Allen Jackson - The Promises of God - Part 2
I wanna take a few minutes with you, and unpack a promise that is central to the story of scripture, and it deals with current events in some rather profound ways. I wanna take just a minute and talk with you about Israel, Islam, and the Middle East, how they impact God's perspective on our world in this generation, what some of those implications are for you and for me, and we'll start with the Jewish people in the land of Israel. In Galatians chapter 13, it says, "The Lord said to Abram," that's very near the beginning of the book, isn't it? "The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, 'Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, and east and west, and all the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.'"
Gotta circle that last word. God said to Abram, I will give this land, a place on planet Earth, a specific plot of ground, to you and your offspring forever. Oh, it would help the UN if somebody would send 'em that verse. There is tremendous consternation in the earth about the Jewish people occupying a little piece of land at the end of the Mediterranean. And God has said, in the very beginning chapters of the Bible, that land belongs to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob forever. And God quite candidly doesn't care what the UN thinks or the US State Department thinks or what I think, he made that promise and he'll keep it. But there's a lesson in that, a more profound lesson, I believe, for you and for me.
The right of the Jewish people to live in that Promised Land, that inheritance that God gave to them, is not without condition. In fact, it is a very conditional promise. God said their right to live in that land, the land belongs to them, but their right to live in that land is dependent upon their relationship with him. It's important for you and me to understand that many if not most of the promises of God to you and to me are conditional promises. We have to meet the condition to receive the benefit of the promise. I'll give you an example. It says in the book of Romans, "If you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord, you'll be saved". Will everybody be saved? No. Why not? It's a conditional promise. It says, "If you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth".
You see, what God provided for us through Jesus's death, burial, and resurrection, while it is universally available, doesn't mean it will be universally received. There's a condition for the promise. I'll give you another one, In 1 John it says, "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness". God has made provision so that your sins, my sins, the darkest part of our ungodliness does not have the power to separate us from the kingdom of God. But we have to meet the condition, don't we? If we don't confess our sin, if we don't acknowledge our need for a Savior, if we don't come in humble repentance, we don't receive the benefit of the promise.
Well, in a similar way, the Jewish people were promised a piece of land, and God said they would flourish in that land as long as they honored him. And he made supernatural provision for them. You know the story, he took them from Egyptian slavery, brought them through the wilderness, while in a desert with no natural resources for provision, God provided everything they needed, from a pillar of cloud to pillar of fire, to direct them and protect them, to manna for them to eat. He brought water from the rock when necessary in the midst of a brutal desert. And when he moved them into the Promised Land, he said, "I'll sustain you in this land in the same way I sustained you in the desert. I'll bring rain to the land when you need it. You will prosper here, you will flourish here in a way no people on the planet will ever flourish here other than you". And they occupied the land.
Joshua led 'em into the Promised Land and they occupied it. For hundreds of years, they lived in the land of Israel with no central government, with no monarchy, God was their King. It's the period of the judges. There's a book in your Bible that has that name. The judges were leaders that God raised up from time to time, heroic people, people of remarkable gifts and abilities, they're almost like comic book characters. Gideon was a judge. With 300 men, he overcame an army of thousands of adversaries. Samson was a judge, crazy strong guy. But Samson, I don't believe Samson looked like an NFL middle linebacker, because his enemies couldn't figure out why he was strong. If he'd been 6'5" and 260 with bulging biceps filled with blue veins, they would've known why he was strong.
I think Samson looked a lot like...one of us, just normal folk, and they didn't understand why he was strong. But there's a pattern in the book of Judges. God would bless the Israelites and they would flourish. And in their prosperity and their abundance, their hearts would drift away from God, and they would begin to act like all the other peoples around them. And they would forfeit their blessings and their enemies would begin to overtake them, and they would cry out to God for mercy, and God would raise up a judge, a Samson or a Gideon or a Deborah, and there would be deliverance and there would be a time of fruitfulness and prosperity, and then they would begin to drift again. And the book of Judges comprises a period of almost 400 years where that pattern is repeated over and over and over again.
More than twice as long as we've been a nation. And God didn't drive 'em from the land. Although they would suffer in seasons but he would restore them and realign them and they would understand and then they would drift again. And the last of the judges is Samuel. There's two books in the Bible that bear his name. You know him as a prophet, but he's the last of the judges. And the tribal leaders came to Samuel and they said, "We don't like this arrangement we've had with God as our King, we wanna be like all the other nations". Warning, Will Rogers. And Samuel said, "Okay," and God appointed a king. They rejected God, and in his grace and his mercy, he said, "I'll recruit a king for you," and he chose Saul.
