Monthly Archives: October 2020

God is opening hearts during lockdown!

Dear Friend,

Shalom in our Messiah Jesus.

My heart breaks for Israel and the ultra-religious Jewish community worldwide! These two Jewish communities, one localized and the other spanning the breadth of countries and cities where Jewish people are concentrated, live under life-threatening circumstances.

Israel keeps trying to fight its way back to national normalcy but the coronavirus continues to immobilize the country. Unemployment in Israel is also at an all-time high, and the economy is suffering terribly. The country recently experienced a lockdown that extended through the Jewish high holiday season and beyond.1

The infection, hospitalization rate, and death toll is massive for “little Israel!” The mortality rate per capita surpasses that of the United States. The death toll is highest among the Arab population of Israel and the ultra-religious Jewish community in Israel and worldwide.

The ultra-Orthodox segment of the Jewish population are called Haredim, which in Hebrew means “the ones that fear,” and the One they fear is God. This name expresses the character of the community. These beloved Jewish people dress differently, live their lives according to the most Orthodox version of the Jewish faith, and maintain that gathering for prayer, synagogue services, holidays, and religious events—like the Jewish high holidays—are more important to them than life itself. Followers of Jesus can learn a lot from their dedication.

The impact on the whole population of Israel during this “second wave” lockdown is still fresh, and we may not know if the country will successfully pass the danger point until next month. We hope and pray it will!

You can read more about the numbers of Israelis affected by the disease by visiting https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/region/israel.

A SPIRITUAL SLANT TO THE PRESENT CRISIS

We should remember two great Bible passages penned by King David that are calls for prayer to every believer in Jesus!

King David wrote, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they prosper who love you’” (Psalm 122:6). This is a biblical mandate for all of us—to pray for God’s peace to fall upon Israel and the Jewish people. And Israel needs our prayers desperately at this very moment.

The second issue is very sensitive! Due to the pandemic, the divisions between the ultra-Orthodox and secular Israelis have grown wider and have become like open wounds.

Would you join me in praying for Israel’s national unity? I believe this unity, which builds bridges between the religious and secular in Israel, will be pleasing to God and good for the nation. The psalmist declares, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).

Let us pray for the healing of the nation and the people of Israel. Ultimately, this vision for unity will only come about when the Jewish people— secular, Haredim, and in between—cry out to God in repentance and turn to Jesus the Messiah (Romans 11:25; Zechariah 12:10).

Many Haredim and even some secular Israelis recognize the spiritual side of the current crisis. A recent survey of Israelis reported that one-third of the prime minister’s voters believe God sent COVID-19! Most of the Haredim in Israel fall into this group.2 Recently, we have seen God move among Israelis, Haredim, and Jewish people across the globe. Hard times draw people to the Lord, and this season of darkness and difficulty is no different.

May I share some stories illustrating this fruitful season of ministry and how the gospel is breaking through to Jewish people’s hearts?

One of our staff members in the southwest recently had the opportunity to teach on the subject, “Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus.” This class was in person, following all COVID-19 protocols, of course! A friend of our staff member had invited a Jewish woman. After the first class, our worker met with this Jewish woman and asked her what she thinks of Jesus. She said, “I believe He’s the Messiah, the Son of God!”

On the other side of the world, the severe restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic caused just about all the ministries of Celebrate Messiah, our ministry partner in Australia, to go online. Celebrate Messiah has been hosting special seminars on YouTube and Facebook that have reached thousands of people. Online ministry so far is reaching more people than would typically walk through the doors of our services.

And in the north of Israel, a Jewish woman regularly attended the online services of the congregation led by one of our staff. She actively participated in the meetings, and came to faith in Messiah. Our Israeli worker wrote about the encounter: “She came up to our apartment, and we chatted for about forty minutes, maintaining social distance and wearing masks. The conversation was pleasant and most welcomed. I felt an urgency to ask her about her spiritual life and if she understood that Yeshua is the Messiah, the one who died for our sins and gives the gift of eternal life. She heartily agreed, and in our living room, socially distant, she prayed to receive Yeshua.”

All I can say is, “Hallelujah!” You cannot lock down the Holy Spirit from working powerfully in the lives of those who need salvation! God is moving among ultra-religious and secular Israelis, Jewish people in America, and Haredi enclaves in Brooklyn and across the globe.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

You can pray for our ministry!

Please pray for the Lord to touch the lives of Israelis, Haredim, and Jewish people around the globe who need the Lord. If you have a Jewish friend and want us to pray for them, please go to chosenpeople.com/pray, write in their name, and we will pray for them. If you wish, we can also send them a free copy of our book Isaiah 53 Explained.

