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Throughout the history of God’s people place has been important. The gospel is grounded in history and as such it not only works in the lives of people, but uses places to bring about the circumstances for gospel growth. One such place is Caesarea Maritima. It is from this Roman port city that Pontius Pilate ruled Judea. It was to this city that Paul fled in safety before heading on to Tarsus. And it was in this city that the Roman ruler Diocletian persecuted the church and the library of Christian teaching it was building.

Place continues to matter to us. The gospel works in where we find ourselves today, as well as providing opportunity for gospel growth in the future. Learning from Caesarea Maritima demonstrates God’s continued gospel initiative in brining people to himself through time and place.

The Life of the Church – Learning our Church History is a teaching series from Annalong Presbyterian Church. For videos and handouts visit

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David McCullagh:

Well, we're returning to this series, The Life of the Church, and in the weeks that have gone by, I've been reading more and enjoying more, and tonight's a little bit different, but, um, I'm hoping it'll be something that'll help us maybe more in our personal lives to recall of how good the Lord has been to us. And it's part four. It's entitled Caesarea by the Sea. It is a place that we're familiar with in Scripture. Um, but really I wonder do we understand fully its significance. And really the theme for tonight is about places that are important or about a place that is important. And without yet flicking to the other side of page three, don't do that yet, you'll come to your questions. But one of the questions for tonight is, where, what or where is a place that is significant for you? Whenever it comes to faith and matters of faith, where is a place that is significant for you? Because whenever we look at Caesarea, Uh, we will discover that it is a place of great significance. And again, it's all about God doing His work in a particular place at a particular time. That's the significance. It could have been anywhere, but it's in a place that God chose to do His work. And so when we have that study of church history, there will be people, and we've already looked at some of those people, and if you have missed any of the handouts of the first three nights, they're up here on the stage for you. You can take them, they're all there on the church website as well, that you can look at them at home and see them there. But there's people, there's events, and there are places, all significant. Sometimes all three come together in one, and at other times they're separate. There might be specific people who will have a key moment, or there might be a key event where it's, it's not just one person, but a group of people or a movement of God at a particular moment. Or as we'll see tonight, a particular place that has a long heritage of being involved in Scripture. And we've seen that in recent church history. Whenever you think of the Reformation, the, the two places that. Where things happened, where Wittenberg and, and Geneva, two places where God used, not just in a moment, but in the ensuing years, where study would grow, where theology would develop, where, where really what it meant to be reformed was, was teased out and worked out and lived out. But it's nothing new because we've seen it in Scripture again and again. You've places like Bethel, Gilead, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, all places that at certain times play different parts in the great story of salvation. And as we come to Caesarea, although it may not be the most familiar in scripture, it does play a significant part for as we look at how the church came to be and its significance for today. Um, and so we begin by thinking about the significance. And so there's a place for you, uh, on your, on your handout. It's also on the screen. It's, it's now a national park in, uh, Israel. You can go and you have your holiday. If you look north there, that's the holiday resort of Caesarea today. But in that center part where it just looks like brown earth or, or, or desert, that's the original Caesarea. And if you actually look, you can see some Roman fixtures, the amphitheater. Or a great, um, athletic track, or baths, Roman baths. So this was a true Roman city. It was a port city. And it was a city of great significance. Not just for us in the church, but also for Rome itself. Because it was here that the Roman rulers had their palace. Remember, Pilate came to Jerusalem. Well, where did he come from? He didn't come from Rome. He came from his headquarters. in Caesarea Maritimi, which is its official name. He was the fifth of the Roman rulers. Um, basically Caesar had got fed up with the Herodian family. They were puppets now, very much more so. And it was more these Roman bureaucrats who would come in, Pilate being the most famous of them. And he does have a significant place in it. And what they did was they settled themselves in Herod's Palace there. They'd get rid of maybe some of the royal trappings, give them a small apartment, but for the real seat of power in Herod's Palace, the Roman officials would be. And that's where Pilate was. That's where he would go. And it would be where other Roman rulers, as we'll see, would take their seat. If you're not familiar with what it looks like, there's a map over on page two. Can't go by too quickly without getting a map. But, just to show you, whenever you see it on a map, there's really only two ports in Biblical Palestine that are used. It's Joppa, which is down at the south, where the A of Jerusalem is. or at Caesarea. Most went through Caesarea. It was the bigger of the ports. It was the established Roman city or, and Roman port. And so all trade went from there. And by the way, this is This is Paul's journey to Rome. It's his third missionary journey, and then his journey to Rome. So you can see that it, it was close to where the known world was, and so it was a center of trade, of busyness, of Roman life. You couldn't get more Roman in Palestine than Caesarea Maritima. And so this is a place that was significant in its day, in its own right, but as we'll get to see, it is significant. For us as we understand ourselves as the church today and to do that we're going to begin by reading 1st Timothy chapter 6 and verses 11 to 21 we're going to read