Tag Archives: Judaism

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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A High Holiday Sermon – Reminder: The Hope of Restoration

Introduction

We gather each year on the first night of Yom Kippur to hear Kol Nidrei, a traditional and moving prayer that serves as Israel’s appeal to wipe away sins by annulling the obligations of the previous year—vows that we made between the previous Day of Atonement and today. It is written in Aramaic, and its origins are disputed. Some scholars say it was written during the Gaonic period (ninth century), but many others have suggested the prayer was born out of the dark days of the Inquisition when many Spanish and Portuguese Jewish people were forced to convert to Catholicism under threat of death or expulsion.[1]

Although we are not sure why or when the prayer was created, once it was paired with the soulful melody that now makes the prayer so moving, the impact of Kol Nidrei on the hearts of Jewish people is certain. Whether religious or secular, this Yom Kippur tradition has become one of the most powerful prayers in Jewish life and faith. It is not unusual to have non-religious Jewish people attend synagogue each year on erev (the evening of) Yom Kippur simply to experience the Kol Nidrei prayer.

There are a variety of ways to present Kol Nidrei, some with unique adaptations. The following version was presented at Beth Sar Shalom—Brooklyn, and I thought it was especially creative and beautiful. Listen to it if you have a moment!

Versions of the Prayer

A traditional version of the prayer:

All vows, obligations, oaths, and anathemas, whether called ‘ḳonam,’ ‘ḳonas,’ or by any other name, which we may vow, or swear, or pledge, or whereby we may be bound, from this Day of Atonement until the next (whose happy coming we await), we do repent. May they be deemed absolved, forgiven, annulled, and void, and made of no effect; they shall not bind us nor have power over us. The vows shall not be reckoned vows; the obligations shall not be obligatory; nor the oaths be oaths.

The leader and the congregation then say together:

“And it shall be forgiven all the congregation of the children of Israel, and the stranger that sojourneth among them, seeing all the people were in ignorance” (Num. xv. 26).[2]

A more modern translation/version:

All vows we are likely to make, all oaths and pledges we are likely to vow, or swear, or consecrate, or prohibit upon ourselves between this Yom Kippur and the next Yom Kippur, we publicly renounce. Let them all be relinquished and abandoned, null and void, neither firm nor established. Our vows are no longer vows, our prohibitions are no longer prohibitions, and our oaths are no longer oaths.

The whole community of the Children of Israel, and the strangers dwelling among them, shall be forgiven, for all of them were without premeditation.—Numbers 15:26

O pardon the iniquities of this people, according to Thy abundant mercy, just as Thou forgave this people ever since they left Egypt.

The Lord said, “I pardon them according to your words.” (three times)—Numbers 14:20[3]

Rabbi Eric Solomon, a reform rabbi, writes so poignantly about the impact of the Kol Nidrei,

Kol Nidre may have been initiated by the personal need of the marranos to repent for a forced conversion, but its power has reached far past that narrow scope. When we daven the Kol Nidre together as a community, we are looking beyond the simple meaning of the words; we are beginning to focus inward, preparing to unleash our darkest memories, and paving the path towards genuine reflection on God and repentance.[4]

The Appeal of the Prayer

Clearly, at the heart of the prayer is the request of the penitent beseeching God to withhold His judgment and to be merciful for not fulfilling vows of obedience, promises of changed behavior and keeping mitzvot. There is also an underlying understanding that when we live in obedience to God, we are blessed and when we do not, we are judged. Kol Nidrei is an appeal, asking God to release us from the promises we could not keep. The prayer expresses a desire to be forgiven for making unkept vows and for not meeting God’s expectations.

At its core, Kol Nidrei expresses our desire for forgiveness and God’s blessings. Somehow, we all know, in the depth of our souls, irrespective of our theology, that we are worthy of judgment and are in desperate need of forgiveness.

I cannot disagree with these sentiments. The Bible is very clear about these matters. Judaism typically does not affirm the depravity of man in the same way that Christianity does. Yet, the regularity of committing sin is obviously recognized by the very nature of Yom Kippur.

Biblical Blessings and Judgments

The Bible teaches that there is a causal relationship between obedience and blessings, and between disobedience and judgment. It is a theme woven throughout Scripture in more places than we can count, and it generally describes the nature of our relationship with God. In very summarized terms, when we do what He says, we are blessed and happy, and if we do not, then we are judged and, well, not very happy. Israel’s experiences of these blessings and judgments vary throughout the Old and New Testaments, but I am sure no one would argue this pattern is fundamental to Scripture.

Blessing and judgments are embedded in the very covenants the Holy One constructed to guide our relationship to Him.

The themes of blessings and judgments are tied to His perfect nature. He is holy and just, and we are sinful. Yet, God calls upon us to act against our nature and live righteously. If we do, we will be fulfilled and happy. If we do not—if we fail to act righteously—then judgment should be expected. If He should ignore our rebellion against His standards and do nothing about it, then He would appear to be unholy, unjust, unrighteous, and even weak, making demands that not even He could fulfill.

Would we really want to worship a God who had no standards? What if there were no ultimate justice? Or would we worship a God who had standards but did not act upon them? As uncomfortable as judgment might be, we would still rather adore and follow a holy and righteous God who enforced His standards…would we not?

Yet, the Bible teaches that this same God is also loving, gracious, and merciful. As He proclaimed to Moses when He passed by him on Sinai,

The Lord descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the Lord. Then the Lord passed by 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.” (Exodus 34:5–7)

We also read in the Bible of His willingness to override His justice and to show mercy, which is not getting what you deserve for your sinful behavior, and grace, defined as receiving what you could never merit.

God’s Covenants

Again, these relationships, on a larger and national level for Israel, are embedded within the covenants He made with mankind, including a promise to not destroy the world again by a flood (Genesis 9:9–17) and built into the two great covenants that form the foundation of Jewish national existence; the Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant.

In the Abrahamic Covenant, the Lord promised Abram and his seed that He would preserve them as a people (Genesis 12), they will possess a land with boundaries outlined in Genesis 15, receive blessings from God (Genesis 12), and be used by God to bring these blessings to the world (Genesis 12:3).[5]

This covenant is described as without time or conditions. The Lord takes responsibility to fulfill these promises sometime in the future without fail.

The promised blessing (Genesis 12:2, “And I will bless you”) may be understood as including the people, the land, and Abram’s reputation, but seems to focus on the promise that God’s blessings are linked to His presence with His people.

The blessings go beyond the land to the hope given by God that His presence will remain with the Jewish people throughout their existence as a nation. Israel would be a nation that would ultimately know the presence of God in their midst. As the Lord promised to Abraham,

I have made you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:6–8)

These manifold blessings will be mediated through Abraham, reside with those who bless the children of Abraham, and flow to the entire non-Abrahamic world. If Israel is disobedient, then according to the covenant with Abraham, the Lord Himself will take the responsibility of turning the hearts of the Jewish people to Himself (Romans 11:25–29). Leviticus 26: 45 says, “But I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am the Lord.”

The Mosaic Covenant is a bit different. The covenant God made with Moses is causal in nature, and both judgments and blessings are linked to the behavior of the Jewish people; blessings for obedience and judgments for disobedience.

These two covenants determined the history of Israel. When the Jewish people were faithful, they were blessed and remained in the land, and when we were disobedient, the Jewish people experienced God’s judgment and were removed from the Land on the basis of the Mosaic Covenant.

722 BCE – The Assyrians dispersed the northern tribes.

604–586 BCE – The southern tribes go into Babylonian captivity and the Temple is destroyed.

AD 70 – The Romans disperse the Jewish people and destroy the Second Temple.

AD 132 – The Jewish people are further dispersed by Roman Emperor Hadrian.

However, the Lord never allowed His chosen people to languish in captivity for too long and brought Israel back from exile—on the basis of the Abrahamic covenant. Today, almost seven million Jewish people have been gathered back to the land of Israel, but certainly not on the basis of obedience to the Mosaic Covenant! Their return is tied to the unmerited grace described in the Abrahamic Covenant and is part of His unfolding purposes predicted in Ezekiel 36–37 and Romans 11:12; 15; 25–29.

Two Passages that Predict the Future of Israel Based Upon the Covenants

Perhaps the two passages of Scripture that are well-known and speak so profoundly to this causal relationship and pattern—Disobedience:Judgement::Obedience:Blessings—are found in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, which are perhaps my least favorite passages of the Bible.

Deuteronomy Chapter 28

This chapter outlines the blessings and judgments that would befall Israel on the basis of the Mosaic Covenant. There are fourteen verses of blessings and fifty-four of judgment. The following three verses at the end of Moses’ discourse summarize the nature of these judgments:

It shall come about that as the Lord delighted over you to prosper you, and multiply you, so the Lord will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you will be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it. Moreover, the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, which you or your fathers have not known. Among those nations you shall find no rest, and there will be no resting place for the sole of your foot; but there the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul. (Deuteronomy 28:63–65)

We see that this has transpired and is a sober and serious reminder of God’s judgment for our sin.

Leviticus Chapter 26

This chapter is similar but includes more of a focus on grace and the Abrahamic Covenant. The two covenants are interwoven in this text. Chapter 26 begins with two additional reminders of God’s Mosaic commandments, and then, in verses three through thirteen, outlines the promised blessings of obedience.

