Father, we’re grateful for this morning, grateful for today; this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and rejoice in it. And I just pray that Your Spirit will be with us today in Sunday School and in the worship service that follows. I do pray, Father, that we would leave here changed in some way because of the work of Your Spirit through Your people and Your Word. And we will be careful to give you all of the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus name, and God’s people said…. Amen.
If you all can take your Bibles and open them to the Book of Ezekiel, chapter 36, and verse 24, and I really don’t like to embarrass people but we do have a few visitors today. First of all we have Cathy and Lee (isn’t that easy to remember) from the Dallas area so welcome. And we have the Martins in the back from the Dallas area who have a creation ministry, Job, Grenade, Marin and Taryn, but if I was one of these types of guys that gave out prizes for the person that traveled the furthest that prize would definitely go to Paul who is visiting us all the way from the Ukraine today. [clapping] I don’t think we’ve ever had a visitor from the Ukraine today. I don’t think we’ve ever had a visitor from the Ukraine, have we, in the history of this church? [someone answers] That’s right, our missionaries, but they’re supposed to come. As we say about the missionaries they get paid to be good, the rest of us are good for nothing. [Laughter]
Anyway, let’s take our Bibles and open them to the Book of Ezekiel, chapter 34, beginning at verse 24 and we finished, believe it or not, this was a work of God in and of itself, our study on Ecclesiology which I thought would last four weeks and we crammed a four week course into fifty-one weeks, so I feel like I should give you guys a test to see if you get credit.
But we’re leaving the doctrine of the church and we’re going to move into the subject of the doctrine of the angels but before we get to that I wanted to do a few weeks on our recent trip to Israel. And Anne and I had a chance to go to Israel about a month or so ago and then we had another chance to go at the end of 2018, and then were there again in 2014 and we were there in 1998 on our honeymoon. So this has been my fourth time to Israel and so when I come back from Israel I always like to share some slides and things of that nature.
But to me Israel is one of the most exciting things to talk about. First of all, because Israel is the place on the planet where so much of biblical history that we read about in the Bible transpired; that kind of goes without saying. But to me the modern state of Israel is a miracle, it shouldn’t exist. And I’m reminded of something that the prophet Ezekiel said in chapter 36, verses 24-28. He made this statement two thousand six hundred years ago, Ezekiel did. God, speaking to Ezekiel, says, “For I will take you from the nations,” speaking of the Jewish people, “gather you from all the lands and bring you into” someone else’s land… oh, it doesn’t say that does it, it says I will “bring you into your own land.” And the reason that’s significant is if you watch CNN they’re going to tell you that the Jews are in someone else’s land, they’re in a Palestinian culture that the Jews evicted. So the world community wants you to believe the Jews went and usurped someone else’s land but the Bible very clearly says God will bring the Jews back into their own land. And then if you look at verse 25 it says, “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.” So I would say this; verse 24 is being fulfilled right before us. Would you guys agree with that? Verse 35 and following is yet to be fulfilled. So we’re living in the time period between verse 24 and verse 25.
And if you go over to Ezekiel 37:7-11 Ezekiel illustrates what he just said in chapter 36. He says, “So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling;” now this is speaking of the nation of Israel being regathered in the last days and Ezekiel says when it happens it’s going to be noisy. Do you see that—noise and a rattling. Would you say it’s noisy today as you think about that issue? I mean, that’s where all the clamoring in the world is about. “So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone.  And I looked, and behold, sinews were on them, and flesh grew and skin covered them; but there was no breath in them.  Then He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Come from the four winds, O breath,” and that’s ruah in Hebrew, the Holy Spirit, “and breathe on these slain, that they come to life.”  So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.  Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the” what does it say? The Second Baptist Church of Houston… NO, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel;” and I was sitting in a church one time and there was kind of an amillennial kind of replacement theologian teaching and he said “these bones” represent the church on the fay of Pentecost. And I kept thinking to myself, I wish he would read verse 11.
“Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel;’ behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up’” kind of sounds like the persecution the Jews went through, through the holocaust, doesn’t it? These “bones are dried up and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off.’” So again we’re sort of living in between the regathering of the bones that were seeing but the breath or the spirit or the ruah has not yet been poured out on Israel. And that’s why I’m so excited about Israel because when you visit that part of the world you’re literally watching a work of God in progress in addition to seeing so much of things that the Bible talks about. So that’s why I wanted to share this series with you.
Mark Twain visited Israel in 1867 and he wrote about Israel in his book, Innocence Abroad two years later and this is what Mark Twain saw in the land of Israel in 1867. “… A desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds… a silent mournful expanse…. a desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action…. we never saw a human being on the whole route….” Does it really sound like there was a thriving civilization there and the Jews went back in there as CNN says, and displaced a prosperous population? “… we never saw a human being on the whole route…. there was hardly a tree or shrub anywhere. Even the olive tree and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.” [The Innocents Abroad, Complete, 1st ed. (A Public Domain Book, 1869), 267, 285, 302. These quotes can be found in chapters 47, 49, 52.]