two passages this evening This is the first of them, because the significance actually is of, at a particular moment, a person who was there. And so here we have for us in Scripture, in 1 Timothy 6, verse 11 through to verse 21, where Paul says, But as for you, O man of God, flee these things, pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith, take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God who gives life to all things and of Christ Jesus who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession. To keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time. He who is blessed and only sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see, to him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen. As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. Old Timothy. Guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it, some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you. Amen. So why read a passage like this? Well, at the center of it, there is a name that we would think shouldn't be there, and it's the name of Pontius Pilate. This is a significant moment. In the canon of scripture, the man who washed his hands of Jesus gets quoted. And actually, whenever you look at it, he gets quoted in a good way. Because if it hadn't been for Jesus before Pilate, then the whole events of Jesus giving the good testimony would not have happened. And of course, in the great and grand providence of God, it had to happen that way. But it's very significant that this person, Pontius Pilate, is mentioned here in 1st Timothy. And gathered around him is the example of Jesus as he spoke to this Roman leader about the things that must be heard, that the church must continue to hear. And so, this Gentile first hand received the gospel from Jesus Christ as close as anyone could from that great salvation moment of death on the cross and resurrection from the grave. And Pilate was sympathetic, that's why he washed his hands. If he was unsympathetic, he would have sent Jesus to the Jews, without issue, done what they wanted him to do. But he washed his hands, saying I've nothing more to do with it. And of course, trying to get himself out of it, he said, well, who do you want? Barabbas, who was known to be a thief and a murderer, or Jesus, the man who really we can't find anything wrong with? He was putting them to the test, but it failed. But of course, it had to. It had to fail, because Jesus had to go to the cross. If you don't think that Pilate is significant in the story of the crucifixion, then read it again. Because not only does Paul mention him here in 1st Timothy, but he gets a mention in the Apostles Creed. Suffered under Pontius Pilate. The only Gentile to get mentioned in the Apostles Creed. And so there's great significance of what Pilate, or who Pilate is and what he does. But the reason why we're attracted to Pilate this evening is because of what's there at the bottom left of your picture. It's called the Pilate Stone. And this is how God works. In 1961, this stone was found as excavation was being done in Caesarea Maritimi. Now, from the Enlightenment onwards, that's the late 1700s, when science overtook the belief of, uh, of people rather than faith, um, the Enlightenment said, well, nothing in the Bible is true because it can't be proved. Did David exist? The Enlightenment says no, there's no record of a King David outside of Scripture. And there wasn't at that time. And so in 1961, whenever they discovered the Pilate stone, anyone who questioned the, the account of Scripture and the crucifixion of Jesus had to take a second look at it. Because on this inscription, which, if anybody can read it, let me know, um, but here you basically have his name. And governor of Judea. You have a man named in stone, found in a place where he should have been, and it completely agrees with Scripture. A place is significant, even 2, 000 years later, to prove the gospel and to prove the truth of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God doesn't make mistakes. God doesn't make things happen by accident. Time and place are important, because what they do in human history is keep a continuity of the grand plan of redemption. So, this Pilate's stone. That Pilate is mentioned not only here in the scripture passage, but also, as archaeology discovers him and can verify his true existence today. So that's Pontius Pilate, who we perhaps don't think an ally of the faith, but yet God would use this man to prove the faith through history, and indeed, as professed, a real person. At a real time, when Jesus would die and rise again, not only as Paul writes, but also in the creed that is recited by Christians around the world. But the next thing we want to think about this place is, it was the place of Paul. If you were to go to the maps that show the first and second missionary journeys of Paul, Caesarea is there because it was a good point for Paul to either launch or come back from his missionary journeys. It was the main port through which to travel. It was a microcosm of the known world at that time. It was a center trading post. It was if you wanted to get your goods by sea from what was the old Babylonia in the east you had to come across and either you'd go by land which was risky because of attacks or you'd you'd go by sea and so everything would come to Caesarea Maritimae and from there head on with most likely a final destination in Rome. Of course, that's That's what happened with Paul. But this is a place that was good for Paul. It was a place that served in many ways. He spent two years there as a pioneer in mission, uh, sorry, a prisoner in mission in Acts 24 verses 22 to 27. He was a prisoner for the faith. He had to stay there because they couldn't seal as they'd wanted to. He came to know that city very well, he knew its people, he would baptize, he would see converts, he would see a church. But it's to Acts chapter 9 and verses 26 to 31 that I want us to turn for our second reading for this evening. Because in Acts 9 we learn that actually Caesarea became a place of refuge. Not when he was imprisoned, but when he had to flee. So if we read there in Acts 9 and verses 26 to 31. We're told, and when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace, and was being built up, and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit it multiplied. Caesarea becomes a place of refuge. It's not a place where Paul simply goes and gets on the ferry and off he goes. It didn't happen that