Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act, legislation promoted by President Trump that would repeal and replace Obamacare. Marking the National Day of Prayer, the president also issued an executive order strengthening religious liberty.
Meanwhile, a third news story involving Mr. Trump has received less notice: he is coming to Israel. A US delegation sent to prepare for an upcoming visit arrived in the Jewish homeland yesterday.
I have been to the Holy Land many times over the years and am leading a tour of Israel this week. If I were in charge of the president’s schedule, there is a surprising site I would urge him to visit.
Our group traveled yesterday to Caesarea Philippi. The area was home to the worship of Pan, the Greek half-man, half-goat. His worshipers believed that Pan was born in a massive cave at this site. A spring brought water into this cave from a depth the ancient world was never able to measure. As a result, they called it the “gates of the underworld” or the “gates of hell.”
Standing here, Jesus told his disciples, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Why did he begin his church here?
Fourteen temples to Baal worship were scattered throughout the area. A massive white marble temple for the worship of Caesar stood at the mouth of the cave. A giant temple for the worship of Zeus stood adjacent to it. Niches carved in the rock wall held every idol imaginable. Worshipers of Pan engaged in unspeakable sexual sin.
Jesus chose to begin his church, not in Jerusalem or Capernaum or Nazareth, but at Caesarea Philippi. Not at the Temple or a synagogue, but standing before symbols for all that was immoral and ungodly in his day. As he established the church, he stated that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
I would bring President Trump here to show the world that Christianity exists to attack all that is evil. Whatever the cost, whatever our Lord asks, wherever he leads.
Standing in the Fire is the latest book from my dear friend, Tom Doyle. He and his wife JoAnn are long-term missionaries to the Middle East with e3 Partners. Tom tells the story of eight Christians who are currently “standing in the fire” for Jesus.
One was a Sunni Muslim leading the rebellion against Bashar al-Assad in Syria. This man came to Christ after nearly dying in a bomb attack. As a result of his conversion, he was sentenced to die by firing squad.
The official in charge of his execution was so impressed by his faith that he arranged for him to escape. He now lives in a monastery in Syria, where he spends his days memorizing the New Testament, praying for his family in Lebanon, and working for Jesus. Stories such as his prove that the courage of early Christians can still be ours today.
The church is not a denomination, a building, an institution, or a set of activities. It is an army attacking an enemy: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). When we attack hell, we are the church. When we do not, we are not.
How will you attack the gates of hell today?