When You Come Into The Land...

A year or so ago, I was attending a concert with my mother in an old, established North Shore suburb of Chicago where my mother lived. It is also a long established Jewish community. The elderly ladies sitting in front of us were Jewish, talking about so-and-so's wedding, and so-and-so's Bat Mitzvah. One of them was reading the upcoming events on the program to her friend.

“And there’s a Tu B’Shevat celebration…”

“The what?!” her friend asked, cupping her ear and tilting her head.

“TU B’SHEVAT!” the response resounded through the concert hall.

“Oh. What is that again?”

Tu B’Shevat is not as well-known as some of the other Jewish holidays. Even as someone who grew up with the holiday and has a B.A. in Jewish Studies, I had to do a little extra research to write this article. It’s just not something we think about that much. In fact, even the name doesn’t really give us a clue as to it’s purpose. Translated, it’s simply the “fifteenth of Shevat,” and to add to the confusion… it’s a New Year’s celebration!

I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t the Jewish New Year at Rosh HaShanah? And while we’re on that topic, why is that? Didn’t God assign the Biblical New Year to begin at Passover? (Exodus 12:1-2)


We actually have that same confusing norm in our own culture. We have the official New Year beginning on January 1st. We have the Fiscal Year which begins on October 1st. We have a President’s Inauguration which occurs every four years on January 20th. We also have the Academic Year, which usually begins in late August or after Labor Day. The ancient Hebrews also had many different “new years” in their calendar.

Rosh HaShanah, more correctly known as Yom Teruah, was traditionally the time when kings were crowned. In our time, it is celebrated as the “head of the year,” which is the direct translation. You could call that a civil new year, much like our Inauguration. There was the first day of Elul for animal tithes, much like Tax Day on our calendar. Pesach (Passover) was the beginning of the year as designated by God, a time of renewal and reflection, still celebrated today with a seder and a symbolic meal. And then, there was Tu B’Shevat, the agricultural new year.

In the Torah, the agricultural cycle is seven years and ends with a sabbatical. Certain years were designated for consuming one’s own crops, and other years were set aside for bringing a tithe to the Temple, the priest, and the poor. This tithe was called the Ma’aser Sheni. However, during the Sabbatical year, crops had no owners. They were free for anyone to take at any time.

Because of these laws, it was important for planters to know when the new year began for their produce crops. Therefore, the Rabbis chose the fifteenth day of Shevat as that marker. Anything grown before this day belonged to the previous agricultural cycle, and anything produced afterward belonged to the next cycle.

It makes sense that a holiday so tied to agriculture and the Temple system is not widely understood in our own culture. These are not daily concerns of our ours. Nonetheless, there is something to glean from the observance of this holiday.

Tu B’Shevat customs include eating fruit. Whether it was self-grown or not, it is a reminder of what this holiday was set aside for and to remember God’s provision. Some people specifically eat from the Seven Species (Shivat HaMinim), foods native to the Land of Israel. These include: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. Sometimes, this can be done in a special Tu B’Shevat seder.

The seder was developed in the 16th century, and for a long time was a solely Sephardic tradition. However, it is observed today throughout the different backgrounds and expressions of Judaism. At the beginning of the seder, the leader asks those gathered why the New Year of the Trees is celebrated on this day. The congregation responds: “Since the Holy Temple was destroyed, the Jewish people could no longer bring the First Fruits (Bikkurim) to Jerusalem. On Tu B'Shvat we offer instead the fruit of our lips, to praise God for all the fruit trees in the world.”

Many Jewish people use this holiday as an opportunity to become more active in caring for the environment. One tradition is for individuals and congregations to plant trees in Israel. This is done by collecting funds and sending them to organizations that will oversee the planting of the trees. Usually, this tradition is done in memory of a loved one who has passed away, but it can also be done in honor of an individual’s achievement, such as a Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

If you are interested in participating in this tradition, or learning more about Tu B’Shevat, my sources are cited below. There are many organizations that plant trees in Israel, and it shouldn’t be hard to find one you would like to support.

If you merely read this article, go buy some Israeli produce, or go so far as to plant a tree in Israel, I wish you a Happy Tu B’Shevat and a lifetime of enjoying God’s bountiful blessings!

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This article was written by LIFE Staff Member, Stephanie S., and compiles information from: http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/468738/jewish/Tu-BShevat-What-and-How.htm, http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday8.htm, http://www.aish.com/h/15sh/, http://judaism.about.com/od/jewishculture/a/Why-Are-There-Four-Jewish-New-Years.htm.

You Have to Trust the Water

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Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).

 

In the spring of 1975 I was in my final semester at Houghton College in upstate New York. With only a couple of weeks remaining before graduation I was eager to complete my course requirements. Only one class remained to complete my Phys Ed minor: swimming. This will be my easiest class ever, I thought. 

I had spent considerable time in the water in my “growing up years. I learned to swim at the YMCA as a young boy. As a teen I swam with friends in lakes and backyard pools. Many family vacations were at the ocean where we body surfed in the waves. My dad would lay out on the water and float like a cork – something I often tried but could never master. 

My college swimming class was taught by Coach Robert Rhoades. I had known Coach since my freshman year when I tried out for basketball. He was an imposing figure, about five inches taller and perhaps a hundred pounds heavier than my 6’ 4” 180 lb. frame. He coached varsity basketball, so during my two years on the j.v. team I was with him often in practice, at games, and on road trips. Coach had a pleasant personality – never angry, but with a no-nonsense approach to education and sports. 

At the first swim class Coach Rhoades reviewed the syllabus. “This course is Pass-Fail. In order to pass you must demonstrate mastery of the basic swim strokes: crawl, breast, butterfly, side, and back.” 

Piece of cake, said I to myself. 

“And you must float unassisted for five minutes.”

Uh oh.  I can't float!

As the weeks went by Coach checked off each of my swim strokes. As the semester drew to an end he stood by the pool, clipboard in hand, and reviewed the progress of his students. Then I heard the dreaded words, “Taber, I haven’t seen you float yet.” 

UmmmCoach, I can’t float.” 

“What do you mean? Everyone can float!” 

“Honest, Coach, I’ve tried…many times. As long as I can hold my breath, I can stay above water. But once I exhale, I can’t get enough air in my lungs quickly enough to keep my nose out of the water. If I can move my hands or feet, I can push up enough to get more air – but that’s not the ‘dead man’s float you say we have to do.”  

“Let me see,” he said. 

