Looking for Answers Only God Can Provide

Dear Friend,

Shalom in His grace. I hope and pray you are well, healthy, and serving the Lord with joy!

I want to share a great story with you of how a young Israeli came to faith through our Isaiah 53 Explained Facebook ads and the follow-up so wonderfully and faithfully carried out by Randall and Luda, two of our staff members in Israel. Randall wrote to me, and I think he should tell the story!

Hi Mitch,

“M” (name left out for privacy purposes) is a young man, twenty-five years old, originally from Uruguay, who immigrated to Israel with his family in his early teens. He was very good at soccer and played professionally. He has some believing family members, perhaps grandparents, but they were not active in a congregation, so there was not much influence on “M.”

Curiously, when he would see pictures of Jesus, he had a feeling that He was somehow watching over him and that, because of Jesus, everything would be all right. After his father’s recent death, we happened to follow up on his request for your Hebrew Isaiah 53 Explained book.

Somehow, Rachel (one of our Israeli staff members) got to the post office during the COVID-19 crisis to send him a Hebrew New Testament. He was delighted, as he had no biblical knowledge other than Bible classes in Israeli school.

“M” is very friendly and, at first, may have viewed us in light of his focus on education—as just an interesting learning experience. However, he was strongly attracted to the Word, the message of the gospel, and the person of Jesus. After several weekly ZOOM meetings, he agreed to pray to ask for forgiveness for his sins and receive Jesus as Savior.

The Isaiah 53 outreach is a great privilege. The book has opened dialogue with hundreds or even thousands of Israelis, apart from the exposure on the internet.

Now, “M” is trying to finish his high school comprehensive exams, which he never did because of chasing his soccer career.

He is between jobs and is also changing apartments soon. Over the next couple of ZOOM sessions, we plan to discuss linking him with other believers.

Please keep us in your prayers.

Randall

There are many others in Israel, the United States, and worldwide who have come to faith during the pandemic! Our inability to sit face-to-face or mask-to-mask with people who are ready to give their lives to the Lord does not limit God’s saving power.

He is working powerfully among His chosen people around the globe. If I have learned anything from the pandemic, it is this: all people, including my Jewish people, are looking for answers that only God can provide.

And the harder the times, the more intense the search!

A PERSONAL TESTIMONY

I came to faith during the Jesus movement after almost being killed in a drug deal and finding little meaning in the lifestyle I embraced in my late teenage years. It was a dark time, and I was searching without realizing it. I also had no idea what I was looking for, but I knew I needed a new lease on life—a new beginning!

My two Jewish best friends accepted the Lord during those days and shared the gospel with me. I heard their words, but they did not make sense. As a Jewish person, my impulse was to reject Jesus out of hand. After all, whoever heard of Jews believing in Jesus?! I had not, and I had never met a Jewish person who believed in Jesus before my two friends came to faith.

Thank God, He did not give up on me. After months of searching, answered prayers, and reading the New Testament, I accepted the Lord as my Messiah and Savior. And just like “M,” I grew to love the Bible. From then on, all I wanted was to serve the Lord and tell others about Him! I feel the same today as I did then, almost five decades ago!

THE APOSTLE PAUL WAS JEWISH, TOO!

I remember when I discovered that the Apostle Paul was Jewish. That was a shock. I understood that Jesus was Jewish, but the Jewish community generally views Paul as a renegade. I continued to read the Epistles he wrote with this new understanding, and along with Abraham, Moses, King David, and (of course) Jesus, Paul became one of my Jewish heroes.

I had many of the same questions that Paul had. For example, Why did the Jewish people not believe in Jesus when He first came? Why have my ancestors and leaders of the Jewish community generally rejected Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah? Has God rejected the Jewish people for rejecting Jesus?

Paul, or Rabbi Saul, answered these questions in the book of Romans, especially in chapters 9 to 11. I was so impressed with his burden for his Jewish people.

Paul wrote,

I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh…. (Romans 9:1–3)

In simple terms, Paul said he was willing to go to hell if it meant that a Jewish person might go to heaven. Paul had a deep burden for his people.

In Romans 10:1, we also learn that Paul prayed for the salvation of his people. He wrote, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.” The apostles struggled through many of the same challenges I had when I first came to faith.

Did all Israel reject Yeshua? Did God reject the Jewish people? No! The proof is that Paul, himself, in Romans 11:1, declared that he was a Jew! Had God rejected the Jewish people for their unbelief? No! Paul was living evidence of God’s faithfulness.

Paul was a Jewish believer, but he also said there is a remnant of Jewish people who believe in Jesus, preserved by God throughout time. Did Paul believe that God rejected His chosen people because they had decided not to follow Jesus? Heaven forbid!

Paul told the Roman believers that there is a remnant today, just as there was in ancient Israel (Romans 11:2– 4). He recounted the story that appears in 2 Kings 18 when, following a great victory over the prophets of Ba’al, Elijah traveled to the desert. He told the Lord he felt all alone, and God showed him that he had company. There were seven thousand men who had not bowed the knee to Ba’al.

Paul stated a principle for the ages based upon this story when he wrote,

“In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice” (Romans 11:5).

I am part of this remnant today, as is “M.” We are not alone, though for now, we are a growing few.

The Lord is preserving a remnant today for His glory, though we know that one day the entire nation of Israel will come to Jesus. In Romans 11, Paul concluded that God has not rejected the Jewish people and that a day is coming when the Jewish people who are alive at the time of the Second Coming will turn to Jesus.

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation— that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved. (Romans 11:25–26)

THE SPECIAL MANDATE FOR GENTILE BELIEVERS (ROMANS 11:11)

Paul answered another critical question in this triad of chapters. What is the Gentile believer’s role in God’s plan for the Jewish people?

The apostle said there is a biblical mandate for Gentiles in the Body of Messiah to reach Jewish people with the gospel message. In fact, according to Paul’s statement in Romans 11:11, the Gentiles are to make the Jewish people jealous.

As a mission to the Jews, we understand that we are to help our Gentile brothers and sisters accomplish this great work. It is part of our organizational mission statement to help (empower and equip) our brothers and sisters in the church to evangelize and disciple Jewish people.

Chosen People Ministries hopes to encourage, provide materials, and build strategic bridges with Gentiles in the Body of Messiah to fulfill this mandate in the twenty-first century.

We are partners in the gospel, and together we will reach Jews like me, “M,” and many others for the Savior.

Thank you so much for your faithful prayers and support. Let us look forward to the great future God has prepared for those who love Him as we try to help as many as we can to love Him too.

Blessings,
Mitch

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Serving the Jewish People in Times of Isolation

Dear friends,

Shalom in His grace!

