Category Archives: Holidays & Festivals

The Light of the World Is Born

Shalom in the name of our glorious Messiah!

On behalf of the Chosen People Ministries global family, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

For many of my fellow Jewish people, the very idea of linking these two holidays together is awkward. It still feels a little strange to me, even after being a Jesus follower for the past fifty years. Yet, I realize that having one without the other is impossible.

Let me explain. The story of Hanukkah describes the ways God protected and preserved His chosen people. If Antiochus Epiphanes destroyed the Jewish people, then how would Mary have given birth to the Jewish Messiah, Jesus? In other words, “Without Hanukkah—there would be no Christmas!”

I continue to reflect upon the similarities and differences between Christmas and Hanukkah. The similarities include the theme of lights, giving gifts, families gathering, and viewing the God of Israel as the deliverer of His people. Yet, the differences between the holidays loom large because there is no other time of year when Christians think more about the incarnation—God becoming human—than on Christmas.

HE IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON!

It is still astounding to me, and largely unknown by my Jewish people, how the only mention of Hanukkah in the Bible is found in the Gospel of John chapter 10. But, of course, if you have read our newsletter for a while or spent time on our website, you know Jewish people do not accept the New Testament as God’s Word. I do, as does all our staff, but again, this is not a typical Jewish view.

The traditional Jewish view of the New Testament is one of the most difficult challenges we face in bringing the gospel to the Jewish people.

I still remember the day I realized Jesus was the Messiah. It happened after I read the New Testament and understood Jesus was Jewish and celebrated the Jewish holidays—including Hanukkah! Then, as I continued reading, I realized the New Testament, especially the Gospels, seemed like part two of the Hebrew Scriptures.

In the Old Testament, we read about the promises of God to the Jewish people and the nations of the world. In the New Testament, we see how those promises are fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah. The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, tells one magnificent and seamless story of God’s plan for redemption.

GOD IN THE FLESH

This incredible story, told through both testaments, made perfect sense to me. Even more importantly, I fell in love with the Messiah Jesus and believed He was indeed God wrapped in human flesh!

Yet, accepting His deity is difficult for most Jewish people, as we are raised to believe God has no physical form. Jewish people expect the Messiah to be a religious, political, and military leader, not God in the flesh.

Modern Judaism considers the first two commandments—to have no other gods before us nor to create graven images of God—the reason why the very idea of an incarnation is unacceptable.

The Christmas/Hanukkah season intensifies these differences as it is increasingly difficult for Jewish people to avoid the issue of Jesus’ deity! Every nativity scene reminds us of the New Testament teaching about how God became a man. As believers, we know the Messiah’s deity is true and fulfills God’s promises to the Jewish people found in Isaiah 7:14 and again in chapter 9, verses 6 and 7.

In Micah 5:2, we learn this leader in Israel, the Messiah, was to be born in Bethlehem, whose “goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.”

The Hebrew Scriptures present unshakable evidence for the deity of the Messiah throughout its pages, yet most Jewish people do not recognize or accept it. This conflict over the deity of Jesus is at the heart and core of Christmas and Hanukkah.

It was during the celebration of Hanukkah when Jesus made one of the clearest statements about His deity. We also see how the Jewish people of His day took exception to His declaration of divinity:

“I and the Father are one.” The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” Jesus answered them, “. . . If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.” Therefore they were seeking again to seize Him, and He eluded their grasp. (John 10:30–39, emphasis added)

Have you ever wondered why the Jewish leaders had such a strong reaction to Jesus’ pronouncement? It seems to stretch far beyond theological disagreement as, after all, they wanted to stone Him! It is impossible to understand the reaction of the Jewish leaders without knowing the background of Hanukkah.

THE HANUKKAH STORY

So, I hope you do not mind me telling you the Hanukkah story. It is always a blessing for me.

You will not find the story of Hanukkah in the Bible. Instead, it appears in the books of the Maccabees, which are part of the Apocrypha, writings outside the canon of Scripture. Jewish people view these books as historical documents but not divinely inspired Scripture.

Again, please allow me to summarize the story of Hanukkah in my own words.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes was a Seleucid king who reigned from 175–164 BCE over part of the Greek Empire, which Alexander the Great’s four generals divided among themselves upon his death. Antiochus bore the title Epiphanes (God manifest), implying his “incarnation” of the Greek god Zeus. Jewish people called Antiochus the madman (Epimanes) because of his cruel and erratic behavior.

This polytheistic madman wanted the Jewish people to follow Hellenistic ways and periodically outlawed Jewish worship and practices. Finally, he sent his emissaries throughout Israel along with a portable statue of himself and demanded the Jewish people bow down and worship him as a Greek god incarnate. But those faithful among the Jewish community could not stomach idolatry and would not bow to the statue of Antiochus Epiphanes!

The Jewish people who lived in a small town called Modi’in led a grassroots rebellion against the Syrian Greeks from 167–160 BCE under the leadership of Mattathias, a Levitical priest, along with his son Judah.

The Maccabees fought hard for seven years and in 160 BCE defeated the Syrian Greeks, retaking Jerusalem and the Temple. But their joy turned quickly to horror when they discovered that Antiochus sacrificed a pig on the Temple altar.

The Maccabees dismantled the holy altar and removed the stones, which they believed to be beyond cleansing. Jewish tradition tells us they heaped the stones into a pile in the Temple area where they would await the coming of a great prophet to cleanse them. Then, they built a new altar.

JEWISH LOYALTY TO THE ONE TRUE GOD

Hanukkah celebrates the victory of faithfulness over idolatry—more specifically, worshiping the image of a man who believed he was the incarnation of a false god. In this instance, it was Antiochus. Jewish spiritual loyalty resisted idolatry and refused to worship the image of a man claiming to be god.

May I speculate? I believe this spiritual loyalty and resistance to the idea of an incarnation was a strategy the devil used to repel the Jewish people from the actual incarnation of God as predicted by the prophets of Israel. Who can blame the Jewish leaders for resisting what, in their understanding, was an idolatrous statement by Jesus in declaring His oneness with the Father (John 10)? The religious loyalty of the Jewish leaders blinded them. They did not recognize God was fulfilling the promises of Scripture through taking on flesh and dying for the sins of the Jewish people and the world (Isaiah 9:6–7, 53:1–12; Micah 5:2, etc.)!

I cannot blame my people for resisting idolatry. However, the leaders already observed a Messiah who healed, performed miracles, and claimed to fulfill the prophecy of the One who was indeed God in the flesh. He opened the eyes of the blind, fed multitudes miraculously, cast out demons, and fulfilled the messianic qualifications peppered throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.

My prayer is for both Jews and Gentiles who have not yet concluded that Jesus is God in the flesh. Understanding this and coming to know the One who is the reason for the season, the son of David, and the Savior of the world is life changing! I pray the Lord will lead each of us to make the truth of His deity known among both Jews and Gentiles in the days ahead.

Thank you so much for your prayers and sacrificial support of Your Mission to the Jewish People. We have some incredible outreach projects on the horizon, which I will tell you about in the future. Meanwhile, I pray your love for the Messiah will grow more profound as you reflect upon the miracle of the incarnation!

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Sharing the Light of Jesus

This season of the year reminds me of the beautiful passage in the book of Psalms in which David declares, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps 119:105).

It is a joy to follow the Light of the World, Jesus (Yeshua), the Messiah. John pointed to the true light who enlightens all who believe:

In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. (John 1:4–9)

The Scriptures teach us Jesus is the Incarnate Word (John 1:14)—God in the flesh—who is the ultimate light of God and reflects the glory once seen resting upon the mercy seat in the Temple.

Jesus let His disciples know that He is the Light of the World: “Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life’” (John 8:12).

As His disciples, He calls us to reflect His light as instruments dispelling the darkness of our broken and sinful world. 

THE LIGHT SHINES AMONG UKRAINIANS AND RUSSIANS SUFFERING THE RAVAGES OF WAR

I recently received a note from Maxim, one of our Israeli staff members who is shining the light of the Lord among his fellow Russian speakers as they immigrate to Israel from Ukraine and Russia. So many Russian Jewish people are trying to escape the forced draft and general oppression of the Russian leadership, and we are doing all we can to reach them. We are engaged with this growing group of almost one hundred thousand, and more enter Israel daily. Many have arrived with just the clothes on their backs, and some receive help from the Israeli government.

Let me allow Maxim to speak for himself!

Shalom. 

I hope you have a blessed holiday. I want to share with you about our first family conference and thank you for this opportunity, especially for the financial support. The idea for this project was brewing for several years. While leading children’s camps, it occurred to me it would be good to do something for families with children. In connection with the war in Ukraine and the arrival of new immigrants from Ukraine and Russia to Israel, we decided the time had come for a family conference. At our children’s camp last summer, many kids who attended were new immigrants with overwhelming needs we tried to meet with the love of Jesus! 