And it’s amazing to see what God has done there as He has done exactly what He said He would do, recycle the Jews into their land and they would become a thriving economy. In fact, when you go to Ezekiel 38 you’ll see that the nations are going to invade Israel in the last days because of spoil. Ezekiel 38:12. The nations are going to invade “to capture spoil and to seize plunder, to turn your hand against the waste places which are now inhabited, and against the people who are gathered from the nations, who have acquired cattle and goods, who live at” where does it say there? “the center of the world.’”
You see, to the world Israel is just a tiny nation in the way of progress but to God it’s the centerpiece of everything. In fact, that same expression Israel at “the center of the world” is used in Ezekiel 5:5 to describe Jerusalem at the center of the nations. [Ezekiel 5:5, “Thus says the Lord GOD, ‘This is Jerusalem; I have set her at the center of the nations, with lands around her.”] And when you study this out in Hebrew the center of the world is the same word in Hebrew used for the navel or the bellybutton, which is the center of the body. And so we have to learn to look at Israel the way God looks at it.
And from the Mark Twain days to the present it’s amazing what’s happened in Israel. Israel has produced a gross domestic product clearly outstripping that of her neighbors. And that’s why Ezekiel 38 describes this invasion of Israel in the last days. So there’s a lot of people out there that are sort of prophetically agnostic about Israel, they’re not sure what to make of it, maybe it’s a fulfillment of prophecy, maybe it’s not. Well, that’s not how we think here at Sugar Land Bible Church, we look at the nation of Israel as a clear work of God where He is in the process of fulfilling His Word.
John Walvoord, the Dean of all prophecy students, says this in one of his books, Israel in Prophecy, Page 26, he says: “Of the many peculiar phenomena which characterize the present generation, few events can claim equal significance as far as Biblical prophecy is concerned with that of the return of Israel to their land. It constitutes a preparation for the end of the age, the setting for the coming of the Lord for His church, and the fulfillment of Israel’s prophetic destiny.” And to that I can only say Amen!
And so that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do this study, sort of covering my recent trips, our recent trips into Israel and I notice some of you are very nervous because you’re used to getting a handout. We don’t have a handout yet for you for the primary reason that this presentation has a lot of pictures in it and I really wasn’t sure if the pictures would show up on the handout but if we can get it worked out we’ll start giving out handouts again as the class proceeds
So with those thoughts in mind the excitement about Israel prophetically, the excitement about Israel concerning where so much of biblical history takes place, what I want to do in this study in Sunday School is to take you to some of the main places I had a chance to see, we had a chance to see recently in Israel. So in this presentation we’re going to look at… and I’m just taking these in the order that we saw them, Tel Aviv, Joppa, Caesarea, Maritma, Mount Carmel, a place called Sepphoris, Megiddo, and we’re going to do all of that in forty-five minutes, right? Whatever we don’t do we’ll just continue on next week. This is only part one of the study.
But the first place we went to is Tel Aviv, and the reason we went to Tal Aviv first is that’s the place of the Ben Gurion airport and you’ll see the map there, you’ll see where Tel Aviv is on the coast there, Israeli coast, the Mediterranean coast, and Tel Aviv is a Israeli Mediterranean coastline city in west central Israel. It has a population of about 3.3 million people and those numbers may be a little off because that comes from a 2010 figure. But it is considered the financial capital of Israel. It’s probably the second largest economy in the entire Middle East. And this may be interesting to you, of the most expensive places in the world to live Tel Aviv ranks 19th on that list.
And of course you know a lot about Tel Aviv just by listening to the news or watching the news. Right. Because our current Commander in Chief, Donald Trump, moved our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and so there’s a map that shows you where Tel Aviv is relative to Jerusalem. And that, of course, was a Big deal, with a capital B with multiple exclamation points at the end because in so doing he was recognizing that Israel not only is a legitimate state but he was recognizing the historical capital of Israel as the city of Jerusalem, something that the world community really had not recognized up to that point in time. And he did that. It’s interesting, I think, if I remember right, 50 years after Israel regained that territory in 1967 and so from 1967, fifty hears forward, and doesn’t the Bible say something about fifty years? Have you ever thought about that? Isn’t that the year of Jubilee? It’s kind of interesting. What’s the year of Jubilee? The 50th year when debts are released. So a lot of people think it was the timing of God and the providence of God to actually recognize the historic capital of Jerusalem about 50 years or so after she regained that territory in 1967.
So the embassy, there we are in front of the new embassy in Jerusalem but prior to that point in time the embassy was in Tel Aviv. And it’s interesting when you visit Tel Aviv you’ll see the picture there in the upper right and lower left, they have what’s called Independence Hall and that’s historically where the nation of Israel in 1948 against all odds, if you look at Islamic sources and Arab sources they thought the nation of Israel would be defeated in a matter of days. And how wrong they were because Israel is still in existence and thriving. But in 1948 in Tel Aviv is where Israel declared her independence and they have sort of an Independence Hall, just like we have one in Philadelphia, set up to sort of give you the recordings and the people, via pictures that were there when that historic event happened. So that’s just a little tiny bit about Tel Aviv.