God’s work is not locked down!

I would even say that our ministry has expanded during this season. For example, we held online high holiday services, which were attended by more than 20,000 people worldwide. We have also begun a series of virtual small group discipleship Bible studies across the United States. We have Jewish people who are not yet believers attending these studies. We have never done this before!

We are continuing our digital ad campaigns, which have introduced us to thousands of Jewish people. We are following up through personal emails, Zoom calls, new websites, online Bible studies, virtual discipleship, and more. You can see from the fantastic reports I just shared that this has also led to in-person contact and decisions for the Lord.

Additionally, we have spent $500 per day purchasing Facebook ads in the United States, Israel, and other countries. Again, this has led to interaction with thousands of Jewish people for the Lord.

Online ministries are also incredibly powerful in reaching the Haredim. They do not want their family and friends to know they are considering the gospel. We place Facebook ads in Yiddish—the language commonly spoken by most Haredim. In partnership with the Jesus Film, we also translated the movie about the life of the Messiah into Yiddish. We use geographic-specific advertising in ultra-Orthodox areas to offer an opportunity to view a small clip of the film in Yiddish, which leads them to the full movie.

Am I encouraged? Absolutely!

I do not need convincing that the lockdowns of society, or hearts usually resistant toward the gospel, cannot be opened by the power of God.

Please help us take advantage of these opportunities by praying as we reach Jewish people and anyone else who will listen to the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus the Messiah.

In HOPE through the Messiah,

Mitch

Endnotes

1 “Government Resolution: 14 Day Total National Lockdown Effective This Friday with Optional Extension,” gov.il, September 24, 2020, https://www.gov.il/en/departments/news/24092020_01.

2 Ben Sales, “One-Third of Netanyahu’s Voters Believe Covid-19 Was Sent by God – Survey,” Jerusalem Post, September 17, 2020, https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/one-third-ofnetanyahus-voters-believe-covid-19-was-sent-by-god-642703.

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Finding Hope

Shalom.

Maybe, like me, your sense of hope is running thin as we begin this eighth month of the pandemic. You are not alone. Optimism and hope may well be the most sought after, invaluable, and yet intangible life quality people are seeking today. We are all longing for hope—the belief that the future will be better and brighter than today!

We were entirely unprepared for the impact COVID-19 would have on our everyday lives. Most of us know very little about the Spanish flu of 1918 and how it ravaged American life and killed 675,000 Americans.[1] Some of what happened at that time would seem familiar today, including people wearing masks and socially distancing!

We remember more modern-day plagues like Ebola, AIDS, Legionnaires’ disease, polio, measles, mumps, and many others. Today, thank God, we have vaccines and treatments for most of these scourges.

Few of us remember World War II. However, many of us remember and maybe even served in more recent wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, in which we lost a combined total of more than 100,000 beloved American heroes.[2]

I remember the Cold War tensions, the Cuban missile crisis, and the atomic threat that drove school children to hide under their desks periodically (as if this would provide safety from a nuclear attack)!

We endured 9/11, Hurricane Sandy, and massive storms in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas that wreaked terrible devastation and death upon people we love and care about, not to mention costing hundreds of billions of dollars in damage. We can now add the devastating West Coast wildfires to this list.

In some ways, COVID-19 is a crisis unlike any other as we face a deadly enemy we cannot see. Now, it seems that this dreaded disease will impact almost every area of our country, and, at the moment, we are hovering around 200,000 deaths. If we add the economic struggles and social unrest we are experiencing, who could blame someone tempted by hopelessness? How do we cope and find hope during these dark and difficult days? Ignoring what we are facing today is not going to work.

I especially appreciate those around me who are more upbeat and hopeful! May their tribe increase! I am grateful for every pair of smiling eyes peering above a mask, trying to help me look toward the brighter side and face the future in hope. I pray you have a few family and friends who bring you this kind of joy and inspiration, but even these wonderful people cannot always be by our side. So, how can we find hope in a seemingly hopeless situation? Is it possible? I believe it is!

Finding Unwavering Hope During a Pandemic

Hope comes from connecting with someone or something that is above and beyond the shifting circumstances of our day. We need to fix our hope on what is unchanging and eternal if we are going to find security and peace today. I believe we can find the hope we long for so desperately in a personal relationship with the God who made and loves us.

A God Who Keeps His Promises?

I find this hope in the story of the Bible. The Bible teaches us that God created a perfect world, but then something went wrong. Though He placed our first parents in an exquisite garden, they veered off the path He wanted them to follow. We followed suit, and every generation since then has suffered the results of these bad decisions. But, according to the Bible, God will reclaim and recreate the world He made.

