(Adapted for AMZI conference and ministry tour in Germany and Switzerland, June 9-14, 2016)
1Co 1:23-25 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness. (24) But to them, the called-out ones, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. (25) Because the foolish thing of God is wiser than men, and the weak thing of God is stronger than men.
1Jn 2:22-25 Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He who denies the Father and the Son is antichrist. (23) Everyone who denies the Son neither has the Father. The one confessing the Son also has the Father. (24) Therefore what you heard from the beginning, let it abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning remains in you, you will abide in both the Son and in the Father. (25) And this is the promise that He has promised us: everlasting life.
1Jn 5:19 We know that we are of God, and all the world lies under the sway of the wicked one.
Ps 2:1-3 Why do the nations rage, and the peoples conspire a vain thing? (2) The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers plot together, against Jehovah and against His anointed, saying, (3) Let us break their bands in two and cast away their cords from us.
Rom 11:28-32 Indeed as regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes. But as regards the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes. (29) For the free gifts and calling of God are without repentance. (30) For as you also then disbelieved God, but now have been shown mercy through their disbelief, (31) even so these also have not believed now, so that through your mercy they may also obtain mercy. (32) For God has shut up all in unbelief, so that He might show mercy to all.
The subject we have is going to be tested to the limits as the last days of the end-times draw nearer to a close. The Scriptures are written for us living at the end of the age, and therefore the things written in them are for us living now, as much as, if not more in some things, than for those who lived at the time they were written. (Rom 15:4; 1Cor 10:11)
The name of our congregation, Nachalat Yeshua (Yeshua’s Inheritance) is itself a testimony to our Israeli Jewish society of our faith in Jesus. We intentionally decided to include Yeshua’s name in our name, rather than use a more general term, such as “The LORD’s Inheritance”. It better helps define who we are, and to be more open about it in discussions or conversations with unbelievers who inquire.
That we are here today with our friends from Beit Jala is also the fruit of building a relationship with our Arab Palestinian brothers and sisters – again, as a testimony to our peoples that the truth of God, and of His righteousness and peace, is found only through repentance and faith in the gospel. When we share with Israeli unbelievers – and even with other believers – why we go to Bethlehem every Christmas time, and to a church that does not support the return of the Jewish people back to the land promised to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, and to their descendants – in these last days – it is to testify to the truth of the gospel of Jesus’ sacrificial death for us on the cross, and of His resurrection and ascension, as being greater than the disagreements we have on some important subjects. Israel is unique in that it is the only Middle Eastern country native to Jews and to Arabs, where believers in Jesus of each people can live and meet together. This cannot happen in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Iran, or Iraq.
As a congregation, all of our local members send their children to public schools, rather than to Christian schools (which are not in Beer Sheva anyway) or homeschool. It is certainly a challenge, and a struggle, and a matter of great concern, given the level of education these days. The primary responsibility for children’s “education” lies with the parents, so we constantly monitored what was being taught to our children in subjects which could be problematic. (Gen 18:17-19; Dt 6:4-9) We would instruct our children in truths, if the school was instructing them in lies, such as evolution, or that all religions and faiths are equal, and nowadays in matters of “sexual identity”. We also taught our children not to be afraid or ashamed or embarrassed that our family believes in Jesus, even – and especially – in our Jewish society which rejects and hates Him. It is like sending out our lambs among wolves, but it helped them all to be able to be open about their faith in their classrooms, with their unbelieving friends, in the army, in college, and in their workplaces.
Evangelistically, we encourage everyone to be willing and ready to share their faith, and the gospel, with others, as the Lord gives opportunity. We have had some major public evangelism campaigns in Beer Sheva, and they have all generated a strong, negative reaction. Yet we continue to preach the Word of God, confess the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and baptize new believers, whether Jewish or other. But as light and salt in the world, each of us must be prepared to tell others the truth about the Son of God the Father, even though most of our people are religiously opposed to the only God and Savior. And our good works must be towards believers and unbelievers, for our Father is good and merciful to all. We want them to be saved just as we were: by the grace of God through repentance and faith in the gospel.
For me, Israel is a great place to follow the Lord. For one thing, there is nothing better anyway. And, it is a place where you must learn to trust Him and obey in faith. There is no Christian culture to support those who are disciples of the Lord Messiah, either culturally or in truth. There is no softening of the blows; believers themselves must learn to stand against all that attacks the true faith, and the true Jesus – who is neither “Yeshu” nor “Isa”. We need to help and support other brothers and sisters in this spiritual warzone. Reading the whole Bible as God’s Word is of great importance to grow in the faith, and in the knowledge and ways of God. In the Scriptures God has told us His plan, and the reasons for it, just as YHVH told Abraham why He was going to judge and destroy Sodom. Jesus tells us as His friends what the Father has revealed, and the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth.
Military service is a necessary part of being an Israeli citizen, especially for the Jewish people. As believers, this can cause a conflict: on the one hand, we must obey the civil authorities, and military service is part of the life in Israel; and Israel is surrounded by sworn enemies who seek her destruction. On the other hand, the Lord tells us that our warfare is not carnal, but spiritual, and that we are to love our enemies. How, as believers, can we live in this tension, and be overcomers? Each one has to hear from God, and act in faith with a clear conscience. In either case, we will be needing to explain ourselves to others, whether to our Arab brothers and sisters, or to our Jewish people among whom we live. What is important for believers in the military is to demonstrate a different spirit – a different motivation and attitude — in them than in those who do not know the Lord Jesus as their own Savior from their own sins, and from the sins of their people. Soldiers in Messiah will need to show their faith by their works, whether by sacrificially helping others, not complaining about their commanders and officers, not stealing, not falling to the temptations of sex or of other sins, but taking a stand for the righteousness of God.
The Bible makes a difference between killing, as in war or police actions, and in murder. This is very important to all of us, for conscience sake, and in matters of justice. As citizens who benefit from the security and well-being of the society, the fact that most of the believers are willing to sacrifice themselves — sometimes with their lives, and in other ways, such as delaying studies and careers – with others who are obligated to serve the country, helps to break down a barrier against Jewish believers in Jesus, which is that we are no longer Jews or have that we have joined the persecutors. Now, the military echelon has come to respect the believers, and to make them officers and put them in charge of important positions. This makes the testimony of faith more credible to them, and gives more respect for “Christians”, for those who do believe.
In the society, when we are known and respected, then opportunities are given us: taking in Christian refugees from Sudan; cooperating with a city soup kitchen; assisting Holocaust survivors; working with the government Tourism ministry; being entrusted with police and court procedures, such as translating for those whose Hebrew is insufficient.
We are in the world, but not of the world. We are the salt of the Earth. Let your light so shine, that by your good works they glorify your Father in Heaven. (Jn 17:16-17; Mt 5:11-16)