And let’s go over to the Book of Jonah, chapter 1 and verse 2 for just a moment. The next place we visited was a city on the south edge of Tel Aviv called Joppa. And Joppa is significant biblically for at least three reasons: it was sort of a place where Solomon, according to 2 Chronicles 2:16 where Solomon imported wood for what purpose? To build the temple. You remember David was not allowed to build the temple because he was a man of war and that privilege went to Solomon. In fact in the name Solomon you might recognize the word Shalom, which means peace. So Solomon did not have blood on his hands so he was allowed to rebuild the temple and he probably started that project about 966 B.C. according to 1 Kings 6:1. [1 Kings 6:1, “Now it came about in the four hundred and eightieth year after the sons of Israel came out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv which is the second month, that he began to build the house of the LORD.”] And what you learn is Joppa in 2 Chronicles 2:16 was sort of an import city where Solomon brought in wood and things like that via the sea for the construction of the first temple.
And then of course I had you open up to Jonah chapter 1 and verse 2, you remember the story of Jonah, right? God says, “Arise, go to Nineveh, [the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” Jonah 1:2]
And what does Jonah do? He goes to the west; he couldn’t be more directly out of the will of God, to a place called Tarshish, modern day Spain. But according to Jonah chapter 1, I said verse 2 but I think it’s actually around verse 3. [Jonah 1:3, “But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.”]
Jonah, in his rebellion against God actually boarded the boat to get out of the will of God and go to Tarshish instead of Nineveh at a place called Joppa. So Joppa is where Jonah was fleeing from the Lord. And we sort of have a tendency to really throw stones at Jonah, I mean, how dumb was he to get out of the will of God like that. By the way, it’s never that smart to get out of the will of God…. Amen! But when you actually study the archeological remnants or remains of Assyrian literature you start to understand why Jonah did not want to go Assyria. And there is a scholarly source by David Lukenbill and he has in it “Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia,” going back to Babylonian and Assyrian times. And it describes the totally grotesque diabolical tortures that the Assyrians would put people through. And I can read an awful lot of those to you but let me just read one.
It says, “At Cannabis, six hundred of their warriors,” this is Assyria talking, “I put to the sword, 3,000 captives I burned with fire. I did not leave a single one among them alive to serve as hostage. Their governor I captured alive” and then it says, “I flayed his skin, I spread over the wall” and it names a particular city that I don’t think I can pronounce, but this was the Assyrians and this is how they dealt with enemies, they literally pealed their skin off and tortured to death and let you die that way. “At another city I formed a pillar of heads over against the city gate and seven hundred men I impaled on stakes over and against the city gate.” And some of the stuff is so grotesque I can’t even… I don’t even want to go into describing what they did in a family setting like church.
But when you see that background you see very fast why Jonah did not want the grace of God to go to the Assyrians. I mean, he really wanted the Assyrians to go right into hell where they belonged. And we can kind of get like that, can’t we, with people. You look at all this stuff going on today with transgenderism and how the standards of God are being blurred and we can get very angry towards the enemies of God and we can be kind of the same way like Jonah became and really not the grace of God to go to such people. You look at what New York did recently with the legislation they passed legalizing abortions up until the point of birth and these kinds of things. And it’s easy to kind of get into a Jonah syndrome.
So that’s why Jonah went to Joppa and he went the exact opposite way because he knew God was gracious, he talks about that at the end of the book, and he really didn’t want the grace of God to go to that particular part of the world. And so what we have in the Book of Jonah is the fleeing prophet, chapter 1, the praying prophet, chapter 2, why did he start praying? Because God dealt with him by swallowing him in the giant fish. And then you have the preaching prophet, he got obedient, chapter 3, so he’s fleeing, chapter 1, praying chapter 2, preaching chapter 3 and what’s he doing in chapter 4? Now he’s the pouting prophet, because I knew you would do this God. And by the way, Jonah is the only successful prophet that we have record of in terms of success, in terms of conversions. I mean he goes and preaches and a whole city gets converted and despite his success and despite him being the only successful prophet that we have record of in the Old Testament he’s angry about his success because he didn’t want the grace of God to come to these people.
But anyway, his flight away from God started right there in Joppa. And if you go over to Acts 9 verses 36-43, he’s still in Joppa and you see a third reason why Joppa is significant. [Acts 9:36-43, “Now in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which translated in Greek is called Dorcas); this woman was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did.  And it happened at that time that she fell sick and died; and when they had washed her body, they laid it in an upper room.  Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, having heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him, imploring him, “Do not delay in coming to us.”  So Peter arose and went with them. When he arrived, they brought him into the upper room; and all the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing all the tunics and garments that Dorcas used to make while she was with them.  But Peter sent them all out and knelt down and prayed, and turning to the body, he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up.  And he gave her his hand and raised her up; and calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive.  It became known all over Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.”]
