Report on Israel
February 18th, 1973 @ 10:50 AM
REPORT ON ISRAEL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-18-73 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church. And this is the pastor delivering an address entitled Report from Israel. The last two weeks we have been in that Holy Land. And the sermon this morning is a report of what I saw and felt there. And tonight it will follow in the same vein and train.
I did something this journey I had never done before, though I have been in the Holy Land seven times. This time, I went down to Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments [Exodus 20:1-17], where Elijah was re-commissioned by the Lord [1 Kings 19:9-18]. I have not—and I’ve been around the world twice and up and down it I don’t know how many times—I have not in my life ever seen a country so jagged and so desert and so awesome as Sinai. And the sermon tonight is going to be in that experience. I hope you can come. It will be entitled The Mount of Moses. And we can literally see the fire and hear the thunder of God’s presence in that awesome, awesome place.
Now this morning I have a series of texts to read. The first is from the last chapter of Deuteronomy:
And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land of Gilead, unto Dan—clear to Mount Hermon,
And all Naphtali and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, the great central portion of Israel, and all the land of Judah, unto the utmost sea—to the Mediterranean,
And the Negev, the south, and then before him the plain of Jericho, the city of palm trees, unto Zoar.
And the Lord said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Israel, saying, I will give it unto thy seed. I have caused thine eyes to see it.
Our next reading is in the first chapter of Joshua:
Now after the death of Moses the servant of the Lord . . . the Lord spake unto Joshua, Moses’ minister, saying,
Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give them, even to the children of Israel.
Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses.
Our third passage is in Psalm 105, verses 8 through 11:
The Lord God hath remembered His covenant for ever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations.
Which covenant He made with Abraham, and His oath unto Isaac;
And confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant:
Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance—their place on God’s planet.
Our fourth text is in Jeremiah, the latter part of chapter 31,
Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night . . . the Lord of hosts is His name.
If those ordinances depart from before Me, saith the Lord—that there will not be a sun to shine by day nor a moon to shine by night—then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before Me for ever.
[Jeremiah 31:35, 36]
And our last text is in the last verses of the last chapter of Amos:
And I the Lord God will bring again the captivity of My people Israel; and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards . . . and make gardens, and eat of the fruit of them.
And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the Lord thy God.
[Amos 9: 14, 15]
I have chosen these as just symbolically typical of a thousand others that I could read. God gave the land to Israel, and God gave Israel to the land. And the attachment, the almost worshipful attitude of that little nation to that little country is nothing short of miraculous. They are of the land, and the land is of them. One of them said to me, “We do not bury in coffins or in caskets. We wrap our dead in a winding sheet; we bury them in a shroud, for we belong to the land, and the land gave birth to us.”
The identification of the nation with that land is literally nothing short of heavenly miraculous. Compare it with us. Were you born in Iowa? You’d be just as happy living in Arizona or Oregon. Were you born in Canada? You’d be just as much at home living in Texas. There’s no particular affection or worshipful attitude and response on our part to the land in which we live or in which we were born, but not so the Israeli. The land to him is a part of the promise and covenant and Word of God. It is a part of his very religion. He belongs to the land, and the land belongs to him.
Everywhere else in the world the Israeli, the Jew, is a businessman. He’s a professional man. He’s a merchantman. He’s a city man. But in Israel, the Jew is a farmer. He belongs to the land. And the land belongs to him. And they own their country in the midst of bitter and implacable enemies.
In 1948 they were in war—a struggle unto death. In 1948 they were in war. In 1956 they were in war again. And in 1967 they were plunged into what seemed to the world an ultimate and final holocaust. And they live before those same unyielding and implacable foes. Yet the country is quiet. You’d never know it. The people work in confidence, in assurance, and in peace.
And when you ask them about their confrontation, which will inevitably come with their enemies, they will answer, “We shall not have war in the year. We shall almost certainly not have war in two years. But we shall almost certainly have war in the third year.” And when you ask them why, their answer is obvious and most reasonable.
When Sadat stands before his fanatical Muslims in Egypt and says, “This year we will destroy Israel and drive the people into the sea,” and he doesn’t do it, then he stands up the following year and says, “This is the year that we will destroy Israel and drive the people into the sea,” and he doesn’t do it, there is no dictator that continues in fanatical promises like that and his government endures. He has to do something. The day of reckoning inevitably comes. And he’ll either lose his government and his place and his premiership or will try to implement it.