I inhaled and exhaled several times, then filled my lungs with as much air as I could, and lay back on the water. [Back then I could hold my breath for over three minutes; four is my record.] When my chest heaved from lack of oxygen, I exhaled hard and grabbed air as my body sank below the surface. Now only a bit of my face remained above water – but not high enough to keep it out of my nose.  

I sputtered and surfaced. “You see?” 

“Try again,” he said. I did, with the same result. And again. And again. 

“I see what you mean,” he said. “Your body mass index is low.” [Those who know me today will have to take this by faith: back in the day I was skinny as a rail without an ounce of body fat.] 

Coach pondered a minute. “Look, you have to float to pass the class.”  

“I know. But I’ve never been able to float – even in the salt-water ocean,” said I. 

Coach was sympathetic. He saw I had tried. And I had completed all the other course requirements…. I could see him weighing whether he could give me a pass. 

“I have an idea!” He went to the storage closet at the end of the pool, pulled out a styrofoam float board and broke off a couple of hand-sized pieces. “Here, stick these in your swim trunks.” 

I was surprised. Is he serious? I stuffed the foam pieces in the back of my swimsuit – and floated without difficulty. All right!

He raised his pen to check off “floated” next to my name…and hesitated. “It says ‘unassisted.’ We can’t honestly say you’re floating without assistance.” 

“I agree, Coach. But I have to pass this class to meet the requirements for my minorWithout a minor, I can’t graduate. And I can't float. 

Coach pondered a moment, then changed to his “stern” tone. “Taber, everyone can float. I’ve taught this course for years, and never had a student who couldn’t float. Do you know what your problem is?” 

Yes, I thought, I can't float!

As though reading my mind he continued, “Your problem is you don’t believe you can float. You are trying to float, so you tense up your musclesYou don't trust the water to hold you up. That’s why you can’t float. Just lay out, relax, and trust the water.” 

He said those words with such conviction that in the moment I chose to believe his words were true. I filled my lungs with air, laid out on the water, relaxed my muscles – and floated. For five glorious minutes I floated, emptying and refilling my lungs, remaining atop the water. I passed!

I’m not sure why it took me until my senior year in college to learn to float. Perhaps it was for no other reason than so I could tell this story. It’s the best way I know to illustrate the difference between trying and trusting. The water could have held me up all along. I had to believe it – and demonstrate that belief by actually entrusting my body to the water, fully relaxing, and not trying to assist.  

I often relate this experience to folks who are struggling with trusting God. Perhaps they need to trust Him amidst difficult circumstances. Or they need to place their faith in Messiah’s atoning death for forgiveness of their sins. The biblical answer to “What must I do to be saved” is “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). 

So much of religion sounds to me like “Try harder to do better.” Biblical faith should sound like “Trust Me more.” 

Faith is an integral part of life – and the only path to eternal life:  

  • “Without faith, it is impossible to please God. For he who comes to God must believe that He exists, and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). 

  • “You will keep in him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for the LORD God is an everlasting rock” (Psalm 26:3-4). 

Everyone can float. You just have to trust the water. 

 

Written by: Life in Messiah Executive Director, Wes Taber

U.S. Women's Soccer, Chicago Blackhawks, and An Eternal Kingdom

On Saturday, July 4, Americans celebrated 239 years of independence by shooting millions of dollars of fireworks into the sky.

On Sunday, July 5, Americans celebrated the U.S. women’s team winning the FIFA World Cup as the victors held high the championship trophy.

On Monday, July 6 most Americans returned to work, having cleaned up the residual mess from the parties. We’re back to the routine, looking for the next big event to celebrate.

It’s true, fans of U.S. women’s soccer are pleased to have won the “third star.” Our first trophy was awarded in 1991 (the inaugural year of the competition). The second was the “memorable 1999 victory” – but how many actually remembered until reminded? Already attention is shifting to the attempt for four titles.

Chicagoans saw a similar phenomenon last month when the Blackhawks were feted for their national hockey championship. For players on the team since 2010, this was their third Stanley Cup in six years. And sure enough, fresh off their victory players were saying, “This was great, but a fourth would be even better.” [For hockey purists, we note Chicago also won the Cup in ’34, ’38, and ’61 – but that seems like ancient history to Millennials.]

It’s the nature of sports for success to be fleeting. But the same applies to nations and empires. Nebuchadnezzar’s “statuesque” prophetic vision of world powers (Daniel 2:31ff) begins with his own: Babylon is the head of gold. But Persia (chest of silver) will overthrow Babylon, which in turn will be supplanted by Greece (thighs of bronze). Then Rome will arise, and its legs of iron have dominion before disintegrating into the toes of iron mixed with clay.

World history is filled with the rise and fall of nations. The Greek Empire built by Alexander the Great and “the glory that was Rome” are glimpsed mostly in ancient ruins. Today Greece is in the news for its financial meltdown; most news references to Rome have the Vatican in mind. The sun has set on the British Empire.

Even as America is deemed “the world’s only super-power,” this nation seems powerless to prevail over Islamic jihadism. “Babylon” (Iraq) and “Persia” (modern Iran) have dreams of renewed ascendancy as ISIS seeks a Sunni caliphate through terror and Iran Shiite supremacy with force of nuclear weapons. China and Russia are not “waiting in the wings” but are active on the world scene, working to increase their spheres of influence.

The United States does not wish to play the role of global policeman, nuclear warheads and aircraft carrier fleets notwithstanding. Even “red lines” are drawn with erasable pencil. Moreover, the “bloom is off the rose” when it comes to American moral leadership. This nation is increasingly fractured, and moving farther away from biblical morality at astonishing speed.

It is good to be reminded in these “iron and clay” days that there is another chapter of prophecy to be fulfilled. In Daniel’s words:

“You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and crushed them. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth….  44 In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever” (Daniel 2:34-35; 44).

The Second Psalm adds to the divine perspective: the nations may rage and their rulers imagine vain things (vs. 1-3), but God holds them in derision (vs. 4). One of these days He will set His Son (Zechariah’s “stone cut without hands”) on the throne in Zion (vs. 5-6); the nations will be given Him as an inheritance (vs. 8) and be judged with a rod of iron (vs. 9).

The Psalmist concludes with a warning and a blessing, each dependent on treatment of the Son:

10     Now therefore, O kings, show discernment;
         Take warning, O judges of the earth.
11     Worship the Lord with reverence
         And rejoice with trembling.
12     Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
         For His wrath may soon be kindled.
         How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!

