Amidst all the unprecedented shaking of our troubled world, especially in the wake of the terrorist attacks on churches in Sri Lanka, it was wonderful to be reminded over Easter of the greatest truth of all – that Jesus is risen! Not only that, but he is also coming back in glory to judge the living and the dead.
We were attending a joyful Passover celebration with friends in a community hall near Sheffield when this truth was driven home afresh. It was explained that in Jewish tradition, when a guest who had left the table for some reason wished to indicate that he was coming back to finish off his meal, he would fold the napkin beside his plate.
In the same way, when the stone was rolled away on that first Easter morning, the burial cloth that had covered Jesus’ head (also translated napkin) was folded up by itself, separate from the rest of the grave-clothes (John 20.7), which was perhaps another way of saying: “I am coming back!”
The emphasis of the entire Passover feast was one of freedom, powerfully retelling the message of how the Jews were freed from their slavery in Egypt through carrying out God’s instructions in daubing the blood of a sacrificial lamb on the doorposts of their houses.
All the guests had done the same – figuratively-speaking – by marking the blood of Jesus, the ultimate Passover Lamb, on their hearts. The freedom from being enslaved by worldly passions felt by all of us was palpable, and was also exuberantly expressed through music and dancing.
This is a freedom open to all who embrace what Christ has done for us on the cross – including A (name withheld for her protection) who caused quite a stir when she addressed an Israeli congregation in a black burqa with just a small opening for her eyes (she is seen giving the same testimony below in a video interview with One for Israel).
You could have heard a pin drop as she began to tell her story: “I was born and raised in a Muslim country. The word Yehudi (Jew) was instilled in me as a bad word, a cuss word. The Yehudi should not exist… they should be killed. I never thought to question why.
“I was with my father on one occasion as a crowd gathered and we were pushed to the front. I saw a woman tied up, sitting on a box. A man pulled out a long sword and beheaded the woman. My legs were shaking, my heart beating fast, and my father said, ‘If you don’t listen to our teaching, this will happen to you one day.’
“I was a broken person. In my prayer time I lifted up my hands and cried out to Allah for help. ‘Please help my father stop beating my mother. Please help my father stop beating me.’ But no help came.
“Eventually our family went to America, and when my grandmother died of a heart attack, I was devastated. I lost my best friend. I was hurting so much only crying helped. A woman called Paula asked me if I was OK, and I started to cry. She put her arms around me and gave me a hug. Then she said, ‘Would you like to go to church with me?’
“When I walked into this church I experienced love and acceptance from these people like I never had before. For the first time in my life I heard a message from the Bible. It was about Yeshua (Jesus), how he read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, give sight to the blind, and to proclaim liberty to the captive.’
“It was the first time I heard words of freedom and healing. I was blinded with so much hatred in my heart and I was desperate to be freed. I knew the decision to leave Islam was a big one. But I was desperate to know a living God.
“The day I gave my life to becoming a follower of Jesus I said, ‘God, forgive me. I did not know I hated your people.’” And taking off her burqa, she announced to the congregation: “Now I don’t need this anymore.”
She explained: “I love the Jewish people because it is their God and their Messiah I’m following and he told me to love them. This is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the nation of Israel is God’s heartbeat.
“I had never heard about the Holocaust, and now I meet with Holocaust survivors. I hear their stories and I share mine with them, saying: ‘Your Messiah changed my heart; he rescued me and brought joy in my life again. I’m a blessed woman.’”
Another reminder of the Messiah’s second coming is the Golden Gate, regarded as particularly sacred as it is said to be close to the site of the Holy of Holies of Solomon’s Temple where the High Priest would sprinkle the blood of bulls and goats on the ‘Mercy Seat’ to atone for the sins of the people.
The gate was sealed shut in 1541 by Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent to prevent the much anticipated entry through this portal of the Jewish Messiah. And to make doubly sure it could never be fulfilled, the Turkish occupiers established a Muslim cemetery in front of it, knowing that a Jewish priest would not be able to pass through it.
Jesus is thought to have passed through this gate on Palm Sunday, when he came down from the Mt of Olives and entered the Temple (Luke 19.28-48). Once in the city, he said he would not be seen again until Jerusalem recognises him as Messiah (Matthew 23.37-39).
According to Zechariah, his feet will one day touch the Mt of Olives after which he will liberate the city from her slavery to sin and strife and bring lasting pace to both Arabs and Jews.
Charles Gardner is author of Israel the Chosen, available from Amazon; Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com; and A Nation Reborn, available from Christian Publications International