Offense or Defense?
LAST WEEK FOCUS: Life markers – that time or those times when something big, maybe life changing, maybe
direction changing, maybe worldview – occurred.
THIS WEEK: As Jesus followers, should we be on offense or defense when we interact with the world and sin?
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man
is?” 14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other
prophets.” 15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son
of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this
to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18 Now I say to you that you are Peter , and upon this rock I will
build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of
Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in
heaven.” 20 Then he sternly warned the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
(A remark by Jesus included in Mark’s account when he foretold his death – see last week’s lesson)
Luke 9:26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his
glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi . . . . . .
Today, near Israel, Syria, Lebanon border, Golan Heights
Why did Jesus go to Caesarea Philippi?
Caesarea Philippi, which stood in a lush area near the foot of Mount Hermon,
It was a city dominated by immoral activities and pagan worship.
Caesarea Philippi stood only twenty-five miles from the religious communities of Galilee.
But the city's religious practices were vastly different from those of the nearby Jewish
In Old Testament times, the northeastern area of Israel became a center for Baal worship. In
the nearby city of Dan, Israelite king Jeroboam built the high place that angered God and eventually led the Israelites to
worship false gods. Eventually, worship of the baals was replaced with worship of Greek fertility gods.
Caesarea Philippi became the religious center for worship of the Greek god, Pan. The Greeks named the city Panias in
his honor. Pan, the half-man half-goat god of fright (thus “panic”), is often depicted playing the flute.
Years later, when Romans conquered the territory, Herod Philip rebuilt the city and named it after himself. But
Caesarea Philippi continued to focus on worship of Greek gods. In the cliff that stood above the city, local people built
shrines and temples to Pan.
Interestingly, Jesus chose to deliver a sort of "graduation speech" to his disciples at Caesarea Philippi. In that pagan
setting, he encouraged his disciples to build a church that would overcome the worst evils.
The Gates of Hell
To the pagan mind, the cave at Caesarea Philippi created a gate to the underworld, where fertility gods lived during the
winter. They committed detestable acts to worship these false gods.
Caesarea Philippi's location was especially unique because it stood at the base of a cliff where spring water flowed. At one
time, the water ran directly from the mouth of a cave set in the bottom of the cliff.
The pagans of Jesus' day commonly believed that their fertility gods lived in the underworld during the winter and
returned to earth each spring. They saw water as a symbol of the underworld and thought that their gods traveled to and
from that world through caves.
To the pagan mind, then, the cave and spring water at Caesarea Philippi created a gate to the underworld. They believed
that their city was literally at the gates of the underworld, the gates of hell. In order to entice the return of their god, Pan,
each year, the people of Caesarea Philippi engaged in horrible deeds, including prostitution and sexual interaction
between humans and goats.
When Jesus brought his disciples to the area, they must have been shocked. Caesarea Philippi was like a red-light district
in their world and devout Jews would have avoided any contact with the despicable acts committed there.
It was a city of people eagerly knocking on the doors of hell.
Jesus presented a clear challenge with his words at Caesarea Philippi: SLIDE Jesus didn't want his followers
hiding from evil: He wanted them to “storm the gates of hell.”
Standing near the pagan temples of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked his disciples "Who do you say that I am?" Peter
boldly replied, "You are the Son of the living God." The disciples were probably stirred by the contrast between Jesus,
the true and living God, and the false hopes of the pagans who trusted in "dead" gods.
Jesus continued, "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome
Theological Debate – But geography matters
Though Christian traditions debate the theological meaning of those words, SLIDE it seems clear that Jesus words also
had symbolic meaning. His church would be built on the "rock" of Caesarea Philippi, a rock literally filled with niches for
pagan idols, where ungodly values dominated.
Gates were defensive structures in the ancient world. By saying that the gates of hell would not overcome, Jesus suggested
that those gates were going to be attacked.
Standing as they were at a literal "Gate of Hades," the disciples may have been overwhelmed by Jesus' challenge. They
had studied under their rabbi for several years, and now he was commissioning them to a huge task: to attack evil, and to
build the church on the very places that were most filled with moral corruption.
Jesus presented a clear challenge with his words at Caesarea Philippi: SLIDE Jesus didn't want his followers hiding
from evil: He wanted them to storm the gates of hell.
Jesus' followers cannot successfully confront evil when we are embarrassed about our faith.
After Jesus spoke to his disciples about storming the gates of hell, he also gave them another word of caution: "If anyone
is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory" (Luke 9:26).
Jesus knew that his followers would face ridicule and anger as they tried to confront evil. And his words came as a sharp
challenge: SLIDE No matter how fierce the resistance, we Jesus followers should never hide our faith in God.
Jesus taught with passion, even when bystanders may have thought him a fool. And at Caesarea Philippi, he challenged
everyone within hearing: "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very soul?"
In a city filled with false idols, Jesus asked his followers to commit to the one true God. While false gods promised
prosperity and happiness, they would ultimately fail to deliver.
Jesus didn't promise an easy life, but he delivered on the promise of salvation; the only kind of prosperity that really
Today Christians-Jesus followers, we’ve got to heed the words of our Rabbi, especially when we are tempted to hide our
faith because of embarrassment or fear.
Our world is filled with those who have "gained the world" but lost their souls. SLIDE If we hide our faith, others may
never find the salvation they need.
On the Offense
As we listen to Jesus' challenge today, we as Christians should ask ourselves the important question: SLIDE When it
comes to the battle against evil, am I on defense or offense?
In a culture that embraces diversity, it is offensive to suggest that there are certain truths that apply to everyone. Pointing
out sin isn't popular and many Christians are labeled as "intolerant" for refusing to accept certain behaviors and ideas.
Unfortunately, many people have embraced a distorted Christianity that tries to be "politically correct." They don't want to
offend anyone, so they accept sin rather than confronting it. SLIDE Ultimately, words of "love" ring empty if we
accept sins that ruin people's lives.
Other Christians just try to avoid sinful culture altogether. They have been taught to go on the defense, to hide in
churches, schools, and homes and to shut the door on the evil influences of culture.
But Jesus challenged his followers to be on the offense; to proclaim the truth without shame.
Our schools and churches should become staging areas rather than fortresses; places that equip God's people to confront a
sinful world instead of hiding from it. Jesus knows that the pagan world will resist, but he challenges us to go there
anyway, and to build his church in those very places that are most morally decayed.
As we listen to Jesus' challenge today, we as Christians should ask ourselves the important question: Are we on defense or
Important Note: SLIDE Offense is not mean yelling, tweating, emailing, texting, YouTubing, Instagraming hateful
diabtribes and slogans at people. It does mean interacting with people in love AND TRUTH. Unbelievers don’t
have to believe like us, that’s why they are unbelievers.
It does mean contacting elected officials with respect and tact to share your concerns.
It can mean peaceful protest.
SLIDE Do what you do with grace and truth – and it’s best done in a caring relationship.
What happened to this ancient city with its “Gates of Hell”? It a very beautiful national park.
Who lost the battle for this city? Pan
Whose team do you want to be on?
And do you want to play offense or defense?