First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday, July 31, 2022)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
“Caesarea Philippi: Peter’s Confession and Ours!”
Caesarea Philippi was a turning point for Christ’s disciples. This is part number 6 in our summer sermon series. We’ve been looking at some of the key places that we come across as we read the gospel narrative. We get the chance to reflect on the events took place in those places and what lessons we can draw for our lives today. as we continue working our way through this series of messages, it’s impossible to overlook Caesarea Philippi. Caesarea Philippi was a turning point for the followers of Jesus. In order to understand the importance of Peter’s confession and its relevancy to our times today, we need to get to know more about Caesarea Philippi.
Located about 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, just at the southwestern base of Mount Hermon, Caesarea Philippi was named after King Herod the Great’s son, Caesar Phillip, when he came to power. Though part of the land of Israel, Caesarea Philippi was a “Gentile” region. Not a lot of devout Jews would’ve loved to live in Caesarea Philippi.
Two gigantic temples stood in Caesarea Philippi: one to honor and worship Caesar, the great leader of the Roman Empire; the other to honor and worship Pan, the Roman god of shepherds and flocks. Caesarea Philippi was basically considered the “Sin City” of its day, and most Jews would have completely avoided going there. So, as you can see, this is not the place you might expect Jesus Christ, the Jewish Rabbi who was said to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God, to take His disciples and ask them to confess whom He really is. We might think that the Jerusalem Temple or at least one of the synagogues would have been a better place.
And yet, it is quite intentional that Jesus took His disciples to Caesarea Philippi to reveal His identity to them. So as consider this watershed event in Caesarea Philippi, we get to examine our own discipleship and commitment to Jesus. In Caesarea Philippi, we get to learn two important lessons:
First: Beware of Sitting on the Fence
Sitting on the fence is easy. You can sit on the fence every Sunday at church. Thousands of people do it every week. Sitting on the fence may be comfortable for many people because they don’t have to choose either side, but when we step off and jump, God will catch us and take to a new depth. For a follower of Jesus, sitting on the fence is not an option. In Luke 11:23 Jesus said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever doesn’t gather with me scatters.”
Sitting on the fence is deadly. Halfhearted or partial commitment has never been enough. Jesus demanded all on nothing. Gibran Khalil Gibran (1883-1931) was a Lebanese-American artist, poet, and writer of the New York Pen League. In one of his inspiring poems titled, “Half a Life”, he says, “Do not love half lovers. Do not entertain half friends. Do not indulge in works of the half talented. Do not live half a life and do not die a half death …. Do not accept half a solution. Do not believe half-truths. Do not dream half a dream. Do not fantasize about half hopes. Half a drink will not quench your thirst. Half a meal will not satisfy your hunger. Half the way will get you nowhere. Half an idea will bear you no results.” One of the great dangers we face as we follow the Lord is to live a half-life ~ neither hot nor cold, but we become lukewarm Christians. A life worth living is worth living all the way.
Second: Be Ready to Make Your Confession in Your Caesarea Philippi
It’s easy enough to confess the Lordship of Christ in a church service or with other Christians. It’s easy to make a confession of faith when there is no danger, but what happens when the rubber hits the road? What happens when you find yourself in Caesarea Philippi, when you are surrounded by the idols of the world? Jesus intentionally took His disciples to Caesarea Phillip to teach them, and us, to be ready to make our own confession of faith.
It was here, in this city devoted to the worship of idols that Simon Peter confessed for the first time that Jesus Christ was truly the Son of God. It was there in Caesarea Philippi, against that backdrop of paganism and false religion, that Peter saw in a humble carpenter from Nazareth the very presence of God Himself. It’s here in 21st century American culture that God expects us to confess that Christ is indeed “The Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Christ continues to ask each and every one of us, “Who do you say that I am?” There comes a point in life when you can no longer sit on the fence.
Friends, Sometimes God calls us to places where evil and brokenness abound. Sometimes God leads us to places of pain and despair where it seems impossible to see His work or activity. It is in those places that we can most powerfully confess the lordship of Jesus. He came to be the Lord of everything. Jesus is Lord in Judea as well as Caesarea Philippi.
“Who do you say that I am?” If you’ve never put your faith in Jesus, trusting and believing that He is the Christ, the Messiah, the One who came to die for your sins and bring light into your world, I encourage you to do it today. And if you’ve already put your faith in Christ, know that He is a Savior who delights in revealing Himself even in the darkest of places, even in Caesarea Philippi. To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever! Amen!
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