Interview with Joel C. Rosenberg

Shalom, dear friends.

We are living in sensational days! Along with our concerns about COVID-19, the economy, political division, social unrest, the aftermath (hopefully) of wildfires, hurricanes, and more, we also see the unfolding of a new day for Israel and her relationships with her neighbors in the Middle East.

Perhaps this is a reminder that God’s plan for our world marches on in the midst of it all! It reminds me of the verse I latched onto as my guide during these last eight months. The writer of Proverbs says to each of us, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

Therefore, we always have hope, and no matter what happens, we know the Lord will fulfill His promises in Scripture. Those of us who know Him as our Savior and Messiah can count on His leading and caring for us throughout this life (Romans 8:28)! I take great comfort in knowing that He never loses control and that His Spirit is never locked down!

We can tangibly know this truth because tiny Israel remains at the very center of God’s prophetic plan. The events in the Middle East are unfolding quickly, and Israel is becoming even more established. I see this as the next phase of the fulfillment of end-times prophecies.

With everything else going on, I would not want us to miss the significant realignment of nations in the Middle East regarding Israel.

There is no one better to give us the backstory of these recent landmark events than our friend, Joel C. Rosenberg. Joel lives in Jerusalem, and we have partnered with him on more conferences than I can count. Joel agreed to let me interview him, so we dedicate the rest of this newsletter to the interview.

Joel is a best-selling author and founder of The Joshua Fund and the brand-new media outlet, Near East Media. I asked him to enlighten us on the importance of the recent Abraham Accords between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain.

So, strap in, and off we go!

Dr. Mitch Glaser:

Joel, thank you for taking the time to tell us part of the backstory behind the recent peace agreements signed by Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain on September 15, 2020.

First of all, can you clarify the different terminology used to describe the nature of the agreements recently signed?

Joel C. Rosenberg:

In effect, the Abraham Accords are peace treaties and full normalization treaties between the State of Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain, with the United States as the broker and witness to the agreements. Those who criticize the accords, saying that these are not “real peace treaties,” are mistaken. It is narrow-minded to think, after a century of hostility in the Middle East, that two Arab states making real, warm peace treaties with Israel—the first two Arab countries to make peace with Israel in more than a quarter of a century—is somehow illegitimate or not serious. If you think about it, it is an offensive thought. I think it reflects more of the partisan nature of what is going on in Washington right now than the reality. Regardless of how one feels about President Trump, he deserves enormous credit for brokering these deals.

The most important element is that these agreements will lead to far warmer and far fuller peace relationships with Israel and these two Arab states than with the two previous peace treaty signers, Egypt and Jordan.

The one key difference is that Egypt and Jordan were in direct military conflict with Israel, and those peace treaties ended that. The 1979 and 1994 treaties kept those borders quiet for decades. While the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain never actually entered a military conflict, they were at war with Israel. They participated in the economic sanctions and embargoes against Israel. They constantly voted against Israel with the rest of the Arab world at the United Nations. They fully participated in the isolation and de-legitimization campaign against Israel for many years, though not recently. There has been real warming of those relationships in recent years, but they have decided to go public and make it formal. It is very exciting.

The flags of the United States, United Arab Emirates, Israel, and Bahrain flutter along a road in Netanya, Israel, September 14, 2020. REUTERS / Alamy Stock Phot

Dr. Mitch Glaser:

What practical differences do you think the treaties will make economically, politically, and even to tourism between the Gulf states and Israel?

Joel C. Rosenberg:

Well, if you notice, the first set of memorandums of understanding and other legal documents signed in the days leading up to and following the signing of the Abraham Accords were very practical. They indicate how much benefit both sides will get—or all sides are going to get—from these agreements. There are agreements on civil aviation. For instance, there will be direct flights between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and between Israel and Bahrain. Those are, by the way, going to go through Saudi airspace. The Saudis are not yet ready to make peace with Israel, but they have agreed to let Israeli, Emirati, Bahraini, and other planes fly through their airspace. This concession is a huge step forward.

The other agreements are regarding banking, private property rights, and setting up small business agreements. The United Arab Emirates has now required every hotel in the country to have kosher meals. That has not happened in Egypt; it has not happened in Jordan. We are talking about major financial deals already in motion.

Dr. Mitch Glaser:

Do you think that Oman and some of the other Gulf states are going to follow suit?

Joel C. Rosenberg:

Yes, I think there is a list of countries that are actively considering this. Oman would certainly be near or at the top of the list. The Sultan of Oman invited Prime Minister Netanyahu to visit two years ago, and then publicized that trip with photos and video. That was very dramatic. That sultan has since passed away. There is a new sultan in power, but there is no reason to think that he disagrees with his predecessor. But, does he feel like he has solidified his leadership and is ready to make such a big decision? That is a good question. I do not have an answer for that yet; we will see.

If Sudan were now to make peace with Israel, that would be exciting. It would be dramatic, but I would note that Sudan also figures prominently in a prophecy of a future war against Israel—the conflict known in Ezekiel 38 and 39 as the War of Gog and Magog. I would not hold your breath for a full normalization, but maybe that prophetic war is many, many years off. No one knows for sure, of course.

Dr. Mitch Glaser:

We do not know when these prophetic events will take place, right? So, we should take peace when we can get it!

Joel C. Rosenberg:

Exactly.

Dr. Mitch Glaser:

Have the UAE, Bahrain, or even some of the other countries you have mentioned considered Israel a place where they can invest funds? Such an investment would boost the Israeli economy.

Joel C. Rosenberg:

Yes. In talking to officials from both countries over the last few weeks since the signing of the Abraham Accords, I know that there are numerous business deals and venture capital deals in the works. Again, this is the most significant transformation in Arab-Israeli relations, I think, in the history of the modern State of Israel. These treaties will surpass the peace deals of Egypt and Jordan in the sense that the Abraham Accords are going to set the new model of what peace and normalization can be and what they should be.

Dr. Mitch Glaser:

Joel, I was privileged to follow your travels at times, as your friend, and was even invited to be part of one of those trips to visit some of the Middle Eastern countries. You brought several key evangelicals to visit, get to know, and extend goodwill to those countries. You were able to see the backstory unfolding in a lot of these nations. Can you tell us a little about what you have discovered?

Joel C. Rosenberg:

I would be happy to. It is extraordinary that evangelicals have had a front-row seat to what has been developing over the last several years. The Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, commonly known by his initials, MBZ, invited me to bring a delegation of evangelical leaders to visit him in the capital of Abu Dhabi in the fall of 2018. I took a group of about ten evangelical leaders with me. Among other meetings that we had in the country, we spent two hours in the palace in an off-the-record meeting with MBZ. There are many things, unfortunately, that I cannot share, but I can share this now:  We communicated to the crown prince that, when it came to the issue of peacemaking and Israel, there were three things we, as evangelicals, wanted him to know.

President Donald J. Trump, joined by Bahraini Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the United Arab Emirates Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, acknowledge applause and wave to the crowd after delivering remarks at the Abraham Accords signing, September 15, 2020, on the South Lawn of the White House, Washington, D.C. Geopix / Alamy Stock Photo

Number one, we love Israel, and we love the Jewish people, and, for evangelicals, this is a theological position, not a political position. He needed to know that we are deeply committed to Israel’s security, freedom, prosperity, and sovereignty. We wanted him to know that. Number two, Jesus commands us to love our neighbors. We did not want him to think that, because we love Israel, we hate the Palestinians, or Arabs, or Muslims more broadly. Some evangelicals have struggled with language or even positions that are not reflective of Jesus’ command. We wanted to communicate to him that we are commanded to love our neighbors. We do not always know how. We find our way, but we wanted him to know that we do not see it as either/or, that we love both. And while we believe that Israel has a special and unique place in God’s plan and purpose in the region, we want there to be peace today, and we want to build better relations with the Arab and Muslim world.

The third point we made to him was that we are commanded in the Scriptures to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Sixty million evangelicals in the United States alone are praying for the peace of Jerusalem, and we are looking at who will be the next Arab leader to make peace with Israel. As the leader of the delegation, I was the one that made these three points and stressed a little on the third one, “We would love it to be you.” He shocked us by saying, “Joel, I’m ready. I am ready to make peace with Israel, and I believe that the time is coming very soon.” That shocked us because—and I am not saying that we would say these three things in some pro forma way—we did not expect anyone to say back to us what MBZ said. We have said this to numerous Arab leaders in the region; he was the first to say that he was ready.

The question we began to discuss with him is, “How did you get to that point, and where do you go from here?” In these last two years, I have stayed in very close communication with the inner circle around the crown prince. Even up through the summer, I was in direct communications with them because I am writing a non-fiction book that will come out in the fall of 2021, timed with the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Twenty years after 9/11, the book looks at who the bad guys were, who the good guys were, and how our fight with radical Islam is going. It also looks at which Arab countries are fighting radical Islam very actively, and which countries want a much closer relationship with the United States and are even trending toward peace with Israel. The third section will address, “What is the state of the Church and religious freedom in the Middle East?”

I have been working on this book with a lot of exclusive material from these six delegations that I have led. All that to say, it became clear in July, when I was here in Washington meeting with the UAE ambassador, that they were ready, that they had actually put an offer on the table for Netanyahu, through the White House, and that those negotiations were in motion. I said to myself, “You have got to be kidding me.” I knew they were heading in that direction, but it was dramatic.

I will say that I was surprised by how quickly things accelerated this summer, especially when the big topic in Israel was whether Netanyahu would annex or apply Israeli sovereign law over large swaths of Judea and Samaria, which the world commonly knows as the West Bank. That was Netanyahu’s objective all summer, and that seemed to preclude any possibility of peace with the Arab states.

I was making the argument that, while I support the expansion of Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria—the biblical heartland—over time, I believed that a peace treaty with one of the Gulf states was a higher objective for Israel in the near term. And I was making that case publicly and in quite a lonely fashion. It is in part because I knew it was possible, but it still stunned me. It is like when you have been praying, as Christians, as Messianic Jews, for decades for the peace of Jerusalem. It is a little like praying for Peter to be released from prison, then he knocked on your front door, and you cannot even believe that he is standing there.

Dr. Mitch Glaser:

You are a bit stunned by it all.

Joel C. Rosenberg:

Yeah. We know that God can answer these prayers, but we do not always expect the answer to come so quickly! This summer was a game-changing moment.

The flags of Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and the United States light up the Old City Walls of Jerusalem to celebrate the signing of the historic peace treaties in Washington, D.C. Nir Alon / Alamy Stock Photo

Dr. Mitch Glaser:

How are the Palestinians reacting to all of this? Then, if you could also tell us, how is the person-on-the-street, the average Israeli, responding to these new events?

Joel C. Rosenberg:

I have not seen any polling yet. Remember, and actually, it is hard to remember at times, that the Palestinian territories are not free societies. They really do not have the freedom to say whatever they want. It does not mean that you will not find Palestinians who tell you, but there, in Gaza, Hamas—the terrorist organization—is in charge. It is very hard to get somebody’s real, direct opinion. In the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, this is tyranny. Mahmoud Abbas is now serving, I think, the fifteenth year of his four-year elected term. There is no freedom there.

I think we are beginning to see fissures inside Palestinian society. And so, we need to pray, as Christians and as Messianic Jews, for the Palestinian people.

Dr. Mitch Glaser:

Could you take one minute and tell us all about All Arab News and All Israel News, and your role as President and CEO of Near East Media?

Joel C. Rosenberg:

Yes, I am continuing my work to advance the Joshua Fund, which is essentially a mutual fund to invest in the growth and the strength of the Church and the Messianic body in Israel and throughout five neighboring Arab countries, as well as the Palestinian territories. We also believe that the media bias against Israel, against peace, against the values that we hold dear—anti-Christian media—is so bad that I decided to launch two new websites. One is called All Israel News, and the other is All Arab News. All Israel News is allisrael.com, and the Arab news is allarab.news.

We will provide links to all the really good and credible coverage in the Israeli press, Arab press, and American and other media. There is good reporting out there, but most Christians and Messianic Jews do not have the time to go sifting through dozens of websites to figure out what is real, what is important, what is credible. These sites will become what I call one-stop shopping. We link to all the most important stories in the region. We are also providing original reporting, exclusive interviews, and analysis: what is happening, why is it important, and how do we fit it into the larger picture as evangelicals. We are very distinctly and specifically focused on communicating to the world’s 600 million evangelicals what is happening in Israel and the region and why it matters.

Dr. Mitch Glaser:

Joel, thank you so much. I appreciate it, and we pray God’s blessings on All Israel News and All Arab News, and we thank you for your time, so shalom and blessings.

I am grateful for the time you were willing to speak with me. I know that those who read The Chosen People newsletter will appreciate this insightful information and pray for Israel, the Palestinians, the Middle East, and you.

Joel C. Rosenberg:

My pleasure.

I hope you enjoyed the interview! I hope it will help you continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. And please remember to pray for our staff who are bringing the gospel to Jewish people worldwide, including Israel.

We are so grateful for you!

Your brother in the Messiah,

Mitch Glaser

P.S. There is much more to this conversation! To hear the full interview, visit ourhopepodcast.com.

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Filed under Israel, Joel Rosenberg, Middle East, Palestinian

God is opening hearts during lockdown!

Dear Friend,

Shalom in our Messiah Jesus.

My heart breaks for Israel and the ultra-religious Jewish community worldwide! These two Jewish communities, one localized and the other spanning the breadth of countries and cities where Jewish people are concentrated, live under life-threatening circumstances.

