A Personal Testimony

(Published in The Vineyard magazine, November 2013)

I was born and raised in a Conservative Jewish American home in which our Jewish identity was accepted, and belief in Jesus Christ was (is) not, at least not for Jews.  I came to terms with my own primary identity as a Jew at the age of 17 during the Six-Day War in 1967 between Israel and the Arab states.  Following my university studies (Political Science), I sought “to make things right” through the secular political system.  My faith was centered in Man.  After marrying a secular Christian woman, I continued my search for Truth, having no expectation that It would be Jesus.  Later on this vain faith was stripped away, and, thankfully, God was there to meet me at this time of crisis.  Through another man’s witness I finally listened to God’s good news concerning the truth of the Bible and Jesus Christ.  By God’s grace, I was prepared to listen and to believe from my heart and with my mind that Jesus is God’s Son and Messiah, that He IS LORD!

For many years, especially beginning with my more independent life away at university, I took a liberal, or so-called humanitarian, approach to the problems and existence in the world and life.  I believed that Man was responsible, if not accountable, for coming to terms with human needs in the world — peace, righteousness and justice, dignity — having to somehow come together and allow the world to live in peace.  I hoped, but was unsure, about the existence of a real God; and if there were one, then what that really meant.  As a Jew, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob was the true God . . .if there was God.

The Judeo-Christian principles upon which America and Western civilization were based I accepted as the “right” foundation, but I did not really have any firm basis for believing that.  It just seemed right for a Jewish boy in a Christian country!

I began to become more aware of my identity as a Jew and of our role in history, but without any understanding of that perception.  I came to Israel twice as an unbeliever, but it was not ‘home’:  important, but not home.  Books I read began to turn my thinking away from some common, current theories about evolution and other prevailing notions in the world.  I also began to realize that the authors I respected the most held Christian principles as a motivating force in their own attitudes towards life and the condition of man.  Jesus as a person was someone I acknowledged as one of several persons in history whose ideas helped to shape my own, but I was always defensive about saying that His teachings were possible of being the ones from which all other “good” persons’ personal philosophies came.

During a bicycle trip after our wedding, my faith in Man — or in any institution or agency of Man — was brought to a complete and seemingly hopeless end.  It just became very apparent that no matter what I or anyone else did or has done or would do was going to make the world better for everyone, and for all time.

At that crucial moment when hope was gone, a man with whom I had become acquainted (at a temporary job) as a reasonable, intelligent man, asked me what was wrong, and I told him.  It was then that he began telling me that the God of the Bible and Jesus Christ had a plan that was going to make things right.  After satisfying my need for understanding this as a person generally and as a Jew specifically, I realized in my mind and heart that Jesus must be who I had always heard He was but never believed in because I wasn’t supposed to!

At the moment I acknowledged this — that Jesus is the Truth — God washed over and within me with His Spirit to confirm it.  I became a new person!  I was free and saw that truly everything would be fine according to God’s perfect way.  Life is full of eternal hope now, and because of knowing and believing in the truth — repenting from faith in lies — I know that all things are purposeful and that it will be far better than I had ever conceived of when “trying to make the world better”.

The Holy Spirit convicted me of my own personal need of repentance with respect to my thoughts and ways, and that the truth of Jesus/Yeshua also included that I myself was a sinner for whom He had to die to bring me home to my Father in Heaven.  I was baptized a week later with my wife, Randi, who responded to the work of the living God in me, and we immigrated to Israel seven months later in obedience with faith to the Word of the LORD spoken to me:  “Go to Israel!”.  Jesus made Israel ‘home’ on Earth, bringing me back to the land which God promised to our Fathers and to their descendants.  Ezekiel 36 was my haftarah (prophetic portion) reading for my Bar-Mitzva when I was 13!

We were led by the Lord to choose to live in Beer Sheva, where we have been now for about 32 years.  The local fellowship was not fully developed here when we arrived.  We have from the outset been active in Yeshua’s Inheritance Congregation and have both seen and been part of its development.  Due to the circumstances here, I became involved early on in Bible study teaching and later preaching.  I have served as treasurer, deacon, elder, and now in full-time pastoral ministry.  My training has been “on-the-job” in the school of Messiah, with some Godly men as examples, but without specific role models and training for the pastorate and the greater expectation attached to that.  God has been faithful to be strong in my weakness for His own purposes and the honor of the name of His Son.  Praise God for His grace and truth!

The gospel goes out to all people until the end of the age; bringing the born-again believers to full spiritual maturity until the harvest continues within the Body of Messiah; the ministry of reconciliation which all believers in Yeshua/Jesus have received is on-going until the prayer of the Lord in John 17 is fully answered. 

Our living and blessed hope since our new birth by the Holy Spirit is the coming again of the Lord Yeshua/Jesus, with the resurrection and rapture of believers, and the re-establishment forever of the Kingdom of God over Israel and the nations.  Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

PARASHAT VAYIKRA – Leviticus 1:1 – 6:7 (Eng); Isaiah 43:21 – 44:23

(Written for Israel Bible Society project) 14 Oct 2012

The third book of Moses — of the Torah — is Leviticus, and its central theme is the sacrificial system which YHVH God provided for His chosen people Israel, in order that He could dwell in the midst of a holy people, cleansed from all their transgression, sins, and iniquity against Him.  The responsibility for mediating this system of reconciling sinful people to God was the privilege of the priestly tribe of Levi, especially through the family of Aaron, the appointed and anointed High Priest.

For those who know Yeshua to be the Rock, Messiah – the Son of God and Anointed One of YHVH to be Israel’s Prophet, High Priest, and King – we see Him throughout the specified sacrifices required by the God of Israel for His people to become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation unto Him. (Ps 40:6-7 Eng; Heb 10:5-7; Jn 5:39)

Firstly, in the goodness and love of God our Father, He provided a substitute to pay the deadly price of each person’s, and the whole nation’s, sin.  These substitutes all needed to be without spot or blemish; they needed to be “without sin”.  Yeshua is that sinless substitute whom God gave so that Jewish people (and Gentiles) can live in His presence:  “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2Cor 5:21)

Each of the substitutionary offerings commanded by YHVH for Israelis to bring to be sacrificed by the priests speaks in some measure of Messiah’s character, and of His life and death.  The bull speaks of service; rams of consecration (remember, God provided a ram in place of Isaac for Abraham to sacrifice); lambs remind us of redemption, especially at Passover; goats of our particular substitute, in that it is an animal worthy for sacrifice, but with an independent character unsuitable for people created in the image of God, our Shepherd King.  Yeshua came in “the likeness of sinful flesh” to be our Atonement. (Rom 8:3; Lev 16); doves and young pigeons symbolize “heavenly” birds of peace.

The five offerings which YHVH spoke to Moses to give to Israel point to the necessity and reality of Yeshua’s sinless life unto God, demonstrating Him to be the all-encompassing acceptable sacrifice for sin to reconcile the holy God to a redeemed people for Himself (Is 43:25):  

the whole burnt offering — Yeshua gave His whole being to God in sacrifice — both in His life and in His death on the cross — and was ‘burned up in full’ as He suffered the wrath of God and the separation from His Father while He bore our sins upon Himself on the cross;

the grain offering — Yeshua lived a pure, sinless, uncorrupted life; the only perfect Man.  No blood sacrifice was ever needed for Him to offer. There was no malice or hypocrisy in His character, nor did He enjoy the natural sweetness of the pleasures which this life can offer, but which detract from the single-eyed purpose of God to sanctify and glorify His Name.  No grain offering, or any offering by any Israeli under the Law could be offered with leaven or with honey. (Lev 2:11; but see Lev 23:17)  All the grain offerings required seasoning with salt, which preserves against corruption and impurity.  Yeshua’s life was wholly consecrated to God to preserve His covenantal purpose and promises for His people and creation:  Holiness to YHVH! 

the sin offering — Jesus bore on the cross the sinfulness of our nature, and the sin of the whole world in its contrariness to God;

the trespass/guilt offering — Jesus bore our guilt, uncleanness, and shame for our sins.  We are saved by grace, and are [justified] sinners through faith till the end of our life;

the peace offering — On the basis of the previous sacrifices — and upon Yeshua’s one, comprehensive,  sacrificial death — we have peace with God, with ourselves, and with others.  Only of the peace offering could both the priest and the sinner eat, and if a thank offering, it also included leaven along with the unleavened bread.

