All the Way to Hell and Back-
I think Winston Churchill must truly have been a crusty old fart! Our friend Jacquie has a precious new baby bull dog who’s face reminds me of Sir Winston. But I also think he was pretty awesome….the polka dotted blue bow ties & Romeo & Julietta cigars add an endearing charm. Mr. Churchill is often quoted. Recently, just before the credits rolled at the end of “Darkest Hour” his quote rolled across a black screen reading: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Inspiring, right?
The Prime Minister is credited, and probably not enough in my humble opinion, for standing up to Hitler and saving not only the Commonwealth, but all of Europe. During all of this Churchill said: “If You’re Going Through Hell, Keep Going!” Speaking of Hell, we saw the gates of it today.
Walking toward the hillside it’s the kind of place you’d expect to see on a Disney or Universal backlot tour. There should be action adventure shots filmed here or possibly a take of Kong as this could be a great backdrop for Skull Island. But as you arrive at the imposing red cliff ahead you realize you have arrived at the remains of Biblically prolific Caesarea Philipi. The names sounds so adult Sunday School and so Biblely or Christiany— my friend Tim made that word up a few years ago; it fits. In actuality, this place was a terribly ungodly settlement.At the expense of sounding like Andy Rooney I’ll ask: Do you ever wonder why we gauge stuff in the Bible as all happening two thousand years ago? Seriously, everything did not happen when Jesus was around.There was a highly mixed population here who worshipped the pagan god Pan, a creature that supposedly had a 1/2 man & 1/2 horse body. He was the god of outcasts. Caesarea Philippi was a Pagan community worshipping Pagan Gods.The people here believed that the entrance into this cliffside through the pagan temple was the actual gate to Hades….yeah, I didn’t go in (and don’t anybody tell me to, either). The rocks and ruins in the side of the mountain below show the remains of temple to the pagan god Pan. Now about that 2000 year thing…the answer here is easy. Christ reveals himself here in very real ways. Jesus knew what a wicked, pagan, cultural mess Casarea Philipi was. He brought the disciples here. Imagine Him talking to the Disciples here and the power of symbolism with the proclaimed gates of Hell in the hill just behind him. Here He said to Peter: “I tell you that you are Peter and on this Rock I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.” The name Peter is derivative of Petra or Petros meaning “stone rock.” (Matt 16:18). It is easy to consider literal and figurative meanings.Here Jesus also asks His disciples “Who do you think I am?” Check out the full reference in Matthew 16:13-20From a historical perspective the Palestinians conquered this area in the first century, B.C. They wanted someone who would have a very strong hold on this place. Herod the Great took the crown and reigned over this territory. His son, Herod Philip, eventually ruled over this area. This was named Caesarea after Caesar Octavian and Philipi to differentiate this place from the Caesarea (Maritima) on the coast (the one where Paul was held before being sent to Rome). There are remains of Herod’s absolutely gargantuan palace (there were lots of Herods and even more palaces). The interesting thing is that it is so big that when archeologists unearthed it a major, modern road had been constructed over it. Ironically, one of the palace tunnels runs directly under the road…seriously…. visitors can safely pass from one side to the other. (We saw it on the first trip, but not today).Jesus literally took His disciples to the place many people believed to be the gates of Hell to reveal Himself. For a place to have been pagan filled and evil ridden to be the back drop for Christ’s revelation that He is the true Messiah created a study of contrasts. Against the gates of Hell in ancient Caesarea Philippi 12 men saw the hope of the light Heaven and one man, Peter, the Rock, became the foundation of the Christian Church. Churchill’s words apply to faithful living “…failure is not final.” There is hope. “The courage to continue is what counts.” No group of people ever learned this more than the disciples. They went all the way to hell and back to learn this lesson, to forge ahead, to build the Church.Other stops:We spent a little time at the Primacy of St. Peter. It’s a place on the shore of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus appeared to the disciples after His Resurrection. We also visited the Mount of the Beatitudes. I’ll post about it later. Katie, Thaedra & Meagan all remembered their Baptisms in the very cold Jordan River; those images are theirs to share.
Final note: a few friends I knew about,and quite a few more unbeknownst to me attended Andrea Bocelli’s Romazna 20th Year Tour in Charlotte on February 9th. He surprised the audience when the incredible Kristin Chenoweth joined him on stage. She enthralled and entranced the entire Spectrum arena with her version of “Upon this Rock.” The entire time she sang this I could not help but recall being in Caesarea Philippi the first time in 2016 and anticipate our return today. If you have a another few minutes, then check out the video someone posted on YouTube from a similar performance from the NYC tour stop. https://youtu.be/n3oLAQmWn_4