God has not abandoned us and will one day heal our broken world.

In Judaism, this idea is called “tikkun olam,” the healing of the world, and it is vital to the Jewish view of life, as men and women may partner with God in the healing of the world. Jewish tradition understands that something is fundamentally wrong!

The Hope of Israel Fulfilled

How do we know what is written in the Bible is true?

So often we need something we can see to help us believe. I did! Let me tell you what convinced me. Briefly, here are three reasons.

He has kept His promises to Israel and the Jewish people. Despite the devastation of the Holocaust, the Jewish people—after multiple millennia and against incredible odds—have returned to the land of promise. This was predicted by the Jewish prophets, like the well-known Ezekiel who wrote thousands of years ago, “For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land” (Ezekiel 36:24).

If God can orchestrate Israel’s regathering and return to the land, He can be trusted to fulfill His other promises in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and New Covenant Scriptures. This is undeniable. If the Bible was correct in predicting the unlikely restoration of Israel, then what else in the Bible is true?

The Hope of Messiah Fulfilled

I also believe God demonstrated His trustworthiness by sending the Messiah. His name is Yeshua, or Jesus in English, and there are hundreds of prophecies detailing His identity and mission penned by Israel’s prophets over multiple centuries. If what the Bible promised about His first coming has come to pass, then what is predicted about His second coming should be true as well.  

The prophets of old prophesied His place of birth (Bethlehem) (Micah 5:2), His death for our sins (Isaiah 53:1–12; Psalm 22), His resurrection from the grave (Psalm 16), and so much more! He will return as judge and king to: restore our planet; remove sin, death, and disease; and, according to the Bible, He will wipe every tear from our eyes. Isaiah promised, “He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces, and He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; For the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 25:8, also Revelation 21:4).

This is a foundation for hope that will never disappoint.

Personal Experience

Finally, without being unrealistic about the level of tragedy we have experienced, I am convinced that God is trustworthy. When I accepted Yeshua as my Messiah, He filled my heart with hope. I cannot easily explain it or prove it logically. When you have a personal relationship with God and believe the promises in the Bible, hope invades your soul and enables you to face the future with confidence.

You will be able to read about the experience of others in this newsletter who had similar experiences to mine.

So, how should we respond to the hope God offers to humanity? We could just give up or become cynical about life in general. We could also choose to put our hope in our fellow human beings working hard to find a vaccine and a cure for COVID-19. Or, we could trust in the God who created us! Maybe a combination of the last two?

I can tell you that, even if we find a cure, we will still experience ongoing tragedies and challenges in this life and that only our relationship with our loving and immovable Creator will shelter us against the storms of life.

One More Thought

It is a mystery as to why God allows His beloved creation to endure difficult times: the loss of loved ones, jobs, educational opportunities, the separation from friends and family, and more that you and I have faced recently. It might be tempting at times to question if God is even good, whether or not you are a person of faith.

Right now, it might be a difficult season for some to keep the faith! It is understandable—times are tough! Maybe you would like to know and trust God but have a hard time believing what the Bible says about His unchanging character.

I wish I could give you an easy answer. I believe God is good by nature. He is Lord of all creation and mysteriously uses life’s most profound disappointments to shape us and make us strong.

I encourage you to hope in God! Even though the road may be dark, He is the Guide we need who lights our path and leads us through the valley of the shadow of death to green pastures.

You might have an unshakable faith in God, secured by the Messiah Jesus, or perhaps you are seeking hope that has been elusive so far. I wish you blessings on the journey, whatever your starting point might be, and thanks again for taking your precious time to read.

I hope you will enjoy the rest of the newsletter!

Sincerely,

Mitch


[1] Nina Strochlic, “U.S. Coronavirus Deaths Now Surpass Fatalities in the Vietnam War,” National Geographic, April 28, 2020, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/2020/04/coronavirus-death-toll-vietnam-war-cvd/#close.

[2] Ibid.

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Lessons from the Festival of Booths

Shalom and welcome to my Sukkah! Before I enter, I want to stop and say the special prayer.

ברוך אתה יי אלהינו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו לישב בסכה. אמן.

Barukh Atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha-olam, asher kidishanu b’mitz’votav v’tzivanu leisheiv basukkah. Amein.

Blessed are You, Lord, our God, king of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to dwell in the sukkah. Amen.

I wish you could walk around Brooklyn with me this week. It is a BIG PARTY! Sukkah booths are popping up everywhere.

The Feast of Tabernacles is all about joy, unlike Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which are somber and sober.

