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Purim & Passover

We have now begun the “spring” Jewish holidays of Purim (10 March) and Passover (8 April). Both mark amazing deliverance for the people of Israel, yet in totally different ways.

Passover is a seminal event in Jewish history, when the Lord God freed the children of Israel from bondage with a mighty, outstretched hand. He sent devastating plagues on Egypt and then parted the Red Sea in open displays of His awesome power. The enemy was vanquished and the Israelites were freed to worship the living God and press on towards the Promised Land.

But in the Purim story, the means of deliverance was very different. The “scroll” of Esther is the only book in the Bible where God is never mentioned. Here, He was a hidden deliverer who quietly used humble, faithful servants to rescue His people from certain death.

The lesson is that whether “by many or by few”, the Lord will always deliver His people from peril (1 Samuel 14:6). At Purim, God used the winner of a beauty contest to rescue the Jewish people from a genocidal plot. Esther may have been lovely and delicate, but she also was strong in faith – and that was what saved the day.

We also learn something about the power of prayer and fasting. God is not seen in the book of Esther, but He is there watching in the background and answered when they earnestly sought Him.

Finally, the Jewish people were saved because they were permitted to defend themselves from Haman’s hordes. Ironically, the people of Israel today must still struggle for the right to defend themselves from evil enemies in our day.

Therefore, let us continue to stand by Israel’s side, especially during Purim and Passover. This year, thousands of Israelis will recieve Passover gifts or food baskets to bless their celebration. Join us in showing Christian love to Israelis during this Spring holiday season!

Prophecy Fulfilled & Yet to Come

As Christians, we are called to be a prophetic community. Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” (Mt. 6:10). We should pray to be a prophetic people with great faith, so we can give evidence of what God has declared and call into existence the promises of God even before they can be seen.

The Feast of Tabernacles speaks to us historically, prophetically and in our life today. Historically, this Feast calls us to remember the people of Israel dwelling in flimsy booths or tents in the desert. Yet, God manifested His presence by His Spirit in the cloud by day and the fire by night as He delivered them out of bondage in Egypt into His Promised land.

Prophetically, the Feast calls us to wait expectantly with faith for the New Jerusalem. Hebrews 11:10 says, “…for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” In our life today, the Feast reminds us that while we live in our earthy body, which is a flimsy and temporary vessel, He is with us and He provides for us.

The Feast of Tabernacles is the only feast where God commands the people to be joyful! It is also the Feast which prophetically expects the Gentiles (non-Jews) to join in the celebration. At the ICEJ Feast of Tabernacles, we have our dress rehearsals every year, which remind us to look forward to the prophetic time revealed in Zechariah 14:16, “And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.”

In the miracle of a restored Israel and Jerusalem, we see with eyes of faith the evidence of what God has promised. Zechariah 8:20-22 explains, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Peoples shall yet come, Inhabitants of many cities; The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, “Let us continue to go and pray before the Lord, and seek the Lord of hosts. I myself will go also.” Yes, many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord.’

When Christians come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, by faith we expect God to meet us, hear us and answer our prayers. 2 Chronicles 6:32-33 states, “Moreover, concerning a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, but has come from a far country for the sake of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm, when they come and pray in this temple; then hear from heaven your dwelling-place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, that all people of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this temple which I have built is called by your name.”

When we celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, we join with the heroes of the Faith mentioned in Hebrews 11, and we eagerly wait for the Heavenly City where God will dwell fully with man in the New Jerusalem. Revelations 21:2-4, ”Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’”

We are privileged to live in a season in human history when God is fulfilling His promises and prophecies about Jerusalem and Israel. We are encouraged to cooperate with Him by coming up to Jerusalem to joyfully Celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles and pray here in His City. We rejoice in knowing that of all the generations of Christians redeemed by the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are the generation privileged to live in this season. We are encouraged in our expectation of the return of Jesus, the manifestation of the New Jerusalem, and God dwelling fully with mankind.

As we look at the prophecies God is fulfilling, we have confidence in His Faithfulness. He alone is faithful and true. He alone is the covenant-keeping God. He alone is able to fulfill His promises in His word about Jerusalem, Israel and each of us as His children.

Let us be glad as we go up to worship the Lord with our feet standing in Jerusalem! (Ps. 122)

A Covenant With God

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“Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’” (Genesis 12:1 - 4)

What does the above passage from Genesis tell us about the Lord?

It captures a key moment in the history of the human race; the beginning of God’s rescue of the human race from itself. The conversation was not two-way; God did all the talking, as He is a God who speaks! The universe came into being when God spoke it into being. We can rejoice that our God is a God who talks, who speaks, who communicates with us. Abram was a man who listened, which is the other side of communication. You only hear God if you’re listening.

Another thing this passage tells us is that God has a name. The name given here in Hebrew is the letters Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey, which in English is spelled “Jehovah,” but is often pronounced “Yahweh”. The significance of that name is this: It distinguishes our God from every other one who ever existed. He has a name, just as our name distinguishes us as unique from everyone else.