Israel keeps trying to fight its way back to national normalcy but the coronavirus continues to immobilize the country. Unemployment in Israel is also at an all-time high, and the economy is suffering terribly. The country recently experienced a lockdown that extended through the Jewish high holiday season and beyond.1

The infection, hospitalization rate, and death toll is massive for “little Israel!” The mortality rate per capita surpasses that of the United States. The death toll is highest among the Arab population of Israel and the ultra-religious Jewish community in Israel and worldwide.

The ultra-Orthodox segment of the Jewish population are called Haredim, which in Hebrew means “the ones that fear,” and the One they fear is God. This name expresses the character of the community. These beloved Jewish people dress differently, live their lives according to the most Orthodox version of the Jewish faith, and maintain that gathering for prayer, synagogue services, holidays, and religious events—like the Jewish high holidays—are more important to them than life itself. Followers of Jesus can learn a lot from their dedication.

The impact on the whole population of Israel during this “second wave” lockdown is still fresh, and we may not know if the country will successfully pass the danger point until next month. We hope and pray it will!

You can read more about the numbers of Israelis affected by the disease by visiting https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/region/israel.

A SPIRITUAL SLANT TO THE PRESENT CRISIS

We should remember two great Bible passages penned by King David that are calls for prayer to every believer in Jesus!

King David wrote, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they prosper who love you’” (Psalm 122:6). This is a biblical mandate for all of us—to pray for God’s peace to fall upon Israel and the Jewish people. And Israel needs our prayers desperately at this very moment.

The second issue is very sensitive! Due to the pandemic, the divisions between the ultra-Orthodox and secular Israelis have grown wider and have become like open wounds.

Would you join me in praying for Israel’s national unity? I believe this unity, which builds bridges between the religious and secular in Israel, will be pleasing to God and good for the nation. The psalmist declares, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).

Let us pray for the healing of the nation and the people of Israel. Ultimately, this vision for unity will only come about when the Jewish people— secular, Haredim, and in between—cry out to God in repentance and turn to Jesus the Messiah (Romans 11:25; Zechariah 12:10).

Many Haredim and even some secular Israelis recognize the spiritual side of the current crisis. A recent survey of Israelis reported that one-third of the prime minister’s voters believe God sent COVID-19! Most of the Haredim in Israel fall into this group.2 Recently, we have seen God move among Israelis, Haredim, and Jewish people across the globe. Hard times draw people to the Lord, and this season of darkness and difficulty is no different.

May I share some stories illustrating this fruitful season of ministry and how the gospel is breaking through to Jewish people’s hearts?

One of our staff members in the southwest recently had the opportunity to teach on the subject, “Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus.” This class was in person, following all COVID-19 protocols, of course! A friend of our staff member had invited a Jewish woman. After the first class, our worker met with this Jewish woman and asked her what she thinks of Jesus. She said, “I believe He’s the Messiah, the Son of God!”

On the other side of the world, the severe restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic caused just about all the ministries of Celebrate Messiah, our ministry partner in Australia, to go online. Celebrate Messiah has been hosting special seminars on YouTube and Facebook that have reached thousands of people. Online ministry so far is reaching more people than would typically walk through the doors of our services.

And in the north of Israel, a Jewish woman regularly attended the online services of the congregation led by one of our staff. She actively participated in the meetings, and came to faith in Messiah. Our Israeli worker wrote about the encounter: “She came up to our apartment, and we chatted for about forty minutes, maintaining social distance and wearing masks. The conversation was pleasant and most welcomed. I felt an urgency to ask her about her spiritual life and if she understood that Yeshua is the Messiah, the one who died for our sins and gives the gift of eternal life. She heartily agreed, and in our living room, socially distant, she prayed to receive Yeshua.”

All I can say is, “Hallelujah!” You cannot lock down the Holy Spirit from working powerfully in the lives of those who need salvation! God is moving among ultra-religious and secular Israelis, Jewish people in America, and Haredi enclaves in Brooklyn and across the globe.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

You can pray for our ministry!

Please pray for the Lord to touch the lives of Israelis, Haredim, and Jewish people around the globe who need the Lord. If you have a Jewish friend and want us to pray for them, please go to chosenpeople.com/pray, write in their name, and we will pray for them. If you wish, we can also send them a free copy of our book Isaiah 53 Explained.

God’s work is not locked down!

I would even say that our ministry has expanded during this season. For example, we held online high holiday services, which were attended by more than 20,000 people worldwide. We have also begun a series of virtual small group discipleship Bible studies across the United States. We have Jewish people who are not yet believers attending these studies. We have never done this before!

We are continuing our digital ad campaigns, which have introduced us to thousands of Jewish people. We are following up through personal emails, Zoom calls, new websites, online Bible studies, virtual discipleship, and more. You can see from the fantastic reports I just shared that this has also led to in-person contact and decisions for the Lord.

Additionally, we have spent $500 per day purchasing Facebook ads in the United States, Israel, and other countries. Again, this has led to interaction with thousands of Jewish people for the Lord.

Online ministries are also incredibly powerful in reaching the Haredim. They do not want their family and friends to know they are considering the gospel. We place Facebook ads in Yiddish—the language commonly spoken by most Haredim. In partnership with the Jesus Film, we also translated the movie about the life of the Messiah into Yiddish. We use geographic-specific advertising in ultra-Orthodox areas to offer an opportunity to view a small clip of the film in Yiddish, which leads them to the full movie.

Am I encouraged? Absolutely!

I do not need convincing that the lockdowns of society, or hearts usually resistant toward the gospel, cannot be opened by the power of God.

Please help us take advantage of these opportunities by praying as we reach Jewish people and anyone else who will listen to the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus the Messiah.

In HOPE through the Messiah,

Mitch

Endnotes

1 “Government Resolution: 14 Day Total National Lockdown Effective This Friday with Optional Extension,” gov.il, September 24, 2020, https://www.gov.il/en/departments/news/24092020_01.

2 Ben Sales, “One-Third of Netanyahu’s Voters Believe Covid-19 Was Sent by God – Survey,” Jerusalem Post, September 17, 2020, https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/one-third-ofnetanyahus-voters-believe-covid-19-was-sent-by-god-642703.

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Filed under Digital Media, evangelism, Israel, New York City

Finding Hope

Shalom.

Maybe, like me, your sense of hope is running thin as we begin this eighth month of the pandemic. You are not alone. Optimism and hope may well be the most sought after, invaluable, and yet intangible life quality people are seeking today. We are all longing for hope—the belief that the future will be better and brighter than today!

We were entirely unprepared for the impact COVID-19 would have on our everyday lives. Most of us know very little about the Spanish flu of 1918 and how it ravaged American life and killed 675,000 Americans.[1] Some of what happened at that time would seem familiar today, including people wearing masks and socially distancing!

We remember more modern-day plagues like Ebola, AIDS, Legionnaires’ disease, polio, measles, mumps, and many others. Today, thank God, we have vaccines and treatments for most of these scourges.

Few of us remember World War II. However, many of us remember and maybe even served in more recent wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, in which we lost a combined total of more than 100,000 beloved American heroes.[2]

I remember the Cold War tensions, the Cuban missile crisis, and the atomic threat that drove school children to hide under their desks periodically (as if this would provide safety from a nuclear attack)!

We endured 9/11, Hurricane Sandy, and massive storms in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas that wreaked terrible devastation and death upon people we love and care about, not to mention costing hundreds of billions of dollars in damage. We can now add the devastating West Coast wildfires to this list.

In some ways, COVID-19 is a crisis unlike any other as we face a deadly enemy we cannot see. Now, it seems that this dreaded disease will impact almost every area of our country, and, at the moment, we are hovering around 200,000 deaths. If we add the economic struggles and social unrest we are experiencing, who could blame someone tempted by hopelessness? How do we cope and find hope during these dark and difficult days? Ignoring what we are facing today is not going to work.

I especially appreciate those around me who are more upbeat and hopeful! May their tribe increase! I am grateful for every pair of smiling eyes peering above a mask, trying to help me look toward the brighter side and face the future in hope. I pray you have a few family and friends who bring you this kind of joy and inspiration, but even these wonderful people cannot always be by our side. So, how can we find hope in a seemingly hopeless situation? Is it possible? I believe it is!

Finding Unwavering Hope During a Pandemic

Hope comes from connecting with someone or something that is above and beyond the shifting circumstances of our day. We need to fix our hope on what is unchanging and eternal if we are going to find security and peace today. I believe we can find the hope we long for so desperately in a personal relationship with the God who made and loves us.

A God Who Keeps His Promises?

I find this hope in the story of the Bible. The Bible teaches us that God created a perfect world, but then something went wrong. Though He placed our first parents in an exquisite garden, they veered off the path He wanted them to follow. We followed suit, and every generation since then has suffered the results of these bad decisions. But, according to the Bible, God will reclaim and recreate the world He made.

God has not abandoned us and will one day heal our broken world.

In Judaism, this idea is called “tikkun olam,” the healing of the world, and it is vital to the Jewish view of life, as men and women may partner with God in the healing of the world. Jewish tradition understands that something is fundamentally wrong!

The Hope of Israel Fulfilled

How do we know what is written in the Bible is true?

So often we need something we can see to help us believe. I did! Let me tell you what convinced me. Briefly, here are three reasons.

He has kept His promises to Israel and the Jewish people. Despite the devastation of the Holocaust, the Jewish people—after multiple millennia and against incredible odds—have returned to the land of promise. This was predicted by the Jewish prophets, like the well-known Ezekiel who wrote thousands of years ago, “For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land” (Ezekiel 36:24).

If God can orchestrate Israel’s regathering and return to the land, He can be trusted to fulfill His other promises in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and New Covenant Scriptures. This is undeniable. If the Bible was correct in predicting the unlikely restoration of Israel, then what else in the Bible is true?

The Hope of Messiah Fulfilled

I also believe God demonstrated His trustworthiness by sending the Messiah. His name is Yeshua, or Jesus in English, and there are hundreds of prophecies detailing His identity and mission penned by Israel’s prophets over multiple centuries. If what the Bible promised about His first coming has come to pass, then what is predicted about His second coming should be true as well.  

The prophets of old prophesied His place of birth (Bethlehem) (Micah 5:2), His death for our sins (Isaiah 53:1–12; Psalm 22), His resurrection from the grave (Psalm 16), and so much more! He will return as judge and king to: restore our planet; remove sin, death, and disease; and, according to the Bible, He will wipe every tear from our eyes. Isaiah promised, “He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces, and He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; For the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 25:8, also Revelation 21:4).

This is a foundation for hope that will never disappoint.

Personal Experience

Finally, without being unrealistic about the level of tragedy we have experienced, I am convinced that God is trustworthy. When I accepted Yeshua as my Messiah, He filled my heart with hope. I cannot easily explain it or prove it logically. When you have a personal relationship with God and believe the promises in the Bible, hope invades your soul and enables you to face the future with confidence.

You will be able to read about the experience of others in this newsletter who had similar experiences to mine.

So, how should we respond to the hope God offers to humanity? We could just give up or become cynical about life in general. We could also choose to put our hope in our fellow human beings working hard to find a vaccine and a cure for COVID-19. Or, we could trust in the God who created us! Maybe a combination of the last two?

I can tell you that, even if we find a cure, we will still experience ongoing tragedies and challenges in this life and that only our relationship with our loving and immovable Creator will shelter us against the storms of life.

One More Thought

It is a mystery as to why God allows His beloved creation to endure difficult times: the loss of loved ones, jobs, educational opportunities, the separation from friends and family, and more that you and I have faced recently. It might be tempting at times to question if God is even good, whether or not you are a person of faith.

Right now, it might be a difficult season for some to keep the faith! It is understandable—times are tough! Maybe you would like to know and trust God but have a hard time believing what the Bible says about His unchanging character.

I wish I could give you an easy answer. I believe God is good by nature. He is Lord of all creation and mysteriously uses life’s most profound disappointments to shape us and make us strong.

I encourage you to hope in God! Even though the road may be dark, He is the Guide we need who lights our path and leads us through the valley of the shadow of death to green pastures.

You might have an unshakable faith in God, secured by the Messiah Jesus, or perhaps you are seeking hope that has been elusive so far. I wish you blessings on the journey, whatever your starting point might be, and thanks again for taking your precious time to read.

I hope you will enjoy the rest of the newsletter!

Sincerely,

Mitch


[1] Nina Strochlic, “U.S. Coronavirus Deaths Now Surpass Fatalities in the Vietnam War,” National Geographic, April 28, 2020, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/2020/04/coronavirus-death-toll-vietnam-war-cvd/#close.

[2] Ibid.

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Lessons from the Festival of Booths

Shalom and welcome to my Sukkah! Before I enter, I want to stop and say the special prayer.

ברוך אתה יי אלהינו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו לישב בסכה. אמן.

Barukh Atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha-olam, asher kidishanu b’mitz’votav v’tzivanu leisheiv basukkah. Amein.

Blessed are You, Lord, our God, king of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to dwell in the sukkah. Amen.

I wish you could walk around Brooklyn with me this week. It is a BIG PARTY! Sukkah booths are popping up everywhere.

The Feast of Tabernacles is all about joy, unlike Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which are somber and sober.

And there is much to celebrate, especially for followers of Yeshua the Messiah, even in the midst of this pandemic, economic hardship, and social unrest.

The Bible enumerates a number of Feast of Tabernacles essentials.

Leviticus 23

Again, the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘On the fifteenth of this seventh month is the Feast of Booths for seven days to the Lord. On the first day is a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work of any kind. For seven days you shall present an offering by fire to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation and present an offering by fire to the Lord; it is an assembly. You shall do no laborious work. (Leviticus 23:33–35, emphasis added.)