For example,

If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments so as to carry them out, then I shall give you rains in their season, so that the land will yield its produce and the trees of the field will bear their fruit. Indeed, your threshing will last for you until grape gathering, and grape gathering will last until sowing time. You will thus eat your food to the full and live securely in your land. (Leviticus 26:3–5)

However, Moses then presents twenty-five verses (Leviticus 26:14–39) of severe judgment for disobedience. Again, this is a reflection of the Mosaic Covenant and the result of our disobedience to the covenant demands. The Mosaic Covenant is a standard of holiness that reminds us of God’s expectations and standards that we will never achieve on our own.

Principles of Spiritual Restoration

We can learn so much from God’s plans and purposes for the nation of Israel. These principles govern our lives as well. Though the Mosaic Covenant is specific to the Jewish people and the Jewish people are the main focus of the Abrahamic Covenant, by virtue of its promises, it extends to the nations as well. 

The hope of restoration is also seen in the midst of His judgments—a reminder of the promised future God has prepared for the nation of Israel on the basis of the Abrahamic Covenant. We read in Leviticus chapter twenty-six:

If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers, in their unfaithfulness which they committed against Me, and also in their acting with hostility against Me—I also was acting with hostility against them, to bring them into the land of their enemies—or if their uncircumcised heart becomes humbled so that they then make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well, and I will remember the land. For the land will be abandoned by them, and will make up for its sabbaths while it is made desolate without them. They, meanwhile, will be making amends for their iniquity, because they rejected My ordinances and their soul abhorred My statutes. Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God. But I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am the Lord. (Leviticus 26:40–45)

Personally, as a Jewish believer, I do not view the high holiday season as valuable for purely evangelistic reasons, though many Jewish people come to faith in Jesus during this special time of the year. I also do not fast and pray on Yom Kippur simply on behalf of the sins of my Jewish people and family. I have learned that the true value of the high holiday season, for me and all who cherish their Messianic heritage, is remembering that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is a renewing and restoring God, and I take advantage of this season of the year to seek forgiveness and find the renewal that I believe is tearfully sought by the Kol Nidrei prayer.

I suggest we can draw two principles from God’s covenantal relationship with Israel that apply to our lives and are especially evident during the high holiday season.

The Lord will respond to our repentance with grace, mercy and forgiveness. Remember the words of Leviticus 26:40–42,

If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers, in their unfaithfulness which they committed against Me, and also in their acting with hostility against Me—I also was acting with hostility against them, to bring them into the land of their enemies—or if their uncircumcised heart becomes humbled so that they then make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well, and I will remember the land.

Notice the language. Moses certainly has the Abrahamic Covenant in mind. This covenant was made with Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham…in backwards order. This is the covenant that promises grace as the Lord staked His holy reputation on fulfilling what He promised. The day will come when Israel will experience these blessings again as the Lord will cause the hearts of the Jewish people to turn back to Him.

It is the reason we cry out for mercy on this holy day—because God is a God of restoration who keeps His promises. One day, Israel will turn from her disobedience and be totally restored as they live in the land, experience the blessings of God presence, and the nations will also enjoy the benefits of God’s kingdom on earth.

Theses verses remind us that judgment falls upon the chosen people because of our failure to obey the commandments in the Mosaic Covenant. But, the hope for Israel’s restoration is based upon a different covenant and different promises—those found in the Abrahamic Covenant. Even when Israel sins and is in exile, the Lord will still keep His holy hand upon His people. Not because of their obedience, but because of His faithfulness. “Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God. But I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 26:44–45).

If we were completely honest with one another, we would admit that our lives are a battleground! We are constantly struggling and battling against sin. The reason most people do not see this is because the battle is within. We are constantly sinning, repenting, and asking the Lord for renewal and transformation by the power of His Spirit. If not, then we are feeling defeated or, even worse, have given up. The good news is that God is a forgiving God by nature, and constantly extends His grace and mercy to those who have been bought by the blood of Yeshua! There is always hope for overcoming the sins that beset us. Victory is available but it might not look like the spiritual victory described in some Christian books or trite spiritual formulas. The battle for holiness that rages in our souls is one we will fight until we are perfected.

My hope and prayer for all of us is that we will seek the Lord and His strength while realistically recognizing the darkness of our souls. We should continue to fight the battles within our souls. Why? Because we know that the war was won on Golgotha as He said, “It is finished.” But we must keep fighting until He comes, knowing that He understands our frame and weakness and is always available to give us help, strength, and as Paul wrote, “Who is the one who condemns? Messiah Yeshua is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us (Romans 8:34).

So, please do not give up! Remember that the fight for spiritual growth is part of walking with God. It is a battle worth winning though there will certainly be losses along the way. We need to expect some losses and remember that restoration is always available and begins with repentance.

I love Kol Nidrei. It is an honest prayer reminding me of my failures and the multitude of ways even the best among us break our promises to God and man. We might as well admit it! Though we believe in Yeshua, we still break His holy commandments written in both the Old and New Testaments. Does God cast us off for our sins? No! Jesus told us that time and again.

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37).

And again,

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:9–10).

Like Israel, we are secured by a grace covenant through the death and resurrection of the Messiah Yeshua. When we find ourselves drifting from Him, we must remember that He will not forget us as He does not forget Israel—He always has His hands upon us. There is always hope for grace and restoration, and Yom Kippur and the entirety of the high holiday season is a wonderful time to rededicate ourselves to the Lord, repent of our sins, and find grace that leads to restoration. This repentance and seeking His grace should continue every day of our lives.  We really need to live a repentant lifestyle, which leads to a grace-filled life, filled with His powerful and comforting presence every day.


[1] For more on the origins of this important Jewish prayer, see Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, ed., All These Vows: Kol Nidre, Prayers of Awe (Woodstock, Vt.: Jewish Lights Pub., 2011).

[2] Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. “Kol Nidre,” http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9443-kol-nidre.

[3] Rabbi Ruth Adar, “What Does Kol Nidre Mean?,” Coffee Shop Rabbi (blog), September 29, 2015, https://coffeeshoprabbi.com/2015/09/29/what-does-kol-nidre-mean/.

[4] Rabbi Eric Solomon, “Kol Nidrei Collection,” SaveTheMusic.com, accessed September 25, 2020, https://savethemusic.com/collections/the-kol-nidre-collection/.

[5] See the excellent Journal article in the Masters Seminary Journal by Dr. Keith Essex on the Abrahamic covenant: Keith H. Essex, “The Abrahamic Covenant,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 10, no. 2 (Fall 1999): 191-212, https://www.tms.edu/m/tmsj10n.pdf.

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A High Holidays Message: Hungry for Repentance? Try Fasting!

Matthew 6:16–18

“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

Introduction

When I was growing up, in my home and in my friend’s home, fasting was required—but not enjoyed—and it was perfectly legitimate to share your misery with everyone. I understand this might not be the case in more religious Jewish homes and with some individuals, but this was true in my experience.

I have put together our family fasting rules.

Glaser Household—The Seven Rules of Fasting:

  1. Eat a huge meal the night before—as late as possible.
  1. Wake up the next morning as late as possible—1:00 pm is good!
  1. Take multiple naps during the day.
  1. Prepare for a headache by 3:00 pm, and accept the fact that Tylenol is not food.
  1. Remember, if you are sick, you do not have to fast; begin thinking through various illnesses a week ahead of time to make sure you have your list of symptoms prepared.
  1. Plan the break-fast well; decide between bagels and lox and a dairy meal or Chinese food. You may begin thinking about the meal after 4:00 pm, but try not to be consumed (get it?) … it is just a meal.
  1. Set your watch ahead by thirty minutes the day before (so you will not be late for synagogue) and question your watch only after you have taken your first bite. After all, if you have already broken the fast, then you cannot go backwards and should just keep eating!

I believe my family may have been just like yours! How many of us fast just because it is tradition?

As followers of Yeshua the Messiah, should we fast on Yom Kippur, and if so, why? We may have been taught that we fast to earn atonement, but the Bible and even Jewish tradition does not teach this. This common misconception might be why you, as a believer, have a problem with fasting on Yom Kippur. So, without my telling you what to do or trying to make up your mind for you on whether you should fast, let us look at the Scriptures and hear from God on this important matter.

If we do choose to fast, the words of Yeshua will guide us in how to get the most value out of fasting, the nature of the reward for those who fast well, and what can we do in the next twenty-four hours to receive this reward from the Lord.

The Jewish View on Fasting—Especially on Yom Kippur

As a start, we need to get some background about fasting from both the Hebrew Scriptures and Jewish tradition.

According to common Jewish thinking, fast days fall into three main categories: (1) fasts decreed in the Bible or instituted to commemorate biblical events; (2) fasts decreed by the rabbis; (3) private fasts.[1]

In Judaism, we observe five minor fasts[2] and two major fasts. The two major fasts are Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av, the ninth of the month of Av when we commemorate and increase our mourning over the destruction of the Temple.[3] The fast for Tisha B’Av is a major fast in traditional Judaism, but it is not a fast required by the Torah, as is the case with Yom Kippur.

In dealing with fasting beyond the Torah, it may be useful to categorize the instances by their occasions. These categories show fasting as: (1) a sign of grief or mourning, (2) a sign of repentance and seeking forgiveness for sin, (3) an aid in prayer, (4) an experience of the presence of God that results in the endorsement of His messenger, and (5) an act of ceremonial public worship.[4]

And we see illustrations of this in the life of King David who fasted for the life of his son, Daniel who fasted and prayed on behalf of the Jewish people, and many other instances of fasting in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Dr. Kent D. Berghuis writes in his doctoral dissertation on fasting,

The various references to fasting in the Hebrew Bible and Jewish tradition begin to converge in several key theological themes. The most basic ancient purpose of fasting as a sign of mourning in times of death or disaster branches into two main theological ideas, namely fasting as repentance for sin and fasting to intensify prayer when seeking God’s favor. Both of these ideas, however, presuppose an even more basic theological idea that the OT occasionally highlights through fasting references: that God is the ultimate source and sustainer of life, and human life depends on connection to his presence and obedience to his words.[5]

According to the prophet Zechariah, the Jewish people during his day fasted a number of times, and one day, these fasts will become feasts in the Messianic kingdom as there will be no more mourning or repentance.

Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “The fast of the fourth, the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth months will become joy, gladness, and cheerful feasts for the house of Judah; so love truth and peace”’” (Zechariah 8:18–19).[6]

This idea of fasting-today-turned-into-feasting-tomorrow is a wonderful biblical theme that Yeshua discussed with the disciples of John the Baptist in Matthew 9:14:

“Then the disciples of John came to Him, asking, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?’”

Yeshua answered in verse 15:

“And Jesus said to them, ‘The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.’”

In other words, fasting was linked to mourning and repentance, and since Yeshua was present, it was time to rejoice and not to mourn. After He left, it became more acceptable to fast. This also implies that, when He returns, it will be a time of joy and not mourning—a time for a Messianic banquet at which we will feast instead of fast. This is important, as we fast today not because we are mourning that we do not have the Messiah, but rather because we want to grow closer to Him.

The Key Yom Kippur Texts: (Leviticus 16; 23:26–32; Numbers 29:7)

It is important to know that the word for fast (צום) does not appear in the biblical passages about Yom Kippur. Instead, the phrase meaning “humble your souls” (וְעִנִּיתֶ֖ם אֶת־נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶ֑ם) appears, which at times is also translated “afflict yourselves.”[7] It is actually used in Isaiah 53, where the prophet predicted that the Messiah would bear all of our afflictions:

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted (Isaiah 53:4).

In the traditional Jewish mindset, afflicting oneself and fasting were often synonymous. Afflicting ourselves might include other aspects of self-denial aside from fasting. We do not need to limit fasting to food!

Thus, the rabbis declare that ʿinnah nefesh, enjoined for the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29, 31; 23:27–32), consists not only of fasting but of other forms of self-denial such as abstention from “washing, anointing, wearing shoes, and cohabitation” (Yoma 8:1; cf. Targum Jonathan, Leviticus 16:29).[8]

Leviticus 16:29–31

“This shall be a permanent statute for you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall humble your souls and not do any work, whether the native, or the alien who sojourns among you; for it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the Lord. It is to be a sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls; it is a permanent statute.”

Leviticus 23:26–32

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall humble your souls and present an offering by fire to the Lord. You shall not do any work on this same day, for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the Lord your God. If there is any person who will not humble himself on this same day, he shall be cut off from his people. As for any person who does any work on this same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall do no work at all. It is to be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. It is to be a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall humble your souls; on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening until evening you shall keep your sabbath.’”

Numbers 29:7

“Then on the tenth day of this seventh month you shall have a holy convocation, and you shall humble yourselves; you shall not do any work.”

An Introduction to the message:

Fasting is not a way to earn forgiveness from sin. Fasting is a way to help us repent of our sin and everyday lack of dependence upon God. It should not be viewed as an end in and of itself.

Rather than repentance helping us to fast, fasting helps us to repent.

Yeshua, in speaking about fasting in Matthew 6:16–18, reminded His hearers that character is paramount and that our motives are what matter, not the externals of religious observance. Fasting, if done for the right reason, will lead an individual to repent in a way that could have great spiritual impact and lasting transformation.

Let us look closely at the text and try to understand what the Messiah is told His disciples.

The Context of the Sermon on the Mount

Yeshua focused on three areas of piety—good deeds, prayer, and fasting—all of which are acceptable and expected of godly people. He was not upset with what the Jewish religious leaders were doing, but how they were doing it. He was not upset with them for giving money to the poor, praying, or fasting. He was concerned with the way some of them were focusing on the externals of piety rather than on the condition of their hearts and motivation.

The Messiah believed that some of the religious leaders were eager to please men rather than God, and that is why they did religious things. The consistent message of the Bible is that God is far more interested in the condition of our hearts, our motivation for godly acts (like fasting), and our resultant behavior. As the Prophet Micah wrote,

“With what shall I come to the Lord and bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:6–8, emphasis added).

Fasting, a spontaneous phenomenon in the days of the First Temple, may have entered the calendar as a regular and recurring event only after the exile.[9] Theologian Kent Berghuis tells us that fasting had already become a regular part of Jewish religious life by the time of Jesus.[10]

Yeshua was obviously upset with a group of hypocrites who did good deeds and helped the poor but broadcasted their good deeds so that everyone knew what they were doing! Their motivation was to receive accolades from man rather than secret rewards from God (Matthew 6:2–4).

It is unfortunate that, throughout church history, religious Jews, especially the pharisees, were regarded as hypocrites. This is unfounded, so I do not want you to walk away from this message thinking the same thing! Yeshua was referring to a certain group who loved the praise of men rather than the praise of God. This charge cannot be laid at the feet of every religious Jew—either during the time of Jesus or today.

In fact, rather than thinking about others, it would be better to think about ourselves—our hearts and our motivation for worship and doing what we do. Are we in any way guilty of the same things that Jesus was concerned about regarding this group of hypocrites?

Yeshua clearly affirmed giving to the poor, praying, and fasting. But He instructed His listeners to do these things secretly for God, not publicly for the praise of man. If we obey His instructions, then “[our] Father who sees what is done in secret will reward [us]” (Matthew 6:4). Note His following instructions (emphasis added):

  • Matthew 6:2—“So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”
  • Matthew 6:3–4—“But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
  • Matthew 6:5 —“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men.”
  • Matthew 6:6—“But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
  • Matthew 6:16–18—“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

Jesus was not telling them not to fast, but to do so in the right way with the right heart.

He did not say if you fast, but when you fast, just like when you pray and when you give to the poor (vv. 16–17). The Lord expects us to fast at times, but to fast in an authentic way that glorifies Him and brings us a reward.

Jesus wants His followers to fast with the right motivation, indicated by their doing so quietly and without seeking public accolades (Matthew 6:18). Matthew 6 makes clear that Yeshua expected that at times we will fast, and so, you will be doing nothing wrong by fasting for the 24 hours of Yom Kippur. But it is important to know why you are fasting and to do so correctly.

Pastor and author, John Piper, wrote the following on authentic fasting:

Jesus calls them hypocrites. Why? Because the heart that motivates fasting is supposed to be a heart for God. That’s what fasting means: a heart-hunger for God. But the heart motivating their fasting is a heart for human admiration…. So there are two dangers that these fasting folks have fallen into. One is that they are seeking the wrong reward in fasting, namely, the esteem of other people. They love the praise of men. And the other is that they hide this with a pretense of love for God…. So Jesus tests our hearts to see if God himself will be our sufficiency—when nobody else knows what we are doing. When no one is saying, “How are you getting on with the fast?” No one even knows—no one but God!… If God is not real to you, it will be miserable to endure something difficult with God as the only one who knows.[11]

So, now instead of the Glaser Household Rules for Fasting, let me share with you eight other insights I have gleaned from Scripture on fasting that might be helpful.

  1. Fasting deepens our personal worship of the Lord.

The relationship between fasting and prayer is very important, and this can be seen in Daniel’s prayer of repentance.

So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed and said, “Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances. Moreover, we have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers and all the people of the land.” (Daniel 9:3–6)

If one is going to get the most value out of fasting, it is also important that we spend time in prayer, because fasting is not only about what we are denying (ourselves and this world), but what we are trying to appropriate and receive from the Lord—things that this world cannot give that will satisfy our souls.

Believers fast to make more of Jesus in heaven and less of ourselves and things on Earth. Fasting helps us to separate between our needs and our wants—to differentiate what is necessary and appropriate from what is extravagant. When we fast, we realize that a sip of water and a taste of bread that sustains physical life is all we need and that the rest of our diet—especially good food—should be viewed as signs of God’s grace and love. A great meal should cause us to give praise to a great God who created the building blocks for that meal.

  1. Fasting encourages repentance and leads to changed behavior and an increase in doing good deeds. 

Theologian Richard Foster reflects,

More than any other single Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of [Yeshua]. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface. If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately. Anger, jealousy, strife, fear—if they are within us, they will surface during fasting. At first we will rationalize that our anger is due to our hunger; then we will realize that we are angry because the spirit of anger is within us. We can rejoice in this knowledge because we know that healing is available through the power of Christ.[12]

On this topic, Piper also adds,

So here we have another test of authenticity. Jesus said, If you are fasting to be seen by others, you have your reward. That’s it. Isaiah says, If your fasting leaves you self-indulgent in other areas, harsh toward your employees, irritable and contentious, then your fasting is not acceptable to God. It’s not what he chooses. God is mercifully warning us against the danger of substituting religious fervor for righteous living.[13]

  1. Fasting is more about focusing on what you do than on what you do without.

One of the passages that speaks directly to this principal is Isaiah chapter 58. The prophet linked fasting to transformed behavior. He argued that if your fasting is not connected to godly living, then your fast is in vain. This does not mean we should not fast, but that we cannot try to please God by fasting and then displease Him the next moment by acting badly, disobeying Him, sinning against our fellow man, or withholding what is right, generous, and helpful to our fellow man.

Isaiah 58 wrote:

Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?…And if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday. And the Lord will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. (Isaiah 58:6–7; 10–11)

  1. Fasting strengthens your fellowship with other believers and leads to greater ministry and guidance. 

Acts 13:1–2 says, “Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’”

Like the believers in the early church, sometimes we need to fast to seek His direction at important times in our lives or when we have a great need for guidance. This could be one good reason to fast during Yom Kippur.