(The Lord’s Supper, given to the Church, is the remembrance of all that Jesus has accomplished unto God and for us in His sacrificial atoning death. (Lk 22:19-20)  At the last supper, He, the High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, shared the bread and the wine (the reminders of the flesh and blood of the sacrificial Passover Lamb) with His sinful apostles in anticipation of the peace of reconciliation He was making for them, and leaving with them.) 

The truth of guilt upon a people because of the sins of its religious leaders – even unintentional sins through ignorance – and its transference through the generations until there is repentance, is written in the Law of YHVH God to Israel. (Lev 4:1-3, 13-14)   In the haftarah reading from the prophet Isaiah, YHVH God says that Jacob and Israel have not brought Him the sacrifices He has called for to honor Him; therefore He will give Jacob to the curse, and Israel to reproaches. (Is 43:23, 28)  If Yeshua be the true Holy One of Israel sent by the Father of Israel to redeem His people, then the false witness and unjust condemnation by the High Priest Caiaphas of this innocent Man has, according to the Law, brought guilt upon all the people of Israel, which the Holy Spirit is bringing to our knowledge, that repentance and restitution be granted to the people of YHVH God’s inheritance. (Lev 26:40-42; Mt 26:56-66; 27:20-25; Acts 5:24-32)  

All of the multitude of animal sacrifices under the Law and the Levitical priesthood could not succeed in making the people depart from iniquity and to love righteousness. (Rom 8:3)  Something more was needed for that, and God had already planned for this from before the foundation of the world.  “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.”  And again He says, “Do not fear, nor be afraid; Have I not told you from that time, and declared it?  You are My witnesses [,Jacob,]:  Is there a God besides Me?  Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one!”; YHVH declares further, “Remember these, O Jacob, and Israel, My servant; I have formed you, you are My servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me!  I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, and, like a cloud, your sins.  Return to Me, for I have redeemed you!” (Is 43:25;  44:8, 21-22)

“But Messiah came as High Priest of the good things to come. . ., having obtained eternal redemption.  For if the blood of bulls and goats . . . sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God!  And for this reason [Yeshua] is the Mediator of the New Covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” (Heb 9:11-15)

FOR SO THEY DID UNTO THE PROPHETS BEFORE US

Feb 2011

Published in Messianic Times June/July 2011 Issue 

Persecution of believers in Yeshua as Lord and Messiah, the Son of God, is not a new thing in Israel.  Rather, it is a phenomenon that has returned to Israel, for opposition to the gospel and persecution against those who believe the good news began in Israel already from the days since Yeshua was born.  (Mt 2)  Following this attempt to destroy the messianic hope in Israel at its inception, it surfaced again during the days of Yeshua’s ministry, threatening to excommunicate from the Jewish community (the synagogue) all those who would follow the Lamb of God. (Jn 9:22)  This persecution of the saints continued after the Holy Spirit was given to the first church. (Acts 4:17; 7:51-60)

As Stephen agreed with the words of Yeshua in that this opposition and irrational hatred began long before against the Holy Spirit, yet Stephen’s words as he was being stoned to death also demonstrate the power and the love of God within those who are so badly treated:  “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.”

Throughout the last four decades, attempts by Jewish believers in Yeshua have failed to convince the “guardians of the religious identity of Israel” that one can believe in Yeshua, the Son of David, Son of Abraham, and still remain a Jew.  Jewishness has become defined as accepting historical rabbinic Judaism as the essence of what makes one ‘Jewish’.  Several court cases have been fought at the Supreme Court level, and never yet has a Jewish person (born of a Jewish mother) won a case for identity as it relates to Israel’s Law of Return for Jewish people to immigrate to Israel and receive entitlements as a Jew.

More recently, a case has been adjudicated by an Israeli Jewish believer, Penina Conforti, seeking a kosher certificate for operating a food business in Ashdod.  Although initially won at the Supreme Court level, the rabbinic authorities vehemently protested, saying that the issue is a religious matter and not one to be decided by civil authorities.  The Supreme Court then refused to grant the license unless the believer complied with regulations set by the rabbis.  This is fair enough, but the requirements placed on this believer in Yeshua to operate her bakery were more stringent than those applied elsewhere, thus not making one law for all.

Another recent case involved Nachalat Yeshua Messianic congregation in Beer Sheva, which sought a measure of legal justice in a civil court against the Chief Rabbi of their city, and against the national antimessianic organization, Yad L’Achim, which has set itself up as a vigilante protector of Jewishness.  The two defendants were involved in organizing a demonstration against the congregation – the second time such a large-scale protest had taken place against this group of believers by these same two parties.  The illegal demonstration of about 600 religious Jews resulted in a riot and aggravated trespass against the privately owned Christian property and against the believers there who had gathered for their regular worship service.  The civil court and secular judge ruled against the believers, stating that the two defendants acted responsibly to exercise their right and responsibility to protect Jewish souls (pikuach nefesh), and that neither was responsible for any of the illegal acts that occurred.  The congregation was ordered to pay the defendants a heavy penalty for having brought them to court.

There is still, at this time, the criminal case pending from an attempted murder in 2008 of a family of believers in Ariel.  Their teenage son, Ami, was very seriously injured from a bomb placed in what had looked like a Purim gift package left at their front door.  As of this writing, the courts have not determined whether the “Jewish terrorist”, as he has been described by the Israeli media, is mentally fit to stand trial and be held responsible for his crimes, despite his own admission of carrying out the murder attempt, plus other murders of two Palestinians that he did accomplish over the previous 12 years.  He claims that “God is pleased with what I have done”, as he acts out of his own worldview of what a Jewish Zionist state should be.  (Jn 16:2-4)  Democracy, in its normal understanding, is not a part of that vision, and neither are Palestinians or faith in Yeshua.

In Arad, the community of believers there have undergone seven years of constant harassment and trouble, with the help of the police and the mayors during those years.  Despite many totally false or exaggerated claims against the believers, the authorities continue to allow the sect of religious Jews, again assisted by Yad L’Achim, to persecute the believers in Yeshua.  (It is important to remember that scripturally, persecution begins with prejudiced antagonism against those who trust in the one true God.)

In nearly every case, media coverage of the Messianic faith and community is always mixed in the presentation of facts, and not necessarily representative of most of the Body of Messiah.  This need not be too surprising, since most of these journalists and reporters are not interested in making the faith in Yeshua attractive for Jewish people to seriously consider.

These are just a few samples of many instances to hinder the freedom of believers in Yeshua in Israel, along with many others denying or restricting visas to evangelical volunteers; turning back certain black-listed Jewish believers from entering the country; vandalizing property of believers and churches, even to the extent of burning and destroying; refusing to rent apartments to certain believers or to hire them for jobs.

A few points to keep in mind with respect to Jewish opposition to Yeshua and those who love Him:

1.  “Concerning the gospel they are enemies for [the Gentiles] sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers” (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). (Rom 11:28)  This remains true, and Israel demonstrates this in many ways, and, thankfully, so does God.

2.  Some of the persecution against the believers is done by God-fearing Jews (such as Saul/Paul was), and whether consciously or not, they are acting in accord with Dt 13, which speaks of how to treat  those who would lead Israelis away from YHVH God.  Since Yeshua was accused and crucified on the false charges that He was a false prophet and a blasphemer, then any of us who believe in and follow Him are worthy of condemnation as well, in their understanding.  It is a case of calling good evil; holy profane; the truth a lie.

3.  Denying a kashrut certificate to a believer is similar to forbidding a Gentile from coming into contact    with grapes once they are in the process of being made into wine.  This Talmudic/Rabbinic law would be based on Hag 2:13-14, which, in their determination is also applied to any Gentile or to an apostate from Judaism:  any [food] handled would be unclean and not considered acceptable (kosher).

4.  The two legislative restrictions regarding evangelism are reasonable:  no targeting of persons under the age of 18 (I would not want my own children targeted by what I perceived to be a false religion orcult.); no offering of material benefits for listening to or accepting the gospel message.  The efforts by extremists to forbid all forms of evangelism through legislation would be bad law, especially in what is supposed to be a democratic society.