There is more information about the festival in verses 39–44:

“On exactly the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the crops of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the Lord for seven days, with a rest on the first day and a rest on the eighth day. Now on the first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. You shall thus celebrate it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths, so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” So Moses declared to the sons of Israel the appointed times of the Lord. (Leviticus 23:39–44, emphasis added.)

Let us look at some Sukkot basics.

The Date

Sukkot is observed in the seventh month on the fifteenth day of the month for a total of seven days. There is one additional day. and then Jewish tradition adds a ninth day.

Sukkot is also called the Feast of Ingathering

“Also you shall observe the Feast of the Harvest of the first fruits of your labors from what you sow in the field; also the Feast of the Ingathering at the end of the year when you gather in the fruit of your labors from the field. Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord God” (Exodus 23:16–17).

Sukkot, like the other feasts, is God’s spiritual classroom

The game “Show and Tell” must have been God’s idea! He uses the physical to teach us about the spiritual. By touching, seeing, hearing (as in the case of the shofar), and even tasting (matzah, etc.), the festivals are His spiritual classrooms, where all of our senses are engaged to teach us profound and beautiful spiritual truths.

The Major Symbols and the Lessons

The holiday is filled with lessons, but we will look at three, based upon the biblical text and traditions of the festival.  

  • God Provides

The lulav and etrog teach us that God provides for His children.

We are commanded to take “the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days” (Leviticus 23:40–41).

We weave the following elements together to form what is known as the lulav, which represents the four species mentioned in the biblical text.

Etrog

The foliage of beautiful trees is p’ree eitz hadar (פְּרִ֨י עֵ֤ץ הָדָר֙), which literally means “fruit of beautiful trees” and refers to what we call the etrog—a fruit that looks like a large lemon.

The palm branches

The palm branches, orlulav, is a frond of the date palm tree.

The boughs of leafy trees

The boughs of leafy trees refer to thebranches of a myrtle bush.

The willows of the brook

The willows of the brook refer to the branches of the willow tree.

The palm branch, myrtle, and willow are combined into what is called a lulav. We use three willow branches, two myrtle, and one long palm frond to which the others are tied.

The joyful shaking of the lulav reminds us that God provides through the harvest.

He causes the rain to fall, the sun to shine, and the seeds to germinate. Our job is to harvest what He creates. It is difficult for those of us who are not farmers to appreciate this firsthand. Some of us do not even go to the grocery store these days, choosing instead to have our food delivered!

Still, we are commanded to be happy because God is our Provider! Waving the lulav and etrog is an expression of joy—joy that is tied to the harvest.

Mustering up authentic joy is not easy in the midst of a pandemic. Our lives have been so disrupted, and many of us have endured such significant loss; of a loved one, a friend, a business, income, education, fellowship with others in worship, and the joy of everyday life. We miss our normal lives, and we are eager to recapture what we have lost.

Yet, God commands us to rejoice—even in the midst of suffering.

In some ways, this has been the story of Jewish life and history—smiling while suffering!

For followers of the Messiah Jesus, the command to rejoice during Sukkot reminds us of the words of Rabbi Paul again, who wrote, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you” (Philippians 3:1), and also, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).

So, what is the secret to having joy? Should we rejoice when everything around us tells us not to? Are we speaking about some type of Jewish stoicism that ignores the hardships we face?

Not at all!

Sukkot reminds of God’s care for the Israelites through the desert wanderings.

We are encouraged to ask the Lord for the same provision and care today as we travel through the desert of this life. He provided the manna, quails, and even water out of a rock for our ancestors. He has not changed!

The Jewish people, my ancestors, experienced this supernatural provision. According to Moses:

He led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water; He brought water for you out of the rock of flint. In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end. Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.’ (Deuteronomy 8:15–17)

Yeshua said much the same, but a little differently in the Sermon on the Mount, “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25). And also, “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!” (v. 30). And He concludes, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (vv. 33–34).

Hardship and suffering purify our souls as we learn to distinguish between our needs and wants and to thank God who provides our “daily bread”. This is what we learn from fasting on Yom Kippur and what we learn from the lulav and etrog—God always provides.

Applying the Lesson

Which grows out of the first…

The Lord wants us to serve Him by serving others.

Sukkot calls upon us to be thankful and generous, be grateful to God for all He has done, and to rejoice, but also to remember the poor and those who do not have what they need.

You might look for one needy family this week and give from the abundance God has given to you. I believe God will bless and reward your generosity as you care for others the way God has cared for you.

As Yeshua said, again in the Sermon on the Mount:

So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:2–4)

  •  God’s Protects

Moses commands the Jewish people to live in booths for seven days. Moses wrote, You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths, so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 23:42–43).

The Hebrew word for booths is sukkot סֻּכֹּ֥ת—the plural, which is where we get the name for the holiday.

The booths are not built for long term occupancy; they are God’s classroom. These flimsy structures with see-through roofs are supposed to remind us of the structures we lived in while travelling in the Sinai desert for forty years.

Let me put it this way: If built correctly, without nails, with a see-through ceiling, and a fragile foundation, you would not want to be in a sukkah during a strong wind!

The Sukkah also reminds of the frailty of human life.

According to Jewish tradition, we are supposed to eat and sleep in the sukkah booth for seven days. The rabbis compare the sukkah to the human body, which is frail and eventually wears out. It reminds me that we are Chevrolets, built with planned obsolescence—we are designed to eventually wear out.

I love the old hymn that says, “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through.” We need to view ourselves as perpetual tourists and live with the future in mind. A famous rabbi, Samuel ben Maier, commenting on Leviticus 23:43, believes the booths also call us to humility and to appreciate the simple things of life. He wrote:

Why do I command you to do all this? For the Lord your God brings you to a good … and you will eat and be satisfied, etc. As a result, your heart may become haughty and you will credit yourself with all this as your own achievement. (Deuteronomy 8:7–8) In order that this will not happen, and to show the Israelites God’s part in their success, they will move out of their solid houses as a reminder to the time when they had not been blessed with any of these benefits which they enjoy ever since inheriting the land of their forefathers. (Rashbam Leviticus 23:43)[1]

This lesson is repeated in the Shulchan Aruch, which means “the prepared table,” one of the guiding manuals on Jewish spiritual life.[2]

Jewish tradition suggests that God is our sukkah, and He is all we need. He protects us from life’s dangers. He guards and guides us through the twists, turns, and turbulence of life.

Unless He wants us to learn lessons from hardship or maybe He is simply calling us home. We agree with the rabbi from Tarsus, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). And David wrote in Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).

God uses the desert to bring us to our knees. Deserts are not very hospitable to human life. The days are too hot, the nights are too cold, the water is scarce, and the oases few and far between. We have lived in a type of desert for the last six months, and we have learned more than we wish about life and death through the pandemic.

The pandemic has driven many of us into the arms of a loving, caring, and protecting Savior to seek protection. We have been humbled! The pandemic has revealed our weakness and limitations. We also recognize that we cannot easily defeat our enemies, especially when they are invisible. It is really hard to fight what you cannot see. The Apostle Paul reminds us of the battle we are really fighting as believers, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:12–13).

We are fighting against far more than an invisible virus; we are doing battle with the world forces of darkness and spiritual forces of wickedness. This battle will not be won with worldly weapons but with the power of God by His Spirit and the spiritual armor He provides to fight; truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, and the shield of faith.

So, it is time to read a Jewish children’s story! We learn so much about Jewish life and lessons from these stories. this is one for Sukkot.

Debbie and Danny were very unhappy.

When they tried to fast all day on Yom Kippur they hadn’t been able to go without food past 2 o’clock. Even though their parents had told them that when they were older they would have the self-discipline to be able to fast all day on Yom Kippur, they wanted to do it now.

And when they had tried to blow the Shofar after Rosh Hashanah family services they hadn’t been able to make a real sound; just a little squeak. Now their parents were telling them they were too young to sleep overnight in the Sukkah. It wasn’t fair.

Debbie and Danny had helped their parents build the Sukkah. In fact, the reason their family had a Sukkah of their own this year was because of Debbie and Danny. Their father had said he didn’t have the time to build a Sukkah this year, but the kids had offered to help with everything. When the Sukkah was finished their father was proud of how much they had helped. They carried a table and chairs into the Sukkah and prepared to eat their meals in the Sukkah. But when the kids said they wanted to bring their sleeping bags into the Sukkah and sleep overnight their parents said, “NO”.

First their parents said it was too cold to sleep in the Sukkah. Then they said the kids were too young. Finally, they said that it wasn’t safe.

Debbie and Danny said a Sukkah was as safe as a house. A Sukkah was God’s shelter for the Jewish people for all the years when the Jews lived in the desert after they left Egypt. And a Sukkah was the shelter Jewish people used in the Land of Israel when they were harvesting their crops and thanking God for the harvest. They reminded their parents that:

‘It is a Mitsvah [commandment] to build a Sukkah.’

‘It is a Mitsvah to eat meals in a Sukkah.’

‘And it is a Mitsvah to sleep in a Sukkah.’

Their parents were impressed that Debbie and Danny had such a great desire to do Mitsvot [commandments] so they agreed that the kids could sleep overnight in the Sukkah on Saturday night.

When Saturday night came Debbie and Danny were eager to sleep in the Sukkah. They had decorated the Sukkah with drawings and old Shanah Tovah [Happy New Year!] cards. They had hung different kinds of fruit and vegetables on the Sukkah. Now they got in their sleeping bags, ate a night-time snack from the fruit hanging on the Sukkah, and went to sleep.

In the middle of the night they were suddenly awakened. The Sukkah was shaking, but it wasn’t from the wind. The ground itself was shaking. It was an earthquake. They heard a loud crash. A tree had fallen on their house. They were scared. Then they remembered that they were in God’s Sukkah. They didn’t feel so frightened. They said the Sh’ma [a traditional Hebrew prayer from Deuteronomy 6:4] a few times and they felt even better. The earthquake stopped.

Their parents came out and they seemed to be more upset than the kids. The tree that had fallen had landed on the roof above the bedroom where the children slept. They might have been hurt if they had been sleeping in the house.

Thank God the kids had been sleeping in the Sukkah.[3]

  • Lesson #3.  God Gives us Hope

Like the children of Israel, we have a destination. Ultimately, it is not we who are going to Him, but rather He is coming for and to us.

If we pass from this life and enter His presence, or if we are taken up to meet the Lord in the air, the end of the story is all about His coming back to the world He created to establish His kingdom in a renewed and reclaimed earth.

Heaven ultimately comes to earth.

The sukkah reminds us that, one day, as promised, the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters fill the sea. In fact, a day is coming when the entire earth will become his sukkah booth and tabernacle. We caught a glimpse of this with the coming of Jesus the Messiah, who, according to the gospel writer John, dwelled—literally tabernacled—among us.

I love Sukkot because it reminds me of the glory ahead. Knowing Him is a foretaste of the glorious future God has prepared for those who love Him. The sukkah reminds us of what is to come! As John wrote:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new. And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” (Revelation 21:1–5)

Invitation:

Are you joyful? Do you feel protected? How are you doing right now in the midst of our season of trouble and trial when it comes to hope?

If you have never received Jesus as your Messiah, now is not too soon.

Pray this prayer with me:

If you are a believer and you are running on one or two but not three of these cylinders; joy, safety, and hope, then maybe you need to dwell in God’s sukkah booth for a while. You have all week to find or build one! Either way, I urge you to turn to the Lord and experience His provision that will give you joy, sense His protection, once again enjoy a sense of safety. In Him, you will also find hope. We are not locked down by the present if we know the Lord and believe that He is with us. In fact, the hope we have for better days is good practice learning how to hope for the best days when He returns.

Chag Sameach and Happy Sukkot…may you always dwell in the presence of the Lord.

God’s Sukkah is Safe

A Story of Hope

With the help of his two young neighbors, Justine and Duane, elderly Mr. Roth builds a sukkah, a little hut built by Jews to commemorate the harvest festival and to remind them of generations of homelessness. After the two children spend the night in the hut, they go to the market with Mr. Roth to buy foods for a festive Sukkoth meal to be shared in the hut. While they are at the market, a firestorm that has erupted in the hills rapidly obliterates their neighborhood. Miraculously, the only building left untouched by the rampaging flames is Mr. Roth’s sukkah. Amid the ghostly stillness at the scene, where not even the crickets have survived to chirp, can be heard another miracle–the cries of Mr. Roth’s cat, Tikvah, who has managed to escape the fire.[4]

And guess what Tikvah means—hope! The author was trying to tell the children that the sukkah was more than a little tent or temporary shack, it is a symbol of the hope we have in a God who always cares for and protects His children.

May the Lord fill your heart with hope, as even if things do not work out well for us on earth, we put our trust in the One who has overcome the world and has gone before us to build a mega-sukkah—a mansion where we will live forever. And nothing—not a wildfire, hurricane, pandemic or far worse—can destroy what He is building for those who love Him.

Let me summarize and close:

God is always faithful to provide for our needs—it is His nature.

Provision should lead to our taking action by providing for others.

He protects us, which should calm our fears and enable us to trust the One who protected the Jewish people in the desert.

We can have hope because a new world is coming for those who love Him, and we will live with our glorious God and Messiah forever.


[1] Rashbam, “Rashbam On Leviticus 23: 43,” Sefaria, accessed October 2, 2020, https://www.sefaria.org/Rashbam_on_Leviticus.23.43.1?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en.

