ISAIAH 22:19-23 | ROMANS 11:33-36 | MATTHEW 16:33-36
We study an important moment in the life of Jesus and his disciples today. Time was getting short. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem for the final time; his death was near. He went out of his way to bring the disciples to a very special place separate from Jewish territory. He could have some peace and quiet there, away from the crowds. At Caesarea Philippi he could focus on his disciples and continue to instruct them.
Why did Jesus choose this particular place? It was a sacred place. There were many shrines to the ancient Syrian and Canaanite gods scattered throughout the area. There was a cave there with a deep well that Jews celebrated as the source of the sacred Jordan River. The Greeks believed that the god, Pan, was born in that cave. There was also a great white marble temple dedicated by Herod’s son, Phillip, to the emperor god, Caesar. Hence, the city was named Caesarea Philippi.
This site, revered by Greeks, Romans and Jews alike, focused the religious energy of the world. In this context, Jesus asked two most serious questions: “Who do people say that I am?” and “Who do you say that I am?”
They answered the first one easily. “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” In answer, the disciples pulled out the big guns. John the Baptist was executed by Herod, but he feared that Jesus may be John raised from the dead. Others thought that Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Malachi that predicted the prophet Elijah’s return to prepare the world for the Day of the Lord, the time of global purification in preparation for the Messiah. Others thought that Jesus was Jeremiah returning to announce the liberation of the Jewish people. Many people viewed Jesus as a prophet. It had been 400 years since a prophet had spoken in Israel. Jesus’ message of the coming of the kingdom of God rang with hope. But Jesus was looking for a deeper answer his question. So, he asked, “Who do YOU say that I am?” Peter’s answer was immediate and unambiguous. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This is what Jesus wanted to hear! He was on his final journey to Jerusalem; the cross was drawing near. How successful was his mission? Did anybody really understand who he was and what his mission was? People saw him as a holy man and a prophet. That was a start; but there was more, much more. In a flash of insight Peter got it. He saw Jesus – the anointed Messiah, but even more, he saw the son of God. This wasn’t only an observation; it was a profession of faith and, most importantly, by this profession, he became the first stone of the new edifice Jesus was constructing. “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” Peter interpreted these words of Jesus for the early church in his first letter. “You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5) Peter’s message is meant for us to hear, too. Sometimes we think of this passage as saying that Peter is the rock, the foundation that the church is built upon, but actually Peter is the first “rock” of the new edifice, the church. Many more “rocks” are needed to complete the building. Jesus will be the capstone, completing the structure. Remember Paul’s teaching: “You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred to the Lord; in him, you are being built together into a dwelling place for God in the Spirit.” (Ephesian 2:19-21) We’ve been called to the city of Caesarea Philippi today to be challenged by the most important question we can be asked. “Who do you say that I am?” Are you ready to be a “rock?”