5.  The Scriptures seem to clearly indicate that persecution will increase as the Day of the LORD nears. (Mt 24:9-14)

There is not one ‘opinion’ among the believers in Israel as to how best to react and respond to varying levels of persecution.  Each situation presents its own need to seek God’s will, for it is the honor of the name of Yeshua that is truly at stake. (Mt 5:11)  Yeshua is a  “sanctuary, but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel”, and is still “destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be spoken against.”  (Is 8:14; Lk 2:34)

But an attack on one part of the body is an attack on all.  How are we as members of that one body to respond to the suffering of another?  When is action (Acts 24:10-21; 25:9-12) called for, and when is it only a matter of praise and prayer for the faith and boldness to continue in the face of all of the risks and threats? (Acts 4:17-31)  Peter also warns us not to “suffer as a . . .meddler in other people’s matters.  Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.  For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God!” (1Pt 4:15-17)

Many still do not know what they are doing, and the heart of the Father continually cries out through us:  “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.  For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” (Rom 10:1-2)

A NATION UNDER LAW? – 22 June 2009

(Written for the Jerusalem Post)

Should we. . .or should we not, go to court?  That was the question facing us as believers – both Jews and Gentiles — in Yeshua/Jesus being the Messiah, the Son of God.  Our congregation in Beer Sheva had just experienced a second, violent, so called ‘prayer gathering’, which this time had turned into a full-scale riot, ending after about three hours, and only after dozens of police were called to the scene, including the riot squad (see JP article, “Abused For Our Beliefs. . .”, Dec. 28, 2005; Letter to Editor, Jan 1, 2006).

Having turned the other cheek already once in a big way, and numerous times in smaller incidents – similar to Israel towards Hamas – and after counseling with other Messianic leaders around the country, we decided to sue the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Beer Sheva, and the anti-Messianic organization, Yad L’Achim, which includes within its organization a department called ‘The Struggle Against The Mission’.  We have what we believe to be sufficient evidence to link them together in calling for an illegal protest against the lawful right to express our faith in Beer Sheva and in the rest of Israel, according to the existing laws which supposedly govern the State.  A mindset which refuses to recognize the existence of a legitimate and historic group will, for example, restrict Israel from being Israel; will restrict a nation or a faith group from perpetuating itself in natural and normal ways; but will rather obsess with undermining or eradicating them.

Our nation was re-established literally on the ashes of people who were killed, and then dishonorably cremated, simply because they were Jewish.  Now we who believe that what Moses and the Prophets wrote points to Jesus being the promised Messiah and Savior are being targeted simply for that, and treated with insults and contempt.  Will this also lead to pogroms and worse?  Disturbingly, there has been a virtual Israeli media black-out for covering both the riot, and for the actual trial itself, which took place in Beer Sheva on June 10, and continued this week on the 21st (Civil 1652/07).  (A final date has been set for November 23 to complete the presentation before the court.)  Do we only consider religious persecution newsworthy when it happens against Jewish people and synagogues by others?  Should we not speak out for fear?  That may be a galut mentality, but we have been brought back home, and are to remember that we were slaves and strangers inEgypt, in order to respect those amongst us who help build up this nation whose calling and destiny are uniquely given to us from the Possessor of Heaven and Earth! 

We live amongst our people and are not ignorant of history, and of terrible mistreatment of Jews by those called “Christian”.  Yet when I look at our own history as Jews, we have a need to ask ourselves how much have we honored the God of Israel in the eyes of Gentiles, to whom we were called to be a light?  People are people, and will show themselves to be generally the same when put in similar situations.  We all need to learn God’s righteous ways versus our own, and that usually comes only after it is seemingly too late.

Most of us are aware of the Islamic nations’ determination to cut off Israel from being a nation, that her name be remembered no more.  Most Jews, even if not consciously expressing it, have a similar attitude regarding Jesus, whom we have blamed for all our troubles in the world, and want to blot out his name and memory.  And the God of Israel has declared war from generation to generation against Amalek – and those who act similarly – until He has utterly wiped out all memory of them.  Our experience with Yad L’Achim and with the Chief Rabbi has been this:  they have stated their objective to get rid of us.  Is this goal really any different from the efforts of the nations in the Tanach who sought/seek to destroy Israel?  Our history is filled with such attempts and many of our citizens still recall their suffering at the hands of the Nazis, while in more recent times, the Jewish people suffered, and continue to suffer, at the hands of jihadists.  The current laws of Israel regarding her citizens do not sanction trespassing onto private property, disrupting religious services, assaulting individuals, destroying property, solely because of differences in religious beliefs.  There have even been efforts in the Knesset to change the laws in order to make our legal activities illegal.

I want to stress that this lawsuit is not against Israel or against the Jewish people. It is not intended to be used in any way to foment or promote anti-Israel or anti-Jewish actions or reactions.  Nor is our legal action intended to be used by any other minority or religious groups in Israel to encourage or affirm anti-Israel/Jewish sentiment.

This legal course we have taken was not in haste.  We recognize our dilemma in Israelby proclaiming our faith in Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah.  We appreciate the political and religious influence of the Chief Sephardi Rabbi of Beer Sheva.  We know the efforts of “The Struggle Against The Mission” to restrict our legitimate liberties.  We love our nation and our people, and are committed to her uniqueness amongst the nations.  Whether you consider us as good citizens or only as strangers amongst you, we are for you and with you.

Our lawsuit, and the compensatory damages asked for, is to hold up to the public’s attention (is anybody noticing or even interested?!) the standard of existing law, and saying out loud, “STOP!  Consider what you are doing!”  If a riot by Jews against those who believe differently is allowed to take place without any legal accountability for taking the law into their own hands, then we are not truly a nation under law, but one that opens a door for lawlessness, every one doing what is right in his own eyes, resulting in much evil in the Promised Holy Land.

Freedoms of conscience, religion and religious expression are essential for a truly free society.  This necessarily admits to differences and to disagreements, both in politics and in religion.  Pray, protest, demonstrate, even believe. . . but let’s do so lawfully, in love for our neighbor as for ourselves.

THE ANSWER TO JESUS’ PRAYER IN JOHN 17

9 Jan 2009

                                                                                             (Article for www.comeandsee.com at their request during Israel’s War in Gaza against Hamas)

Jesus knew that His Father loved Him because He always did that which pleased Him.  What will it take for God the Father to answer His Beloved Son’s prayer?:

“I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them by Your truth.  Your Word is truth.  As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.  And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.

“I do not pray for these [apostles] alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word (their teaching and preaching while they were still alive, and the New Testament writings we have that they wrote):  that they all (born-again believerss) may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.  And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:  I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. . . .

“O righteous Father!  The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me.  And I have declared to them Your name (i.e., Father), and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”

YHVH God, the Creator of the heavens and the Earth, is, by that very fact and truth, Sovereign over all things.  There is none like Him – never was nor ever will be – for nothing exists are was created and made except by and through Him.  Can the mortal human being, or any other created thing, comprehend such a thing!?  Certainly not!  But it is by faith we must believe that God IS, and He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.  Without faith, it is impossible to please Him, and it is through genuine faith in this one true God and in His Word – what He says – that we can begin to understand that what He reveals to us in His Word is truth.  The fear of YHVH is the beginning of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.

We are living in Bible times!  Does not the Word and Spirit of God speak to us that we are towards the end of the last days?  Are not the Scriptures written for us, upon whom the end of the ages is come?  Are not prophecies being fulfilled today – both ‘pleasant’ ones and ‘unpleasant’?  The days of the Bible did not end 1900 years ago, but we are even now living in days which the prophets and apostles were given to see long ago!

I remember when I was an unbeliever that I would ask Christians why there is not peace if the Messiah/Christ had already come, if, as they say, Jesus is really the true Messiah whom the Jews have so far rejected but are supposed to believe in for salvation.  It is both tragic and amazing to me how those Christians had no clear answer for me!  Once I became a believer and was saved, I began to read the whole Bible as being the Word of God, and not as just some special book put together by men, nearly all of whom were Israelis (the exceptions being Job and Luke).