And there is much to celebrate, especially for followers of Yeshua the Messiah, even in the midst of this pandemic, economic hardship, and social unrest.

The Bible enumerates a number of Feast of Tabernacles essentials.

Leviticus 23

Again, the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘On the fifteenth of this seventh month is the Feast of Booths for seven days to the Lord. On the first day is a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work of any kind. For seven days you shall present an offering by fire to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation and present an offering by fire to the Lord; it is an assembly. You shall do no laborious work. (Leviticus 23:33–35, emphasis added.)

There is more information about the festival in verses 39–44:

“On exactly the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the crops of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the Lord for seven days, with a rest on the first day and a rest on the eighth day. Now on the first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. You shall thus celebrate it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths, so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” So Moses declared to the sons of Israel the appointed times of the Lord. (Leviticus 23:39–44, emphasis added.)

Let us look at some Sukkot basics.

The Date

Sukkot is observed in the seventh month on the fifteenth day of the month for a total of seven days. There is one additional day. and then Jewish tradition adds a ninth day.

Sukkot is also called the Feast of Ingathering

“Also you shall observe the Feast of the Harvest of the first fruits of your labors from what you sow in the field; also the Feast of the Ingathering at the end of the year when you gather in the fruit of your labors from the field. Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord God” (Exodus 23:16–17).

Sukkot, like the other feasts, is God’s spiritual classroom

The game “Show and Tell” must have been God’s idea! He uses the physical to teach us about the spiritual. By touching, seeing, hearing (as in the case of the shofar), and even tasting (matzah, etc.), the festivals are His spiritual classrooms, where all of our senses are engaged to teach us profound and beautiful spiritual truths.

The Major Symbols and the Lessons

The holiday is filled with lessons, but we will look at three, based upon the biblical text and traditions of the festival.  

  • God Provides

The lulav and etrog teach us that God provides for His children.

We are commanded to take “the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days” (Leviticus 23:40–41).

We weave the following elements together to form what is known as the lulav, which represents the four species mentioned in the biblical text.

Etrog

The foliage of beautiful trees is p’ree eitz hadar (פְּרִ֨י עֵ֤ץ הָדָר֙), which literally means “fruit of beautiful trees” and refers to what we call the etrog—a fruit that looks like a large lemon.

The palm branches

The palm branches, orlulav, is a frond of the date palm tree.

The boughs of leafy trees

The boughs of leafy trees refer to thebranches of a myrtle bush.

The willows of the brook

The willows of the brook refer to the branches of the willow tree.

The palm branch, myrtle, and willow are combined into what is called a lulav. We use three willow branches, two myrtle, and one long palm frond to which the others are tied.

The joyful shaking of the lulav reminds us that God provides through the harvest.

He causes the rain to fall, the sun to shine, and the seeds to germinate. Our job is to harvest what He creates. It is difficult for those of us who are not farmers to appreciate this firsthand. Some of us do not even go to the grocery store these days, choosing instead to have our food delivered!

Still, we are commanded to be happy because God is our Provider! Waving the lulav and etrog is an expression of joy—joy that is tied to the harvest.

Mustering up authentic joy is not easy in the midst of a pandemic. Our lives have been so disrupted, and many of us have endured such significant loss; of a loved one, a friend, a business, income, education, fellowship with others in worship, and the joy of everyday life. We miss our normal lives, and we are eager to recapture what we have lost.

Yet, God commands us to rejoice—even in the midst of suffering.

In some ways, this has been the story of Jewish life and history—smiling while suffering!

For followers of the Messiah Jesus, the command to rejoice during Sukkot reminds us of the words of Rabbi Paul again, who wrote, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you” (Philippians 3:1), and also, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).

So, what is the secret to having joy? Should we rejoice when everything around us tells us not to? Are we speaking about some type of Jewish stoicism that ignores the hardships we face?

Not at all!

Sukkot reminds of God’s care for the Israelites through the desert wanderings.

We are encouraged to ask the Lord for the same provision and care today as we travel through the desert of this life. He provided the manna, quails, and even water out of a rock for our ancestors. He has not changed!

The Jewish people, my ancestors, experienced this supernatural provision. According to Moses:

He led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water; He brought water for you out of the rock of flint. In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end. Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.’ (Deuteronomy 8:15–17)

Yeshua said much the same, but a little differently in the Sermon on the Mount, “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25). And also, “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!” (v. 30). And He concludes, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (vv. 33–34).

Hardship and suffering purify our souls as we learn to distinguish between our needs and wants and to thank God who provides our “daily bread”. This is what we learn from fasting on Yom Kippur and what we learn from the lulav and etrog—God always provides.