We are ready to move forward! Your Mission to the Jewish People is cautiously reopening our congregations, facilities, and in-person ministries around the globe. Because of this dramatic pause, we were able to take a breath and allow the Lord to show us some new ways to carry out our ministry and even to reorder our priorities. We are often so busy, but because of the pandemic, we were able to focus more on the Lord, our families, and allow an even deeper love for our Messiah, Jesus, to fill our hearts.

I cannot tell you how much I have appreciated the valuable lessons I have learned through this wandering through the wilderness! I am glad it is not forty years in the desert, but the Lord did use that time in the lives of the children of Israel to form my ancestors as a nation. I now have a better understanding of what my forefathers endured and how valuable these times can be for our growth and spiritual transformation.

Let me take a few moments to reflect on the journey of Chosen People Ministries through the past year.

Celebration of our 125th Anniversary

I never expected that in the months following the joy-filled 125th-anniversary celebration of our ministry, we would travel from the highest mountaintop to the lowest plane in such a short time. The changes from July 2019 to June 2020 are head-spinning!

If you recall, Chosen People Ministries was founded in 1894 by Leopold Cohn, a Hungarian rabbi who accepted Jesus on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1892. In 2019, we honored our wonderful heritage by doing what we have done for years—evangelism and Bible teaching from a Jewish perspective.

We hosted Bible conferences in Charlotte, North Carolina (February 23, 2019); Orange County, California (March 29–30); Sandy Cove, Maryland (May 31–June 2); and in the Midwest in Lake Lawn, Wisconsin (October 9–17). We held our most extensive street outreach ever in New York City (July 27–August 10).

Finally, we sponsored a Chosen People Ministries Heritage Tour in New York City (November 13–15, 2019), culminating in a celebration banquet at the Grand Prospect Hall in Brooklyn (November 15).

We held one additional event at our Brooklyn Center in December (December 4–6, 2019), which could be one of the most important events of our 125th year. Three non-Messianic Jewish scholars, along with some of our staff, presented historical papers on the Life and Times of Leopold Cohn.  Imagine three Jewish scholars who are not believers in Jesus dialoguing with us on the founding of Chosen People Ministries!

The Impact of COVID-19 on Chosen People Ministries

The coronavirus took me and everyone else by surprise. As you know, COVID-19 hit New York City very hard!

At the beginning of March, I was all set to travel to the Holy Land. I began getting phone calls from friends and staff there, telling me that Israel was very concerned about the spread of the virus and that it looked like people who had been in Europe were going to be quarantined upon their return. One of our staff members had this experience because of travel to Europe. Since I planned to fly through London, and I would only be in Israel for a couple of days, it became evident that the trip was ill-fated! So, unfortunately, I had to cancel the trip.

During the week of March 9, we began to see major cities going into a never-before-experienced lockdown, starting with Seattle and then San Francisco.

On March 15, our governor closed the restaurants and bars in New York. I knew that our day was about to come, and so, on Sunday night, March 15, I sent an emergency text to our entire staff and told them not to come in on Monday, March 16. Why risk another week of subway travel? Within a few days, we also closed down our Florida office and moved our Feinberg Brooklyn-based training program online.

Most of us still had little idea of how the virus would impact New York City and our ministry, the economy, and lifestyle in general. Thankfully, we were already using Zoom extensively for evangelism and discipleship in both the United States and Israel. As a result, we were able to switch to digital technology very quickly for most of our communications. By mid-March, we had moved all of our services, Bible studies, and various meetings to the Zoom platform.

I am happy to say that our beloved administrative staff made a smooth transition to working from home. We established a very structured week, beginning each day with a prayer meeting on Zoom, and then ending each day with closing prayer at 4:45 pm. These gatherings became a great way to help those not used to working from home get to work, and end the workday at 5:00 pm to help them create a division between work and personal life. These prayer meetings continue to unite us spiritually as we share personal prayer requests and get to know one another better than ever before.

We have conducted a series of well-attended Bible conferences and other online events. We shared the Messiah in the Passover online with more than 2,000 people!

I am sorry to say that almost 600 meetings in churches were canceled. We were disappointed to lose these meetings as many Christians bring their not-yet-believing Jewish friends to hear us.

So What Have We Learned?

Jewish people have proven to be more open to the gospel because of the pandemic. One Jewish man came to faith through one of our first online services at our Brooklyn congregation. We have also had several other Jewish people come to the Lord as a result of our ongoing evangelistic campaigns over the web. This past month, we had one Jewish woman accept the Lord in America and another man in Israel, where we continue our online campaigns.

We look forward to gradually reopening. We expect to be back in our Manhattan, Florida, and Brooklyn offices by August. We also anticipate our services and Bible studies to resume in-person meetings slowly. We understand that our national recovery will vary depending on the area. We might not be through it, but we can better manage our relationship with this insidious, invisible enemy.

Your prayers for Chosen People Ministries mean a lot. We hope you can give generously during this summer season since the summers are usually financially challenging for most ministries and churches.

Whatever you can give today will make a significant impact as we continue to reach Jewish people with the gospel.  So far, we have not had to cut our staff. Thank God, we can pay our bills and continue our work in the United States and especially in Israel!

This season has also reminded us that online ministries are a great way to reach Jewish people for Jesus. Jewish people like the anonymity of considering Jesus without their family or friends knowing what they are doing. We are using about a half-dozen outreach websites. For example, we receive hundreds of requests from Israelis each month through our Facebook ads for our Isaiah 53 Explained  books, both in Hebrew and Russian! Our wonderful staff in Israel are ready and available to follow up. You will read more about what is happening in Israel for the gospel in the rest of the newsletter.

We have had well over a million people watch our testimony videos on the http://www.Ifoundshalom.com site and through various social media pages during the last twelve months. We also increased our missionary staff and volunteers, and the congregations we sponsor are growing, too! Most of them had far more people attending their services through Zoom than in person and will continue to actively promote their online services in the days ahead!

We also learned the high value of spending more time with those we love. When you are unable to be near your children, friends, parents, and grandchildren due to mandatory quarantine and for health reasons, you begin to appreciate them more. The same goes for our church members and fellow servants of the Lord.

I know I will never be the same. I will move a little slower and try to spend more time with those I love, including the Jewish people to whom I have a ministry.

Thank you for your prayers and generous support, which has enabled us to reach this point. We are ready for what comes next and look forward in hope to the remainder of our 126th year of ministry and beyond.

Your brother in the Messiah,
Mitch

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Moving Forward in Hope

Shalom, dear friend in the Messiah.

I hope and pray that life is getting a little better for you and that you are adjusting to serving the Lord in a world where COVID-19 lockdowns are easing.