Once I began to read the Bible with faith that it IS God’s word, I also began to repent from some of my own thinking and started to believe what the Holy Spirit communicated from my Father in Heaven.  It was painfully clear that He and I had not been thinking alike on quite a number of things!  That included the issue of war and peace.  The Lord plainly says that even though Messiah has come [the first time; another one of those things where we had not thought alike], there will be not only rumors of war, but actual wars until the end – until the same Lord Jesus Christ comes again.  I read this in Daniel, in Psalms, in the ‘Olivet Discourse’, in Revelation. . .all right there “under my nose”!  The Scriptures give the simple and straight-forward answer to the often asked question, “Why isn’t there peace if the Messiah has come?”  And this applies to other often asked questions as well.

The present war in Gaza by Israel against Hamas has again brought to the surface the deep divisions within the Body of Christ, especially close at home here in Israel and in the Palestinian Authority.  Try as we may to be reconciled to one another, there are some serious underlying issues that we carry with us so long as we only do our best to understand, to forgive, to be forgiven, to “give it to the Lord”.  Clearly, something more is required which only the triune God can provide by His grace above and beyond our best desires and efforts.  Otherwise, if it were so simple for us to just engage in serious and heart-felt reconciliation ministry, we would take credit for that which required a true prayer in the Spirit by the only-begotten Son of God, who, even now, as the Son of Man for us at the right hand of the Father, intercedes for us (not for the world).

Yeshua/Jesus/Yasu is the only one who can heal these deep, deep wounds of our histories, of God’s sovereign will and choices, of our own particular experiences and perceptions of those histories, of our feelings of acceptance or rejection by God the Father Himself.  On the cross, Yeshua bore our sins and makes healing possible for our spirit, soul, and body.  HE has done it!

The Creator of the Heavens and the Earth is sovereign Lord of all.  Jesus tells us that He has received all authority from the Father over all things in this creation.  And there is war in the heavenlies, and on the Earth.  Should we who believe, despite all, not rejoice that our Lord and Savior is God of Hosts (Armies)?  He knows how to lead in battle and victory, despite serious and heavy losses on the way.  He has been there Himself. . .and overcome!

When we complain and murmur and falsely accuse, we are really saying that we do not like the way God manages and oversees His affairs.  Rather than us maturing into sons of God who can faithfully cooperate with Him in His business and be faithful witnesses as we represent Him in the world, we tend to let our own ‘wisdom’ and personal interests rise back up (although they are supposed to be reckoned as dead, crucified with the Lord when He died for us) when things get too difficult for us to understand or to explain to others without fear or embarrassment.  We revert too easily and quickly to our unredeemed and unsanctified viewpoints, rather than abide in God’s overall and far better viewpoint.

There is a peace which the world gives.  The only wise God and Savior tells us that the peace He gives is not the same, and not only within individual hearts of those who believe.  (Remember, Jesus says that He did not come to bring peace to the world, but a sword.  In the prayer of Jesus, He declares that those who come to saving faith are no longer of the world.)  The peace which Jesus wants to give also applies to nations and people groups.  For this, He is coming again, and in righteousness He judges and makes war! (Rev 19:11)  To be called sons of God for being peacemakers, or pursuers of peace, can only be so if it is the peace of Jesus that we are speaking about and acting upon.

As believers together in the truth of Messiah being Jesus, the Son of God the Father, we have been given authority to become children of God.  Our identity and unity are both fully realized IN Messiah, and not in our particular emphases – cultural or otherwise – on other subjects of great interest and importance to us within the vast treasures of God’s world that He has created and made.  Each of us has been given a calling and gift, and even perhaps a ministry.  We can tend to make what is given to ‘me’ the “most important”, while denigrating and diminishing that which the Lord has sovereignly chosen to give to others.  We are one body, but many members.  Christ is not divided.

What this current war in Gaza has brought out WITHIN THE BODY are strong sentiments based sometimes on one’s own interpretation of God’s plan, which, when false, leads brethren to ‘excommunicate’ others from even Heaven’s gates for those who do not see it their way. We all can try to justify ourselves, but God clearly tells us that all our own righteousnesses are as filthy rags!  That is why our unity is only truly found IN MESSIAH, in whom is all of God’s righteousness.

How can a Jewish brother, for example, say to any other Christian that, unless he understands and accepts God’s continuing purpose for Israel as a nation, he is not in the Body of Messiah, not saved!?  How can any Arab brother, for another example, say to any Jewish or other believer that, unless he is willing to nullify Israel’s legitimacy as a nation (which YHVH God for His own holy name’s sake has pre-determined to restore) in order to satisfy their sense of justice, he is not a true Christian?!

The perfect Father in Heaven is, if I may reverently say so, looking down at His squabbling adopted children, saying, “This one is My son/daughter, and this one is My son/daughter.  How can you be saying to each other that you are not my sister or brother!?”  Believers are commanded to love one another – those within the household of faith – in a higher way than we would love our own unsaved loved ones or people, or than we would love our enemies.  God also loves all these different ‘categories’ in ways that are only begun to be discerned once we believe and know the truth.  We are to love one another as Jesus has loved us.  He got pretty annoyed (but not in a sinful way) with His own people because of their unbelief. (Mt 17:17), yet He willingly gave His life for them/us all in His primary love for His Father.

What will it take for us to trust the Lord – in His holiness and wisdom and love – so completely that the work of the blood of the cross and the Holy Spirit in us brings us to that place where Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane at the peak of His testing and temptations:  not my will, but Yours, Father, be done?

What will it take for the Father to answer Jesus’ intercessory prayer for us?  I do not know, but I do know I want to be in the answer, overcoming the world in the joy of my Father and my Lord.  As Yeshua prayed, it is for the glory of the Father, and the Son, and those who become one together with and in Him.

WAR – 3 Jan 2009

(Also printed as article in www.comeandsee.com 8 July 2011 under Opinions)

One of the names of the God of Heaven and Earth is YHVH of Hosts (Armies).  When the apostle John wrote (Jn 12:37-41) to us what Isaiah saw (Is 6), he reveals to us the Messiah – Yeshua/Yasu/Jesus – is YHVH of Hosts!  Our God has not changed, and continues to wage war, both in the heavenlies and on the Earth, at least until the Lord Jesus Christ returns to reign with righteousness and justice.

God has given responsibility and authority to human governments – even to unbelievers – to protect the innocent and punish the evil-doer.

Rom 12:17-21 – 13:7   Neither our own past personal or national sins cancels out or disqualifies the present duty and responsibility of governments – which the Spirit tells us God Himself has ordained – to protect the general welfare of a people against internal criminals and against external enemies.

It is wrong to execute personal vengeance.  God has established civil government to act against evil-doers in such a way as to deter future acts of evil.

It is not a sin, then, in this present evil world, for governments or its citizens to engage in war, but, in fact, may actually be an act of righteousness and love to protect the people.

1Tim 2:1-6   God recognizes that most leaders in authority are not born-again, and so commands believers to pray for all men, for kings and all who in authority. . .that they be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.

Even born-again leaders are in a dilemma:  how to govern a worldly nation according to the teachings of Messiah and the cross, when all the kingdoms of this world are opposed to the Kingdom of God?  The believer in prayer is also in somewhat of a dilemma:  not only may we suffer for righteousness’ sake, even though praying for our leaders and living godly lives, but the wisdom for our leaders, even if they are believers, may still fall far short of accomplishing a ‘good’ solution, no matter the outcome of war.

Believing and unbelieving leaders have been given by God a moral responsibility before God and for their nation to protect and defend its legitimate interests.  It is true that not all leaders ‘love’ their own people or their enemies.  Not all wars are justified by those who strike first.  God will judge, and He knows how and when to defeat a nation, and to raise one up victoriously.

All killing is not murder in God’s view, and godly people are sometimes in a situation requiring them to kill and to be killed in war – even innocent civilians are killed.  It is the intent and purpose of the killing that God will judge as merely killing or whether as murder.  Although very grievous, it is not sin in war when non-combatants or otherwise innocent people are killed if there was no deliberate intent or act to kill them without regard.  The Sixth Commandment, which Yeshua/Jesus confirms in His Sermon on the Mount, is “You shall not murder” (Lo tirtzach).

The use of force is sometimes necessary to achieve desired righteous results, and even to express love.  Parents are instructed by God to use the rod to chasten their children if they love them and if ‘talking’ was not enough. (Pr 13:24; 22:15)  Abraham, surely a man of peace, and called a friend of God, knew how to wage war to rescue his ‘brother’ Lot. (Gen 13)  God Himself, the perfect Father, must at times use strong measures when we who are His children do not properly respond to His grace.  He will also need to use strong and terrible judgments to teach the inhabitants of the world [His] righteousness. (Is 26:9)

When criminals and enemies transgress the accepted law beyond what is tolerable, civil governments have God’s delegated authority and approval – they are His ministers – to take up arms and to even kill.