And when Saul, in his pride, turned his back on God, God chose a second king, David, a remarkable man, the greatest of all the Israelite kings. A man with a heart so uniquely turned towards the Lord that God said to David, "Your descendant will sit on the throne of Israel forever". The Messiah came from the line of David. God chose that king for them. And yet, for hundreds of years with a monarchy in place in Israel, the children of Israel continued to drift further and further and further away from God. They even lost the book, they lost the book of the law. They were doing a remodel on the temple and they found it buried in the wall. It had been hidden and nobody missed it. That was King Josiah. When they found the book in the wall, they were on the temple mount next to the temple, there were shrines. Shrines for prostitution, male and female, to the fertility gods of the Canaanites. They had drifted a long way.
So for hundreds of years, God responded them in short seasons, but finally God said to them, "It's enough, you can't stay here anymore. We're done, and you're leaving". And in 721 BC the Assyrian armies destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel. Hundred and fifty years later, the Southern Kingdom didn't learn their lesson and the Babylonians came. Nebuchadnezzar brought his armies, and they destroyed the city of Jerusalem, they destroyed the temple. You've been reading the book of Jeremiah, and now Ezekiel, they're the prophets that deal with that. Jeremiah is the one sounding the warning that you're gonna leave, you're not gonna stay anymore. And Ezekiel's the prophet that spoke to them while they were in exile. And for 70 years, they didn't live in the land anymore. God said, "It's your land, but you can't stay there". And then he brought them back. Nehemiah comes back and rebuilds the wall. You know the book.
And then Ezra, the book that bears his name, he's the priest. He came back and reinstituted priestly worship in the temple in Jerusalem, and they began to flourish again until we open the New Testament. Some people say the New Testament God took a chill pill. He's a little more laid back. You haven't read it very carefully. When Jesus is coming down the Mount of Olives, the city of Jerusalem is spread before him and he begins to weep, his heart is broken. He said, "If you had only recognized the time of God's coming to you, but you didn't recognize it, and now their armies are gonna encircle you". First century, the most common, most effective means of warfare was siege warfare. The armies would literally encircle a city, no food in, no food out, no one in, no one out. He said, "The armies will encircle you and they will take your babies and dash their heads against the rocks. You can't stay here anymore," he said. "Your hearts are so far from me".
And within a generation of Jesus's death, the Roman legions encircled the city of Jerusalem, it was 70 CE, and did precisely what Jesus had said. They tore the temple down, they destroyed the city, and they slaughtered many of the inhabitants. Sixty years later, the Romans made it illegal for a Jew to even live in Jerusalem, they had enough of their rebellions. And for 2000 years, the Jewish people were spread to the four corners of the planet. They had no nation, they had no national homeland, there was nothing to bind them together except their heritage, and inexplicably, apart from God, they survived.
It was 1948 at the end of World War II when the horrors of the Holocaust started to become more broadly aware across the world, there was a bit of sentiment for the Jewish people to have some place to go, their homes had been confiscated, their wealth had been confiscated. Six million of them had died in the Holocaust, and there was enough international compassion that there was a movement that the nation of Israel be reinstated. It was May of '48 when the UN made that decision through a tremendous effort and support from the United States, and particularly from President Harry Truman. The day that this modern state of Israel was acknowledged, the surrounding Arab nations declared war on her. They had standing armies, they had centralized governments, they had economies. Israel had none of those things. And supernaturally, miraculously, Israel survived.
Wanna take a minute with the Middle East. I think it's a helpful. You know, Americans and geography, it's kinda like those of us that live in this part of the world, we don't know there's football outside of the Southeastern Conference, so we have some limits. But I think the map is a helpful tool in understanding our faith and who we are. I hope you know where Israel is, it's a tiny little nation at the end of the Mediterranean. Really is a small place, it's not much bigger than Middle Tennessee. You can make a drive around Israel in a half a day and not hurry. Small place, as I said, about 6 million Jews there, another million Israelis are Arab, so a small population surrounded by an enormous mass of Muslim nations, tens of millions of inhabitants occupying them, and this entire mass determined, committed, dedicated to the annihilation and the destruction of the state of Israel.