Applying the Lesson

Which grows out of the first…

The Lord wants us to serve Him by serving others.

Sukkot calls upon us to be thankful and generous, be grateful to God for all He has done, and to rejoice, but also to remember the poor and those who do not have what they need.

You might look for one needy family this week and give from the abundance God has given to you. I believe God will bless and reward your generosity as you care for others the way God has cared for you.

As Yeshua said, again in the Sermon on the Mount:

So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:2–4)

  •  God’s Protects

Moses commands the Jewish people to live in booths for seven days. Moses wrote, You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths, so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 23:42–43).

The Hebrew word for booths is sukkot סֻּכֹּ֥ת—the plural, which is where we get the name for the holiday.

The booths are not built for long term occupancy; they are God’s classroom. These flimsy structures with see-through roofs are supposed to remind us of the structures we lived in while travelling in the Sinai desert for forty years.

Let me put it this way: If built correctly, without nails, with a see-through ceiling, and a fragile foundation, you would not want to be in a sukkah during a strong wind!

The Sukkah also reminds of the frailty of human life.

According to Jewish tradition, we are supposed to eat and sleep in the sukkah booth for seven days. The rabbis compare the sukkah to the human body, which is frail and eventually wears out. It reminds me that we are Chevrolets, built with planned obsolescence—we are designed to eventually wear out.

I love the old hymn that says, “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through.” We need to view ourselves as perpetual tourists and live with the future in mind. A famous rabbi, Samuel ben Maier, commenting on Leviticus 23:43, believes the booths also call us to humility and to appreciate the simple things of life. He wrote:

Why do I command you to do all this? For the Lord your God brings you to a good … and you will eat and be satisfied, etc. As a result, your heart may become haughty and you will credit yourself with all this as your own achievement. (Deuteronomy 8:7–8) In order that this will not happen, and to show the Israelites God’s part in their success, they will move out of their solid houses as a reminder to the time when they had not been blessed with any of these benefits which they enjoy ever since inheriting the land of their forefathers. (Rashbam Leviticus 23:43)[1]

This lesson is repeated in the Shulchan Aruch, which means “the prepared table,” one of the guiding manuals on Jewish spiritual life.[2]

Jewish tradition suggests that God is our sukkah, and He is all we need. He protects us from life’s dangers. He guards and guides us through the twists, turns, and turbulence of life.

Unless He wants us to learn lessons from hardship or maybe He is simply calling us home. We agree with the rabbi from Tarsus, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). And David wrote in Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).

God uses the desert to bring us to our knees. Deserts are not very hospitable to human life. The days are too hot, the nights are too cold, the water is scarce, and the oases few and far between. We have lived in a type of desert for the last six months, and we have learned more than we wish about life and death through the pandemic.

The pandemic has driven many of us into the arms of a loving, caring, and protecting Savior to seek protection. We have been humbled! The pandemic has revealed our weakness and limitations. We also recognize that we cannot easily defeat our enemies, especially when they are invisible. It is really hard to fight what you cannot see. The Apostle Paul reminds us of the battle we are really fighting as believers, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:12–13).

We are fighting against far more than an invisible virus; we are doing battle with the world forces of darkness and spiritual forces of wickedness. This battle will not be won with worldly weapons but with the power of God by His Spirit and the spiritual armor He provides to fight; truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, and the shield of faith.

So, it is time to read a Jewish children’s story! We learn so much about Jewish life and lessons from these stories. this is one for Sukkot.

Debbie and Danny were very unhappy.

When they tried to fast all day on Yom Kippur they hadn’t been able to go without food past 2 o’clock. Even though their parents had told them that when they were older they would have the self-discipline to be able to fast all day on Yom Kippur, they wanted to do it now.

And when they had tried to blow the Shofar after Rosh Hashanah family services they hadn’t been able to make a real sound; just a little squeak. Now their parents were telling them they were too young to sleep overnight in the Sukkah. It wasn’t fair.

Debbie and Danny had helped their parents build the Sukkah. In fact, the reason their family had a Sukkah of their own this year was because of Debbie and Danny. Their father had said he didn’t have the time to build a Sukkah this year, but the kids had offered to help with everything. When the Sukkah was finished their father was proud of how much they had helped. They carried a table and chairs into the Sukkah and prepared to eat their meals in the Sukkah. But when the kids said they wanted to bring their sleeping bags into the Sukkah and sleep overnight their parents said, “NO”.

First their parents said it was too cold to sleep in the Sukkah. Then they said the kids were too young. Finally, they said that it wasn’t safe.

