by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

Text: Psalm 119:153-160


I.         The Bible doesn’t contain fillers. Every word exists in its text for a reason - I Corinthians 2:11-13

            A.        That doesn’t mean we are always aware of the reason but we should acknowledge that God does know His purpose

            B.        The four gospels only mention 25 towns and villages by name.

                        1.         There are many other events that take place in various locations, but the locations are not named for us

                        2.         However, when we do have a location mentioned, we should dig deeper and find out what other events happened in that same location.

II.        Bethlehem

            A.        This is the city in which Jesus was born - Luke 2:4-6; Matthew 2:1-6

            B.        It was also the ancestral home of David - Luke 2:4

            C.        Thus, the one who would sit on David’s throne was born in the same town as David - Micah 5:2

III.       Bethabara beyond the Jordan

            A.        John the Baptist was teaching and baptizing people here - John 1:19-28

                        1.         Great crowds came to hear John - Matthew 3:5-6; Mark 1:4-5

            B.        It was here that Jesus came to be baptized - John 1:29-34

            C.        The location

                        1.         The name means “House of the Crossing or Ford”

                        2.         It was long claimed to be a place called Sapsaphas, north of the Dead Sea on the east side of the Jordan.

                        3.         The Medaba map, dated AD 560-565.

            D.        Why this remote place?

                        1.         After passing Gilgal, Bethel, and Jericho, Elijah and Elisha came to the Jordan - II Kings 2:8-15

                        2.         Elisha asked Elijah to be his successor (to inherit a double portion of his spirit).

                        3.         Elijah left Elisha his mantle, which showed that he succeeded Elijah.

                        4.         Jesus was baptized near the place where Elijah was taken up into heaven

            E.        The Old Testament closes with a prophecy that Elijah would return - Malachi 4:5

                        1.         Not literally, but one with a spirit like Elijah - (Matthew 17:10-13; 11:10-14)

                        2.         That one was John the Baptist - Luke 1:17

                        3.         John’s appearance was similar to Elijah - II Kings 1:8; Matthew 3:4

                        4.         John, who dressed like Elijah, came preaching with the spirit and power of Elijah near the place where Elijah was taken up into heaven

IV.      Nazareth and Capernaum

            A.        After being rejected in his hometown of Nazareth, Jesus moved to Capernaum (Luke 4:31-32)

                        1.         This fulfilled a prophecy - Matthew 4:13-16; Isaiah 9:1-2

                        2.         A great light would arise out of Zebulun, the tribal territory where Nazareth was located and Naphtali, the tribal territory where Capernaum was located

            B.        Isaiah prophesied against the wicked king Ahaz - Isaiah 7:10-14, 17

                        1.         This will lead to fall of Israel - Isaiah 8:11-15, 21-22

                        2.         Because Naphtali and Zebulun are the northern tribes, they likely suffered greatly when Assyria raided the land - II Kings 15:29

                        3.         But all is not lost - Isaiah 9:1-7

            C.        Jesus began his ministry in the region that suffered most, the location prophesied to see a great light

V.        Nain

            A.        Sometimes places are not named - Luke 7:36-37

                        1.         We are not told where this Pharisee lived

                        2.         It wasn’t important where Simon’s house was located

            B.        But earlier Luke did mention Capernaum (Luke 7:1) and Nain (Luke 7:11)

                        1.         Nain is the village where Jesus raised a widow’s only son from the dead - Luke 7:11-15

                        2.         It lies on the northwest slope of Mount Moreh. On the south side of that same hill is the town of Shunem

            C.        Shunem is where Elisha performed a miracle - II Kings 4:8, 18-37

                        1.         Elisha raise the woman’s only son

            D.        This is why the people of Nain declared Jesus to be a great prophet - Luke 7:16-17

VI.      Caesarea Philippi

            A.        It was in this region that Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was - Matthew 16:13-20

            B.        This area was devoted to the Canaanite god Baal - Joshua 11:17; Judges 3:3

                        1.         At least 14 temples to Baal have been located in this area.

            C.        When Dan sought a new location, they brought with them a false God - Judges 18:27-31

            D.        When Jeroboam created another false god, he located the temples in Bethel and Dan - I Kings 12:28-30

            E.        When the Greeks conquered this area, the region was called Panias because they thought his was where the god Pan was born – the god of nature, fields, forests, mountains, flocks and shepherds

                        1.         There is a cave here where the Greeks had carved five niches to hold statues of their gods.

                        2.         Three of the niches bear the inscriptions to Pan, Echo, and Galerius

            F.        In 2 B.C. in an attempt to flatter the Romans, Philip named the town there Caesarea. It became known as Philip’s Caesarea to distinguish it from the Caesarea on the coast. There Herod the Great built a temple to the Caesars