It's not just a political issue. Islam is far more than just a religion. Islam is territorial. Islam is a worldview, an ideology that's linked to possession of land that happens to have a religious expression. If a piece of property ever comes under Islamic control, the Quran teaches that it belongs to the Islamic world forever. And if they fail to inhabit it in a season, whoever is occupying that land is an intruder, and they are commanded to drive them out of that land. Now, it's worth noting that King David was king in Jerusalem more than 1500 years before Muhammad was born.
Now, it is true that the Muslims occupied the land of Israel for a season. So when the United Nations chose to give a little sliver of land to the Jewish people that had at one time been under Muslim control, it is an offense to the nation of Islam and it cannot be tolerated. And we've been told for decades, since Israel's existence, that the removal of that state would bring peace to the Middle East because we are told, after all, that Islam is peaceful. Now I wanna unpack that with you a little bit. I don't doubt that, that there are places in the world where Islam is peaceful, predominantly where Islam exists in nations that have an infrastructure that provides peace and Islam lives beneath that. In the places where Islam is the predominant influence, they don't seem to be so peaceful.
Egypt, one of the most stable nations of the Middle East for many, many years, the most populous, the Nile River has a great deal to do with providing a stable water source, and water is the most precious resource in the Middle East, not petroleum. Now, Egypt was the most western of all the Middle Eastern nations for many, many years. Their president, Mubarak, was a great friend of the West. Now, he wasn't a great man, he was oppressive, authoritarian, and could be brutal, but he caused Egypt to be a western leaning nation in the Middle, he established and maintained a peace with Israel. It was 2011.
Remember the Arab Spring? Started at the end of 2010 but it was 2011 when the Arab Spring came to Egypt. We saw Tahrir Square filled predominantly with young people. Our media was all atwitter, no pun intended. With the social media posts coming from Egypt, we said it was an Arab spring, it was a new beginning. Peace and tolerance and cooperation had come to the Middle East, and we turned our back on Mubarak, and in less than two weeks, he was gone, ousted. And it wasn't too long, within 18 months, the Muslim Brotherhood had seized control of Egypt, and they began a rather systematic oppression of those who didn't agree with them, the Christians, but not limiting it to Christians. The Egyptian military's most powerful force in Egypt, they controlled the economy then and today, and they managed to oust the Muslim Brotherhood and took control of the nation. They brought some stability back to it, but they did it over the objections of our government.
Adjacent to Egypt is Libya. Libya, if you don't know is where Benghazi is. You've heard a bit about Benghazi. We lost some folks there. Libya was ruled over in that season by Gaddafi, another bad guy. He was an authoritarian ruler, he was brutal. For a season, he sponsored terrorism throughout Europe until President Reagan sent some bombers his direction. And after that, he kinda stayed home. But the United States led a coalition against Gaddafi and ousted him in Libya. Since he was ousted, Libya has deteriorated, there is no central government, into a chaotic incubator for terrorism that has spread all over the region.
Now, those aren't the only examples. If we move to the nations you probably know a bit better, Iraq. We have invested an enormous amount of life and treasure in Iraq, our finest young men and women there. And it's not a peaceful place today. It's the incubator for ISIS. Al-Qaeda's gone, been replaced by ISIS. They'll be replaced by someone else. I read recently there's 100,000 Iranian supported troops in Iraq. It's a very unstable place. Iraq... I mean, I'm sorry, Iran, the large nation here, ancient Persia. This is where Queen Esther was. The hatred between the Persian people and the Jewish people is not a new thing, it's not a 21st century invention.
Iran is agreed generally by the international community, by the global community, to be the primary state sponsor of terrorism on planet Earth, that's Iran. Groups like Hezbollah, they fund, provide the military resources and the infrastructure needed for those terrorist groups to flourish in this region and around the world. The United States currently treats Iran as if they're our best friend in this entire region. We have created a clear path for the Iranians to have nuclear weapons in the near future. And we have provided them hundreds of billions of dollars to help fund that initiative. While we've turned our backs, to a great degree, on Israel and the Jewish people, we worked actively, our government worked actively in the last Israeli election to unseat their prime minister.
Next to Iraq is Syria. Syria has been embroiled in a civil war. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been destroyed in Syria. Next to Syria is Lebanon. Again, it's on the map, a tiny nation, a beautiful nation. At one time it was a Christian/Arab nation in the Middle East. Lebanon has no central government. Hezbollah, it's a terrorist organization, they're the most powerful force in the nation of Lebanon today. If you take this region on a map, Iraq and Syria and Lebanon. This whole portion of territory, although there are still lines on the map that identify those as nations, those nations don't exist any longer.