Peter did a miracle here and if you look at the end of verse 43 it’s very interesting, it says, “And Peter stayed many days in Joppa” now notice what this says, here’s one of those little clauses that shows up in your Bible and it’s very tempting to just read over it and not understand what’s happening here. He stayed in Joppa “with a tanner named Simon.” Now what was a tanner? A tanner is someone who worked with the skins of dead animals. Now why would the Lord providentially have Peter stay at the home of this tanner? Because Leviticus 11:40 says according to the Mosaic Law a Jew was not to touch the skin of a dead animal. [Leviticus 11:40, “’He too, who eats some of its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening, and the one who picks up its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening.”
So why would God have Peter staying at the home of a tanner in Joppa? Well, you have to think of what Peter is going to do here. Peter is going to move into Acts 10, which follows Acts 9, you guys agree with me on that, Acts 9 then Acts 10, and in Acts 10 he’s going to lead someone to the Lord who was a Gentile. And he’s going to be shown the vision of the sheet, “arise and eat,” and what’s happening is the Lord is transitioning the church away from an institution that started off primarily Jewish and now the Gentiles are going to start getting saved. You’re going to have the first conversion of a Gentile in Acts 10 and then by the time the Apostle Paul launches out on his first missionary journey, Acts 13, into Southern Galatia the Gentiles start getting saved like crazy.
And I think that the Lord has Peter stay at the home of a tanner to continue to reinforce to him something that he didn’t want to accept, that the age of the Law, at least in terms of the Mosaic Law is over; we’re now moving into the age of the church. And so the Lord has him in Joppa stay at the home of this tanner to continue this process of sensitizing him by having him violate the Mosaic Law which had been set aside and yet Peter didn’t want to accept that, to prepare him for his role in Acts 10.
So it’s interesting how the Lord works with us. He takes us through different processes. Anybody here going through a process? And all of the processes He takes us through are preparations for things we don’t even see coming. So we all like the product (as the saying goes) but we don’t necessarily like the process. And Peter here is going through a process. And so this all happened in Joppa; that’s where Jonah fled, it was where Peter was sensitized, and it’s the place Solomon began to import wood all the way back in 966 B.C. before the construction of the temple. In fact, when you go there there’s a little picture there on the bottom right, it talks about a tanner’s home. It makes reference to the fact that Peter stayed in this tanner’s home, they’ve got a picture of a whale there in Joppa because of Jonah, and other things that you see there.
And then, continuing to sort move upward on the coast the next place that we had a chance to go was a place called Caesarea Marittima and Caesarea is a seaport harbor city; it was built by Herod the Great in honor of Caesar Augustus, that’s why it gets the name Caesarea in A.D. 22 So take a look at Acts 10 just for a minute, if you could. It says, “Now there was a man at Caesarea” that’s our place here and you can see where it is on the map, “named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort,” now what’s happening is the Lord now is going to use Peter to win this man to Christ, and if you look down at verses 9-14, after Peter had stayed at the home of his tanner and sort of become more and more sensitized to the new dispensation of the church was in, now Peter receives a vision, and it says this in Acts 10:9, “On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray” and I love how practical God is.
You know, God is so practical because it says in verse 10, “he became hungry” so he’s thinking about food, and then God shows him, you know, the Lone Star Steakhouse in this sheet. And it says, he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance;  and he saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground,  and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air.  A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” Now you have to understand that Peter is a devout Jew and the nation of Israel for 1,500 years was under the Mosaic Law where eating such things was prohibited. But now they’re in a new age, He has Peter staying at the home of his tanner and this vision is all about sort of sensitizing Peter to the new age that the church was in, now that the age of the church had started, so that this Gentile could get saved.
And I love what Pete says to the command, verse 14, “But Peter said, “By no means, Lord,” does that make any sense? I mean, if He’s your Lord or your Curios, Lord, how do you tell Him no? I mean, that’s an oxymoron, isn’t it? That’s like saying white blacktop, government intelligence, postal service, Microsoft works, and my personal favorite, reasonable attorney’s fees. So he says, “By no means, Lord,” and a lot of people think that if you’re a Christian you don’t have the ability to tell the Lord no. That’s a doctrine called Lordship salvation which we reject here. Clearly a Christian can rebel against the commands of God. Now it’s never good to do that but that’s clearly what Peter is doing in this statement “By no means, Lord,” which demonstrates that it can be done.
That’s why there’s so much in the Bible about don’t grieve the Spirit to the Christian, don’t quench the Spirit, do not let sin reign in your mortal body, etc. etc. etc. All those commands wouldn’t be there unless I as a New Testament Christian had the ability to rebel against God any moment I see fit. I can go back to my sin nature and rebel against God. If I didn’t have that ability those commands to us in the New Testament would be unnecessary, wouldn’t they?