Celebrations of temporal victories dissolve like cotton candy. They provide no nutritional value to the soul, and leave us wanting “just one more.” Those who shake their fists at heaven may have their moment in the sun. “Thousand year reichs” melt like ice on a searing skillet. Those who trust in Messiah will never be ashamed, and will reign with Him who sits on the throne eternally. In Isaiah’s magnificent words (chapter 9): 

 6     For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
        And the government will rest on His shoulders;
        And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
        Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

7     There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
       On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
       To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
       From then on and forevermore.
       The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.

As a Chicagoan, I celebrate the Blackhawks; as an American, I congratulate U.S. Women’s Soccer.

But as a believer in Messiah Jesus, when I think of Yeshua returning to reign in righteousness I feel a “Hallelujah Chorus” coming on! And that song will echo throughout eternity, long after sports triumphs and earthly kingdoms are forgotten.

 

Written by: Life in Messiah Executive Director, Wes Taber 

Fear of Fire

Two twelve year old boys [1] jostled a box of chemicals down a steep hill and set up their lab on a deserted private beach. With the nonchalance of blissful ignorance they mixed a haphazard amalgam of charcoal powder, sulfur, potassium nitrate, potassium chlorate, zinc powder, and magnesium powder, pouring it into a thick-walled mortar. A match was lit and pointed toward the silver-black pile of chemicals. But while still inches away the match and its flame were instantaneously engulfed in a column of white-hot flame so intense that it split in two the mortar from which it rose. Upon realizing that they were uninjured, the boys’ bewildered wide-eyed expressions gave way to the embarrassed grin of those having just escaped a disaster of their own making. The carefree atmosphere of the boys’ descent was gone as they gingerly carried their box back up the hill. In the future they would be much more circumspect in their experiments.

The boys learned an indispensable life lesson: a right fear of the right things frees us to enjoy a long and healthy life. The corollary is also true: failing to fear the right things condemns us to live out the haphazard, deadly consequences of our own ill conceived amalgams. This is the lesson our people were to learn from their experience with fire at Mt. Sinai.

Fifty days after exiting Egypt, our people stood at the base of Mt. Sinai. [2] Looking up, transfixed and trembling, overwhelmed by deafening thunder, blinding flashes of lightening, billowing smoke and the blaring of an unseen trumpet, they cried out, “…do not have God speak to us or we will die!”  Just then Moses delivered the life lesson they desperately needed to hear, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” The right fear of the right thing would set our people on the path of a long and healthy life.

Each of us fears many things, which in turn control the quality of our lives. By nature, all of us fear the wrong things leaving us to experience the deadly consequences of our own amalgams. But, the good news is that the right fear of the right One sets us on the path of a well-lived, eternal life. May Shavuot find you living the life of reverence to which God calls each of us and for which Messiah died and rose to provide.

Praise the Lord! How blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
who greatly delights in His commandments. [3]
Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all
defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. [4]

Written by: Dan Strull,  Life in Messiah Board Member and Congregational Leader of Olive Tree Congregation in Chicago  


[1] Their names are withheld to protect the author’s reputation. [2]The feast of Shavuot, also known as the Feast of Weeks and Pentecost, takes place 50 days following Pesach, and celebrates the first of the grain harvests, and by tradition, Israel entering into covenant relationship with God, and the giving of the Torah. [3]Psalm 112:1 (NASB95) [4] 2Corinthians 7:1 (NASB95)

Lest We Forget

Recently my wife was in touch with the daughter of a Holocaust survivor.  Musing on what influence it must have had in her life, I was taken back to a childhood memory of the day the Holocaust came to my house.

There was a mysterious wooden box tucked into an out-of-the-way closet in  the house where my sister and I grew up.  We were vaguely aware that our parents’ uniforms and other WW II paraphernalia were stored there. But until one memorable day, we had never completely explored its contents. 

Our parents, like many, voluntarily enlisted in the Army. They met at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.  As kids, we were proud that our parents had served.  It was a matter of family pride, even though it was seldom talked about.  I remember them saying, “We were just doing our duty, like everyone else….”  End of discussion.

Feeling particularly curious one day, my six-year-old sister decided she would put an end to the mystery of “the box” and fully explore the treasures hidden there.  My dad was at work, and I’m  not sure how she escaped Mom’s notice. But soon things we had heard about but never seen, littered the floor – uniforms with service medals, a red arm band with a swastika, and a photo album full of black and white pictures.

Dad had given us few details of his time in Europe.  We knew he was in Germany with the 20th Armored Division, and we knew the destination of that unit was Munich.  We were completely unprepared however, to discover his personal photographs taken on April 29, 1945, at the Dachau Concentration Camp.  There in stark black and white was the horrible truth of that place. 

Naturally, we asked questions.  Dad was hesitant to answer.  He gave short answers in measured tones to specific questions, volunteering no “extra” information. He recounted sharing food and remembered that the discovery of the camp was anything but intentional.  According to Dad it certainly was not the objective of the 20th Armored Division to liberate a concentration camp.

In researching the story of Dachau, I ran across some details that seem to corroborate his story. As you might expect, other Army Divisions (the 42nd Infantry, and the 47th Infantry) also claimed to be liberators.  The debate seems to focus not on who was there, but who got there first.  In an article posted  on the website, 20tharmoreddivision.com, the following account is recorded:

Captain Norval L. Pring, ‘C’ Battery, 413th Armored Field Artillery, 20th Armored Division, and his driver were to meet a party from the 42nd Infantry Division on the night of April 28, 1945.  Their purpose was to coordinate artillery support for operations the following day near Munich.  According to this account, the pair got lost and crossed the river in front of the camp at about 12:30 AM on the morning of the 29th, swung open the gates and turned the yard lights on.  They discovered bodies of guards and prisoners that had been recently killed, saw the “D.P.’s” (displaced persons) behind a fence, and took the flag that was flying above.  Obviously feeling exposed and somewhat overextended from their original mission, they hurriedly left.

Apparently, the rest of the 20th Armored arrived later that morning.  My dad rode through the gate in one of the first vehicles.  A LIFE Magazine photo-journalist by the name of Margaret Bourke-White was embedded with the 20th Amored.  She is clearly seen in one of his photographs. (Her pictures of Dachau and Buchenwald were printed in LIFE Magazine.)

Reflecting on her experience in her 1946 memoir, Dear Fatherland, Rest Quietly, she wrote:

I kept telling myself that I would believe the indescribably horrible sight in the courtyard before me only when I had a chance to look at my own photographs.  Using the camera was almost a relief; it interposed a slight barrier between myself and the white horror in front of me...I was reminded that men actually had done this thing-men with arms and legs and eyes and hearts not so very unlike our own.  And it made me ashamed to be a member of the human race.