  1. Fasting leads to a greater dependence upon God. 

Maybe you have heard it said, “You do not have to be overweight to be a glutton.” Some of us who are overweight are not gluttonous at all, and some of us who are quite fit can be gluttonous because we focus on the extravagance of good food without proper gratitude to God.

When we fast, we come to grips with the value of our “daily bread.” Fasting helps us to identify our lack of dependence upon God for our daily bread and our lust for food and other treats in this world, which cause us to focus on the created rather than on the Creator.

  1. Fasting leads to humility; therefore, those who fast should be discreet and not call attention to their fasts.

Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and is considered one of the most influential people of the twentieth century. This little story reveals her heart and how she illustrates the godly sacrifices that come from self-denial—fasting or otherwise. 

As the story goes, a well-known Christian speaker was visiting with Mother Teresa and everyone removed their shoes for prayer.

In most parts of India, it is a custom for everyone to remove their shoes when entering any place of worship. Shane noticed that when Mother Teresa took her shoes off for daily prayer, her feet were knobby, gnarled, deformed and pressed in the wrong directions. Shane wondered whether it was a birth defect, the result of an accident, the side effects of a disease or illness or perhaps due to leprosy. A sister of the Missionaries of Charity explained.

Mother Teresa and her sisters relied on donations for everything, including their shoes. They received donations of used shoes once in a while for distribution among the needy. When a load of used shoes would come in, Mother Teresa used to dig through the pile of shoes and consistently chose the worst pair for herself regardless of how badly they may have fitted. Her feet deteriorated by wearing substandard shoes. She crippled herself showing love and compassion to those that had nothing.

Mother Teresa loved the needy so much that she wanted them to have the best of the worst and not the worst.[14]

She said of herself, “I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.”[15]

  1. Fasting helps you to identify with the suffering of others—the poor, those deprived of basic human needs, the misery of injustice, and the poverty of the soul.

Fasting reminds us of what we have and of how generous God has been to us. By doing without food, we appreciate what we have and become more sensitive to what others do not have.

Writer Rahel Musleah reminds us of this truth in her article entitled, “A Day to Bare our Souls and Find Ourselves”:

‘Fasting is an important way to feel our own privilege,’ says Reimer. ‘We have a choice whether to eat, but that’s not a choice we all have. I use fasting to identify with people who don’t have enough.’ As a child of survivors, Reimer grew up with stories of her parents living on a slice of bread a day—or less. ‘When I fast, part of me connects backward to their history. Then I look forward, to what my obligation is to others in the same place.’ Her congregation, the Worship and Study Congregation, part of Harvard Hillel, follows Kol Nidrei with an appeal for Project Bread, which provides food for the hungry.

‘I often joke that Yom Kippur is the day to invite people for lunch,’ says Reimer, who nonetheless uses the break in services to run home to set up for the post-fast meal. ‘It’s different than feeding myself,’ she muses. ‘It’s about my need to feed others.’ The haftarah—the reading from the Prophets—satisfies her sensitivity toward social justice. ‘It says that all the outside ritual is unimportant; all that matters is reaffirming our concern for others, our commitment to care for the needy, the outcast and those who are less fortunate.’[16]

  1.  Fasting for the right reasons and in the right way brings great reward.

I appreciate what the great Methodist preacher John Wesley said in one of his sermons concerning the question, “How are we to fast, so that it may be acceptable to the Lord?” He provided the following five instructions:

1. First, let it be done to the Lord, with our eye firmly fixed on Him.

2. Secondly, if we do desire this reward, let us beware of thinking we will merit anything from God by our fasting.

3. Thirdly, let us be careful to humble our souls as well as our bodies.

4. Fourthly, let us always join fervent prayer with fasting, pouring out our souls before God, confessing our sins, humbling ourselves under his mighty hand, laying open before him all our needs, all our guiltiness and helplessness.

5. Lastly, one other thing needs to be mentioned with regard to fasting: in order for our fasting to be acceptable to the Lord, we need to add prayers and gifts to the poor; works of mercy, within our power, both to the bodies and souls of men, for: “With such sacrifices God is pleased.”[17]

What then is the promised reward? And is it worth going without food? Yeshua said, “Your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:18).

While an answer to prayer may come, or direction in a problem, the greatest reward is clearly the Lord Himself; it is His presence. This is the reward most cherished by every believer in every age and even more so for those who have had their sins forgiven and know Yeshua as their Messiah.

Conclusion

May I suggest a menu for Yom Kippur?

A Day of Atonement menu should include the following:

  • The appetizer—repentance
  • The main course—fasting leading to our dependence upon God for all things
  • Side dishes—faith, wisdom, guidance
  • Dessert—joyful transformation and good deeds

What’s new about fasting as believers in Yeshua?

We fast on Yom Kippur not to obtain atonement and forgiveness of sins. As believers in Yeshua, we fast knowing our sins are forgiven by Yeshua’s once-for-all sacrifice. Piper explains this “new fasting” as follows:  

What’s new about the fasting is that it rests on all this finished work of the Bridegroom. The yearning that we feel for revival or awakening or deliverance from corruption is not merely longing and aching. The first fruits of what we long for have already come. The down payment of what we yearn for is already paid. The fullness that we are longing for and fasting for has appeared in history and we have beheld his glory. It is not merely future.

We have tasted the powers of the age to come, and our new fasting is not because we are hungry for something we have not tasted, but because the new wine of [Messiah’s] presence is so real and so satisfying. The newness of our fasting is this: its intensity comes not because we have never tasted the wine of [Messiah’s] presence, but because we have tasted it so wonderfully by his Spirit and cannot now be satisfied until the consummation of joy arrives.[18]

Hasidic Story

An old Hassidic story really sums up the role and reason for fasting both during Yom Kippur and at other times for the person seeking a deeper relationship with the God of Israel.

A man once complained to Chassidic master Rabbi Bunim of Peshischa:

“I saw it written in the holy books that if a person fasts a certain number of times, he will merit that Elijah the Prophet will reveal himself to him and teach him the secrets of the Torah. Well, I fulfilled the regimen of fasts, exactly as prescribed, yet Elijah did not reveal himself to me.”

Rabbi Bunim told the man the following story:

Once, the holy Baal Shem Tov had to travel to a far-off destination on a matter of extreme importance to the welfare of a Jewish community. As was his custom on such trips, the Baal Shem Tov told his coachman, Alexis, to drop the reins and turn around in his bench. No sooner had the coachman turned his back on the horses that the road began to literally fly under their feet, and they traversed a many weeks’ journey in a few hours.

The horses, noticing that they were galloping past the feeding stations without stopping, thought to themselves: “Perhaps we are not horses after all, but human beings. Otherwise, why are we not being given oats and water at the customary places? Surely we will eat with the men, when they stop for their meals at the crossroads inns.”

But the inns, too, flew by, one after another, with dizzying speed. “It seems,” the horses now surmised, “that we are not men after all, but angels, who do not partake of earthly food at all.”

But then the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples arrived at their destination and rushed off to attend to their holy mission, while Alexis unhitched the horses and led them to the barn, where they guzzled water and devoured oats like the horses they were…

“The purpose of a fast,” concluded Rabbi Bunim, “is to refine the person, to have him transcend, if only for a few hours, the gross materiality of the human state. But if the moment the fast ends he attacks his food with the fervor of a man who hasn’t eaten all day, what has been achieved?”[19]

As believers in Yeshua the Messiah, there are benefits and blessings that come with fasting that can last a lifetime. It is good for the body and for the soul.


[1] “Jewish Holidays: Fasting and Fast Days,” Jewish Virtual Library, accessed September 18, 2020, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/fasting-and-fast-days.

[2] “Three of these five fasts commemorate events leading to the downfall of the first commonwealth and the destruction of the first Temple, which is commemorated by the major fast of Tisha B’Av. Following is a list of minor fasts required by Jewish law, their dates, and the events they commemorate: The Fast of Gedaliah, Tishri 3, commemorates the killing of the Jewish governor of Judah, a critical event in the downfall of the first commonwealth. The Fast of Tevet, Tevet 10, is the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem. It has also been proclaimed a memorial day for the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust. The Fast of Esther, Adar 13, commemorates the three days that Esther fasted before approaching King Ahasuerus on behalf of the Jewish people. The fast is connected with Purim. If Adar 13 falls on a Friday or Saturday, it is moved to the preceding Thursday, because it cannot be moved forward a day (it would fall on Purim). The Fast of the Firstborn, Nissan 14, is a fast observed only by firstborn males, commemorating the fact that they were saved from the plague of the firstborn in Egypt. It is observed on the day preceding Passover. The Fast of Tammuz, Tammuz 17, is the date when the walls of Jerusalem were breached, another major event leading up to the destruction of the First Temple.” See Tracey R Rich, “Minor Fasts,” Judaism 101, accessed September 18, 2020, https://www.jewfaq.org/holidaye.htm.

[3] For a more extensive list, see “Jewish Holidays: Fasting & Feast Days,” https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/fasting-and-fast-days.

[4] “Jewish Holidays: Fasting and Fast Days.”

[5] Kent D. Berghuis, Christian Fasting: A Theological Approach (Richardson, TX: Biblical Studies Press, 2013), https://bible.org/seriespage/chapter-1-fasting-old-testament-and-ancient-judaism-mourning-repentance.

