I want to share my excitement about an important bi-centenary of which I feel privileged to be a part.
It was 200 years ago, in 1823, that the Church’s Ministry among Jewish people (CMJ), for whom I volunteer, decided to establish a permanent base in Israel, having been founded on British soil in 1809.
It was not until 20 years later, however – on March 18th 1843 – that a petition to the British Foreign Secretary set the ball rolling for the Sultan of Turkey to grant permission for a church to be built there. Bear in mind that the Holy Land at that time had been under Ottoman Turkish (Islamic) rule since 1517 which forbad the building of Christian places of worship.
But through a cheeky diplomatic compromise, permission was duly granted for what became the first Protestant church to be built in the Middle East in modern times, with the stipulation that it be seen only as the private chapel for the British consul.
The exquisitely beautiful, and rather large, chapel, was named Christ Church and duly completed in 1849, almost a century before the modern state of Israel was born. Still a tranquil oasis in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City, its spacious compound also comprises a popular café, guest accommodation, a heritage museum and much more.
The spiritual restoration of Israel has always been our chief objective though, in seeking this outcome, we have also played a significant midwifery role in helping to bring about her physical re-birth. Our evangelical forefathers realised that you couldn’t have one without the other. (See Ezekiel 36:24-27)
But in the early years of CMJ at the beginning of the 19th century, Jewish refugees from the Russian pogroms had arrived in London’s East End. German-born Joseph Frey, our chief founder and a Jew himself, was about to be sent to South Africa by the London Missionary Society when it dawned on him that his mission was right in front of his eyes!
So our great work was set in motion, and the foundation stones for what became today’s Messianic Jewish movement were laid as, for the first time in over 1,500 years, Gentile Christians were not expecting Jewish believers to forsake their traditions.
As the century moved on, CMJ established centres among Jewish communities all over Europe and North Africa as well as the Middle East. The greatest evangelical preachers of the day – Charles Simeon, Bishop J C Ryle and Charles Spurgeon – emphasised the vital place of the Jews in God’s end-time purposes. William Hechler, who was closely linked to CMJ, even had access to the Kaiser of Germany and became a close friend of Theodor Herzl, who led the Zionist movement in the latter part of the century through which Jews began returning to the Holy Land in significant numbers.
By 1917 Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour signed a declaration promising to do everything possible to create a homeland for the Jewish people. This commitment was agreed by David Lloyd George’s mostly Christian war cabinet, and paved the way for the San Remo Treaty of 1920 and the subsequent League of Nations-sponsored British Mandate to prepare Israel for statehood. As with the Bible’s boundaries, this international treaty – at the very least – apportioned all the land from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River to the Jewish people.
Israel was re-born and Jews began returning to their ancient homeland from every corner of the world, just as the Scriptures had prophesied.
I well recall this time ten years ago when I had just taken early retirement and was on my way to a Christian bookshop to launch my first book on Israel. And I heard the Lord saying, “You have been called to the kingdom for such a time as this.” (See Esther 4:14)
A particularly thrilling experience for me took place in the spring of 2014 when I was in Jerusalem covering a conference involving Jews and Arabs – reconciled through Yeshua – sharing fellowship and teaching. And I suddenly had a profound revelation of the true meaning and fulfilment of Isaiah 52:7 – “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news…who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”
Up to then, I had always seen that verse as a general call to evangelism, but now I realised that it was specifically related to bringing good news to Zion…to God’s ancient people!
It was at that time that I began writing for Israel Today, though I also sent reports to other parts of the world. But the most exciting moment of all was not in the writing, but in worshipping and personally testifying to Jesus. At a nightspot called Mike’s Place, I found myself taking part in an ‘open mic’ evening, singing the Elvis song Can’t Help Falling in Love followed by You Raise Me Up, effectively a worship song though not actually mentioning God by name. When I returned to my seat, a young Jewish man asked me if I was singing about Jesus! This sparked off a wonderful time of sharing what Jesus meant to me, even to explaining that, just as his ancestors were freed from slavery in Egypt by daubing the lintels and doorposts of their houses with the blood of a lamb, so he needed metaphorically to mark his heart with the blood of Jesus. His name was Moshe, or Moses in our language! The joy I felt during that amazing conversation is indescribable. It was such an immense honour and privilege to share the meaning and ultimate fulfilment of Passover with a modern-day Moses! And I just want to keep doing that.
For more information on CMJ’s story, read Kelvin Crombie’s From Exile to Restoration, available from www.cmj.org.uk
Charles Gardner is author of Israel the Chosen, available from Amazon; Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com; To the Jew First, A Nation Reborn, and King of the Jews, all available from Christian Publications International.
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