-6 NIV)
Jesus is the way. He is the truth. He is the life. If you want to know God, you must know Jesus. If you want to have eternal life, you must know Jesus. If you want to know abundant life in this life, then you must know Jesus.
I know, as well as anyone here this morning, what society has to say about Jesus. I know the argument that goes like this: “How can a God of love allow people to die and go to hell just because they rejected Jesus?” I know the argument that goes like this: “I know people who are very moral, they are good people, they live much better lives than some of the Christians I know and they don’t even claim to follow Jesus.” I know the argument about the tribesmen in the backwoods of the Amazon rainforest who have never heard about Jesus. I know all of those arguments and still more that I could share with you if we had time, but that doesn’t negate the statement of Jesus—“No one comes to the Father except through me.”
You can say a lot of things about Jesus, but if what you say about Jesus is different than what Jesus said about Himself, then you are just wrong. C.S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, and many wonderful books, put it this way.
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher… Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit on Him and kill Him…or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. (Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity, pp. 52-53).
Long before C.S. Lewis wrote those words, there were people, brilliant people, who had studied the Scriptures, listened to what society had to say about Jesus, and yet they drew their own conclusions. We could spend all day going back and forth quoting those in society throughout the years who either believed or didn’t believe that Jesus was who He claimed to be. The skeptics and believers have their list and they cling to some Hollywood icon or notable name in history that can support their claim. George Washington Carver—believer. Benjamin Franklin—not a believer. C.S. Lewis—believer. Aldous Huxley—not a believer. Vincent Van Gogh—not a believer. Thomas Kinkade—believer. Angelina Jolie—not a believer. Mel Gibson—believer. Carrie Underwood—believer. Marilyn Manson—not a believer. Dr. Francis Crick—not a believer. Dr. Benjamin Carson—believer. Lance Armstrong—not a believer. Lance Berkman—believer. I’m not looking to famous folks for support of what I believe. I don’t want to know what other people believe about Jesus and I’ve got news for you—Jesus won’t let you off the hook so easily.
He asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” The disciples looked around as they gave their answers, but then Jesus looked them in the eyes and asked, 15“But what about you? Who do you say I am?” The same question is ringing out in this sanctuary this morning. Forget about what others say about Jesus, what do you say? Who do you say that He is? I can’t answer for you, but we do have the answer of Simon Peter recorded for us in Matthew 16:15.
16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16 NIV)
It is interesting that Simon Peter calls Jesus, “The Christ.” The Greek word that Peter uses for “Christ” is the word, “Christos.” The word means “anointed one.” It is used 569 times in the Greek New Testament. The Hebrew equivalent of the word, found in the Old Testament, is the word, “mashiyach” and it means, “anointed, or anointed one.” The word is used 39 times in the Old Testament. I want to show you three verses in the Old Testament to point out something very important about these two words we are looking at this morning. Turn with me to Exodus 28:41. Moses is instructed to prepare Aaron, his brother, and his sons to be priests. Moses is told.
41 After you put these clothes on your brother Aaron and his sons, anoint and ordain them. Consecrate them so they may serve me as priests. (Exodus 28:41 NIV)
Remember, Aaron is being prepared to be a priest, right? Now turn with me to 1 Samuel 16:12-13 and let’s read together about the time when Samuel was told to go to Jesse’s house to find the new king for the people of Israel.
12So he sent and had him brought in. He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.” 13So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power. Samuel then went to Ramah. (1 Samuel 16:12-13 NIV)
Aaron and his sons were…priests. David was chosen to be…king. You with me? Now let’s look at one more example. Turn with me to Psalm 105:15 and let’s read together.