And then they add two other things; one: there is a rabid prime minister in Libya who has his money from oil that he sells to the western world. And he is as fanatically bitter as is Sadat, only more so. And beyond and behind are the billions of dollars that Russia is spending to re-armor Egypt and her Arab Muslim allies.
So when you ask the Israeli, “What will be the outcome of that confrontation that you say will inevitably arise, what will it be?” And he will reply, “We have no fear of the Egyptian. And we have no fear of the Arab alliance. We have no fear of the war.” They have absolute confidence in their armies. Then they add, “But what Russia will do, we do not know.”
And that is the great imponderable of the Middle East. I hardly see just speculating in my own mind how Russia could stand by and, for a second time, see her billions of dollars of investment and armor in the Arab/Muslim world go down the drain. And at the same time, nor could I see how America could stand by in her pledge of friendship and support of little Israel and see the country destroyed and the people pushed into the sea.
I had the feeling in Israel that I was standing in the very presence of the ultimate sovereign will and choice of Almighty God. There is no one who knows but He.
Last Sunday morning at 11:00 o’clock, I chose to have our service at Armageddon, har megiddo, “ the hill of Megiddo” —and there before us, the plain of Esdraelon, the plain of Jezreel, the sight of the great final battle of the day of the Lord [Revelation 16:16].
And as we had our service, roaring overhead the Phantom jets of the Israeli military. And the crashing thunder of that sound and the reverberation of that awesome noise seemingly in itself was a harbinger of the great almighty day of the battle of God, when He gathers the nations together at a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon, where we were standing. No one knows. It lies in the hands of Almighty God.
Second: while I was there, several men arranged for me to visit with the archbishop of Jerusalem. He wanted to see me because of a project he has in his own heart and over which the communions of the world had made him chairman. His name is George Appleton, archbishop of Jerusalem, and his great assignment in the Church of England is from the Persian Gulf through North Africa. The Church of England, the Anglican Church, is divided up worldwide into about sixteen parts. And over each part, there is an archbishop who presides. They have no ultimate leader, no pope. The archbishop of Canterbury because of the traditional English reverence for the place seemingly is looked upon as the leader of the church, but they are all peers.
And it was a joy to meet this godly man in his seventies, one of the sweetest, humblest, dearest men I ever visited with, Archbishop Appleton. The thing that he had on his heart was this: when you look at [the] Mount [of] Olives from the Holy City, the right side is a Jewish cemetery. The left side is an open field. It is owned by the Armenian Church, by the Latin Church—that’s their name for the Roman Catholic—it is owned by the Greek Orthodox, and by the Church of England. But most of it, the central section of it, portion of it, is owned by a Muslim trust. And they’re getting ready in that Muslim trust to take the Mount of Olives and to turn it into a housing development and a hotel development.
And the archbishop and his fellow communionists, religionists, Christians of the world, have it in their heart to take that section of the Mount of Olives and to keep it sacred for God’s people who liked to walk there and think of the Lord, make a garden of quietness and of prayer out of it. So he said the communions had agreed to give their portion, but they needed money to buy from the Muslims. And he sought our cooperation and help and largess from our Baptist people for that beautiful and worthy project.
And that leads me, if I might, to say a word and an honest one from my heart, of tribute to our liturgical churches. We are not liturgists in the spectrum of the Christian faith. We’re on the other side. But I have great respect for them. And when I think through the years of their history, there are pages and volumes of it that glorify God, in my humble persuasion. For example, the nation of the Greeks borders on that of the Muslim Turks. And the Muslim city of Istanbul is just right across the way from Greece. And for four hundred years the nation of the Greeks was under the iron hand and under the rule of the Muslim Turk. But there is not one Muslim, there’s not one Mohammedan in all of the Greek nation, not one.
They are ninety-five percent Greek Orthodox, Christian Orthodox, and the other little percent belongs to the Christian faith and the Christian love and the Christian tradition. For four hundred years the Islamic Mohammedans sought by coercion and the sword to convert the Greek nation to the Mohammedan faith. There was not one that turned. There was not one that converted. There is not one Mohammedan in the nation of the Greeks. I bow in tribute to the liturgical church.
