When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:13-16.
I wonder whether Simon Peter remembered that confession of faith he had made some nine months earlier as he now hides himself away, desolate, wracked with sorrow and with shame? In Jesus’ hour of need he, Peter, had denied him, run away and left him … And now? Now Jesus is dead.
But how can a true Son of a Living God be dead, Peter? Or, at any rate, how can he stay dead?
When Peter used the term “Living God” at Caesarea Philippi, he was using a term that was used only infrequently in the Old Testament and mainly to contrast the God of Israel (who could actually do stuff) with pagan deities that could do nothing because they were simply dead idols made of wood and stone. But that was fitting because the great rock in Caesarea Philippi* next to which Jesus, Peter and the others may well have been standing, housed the shrine to the pagan deity Pan. Peter’s confession may well have carried a scornful reference to Pan as he proclaimed the “living” nature of the One who had fathered Jesus and brought him into the world.
But now Peter’s belief in a Living God is being tested and, for the present, found sadly wanting. Oh, Peter! Remember Hannah’s song! “The LORD brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up.” (1 Samuel 2:6). You do not know it yet but the LORD will do just that on Sunday morning … for he is indeed a Living God — one who has Life in himself and who will impart Life by his Spirit to all who will receive it.
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.
* Caesarea Philippi was the capital of the Tetrarch Philip at the time that Jesus visited the city with his disciples about nine months before his crucifixion. It was a beautiful spot. Over a thousand feet above sea level, it nestled on a terrace in the folds of Mount Hermon — a place of cascades, torrents, fountains, vines, fig trees, mulberries, birds. Today, it goes by the name of Banias, but its significance lies in its ancient name of Paneas — the place of Pan. Here was the sanctuary of the Greek god of flocks and shepherds, in a vast cavern from which gushed the waters that become the Jordan; and above the cavern towered an enormous rock wall on which had been built a castle.