This infectious disease and our efforts to mitigate its rapid and terrible impact on human life came at a high cost. The shutting down of society has led to severe economic repercussions and the loss of a sense of wellbeing as a nation. This crisis has been felt across the globe. Hopefully, we are entering a new season where the virus is better understood and controlled, and scientists are closer to creating treatments and a vaccine.

Like you, I am trusting the Lord and approaching the days ahead with hope, looking forward to all He will do through Your Mission to the Jewish People.

Due to the pandemic, there were many missed events, services, Bible studies, weddings, funerals, and family celebrations. However, those losses pale compared to the more than 100,000 people in the United States who died from COVID-19 and the suffering their loved ones have experienced. We suffered considerably in New York City as the virus spread and killed countless moms and dads, grandparents, and others, as we are now discovering.

And we are not totally out of the woods yet! But, thank God, we are on our way.

The brothers and sisters who serve with Chosen People Ministries have also suffered a great deal of loss because of the coronavirus. We have missed seeing our loved ones face-to-face and worshipping in person with our spiritual community. I am especially sad for those who could not visit their elderly parents and for those who lost loved ones from the disease but were unable to have a decent burial attended by family and friends. Some of us are also tired of working from our homes. We are ready to cope with whatever changes will be demanded of us when we get back to our offices, from wearing masks to social distancing and the inability to eat lunch together in our common room!

MESSIAH IN THE PASSOVER AND YOUR MISSIONARIES

Due to the timing of the coronavirus lockdowns, Jewish people, including myself, were unable to celebrate the Jewish holidays in person, most notably Passover, which is always such a sweet and joy-filled, family-oriented time. Many of our staff and their families celebrated Passover Seders through Zoom because they were unable to get together physically. It was not easy to enjoy eating our matzo ball soup separated from the rest of our family! I imagine that Gentile Christians felt equally disappointed about
their Easter services, which are significant evangelistic opportunities for so many local churches!

During this Passover season, we were also unable to make our regular visits to a large number of churches. Throughout the United States, churches had scheduled Chosen People Ministries for more than six hundred “Messiah in the Passover” presentations during March, April, and May. All of these were canceled because of restrictions placed on churches during the pandemic. We also had scheduled evangelistic Passover Seders and banquets at our Messianic congregations, centers, and branches in the regions where we minister. Generally, during this season, we would personally meet hundreds of new friends, prayer partners, supporters, and the not-yet-believing Jewish friends of congregants who would view our presentations as an opportunity to bring their friends to church.

These cancellations represent a considerable loss of opportunity to demonstrate the link between the Last Supper and Passover and how Yeshua, the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world beautifully fulfills them both! It was also a loss of funding for our dedicated and faithful missionary staff.

By God’s grace, we did experiment with some virtual Passover celebrations. I enjoyed an online Passover Seder with my family and presented Messiah in the Passover to my broader spiritual family through the wonders of Zoom, Facebook Live, and YouTube.

I am so grateful for the creative ways our missionaries found to preach the gospel online and reach out to Jewish people through one-on-one conversations by phone and Zoom meetings. They have also expanded their Bible teaching ministries, discipleship of new Jewish believers, and even continued their ministry to local churches using the excellent digital tools many of us have recently discovered.

Yet, we cannot truly recapture what we lost because we only celebrate the festival of Passover annually. You cannot turn back the clock! I am reticent to tell you how much money was lost that would have supported our missionaries during this season. Yet, a beautiful passage of promise in the book of Joel illustrates how the Lord is able and faithful to restore what the locusts have eaten. The prophet Joel wrote:

Then I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the creeping locust, the stripping locust and the gnawing locust, My great army which I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat and be satisfied and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you; then My people will never be put to shame. Thus you will know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God, and there is no other; and My people will never be put to shame. (Joel 2:25–27)

LET’S CELEBRATE

I know the Lord will take care of our staff, and this is why I am planning another online video-based celebration on Thursday, July 23, at 7:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time. We will join in Messianic worship and invite Chosen People Ministries missionaries from around the globe to share what God is doing in their lives and their work for the Lord. We will also pray together and have a brief time of questions and answers.

Thank you so much for your love and faithfulness.

Your brother in the Messiah,

Mitch

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Filed under evangelism, Israel, Jewish Holidays, Passover, Uncategorized

Sharing the Messiah from the Hebrew Scriptures

Shalom in His grace!

Your Mission to the Jewish People continues to find great opportunities to reach Jewish people with the gospel amidst the reopening of our country. We continue to communicate with Jewish people online while inching forward toward opening our centers and offices, having in-person services, and sharing the Lord by visiting with Jewish people face-to-face or mask-to-mask!

We have learned much during this time of quarantine and hope these lessons, especially some of the new outreach strategies we have developed, remain with us in the days and months ahead. But, like everyone else, Chosen People Ministries staff members look forward to in-person worship and restarting our ministries as soon as possible.

I am thrilled to see the connection between online evangelism and in-person followup. Our situation still limits us as the country is opening at different times, and we are in two dozen cities in the United States alone. Yet, our online ministries (some of which began well before the pandemic) are still used powerfully by God every day!

Here are just a few examples of how God is working during the pandemic:

One young man attended a virtual service through our Brooklyn congregation, and he asked many questions afterward. He met with one of the congregational leaders through Zoom and shortly thereafter accepted Jesus as his Messiah and Savior! He continues to attend online services and is growing in his faith!

A young woman contacted us on Facebook and asked for a copy of our Isaiah 53 Explained book. We sent it to her, and she wrote to tell us she was reading it. She is now in regular contact with our staff and has begun studying the Bible with her husband, who comes from a Christian home. She told us that she now believes Jesus is the promised Messiah! I cannot tell you how exciting and encouraging this is!

These experiences have convinced Your Mission to the Jewish People more than ever before that the gospel is as powerful today as it was when the Apostle Paul penned Romans 1:16,

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.”

In season or out of season, in darkness and light, and through every type of natural disaster and pandemic, the gospel continues to be God’s power unleashed to transform the lives of those who believe and accept Jesus as their Savior.

By way of reminder and as the leader of this historic mission to the Jewish people, I believe that Jewish people need to accept Jesus to have a place in the age to come (John 14:6, Acts 4:12, John 3:16–17).

I do not believe that anyone is capable of keeping the Law to the extent that their human efforts would somehow satisfy God’s demands for righteousness, enabling the individual to enter heaven on their own merit. (Galatians 2:15–16, 3:23–25, Romans 10:2–4 ff.) Jewish people are saved by grace through faith, just like everyone else!

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9).

It might sound simplistic, but the Scripture is clear. It is the very basis for missions, and for Chosen People Ministries, it has been our focus for more than a century!

