Change Region:United Kingdom

Commentary

Staying the Course

Spiritual life is maintained by dedication and placing oneself in a position that exposes one to the will and purpose of God. That is, we should be people of prayer and of the Word of God (Philippians 4:6).

Paul likens the believer’s journey to that of an athlete, a farmer and a soldier (2 Timothy 2:1-7). All this tells us that we should endure, sow patiently and be ready for conflict. In short, we must “stay the course.”

To be sure, the road we walk as Christians is not an easy one. It has many twists and turns. Therefore, we must learn to persevere. This means we must get our personal walk with God right so we are free to pursue His wider agenda.

Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

Sadly, most Christians are ensnared with their own problems and never get to the place where they are available to serve the wider interests of Heaven. A South American preacher once called this “the eternal child-hood of the believer.” He was right! Today, the Body of Christ has been immobilized by this problem. All the while the world burns and becomes more dangerous, especially the Middle East.

The Arab Spring has taken a turn for the worse, as Islamists everywhere exploit longing for democracy to seize power and pursue a renewed Caliphate that aims to eliminate Israel and eventually dominate the world. Syria will be next on the list and then no doubt Jordan. When this process ends it will set its sights on Israel. About this we should have no doubt. Scripture counsels that this battle is not simply a physical or political one but indeed a spiritual one, meaning that it will be won or lost in the place of prayer (Ephesians 6:12).

Daniel, the Hebrew Prophet, was extremely busy administering the empire but he still gave himself to urgent intercession on behalf of his people Israel. He stayed the course and lived to see his people released from exile and re-established in Jerusalem. His prayers are still impacting events today and will do so for decades to come. What a testimony to the power of prayer and to a single life that was free to pursue the will of God.

Israel needs our dedicated prayers, as does the Church. God is looking for those who will give themselves as a sacrifice to His will (Romans 12:1-2), and with supplications and thanksgiving (1 Timothy2:1-2). Prayer is indeed hard work and for this reason the prayer meetings of any church in the world is always the least attended! It requires staying the course and dying to self. This is not easily done but it must be, because prayer is the real power behind all that is done in the Kingdom of God.

All prayer must be made according to the Word of God. When Daniel learned the Prophet Jeremiah had foretold that the Babylonian exile would last only seventy years, he held up this passage before the God of Heaven and prayed for its fulfillment (Daniel 9:1-2). God heard him, honored his sacrifice and sent an Angel to confirm this.

We, too, have magnificent promises concerning Israel that we can hold up before the throne of God. Isaiah 62 states that we have been placed as watchman on the walls of Jerusalem, to give God no rest in reminding Him of His promises until He “establishes Jerusalem as a praise in the earth.”

There are many more promises like this, but the question is “Who will stay the course?”

Iran is now well placed to manufacture a nuclear weapon thanks to the dithering of the international community. Teheran has threatened to annihilate Israel. What will stop her? The answer is found in the Bible, but who will believe this and apply it in prayer and action? Truly, in this urgent time, God again is looking all over the earth for people who will arise, stay the course and seek His face as never before. The hour is late! But Jesus said watch and prayer. It is a powerful tool able to bring down mighty strongholds, but it is also the most neglected tool in our arsenal of spiritual weapons (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).

Rev. Hedding is vice chairman of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org

 

This article was first published in the August 2012 issue of The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition; www.jpost.com/ce

Entering Our Rest

The biblical credentials for Israel's modern-day return to her ancient homeland are overwhelming, yet some Christians continue to deny the obvious. In particular they insist the New Testament is devoid of any reference to the continuing validity of the land promise to Israel.

Now there are many sound ways to answer this challenge, and one of these New Testament “proof texts” can be found in the book of Hebrews.

The writer of Hebrews spends much of chapters three and four urging us to “enter” the rest provided in Jesus, drawing an analogy to the failure of the Israelites in the wilderness to enter the rest promised them in the land which lay ahead.

Hebrews first quotes verbatim from Psalm 95: “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: 'Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tested Me... So I swore in My wrath, “They shall not enter My rest.”'  (Hebrews 3:7-11)

The passage later continues: “Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it... For we who have believed do enter that rest... Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, again He designates a certain day, saying in David, 'Today,' after such a long time, as it has been said: 'Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.' For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. There remains therefore a rest for the people of God...” (Hebrews 4:1-10)

Now this promise of rest originates in an emotional conversation between God and His servant Moses in the days between the giving of the first and second tablets of the Ten Commandments. The Lord is still angry over the sin of the Golden Calf and tells Moses he and the people should go on ahead to Canaan without Him, lest He “consume” them along the way.

But Moses intercedes and God relents, vowing: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14)

This promise of rest in the land is then repeatedly affirmed elsewhere in the books of Moses, including in Deuteronomy 3:20, 12:9 and 25:19.

Well, some Christians contend that this promised rest was fulfilled when Joshua led the people in conquering the land, citing such passages as Joshua 21:44: “The Lord gave them rest all around, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers...”

Yet the writer of Hebrews insists that if Joshua had truly given them the rest intended by God, then there would have been no need for David to speak of a future day of rest in Psalm 95:9-11.

Taken together, these verses clearly indicate that God intended for Israel to one day enter a permanent rest in the Land promised as an “everlasting possession” to Abraham and his natural descendants (Genesis 17:8). It is a rest whereby the nation of Israel never again has to struggle to possess the land and finally rests from their “works” - meaning striving for righteousness through the law – just as God rested from His works.