[2] Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayim 639:1. According to very important Rabbinic document, the Shulkan Aruch – the Prepared Table, we are told the following about the Sukkah, “What is the Mitzvah of sitting in the Sukkah? That he should eat, drink, sleep, lounge, (Tur) and reside in the Sukkah all seven days, both in the day and in the night, in the same manner in which he resides in his house the rest of year. And all seven days a man makes his house temporary and his Sukkah permanent. How so? The fine dishes and linens, should be in the Sukkah; and drinking vessels, such as glass cups and mugs, in the Sukkah; but eating vessels after eating (Tur), such as pots and plates, outside of the Sukkah. The lantern should be in the Sukkah.” “Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayim 639,” Sefaria, accessed October 2, 2020, https://www.sefaria.org/Shulchan_Arukh%2C_Orach_Chayim.639?lang=bi.

[3] Allen S. Maller, “A Succot Story for Children: God’s Sukkah Is Safe,” The Jewish Magazine, accessed October 2, 2020, http://www.jewishmag.com/126mag/succah_children/succah_children.htm.

[4] Polacco’s story is based on the firestorm that ravaged her hometown of Oakland, California. Actual framed photos of family members shown on bureau tops and posters of sports idols on a bedroom wall helpÿ20convey the reality of the event and of the personal losses suffered. Polacco’s vibrantly colored illustrations pulse with energy and emotion as the characters bend with the whipping wind, comfort each other in the temporary shelter, and rejoice in the sukkah when Tikvah is found. Good Sukkoth stories are rare; rooted in an actual event as well as in ages-old tradition, this one is a priceless gem

Ellen Mandel, review of Tikvah Means Hope, by Patricia Polacco, Amazon.com,  https://www.amazon.com/Tikvah-Means-Hope-Patricia-Polacco/dp/0385320590?pd_rd_w=7BZfa&pf_rd_p=3fdb7f7b-31a2-4f37-b9bc-1469e3d4fb18&pf_rd_r=4P0M388T0HVKA6JFQ5PY&pd_rd_r=e4469531-db4c-4746-9a31-7579e745830b&pd_rd_wg=met5J.

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The Priority of Jewish Evangelism

Shalom in His grace!

I hope and pray this letter finds you healthy, safe, and filled with His joy.

I continue to believe that sharing the gospel with everyone should be our greatest priority in life! My personal burden, and the focus of Chosen People Ministries, is reaching Jewish people for Jesus. But, as surprising as this might be, we actually lead as many or more Gentiles to the Lord as we do Jewish people every year!

Yet my heart’s greatest desire is to see my own Jewish people accept Jesus and receive the gift of everlasting life!

It is essential to ask the question, “If Jewish people number only 15 million among almost 8 billion people on earth, why is Jewish evangelism so essential and urgent?”

As the leader of a traditional mission to the Jewish people, I believe Jewish people must accept Jesus to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:16–17; John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

I do not believe a Jewish person or a Gentile can satisfy God’s demands for righteousness through his or her merit or good works (Galatians 2:15–16; 3:23–25; Romans 10:2ff.). According to the Apostle Paul in the early chapters of Romans, we must all put our faith and trust in God’s Son, who died and rose for our sins.

THE BIBLICAL MANDATE TO EVANGELIZE JEWISH PEOPLE
(ROMANS 1:16 AND ROMANS 9–11)

The following two passages, in particular, provide a sound biblical basis for the urgency of Jewish evangelism.

ROMANS 1:16

The Apostle Paul expressed it this way, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).

Franz Delitzsch, the well-known Old Testament scholar, wrote, “For the church to evangelize the world without thinking of the Jews, is like a bird trying to fly with one broken wing.”

Of course, Paul was not suggesting that the Roman believers withhold the gospel from the Gentiles until every Jewish person in the world hears the good news. Neither was he implying that the gospel has already come to the Jewish people first, therefore, preaching the gospel to the “Jew first” no longer has any application in 2020. Paul wrote Romans 1:16 in the present tense. So follow the logic of the text with me: If the gospel is still the power of God “for” salvation and is still for “everyone who believes,” then the gospel is still “to the Jew first.”

Paul used the same Greek word for “first” that Matthew used in Matthew 6:33, where Jesus reminded us, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness….” The kingdom of God should always be a priority in our lives, even as we pursue other vital life issues. Similarly, reaching Jewish people with the gospel should be a priority for all who know the Lord Jesus as their Savior.

Wherever Paul, the Jewish Apostle to the Gentiles, traveled in his ministry, he always first preached the gospel to the Jewish people living in that area (Acts 13:13–52; 14:1–5; 18:7–11; 19:8–10), which is why he usually began his ministry by preaching in the local synagogues. The salvation of the Jewish people was an ever-present burden for Paul, and his actions in the book of Acts reveal his understanding of what he wrote in Romans 1:16.

But there is more!

ROMANS 9 –11

In Romans 9–11, Paul pointed out some critical insights about the Jewish people and Jewish evangelism. For example, in Romans 9:1–3, we learn of Paul’s burden for the Jewish people; he expressed his willingness to give up his salvation if it meant that Jewish people might enter the kingdom of God. Romans 10:1–3 describes his heartfelt prayers for his people. In chapter 11, Paul concluded that God has not rejected the Jewish people—there is hope for the salvation of individual Jewish people in the present age and nationally at the end of days.

His first line of argumentation for God’s continued faithfulness to the Jewish people was that he—Paul—was Jewish! Paul was living evidence of God’s faithfulness. I, too, am a Jewish believer in Jesus, and there is a remnant of Jews today who are accepting the gift of salvation in Jesus the Messiah!

The work of Your Mission to the Jewish People can be summarized this way: We are Jewish and Gentile believers searching for the promised remnant the Lord has prepared among the Jewish people. We continue this ministry in the United States, Israel, Europe, South America, and in nineteen countries worldwide! I am a part of the remnant of Jewish believers looking for the others!

THE REMNANT TODAY

There is a remnant today as there was in the Old Testament period, as evidenced by Paul’s recounting the story in 1 Kings 18. God revealed to Elijah that 7,000 other men did not bow the knee to Ba’al. This group remained faithful to the God of Israel. Paul concluded that a remnant existed among the Jewish people of his day who, like himself, received Jesus as Lord (Romans 11:5). Messianic Jews today are God’s signposts of His faithfulness and power to save.

JEWISH EVANGELISM AND YOU

The task of reaching this remnant is also a mandate for the church. In Romans 11:11, Paul specifically called upon Gentile members in the body of Christ to make Jewish people jealous with the gospel message. Ultimately, that jealousy would drive the nation to Jesus, as detailed in Romans 11:25–26.

The link between Israel’s salvation and the Messiah’s return is perhaps a mystery, but true nonetheless. This relationship is spelled out in the book of Zechariah from chapter 12 through chapter 14, where we see the connection between the Lord’s return and the repentance and return of the Jewish end-time remnant.

This connection might even explain why Paul gladly accepted the mantle of apostle to the Gentiles, knowing that the salvation of the Gentiles would lead to the salvation of the Jewish remnant, which, in turn, would lead to the glorious consummation of all things!

The practical implications of these few thoughts are clear. The Gentiles within the body of Messiah have a calling to reach Jewish people for Jesus. As a 126-year-old mission to the Jewish people, Chosen People Ministries is happy to equip and train our brothers and sisters to accomplish this prophetic work.

It is part of our organizational mission statement: “Chosen People Ministries exists to pray for, evangelize, disciple, and serve Jewish people everywhere and to help fellow believers do the same.”

We accomplish this mission by encouraging, providing materials and resources, and building strategic bridges with the larger body of Messiah to fulfill this mandate in the twenty-first century.

One of our staff recently spoke to a Jewish man:

When he started reading Isaiah 53, he asked me who it was about. I said, “Who do you think it is about?” He responded, “Jesus.” Then I pointed out that it was written 700 years before Jesus was born. He said he was “blown away.”

Critical Jewish areas like New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Florida, and Israel are still facing difficult circumstances as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Our hearts break, as Paul’s did, for the salvation of our Jewish people. So many elderly Jewish people, including Holocaust survivors in Israel, are frightened and looking for answers. We know that there is only one answer to the problems and challenges of life, whether it be poor health, the loneliness of old age, or economic instability. Many Jewish people today are also concerned about change and the apparent frailty and instability of life.

We have a golden opportunity to reach Jewish people with the gospel. NOW is the time, and because of our success online, we are talking to thousands of Jewish people about Jesus. We try to visit and minister personally when able, but if not, our missionaries are now all adept at making significant online and phone connections with Jewish people.

Once again, we consider the words of that great Jewish apostle to the Gentiles, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation” (Romans 10:1).

In Messiah,
Mitch

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A High Holiday Sermon – Reminder: The Hope of Restoration

Introduction

We gather each year on the first night of Yom Kippur to hear Kol Nidrei, a traditional and moving prayer that serves as Israel’s appeal to wipe away sins by annulling the obligations of the previous year—vows that we made between the previous Day of Atonement and today. It is written in Aramaic, and its origins are disputed. Some scholars say it was written during the Gaonic period (ninth century), but many others have suggested the prayer was born out of the dark days of the Inquisition when many Spanish and Portuguese Jewish people were forced to convert to Catholicism under threat of death or expulsion.[1]

Although we are not sure why or when the prayer was created, once it was paired with the soulful melody that now makes the prayer so moving, the impact of Kol Nidrei on the hearts of Jewish people is certain. Whether religious or secular, this Yom Kippur tradition has become one of the most powerful prayers in Jewish life and faith. It is not unusual to have non-religious Jewish people attend synagogue each year on erev (the evening of) Yom Kippur simply to experience the Kol Nidrei prayer.

There are a variety of ways to present Kol Nidrei, some with unique adaptations. The following version was presented at Beth Sar Shalom—Brooklyn, and I thought it was especially creative and beautiful. Listen to it if you have a moment!

Versions of the Prayer

A traditional version of the prayer:

All vows, obligations, oaths, and anathemas, whether called ‘ḳonam,’ ‘ḳonas,’ or by any other name, which we may vow, or swear, or pledge, or whereby we may be bound, from this Day of Atonement until the next (whose happy coming we await), we do repent. May they be deemed absolved, forgiven, annulled, and void, and made of no effect; they shall not bind us nor have power over us. The vows shall not be reckoned vows; the obligations shall not be obligatory; nor the oaths be oaths.

The leader and the congregation then say together:

“And it shall be forgiven all the congregation of the children of Israel, and the stranger that sojourneth among them, seeing all the people were in ignorance” (Num. xv. 26).[2]

A more modern translation/version:

All vows we are likely to make, all oaths and pledges we are likely to vow, or swear, or consecrate, or prohibit upon ourselves between this Yom Kippur and the next Yom Kippur, we publicly renounce. Let them all be relinquished and abandoned, null and void, neither firm nor established. Our vows are no longer vows, our prohibitions are no longer prohibitions, and our oaths are no longer oaths.

The whole community of the Children of Israel, and the strangers dwelling among them, shall be forgiven, for all of them were without premeditation.—Numbers 15:26

O pardon the iniquities of this people, according to Thy abundant mercy, just as Thou forgave this people ever since they left Egypt.

The Lord said, “I pardon them according to your words.” (three times)—Numbers 14:20[3]

Rabbi Eric Solomon, a reform rabbi, writes so poignantly about the impact of the Kol Nidrei,

Kol Nidre may have been initiated by the personal need of the marranos to repent for a forced conversion, but its power has reached far past that narrow scope. When we daven the Kol Nidre together as a community, we are looking beyond the simple meaning of the words; we are beginning to focus inward, preparing to unleash our darkest memories, and paving the path towards genuine reflection on God and repentance.[4]

The Appeal of the Prayer

Clearly, at the heart of the prayer is the request of the penitent beseeching God to withhold His judgment and to be merciful for not fulfilling vows of obedience, promises of changed behavior and keeping mitzvot. There is also an underlying understanding that when we live in obedience to God, we are blessed and when we do not, we are judged. Kol Nidrei is an appeal, asking God to release us from the promises we could not keep. The prayer expresses a desire to be forgiven for making unkept vows and for not meeting God’s expectations.

At its core, Kol Nidrei expresses our desire for forgiveness and God’s blessings. Somehow, we all know, in the depth of our souls, irrespective of our theology, that we are worthy of judgment and are in desperate need of forgiveness.

I cannot disagree with these sentiments. The Bible is very clear about these matters. Judaism typically does not affirm the depravity of man in the same way that Christianity does. Yet, the regularity of committing sin is obviously recognized by the very nature of Yom Kippur.

Biblical Blessings and Judgments

The Bible teaches that there is a causal relationship between obedience and blessings, and between disobedience and judgment. It is a theme woven throughout Scripture in more places than we can count, and it generally describes the nature of our relationship with God. In very summarized terms, when we do what He says, we are blessed and happy, and if we do not, then we are judged and, well, not very happy. Israel’s experiences of these blessings and judgments vary throughout the Old and New Testaments, but I am sure no one would argue this pattern is fundamental to Scripture.

Blessing and judgments are embedded in the very covenants the Holy One constructed to guide our relationship to Him.

The themes of blessings and judgments are tied to His perfect nature. He is holy and just, and we are sinful. Yet, God calls upon us to act against our nature and live righteously. If we do, we will be fulfilled and happy. If we do not—if we fail to act righteously—then judgment should be expected. If He should ignore our rebellion against His standards and do nothing about it, then He would appear to be unholy, unjust, unrighteous, and even weak, making demands that not even He could fulfill.

Would we really want to worship a God who had no standards? What if there were no ultimate justice? Or would we worship a God who had standards but did not act upon them? As uncomfortable as judgment might be, we would still rather adore and follow a holy and righteous God who enforced His standards…would we not?

Yet, the Bible teaches that this same God is also loving, gracious, and merciful. As He proclaimed to Moses when He passed by him on Sinai,

The Lord descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the Lord. Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” (Exodus 34:5–7)

We also read in the Bible of His willingness to override His justice and to show mercy, which is not getting what you deserve for your sinful behavior, and grace, defined as receiving what you could never merit.