As we work through the challenges of life on this side of eternity, we cherish your continued prayers, love, and support. We are in this together, and I am beyond grateful for you!

Your brother in the Messiah,
Mitch

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God’s Work in Israel During COVID-19

Shalom, dear friends!

You have been on my heart and in my prayers. I pray that you are staying
safe and healthy. Even if the coronavirus has not impacted you directly, I am sure that you are feeling its economic and social consequences. We need to pray fervently for one another and rely upon the Lord and His Spirit, not only to survive but to thrive during these difficult days.

We recently celebrated the final spring feast, Pentecost, or Shavuot in
Hebrew. It is the day commemorating the giving of the Holy Spirit. According to the book of Acts, it is the Holy Spirit that empowers and encourages us to be witnesses for the Lord “even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Evangelism has been a little more difficult these days with limited travel, let alone to the ends of the earth.

However, I recently heard the lockdown referred to as “confining but not
defining.” Our circumstances motivate us to find new ways to accomplish
the tasks to which the Lord calls us. You could even call our quarantine an
opportunity of the tallest order! We might be speaking to more people about Jesus by way of Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime than we did before the pandemic began!

A THORN IN THE FLESH

I cannot help but think of our current predicament as a proverbial thorn in
the flesh.

Paul wrote about his thorn. He referred to it as his weakness. But rather
than dwelling on whatever that weakness was, he wrote, “I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me”
(2 Corinthians 12:9b). And many other verses allude to the same principle—
that in our weakness and in our limitations, God reveals Himself to be strong.

As we use the creativity God has given us to find solutions, the Lord
Himself is glorified, and our ministry is magnified. I believe this is what Paul was encouraging us to do.

I have not seen the Apostle Paul’s dedication and passion for the gospel
so clearly replicated in recent years as I have seen expressed by a Russianspeaking, ex-homeless person living in Israel and serving among elderly Holocaust survivors—who now also has a brand-new kidney! One of the high honors I have had in serving the Lord among the Jewish people is working with Maxim.

THE GOSPEL GOES FORTH IN ISRAEL

Despite a mandatory lockdown in the Holy Land, many logistical obstacles, and a very recent kidney transplant, Maxim has found new ways to continue bringing the good news of Messiah Jesus to the Jewish people of
Israel.

I could tell you all about it, but I would very much like you to hear about the amazing work that God is doing in Maxim’s own words. He recently sent me this update:

I hope you had a lovely Passover holiday. I also hope you are staying healthy and well during this difficult time. With God’s help, we will get through the crisis. We pray for your situation in America.

In Israel, we are still under quarantine. Most people are staying at home. It is not easy, especially for older people. Each restriction is tough on those who are vulnerable or “at risk.” We are not allowed to visit them in person. Despite that, we keep serving these people. Every day we make dozens of calls, talking to the elderly, supporting them, and sending them videos via WhatsApp. With some of them, we are also able to do video chats.

In Haifa, we are doing Bible classes online with the elderly group there. For Passover, we prepared and distributed food packages to those in need. We also stay in touch via phone.

In Tel Aviv and central Israel, we recently distributed more than sixty packages of food to the elderly. We talk with them on the phone every day, as well

Because of my surgery, I must avoid contact with people. I am so grateful that my wife, Slavna, and our friend, Luda, took my responsibilities upon themselves. In Jerusalem, we, along with our volunteers, distributed protective masks that were sent to us by our friends in Hong Kong for people in the retirement homes. We also distributed food packages to those in need and stayed in contact with those we served.

Now, we are working on a new four-week ministry project. Every week, we plan on doing online concerts with different worship teams. The presentations will include many of the songs loved by these people, worship, and a message. We hope to stream them to all of our regions.

Despite all the difficulties, we are trying to do something to support our people. We pray for the future when we will finally be able to meet them again in person. We also pray for the possibilities of bringing a group of our elderly people somewhere to rest after the quarantine is over, maybe by taking a trip or at least some kind of tour. With all of the stress brought on by the isolation, relaxation is vital and much needed, so we hope God will provide something like this. Please also pray for the families of our Holocaust survivors. Many of them have lost their jobs and are now facing challenging times. We are trying to stay in touch with them and help them whenever possible. Due to the current situation, there are many new opportunities to reach out to people who have been closed-minded in the past.

Unfortunately, we also have had some sad news. Devorah* from Sderot passed away. She was the leader of the Sderot Holocaust Survivors Club. Because of coronavirus, nobody was allowed to attend the funeral. She was buried on Saturday at 11:00 p.m. by people from the funeral home. Her only family, a son who is very mentally ill, was unable to provide anything for the burial site. However, we hope that when we have the finances, we will be able to get a headstone for her.

We are thankful to God that, even in this difficult time, He gives us possibilities to serve and share the good news. We thank you and all of your friends who help to make ministry possible here.

Blessings from Jerusalem,
Maxim

*not her real name

CONTINUING THE MINISTRY

It is so encouraging to hear how God is working despite the circumstances! He is strong and able when we are not, and nothing can thwart His plans and purposes, not a virus, wars, economic hardship, or governmental restrictions. All it takes is a passionate heart devoted to Jesus, like that of Paul or Maxim, to be used by God in the power of His Spirit.

In the power of God’s Spirit, He provides for Your Mission to the Jewish People.

Thank you for your faithfulness.

Blessings in the Messiah,
Mitch

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The Context of Pentecost Matters

by Pastor Greg Denham

While many believers today are praying for a “Jesus Movement”—an incredible work of the gospel—in our generation, to truly grasp what it means to be a Jesus follower, we need to understand the first believers, and it all begins at Pentecost. The impact of Pentecost is just as relevant today as it was two thousand years ago in the upper room. Pentecost began the Jesus Revolution. One might say that we must go backward to go forward, so let us journey back in time and learn how the context of Pentecost matters.

Following His resurrection, Jesus instructed His disciples in Acts 1:4 to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father. We now know that He had a specific day in mind for that promise to be revealed—the day of Pentecost, which is one of the three pilgrim festivals required by the Lord (Exodus 23:14–17; 34:18–24; Deuteronomy 16:16–17). Pentecost comes from the Greek word penteconta (πεντήκοντα), which means fifty. The number fifty refers to the fifty days of counting the harvest, which began immediately after Passover.

The Hebrew name is Shavuot (שָׁבוּעוֹת), which means “weeks” and comes from the Hebrew word for “seven.” Shavuot is a harvest festival celebrating the end of the barley harvest and the first fruits of the wheat harvest. Yet, on the minds of the hundreds of thousands in Jerusalem for the Shavuot (Pentecost) festival was the belief that the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) had been given on Shavuot 1,300 years earlier. The Jewish tradition is called Z’man Matan Torah, “the season of the giving of the Law,” when the Lord separated His people from Egypt and drew them into a relationship with Him. It is when the earth shook with flashes of lightning, and God spoke in thunder!