If we who are born-again and have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us do not always use peaceable means to settle conflicts between believers, what should we expect from those who do not know the love of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ?!

War is a terrible reality of the present ages.  Yeshua won the war on the cross; most people have either not yet heard or believed the report.  More people have died since the ‘peace treaty’ was signed by God through their continued unbelief and open rebellion.  May many amongst the Arabs and the Jews come to know the love of the truth as it is in Jesus.

May He return in our own days, and cause war to cease!  Amen.

_ _ _

Afterword:   For the record, I myself refused to take up arms when I had to serve in the IDF, as I believed that was God’s will for me. Israel didn’t understand, of course, and neither did many of the believers.

But, despite my own responsibility before God on the matter, it doesn’t allow me to impose my own personal experience or application upon the Scriptures (including NT) for everyone else, when the Word of God seems to allow for other responses.

ISRAEL IS GOD’S CHOSEN

Oct 2007

“Go Unto All Nations” Magazine

Hong Kong Asso. of Christian Missions

For the first time since the dispersion of the children of Israel almost 2000 years ago, more Jewish people in the world today live in the State of Israel than in any other country.  More than 40% of Jewish people live here.  Close to 68% of the more than 5.4 million Jews who live in the country are native born (sabras).  The modern state is 59 years old, and YHVH God is actively intervening in the affairs of men to bring to fulfillment His covenantal promises and oaths given long ago – as recorded in the Bible – and which He confirmed by the words of the Lord Jesus and of His apostles. (Gen 17:4-8; 26:2-5; 28:13-15; Ezek 36:22-28; Mt 5:17-18; 2Cor 1:20)

“You only have I known.” (Amos 3:2); and, “Israel is my first-born” (Ex 4:22-23).  Israel is a special nation.  It is unique amongst the lands and nations of the world.   There were other nations, such as Babylon, Assyria, and Egypt before Israel came into being, but God has declared Israel – the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – to be His inheritance (Is 19:25).  YHVH chose the children of Jacob not because they were/are better than the other nations or people groups (that is, the Gentiles), nor because He needed a large number of people to accomplish His purposes to glorify His name and the name of His Son.  (If so, He would have chosen the fathers of those who became the Chinese!)

No, the LORD’s thoughts and ways are not like ours.  The Father of all the families in the world (Eph 3:14-15) chose Israel before they were even a people so that they should not boast about being God’s Chosen People to the hurt or offense of other nations.  God chose us (I am myself a Jew) because He loves us – just as through Messiah He chooses out individuals from every nation and tribe and family in the same manner – and has called us to be a blessing to Himself and to all nations for His holy name’s sake.

This high calling has proven too great for the Israelis to live up to (Acts 15:10), just as it would be for any  other nation or person had God chosen them.  Only Yeshua/Jesus, the Messiah and Son of the living God, only He has completely and fully pleased and satisfied God the Father.  Israel’s hope is going to be realized only through Jesus; the Church’s hope is going to be realized only in Messiah/Christ.  The tension between this destiny of holiness and between being like the gentiles is powerful in these last days.

With this very brief theological and historical background, we can view in perspective the context of life and Christian ministry in Israel.

LIFE OF ISRAELIS TODAY

Despite being the People of The Book, most Israelis and Jewish people around the world are ignorant or unbelieving regarding the covenantal relationship with YHVH. (Ezek 36:16-29)  This results in the present deteriorating conditions of life in the nation.  Not because of Jewish people’s obedience is God fulfilling His perfect plan of redemption of saving His people from their sins, but rather by His mercy and grace for the honor of His holy name.  We are immigrating (making aliyah) from all the countries to which we were scattered.  Jerusalem is considered by God to be the political and religious/spiritual capital of Israel.  But as with the chosenness of the Land and of the People, God’s choice for His city is contested by those who do not have His word in their heart.

Since the beginning, defense has been the top priority of securing Israel’s borders from neighboring Arabic nations – predominately Islamic – who have opposed and resisted the re-establishment of a sovereign Jewish/Israeli state.  YHVH God’s sovereignty over all the nations brings with it both satanic  and human negative reaction!  This emphasis on defending the nation and her borders from continuous wars and rumors of war has burdened the population with high taxes.  The cost of living in Israel is very high.  The standard of living is a mix of first and third worlds.  Compared to her immediate neighboring countries, Israel surpasses them all in providing a relatively high standard for her citizens.  At the same time, wages are low, sometimes oppressively so.

Israel’s economy is no longer based on agriculture, as it was in its first 30 years, but has shifted to high-tech research and development, in which she excels in a number of areas. In the Negev Desert southern region of the country, much desert research and application of water use and irrigation is carried out through Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.  Music and the arts play a major role in the cultural life of Israelis.  All these talents and works are beneficial to other nations also, but Israel’s calling as the Chosen People of God is to honor and glorify YHVH as a holy people, and to serve the other nations to bless them for His holy name’s sake!

Modern medicine is practiced at a high level, and is provided at low cost to most members of the society without distinction.  Although Israel is located at the western edge of Asia, her political and economic models are western oriented.  Educational institutions of higher learning are very competitive in receiving applicants.  The cost of education continues to grow, placing a further burden on the normal wage earner.

The stereotypical path for many Israeli youth is that they finish high school at age 18, go into the compulsory military service for two years (girls) or three years (boys); upon completion of their duty they travel to other far parts of the world, often to the east, or to South America; then [the parents hope!] they return to Israel to study, get married, and continue their lives.

Israel and the Jewish people are an interwoven cross-cultural fabric which God is making and forming to be a praise to His name.  We come from many different cultures which we acquired over our long years of exile:  many languages, skin colorations, cuisines, styles of music, art, literature.  Israel is truly a masterpiece in the making!

RELIGIOUS LIFE

Some people have the mistaken impression that the Israeli people live holier lives than people from other nations.  When they visit the “Holy Land”, they have been disappointed or even disillusioned to find Israelis acting in ways unsuited to the “holy people of God”.  This is a cause of stumbling for even many Christians who do not understand the prophetic word given by the Holy Spirit through Ezekiel (36:24-27) that [most of] the Jewish people would be brought back in unbelief and living in the manner of gentiles to the land of promise before the Lord would cleanse them of all their uncleanness.  Israel today is primarily a secular society with lots of authority in the hands of ultra-orthodox religious and political parties and leading rabbis (Jewish spiritual leaders and teachers).  Believers in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God make up a negligible percentage of the population (much less than 1%).

Significant issues governing life and cultural events are regulated by orthodox halacha (rules and regulations for every facet of living):  for example, determining who is Jewish from birth; who has legal authority to marry in a Jewish wedding; who/what legitimizes divorces; who conducts burial ceremonies.  The orthodox Jews fall into many streams within the religion of the Jews.  Some do not even recognize the existence of the current nation, because to them the Messiah has not yet come!  (Of course He has!)  Others accept the State, but refuse military duty, and receive exemptions to study in yeshivot (Jewish religious seminaries).  And then there are those who are religious Zionists, believing that this land is ordained by God for the Jewish people, and that the Jews must defend and preserve it by all legitimate means sanctioned by law – and sometimes in ways deemed unlawful.

Other streams of Judaism, such as Reform and Conservative, are seeking to gain legitimacy in Israeli Jewish law, and have had a very limited amount of success till now.  In other religions – including Christianity – there are many similarities to the way in which Jewish people conduct themselves in the affairs of God and man.  The Jewish people are a glimpse of humanity.  It is important that believers in Jesus recognize this when looking at – even judging – the Israeli Jewish people.

There is something of a religious/spiritual revival in Israel, but not yet a return to YHVH God Himself, and especially not in the full repentance of believing the gospel.  There is very much a looking eastward (Ezek 8:15-16) by many Israelis, seeking spiritual meaning in forms of eastern religions and various New Age expressions.  Nothing has changed much since Moses and the Prophets warned Israelis not to follow the ways of the heathen, but to keep covenant with the one true God who created them for His own glory.

