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Commentary

On the Winning Side

Every Purim in late winter, the Jewish people remember one of the greatest miracles in their history. It is the story of Esther, the Queen in ancient Persia whose courage and entreaties delivered the Jews from certain destruction.

Esther came from a Jewish family carried into exile in the Babylonian conquest. Young and beautiful, she was chosen to be the bride of the most powerful man in the world at that time – King Ahasuerus of Persia.

But during her time as Queen, things took a turn for the worse. The evil Haman, then prime minister of the realm, was plotting when and how to annihilate all the Jews in the vast Persian Empire. Esther was safely hidden in the royal palace, her Jewish identity yet unknown, but her uncle Mordecai came and pleaded with her to intervene with the king and save her people. His urgent appeal is recorded in the book of Esther:

“And Mordecai told them to answer Esther: ‘Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king's palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?’” (Esther 4:13-14)

Esther heeded his warning, saying “if I perish, I perish! (Esther 4:16)”. She made good use of her audience with the king, the Jews were allowed to defend themselves, and their enemy Haman was hung on the very gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. Esther and Mordecai led the Jewish people into a time of great influence and blessing within the provinces of Persia.

This extraordinary appeal of Mordecai still rings powerfully today in light of the new Hamans that are arising, even once again in Persia. It teaches us two very important lessons:

God wins!
First of all, Mordecai boldly declared, “if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place.” What powerful declaration of faith! It teaches us that Israel and the people of God will never be annihilated but will surely survive. Many evil figures have risen up in the course of the history with designs to wipe out Israel. Two generations ago, it was Hitler. Today it is the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Yet God assures us that they will not succeed.

The prophet Isaiah makes this very encouraging statement: “Behold, I Myself have created the smith who blows the fire of coals, and brings out a weapon for its work; and I have created the destroyer to ruin. No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper.” (Isaiah 54:16-17)

All the nuclear scientists and military experts which scheme to wipe out Israel were also created by God, and they cannot surprise or outsmart Him! The God of Israel, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, watches over His people. Indeed, Psalm 121:4-5 assures that “He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper.”

The question of survival
Mordecai’s appeal also contains a very sobering message. Deliverance will always come to the Jews from some quarter. But silence in the face of peril to the Jews could mean “you and your father's house will perish”. Therefore, to stand up for God’s people has less to do with Israel’s survival and more to do with our own survival. If we remain silent, we are endangering ourselves.

Paul echoes this warning in his epistle to the church in Rome: “Do not boast against the branches [the Jews]. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.” (Romans 11:18)

If Christians fail to recognise the eternal and irrevocable calling of Israel, we are endangering and undermining our very own root system. Nobody can survive without nourishing roots.

For such a time as this
Finally, Mordecai reminded his niece that there is a purpose in her high calling as a great Queen. “Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Her uncle challenges her to consider her royal position not as a luxurious privilege but as a calling from God.

Too many times we as Christians like to enjoy our privileges and cherished moments as children of God, and we do not recognise that the world around us is lost and in desperate need of rescue. God never called us to be passengers on a luxury ocean liner called the Church, but rather as crew members on a rescue vessel operating in stormy seas. Let us never forget our high calling of God to Israel and the nations.

One of the most regrettable aspects of the Holocaust was the prevailing silence of the churches. Too few spoke out too late. Early in Hitler’s rise, some pastors and theologians saw prophetic significance in so many Jews fleeing Europe to Palestine. They sensed it was the first sign of the restoration of Zion and of the Lord’s return. Yet they failed to speak out and assist God’s chosen people in their hour of need.

Today as well, many Christians realise the promised restoration of Israel is happening, along with the nations being gathering against her for judgment. Yet they fail to take any real action to stand with the purposes of God. Too many Christians sit back in silence as Israel faces new threats once again from Persia, which is today’s Iran.

So let us remember that God will surely deliver Israel – even if we are silent. The question is: Will we take a stand for the sake of God’s purposes, and for our own sake? Let us resolve to work together to ensure that the Church will never be silent and passive again.

To listen to a teaching on Purim please click here. Part 1. Part 2.

The writer is Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org

Israel’s warning flashers are on

In the charged atmosphere hanging over Israel in 2012, rumors of imminent war with Iran are flashing by at supersonic speeds.

In early January, the US announced plans to deploy an unprecedented 9,000 troops in Israel for an annual joint military exercise known as ‘Austere Challenge’, with some of the forces likely remaining behind until autumn. Many in Israel and abroad instantly read it as a sign of both countries bracing for the fallout from a looming Israeli attack on Iran’s renegade nuclear program.

But then the mass air raid drill was postponed indefinitely. And yet suddenly, this too was seen as a signal of impending war – since Washington was apparently worried that so many American boots on the ground in Israel would be taken as a US ‘green light’ for the approaching Israeli strikes on Iran.

The latest warp-speed rumor concerns recent comments by US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta that he fully expects Israel to launch pre-emptive strikes on Iran sometime this year, even as early as April. That was quickly translated as an attempt to deter Israel from taking a course of action already decided upon.

Window closing
The question of how to deal with Iran’s tenacious drive for nuclear weapons has been hanging over the West for over a decade now and soon the time for guesswork and civil academic debates will be over. During this year, the world indeed will know whether the Iranians finally relent due to tightening international sanctions and efforts at regime change, or if they have ventured beyond the point of no return in their alarming quest for atomic weapons.

Until now, Israel has cooperated with its global allies on a five-front strategy for stopping or delaying Iran’s nuclear program short of overt military action. This has entailed the use of political pressure, covert measures, counter-proliferation, sanctions and efforts at regime change. The ayatollahs are still entrenched as ever, but bans on the purchase of Iranian crude oil are beginning to sink the economy, while computer viruses and hits on nuclear scientists have also taken a toll.

So far, these efforts have managed to slow Tehran down some and extend the time frame for more drastic actions. Yet Iran has continued to make steady progress, displaying an astonishing resiliency and determination to overcome every obstacle thrown in its path.