God is a commanding God. He has a right to command, because He created us. He makes our laws and has full right to tell us what to do and how to live.

He is a God of history. Only a God who can control history can promise to make a great nation out of someone, give them a great name, and then keep that promise, which He has done! Today, everyone knows the name Israel.

God is a God who blesses people; to do them good, make provision for their needs, protect them when attacked and bless them. He promised to bless Abram, and bless everyone else through him. That is a big promise, but our God is a God who delights in blessing his people.

But there is also a downside to it: God is also a God who curses people. Some people think this only applies to the Old Testament, but it carries right through the New Testament, too. Modern man does not like this and wants a God who only blesses, but God will curse those who disobey Him.

He is the Father of Israel who says, ‘What you do to my children, you do to Me – and I will do to you.’ Cursing is to speak harmfully about people, to damn them for the future. It’s a true fact of history that every nation, every empire, which has risen up against this little land of Israel, has in turn been cursed by God.

God is a very patient God. His covenant with Abram took hundreds of years to work out. In fact, with roughly half the Jewish people still living outside the Land of Israel today, God has a lot of work left to do to bring them back and give them what He promised. But He is patient and will be faithful to complete it. Time is relative to Him, and He is an Eternal God.

Finally, He is a caring God. His concern is for all the people He has made; not just for Abram, but for “all the families of the earth.” His plan involves EVERYONE, but it will reach them through Abraham and his descendants, and those like ourselves who look to him as our Father. God cares about the people He has created, and He wants to bless them too, through Abraham’s family!

Jesus was, is and always will be a Jew. My Bible is full of Jewish writing, so everything I value most I owe to the Jewish People. And this applies to every nation of the world; until the nations swallow their pride and bless the nation of Israel, they will not know the truth, nor have salvation.

God chose one nation, not just for their sake, but for the sake of everyone. God made this covenant with Abraham, which opened up benefits in which we all can enjoy. 

We hope that as you reflect on the character of God and the covenant He made with Abraham, you will be able to enjoy this Feast of Tabernacles in a whole new way! 

The Triumph of the Kingdom

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The yearly celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles is one of the three great annual and biblicallyrequired festivals; the other two being Passover and Pentecost. These biblical Feasts have great significance in that they all speak of the glorious redemptive plan of God. Passover teaches us about the Door to the Kingdom of God - the salvation from our sins by the spilledblood of a lamb. This serves as a glorious picture of the death of Christ. Pentecost reminds us of the Power of the Kingdom of God. That is, the giving of the Word of God and the coming of the Holy Spirit upon blood-washed believers on the Day of Pentecost. (Acts 2:1-4)

The Feast of Tabernacles is a picture of the Triumph of the Kingdom of God since it reminds us that all of life is to be lived under the protection and sovereignty of God. The Israelites coming out of Egypt were required to build leafy booths and to live in them for eight days. These were very fragile and could not protect one from the harsh desert conditions. The lesson was clear; God would protect and care for them. We have to learn this lesson so often since, as Jesus pointed out, we are consumed with anxiety and worry about so many of life’s issues. Our Father in Heaven cares for us and watches over us every day because we are part of His Kingdom! How easily we forget this.(Matthew 6:25-34)

Jesus underlined this when on the Great Day of the Feast of Tabernacles, as He watched the water libation service in the temple, He cried out that if we believe in and follow Him a river of God’s love, empowered by the Holy Spirit, will flow out of our lives bringing joy and blessing to our lives. This is the triumph of the Kingdom of God in our personal lives and we should be living in it! (John 7:37-39)

The Feast of Tabernacles also points us to the future when, by the second coming of Jesus, the world will finally be subjected to the Kingdom of God. That is, Jesus will reign over the nations from Jerusalem and peace will for the first time envelop the world. War will be a thing of the past and for a thousand years the nations will live in the very light of the glory of God. What a day that will be and to celebrate it the nations will ascend every year to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. (Zechariah 14:16-19)

We await then a glorious fulfillment of this great Feast and our annual celebration of it is a prophetic picture pointing to the coming Triumph of the Kingdom of God.

The Feast of Tabernacles is a joyful celebration and those living in the Kingdom of God are actually commanded to be joyful. All this remind us that serving Jesus bring much joy to our lives and this Joy is supernatural and powerful. Paul noted this when he wrote:

“For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Romans 14:17

Those celebrating the Kingdom of God at the Feast of Tabernacles carry a Lulav, which amounts to four species of plants. These tell us that we are all at different spiritual growth levels in that some are weak, others are strong, some are complacent and yet others are discouraged. God loves us all and desires that we should all celebrate His love with much joy at the Feast of Tabernacles!

Why Do Christians Celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles?

The Feast of Tabernacles is one of the seven Feasts of the LORD. It is important to understand that these Feasts are of the LORD. God said, “these are My feasts” (Leviticus 23:2b), and he commanded the Israelites through Moses to observe these Feasts throughout their generations. When we celebrate these Feasts, we are reminded of what God has done in the past and will perform in the future. Let us explain the significance of these Feasts and why Christians should celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.