Fifty days after Jesus gave His life on the cross was “when the day of Pentecost had fully come” (Acts 2:1). The events that follow reveal that the parallels between the giving of the Law and the giving of the Spirit—the beginning of the Jesus Revolution—are unmistakable. God manifested His presence atop Mount Sinai; 1,300 years later, He began the Jesus Revolution and inaugurated the New Covenant atop Mount Zion when He revealed His presence, power, and purpose to one hundred twenty Jewish believers. On Mount Sinai, God gave His commandments, written with His finger on tablets of stone; but at Pentecost in Jerusalem, He sent His Spirit to write His commandments on human hearts. At Mount Sinai, God judged three thousand for idolatry; but on the top of Mount Zion, three thousand people came to faith in Messiah Jesus!

In essence, the knowledge of God was exploding through the faithful remnant of Israel in the one hundred twenty followers of Jesus in the upper room! They were the remnant that was publicly and divinely identified by the tongues of fire above their heads and given the gift of tongues to communicate the wonderful works of God to an international gathering from fifteen different geographical locations with a variety of languages (Acts 2:3; 5–11). Peter declared, after being empowered and gifted by the Spirit, that Jesus, in His death, resurrection, and ascension, was creating all things new in Himself and would return to establish His kingdom on the earth in the city of Jerusalem! The New Covenant, inaugurated by Jesus’ blood on the cross at Passover, was now transforming three thousand Jewish people who had repented (Acts 2:37–41) and in whom now dwelt the Spirit of God. Now, the nations of the world could enter the New Covenant given to Israel, and could now experience the outpouring of God’s Spirit, too. (Acts 2:16-21; 39)

God’s plan, clearly revealed in His Word, has always been unstoppable! In that light, it is not surprising that both Passover and Pentecost frame God’s redemption narrative and point us to Jesus, the Messiah, who completes it.

Years ago, the apologist and Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer was asked, “What is the greatest obstacle to the modern church?” His answer was fascinating. He did not say that the major problems were the “-isms” in culture: atheism, materialism, relativism, etc. Instead, he said, “The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually or corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit. The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.”[1]

Rediscovering the beginning of the Jesus Revolution in the first century—in its original context—can renew and even reorient to God’s intended course and mission for the Church!

For example, the context of Pentecost tells us that we can only accomplish God’s purposes for our lives in His strength! Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The Spirit’s work is comprehensive. He indwells the believer and gives assurance of being a child of God (Romans 8:16). He brings a believer into fellowship with “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15). The Spirit comes upon the believer to empower with divine gifting for a divine mission. Zechariah 4:6 reads, “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” The Spirit of God is the source of our strength in all areas of our life. We need to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) daily!

The context of Pentecost also tells us that Peter was addressing a specific audience in Acts 2:22, namely, the Jewish pilgrims who went to the Temple to give their offerings. In principle, it speaks of the often overlooked priority of Jewish evangelism. In Romans 1:16, Paul wrote, “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.” Paul wrote this in the present tense, which means that 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.” The term “first” does not merely speak of sequence, but priority.[2]

Later, the Apostle Peter underscored an eschatological link to Jewish evangelism by saying,

Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. (Acts 3:19–21)

Peter’s statement is consistent with Jesus saying, “For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Matthew 23:39). Additionally, Revelation 1:7 reads, “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.” The reality is that before the world sees Him, Jerusalem will turn to Him! (Zechariah 12:10), “And so all Israel will be saved…” (Romans 11:26).

You can see that there is a tremendous spiritual battle regarding evangelism, of which we must be aware. “If Jerusalem will not see Him until she welcomes Him back, then no eye will see Him until Jerusalem receives Him!”[3] The origin of the Jesus Revolution at Pentecost reminds us that we cannot allow Jewish evangelism to become the “great omission” of the Great Commission.[4]

Pentecost reveals that the bullseye of the Church’s mission and preaching is the Person and work of Jesus! Peter proclaimed, “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene…” (Acts 2:22). Keep the focus on Jesus, His death on the cross that bridged the gap between God and man, and His resurrection. Jesus demonstrates by rising from the dead that He is creating all things new in Himself. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). Acts 4:12 reads, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” There is only one reason why a person has eternal life in a right relationship with God; it is by making the right decision to follow Jesus (John 14:6; Romans 10:13; Acts 4:12; John 3:16)!

The context reveals the importance of repentance! On the day of Pentecost, the people were “pierced to the heart” and said, “‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:37–38).

The Greek word translated as repentance is metanoia[5] (μετάνοια), which means to change the way one thinks. Such a change leads to a lifestyle change from a self-centered life in rebellion to God to a complete allegiance to Jesus Christ as one’s Lord and Savior. The call to repent and the promise to receive the Holy Spirit and forgiveness of sins remains today! In fact, God commands everyone to repent! The Apostle Paul said,

“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30–31).

The great evangelist D. L. Moody put it this way “Repentance is getting out of one train and getting into the other. You are in the wrong train; you are in the broad path that takes you down to the pit of hell. Get out of it to-night. Right-about-face!”[6]

Finally, the context of Pentecost reminds us that God’s plan unfolded in a Jewish environment. This perspective is essential for deepening one’s understanding of the Scriptures! We need great teachers today, we need great evangelists today, and we need a Church grounded in the truth and making Jesus known by the power of the Holy Spirit! The Jewish context is the basis for the accurate exegesis of Scripture, expository preaching, evangelism, and gospel contextualization in our twenty-first-century global audience.


Greg Denham is the pastor of Rise Church in San Marcos, California. Greg is a dear friend of Dr. Mitch Glaser, president of Chosen People Ministries. Greg loves the Lord, the Jewish roots of the faith, and is an active student of all biblical matters related to Israel and the Jewish people.

To contact Greg, or visit Rise Church online, click here.


Footnotes:

[1] Francis A. Schaeffer, No Little People (Introduction by Udo Middlemann) (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2003), 66.

[2] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, trans. and rev. W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, second rev. F. W. Gingrich and F. W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 726; Wilhelm Michaelis, “proton,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, trans. and ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), 6:869.

[3] Michael L. Brown, Our Hands Are Stained with Blood: The Tragic Story of the Church and the Jewish People, revised & expanded ed. (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, Inc., 2019), 226.

[4] Mitch Glaser, (lecture, Talbot School of Theology, La Mirada, CA).