And the writer of Hebrews affirms this in the simplest of terms: “There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.” (Hebrews 4:10; see also Hebrews 4:1)

To this day, the promise of an abiding rest for Israel back in the land given to them by God has never been completely fulfilled. But we are witness to a process of restoration in our day which will ultimately end in Israel as a nation entering that rest, in what the Bible refers to as the Millennium.

Now as a Christian, I believe this will be realized when the Jewish people cease striving for righteousness through their own works and finally rest in the atonement which the Lord has provided for both the land and the people (Deuteronomy 32:43).

In any event, here we have in Hebrews another unmistakable New Testament affirmation of the land promise in the context of a future restoration of Israel.

_______________________________________________

This article was first published in the July 2012 issue of Jerusalem Post Christian Edition. www.jpost.com/ce

Staying on God's Side

There is a growing trend among evangelical Christians of turning against Israel, as can be seen in the increasing number of screenings of the anti-Zionist film With God on Our Side in Evangelical churches and seminaries across North America. The movie, which was released two years ago and is still gaining steam, attempts to refute the biblical position held by Christian Zionists. Yet, it is very weak theologically, relying mainly on a false accusation that pro-Israel Christians subscribe to dual covenant theology (believing in two ways of salvation).

The weakness of this charge is self-evident, as great Christian leaders down through the centuries have held Zionist views and yet were in no way dual covenant in belief. If the truth be told, the film's main contributors could not even give a reasonable theological answer to Genesis 12:3! Yet many Evangelicals are getting deceived because the duality charged is coupled with a strong emotional appeal for the poor Palestinians.

More troubling still is the fact that the film's producers are guilty of outright lying! I and several other pro-Israel Evangelical leaders were approached to appear in the production based on their misrepresentations that it was a totally different type of documentary. Given that these were fellow Christians from respected churches and ministries, I granted them an interview. Naturally, if I had known their real purpose, I would never have done so. Scripture teaches that lying is not a small matter as those who do so will not “inherit the kingdom of God” (Revelation 21:8).

Ultimately, With God on Our Side contains a long litany of faulty assumptions and conclusions. For instance, the film presupposes:

1.  That all Christian Zionists subscribe to the “Greater Israel” theory. They do not!
2.  That all Christian Zionists are Dispensationalists. They are not!
3.  That Christian Zionists love Jews but hate Palestinians. They do not!
4.  That Christian Zionists believe in “dual covenant.” They do not!
5.  That Christian Zionism goes back to John Nelson Darby in Scotland in 1830. It does not!
6.  That Christian Zionists want to trigger “Armageddon”. They do not!
7.  That Jesus taught “Fulfillment theology.” He did not!
8.  That the modern state of Israel has no international legitimacy. It does!
9.  That radical Islamic theology has no influence on the conflict. It does!
10.  That the Abrahamic Covenant has been, in part, abolished. It has not!
11.  That biblical Judaism was never about land but ethics. It was not!
12.  That the Jews of today are somehow not the Jews of the past. They are!
13.  That only those people holding the views put forth by the film are full of godly compassion. They are not!

The Exposition of Scripture
Many of the Evangelical 'stars' in With God on Our Side hold a twisted view of Scripture that does not give the Old Testament equal billing with the New. But when the Apostle Paul writes to Timothy that “all scripture is inspired and given of God,” he was referring to the Hebrew Scriptures! (II Timothy 3:16)

Also, when Jesus assured “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17), he was referring to the same Hebrew Scriptures. The New Testament is not a filter of the Old Testament but a faithful exposition of it!

Thus the early Church did not subscribe to the “Fulfillment Theology” being preached by the anti-Israel Evangelicals in the film. Surely, the Apostles did not teach that the Land of Israel in the Old Testament was merely a metaphor for Jesus. Nor did they teach that the Abrahamic Covenant had been abolished or reconstructed so as to disinvest the Jews of a national destiny back in the Land.

The Battle Ground
The core battleground in this debate is none other than the Abrahamic Covenant. The people who produced With God on Our Side want you to believe that this covenant has been abolished or reconstructed to mean something else. There is no proof of this in the Bible! In fact, it is the New Testament scriptures which entirely validate the Abrahamic Covenant and hold it up as proof of God’s faithfulness to all His people – including New Testament believers. This Covenant has many aspects:

1.  It is one of the first proclamations of the Gospel (Galatians 3:8);
2.  It bequeaths to the Jewish people (“seed” as in plural) the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession (Genesis 17:7-8; Psalm 105:7-12);
3.  It promises a unique blessing of salvation for the world through the “seed” (singular) of Israel (Genesis 22:16-19), and
4.  It gives a stern warning and promised blessing depending on how we respond to it (Genesis 12:3).

When Abraham believed what God was saying to him through this covenant, it was accounted to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). That is, he was saved by faith since the covenant, apart from all its other aspects, focused on Jesus! This is precisely the point that Paul makes in Galatians, chapter three.

His readers were in danger of returning to the Mosaic Law as a means of salvation since they were being influenced by “Judaizers” (Galatians 3:1-9). Paul was merely pointing out that the Law, which was given 400 years later, did not nullify the promise in this Covenant that God would save the world through the promised “seed” – Jesus (Galatians 3:15-16). This provoked the question: “Then why did God give us the Law?”

Paul answers by saying, “As a teacher to lead us to Christ” (Galatians 3:24). That is, the Law convicts us of sin (Romans 3:20). This alone is the context of Galatians three. Indeed, Paul goes on to validate and confirm the efficacy of the Abrahamic Covenant by stating that if you “belong to Christ then you are Abraham’s children according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29). Paul was expounding on the Abrahamic Covenant as it was originally given, not changing it!

