The church has shied away from politics for too long. There was a time when evangelical Christians influenced world-shaking events, such as the rebirth of Israel.
That may never have happened but for the courage of men like Bishop J C Ryle who knew that such an outcome was clearly foretold in the Scriptures, and that believers were therefore beholden to help bring it about.
This eventually led to the Balfour Declaration through which the British government promised to do all they could to resettle the Jews in their ancient land. And the pledge became international law just three years later when, at San Remo on the Italian Riviera, nations representing World War I victors signed a treaty confirming that the whole of what was then known as Palestine be set aside for the Jewish people.
A conference is being held at San Remo this very weekend with delegates re-focusing on Israel’s legitimate right (quite apart from biblical legitimacy) to the land, established at the resort in 1920.
A recovery of focus on our Hebraic roots, and on Israel itself, is vital to our ongoing spiritual health (Romans 11.17f). As my colleague Dr Clifford Hill has been quoted as saying, “if church leaders don’t understand God’s love for Israel, they will never understand the Word of God”.
It is not just a matter of praying for Israel – essential though that is – or seeing them as one nation among many in need of the gospel. It is more focused than that; our mission is “to the Jew first” (Romans 1.16) and this must be expressed not only in word, but also in action.
It is our plain duty to support them and to stand with them (see Romans 15.27). They are still being persecuted all over the world – in fact anti-Semitism has virtually doubled in some parts of Europe over the past year – and even though they now have a country of their own once more, they are being repeatedly threatened with extinction by their neighbours. And this is real, with nuclear weapons in mind, not the vague sort of global extinction with which we are supposedly threatened, according to climate change protestors.
As with our Lord, whose crucifixion preceded his resurrection and ultimate triumph over evil, the good news of Israel’s miraculous modern-day rebirth was preceded by the terrible suffering of the Holocaust, being especially remembered there this week. There was a sense in which, just as God allowed his Son to die (Isaiah 53.10), the Shoah also had to happen as it seems to have been graphically prophesied by Ezekiel with his vision of the Valley of Dry Bones coming back to life (chapter 37).
Indeed, God brought them back from every corner of the world to a place of relative safety in fulfilment of numerous Old Testament prophecies. So it is clearly his will that they are back in the land, which therefore means that the claim by many church leaders that standing with Israel is a political choice for individuals to make misses the mark by a mile.
Of course it doesn’t mean we should support every political move made by the Jewish state; it simply means we wholeheartedly offer overall support for the nation. For they are, after all, still God’s chosen people.
I was intrigued by a placard held by a climate change protestor which read: “Don’t sit on the fence until it’s too late.” The German church were too late to rescue the Jewish people from the Nazi death camps once aroused from their stupor of indifference. No wonder, for Martin Luther – widely regarded as father of the nation – had advocated unquestioning submission to secular authorities.
This reluctance to engage with politics by proclaiming biblical truths in the public square is still a major weakness of the British church, notwithstanding the valiant efforts of Christian Concern campaigning on behalf of believers under threat in the workplace. We are no longer salt and light in society, with the result that we are being trampled underfoot by men who no longer see any relevance in our message. (See Matthew 5.13) But we are here to challenge; we are here to be salt; to spice up the tasteless uniformity that is emerging.
Pete Portal, a new young English author who has written a remarkable book about his mission to help Cape Town gangsters find Jesus, writes of how he learnt “that one of the biggest lies peddled by the evangelical church is that the message of the gospel is apolitical”.
So, whether political or spiritual, the hope of Israel, and of the world, is bound up in the person of the Jewish Messiah, who has already fulfilled the essential role of a Suffering Servant in humbling himself not only to the lowliness of riding on the foal of a donkey, but even to the shame, humiliation and agony of death on a cross, so that he was “pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities” (Isa 53.5).
The glory of Christ’s victory and soon expected triumphant return could never have been achieved without the shedding of his blood so that “the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed”.
This is the good news to proclaim to Israel, that “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isa 1.18). The passion of the Christ should be the focus of our message – “to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile” (Rom 1.16).
But, to our shame, the church has not sufficiently and clearly proclaimed the gospel to the Jewish people, who have thus been left in the dark about its true nature and content – that it is not a foreign religion, but a fulfilment of their own. One authority on this subject suggests that we could have reached millions more with the gospel by now if we’d made more effort to share it with Christ’s brothers in the flesh – as in “to the Jew first…”
We have not only kept them in the dark, but have also contributed to the Holocaust by keeping silent when they were ‘oppressed and afflicted’, and for failing to correct the mistaken impression they had understandably gained that they stood accused by the church of deicide.
Though they had indeed killed the ‘author of life’ (Acts 3.15), God allowed it to happen. But as the patriarch Joseph said to his brothers who had initially planned to kill him before changing their minds and selling him into slavery: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50.20)
Jesus has a wonderful plan for his brothers in the flesh – the saving of many lives (Romans 11.26) – and expects the Gentile church to play its part in declaring, with beautiful feet on the mountains of Zion, “Your God reigns!” (See Isaiah 52.7)
The San Remo Treaty has never been abrogated, and counter-claims for Israeli territory have no basis in reality. It’s time for the church to stand up as one for Israel – for their land and for their Lord. By that I mean we must back their rightful claims to the Holy Land along with their right to hear the gospel of Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah.
PHOTO: The hope of Israel, and the world, is bound up in the person of the Jewish Messiah who, with ‘beautiful feet’ on the Mt of Beatitudes (pictured here), brought goods news to us all. (Charles Gardner)