Have you ever been somewhere that gave you the creeps? A place that didn’t necessarily look creepy like an old cemetery or an old, abandoned house at night but nevertheless gave you a sense of unease? I visited such a place on a recent trip to Israel.
A Tour Stop In The Holy Land
We spent the first few days of our trip around the Sea of Galilee. It was my favorite region of Israel. It was easy to imagine Jesus and His disciples ministering to the people in the area from the shore of the lake where He fed the 5,000 to the Mount of the Beatitudes. We visited the ruins of Capernaum, where He spent so much of his time.
One day, we ventured north of the Sea of Galilee to another town, Caesarea Philippi. I recognized the name from scriptures but did not know anything about it, including where it was. This was the place that left me with an uneasy feeling.
At the foot of Mt. Hermon, Caesarea Philippi is about 37 miles north of Capernaum; about an hour’s bus ride. It would have taken Jesus and His disciples about a day and a half to walk there.
During Old Testament times, it was a center for the worship of the god Baal. Later, it was named Panias as it was a center of worship for the Greek god Pan. Philip II founded a Roman city here. From the information our tour guide gave us, the area we visited was a center of pagan worship for centuries. Perhaps, that is what gave me the uneasy feeling.
We did not visit Caesarea Philippi itself but the religious complex outside of the city. There was a very large cave called Pan’s grotto. In the past, water came out of the cave from a spring to form the Banias river which is one of the tributaries of the Jordan River. There were ruins of temple buildings and dozens of niches carved into the side of the hill. Statues of gods and goddesses would have been placed here for worship. Our guide told us that the people called the grotto the “gates of hell” as they felt an evil spirit dwelt there. Children were thrown into the grotto as a sacrifice to appease the god, Pan.
As I silently pondered the scene before me, I could almost imagine the cries of innocent children as they were taken from their mothers and thrown into the abyss. Heartbreaking.
Bible Verses Come to Life
The scriptures in the Bible came alive each time we visited one of the Holy Land sites. Visiting the place gave the verses more context. There were so many “aha” moments. Consider these verses from the book of Matthew:
Now when Jesus came into the parts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” They said, “Some say John the Baptizer, some, Elijah, and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. I also tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my assembly, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” Matthew 16:13-18 (WEB)
Imagine Jesus standing there at the base of the mountain with His disciples. They are facing a rock wall with niches carved into it holding statues of various gods and goddesses. There is a large temple in front of an immense grotto and several smaller temples along the way. Worshippers are going in and out of the area, perhaps jostling Jesus as they passed. Did anyone even recognize Him? And he asks the ones closest to him, in the context of all of these gods before them, “who do men say that I am?” and even more importantly, “who do you say that I am?”
It’s a two-thousand year old question that is still relevant today —Tweet This
Now, we may not worship physical idols like the ancient Greeks and Romans but we in the twenty-first century have our own version of idols and gods. Anything that we make more important than God is what we elevate to idol status. It could be work, leisure, money, pleasure, our children, our homes, the list is endless. With recent abortion laws and the explosion of child sex-trafficking, our regard for the most innocent is not much better than the ancients who threw their own children into a grotto to appease a god.
And we are faced with the same question from Jesus today; “Who do you say I am?”