Thus to use Galatians three as a means to somehow invalidate or debunk the Abrahamic Covenant is nothing short of presumption! Yet, this is what the producers of the movie set out to achieve in order to biblically delegitimize Israel’s modern-day restoration. There is no doubt that they are accusing God of lying, since this Covenant is sworn to by God Himself (Hebrews 6:13-20) to be everlasting in all its aspects. Indeed, it was the reason that John the Baptist and Jesus came! (Luke 1:54-55; 72-75)

Yet the Abrahamic Covenant has both conditional and unconditional aspects, and herein lays the theological confusion. That is, the promise that the Land of Canaan would be the “everlasting possession” of the Jewish people was unconditional and unalterable (Genesis 17:8). But the question of the Jewish people’s right to live on the land so promised to them was later conditioned upon their living in reconciled relationship with God (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28). Failure at the latter would result in warning, correction, judgment and exile. This was the ministry of the major and minor prophets.

The challenge of the modern-day restoration of Israel to her ancient homeland remains in her continuing disobedience to the Lord, but He has promised to change this! (Zechariah 12:10-14; Romans 11:25-26)  We just need to remain patient with God and realize we are living in a “time of favor” on Zion, whereby He is bringing the Jews home for His redemptive purpose, whether they deserve it or not.

So the land is theirs forever but the privilege of living upon it is conditional upon their righteous standing before God! In other words, a holy land is for a holy people! This also means they should be kind to the stranger in it and deal with him justly (Exodus 22:21). This was the true message being conveyed to Joshua by the Angel of the Lord as he prepared to lead Israel into the Promised Land (Joshua 5:13-15). God is indeed on His own side and that is the side of His grace, love and mercy but also the side of His holiness and righteousness.

The real truth about With God on Our Side is that the producers think that God is on their side! Sadly, this film is so distorted and biased that it is incapable of making any positive contribution for the Palestinians because for them it’s all Israel’s fault. How narrow-minded can one get!

_______________________________________________

This article was first published in the July 2012 issue of Jerusalem Post Christian Edition. www.jpost.com/ce

Israel and the Spirit of God

The theme for this year’s Feast of Tabernacles celebration is “The Spirit of Grace and Supplication”, which is taken from Zechariah 12:10 and touches upon one of the most exciting and still outstanding biblical promises for the Jewish people. It was the common understanding of the Old Testament prophets that the end-time restoration of Israel would not only be a restoration to their land but also – and more importantly – a return to their God.

Two of the great prophetic chapters on this restoration, Ezekiel 36 and 37, both foresee two phases in this restoration process for Israel. The first phase will be a physical return back to the Land of Israel. The ancient cities will be rebuilt, barren ground will become fertile fields, and an exiled people will re-gather in their homeland. But God also promises a second phase of restoration which will bring forth a spiritual restoration of the entire nation.

As the prophet Ezekiel is confronted with the vision of Israel as a hopeless field of dry bones, God twice tells him to prophesy. After the first prophetic proclamation a massive miracle unfolds as the dry bone start to move, rearrange themselves into skeletons, and finally become covered with flesh and sinews. The bones turned into a large number of restored bodies, yet they were still dead!

Then God tells him to prophecy a second time: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” (Ezekiel 37:9)

As Ezekiel begins to speak, life enters into the stiff bodies and they rise to become “an exceedingly great army”.

This second phase of the restoration of Israel is repeatedly spoken of by most of the Hebrew prophets. A look at some of these passages reveals an exciting divine program which unfolds as the Spirit of God starts moving upon Israel. This program of the Holy Spirit affects each individual member of God’s people. It affects the entire nation of Israel, its immediate neighbourhood and eventuallythe entire world.

Personal Transformation

It is again the prophet Ezekiel who describes best the personal impact which the spiritual restoration will have on Israel (Ezekiel 36: 24-27). God promises the cleansing of all past sins, to remove the hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh. Then God promises to fill them with His very presence, with the Spirit of God. A nation which throughout their history struggled to meet the righteous requirements of God will now become a nation of shining saints.

“I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” (Ezekiel 36:27)

Already, Moses foresaw this development even before Israel had entered the Promised Land.  Moses understood that Israel would be exiled but also return to their land, where God would “circumcise their heart… to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6).

In John chapter 3, when Jesus talks to Nicodemus – one of the greatest rabbis of his time – he compares this process with somebody being “born again”. Everything will become new, regenerated from within.

Personal relationship with God

Unlike Christianity, Judaism traditionally sees relationship with God not so much from the individual perspective but as a community experience between the nation and God. It is more a corporate understanding of “We and our God”, rather than “I and my God”. According to most rabbis, God deals with Israel as a nation rather than with the individual Jew.

The prophet Isaiah suggests that this collective national experience with God will be expanded into a very individual and personal relationship with God.

“For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, … One will say, ‘I am the Lord’s’; Another will call himself by the name of Jacob; Another will write with his hand, ‘The Lord’s’, and name himself by the name of Israel.” (Isaiah 44:3-5)

And this is exactly what characterizes the new covenant relationship which the prophet Jeremiah foresees for a restored people of Israel: “No more shall every man teach his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord’, for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

Herein lies a significant lesson for each one of us. Being part of the Kingdom of God means each one of us is privileged to enjoy a very personal relationship with God. Yes, we are part of a large family with many members, which always has and needs a communal expression. But at the same time each one of God’s children should personally hear the voice of our Heavenly Father. As is promised to Israel, everyone who has the Spirit of God needs to be able to say very personally, “I am the Lord’s!” And on our hands it should be written, “The Lord’s” – meaning each one of us belongs to the Father in heaven.