These Feasts are holy convocations. The Hebrew word for “feast” is “mo’ed,” and one of its important meanings is “appointed time.” The Hebrew word for “convocation” is “miqra,” which is translated as “rehearsal.” So, the seven Feasts of the LORD are God’s appointed times and dress rehearsals for significant events, as ordered and predetermined by God.

Our God is a God of pattern and order. He created the heavens, the earth and all the living things in six days, and then He rested on the seventh day. The number “7” in Hebrew numerology denotes completion. These seven Feasts of the LORD are not only the appointed times for the dress rehearsals, but also represent God’s pattern and order for the first coming of Jesus, as the Lamb of God and His second coming, as the King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16). 

The first four feasts were already fulfilled in Jesus’ first coming. He first came as the savior of the world, the Passover Lamb of God, the sinless Son of man. The second feast is the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The third feast is the Feast of First fruits, and the fourth feast is the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost as we know it. The remaining three Feasts are to be fulfilled at the return of Jesus as the King of kings and Lord of lords.

We are rehearsing the return of Jesus when we participate in the last three Feasts, the Feast of Trumpets, the Feast of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and finally the Feast of Tabernacles where God will tabernacle with us during the millennium period.
The Feast of Tabernacles is a seven-day celebration (Leviticus 23:34). The Jewish people are commanded to dwell in booths to remind them that God “brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 23:43). Seven again is a number of completion. Could this signify the completion of an important event in the timeline of God? Could this be the beginning when God tabernacles with man in Jerusalem during the millennium years? Only Abba Father knows, and with the passing of time we will also know.

The first day of the Feast of Tabernacles is a holy convocation, a holy rehearsal, a Sabbath day of rest (Leviticus 23:35). The Feast of Tabernacles is also the dress rehearsal where nations gather in Jerusalem to “worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles” (Zechariah 14:16b). Annually, the ICEJ organizes the Jerusalem March as a dress rehearsal for the fulfilment of Zechariah 14:16. Come to the Feast of Tabernacles to experience the joy of marching with the nations on the main streets in the heart of Jerusalem. You will have the unique opportunity to demonstrate your love for Israel and her people, as you shower them with gifts and more importantly, with your presence.

There is another holy convocation on the eighth day, only this time, it is especially mentioned as “a sacred assembly, and you shall do no customary work on it.” (Leviticus 23:36). The number “8” points to a new beginning. Could this be the dress rehearsal for the sacred creation of “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1) at the completion of the millennium years? Again, only time will tell.

When God said, these Feasts are “appointed times” (Leviticus 23:4b), we believe He is calling His people to assemble on these appointed times to meet with Him. These appointed times are God’s open invitations or “seasonal portals” to receive His blessings. We believe your presence in Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles is positioning yourself in the right place at the right time to receive God’s blessings. 

There are special places located geographically that attract angelic presence and activities. In Genesis 28:10-19, Jacob stepped into a “certain place” and “behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” This place is called Bethel, the House of God where Jacob received his special revelation from God that his descendants shall be as the dust of the earth, and through him all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Jerusalem is another anointed place, a geographical portal where revelation from God is released.

We believe coming to Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles, where seasonal and geographical portals come into alignment, will bring amazing blessings and revelation from God for your life. Come with heightened expectancy to the Feast of Tabernacles, especially in this 70th year of Israel as a reborn nation. This is your appointed time to commune with your God.
We receive amazing understanding of the Word and love for our Jewish brethren every time we come to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. Those who came with us also experienced miracles of healings, restored relationship with Abba Father and deeper understanding of the Bible.

Come and celebrate with us, the Feast of Tabernacle in Jerusalem. You will certainly be blessed!

Jerusalem, A Praise in the Earth

The Significance of the City of God: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

4000 years ago, God chose the Mesopotamian merchant Abraham and gave him a destiny that would radically change the world (Genesis 12:1-3). With Abraham, God chose a people to whom He promised great things. These promises of blessing for Israel were not given as an end to itself. It was not about God choosing a favorite people for himself from all the nations on the earth. It was much more than that. The purpose of God´s calling of Abraham and his descendants after him was to save the whole earth. “… and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you!” (Genesis 12:3) Paul saw already a first proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ in this promise. “Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’” (Galatians 3:8)

The Land and the People

The fact which is often ignored is that God chose not only the people – “from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah” (Romans 9:5) – but also a geographical place. God not only promised to Abraham to make him a great and blessed nation, but he also assured him of a “land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1) As Abraham´s descendants are supposed to be a blessing to all families of the earth, this special stretch of land is of strategic significance for the salvation of mankind. In a way, it is the bridgehead connecting heaven and earth. In other words, in the land of Canaan, God opened the door for all mankind to gain free access to the kingdom of God.