[6] “Fixed fast days are first mentioned by the post-Exilic prophet Zechariah who proclaims the word of the Lord thus: ‘The fast of the fourth month, the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth…’ (Zechariah 8:19; cf. 7:3, 5). Jewish tradition has it that these fasts commemorate the critical events which culminated in the destruction of the Temple: the tenth of Tevet (the tenth month), the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem; the 17th of Tammuz (the fourth month), the breaching of the walls; the ninth of Av (the fifth month), when the Temple was destroyed; and the third of Tishri (the seventh month), when Gedaliah, the Babylonian-appointed governor of Judah, was assassinated. Some scholars maintain that these fast days are much older, marking the beginning of a Lenten period which preceded the seasonal festivals, and to which only later tradition affixed the events of the national catastrophe.” See “Jewish Holidays: Fasting and Fast Days,” Jewish Virtual Library, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/fasting-and-fast-days

[7] “However, it is not specifically described as a ‘fast’ in the Hebrew Bible, nor is fasting enjoined. That is, the words from the root צום are not employed, nor is there any explicit reference to abstaining from food. Instead, the Hebrew uses a broader term ( תְּעַנּוּ אֶת־נפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם, which may have included fasting as an understood application) and commands the people to ‘afflict,’ ‘deny,’ or ‘humble yourselves.’ Jewish tradition practiced fasting on that day, as also evidenced by the Targums (which actually used the Aramaic cognate of צום), the Qumran literature, and the NT. Since Jewish tradition universally has interpreted the instructions of these passages to include fasting as a sign of afflicting and humbling oneself, it is possible that other places in the Bible that mention humbling, affliction, and the like may have in fact tacitly included fasting. This connection is clear in Ps 35:13, ‘I humbled my soul with fasting’ ( עִנֵּיתִי בַצּוֹם נַפְשִׁי) (NASB). Here, fasting is explicitly the means of ‘humbling’ oneself. Isa 58:3 similarly links these terms: ‘Why don’t you notice when we fast? Why don’t you pay attention when we humble ourselves?’ In this poetic text, צַּמְנוּ stands in parallel relationship to עִנִּינוּ נַפְשֵׁנוּ in the next line. It is reasonable that a similar logical relationship exists with the Day of Atonement admonitions, even though the Hebrew text itself is not explicit. Fasting is a particular expression of the more general concept of humbling oneself. The first use of צוּם and the first narrative reference to fasting after Moses is Judg 20:26, when Israel fasted during the Benjamite civil war.” See Kent D. Berghuis.

[8] “Jewish Holidays: Fasting & Feast Days,” JewishVirtualLibrary.org.

[9] “As the fasts of Israel turned routine, the prophets urged the people to true justice in anticipation of the eschatological day when their mourning would be turned to gladness, their fasting to feasting. Against the backdrop of Jewish fasting that occasionally obscured true humility, repentance and justice through hypocrisy and ritual, the eschatological realization of the ideal that fasting anticipated came in the person of Jesus Christ. … During the Second Temple period, daily or biweekly fastings were practiced for reasons of asceticism, especially among women (Judith 8:6; Luke 2:37; TJ, Ḥag 2:2, 77d), but also among men (Luke 18:12; Mark 2:18), or in preparation for an apocalyptic revelation (Dan. 10:3, 12; ii Bar. 12:5; 20:5–21:1; 43:3; iv Ezra 5:13–20; 6:35; Sanh. 65b; TJ, Kil. 9:4, 32b). The Jewish literature of the Second Temple period also advocates fasting as a way of atonement for sins committed either unintentionally (Ps. of Sol. 3:9) or even deliberately (Test. Patr., Sim. 3:4), or to prevent them (ibid., Joseph 3:4; 4:8; 10:1–2). These reasons for fasting were strengthened by the destruction of the Second Temple and even more by the repression of the Bar Kokhba revolt and the subsequent religious persecutions. The Second Temple period literature also stressed that a fast without sincere repentance is valueless and senseless (Test. Patr., Ash. 2:8; 4:3; cf. ibid., Joseph 3:5 – in addition to the fast, Joseph gave his food to the poor and the sick). In the Second Temple period fasting was also seen as an “ascetic exercise” which serves to purify man and bring him closer to God.” See Kent D. Berghuis.

[10] Finally, fasting as a discipline, a routine for the pious, is attested only in post-biblical times in the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, and Qumran literature. See “Jewish Holidays: Fasting & Feast Days,” JewishVirtualLibrary.org.

[11] John Piper, “Fasting for the Father’s Reward,” desiringGod, February 5, 1995, https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/fasting-for-the-fathers-reward.

[12] Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (San Francisco: Harper, 1998), 55.

[13] John Piper, “A Fast for Waters That Do Not Fail,” desiringGod, February 12, 1995, https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/a-fast-for-waters-that-do-not-fail.

[14] T.V.Antony Raj, “Mother Teresa’s Feet,” Impressions (blog), February 9, 2013, https://tvaraj.com/2013/02/09/mother-teresas-feet/.

[15] Mother Teresa, “Mother Teresa > Quotes > Quotable Quote,” Goodreads, accessed September 24, 2020, https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/30608-i-m-a-little-pencil-in-the-hand-of-a-writing.

[16] Rahel Musleah, “A Day to Bare Our Souls—And Find Ourselves,” http://barbarany9.blogspot.com/2006/10/day-to-bare-our-soulsand-find.html.

[17] John Wesley, “When You Fast,” Bible Bulletin Board, accessed September 24, 2020, https://www.biblebb.com/files/jw-001fasting.htm.

[18] John Piper, “When the Bridegroom Is Taken Away, They Will Fast—With New Wineskins,” desiringGod, January 8, 1995, https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/when-the-bridegroom-is-taken-away-they-will-fast-with-new-wineskins.

[19] “After the Fast,” Chabad.org, accessed September 24, 2020, https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/73823/jewish/After-the-Fast.htm.

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The Context of Pentecost Matters

by Pastor Greg Denham

While many believers today are praying for a “Jesus Movement”—an incredible work of the gospel—in our generation, to truly grasp what it means to be a Jesus follower, we need to understand the first believers, and it all begins at Pentecost. The impact of Pentecost is just as relevant today as it was two thousand years ago in the upper room. Pentecost began the Jesus Revolution. One might say that we must go backward to go forward, so let us journey back in time and learn how the context of Pentecost matters.

Following His resurrection, Jesus instructed His disciples in Acts 1:4 to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father. We now know that He had a specific day in mind for that promise to be revealed—the day of Pentecost, which is one of the three pilgrim festivals required by the Lord (Exodus 23:14–17; 34:18–24; Deuteronomy 16:16–17). Pentecost comes from the Greek word penteconta (πεντήκοντα), which means fifty. The number fifty refers to the fifty days of counting the harvest, which began immediately after Passover.

The Hebrew name is Shavuot (שָׁבוּעוֹת), which means “weeks” and comes from the Hebrew word for “seven.” Shavuot is a harvest festival celebrating the end of the barley harvest and the first fruits of the wheat harvest. Yet, on the minds of the hundreds of thousands in Jerusalem for the Shavuot (Pentecost) festival was the belief that the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) had been given on Shavuot 1,300 years earlier. The Jewish tradition is called Z’man Matan Torah, “the season of the giving of the Law,” when the Lord separated His people from Egypt and drew them into a relationship with Him. It is when the earth shook with flashes of lightning, and God spoke in thunder!

Fifty days after Jesus gave His life on the cross was “when the day of Pentecost had fully come” (Acts 2:1). The events that follow reveal that the parallels between the giving of the Law and the giving of the Spirit—the beginning of the Jesus Revolution—are unmistakable. God manifested His presence atop Mount Sinai; 1,300 years later, He began the Jesus Revolution and inaugurated the New Covenant atop Mount Zion when He revealed His presence, power, and purpose to one hundred twenty Jewish believers. On Mount Sinai, God gave His commandments, written with His finger on tablets of stone; but at Pentecost in Jerusalem, He sent His Spirit to write His commandments on human hearts. At Mount Sinai, God judged three thousand for idolatry; but on the top of Mount Zion, three thousand people came to faith in Messiah Jesus!

In essence, the knowledge of God was exploding through the faithful remnant of Israel in the one hundred twenty followers of Jesus in the upper room! They were the remnant that was publicly and divinely identified by the tongues of fire above their heads and given the gift of tongues to communicate the wonderful works of God to an international gathering from fifteen different geographical locations with a variety of languages (Acts 2:3; 5–11). Peter declared, after being empowered and gifted by the Spirit, that Jesus, in His death, resurrection, and ascension, was creating all things new in Himself and would return to establish His kingdom on the earth in the city of Jerusalem! The New Covenant, inaugurated by Jesus’ blood on the cross at Passover, was now transforming three thousand Jewish people who had repented (Acts 2:37–41) and in whom now dwelt the Spirit of God. Now, the nations of the world could enter the New Covenant given to Israel, and could now experience the outpouring of God’s Spirit, too. (Acts 2:16-21; 39)

God’s plan, clearly revealed in His Word, has always been unstoppable! In that light, it is not surprising that both Passover and Pentecost frame God’s redemption narrative and point us to Jesus, the Messiah, who completes it.

Years ago, the apologist and Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer was asked, “What is the greatest obstacle to the modern church?” His answer was fascinating. He did not say that the major problems were the “-isms” in culture: atheism, materialism, relativism, etc. Instead, he said, “The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually or corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit. The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.”[1]

Rediscovering the beginning of the Jesus Revolution in the first century—in its original context—can renew and even reorient to God’s intended course and mission for the Church!