KOSHER FOOD

One of the main features of Israeli culture is kashrut, or, religiously acceptable food for eating.  Part of this dietary custom is based on the Law of Moses regarding the types of food – especially with respect to meat, fowl, and fish – which YHVH God of Israel allowed or forbade for His people to eat (Lev 11).  Many Israeli Jews, whether religious or not, will “keep kosher” in their homes, and many restaurants have kashrut licenses so that religious Jews will know that the food there complies with regulations.  These regulations also include, in rabbinic Judaism, the separation of meat and dairy in food production, storage, consumption.  This is based on a misunderstanding of the commandment “do not boil a kid in its mother’s milk” (Ex 23:19), and has led to all sorts of religious regulations requiring, for example, separate dishes and silverware for either meat or for dairy products; separate refrigerators and sinks, as well.  These rabbinic restrictions place a financial burden on many people and also in their eating habits, and upon their conscience as “good Jews”, and their freedom to eat other people’s food preparations and provisions.  Under the New Testament in Messiah, Yeshua has broken down this wall of enmity between Jews and Gentiles, making it possible to be sent as “missionaries” anywhere in the world, and to be free to eat socially and sociably with all people, giving thanks to God, to whom belongs the Earth and all its fullness! (1Cor 10:25-33)  The Lamb and His blood have made us kosher!

One of the main weapons which ultra-orthodox authorities will use against restaurants, banquet halls, and conference centers is to threaten to invalidate their kashrut license, which for many of these establishments would mean losing their ability to remain open and operate successfully.  This legal sanction is used not only lawfully against violators of dietary regulations, but also against such businesses who, for example, host Messianic/Christian events, especially those sponsored by local Israeli believers.

THE SABBATH

The Sabbath day (Saturday; the 7th day of the week) is the blessed and sanctified day which God made a sign between Him and Israel (Gen 2:3; Ezek 20:12).  YHVH gave Israel the Sabbath to observe to remind His people that He is the Creator of the universe in six days (Ex 20:11), and also that He is the Redeemer and Deliverer (Dt 5:15).  It is a covenant sign for Israel to remember YHVH’s work in this creation, whereas the Church is a witness to the new creation in and through Christ, and to the eternal New Heavens and New Earth to come for all who are the Lord’s.  Thank God for the day after the Sabbath! While the Sabbath continues to bear a certain difference from other days of the week in Israel, it has become more and more like any other day throughout most of the country, except for a few ultra-religious pockets in parts of the nation, such as the Mea Shearim section in Jerusalem, and Bnei Brak in the Tel Aviv area.  Religious Jews today will not drive a car on Shabbat; will not smoke (if they do on other days); will not write; will not spend money; will not use a phone, turn on electrical switches, or cook a meal.

The spiritual battle for the hearts and minds of unsaved Jewish people everywhere today is fought over the issue of ultimate authority:  does it belong with the teachings and traditions of man; or does it lie with the Word of God as written in the Tanach (the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Writings) and the New Testament?  According to the Lord Messiah Himself, more Jews would believe in Him if they believed what Moses and the Prophets wrote! (Lk 16:29-31; Jn 5:44-47)

There is a sense, similar to the time surrounding the lifetime of Jesus, that people are “waiting for Messiah to come”.  Street signs and car bumper stickers even proclaim this!  We are in the last days when many false messiahs will come on the scene, promising peace. (Mt 24:4-5)  Within one sect of “mainstream” Judaism – Chabad – many believe that their rabbi, who died in 1994 at an old age and never was in Israel, is the Messiah.  Even today they actively promote his picture and his teachings as if he is the Messiah for the Jews.  Others are looking for a political or military leader.  Yeshua said that Israel would accept someone “coming in his own name”, but that He “comes in the name of His Father”, in the name of YHVH (the LORD)! (Jn 5:43; Mt 23:39)

MESSIANIC BELIEVERS

The Jewish believers in Yeshua/Jesus in Israel go by – and are called – several names:  Jewish believers in Jesus; Messianic Jews (Yehudim Meshichi’im); Hebrew Christians (Ivrim Meshichi’im); Christians (Meshichi’im or Notzrim); traitors and infidels.  Depending on who is saying what to whom, the description can sometimes be clear as a reference to faith in Yeshua; sometimes it is not clear; sometimes it carries a negative connotation.  Even the Chabad Jews who believe in the Lubavitch Rebbe are considered Messianic Jews since they are Jews who believe in a Messiah.  Therefore, it becomes a matter of great importance that we distinguish ourselves as believers in Yeshua/Jesus as the Messiah, based on the Bible.  The Lord tells us that if He was called names of dishonor, so, too, would we if we are of His household (Mt 10:24-26).

There are no definite figures as to how many Jewish believers in Jesus there are in Israel, but the overall number of evangelical believers is somewhere between 10,000-11,000.  At present there are over 100 congregations/churches within the Messianic Jewish community.  Most Jews still come to faith through the witness of Gentile Christians, but an increasing number are being brought to repentance and faith through the testimony of friends, or through reading books – often those which tell of Jews who became believers.  And now, of course, many more families are bringing up their children in the knowledge and way of the Lord.

Many of the congregations use the Hebrew language as the primary language within the services, but there are many in which Russian is the “official” language for worship and teaching/preaching.  In our own congregation, Hebrew is the unifying language, and we provide translations into Russian and into English.  More than half of the members of our congregation are from a Russian-speaking background.  Everyone is encouraged to learn and to use Hebrew as much as possible, since we live in Israel and Hebrew is our common tongue.  Praise God for helping us, since still most believers in Israel are immigrants who have come from other countries, speaking Spanish, Rumanian, Amharic (Ethiopian), etc.

A growing number of native-born Israelis are repenting and believing the gospel, but they still make up a very small minority within the whole Body of Messiah in Israel (not to mention in the world!).  As God brings more of the Gentiles to saving faith in Jesus, we should expect to see more Jews being saved on the way to that Day approaching when all Israel – the full remnant from all the tribes – will be saved when they see Him whom they have pierced.  (Rom 11:25-27; Rev 7:4-8; Zech 12:10)

The believing community in Israel has developed remarkably in the past 25 years.  There is a much greater awareness within Israeli society that Jews do and can believe in Jesus and still retain our identity as Jews.  Hundreds of books have been written in or translated into Hebrew to help inform and educate believers in our knowledge of the Lord and of our walk of faith.  Summer camps for children have multiplied to meet the growing number of children from believing families, as well as to fit the varied interests and expressions of the Messianic body.  Youth conferences, soldiers’ conferences are organized every month, sometimes every week somewhere around the country within the Body of Christ.  Uncountable local and international leadership events and prayer gatherings take place regularly and frequently in Israel.  It has reached the point where we have too many good things to choose from!  Our Father in Heaven is surely pleased whenever He sees barriers which Jesus broke down being enjoyed, as brethren are expressing His reconciliation through the blood of the cross in unity and love between Jewish and Arab believers; and as different streams within the Body – charismatic, Pentecostal, “baptistic” – rejoice in opportunities to mix in humility and love for the sake of the name of Yeshua and of the gospel.

There are now more believers serving in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) than at any other time in her modern history.  As the generation of fathers and mothers has grown and multiplied, so have our children come of age to enter military service in larger numbers.  This provides the believing soldiers a stronger support network, as well as real-life situations in which to mature in their faith and relationship with the Lord, to demonstrate the truth of the faith through their own life and conduct, and to share with those who still do not know the one true God and His only-begotten Son.  It is a key stage of transition from youth to becoming young men and women.

Evangelizing in Israel is technically legal, but is still viewed with much suspicion and disfavor by the majority of society.  Anyone who witnesses about his/her faith to others with the intent to persuade them that Yeshua is the truth is considered a missionary, which is a very negative term here.  There are laws against adults knowingly witnessing to minors (not their own children), that is, to those under the age of 18.  Of course, minors can speak of their own faith with others in their age group, such as at school.   Reasonable laws also exist to prohibit offering any bribe or other inducement or promise of material gain as a means to cause someone to “change his religion”.  We are often falsely accused of doing such things, but God cannot be deceived, and He knows the heart of every person.