Debbie and Danny said a Sukkah was as safe as a house. A Sukkah was God’s shelter for the Jewish people for all the years when the Jews lived in the desert after they left Egypt. And a Sukkah was the shelter Jewish people used in the Land of Israel when they were harvesting their crops and thanking God for the harvest. They reminded their parents that:

‘It is a Mitsvah [commandment] to build a Sukkah.’

‘It is a Mitsvah to eat meals in a Sukkah.’

‘And it is a Mitsvah to sleep in a Sukkah.’

Their parents were impressed that Debbie and Danny had such a great desire to do Mitsvot [commandments] so they agreed that the kids could sleep overnight in the Sukkah on Saturday night.

When Saturday night came Debbie and Danny were eager to sleep in the Sukkah. They had decorated the Sukkah with drawings and old Shanah Tovah [Happy New Year!] cards. They had hung different kinds of fruit and vegetables on the Sukkah. Now they got in their sleeping bags, ate a night-time snack from the fruit hanging on the Sukkah, and went to sleep.

In the middle of the night they were suddenly awakened. The Sukkah was shaking, but it wasn’t from the wind. The ground itself was shaking. It was an earthquake. They heard a loud crash. A tree had fallen on their house. They were scared. Then they remembered that they were in God’s Sukkah. They didn’t feel so frightened. They said the Sh’ma [a traditional Hebrew prayer from Deuteronomy 6:4] a few times and they felt even better. The earthquake stopped.

Their parents came out and they seemed to be more upset than the kids. The tree that had fallen had landed on the roof above the bedroom where the children slept. They might have been hurt if they had been sleeping in the house.

Thank God the kids had been sleeping in the Sukkah.[3]

  • Lesson #3.  God Gives us Hope

Like the children of Israel, we have a destination. Ultimately, it is not we who are going to Him, but rather He is coming for and to us.

If we pass from this life and enter His presence, or if we are taken up to meet the Lord in the air, the end of the story is all about His coming back to the world He created to establish His kingdom in a renewed and reclaimed earth.

Heaven ultimately comes to earth.

The sukkah reminds us that, one day, as promised, the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters fill the sea. In fact, a day is coming when the entire earth will become his sukkah booth and tabernacle. We caught a glimpse of this with the coming of Jesus the Messiah, who, according to the gospel writer John, dwelled—literally tabernacled—among us.

I love Sukkot because it reminds me of the glory ahead. Knowing Him is a foretaste of the glorious future God has prepared for those who love Him. The sukkah reminds us of what is to come! As John wrote:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new. And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” (Revelation 21:1–5)

Invitation:

Are you joyful? Do you feel protected? How are you doing right now in the midst of our season of trouble and trial when it comes to hope?

If you have never received Jesus as your Messiah, now is not too soon.

Pray this prayer with me:

If you are a believer and you are running on one or two but not three of these cylinders; joy, safety, and hope, then maybe you need to dwell in God’s sukkah booth for a while. You have all week to find or build one! Either way, I urge you to turn to the Lord and experience His provision that will give you joy, sense His protection, once again enjoy a sense of safety. In Him, you will also find hope. We are not locked down by the present if we know the Lord and believe that He is with us. In fact, the hope we have for better days is good practice learning how to hope for the best days when He returns.

Chag Sameach and Happy Sukkot…may you always dwell in the presence of the Lord.

God’s Sukkah is Safe

A Story of Hope

With the help of his two young neighbors, Justine and Duane, elderly Mr. Roth builds a sukkah, a little hut built by Jews to commemorate the harvest festival and to remind them of generations of homelessness. After the two children spend the night in the hut, they go to the market with Mr. Roth to buy foods for a festive Sukkoth meal to be shared in the hut. While they are at the market, a firestorm that has erupted in the hills rapidly obliterates their neighborhood. Miraculously, the only building left untouched by the rampaging flames is Mr. Roth’s sukkah. Amid the ghostly stillness at the scene, where not even the crickets have survived to chirp, can be heard another miracle–the cries of Mr. Roth’s cat, Tikvah, who has managed to escape the fire.[4]

And guess what Tikvah means—hope! The author was trying to tell the children that the sukkah was more than a little tent or temporary shack, it is a symbol of the hope we have in a God who always cares for and protects His children.

May the Lord fill your heart with hope, as even if things do not work out well for us on earth, we put our trust in the One who has overcome the world and has gone before us to build a mega-sukkah—a mansion where we will live forever. And nothing—not a wildfire, hurricane, pandemic or far worse—can destroy what He is building for those who love Him.

Let me summarize and close:

God is always faithful to provide for our needs—it is His nature.

Provision should lead to our taking action by providing for others.