So he says, [Acts 10:14] “‘By no means, Lord, I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.’  Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.”  This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky.” So as you go through this chapter it’s the Lord working in Cornelius’ heart and Peter’s heart, both through visions at the same time to connect the two. And this is important to understand because a lot of people in the Christian life will pull one of these things on you—God told me to tell you blah, blah, blah. Has that ever happened to anybody. I just had a vision from God for you and this is what God says. Well, if it’s really a vision from God I think He’s going to be working on both ends because that’s His pattern here. He works on Peter’s end with a vision; He works on Cornelius’ hand with a vision. Doesn’t the Bible say “Let a matter be established by two to three witnesses.” [2 Corinthians 13:1, “This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” KJV]
And what happens is Peter is connected to Cornelius, he leads him to faith. This all happened in Caesarea Marittima, that’s why it’s such a biblically significant city. And Luke records this in Acts 10 and Acts 11 because Luke is all about describing the birth and growth of the church. That’s his point, because Luke is writing to Theophilus, not only in the gospel of Luke, a prequel, but in the Book of Acts, a sequel; Theophilus is a Gentile who I think was saved, and Theophilus wants to understand—all this Christianity stuff looks so Jewish, I’m a Gentile, have I really believed the right thing? Am I in the right place? I mean, if this Christian thing for me?
And you see that in early Luke, Luke chapter 1, the two books prequel, sequel are basically written to confirm Theophilus in the things that he has been taught. So Luke and Acts are really not evangelistic in purpose but they’re more of an apologetic in purpose, trying to fortify Theophilus in the things that he has believed. So documenting the progress of the church starting off as a Jewish institution into an institution being predominated by the gentiles is a big deal in Luke’s argument. That’s why this conversion of Cornelius is recorded here.
So the Book of Acts is about the birth and growth of the church numerically, geographically and ethnically. The miracle growth of the church is documented through progress reports. That’s why it says when Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost about 3,000 souls were saved. You get to Acts chapter 4 and suddenly the number jumps to 4,000 or 5,000 I think it is. And by the time the church works its way up north to Syrian Antioch you have great numbers and these are all what you call progress reports. And Luke drops in an awful lot of geography. And modern day archeologists, I wish I had brought in some of the quotes, have been very clear that Luke is probably one of the most accurate sources you can use today to discover geography in that part of the world or archeology in that part of the world because Luke, a physician, is so careful about documenting geography. There’s just tons of geographical places. And it sort of makes sense that the Lord would use a physician to write these two books because physicians are concerned about details. I mean, if you have a physician that doesn’t care about details it might be time to find a new physician.
So the Lord used all these writers of Scripture right where they were at in terms of their backgrounds to pen His Word. So He gives the numerical growth of the church, the geographical development of the church and then he also tracks the ethnic development of the church from Judaism, an offshoot of Judaism as it started to an institution predominately dominated by Gentiles.
And Acts 10 and 11 is a big part of that argument, the conversion of Cornelius, and that’s why Luke spends two chapters on it. So it’s very interesting to me to note that at the dawn of church history when the Jews were in ascendency in the church and in the church’s leadership their big question was can a Gentile really get saved? I mean, is that even a possibility? And after the conversion of Cornelius, Acts 10, now the apostles have to have… Peter has to go back to Jerusalem from Caesarea to where the leadership of the church was and he’s got to report to them what happened, we see that in Acts 11, and he explains to them in Acts 11, and Acts 11 is probably the first Jerusalem council amongst the other churches, that it’s true, a Gentile really got saved and he documents the conversion of Cornelius, which is a big part in Luke’s argument because Luke is documenting the progress of the church, not just geographically, not just numerically but ethnically as well.
So here they are at the beginning of church history saying can a Gentile really get saved. That was their big question. Now what are we talking about today? It’s the end of church history, now that the Gentiles have been dominant for three thousand years what are we saying? Does God really have a future for Israel? I mean, can a Jew really get saved? It’s sort of interesting, the Jewish leadership is saying can a Gentile get saved and God says just watch Me, Acts 10, Acts 11, Acts 13 right on through to the present time where the Gentiles are now in domination in the church and here we are at the end of church history saying can a Jew get saved? And what does God say? Just watch Me, because one of these days the body of Christ will be made complete, Paul talks about it in Romans 11:25. [Romans 11:25, “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery– so that you will not be wise in your own estimation– that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in;”]
The fullness of the Gentiles will have come in. I believe at that point the rapture of the church will take place and what does God do after the church is gone? He puts His hand right back on Israel, and what does Paul say in Romans 11:25-26. “…and so” what? “all Israel will be saved.” [Romans 11:25, “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery– so that you will not be wise in your own estimation– that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in;”  and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB.”]
And Paul specifically corrects us for our attitude in Romans 11:18 because in Romans 11 he talks about the olive tree; the olive tree I think is the Abrahamic Covenant, originally given to Israel. He talks about natural branches removed from that tree. Who would those “natural branches” be? The Jewish people, because of unbelief. We’re not saying that a Jew can’t get saved today but it certainly the exception rather than the norm.