Epicenter Jerusalem

The epicenter of this special and promised land is the city of Jerusalem. Abraham had two powerful experiences there, which would impress an eternal and momentous seal on the city. First, Abraham had an encounter with the mysterious King Melchizedek. Melchizedek was the King of Salem, later called Jerusalem. He approached Abraham with bread and wine acting as both the king of peace and the king of righteousness. Melchizedek was not only a worldly ruler but combined the office of a priest with that of a sovereign king – a distinctly messianic quality. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews also envisioned Melchizedek as a forerunner of the promised savior of the world. After his fellowship with Melchizedek, Abraham would return once more to the mountainous area of Jerusalem when God ordered him to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac, the son of promise. Abraham ascended this mountain in obedience, while fully assured in faith that God was able to raise his son from the dead (Hebrews 11:19).

Almost a thousand years had to pass, until it was King David who ultimately realized the significance of this place. He relocated the capital of his kingdom to Jerusalem, understanding that God was going to establish His temple in this very city. The temple was not supposed to be just a Jewish house of prayer. The word of God teaches us that even the stranger who did not belong to the people of Israel was able to find the God of Israel there “in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you.” (1 Kings 8:43) Therefore, at a later time, Isaiah would call the temple “a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7)

The Promise in Babylon

For many Jews the world collapsed when, after several conquests of Jerusalem, the Babylonians destroyed the Temple in the year 480 BC. How could God allow this to happen? The ones taken away didn´t understand God anymore or what was happening to them. “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.” (Psalm 137:1) It was the prophet Daniel who never gave up hope for Jerusalem and who understood like no one else the eternal purpose of this eternal city. As a high official in the Babylonian Empire, a role that could be compared to that of a prime minister today, Daniel prayed for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the return of the Jewish people from Babylon. “While I was speaking, and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the Lord my God for his holy hill” Daniel recounted, “the man Gabriel” appeared to him and instructed him.

His words preoccupied many theologians and Bible researchers for centuries. “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophecy, and to anoint a most holy place.” (Daniel 9:24) There is hardly a more explicit passage in the Bible which describes the unique calling of the Jewish people and the city of Jerusalem as clearly and distinctly as this one. God appointed a certain timeframe for the Jewish people and the city of Jerusalem in which He would fulfill the following tasks: to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophecy, and to anoint a most holy place.
There is no other city on earth with such a calling.

1. Finish transgression: The transgression of God´s commandments is the huge problem of humanity. “They have all turned aside,” the psalmist declared. (Psalm 14:3) But there will be an end to this disease of rebellion against God and his commandments.

2. Put an end to sin: The root of human rebellion against God originates in the nature of man. Ungodliness has its source in our hearts, Jesus explained, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 15:19) No human is immune from it. But this sinful nature of man shall be put off. The Hebrew word also allows the translation “will be sealed.” That is, God will seal this source completely, once and for all.

3. Atone for iniquity: All sins which have been committed already shall be atoned for. Even if the sins are like crimson and cry out to heaven, they shall be as white as snow. (Isaiah 1:18)

4. Bring in everlasting righteousness: Isaiah proclaims: “My righteousness will be forever, and my salvation to all generations.” (Isaiah 51:8) There won´t be just a brief period of righteousness as there was under King David and King Hezekiah, who were then succeeded by ungodly rulers. This reign of righteousness will last forever: “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this!” (Isaiah 9:7)

5. Seal both vision and prophecy: All the promises of God, however great and mind-boggling they might be, shall come to fulfillment. Not one iota of God´s promises will be dropped.

6. Anoint a most holy place: This can be everything: A future temple in Israel, the eternal sanctuary of the heavenly Jerusalem, the church as a temple or each individual believer as a temple. John Wesley saw therein primarily the threefold anointing of the Messiah as king, priest and prophet.

“What a marvelous prophecy!” the theologian H. C. Leupold writes. “These six statements include all good things which God pledged to the humans.” Daniel links these tremendous promises tightly to the Jewish people and to the city of Jerusalem. “About your people and your holy city…” Therefore, it is not surprising that Jesus had to fulfill his mission in Jerusalem from the beginning. No other city was qualified for this. On the mountain of transfiguration, Jesus conferred with Moses and Elijah “who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:30-31)

God predestined Jerusalem to be the city for the world´s redemption. Jesus died in Jerusalem “once for all” for the sins of the world. Abraham could see this day to come, as he was binding his son on the altar on mount Moriah. (John 8:56) Daniel anticipated that Jesus atoned for the sins of the world outside the city gates on Calvary hill (Golgotha). He conquered death when he rose from the dead and accomplished a complete redemption for humanity.

