Storming the Gates of Hell!

Sermon (listen now)

The Gates of Hell at Caesarea Philippi

The gospel story of the confession of Peter at Caesarea Philippi marks a major turning point in the battle for the heart of the world’s people. The moment marks the first time a person, one man, Simon, confesses Jesus as Lord: “You are the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the Living God”. Jesus commends Simon as “Peter” (the name means rock) as the “Rock upon which I will build my Church.” As I indicated in my sermon (listen here), there are three, yea four, ideas as to what the Lord means by “this Rock”: Peter himself, the faith of Peter, or Jesus as the object of Peter’s faith. As I argued, all three are important for understanding the “this Rock”. Jesus is the Rock and having a rock-solid faith in Him will give a man a rock-solid character. They go together and should never be separated. There is a fourth element to the phrase “this Rock” we need to consider implied by the location of the Confession itself.

Jesus had taken the disciples into the heart of Paganism. Caesarea Philippi was a city which the rabbis warned, “No good Jew would ever enter!” Not only was it a city that was wrapped up in emperor worship. But it also had adopted the more base and perverse worship of the pagan god, Pan. At the base of the cliff face in Caesarea there is a grotto where a statue of Pan stood. And all manner of perverse rites of fertility and bestiality occurred there. This was the “Sin City” of the region. To make matters worse near the grotto stood the entrance of a cave which bore the name “The Gates of Hell” where access to the underworld was attained. To any good Jew, the city was perversely disgusting and place of tremendous satanic and demonic activity.

So when Jesus says, “on this Rock I will build my Church”, was he indicating that the Church would be planted in the heart of that demonic capital, a Church that would storm the “Gates of Hell” and take the ground of a perverse Pagan city such as Caesarea Philippi for the Kingdom of God? Consider the next statement of Jesus, “And the gates of Hell will not stand against it.” Many in the Church of our day have a “sanctuary-refuge” concept about the church. The church is seen as the place of protective refuge where we escape the evil powers of the world and beyond. Now there is tremendous comforting truth in that perspective; however the Church is not merely a sanctuary. It is also a base of operations, an outpost, for the missionary expansion of the Church militant. The call of the Church is to take ground from Satan and evil powers. This world does not belong to him, but to Jesus. We do not merely defend against evil; we attack!

To the church was given the power to “bind and loose”. We are given weapons to bind the spiritual forces of evil and loose the chains of the human captives held within Satan’s strongholds, like Caesarea Philippi.

Consider this: who has ever been attacked by a gate? Gates are defensive in nature. The challenge to Peter and the Church is that Satan has set up his fortresses all over this world. Yet, the Church of Jesus Christ will storm the gates of these hellish strongholds. As we do, they will not stand. The ground will be taken. Satan’s minions will be bound, the people of God will be set free. Hell will not prevail.

Practically, how does this happen? It begins when, a man, woman or child stands up and confesses the Name of Jesus as Messiah and Son of God. At that moment, they have chosen sides. The Confession of Jesus is a flag planted in the ground for the Kingdom of Jesus. Jesus is Lord of all. Our job as the Church is to incarnate that reality in word and deed. As Jesus’ disciples revealed, many people could not bring themselves to fully submit their lives to Jesus as Lord of all. When Jesus asked, “Who do people say that the Son of man is?” The answers were all related to Jesus being a mere spokesperson for God, John the Baptist, or Elijah or one of the prophets.” Jesus asks, “But, who do you say that I am?” Simon replied, “You are the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the Living God.” Jesus wants submitted souls, not warm acknowledgements.

At the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Do not fear the haunts of Hell. On the contrary, Jesus would have the church claim the darkest places on earth for his kingdom. People who live in places such as Caesarea Philippi need to be liberated from Satanic bondage and his stronghold. Only Jesus and the Spirit of the Living God can liberate souls in bondage.

One man or one woman, one child who stands in their place of business, community group or school, and raises the banner for Jesus will find the battle engaged. Start a bible study prayer group in a place governed by evil. That is what the early church did all over the Roman Empire. Peter led the fight in Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire! These bold Christians took the fight out and into the pagan strongholds. They stormed the Gates of Hell. Make no mistake Satanic strongholds do not go down without a fight. The devils and demons fight dirty. Victory belongs to the faith-filled. Christians who stand up with rock hard faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will prevail. The gates of Hell will not stand against the Church militant. Down the gates will go. And, go down they should!

The Biblical Qualifications for a Bishop

On August 31, 2011, I gave a presentation (click here) to the people of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church about the Call of the Bishop. This teaching focused on the nature of the bishop’s call, the Biblical qualifications for bishops and Diocese search process. You can find those passages in 1 Timothy, Titus and 1 Peter. Click here for more information about the search for the next bishop of the Diocese of Central Florida.

Bishop Howe

(On May 19, 2011, I gave a similar presentation to the men’s group at The Cathedral Church of St. Luke about bishops in general and the search process specifically. Click here to listen.)

1 Timothy 3:1-7

1 Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full[a] respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

 

 Titus 1:5-9

5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. 6 An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

1 Peter 5:1-4

1 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

You give them something to eat!

This Sunday we heard about Jesus feeding the 5,000 from Matthew 14:13-21. In the sermon (listen), we heard a challenge to spiritually feed the 5,000+ people living within one mile of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. Almost 80% of them are not actively involved in corporate worship at any local congregation. Over 49% do not even consider themselves spiritual people. Do we have any compassion or care toward this large crowd who lives around us?

five loaves and two fish

During the sermon, I read a challenging letter to our congregation. Let me give you a little background to help with understanding the significance of the letter.

The vestry and staff of St. Peter’s met in retreat on February 12th, 2011 to consider and pray about where the Lord is leading our congregation. As a way of thinking about our unique strengths and struggles, we used the model of Jesus’ letters to the seven congregations found in the Book of Revelation (chapters 2 & 3). Each letter follows a similar three point. Jesus first commends the congregation, he then has something “against” the congregation, and then he encourages the congregation on how to improve and be more faithful to his call.
So we asked ourselves the following… If Jesus were to write our church a letter:

  • What would he commend about St. Peter’s?
  • What would he have against us?
  • What would he challenge us to do?

The fruit of the exercise was the following letter that was drafted by the vestry and staff during the retreat (I welcome your comments on it):

Jesus’ Letter to St. Peter’s Church in Lake Mary, FL: The Last Sunday after the Epiphany, the Transfiguration

Dear St. Peter’s:

You have trusted in me as your anchor in a turbulent world, by having a love for my Word, by having compassion for the “least of these”, by working together as my Body.

This one thing I have against you. You are ignoring my lost sheep because you are distracted by the busyness of the world and because of your pride rather than humility, and because you are too focused on yourselves rather than others. Therefore, my lost sheep perceive you as uncaring hypocrites.

I encourage you to surrender humbly to my call to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission:

“Love God with all you heart mind soul and strength.”

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“All authority in heaven and on earth had been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Invite my people in the crowd and community gathered around you and welcome them into your fellowship.

As you think and pray about the 5,000+ people who live one mile around St. Peter’s Church, how can we reach out, invite and welcome them into our fellowship?