This morning we are going to begin with some geography. We have discovered throughout our study in the Gospel of Mark this year, that geography is important to Mark. Many of the stories in Mark are not necessarily in chronological order… rather they are in theological order. That theological order is demonstrated as Jesus moves from place to place. Mark uses geography to teach theology. Is not that the coolest thing you ever heard?
Anyway, I want to start with a geography lesson on a place, that in Jesus times, was call Caesarea Philippi. Caesarea Philippi was a major Roman city. It was located 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee at the base of Mt. Hermon. In 14 AD Philip II named it Caesarea in honor of Roman Emperor Augustus, and upgraded the city to be the capital of the region. It was a big deal. The newly created god, Caesar Augustus had ruled the Roman Empire for over 40 years. The reign of Augustus initiated an era of peace known as the Pax Romana. Caesarea Philippi was rebuilt to honor Augustus!
Caesarea Philippi is the location of one of the largest springs feeding the Jordan River. This abundant water supply has made the area very fertile and attractive for pagan religious worship. Numerous temples were built at this area throughout history.
Before having its name changed to Caesarea Philippi, it was called Paneas after the Greek god, Pan. Pan, the half-man, half-goat god was the god of scary stuff (thus “panic”). Pan is often depicted playing the flute doing mischief. Pan has the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat, in the same manner as a faun or satyr. Pan was connected to fertility and the season of spring. Interesting note, the city, today, is now called by the Arabic form of this name, Banias.
Even before Caesarea Philippi was Paneas, it had been called Baal Hermon; a center of Ba’al worship. Ba’al means Lord. There were many Ba’al of somewhere. Generally, Ba’al was the god of weather, lightning, wind, rain, and fertility; the rain giving birth to crops. The dry summers of the area were explained as Baʿal's time in the underworld and his return in autumn was said to cause the storms which revived the land. Early on, Caesarea Philippi was a site of Ba’al worship.
So, we have a center of pagan gods… Ba’al, Pan and then the worship of Caesar Augustus.
With all that geography in mind lets read…
Mark 8:27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?"
In one of the most powerful centers of pagan worship… Jesus asks who am I?
--Am I like the powerful Caesar Augustus who ruled the Roman Empire?
--Am I like the god Pan the god of scary things?
--Am I like Ba’al who ruled the storms?
Who am I? Am I like any of those gods? The answer is… Well… Yes and No.
Yes, Jesus came to invade the kingdom of Satan. Jesus came to create the kingdom of light. Jesus came to advance the kingdom of heaven upon earth… like Augustus.
Colossians 1:11-14 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Yes! Jesus is the ruler of a powerful kingdom… like Augustus.
Yes! Jesus is the God of scary things… Remember a graveyard with Legion; thousands of demons! Jesus is powerful over scary things… like Pan!
Mark 5:9-13 And He was asking him, "What is your name?" And he said to Him, "My name is Legion; for we are many." And he began to implore Him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there was a large herd of swine feeding nearby on the mountain. The demons implored Him, saying, "Send us into the swine so that we may enter them." Jesus gave them permission.
Yes, Jesus is God over storms…, like Ba’al. Remember…
Mark 6:49-51 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid." And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded,
Yes, Jesus is the God who calms the storm and walks on water to show his glory.
In some ways Jesus is like Augustus – he is a king; like Pan – sometimes scary; and like Ba’al the controller of the storms. But the answer is fundamentally… no… “Who do you say that I am? No! I am nothing like any of those false gods.”
The Ba’als or Pan these are false worthless idols. Paul reminds us this…
Romans 1:22-25 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
Jesus is YWHW the creator… not something man created. Jesus is not one of the pagan gods to be manipulated by religious ceremonies.
“No, I am not like Augustus who ruled the world through the power of the cross.”
Jesus --here is one of the most amazing things that has ever happened in history -- Jesus reversed the cross.
The Roman cross was the symbol of the very power of Rome. Rebels, traitors, threats to the Pax Roma were crucified. The Roman cross was the symbol of human power, human brutality, human rule! Jesus died on a Roman cross as a warning to all that if you oppose Rome you die on a cross.
But that very symbol was stolen from the Romans by Jesus to be made to be the power of an invincible kingdom.
1 Corinthians 1:18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
The Cross, we honor as the symbol of Christianity, is the power of the kingdom of heaven that has advanced from that hill near Jerusalem to the ends of the earth! That is the most amazing thing in history. The symbol of brutality, power and might was appropriated by Jesus to be the power of the kingdom of light!