Peace and security

Another direct result of the outpouring of the Spirit of God will the ushering in of righteousness, peace and safety. The prophet Isaiah (in 32:10-14) describes a rather distressful picture for Israel: unfruitfulness, the palaces are forsaken, the city deserted, Jerusalem had became “a joy of wild donkeys a pasture of flocks”.

But God places a time limit to this time of trouble for Israel. He declares that this disturbing situation will last “until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high” (Isaiah 32:15). And this changes everything! The words which then describe the time after the Spirit of God has been poured out are: “justice”, “righteousness”, “peace”, “quietness and assurance forever”, “secure dwelling”, “quiet resting places”, “peaceful habitations” (verses 16 and following).

Now this is exactly what both Jews and Arabs have been longing for over so many decades. This means God’s roadmap for peace in the Middle East is revival – the outpouring of the Holy Spirit!

National and personal deliverance

The prophets also saw a very unusual result of a Holy Spirit outpouring: deliverance from their enemies! Isaiah sees the enemies coming upon Israel “like a flood”, but then beholds “the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him” (Isaiah 59:19).

Already in chapter 10, when Israel is being suppressed by the Assyrian army, God promises Isaiah that this yoke will be broken “by the anointing oil” – a powerful symbol of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 10:27).

In addition, the prophet Zechariah is reminded by God that in Israel’s time of need the ultimate deliverance will not come through an almighty army. Instead, God declares: “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says the Lord of hosts”. The Lord also adds that there is no mountain or challenge too big for Him: “Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain!” (Zechariah 4:6-7)

What powerful and encouraging declarations for Israel!

The recognition of Messiah

Another of the amazing results of this outpouring of the Spirit will be that they will “look upon him who they have pierced” and that they will “mourn for him as of an only begotten son” (Zechariah 12:10).

It is worth noting what the Talmud has to say regarding this passage. On the question of why there was such mourning in Jerusalem, the Talmud declares: “It is on account of the Messiah, the son of Joseph, who was killed.”

This refers to the two types of Messiah in Jewish tradition. One is Mosiach ben-David, Messiah the Son of David, who will liberate and rule the nation. But there is also the suffering Mosiach ben-Yoseph, referring to Joseph, the son of Jacob, who suffered at the hand of his brothers, saved the nations from starvation, and later reconciled with his family. It is fascinating to consider that the Talmud and the New Testament understanding agree that the outpouring of the Spirit of Grace will lead in Israel to a national recognition of the Suffering Messiah! May that day come soon!

A promise for Israel

Large parts of the Christian world see the Holy Spirit as an exclusive gift to the gentile Church. The above passages should remind us that also the Spirit of God is promised “to the Jew first”.

Speaking of the “gift of the Holy Spirit”, the Apostle Peter told a Jewish audience in the Temple courts in Jerusalem: “For the promise is to you and to your children…”  (Act 2:39)

If there is any nation which has a legitimate right to expect the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, it is Israel!

That being said, I want to encourage all of us to hunger for a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit for ourselves. These promises reviewed here are true for all those who through faith in Jesus Christ became part of the family of God.

Invite the Holy Spirit to transform your life. Allow the Spirit of God to empower you afresh. Expect the anointing of the Spirit to break the yoke which stops you from fulfilling the calling of God on your life. Invite the Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus more fully to you. And allow the Spirit of son-ship to bring you into more intimate relationship with our Father in heaven. It will change your life!

We also want to invite you to join us for this year’s Feast celebration in Jerusalem, as we gather the last of September expecting a fresh outpouring of His Spirit under the theme, “The Spirit of Grace and Supplication”. We are making arrangements for special prayer and body ministry, and you will most assuredly be blessed.

Finally, please pray with us that God’s spirit of Grace and supplication will be poured out soon on the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the House of David! Join our Isaiah 62 Prayer Campaign! By His Spirit, we can remove mountains!

Trusting God in an unstable world

“For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His Kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can    restrain His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?” (Daniel 4:34-35)

As global upheavals give rise to ever greater uncertainty, we have to have a firm grasp on what the Bible teaches concerning the sovereignty of God. For if we do not, our lives will be filled with anxiety and fear. Jesus said that days would come upon the earth that would cause men's hearts to tremble with fear (Luke 21:26).

We can understand this today as we hear daily of the effects of global warming, the widening potential for war and conflict even on a nuclear level, the dangers of global financial meltdown, and the threats of famine and inflationary food costs around the world.

Yet the sovereignty of God assures us that He is in control, that His purpose is on track and that His Word is true and reliable. At the center of the challenges facing us today is the nation of Israel. This tiny nation holds a disproportionally prime spot in today’s media. This is God’s way of getting the world’s attention. Things are happening in the Middle East that are bigger than what man and his plans can cope with. There seems to be no end to the struggles that face this region, typified by the so-called “Arab Spring.” One could easily despair, but the Bible gives clarity to these matters.

Israel’s modern-day restoration is not a coincidence but is divinely validated everywhere by scripture (Amos 9:11-15; Obadiah 17-18; Jeremiah 31:35-37). Sometimes this process appears to contradict our natural thinking since, in general, it does not enjoy the approval of the world. Sadly, much of the wider Church does not understand the purpose of God in Israel’s restoration. Herein lies the mystery of the sovereignty of God; His ways are not our ways and we must trust Him fully as His purpose unfolds before our eyes.