We held the family conference last month in Haifa. We booked thirty-four rooms, and there were more than eighty of us. Most of the invitees were new immigrants from Ukraine and Russia, and many of them were non-believers. We also invited families from local congregations to get to know the newly arrived immigrants. The theme of the conference was “Our Family Starts with Me.” 

Everyone arrived on a Thursday afternoon, and then, after supper, we gathered together for the first meeting, where we joined together for worship and a Bible lesson. After the meeting, we took the children on a night safari to the Haifa Zoo. On Friday, we celebrated with a beautiful Sabbath dinner, played exciting games, and everyone enjoyed themselves. We had meetings twice a day for an hour and a half. 

One of our Ukrainian Jewish missionaries did an excellent job of leading worship. I prepared lessons, which were more like conversations, during which participants could express their opinions and raise pressing issues. There was a lot of free time for families to talk among themselves and with each other. The kids had the best time playing ping-pong, during which we had many conversations. 

The most important part of the retreat was our time with the parents. They are receptive to the gospel and our love for many reasons, especially because they are hurting. I thank God for this opportunity and the newly opened doors. 

Thank you again for your support, prayers, and participation. 

Please pray for our upcoming trip to the country of Georgia with a group of twenty-two elderly Russian and Ukrainian Holocaust survivors. 

Blessings during this holiday season, and remember to pray for us! 

Maxim 

HIS LIGHT SHINES IN THE DARKNESS

The Lord has been so generous to each one of us. Without your partnership, we could never provide the funding that Maxim needs to be a light to the new immigrants to Israel who are escaping a hellish war in Ukraine. It is going to be a harsh winter in Ukraine, and Your Mission to the Jewish People is there on the ground, bringing heating devices, food, medicine, and various emergency services in partnership with other ministries to help Ukrainians survive the aggression of the Russian military. 

May I also ask you to pray for our ministries among the very religious Jewish community? I never thought I would see the breakthroughs we are witnessing today. In Israel, New York City, the United Kingdom, and online, we receive requests from ultra-Orthodox Jewish people who want to learn more about Jesus. I cannot provide further details, but I am asking you to pray. We are confident now quite a few among the very devout are seeking the Lord. We must find and nurture them; what we have planned should help. I am sorry to be so vague, but there are considerable community consequences when ultra-religious Jewish people come to believe in Jesus. 

I am praying the light of the Messiah will shine brightly in the hearts of religious Jewish people who recognize He died for their sins, rose from the grave, and provides abundant life now and forever. 

Would you join me in praying for the most religious of all the Jewish community? These folks could one day make up 50 percent or more of the Jewish population worldwide. We talked about these precious people in the past, but now is the time for us to take further loving and sensitive action to make the Light of the World known in every corner of the religious Jewish community. 

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Giving Thanks to the Lord for He Is Good

Thanksgiving might be my favorite holiday that does not come from the Bible. It actually has “Jewish” origins, as many of the Pilgrims viewed themselves as the “children of Israel fleeing ‘Egypt’ (England), crossing the ‘Red Sea’ (the Atlantic Ocean), and emerging from this ‘Exodus’ to their own ‘promised land’ (New England).”1

The Pilgrims believed their role in God’s plan was similar to the purpose God gave to Abraham and his descendants: to be a blessing to the nations. These British religious refugees to the New World eventually led to the Puritan movement, which profoundly influenced the growth of the gospel in what would become the United States of America.

One of the great Puritan preachers, Cotton Mather, published a well-known sermon about thanksgiving in 1689. I especially appreciate his comment:

To praise God, is to Acknowledge in Him something Excellent, as ‘tis said in Psal. 148.13. Let them praise the name of the Lord, for His Name alone is Excellent; thus, when we Acknowledge an Excellency in all those Manifestations which God maketh of Himself; then ‘tis that we praise Him. Now the Praises owing to the God of Heaven from us, are obliged not only by what He Is, but also by what He Does: indeed by what He Does it is that we come to Learn what He is. We ought to Acknowledge an Excellency in the Nature of God; which is to Ascribe Glory to Him.2

Ever since I came to faith in Jesus at age nineteen, I have believed that it was better to focus on who God is rather than what He does for us. One great temptation in giving thanks is to focus on what He has done rather than who He is. God’s character and glorious nature never change, but His works can change daily as the Lord is intimately involved in all aspects of our daily lives.

We understand God’s character through the Bible. One of my favorite passages in the Hebrew Scriptures that describes the character of God is in Exodus chapters 33 and 34. If you recall, God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, then hid him in the cleft of a rock, passing by him while declaring the glorious attributes of His nature. This action was in response to Moses’ request, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” (Exod 33:18).

God answered, 

“You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” Then the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.” (Exod 33:20–23)

It is well worth reflecting on the following passage where His attributes are listed:

Then the Lord passed in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” (Exod 34:6–7)

This monumental event on Mount Sinai—the manifestation of God’s attributes—became an important prayer within Judaism known as the Thirteen Attributes of God.

I genuinely believe the best way to thank God is to show our gratitude for His unchanging character. This lesson is what God taught Moses on top of Mount Sinai. Likewise, the Puritan leader Cotton Mather discovered this same truth.

Therefore, we, too, should begin our prayers of thanksgiving by first acknowledging His glorious character and the magnificence of His attributes. Then, we should continue praising and thanking Him for all He has done.

His good works proceed from His good character, and I believe this order in our prayers of thanksgiving is also critical.

WE ARE GRATEFUL

This Thanksgiving holiday, Your Mission to the Jewish People has so much to be thankful for as a ministry among the Jewish people. Our hearts are overflowing with the simple joy of knowing a good and benevolent God who created, loved, and redeemed us through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus.

I am sure you will enjoy the testimonies we have compiled for this newsletter, and please rejoice with us for what the Lord has done! Let me list a few points of praise for your encouragement.

AN INCREASE IN CONGREGATIONS AND JEWISH BELIEVERS IN ISRAEL

When I first traveled to Israel as a believer in 1976, fewer than 500 Messianic Jews may have lived in the land. Some Jewish believers had survived the Holocaust, and a few had moved from North Africa to Israel. Most were not native Israelis and had come to Israel as believers from other parts of the globe. Some came to be part of the great Israel experiment, and others came to serve the Lord in the land. Now, more than seventy years later, there are probably between 20,000 and 30,000 Messianic Jews in the Holy Land, most of whom came to faith in Israel.

I believe we are now in a second-generation and even third-generation outpouring of the Spirit, transforming the national Israeli Messianic body.

This movement of the Spirit has also transformed our ministry as we continue to reach younger generations of Israelis along with the hundreds of elderly Holocaust survivors who we have been serving these past twenty-plus years. We now have our first generation of Jewish believers born in Israel, speaking Hebrew as their native language, attending Israeli schools, and serving in the Israeli army.

These Israeli believers are young, bold, and willing to give their all for Jesus the Messiah!

That is why we have rented a facility in the greater Tel Aviv neighborhood of Ramat Gan where we organize Sabbath outreach dinners, concerts, café nights, Bible studies, reading groups for moms and children, and so much more each month. We can do this because the Lord is working within a new generation of Israelis.

We are in the thick of this outpouring of the Spirit—discipling and nurturing new believers and this new generation of young Israeli leaders!

The future of the Messianic Jewish movement in Israel is bright, and I hope you will want to participate in this work of the Spirit through Your Mission to the Jewish People.

We do need more worship space!

NEW MINISTRY OPPORTUNITIES WITH TRAVELING ISRAELIS

We are reaching Israelis by meeting adventurous post-army young adults in places like the Upper West Side of New York City, the South Island of New Zealand, India, Australia, Germany, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China. We are also about to open up ministry stations in Brazil and Japan to reach these wandering Israelis. Our short-term and permanent teams are sharing the gospel with them as they enjoy hikes, BBQs, hummus nights, or a lovely meal of traditional Chinese food!

The Israeli traveler community is a cultural phenomenon and a growing trend that enables us to speak to young Israelis in areas where there is less pressure to conform. In these contexts, they allow themselves to search outside of their usual choices for ways to have happy and meaningful lives and are open to new ways to have a relationship with the God of Israel.

In addition, we are creating a hosting network within the United States, and if you would like to host young Israeli people just out of the army in your home, please let us know! We are now beginning to look for American hosts for the new year.