The Model Church in Jerusalem

At first, it was a cause of concern for the first disciples that Jesus ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives in eastern Jerusalem. But Jesus promised them that he would not abandon them. A comforter was to come. And he did come precisely on the Day of Pentecost, again in Jerusalem. The Spirit of God rested like tongues as of fire on each one of the 120 disciples. Ordinary people were filled with the presence of God and started a powerful ministry which brought thousands of people into the Kingdom of God. The first church was founded in Jerusalem. It was a powerful community which relied not only on well-elaborated theological teachings but also on the effective dynamic of the proclamation of the gospel. This Jerusalem church did not believe in cultural adaptation to draw people into the congregation, but they trusted in the changing and miracle-performing power of the Holy Spirit. They did not own cathedrals or big church coffers, but they were able to say: “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (Acts 3:6) Among all model churches and all revival movements of Christianity, there is none which has more impact on us than the church in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem or Rome?

Tertullian asked once: “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?” His answer pointed out that the gospel of Christ has little to do with Greek philosophy. On the contrary, we are well advised through Scripture to look to Jerusalem. The cross and the resurrection, so inherent to Jerusalem, do impact Athens, Berlin, Beijing, New York and the rest of the world. Even today Jesus comes out of the city gates of Jerusalem to approach every human being with bread and wine. Not by chance the psalmist writes: “If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill!” (Psalm 137:5) We should never forget: The cradle of our faith stands in Jerusalem, not in Rome.

Conflict over Jerusalem

It is thus not surprising that this city is embattled like no other. The prophet Zechariah foresees a global escalation over the city of Jerusalem: “Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about … and a burdensome stone for all people … and all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.” (Zachariah 12:2-3) Jerusalem shall be divided, internationalized or even subordinated to the Vatican. The plans for the future of this city are numerous. God is warning the nations: All who want to lift this burdensome stone “will surely hurt themselves.” Jerusalem is the city of God. (Psalm 46+48) And God is passionately concerned about this city. “I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy.” (Zachariah 1:14; 8:2) When God calls something his own and expresses his zeal so clearly then we would be wise to “let Jerusalem come up on our heart.” (Jeremiah 51:50)

Jerusalem, our Hope

Not only are our roots in Jerusalem; the hope of our faith also lies there. The redeemer will come back to Jerusalem “in the same way you saw him go up into heaven!” (Acts 1:11) His feet will neither stand in Azusa Street or in Brownsville nor in Wittenberg or Herrnhut but again on the hill east of Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives. At that very time, Christ will take up his Messianic rule as the Prince of Peace. The promises of Daniel will be accomplished completely. Jerusalem will stand firmly established as the head of the nations. “The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:3) As a result, they will “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:1-4) Jerusalem will be a praise in the earth and no longer a cup of trembling for the nations. But this will not happen automatically. God seeks our cooperation. Isaiah describes our task as follows:

“On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent. You who put the Lord in remembrance, take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth!” (Isaiah 62:6-7) God is searching for intercessors who are ready to be involved in his great plan of redemption for the world and for Israel. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! Those who love Jerusalem will prosper! (Psalm 122:6)

Watchman, What of the Night?

 “Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?” The watchman said, “The morning comes, and also the night.” (Isaiah 21:11–12)

“Watchman, what of the night?” is the desperate cry for help which was heard in the times of Isaiah the prophet. Israel had just witnessed the rise of the Assyrian Empire, one of the most ruthless empires in recorded history. Their influence rapidly spread through the entire ancient world and was even at Israel’s doorstep. In this time of trouble, when violence and lawlessness increased, the desperate cry to the watchman became: “What about this increasing darkness in our world? What is happening to us? Watchman, do you have an answer for us?”

This cry for help and clarity is also heard today, as we enter the year 2016. Dark clouds are everywhere. In the United States, the church finds itself in a battle for the very soul of their nation. Europe has been inundated by an unprecedented flood of more than one million mostly Muslim refugees. At the same time a new level of terrorism descended on France while Germany entered into the New Year with high-level security threats from Islamic terrorism.

The economic success story of the European Union is endangered not only by the Greek national crisis but also the combined pressure of escalating terrorism and an influx of refugees. If we look at Africa, we see an increased presence of the radical Islamist groups like Boko Haram. The Middle East remains in a state of severe instability; not only are Iraq and Syria falling apart before our eyes, but we also see instability in other countries like Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is being released by the West from its economic sanctions, while continuing to utter threats and incite violence against Israel and the USA. At the same time the European Union is issuing a labelling law against Israel, the only democracy in the region. All Israeli products from so-called “occupied territories” are expected to be labelled and are thus under the scrutiny of the boycott. While the USA continues to withdraw as an ordering world power, Russia, China and Turkey have quickly filled the resulting power vacuum in the Middle East.

In short, our world is undergoing significant changes, which will dramatically alter world history and future events. The result is insecurity - even within the church. As in the time of Isaiah, “Watchman, what of the night?” is the desperate question many people have in their hearts today.

The Morning Comes!

However, what is far more intriguing is the brief answer offered by Isaiah’s watchman: “The morning comes, and also the night.” This surprising response was contrary to natural laws or any human experience. Never did the night and the morning arrive at the same time. The watchman seems confused and not able to make up his mind which is coming, the night or the day.