Jesus is nothing like Augustus. The kingdom of light operates on an entirely different principle than the kingdom of darkness!
Jesus explains this to his disciples… continuing in Mark 8.
Mark 8:31 And Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.
The way of the Christ is the cross. Who are you Jesus? The YWHW who is killed to be the power of the kingdom!
Now we begin to see who Jesus is! Now, in Caesarea Philippi, amongst pagan geography, Jesus reveals that the YWHW of all peoples is to suffer, be rejected by the authorities and be killed to rise again to be the power of the Kingdom! Mark doing amazing theology with his geography!
“No, that can’t be right! Peter knows what the Christ is supposed to do. A Christ is supposed to be victorious over the Romans…. The Christ is supposed to be Augustus. The Christ is supposed to use the power of brutality!
Mark 8:32-33 And Jesus said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."
Some of the toughest words ever spoken between Jesus and a disciple… “Get behind me Satan!” Satan was tempting Jesus, through Peter, to forsake his mission; to forsake his destiny; to forsake his power! But Jesus sets Peter straight. The way of the kingdom is…
Mark 8:34 And Jesus called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
The way of the kingdom is the power of the cross. Deny yourself and take up HIS cross. There is power in a sacrificial life! Jesus set the example. We follow Jesus. We deny ourselves!
This is the heart of what it means to be a Christian; a follower of Jesus. Who do you say that I am? You are the YWHW who went to the cross to restore all the earth! The way of the kingdom is the power of the cross!
Then, Jesus challenges his disciples, those Christians in the Rome of 64 AD and us to participate in his power; in his cross.
Mark 8:35-38 “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." Mark 9:1 And he said to them, "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power."
Those reading these words as Christians in Rome in 64 AD would have read them very differently than we do. Following Jesus to a Roman cross was a real possibility. To be ashamed of Jesus wasn’t just being embarrassed to be a Christian, it was denouncing Jesus to avoid a cross. Those Roman Christians had witnessed the advance of the kingdom of light all the way to Rome. Now, they had to choose the kingdom of God or the kingdom of brutality. Those Christians had to choose between Caesar and Christ!
I want to close with a long excerpt from N.T. Wright…
But this was different. This was something new. Mark says Jesus ‘began to teach them’ this, implying that it was quite a new point that could only be begun once they’d declared that he was the Messiah – like a schoolteacher who can only begin the next stage of mathematics when the pupils have learnt to add and subtract, or a language teacher who can only start on great poetry when the pupils have got the hang of how the language works. And the new lesson wasn’t just that there might be danger ahead; the new lesson was that Jesus had to walk straight into it. Nor would it simply be a risky gamble that might just pay off. It would be certain death. This was what Jesus had to do.
You might as well have had a football (soccer) captain tell the team that he was intending to let the opposition score ten goals right away. This wasn’t what Peter and the rest had in mind. They may not have thought of Jesus as a military leader, but they certainly didn’t think of him going straight to his death. As Charlie Brown once said, “Winning ain’t everything, but losing ain’t anything.” and Jesus seemed to be saying he was going to lose. Worse, he was inviting them to come and lose alongside him.
This is the heart of what’s going on here, and it explains the strong negative reaction of Peter, so soon after telling Jesus that he and the rest thought he was the Messiah. Messiahs don’t get killed by the authorities. A Messiah who did that would be shown up precisely as a false Messiah. So why did Jesus say that’s what had to happen? Mark will explain this to us bit by bit over the coming chapters. But already there is a hint, an allusion. “The son of man’ must have all this happen to him,” declares Jesus; only so will “the son of man come in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Only so will the kingdom of God come – and some standing there, he says, will see this happen.
Jesus thinks that evil will be defeated, and the kingdom will come, precisely through his own suffering and death. But this passage makes it clear that following him is the only way to go. Following Jesus is, more or less, Mark’s definition of what being a Christian means; and Jesus is not leading us on a pleasant afternoon hike, but on a walk into danger and risk. Or did we suppose that the kingdom of God would mean merely a few minor adjustments in our ordinary lives?
--Wright, N. T. ~ Mark for Everyone
It Caesarea Philippi, with all its geography, Jesus announces what it means to be the Christ. Jesus announces a curious power that is behind the kingdom of God… The power of the cross. It is the power of genuine love freely offered as sacrifice. It is the power of not being ashamed! It is the way of the kingdom!
July 2, 2017
Los Alamos Church of Christ