AN INCREASE IN PRO-JESUS SENTIMENT AMONG YOUNGER GENERATIONS OF JEWISH PEOPLE

We are surprised by the large number of young Jewish people from all over the world responding to our social media, Facebook ads, our new campus outreaches, and the congregations we plant. A recent Barna survey has revealed that Jewish millennials are more open than their parents to the gospel and even to the possibility that Jesus is both Messiah and God in the flesh. We find this astounding! In addition, young people are the majority of the more than 10,000 Jewish non-believers we have met online through our digital outreach campaigns over the last few years, including our Isaiah 53 Explained eBook offer and our “I Found Shalom” video testimonies.

I am also very excited about resuming our residential outreach ministry (House of Living Waters) at New York University (NYU),which has the largest concentration of Jewish students in the United States. We have two young men living in an apartment across the street from the NYU campus and a young woman living in Brooklyn. They are all actively engaged in sharing the gospel with Jewish students.

Again, these opportunities and the openheartedness of the younger generations give me incredible hope for the future of God’s work in bringing the Jewish remnant to Himself in these last days (Romans 11:25–29).

Happy Thanksgiving—and remember to save room for pumpkin pie!

1 Marvin R. Wilson, Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), 127.

2 Cotton Mather, “A Sermon Preached to the Honourable Convention of the Governour, Council, and Representatives of the Massachuset-Colony in New-England on May 23, 1689,” https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A50176.0001.001/1:5?rgn=div1;view=fulltext.

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The Power of God through Plagues

I love Passover. It is my favorite Jewish holiday and by far the most delicious. The array of traditional Passover dishes is magnificent. I wish you could have tasted my grandmother’s chicken and matzah ball soup—not to mention her homemade gefilte (stuffed) fish. (By the way, do not ever ask a Jewish person what parts of the fish they used! That would be a big mistake.)

As a Messianic Jew, I have found Passover more meaningful now than I did before coming to know the Lord. As you know, the Lord’s Supper—one of our most cherished spiritual ceremonies—grew out of the Passover Seder. You can find all the intricate details by going to our website and reading further or buying one of our Passover books listed on the back of this newsletter. Each book includes a Messianic Passover Haggadah (Passover guide) with Jesus at the center of the service—and some wonderful recipes.

If you want to observe the Passover as fulfilled in Jesus, the Lamb of God, you can this year! Passover lasts an entire week. Though we usually celebrate the Seder on the first two nights, any night during that week will do. I know it would be a wonderful experience for you, your children, Sunday school class, or small group.

It will also further prepare your hearts for Good Friday and Resurrection Day, especially since the first night of Passover and Good Friday coincide this year!

Each year at this time, I try to address a Passover-related topic in detail. This year, it will not surprise you that I would like to help us better understand the role that plagues play in the plan of God, especially during Passover.

THE TEN PASSOVER PLAGUES

The recitation of the ten plagues is a central part of the Passover Seder and one of the most memorable moments during the Seder for Jewish children. Traditionally, we dip our little finger or a spoon into a glass of red wine and put the drop of liquid onto our plates while loudly reciting the name of each plague. We call out the plagues in English and Hebrew: blood (dam), frogs (ts’fardei’a), vermin (kinim), flies (arov), pestilence (dever), boils, (sh’chin), hail (barad), locusts (arbe), darkness (choshech), and death of the firstborn (makat bechorot).

The recitation of the plagues is not an isolated moment in the Seder. It is part of the overall recounting of the story of God’s deliverance of the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage. There are two reasons why we drop the wine on our plates. One reason is that it more dramatically portrays the plagues as judgments falling upon the Egyptian slavemasters. The other is because Jewish tradition tells us to reduce our joy (symbolized by the sweet wine) by one drop for each plague that fell upon the Egyptians.

The lesson here is clear: even though the Egyptians enslaved us, we recognize they are fellow human beings and God’s creation. Therefore, our rabbis teach us we should not rejoice in their judgment but rather remember God’s love for all peoples and nations.

We will now look briefly at the three primary purposes for the plagues. First, God uses plagues to bring judgment upon the ungodly. Through the plagues, He also reveals His power and character. Lastly, they fulfill prophetic events.

JUDGMENT

The great German theologians and early twentieth-century biblical scholars Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch coined the term “penal miracles” in their well-read commentary on the Hebrew Scriptures. In other words, there were plagues, or miracles, that also served as judgments and punishments upon the disobedient.

Each plague brought judgment upon the Egyptians, who were otherwise unwilling to allow the Jewish people to leave Egypt and worship the one true God. This chastisement is an excellent reminder that God is loving but also righteous and holy and takes offense at human sin. At times, He brings about temporal judgment upon humanity. He did so with the flood, the plagues, and even the captivity of the Jewish people by pagan nations.

REVELATION

Jewish people understand that God brought the plagues upon the Egyptians as divine judgments designed to move both the Egyptians and Jewish people into action. Biblical plagues are purposeful. While they bring terrible consequences upon the disobedient and rebellious, God often mysteriously uses them for purposes beyond punishment.

Take note of Uzziah, Naaman, and even Miriam, Moses’ sister. God struck each of them with leprosy to accomplish His divine purposes. Like the healing of the blind man in John chapter nine, plagues fell upon individuals for the glory of God and the good of mankind. “Jesus answered, ‘It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him’” (John 9:3).

God used the plagues to judge the Egyptians and reveal His power, holiness, and presence in human history. Still, God’s will and works are always for repentance and a turning away from sin to the one true God.

Exodus 7:1–7 shows Moses speaking of plagues as signs and wonders. Throughout the Scriptures, signs and wonders usually describe the miraculous, but in Exodus 7, the words are interchangeable with the word for judgment:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I make you as God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall speak to Pharaoh that he let the sons of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. When Pharaoh does not listen to you, then I will lay My hand on Egypt and bring out My hosts, My people the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt by great judgments. The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst.” So Moses and Aaron did it; as the Lord commanded them, thus they did. Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three, when they spoke to Pharaoh. (Exod 7:1–7, emphasis added)

FULFILLMENT OF PROPHECY

God sometimes uses plagues to fulfill prophecy, as when He promised to deliver the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and return them to their land of promise. “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst” (Exodus 7:5, emphasis added).

Ezekiel 36:23 parallels Exodus 7:5 and refers to another day of deliverance and restoration for Israel and the Jewish people: “‘I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,’ declares the Lord God, ‘when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight’” (Ezek 36:23).

Both passages show that one of God’s great purposes in bringing the Jewish people out of captivity and back to the land of promise was for them to be a sign to the nations testifying that the God of Israel is true and all-powerful. In effect, the Jewish people’s deliverance through the ten plagues and their return to the land of Israel reveals the prophetic fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant found in Genesis 12:1–3. Moses predicted this result in chapter six of the book of Exodus:

Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the Lord.” (Exodus 6:6–8)

We must view the exodus, including the plagues, as one means by which God fulfilled His promises to Israel and, as we later see in the book of Revelation, His future judgment upon mankind.

WHERE DOES THE PANDEMIC FIT IN GOD’S PLAN?

It would be appropriate at this moment to compare COVID-19 to the plagues and try to understand where this pandemic might fit in with the purposes of God. I am not suggesting that God directly imposed COVID-19. There have been many terrible plagues throughout history that have devastated humanity. Although the coronavirus was exceptionally destructive, we have no reason to believe that the spread of this virus is the result of God’s direct judgment.

We must tether our understanding of the divine purpose of plagues, world wars, and the greatest tragedies of human history to Scripture. But, of course, the Bible does not speak about the coronavirus, the Black Plague, or the Spanish Flu. Therefore, the adage, “Where the Bible is silent, so am I,” is appropriate here. We must avoid conjecture and not speak for God before He has spoken to us.

On the other hand, we cannot deny that God used plagues as judgments and will do so again in the future. COVID-19 has awakened us to the possibility that plagues, along with other signs, will take place in the end times before the second coming of the Messiah. This view of plagues is also traditional Jewish teaching. Bible-believing Christians, Messianic Jews, and religious Jewish people would agree that “pestilence” or plagues are signs of the coming of the Messiah and will take place in the “last days.” The Messiah Himself declared this to be true during the Olivet Discourse (Luke 21:10–11): “Then He continued by saying to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.’”

Hopefully, one day, we will look back and see the good our heavenly Father accomplished through this global trial. We pray that somehow blessings will come for all through this time of pain and suffering (Romans 8:28). We also pray that we will remember in the light the lessons we learned in the darkness. Perhaps these lessons will even prepare us in some way for the future.

Let us pray the Lord will use the experiences and losses of the last few years to shape our character, reorder our priorities, and draw us closer to Him. May the pandemic remind us all that the Lord is coming soon and that we need to prepare. And what better way to get ready for His return than to continue doing what He told us to do by committing ourselves to evangelism, discipleship, and training a new generation of disciples until He returns! (Matthew 28:19–20).

Stay faithful, vigilant, and filled with His Spirit. The Lord is coming soon—Maranatha!

