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Monday, March 21, 2011
The Gates of Hell

By: Johnnie Moore, Day 2, Caeserea Philipi, and The Golan

For thousands of years a city in the heights north of Galilee was known as the seat of pagan worship.  In Jesus' day Caeserea Philipi had temples to Zeus and various other Greek gods, but it was best known as the place where the god "Pan" was born and lived.  Pan was a god of nature who was believed to have, among others, the power to make an infertile woman fertile.  His temple was built perched over the entrance to the gave where the Jordan River emerged from underneath the mountains.  Its water gushed from the cave imposingly.  People would travel for many miles to make a sacrifice to appease Pan for various reasons, and you would throw your sacrifice into the mouth of the Jordan.

If it was taken in by the Jordan, totally disappear then the people would assume that Pan had received their sacrifice.  If the Jordan didn't consume the sacrifice and it floated out of the mouth down the river it was assumed that Pan was not satisfied. 

It would take about 30 seconds to realize whether Pan had received your offering.  It's from these 30 seconds of fearful anticipation that we have our word "PANic."  Can you imagine the fear as you stood there waiting to see Pan's response?  And, by the way, people would travel for many, many miles and many days, spending money they didn't have in the hopes that Pan would help them.  It was their last ditch effort, and it was a risky one. 

In Jesus' day they referred to the mouth of the Jordan, and the place of Pan's sacrifice, as the "Gate of Hell."

So, when Jesus inaugurated his church in Caeserea Philipi and told Peter that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against it" it was as if he was talking on Pan, face-to-face.  Gates are, of course, defensive mechanisms for an army.  Jesus was saying that the gates of hell could not contain the advance of his kingdom.

Today, Pan's temple lies in total ruin and the mouth of the Jordan no longer gushes from the cave. An earthquake in the 8th century re-routed the water underneath the cliff, and all that remains of Pan is the crushed and crumbling facade of the moutain and the ruins that archealogists have discovered in their digs. 

Meanwhile Jesus' kingdom is still "forcefully advancing." The Gates of Hell can't begin to withstand the power of Jesus.  The only people still visiting this defunct, pagan city are the Christian pilgrims who are still - in some way - advancing on the Gates of Hell.

Caeserea Philipi was the northernmost city in Jesus' ministry. It was 25 miles away from the Sea of Galilee.  So, why did Jesus go all the way here to speak first about his church?  It took a lot of effort to get to this place.

Jesus went to the seat of Pagan Worship in his day to proclaim the inauguration of HIS kingdom on earth. Which also proclaimed the desecration of the enemies kingdom, and the demons shuddered. 

The fact that Jesus went into the heart of enemy territory to declare war when he inaugurated the church also tells us something about our Savior.  He isn't a frail Savior.  He's a warrior. That defeated the enemy on our behalf.

From Caeserea Philipi we took a four mile hike beside the Jordan River.  As we went along the River it increased in power, flowing mightily through the mountains and valleys and down at least two waterfalls. Here are some of our team members posing for a picture at the end of the gorgeous, and strenuous, trail:

 

Along the way, our phenonmenal guide took us off the beaten path to some recently discovered ruins of another part of Caeserea Philipi.  We are among a very small group of tourists to have this opportunity.  The ruins, which are of a 1st Century palace that once stood prominently in the city have only recently been discovered.  A man working on another dig was going on a walk while eating his lunch.  He wasn't paying as much attention to his feet as he was his sandwich.  So, he fell into a hole.  The hole led several feet down into a long buried corridor of a 1st Century palace.  Now, they're just beginning to raise the money to begin to unearth the massive structure that lies underneath.  The small bit of it that had already been unearthed provided for us a great, behind-the-scenes opportunity to talk about archeology and 1st Century building. 

From Caeserea Philipi we turned our attention to modern Israel as we drove deeper and deeper into the Golan Heights.  We spent a lot of time discussing the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the establishment of the modern Israeli nation, and its wars.  We literally went war-by-war, and discussed them from almost every perspective.  We decided to do the primary lecture from the top of a mountain that was a stronghold in the 1967 war.  From here we could see Lebanon and Syria, the UN camp that still exists in the buffer zone, and the defunct and abandoned Syrian city that was a striking post for the Syrian forces.  It was gorgeous and surreal.  Especially since the war bunkers still sit there on top of the mountain. 

After the lecture we let the students explore the underground caves that were used for safety and for enemy engagement. 

Here's the view of the Lebonese side:

NOTE: Thankfully, now that we're in Jerusalem, I have access to more realiable internet.  So, later today or this evening, I intend on posting more of my entries from the last couple of days.  So, stay tuned ...


 
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