Horror and shame – more appropriate words could never be found to describe that memorable day, April 29, 1945. 

To say that my sister and I shared those emotions in any way similar to eyewitnesses like Margaret Bourke White or our father would be exaggerating the facts.  But as we looked at the black and white horror in Dad’s pictures and watched his reaction to our discovery, the reality of the Holocaust came home.

Years after our discovery, an elderly friend sent me a packet of letters my parents had mailed to him during the war.  Among them was a letter from my dad, still in Germany, dated June 4, 1945, not quite six weeks after his experience at Dachau.  I'm sure he struggled to come to grips with what he had seen.  With the all the emotion of a young soldier he wrote: 

"The most memorable incident will always be the scenes at Dachau Concentration Camp.  After seeing such things, you feel that God must have OK'ed all measures of violence anybody could use to exterminate the whole lot of these Godless (Nazi) criminals." 

My purpose in writing is not to make some kind of hero of my father or to claim that we have some historical treasures in the family archives. Nor do I want to imply that our family “suffered” because of the Holocaust. My only point is to impress on whomever might read this, that the Holocaust was visible manifestation of evil, and man’s inhumanity to man.  It really happened.  If we let this horror slip from our conscious memories, this same evil could torment us again.

April 1945 was liberation month for several camps (Buchenwald, April 11; Bergen-Belsen, April 15; Flossenberg. April 23).  April 15 is now recognized as “Holocaust Remembrance Day.” I wonder, seventy years later, how can we appropriately remember?

In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he uses the phrase “For he himself is our peace...” (Ephesians 2:14). Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Lutheran theologian and pastor; hung by the Nazis on April 9 at Flossenburg) wrote in his classic book Life Together:

"Among men there is strife.  'He is our peace,' says Paul of Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:14).  Without Jesus there is discord between God and man and between man and man..."

In my opinion, although he wrote the letter in Greek, Paul’s Jewish mind was thinking “For he himself is our shalom...”

The Holocaust has cast a long shadow over mankind affecting particularly the survivors, and the children and grandchildren of survivors of the camps.  Many still seek the shalom violently taken from them between 1938 and 1945.

To paraphrase Bonhoeffer, “For he (Jesus/Yeshua) himself is our shalom…Without Yeshua the Messiah, there is discord between God and man and between man and man."

John, the Apostle quoted Yeshua saying, “Peace (shalom) I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27).

As part of my remembrance of the liberation of Dachua and other camps 70 years ago, I pray that Jewish people living in the shadow of the Holocaust, still silently suffering, will discover the truth that Yeshua, Jesus, is our shalom.

 

By: Life in Messiah Staff Member in the United States 

Why Should I Care About Passover?

Messiah in the Passover Haggadah 

Messiah in the Passover Haggadah 

We recently celebrated our annual “Messiah in the Passover” event with a group of individuals representing nearly ten local churches. The Rabbi from a nearby Messianic congregation led us through the service explaining the deep symbolism and adding personal anecdotes that made the Haggadah (booklet informing the order of the Seder service) come alive. We enthusiastically sang “Dayenu,” tasted the “bitter herbs,” and rejoiced with the retelling of the mighty Exodus from Egypt.

Every year I get excited about inviting others to experience what we have enjoyed for the past several years. Most who attend this particular event are  not Jewish, but what better rationale for faith in Yeshua (Jesus’ Hebrew name) is there than seeing the type of the Passover Lamb fulfilled in the Lamb of God? 

In the midst of my enthusiasm however, a nagging question from some of my non-Jewish friends bothers me. In various ways they ask, “Why should I care about Passover, I’m not Jewish!? This is for Jewish people, right? Not for me....”

This off-handed dismissal of the celebration of Passover by Gentile believers mystifies me. Certainly they are missing something.

So, why should Gentiles, especially those who identify themselves as Christians, care about Passover? There are three aspects of this commemoration I wish all believers could understand.

I just finished teaching an adult class on “Knowing Why We Believe.” It seems to me the symbolism in Passover is a great apologetic for our faith in Yeshua, whether we are Gentile or Jewish believers in the redemption of Messiah Jesus. The traditions surrounding the Afikomen (the broken piece of matzah hidden away during a Seder to symbolically represent Messiah’s body which was beaten, wrapped in linen, buried and raised on the third day) should affirm our conviction that Yeshua is indeed our Messiah.

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Scripture tells us Jesus observed the Passover, in what we know as The Last Supper. Holding a pierced, striped, unleavened piece of matzah and imagining Jesus Himself, saying, “This is my body,” excites me every time. Drinking from the “cup of redemption” as He says, “This is the new covenant in my blood” brings new energy to my stale and perfunctory worship. I wish every believer could experience these deep connections between the Passover Seder and our Savior Jesus, and allow the Seder observance to deepen and strengthen their relationship with the faithful God we serve.

Second, I wish every Gentile would appreciate the opportunity Passover gives to put Easter in its proper context. Do you think it’s just coincidence Yeshua was crucified during Passover, laid in the tomb on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and rose again on the Feast of Firstfruits? It’s not! Seeing the Hebrew calendar fulfilled in Messiah Jesus should renew our appreciation for the Jewish roots of our faith, and give us a sense of respect for, and identity with, Jewish people. It also serves to remind us of the yet-unfulfilled Fall Festivals, ending with Sukkot, when Messiah will “tabernacle” with His people (Revelation 21:3).

Third, I believe Passover should provoke the question, “If all of this symbolism is really there in the Passover Seder, why don’t more people see it?” As we recognize the clearly symbolic presence of Yeshua in the Passover, we should be inspired to share that realization with our Jewish friends. Certainly, He is the Messiah for both Jews and Gentiles!

Yes, the story of Passover is uniquely Jewish. But the God who delivered the Hebrews from slavery in the Exodus narrative, the God who delivered the Children of Israel from the wicked plans of Haman in the book of Esther, and the God who has preserved Jewish people through the Holocaust and present day atrocities, is the same God who cares about you and me. Passover is a great time to thank Him for His faithfulness to not only the Jewish people, but also His faithfulness in the details of our own lives.

Yeshua said (just before Passover, Mark 11:17), “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations...” His desire is the worship of every “tribe, tongue, people and nation (Revelation 5:9).” Certainly He is honored by our worship as we celebrate Passover and remember His faithfulness. “For even Messiah, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7).

How are you celebrating?