According to a revealing article published recently in The New York Times, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak claimed that the Netanyahu government has yet to order a military operation against Iran but he has concluded that such a decision will have to be made in 2012 to prevent Tehran from entering its “immunity zone.” By that he meant the stage at which Iran’s accumulated nuclear know-how, enriched uranium stockpiles, ballistic missile production lines, and other key atomic facilities can be taken fully underground and made impervious to conventional military strikes. In effect, Barak just turned on Israel’s warning flashers.

Tellingly, the Iranians have just announced that its uranium enrichment facility buried over 200 feet inside a mountain at Fordo will soon be operational. Israeli leaders estimate that there are only six to nine months left to pull the trigger.

Until now, US intelligence estimates on when Iran will cross the nuclear threshold have been two to three years beyond the Israeli assessments. But that gap appears to be closing, with Panetta now factoring in 15 months at most for the other options to work. Even then, he too is coming to realize the window for decisive action essentially closes in 2012.

Chilling replay
In a recent briefing in Jerusalem, former CIA director James Woolsey told The Christian Edition that Israeli and American leaders are facing the toughest decision the West has confronted since the late 1930s and the rise of the Nazi menace over Europe – thereby buying into the analogy repeatedly drawn by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

“The world is moving towards a situation which is extraordinarily tense, extraordinarily important and a strategic moment of choice like what the world reached in the mid to late thirties when it chose to cave in to Hitler instead of to stand up against him,” Woolsey assessed.

“Iran is committed to two overarching objectives,” he continued. “I am afraid it’s rather parallel to what Hitler was writing and saying in the late 1920’s and 30’s. Number one, kill the Jews! And second, dominate the region!”

Regarding how much time is left to decide on the military option, Woolsey cautioned that while it may still take Iran a couple more years to fit a sophisticated plutonium warhead on a Shihab missile, it could easily cobble together a crude atomic device within months and float it into Haifa or New York harbor inside the hold of a fishing trawler.

“Even if they can’t get a nuclear bomb on a missile for a few years, once they detonate one, even a very simple one somewhere in the desert, the politics for this part of the world changes immensely. It becomes a lot harder for countries to stand up to them, and they will not hesitate to throw their weight around,” he warned.

Woolsey contended that whatever Israel eventually decides to do, the US should “take responsibility” for dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat because it is a “world problem.” If and when it comes to military action, he advocated taking out not just Iran’s nuclear facilities but also all the assets of the Revolutionary Guards, particularly to weaken its ability to launch revenge attacks.

Still, Woolsey expressed grave doubts that the current US administration would take the lead, especially in an election year. “I don’t predict at all that this course of events will be something that President Obama will choose,” he said dryly.

So if Israel has to go it alone, to prevent what Netanyahu has described as the specter of another Holocaust, can and will the Israeli military be capable of pulling it off?

The risk of over-extension
To answer that seminal question, it is first worth noting that the Israeli air force has already practiced for such a complex, long-range mission, sending squadrons of jets and refueling planes all the way to Gibraltar – the same distance as Tehran. But these exercises were done in such a public fashion, they were seen more as sending a message to the West to take tougher measures than as an actual dry run for an “Operation Fordo.”

Second, it should also be noted that Israel has carried out such pre-emptive missions before, in the case of both the Iraqi and Syrian atomic reactors. But this assignment would be much more complicated due to the greater distances involved, the difficulty of surprise, and the measures Iran has taken to defend its nuclear facilities based on the lessons of these earlier pre-emptive raids.

Third, these earlier operations demonstrate that for Israel, pre-emption is not an option but an established policy. Israel has always made clear it will not allow a regional enemy bent on its demise to possess weapons of mass destruction.

Fourth, Netanyahu has become much more vocal on the Iranian threat than his predecessor Ehud Olmert, but he had the ear of a sympathetic US president. That is not necessarily the case with Obama.

Finally, several reputable analysts have concluded that the Israeli military has the capabilities to deal a significant blow to Iran’s nuclear program, which the IDF brass has gauged to be a three to-five year setback. They would be able to dispatch long-range fighter-bombers, refueling and air command planes, and advanced super-drones than can loiter over targets for 48 hours, plus land and submarine-based Jericho missiles.

However – and this is a huge however – Israel simply would not be able to deal on its own with all the expected fallout from any such pre-emptive strikes. Tehran has threatened to unleash a wave of retaliatory attacks that would include strikes against American forces in the region, raids intended to close the vital oil shipping passage through the Strait of Hormuz, and activating dozens of sleeper terror cells worldwide. World oil markets would shudder, and you-know-who would be blamed.

Israel itself presently faces 200,000 missiles and rockets of various ranges and payloads in the arsenals of Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas all aimed at its civilian heartland, and would be too tied up defending the homeland to put out fires elsewhere.

Thus, Jerusalem undoubtedly prefers to be part of a joint international action to stop Iran. Only time will tell if it is able to force America’s hand in that regard.

Until then, brace yourself for more warp speed rumors of war.

The writer is Media Director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

In the Spirit of Elijah

The Jewish people have a long-held tradition that the coming of the Messiah will be preceded by the return of Elijah, one of Israel’s most extraordinary prophets. This tradition is evidenced on the night of the Passover Seder meal, when the doors to Jewish homes are left open and an empty place reserved at the table for Elijah. While the tradition is mentioned many times in the Talmud, its inspiration comes from the prophet Malachi:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and I strike the earth with a curse.” Malachi 4:5-6

Jesus himself affirmed this Jewish expectancy in Matthew 17:10-13, saying, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already…” This he told his closest disciples on the way down from the Mount of Transfiguration, where they had just encountered Elijah as well as Moses. Here, Jesus makes a clear reference to the ministry of John the Baptist, who went before Him “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17) to prepare the way of the Lord. Yet Jesus also attested to a future appearance of the prophet, which will be marked by such incredible results that “he will restore all things.”

While this promise will be fulfilled through a single person – like John the Baptist – there is also a calling upon the end-time Church to operate in the “spirit of Elijah” and to “prepare the way of the Lord” (Isaiah 40:3).

According to Malachi, the major thrust of this ‘last days’ Elijah ministry will be “to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” What does this mean? It surely includes the restoration of broken relationships within families and between generations. However, the Word of God offers us an additional insight which is just as important today.

‘THE FATHERS’
In the New Testament, the word “fathers” (pater in Greek) is used mostly in a very particular way. Out of 52 passages which contain the word “fathers,” it is used only five times in the context of a natural parent, as in Ephesians 6:4: “…fathers, provoke not your children to wrath.”