And then he talks about these weird looking branches that don’t even belong in the tree, brought in, unnatural branches. Who do you think those unnatural branches are? That’s us.
And then he makes the very interesting statement in Romans 11:18, he corrects us for our attitude. He doesn’t say watch your hermeneutics, which is your method of interpretation. He doesn’t say watch your theology, and believe me, as you know I believe all those things are very important. He corrects the Gentiles for their attitude as the Gentiles, the unnatural branches are now looking at the natural branches which have been broken off. And he says in verse 18, he says, “Do not be arrogant towards the branches but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.”
I mean, there wouldn’t be any tree to bring you into, God says, had I not safely worked in the past with the Jewish people. And now that we’ve been brought in, (this is interesting) we have a tendency to think that we’re the top dogs and God is finished with the Jewish people and that’s a doctrine called replacement theology. And where does replacement theology come from? It comes from an attitude problem, not a hermeneutics problem, not a theology problem; those things might be related to the heart problem but the ultimate heart problem is an attitude problem. And isn’t it interesting that throughout church history the dominant view that is taught is replacement theology, that God is finished with the Jewish people. And God specifically says of us, don’t be arrogant toward the Jewish people. If God can do the greater agricultural miracle of bringing in the unnatural branches, which is us, how difficult is it for God to reach out His hand and bring back into the natural branches that belong there? See that. So He’s arguing from the greater to the lesser and in fact Romans 11 goes on and says that’s exactly what intended to do and will do in the events of the tribulation period and so forth. So it’s interesting to me that this real transition of church history, from Jewish to Gentile, was taking place there at Caesarea Marittima, that’s why it’s biblically significant.
And there has also been discovered there some remains of a man named Pontius Pilate. Does that name ring a bell? Now there was a stone discovered there, I think around 1960, and this is what it says when it’s translated: Pontius Pilate, the prefect of Judea, erected a building dedicated to the Emperor Tiberius. So isn’t it interesting that we keep finding things that seem to cohobating the Biblical record, that there really was a man named Pontius Pilate and you have some evidence that he once existed historically based on this inscription that was discovered in Caesarea Marittima. So they have that sort of set up there and when you visit that city you can look at that.
And then from there we kind of kept making our way up further north, to a place called Mount Carmel, and you know about Mount Carmel, right? This is where Elijah had his great confrontation with the prophets of Baal. Go back in your Bible to 1 Kings 18 and beginning at verse 19, really the story is in verses 19-40 which we don’t have time to read all of it. But if I was looking at this I would say wow, I wish we had some more Elijah’s today because he says some things that God’s people desperately need to hear… Amen! You’ll see the name Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18:20. [1 Kings 18:20, “So Ahab sent a message among all the sons of Israel and brought the prophets together at Mount Carmel.”]
And this is what Elijah said, a great prophet of God during that time (during the days of Ahab and Jezebel) said. And by the way, what does the Bible tell kings not to do? First of all, don’t marry multiple wives and secondly don’t marry a foreigner. So what did Ahab do? He married someone named Jezebel who was a Phoenician, and because of the influence of the wife on the husband… and whenever you put someone into a position of authority politically or in the church or wherever I hope you’re looking at the life of the person as much as you’re looking at the man who maybe a candidate for the office, etc. She began to put pressure on him to bring in all this idolatry into the land of Israel. And this is what totally corrupted the northern kingdom and destined them for the dispersion that they would experience at the hands of the Assyrians in 722 B.C. And you see her whole mentality working its way out in a story called Naboth’s Vineyard. Remember that story, where Ahab saw a vineyard and he wanted, coveted, lusted after, and he sort of wanted to be like Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and just nationalize it and grab it; right! Well, you can’t do that under the Mosaic Law because the Mosaic Law has rights for the property owner. That’s why two of the commandments deal with that subject, don’t steal and don’t covet. So under the Mosaic Law the king is not over the law, the king is under the law.
And he looked at this vineyard and he couldn’t just grab it because he was restricted by the Mosaic Law, sort of like our U.S. Constitution does, our political rulers can’t just do whatever they want, they’re under the law and there are certain inalienable rights that God has preempted to us that kinds and rulers aren’t supposed to touch. And those that are in political power need to be reminded of that. Amen!
But he looked at this vineyard and he couldn’t just nationalize it and so he wanted Naboth to sell it to him; Naboth wouldn’t sell! So what did Ahab do? He went home and sulked over it, I can’t get the vineyard because the Mosaic Law won’t allow me to get it. And his wife comes in and starts making fun of him and mocking him, Jezebel, and saying what kind of king are you? Where I come from… (where did she come from? Phoenicia) Where I come from kings do whatever they want; you want the vineyard you go take it. And so that’s the difference between a king without the Mosaic Law and a king with the Mosaic Law. It’s a totally different perspective as those in pagan lands put total power in the hands of the state and allow the king, whose almost like a god or demigod to do whatever they wanted.
