The First Rule Of Real Estate & The Gates Of Hades: Week Three Of Head Scratchers

Yesterday’s third sermon in the “Head Scratchers” series was a lot of fun.

It also served as a reminder of the kind of things we treasure at Good Shepherd.

The sermon began, as all of them have in this series, with a innovative way to do the Scripture reading.  I have loved these videos, all of which we conceived and implemented by Chris Macedo.


What is the First Rule Of Real Estate?  Right!  LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION.  Whereyou buy a house or build an office part is more important than the kind of house or park that you get.  That’s why a bungalow in Myers Park costs $1M but if you put the same house down here in Steele Creek it would cost . . . a lot lessthan the $1M!  Location, Location, Location.

            Nowhere is that more true in Scripture than with today’s Head Scratcher in Matthew 16:18 where Jesus says this: 
 18 And I tell you that you are Peter,[a] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[b] will not overcome it.
And where is Jesus when he utters these words?  16:13 tells us: 

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

What’s the big deal with that location?  Only everything.  Caesarea Philippi was located about 25 miles NW of Galilee and it was for lack of a better term a hot zone for idol worship.  Its whole history was defined by the different idols worship there and religions practiced there.  The town sits at the base of sheer, rocky walls (AV from Rabbi site), and also at the entrance to an array of underground rivers and caves.  And many years before Jesus appeared, it was the scene of the worship of Baal, a god of the Canaanites that the people of Israel were often tempted to worship themselves – to cover all their bases.
            Then when the Greeks came in to the territory, they made the area a place where they worshipped the fertility god Pan.  The town changed its name to Panea in honor of Pan.  Get this: both the Baal worshippers and Pan fans believed that every winter the gods entered into the caves by way of the underground rivers/springs and then spent the winter hibernating.  In the spring time, those fertility gods re-emerged from the caves and VOILA! spring fever and all kinds of reproductive activity.  It’s why part of the worship of Pan & Baal & others at the mouth of the caves involved . . . how to say it delicately? . . . human acts of fertility.  Prostitutes.  To guarantee your own fertility that spring once you honored the god of fertility.  So the town was not only a hot zone for idols, it was a Red Light District for people!  It’s hard for any church or synagogue to measure up to that kind of worship service.
            And finally in Jesus’ day the area in question had been conquered by the Roman government.  In particular a leader named Herod Philip. And with great humility, he renamed the city . . . after himself.  Caesarea Philippi.  Caesarea is a way of honoring all the Caesars who ruled Rome:  Julius, Brutus, Sid & others.  It was the kind of city where you had an ongoing loyalty oath:  Caesar is Lord.    CP is all of a sudden Four Corners, Amsterdam, and DC all rolled into one, all on steroids.
            So with this background, surrounded by idol worship, Caesar worship, Jesus – a mere Jewish carpenter! – deliberately sets himself in comparison to all the world’s religions by pressing the question with his followers in 16:13-15: 