In all the other passages, it is used in reference to the Hebrew Patriarchs and to our Jewish forefathers in the faith. Here are some examples:

'Our Father Abraham', by Dr. Marvin Wilson“…to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to our father Abraham”. Luke 1:72-73

“Our fathers ate the manna in the desert…” John 6:31

“The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers…” Acts 3:13

“The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers…” Acts 28:25

“who are Israelites …of whom are the fathers…” Romans 9:5

“beloved for the sake of the fathers…” Romans 11:28

Stephen, even in martyrdom, addresses the hostile crowd of fellow Israelites as “brothers and fathers” (Acts 7:2). In much the same way, we find Paul addressing an angry Jewish crowd as “brothers and fathers” (Acts 22:1).

Therefore, we see that the various New Testament figures and writers – including Jesus – use the word “fathers” as a term of respect for the biblical Patriarchs and in a broader sense for all the elders of Israel down through the generations until their time.

‘THE CHILDREN’
Less obvious is usage of the word “children,” which appears more then 100 times in the New Testament. In most instances, it describes children in the literal sense. But it is interesting to note that in all the books and letters of the New Testament, the body of believers (which were by majority Gentiles by the time the New Testament was compiled) is regularly referred to as “children” or “little children” (see for example: 1 John 2:1; Galatians 4:19; Hebrews 2:13; 1 Corinthians 4:14; 2 Corinthians 6:13).

We find this understanding early on when John the Baptist says, “For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Matthew 3:9). Most Bible scholars take this as alluding to God’s plan to one day bring the nations into the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant alongside Israel.

The Apostle Paul then writes in Galatians 3:7 – “Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.” (See also Romans 9:7)

In other words, the New Testament makes a clear distinction between the natural seed of Abraham as being the “fathers” and the Church as being their spiritual “children”.

THE NEED FOR RECONCILIATION
Returning to the prophetic utterance of Malachi, we understand that before the coming of Messiah a work of deep reconciliation would take place which will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and vice versa. It is interesting to note that the Christian order of Scripture differs from the Hebrew Bible in that we end with the book of Malachi, instead of II Chronicles like the Jews. Thus, the very last verse of the Old Testament commands a profound work of repentance, “lest I come and strike the earth with a curse”.

Nowhere is this more needed today than in repairing the historic breach between Israel and the Church, a work of reconciliation that would bring change and repentance on both sides. From the very beginning, the early Church leaders were met with stiff resistance from their Jewish brethren and were even persecuted all across the Roman Empire. Later, as the Church became predominantly Gentile, they started to retaliate and the dark and bloody history of Christian anti-Semitism began. The atrocities this produced have spanned the centuries and continue to cry out for deep repentance and the fruit thereof.

For centuries, churches failed to keep the biblical commandment that one “honour your father and mother” by our dismal failure to honour the Hebraic roots of Christianity and the natural family of Jesus.

HISTORIC CHANGES
Yet today, we indeed are witnessing a unique phenomenon in that Jews and Christians are reconciling at many levels and in many ways. The true Church and Israel are beginning to recognise the unique bond between them, and this is all very encouraging.

For instance, there have been tremendous changes in the way Christians view Israel and the Jewish people. The Puritan movement, for instance, started to rediscover scriptural truths about Israel through their study of the Bible in its original Hebrew, leaving a lasting impact which today can be found within the powerful Evangelical stream of Christianity found all around the world. Vast numbers of Christian believers today have refuted the erroneous teachings of Replacement theology. We are exploring and recapturing the Jewish roots of our faith. Whole denominations are praying for and becoming active supporters of the people of Israel.

On the Jewish side, one can point to the Knesset – Israel’s parliament – which has opened its doors to Christians via the Knesset Christian Allies’ Caucus. Today, it is the largest such caucus in the Knesset. The revered institution Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust Memorial and Museum, has opened a truly historic desk for Christian Friends of Yad Vashem in full partnership with the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. For the past six years, the world’s leading Jewish daily, The Jerusalem Post, also has partnered with the ICEJ to publish a special monthly magazine for Christians, called “The Christian Edition”.

These are all developments which only a decade ago would have been considered impossible. It shows that an increasing number of Jews today realise there have been profound changes in Christian doctrines and attitudes towards the Jewish people. A growing segment of the Jewish world no longer views us as enemies and perpetrators, but as trustworthy friends and partners.

CONCLUSION
Years ago, Pope John Paul II declared that the Jewish people are “our elder brothers”. It would be much more accurate to call them our “fathers”, as our faith was birthed out of a biblical, Jewish belief system. We believe in a Jewish Messiah, we read a Jewish Bible, and we expect the king of the Jews to return to Jerusalem, the City of David.

Consequently, we should honour the “fathers” who went before us and brought forth the knowledge of the one true and living God. May the Lord continue to turn our hearts towards one another “in the spirit of Elijah.” For in this ministry, we prepare the way of the Lord.


The writer is Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org

Who do you say that I am?

 

This Book Review of 'Jesus' by Professor David Flusser was first published in the ICEJ's monthly newsletter 'Word from Jerusalem' in September 1997. It is being reposted here in as part of the wider debate surrounding the publication of 'Kosher Jesus'; by Shmuley Boteach (Gefen Publishing House, 2012)

Read David Parson's 2012 review of  'Kosher Jesus' »

 


Matthew 16, Jesus privately asked his disciples: "'Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?' Sothey said 'Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.' He said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?'"

A recently published book, "Jesus" by David Flusser, contains opinions on this and many other crucial questions which are sending ripples throughout the Christian and Jewish worlds. Flusser, Professor Emeritus at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is widely considered the leading Israeli scholar on the Second Temple period, the life of Jesus, and the history of the early Church. In this updated version of his 1968 book, Prof. Flusser (an Orthodox Jew) draws on his lifetime of research into the Gospel accounts and ancient Jewish, Christian and other classical sources (together with recent archeological finds) to present a remarkable biography of the Galilean sage who Christian-ity has proclaimed to be the Messiah. His insights and conclusions are surprising academics and laymen alike.