So anyway this whole story is taking place here at Mount Carmel, and Elijah says this: [Verse 21, “Elijah came near to all the people and said,] “How long” as he’s speaking to the crowd there, “will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” Don’t we need to hear that today? We have a tendency as Christians to kind of vacillate between two opinions and decisions that we make. I mean, we can follow God or not. And then it says down in verse 22, “Then Elijah said to the people, I alone am left a prophet of the LORD, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men.”
So the numbers were against Elijah and that’s important to understand because we think that if we don’t have some kind of polling data on our side indicating that we’re the majority opinion that somehow our views are invalid. The reality of the situation is if you want to stand on the Bible and you want to stand on God’s Word you’re going to find yourself as a minority in many, many occasions. And don’t let your minority status deceive you into thinking that somehow truth is on your side; truth is never determined by majority opinion. I mean, Jesus spoke to that, didn’t He, “Broad is the road that leads to” what? “destruction, and many there are that go that way. Narrow is the road that leads to life and few who find it.”[Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.”  For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”] The path to destruction is like a five lane expressway on a freeway. The road to life is that narrow access road on the side. So Elijah is totally outnumbered.
And then in verse 27 it says, “It came about at noon that Elijah mocked them and said, ‘Call out with a loud voice for He is God, either He is occupied” some versions say God is on the toilet, that’s why He’s not answering, “He is occupied” or “gone to sleep for He is on a journey, perhaps He is asleep and needs to be awakened.” You’ll notice that Elijah, in this confrontation with the prophets of Baal, is using sarcasm. And it think that’s very interesting because today when a Christian uses sarcasm all the time all the other Christians watching this, instead of getting on the side of good against evil start correcting the person that God is using, based on his tongue. Isn’t that interesting? But sometimes having a sarcastic tongue is appropriate in the outworking of God’s purposes.
Sometimes you can make a point without resorting to logic but just by using sarcasm. It actually is a very powerful tool and it’s very interesting to me that in some circumstances God seems to authorize that. And that’s why I enjoy studying this story so much because there’s so many things happening here that we don’t necessarily accept in modern day evangelicalism.
Verse 26, this is the prophets of Baal, “They cried out with a loud voice” look at this, “and cut themselves according to their custom, with their sword and lances until the blood rushed out on them.” Were these prophets of Baal sincere? I mean, I would give them an A+ for sincerity. But just because you’re sincere about something doesn’t mean you’re right. You can be sincerely wrong about something. Amen! And we’re kind of living in a culture and a climate where we don’t want to discount someone else’s ideas as long as they’re sincere about it.
But look at the sincerity of these prophets of Baal, how they’re actually cutting themselves. 1 Kings 18:34, “And he said, ‘Fill four pitchers with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.’ And he said, ‘Do it a second time,’ and they did it a second time. And he said, ‘Do it a third time,’ and they did it a third time.” You know the story. Elijah is making it very clear that when the miracle happens it’s obvious who did it—God! Verse 38, “Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.  When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; [and they said, ‘The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God.’” When was the last time you saw that in a worship service? People just so overwhelmed with the holiness of God that they don’t even know what to do with themselves other than just to fall on their faces. “When the people saw this they fell on their faces; and they said, ‘The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God.’ Verse 40, “Then Elijah said to them, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape.’ So they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.” That’s how a holy God deals with unrepentant sin.
So this is where all of that took place, on Mount Carmel. And the verse that I come back to when I think about this story is 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of” what? fear or “timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” And how we need to hear that today because we see the culture disintegrating, we see the church to some extent nationwide disintegrating and we have a tendency to sort of shrink back and not do what God has called us to do and so we need to go back to the story of Elijah with the prophets of Baal and learn about that spirit of courage that God has given each of us to stand against evil in our time period.
But all of that took place there at Mt. Caramel. And then from there we’re sort of in a south-eastern direction to a place called Megiddo now you know about Megiddo, right? Megiddo is very famous in the Bible; if you look at the map it’s on a main road linking the south or Egypt to Syria in the north. So Megiddo was always looked at as a very strategic area to occupy. And it’s overlooking what’s called the Jezreel Valley. The very first time Megiddo is mentioned in the Bible is in the Book of Joshua, chapter 12 and verse 21. [Joshua 12:21, “the king of Taanach, one; the king of Megiddo, one.”] That’s where Joshua won one battle against thirty-one kings and you’ll see Megiddo mentioned there.
And then as you kind of move into the Book of Joshua you learn that the area of Megiddo went to a tribe known as Manasseh. The land was parceled amongst the twelve tribes and Megiddo went to a tribe called Manasseh; you’ll see a reference to that in Joshua 17:11. [Joshua 17:11, “In Issachar and in Asher, Manasseh had Beth-shean and its towns and Ibleam and its towns, and the inhabitants of Dor and its towns, and the inhabitants of En-dor and its towns, and the inhabitants of Taanach and its towns, and the inhabitants of Megiddo and its towns, the third is Napheth.”]