[5] Metanoia literally means a change of mind. The Greek verb translated as “Repent!” is related to μετάνοια. The second-person plural imperative form of the verb μετανοέω (metanoeō) is mετανοήσατε, which is the word Peter used in Acts 2:38.

[6] W. H. Daniels, D. L. Moody and His Work (Hartford: American Publishing Company, 1876), 471.

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Leveraging our Grief for His Glory

As a result of the pandemic, we have all had time to think more deeply and reflect on how we have lived, walked with God, served in our ministry, and held to our priorities and values. Yet, one of the most valuable experiences to grow out of the pandemic is the opportunity to make changes and reprioritize as we consider our next steps and begin the “new normal” of the days ahead. What are our life’s highest priorities, and how will they change in the future?

One of the priorities cherished by the Apostle Paul was evangelism—to participate, to pray, and to ask others to pray.

But I believe it is essential for us to consider the underlying motivation that fueled Paul’s passion for evangelism. The factors that moved the apostle may be used as a mirror to discern our level of passion and desire to share the gospel, especially during this challenging time of being separated from so many people we love and care about.

Paul wrote:

“I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh…” (Romans 9:1–3).

This great sorrow and unceasing grief are at the heart and core of the apostle’s motivation to faithfully share the gospel and endure the persecution, suffering, disappointment, and difficulties of doing so. He is ultimately motivated by grief.

We understand grief better today than ever before. Grief simply means mourning what is lost, and we are all grieving today, in one way or another. We are mourning the loss of “normal” life, opportunities to see family and friends, the loss of a job, or even more so, the loss of a loved one to the virus or some other reason.

The great writer and Christian thinker, C. S. Lewis, was married to Joy Davidman, a Jewish woman from New York City who passed away from cancer only four years into their marriage. Lewis wrote a lot about this experience, and one book, A Grief Observed, summarizes much of his feelings about grief, loss, and the heartache that comes from no longer being able to sit face to face with someone you love.

He writes,

“God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.”[1]

And further,

“I once read the sentence ‘I lay awake all night with a toothache, thinking about the toothache and about lying awake.’ That’s true to life. Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.”[2]

And most poignantly,

“Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.”[3]

I think that this is what Paul was trying to help the Roman believers understand. He loved his Jewish people so much and was in a constant state of grief not because he was away from them but because he knew that his beloved Jewish people and family were separated from God and was grieving on their behalf. His sense of grief consumed him because of the separation his people experienced from God. In reality, it was a separation that was not understood, known, or accepted by the Jewish people.

The Apostle Paul’s grief led to his prayer in chapter 10:1 where he cried out,

“Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.”

How about you and me? How intense is our burden?

We have the rare opportunity today to better understand grief and loss because of this tragic pandemic. There is now the possibility of leveraging those feelings of sadness and separation to pray more fervently for our friends and family—especially our Jewish friends—who are separated from God and might not even be aware of it. Because we are aware of it, we can grieve on their behalf.

Grief is a hard thing, as it requires us to feel with our hearts and carry the burden for something that will not have an immediate resolution, especially if we are speaking of the case of Jewish evangelism. Yet, feeling the hard edges of life is so important. If we allow grief to penetrate our hearts, perhaps we can better understand and join in the Messiah’s anguish over His people, as seen in Luke 19:41–42, when He weeps over Jerusalem and the troubles that would befall His Jewish people in the future. I believe the Apostle Paul joined in this grief. The Jewish people could not possibly understand the consequences of being separated from God for all eternity. (Acts 4:12) If we can allow this grief to touch our hearts, perhaps we can better understand these days—to motivate us to pray, to witness the hope we have through Yeshua the Messiah, and to appreciate the salvation and Savior we have, who bore all our griefs, burdens, and sin according to Isaiah 53:4:

“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).

By His grace, the Messiah has ushered us into a glorious relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This faith in Him causes us to grieve for others because we know what He has done for us.

Lewis added in A Grief Observed,

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”[4]

Sometimes we hang onto the thread of faith as we face disappointment and even disillusionment growing out of the hard experiences we face in this life. Yet, that thread does hold us because it is attached to the firm grip of our loving and all-powerful Savior. We will experience loss and grieve, yet we have also been given the gift of hope through the Messiah of Israel. We should try to prayerfully use our now more profound understanding of grief and loss to motivate us to pray and witness to those who might not even know what they are missing. But we do and, by His grace, should make intercession for those who do not, just as our Savior did for us.


 

[1] C S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 52.

[2] Ibid, 9–10.

[3] Ibid, 11.

[4] Ibid, 22–23.

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The Joy of Shavuot

Shalom, friends!

We are looking ahead with anticipation of what our life will be like after the coronavirus pandemic subsides. With Passover and Easter behind us, we now find ourselves also looking forward to the celebration of Pentecost (Shavuot in Hebrew).

Shavuot (Hebrew for “weeks”) is known to Christians as Pentecost. It is one of three pilgrimage feasts found in the Hebrew Scriptures when God commands the Jewish people to go up to Jerusalem and worship at the Temple, and the last of the spring festivals. The festivals of Israel were designed by God to focus the hearts and minds of the Jewish people on God’s redemptive message.

The Spring Festivals

The Spring festivals listed in Leviticus 23 are Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The offering of firstfruits is mentioned in Leviticus 23:9–13. Each of these observances points to the Messiah in different ways. Passover is a prophetic portrait of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The celebration of unleavened bread reminds us of the sinless nature of the Savior. The offering of the firstfruits points to a Messiah who would rise as the first fruit from among the dead.

The final Spring celebration is Shavuot, literally “weeks” in Hebrew, from the root word for “seven.” The Lord commanded Israel to count seven weeks from the day of the firstfruit offering (Leviticus 23:15) until the fiftieth day, at which point they observed Shavuot. In Christian tradition, this same festival is called Pentecost, which is the Greek term for “fifty.”

There are many Jewish traditions associated with Shavuot, such as reading the Book of Ruth, spending the entire night studying the Torah, chanting the Ten Commandments, decorating synagogues and homes with aromatic spices, and partaking of a dairy meal.

We read the Book of Ruth because Shavuot is a harvest-time account of Ruth, a Gentile, who identifies with the Jewish people and by following after herself to her Israelite mother-in-law, Naomi, and her God. Ruth is the great-grandmother of King David and part of the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:5), which speaks of God’s intention to include Gentiles in the outpouring of His messianic blessings.

The Foods of Shavuot

No Jewish holiday is complete without its signature cuisine! According to long-standing custom, dairy foods such as cheese, cheesecake, and cheese blintzes (a delicious sweet cheese-filled crepe) are eaten on Shavuot. This tradition may be based on a passage in Song of Songs: “Your lips, my bride, drip honey; honey and milk are under your tongue, and the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon” (Song of Songs 4:11).