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Afghanistan and the Story of Purim

The withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan last year brought conflicts to the surface that surprised most of us! We thought we had made more progress in our relationship with the Afghan people, but to our disappointment, we had not. Tribalism, radical Islam, and anti-Western sympathies were boiling below the surface of this nation of almost forty million people. The Taliban was waiting patiently for the United States to leave to make their next move and take over the country, which is similar to what happened in Iran some years previously. We once again learned not to underestimate the power of radical Islam over its adherents. Indeed, the only force powerful enough to break the hold of fierce Islamist belief and nationalism is the gospel.

Americans realized this disturbing reality for the first time in 2001 when four hijacked planes undertook a deadly mission to terrorize our country. Last fall, we honored the heroes and the fallen at our Chosen People Ministries-sponsored event in New York City, 9/11 and the New Middle East. I hope you will take some time to view the conference, which is available on our website, 911theconference.com.

Afghanistan in the Bible

People often ask me if the United States appears in the end times. I do not see any special mention of our nation in biblical prophecy. However, some of the more general statements about the absence of godliness in the last days and the events Jesus predicted in the Olivet Discourse apply to all people—especially the moral and spiritual decline intensifying as we approach the Second Coming. I am sorry to say we see this in our own country. One would have to don blinders not to see how our world is once again embracing the lifestyles prevalent during the days of Noah, which God’s judgment ultimately submerged.

We can also ask this same question about Afghanistan. Is this nation mentioned in the Bible, and what does the future hold for Afghanistan according to the Scriptures? Regarding this topic, we have more to say than we do about our own country, as Afghanistan is mentioned most intriguingly in the Bible and is part of a critical story describing Israel’s survival.

Afghanistan was part of the Persian Empire from the sixth century to the fourth century ʙᴄ, although the Bible does not use the proper name for the modern nation. However, you can quickly identify the geographic region when you understand the geography and alignment of countries in the ancient world.

For example, Daniel’s vision in Daniel 2:31–45 predicts the Babylonian and Medo-Persian domination of Israel, ultimately giving way to Greece and Rome—a prophecy detailed in chapters two, ten, and eleven. Eventually, all these powerful ancient kingdoms who were hostile to the Jewish people, along with one future pagan nation, will be crushed by the stone cut without hands as Daniel predicted:

In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy. (Daniel 2:44–45)

Ultimately, all human governments, including Persia and Afghanistan, are temporary and will fall in weakness and humility at the feet of the One and only true Creator and King!

Afghanistan and the Persian Empire

This month, we are thinking quite a bit about Persia as we observe the Jewish holiday of Purim that was initiated in the book of Esther. Most Bible students know that the Persian Empire played a significant role in the history of Israel and appears many times in the Hebrew Scriptures. Persia is mentioned 240 times in the Bible. The great Persian kings, including Cyrus, Darius, and Ahasuerus (Artaxerxes), are identified many times as well.1

However, what is not usually known is that the area comprising modern Afghanistan was part of the Persian Empire for centuries during a critical period of the biblical story. Though Iran and Afghanistan are two distinct and unique modern nations, a few remaining historical ties still unite both countries. For example, the Persian dialect of Dari is one of Afghanistan’s official languages. Also, many Afghan people speak Farsi and celebrate the Persian New Year.

The Achaemenid Persian Empire (550–330 ʙᴄ)

The period when the region encompassing modern Afghanistan was part of the great Persian Empire spanned two hundred years—from the ascension of Cyrus the Great (Cyrus II) in 550 ʙᴄ until Alexander the Great conquered Persia in 330 ʙᴄ. After Alexander’s death, the conquered kingdoms of the Macedonian leader were divided into four sections.

Most ancient historians would agree with this statement by the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art regarding the scope of Alexander’s Empire: “The Achaemenid Persian empire was the largest that the ancient world had seen, extending from Anatolia and Egypt across western Asia to northern India and Central Asia.”2

Cyrus, the “anointed ruler,” created a vast empire including Israel and Afghanistan. The prophet Isaiah predicted his rise to power almost 150 years before he became king: “Thus says the Lord to Cyrus His anointed, whom I have taken by the right hand, to subdue nations before him and to loose the loins of kings; to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut” (Isa 45:1).

Cyrus the Great played a critical role in restoring Jerusalem as Jeremiah predicted (Jer 25:11, 29:10), and Daniel confirmed (Dan 9:24–27). He gave Zerubbabel permission to return from exile and rebuild the Temple (2 Chronicles 36:20–23; Ezra 1:1–11; Isaiah 44:28; 45:1–7). This move was consistent with Cyrus’ view on ruling disparate cultures with varying religious beliefs. He allowed diversity, unlike other ancient rulers. The Lord used Cyrus’ philosophy of inclusion and cultural expression for the good of the Israelites, whom the Babylonians had conquered. The Babylonians also destroyed the Temple, took many Israelites into exile, and forced them to adopt Babylonian religious practices, as the book of Daniel describes.

Esther might be the most significant book of the Bible written during this period of the great Persian Empire.

In Esther 1:1, the author details the geographic expanse of Ahasuerus’ kingdom. “Now it took place in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces.”

Ahasuerus was mentioned in Ezra 4:6 because he ruled during this period, “Now in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.” The context is that Israel’s local enemies were trying to stop the rebuilding of the Temple and were antagonizing Israel’s rebuilders from the reign of Cyrus until the reign of Darius (Ezra 4:4–5).

From the boundaries mentioned in Esther, the identification of Ahasuerus (thought to be Xerxes, 485–465 ʙᴄ), and the extent of his kingdom, the events of the book of Esther took place during the reign of this Persian king. Therefore, the nation of modern Afghanistan was a part of the extended Persian Empire.

So, when we think about biblical Afghanistan, we should consider that whatever we read of Persia is also true of what is now Afghanistan. Unlike Isaiah’s specific prophecies regarding Assyria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Babylon (modern Iraq), Arabia, Edom, Philistia, the city of Damascus, and other identifiable nations or geographic areas, whatever the Bible tells us about Persia should include the country Afghanistan.

As a result, we learn quite a bit about the future of Persia and Afghanistan.

Lessons for Today for Afghanistan

As we know from the text, Haman tried to destroy the Jewish people and failed! As a result, the Jewish people were allowed to punish their enemies in Susa, the capital, and throughout the provinces of Persia, which would have included lands that are part of today’s modern Afghanistan.

Esther chapter nine mentions the results of Haman’s failure: “Thus the Jews struck all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying; and they did what they pleased to those who hated them” (Esth 9:5). Additionally, the Jewish people killed 75,000 of their enemies throughout the provinces: “Now the rest of the Jews who were in the king’s provinces assembled, to defend their lives and rid themselves of their enemies, and kill 75,000 of those who hated them; but they did not lay their hands on the plunder” (Esth 9:16).

By God’s grace, the Jewish people and the promises of God remained alive because the Lord Himself intervened to save His people. As promised in the Abrahamic Covenant, those who cursed the Jewish people were cursed. The entire book of Esther should be viewed as the unfolding of God’s covenant with Abraham and His promises to bless those who bless Israel and to curse those who curse her. His plan to bless the world through the Jewish people was far from over at the time of Esther. The Bible was still to be completed, the Messiah was to come, and the future repentance of Israel that would initiate the Second Coming were all ahead. Therefore, no one could have destroyed the Jewish people (Zechariah 12:10; Matthew 23:37–39; Romans 11:25ff.).

New Hamans Arise in Every Generation

There are new Hamans on the world scene today seeking the destruction of the Jewish people. Israel is under attack, and antisemitism is on the rise worldwide. We understand that all forms of Islamic extremism seek the destruction of Israel. Indeed, almost every manifestation of Islam opposes the existence of the modern State of Israel, though various brands of Islam express this antipathy in different ways. Some are more violent than others. We see Hezbollah and Hamas nestled on the very borders of Israel, perched and ready to attack when they are able. This everyday threat is difficult for Israel and the Jewish people. In these instances, the threat to the Jewish people is more than a person—a modern-day Haman—it is in the ideology, nationalism, and religious fervor of many throughout the Middle East.

We hope and pray that the new Afghanistan will not tolerate terrorism against the West and Israel the way they have in the past. Indeed, those who perpetrated the events of 9/11 twenty years ago found safe harbor in Afghanistan.