He protects us, which should calm our fears and enable us to trust the One who protected the Jewish people in the desert.

We can have hope because a new world is coming for those who love Him, and we will live with our glorious God and Messiah forever.


[1] Rashbam, “Rashbam On Leviticus 23: 43,” Sefaria, accessed October 2, 2020, https://www.sefaria.org/Rashbam_on_Leviticus.23.43.1?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en.

[2] Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayim 639:1. According to very important Rabbinic document, the Shulkan Aruch – the Prepared Table, we are told the following about the Sukkah, “What is the Mitzvah of sitting in the Sukkah? That he should eat, drink, sleep, lounge, (Tur) and reside in the Sukkah all seven days, both in the day and in the night, in the same manner in which he resides in his house the rest of year. And all seven days a man makes his house temporary and his Sukkah permanent. How so? The fine dishes and linens, should be in the Sukkah; and drinking vessels, such as glass cups and mugs, in the Sukkah; but eating vessels after eating (Tur), such as pots and plates, outside of the Sukkah. The lantern should be in the Sukkah.” “Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayim 639,” Sefaria, accessed October 2, 2020, https://www.sefaria.org/Shulchan_Arukh%2C_Orach_Chayim.639?lang=bi.

[3] Allen S. Maller, “A Succot Story for Children: God’s Sukkah Is Safe,” The Jewish Magazine, accessed October 2, 2020, http://www.jewishmag.com/126mag/succah_children/succah_children.htm.

[4] Polacco’s story is based on the firestorm that ravaged her hometown of Oakland, California. Actual framed photos of family members shown on bureau tops and posters of sports idols on a bedroom wall helpÿ20convey the reality of the event and of the personal losses suffered. Polacco’s vibrantly colored illustrations pulse with energy and emotion as the characters bend with the whipping wind, comfort each other in the temporary shelter, and rejoice in the sukkah when Tikvah is found. Good Sukkoth stories are rare; rooted in an actual event as well as in ages-old tradition, this one is a priceless gem

Ellen Mandel, review of Tikvah Means Hope, by Patricia Polacco, Amazon.com,  https://www.amazon.com/Tikvah-Means-Hope-Patricia-Polacco/dp/0385320590?pd_rd_w=7BZfa&pf_rd_p=3fdb7f7b-31a2-4f37-b9bc-1469e3d4fb18&pf_rd_r=4P0M388T0HVKA6JFQ5PY&pd_rd_r=e4469531-db4c-4746-9a31-7579e745830b&pd_rd_wg=met5J.

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The Priority of Jewish Evangelism

Shalom in His grace!

I hope and pray this letter finds you healthy, safe, and filled with His joy.

I continue to believe that sharing the gospel with everyone should be our greatest priority in life! My personal burden, and the focus of Chosen People Ministries, is reaching Jewish people for Jesus. But, as surprising as this might be, we actually lead as many or more Gentiles to the Lord as we do Jewish people every year!

Yet my heart’s greatest desire is to see my own Jewish people accept Jesus and receive the gift of everlasting life!

It is essential to ask the question, “If Jewish people number only 15 million among almost 8 billion people on earth, why is Jewish evangelism so essential and urgent?”

As the leader of a traditional mission to the Jewish people, I believe Jewish people must accept Jesus to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:16–17; John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

I do not believe a Jewish person or a Gentile can satisfy God’s demands for righteousness through his or her merit or good works (Galatians 2:15–16; 3:23–25; Romans 10:2ff.). According to the Apostle Paul in the early chapters of Romans, we must all put our faith and trust in God’s Son, who died and rose for our sins.

THE BIBLICAL MANDATE TO EVANGELIZE JEWISH PEOPLE
(ROMANS 1:16 AND ROMANS 9–11)

The following two passages, in particular, provide a sound biblical basis for the urgency of Jewish evangelism.

ROMANS 1:16

The Apostle Paul expressed it this way, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).

Franz Delitzsch, the well-known Old Testament scholar, wrote, “For the church to evangelize the world without thinking of the Jews, is like a bird trying to fly with one broken wing.”

Of course, Paul was not suggesting that the Roman believers withhold the gospel from the Gentiles until every Jewish person in the world hears the good news. Neither was he implying that the gospel has already come to the Jewish people first, therefore, preaching the gospel to the “Jew first” no longer has any application in 2020. Paul wrote Romans 1:16 in the present tense. So follow the logic of the text with me: If the gospel is still the power of God “for” salvation and is still for “everyone who believes,” then the gospel is still “to the Jew first.”