Regardless of how illogical this answer may sound, it is the answer given by God to the people throughout history. Oftentimes, as circumstances grew darker and darker, suddenly the morning star announced divine hope and redemption. The pages of the Bible are full of hopeless situations, where it appeared darkness was spreading, unchallenged and ever increasing. But it was precisely at that point when the greatest triumphs were then achieved.

All seemed hopeless when the Midianites harassed the nation of Israel, when the strongmen Goliath and Haman each threatened the people of Israel, or when the Army of Egypt descended upon the Jews, without a means of escape at the shores of the Red Sea. It was exactly at that moment, when all hope was gone and night came like a flood, that godly men cried out, “The morning comes!”

The Morning Star

One of the names referring to Jesus in the Bible is the “bright and morning star” (Rev 22:16). This tells us that no matter how dark it is around us, if Jesus lives in our hearts, there is always hope for a breakthrough.

The morning star is often seen as a glaring light in the dark sky, announcing the imminent arrival of the dawn. There is something unique about the morning star. Since ancient times the planet Venus, which is the brightest of the night luminaries, was referred to as the morning star. But surprisingly enough, Venus is not only considered to be the ‘morning star,’ , but at certain times of year it is also the ‘evening star,’, announcing the approaching night. Isn’t it amazing that the very same sign in the sky can be both the herald of the approaching night and also the harbinger of the coming morning?

In my experience there are two types of Christians who, although they both read the very same Bible, have very different perspectives. Many Christians – often western – read the prophecies of the Bible about the future and see a rather devastating message of darkness, gloom and decay awaiting the church and the world. However, if you visit some home churches of China you would hear a completely different message. A brother from China recently told me: “In China we are so excited, because the prophetic word promises us that the whole earth will be covered by the knowledge of the glory of the Lord like the waters cover the sea!” He clearly was expecting global revival!

Not long ago we visited a large church movement in Nigeria, which is actively training young Christians in prayer and academics to become the future leaders of their country. In some Latin American countries, like Guatemala, more than 50% of the population have become born-again believers. These are churches filled with hope for what God can do!
In other words, some believers are evening star Christians some are morning star Christians. Reading the same Bible, some see mainly darkness approaching, while others are full of hope. The truth is that the watchman saw both. He was enough of a realist to see the night coming but the first response that passed his lips was to announce the coming morning dawn.

The God of Hope

We need to remember that one of the three main trademarks of the church is to bring hope (1 Cor. 13:13). Hope does not disappoint (Rom 5:5) and provides an anchor for our souls (Heb 6:19). God is called a God of hope (Rom 15:13), which means He identifies His own character with hope. Therefore, we should never give up our confession of hope (Heb 10:23). No matter what the newspapers, political pundits and even end-times experts might be telling you, never give up your hope!

The answer that the watchman gave some 2,700 years ago in the time of Isaiah is still valid today: “The morning comes and also the night!” Yes, darkness is spreading across the world in many places. The world is shaking and insecurity is increasing on many levels. But there remains one rock that cannot be shaken and that is the Kingdom of God!

I was greatly encouraged by the extraordinary story of Rees Howells in the book “The Intercessor.” In the midst of Europe’s darkest hour, when Hitler’s armies were advancing on every level, a group of 100 intercessors gathered together at a Bible college in Wales. They prayed strategically not only for the downfall of Hitler, but also declared victory over Nazi Germany when they appeared to be invincible. The two main inspirations which motivated Howells were his understanding that the Gospel of Jesus Christ needs to go to “every creature” and the return of the Jews back to their homeland was imminent. Therefore, he concluded, it was impossible for Hitler to succeed in his operation. In one of the darkest chapters of European history, Howells could see the morning star, even though his hope was deferred for several years.

As the Babylonian, Egyptian and Assyrian threats pressed in against the Kingdom of Israel, the prophet Isaiah brought a message of incredible hope. In a time when huge international players threatened the sovereignty of his homeland, with moral decay spreading throughout Israel, Isaiah found hope in the promised Messiah. “The government will be upon His shoulders. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end…” (Isaiah 9:6–7) Supreme authority in heaven and on earth is given to Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul understood that every “throne, dominion, principality and authority” (Col 1:16) is under His sovereignty and needs to serve His purposes.

Kingdom Expansion

But Isaiah saw something that excites me even more. He not only revealed these powerful attributes of our Saviour, but also boldly stated that His Kingdom is in an endless mode of expansion and growth: “Of the increase of His government there is no end.” Therefore, it did not surprise me to hear from a friend in Lebanon that in the midst of ISIS causing havoc in the name of Islam, the churches are full of men with long beards and women in hijabs who are seeking Jesus. They also reported that a wonderful move of God is taking place among Muslim refugees.

From another mission leader we heard of underground church growth even in Saudi Arabia and in Iran, where an historic revival is taking place. My son who attends a Bible school in Germany reported a few weeks ago that in one evening service at their camp nine Syrian refugees gave their lives to Jesus! A pastor from Berlin shared with us also that several churches in his city are packed with refugees coming to Christ.