The most effective way that is used to show Jewish people why we believe in Jesus as Lord and Messiah is through the prophesies given in the Old Testament.  Some key passages which are often referred to are Isaiah 53; Jeremiah 31:31-37; Micah 5:2; Daniel 9:24-27.  These portions have historically been accepted as Messianic – applying to the Messiah – and so have much credibility to influence someone to re-consider his “inherited” prejudice and ignorance regarding them.

There are anti-missionary groups, such as Yad L’Achim (Hand to the Brothers) and Lev L’Achim (Heart for the Brothers), which aggressively operate to prevent Jewish evangelism.  They employ strategies and tactics to discourage, and even intimidate, Jews from hearing the gospel and from attending Messianic worship services.  Little has changed since the New Testament was written, and just as false witnesses and false accusations were used against Yeshua or against Paul in a futile effort to stop the spread of God’s good news, so today similar methods are used against the evangelical Messianic community.  In different cities around Israel, and in different congregations over the years, there have been various degrees of persecution and harassment to disrupt life, and at times to the extent of loss of jobs or the ruin of businesses.  Bible book stores have been burned; congregational facilities have been destroyed by arson; windows have been broken in homes; believers have been publicly insulted and humiliated simply because of their faith in Jesus.  Violent demonstrations and riots have occurred at Shabbat services; baptisms have been forced to be carried out in other places due to measures used by such anti-missionary groups.  Some of these situations have been taken to court, with mixed results.

Surely there are those amongst these groups that do fear God, while many are innocents caught up in a spiritual battle which they do not realize or understand.  Others are simply rabble-rousers who are willing to make trouble for a price.  We know that Saul – before he was Paul – was such a God-fearing Jew who was sent out by religious/political authorities to persecute the beginning church.  He did a good job!  Then one day, by the grace of the living God, Yeshua was revealed to him and he repented and believed, giving the rest of his life to suffer for the sake of the name of Him whom he had been blaspheming.  So, too, we believe that there are amongst these anti-missionary forces some who truly fear God and believe with all their heart that it is right that they oppose the Holy Spirit and the gospel.  And we also believe that God, in His lovingkindness, will also reveal to them the truth about His Son, and change their hearts and spirits to love the One they now hate without cause.  Meanwhile, the believers need to trust the Lord, loving Him above all things – even our own lives – and to grow more into the image of God through blessing those who curse us, praying for those who persecute us, loving our enemies – all this for the sake of Yeshua who died for our sins while we were His enemies, not knowing what we were doing.

Over the course of years in struggling for the right to be considered as Jews while accepting Jesus to be the Messiah and Savior, the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled against the legitimacy of that idea.  They base their judgment on historic precedents and perceptions:  that for a Jew to believe in Yeshua is to forsake Jewish identity and the Jewish people. (Jn 9:22; 12:42)

Religious and political interests which oppose the gospel have tried several times to change existing legislation, or to make new laws, which would further restrict the liberty to evangelize or preach the gospel to the Jewish people.  Thankfully these efforts have not yet succeeded, but the intent to do so is strengthening.  This is a matter for prayer that the Lord would prepare the believers to remain faithful to the Great Commission which He left us with to carry out until the end of the age.

Gentile Missions

What can Gentile groups do to engage in Jewish ministry?  Firstly….pray.  Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; pray for reconciliation between Jewish and Arab believers; pray for Israel and the Jews to repent and return to their God through the only Way – Jesus – and so find true peace and security through the forgiveness of their sin.

As Gentile believers, the Holy Spirit has given inspired instructions for reaching out to Jews for their salvation.  The New Testament is based upon what was written in the Old.  Therefore, it is important to know the whole Bible when speaking to Jews about Yeshua, as they are usually ignorant of their own Scriptures, but in their souls they know that they speak to them as God’s chosen people.

The specific role of non-Jewish Christians is to provoke Israel to jealousy (Rom 11:11) by your humble and thankful relationship with the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob through knowing the truth about who Jesus is.  Gentile believers can express to the Jews that they love Israel and Jewish people because of their faith in Jesus as Messiah and the Savior whom God promised.

The Jewish person may not respond in a way or as quickly as hoped for.  The Apostle Paul teaches the necessity, therefore, of also showing mercy to them (Rom 11:30-32) because of the great mercy shown to you by God.  Gentile believers can also support Jewish ministry through financial gifts to the believers.  (Rom 15:26-27)  This helps the many Messianic believers who live near poverty levels to know they are loved and blessed by their brethren, and to enable them to maintain even a very modest level of living and to be freer to serve the interests of the Lord.  Too often well-meaning Christians want to “bless Israel” by donating money to Jewish institutions, some of which actually discriminate against the believers!  Should there be a desire to bless unbelieving Israel in this manner, then it is best to give first through the local believers, and allow them to give to suitable organizations in your name and in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This puts a local personal face of the Messianic/Christian community as the channel of blessing Israel.

Finally, you can come as tourists and see for yourselves what God is doing with living stones!  Visiting the Holy Land makes the Bible a very personal book, as places and geography written about in the Holy Scriptures become familiar.  Jesus was born in Israel (Mt 2:20-21); He grew up and ministered in Israel; He was crucified, buried, and resurrected in Israel; this same Yeshua will return to Israel to establish God’s Kingdom on Earth!  Even so, come Lord Jesus! 

THE INCENSE OF PRAYERS – Feb 2006

(Written for IsraelPrayer.com .  Slightly edited here.)

Replacement Theology began a long time ago, when first Jews and then Christians went to the left or to the right of the Spirit of Truth of God the Father’s Word.  We replaced the commandments and promises of God with traditions of men and hope in this world, which opposes the Kingdom of YHVH God and of His Anointed One.  The Messiah and Son of God Himself has taught us to pray firstly for the sanctification of our Heavenly Father’s name, and that HIS will be done…on Earth, as it is in Heaven.  As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ (I’m writing English, and this name honors Him), we are commanded by Him to seek first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness.  (If I may turn aside for a moment after what I’ve just written:  if born-again belieiving Christians get involved with all kinds of very unprofitable nonsense over the name of our Lord and Savior, we can certainly not expect much favor from God.  In this we show ourselves to be like the Jewish people who, too, have made a mockery of The Name of the God who chose us! – All in the interest of sanctity and reverence!)

For all her significance and importance in God’s plan and purposes, Israel is not the focus in His sight:  Jesus Christ is.  He (or the nation) who denies that Jesus is the Messiah is the liar, or, in other words, the false prophet.  He (or the religion) that denies the Father and the Son is the antichrist, or, in other words, the one who would both take the true Messiah’s place (replacement theology?) and also oppose Him.  The Messiah is anointed to be the Prophet greater than Moses; the High Priest according to YHVH God’s word to Melchizedek; and the King of kings, heir to the throne of David and to the Father’s.  Those who do not believe in Jesus/Yeshua for who He is do not have the Father either.  This is no small matter, and it is a very big matter when it comes to our prayers, which are offered as a sacrifice to God on the basis of Jesus’s death on the cross for our sins and the sin of the world.  Do we know that we are forgiven?  Is the world crucified to us?  Are we crucified to the world?

Those who do not worship God in the way which HE has prescribed are idolaters, whether they profess to believe in only one God or not.  Jesus is the Way, and He has shown us the way.  Israelis still under God’s righteous judgment despite being partially re-established in part of the land promised to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, and to their descendants forever.  Israel/the Jewish people still resist the Holy Spirit of God and persecute Yeshua and His church, especially when Jews are part of the composition or are the object of the good news of God’s grace and righteousness.

On the other hand, Christians who currently believe and understand God for His purposes regarding Israel– as relevant and significant as that is – are not deemed more righteous in God’s sight than some other believer who, at present, does not.  There are many believers (and even unbelievers) who stand with Israel, but are missing His mark in other vital areas pertaining to standing with Jesus and manifesting fruit of holiness and righteousness in their life.  And, likewise, there are some dear saints and prophets of God who, for whatever reason at present, just don’t see it, but are precious to God and to many others.  Humility (in bold letters!) is the woof and web of our God our Father’s character and of His Son.

Everything that is taking place in the Middle East and the rest of the world must be seen and understood in the light of the revelation of Jesus Christ; that is, His coming again to judge the nations – including His chosen nation Israel – and to rule them in righteousness and justice.  (These terms are related, but are not synonymous, and are too often confused and misused.)  Without this perspective, our prayers and intercessions will be short-sighted or wrongly motivated.  The fervent and righteous prayers of the saints which God has been “collecting” — until the appointed time to begin answering them – have to do with the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Lk 18:1-8; Rev 8:3-6). 

