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Attracting Extraordinary Blessing

How We Relate to Israel and the Jews

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17 May 2017 (All day)
Attracting Extraordinary Blessing

“I know you from Jerusalem”

In the last issue of our magazine we shared the story of miraculous healing of Danny Meka, ICEJ’s Director in India. Severely burned after a gas explosion, an angel appeared to him in a dream and the Lord supernaturally touched his body, allowing Danny to leave the hospital after eight days, when the doctors said it should have taken months. His story shows us that our God is the same God from the days of the Apostles. And nothing is impossible for our God!

As you may recall from Danny’s story, when the angel appeared to him in a dream, he asked: “What do you want me to do for you?” In that dream Danny responded: “Who are you?” The angel answered him: “I know you from Jerusalem!”

That remarkable response reminded me of three stories in the Bible – three Gentiles who were singled out in the New Testament to receive a special blessing: A Roman centurion (Lk 7:1-10), a Phoenician woman (Mt 15:21-28), and Cornelius, the Centurion from Caesarea (Acts 10-11). All three experienced an unusual touch of God, in many ways out of season, since Jesus repeatedly made it clear during His earthly ministry He was sent only to the Jews. (Mt 15:25) When Jesus sent out His disciples He likewise commanded them to avoid Gentiles and focus only on the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Mt 10:6) 

“Yes Lord, yet even the dogs…”

Consequently, when the Phoenician woman approached Jesus with the desperate request to heal her sick demonized daughter, Jesus first ignored her and then rather abruptly rejected her: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” He said, and then added, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15:25-26)

It must have been extremely humiliating for the woman to be addressed like that by Jesus. As He said, healing was God’s gift – the daily bread – for the sons of God, the Jews who, according to Paul, were adopted. (Rom 9:4) To give the same gift to this Gentile woman Jesus equated with throwing the gift to the dogs. Jesus was using a seemingly harsh rabbinic approach also found in Midrash Tillim, which states: “The nations of the world are like dogs.”

But this did not stop the Phoenician woman. Her reply demonstrated both relentless faith and extreme humility, not only towards Jesus but towards her own standing in God’s timing. “Yes Lord, yet even the dogs…” was her reply. The German theologian Albrecht Bengel notes: “She does not ask to be admitted to the table, but implies that she was not far distant from it.” In the new covenant, Gentiles would soon be admitted to sit at the table as children and have full access to all the heavenly goods, but in this early stage Jesus marvelled at the humble faith displayed by the woman. “…Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.” (Matthew 15:28)

“…for he loves our nation”

Another Gentile to experience an untimely touch of Jesus was a Roman centurion from Capernaum. Like the Phoenician woman, he did not ask for himself, but needed a miracle for one of his servants. However, instead of approaching Jesus directly, he sent the elders of the local Jewish community to put in a good word with Jesus. This is how Luke reports it: “And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, ‘He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue’.” (Luke 7:4–5) Archaeologists have found the basalt foundations of an ancient synagogue in Capernaum which could be the one mentioned in this passage.

What is striking is the argument that the elders bring to Jesus, and His subsequent reaction. “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” The elders recognized that dealing with a Gentile would be an exception for Jesus. Nevertheless, they argued that Jesus should still heal him as he is a ‘worthy Gentile.’ He loves our nation, they argued, and demonstrated it very practically by building a synagogue. Unlike with the Phoenician woman, Jesus did not oppose and followed the elders immediately to heal the centurion’s servant.  

“… well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation”

The third prominent Gentile highlighted in the New Testament is Cornelius, the centurion of Caesarea. The Phoenician woman and the centurion from Capernaum experienced a touch of Jesus before the times of the Gentiles had begun. Cornelius however represents the very watershed which opened the doors to the Gentile world. His testimony became a sign not only for Peter, but for the entire early church, that “also to the Gentiles, God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:18) The person of Cornelius represents thus a paradigm shift for the early church. From that moment on, it was clear that the Gentiles would be allowed to sit at God’s table as sons. They would not receive merely the crumbs of blessings that had fallen from the table of God’s people Israel, but would became full partakers of God’s nature and His most powerful promises.

The question I used to ask myself was: Why did Cornelius become the prototype, the first fruit of a Gentile believer? Why was he chosen, of all the Gentiles living in Israel at that time? Again, it is Luke who answers these questions. The disciple reports that the centurion sent two of his (probably Jewish) servants to Peter’s home in Joppa (today’s Yaffo), to come to Caesarea and share God’s Word in his house. They must have known that an observant Jew like Peter would not defile himself by visiting the home of a Gentile, especially if he was a leader of the Roman occupying force.

So the servants give a testimony about Cornelius, reminiscent of the story of the centurion of Capernaum: “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you…” (Acts 10:22) This Roman, they argued, was different from the other Romans Peter knew. Cornelius was well spoken of by the Jewish nation. The Jews loved him.

The reason why they loved him was explained by the angel who appeared to Cornelius: “Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God.” (Acts 10:31) Cornelius was a spiritual man who prayed and whom the Jews considered as ‘God fearing.’ The practical expression of his faith was love and care towards the Jewish nation through the alms that were given by him. Therefore, the Jews held him in high regard and more importantly his alms were noted in Heaven.

Candidates for extraordinary blessing

What connects all three stories is the relentless faith and the unique relationship these three Gentiles shared with the Jewish people. The Phoenician woman showed incredible humility in God’s seemingly preferential treatment of the Jews. Both centurions showed active signs of love and support for the Jewish people by giving alms and even building a synagogue. The Word of God indicates it was their faith and their attitude towards the Jews which marked all three of them for an extraordinary treatment by God. They received a touch of God before the Gospel of Jesus would ‘officially’ launch into the Gentile world. One of them, Cornelius, became the very first Gentile Christian and opened the door for all Gentiles to receive the Spirit of God.

The stories confirm that God is indeed watching how we relate to Israel and the Jews. Our relationship to Israel is surely not a precondition for salvation or eternal life, but it marks us as possible candidates for an extraordinary blessing.

What the angel said to Cornelius: “Your alms have been remembered before God,” reminds me of what the angel said in a dream to our Indian ICEJ director in the hospital. “I know you from Jerusalem!” Many times I have asked myself, what would have happened if Danny would not have devoted some of his time to bless the Jewish people. He visits Israel several times a year and works tirelessly in India to bless the Jewish nation. Somehow this must have attracted the attention of Heaven. “I know you from Jerusalem,” the angel answered him. God’s Word makes it crystal clear that blessing Israel attracts the blessing of God on our own life. (Gen 12:3)

Blessing Israel is surely no quick fix for getting rich, but it marks us for times when we need an extraordinary touch from God. I have experienced it personally, and many others do too. I know you will as well, as you seek ways to bless the people of God. Even if you should never experience it here on earth, you are marked in Heaven. And one day you too will hear: “I know you from Jerusalem. Your alms have been remembered.”

May the Lord bless you mightily as you bless the Jewish people.

 

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