A colleague of mine was eager to get home from a conference we both attended last week because his home team (Derby County) were playing Manchester United in the FA Cup.
Now it may surprise you to learn that, in spite of spending much of my journalistic career as a sports editor, I am not a football fan.
But I tell the following story as a parable of our times, and of God’s amazing story, especially as it relates to his chosen people – the Jews.
My colleague and I went our separate ways and I thought no more of his excitement until, shortly after arriving home, I joined my wife in front of the telly where she was absorbed in a movie – all about Manchester United!
It was a harrowing, yet very moving, account of the disaster that virtually wiped out the ‘Busby Babes’ as their plane crashed on take-off in heavy snow at Munich in 1958. Twenty-three people died including the father of a very dear family friend of ours in faraway South Africa who was accompanying the team as a sports reporter for the Manchester Guardian.
Of course, it was a terrible tragedy, and put the future of the club itself in jeopardy – footballers in those days may also have been famous, but they evidently did not live on fortunes.
And yet, with only two of their original team in the squad – Bobby Charlton and goalkeeper Harry Gregg – they literally rose from the ashes of the plane crash to reach the final of the FA Cup just three months later, complete with the new club badge displaying a Phoenix!
I remember playing on the farm of our family friend that year (I was just nine) being vaguely aware of something amiss.
Ten years earlier, a much greater tragedy was turned into triumph of a sort when the state of Israel rose from the ashes of the Holocaust, which saw six million Jews wiped out by the Nazis, and then miraculously (with a population of only 600,000) held off five invading armies determined to strangle the new nation at birth.
The prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of Dry Bones had been fulfilled, for the Sovereign Lord had promised: “I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.” (Ezek 37.5)
The ensuing years saw more prophecies fulfilled as God’s people returned to their ancient land from every corner of the globe. Isaiah had prophesied: “He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth.” (Isa 11.12)
In further encouraging them not to fear, the Lord of compassion had declared: “When you pass through the rivers, I will be with you…when you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze…since you are precious and honoured in my sight, and because I love you…” (Isa 43.1-4)
In fact, all who trust in the blood of the Jewish Messiah, spilled for the sins of the world, will likewise be raised to new life. Right now, Christians around the world are walking through fire, just as Jews everywhere are continuing to experience, but Jesus assures us that he will wipe away their tears and lead them to his everlasting kingdom of peace as he raises them up from the dust, clothed in their resurrection bodies.
Death will have been swallowed up in victory. “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Cor 15.54-57)
I was greatly encouraged to hear a report of how over 300 Christians had come together for a service of repentance in High Wycombe, where confession was made for the crime of having expelled Jews from the town in 1234, nearly 800 years ago.
Britain subsequently expelled all Jews in 1290, and it was nearly 400 years before they were allowed back. Jews have suffered much wicked persecution over the centuries at the hands of so-called Christians. It’s time we turned that around and instead acknowledged our great debt to them – for the patriarchs, the prophets, the Scriptures almost in their entirety and, of course, for Jesus himself!
As for the confessional service, I am told that even the Buckinghamshire town’s Muslim mayor took part, along with a Rabbi who spoke of how very dignified it was on the one hand “and hugely transforming and therapeutic on the other”, adding: “There was a moment when tears welled up in response to all the compassion being expressed.
“To feel that the historic pain of Jews was being addressed and that the fear lying deep within our collective Jewish consciousness was being responded to was emotional and cathartic. Memories of tonight will stay with me for a long while. I will share them with colleagues, family and friends.” (See: Christians Confess Antisemitism)
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we have a duty to preach the gospel “to the Jew first” (Rom 1.16) – but not only in word. We need to express our love for them like the Christians of High Wycombe have, identifying with our Lord’s compassion for his ancient people, who have risen from the ashes to become “a banner to the nations” – a signpost of God’s everlasting commitment to Israel, and to all who bless them. (Jer 31.3, Gen 12.3)
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