When we grasp that the justified believers from all history who will have part in the first resurrection will be reigning priests with Messiah over Israel and the other nations, then it is evident that neither is the Church Israel nor is Israel the Church!  Replacement theology has made void the manifold promises and blessed hope of all creation with false expectations and fables!  Jesus asks if He will find the faith in God’s own elect (us!) when the Son of Man returns?

The religious and secular who trouble the believers in Israel (and elsewhere) are a mixture of God-fearers who really believe they are doing God’s will, and of “worthless, lawless people” (bnei belial), or rabble rousers.  By the grace and power of God, some (many?) of these will ultimately repent and be saved, and many not.  Better to be saved NOW through repentance and faith and to have part in that blessed and holy  first resurrection, than to wait in uncertainty whether God will show mercy on them or not.

Under the Torah, a false prophet was to be killed.  According to rabbinic Judaism, Jesus is considered the false prophet deserving of death.  Therefore, we who believe and follow Him in our worship of God are likewise under a death sentence.  As the Lord informed us, there will be those seeking to kill us, thinking it to be God’s will.  This is what the “great” Jew Saul was doing before he “saw the Light”, and became “little” (Paul, translated in Roman/Latin, which was his native citizenry) in his own eyes.

While God has warned that He will judge those who divide HIS land, He also allows room for its being divided as long as the Jewish people are unrepentant and refuse to return to Him through Jesus, whom He sent to restore not only the tribes of Jacob and the preserved ones of Israel, but also the Gentiles who are called by His name.  “Stumbling will come, but woe to him through whom it comes!”  The Israeli Jewish people do have claims of sovereignty in the land from the LORD.  But without receiving Jesus, who alone comes in the name of YHVH, they have no blessings and no peace or security.  The Arabs do have a right to live within the State of Israel and to be treated justly. 

The “strangers in the land” are those gentiles (non-Jewish Israelis) who are with the people whom God has chosen and who honor the God of Israel.  The “alien, or foreigner in the land” is a “thorn in the side”, ones who do not join themselves to the calling and destiny of Israel.  The Arabs and other gentiles have no claims of sovereignty over the land of Israel, but the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob is offering both Jews and Arabs much more in Christ now than what both sides are in fear and conflict over now.  This is our message to them:  the gospel of Yeshua the Messiah and the Kingdom of God as they receive the forgiveness of their sins, are baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit, and receive the free gift beyond all imagination of eternal life with God the Father and with Jesus His beloved!

Our prayers and intercessions for the salvation of Muslims – who deny the Father and the Son – is of major concern to God.  Being gentiles, the one true living God will give them a new heart and a new Spirit with which to show mercy to Israel and to provoke Israelis to jealousy for their God.  What a deliverance from darkness to light, from revenge born of bitterness to love born of the triune God!  The gospel is the power to save both Jews, Arabs, Greeks, Iranians, Americans.  Christians are not Israel’s savior, but are witnesses of the One who is, and are serving Him in God’s wondrous plan of redemption.

What we are facing in Beer Sheva, in Arad, in Rishon LeZion, in the Galilee around Tiberias is not something strange.  Many other believers in Jesus as Lord and Messiah have suffered – and are even now suffering – for His name’s sake.  The enemy is waging a war of attrition to wear down the saints.  Praise God for Jesus in Whom we have the victory through His resurrection and the hope of our ultimate redemption!  May we all be filled with the Holy Spirit in order to love and to bless those who now hate us and curse us, even as we pray and proclaim the truth.  We want to be faithful to Him who has shown such love to us, and be so used of God that the Holy Spirit will convict them of righteousness, of sin, and of judgement.  Let our salt be salty, our light shining, and our fragrance of Messiah.  Even so, come Lord Jesus!

CHRISTMASNACHT IN BEER SHEVA – 29 Dec 2005 (28 Chislev 5766)

(Written as an Op-Ed for the Jerusalem Post)

This Jewish story begins almost 4000 years ago with our father Abraham, and then with his two sons.  One son mocked the seeming insignificance of the other.  Later Isaac’s two sons strove, with the blessing given to our father Jacob/Israel.  The other son never really got over his loss.  Jacob’s own twelve sons have been squabbling ever since over who should have the place of honor.  When we do bad things to each other, we say it is just a family feud, but when others do bad things to us, we call it something else.  We are a picture of humanity in microcosm.  Although YHVH God has told His chosen people how to worship Him, we have disputed about even this.  Some of us deny that there is even a God who has told us anything.  Others will even use unlawful means to accomplish what to them is a just end. 

Last Shabbat, the 24th of December, we were mobbed by a crowd of ultra-orthodox Jewish extremists.  While extremists controlled the direction and tone of the demonstration, other participants seemed ashamed of the violent behavior.  The “we” here are Messianic Jews and gentiles, including Arabs, who believe that Yeshua (Jesus) is the promised Messiah, and the one who saves us from our sins.  We are called by many different names, some honorable and others not so; but by whatever name, it is with Jesus Christ that we are identified.  Our faith in Him is based upon what we believe to be the truth of God’s Word given to Moses and the prophets ofIsrael, written in the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings.  We also believe that history confirms the New Covenant (Testament) testimony of Yeshua being the Son of the living God.

This angry confrontation of up to 500 men, women, and children was organized by the chief rabbinate of Beer Sheva, calling them out from the synagogues around the city to come to the private property used by the local Messianic congregation for prayer and worship.  Forcing their way into the walled grounds,  these people overthrew chairs and tables and resisted the police who were called in to protect the innocent and to disperse the mob (which took a couple of hours).  The mob broke and damaged property and equipment; physically assaulted and insulted men, women, and children, by hitting, spitting, pushing, punching.  What was the “crime” the orthodox were attacking us for?. . .We believe that Yeshua/Jesus is Lord and Messiah.  That day two women over the age of 18, one of whom was born into a Messianic Jewish family, were to be baptized by immersion.  According to the basic law of freedom of religion inIsrael, no law was being violated.  The religious authorities, however, decided that this law (which is for the benefit of all citizens) is too liberal for them.  The chief Sephardic rabbi of the city was present at the illegal and violent demonstration, and was seen preaching to the crowd standing outside the property.  While claiming that he does not advocate violence, he has never apologized or even expressed any regret for what his disciples do in apparent disobedience to his instructions.  (This is not our first encounter with him and them.)  “The end justifies the means.”  If these means were used against Muslims, there would be a lot of dead Israelis by now.

“Go to Gaza!”  “You’re worse than the Nazis”!  “You’re like the Muslims!”  “Israelis the land of the Jews!”  “Christian men don’t get married!”  “Go back to America, to Russia, to Argentina!”  Doesn’t this sound like what many of our parents and other relatives heard in Europe not so very long ago?  In fact, in our congregation we have Holocaust survivors, as well as those whose families helped protect Jews from the Nazis.  The God of Israel allows a place of honor for the “strangers” in His land, for those whose hearts are joined with His people and with Him.  Worship includes how we treat our neighbor and the stranger, for we were strangers in the land of Egypt. 

Despite the history of tribulation which we as a people have known, even at the hands of those called Christian, have not we ourselves – as Jews, Israelis – also committed atrocities to the reproach of the Name of YHVH God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob?  Again, the Jewish people are a picture of humanity in microcosm. 

I am a Jew who grew up in theU.S.; all my parents and grandparents are Jewish.  My choices regarding faith and identity have always been made conscious of being Jewish.  In the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War I came over as a volunteer on a kibbutz to identify with my people and our nation.  The gentiles still wanted to kill us, and I could not understand why.  I had earlier come to Israel as a tourist for a couple of weeks between university years.  My prophetic portion at bar-mitzva was from Ezekiel 36, which is being personally fulfilled as God has brought me home to Israel from where He calls exile, and Yeshua has brought me back home to our Father in Heaven.  Since the days of Samuel, prophet and judge, it was from Beer Sheva, the City of the Fathers, that Israel has asked for a king like the gentiles have.  We eagerly wait for the day when the Kingdom of YHVH God is restored to Israel and to the nations, and the fruit of His righteousness will be true peace and security.