Essentially, this means being faithful to His Word and blessing what He is blessing. We are people of faith, like Abraham. We therefore walk by faith, believing all that God has said will be realized. Just as Abraham followed God even though he did not know where he was going! (Hebrews 11:8)

Abraham also believed God even though what He was proposing was impossible, because Abraham and Sarah were well beyond child-bearing age (Romans 4:19-20). We shall likewise inherit the promises of God as regards to ourselves and Israel if we are patient and do not waver in faith (Hebrews 6:12).

Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6) and therefore it is essential that we know what faith is. Faith is:

*  Believing what you cannot see, touch or even understand (Hebrews 11:1);
*  Believing the Word of God even if it appears to contradict your rational thinking (Hebrews 11:11);
*  Believing that God will answer you when you diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6);
*  Believing that God welcomes you into His presence because of the shed blood of Jesus (Hebrews 10:19-22).

True saving faith is entirely supernatural and cannot be faked! Faith can also grow stronger and this is done by giving glory to God or describing His greatness (Psalm 68:34). This is what worship is all about. The word was originally “worthship,” meaning the act of describing God's infinite worth.

So as the world enters times that are ever more perilous and uncertain (2 Timothy 3:1-5), we can have great peace and even joy because our God is in control. He will complete His good work in Israel and in our lives (Philippians 1:6). In the end, the nations will be humbled and brought into submission to His will (Zechariah 14:16). On a holy hill in Jerusalem, He will install His Messiah King and all nations will call Him Lord (Psalm 2:1-12). This is humanity's destiny and it is as sure as the rising of the sun. We can thus rejoice and rest in the knowledge that God most definitely has everything under control!

Rev. Hedding is vice chairman of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org

Two very blessed centurions

The Bible tells us about two very unusual Roman centurions living in the Land of Israel in the first century. Each was uniquely touched by God through the ministry of Jesus and the early Church. Their stories carry important lessons for us today.

In Luke 7, we learn that the first one approached Jesus asking that he heal his servant, who was gravely ill. Surprisingly, Jesus followed the Roman officer at once. Now this is surprising because Jesus insisted elsewhere that He was only sent to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” This occurred in Matthew 16, when he turned away a gentile woman seeking to be healed. So it was very unusual that Jesus immediately followed the centurion and decided to heal the young boy.

The second centurion, we are told in Acts 10, was greatly blessed by God. In fact, this Cornelius had so caught the attention of the Lord with his faithful prayers and alms that Peter was sent by the Holy Spirit to minister to him in Caesarea, thus opening up the Church to its first gentile convert. As the Holy Spirit fell upon him, the Jewish believers soon realized that the Gospel was meant for all peoples.

Now these two miracles are quite remarkable. The one centurion was blessed by Jesus even though his earthly ministry was directed at his fellow Jews. The second centurion became the first fruit among the nations.

So it is worth asking: What was it about these two centurions that caused God to bless them in such remarkable ways? The Word of God gives us the clear answer.

In Luke 7, when the centurion in Capernaum “heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to Him, pleading with Him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they begged Him earnestly saying that the one for whom He should do this, was deserving, for he loves our nation and has built us a synagogue...”

What a testimony! Jewish elders came to Jesus and begged him to heal the servant because the centurion had befriended the Jews. Consequently, Jesus did not turn him away like he had the Canaanite woman, but immediately came to his aid.

Then in Acts 10, we read that the centurion Cornelius sent servants to the city of Jaffa, where Peter was staying in the house of a local tanner. The servants came to Peter and described Cornelius as “a just man, one who fears God, he has a good reputation among all the nations of the Jews, he was divinely instructed by the holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you...”

Again, this was a Roman centurion with a public testimony of helping the Jews through his many prayers and alms.

These are important details for us to note. Both centurions were touched by God in unusual ways because both of them had a great love and respect for the Jewish people and their God. Both openly supported the Jewish community in ways that caused God and man to take notice. So what we see here is the ancient principle which God decreed in the calling of Abraham, when He promised that “I will bless those who bless you…”

These two centurions may not have known the full impact of what they were doing in blessing the Jewish people, but God saw it and was moved to bless them in return. This does not mean helping support the Jewish people will automatically bring us to heaven.  But what it does mean is that as we bless the Jewish nation and people, God takes notice and will bless us in extraordinary ways, even beyond our understanding.

Christians need to take this to heart. We need to bless and support Israel in very practical ways, like those centurions who gave alms and built synagogues, and thereby reaped incredible rewards of healing, Holy Ghost empowerment and even eternal life.

Dr. Buehler is executive director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org

Refugees Forever

The plight of the Palestinian refugees is a frequent media headliner.  Some people have called on the international community to boycott Israel, blaming the nation for the creation of the refugee issue and for the poor living conditions of nearly 5 million Palestinian refugees spanning four generations. To answer the question of who is responsible for today's refugees a little historical perspective is necessary.

In 1947 the UN passed Resolution 181, The Partition Plan, creating a Jewish and Arab state side by side that looks very much like today's two-state proposal. Israel accepted the resolution and the Arab nations rejected it launching an attack on the newly created state of Israel. Israel defended herself and the war ended with a cease-fire line known today as the green-line which separates the West Bank and Gaza from Israel. 

 About 600,000 to 700,000 Arab Palestinians fled their homes in the war of 1948 and ended up outside the cease-fire line becoming refugees. About the same numbers of Jewish refugees fled or were expelled from Arab lands around the time of the war.  Israel absorbed the Jewish refugees despite the economic hardship it created on the new state. The Arabs refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees.