By:  Life in Messiah Staff Member (United States) 

Planting Seeds, Tilling Soil

There it was - a beautiful scene representing deep, spiritual truths. The long strip of verdant green shrub wound its way through the Negev desert until it gently touched the blue sky. It seems unlikely that this narrow strip of shrubs and grass survive the rocky, parched desert. It exists only because rainwater funnels into dry stream beds, called “wadis.” It’s beautiful to see life amidst rocky, parched land.

As I continued my journey through the barren desert I imagined the parched ground being replaced with forests, fields of flowers, rushing waterfalls and wildlife drinking from calm, flowing streams. The prophet Isaiah describes a time when God will “pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground…” (44:3) Ezekiel also describes a day when Israel will bloom. He describes a time when the Dead Sea will support life and fruit trees will grow in the desert (Eze. 47:1-12). Wow, can you imagine the Dead Sea teeming with life?

But this is also a time when Israel will bloom spiritually. In the second half of Isaiah 44:3 God says, “I will pour out my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.” Paul alludes to this coming spiritual revival in Romans 11:26 when he writes, “All Israel will be saved.” Paul envisions a national revival for Israel, no doubt gleaned in part from his reading of Isaiah and Ezekiel.

However, you might point out, these things are yet future. Israel’s desert is still a barren wasteland. The Dead Sea has no life. Israel’s people have not been spiritually revived. Instead, they are a people who, by and large, do not know the Lord. What is it that we can do now? We can be busy preparing the soil for rain. We should be planting seeds (sharing the gospel) and tilling the soil (prayer and loving-kindness) in preparation for the coming spiritual rain (Zech. 12:10).

flowers in the desert.jpg

Did you know Jewish ministry is the only ministry in which fruit is promised? The Bible tells us there will always be a “remnant according to grace” (Rom. 11:5), just as there was in Elijah’s day (I Kings 19:18). What does it look like to plant seeds and prepare soil with the hopeful expectation of bearing fruit – both present and future? 


I believe there are three essential ways we can show love to Israel today that must not be neglected: prayer (Rom. 10:1), evangelism (Rom. 1:16) and acts of kindness (Rom. 11:11, 15:27). Israel is a blessing to the nations even while the majority of Israelis are in unbelief. Can you imagine the blessing they would be if they were a nation whose population was primarily one in belief?

Prophecy, such as the spiritual revival of Israel spoken of by so many of the Prophets and New Testament writers, should spur us to action. We should not presume we can speed up God’s sovereign timetable or hasten the return of the Messiah. We simply know someday "all Israel will be saved" and we have an opportunity to contribute toward that end.

As I meet Israelis from all different backgrounds, I am amazed at their openness to talk about Yeshua and the Bible. Of course, not everyone is open. But with anti-Semitism on the rise across the globe, there is no better time to begin than now. Will you join Life in Messiah in prayer, evangelism and other acts of love toward Israel and Jewish communities around the globe? The task will be easier if we all till and plant together. Ask God how He wants to use you to reach His people, the “apple of His eye” (Zech. 2:8).

There might be rain on the horizon.

Written by: Life in Messiah staff member in Israel

Je suis Juif

The world’s attention has been drawn to the City of Lights where another dark stain of terrorism was spilled onto the pages of history. Two separate incidents, resulting in the deaths of 17 citizens of France, brought grief to many. 

On Sunday, January 11, 2015 an estimated 1.5 million people, led by some 50 world leaders, marched in the streets of Paris, with millions more assembling in other cities. In addition to showing solidarity with those who grieved, they wished to take a stand against those seeking to impose Islam through terror. Many carried signs with the words “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie,” referencing Charlie Hebdo, the publishing house where 12 people were murdered for cartoons satirizing Islam). 

“Je suis Juif” (“I am a Jew”) signs were also present. The kosher grocery store was targeted precisely so Jewish people would be killed. The slain include: 
•    Yoav Hattab, 21, son of the chief rabbi of Tunis
•    Yohan Cohen, 22, a Jewish student whose parents moved to France from Algeria
•    Philippe Braham, 45; his brother is a rabbi in a Paris suburb
•    François-Michel Saada, 63, a retiree whose children live in Israel

Philippe Braham’s children attend a Jewish school near where the same terrorist who shot their father had shot a French policewoman the previous day. Knowing even a few details of those who were shot in cold blood personalizes the horror.

Similarly, we learned that Sarah, the daughter of one of our team members in France, was at work a block away from one of the shootings when it occurred. Understandably the Israel family, along with the entire Jewish community of France – indeed the nation – were shaken by these tragic events. Knowing that simmering anti-Semitism easily boils over to evil actions has many of France’s half-million Jews seriously considering making aliyah to Israel.

The “Je suis Juif” signs reminded me of the story of King Christian X of Denmark during the Nazi occupation. As it’s been told, the Nazis issued an edict that Danish Jews had to wear the yellow Star of David. The king’s response was to encourage all Danes to follow his example and wear the dishonored badge. 

Perhaps he would have done so, but history never records such a requirement by the Nazis in Denmark. The delightful story is, alas, apocryphal, at least in the details. 

However, there are many stories of Danish resistance. In fact, much of Denmark’s Jewish population was able to escape the deportation order in October 1943. Many thousands were helped to escape by boats of every kind to Sweden. Fewer than 500 were rounded up by the Nazis and sent to Theresienstadt; 90% of those survived the war.

I have Danish blood in my veins. My maternal grandmother, Helga Mogensen Payton, was born in Horsens, Denmark. Lori and I visited that small city on the occasion of our 25th wedding anniversary. We also visited the Netherlands, where Lori’s maternal grandparents have roots. We’ve been to Anne Frank’s home in Amsterdam. We have stood in the narrow hiding place in the ten Boom home in Haarlem, and thrilled at their story of courage and sacrifice. 

Lori and I often have visited the Garden of the Righteous Gentiles on the grounds of Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. We have seen the rows of trees marked with plaques bearing the names of folks like Corrie ten Boom who, at the risk (and sometimes the cost) of their own lives, helped spare Jewish people from death.

I have wondered many times, Would I have the courage to risk my life to save another’s? More specifically, would my professed love for the Jewish people extend to sacrificing for them? It’s one thing to talk about my deep gratitude to the Jewish people for the spiritual riches – the Scriptures, our Messiah – which we have received through them. It’s another to take a stand in the face of manifest hatred and malevolent butchery.

As the tide of evil and terror continues to rise, the hypothetical moves closer to actual. Hatred of the Jewish people resulted in this week’s obituaries carrying the names of Yoav and Yonatan, Philippe and François-Michel. We have every indication they will not be the last.