According to an article that the website Breaking Defense published in the wake of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan:

Israeli officials are nervously watching the situation in Afghanistan, believing that the collapse of the government over the weekend will enable Al-Qaida to renew its efforts to perform terror attacks against both American and Israeli targets around the world. Defense sources here say that the feeling among the Taliban and Al-Qaida is that after defeating the US in Afghanistan, the “gate is wide open” to launch terror attacks from inside Afghanistan. One source added that the US should get ready [for] Al-Qaida [to] attempt to perform terror acts against American “interests” in the very near future. “There is no doubt that Al-Qaida will take advantage of the situation in Afghanistan to recruit more people and plan terror attacks” one of the sources said . . . . “The situation is bad, very bad,” [Mordechai Kedar, a senior Israeli analyst on Islamic issues] said, adding that while Iran and the Taliban are not allies, certain Islamic groups in both countries may find common ground in targeting non-Islamic nations.3

The rise of global antisemitism has begun to permeate our society and is often subtly wrapped in the guise of anti-Israelism. We see this virulent form of anti-Jewish behavior growing more prevalent on our campuses today. Unfortunately, an anti-Israel position is usually wed to an anti-Jewish sentiment in today’s world.

As followers of Jesus the Jewish Messiah, we should be sympathetic to the Jewish cause. Historically, most faithful Christians have been pro-Israel and pro-Jewish without being anti-anyone else. But today, the winds of change are in the air. Therefore, re-reading what the Bible says about Israel and the Jewish people is essential. Unfortunately, we see a growing disinterest in Israel within the church today that concerns us.

God Is Faithful to His Promises

The promises in Jeremiah 31:35–38 rest upon the foundational passage in Genesis in which God promised Abram that He would bless those who bless the Jewish people and curse those who curse the Jewish people and that through them He would bring blessings to the entire earth (Gen 12:3). God created the Jewish people to be a bridge of blessings and revelation to the nations.

The Lord will not allow anyone to destroy His chosen people—the Jewish people. He promised that the land of Israel would belong to the descendants of Jacob, and we can expect God to keep His promises and bring “curses” upon those that seek the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people.

The Future of Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s future is in the hands of new leadership. We know that individuals and nations who mistreat the Jewish people are touching the apple of God’s eye. Unfortunately, there is a price to pay for this behavior. Attacks against Israel and the Jewish people will one day be met with God’s judgment. The book of Esther and the price Haman and his followers paid stand as witnesses through the ages of God’s desire to protect His chosen people.

Modern-day Iran has been hostile to modern Israel—we hope and pray that the new Afghanistan will not follow suit. Perhaps the example of Cyrus will inspire the leaders of both Iran and Afghanistan to cherish the freedom of religion once again and establish policies that show respect for the vast differences among their citizenry. It would be an excellent beginning for peace that we know only a relationship with the Prince of Peace, Jesus, can fully satisfy! Until then, we follow the words of the Prince of Peace, who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Peace begins with prayer! It now appears that the new Middle East will not be as friendly to the nation of Israel as we previously hoped, as it is still only a minority of Arab nations that have joined in the Abraham Accords. Therefore, we must pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6) and for God’s shalom to reign in Afghanistan, Iran, and throughout the new Middle East. Let us also pray for our troops and their families, the Afghan people who are suffering under the Taliban, and the nation of Israel.

1 Our Daily Bread, “Iran in the Bible: The Forgotten Story,” January 24, 2020, documentary, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mURWJfSpS7k. This excellent video on the biblical history of Persia is worth viewing.

2 Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art, “The Achaemenid Persian Empire (550-330 ʙᴄ),” October 2004, under “Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History,” https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/acha/hd_acha.htm [accessed August 30, 2021].

3 Arie Egozi, “Israel Braces for Renewed Terrorism Coming from Taliban-Led Afghanistan,” Breaking Defense, August 16, 2021, under “Global,” https://breakingdefense.com/2021/08/israel-braces-for-renewed-terrorism-coming-from-taliban-led-afghanistan/ [accessed August 30, 2021].

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Esther: The Right Place at the Right Time

Your Mission to the Jewish People will soon celebrate the Jewish festival of Purim. This holiday is one of the most joyous on the Jewish calendar. I am sure you know the story, but please allow me to summarize these critical events in Jewish and biblical history and share a few thoughts and lessons we can learn from them.

INTRODUCTION

During this festival, Jewish communities read the entire background of Purim in the book of Esther. The story describes the Jewish people’s deliverance from certain destruction at the hand of Haman, a leader in the Medo-Persian Empire during the reign of King Ahasuerus (Xerxes). Ahasuerus ruled from 486 to 465 bc.

In the story, lots (or purim in Hebrew) were cast in the presence of Haman to help select the date for him to carry out his plan to destroy the Jewish people. Hence the name of the holiday, Purim, comes from the Hebrew word for “lots.”

It is important to recognize the tale’s heroes and how God used them to deliver the Jewish people from Haman’s wicked plan. By God’s providence, Ahasuerus chose Esther to be his new queen through a national beauty contest. She replaced Queen Vashti, who had refused the king’s command to appear at a banquet celebration. The other hero is Mordechai, Esther’s cousin (Esther 2:7), who raised her and played a critical role.

But the true hero of the story is God Himself, who sovereignly arranged all the events to work toward the good of the Jewish people. The name of God never appears in the book of Esther, but His presence and providence are evident throughout the book.

He is not silent! We hear His voice through the actions of Esther and Mordechai!

JEWISH PURIM TRADITIONS

Jewish people celebrate the deliverance from Haman’s evil plot by reading the book of Esther, shaking groggers (noise-makers), and yelling out “boo!” every time the reader mentions the name of Haman and “yay!” when we hear the names Esther and Mordechai. During Purim, we also eat hamantaschen, cookies shaped to resemble Haman’s hat or ears. Children celebrate by dressing up in fun, colorful, and creative costumes and by putting on plays that re-tell the story of Esther (yay!) and her triumph over wicked Haman (boo!).

In Israel, people flood the streets in costume to celebrate, and some ultra-Orthodox Jewish men drink alcoholic beverages until they cannot tell the difference between Mordechai and Haman.

THE MAJOR THEMES OF PURIM

During this time, we center on God’s power to orchestrate the events of life while remaining behind the scenes! Purim shows us how the hidden hand of God guides, empowers, protects, and accomplishes His divine purposes on earth.

The festival of Purim focuses on God’s covenantal faithfulness. It celebrates the deliverance of God’s chosen people and shows the Lord’s faithfulness to the covenant He made with Abraham in Genesis 12:1–3:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “. . . I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Gen 12:1–3)

The promises of this magnificent covenant play out through the story of Purim—the destruction of Israel’s enemies, the exaltation of the nation’s heroes, and the blessing upon those who bless Israel, like King Ahasuerus.

THE RIGHT PERSON IN THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME

One of the great lessons of Purim and the book of Esther is that God puts His children in the right place at the right time to do His will. The first puzzle piece is that the king chose Esther as queen and put her in the right place at the right time.

The God of Esther is still putting His people in the right place at the right time today! Revisiting the book of Esther during Purim greatly encourages us to accept the places where God puts us as well as the people He puts in our lives!

Mordechai also saved the king’s life by being in the right place at the right time to hear the plot of the two assassins who had lost their jobs in the palace (Esther 2:21–23). Of course, Esther was in the right place at the right time to receive the information from Mordechai to save the king’s life. Ahasuerus was also the right “pagan” king for the right moment—another king might not have ultimately listened to his wife!

The story reaches its zenith with Mordechai telling Esther, “And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). As a result, Esther took the challenge and approached the king even though she could have died for visiting uninvited!

The Lord went before Esther, and she received a favorable outcome to her request to save the Jewish people. So, the Lord switched the lots. Haman was hanged on the very gallows that he prepared for Mordechai, and the king permitted the Jews to fight back and destroy their enemies. So, Mordechai became the king’s most valuable advisor instead of Haman.

Purim is a reminder that God’s all-powerful and invisible hands hold and guide us during difficult times. The Lord is always good and has a purpose for our lives, just as He did for the Jewish people. Indeed, He often allows us to experience suffering so that we may become more and more like His Son.

HEROES FOR THE MESSIAH

Esther was a heroine and was willing to die for her people. Yeshua also loved His people and was ready to perish for them. The history of the Jewish people, the church, and Chosen People Ministries is filled with stories of brave and godly women who served the Lord faithfully, who faced dire and challenging circumstances, and even risked their lives to bring the gospel to the Jewish people.

Allow me to introduce you to one of these godly ladies, a founder and early pioneer without whom Chosen People Ministries would not exist today. Her name was Augusta Sussdorff.

Born in 1867 to German immigrants, Augusta Sussdorff was one of the Mission’s earliest workers. Rabbi Leopold Cohn spoke at her youth group at Hope Baptist Church and invited people to come and sing at the Mission. Augusta and a friend volunteered. Their presence drew more Jewish women and girls to the ministry. Previously, the Mission’s audience was primarily male. Rabbi Cohn was passionate about women studying Scripture and encouraged Augusta to join the Mission full time, which she did around 1912.