How did roughly 700,000 Arab refugees turn into 5 million? The United Nations defined Palestinian refugees differently from all other refugees worldwide.  This exclusive treatment has led to a situation where the Palestinian refugees are the only refugee group that is expanding rather than contracting.

 FACTS ON NON-PALESTINIAN REFUGEES

  • In December of 1949 a refugee agency was created by the United Nations called the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). They are responsible for all refugees worldwide (with the exclusion of Palestinian refugees). They are held to the legal standards of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Under the UNHCR definition of a refugee, the status of refugee pertains only to those who have lost their home and occupation in their country of nationality. They cannot pass down their refugee status to the next generation once they have been relocated and integrated in another nation providing safety and citizenship.
     
  • The UNHCR seeks to solve refugee issues in three ways they term as "durable solutions": (1) Repatriation – returning to one’s country (2) Integration – becoming citizens of the nation to where they have fled and (3) Relocation – moving to another nation that welcomes refugees and grants citizenship. If any refugee is granted one of these solutions his status as refugee is terminated.
     
  • The UNHCR is held to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and has helped an estimated 50 million people to restart their lives. They have a staff of just 6,300 people in more than 110 countries helping 36.4 million refugees and displaced people.

 FACTS ON PALESTINIAN REFUGEES

  • Palestinian refugees are under the administration of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). UNRWA was established in December 1949 to “alleviate the conditions of starvation and distress among the Palestinian refugees” with “a view to the termination of international assistance for relief” at an early date – set for no later than December 1950. However, rather than ending its emergency assistance, UNRWA began development programs for the Palestinian refugees. UNRWA is now the largest UN operation in the Middle East with a staff of over 30,000 – most of whom are Palestinians themselves.
     
  • UNRWA's programmes include: education, healthcare, micro-financing, infrastructure development and emergency needs. The original "relief" programme accounts for only 10% of the budget with 90% dedicated to development goals. Many refugees throughout the world today are not getting adequate food and shelter while Palestinian refugees receive among other benefits, business loans, after school tutoring and university scholarships.
     
  • Under UNRWA's mandate, Palestinians continue their status as refugees even if they integrate or relocate to a safe country and are granted citizenship. As of current international law, the only way for Palestinians refugees to lose their status is for them to return to their lands or until a “just solution” is agreed upon. The UNHCR (for world-wide refugees) requires “durable" solutions to the situation of the refugees, whereas UNRWA (for the Palestinians) requires a "just" solution which is deeply political rather than humanitarian.
     
  • UNRWA is not held to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and is constrained by very few international or local governmental laws. They staff over 30,000 to care for just 5 million refugees and have yet to remove one Palestinian refugee from their roles except upon death.

The Palestinians as a group therefore are under a different set of rules to every other refugee in the world today.

So who is responsible for the situation of the Palestinian refugees?

Firstly, had the Arab nations accepted the 1947 UN Partition Plan providing for both a Jewish and Arab state side by side, there would have been neither war nor Palestinian refugees.

Secondly, had the UN dealt with the Palestinian refugee situation as it has with all other refugee s throughout the world, there would be fewer than 700,000 in contrast to today's 5 million. And had the Arab nations absorbed the refugees in accordance with the 1951 Convention on Refugees, as Israel did the Jewish refugees, there would not be one Palestinian refugee today.


Kasey Bar is a freelance writer, living in Israel. She is a former co-ordinator of the ICEJ's Young Adults Ministry: Grafted. This article was first published in the January 2012 edition of Grafted's quarterly newsletter.

Support IsraelSupport Israel
This is a crucial hour for Israel and the Jewish people worldwide and they need our help. Over the last three decades the ICEJ has developed projects and tools for concerned Christians to support Israel effectively.
Support Israel today »

The Forgotten Refugees

When referring to the Arab-Israeli conflict the word refugee is nearly synonymous with Palestinian. The reality is that when Israel became a modern nation in 1948 there were more Jewish refugees than Palestinian. As five Arab nations launched a regional war against the state of Israel, an estimated 670,000 Arabs fled the war and an estimated 860,000 Jewish refugees were expelled from Arab lands.

Historically this process is considered a “population exchange.” Arabs fled to neighboring Arab states and Israel became the beacon of hope for hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees who were expelled from Arab lands losing substantial assets and the historical heritage of their families. Israel also became the haven for 600,000 European Jews who survived the holocaust.

Word from Jerusalem - August 2008Thus, in 1948 over a million Jewish refugees found security in the state of Israel. The infant state welcomed the refugees and sacrificed as a corporate community to provide housing, food, and even education to quickly transform their feeble refugees into functioning, prosperous members of society.

The Arab nations did exactly the opposite. Believing their armies would soon destroy Israel, they made a calculated decision not to absorb the Palestinian refugees as citizens or to re-establish their lives in any way. Untouched by the suffering of their fellow brothers, they chose to exploit the misery of the Palestinians as a political weapon against Israel continuing the war they began in 1948.

Sixty years and four generations later, the Palestinian refugees have grown to a number of over 4.4 million. Still all Arab nations continue to refuse citizenship to Palestinians.  According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the definition of a refugee pertains to an individual who has lost both their home and livelihood. The status of refugee is not transferred to his/her descendants. The UNHCR is responsible for all refugees worldwide, except for the Palestinians.