They have made and impressed upon the Christian faith much that is indelible and forever. They build their churches in the form of a cross, and in the Greek cross each arm is the same length. In a Latin cross, the perpendicular is longer and the arms are shorter. But a Greek cross is the same in all four lengths.
And when the Crusaders came, they adopted the Greek cross as the sign of the Crusader. It’s on their flags. The Greek church is built that way with a dome in the center. And today, it’s come to be known as the Jerusalem cross. But the Jerusalem cross and the Crusaders’ cross and the Greek Orthodox cross, all three are the same. It is a sign of the Christian faith and a devotion unto death.
I humbly pay tribute in honest sincerity, the deep of my heart, to the liturgical church. As I see that land, and in previous visits have gone over it, the world looks dark to me. All of North Africa, from the shores of the Atlantic to the Suez Canal, all of North Africa is Muslim. From the Suez Canal, through Saudi Arabia, through Turkey, through Iraq, through Iran, through Pakistan, clear to Indonesia around to the Philippines, it is Muslim, fanatical Mohammedan.
And when I look to the north, the great nations and powers of Eastern Europe and of Russia and of the mammoth giant China, to the shores of the Pacific, they are anti-God, anti-Christ, and anti-church. They are communists. They are atheists. And even neutral nations such as India are little by little making it impossible for the missionary even to enter their borders.
As I look at it from a human point of view, it looks to me as though the cause of Christ is lost and that the throne of Satan, rising in power, seems so secure and so enduring. From a human point of view, I do not see any victory for our Lord. And yet, I believe in that inevitable triumph. I believe Christ shall reign. I believe Christ shall be King over all the earth [Revelation 19:11-16]. I believe in the great, ultimate victory of our Lord Jesus. I think it shall come as an intervention from God. And the day will arise when Satan’s throne will be destroyed and he, the prince of darkness, shall be thrust into the deepest abyss, there to be chained forever and ever [Revelation 20:10].
I thought of that as I stood and looked at a little mount, a large hill overlooking the Bay of Salamis. The naval battle of Salamis fought in 480 BC was the great determining battle of the cultural history of the world. In 490 BC the Persians had brought over a vast army. And Miltiades and his little Greek army defeated them. Then the son of the Persian king, Xerxes, came back in 480 BC with the greatest naval armada that the world had ever seen.
The Persian ships were large and they were many. And the Greek fleet was small and the ships little. But Themistocles, the naval commander of the Greek flotilla maneuvered all of those vast Persian armadas into the Bay of Salamis. And on that hill, Xerxes built a golden throne and sat upon it in order that he might witness below the annihilation of the Greek fleet, and the destruction of the Greek western nation.
But Themistocles, forcing the ships of the Persians through the Strait of Salamis one by one, the ships of the Greeks destroyed them. And the battle of Salamis was for Greek and for Western culture and Western civilization. And the Persian never came back again.
I’ve often said that there were two great things that made the kind of life and nation and culture and civilization in which we live: one, the first and foremost was when the apostle Paul sought to turn east, the Holy Spirit forbade him and he turned west and west, and finally crossed the Hellespont, into Macedonia and into Athens and into Corinth and into Rome [Acts 16:7-10]. And the Western world became Christian. That’s the first great event that made the kind of civilization and culture in which we live.
And the second great event was the Battle of Salamis, when Xerxes on his golden throne, descended in shame and confusion and went back to the Orient, never to return again. This made possible the development of our Christian Western civilization.
And I think in my humble heart, in my humble judgment, I think that God will intervene in human history and someday pull Satan down from his golden throne [Revelation 20:9-10; 14-15], and Christ, the sweet gentle Jesus, shall be crowned Lord of all the kingdoms and nations of the earth [Revelation 19:11-16]. I don’t see that by human equation. But I believe that by faith and promise of God.
Third: while I was there, Mr. Kando through his friend and interpreter, Saad, said, “Come here and sit down on this Persian rug. We want to talk to you.” The little shepherd boy that discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls, brought them to Mr. Kando. And through his friend Mr. Saad he sold them, and they became known to the world. I haven’t time to expatiate upon it, but to me the greatest archeological discovery in the earth is the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. They confirmed the verity of the Word of God.