God’s Covenants

Again, these relationships, on a larger and national level for Israel, are embedded within the covenants He made with mankind, including a promise to not destroy the world again by a flood (Genesis 9:9–17) and built into the two great covenants that form the foundation of Jewish national existence; the Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant.

In the Abrahamic Covenant, the Lord promised Abram and his seed that He would preserve them as a people (Genesis 12), they will possess a land with boundaries outlined in Genesis 15, receive blessings from God (Genesis 12), and be used by God to bring these blessings to the world (Genesis 12:3).[5]

This covenant is described as without time or conditions. The Lord takes responsibility to fulfill these promises sometime in the future without fail.

The promised blessing (Genesis 12:2, “And I will bless you”) may be understood as including the people, the land, and Abram’s reputation, but seems to focus on the promise that God’s blessings are linked to His presence with His people.

The blessings go beyond the land to the hope given by God that His presence will remain with the Jewish people throughout their existence as a nation. Israel would be a nation that would ultimately know the presence of God in their midst. As the Lord promised to Abraham,

I have made you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:6–8)

These manifold blessings will be mediated through Abraham, reside with those who bless the children of Abraham, and flow to the entire non-Abrahamic world. If Israel is disobedient, then according to the covenant with Abraham, the Lord Himself will take the responsibility of turning the hearts of the Jewish people to Himself (Romans 11:25–29). Leviticus 26: 45 says, “But I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am the Lord.”

The Mosaic Covenant is a bit different. The covenant God made with Moses is causal in nature, and both judgments and blessings are linked to the behavior of the Jewish people; blessings for obedience and judgments for disobedience.

These two covenants determined the history of Israel. When the Jewish people were faithful, they were blessed and remained in the land, and when we were disobedient, the Jewish people experienced God’s judgment and were removed from the Land on the basis of the Mosaic Covenant.

722 BCE – The Assyrians dispersed the northern tribes.

604–586 BCE – The southern tribes go into Babylonian captivity and the Temple is destroyed.

AD 70 – The Romans disperse the Jewish people and destroy the Second Temple.

AD 132 – The Jewish people are further dispersed by Roman Emperor Hadrian.

However, the Lord never allowed His chosen people to languish in captivity for too long and brought Israel back from exile—on the basis of the Abrahamic covenant. Today, almost seven million Jewish people have been gathered back to the land of Israel, but certainly not on the basis of obedience to the Mosaic Covenant! Their return is tied to the unmerited grace described in the Abrahamic Covenant and is part of His unfolding purposes predicted in Ezekiel 36–37 and Romans 11:12; 15; 25–29.

Two Passages that Predict the Future of Israel Based Upon the Covenants

Perhaps the two passages of Scripture that are well-known and speak so profoundly to this causal relationship and pattern—Disobedience:Judgement::Obedience:Blessings—are found in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, which are perhaps my least favorite passages of the Bible.

Deuteronomy Chapter 28

This chapter outlines the blessings and judgments that would befall Israel on the basis of the Mosaic Covenant. There are fourteen verses of blessings and fifty-four of judgment. The following three verses at the end of Moses’ discourse summarize the nature of these judgments:

It shall come about that as the Lord delighted over you to prosper you, and multiply you, so the Lord will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you will be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it. Moreover, the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, which you or your fathers have not known. Among those nations you shall find no rest, and there will be no resting place for the sole of your foot; but there the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul. (Deuteronomy 28:63–65)

We see that this has transpired and is a sober and serious reminder of God’s judgment for our sin.

Leviticus Chapter 26

This chapter is similar but includes more of a focus on grace and the Abrahamic Covenant. The two covenants are interwoven in this text. Chapter 26 begins with two additional reminders of God’s Mosaic commandments, and then, in verses three through thirteen, outlines the promised blessings of obedience.

For example,

If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments so as to carry them out, then I shall give you rains in their season, so that the land will yield its produce and the trees of the field will bear their fruit. Indeed, your threshing will last for you until grape gathering, and grape gathering will last until sowing time. You will thus eat your food to the full and live securely in your land. (Leviticus 26:3–5)

However, Moses then presents twenty-five verses (Leviticus 26:14–39) of severe judgment for disobedience. Again, this is a reflection of the Mosaic Covenant and the result of our disobedience to the covenant demands. The Mosaic Covenant is a standard of holiness that reminds us of God’s expectations and standards that we will never achieve on our own.

Principles of Spiritual Restoration

We can learn so much from God’s plans and purposes for the nation of Israel. These principles govern our lives as well. Though the Mosaic Covenant is specific to the Jewish people and the Jewish people are the main focus of the Abrahamic Covenant, by virtue of its promises, it extends to the nations as well. 

The hope of restoration is also seen in the midst of His judgments—a reminder of the promised future God has prepared for the nation of Israel on the basis of the Abrahamic Covenant. We read in Leviticus chapter twenty-six:

If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers, in their unfaithfulness which they committed against Me, and also in their acting with hostility against Me—I also was acting with hostility against them, to bring them into the land of their enemies—or if their uncircumcised heart becomes humbled so that they then make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well, and I will remember the land. For the land will be abandoned by them, and will make up for its sabbaths while it is made desolate without them. They, meanwhile, will be making amends for their iniquity, because they rejected My ordinances and their soul abhorred My statutes. Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God. But I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am the Lord. (Leviticus 26:40–45)

Personally, as a Jewish believer, I do not view the high holiday season as valuable for purely evangelistic reasons, though many Jewish people come to faith in Jesus during this special time of the year. I also do not fast and pray on Yom Kippur simply on behalf of the sins of my Jewish people and family. I have learned that the true value of the high holiday season, for me and all who cherish their Messianic heritage, is remembering that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is a renewing and restoring God, and I take advantage of this season of the year to seek forgiveness and find the renewal that I believe is tearfully sought by the Kol Nidrei prayer.

I suggest we can draw two principles from God’s covenantal relationship with Israel that apply to our lives and are especially evident during the high holiday season.

The Lord will respond to our repentance with grace, mercy and forgiveness. Remember the words of Leviticus 26:40–42,

If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers, in their unfaithfulness which they committed against Me, and also in their acting with hostility against Me—I also was acting with hostility against them, to bring them into the land of their enemies—or if their uncircumcised heart becomes humbled so that they then make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well, and I will remember the land.

Notice the language. Moses certainly has the Abrahamic Covenant in mind. This covenant was made with Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham…in backwards order. This is the covenant that promises grace as the Lord staked His holy reputation on fulfilling what He promised. The day will come when Israel will experience these blessings again as the Lord will cause the hearts of the Jewish people to turn back to Him.

It is the reason we cry out for mercy on this holy day—because God is a God of restoration who keeps His promises. One day, Israel will turn from her disobedience and be totally restored as they live in the land, experience the blessings of God presence, and the nations will also enjoy the benefits of God’s kingdom on earth.

Theses verses remind us that judgment falls upon the chosen people because of our failure to obey the commandments in the Mosaic Covenant. But, the hope for Israel’s restoration is based upon a different covenant and different promises—those found in the Abrahamic Covenant. Even when Israel sins and is in exile, the Lord will still keep His holy hand upon His people. Not because of their obedience, but because of His faithfulness. “Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God. But I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 26:44–45).

If we were completely honest with one another, we would admit that our lives are a battleground! We are constantly struggling and battling against sin. The reason most people do not see this is because the battle is within. We are constantly sinning, repenting, and asking the Lord for renewal and transformation by the power of His Spirit. If not, then we are feeling defeated or, even worse, have given up. The good news is that God is a forgiving God by nature, and constantly extends His grace and mercy to those who have been bought by the blood of Yeshua! There is always hope for overcoming the sins that beset us. Victory is available but it might not look like the spiritual victory described in some Christian books or trite spiritual formulas. The battle for holiness that rages in our souls is one we will fight until we are perfected.

My hope and prayer for all of us is that we will seek the Lord and His strength while realistically recognizing the darkness of our souls. We should continue to fight the battles within our souls. Why? Because we know that the war was won on Golgotha as He said, “It is finished.” But we must keep fighting until He comes, knowing that He understands our frame and weakness and is always available to give us help, strength, and as Paul wrote, “Who is the one who condemns? Messiah Yeshua is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us (Romans 8:34).

So, please do not give up! Remember that the fight for spiritual growth is part of walking with God. It is a battle worth winning though there will certainly be losses along the way. We need to expect some losses and remember that restoration is always available and begins with repentance.

I love Kol Nidrei. It is an honest prayer reminding me of my failures and the multitude of ways even the best among us break our promises to God and man. We might as well admit it! Though we believe in Yeshua, we still break His holy commandments written in both the Old and New Testaments. Does God cast us off for our sins? No! Jesus told us that time and again.

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37).

And again,

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:9–10).

Like Israel, we are secured by a grace covenant through the death and resurrection of the Messiah Yeshua. When we find ourselves drifting from Him, we must remember that He will not forget us as He does not forget Israel—He always has His hands upon us. There is always hope for grace and restoration, and Yom Kippur and the entirety of the high holiday season is a wonderful time to rededicate ourselves to the Lord, repent of our sins, and find grace that leads to restoration. This repentance and seeking His grace should continue every day of our lives.  We really need to live a repentant lifestyle, which leads to a grace-filled life, filled with His powerful and comforting presence every day.


[1] For more on the origins of this important Jewish prayer, see Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, ed., All These Vows: Kol Nidre, Prayers of Awe (Woodstock, Vt.: Jewish Lights Pub., 2011).

[2] Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. “Kol Nidre,” http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9443-kol-nidre.

[3] Rabbi Ruth Adar, “What Does Kol Nidre Mean?,” Coffee Shop Rabbi (blog), September 29, 2015, https://coffeeshoprabbi.com/2015/09/29/what-does-kol-nidre-mean/.

[4] Rabbi Eric Solomon, “Kol Nidrei Collection,” SaveTheMusic.com, accessed September 25, 2020, https://savethemusic.com/collections/the-kol-nidre-collection/.

[5] See the excellent Journal article in the Masters Seminary Journal by Dr. Keith Essex on the Abrahamic covenant: Keith H. Essex, “The Abrahamic Covenant,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 10, no. 2 (Fall 1999): 191-212, https://www.tms.edu/m/tmsj10n.pdf.

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A High Holidays Message: Hungry for Repentance? Try Fasting!

Matthew 6:16–18

“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

Introduction

When I was growing up, in my home and in my friend’s home, fasting was required—but not enjoyed—and it was perfectly legitimate to share your misery with everyone. I understand this might not be the case in more religious Jewish homes and with some individuals, but this was true in my experience.

I have put together our family fasting rules.

Glaser Household—The Seven Rules of Fasting:

  1. Eat a huge meal the night before—as late as possible.
  1. Wake up the next morning as late as possible—1:00 pm is good!
  1. Take multiple naps during the day.
  1. Prepare for a headache by 3:00 pm, and accept the fact that Tylenol is not food.
  1. Remember, if you are sick, you do not have to fast; begin thinking through various illnesses a week ahead of time to make sure you have your list of symptoms prepared.
  1. Plan the break-fast well; decide between bagels and lox and a dairy meal or Chinese food. You may begin thinking about the meal after 4:00 pm, but try not to be consumed (get it?) … it is just a meal.
  1. Set your watch ahead by thirty minutes the day before (so you will not be late for synagogue) and question your watch only after you have taken your first bite. After all, if you have already broken the fast, then you cannot go backwards and should just keep eating!

I believe my family may have been just like yours! How many of us fast just because it is tradition?

As followers of Yeshua the Messiah, should we fast on Yom Kippur, and if so, why? We may have been taught that we fast to earn atonement, but the Bible and even Jewish tradition does not teach this. This common misconception might be why you, as a believer, have a problem with fasting on Yom Kippur. So, without my telling you what to do or trying to make up your mind for you on whether you should fast, let us look at the Scriptures and hear from God on this important matter.

If we do choose to fast, the words of Yeshua will guide us in how to get the most value out of fasting, the nature of the reward for those who fast well, and what can we do in the next twenty-four hours to receive this reward from the Lord.

The Jewish View on Fasting—Especially on Yom Kippur

As a start, we need to get some background about fasting from both the Hebrew Scriptures and Jewish tradition.

According to common Jewish thinking, fast days fall into three main categories: (1) fasts decreed in the Bible or instituted to commemorate biblical events; (2) fasts decreed by the rabbis; (3) private fasts.[1]

In Judaism, we observe five minor fasts[2] and two major fasts. The two major fasts are Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av, the ninth of the month of Av when we commemorate and increase our mourning over the destruction of the Temple.[3] The fast for Tisha B’Av is a major fast in traditional Judaism, but it is not a fast required by the Torah, as is the case with Yom Kippur.

In dealing with fasting beyond the Torah, it may be useful to categorize the instances by their occasions. These categories show fasting as: (1) a sign of grief or mourning, (2) a sign of repentance and seeking forgiveness for sin, (3) an aid in prayer, (4) an experience of the presence of God that results in the endorsement of His messenger, and (5) an act of ceremonial public worship.[4]

And we see illustrations of this in the life of King David who fasted for the life of his son, Daniel who fasted and prayed on behalf of the Jewish people, and many other instances of fasting in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Dr. Kent D. Berghuis writes in his doctoral dissertation on fasting,

The various references to fasting in the Hebrew Bible and Jewish tradition begin to converge in several key theological themes. The most basic ancient purpose of fasting as a sign of mourning in times of death or disaster branches into two main theological ideas, namely fasting as repentance for sin and fasting to intensify prayer when seeking God’s favor. Both of these ideas, however, presuppose an even more basic theological idea that the OT occasionally highlights through fasting references: that God is the ultimate source and sustainer of life, and human life depends on connection to his presence and obedience to his words.[5]

According to the prophet Zechariah, the Jewish people during his day fasted a number of times, and one day, these fasts will become feasts in the Messianic kingdom as there will be no more mourning or repentance.

Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “The fast of the fourth, the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth months will become joy, gladness, and cheerful feasts for the house of Judah; so love truth and peace”’” (Zechariah 8:18–19).[6]

This idea of fasting-today-turned-into-feasting-tomorrow is a wonderful biblical theme that Yeshua discussed with the disciples of John the Baptist in Matthew 9:14:

“Then the disciples of John came to Him, asking, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?’”

Yeshua answered in verse 15:

“And Jesus said to them, ‘The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.’”

In other words, fasting was linked to mourning and repentance, and since Yeshua was present, it was time to rejoice and not to mourn. After He left, it became more acceptable to fast. This also implies that, when He returns, it will be a time of joy and not mourning—a time for a Messianic banquet at which we will feast instead of fast. This is important, as we fast today not because we are mourning that we do not have the Messiah, but rather because we want to grow closer to Him.

The Key Yom Kippur Texts: (Leviticus 16; 23:26–32; Numbers 29:7)

It is important to know that the word for fast (צום) does not appear in the biblical passages about Yom Kippur. Instead, the phrase meaning “humble your souls” (וְעִנִּיתֶ֖ם אֶת־נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶ֑ם) appears, which at times is also translated “afflict yourselves.”[7] It is actually used in Isaiah 53, where the prophet predicted that the Messiah would bear all of our afflictions:

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted (Isaiah 53:4).

In the traditional Jewish mindset, afflicting oneself and fasting were often synonymous. Afflicting ourselves might include other aspects of self-denial aside from fasting. We do not need to limit fasting to food!

Thus, the rabbis declare that ʿinnah nefesh, enjoined for the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29, 31; 23:27–32), consists not only of fasting but of other forms of self-denial such as abstention from “washing, anointing, wearing shoes, and cohabitation” (Yoma 8:1; cf. Targum Jonathan, Leviticus 16:29).[8]

Leviticus 16:29–31

“This shall be a permanent statute for you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall humble your souls and not do any work, whether the native, or the alien who sojourns among you; for it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the Lord. It is to be a sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls; it is a permanent statute.”

Leviticus 23:26–32

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall humble your souls and present an offering by fire to the Lord. You shall not do any work on this same day, for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the Lord your God. If there is any person who will not humble himself on this same day, he shall be cut off from his people. As for any person who does any work on this same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall do no work at all. It is to be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. It is to be a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall humble your souls; on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening until evening you shall keep your sabbath.’”

Numbers 29:7

“Then on the tenth day of this seventh month you shall have a holy convocation, and you shall humble yourselves; you shall not do any work.”

An Introduction to the message:

Fasting is not a way to earn forgiveness from sin. Fasting is a way to help us repent of our sin and everyday lack of dependence upon God. It should not be viewed as an end in and of itself.

Rather than repentance helping us to fast, fasting helps us to repent.

Yeshua, in speaking about fasting in Matthew 6:16–18, reminded His hearers that character is paramount and that our motives are what matter, not the externals of religious observance. Fasting, if done for the right reason, will lead an individual to repent in a way that could have great spiritual impact and lasting transformation.

Let us look closely at the text and try to understand what the Messiah is told His disciples.

The Context of the Sermon on the Mount

Yeshua focused on three areas of piety—good deeds, prayer, and fasting—all of which are acceptable and expected of godly people. He was not upset with what the Jewish religious leaders were doing, but how they were doing it. He was not upset with them for giving money to the poor, praying, or fasting. He was concerned with the way some of them were focusing on the externals of piety rather than on the condition of their hearts and motivation.

The Messiah believed that some of the religious leaders were eager to please men rather than God, and that is why they did religious things. The consistent message of the Bible is that God is far more interested in the condition of our hearts, our motivation for godly acts (like fasting), and our resultant behavior. As the Prophet Micah wrote,

“With what shall I come to the Lord and bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:6–8, emphasis added).

Fasting, a spontaneous phenomenon in the days of the First Temple, may have entered the calendar as a regular and recurring event only after the exile.[9] Theologian Kent Berghuis tells us that fasting had already become a regular part of Jewish religious life by the time of Jesus.[10]

Yeshua was obviously upset with a group of hypocrites who did good deeds and helped the poor but broadcasted their good deeds so that everyone knew what they were doing! Their motivation was to receive accolades from man rather than secret rewards from God (Matthew 6:2–4).

It is unfortunate that, throughout church history, religious Jews, especially the pharisees, were regarded as hypocrites. This is unfounded, so I do not want you to walk away from this message thinking the same thing! Yeshua was referring to a certain group who loved the praise of men rather than the praise of God. This charge cannot be laid at the feet of every religious Jew—either during the time of Jesus or today.

In fact, rather than thinking about others, it would be better to think about ourselves—our hearts and our motivation for worship and doing what we do. Are we in any way guilty of the same things that Jesus was concerned about regarding this group of hypocrites?

Yeshua clearly affirmed giving to the poor, praying, and fasting. But He instructed His listeners to do these things secretly for God, not publicly for the praise of man. If we obey His instructions, then “[our] Father who sees what is done in secret will reward [us]” (Matthew 6:4). Note His following instructions (emphasis added):

  • Matthew 6:2—“So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”
  • Matthew 6:3–4—“But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
  • Matthew 6:5 —“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men.”
  • Matthew 6:6—“But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
  • Matthew 6:16–18—“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

Jesus was not telling them not to fast, but to do so in the right way with the right heart.

He did not say if you fast, but when you fast, just like when you pray and when you give to the poor (vv. 16–17). The Lord expects us to fast at times, but to fast in an authentic way that glorifies Him and brings us a reward.

Jesus wants His followers to fast with the right motivation, indicated by their doing so quietly and without seeking public accolades (Matthew 6:18). Matthew 6 makes clear that Yeshua expected that at times we will fast, and so, you will be doing nothing wrong by fasting for the 24 hours of Yom Kippur. But it is important to know why you are fasting and to do so correctly.

Pastor and author, John Piper, wrote the following on authentic fasting:

Jesus calls them hypocrites. Why? Because the heart that motivates fasting is supposed to be a heart for God. That’s what fasting means: a heart-hunger for God. But the heart motivating their fasting is a heart for human admiration…. So there are two dangers that these fasting folks have fallen into. One is that they are seeking the wrong reward in fasting, namely, the esteem of other people. They love the praise of men. And the other is that they hide this with a pretense of love for God…. So Jesus tests our hearts to see if God himself will be our sufficiency—when nobody else knows what we are doing. When no one is saying, “How are you getting on with the fast?” No one even knows—no one but God!… If God is not real to you, it will be miserable to endure something difficult with God as the only one who knows.[11]

So, now instead of the Glaser Household Rules for Fasting, let me share with you eight other insights I have gleaned from Scripture on fasting that might be helpful.

  1. Fasting deepens our personal worship of the Lord.

The relationship between fasting and prayer is very important, and this can be seen in Daniel’s prayer of repentance.

So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed and said, “Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances. Moreover, we have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers and all the people of the land.” (Daniel 9:3–6)

If one is going to get the most value out of fasting, it is also important that we spend time in prayer, because fasting is not only about what we are denying (ourselves and this world), but what we are trying to appropriate and receive from the Lord—things that this world cannot give that will satisfy our souls.

Believers fast to make more of Jesus in heaven and less of ourselves and things on Earth. Fasting helps us to separate between our needs and our wants—to differentiate what is necessary and appropriate from what is extravagant. When we fast, we realize that a sip of water and a taste of bread that sustains physical life is all we need and that the rest of our diet—especially good food—should be viewed as signs of God’s grace and love. A great meal should cause us to give praise to a great God who created the building blocks for that meal.

  1. Fasting encourages repentance and leads to changed behavior and an increase in doing good deeds. 

Theologian Richard Foster reflects,

More than any other single Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of [Yeshua]. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface. If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately. Anger, jealousy, strife, fear—if they are within us, they will surface during fasting. At first we will rationalize that our anger is due to our hunger; then we will realize that we are angry because the spirit of anger is within us. We can rejoice in this knowledge because we know that healing is available through the power of Christ.[12]

On this topic, Piper also adds,

So here we have another test of authenticity. Jesus said, If you are fasting to be seen by others, you have your reward. That’s it. Isaiah says, If your fasting leaves you self-indulgent in other areas, harsh toward your employees, irritable and contentious, then your fasting is not acceptable to God. It’s not what he chooses. God is mercifully warning us against the danger of substituting religious fervor for righteous living.[13]

  1. Fasting is more about focusing on what you do than on what you do without.

One of the passages that speaks directly to this principal is Isaiah chapter 58. The prophet linked fasting to transformed behavior. He argued that if your fasting is not connected to godly living, then your fast is in vain. This does not mean we should not fast, but that we cannot try to please God by fasting and then displease Him the next moment by acting badly, disobeying Him, sinning against our fellow man, or withholding what is right, generous, and helpful to our fellow man.

Isaiah 58 wrote:

Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?…And if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday. And the Lord will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. (Isaiah 58:6–7; 10–11)

  1. Fasting strengthens your fellowship with other believers and leads to greater ministry and guidance. 

Acts 13:1–2 says, “Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’”

Like the believers in the early church, sometimes we need to fast to seek His direction at important times in our lives or when we have a great need for guidance. This could be one good reason to fast during Yom Kippur.

  1. Fasting leads to a greater dependence upon God. 

Maybe you have heard it said, “You do not have to be overweight to be a glutton.” Some of us who are overweight are not gluttonous at all, and some of us who are quite fit can be gluttonous because we focus on the extravagance of good food without proper gratitude to God.

When we fast, we come to grips with the value of our “daily bread.” Fasting helps us to identify our lack of dependence upon God for our daily bread and our lust for food and other treats in this world, which cause us to focus on the created rather than on the Creator.

  1. Fasting leads to humility; therefore, those who fast should be discreet and not call attention to their fasts.

Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and is considered one of the most influential people of the twentieth century. This little story reveals her heart and how she illustrates the godly sacrifices that come from self-denial—fasting or otherwise. 

As the story goes, a well-known Christian speaker was visiting with Mother Teresa and everyone removed their shoes for prayer.

In most parts of India, it is a custom for everyone to remove their shoes when entering any place of worship. Shane noticed that when Mother Teresa took her shoes off for daily prayer, her feet were knobby, gnarled, deformed and pressed in the wrong directions. Shane wondered whether it was a birth defect, the result of an accident, the side effects of a disease or illness or perhaps due to leprosy. A sister of the Missionaries of Charity explained.

Mother Teresa and her sisters relied on donations for everything, including their shoes. They received donations of used shoes once in a while for distribution among the needy. When a load of used shoes would come in, Mother Teresa used to dig through the pile of shoes and consistently chose the worst pair for herself regardless of how badly they may have fitted. Her feet deteriorated by wearing substandard shoes. She crippled herself showing love and compassion to those that had nothing.

Mother Teresa loved the needy so much that she wanted them to have the best of the worst and not the worst.[14]

She said of herself, “I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.”[15]

  1. Fasting helps you to identify with the suffering of others—the poor, those deprived of basic human needs, the misery of injustice, and the poverty of the soul.

Fasting reminds us of what we have and of how generous God has been to us. By doing without food, we appreciate what we have and become more sensitive to what others do not have.

Writer Rahel Musleah reminds us of this truth in her article entitled, “A Day to Bare our Souls and Find Ourselves”:

‘Fasting is an important way to feel our own privilege,’ says Reimer. ‘We have a choice whether to eat, but that’s not a choice we all have. I use fasting to identify with people who don’t have enough.’ As a child of survivors, Reimer grew up with stories of her parents living on a slice of bread a day—or less. ‘When I fast, part of me connects backward to their history. Then I look forward, to what my obligation is to others in the same place.’ Her congregation, the Worship and Study Congregation, part of Harvard Hillel, follows Kol Nidrei with an appeal for Project Bread, which provides food for the hungry.

‘I often joke that Yom Kippur is the day to invite people for lunch,’ says Reimer, who nonetheless uses the break in services to run home to set up for the post-fast meal. ‘It’s different than feeding myself,’ she muses. ‘It’s about my need to feed others.’ The haftarah—the reading from the Prophets—satisfies her sensitivity toward social justice. ‘It says that all the outside ritual is unimportant; all that matters is reaffirming our concern for others, our commitment to care for the needy, the outcast and those who are less fortunate.’[16]

  1.  Fasting for the right reasons and in the right way brings great reward.

I appreciate what the great Methodist preacher John Wesley said in one of his sermons concerning the question, “How are we to fast, so that it may be acceptable to the Lord?” He provided the following five instructions:

1. First, let it be done to the Lord, with our eye firmly fixed on Him.

2. Secondly, if we do desire this reward, let us beware of thinking we will merit anything from God by our fasting.

3. Thirdly, let us be careful to humble our souls as well as our bodies.

4. Fourthly, let us always join fervent prayer with fasting, pouring out our souls before God, confessing our sins, humbling ourselves under his mighty hand, laying open before him all our needs, all our guiltiness and helplessness.

5. Lastly, one other thing needs to be mentioned with regard to fasting: in order for our fasting to be acceptable to the Lord, we need to add prayers and gifts to the poor; works of mercy, within our power, both to the bodies and souls of men, for: “With such sacrifices God is pleased.”[17]

What then is the promised reward? And is it worth going without food? Yeshua said, “Your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:18).