Paul used the same Greek word for “first” that Matthew used in Matthew 6:33, where Jesus reminded us, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness….” The kingdom of God should always be a priority in our lives, even as we pursue other vital life issues. Similarly, reaching Jewish people with the gospel should be a priority for all who know the Lord Jesus as their Savior.

Wherever Paul, the Jewish Apostle to the Gentiles, traveled in his ministry, he always first preached the gospel to the Jewish people living in that area (Acts 13:13–52; 14:1–5; 18:7–11; 19:8–10), which is why he usually began his ministry by preaching in the local synagogues. The salvation of the Jewish people was an ever-present burden for Paul, and his actions in the book of Acts reveal his understanding of what he wrote in Romans 1:16.

But there is more!

ROMANS 9 –11

In Romans 9–11, Paul pointed out some critical insights about the Jewish people and Jewish evangelism. For example, in Romans 9:1–3, we learn of Paul’s burden for the Jewish people; he expressed his willingness to give up his salvation if it meant that Jewish people might enter the kingdom of God. Romans 10:1–3 describes his heartfelt prayers for his people. In chapter 11, Paul concluded that God has not rejected the Jewish people—there is hope for the salvation of individual Jewish people in the present age and nationally at the end of days.

His first line of argumentation for God’s continued faithfulness to the Jewish people was that he—Paul—was Jewish! Paul was living evidence of God’s faithfulness. I, too, am a Jewish believer in Jesus, and there is a remnant of Jews today who are accepting the gift of salvation in Jesus the Messiah!

The work of Your Mission to the Jewish People can be summarized this way: We are Jewish and Gentile believers searching for the promised remnant the Lord has prepared among the Jewish people. We continue this ministry in the United States, Israel, Europe, South America, and in nineteen countries worldwide! I am a part of the remnant of Jewish believers looking for the others!

THE REMNANT TODAY

There is a remnant today as there was in the Old Testament period, as evidenced by Paul’s recounting the story in 1 Kings 18. God revealed to Elijah that 7,000 other men did not bow the knee to Ba’al. This group remained faithful to the God of Israel. Paul concluded that a remnant existed among the Jewish people of his day who, like himself, received Jesus as Lord (Romans 11:5). Messianic Jews today are God’s signposts of His faithfulness and power to save.

JEWISH EVANGELISM AND YOU

The task of reaching this remnant is also a mandate for the church. In Romans 11:11, Paul specifically called upon Gentile members in the body of Christ to make Jewish people jealous with the gospel message. Ultimately, that jealousy would drive the nation to Jesus, as detailed in Romans 11:25–26.

The link between Israel’s salvation and the Messiah’s return is perhaps a mystery, but true nonetheless. This relationship is spelled out in the book of Zechariah from chapter 12 through chapter 14, where we see the connection between the Lord’s return and the repentance and return of the Jewish end-time remnant.

This connection might even explain why Paul gladly accepted the mantle of apostle to the Gentiles, knowing that the salvation of the Gentiles would lead to the salvation of the Jewish remnant, which, in turn, would lead to the glorious consummation of all things!

The practical implications of these few thoughts are clear. The Gentiles within the body of Messiah have a calling to reach Jewish people for Jesus. As a 126-year-old mission to the Jewish people, Chosen People Ministries is happy to equip and train our brothers and sisters to accomplish this prophetic work.

It is part of our organizational mission statement: “Chosen People Ministries exists to pray for, evangelize, disciple, and serve Jewish people everywhere and to help fellow believers do the same.”

We accomplish this mission by encouraging, providing materials and resources, and building strategic bridges with the larger body of Messiah to fulfill this mandate in the twenty-first century.

One of our staff recently spoke to a Jewish man:

When he started reading Isaiah 53, he asked me who it was about. I said, “Who do you think it is about?” He responded, “Jesus.” Then I pointed out that it was written 700 years before Jesus was born. He said he was “blown away.”

Critical Jewish areas like New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Florida, and Israel are still facing difficult circumstances as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Our hearts break, as Paul’s did, for the salvation of our Jewish people. So many elderly Jewish people, including Holocaust survivors in Israel, are frightened and looking for answers. We know that there is only one answer to the problems and challenges of life, whether it be poor health, the loneliness of old age, or economic instability. Many Jewish people today are also concerned about change and the apparent frailty and instability of life.

We have a golden opportunity to reach Jewish people with the gospel. NOW is the time, and because of our success online, we are talking to thousands of Jewish people about Jesus. We try to visit and minister personally when able, but if not, our missionaries are now all adept at making significant online and phone connections with Jewish people.

Once again, we consider the words of that great Jewish apostle to the Gentiles, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation” (Romans 10:1).

In Messiah,
Mitch

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