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Who do people say I am?  Who do YOU say I am?  Compare me to all these and all this, Jesus is saying, And I expect to come out on top.  You comparison shop religions and you’ll see there is no comparison at all.
            And that’s when Peter – who, while they are in the shadow of a rock face wall, has his name mean “rock” – steps up and says in 16:16: 
 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
In contrast to all these dead gods who hibernate in the winter and fornicate in the spring, you are ALIVE, Jesus.  You are TRUE, Jesus.  Peter is the first human to make this declaration of truth and he does so surrounded by the lies of dead gods and so in this moment of courage and clarity, Jesus answers in 6:17 & then the Head Scratcher of 6:18:   
18 And I tell you that you are Peter,[a] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[b] will not overcome it.
Truth in the middle of lies.
            So you’ve got a declaration of truth and then piled on that is this promise that Jesus is going to build his church on the person and the profession of Peter.  The Gates of Hades will not prevail against the church or overcome the church.  Hades.  Huh.  Do you remember where they were?  CP with its entrance to the underground rivers.  They thought the gods hibernated there.  But do you know what Hades was in ancient thought?  They didn’t have developed ideas of heaven & hell like we do.  Hades was instead a murky, fuzzy, sort of depressing holding pattern.  Like when you’re in a jet and it circles the airport waiting for an opp to land; like when you’re at the DMV waiting for hours at a chance for the people behind the counter to snap at you; like in the traffic at Gold Hill Rd & 160 at 5:30 p.m. on a Friday night.  Hades is a place of waiting, hesitation, uncertainty, thowing your hands up in frustration, and apathy.
            And gates, in ancient thinking, were to keep people in.  Jesus isn’t talking about hell attacking the church; he’s talking about the apathy of Hades keeping people locked up.  That’s what these gates do. They limit people by keeping them locked up in apathy & indecision. In a permanent holding pattern.  Limited by apathy so they are just marking time. That’s what the Gates of Hades are about.  Location, location, location.
            Could it be that Jesus worded it this way because he knew the ways that churches & the people in them turn jaded and apathetic?  How churches & the people in them can just mark time?  A preacher friend told me one time that he had decided to stop taking risks in ministry anymore because all the people in the church wanted him to do was carry, marry, and bury: carry babies to baptism, marry couples, and bury the dead during funerals.  So he stopped trying.  The people saw church as a series of rituals they observed & as functions they took part in.  Man, I look back in my own rear view mirror and I can identify seasons where I led this church straight into murkiness … the old if there’s a mist in the pulpit there will be a fog in the pew and I was responsible!  Praise God we’ve SNAPPED out of it with Inviting all people but still.
           But remember WHERE Jesus said all this:  CP.  Compare me to those religions, that politics, that sex, that power and you will see that I AM LORD and they are not.  I am truth & they are lies.  And that helps you realize what Jesus’ promise means when he says the Gates of Hades won’t prevail.  The forces of death will try to contain the church but ultimately will be unable to.  Why?  Because Truth liberates what apathy limits.  The promise Jesus makes in 16:18 can’t be separated from the proclamation Peter has made in 16:16!  The truth from Peter’s mouth is the source of the liberation that Jesus promises! 
            Listen: the answer to church apathy / your apathy is NOT more programs, not more razzle dazzle, not more spectacle.  It’s to celebrate the truth found in the saying Jesus is Lord.  To delight in it. To regard it as a treasure. To allow that truth to soar within you.  To rejoice when people call you weird because you believe in it.  Truth is apathy’s kryptonite.  REFRAIN.
            And it’s been this way for so long.  550 years ago when the church was in the chains of apathy & ritual, what broke loose? The Protestant Reformation, grounded in what?  Truth.  Eph 2:8-9.  110 years ago when the church was in the chains of civil religion & “good people” what broke loose?  The Pentecostal revival, grounded in what? Truth. The Holy Spirit is still and still pours out his gifts of healing and tongues and praise.  REFRAIN
            It’s why the content of what we teach here at GS is old & ancient & treasured.  I want to handle it carefully & lovingly.  I want it to soar in my life so these are not just words on a page (or screen) but beauty that makes me come alive inside.  
            It’s like this.  Here’s a song.  (Play chorus of Where The Streets Have No Name.)  One of my favorites.  But you put in on vinyl & put it on the record player and here’s how it sounds.  On a cassette and in a Walkman and here’s how it sounds.  In an iPod and here’s how.  In your smart phone and here’s how.  The delivery system progresses through the years but the content, the song remains the same!  That’s why although this place looks new and our tech is current, our message is ancient. Core truths don’t change!  (Irony about liturgical legalists).  We just try to be a smart phone in an era where a lot of churches are still using phonographs.  REFRAIN
            Every attempt from inside and outside the church to confine it apathy, to compromise truth, will ultimately fail. And those attempts are never ending.  It’s why I loved this cartoon in response to a denomination that wanted to stop calling God Father, Son & HS cuz too sexists: 
No no no.  Methods change, but message remains. Message, truth get celebrated, treasured, adored.  God help me if I ever get tired of meditating on what it means that God became man and defeated death. Colossians 3:11 means the world to me: Christ is all and is in all. Whew.
           Yeah, we’ve got a rock band to help convey rock truths.  Jesus is Lord which means Buddha is not.  Heaven & hell are real.  The kingdom of God gets more of my allegiance than the USA. Gulp!  Celibacy in singleness & faithfulness in heterosexual marriage.  Odd, politically incorrect truth, but truth that liberates you and me and all of us from apathetic religion.  Because didn’t someone say then you shall know the truth and they truth shall set you . . . FREE?