Storming the Gates of Hell!

Sermon (listen now)

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!

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?

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?

On this Rock I will build my Church!

Every morning on the Honduras mission trip we begian with a teaching about Jesus and our patron saint, Peter. This is being taught in the village of Quince de Enero in Santa Barbara district of Honduras.
 Peter Declares That Jesus Is the Messiah, Matthew 16:13-18

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And 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.

How do you answer the question: Who do you say that I am?

Jesus washes the disciples feet–Circle Time in Honduras

Every morning on the Honduras Mission trip, we begin with a message about St. Peter’ and his realtionship to Jesus. These teachings are in the village of Quince de Enero in the Santa Barbara distrcit of Honduras.

Jesus Washes His Disciples’ Feet, John 13:1-17

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God
and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also shoulwash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Is There More to Life than This?

Life can be filled with mundane distractions, busyness, tough times and conflicts. We get worn down. The resurrection of Jesus announces to us that “what is”, is not “what will be”. There IS more to life than this.

Jesus is an enigma. God in the flesh is difficult to understand in and of itself. But more mysterious to us is that
God as man would die on a cross in order to declare us forgiven. How could something so horrible become the way of God’s salvation for everyone who calls upon the name of Jesus? His resurrection from the dead reveals the mystery of abundant life for all who believe in Him.

As an adolescent, I used to think it was arrogant of Christians to say that Jesus is the only way. I remember, I was once asked by one of my zealous high school friends whether I was “saved” and I flippantly responded, “I do not need to be saved!”

As I have gotten older, I realize that I was the arrogant one and that my friend was a true friend offering me a very precious gift. As I moved through college, I realized that not only is life hard, but that my life was a big mess of my own making. I needed direction on how to be a better person, but more importantly I needed forgiveness for my sins, I needed a Lord and a Savior. I needed the salvation that is only offered in God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

Fortunately, in my case, the servants of God are strategically placed in our lives. They are always ready to give a reason for the hope they have in Jesus Christ. In my darkest moments, God again sent a good friend to share the good news of God in Jesus Christ, only this time I was humble enough to hear it.

The day I gave my life to Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I became a changed person. I memorized a verse from the Bible; 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” What Jesus gives everyone who believes in Him is a new start. That message is at the heart of Good Friday and Easter. With the death and resurrection of Jesus, the old is gone, the new is here!

As you read this I wonder if you need a new start? The promise is offered to you. Jesus desires to make you a new creation. As you hear that you may respond the way I once did, “I don’t need a new start. I don’t need to be saved!” I understand. I have been there too. Some day though you may change your mind and when you are ready, the offer of God’s good news will still be there.

But if you do want to receive the Gift of God, then call out to Jesus Christ. He promises that for whoever knocks, the door will be opened; whoever seeks, will find; whoever asks will be given. God is good and He knows how to give good gifts to His children who ask. The greatest gift is his own son, whom we celebrate this Easter season. Give your life to him!