Throughout Lent, I’ll be sharing a weekly devotion that draws on my travels to the middle east. Here is the fourth.
“But you,” Jesus asked them, “who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”—Matthew 16:15-16
Peter’s profession of faith came as Jesus and the disciples walked from the Sea of Galilee to Caesarea Philippi. The city served as the administrative headquarters of Herod Philip, the Roman-appointed client king who ruled on behalf of the emperor in the region east of Gailee in modern-day northern Israel, Lebanon, and southern Syria. This was largely Gentile territory, with relatively few Jewish subjects. Consequently, Herod Philip pursued a policy of Hellenization. In other words, he encouraged imperial traditions and the worship of a pantheon of gods.
As Jesus and his friends walked, they would have been in the company of pagan pilgrims. Caesarea Philippi was home to a spectacular white marble shrine, built by Herod the Great in 20BC to honor the emperor. There, those who were loyal to the emperor offered sacrifices and made financial gifts to curry favor with the powers of Rome.
Caesarea Philippi was also home to an ancient fertility cult. The central source of the Jordan River erupted from the mouth of a cave at a rock formation known as the Gates of Hell. It was believed to be a gateway to the underworld and became the site of an open-air temple. For centuries, farmers seeking abundant harvests or bountiful flocks had come there to sacrifice goats to the god Pan. It is even alleged that the site was a place of child sacrifice.
Walking among travelers who sought the favor of many gods, Peter dared to affirm the one God of Israel and acknowledge Jesus as beloved Son and Lord. It was a bold and courageous proclamation, prophetic and scandalous, even treasonous.
Who do you say that Jesus is?
Please pray with me . . .
Lord Jesus, you are the Son of the one true God. In a world where we are tempted to worship many things—money, power, nation, sports, celebrity, and more—may we know that you alone are God. May our words and works affirm our trust in you this day. Amen.
“Sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith.” — Margaret Shepard
“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live, taking the form of a readiness to die.”
— G.K. Chesterton
“Man’s mind is like a store of idolatry and superstition; so much so that if a man believes his own mind, it is certain that he will forsake God and forge some idol in his own brain.” — John Calvin
By gugganij – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3992796