Anyway, Mr. Kando, through Saad, said, “Come here and sit down on this Persian carpet.” So I sat down and Mr. Saad was to my left, the interpreter, and Mr. Kando took his little stool and put it in front of me. He has six sons, and the family and others gathered around. So through Mr. Saad, the interpreter, he asked me, “Tell me, who are the Baptists? And where did you get that name? Why are you called Baptist?”
And I replied, “Sir, practically all of the Christian world sprinkles. They sprinkle infants. But down there at the Jordan River—and I pointed toward it—down there at the Jordan River, ioannes ho baptistes, John, the one who baptizes [John 1:32-33], John the Baptist took his converts on a confession of faith, and he baptized them.” And I said, “According to the Word of God, as it means it to us, upon a confession of faith, we baptize our converts. Those who believe in Jesus, they’re buried with the Lord and raised with the Lord [Romans 6:3-5]. That means children could not be baptized, for they are not old enough to understand. An unconscious infant could not be baptized. The child is not old enough to understand. Upon a confession of faith, ‘If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest’ [Acts 8:36-37], upon a confession of faith, the child is baptized.”
And I said, “In our church, we have a kind of unspoken rule that the child is taught until the youngster is about nine years of age, and then the child on a confession of faith, knowing what he is doing, realizing Jesus is his Savior, that He has come into his heart and He has forgiven his sins, the child is baptized.”
Then Mr. Kando, through Saad, said, “But what of the child that would die before he was baptized? What of original sin?”
And I said, “Mr. Kando, the blood of Christ washes away all of our sin [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5]. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, verse 22, ‘As in Adam, all die, all of us. So in Christ, all are made alive’ [1 Corinthians 15:22]. And that includes our little children. They are all saved by the blood of Christ, by the atoning mercy of God” [1 John 2:2]. Then I said, “The day will come, if the child lives, when he will be conscious that he has sinned. And for that sin, the one he commits, he must ask forgiveness of God.”
“He’s never condemned or lost because of the sins of his father or of his mother or of his forefathers. ‘As in Adam all die, so in Christ all of us are made alive’ [1 Corinthians 15:22]. Original sin is washed away in the atoning grace and blood of our Lord [1 John 1:7]. But when I sin, I must come to God for myself. And I must ask God’s forgiveness for myself [1 John 1:9]. And I must accept the Lord Jesus for myself [Romans 10:9-10]. I must cast myself upon the mercies of the Lord [Titus 3:5]. And we call that a confession of faith. And when a man stands before God and asks God for Jesus’ sake to save him, to wash his sins away, to write his name in the Lamb’s Book of Life [Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27], that moment that man is saved and that’s when he’s baptized” [Acts 8:36-38].
Mr. Kando thought for a moment and then spoke to Saad and Saad spoke to me, and Mr. Saad said, “ Mr. Kando, has asked me to tell you that that’s what he believes”—even though he belongs to the ancient Syriac Christian Church. And that to us is the word and the promise of God. I’m not condemned for the sins of my father or my mother or my forefathers. But when I sin, when I come as a child to the age of accountability and realize that I’m lost, then I must come to Jesus, and I must pray and ask forgiveness in His name [1 John 1:9], and I have the promise that when I come to Him, He will not cast me out [John 6:37]. And this is the sweet word of hope and salvation to all families everywhere. And the invitation always is, “Come, come [Revelation 22:17]; look and live [John 3:14-15; Numbers 21:8-9]. Wash and be clean [2 Kings 5:10-14; Revelation 7:14]. Believe and be saved” [Acts 16:30-31].
In this moment now, we stand to sing our appeal. And while we sing it, a family you, or a couple you, or just one somebody you, coming to the Lord, coming to us, would you make the decision now? And come now. Down one of these stairways or into the aisle and here to the front, “I’m coming, pastor, taking Jesus as my Savior” [Romans 10:8-13]. Or, “I’m coming to put my life in the church” [Hebrews 10:24-25]. Or, “God has called me, and I’m answering and here I am.” Make the decision now in your heart. And in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up on the way. May angels attend you, and God bless you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.