A Messianic Jewish pastor is greatly indebted to Christians with a special love for the people of Israel. For without them his family would not have discovered Jesus as their Messiah.
Now helping to lead a congregation in Haifa, Jonathan Arnold describes his faith journey as being ‘from New Age to the New Covenant.’
Growing up in the midst of conflict in Israel got him searching for spirituality – but in all the wrong places.
His parents were born in England, but emigrated to the Holy Land to live in a kibbutz founded in 1950 by Jonathan’s grandparents.
It was the time of the first Gulf War, Jonathan recalls. “We would hear sirens going off and Scud missiles flying over our heads which, along with wearing gas masks, was no fun at all. Quite scary, in fact. This was followed by two intifadas (Palestinian uprisings), when buses and coffee shops were bombed, and we were afraid to travel on public transport. It was a horrible time.”
He and most of his friends sought their solace through New Age activities such as seances and tarot card reading. “It didn’t occur to us that it was not Jewish. Now we realise you can believe anything in Israel and be accepted – apart from following Jesus.”
See related: What Do Israelis Think of Jesus?
But first a cousin, and then his sister, became believers. He told his cousin: “Yeshua is great, but don’t tell me he’s the only way.” (Jesus made it clear that he was the only way to the Father – John 14:6).
With his army service over, his family moved back to England away from the troubled land and settled in Leicester despite knowing nothing about the city. But Jonathan could not be accommodated there, so he moved to Scotland, and then to Guernsey.
“It was all clearly the hand of God,” Jonathan recalled, “because the lady who helped mum (Vanessa) find her feet was a born-again believer with a special love for Jewish people. And we already had a positive view of Christians, so this was important.
“Another couple she met were Paul and Janey Hames, who actually worked for CMJ, the Church’s Ministry among Jewish people. In time, Paul felt prompted to ask mum: ‘Do you believe in Jesus?’ after which she took her first steps of faith.
“Various believers also came across my path, testifying of the Lord. But I somehow got involved with Jehovah’s Witnesses in Guernsey.
“However, much prayer went up on my behalf, backed up by the persistence of a wonderful couple who opened up the scriptural prophecies of the Old Testament, saying: ‘This is your Messiah; this is your God.’ They showed me how it all fitted together – in particular, that Jesus was the fulfilment of the New Covenant which the prophet Jeremiah said God would make with Israel (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
“It proved a major turning point for me and the veil was torn away. Everything changed in the way I saw the world. I threw away my New Age books and quite soon felt a burden to go back to Israel. It was clearly a mission field.
“And on a freezing January morning I was baptized in the River Jordan. I felt on fire for the Lord, especially called to teach the faith, and that’s what I have been doing for the past twenty years.
“I got involved with a congregation on Mt Carmel and went with teams of believers to proclaim the gospel at the same kind of New Age festivals I used to attend.
“After studying at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, I taught at the Israel College of the Bible, near Tel Aviv, and became co-pastor of Kerem-El, a Hebrew-speaking congregation in Haifa.”
As the Apostle Paul said, the gospel is the power of God that brings salvation to all who believe, “to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16).
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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