For example, Flusser notes the disciples' response to the first question posed by Jesus (in the scripture above) reflected popular beliefs in Judaism in those days -that the raptured Elijah or Enoch would return, that Moses or Jeremiah also may not have died or would be resurrected, as perhaps would also happen with the beheaded John the Baptist.

But it is in relation to the second question -"Who do you say that I am" -that Flusser's work is most compelling. Flusser writes:

"I am convinced that there are reliable reports that the Crucified One 'appeared to Peter, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time ... Then he appeared to ]ames, then to all the apostles.' Last of all, he appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus ... When Jesus answered the high priest's question about his Messiahship with the words, 'From now on the Son of man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God,' did he believe that he too, would escape the fate that threatened him. Or, as is more likely, did he believe that he would rise from the dead? In any event, the high priest correctly understood that by jesus' words he was confessing that he was the Messiah.'' (pp. 154-155)

Flusser's conclusions must be seen in the context of the heated theological debate over Jesus' "self-awareness"; in other words, who did Jesus say or think He was? In the sheltered world of academia, liberal Christian scholars have held for decades that "Christology" (the belief that Christ is the eternal Son of God who was made flesh to suffer for sins and then return to His throne as judge over all) was a product of the emerging Gentile Church around 3 the time of the third century. Flusser refutes this notion, presenting evidence that belief in a Messiah who, for instance, is to be judge over all at the end of days (to "separate wheat from tares and sheep from goats," as Jesus put it) was common in Judaism during the Second Temple period, and thus was not necessarily unique to Jesus or His early Jewish followers. Further, the apostles' teachings that He was the promised Messiah was based firmly upon Jesus' own view and teachings about His mission on earth.

Flusser sees the teachings of Jesus as revolutionary (in terms of His contemporaries in Judaism) on three points: the radical interpretation of the commandment of mutual love, the call for a new morality, and the idea of the kingdom of heaven. On this third count, Flusser points to Jesus as

"the only Jew of ancient times known to us who preached not only that people were on the threshold of the end of time, but that the new age of salvation had already begun ... for jesus, the kingdom of heaven is not only the eschatological rule of God that has dawned already, but a divinely willed movement that spreads among people throughout the earth ... an expanding realm embracing ever more and more people ... both great and small... We do not mean to assert that Jesus wanted to found a church or even a single community, but that he wanted to start a movement.'' (pp. 110-111)

Flusser's lifetime of work will probably prove controversial on many issues of great import to Christians and Jews. In describing Jesus' relations with the four main sects of Judaism of that time (the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and Zealots), Flusser's findings should prove invaluable in exposing the historic error behind the Christian view that Jews share a collective guilt for killing the Son of God, and thereby help heal the regrettable rift between Jews and the followers of Jesus.

Flusser maintains Jesus rejected the Zealots' call to take up arms against Rome and disagreed on major points with the Essenes -the so-called "sons of light" in the Dead Sea Scrolls ("For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light." Luke 16:8 ). Flusser then analyses relevant ancient texts to recount how the small but powerful band of Sadducees mistakenly judged that their exclusive control of Temple worship (by Roman consent) was threathened by Jesus' talk of "destroying the Temple" and thus were the ones who conspired with the ruthless Pilate and Herod Anti pas to crucify Jesus.

Ultimately, Jesus is seen as closest to the Pharisees of his day-despite all the criticism of their hypocrisy and traditions of men-who represented the mainstream of universal, non-sectarian Judaism. In fact, Flusser points to the actions of the Pharisees Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus (who both helped bury Jesus) and Gamaliel (who defended the apostles before the council -Acts 5:34) as reflecting the sympathetic views of the majority of Pharisees, and indeed most Jews, to the sufferings of Jesus.

With regard to the work of the Embassy, we may be finding ourselves ever more grateful for the ground-breaking work of Israel's leading Jewish scholar on the life of our Lord. In his preface, Prof. Flusser states:

"I have not written this book to describe Jesus from the "Jewish standpoint." The truth of the matter is that I, am motivated by scholarly interest to learn as much as I can about Jesus, but at the same time being a practicing Jew and not a Christian, I am independ-ent of any church. I readily admit, however, that I personally identify myself with Jesus' Jewish 'Weltanschauung,' (world view) both moral and political, and I believe that the content of his teachings and the approach he embraced have always had the' potential to change our world and prevent the greatest part of evil and suffering." (p. 15)

Dr. R. Steven Notley, the head of the Jerusalem University College's New Testament Department and Director of the Jerusalem School for Synoptic Research, assisted Flusser in rewriting his earlier work. Notley senses that although most Jews acknowledge Prof. Flusser as the expert in his field, they tend to keep Flusser at arm's length because of his provocative views. Flusser admits it was 4 the positive image of Jesus conveyed early in life by Bohemian Brethren and later Mennonite acquaint~nces that led him to immerse himself in the study of the person and message of Jesus, which in turn influenced his understanding of his own Jewish faith. As for Christian scholars, Notley notes that most do not know what to do with Flusser at this point.

Nonetheless, Prof. Flusser has challenged all to take another look at the origins of Christianity, and at their own faith as well. In the foreword to "Jesus" (p.ll), Notley relates the following personal note on the author:

"Flusser had a student who went to study at the University of Zurich. When a professor there discovered that he was Flusser's student, he jailed: him without warrant. The jailing mark ruined the student's academic career. A few years later, a student of that same professor was studying in Flusser's class. He turned in a paper, the content of which was mediocre. Flusser instructed Brad, who was his ·teaching assistant at the time, to give the student an "A". When Brad inquired why, he related the story of his own student and then repeated his instruction, "Give the student an 'A'. This I have learned from Jesus."


The Jewish and the Christian Messiah

by Dr Joseph Klausner, former professor of modern Hebrew literature and Jewish history of the Second Temple era, at the Hebrew University.

"Jesus was a Jew and a Jew he remained till his last breath. His one idea was to implant within his nation the idea of the coming of the Messiah and, by repentance and good works, hasten the "end"...

In all this Jesus is the most Jewish of Jews ... more Jewish even than Hillel ... From the standpoint of general humanity, he is, indeed, "a light to the Gentiles." His disciples have raised the lighted torch of the Law of Israel ... among the heathen of the four quarters of the world. No Jew can, therefore, overlook the value of Jesus and his teaching from the point of view of universal history. This was a fact that neither Maimonides nor Yehuda ha-Levi [medieval Jewish scholars] ignored."