While an answer to prayer may come, or direction in a problem, the greatest reward is clearly the Lord Himself; it is His presence. This is the reward most cherished by every believer in every age and even more so for those who have had their sins forgiven and know Yeshua as their Messiah.

Conclusion

May I suggest a menu for Yom Kippur?

A Day of Atonement menu should include the following:

  • The appetizer—repentance
  • The main course—fasting leading to our dependence upon God for all things
  • Side dishes—faith, wisdom, guidance
  • Dessert—joyful transformation and good deeds

What’s new about fasting as believers in Yeshua?

We fast on Yom Kippur not to obtain atonement and forgiveness of sins. As believers in Yeshua, we fast knowing our sins are forgiven by Yeshua’s once-for-all sacrifice. Piper explains this “new fasting” as follows:  

What’s new about the fasting is that it rests on all this finished work of the Bridegroom. The yearning that we feel for revival or awakening or deliverance from corruption is not merely longing and aching. The first fruits of what we long for have already come. The down payment of what we yearn for is already paid. The fullness that we are longing for and fasting for has appeared in history and we have beheld his glory. It is not merely future.

We have tasted the powers of the age to come, and our new fasting is not because we are hungry for something we have not tasted, but because the new wine of [Messiah’s] presence is so real and so satisfying. The newness of our fasting is this: its intensity comes not because we have never tasted the wine of [Messiah’s] presence, but because we have tasted it so wonderfully by his Spirit and cannot now be satisfied until the consummation of joy arrives.[18]

Hasidic Story

An old Hassidic story really sums up the role and reason for fasting both during Yom Kippur and at other times for the person seeking a deeper relationship with the God of Israel.

A man once complained to Chassidic master Rabbi Bunim of Peshischa:

“I saw it written in the holy books that if a person fasts a certain number of times, he will merit that Elijah the Prophet will reveal himself to him and teach him the secrets of the Torah. Well, I fulfilled the regimen of fasts, exactly as prescribed, yet Elijah did not reveal himself to me.”

Rabbi Bunim told the man the following story:

Once, the holy Baal Shem Tov had to travel to a far-off destination on a matter of extreme importance to the welfare of a Jewish community. As was his custom on such trips, the Baal Shem Tov told his coachman, Alexis, to drop the reins and turn around in his bench. No sooner had the coachman turned his back on the horses that the road began to literally fly under their feet, and they traversed a many weeks’ journey in a few hours.

The horses, noticing that they were galloping past the feeding stations without stopping, thought to themselves: “Perhaps we are not horses after all, but human beings. Otherwise, why are we not being given oats and water at the customary places? Surely we will eat with the men, when they stop for their meals at the crossroads inns.”

But the inns, too, flew by, one after another, with dizzying speed. “It seems,” the horses now surmised, “that we are not men after all, but angels, who do not partake of earthly food at all.”

But then the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples arrived at their destination and rushed off to attend to their holy mission, while Alexis unhitched the horses and led them to the barn, where they guzzled water and devoured oats like the horses they were…

“The purpose of a fast,” concluded Rabbi Bunim, “is to refine the person, to have him transcend, if only for a few hours, the gross materiality of the human state. But if the moment the fast ends he attacks his food with the fervor of a man who hasn’t eaten all day, what has been achieved?”[19]

As believers in Yeshua the Messiah, there are benefits and blessings that come with fasting that can last a lifetime. It is good for the body and for the soul.


[1] “Jewish Holidays: Fasting and Fast Days,” Jewish Virtual Library, accessed September 18, 2020, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/fasting-and-fast-days.

[2] “Three of these five fasts commemorate events leading to the downfall of the first commonwealth and the destruction of the first Temple, which is commemorated by the major fast of Tisha B’Av. Following is a list of minor fasts required by Jewish law, their dates, and the events they commemorate: The Fast of Gedaliah, Tishri 3, commemorates the killing of the Jewish governor of Judah, a critical event in the downfall of the first commonwealth. The Fast of Tevet, Tevet 10, is the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem. It has also been proclaimed a memorial day for the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust. The Fast of Esther, Adar 13, commemorates the three days that Esther fasted before approaching King Ahasuerus on behalf of the Jewish people. The fast is connected with Purim. If Adar 13 falls on a Friday or Saturday, it is moved to the preceding Thursday, because it cannot be moved forward a day (it would fall on Purim). The Fast of the Firstborn, Nissan 14, is a fast observed only by firstborn males, commemorating the fact that they were saved from the plague of the firstborn in Egypt. It is observed on the day preceding Passover. The Fast of Tammuz, Tammuz 17, is the date when the walls of Jerusalem were breached, another major event leading up to the destruction of the First Temple.” See Tracey R Rich, “Minor Fasts,” Judaism 101, accessed September 18, 2020, https://www.jewfaq.org/holidaye.htm.

[3] For a more extensive list, see “Jewish Holidays: Fasting & Feast Days,” https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/fasting-and-fast-days.

[4] “Jewish Holidays: Fasting and Fast Days.”

[5] Kent D. Berghuis, Christian Fasting: A Theological Approach (Richardson, TX: Biblical Studies Press, 2013), https://bible.org/seriespage/chapter-1-fasting-old-testament-and-ancient-judaism-mourning-repentance.

[6] “Fixed fast days are first mentioned by the post-Exilic prophet Zechariah who proclaims the word of the Lord thus: ‘The fast of the fourth month, the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth…’ (Zechariah 8:19; cf. 7:3, 5). Jewish tradition has it that these fasts commemorate the critical events which culminated in the destruction of the Temple: the tenth of Tevet (the tenth month), the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem; the 17th of Tammuz (the fourth month), the breaching of the walls; the ninth of Av (the fifth month), when the Temple was destroyed; and the third of Tishri (the seventh month), when Gedaliah, the Babylonian-appointed governor of Judah, was assassinated. Some scholars maintain that these fast days are much older, marking the beginning of a Lenten period which preceded the seasonal festivals, and to which only later tradition affixed the events of the national catastrophe.” See “Jewish Holidays: Fasting and Fast Days,” Jewish Virtual Library, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/fasting-and-fast-days

[7] “However, it is not specifically described as a ‘fast’ in the Hebrew Bible, nor is fasting enjoined. That is, the words from the root צום are not employed, nor is there any explicit reference to abstaining from food. Instead, the Hebrew uses a broader term ( תְּעַנּוּ אֶת־נפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם, which may have included fasting as an understood application) and commands the people to ‘afflict,’ ‘deny,’ or ‘humble yourselves.’ Jewish tradition practiced fasting on that day, as also evidenced by the Targums (which actually used the Aramaic cognate of צום), the Qumran literature, and the NT. Since Jewish tradition universally has interpreted the instructions of these passages to include fasting as a sign of afflicting and humbling oneself, it is possible that other places in the Bible that mention humbling, affliction, and the like may have in fact tacitly included fasting. This connection is clear in Ps 35:13, ‘I humbled my soul with fasting’ ( עִנֵּיתִי בַצּוֹם נַפְשִׁי) (NASB). Here, fasting is explicitly the means of ‘humbling’ oneself. Isa 58:3 similarly links these terms: ‘Why don’t you notice when we fast? Why don’t you pay attention when we humble ourselves?’ In this poetic text, צַּמְנוּ stands in parallel relationship to עִנִּינוּ נַפְשֵׁנוּ in the next line. It is reasonable that a similar logical relationship exists with the Day of Atonement admonitions, even though the Hebrew text itself is not explicit. Fasting is a particular expression of the more general concept of humbling oneself. The first use of צוּם and the first narrative reference to fasting after Moses is Judg 20:26, when Israel fasted during the Benjamite civil war.” See Kent D. Berghuis.

[8] “Jewish Holidays: Fasting & Feast Days,” JewishVirtualLibrary.org.

[9] “As the fasts of Israel turned routine, the prophets urged the people to true justice in anticipation of the eschatological day when their mourning would be turned to gladness, their fasting to feasting. Against the backdrop of Jewish fasting that occasionally obscured true humility, repentance and justice through hypocrisy and ritual, the eschatological realization of the ideal that fasting anticipated came in the person of Jesus Christ. … During the Second Temple period, daily or biweekly fastings were practiced for reasons of asceticism, especially among women (Judith 8:6; Luke 2:37; TJ, Ḥag 2:2, 77d), but also among men (Luke 18:12; Mark 2:18), or in preparation for an apocalyptic revelation (Dan. 10:3, 12; ii Bar. 12:5; 20:5–21:1; 43:3; iv Ezra 5:13–20; 6:35; Sanh. 65b; TJ, Kil. 9:4, 32b). The Jewish literature of the Second Temple period also advocates fasting as a way of atonement for sins committed either unintentionally (Ps. of Sol. 3:9) or even deliberately (Test. Patr., Sim. 3:4), or to prevent them (ibid., Joseph 3:4; 4:8; 10:1–2). These reasons for fasting were strengthened by the destruction of the Second Temple and even more by the repression of the Bar Kokhba revolt and the subsequent religious persecutions. The Second Temple period literature also stressed that a fast without sincere repentance is valueless and senseless (Test. Patr., Ash. 2:8; 4:3; cf. ibid., Joseph 3:5 – in addition to the fast, Joseph gave his food to the poor and the sick). In the Second Temple period fasting was also seen as an “ascetic exercise” which serves to purify man and bring him closer to God.” See Kent D. Berghuis.

[10] Finally, fasting as a discipline, a routine for the pious, is attested only in post-biblical times in the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, and Qumran literature. See “Jewish Holidays: Fasting & Feast Days,” JewishVirtualLibrary.org.

[11] John Piper, “Fasting for the Father’s Reward,” desiringGod, February 5, 1995, https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/fasting-for-the-fathers-reward.

[12] Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (San Francisco: Harper, 1998), 55.

[13] John Piper, “A Fast for Waters That Do Not Fail,” desiringGod, February 12, 1995, https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/a-fast-for-waters-that-do-not-fail.

[14] T.V.Antony Raj, “Mother Teresa’s Feet,” Impressions (blog), February 9, 2013, https://tvaraj.com/2013/02/09/mother-teresas-feet/.

[15] Mother Teresa, “Mother Teresa > Quotes > Quotable Quote,” Goodreads, accessed September 24, 2020, https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/30608-i-m-a-little-pencil-in-the-hand-of-a-writing.

[16] Rahel Musleah, “A Day to Bare Our Souls—And Find Ourselves,” http://barbarany9.blogspot.com/2006/10/day-to-bare-our-soulsand-find.html.

[17] John Wesley, “When You Fast,” Bible Bulletin Board, accessed September 24, 2020, https://www.biblebb.com/files/jw-001fasting.htm.

[18] John Piper, “When the Bridegroom Is Taken Away, They Will Fast—With New Wineskins,” desiringGod, January 8, 1995, https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/when-the-bridegroom-is-taken-away-they-will-fast-with-new-wineskins.

[19] “After the Fast,” Chabad.org, accessed September 24, 2020, https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/73823/jewish/After-the-Fast.htm.

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Filed under Holidays & Festivals, Jewish Holidays, Jews and Christians, Judaism

The Gospel in the Jewish Holidays

Shalom, dear friend.

September is the month that Jewish people worldwide observe the three major Jewish holy days commanded by God in Leviticus 23. These holy days are observed in the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, which usually falls during September and often spills over into October.

The Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah), the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), and Tabernacles (Sukkot) are all within three weeks of one another.

This season is an important time for Your Mission to the Jewish People. Excluding Passover, we usually have more Jewish seekers attend our many services around the globe during this season than at any other time of the year!

The Jewish holy days, given to Israel at Mount Sinai, cannot be canceled. World wars, famines, even pandemics must bow to God’s commands and calendar! Your Mission to the Jewish People will observe the festivals as we do every year, but this year we will give our celebrations a small “twist.”

In fact, we expect more people to join us this year than in years past since we will be holding services virtually and space is unlimited! We plan to host all three holiday celebrations online. We will enjoy our beautiful high holiday traditions and the wonderful Messianic Jewish music of Joshua Aaron on Rosh Hashanah, Marty Goetz on Yom Kippur, and Paul Wilbur on the Feast of Tabernacles.

Each festival will focus on Jesus, who celebrated the Jewish holidays and fulfilled them as well.

Please Join Us

I am hoping that you will invite your Jewish friends to join our online services. Many Jewish people will have nowhere to go in person to observe the holy days this year. Join us in praying that Jewish non-believers will be drawn to our glorious and beautiful Savior through these holiday events.

The following is the list of services. Please visit chosenpeople.com/highholidays, register, and join us!

New Year’s Eve – Friday, September 18 at 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. (EDT)

Day of Atonement Eve – Sunday, September 27 at 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. (EDT)

Feast of Tabernacles Eve – Friday, October 2 at 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. (EDT)

Hopeful Holidays in the Messiah

The holidays are a great time to celebrate the hope we have in Jesus, the Messiah. When you combine His Jewish background with the glory of His person as the fulfillment of all the Jewish people hoped for over multiple millennia, it is a stunning experience. So, please join us and allow the Lord to re-energize your sense of hope in Him.

The holidays also illustrate some of the great biblical themes we appreciate. The New Year points to new beginnings. One of the traditional themes of Rosh Hashanah, (literally, the head of the year in Hebrew), is repentance for our sins, leading to the next holiday focused on atonement and forgiveness.

The Day of Atonement foreshadows God’s provision of atoning blood through the death of Jesus on Golgotha. The festival of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, points to the great day when He returns, establishes His kingdom on earth, and the world is filled with His presence as the waters fill the seas (Habakkuk 2:14).

The theme of life-giving water is tied to the Feast of Tabernacles, which celebrates the final fruit harvest and ingathering of crops. Without water, we would never make it to the final harvest. Traditionally, Jewish people even pray for rain during the festival.