And 1 Chronicles 7:29. [1 Chronicles 7:29, “and along the borders of the sons of Manasseh, Beth-shean with its towns, Taanach with its towns, Megiddo with its towns, Dor with its towns. In these lived the sons of Joseph the son of Israel.”] And you know what Manasseh never did with Megiddo? They never did what God said. God specifically said to drive the inhabitants out. And when you get into the Book of Judges you see the nation of Israel went into the land and they sort of obeyed the Lord about… oh, I don’t know, 75%. I mean, they basically did about 75% of what God said to do but they never finished the job, they never went into the land and completely exterminated and wiped out the Canaanites, women, children, animals, and men exactly like God said. And you’ll see this happening with Manasseh in Megiddo in Judges 1:27. [Judges 1:27, “But Manasseh did not take possession of Beth-shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages; so the Canaanites persisted in living in that land.”]
And what happened is the philosophy of the Canaanites over the course of time began to get the upper hand over Israel, leading to 800 years of idolatry, culminating in which event? The Babylonian captivity! And so things at the end of that 800 year time period didn’t end up well for the nation of Israel. And guess what? They could have nipped the whole problem right in the bud, right at the beginning, if they had done exactly what God said, and eradicated the Canaanites. If you don’t eradicate the Canaanites you’re going to learn their philosophies, you’re going to learn their ways, and eventually you’re going to become idolatrous yourself. And they said okay God, we’ve got this one covered, and they obeyed God about 75%.
Now before we cast judgment on these folks doesn’t that kind of sound like our lives a little bit? I mean, aren’t there things in our lives that God says deal with this right now, under the direction of the Holy Spirit and the divine resources He’s given us. And all of us, when you think about it, have issues like that in our lives and we just kind of let it go, let it go, thinking we can contain it, thinking we have the upper hand over it and the day finally comes where we figure out that we never had the upper hand over that thing that God says eradicate; it now has the upper hand over us and we ourselves go into discipline or deportation or whatever. And all of it could have been avoided just by doing some preventive maintenance at the very beginning by dealing with issues that God says to deal with. And that’s basically what happened with these twelve tribes and Manasseh, they never drove out the Canaanites like they were told.
Now most people are interested in Megiddo because of its future and we know from Zechariah 12:11 that there’s going to be great mourning in the plain of Megiddo, and from Megiddo we get a very popular name that’s tossed around in the culture. What name am I thinking about? Armageddon. And in fact, Armageddon is mentioned only one time in the New Testament, you’ll see it there in Revelation 16:13-16 and it says: “And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs;  for they are spirits of demons, performing signs,” did you catch that? I mean demons themselves can perform signs and miracles. You mean God is not the only one in the Bible in the miracle-working business? This slide, I don’t have time to go into it but it documents every miracle happening in the Bible that God has not authoring at all. [Exodus 7-8, Deuteronomy 13:1-3, Matthew 7:21-23; 24:24, Acts 8:9; 16:16, Galatians 1:6-9, Revelation 13:3, 13; 16:13-14]
And that’s what’s happening is these demons are gathering the nations of the earth for the final battle in northern Israel to Armageddon. “…performing signs which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty.’ Verse 16, “And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon.” That’s a compound word Har means mountain, and Magedon comes from Mount Megiddo overlooking the Jezreel Valley that we were talking about a little bit earlier.
And by the way, it’s literal geography you’re dealing with. This slide, I’ve made reference to many times as we’ve gone through the Book of Revelation and we’ll continue to go through the Book of Revelation this morning, but it shows you that all of the geographical references in the Book of Revelation are literal places on planet earth. This is an actual place in northern Israel where the final battle will be fought; demons will gather the nations of the earth to that valley either to persecute the Jewish people or to oppose the second advent of Christ. In fact, the blood is going to be so severe in that battle that it’s going to flow as high as the horses’ bridles for two hundred miles. Revelation 14:20. [“And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood came out from the wine press, up to the horses’ bridles, for a distance of two hundred miles.” Revelation 14:20]
And yet Jesus is going to return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Revelation 19:16, and establish His kingdom, Revelation 11:15. [“And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, ‘KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” Revelation 19:16 Revelation 11:15 “Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.’”]
And so there we were overlooking, on that mountain overlooking that valley where that final battle is going to take place. Well, that’s all I have time for right now and I’ll try to open it up for Q&A as the series progresses, but I hope you’re kind of enjoying this, looking at some of the key geographical places in Israel and what they mean to us biblically. I’m not going to be like a typical Israel tour guide, I’m not going to just rattle on and on and on about data that’s sort of irrelevant. I want to actually tie it into the Scripture and show you why that particular place is important.
So the Bible is not like Jack and the Beanstalk; it’s not a fairy tale. It happened in real time, with real events an real people and real geography. And so my prayer is that God will grow us in this area as we go through this mini-series on the nation of Israel.
Let’s pray. Father, we’re grateful for Your Word and Your land where so many of these things took place and will take place. Help us to be conscious of these things and to recognize that You’re the God of history that works in history, just like today You want to work in our lives. And we’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name and God’s people said… Amen!