For example, the context of Pentecost tells us that we can only accomplish God’s purposes for our lives in His strength! Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The Spirit’s work is comprehensive. He indwells the believer and gives assurance of being a child of God (Romans 8:16). He brings a believer into fellowship with “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15). The Spirit comes upon the believer to empower with divine gifting for a divine mission. Zechariah 4:6 reads, “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” The Spirit of God is the source of our strength in all areas of our life. We need to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) daily!

The context of Pentecost also tells us that Peter was addressing a specific audience in Acts 2:22, namely, the Jewish pilgrims who went to the Temple to give their offerings. In principle, it speaks of the often overlooked priority of Jewish evangelism. In Romans 1:16, Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Paul wrote this in the present tense, which means that if the gospel is still the power of God “for” salvation and is still for “everyone who believes,” then the gospel is still “to the Jew first.” The term “first” does not merely speak of sequence, but priority.[2]

Later, the Apostle Peter underscored an eschatological link to Jewish evangelism by saying,

Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. (Acts 3:19–21)

Peter’s statement is consistent with Jesus saying, “For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Matthew 23:39). Additionally, Revelation 1:7 reads, “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.” The reality is that before the world sees Him, Jerusalem will turn to Him! (Zechariah 12:10), “And so all Israel will be saved…” (Romans 11:26).

You can see that there is a tremendous spiritual battle regarding evangelism, of which we must be aware. “If Jerusalem will not see Him until she welcomes Him back, then no eye will see Him until Jerusalem receives Him!”[3] The origin of the Jesus Revolution at Pentecost reminds us that we cannot allow Jewish evangelism to become the “great omission” of the Great Commission.[4]

Pentecost reveals that the bullseye of the Church’s mission and preaching is the Person and work of Jesus! Peter proclaimed, “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene…” (Acts 2:22). Keep the focus on Jesus, His death on the cross that bridged the gap between God and man, and His resurrection. Jesus demonstrates by rising from the dead that He is creating all things new in Himself. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). Acts 4:12 reads, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” There is only one reason why a person has eternal life in a right relationship with God; it is by making the right decision to follow Jesus (John 14:6; Romans 10:13; Acts 4:12; John 3:16)!

The context reveals the importance of repentance! On the day of Pentecost, the people were “pierced to the heart” and said, “‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:37–38).

The Greek word translated as repentance is metanoia[5] (μετάνοια), which means to change the way one thinks. Such a change leads to a lifestyle change from a self-centered life in rebellion to God to a complete allegiance to Jesus Christ as one’s Lord and Savior. The call to repent and the promise to receive the Holy Spirit and forgiveness of sins remains today! In fact, God commands everyone to repent! The Apostle Paul said,

“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30–31).

The great evangelist D. L. Moody put it this way “Repentance is getting out of one train and getting into the other. You are in the wrong train; you are in the broad path that takes you down to the pit of hell. Get out of it to-night. Right-about-face!”[6]

Finally, the context of Pentecost reminds us that God’s plan unfolded in a Jewish environment. This perspective is essential for deepening one’s understanding of the Scriptures! We need great teachers today, we need great evangelists today, and we need a Church grounded in the truth and making Jesus known by the power of the Holy Spirit! The Jewish context is the basis for the accurate exegesis of Scripture, expository preaching, evangelism, and gospel contextualization in our twenty-first-century global audience.


Greg Denham is the pastor of Rise Church in San Marcos, California. Greg is a dear friend of Dr. Mitch Glaser, president of Chosen People Ministries. Greg loves the Lord, the Jewish roots of the faith, and is an active student of all biblical matters related to Israel and the Jewish people.

To contact Greg, or visit Rise Church online, click here.


Footnotes:

[1] Francis A. Schaeffer, No Little People (Introduction by Udo Middlemann) (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2003), 66.

[2] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, trans. and rev. W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, second rev. F. W. Gingrich and F. W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 726; Wilhelm Michaelis, “proton,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, trans. and ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), 6:869.

[3] Michael L. Brown, Our Hands Are Stained with Blood: The Tragic Story of the Church and the Jewish People, revised & expanded ed. (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, Inc., 2019), 226.

[4] Mitch Glaser, (lecture, Talbot School of Theology, La Mirada, CA).

[5] Metanoia literally means a change of mind. The Greek verb translated as “Repent!” is related to μετάνοια. The second-person plural imperative form of the verb μετανοέω (metanoeō) is mετανοήσατε, which is the word Peter used in Acts 2:38.

[6] W. H. Daniels, D. L. Moody and His Work (Hartford: American Publishing Company, 1876), 471.

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A Post-Passover Reflection: COVID-19 and the Ten Plagues of the Passover

The Ten Plagues

The Jewish digital magazine, The Tablet Magazine, printed a comic strip drawn by Jules Feiffer with the title, “Wherefore (Why) is this plague different than all other plagues?” The Feiferesque drawing has one man sitting by himself at a rather long Seder table. The humor might need a touch of explanation. One of the classic parts of the annual Seder is the Four Questions asked by the youngest reader in the home. The first question is, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The boy posits the uniqueness of the Seder among so many other days of the year or even days dedicated to holiday observance. The little boy is asking, “What is different about the Passover Seder?” The various answers comprise the section of the Passover Haggadah called the Maggid, which is a term similar to Haggadah from the Hebrew word “to tell.” Maggid refers to the story stitched together from Exodus and various Jewish traditions over the centuries, telling the story of the redemption from Egypt.

The recitation of the ten plagues is a critical part of the Seder event and one of the most memorable moments for Jewish children during the Passover Seder. Traditionally, we dip a pinky into a glass of sweet red wine and drip a drop of the liquid onto our plates while loudly naming each plague. This a favorite moment for the children because they get to shriek and scream as loud as they wish. We usually recite them in Hebrew, but of course, in the United States, we also shout out the translation.

There are two explanations for why we drop the wine on our plate. One reason is that it more dramatically portrays the plagues as judgments falling upon the Egyptian slave masters. The other is because the rabbis tell us to reduce our joy (symbolized by the sweet wine) by one drop for each plague that fell upon the Egyptians. Though they enslaved us, they are fellow human beings and God’s creations, and therefore we should not rejoice because of God’s judgment upon them. The Lord needed to use plagues against Pharaoh, causing him to let the Jewish people go free so they could worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Because of their suffering, we reduce our joy.

This vital part of the Seder reminds the Jewish people that God sent 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 always purposeful and, while causing terrible circumstances and suffering, they are often used mysteriously by God for His divine purposes.

There are many biblical examples of plagues, including the ten in Exodus, the affliction heaped upon Job, and many others. Sometimes God caused epidemics, and other times, He allowed them to fall upon Israel, individuals, and the Gentile nations. For example, Naaman and Miriam, Moses’ sister, were plagued with leprosy for God’s holy purposes and His glory. However, leprosy was a common disease and not a biblical plague, per se.

Plagues are not always punitive. Like the healing of the blind man in John chapter 9, plagues fell upon humanity for the glory of God and accomplish His purposes among mankind.

At times, there seem to both punitive and revelatory reasons for these afflictions.

COVID-19 and the Ten Plagues

We are not suggesting that COVID-19 is an infectious disease that was imposed directly by God, similar to those described in chapters seven through twelve of the book of Exodus. There have been many instances of plagues throughout human history and in Scripture. Although the coronavirus is particularly vicious, we have no reason to believe that the spread of the virus is the result of God’s judgment. Our knowledge is limited to Scripture, and of course, the Bible does not speak about the coronavirus, nor the Black Plague, nor Spanish Flu. The adage, “Where the Bible is silent, so am I,” is appropriate in this regard.

On the other hand, we cannot deny that God used plagues as judgments in the past and will do so in the future. COVID-19 has unfortunately awakened us to the possibility that plagues, along with other signs, will pave the way for future judgment and the coming of the Messiah, according to rabbinic eschatology. Evangelicals would agree that “pestilence” or plagues are also signs of His second coming, according to what the Messiah stated in Luke’s portrayal of the Olivet Discourse (Luke 21:10–11).

Hopefully, one day, we will look back and see the good our heavenly Father accomplished through this epidemiological trial. We pray that somehow blessings will come for all, through this time of pain and suffering (Romans 8:28) and that the lessons learned in the darkness we will remember in the light. Hopefully, we will learn the more profound lessons God intends from this horrific plague and that the Lord will use the experience and loss to shape our character, reorder our priorities, and draw us closer to Him.

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Special Report from Kiev

Shalom dear friend in the Messiah,

I recently returned from a trip to Kiev, where I participated in the European section meeting of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism. This group has existed for thirty years, and was initiated by Jewish mission leaders involved with the Lausanne Consultation on World Evangelism. The meetings for the European group were held in Kiev April, 28 – May 2, 2014.

There were many reasons for the event to be held in Kiev, not the least of which is because there has been a growing, authentic and indigenous Messianic Jewish movement in Ukraine – centered in Kiev – which began in 1989 at the beginning of Perestroika. The conference statement is well worth reading, and reflects the sentiments of the attendees.

The history of the Jewish people of Ukraine is significant. Ukraine was part of the Pale of Settlement, where Jews were allowed to live, and included land that is now part of Russia, Poland, Romania, Belarus as well as today’s Ukraine. The borders were quite fluid for many years, and so many Jewish people’s “country of origin” frequently changed. However, the borders stabilized after 1945 and the formation of the Soviet Union. The area has always been important to Jewish evangelism, as more than ten million Jewish people lived in the region before World War II.