quickly. He was sent there first to get away from the pressures of what would happen, of what potentially could have happened to him in Jerusalem. He was annoying the Hellenists, the Greeks. He was challenging them about their pantheon of gods rather than worshipping the one true God. And they were getting really worked up about it. And so he had to be sent away and he would eventually make it to Tarsus, his hometown, but before that he would spend a little time in Caesarea. There it was a safe haven for him. There it would preserve him when years later he would be found and brought back to begin the ministry. See, not only was it a launch pad for the missionary work, Caesarea became a safe place. It became a place where Paul could be preserved for the work that God would have for him. And again, a place plays a significant role in one person's life. As they flee, a significant place that God would use so that they would come back and we then could see the mighty work through whom God would use to build the church. It's not only a place of Paul, it was also a place of Peter. He knew the city because he baptized the Roman Saturnian Cornelius at Caesarea and we have that in Acts 10 in verse 1. And so the gospel in Caesarea grew. Influential people came to faith. And it was a place where the gospel would grow. And so much so that whenever we come to, uh, our church history in 260 through to 200, uh, or sorry, um, I have 260, 265. That's not quite right. It's 160 to 265. We have this gentleman called CBS and Eusebius is the father of church history. Church history is what we're looking at. But how do we get here? Someone had to write it down. And Eusebius was the most concise of the early church. But he was born in Caesarea. And in his book, The History of the Church, Eusebius records really what happens in that Roman city. And it's through him that we learn of great persecution. And in that persecution, we understand that it happened by Diocletian. Diocletian was the ruler of the time. And what had grown up in Caesarea Maritima was a great library. And so housed in that library was a great, the great works of the church. So that they would be kept, that they would grow, and that they would continue. And they indeed would spread so that we have the faith in which we stand today. It was a repository for the faith with many manuscripts there. And it was to the one who'd gathered all of these, Pamphilius, that Diocletian persecuted. And because of that persecution, it went far and wide throughout the church of what was here. And so many would come, they would learn, they would spend time, indeed, Jerome, who would come a few centuries later, who would translate the Vulgate, which is the Latin version of the Bible, of which many, uh, texts take their translation today still. He would spend time there to ensure that there was an accurate recording of scripture. Other significant figures, Gregory and Basil the Great, spent time there. So that they would grow, and other aspects of our theology would develop. Theology that we still believe today, that has remained unchallenged from those days. And so Caesarea Maritimi became a shining light, almost like that lighthouse on the coast. Shining out into the world, because God would use that place to proclaim his truth, and keep it for the generations. The generation of us today who still benefit from it. And we shouldn't be surprised that he does this, because in Galatians chapter 4, verses 4 5, again speaking of Christ, but taking these words which I absolutely love, this is why we think of these things, because in the fullness of time, at just the right time, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who are under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. God works in a place, in a time, to make sure that the gospel of Jesus Christ continues so that we will know it today. Our church history benefits us to look back and see this place, once a bustling city, now in ruins, but yet at a time served the church and served it well so that we can remain faithful to the word that was stored there for us and kept for us. And you see, the gospel does need to be set in a particular place. at a particular time because the gospel is grounded in history so that as we've heard it from those who've gone before so we can pass it on and that's what we must do because today this place plays a significant role. You see we have to be attentive to how God is leading us here and now for the good of his gospel and the good of his kingdom. We may not get our name in a creed like Pontius Pilate who ruled from Caesarea Maritima But we are each to get involved in Kingdom work because our faithful living for Christ and serving Him will bring blessing in this age, in this place, and in eternity to come. So what does Caesarea by the Sea teach us? It teaches us that every place is important in its time. Be it that place 2, 000 years ago, be it on Calvary's cross 2, 000 years ago, or be it here and now. This is a significant moment for the continued proclamation of the Gospel. And that's what our questions are going to take us to this evening. To talk about, well, what has been a significant place that has shaped your faith in Jesus Christ? Where is part of your testimony? Where's the one place that you recall with fondness where you grew, or perhaps you heard the Gospel for the first time, or where you came to faith, where you remember it as a significant place that God used? Secondly, how do we see where we are now as an opportunity to be the blessing in this age and in eternity? And then thirdly, in what ways can we shape this place? And I don't necessarily mean this building or this church, but it might be, but simply the place in which we find ourselves. How can we shape that place to be significant for the gospel in the years to come? So some things to get us thinking, some things to really get our minds into. So let me pray for us as we begin to talk about this. Our Father God, we do thank you that place plays an important part in the great story of the gospel. So we would ask that as we know ourselves to be here and how important places have been throughout our church history, may we know the significance of this time and this place. That we may faithfully serve you as those who have gone before us did so well. So be with us in our discussions and help us to think these things through as we desire to live them out well for you in Jesus name. Amen.

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