Excerpt from "The Messiahship of Jesus: What Jews and Jewish Christians say" compiled by Arthur W Kac. p50. 

 


David Parsons is media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; This review was first published in the September 1997 issue of The Word from Jerusalem

The Israel Test

Arab army invading Israel in 1948. (benatlas.com)

As we enter another turbulent year, it is high time to challenge the increasing antagonism against Israel. This small nation has “unhinged” the integrity of many world leaders and led them to side with tyrants and terrorists. Naturally, all of this is uniquely concealed in the “double speak” of diplomatic language.

Here we have a tiny people, with a unique and ancient relationship with the land of Canaan and the city Jerusalem, who have returned from the four corners of the earth, forged a genuine democracy, and built their nation into a global technological and military power! In sixty brief years, and against all odds, they have carved out a nation that is hundreds of years ahead of its regional neighbors! This is a miracle!

Yet sadly, the world has surrendered truth and joined the anti-Israel caravan for the sake of Arab oil! So more resolutions have been passed in the United Nations condemning Israel than any other nation. How can this be? The world is filled with rogue regimes like North Korea, Syria, Iran and Zimbabwe, but they get a pass.

Four millennia ago, the God of the Bible stated that Israel would be a “test nation.” Her unique global mission, her central placement among the nations, and her very existence would challenge the world.  God said, “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.” (Genesis 12:1-3)

This truth has been verified through the centuries. The ruins of many nations, small and great, that have risen up against Israel can still be observed today. But Israel lives!

Still, many nations have not learned from history and are destined to repeat it! Will they ever pass the Israel test?

A Theological Test:  People who claim biblical faith are challenged by Israel. Many church leaders deliberately twist the word of God in order to suit their bias against Israel. The Bible is clear that a final restoration of the Jewish people will take place (Luke 21:24). This final restoration is from the four corners of the earth (Isaiah 43:5-7). When it happens the nation will never be uprooted again (Amos 9:13-15). So Israel’s modern-day restoration is the hand of God and yet many who claim to know and love this same God are denying it! Instead, they want to de-Zionize the Bible, taking out any references to this final great ingathering of the Jews. Quite simply, they want to re-write Scripture to favor the Palestinians. They have failed the test!

A Moral Test:  Like the Nazis, the agenda of radical Islam is the total destruction of Israel. This agenda is embraced by Fatah, Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran and yet the politicians of our world ignore it or play it down all the time. The textbooks of Palestinian children continue to demonize Jews and call for the destruction of the Jewish State. Their leaders call for the same when speaking in Arabic. Many Western leaders know this but still play the game of denial! Why? Because they need oil and need it badly! They will happily sell the truth to fuel their hungry economies, buying petrol from totalitarian rulers. This is moral bankruptcy! They, too, have failed the test!

An Historical Test:  From the UN Partition Plan of 1947 to the present, Israel has made great and painful sacrifices in order to make peace with its Arab neighbors. But from the outset, the Arabs invaded in a bid to destroy the young, fragile nation of Israel, even though it’s founding had been approved by the international community. The Arabs did manage to seize control of the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem for nearly twenty years. In other words, they had everything they say that they want now for a Palestinian state, but never made any attempt to create such a state back then. The PLO was formed in 1964 to eliminate Israel, not to build a Palestinian state in these areas. This is the truth of history! Yet many world leaders will never acknowledge this. They also fail the test!

In the end, how we treat the Jews reflects how we treat the one true God. This is the great test of Psalm 83:1-4, and most fail it. Here the Psalmist declares that rebellion against God is manifested by a hatred of Israel and an attempt to destroy her. This is the great test of all human history!


 Rev. Hedding is vice chairman of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem and former Executive Director.
 

Mideast Christians the litmus test of Arab Spring

Left: Egyptian Coptic Christians demonstrate outside an Alexandria church bombed by Muslim extremists on New Year's Day last year, killing 23 people.

Late in 2010, it seemed a pair of brutal terror assaults on Christian congregations in Egypt and Iraq had finally brought the plight of the Middle East’s embattled Christian minorities to the fore, at least to the point where Western leaders could no longer ignore this abysmal problem.

An al-Qaida cell’s shocking raid on a Baghdad cathedral in late October had murdered 44 Christian worshipers, two priests and seven Iraqi security personnel. Then on New Year’s Day, a powerful car bombing targeted a Coptic church in Alexandria, killing twenty-five parishioners and wounding nearly 100 just as they were finishing midnight Mass.

As a long-time observer of the Middle East, I held out hope at the time that these tragedies would prove to be a tipping point, and the West would finally come to the rescue of the dwindling and battered Christian communities of the region. But then the Arab Spring erupted and realpolitik took over. Sadly, there was no time to deal with radical Muslim attacks on Christians when the entire Middle East was convulsing with unprecedented massive political protests.

Still, the vicious slaughter in Alexandria had left Egyptian Copts with an uneasy sense that the Mubarak regime was no longer able to protect them. So many withdrew their traditional support for the government and joined the mass demonstrations in Tahrir Square.

Yet now that the Muslim Brotherhood and an even more militant Salafist faction have won some 70% of the seats in the lower house of parliament in Cairo, many Copts are having second thoughts. Already facing discrimination and harassment from a secular regime, they realize things could actually get a lot worse under the Islamists.

An ancient Christian community that according to tradition was introduced to Egypt by Saint Mark in 42 AD, the Copts today comprise nearly 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million people. They are a proud faith community – proud that they have survived centuries of Muslim persecution and repeated attempts at forced conversion to Islam. This pride of identity goes even to the point that many Copts have small green crosses tattooed on their wrists.

Yet they are faced with a dilemma under the emerging new order in Egypt. The nation’s laws require that everyone over age 16 must carry an identity card containing their personal details, including their religion. The card in necessary for employment, education, access to public services, and even to be married and buried. Thus for good reason Copts want to be identified as Christians. Yet holding such a card means facing certain discrimination in job opportunities, education and other pursuits in life.