Jesus claims that, when we believe in Him, rivers of living water will flow from our souls!

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39)

Your Prayers and Support

Your prayers and support have been such a vital part of helping Chosen People Ministries advance the work of Rabbi Leopold Cohn, our founder. We continue to follow the rabbi’s vision—to reach out to Jewish people worldwide with the unchanging gospel of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah.

We are able to continue this historic ministry because of your love, generosity, and prayers. Meanwhile, pandemic or no pandemic, we are preaching the gospel, and Jewish people are coming to faith. We are intensifying our online outreach campaigns in the United States and Israel. And we are following up on the thousands of contacts with Jewish people we receive through Zoom and phone calls, and God is blessing these efforts.

What is Next for Chosen People Ministries?

The future for our 126-year-old ministry will be similar to what believers have been doing since the day Jesus rose from the dead. We will depend upon the Lord to lead us, and in obedience to the unchanging Word of God, we will continue to advance His kingdom! Where He leads we will follow, knowing that He is always with us, which was His promise to His disciples (Matthew 28:20).

Your Mission to the Jewish People will continue to preach the gospel to the Jew first and also to the Gentile—you can count on this. Whether in the United States, Israel, or anywhere else in the world, we will look for new and creative ways to tell others about our eternal hope: the forgiveness of sins and the abundant life through Jesus the Messiah, which is available to all who believe.

We will minister online through Zoom, video, social media, and personally whenever possible…face-to-face and mask-to-mask! We know this present pandemic will pass, and we will safely begin conducting larger-group Bible studies and in-person worship services. We look forward to future street campaigns, campus ministries, and more! We experimented this past year with a new “gap year” residential campus work at New York University that was highly successful. We will do it again thanks to the generous support of a foundation.

My dear friends, the Light of the world has not been extinguished. He shines even brighter in the darkness. As the Savior said, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world” (John 9:4–5).

And we will keep working for Him!

Again, we hope you will join us for one of our special holiday services!

Your brother in the Messiah,
Mitch

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Filed under evangelism, Holidays & Festivals, Jewish Holidays

Finding the Hope of Yeshua in the High Holy Days

Dear friend in the Messiah,

I must admit that I am pretty tired of the pandemic! I cannot wait until it is officially over. I am praying for the Lord, our ultimate Healer, to work in the minds of brilliant scientists to come up with a vaccine and medications to counter the devastating impact of this disease that has killed so many people!

However, my hope is not in epidemiologists, though I pray for them and respect their hard work to find a cure. My hope is in the Lord.

We are social and spiritual creatures—especially as followers of Jesus—who love being with family and friends. We love sweet fellowship, praying as a community, worshiping and singing together, and hearing God’s Word unmediated by a screen.

All of us continue to mourn for what we have lost during the pandemic: schools, jobs, businesses, and, most significantly, loved ones who have suffered from the virus. I am grateful for our Savior’s words of promise, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Therefore, we will continue to seek comfort from the Lord and His unchanging Word.

Psalm 121 has greatly encouraged me: “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1–2). In Him, we find our help, our hope, and joy for living!

LESSONS FOR CHRISTIANS FROM THE JEWISH HIGH HOLIDAYS

We are about to celebrate the Jewish New Year, which is called Rosh Hashanah. In Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah literally means “the head of the year.” There are ten days between the Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) according to the holy days calendar outlined in Leviticus 23:23–27. In Jewish tradition, these ten days are called the Ten Days of Repentance. Our Jewish sages tell us that we have ten days to make things right between ourselves and God and between ourselves and our fellow man.

As followers of Jesus, we do not believe we are able to earn God’s forgiveness—He provides salvation and forgiveness graciously and freely (Ephesians 2:8–9). Our sin always requires payment, and the Day of Atonement graphically illustrates this. The Scriptures depict the Levitical priests offering blood sacrifices at the Temple altar for sinful humanity throughout the centuries until the Temple was destroyed.

As Moses explained, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement” (Leviticus 17:11).

Yet, we know that these offerings pointed to Jesus, the perfect sacrifice for our sins. As the author of Hebrews wrote, “He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrew 9:26).

This atonement, achieved through the Messiah’s once-for-all death, was effective for all sins, for all time, and for all people. Unfortunately, most of my Jewish friends and family do not understand this. Jewish people today are generally unfamiliar with the Temple’s sacrificial system, which ended when the Romans destroyed this magnificent house of worship in AD 70.

Sacrifice for sin is now only a corporate historical Jewish memory. Modern Jews now only read about the Temple sacrifices in the Bible or Jewish literature and visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem, which was an outer wall of the Temple mount that still stands and reminds us of what once was!

Most Jewish people do not think about sin or atonement in the same way Christians do. Contemporary Judaism adjusted to the destruction of the Temple and teaches that the performance of good deeds is a substitute for the sacrifices of animals. Modern Judaism teaches that one’s name is written in the Book of Life when good deeds outweigh wicked deeds.

Yet, Jewish tradition teaches that the Temple will be rebuilt one day and that sacrifices will be restored. However, most Jewish people do not know about this future rebuilding of the Temple as it is believed by only the most ultra-religious within the Jewish community.

In fact, the Jewish people to whom I am the closest seem to live as agnostics or even atheists most of the year. Yet, surprisingly, many open their hearts to God and even yearn for forgiveness of sin during the high holidays. Maybe this is why the Day of Atonement is the most well-attended Jewish service of the year!

All human beings appear to have a deep inner longing for forgiveness; to forgive others and to be forgiven—even to forgive ourselves.

THE VALUE OF THE HIGH HOLIDAYS FOR ALL

As a Messianic Jew, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur cause me to think about my relationship to God more profoundly. They remind me that atonement for sin came at a high price—Jesus’ death on the cross. God’s love and grace move me profoundly during the holidays as I reflect upon my sin and the forgiveness I have received through Jesus the Messiah. My heart cries out in joy with the Apostle Paul: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

Classical Judaism, on the other hand, teaches that humanity sins, yet it is not inherently sinful. Contemporary Jewish faith holds that we are free to choose righteousness or sin, and when we fail, atonement via repentance is always possible! Therefore, God’s offer of His grace, mercy, and forgiveness is received based upon our remorse and willingness to change.

When I found Jesus as my Savior, I became convinced of the opposite as I have broken with Jewish teaching on this topic because of what the Bible says (Romans 3:23) and because I know that I am sinful by nature. Yet, I do believe that regular personal repentance is a key to spiritual transformation. This is why I observe the high holidays. They are times for spiritual reflection, which are wonderfully enriching and essential for spiritual growth.

THE HIGH HOLIDAYS AND YOU

Your Mission to the Jewish People will observe the Jewish high holidays beginning with Rosh Hashanah, then Yom Kippur, and finally, the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). We have planned three online services on September 18, 27, and October 2, 2020.

I hope you will join us and invite your friends—especially your Jewish friends who do not know the Lord and might not be able to attend synagogue services in person because of the pandemic.

It is one thing to tell a Jewish person they can be Jewish and believe in Jesus. It is quite another to sit next to them during a Messianic Jewish high holiday service listening to the blowing of the shofar, the chanting of familiar prayers, and hearing a Jesus-centered holiday message.

ROSH HASHANAH AND HOPE

I would like to add one closing thought about hope—one of my favorite topics these days. The Jewish holidays bring us hope as each festival looks forward to our bright future in relationship to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As followers of Yeshua, we know this world will one day fade away, as the trumpet will sound and those who believe will rise to a new and everlasting life.

Rabbi Saul—the Apostle Paul—wrote:

“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17).

We have a great hope, brothers and sisters! Our hope is a person—Jesus, who died for our sins once and for all and rose from the grave conquering death. He is the resurrection and our life!

Thank you again for your faithfulness and generosity.

Your brother,
Mitch

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Filed under Holidays & Festivals, Jewish Holidays, Jews and Christians

Looking Back on What God Has Accomplished

Dear friends,

I never expected the months after the joy-filled celebration of our 125th year would take us from the highest mountaintop to the lowest plane in such a short time. None of us could have ever imagined we would end up where we are today. The changes from July 2019 to June 2020 are unimaginable! And we have yet to reach our next normal.

Last July began a tremendously promising fiscal year. We had already enjoyed successful 125th-anniversary celebration events in three major cities, while also preparing for our Midwest Bible conference in Lake Lawn, Wisconsin, and Shalom New York, our most extensive evangelistic outreach to date. We finished our 125th-anniversary year with a Heritage Tour and Banquet at Grand Prospect Hall in Brooklyn, followed by a seminar at which three secular Jewish scholars, along with some of our staff, presented historical papers on the “Life and Times of Leopold Cohn.”

At the beginning of the spring coronavirus outbreak, most of us still had little idea of how the virus would impact New York City, and what it would do to our ministry, the economy, and all of the ramifications we have been experiencing since then. Thankfully, we were already using Zoom and online platforms for administrative work and evangelism. We had a Jewish man come to faith through one of our Brooklyn congregation’s first online services. We have also had several other Jewish people come to the Lord due to our Zoom Bible studies, services, and online evangelistic campaigns.

Like many organizations, we quickly set up routines and processes to work from home. We currently have several task forces meeting regularly to consider new ways of getting things done and maximizing the lessons we have learned during the pandemic. We are also studying longer-term issues, as this pause provides us with the opportunity to reflect upon the work we do and the way we do it. We plan on reopening wisely, productively, and safely. Our task forces will spearhead our New York and Florida offices reopening, and our congregations, as well.

We look forward to a gradual return to the office, but we do not expect to be back in our Manhattan, Florida, and Brooklyn buildings until late summer. We anticipate resuming our services, Bible studies, and in-person meetings slowly. However, we will repopulate our offices with three imperatives in mind—we must do it legally, safely, and according to what is most necessary for the work.

Still, Your Mission to the Jewish People has been incredibly busy! I hope you enjoy this summary of our accomplishments since last summer and during this difficult time.

Your Brother in Messiah,
Mitch

Your Mission to the Jewish People has continued our evangelism and outreach efforts. We want you to know what has been going on:

Online Conferences held this year:

  • April 7 — Messiah in the Passover / 7,099 views
  • April 13 — Staff Town Hall / 114 views
  • April 22 — Donor Teleconference / 8,218 callers
  • April 22 — Eschatology Survey / 20,913 views
  • May 18-19 — Craig Keener Webinar / 5,406 views
  • June 5 — Music for the Mishpocha / 8,623 views

Many people viewed the ministry-wide “virtual” Messiah in the Passover demonstration. We also know of about fifty churches who showed the video to their congregants. The Zoom roll out of our Eschatology survey of 1,000 Evangelical pastors and our Bible conference with Dr. Craig Keener, the current president of the Evangelical Theological Society, were high points.

House of Living Waters

In September 2019, we initiated our new “residential” outreach near the New York University campus in Manhattan. Four young men lived in a rented apartment and ministered on campus during the past year. We received a two-year grant of $140,000 per year for this endeavor, so we will continue in the fall of 2021!

Youth Camps and Programs

  • Teen Winter Camp—Kesher Ice held in Maryland / 38 participants
  • Teen Outreach New York City—Kesher New York / 15 participants

The Charles L. Feinberg Seminary

We began offering courses by Zoom, enabling those who could not move to Brooklyn to take classes. We will continue to do this as well as provide more standard types of online, asynchronous classes. The total number of matriculating Feinberg students (including recent graduates) is 18.

Church Ministries & Missionaries

Our ministry in churches is uncertain for the moment, as we have yet to see how many churches will reopen and want us to come and preach as planned this fall.

This fiscal year, our missionaries completed only 501 church meetings (as compared to 1,144 meetings last year) that raised only $272,000.

Missionaries in the Field

  • US – raising support (paid) 72
  • US – raising support (unpaid) 6
  • Foreign – raising support 44
  • Foreign – deployed from US 13

International Centers

  • Argentina (2) (owned by CPMUS)
  • Jerusalem (owned by CPMUS)
  • Ramat Gan (rented by CPMUS)

Domestic Ministries Centers

  • Brooklyn Messianic Center
  • Manhattan Messianic Center
  • Boynton Beach Messianic Center
  • Chicago Kedzie Messianic Center

Domestic Congregations (8)

  • Sha’ar Adonai (Manhattan)
  • Beth Sar Shalom (Brooklyn)
  • Son of David (MD)
  • Kehilat Sar Shalom (Northern VA)
  • Beit Hesed (Chicago/Russian)
  • Yeshua Ben David (Pittsburgh, PA)
  • Shuvah Yisrael (Orange County, CA)

Digital Campaigns

The ministry advertised the Isaiah 53 Campaign, I Found Shalom testimonies, and free booklet giveaways or downloads on Facebook. In response, we received approximately 79,806 contacts since last July.

Hebrew Isaiah 53 Campaign in Israel had 1,395 book requests

  • Jewish Believers: 86
  • Jewish Unbelievers: 1,158
  • Gentile Believers: 111
  • Gentile Unbelievers: 40

Video Testimonies

We now have 105 testimonies online at ifoundshalom.com, which have been watched more than 3,000,000 times on all of our platforms.

Our Hope Podcast

A weekly podcast is now available called Our Hope (ourhopepodcast.com). There have been more than 7,000 downloads to date.

Digital and Social Media

Our social media channels are very active and include YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, blogs, and videos that cross a variety of platforms.

We are developing Beth Sar Shalom, a stage one outreach site, and are still working on Follow Messiah, a second-stage seeker site and Chosen People Answers.

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Filed under Conference, Digital Media, evangelism, Israel, Messianic Jewish, New York City, Uncategorized