Last weekend my wife and I went down to Tallahassee, FL to see the Florida State Seminoles play the Clemson Tigers in football. It was an amazing day for football, with temperatures in the low seventies, a light wind to keep you cool, and not a cloud in the sky. The only thing better than the weather was the game. A victory for Florida State would bring them one step closer to the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship game. After a rough start this season, Clemson needed a win to keep their hopes alive of making it to a bowl game. The crowd was rocking, the hitting was fierce, and the ‘Noles came out on top with a big win!
I tried my best to describe the game and the electrifying atmosphere, but unless you were there, you’ll never quite know what its like. Has that ever happened to you? You try to search your repertoire of vocabulary but just can’t find an adjective strong enough to describe your emotion. I think this was happening to Matthew as he described what Jesus said in Matthew 16:18. Jesus wanted to convey a message to his disciples, but he ended up just having to show them something to drive home the point.
Matthew 16:18- “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.”
Jesus was in Caesarea Philippi when he was talking to the disciples in this particular passage. He wanted to convey to them the power that the Christian church would have in spreading the Gospel. As he walked with them, he stopped in front of this cave.
This cave was the site of ancient pagan sacrifice in biblical times. Images of pagan gods that were worshipped by the people were drawn all over the walls. The people would go below the city of Caesarea Philippi to this cave and offer sacrifices to their pagan gods. The way the sacrifices would work is that the people would bring an animal down to the cave and throw it in as deep as they could. The people would then wait and pray that their particular god would accept the sacrifice. If the people saw blood in the water at the bottom of the cave it was a sign that the god had accepted their sacrifice. If they didn’t see red water flowing, their god was unsatisfied with it and they were forced to repeat the ritual. Due to the evil that was represented at this location, it was given the nickname “Gates of Hell,” and still has this name today. Can you see the power of the statement Jesus said beginning to come into focus?
Jesus took the disciples to the most evil, pagan place he could think of in that city. This place was everything that Christianity was not. If there was an antithesis of the message that Christ preached, it was found in the ritualistic worship at “The Gates of Hell.” And it’s at this location that Jesus draws a powerful illustration. He tells his disciples that the church and the Gospel will be so powerful that not even the gates of hell will be able to stop it. I do believe that Jesus was talking about the literal gates of hell in this passage, but his imagery is impossible to ignore. He uses this imagery to challenge the disciples. He basically says, “not even the most evil place in the world that you know of stands a chance at stopping this new Gospel message.” I can imagine the shivers that went down the spines of the disciples as Jesus talked about the power of the Church as he stood in front of such a place of sin and immorality.
It’s one of those “you had to be there” moments. The statement Jesus makes is powerful in and of itself, but because of the location and the significance of the surrounding area, we have the chance to make Scripture come alive to us 2,000 years later. Stay in the Word, and pray that God will reveal Himself to you. He’ll make His Word come alive and continue to strengthen His church.
But did you know that Matthew 16:18 is true for us today as well? Put yourself in the disciples’ shoes. Think of the most evil thing you can think of. Maybe it’s a place. Maybe it’s a person. Maybe it’s an act of violence or images of the anti-Christ as revealed through scripture. Now I want you to apply the same truth that Jesus preached to His disciples to your thoughts. Not even the most twisted and evil thing you can think of stands a chance at stopping the proclamation of the Gospel and the growth of the church. That’s both a reassurance and a challenge. If nothing can stop us, why aren’t we proclaiming? If victory has already been promised to us, what are we waiting on? Let’s be a messenger of the Gospel, and rest assured that God gives us the power through his Word and the promise of boldness as we give hope to the world!