As a result, the Copts are anxious to see whether the new constitution being drawn up for the country will guarantee them both equal rights as citizens and full religious freedoms as a distinct faith community. They also are fearful the army and courts will no longer be there to shield them from Muslim agitators and terrorists. Some have serious doubts on both accounts and Western embassies in Cairo are already reporting an increase in Coptic Christians seeking to apply for emigration abroad. Some estimates claim as many as 100,000 Christians have already fled Egypt since the Mubarak regime fell last February.

Similar bouts of Christian exodus have been seen in other 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.

So as the Arab Spring runs its course, the litmus test of whether democracy truly is taking root in Egypt and elsewhere in the region is if the emerging rulers respect the rights of their Christian minorities and secure their place in society.

Now there is good reason to seriously doubt that this will come about naturally. In fact, it is wholly dependent on Western leaders becoming vocally outraged at any manifestations of Christian persecution and a determined diplomatic campaign to ensure the rights and safety of the Middle East’s indigenous Christians, including political intervention when necessary.

There is clear historic precedent for such outside intervention in the Arab/Muslim world to protect Christian communities. As Ottoman rule over the Middle East began to wane, 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. British envoys arrived to safeguard Protestant interests, France the Lebanese Christians, Russia the Orthodox folds. The Vatican also stepped in to aid certain Eastern sects, producing the unique hybrids of the Maronite and Greek Melkite churches which are loyal to the papacy but retain many Eastern Orthodox beliefs and practices.

Along with private American initiatives, these Western interlocutors brought with them schools, hospitals and other modern institutions, thus vastly improving the education, health and job opportunities of the local Christians. With this benevolent influx also came advances for all peoples of the region.

Some locals are sure to object to any renewed Western intervention on behalf of Mideast Christians as a form of neo-colonialism. But no one has territorial designs here anymore. It is just a matter of plain human decency.

The emerging Islamist regimes must not be coddled! Sanctions should be imposed if necessary to safeguard the rights and even the lives of Christian minorities in the Middle East! Something has to be done to stop the endless bleeding of Eastern Christianity at the hands of radical Islam.

Yet beyond the urgent need for Western diplomatic intervention, there are signs of hope that revival is hitting the Christians of the region. Reports out of Egypt, for instance, maintain that churches there are indeed persecuted but they are also thriving. “Our pews are fuller than ever on Sundays”, one Protestant ministry leader stated last year.

A video recently posted on YouTube captured a remarkable scene of some 70,000 Egyptian Christians from Coptic, Catholic and Evangelical backgrounds who had gathered several months ago for an outdoor worship service which lasted all night. Their collective sense of joy and pride in their faith was clearly evident.

At present, the general trend of the Arab Spring is that Islamist factions are sweeping into power across the region, as seen in recent elections in Morocco, Tunisia and now Egypt. These are political parties which declare that Islam is the answer to all the region’s problems. But many Arabs know that Islam will not solve the social, economic and even spiritual ills of the Middle East. They are looking for other answers and many are turning to Christianity.


 The writer is Media Director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; This article was first published in the February 2012 issue of The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition.

A year for restoring hope!

Without question, 2011 was a truly extraordinary year. One could not help but recall how the prophet Haggai foresaw a time when God would shake everything which can be shaken. In March, we witnessed the apocalyptical images of the tsunami hitting Japan – just one of a succession of huge natural disasters of late. The German news service NTV recently reported that over the past three decades the number of natural catastrophes worldwide soared by over 300%.

The European Union is in the greatest financial crisis since the Eurozone was launched. Americans are increasingly divided over preserving their nation’s founding principles and their role internationally.

In the Middle East, the entire region is being shaken. Aging despots have been forced out and replaced by Islamist factions. Egypt, after more than 30 years of peace with Israel, will now be controlled by a Muslim Brotherhood which has vowed to “review” the Camp David peace treaty. Our world indeed is in the midst of great changes and uncertainties. Reasons to fear are all around.

In a recent year-end review, New York Times columnist Roger Cohendeclared, “There’s agony in Euroland, angst in America, uncertainty in Asia and anger on the Arab street. Everyone’s feeling the birth pangs of global integration.”

He could hardly have given a better description of what Jesus foretold 2,000 years ago about the end of days: “And there will be… on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity …men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken.” (Luke 21:25-26)

So where do we stand as Christians in all of this? Are we also fearful and perplexed?

Since Israel’s modern rebirth in 1948, most Evangelicals (myself included) have believed we are living in the last days. But along with this view has come many hopeless Christians. For many years now, I have attended prophecy conferences and Israel gatherings all around the world where, all too often, Christian messengers predicted only gloom and doom for Israel and the nations.

We have to ask ourselves: To what worldview do we subscribe? I understand that the word of God predicts troublesome times such as the world has not seen before. But these prospects should not cause us to have a fatalistic worldview where we cannot see any good coming. The truth is that if we cannot see any good coming, we have lost hope.

The prophet Joel foresaw the nations one day being gathered together in the valley of Jehoshaphat (the Kidron valley in Jerusalem) to be judged by God concerning their mistreatment of Israel. But this same prophet could also see God pouring out His Spirit upon all flesh “before the great and terrible day of the Lord.” While he understood the seriousness of God’s end-time judgments, Joel also spoke of revival and proclaimed a message of hope that “everybody who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

The prophet Daniel describes in chapter 11 the rise of an evil and frightening figure who will “make war” on the saints. Yet in the midst of this dark time are people who “know their God and they are strong and carry out great exploits.” While he saw the redeemed under great persecution, he also them as saw victorious overcomers.

In Chapter 12, the same prophet sees terrible times such as never before. And in exactly that setting, Daniel sees the saints not as weak and defeated but shining as bright stars on a dark firmament, leading many to righteousness. We should never forget that even in the darkest times ahead, the Word of God foresees a body of believers having an incredible impact – doing “great” exploits and leading “many” to righteousness.

Too many Christians like to focus on the dark side of Bible prophecy, and this impairs their vision for Israel, the Church and even their own lives. What is your vision for the future? Can you see God working through you in 2012?

Make no mistake! The word of God does not promise that times will become easier – on the contrary. But in the midst of the shakings and insecurity, people will be looking for answers. Yet if our outlook is focused on apostasies and wars, who will want to join our fellowship?