She conducted many programs at the Brooklyn headquarters, including mothers’ meetings, sewing school, and Bible classes. Augusta also made home visits, greeted people at the medical clinic, brought clothing to the poor, helped English-speaking immigrants find jobs, and served on the board of Chosen People Ministries when this was quite unusual within Christian work.

She served with the Mission for more than fifty years and continued volunteering long after her retirement.

Ms. Sussdorff was incredibly dedicated to faithfully serving the Jewish people so that they would experience the love of Jesus and hear the message of salvation. To honor Augusta Sussdorff, we are creating a scholarship in her name for women in the United States, Israel, and around the globe who are serving with Chosen People Ministries but have trouble raising their missionary support.

This scholarship is part of our Foundations ’22 campaign, as encouraging godly women to serve the Lord with Chosen People Ministries is a part of who we are. We are praying that more and more women will join the ranks of Chosen People Ministries as missionaries, students at our Feinberg program, volunteers in our VIP program, and so much more.

What better way to re-affirm our back-to-basics approach to 2022—refocusing on evangelism, discipleship, and training—than to help future Augusta Sussdorffs give their all for the salvation of Israel!

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The Story of Hanukkah

Happy Thanksgiving on behalf of the entire Chosen People Ministries global family! I hope you will be able to enjoy a delicious Thanksgiving meal with your loved ones! If you lost a friend or family member during the last year or two, I also pray the Lord will fill your heart with heavenly comfort and peace.

I am very thankful to God for you and the ways you have stood with Your Mission to the Jewish People this year. Your prayers and support mean so much to us!

We have so much to be grateful for in spite of the circumstances, as our staff continues to reach Jewish people with the gospel both in person and online.

Our outreach has even increased this past year as so many Jewish people are looking heavenward for answers.

Our work among elderly Holocaust survivors in Israel has increased as the need has been overwhelming. Chosen People Ministries—Israel has provided love and company for the lonely, food for the hungry, and of course, the good news of Jesus to these precious Jewish souls. Many young Israelis also attend our online ministry events when we cannot meet in person. We need your prayers as we resume in-person outreaches in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and throughout this country of almost seven million Jewish people.

In New York City, we recently commemorated the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 by honoring our heroes and reminding Americans of our unbreakable bond with Israel in combating terrorism. More than 40,000 people joined us for the event online and in person.

We thank God for all He has done in our 127th year of faithful ministry, and we are looking forward to the greater things He will do through you and our global staff in our 128th year (John 14:12). We are focusing on reaching Israelis in Israel and wherever they travel after the army with the gospel, expanding our outreach through videos, podcasts, and social media, and preparing our next generation for leadership in Jewish ministry through our Brooklyn-based and now online Charles L. Feinberg seminary program!

We have so much to be grateful for in Jesus, our Messiah. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

The Story of Hanukkah

I also wish you an early Happy Hanukkah, which is one of my favorite holidays. Growing up in a Jewish home in New York City, I loved each day of this eight-day festival because my parents gave us presents every night as we lit the beautiful Hanukkah candles.

We also eat wonderful foods like potato pancakes (called latkes) smothered in applesauce or sour cream. In Israel, delicious jelly donuts are also a Hanukkah staple. OK… so it is not the healthiest of Jewish holidays! We make our Hanukkah foods with lots of oil as both oil and light illustrate two of the great themes of the holiday.

Let me explain.

The story of Hanukkah takes place during the biblical “silent years”—the 400 years between the Old and New Testaments. In 168 BC, the Jewish people rebelled against the Syrian-Greek General, Antiochus the Fourth, whom the Jewish people called “Antiochus the Madman.” This evil Seleucid king took the name “Epiphanes,” which means “God manifest,” as he believed he was the manifestation of one of the Greek gods. Antiochus wanted the Jewish people to worship him rather than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, which was at the heart of the reason for Israel’s resistance.

A priestly family called the Maccabees led the rebellion. They lived in a town called Modi’in, which is just a few miles

from Jerusalem. As the story goes, the representative of Antiochus entered the village and demanded that the Jewish people in Modi’in bow down and worship a statue of Antiochus, upon pain of death. In doing so, they would affirm belief in the gods of the Greeks, loyalty to the madman, and rejection of the God of the Hebrews.

This godly family waged guerrilla warfare against the mighty Greek-Syrian army and managed to defeat Antiochus. This victory was a miracle as once again, Israel beat the odds and defeated a much larger and more powerful enemy. Jewish people traditionally view this as God’s blessing upon the Maccabees for their faithfulness to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

After their victory, they traveled to the Holy City of Jerusalem to rededicate the Temple. The victorious band of priestly guerrillas was horrified as they entered the Temple.

They discovered that Antiochus had sacrificed a pig on the altar, signaling the Syrian Greeks’ contempt for the Jewish people. The Maccabees tore down the stones of the altar as it was deemed beyond cleansing. According to Jewish tradition found in the books of Maccabees (1 Macc 4:36–59; 2 Macc 10:1–8), the Maccabees set the defiled altar stones aside until “a prophet” comes, who would tell them what to do with the stones (1 Macc 4:45–46).

Then, according to tradition, they discovered the eternal light in the Temple had only enough oil to last for one day. So they immediately began to make fresh olive oil to keep the eternal light from being extinguished. According to tradition, even though it usually takes eight days to complete and cure the oil, the one day’s worth of oil miraculously lasted for eight!

We do not know whether the story is true or not. However, I was raised in a very traditional Jewish home and taught to believe it was true! Either way, the victory of Hanukkah is one of the great stories of both Jewish heroism and God’s loyalty to His chosen people. For these reasons and more, the Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah.

The festival is far more than an opportunity to enjoy the

beauty of family gatherings, Hanukkah parties, or even giving presents. The holiday is more than a wonderful time of playing games with our families, like spinning little tops called dreidels and singing some of the most moving songs within our Jewish tradition.

Jesus & Hanukkah

My wife and children love the holiday as it beautifully connects to our Messiah Jesus in so many ways. After all, Yeshua, Jesus, is the Jewish Messiah. He is the Light of the world (John 8:12), so there is nothing like the lights of the Hanukkah candles to remind us that Jesus the Messiah is the true light that illuminates mankind.

But there is more! Hanukkah is recorded as observed by the Jewish people in the New Testament—not in the Old! John wrote that Jesus celebrated the Feast of Dedication, a title that commemorates the rededication of the Temple after the desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes.

In John 10:22–30, we read:

At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. “But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give

eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

In the midst of this moment of intense and heated debate with the Jewish leaders of the day, Jesus makes one of the most remarkable declarations about His person found in the entire Bible.

He is not only the light of the world, but He is God in the flesh!

This message of His incarnation, light, and the deliverance He offers humanity through His death and resurrection is the message we hope to bring to every Jewish soul.

So please pray for Your Mission to the Jewish People—that the Lord will fill us with His Spirit, enabling us to continue our ministry to the Jewish people in Israel, the United States, and throughout the world.

The Future of the Middle East

I am also grateful for the Abraham Accords and other movements bringing peace and hope to a new and changing Middle East! But even more, I look forward to the reshaping of the Middle East when Jesus returns to reign as King!

We are grateful for your faithful partnership. Have a Jesus-centered and joyful Thanksgiving and a Happy Hanukkah!

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Forgiven

Shalom and Happy Jewish New Year! I am greeting you with a Happy New Year because Jewish people around the globe recently celebrated the Jewish New Year, called Rosh Hashanah. This month, we begin the Hebrew year 5782. Jewish tradition dates the new year from when creation is believed to have taken place.

I was born into a very traditional Jewish home in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in Queens. I am not quite old enough to be a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, but I became a Mets fan, which is almost mandatory if you grew up in Queens!

I spent my childhood in a tightly knit Jewish community. I had a large and loving extended Jewish family surrounding me, and almost all my friends were Jewish, as were most of the kids at school.

I had my Bar Mitzvah at the age of thirteen, as is usual for most Jewish boys. I studied at Hebrew school for five years in preparation for this major event and rite of passage. As part of our training, we read through the Bible, studied Hebrew and the Jewish traditions, and celebrated all the Jewish holidays at synagogue and at home.

The Time Has Come—Again!

The Jewish New Year is not like the secular New Year. In Leviticus 23:24-25, you will not find the words “new year” used to describe the festival; instead the Bible describes the day as the blowing of the trumpet. On this day, according to the rabbis, God opens the books of life and death. Jewish people have ten days to get right with God, so the Jewish New Year begins a sobering and serious season of reflection. The trumpet blown on Rosh Hashanah is called a shofar (a ram’s horn) in Hebrew, and it is sounded to call the Jewish people to repentance before the Day of Atonement, the most sacred day of the Jewish year that follows ten days later.