The map hasn't been redrawn yet, there isn't a consensus internationally or globally. The battle's still going on, who's really gonna preside over this region of territory, but the lines that have been drawn on that map and have been in place since World War I, they're done, that part of the world is up for grabs. And that's what you see being played out in the news almost daily. Now, the part that gets less airplay has to do with the Christian communities in Iraq and Syria and in this part of the world. In Iraq, the Nineveh Plains. They're some of the oldest Christian communities in all the world, and they have been systematically hunted down and driven out.
Now I can't make my map work. No big deal. And they're given no recourse. The refugees that you've seen streaming into Europe, hundreds of thousands of them, and out of those have come some rather disruptive things in Paris, in France, in Great Britain, in Germany, we've seen it in our own nation in Boston, in Florida, in California, hundreds of thousands of refugees, typically young Muslim refugees, the Christians in these places, they have destroyed the churches because of the ancient Christianity, there were archeological centers. They have done everything they can to annihilate those, to eliminate any semblance of the existence of Christianity.
And the United Nations does not welcome the Christian refugees. If they can be identified as victims of a genocide and they can be lumped in with the Yazidis and some other people groups, perhaps they'll be tolerated as refugees, but they will not be given refugee status just as Christians. And the world looks on with kind of an addled confusion. What do we do? It's more than a bit ironic. I don't if you can see it on the map, it's a bit small. There we go. But the West Bank, there's a little white dot in the middle of Israel. It's on the West Bank 'cause it's the west bank of the Jordan River. After the six day war in '67, that West Bank had been under Jordanian control prior to that, it came under Israeli control in'67. And for the decades since then, it has become the sore spot in peace of the Middle East.
There have been all sorts of summits at the White House and in Oslo, and different places in the planet, thinking that the Palestinian refugees were the reason there was unrest in the Middle East. If that group of people could just be settled, we could have peace in the Middle East. It was the attitude expressed by the Muslim world. And in recent years, in the last two or three years, we have seen hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees being driven into Europe and any place in the world, they want us to take 'em into the United States. They're not making room for them in any part of the Middle East in spite of the petroleum wealth and all the resources and the alignment of ideology and worldview, they insist that they be welcomed into Europe, into the United States and other places in the world. While there's been no willingness, no heartburn to resolve the Palestinian problem, that was the problem in the Middle East. It's absurd. It's illogical.
In fact, it's so illogical, I don't believe there is an explanation for it other than from a spiritual perspective. I've told you on many occasions that the most powerful forces in the world are spiritual. I'm not denying or diminishing political force or economic might or all the other expressions of power in our world, I'm simply suggesting to you that they pale in comparison to spiritual power. We have an assignment in this nation, folks. You have no imagination of how important you are. It's not just about where you sit on Sunday morning for a few minutes or a dress code you embrace or a beverage list you prefer.
Your choice to honor God, to cooperate with his perspective, to cooperate with a God view and align yourself with it, can bring the blessings of God to a whole nation. You are salt and light. You bring meaning and flavor to it. And it doesn't really matter how intense the darkness is if we will turn up the light. When God made his promise to Abram, he said, "Look up at the sky and look at the stars in the night".
Have you looked at the night sky lately? It's dotted with stars, and most of them are hundreds of millions of miles away. I mean, almost an unimaginable distance, and yet the light penetrates that enormous distance and that vast gulf of darkness so that you and I can see it. I don't think it was just a random metaphor that God used with Abraham. We may live in a season when there is intense darkness, but the light you represent can penetrate that darkness over incredible distances. You matter, your life matters, your God choices matter. You are not insignificant or unimportant. Tiny little Israel with their tiny little population captures the attention of the world because they are an expression of the purposes of God. So, too, is the church, amen.
I brought you a prayer. Why don't you stand with me? We'll say this prayer together. I hope you don't leave these prayers at church but you take 'em with you and you use 'em throughout the week. Prayers on the lips of God's people make a difference. We'll read this one together, It's at the bottom of your outline. If you've been ignoring that outline studiously, it's worth it just for the prayer. Let's read it together:
Heavenly Father, be merciful to our nation. You have uniquely blessed us. We have enjoyed freedom, abundance, protection and great liberty. Yet, we have turned our backs to you. In our pride and arrogance, we have imagined our strength has made us strong. Forgive us for our arrogance and rebellion. Do not look upon us in anger. Pour out Your spirit upon our nation once again. Only the Almighty God can deliver us and make us clean. We turn to you, our God and our redeemer, amen.