It is true that at times God will shake a nation, and even our lives, in order to accomplish His purposes. The prophet Haggai foresaw a great and final shaking which will come “once more” over the entire world and even the heavenlies. But the ultimate outcome will be that, in the midst of these troublesome times, God builds His temple: “For thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, […] and I will fill this temple with glory,’ says the LORD of hosts. […] ‘The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,’ says the LORD of hosts …” (Haggai 2:6–9) The apostle Paul also saw the church as triumphant, greeting her bridegroom as a beautiful and spotless bride. True, some will give in to pressure, temptation and the attractions of this world. But it is the grace of God which can carry us through and make us overcomers!

No darkness can stop the Kingdom of God! On the contrary, often it is darkness that He uses as His vehicle to come to our rescue (Ps 18:4-12). The prophet Daniel saw that even in a time when unprecedented trouble and darkness comes “…such as never was since there was a nation,” there will be those “who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:1-3)

Therefore, as times grow more difficult, this is not a time to despair but to strengthen our foundations on that which cannot be shaken. The only unshakable entity is – and will be – the Kingdom of God, so it needs to be our top priority. Let us surrender completely to our King and set our priorities right where they need to be. His Kingdom and His righteousness need to be our highest aspiration. Its expansion can be expected even in our times; there is hope for the church in every nation. Since the morning comes to break every darkness, make a resolution today to be a morning star Christian.  

The seed of Abraham

The word of God is "quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword," (Hebrews 4:12), which means that a misinterpretation or misapplication of Scripture can also have powerful consequences. This has been especially true for those Christians down through the centuries who have twisted Scripture to justify their rejection of the Jewish people.

In modern times - with Israel's restoration to her promised homeland - you would think some of this contorting of the Bible to disinherit Israel would have faded. But alas, it still persists in far too many church circles today.

One of the New Testament verses that has been methodically misused to strip Israel of her enduring calling before God is Galatians 3:16 [which quotes from Genesis 22:18]: "Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, 'And to seeds,' as of many, but as of one, 'And to your Seed,' who is Christ."

This has often been read narrowly to mean that the covenant promises delivered to Abraham and his descendants were ultimately intended for Christ alone. Thus, it is used as just another way of cutting Israel out of her inheritance. Taken to its extreme, there are even those today who argue that the Land of Israel belongs solely to Jesus, and not to the Jewish people.

Now the point which the Apostle Paul is making in Galatians 3:16 is a valid one and no Christian can dispute that. But the verse needs to be understood within its context, which is a contrasting of the righteousness that comes by faith in light of the Abrahamic covenant versus the works of the law in the Mosaic covenant, which was "added" for a different purpose.

The word "seed" - in English and in Hebrew (zaraka) - is an invariant noun, meaning it can be either singular or plural. Paul employs the singular form of "seed" in crafting a rabbinic argument for the Messianic credentials of Christ. We can infer from his phrasing that the more inclusive plural form of "seed" would have denoted the people of Israel's collective pursuit of the law.

Yet throughout his epistles, Paul never limited his use of the expression "seed of Abraham" exclusively to the singular form, and he does not want us to do so either. In fact, just a few verses later, he says that anyone who belongs to Christ is also the "seed of Abraham." (Galatians 3:29)

Elsewhere, he again uses the more expansive meaning of "seed" - in the plural - to refer to all the natural descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. We see this in 2 Corinthians 11:22 (see also Hebrews 2:16).

And in Romans 4:16, Paul uses it to refer to both Abraham's natural and his spiritual offspring: "Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all."

The Apostle Peter also addresses his fellow Jews as the "seed" of Abraham in Acts 3:25: "You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, 'And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.'"

From all this, we can draw several conclusions:

1)  We must always consider the full counsel of Scripture on a matter and not be dogmatic about our narrow interpretations of certain verses. Otherwise, the consequences can be tragic.

2)  Those who seek to divest Israel of her inheritance in God by manipulating Scripture will always wind up in error.

3)  The Abrahamic covenant is remarkably inclusive, containing promises to the natural descendants of Abraham, to his spiritual sons and daughters, and indeed to Christ as well. It is important to identify who each promise was made to, and then who also may benefit from those promises.

4)  The Abrahamic covenant is also the underlying foundation for Israel's calling and relationship with God, not the Mosaic covenant, and we do well to respect its enduring nature.

So may we all be "blessed with believing Abraham." (Galatians 3:9)

David Parsons is media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. Article appeared first in the Jerusalem Post magazine, Christian Edition, released in August.

Seasons of Harvest

“Three times you shall keep a feast to Me in the year: You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread  […] and the Feast of Harvest, the firstfruits of your labours which you have sown in the field; and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you have gathered in the fruit of your labours from the field.”(Exodus 23:14-16)

We have just passed the biblical Feast of Shavuot, or Pentecost, one of the three times in the year when the people of Israel were required by God to come up to Jerusalem for a holy convocation. They were to appear in Zion to celebrate Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, the three great pilgrimage feasts of the Bible. Among other things, all three feasts were celebrations of thanksgiving for the different seasons of harvest in Israel’s calendar. In the last issue, we looked at the Feast of the “firstfruits” which took place during Passover. This month, we will look at Pentecost or Shavuot, also known as the Feast of Weeks.