Who will stand with the Jewish people when it matters most? What if all who bear the name Christian – kings or not – would identify with the Jewish people? What would the Lord have me do?

Je suis Juif.

Written by Executive Director, Wes Taber

Sharing God's Heart for the Jewish People

 

 

Red Alert

The "Red Alert" app on my phone sounds whenever the Iron Dome radar sends an alert to Israelis that a rocket is headed for their town. Often, as during our last Life in Messiah board meeting, we have used it as a signal to pray for those under attack. When a city name flashes as a target where LIFE staff or other dear friends live, the reality of war is much more personal. In addition to the alarms, they get to hear the loud BOOM as rockets explode (hopefully mid-air as Iron Dome intercepts them). We are always happy to hear they are safe.

I am able to turn off the audible alarm when I'm sleeping or in a meeting, but the phone still vibrates. Alerts often come in waves, signaling a barrage of rockets. For me, multiple tones may be an annoyance. For those running toward bomb shelters or lying flat on the ground the alarm is far more than an irritation, I'm sure.

But we also have brothers and sisters living in Gaza, fellow believers who are enduring the horrors of war. And we pray for their safety, as well as the Body of Messiah in Israel, including those serving in the Israel Defense Forces – indeed for all living under the shadow of death. Last week we learned of the first Messianic soldier to lose his life in the current conflict in Gaza, a 20-year-old named Shai Kirchner. Again, the war became more real, though we didn't know him personally. An only son, Shai normally would not have been permitted to serve in a combat unit. But at his own insistence he was assigned as a medic to an armored brigade, and was killed with four of his fellow soldiers.

Amidst all the news flashes, politician and pundit interviews, and endless debates about proportionality the harsh realities remain: people are dying. Tragically, many of them are non-combatants.

And the tragedies are not isolated to Gaza. Few television cameras are capturing the slaughter of thousands in Sudan, Syria and Iraq. And when we do see reports of beheadings or, as in recent news, the crucifixion of eight Christians in Syria by ISIS, the images are too awful to gaze upon.

The physical battles are a manifestation of the not-less-real spiritual warfare we cannot see. Hatred against the Jewish people is growing. Violence against European Jewry is one indicator. Fears in Jewish communities are rising with each attack. Our workers in France live with these daily realities.

Another evidence is the harsh condemnation of Israel by world leaders who refuse to condemn Hamas for its reign of terror. (The UN and most media also somehow overlook the terrible slaughter by jihadis of Christians and fellow Muslims.)

Many who voice strong opinions on the Middle East seem totally ignorant of historical context. [For those wishing to understand the background of the current struggles in the eastern Mediterranean countries, I highly recommend  David Fromkin's A Peace to End All Peace.]

But even the best secular historians will not have a sense of God’s working out His purposes in the world, nor the distinct role the Nation (Israel) plays among the nations (Deuteronomy 7:6-9, e.g.). And some Christian theologians overlook the fact that even the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31ff) was promised by the God of Israel to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. By God’s grace, believing Gentiles have been included with Israel’s faithful remnant.

We’re thankful for the respite the unconditional cease fire now in place gives, temporary though it surely will be. If Hamas is allowed to resupply its depleted store of rockets and renew its tunneling efforts, Israel will face another round of hostilities.

And as I understand Scripture, the prophetic word of Zechariah 12 has yet to be fulfilled. May God give us discernment to stand for the right as we pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6) and the nations surrounding her – regardless of how many Red Alerts will yet be sounded.

May we with compassion and boldness present Israel’s Messiah – the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6-7) and the Desire of Nations (Haggai 2:7) – as God’s provision for mankind’s deepest need.

Wes Taber

Executive Director

From our inception, Life in Messiah has highlighted the significance of God’s covenantal care for the Jewish people. The August bulletin of the Billy Graham Center Archives documents some of the practical steps taken by our founder, William E. Blackstone [see http://www2.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/bulletin/bulletin.htm]. 

So how do we seek the good and joy of the Jewish people? Here are 5 more suggestions (4 of 4)

What does love look like? Pastor Steve DeWitt (Bethel Church in Crown Point, IN) defines love as “Actively seeking the good and joy of others.”So how do we seek the good and joy of the Jewish people? To view the first five suggestions, please see the previous post. Here are FIVE more suggestions:

6.  Consider Israel’s national future. What are the implications of the biblical promises yet unfulfilled? Surely if everything culminated with the Church being gathered to her Bridegroom and the glorious Marriage Supper of the Lamb ushering in the eternal state, God could simply destroy Earth after uniting us to His Son. But Daniel’s 70th week (Daniel 9) picks up where the 69th leaves off – with Israel in primary focus.

And it is to the Jewish people Messiah reveals Himself when His feet touch down on the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:3-5) after His wrath and judgments have been poured out on the nations who oppress the Jewish people during the Tribulation. In Zechariah 12 God says He will “make Jerusalem a cup of staggering to all the surrounding peoples” (vs. 2). “All the nations of the earth will gather against it” (vs. 3).

Verses 7-9 of Zechariah 14 detail the physical deliverance of the Jewish people. But it is the verses which follow that make our hearts thrill the more:

10“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”

Zechariah 13 tells of the fountain opened for cleansing from sin and Israel’s spiritual restoration. And then we have the reign of Yeshua (14:9ff), with Jerusalem the capitol. And the Jewish festival of Booths will be observed – by Gentiles, even (14:16-19).

The Church Age, a mystery in the OT, is an insertion amid God’s dealing with Israel. He promises to fulfill the final chapters when the “pause button” is released. [Who in our churches even knows about Israel’s prophetic future? Should they not, when Scripture reveals it?]

The Church and Israel are not identical people of God. Neither are they in competition. Right now, Jews and Gentiles are being united through faith into the Body of Messiah – the Church. And if we understand correctly, the saints will return to reign with Yeshua in His earthly reign when David’s greater Son takes His throne.

This culminating rule on earth will bring full circle God’s prophetic purpose for the physical descendants of Jacob, and will result in God’s greater glory among the nations – something repeatedly referenced in our Bibles. This matters to God – look how much of Holy Writ is devoted to it. Should it not matter to us?

 7.  Speak the truth in love. Scripture is clear: the Jewish people need the Savior. They (and the Church) need to be reminded of that. The Jewish people (like all others) are under God’s judgment – but it begins with them (Rom. 2:9-10).

When we speak of God’s wrath against Israel’s unbelief and disobedience, we should do so with the sorrow reflective of Jeremiah and Yeshua. The very tone of voice we use (warm and tender versus indifferent, dismissive, or derisive) when speaking of the Jewish people communicates much.

