Jesus was at a kingdom of heaven turning point in his ministry. For the first time, Jesus asked his disciples the two critical questions that would change the direction of his ministry and mark the critical moment when he would entrust them with the keys of the kingdom of heaven.
- Who do people say the Son of Man is?
- Who do you say that I am?
To appreciate these questions, it is important to know the following events that led to the turning point of Jesus’ ministry at Caesarea Philippi:
- The district of Caesarea Philippi was located about 15 miles north of the Sea of Galilee
which is where Jesus called his first disciples to follow him as he launched his public ministry which was described this way in Matthew 4:23:
Jesus went throughout Galilee teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every sickness among the people.
- Jesus’ ministry extended beyond Galilee and throughout the southern regions of Israel.
- The religious leaders of Jerusalem, alarmed at the success of Jesus’ ministry, began to feel threatened so they confronted Jesus about the intent of his ministry and his authority to teach, preach, and heal.
- Jesus, realizing that his ministry has reached a turning point, takes his disciples on a field trip to the district of Caesarea Phillippi which was the site of pagan worship of one of the oldest gods of Greek mythology and religion named Pan.
- A temple to Pan had been built at Caesarea Philippi. At the rear of this temple, 72 springs created a pool of water so deep that it was thought to be bottomless. It was believed that this cave created a gate to the underworld (Hades) where Pan and other fertility gods took up residence during the winter and returned each spring. Worship of Pan began at Caesarea Philippi about 300 years before Jesus and continued about 5 centuries after Jesus. When Jesus told his disciples that the gates of Hades would not prevail against his church, he was referring to this cave.
- The springs at Caesarea Philippi formed the tributary for the Jordan River through which the Israelites walked when they entered the Promised Land.
You may wonder why Jesus chose to go for his first and only visit to Caesarea Philippi in order to ask his disciples the two questions that would change the course of his ministry and the course of their lives as his disciples. Perhaps Jesus wanted his disciples to:
hear with fresh ears of faith as they left the familiar surroundings of Galilee and travelled in the unfamiliar surroundings of Caesarea Philippi
walk in a new understanding of what it meant to follow him as they changed the course of their lives by professing who Jesus was
Mark Batterson, in his book All In, writes about what it means to follow Jesus by changing the course of your life:
“Most people in most churches think they are following Jesus, but I’m not so sure. They may think they are following Jesus, but the reality is this: they have invited Jesus to follow them.”
Too many times I want Jesus to follow me, to serve my purposes, to do my will. But, I want you to join me in saying: “God, I want you to revive my life. I want to follow you. Help me to get out of the way. Navigate my life into following your will.”
The first question Jesus asked was not hard for the disciples to answer – Who do people say the Son of Man is? This question did not require a turning point for Jesus’ disciples as they told Jesus what they were hearing people say about his identity: “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
Then Jesus asked the pivotal question that opened new doors in his disciples lives as Peter answered Jesus’ question, “And who do you say that I am?” by professing that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God. It was a kingdom key moment as Jesus told Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the kings 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.”
Peter’s confession of Jesus was a turning point as Jesus entrusted his disciples with the kingdom keys and they followed him back to Galilee and the path of God’s love that would lead Jesus to the cross.
Where is the course of your life taking you as the doors of your life are opened by the kingdom keys?
by Pastor Marc Brown
August 27, 2023
Accompanying Scriptures: Matthew 16:13-19
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for August 27, 2023
Scripture Lesson Matthew 16:13-19
The Good News “Kingdom Keys”
Music “Come Christians, Join to Sing” Hymn #158
Closing Music “Jesus, Priceless Treasure” arr. Charity Putnam