15“Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.” (Psalm 105:15 NIV)
God’s instructions were not to harm His…prophets. You’re good. Let’s review. We find anointing taking place with three different offices in Israel right? Priests, Kings, and Prophets. Throughout the history of Israel there has never been anyone fill all three of these offices, but Jesus not only filled them, He continues to be our Prophet, Priest, and King! In John 4, Jesus, in talking about Himself, said that a prophet is without honor in his own hometown. (John 4:4) In Hebrews 7:24 we find that because Jesus lives forever He has a permanent priesthood. When they hung Jesus on Calvary’s cross they put a sign above His head that read, “Jesus of Nazareth: The King of the Jews.” (John 19:19) I said, they hung a sign over His head when they crucified Him, but that’s not the only reference we find in God’s Word to Jesus being King. In Revelation 19:15-16 we are told that our King is coming again. When He comes there won’t be a sign above His head, there won’t be a bloody wooden cross, and there won’t be any sneers or mockery. Revelation tells us,
15 Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. (Revelation 19:15-16 NIV)
He is my King! He is the Living King of all of those who will bow their knee before His throne! Simon Peter was right. Jesus is the anointed One of God. He is unique. There has never been another and there will never be another like my King! The great pastor, Dr. S.M. Lockridge, wrote a powerful verse called, “My King, Do You Know Him?” He writes,
The Bible says my King is a seven way King. He’s the King of the Jews – that’s a racial King; He’s the King of Israel – that’s a national King; He’s the King of Righteousness, He’s the King of the ages, He’s the King of Heaven, He’s the King of Glory, He’s the King of Kings and He’s the Lord of Lords! He’s my King, I wonder – do you know Him?
David said the Heaven’s declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handiwork. My King is a sovereign King. No means of measure can define His limitless love, no far seeing telescope can bring into visibility the coastline of His shore-less supply, no barrier can hinder Him from pouring out His blessings. He’s enduringly strong, He’s entirely sincere, He’s eternally steadfast, He’s immortally graceful, He’s imperially powerful, He’s impartially merciful. Do you know Him?
He’s the greatest phenomenon that has ever crossed the horizon of this world! He’s God’s son, He’s the sinners Savior, He’s the centerpiece of civilization, He stands in the solitude of Himself, He’s august and He’s unique! He’s unparalleled, He’s unprecedented, He’s the loftiest idea in literature, He’s the highest personality in philosophy, He’s the supreme problem in higher criticism, He’s the fundamental doctrine of true theology, He’s the miracle of the age, He is – yes He is, He is the superlative of everything good that you choose to call Him, He’s the only one who qualified to be an all sufficient Savior; Do you know Him?
He supplies strength for the weak, He’s available for the tempted and the tried, He sympathizes and He saves, He strengthens and sustains, He guards and He guides, He heals the sick, He cleansed the lepers, He forgives sinners, He discharges debtors, He delivers the captives, He defends the feeble, He blesses the young, He serves the unfortunate, He regards the aged, He rewards the diligent and He beautifies the meek. Do you know Him?
My King is the key to knowledge: The wellspring of wisdom; the doorway of deliverance; the pathway of peace; the roadway of righteousness; the highway of holiness, and the gateway of glory! His office is manifold: His promise is sure. His light is matchless. His goodness is limitless. His mercy is everlasting. His reign is Righteous. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. I wish I could describe Him for you, but He’s indescribable! He’s Incomprehensible! He’s invincible! He’s Irresistible! You can’t get Him out of your mind or off your hands! You can’t out-live Him and you can’t live without Him! The Pharisees couldn’t stand Him, but they found out they couldn’t stop Him. Pilate couldn’t find any fault in Him. The witnesses couldn’t agree. Herod couldn’t kill Him. Death couldn’t handle Him, and the grave couldn’t hold Him! That’s my King, That’s my King, That’s my King, and He’s the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory – Forever! AMEN! Do you know Him? (Dr. S.M. Lockridge, “My King, Do You Know Him?”)
Oh, that’s my King! Is it any wonder that when the masses walked away because Jesus’ teaching became too difficult that He turned to His disciples and asked,
67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:67-69 NIV)
“Lord, to whom shall we go?” In other words, You are it! You are our King! Do you believe this morning? Do you hear the Lord calling you to Himself? Will you go beyond knowing Him as Savior and bow before Him as Lord this morning? Let Him be your King.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
Oklahoma City, OK. 73114
June 11, 2006