According to Leviticus chapter sixteen, the high priest offered sacrifices of a bull and a goat on the altar. He then sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat to make atonement for sins not previously atoned for because of disobedience or ignorance. It was only on this day of Yom Kippur that the high priest stepped into the Holy of Holies, beyond the veil, and did what human beings could never do for themselves. The Hebrew Scriptures clearly teach that none of us can do anything to merit forgiveness of sin. The “making of atonement” is always done by someone other than ourselves.

The Ten Days of Awe

At the end of these ten days of repentance (known as the Days of Awe), we sound the shofar once again. Tradition tells us that God shuts the books of life and death as His last act on the Day of Atonement. At that moment, the fate of every Jewish person is sealed for the coming year. If we performed an adequate number of good works and thoroughly repented of our sins, then we will have a good year and find favor with God. If not, we will experience some type of judgment during that year. The results of our efforts—repentance, prayer, and fasting—last only a year as the process must be repeated annually.

However, as believers in Messiah Jesus, we have complete confidence that Messiah died for our sins “once for all,” according to Hebrews 7:27. We are forgiven! That is the reason I wish my believing friends a Happy New Year and Day of Atonement.

The psalmist promised that one day God would remove our sins as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). In Jeremiah 31:31–34, the prophet told us that the day is coming when the Lord will write His law on our hearts and forgive our sins. This hope of forgiveness caused the Jewish people to look forward to this great day of redemption throughout the darkest periods of Jewish life.

The Prophecy of the Binding of Isaac

The binding of Isaac in Genesis chapter twenty-two presents a beautiful prophetic portrait of this predicted hope of an ultimate sacrifice for sin. In this chapter, which is read every year in synagogues on Rosh Hashanah, God asked Abraham to climb Mount Moriah and sacrifice his son, Isaac.

Abraham and Isaac began walking toward the mountain. On the third day, Isaac innocently asked his father, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” What a haunting question! Abraham responded that “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Gen. 22:7–8).

Upon their arrival, Abraham bound his son and laid him on the altar. At that moment, I am sure Isaac thought his question was answered and that he was the sacrifice. But when the patriarch raised his knife, the angel of God stopped him!

The angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”
(Gen. 22:11–12)

Abraham looked toward the bushes and saw a ram caught in the thicket by his horns, and he sacrificed the ram instead of Isaac (Gen. 22:13). The horns that trapped the ram are why in traditional Judaism we sound the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. Hearing the sound from the ram’s horn reminds us that God provides the sacrifice.

We also understand that the Temple, the holy place where God ordained sacrifices to be made, was built on this same Mount Moriah. “Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David, at the place that David had prepared on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite” (2 Chronicles 3:1).

My heart of faith wholeheartedly believes that Genesis chapter twenty-two points to Jesus. He is the beloved Son of the Father, just as Isaac was Abraham’s promised beloved son. Jesus was willing to lay down His life, but unlike Isaac, who was spared, Jesus was slain. Ultimately, He was crucified and died on this same mountain range within eyesight of the Temple Mount where many thousands of animals were sacrificed between the almost-death of Isaac and the atoning death of our Messiah Jesus.

Abraham named the sacred site, as described in verse fourteen, “Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, ‘In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.’” He identified God Himself as the provider of the one sacrifice that really counts! In the fullness of time, God allowed His Son to die on a cross made of unhewn wood to accomplish what neither the potential sacrifice of Isaac nor the blood of bulls and goats for centuries could ever achieve. It was on Mount Moriah where God provided the gift of His only beloved Son, and it is through His shed blood that, by faith, we find everlasting atonement for our sins. We have peace with God through the death of Jesus, who died and rose for our sins.

As the Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

He did not stop there, though. The rabbi from Tarsus continued:

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Messiah died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Messiah died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. (Romans 5:6–9)

Having embraced this great salvation through the Messiah Jesus when I was nineteen years old, I can tell you that it is true, and this decision changed the way I have observed the Jewish high holidays for all these years. I personally know the joy of forgiveness, and I hope you do as well!

Please pray for Your Mission to the Jewish People as we proclaim the glorious message of Yeshua’s atoning work as prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures. I also hope this will help you pray for your Jewish friends. Please pray, as we share the message of salvation through the “greater” son of Abraham during the rest of this month. Finally, please pray the Lord will open the eyes of our beloved Jewish people to see that He is the true Messiah for all.

Thank you for your prayers and support of our 127-year-old ministry among the Jewish people. Your partnership is deeply appreciated.

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Seeing God in the Darkness of Plagues

Shalom and greetings in the Messiah.

I pray this newsletter finds you hopeful in the Lord. Although the coronavirus still plagues us, we patiently await God’s help and healing.

In the darkness, the Light of the World continues to shine brightly. As David wrote in Psalm 23:4, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.” I cannot imagine a more comforting word in the entire Bible for these days.

I hope you have sensed the Lord’s presence with you even amid profound difficulties and loss. I have been reading the Sermon on the Mount in my quiet time, and the second beatitude has impacted me significantly, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). If you are mourning, may the Lord comfort you.

Passover Is Around the Corner

We will be observing Passover at the end of this month. Since plagues will be on the minds of Jewish people and Christians who study the Hebrew Scriptures, I thought I would share some thoughts about the ten plagues.

There are many sparkling gems of truth to be found in studying the plagues. Even the Hebrew terms for the various plagues are meaningful. Although the actual Hebrew word for “plague” is only found once in the book of Exodus, the variety of terms used helps us understand their nature.

A Brief Summary of the Terms for Plagues and their Meaning

The plagues narrative begins in Exodus 7:1–5. There are five different references to the coming plagues in this passage.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I make you as God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall speak to Pharaoh that he let the sons of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. When Pharaoh does not listen to you, then I will lay My hand on Egypt and bring out My hosts, My people the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt by great judgments. The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst.”

The Bible refers to the miraculous and revelatory nature of the plagues along with their punitive purposes. Through the plagues, God revealed both His power and character to the Egyptians and the Hebrews.

Some of the terms, such as “signs” and “wonders,” are almost always associated in the Hebrew Bible with the release of God’s power designed to turn unbelievers toward Him in repentance and faith. Similarly, God used the plagues to reveal His holiness, justice, and love, especially toward His chosen people. Have you ever thought of the plagues themselves as evangelistic in nature?

Ezekiel 36, a prophecy we see partially fulfilled today as the Jewish people are back in the Land in unbelief, parallels Exodus 7:5. Moses predicts a future day of deliverance and restoration for Israel and the Jewish people: “‘I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,’ declares the Lord God, ‘when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land’” (Ezekiel 36:23–24).

Both passages make it clear that one of God’s purposes in bringing the Jewish people out of captivity to the Promised Land was to be a miraculous sign of God’s faithfulness. The regathering of the Jewish people to the Holy Land is an obvious miracle that should help the Gentile nations see what God has done and turn in faith to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The Ten Big Ones!

The recitation of the ten plagues is an integral part of the Passover Seder and one of the most memorable moments of the meal. As a child, I always looked forward to reciting the plagues. Traditionally, Jewish people dip their pinky finger into a glass of sweet red wine and place a drop of it onto their plates as they shout the name of each of the ten plagues.

The recalling of the plagues is a way to remember the story of God’s deliverance of the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage. One traditional reason for why we drop the wine on our plates is that the drops represent the reduction of our joy, symbolized by the sweet wine—one drop for each plague that fell upon the Egyptians. Therefore, we do not rejoice in the judgment of the Egyptians, as Jewish tradition teaches mercy, but rather we should reduce our joy because of their suffering.

This unique part of the Seder reminds the Jewish people that God brought plagues upon others in mysterious harmony with His will. He used plagues to move both the Egyptians and Jewish people to action. Biblical plagues are purposeful, and, while causing terrible suffering, they are used by God for His divine purposes.

There are many biblical examples of plagues besides the ten in Exodus. God heaped affliction upon Job, the prophets, and many others. Sometimes, God caused the plagues, and other times He allowed them to happen for His divine purposes. For example, Naaman and Miriam (Moses’ sister) were both plagued with leprosy for God’s holy purposes and His glory.

Plagues, however, are not always punitive. “Jesus answered, ‘It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him’” (John 9:3). Like the healing of the blind man in John chapter nine, plagues and disease afford God opportunities to reveal His glory, goodness, and redemptive power.

COVID-19 and the Ten Plagues

Now, let us explore some ways we might better understand the role of the current COVID-19 pandemic in the plan of God. I am not suggesting that this virus was imposed directly by God as were the plagues in Exodus. Pharaoh hardened his heart, and God brought the ten plagues upon the Egyptians because of their leader’s misconduct. However, there is no reason to believe that the spread of the coronavirus is a divine punishment. The Bible never mentions the coronavirus, the Black Plague, or the Spanish Flu. Therefore, I believe the adage, “Where the Bible is silent, so am I.”

