The Story I Can't Stop Telling
Since my pilgrimage to the Holy Land last summer, I have been asked the same questions a million times. How was it? What was the best part? You would think by now I would be getting tired of it. Yet, I still get giddy excited when people ask me about my experiences in the Holy Land because this trip brought the Scriptures to life for me. Plus, I get to tell them what has become one of my favorite stories!
You have probably heard the story before. Jesus takes his disciples out to Caesarea Philippi and asks the golden question “Who do you say that I am?” To which Peter declares, “you are the Christ!” Jesus blesses him and proclaims, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail.” (Matthew 16:13-20) But this is just the beginning of the story.
Several days into our time in Israel, I sat on an outcropped rock on the side of a cliff in Caesarea Philippi, reading this passage, and staring into the depths of a dark cave in front of me. We had just spent hours in a bus to get to this out of the way site and after all of the amazing sites we had seen the last few days, I was feeling uninspired by the dull reddish-brown rocks that towered over me. Our guide began to explain our surroundings. As he spoke, my jaw slowly dropped.
The rock where I was sitting was in the ruins of a pagan temple where sacrifices to the gods were made. The animal sacrifices would then be thrown into the cave to see if they would be accepted by the wrathful god who was believed to be living in the cave. This cave was known as the “gates of hell”!
My mind raced as I made the connections. Jesus had taken the Apostles to this place to establish His Church for a reason. It was on top of this cave that Jesus said “on this rock I will build my church” and as the Apostles stared into the literal “gates of hell” Jesus declared that the Church He established would not be overcome by the gates of hell.
I sat there amazed at the significance of this story and began to pray. I gave Jesus all of the areas of my life where I felt like the gates of hell were prevailing. Specifically, I offered to him the friend I had been praying for and investing in for months who seemed to only be sliding farther and farther away from the Church. Daring to be bold, I whispered quietly, “Jesus you promised that your Church would not be overcome, so claim your victory!”
You see, I had been taught that Jesus already claimed victory over sin and death when He died on the cross and rose again three days later. The problem was that I wasn’t living like that was true. I wasn’t praying like this was true. I had fallen into despair, believing this friend of mine was too far out of the reach of God’s mercy. Praying that simple prayer in Caesarea Philippi taught me to hope against hope in the reality of the resurrection.
I love telling this story because it is so full of hope that the battle for souls we are called to fight every day on our campuses and in our parishes is a battle that has already been won. Jesus already claimed His victory over Hell on the cross. We already know the outcome of the battle, we need only choose which side we are on.
This time of year, it is easy to get stuck in the grind at school, work and even mission. In the midst of the chaos, it can be easy to look back at all the hard work you put into classes, Bible studies, discipleship, prayer, etc. and wonder if any fruit is coming from it. Maybe you’ve only had one person consistently show up to your Bible study all semester. Maybe prayer has been dry for weeks. Maybe you look around at people you care about most and see the chains of sin that keep them from experiencing Christ, but nothing you say seems to reach them. Whatever it is that has you stuck in the grind, this story offers a glimmer of hope in the darkness.
The truth that Jesus promised victory to His Church should transform the way we view mission. When all hope seems lost, when our hard work in sharing the Gospel bears no apparent fruit, when the recent scandals in the Church fill our hearts with despair—listen to Jesus gently whispering to our hearts the promise that even when we feel like we are face to face with hell, His Church will not be overcome.
How would it change the way you approached mission in your everyday life if you truly believed that Christ would be faithful to the promise He made to Peter that the gates of hell would not prevail? Would you be bolder in your invitations? Would you have more hope in the midst of failure? Would you look at the sin in your own life and the darkness of the culture and believe that Jesus is powerful enough to overcome them?
I can’t stop telling this story because I see the hope it inspires in all those I share it with. I want this hope for you too, so I challenge you to pray with this passage and to ask Jesus to claim His victory over the darkest parts of your life or your campus/parish.
Do you believe that God will be faithful to His promises? Trust me, He will.