Fifty-plus years later, the Soviet Union would become the Former Soviet Union and countries that were once part of it would again assert their independence and individuality. This is most assuredly what is taking place now as the Ukrainians, especially in the Western and more European part of Ukraine, seek continued independence from Russia. The conflict between various parts of Ukraine and Russia is at the heart of current conflict. Although the conflict appears to be purely political and nationalistic, there is a spiritual aspect to the situation as well.

The Ukrainian Christians – Baptists, Pentecostals and those who identify with the mainline churches – have been deeply involved in the political struggle, hoping as well that an independent Ukraine would be best for the spiritual atmosphere of the country’s people. This is understandable, as the Russian Orthodox Church has been a very controlling presence in Russia and throughout the Former Soviet Union for many years.

The Christians in the Ukraine believe they now have greater freedoms than others in the Former Soviet Union, and part of their political struggle stems from a desire to maintain this freedom of religion. The fierce and early fighting took place in what is known as Maidan Square, the very heart both symbolically and physically of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine.  Many born-again believers found extraordinary opportunities to minister in the midst of the conflict.  As a result of the fighting many Ukranians came to the Lord.

Many Jewish people believe that Ukraine is an anti-Semitic country. Certainly this is true historically; however, after meeting some of the believers in Kiev, I can honestly say that these believers have renounced this history of anti-Semitism and assured me that they love the Jewish people, affirm the state of Israel and work hard to make the Gospel known among their Jewish friends and loved ones. This was deeply encouraging to me.

Our Israel Director, Michael Zinn, who grew up in the Western Ukrainian city of Lvov gives us an overview of the events and interviews Yuri, one of the key leaders of the prayer tent movement in Maidan:

Michael Zinn: An Overview of Recent Events in the Ukraine

Michael and Yuri: God’s Work Through the Prayer Tent Ministries

It was eye-opening to visit Maidan Square last week and see for myself some of what transpired. I know a picture is worth at least a thousand words and so you can see for yourself the pictures of the barricades, tents, tires, para-military groups, nationalist allies and more!

My hope is that you will pray for Ukraine and especially for our brothers and sisters who have been so involved in helping, praying, serving food and leading many to Jesus in the midst of the conflict. Messianic Jews from Ukraine were in the trenches as well, sharing the love of Jesus with their fellow Ukrainian citizens.

Chosen People Ministries has had a ministry in the Ukraine for many years. It started in the midst of what I call the “Russian Jewish Jesus Movement,” which I date from the fall of the Soviet Union until today. Tens of thousands of Russian, Ukrainians and other Jews living in the Former Soviet Union have come to faith in the Messiah Jesus. In fact, at our LCJE European gathering, about a third of the participants or more spoke Russian or Ukrainian as their first languages. This is miraculous when you consider that the citizens of the Former Soviet Union were once forced to renounce all religious faith, and Jews especially were not allowed to worship in communities.

It is incredible to see what God has done. In fact, twenty-five years ago, Chosen People Ministries may have had a missionary or two that spoke Russian… but today we have 25-30 Russian speakers on our staff, serving around the globe from Russia and Ukraine to Israel, Australia, the United States and Germany!

Vladimir Pikman, who became a believer through our early ministries among the Jewish people in Kiev, tells the story of the founding of our work in front of the building in Maidan where our ministries began (now damaged by fire):

Vladimir Pikman: My Testimony and the Birth of Chosen People Ministries in Kiev

I was also able to speak briefly about the work of those dedicated disciples who are the fruit of God’s work through Chosen People Ministries in Kiev. There are a number of fine Messianic Jewish congregations in Kiev and Ukraine and quite a few mission agencies that are laboring in various cities throughout Ukraine, bringing the Good News of Messiah Jesus to Jewish Ukrainians and to Gentiles as well.

Mitch Glaser: Appeal for Prayer for Ukrainian Jewish Evangelism

Remember to pray for Ukraine, as we all have many brothers and sisters there who are enduring hardship and trying to being the Gospel to their people in trying times. There are still hundreds of thousands of Jewish people in Ukraine, and we are asking God to help us increase our ministry to win our kinsmen to the Savior.

We do have one Messianic congregation in Harkov, led by Sasha Sareda, a Ukrainian Baptist pastor called to serve among the Jewish people. We support Sasha and would appreciate your prayers.

As time goes by it becomes clearer and clearer that we will need to expand our work in Kiev. If you have interest in working in Ukraine with Chosen People Ministries or supporting this ministry, please take a moment to e-mail me so that we can talk about your involvement personally.

I hope you will enjoy the videos – and please pray about supporting our efforts among Russian-speaking Jewish people today!

Make an online donation now!

Please type Ministry to Russian and Ukrainian Jews
in the Special Designation box

Your brother in the Messiah,

Mitch

 


Remnant and Renewal: The New Russian Messianic Movement

Who are the Jewish people of the former Soviet Union and what is their relationship to the Gospel?

Remnant and Renewal: The New Russian Messianic Movement tells the story of the Russian-speaking Jewish people, and the sometimes heartbreaking, often heroic tales of those who have sought to bring the Gospel to them throughout their troubled history.

Remnant and Renewal: $13.95

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The Lamb of God Who Takes Away the Sin of the World!

A Passover Devotional:

Lessons on the Lamb of God Part 1

The Hebrew Scriptures conclude with two prophecies in the Book of Malachi describing a Messenger (also the meaning of the prophets name!) who would prepare the way for the Lord.  The first of these prophecies is found in Malachi 3:1,

Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts.

This Messenger would purify the priests so they might once again offer sacrifices on behalf of the Jewish people.  As the prophet writes, Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.(Malachi 3:3)

The Jewish people would be judged because of disobedience, but also left with hope. In fact the very last words recorded in the Old Testament (Malachi 4:5-6), predict that this messenger identified as the prophet Elijah would call the Jewish people to back to God and reconcile both fathers and sons.

“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.

This call to repentance was God’s way of preparing the Jewish people for the One whom Elijah would introduce to the Jewish people. Jesus believed that John the Baptist fulfilled these prophecies and that He was the Elijah like messenger who came to turn the Jewish people back to the Lord.  Jesus affirms this in the Gospel of Matthew,

As these men were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ palaces! But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send MY messenger ahead of You, Who will prepare Your way before You.’ (Mt. 11:7-10)

John repeatedly denies that he is the Messiah and tells those gathered that the One they have really been waiting for is coming and it is simply his job to introduce Him.

Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, and said to him, “Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them saying, “ I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know. It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie. (John 1:24-27)

The earth shattering moment comes when John’s introduces this One place at Bethany beyond the Jordan. (John 1:28). He was immersing Jewish people in water as a symbol of their desire to be cleansed from sin. But now he declares that the One who was to come – had come! John describes Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  The Jewish people on the banks of the Jordan would have understood this to be a reference to the Passover lamb in Exodus 12 with additional information provided by Isaiah in chapter 53.

John declares,

The next day he *saw Jesus coming to him and *said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘ After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me (John 1:29-30)

John mentions this again a moment later to two future disciples when he said,

Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and *said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. (John 1:35-37)

This theme of Jesus as the Lamb of God would become a major teaching theme by the writers of the New Testament. Peter, also establishes this link, as he was the brother of Andrew, one of the two disciples who heard John’s statement about Yeshua.

Peter writes,

…knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Messiah.(1 Peter 1:18-19)

This link between Yeshua and the Lamb had already made by Luke in the Book of Acts in reference to the encounter between Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch. Luke records,

Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this: HE was led as A sheep to slaughter; And as A lamb before its shearer is silent, SO HE does not open His mouth. (Acts 8:32), which is our first indication that Jesus was not only compared to the lamb in the Book of Exodus, but the Lamb as well in Isaiah 53.

Rabbi Saul, the Apostle Paul takes this link one step further and declares,

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Messiah our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor. 5:6-8)

The links between Jesus and the Passover Lamb are overwhelming. In describing the crucifixion of Yeshua John adds,

For these things came to pass to fulfill the Scripture, “ Not A bone of Him shall be broken.”(John 19:36), looking back to Exodus when Moses tells the Israelites how the lamb was to be sacrificed,

It is to be eaten in a single house; you are not to bring forth any of the flesh outside of the house, nor are you to break any bone of it. (Exodus 12:46)

The Lamb in Exodus 12 is a prophetic portrait of the One who would come and shed His blood for the sins of the world.

The Lamb of Isaiah 53

The prophet Isaiah develops the significance of the lamb as an atoning sacrifice.

There are two key passages in Isaiah 53 which conjoin the idea of the Messiah with the Passover lamb…

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)

Admittedly, this can be a reference to the lambs that were regularly sacrifice at the temple and especially on some of the holidays. Yet, when you look at the entire passage it does seem that the prophet had the Passover lamb specifically in mind.

And additionally in Isaiah 53:1,

Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

The key link in this passage is that the term for arm is zeroah,which refers to the arm or forearm, but is more often used in passages which refer to God’s saving power and intervention in human history.  This idea easily brought the mind of an Israelite back to the deliverance from Egypt as a picture of God’s redemptive work on behalf of His people.

Exodus chapter 6, quoted in the Hagaddah teaches this very clearly,

Say therefore to the people 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 slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. (Ex. 6:6)

Jesus is the saving zeroah of God who intervened in Egypt and into this world to deliver Israel and the nations from spiritual bondage.  And when a man or woman, Jew or Gentile, boy or girl, by faith “smear” the doorposts of their hearts with His shed blood with blood of the Lamb that the wrath of God passes over us and pass from death into life.

This is the way to begin the Passover season and Holy Week – knowing that God’s promises are true and that He has provided the Lamb of God to be the Savior for us all.

Happy Passover.