Rather, let us be those who restore hope!

Dr. Buehler is executive director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. This commentary was published in the January 2012 issue of The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition; www.jpost.com/ce

Playing with matches

In a column carried in last month’s Jerusalem Post Christian Edition, Abraham Cooper and Yitzchak Adlerstein of the Simon Wiesenthal Center warned of the mounting campaign to undermine evangelical Christian support for Israel being conducted by pro-Palestinian groups, including even by some fellow Evangelicals (“Palestinians to Evangelicals: Zionism is a sin”, December 2011). Sadly, certain evangelical Christians have indeed joined the World Council of Churches on this bandwagon to nowhere. Not only do they rewrite history in collaboration with their Palestinian allies, but embarrassed by the Word of God itself they have called for the “de-Zionisation” of Scripture.

Theirs is what I call a “waffle iron theology” – meaning they want to cut away those parts of the Bible that contradict their views, just as one cuts away the batter which does not fit in the waffle iron. In short, they are playing with matches and thus should not be surprised if they start a fire!

The authors of the article correctly state that in this game, “extreme Palestinian political ambitions are often cloaked in theological garb.” Scripture is twisted and denied in an attempt to overcome its very clear statements about the Land of Israel and the return of the Jews to it. These people will never be convinced by a balanced, biblical exposition of Scripture. They have made up their minds and definitely will not be confused with facts.

In their deluded world, Jesus is a Palestinian freedom fighter entirely divorced from his Jewish identity. He was, of course, nothing of the sort and He came to Israel because of God’s faithfulness to the Abrahamic Covenant (Luke 1:46-55). It is this Covenant that is at the crux of the issue and, therefore, they have tried every trick in their theological box of matches to burn it up.

Their problem is even more compounded because the New Testament everywhere fully affirms the Abrahamic Covenant and no where changes or abolishes it. Indeed, in the Book of Hebrews it is held up to wavering New Testament believers as a sure example of God’s faithfulness (Hebrews 6:13-20). Paul establishes it as well in Galatians, chapter three, which he ends by saying that “if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s children according to the (covenant) promise” (Galatians 3:29).

Jesus was always the object of the Covenant but His people were always the context and platform out of which He came. For precisely this reason, God promised the land of Canaan to them as an everlasting possession (Genesis 17:7-8).

This really sticks in the throat of the “matchstick players.” They would much rather expunge the Abrahamic Covenant from Scripture, for this would free them from their problem and empower them to continue their real agenda, which is the elimination of Israel!

The conflict in the region is really not about so-called “social justice.” I wish it was, but sadly it has everything to do with the dismantling of the Jewish State, which is considered an affront to Islam! This is the truth! It takes many twists and turns, and new strategies are embraced all the time in the pursuit of this singular agenda. Christians, without a proper biblical grounding, fall for this intrigue all the time and sadly have no fear of God.

Now this is not to say that everything that Israel does is right. But you cannot say everything is Israel’s fault, as they do, and be deaf and blind to Palestinian terrorist atrocities against Jews. Yet even prominent Evangelicals travel to Iran to meet with Muslim clerics and declare biblical Christian Zionism to be sin.

In truth, great Christian ministers who have had a profound impact upon our world have held Christian Zionist views through the centuries because they were, in the first instance, men and women who honored God! Theirs was a biblical position first, then secondly a question of living in the fear of God, and thirdly a recognition of Israel’s unique place in redemption history.

No amount of trickery, debunking of the Scriptures, or rewriting of history will change the outcome. The Jews have returned to the Land of Israel to stay! That is final and Christians who want to have an honest and godly influence on world events should quit the blame game and encourage both parties to settle their differences within this context!

Rev. Hedding is vice chairman of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org
This commentary was published in the January 2012 issue of The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition; www.jpost.com/ce

Israel, the suffering servant

From our vantage point in Jerusalem, it seems the Christian Zionist movement is constantly gaining new recruits from all over the world. Pro-Israel Christians can now be found in the millions on all continents, and even amid the current turmoil of the Middle East more and more Arab Christians are boldly declaring their acceptance of the promised biblical restoration of Israel.

Yet the ranks of evangelical Christians now siding with the Palestinians also seem to be expanding. Members of this counter-movement often express great sympathy for Palestinian suffering, while questioning the views and motives of fellow Christians who have chosen to stand alongside Israel. They join with other detractors in denouncing Christian Zionists for “blindly” supporting Israel, for blocking peace, for wanting to hasten the Apocalypse, or for acting out of some sort of guilt complex over the Holocaust and other past manifestations of anti-Semitism.

Each of these spurious charges can be easily answered, but perhaps it is best to simply spell out what truly motivates us into caring deeply about Israel and befriending the Jewish people. For if our heart motives are indeed the fruit of the Spirit of God, then no fellow Christian should question them, just as the Apostle Paul counseled that “against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:23).

Now I can understand someone having sympathy for the Palestinians. They have no doubt suffered much loss. Yet I cannot concede that this suffering has come mainly at the hands of Israel. The truth is that the greater part of Palestinian dispossession and loss has been both caused and compounded by callous and corrupt Arab leaders who have used ordinary Palestinians as political pawns in their racist struggle to snuff out the Jewish state.

Further, there are many peoples that have suffered in this life at the cruel hands of other humans, and they too deserve our sympathy. So why should the Palestinians warrant our pity more than the Jews, who have suffered far more down through history than any other people on earth? By any humane measuring stick, the Jewish people ought to be the foremost object of our commiseration.

Yet according to the Bible, it is not just the depth of Jewish suffering that should move our hearts. Rather, it is the redemptive purpose behind that affliction which distinguishes the Jewish people’s painful lot from all others. What truly sets Jewish suffering apart is that it was largely inflicted by God for the sake of all other peoples. That, dear saints, is a huge distinction!

The Bible teaches that Israel was called to be a suffering servant for the sake of the nations. In their difficult journey down through time, God used the Jews to deliver to us through much tribulation all the means necessary for our salvation, whether it was the Word of God, the law of God, the service and the worship of God, and finally the Messiah of God (Romans 9:4-5).