Under the pressure of several Arab nations, on December 8, 1948, the UN formed the agency of UNRWA, The United Nations Relief and Works Agency. The only agency in the UN dedicated to just one group of people, the Palestinians.  Under UNRWA the definition of a Palestinian refugee is different from all other refugees worldwide in that the status of refugee is transferred indefinitely from generation to generation. Because of this the Palestinians are the only group of refugees whose numbers are growing rather than shrinking.
 
The US taxpayer supports 40% of UNRWA’s annual $300 million budget while the oil rich Saudi Arabia contributes a token 2% to the care of its Arab brothers in refugee camps the Arab League refuses to dismantle. The best solution is simply to shut down UNRWA and to transfer its responsibilities to UNHCR in order to break the refugee cycle and to provide Palestinians with the ability to build a brighter future.

UNRWA’s mandate, however, keeps being extended year by year and will continue to be so until enough people cry out against the injustice of the Arab nations toward Israel and the disenfranchised Palestinians in their midst. According to that same mandate the descendants of those Arabs displaced in 1948 will remain refugees until they are able to build communities inside all of Israel.

Under these terms there will be no end to the Palestinian “refugee” issue until there is an end to the State of Israel, a nation built by over a million forgotten Jewish refugees. 


Kasey Bar is a freelance writer, living in Israel. She is a former co-ordinator of the ICEJ's Young Adults Ministry: Grafted. This article was first published in August 2008 in the US edition of the ministry's flagship monthly magazine, Word from Jerusalem

Support IsraelSupport Israel
This is a crucial hour for Israel and the Jewish people worldwide and they need our help. Over the last three decades the ICEJ has developed projects and tools for concerned Christians to support Israel effectively.
Support Israel today »

The Real Root of the Christian Exodus

With his recent segment for 60 Minutes, CBS News reporter Bob Simon has once again stoked the perennial debate over why so many native Palestinian Christians have been leaving the Holy Land in recent decades. Sadly, he addressed this important issue with a very superficial brand of journalism. The report relied mainly on one local Palestinian cleric – notorious Israel-basher Rev. Mitri Raheb – to single out the “Israeli occupation” as the scapegoat for this Christian flight. There was no need to dig deeper, since Simon knew the report was sure to be a sensation from the moment Israeli ambassador Dr. Michael Oren caught wind of the production and intervened with his bosses at CBS News.

If Bob Simon had truly wanted to know why Arab Christians have been fleeing in droves from Palestinian areas, he should have asked those émigrés now living in Toronto, Sydney and Santiago. Because that is where the majority of Palestinian Christians now reside – in dispersed communities in Canada, Chile, Australia, Germany, the United States and elsewhere.

The disturbing truth is that more than 60% of the Arab Christians born in Palestinian areas over the past several generations now live abroad. Yet the same holds true for Lebanese Christians, as a similar 60% of their beleaguered community now live in foreign lands.

Indeed, there has been a widening Christian exodus from all the surrounding Arab countries, with Iraq’s ancient Assyrian Christian community collapsing from 1.5 million to as few as 250,000 since the Second Gulf War commenced in 2003. The Coptic Church in Egypt is also losing tens of thousands of parishioners in the wake of the Arab Spring.

So it is indisputable that Arab Christians are fleeing all across the Middle East, and surely the Israeli occupation is not to blame. Rather, this flight has been primarily due to local conflicts and the rise of Islamic militancy, as noted by Ambassador Oren, and the Palestinian Christians are no exception to this trend. The lone exception, in fact, happens to be the state of Israel, the only place in the entire region where Arab Christians are growing in number and are afforded their democratic rights.

Still, some Palestinian clerics insist that Muslims and Christians would co-exist in perfect harmony if not for the Jews and their settlements. That, sadly, is a living portrait of a people in denial. How else to explain that Palestinian Christian flight from the Holy Land predates the “occupation” by decades?

For instance, the last British census in 1948 recorded 29,000 Arab Christians living in Jerusalem, while the first Israeli census in eastern Jerusalem in 1967 found only 11,000. That means two-thirds of the Arab Christian population had fled during the 19 years of the Jordanian occupation of east Jerusalem.

The real root of the current exodus actually lies in the historic interplay between Christians, Jews and Muslims in the Middle East ever since the Islamic conquests began in the seventh century. The region’s Christians and Jews became dhimmis – suppressed minorities living under Muslim dominance. They could keep their faith but had to accept second-class status. To survive, both communities adopted a code of silence which dictated that they never challenge the system nor say anything bad about Islam in public.

This system of dhimmitude basically held until modern times. The Crusades may have brought temporary relief for some Christians, but only terror for the Jews.

When Ottoman rule over the Middle East began to wane, the dynamic finally began to change. The Great Powers of Europe moved into the region, each concluding deals with the Sultanate in Istanbul to provide protection to various imperiled Christian denominations. Western missionaries also brought with them schools, hospitals and other modern institutions. With their better education and job skills, Arab Christians became more mobile and many began to migrate to the West to escape the prison of Islam. Thus the modern-day Christian exodus began.

Meanwhile, the Zionist movement arose with a dream of restoring Jewish sovereignty back in their ancient homeland. Israel’s emergence in 1948 challenged the system of Muslim dominance over Christians and Jews, an achievement the Arab world has never truly accepted.

For many Christians in the Middle East, the rebirth of Israel actually stands as a light and model of freedom from Muslim tyranny. But for Palestinian Christians, the conflict that seeks to destroy the Jewish state has been too close for comfort. They are powerless to end it and struggling to survive.