I once observed a believer who literally backed a stranger into a corner, wagged his finger under the poor trapped man’s nose and said angrily, ”You’re going to burn in hell if you don’t repent.”

The response came quickly: “And something tells me you’d be happy if I did (go to hell).” [OY!!]

 8.  Align with the biblical priority. Most Gentiles are fine with Paul’s statement that judgment is “to the Jew first” (Rom. 2:8-9) [Interestingly, “glory, honor, and peace” are also first to the Jewish people in vs. 10 – and verse 11 emphasizes God’s impartiality!]

More often than not Romans 1:16 is quoted with the wrong punctuation: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” But God didn’t put a period there!

We know of a church that has in its bylaws that Jewish evangelism must be included in its missions giving based on Romans 1:16. And a former Life in Messiah board member is following the example of his father (a pastor) by contributing a check to LIFE each January 1 – his “firstfruits” giving to the Lord is “to the Jew first.”

 9.  Understand Jewish sensitivities and culture. Love pays attention to the wants and needs of others so that their good and joy is maximized. The deep wounds the Jewish people have suffered over centuries – too often at the hands of those identified as Christians – is a huge barrier for the gospel.

It seems a minor step, but interspersing vocabulary “friendly” to Jewish ears (e.g., Messiah, Yeshua, Jewish people, Hebrew Scriptures)  with their “gentile” counterparts (Christ, Jesus, Jews, Old Testament) helps them feel “at home.”

Jewish holidays provide a great opportunity for building bridges. As a side benefit, it helps Gentiles recognize the Jewish roots of our faith and gain insights into Scripture. “Messiah in the Passover” seders are one example, and we’re delighted when churches host these. A “Happy New Year to our Jewish friends” sign at Rosh Hashanah is a loving touch churches can employ. (For ideas, please see http://www.lifeinmessiah.org/calendarofjewishholidays)

 10.  Get to know Jewish people. It’s impossible to love in a vacuum. The best love is what Yeshua modeled: incarnational and relational. Spending time with people, listening to their stories and sharing our own, is something most everyone can do.

As one idea of a conversation starter, think about watching our video letter (http://www.lifeinmessiah.org/whatsnew/) with a Jewish friend. Asking their opinion of the message would help you gain their perspectives of Christians/Christianity, and perhaps spark opportunities for dialogue. How wonderful it would be to counter misperceptions by contrasting the hateful actions of some with the clear teachings of Yeshua (we are to love even our enemies, e.g.) and with acts of lovingkindness toward our Jewish neighbors.

Another option for interchange with Jewish people on spiritual matters is “In Search of Shalom.” This website, developed by Life in Messiah in cooperation with other partner ministries, provides on-line training in sharing your faith. It also allows you to chat with seekers using your own computer or mobile device. www.insearchofshalom.org is the place to start.

As always, more could be said, but I’ll hit “pause” here. May God help us – His Church – to reflect His love for His chosen nation. Together we are going to reign with our Redeemer, Israel’s Messiah and Savior of mankind – to the praise of His glorious Name.

So how do we seek the good and joy of the Jewish people? Here are 5 suggestions (3 of 4)

Does God love everyone? John 3:16 tells us He does.

“Does God love everyone equally?” is another question. God’s “Jacob have I loved but Esau I have hated” statement is a challenge to our sense of fairness – especially when the choice was made while the twins were in utero (Romans 9:10-13). What about “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:20)?

So, what does it mean to have God’s heart for the Jewish people? Foundationally, it is recognizing their unique role as His chosen people and loving them as He does. For a sampling, Israel is:

• the “apple of God’s eye” (Zechariah 2:8)

• His treasured possession (Exodus 19:5, Deuteronomy 14:2)

• His inheritance (Deuteronomy 4:20)

• His offspring/children (Deuteronomy 14:1)

• His wife (Jeremiah 31:32).

The Jewish people are precious in God’s sight, honored and loved (Isaiah 43:4), and His witnesses and servant (43:10). He is Israel’s Redeemer, “the Holy One of Israel,” their Creator and King (43:14-15). He has engraved them on His palms (49:15-15).

The Scriptures are very clear: Israel mattered a great deal to God. And the prophetic words which accompany such expressions of love indicate this love is not merely past tense. [See Isaiah 43:5-7 as one example in context.]

What does love look like? Pastor Steve DeWitt (Bethel Church in Crown Point, IN) defines love as “actively seeking the good and joy of others.” So how do we seek the good and joy of the Jewish people? Here are 5 suggestions:

 1.  Don’t ignore/overlook the Jewish people. Over the years we have noted with sadness how easy it is for the Jewish people to NOT be represented in missions conferences on college campuses and in churches. We often see “tracks” for reaching Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, animists, etc., but many times the Jewish people aren’t on the program.

Many evangelical churches work to diversify their missions giving, yet often no Jewish ministry is on the budget. The clear biblical priority of the Jewish people in God’s plan has dropped entirely off the radar for many. Our esteemed colleague Jhan Moskowitz (now with the Lord) said it well: “The greatest form of anti-Semitism is the withholding of the gospel from the Jewish people.”

Thankfully, there are wonderful exceptions. Our hearts soar when we hear of messages preached in local churches which reflect God’s heart for the Jewish people.

 2.  Recognize Israel’s distinction from the Church. Supercessionism is reflected in a theology that reads the Church back into the Old Testament and considers Israel to be the Church in the New Testament. The failure to distinguish between God’s dealings with national Israel and His purpose for the global Church produces numerous errors.

As examples, God’s unconditional covenant regarding the Land promised to Abraham (Genesis 15) gets spiritualized or ignored. Specific commands to national Israel are confusing when applied to the Church. What is the New Covenant believer’s relationship to laws regarding observing the Sabbath, eating unclean foods, or mixing cotton and linen in clothing?

We are loving the Jewish people when we don’t spiritualize or misappropriate for ourselves the blessings of God to Israel. (“Every promise in the book is mine, every chapter every verse every line” is a catchy song reflecting a lousy hermeneutic, in my opinion.)

3. Remember God’s blueprint for the Church. In Ephesians 2:13-16, Paul details God’s design for the Bride of Messiah:

"But now in Messiah Jesus you [Gentiles] who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Messiah.  For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both [Jews and Gentiles] one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”

The result of Messiah’s cross-work, for both Jewish and non-Jewish believers in Him, includes:

•   peace (vs. 17)

•  access in one Spirit to the Father (vs.18)

•  built together to be God’s dwelling place (vs. 22)

Ephesians 3:6 unveils the mystery:  "This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Messiah Jesus through the gospel.” Hallelujah!

  4.  Have an attitude of humble gratitude. As Gentiles, our spiritual heritage was destitute: dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-2). But that is true of Jewish people as well. In Paul’s words, ”For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God’” (Romans 3:9-11).

However, Scripture contrasts the spiritual legacy of the two groups:

a. Jewish inheritance (Romans 9:4-5):  "They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple service, and the promises. The ancestors are theirs, and from them, by physical descent, came the Messiah, who is God over all, praised forever."

b. Gentile position (Ephesians 2:11-12): "Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Messiah, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”

One could almost think Paul foresaw what could happen down the road as more Gentiles were added to the Body (and he saw the continuing resistance of his kinsmen to the gospel). Using an “olive tree” analogy, Paul writes to the non-Jewish “wild branches,” instructing “Do not be arrogant toward the (natural) branches” (see Romans 11:17-21).

Reading the words of the Church fathers regarding the Jewish people we get the sense that Paul’s injunction has been widely ignored. Even understanding the difficulties of discerning motivations and the forces shaping cultures far removed from ours, it is easy to see how Jewish people reading the patristic writings don’t come away feeling loved and valued.

After the Church was birthed (Acts 2), Gentiles heard the gospel of the Jewish Messiah from Jewish witnesses. Are we grateful?

5. Remind the Jewish people (and the Church) of God’s enduring covenant faithfulness. This can be done by preaching those passages that both teach and illustrate this truth. (Ezekiel 20 is my favorite, in part because it is unknown; I incorporate it when teaching Perspectives.)

But we also have “tangential” opportunities to reference God’s hesed (steadfast lovingkindnes). As one example, when citing A.W. Pink’s seven qualities of God, the first three qualities (uninfluenced, eternal, and sovereign) all are directly related to God’s love for the Jewish people. Surely His qualities of love extend to all people. But this would be a great place to remind the Church of God’s enduring love for the Jewish people, simply by noting the context of the quoted passages. YHVH’s covenant steadfastness to Israel bolsters our confidence He will not forsake us (2 Timothy 2:13 is a NT restatement of this wonderful truth).

 

 

Check back next week for 5 more suggestions! 

How to show care to the Jewish People (2 of 4)

So, why do we make a distinction if circumcision (the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham’s descendants through Jacob) makes no difference? The best reason I can think of is because God does.

  • In the Old Covenant (Testament) God divides the world’s peoples into two groups: the Nation (Israel) and the nations (everyone else). In Deuteronomy 7:6-9 God tells us why He selected Israel from all other nations: His purposeful love and His promises to the patriarchs.
  •  In Genesis 12:1-3 those promises include: 
    • the land (boundaries are delineated and the territory promised unconditionally in Genesis 15)
    • a great nation (singular, though “peoples” also come through Hagar and Keturah, the line of promise was through Isaac, then Jacob/Israel)
    • a blessing (both personal to Abraham – a great name), and global (all the families of the earth)
  • God associates His name with the Jewish people.
    • “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”
    • “the God of Israel” appears 101 times in Scripture
  • God associates His name with His action in Jewish history: “I am the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt”
    • God introduces Himself to the Hebrew people at Sinai with this description (Exodus 20:2)
    • The phrase is found repeatedly in the Torah (Leviticus 19:36; 25:38; 26:13; Numbers 15:41; Deuteronomy 5:6; 8:14; 13:5; 20:1)
  • God chose Israel
    •  “Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6-8)
    •  To be His unique people (129 of the 130 times “ami“ [“My people”] is found in the Old Testament and it refers to Jewish people/the nation of Israel)
  • The promises of Messiah were made to the Jewish people through the Jewish prophets throughout the Tenach (Hebrew Scriptures).
  • Those desiring to identify with the true God came to Israel (e.g., Egyptians who left with the Hebrews in the Exodus – the “mixed multitude”; Rahab, Ruth, Naaman the Syrian). Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem had a Court of the Gentiles for God-fearing non-Jews.

In the New Covenant

  • In the Gospels and Acts we are introduced to “Gentile God fearers” who attach themselves to Israel (e.g., the Ethiopian eunuch who travels to Jerusalem to worship and reads Isaiah 53 on the journey home).
  • Yeshua initially presents Himself as Messiah exclusively to Israel (“His own” in John 1:11).
  • The disciples and early followers of Yeshua are Jewish; the 120 gathered in the Upper Room (Acts 2) were observing Shavuot – the Feast of Weeks.
  • It is a great surprise to the early believers when Gentiles are added to the faith (see Acts 15 for the first Church council’s ruling on the matter).

In both Old and New Covenants we find a future for Israel. The Jewish people will be restored to the Land, but more importantly to the Lord (His Law will be written on the hearts of His people – Jeremiah 31:33-34). Based on the clear teaching of Scripture, this restoration is not because Israel has earned or deserves it (see Ezekiel 20, e.g.). It has everything to do with God’s reputation (“for My name’s sake” and “in the sight of the nations” are key phrases) and His character (God’s enduring love and integrity in keeping His promises – His very motivation in choosing Israel in the first place [Deuteronomy 7:8]).

How to show care to the Jewish people (1 of 4)

Many times in almost four decades of ministry Lori and I have been asked, “How can we reach the Jewish people (usually stated, 'the Jews') with the gospel?"

Recently – and the first time in memory – someone asked, “How do we love the Jewish people?” Related to that was the question, “Should we love Jews and Gentiles the same?”

Love is a wonderful prism through which Christians should view the subject of Jewish-Gentile relations. And of course we want our thinking to be informed by God’s Word.

To begin, I don’t think the spiritual needs of the Jewish people are greater than that of the Gentiles. “Both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin. There is none righteous, no not one" (Romans 3:9-10).

“For there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). All mankind is under God’s judgment. And the same solution to the sin which separates us from a holy God is available equally to both Jews and Gentiles: the atoning sacrifice of Yeshua (Jesus).

 “…Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Messiah Jesus" (Romans 3:24).

I also see no evidence that heaven rejoices more over a Jewish soul saved than a Gentile one. Both are made in God’s image. In Romans 4 the Apostle Paul emphasizes the fact that Abraham was:

1)     justified by faith (vs. 9)

2)    before he was circumcised (vs. 10)

3)    so that he could be the father of faith to all who believe (vs. 11-12)

So, why do we make a distinction if circumcision (the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham’s descendants through Jacob) makes no difference for salvation (Galatians 5:6)? 

Stay posted for next week's blog release to continue reading on this subject!