This association compares the Bible to the sweetness of milk and honey. In some European cities, Jewish children are introduced to Bible study on Shavuot by eating honey cakes with passages from the Bible written on them.

The Messianic Fulfillment of the Festival

Now, if Passover was fulfilled in the death of the Lamb of God, the Feast of Unleavened Bread in His sinless character, and the first fruits offering in His resurrection, then we must ask ourselves: How did the first coming of Jesus fulfill the Day of Pentecost? It is no coincidence that God selected this Jewish festival as the day when he would send His Holy Spirit.

The Promise of the Spirit

According to Acts 1:15, there were 120 Jewish believers in one place, of one mind, praying and focusing on God’s work. They were waiting in obedience to the command of Jesus (Acts 1:4–5) and were observing the laws of Shavuot regarding “no work” (Leviticus 23:21). Many were pilgrims who had left their homes in other places to be part of this festival, as Pentecost was one of the three festivals when Jewish people were commanded to “go up to Jerusalem” to worship. These worshippers probably remained in Jerusalem between Passover and Pentecost and were, therefore, away from home for two months. God would bless their obedience now in a powerful way.

After many days of patient waiting, the presence and power of the Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples on the fiftieth day after Passover. It was a new revelation given on Shavuot/Pentecost! The giving of the Torah by Moses at Mount Sinai had come with signs and wonders, as seen in Exodus 19.

So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder. (Exodus 19:16–19)

There were signs and wonders in the Upper Room, marking this transformed Pentecost, as well. It was the birthday of a new revelation and the fulfillment of God’s promises to pour out His Spirit in the last days!

The Tradition of All Israel Being Present at Sinai

According to Jewish tradition, our sages taught that every Jew who would ever live was at Mount Sinai, pledging their obedience to the Law. The rationale for this is that every Jewish person at that moment agreed to keep the Torah. The verse used to teach this is in Exodus 24:7: “Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!’”

This Jewish tradition avers that every Jewish person standing at the foot of Mount Sinai that day heard the giving of the Law in their native tongue so that they could understand what they were hearing and obey. Now, this is a tradition; we do not believe this actually took place. But this custom is ancient and may have been known by Jesus and His disciples.

This new Pentecost took place fifty days after Jesus, the Lamb of God, died for our sins. There were signs and wonders accompanying the pouring out of the Spirit, just like at Mount Sinai, and those who listened to the disciples preaching heard this new revelation in their native tongue. The giving of the Spirit had come in a similar powerful manner as the giving of the Law at Sinai and therefore had great authority for the disciples and the Jewish people gathered who also witnessed this event.

How gracious of God to use our culture and human understanding to communicate His truth to us! He communicates with us in ways we can understand: God could make His point otherwise, but He often reveals Himself and His truth in ways that humans can understand.

Perhaps the best example of this is when the Son of God Himself took on flesh to communicate with you and me and help us better understand the Father.

Counting the Days

We do not know when the pandemic will end, and therefore we are unable to count the days until this challenging time is finished! We do know, however, that God is at work in the waiting. That is one of the lessons of Pentecost, which is clearly stated in the Psalms, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).

May you be blessed in your waiting!
Your brother in Messiah,
Mitch

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Pentecost & Waiting with Hope

Shalom, friends.

I am writing this note to you from New York City at the beginning of April. Spring is in the air, and Passover and Easter are around the corner. Normally, I would be more upbeat, looking forward to the warmer weather, sunshine, and the beauty, believe it or not, of the parks and gardens in New York City.

But, not this year!

We are still at war with an unseen enemy.

As C. S. Lewis wrote,

War creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it.
(C. S. Lewis, Weight of Glory, p. 44)

This has been so true of our battles against the coronavirus. It has pushed us all to the brink of our human frailty and weakness! For a born-and-bred New Yorker, I can tell you that the impact on our lives, economy, and especially our souls is devastating. We are at the end of ourselves and have only one place to look, and that is up to the heavens. So many are broken in health and finances and are now searching for spiritual answers as earthly solutions leave us hopeless.

This morning, I awoke to an email telling me that the relative of a dedicated Christian sister, a Jewish person who as far as we know did not know the Lord, passed away from respiratory complications due to the virus. And there are many others who will pass into eternity from this dreadful disease.

I wanted to bring you up to date on what it is like for us in New York City, which, if you remember, has the largest Jewish population in the United States.

THE STATE OF THE MISSION

We closed the Chosen People Ministries New York headquarters and Brooklyn offices, and we are working remotely to try to keep our staff healthy and in compliance with the mandated shutdowns of “non-essential” businesses. I did not mind doing this and thought it was the right thing to do, especially as much of our staff travels to work by bus or subway, where the density of people and space limitations are breeding grounds for illnesses—even in ordinary times.

Our administrative staff of more than twenty-five people meet “virtually” (by Zoom) for prayer every morning. This group represents the backbone of Your Mission to the Jewish People and handles our office tasks related to finance, print and digital publications, creating video content, church calling, development, and much more. These prayer meetings enable us to stay connected spiritually through prayer and worship. As a result, we are more unified than ever, and all of our administrative systems are working well…Thank God!

However, I noticed in our prayer time this week that more and more of us know someone who has the virus and a few who have died. At this moment (and I hope it has changed by the time you are reading this), my hometown is a battlefield, similar to what I experienced during 9/11!

Yet, in spite of the suffering that comes from the disease, isolation, economic uncertainty, and a massive shift in the way we live, worship, and work for the moment…I know that God is still in control!

I am glad that we had already started using the Internet for ministry years ago. We have now intensified our digital outreach and follow-up. We have more Bible studies with Jewish people happening right now than I can count. I am amazed by the way our staff has adapted to the new environment and are reaching out in new and creative ways to the Jew first and also to the Gentile!

This is not only true in the United States, where we serve in two dozen cities, but also in other countries, including Canada, England, Argentina, and Israel to name a few. Chosen People Ministries is in eighteen countries, and once the dust settles and a missionary family moves to Brazil to conduct ministry among traveling Israelis, we will add Brazil as number nineteen.

In Israel, where there is currently a severe lockdown and incredible uncertainty about the future, we continue our online Hebrew Isaiah 53 Campaign, Passover outreaches, and meetings with dozens of Israelis online who are seeking the Lord.

I am so glad our dedicated and innovative staff are finding new ways to meet these seekers through the phone, Zoom, Skype, and other tools which have enabled new pathways for personal communications.

Someone compared this new technology to the Roman roads of the first century—one of the possible reasons for the rapid spread of the gospel throughout the world. The good news is now traveling from place to place through disciples of Jesus using digital tools.