Thus many Palestinian Christian leaders have taken to patriotically waving the flag of Palestinian nationalism higher than even their Muslim neighbors, in the hope such loyalty to the cause will safeguard their flocks. They rail against the Israeli occupation and the settlements as the reason for their dwindling presence. The checkpoints and security barrier may create hardships for them, but it is not the core reason why proud Christian families who have weathered many turbulent centuries here are now pulling up roots.

We must all understand that they are employing an ancient survival mechanism ingrained through centuries of Muslim oppression. Unable to name the real culprit, Palestinian Christians often deflect Muslim anger away from themselves by directing it at the Jews. Meantime, Ambassador Oren is giving voice to the very things they cannot say.

 

Support IsraelSupport Israel
This is a crucial hour for Israel and the Jewish people worldwide and they need our help. Over the last three decades the ICEJ has developed projects and tools for concerned Christians to support Israel effectively.
Support Israel today »

The Question 60 Minutes Forgot to Ask

A question NOT asked by the champions of gotcha television who put together the item on the situation of Palestinian Christians that aired on the CBS Sixty Minutes programme on Sunday April 22, was this fairly obvious one: Why are Christians fleeing from every corner of the globe INTO Israel?

Israel is the only polity in the entire Middle East in which Christian numbers are growing absolutely. They have in fact increased 400 percent since 1948. Today there are about 163,000 Christians in Israel -- about 2.1% of the total population of around 7 million. This number is growing as Christians flee into Israel from all the nearby African states,  such as Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia Somalia, Kenya and beyond. They are fleeing also from the states of the former Soviet Empire and from Muslim-majority communities around the world.

Incidentally, the Muslim population of Israel is also growing – from 100,000 in 1948 to 900,000 today –from 9.5% of the whole in 1948 to 14.8%. These Muslims vote in Israeli elections and have always held a significant role in the brokering of interests that go into forming Israeli governments. How can this reality be squared with the Arab cartoon-denunciation of life under the Israeli boot? It would have been good to hear Bob Simon ask this fairly obvious question.

Among many other realities that were overlooked is that Israel does not rule in the Palestine Authority. The Palestine Authority does. The State of Israel does assume responsibility for keeping individuals dedicated to liquidation of the Jews out of the Jewish state. Some of these are local Palestinians; others are Muslim zealots who have come to the bosom of the PA on commission from al-Qaeda, from Iran, from Hezbollah and other terrorists organizations. The wall* is certainly an eyesore, and inevitably it has made life significantly more difficult for everybody. But it has served its purpose: since it was completed, loss of civilian lives by terrorist deeds has been reduced by at least 80%.

Since 1995, all aspects of daily life in the PA – economic policy, legal realities, schooling, and so on -- are presided over by the Palestine Authority.  Simultaneously, persecution of Palestinian Christians by Palestinian Arabs has increased – a circumstance attested to without exception by all disinterested journalists and qualified scholars, and most thoroughly documented in the published books and articles of Justin Reid Weiner. The best clue to what life is like under that benign aegis is that between 1995 and 2004, 45,000 Arabs moved out of the PA and into Israel and that of this number four to one were Christians.

Israel does assume responsibility for the welfare of Arabs who live within her own borders. The most recent statistic surveys reveal that “Christian Arabs are Israel’s best-educated and most prosperous demographic group."(Donna Rosenthal, The Israelis (New York: Free Press, 2003), p. 315.)

With their feet, the Christian Arabs and a goodly portion of Muslim Arabs are declaring their preference for Jewish rule over Muslim-Arab rule. They are not alone in this: Throughout the Middle East Christian population has been declining steadily and dramatically for over a century. Of the handful of Christian communities still extant at the beginning of this century, most of these have been moved out of intensive care and onto their death-beds. Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, an estimated one-third to one-half of the Christian population of Iraq has been displaced from cities and towns where they have lived for centuries, some fleeing to the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, others abroad. Many of these are now resident in Israel. In Egypt, 100,000 have already left since the so-called Arab Spring began.

The bottom line (says Giulio Meotti, who is among the best informed European scholars of this phenomenon), “The Christian era in the Middle East is over.” Everywhere, that is, except in Israel. The one feature that distinguishes Israel from all these other nations is that the former is the nation-state of the Jews, governed by Jewish laws, its government and other institutions reflecting Jewish character. As for all the others, Jews are either totally absent  -- 800,00 of them having been driven out by Muslim mobs following the 1948 war --or present today only in miniscule numbers and living under constant threat of extinction.

The premise governing the Sixty Minute script was that the flight of Christians from the Holy Land is owing to intolerable conditions imposed upon the Palestinian Arabs by Israeli rule. The leaders of the various local churches, all of them Arab Palestinians, pulled out all the stops as they heaped blame for everything that is unhappy in the daily life of the Arabs of the land upon the fundamentally inhumane character of the Jews. Why then is all the traffic out of the lands where Arabs rule and into the only corner of the world in which Jews rule?

*The Security Barrier: only 8km of the 140km consist of concrete sections (wall) to prevent direct shooting
 



Paul C. Merkley is an ICEJ Canada Board Director, Professor Emeritus in History from Carleton University and the author of several scholarly academic books on Christians and Israel and recently of Those That Bless You I Will Bless: Christian Zionism in Historical Perspective, Mantua Press, Brantford Ontario, 2012.

Support IsraelSupport Israel
This is a crucial hour for Israel and the Jewish people worldwide and they need our help. Over the last three decades the ICEJ has developed projects and tools for concerned Christians to support Israel effectively.
Support Israel today »

 

Share this: