M and M are in East Asia in one of the largest cities in the world. Their team of 5 is the first team to live out near their campus which is actually one of five universities built right next door to each other. All of the campuses were built in the last 5 years (lot of 5's) and they house primarily freshmen and sophomores although there are some upperclassmen. M (on right) writes, "Our team has loved the adventure of pioneering new movements among these campuses as well as guitar hero and the Lord has certainly surprised us even this semester."
Since the winter holiday, M (on the left) has spent time with a local house church. The pastor's heart is to equip and empower students to go share Christ with others on campus! "It has been great to see the Lord work in the body with and without us this semester. I even had a non-believing friend whom I was so burdened for, but whom I couldn't communicate with (her English was poor and my language is coming along) trust Christ at their church!", M goes on to say.
She concludes, "While we're seeing the Spirit move we have definitely felt the effects of spiritual warfare as well from illness to computer malfunctions to physical encounters with unclean spirits. Our city and nation has a dark past of worshipping foreign gods and the places we live in are not exempt from the repercussions. Although we've been surprised, as this degree of spiritual warfare has not been something we've faced in our lives in the states, I think we've all grown stronger in our convictions that the One within us truly is stronger than the one in the world."
Ceasarea Philippi was a city like this. It was a pagan city built at the foot of Mount Hermon by Herod Philip, a son of Herod the Great. It's history was rooted in worship of false gods. Before Joshua conquered this area, it was a place of Baal worship and later King Jerobam set up a golden calf on a high place in this area. During the time of Jesus, at the base of a cliff outside the city more than a hundred feet, the people of Ceasarea Philippi had built temples and shires dedicated to various gods. In fact at one time, the city was called Panias after the god Pan, the fertility god of mountains and forests. (Not the elfin boy that wouldn't grow up and liked peanut butter.)
The pagans believed that water represented the abyss and that caves were a door to the underworld. Caesarea Philippi stood near a cave with spring water flowing from it, and the locals thought of the cave as a gate to the underworld. This city was at the very Gates of Hell.
It was here in the shadow of this cliff of temples and the Gate to Hades, that Jesus asked his disciples, ""Who do people say the Son of Man is?" They answered with some crazy theories being tossed around, "John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or another of the prophets". (All dead guys.) Jesus asked them the Kennedy questions, "But what about you? Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
So Jesus, here in this pagan paradise, replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter (little stone) and on this rock (Petra) I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. " Jesus added that Peter would be given authority to bind and loosen whether in heaven or hell.
Here some key points I think for us as leaders from this passage and the verses that follow. (Matt 16:13ff ).
~ Jesus is building His church. He is doing it. It will happen. He will win.
~ It's upon this rock that He is building it. I guess this can be taken three ways.
a. A small peddle become a rock when filled with the Spirit. Compare and contrast, bold but scared Peter before Pentecost vs. 3,000 saved from his sermon, boldly speaking before Sanhedrin and 'rising up killing and eating'. (Though I don't think makes him Pope, sorry Benedict.)
b. It's upon a rock of confession. A declaration that Jesus is the Messiah, the sent One who came to bring justice to the nations. That's what the church is built on.
c. It's upon Satan stronghold's like this cliff at C.P. . Jesus isn't about building his church in wimpy places. He came to set the captives free.
~ The church is to be on the move and heaven the gates of Hell can't hold her back. It's like Jesus was declaring that there would be movements everywhere. We should be about taking new ground for the Kingdom... in cities with Satanic strongholds, in places of apathy, in crime-infested areas, in war-torn danger zones... everywhere. Wherever our foot trods, it is where the church is to advance and greater is He that it is in us...
~ It is by His death, burial and rez that He conquers the gates of Hell. The victory is already won. It's a foregone conclusion.
~ Jesus invites us into the plan of building his church by denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Him. It's not a job, its a relationship. It's life.
May we walk in victory today!