I am hoping that when life returns to “normal,” we will have discovered many new ways of reaching today’s Jewish community with the gospel and will continue using them.

A BEAUTIFUL JEWISH PRAYER

One of my favorite Jewish prayers is called the Shehechiyanu. The word simply means “has given us life.” The prayer is as follows:

“Blessed are You, Lord our God, Sovereign of all, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.”

We say this prayer at the start of something new—whether it be the first day of a holiday, beginning life in a new home, a new job, or after a season of hardship.

I look forward to joyfully reciting this prayer when this vicious virus has been controlled and conquered. Meanwhile, we will serve the Lord and wait for His deliverance. It is the waiting, especially in isolation, that is so difficult! God’s people learn patience by waiting. It is the Lord who allows us to experience difficult situations to teach us how to wait on Him.

HOPE AND THE DAY OF PENTECOST

Jewish people around the world are now counting off fifty days between Passover and Pentecost, which begins on May 28, 2020. I see a wonderful convergence between our waiting the fifty days and looking towards the day when the virus is gone.

The Shehechiyanu prayer is recited on Pentecost, The Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) in Jewish tradition. As believers in Jesus, we view this holiday through the lens of Acts chapter 2, when the Lord poured out His Spirit upon one hundred twenty Messianic Jews waiting in an upper room for the promise of the Spirit.

The Spirit empowered them to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19–20), beginning in Jerusalem and, eventually, to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8).

These early disciples and my Jewish tradition teach me to wait. The disciples were waiting for the coming of the Spirit. I am waiting for a more “normal” existence—but even more so for the great day of redemption when the Lord returns to reign as King!

When this season of suffering and testing passes, I plan to shout the Shehechiyanu to the Lord.

I will thank the Lord for bringing us to this new season with more enthusiasm than perhaps on any previous Day of Pentecost! I plan to praise God for a new start after being reminded so powerfully of His priorities and that our lives must be dedicated to the proclamation of the gospel. It is all that matters, as this life is frail and momentary.

One day, every tear will finally be wiped away. Until then, we know what we must do!

We are called to proclaim the gospel as we await His return.

And if for some reason we are still in the midst of the crisis, my thoughts about the future will not change—just the dates. He is still the Lord, and He is in control. He loves us, and our future is not knitted to this world, but rather tethered to the age to come and to the One who gives us the gift of everlasting life—Jesus our Messiah.

Stay strong and serve the Lord,

Mitch

P.S. We know you have suffered as well, and we want to pray for you. Please include your prayer requests for our prayer teams to uphold you and your families before the Lord. Visit chosenpeople.com/pray.

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A Post-Passover Reflection: COVID-19 and the Ten Plagues of the Passover

The Ten Plagues

The Jewish digital magazine, The Tablet Magazine, printed a comic strip drawn by Jules Feiffer with the title, “Wherefore (Why) is this plague different than all other plagues?” The Feiferesque drawing has one man sitting by himself at a rather long Seder table. The humor might need a touch of explanation. One of the classic parts of the annual Seder is the Four Questions asked by the youngest reader in the home. The first question is, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The boy posits the uniqueness of the Seder among so many other days of the year or even days dedicated to holiday observance. The little boy is asking, “What is different about the Passover Seder?” The various answers comprise the section of the Passover Haggadah called the Maggid, which is a term similar to Haggadah from the Hebrew word “to tell.” Maggid refers to the story stitched together from Exodus and various Jewish traditions over the centuries, telling the story of the redemption from Egypt.

The recitation of the ten plagues is a critical part of the Seder event and one of the most memorable moments for Jewish children during the Passover Seder. Traditionally, we dip a pinky into a glass of sweet red wine and drip a drop of the liquid onto our plates while loudly naming each plague. This a favorite moment for the children because they get to shriek and scream as loud as they wish. We usually recite them in Hebrew, but of course, in the United States, we also shout out the translation.

There are two explanations for why we drop the wine on our plate. One reason is that it more dramatically portrays the plagues as judgments falling upon the Egyptian slave masters. The other is because the rabbis tell us to reduce our joy (symbolized by the sweet wine) by one drop for each plague that fell upon the Egyptians. Though they enslaved us, they are fellow human beings and God’s creations, and therefore we should not rejoice because of God’s judgment upon them. The Lord needed to use plagues against Pharaoh, causing him to let the Jewish people go free so they could worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Because of their suffering, we reduce our joy.

This vital part of the Seder reminds the Jewish people that God sent plagues upon others in mysterious harmony with His will. He used plagues to move both the Egyptians and Jewish people to action. Biblical plagues are always purposeful and, while causing terrible circumstances and suffering, they are often used mysteriously by God for His divine purposes.

There are many biblical examples of plagues, including the ten in Exodus, the affliction heaped upon Job, and many others. Sometimes God caused epidemics, and other times, He allowed them to fall upon Israel, individuals, and the Gentile nations. For example, Naaman and Miriam, Moses’ sister, were plagued with leprosy for God’s holy purposes and His glory. However, leprosy was a common disease and not a biblical plague, per se.

Plagues are not always punitive. Like the healing of the blind man in John chapter 9, plagues fell upon humanity for the glory of God and accomplish His purposes among mankind.

At times, there seem to both punitive and revelatory reasons for these afflictions.

COVID-19 and the Ten Plagues

We are not suggesting that COVID-19 is an infectious disease that was imposed directly by God, similar to those described in chapters seven through twelve of the book of Exodus. There have been many instances of plagues throughout human history and in Scripture. Although the coronavirus is particularly vicious, we have no reason to believe that the spread of the virus is the result of God’s judgment. Our knowledge is limited to Scripture, and of course, the Bible does not speak about the coronavirus, nor the Black Plague, nor Spanish Flu. The adage, “Where the Bible is silent, so am I,” is appropriate in this regard.

On the other hand, we cannot deny that God used plagues as judgments in the past and will do so in the future. COVID-19 has unfortunately awakened us to the possibility that plagues, along with other signs, will pave the way for future judgment and the coming of the Messiah, according to rabbinic eschatology. Evangelicals would agree that “pestilence” or plagues are also signs of His second coming, according to what the Messiah stated in Luke’s portrayal of the Olivet Discourse (Luke 21:10–11).

Hopefully, one day, we will look back and see the good our heavenly Father accomplished through this epidemiological trial. We pray that somehow blessings will come for all, through this time of pain and suffering (Romans 8:28) and that the lessons learned in the darkness we will remember in the light. Hopefully, we will learn the more profound lessons God intends from this horrific plague and that the Lord will use the experience and loss to shape our character, reorder our priorities, and draw us closer to Him.

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