But because they were not always faithful, God also corrected them through painful uprootings and exiles. The Hebrew prophets even decree that Israel would receive from the Lord’s hand “double” for all her sins (Isaiah 40:1-3; Jeremiah 16:18).

Paul further teaches in Romans 9-11 that God Himself hardened Jewish hearts to their own promised Messiah and committed them to disobedience, so that the mercies of God might flow to the Gentiles. Their “stumbling” meant “riches” for us. Their “casting off” was “the reconciling of the world” to our Maker. Indeed, they were “made enemies of the Gospel” for the sake of the Gentiles.

This all resulted in a wound in the Jewish people that Jeremiah describes as “incurable” (Jeremiah 30:12-17). That is, no human hand can truly heal it, only God can. But He indeed promises to heal it, including through the “mercy” shown to Israel by Gentiles working within His purposes (Romans 11:31).

In the end, God promises to restore to Israel “double” for all their loss and dispossession, and to bring upon them “double honor… Therefore in their land they shall possess double; Everlasting joy shall be theirs.” (Isaiah 61:7; see also Zechariah 9:12)

I, for one, long to see this people who suffered so much for my sake, to see them healed of their wounds, restored fully to their God-given inheritance, and reaching their promised national destiny in Him.

That is the very powerful motivating factor behind my biblical Zionism. And no Christian worth his salt should ever have room to question it!


The writer is media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.
This commentary was published in the January 2012 issue of
The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition; www.jpost.com/ce

For unto us a Child is born

Since the fourth century at the latest, Christianity has set aside a certain day to celebrate the birth of Jesus. The dates may vary; Western churches mark Christmas on the 25th of December, while most Eastern churches celebrate it on January 6th or 7th.

Historically, the older Eastern churches linked this season to the Epiphany tradition, thereby relating the Incarnation to the baptism of Jesus, when God proclaimed: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) According to these Church fathers, God demonstrated on this occasion the divinity of His son.

In celebrating Christmas, the central character is a small, vulnerable infant. While our view of Jesus should never be reduced to a mere child in the arms of his mother, it is precisely this frail and delicate baby who is at the center of the Christmas narrative.

The child as sign
Already, the prophet Isaiah saw “the child” as a sign of salvation for the Jewish people. In his day, Israel was challenged by a serious military threat from Assyria and was governed by a king who “not only wearied men but who wearied God also” (Isaiah 7:13). Yet God decided to give this hopeless king a sign of redemption. “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)

In chapter nine, Isaiah again presents a picture of looming national disaster. The region of the Galilee is beset by a hostile invading armies. But it is precisely this “dark land” and “the people which walk in darkness” that see the bright light of salvation – a light which will remove the rod of oppression and heavy yoke of the enemy. But all those who expected the appearance of a military hero will be disappointed. The agent of salvation which brings redemption to Israel is surprisingly weak: “…for unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given!” (Isaiah 9:6)

A similar image can be found in the book of Micah. Here, the prophet also paints a dark picture of oppression: “Now also many nations have gathered against you, who say, `Let her be defiled, and let our eye look upon Zion´.” (Micah 4:11) Yet Micah also sees the redeeming light which would transform a hopeless situation: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrata, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the one to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” (Micah 5:2)

Yet again, the timing of Israel’s salvation is tied to the birth of a child, as Micah notes: “Until the time that she who is in labour has given birth.” (Micah 5:3)

Is it not remarkable that three times the Hebrew Prophets of old declare that the sign of salvation for Israel is the birth of a child? And this is exactly what was announced to the lowly shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem. After the angel heralded great joy to all peoples and the arrival of the saviour, he explained: “And this will be the sign to you: You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12)

Just a few weeks later, when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple, Simon the Just held up the infant and prophesied: “This child is destined … for a sign which will be spoken against.” (Luke 2:34)

Why of all things should the delivery of a child, a vulnerable baby, be such an significant sign? Every day countless children are born. And this particular birth did not even occur in some spotlight of the Roman world, but in a dirty stable belonging to a little town in the remote province of Judea.

The identity of the child
The Hebrew prophets also answer the riddle of why this child would be so special. He would not stand out by being especially gifted or intelligent. It would not be his skills but his very identity which would make the child a sign of salvation.

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel,” says Isaiah 7:14.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; ... and his name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” proclaims Isaiah 9:6.

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrata … out of you shall come forth to me the one to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting,” assures Micah 5:2.

Both prophets declare the inconceivable, that the God who created the heavens and the earth would come be part of His own creation. This defenceless babe, covered in swaddling cloth and lying in a feeding trough, was at the same time the “Mighty God” and “Everlasting Father”.

Our human minds struggle to grasp this. But it is this very fact which some 30 years later gave Jesus the confidence to declare: “No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also.” (John 14:6-7)

The birth of Jesus meant the manifestation of God among men. For this reason, his name was to be called Immanuel – “God with us”.

John declares this truth thusly: “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. … And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1, 14)

Micah declares His origins are from “everlasting”. Jesus also said of himself, “before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58)

A sign of controversy
So God became man! That is an incredible concept, which caused offence and misunderstanding back then and even to this day – both in Israel as well as in the Christian world. Simon the Just was right when he exclaimed: “This child is destined … for a sign which will be spoken against.” (Luke 2:34)

Even today, belief in the Incarnation of God through the virgin birth is being shed in many Christian circles like it were some irrational fundamentalist ballast. Yet this is not about some bizarre medieval dogma, but the very essence of who Jesus is.

The shepherds were told: “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11) The old Syrian-Aramaic Peshitta translation of the New Testament translates it as follows: “For there is born to you the saviour, Lord and Messiah.” And “Lord” here is the Aramaic name for God in Hebrew, which is Yahweh.

Therefore, Christmas should be for us a feast of gratitude and adoration. God came down to us and had mercy upon a humanity which urgently needed His salvation. This child is still spoken against, yet he has brought deliverance to millions of faithful followers around the world.

Yet the Hebrew prophets made clear that this child is also the deliverer of his own nation, Israel. This part of his ministry is still unfolding. But all signs point to its soon fulfilment. Until then, let us follow the shepherds and wise men and worship our Saviour. Even the angels had to burst forth in enthusiastic praise: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14)

Come and behold Him, Born the King of Angels;
O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

John Wade (1751)

 

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