            G.        It was at this hot bed of paganism that Jesus chose to ask his disciples an important question - Matthew 16:13

VII.     Lystra

            A.        Paul and Barnabas set out on their first journey - Acts 13:1-3

            B.        One stop was at Antioch of Pisidia, which is located in modern-day Turkey - Acts 13:14

            C.        When the Jews of that city rejected the gospel, Paul and Barnabas began teaching the Gentiles - Acts 13:42-52

            D.        After being driven out of Antioch, they moved on to Iconium (Acts 14:1)

            E.        But the same thing happened (Acts 14:2)

            F.        So they moved on to Lystra and Derbe - Acts 14:4-7

            G.        In Lystra, Paul heals a man - Acts 14:8-13

                        1.         Ever wonder why the people associated Paul and Barnabas with Hermes and Zeus?

                        2.         After all, this is a Roman occupied are but the names are for two Greek gods.

                        3.         “Approximately half a century before Paul’s first missionary journey, Ovid ( c. 43 BC - AD 17) in the Metamorphoses (8.626-724) retold an ancient legend that may have been well known in southern Galatia and may in good part explain the wildly emotional response of the people to Paul and Barnabas. According to the legend, Zeus and Hermes once came to ‘the Phrygian hill country’ disguised as mortals seeking lodging. Though they asked at a thousand homes, none took them in. Finally, at a humble cottage of straw and reeds, an elderly couple, Philemon and Baucis, freely welcomed them with a banquet that strained their poor resources. In appreciation, the gods transformed the cottage into a temple with a golden roof and marble columns. Philemon and Baucis they appointed priest and priestess of the temple, who, instead of dying became an oak and a linden tree. As for the inhospitable peoples the gods destroyed their houses. Just where in ‘the Phrygian hill country’ this was supposed to have taken place, Ovid does not say. But it appears that, seeing the healing of the crippled man and remembering the legend, the people of Lystra believed that Zeus and Hermes had returned and wanted to pay them homage lest they incur the gods’ wrath.” [Richard N. Longnecker, Acts, EBC 9. 1984]

                        4.         Having failed to honor the gods as gods on their last visit, the people of Lystra where determined not to repeat the error.

            H.        Paul and Barnabas rejected the worship - Acts 14:14-18

            I.         Then hostile Jews form Antioch and Iconium turn the adoring people into a lynch mob - Acts 14:19

            J.         Such is the nature of people

VIII.    Athens

            A.        On Paul’s second journey, he reached Athens after being driven out of Macedonia - Acts 17:14-15

                        1.         Corinth was the commercial center of Greece at this time

                        2.         But Athens was the cultural and philosophical center of the ancient world

                        3.         It was home of the world’s most famous university

                        4.         It was also a religious center. Almost every god in existence was worshiped there. Statues of gods filled the city. Every public building was dedicated to some god or another. An ancient proverb declared that there were more gods in Athens than men.

                        5.         Everywhere Paul went, there were idols - Acts 17:16

            B.        Among this multitude of deities, Paul sees an altar dedicated to the unknown god - Acts 17:23

                        1.         These altars were erected to ensure that no deity was overlooked. This particular one in Athens had a history.

                        2.         In Lives of Philosophers (1:110), Diogenese Laertius describes the events that led to the erection of this particular monument.

                                    a.         A plague had broken out in Athens and Epimenides was called in to advise the city on what to do

                                    b.         Epimenides took a flock of black and white sheep and released them on Mars Hill. He told men to follow the sheep and mark the places where they laid down. Since it is nothing unusual for sheep to lay down, Epimenides released the sheep early in the morning, when sheep are more interested in eating than napping.

                                    c.         The theory was that any god concerned with the plague would have an opportunity to reveal his willingness to help by causing the sheep that pleased him to lie to rest as a sign that he would accept those sheep as a sacrifice.

                                    d.         A number of sheep rested and the Athenians offered them in sacrifice on unnamed altars.

                                    e.         The plague did stop, but the Athenians were unsure which god to thank, so they erected an altar to the unknown god.

            C.        Paul met with the Athenian philosophers at the Areopagus - Acts 17:19

                        1.         The name Areopagus means “hill of Ares”, the god of war.

                        2.         The Roman god of war was named Mars, thus, Mar’s Hill

                        3.         The hill is in the middle of the city. It was on this same hill that Epimenides dealt with the problem of the plague in Athens.

                        4.         Oh, I should mention that Epimenides was also a poet.

                        5.         When Paul quoted one of their poets, he was quoting Epimenides - Acts 17:28

                                    a.         Paul also quoted Epimenides when he wrote to Titus - Titus 1:12

                                    b.         Epimenides was from Crete.

                                    c.         Notice that Paul referred to Epimenides as a prophet

                        6.         Thus, Paul’s speech on Mar’s Hill showed the philosophers that he was familiar with their culture and writings, giving him common ground to explain to them the nature of the one true God.

IX.      When you study the Bible, consider the context of the stories you read. Not just the literary context but also the historical, cultural, visual, and geographic contexts.

            A.        Your understanding will be richer as a result.

            B.        Even seemingly small matters like location matters

            C.        So consider at this time your spiritual location.

                        1.         All spiritual blessings are located in Christ - Ephesians 1:3

                        2.         We get into Christ through baptism - Galatians 3:26-27

                        3.         Are you spiritually located in Christ?

[Derived from David Padfield’s lessons Location Matters: Coincidence or Providence?, 2019]

Part of the Madaba Map showing Bethabara. The map says in Greek, "Bethabara, the place of Saint John's baptizing."
Part of the Madaba Map showing Bethabara. The map says in Greek, "Bethabara, the place of Saint John's baptizing."
Elijah's Last Journey I Kings 2:1-7
Elijah's Last Journey I Kings 2:1-7
Nain and Shunem
Nain and Shunem
Caesarea Philippi
Caesarea Philippi
Paul's First Journey
Paul's First Journey
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