On the other hand, we cannot deny that God used plagues in biblical history as judgments and promises to do so in the future. Most believers would agree that plagues are signs of Jesus’ Second Coming. Luke wrote, “Then [Jesus] continued by saying to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven’” (Luke 21:10–11).

COVID-19 awakens us to the real possibility that plagues, along with other signs, will be part of a future season of endtime judgment before Jesus’ return. Plagues upon humanity are also part of the traditional Jewish view of the end times. This shared belief has caused some openness to Jesus on the part of ultra-religious Jewish people around the globe.

We can only hope and pray that our broken and sinful world might look beyond the suffering of today to see and believe that God longs to redeem us from the plagues of life. He is gracious and keeps His promises but is also serious about the judgment to come. While we need to proclaim the good news, we should not forget that there is also bad news for those who do not turn to the Messiah. Many Jewish people recognize this reality today, and we have, by His grace, seen quite a few Jewish people turn to Jesus during the pandemic.

Hopefully, we will look back one day and see more clearly the greater good our heavenly Father accomplished through this epidemiological trial. We pray that blessings will come for everyone throughout this time of pain and suffering (Romans 8:28) and that we will remember lessons learned in darkness when we return to the light.

I pray that the Lord will use this experience to shape our character, reorder our priorities, and draw us closer to Him.

Thank you for your love and prayers. I know you will enjoy reading about all the good the Lord has done in our midst during this difficult time. His miracles shine even brighter in dark times!

Blessings and Happy Passover,
Mitch

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The Christmas-Hanukkah Connection

Shalom,

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah! I love this season of the year: lights, joy, lots of presents, and the ability to freely focus on our faith in Jesus—the reason for the season. When I say the reason for the season, I am including Hanukkah, not just Christmas!

There is an amazing connection between the two holidays. It is a bit hidden, but I am sure that, once you see it, you will be as thrilled about it as I am. We find this extraordinary link in John 10:30, where Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.”

We know from the gospel that the events in John chapter ten occurred during the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22–23), also called Hanukkah. The Hebrew word hanukkah means “dedication.” It is still the most often used name for this great holiday.

Jesus Celebrated Hanukkah!

Curiously, the only biblical mention of Hanukkah is in the New Testament. The origin of Hanukkah is in the intertestamental literature, particularly in the First and Second books of Maccabees, which many people consider significant records of Jewish history.

The story of Hanukkah serves as the stunning backdrop to the words of Jesus, particularly in John chapter ten and especially in verse thirty.

The saga begins with a well-known historical figure—Alexander the Great.

Upon his death in 323 BC, Alexander’s kingdom was divided among four of his generals. Eventually, the lands that included Israel came under the control of Antiochus Epiphanes in 168 BC. His name alone tells the story—the word epiphanes means “revealed” or “manifestation” and refers to the Greek gods who often took on human form. In this instance, Antiochus probably had Zeus in mind as he desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem by sacrificing to Zeus (1 Maccabees 1:54; 2 Maccabees 6:2).

Antiochus demanded loyalty from the Jewish people to Greek culture and the Greek gods. He sent his emissaries with a statue of himself to each village in Israel and made them bow down to it. According to Jewish tradition, the emissaries entered the town of Modi’in and demanded that the Jewish people bow down and worship the Greek gods and their representative, Antiochus.

But a family of Levitical priests was living there. Mattathias and his five sons refused to bow and began a revolt. Mattathias cried out, “Let everyone who has zeal for the Law and who stands by the covenant follow me!” (1 Maccabees 2:7). His call is one of the grand statements of loyalty and unity that every young Jewish child learns at his mother’s knee.

His family and followers fled to the Judean foothills and waged guerrilla warfare against the Syrian Greeks for the next three years, between 167–164 BC. When Mattathias died, Judah became the leader of the rebel forces.

During that time, Antiochus perpetrated one of the most heinous acts against the Jewish people recorded in all of history. After defeating Antiochius, the Maccabees discovered that he had sacrificed a pig on the altar in Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in Israel. The Maccabees retook Jerusalem and wanted to cleanse the Temple. However, when they realized that a pig’s blood had defiled the altar, they took it apart and stacked the stones off to one side. In a very intriguing tradition recorded in 1 Maccabees, they left the rocks for someone more powerful to do the cleansing (1 Maccabees 4:46).

They built a new altar, and according to Jewish tradition, only had one day of oil left in the Temple’s eternal light (the seven-branched menorah), although it took eight days to cure olive oil to keep the light shining. The miracle that took place, according to tradition, was that the oil lasted for eight days, which allowed the Maccabees to prepare the oil needed and prevented them from being extinguished.

This legend provides the rationale for why we celebrate Hanukkah over eight days and why the symbol of light is so important. It reminds us that the ner tamid, the ceremonial light that shone in the Temple, must never be extinguished. Of course, the physical Temple was destroyed in AD 70 when the Romans conquered Jerusalem. Many Jewish people fled, and the Romans took the remaining Jewish people as captives. The menorah and other holy implements were looted and brought to Rome by the armies of Titus. To celebrate the victory, the Romans engraved these historical events inside the Arch of Titus, which you can still see today in the Roman Forum, near the Roman Colosseum.

The Declaration of Divinity

Jesus made His declaration of divinity in John 10:30 amid the grand traditions observed during the magnificent Hanukkah celebrations at the Second Temple. These traditions are described in the Mishnah, a collection of rabbinic commentaries on the Bible.

The story of Hanukkah, which would have taken place fewer than two hundred years earlier, was well-known by the Jewish people at that time. The average Jewish person living in Israel would have known that Antiochus Epiphanes, also called “Antiochus the Madman,” had declared himself to be a god. The Jewish people were commanded not to have any other gods but the Lord and were forbidden to worship idols (Exodus 20:3–4).

Indeed, the order to bow down and worship a statue would have been especially repugnant to the Jewish people. To this day, Jewish resistance to incarnation is rooted in the Jewish rejection of idolatry and the belief that God cannot be corporeal.

Resisting the claim that Jesus is God in the flesh has been viewed as a testimony of Jewish loyalty throughout the centuries. The fact that any Jewish person can overcome thousands of years of Jewish faith and tradition and accept Yeshua’s deity is a miracle.

The Deity of the Messiah Is Rooted in the Hebrew Bible

I was raised in a modern Orthodox Jewish home and taught to reject this possibility out of hand, not only for Jesus but for anyone.

I remember when I was thinking about becoming a believer in Jesus and was confronted with the idea that Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh. After reading the Gospels and seeing the way Jesus acted and spoke, I concluded that if anybody was God in the flesh—it would be Him. I am so glad that the Lord worked in my heart and enabled me to accept this glorious and fundamental truth—that Jesus is God, fully divine and fully human.

If Jesus was just a very bright and articulate itinerant Jewish rabbi, then you and I are still walking in our sins and face judgment on the last day. But because He is God in the flesh, His death provides a perfect atoning sacrifice for our sins, allowing you and me to receive forgiveness of sins and stand in the presence of the Lord forever.

I came to realize that the Hebrew Scriptures actually did teach that God could appear in the flesh. Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6–7, and several other prophetic passages in the Old Testament teach that God would take on flesh one day.

I understand why the Incarnation rubs Jewish people the wrong way. We were raised celebrating Hanukkah and taught that bowing to any corporeal God is idolatry.

I would agree that the Bible teaches against idolatry. Isaiah wrote with a combination of anger and humor, it seems, concerning how idolators worship:

Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god.”
(Isaiah 44:16–17)

Yet, we do not worship a God made of wood or stone but one who became a man while fully retaining His divine nature—a glorious mystery!

There is no stipulation against the true God taking on flesh. Without the Incarnation, Jesus would not fulfill the Messiah’s prophetic description and qualify as the Savior of the world. There is no other way to be the Messiah as no human being could accomplish what the Bible prophesied the Messiah would achieve. The deity of the Messiah is essential to His Messianic role in the story of redemption.

With this background, we understand that Jesus’ declaration that He and the Father are one was a declaration that He is God in the flesh. There is no other. Antiochus Epiphanes was a fraud; the statue was merely an image that was eventually destroyed.

Jesus is not an idol made of wood or stone, nor is He just a man or a great rabbi or miracle-worker. He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies that teach us that the true Messiah and Savior of the world would be God in the flesh.

Dear friend, it is the Incarnation that forms the magnificent bridge between the holidays. I cannot tell you how happy I am that our Messiah Jesus chose Hanukkah to declare Himself God in the flesh. What could be more appropriate? What could be more Jewish?

I hope you enjoy the additional teaching on this great topic in this newsletter.

We are so grateful for your prayers!

Blessings and Merry Christmas,
Mitch

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