Pentecost Harvest
The second harvest feast for Israel was Pentecost, which took place exactly fifty days after that  “day after the Shabbat” when the firstfruits were offered to the Lord (Leviticus 23:15f). During Passover, when the very first fruits were presented, the fields were mostly green and still weeks away from being ready for harvest. It was a statement of faith to place all produce of that year under God’s blessing.

Yet as the days of Pentecost arrived, the spring crop of wheat and barley had come to ripen and was now dedicated to God. “And you shall observe the Feast of Weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest…” (Exodus 34:22). It was a first feast of thanksgiving to celebrate the faithfulness of God. But other harvests would still follow, like the olive, wine and figs.

Tablets of Stone – Hearts of Flesh
According to Jewish tradition, the people of Israel arrived at Mount Sinai on Pentecost. Exodus 19 records that God came down on the mountain with fire, thick clouds and loud thunders. On that day God gave the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments, on “tablets of stone, written with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18).

Paul refers to that moment in his second letter to the church in Corinth. The New Testament believer, Paul states, is “an epistle of Christ, […] written not with ink, but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart” (2 Corinthians 3:3). For Paul, the ministry of the New Covenant was taking place on a whole new level compared to the covenant of Mount Sinai (see Jeremiah 31:31ff).

In Acts 2, it says “when the day of Pentecost had fully come”, the Spirit of God fell on the early Church like a rushing mighty wind and with tongues of fire on each of the believers. The disciples entered into a new season of ministry. It was a ministry of Spirit-empowered individuals who were personally transformed by the indwelling presence of God. It was a powerful and dynamic group of people who impacted the entire world with the Gospel.

Three thousand souls
For the Church, Pentecost also constitutes a first celebration of ingathering, as a first harvest of souls was gathered into the storehouse of God. “[A]nd that day about three thousand souls were added to them”, says Acts 2:41.

It was indeed only a firstfruit of harvest, as millions more would follow in the weeks, years, decades and centuries to come. The first harvest was an exclusively Jewish harvest, as all those initial believers in Jesus were Jews. Over time, God would show those original apostles that the fields of harvest were ripening in other parts of the world. It would eventually grow into an innumerable company of people from every nation, tribe and tongue.

It is worth noting here that when God came down with fire on Mount Sinai, Israel was challenged with His holiness and judgment. When Moses went back up on Mount Sinai, Israel rebelled against God and built the golden calf. As a consequence, we are told that 3,000 souls perished (Exodus 32:28). Yet on the day of Pentecost, 3,000 souls found eternal life. This is a clear demonstration of the life-giving power of the new covenant. The Covenant of Moses is one of laws written on tablets of stone and of unchanged hearts. The New Covenant is one of hearts transformed by the Spirit of God.

Both Acts 2 and Exodus 34 powerfully remind us why the book of Hebrews underlines again and again that we have the privilege of serving a covenant built on better promises (e.g. Hebrews 8:6). But it also teaches us how desperately we need the Holy Spirit to change our hearts.

Two leavened loaves
According to the Mosaic law, a special sacrifice was to be brought before God at Pentecost. “You shall bring from your dwellings two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. They are the firstfruits to the Lord.” (Leviticus 23:17)

Early Church leaders saw in it an interesting symbolism. Bede the Venerable (673–735) writes: “Two loaves of bread made from the first fruits of the new harvest were rightly ordered to be offered, for the church gathers those it can consecrate to its Redeemer as a new family from both peoples, the Jews and the Gentiles.”

But unlike other sacrifices, it was leavened – symbolising the imperfection of the church. It is true that church history is a continuous line of great triumphs but also of sobering failures. The great failures in church history or even in the church today should never cause us to stumble but rather to make us draw closer to God, recognising our need for His Spirit to continuously change our hearts.

Shavuot was a celebration of the beginning of the annual harvest season. It was the starting point of the church and the beginning of countless harvest cycles which would sweep millions around the globe into the kingdom of God. But it is also the beginning of a church which remains in desperate need of the Holy Spirit, otherwise the leaven of human nature will overcome and spoil the harvest.

Pentecost was the beginning of a harvest season which is still going on to this day. The signs of the times suggest that we are in the midst of possibly the last great season of harvest. Israel is being restored while unprecedented numbers of people are entering the Kingdom of God all around the world. The question is: Are we labourers in God’s harvest fields or are we mere bystanders and observers of the harvest? Let us join ranks because the “fields are white for harvest.”

Next month, we will cover the greatest harvest festival of all, which is Sukkot or Tabernacles. It has great significance for the times in which we live. I also want to encourage you to please consider joining us at this year’s Feast of Tabernacles celebration in Jerusalem, to be filled with the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit and thereby stand equipped for the harvest ahead.


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