 

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Focusing on what Unites Jews and Evangelicals

A few nights ago, a dialogue between best-selling evangelical author Joel C. Rosenberg and Orthodox Rabbi Shlomo Riskin took place in an Orthodox Synagogue on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

I attended the dialogue and am convinced that it was a significant event! I have been a believer for forty-two years, I come from a traditional Jewish background, and I never thought I would hear a clear testimony for Jesus in a modern Orthodox synagogue (the type of synagogue in which I was raised!)

Joel did a wonderful job of explaining the Gospel and was winsome and generous in his approach. Rabbi Riskin is an Orthodox Jew who has a better-than-average understanding of evangelical Christians; he started an organization, based in Israel, which engages Evangelicals, Catholics, Orthodox and others in dialogue. I am sure he understands that believers, like Joel, will not shy away from making the Gospel message clear when dialoguing.

One of our long-term staff members, Olivier Melnick, who watched the event online wrote a commentary that I wanted to pass along to you as I believe he really captures the heart of the dialogue and the issues that are on the table between born-again believers – both Jewish and Gentile – and the Jewish community.

Olivier’s comments primarily reflect the positive side of this dialogue, and next week I will try to point out some of the problems I see ahead of us as the discussions continue.

Enjoy Olivier’s comments!

Focusing on what Unites Jews and Evangelicals

For as long as Jews and Christians have existed, there has been an obvious tension between both groups too often resulting in the ostracizing, force conversions, expulsions and deaths. Both sides have become very good at itemizing what divides them and dwelling on the differences.  Over the years, finger pointing and blame shifting has almost become an art form in Judeo/Christian relations.

To be perfectly honest, I regularly find myself on the forefront of a constant battle to defend Israel and the Jewish people, and I do my own share of finger pointing. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe that there is much to be learned about Christian anti-Semitism through the ages, and even today if we want to successfully defeat the beast. But I often wish that we could focus on what unites evangelicals and Jews more that what divides us.

On April 1st (no joke here!) a dialogue between Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone and Joel C. Rosenberg, New York Times bestselling author, took place at an orthodox Jewish synagogue in New York. The theme for the evening was “Are We Still Alone?” and was based on Rosenberg’s new novel The Auschwitz Escape.

I resonate with Rosenberg who after visiting Auschwitz in 2011 and reading a book on the few who escaped the death camp, wanted to write a book about those who helped the Jews. That process led him to discover the incredible story of the small French village of Le Chambon sur/Lignon and how all the villagers went out of their ways to save Jewish people from the Nazi furnace. They risked their own lives and many even lost their lives as they were also taken to the camps with Jewish people. But to the villagers, saving the Jews was “the most natural thing to do!” like this elderly woman says in the book by Philip Hallié about le Chambon titled “Lest Innocent Blood be Shed”.

I haven’t yet read The Auschwitz Escape but I can tell you that we can learn a few things from the dialogue that just took place in New York. While I tend to side with Joel Rosenberg theologically, I am also very aware that as a Jew I am a constant target for many different people today. Yet, some of them have never met a Jew in person.

The fear expressed by Rosenberg and Rabbi Riskin, is that a second Holocaust would take place today, especially if or when Iran finishes building the bomb. It is a real fear because Iran wants the eradication of Israel more than anything. Even though President Rouhani sugarcoats his anti-Semitism to the West, his goal is the total annihilation of Israel. Disagree with him all you want (and I do), but at least Ahmadinejad was very clear about his desire to destroy Israel. So the question remains: Will there be Christians to stand for Israel?

Rosenberg made an excellent point when he defined who was an evangelical Christian based on what the Bible has to say. It can be very easy to succumb to some sort of corporate character assassination and put all Christians who didn’t help Jews in the same shameful category. I can even justify it by quoting passages like Psalm 83.

If a Christian is defined by a commitment to follow Yeshua’s teaching based on the Bible, then the boundaries are clear. Christians are forgiven not perfected (at least not yet). Christians can and will make mistakes, wrong judgments and even biased decisions. Yet, in Leviticus 19:18 we read: “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord”. It is then repeated by Yeshua in Matthew 5:43-44 and even taken one step further: “You have heard that it was said, ‘ You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. ’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”.

Have Christians fallen short over the centuries? Yes! Are some giving a bad rep to the rest of the Christian community? Yes! Should we then paint with broad strokes? NO!

On one hand, Rosenberg claimed that while some Christians might have made mistakes about the Jews and even some that lead to the death of some, this cannot disqualify them as born-again Evangelicals, and as much as I dislike the divide and its tragic results, I must agree.

On the other hand, I also agree with Rosenberg who stated that if you are characterized by a chronic hatred leading to a constant desire to destroy the Jews or any other human being for that matter, you are not a genuine Bible believing follower of the Jewish Messiah.

One of the most important aspects of true Christianity is the ability to love unconditionally. Christians who love Jews–and they still exist–ought to love them regardless of their ability or willingness to embrace Yeshua (Jesus) and His teaching. Anything short of that kind of love falls short of what Christian love is. Period!

Rabbi Riskin obviously didn’t share Rosenberg’s belief in Yeshua of Nazareth being the Messiah but recognized the common obligation of biblical Jews and Christians. Followers of the one true God must be driven not only by their convictions but also by a constant desire for human decency and justice.

Rabbi Riskin and Joel Rosenberg see the need for Jews and Christian Zionist (a disappearing breed) to unite, and I join them in their honorable effort. Christians failed the test of unconditional love in the 1930’s and 40s. The day might be coming when there will be a retake. Will they fail again? I pray that they don’t.

Christians and Jews are UNITED by the Jewish Scriptures!

Christians and Jews should be UNITED by their love for Israel!

Christians and Jews can be UNITED by Yeshua the Jewish Messiah!

Olivier Melnick is the Northwest Regional Director of Chosen People Ministries. He and his wife Ellen serve in Seattle, Washington.

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Filed under Anti-Semitism, Israel, Jewish Christian Dialogue, Jews and Christians, Joel Rosenberg, Judaism, Messianic Jewish, Rabbi Riskin, Uncategorized

A Response to Pastor Dan Delzell’s Article in the Christian Post

Pastor Dan Delzell’s thoughtful article has so much in it to commend that I almost hesitate to attempt to add to it. He strikes the right chords, particularly regarding the necessity of saving faith in Jesus the Messiah.

I especially commend him for stressing Jesus’ Jewish identity because, as a Jewish believer in Jesus and the president of Chosen People Ministries, a worldwide evangelistic mission to Jewish people, I live with these issues day in and day out.

I would like to make a couple of comments. Pastor Dan’s “Three Level” model of the unfolding will of God in creation could easily be misinterpreted to mean that because we’ve reached “Level 2” – the New Covenant, the Gospel and Christianity – that somehow the Hebrew Scriptures and the Jewish people represented by “Level 1” are now in God’s rear-view mirror.

While of course I would agree with Pastor Dan that the New Covenant brings believing Jews and Gentiles together in a new relationship with God as a body that acknowledges Jesus as Head, I would like to add that this new relationship does not by any means mean the clear break from “Level 1” that Pastor Dan’s article may be taken to mean.

I prefer to think that the New Covenant fulfills, but does not replace, what has come before it, any more that the Davidic Covenant somehow replaces the covenant God made with Abraham.

In a related vein, Pastor Dan’s reference to Paul’s words in Romans 2:28-29, “A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God” must be carefully read in the entire context of Romans, particularly Romans 9-11.

Does Paul really mean in this passage that the only true Jews are Gentiles or Jewish people who believe in Jesus? If so, then why does Paul preserve the distinction, “To the Jew first and to the Gentile” in Romans 1:16? Who – if not the children of Israel – are the “beloved kinsmen” that Paul is willing to barter his own salvation for (Romans 10:1-5)? Who, if not the Jews, are those for whose sake salvation has come to the Gentiles (Romans 11:11) and whose final restoration in Christ must occur (Romans 11:27-27) to usher in Pastor Dan’s “Level 3?”

Both Pastor Dan and I certainly believe in the centrality of Yeshua – but I simply want to suggest that far from having become an irrelevant presence in the plan of God, the Jewish people have a key role to play even now in the events that will bring about the glorious moment of Messiah’s return.

Moreover, I am sure Paul would agree that the non-Jewish Christians of our day are a key element in bringing Paul’s beloved kinsmen the Good News that secures both Jews and non-Jews a place in God’s kingdom. (Romans 11:11)

May I add one final word as to why the continuation of God’s covenant with the Jewish people is so critical for Jewish evangelism? As Jewish believers, we know that the major roadblocks to faith in Yeshua are not theological, but historical – and even sociological.

Jewish people have generally not been treated well by the “Church,” and have therefore come to the reasonable conclusion that if one believes in Jesus – that person is no longer Jewish. This is not the teaching of the New Testament.

This message of God’s continuing plan for the Jewish people needs to be proclaimed in order to help Jewish people understand that receiving Yeshua is not the end of their Jewish identity or of the Jewish people, but a new beginning.

This does not take away from the message that personal salvation for Jew or Gentile is only found through the death and resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah; I am simply reminding Pastor Dan and others that God still has a plan and purpose for the nation of Israel.

In closing – one more word from Rabbi Saul,

From the standpoint of the Gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (Romans 11:28-29)

Visit www.chosenpeople.com for resources that will help you in sharing the Gospel with your Jewish friends!

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PS. A Small Hanukkah Gift for You

PS.  A Small Hanukkah Gift for You

Let’s Talk Turkey About Hanukkah! Download your free Hanukkah E book from the Chosen People Ministries web site – http://chosenpeople.com/main/index.php/hanukkah-e-book

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November 28, 2013 · 11:21 AM