12 May 2009

Pope visits Israel



Is it good for the Jews? This is the number one question Jewish people ask when given almost any new situation particularly media reports about Israel. A new movie comes out and tells us about the Holocaust, and Jewish people ask, “Is it good for the Jews?” Wayne Swan our treasurer reports a new budget, and there is a deficit, and we wonder about our own situation, and then we question, “is it good for the Jews?” The pope comes to Israel and Jewish people worldwide mutter, “is it good for the Jews?” A Jewish man owns a Melbourne football club, and he comes under scrutiny from the courts. The club asks, “What is happening with our club?” but the Jews ask, “is it good for the Jews?”

The pope’s recent visit highlights the shrinking numbers of historic Christians in the region. Although there are three world religions based in that region, only Christianity and Judaism have founders who were there. Mohammed never visited Jerusalem, nor is it mentioned in the Koran. Even so, the pope sought to reach out to the Muslims in an uncomfortable way. Still, he had to notice the shrinking of Christian presence.

According to John Allen, Jr, senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter and senior Vatican analyst for CNN, “in 1948, Christians represented 20 percent of the population in what is now Israel. Today, he says, less than 2 percent. (150,000) Amidst the 6.4 million Jews and four million Palestinians.

Allen cites a 2005 study in Bethlehem, where the Christian percentage of the population has fallen from 80 to 20 percent, concluded that Christians’ middle-class status and higher education were the most important contributors to their emigration. But what of Muslim pressure to leave?

Some observers believe that if Christianity disappears, the prospects for peace become that much dimmer. Though they were a minority since the rise of Islam in the 7th century, Arab Christians have long played a leading role in the region’s social, political and economic affairs. For example, Syrian Michel Aflaq, the intellectual founder of the Ba’ath Party, was born in Damascus in 1910 to Christian parents. Literary theorist and Palestinian activist Edward Said likewise has Christian parentage.

The reality of Christian influence in the region is unmistakable. Their growth in numbers, and return to the Land may be something for which Alive readers dream and pray.

Pope Benedict XVI landed in Israel in May and immediately entangled himself in the political mire, which is modern Israel. After he lauded the role of security and peace between ‘both’ peoples (Arabs and Israelis), he commented on the evils of anti-Semitism. He called for peace and then sat down. Unlike most of us, he’s not there as a single tourist. He was not a private citizen of Rome. He’s a representative of a billion people on the planet. So when a Muslim activist, Taysir Tamimi spoke for 10 minutes (unscheduled) about the evil of Israel’s occupation, the pontiff was required to respond. He did not. Tamimi said, “Christians and Muslims must work together against Israel.” That’s no security and that’s not peace.

All the while, Jewish people wonder to themselves or aloud, “Is it good for the Jews?”
David Brickner is the leader of Jews for Jesus international and wrote in the February 2009 Australian (JFJ) newsletter about the plight of the persecuted church in Israel. He too says, “The Arab church is rapidly shrinking out of existence. They are being squeezed and pummeled by an increasingly extreme and strident form of Islam, a process that currently seems to be unchecked by an Israeli government that is struggling to cope with numerous political matters.”

Brickner reminds the readers not only of the persecution of Arab Christians, but also of Jewish Christians. Today only 15,000 Israeli Jews are following Jesus as Messiah and Lord. (Reported in Time magazine, 6 June 2008) That’s a big step up from the 3,000 in 1980, but still it’s a far cry from having reached the general populace. Less than one tenth of one percent believe in our Messiah. We have a lot of work to do. He says, “I must admit I felt hesitant about pointing out the persecution that Jewish and Arab believers in Jesus undergo in Israel. I don’t want any of our friends who read this newsletter to misunderstand or jump to conclusions about who and how many are to blame.” Yet it is true, radical Islamists are pushing the envelope using political expediency and gaining world opinion about being the persecuted, instead of the Church, the true believers in the Lord of Heaven and Earth. After citing various episodes of attack, Brickner calls on all believers to pray on behalf of those in distress.

So what is good for the Jews about that?

The ‘good’ is this: according to Brickner, “more Jewish people are open to the gospel than ever before.”

Last year alone tens of thousands of Israelis heard the Gospel directly via Gospel tract on the streets, as well as via phone or mail. No doubt hundreds of thousands of others heard or saw the Gospel from bus and billboard advertisements, from the Morning Talk Shows, and radio adverts--more than ever before. Even as I write this article on the heels of the papal visit to the Land, Jews for Jesus is conducting the third of 12 evangelistic campaign outreaches in another region of Israel, Upper Shefelah. Jewish believers from Israel and from outside the Land are gathered in that historic area and proclaiming the Saviour among Jews, especially Russian Jews, like never before.
There are now over 100 messianic communities and Bible groups meeting from Dan to Beersheba (the biblical way of saying from the northernmost north to the southernmost south). Each of those is constricted by Jewish and Muslim hostility. Each of those is seeking to bring the Gospel to their own. Each of those reports growth and life from heaven as a result of believers’ prayers.

It’s not only happening in Israel, but that’s the focus of this article. We are seeing and hearing about Jewish people in Far East Russia, even the leader of the synagogue in a significant village, who have come to faith in Jesus. We have heard about Jews in Argentina, and Adelaide and Sweden who are now following Jesus. How awesome is God to bring many in the last days to Himself.

We still have a lot of work to do.

The Gospel has to go to the ends of the earth before the end comes.

Larry Derfner is a feature writer for The Jerusalem Post. Derfner admits to being left-wing and a nouveau-Israelophile. He was born in the US but moved to Israel and served in the army, got married, found a job and settled there. As a writer, he covers a wide range of topics, including most recently Messianic Jews (Jews who believe in Jesus as Messiah).

He had an opinion based on popular caricaturing of our being (Aussie term) Bible bashers and anti-government. He intended to run an exposé similar to one of another feature write for the Hebrew daily Yediot Aharanot. She had gone ‘undercover’ in three different messianic congregations and then wrote false information and painting us as unstable. Derfner’s intention was similar, but he would not go undercover. He went above board. And then what he found in his research and reporting was markedly different to the Yediot report.

He says, “they are a benign bunch- native Israelis and immigrants- who were spiritually hungry and found a new ‘faith community.’” He continues, “In a way it’s kind of ironic. They are so shunned by the Israeli establishment, but in their neighborhoods, nobody hassles them.” The “official attitude is not approval, it is disapproval.” Yet his conclusion is “the music is beautiful. People are praying and they are so into it. How can you not like that? How can you not like them?”
Reports from Jewish Christian television hosts Jeffrey Seif (Zola Levitt Presents), David Chagall (The Last Hour), Neil and Jamie Lash (Jewish Jewels) and Jonathan Bernis (Jewish Voice Today) all report significant outreach and personal ministry in the Land of Israel. We hope to write more about those ministries in the months to come. For now, rejoice with us that Jews (and others) are finding Jesus as Saviour and Lord, and although persecution comes, Jesus is indeed ‘good for the Jews!’

Footnotes:
J Allen quotes and references from CNN online edition, World section, 11 May 2009
Brickner quotes are from Volume 10:4, Jews for Jesus newsletter, Sydney, February 2009
Derfner quotes are from Jerusalem Post, 8 August 2008)

1 comment:

Margaret Sch. said...

I greatly appreciate your insightful analysis of this whole situation. I find it interesting and inspiring to read that Christians have played an important role in "peace in the Middle East," in your view. This is as it should be! It may mean that things have improved greatly since the Crusades. I pray for continued, growing peace and safety for all in that area.