Monthly Archives: December 2018

Christmas Through Jewish Eyes

The New Testament, Christmas, and Hanukkah: Celebrating the Season

Shalom and happy holidays! I am sure you are looking forward to celebrating the two great holidays observed in December.

During Hanukkah, we focus on the rededication of the Temple during the days of the Maccabees, a family of Jewish warriors who saved the Jewish people from the Greek leader Antiochus Epiphanes. Christmas, of course, points us to the redemption of both Jews and Gentiles through the One who was born to be the Savior of the world.

We see similar patterns in both holidays, including themes of light, generosity, deliverance, and giving glory to God.

Hanukkah and Christmas:


The Connection?

I also see the connection between Hanukkah and Christmas in the ways that the stories complement one another. After all, if Antiochus Epiphanes had turned the Jewish people into idol-worshipping Greeks who tossed out the Bible and embraced Greek philosophies, then the Jewish people could very well have disappeared. If that had happened, why would anyone be looking for a Jewish Messiah? And who would understand the prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures that paved a path through history, enabling Jewish people to identify the true Messiah?

All would have been lost if this small band of priestly zealots had not overthrown the Greeks.

Stated simply: Without Hanukkah, there would be no Christmas!

The Savior of the world did not enter earth’s atmosphere unannounced or pop onto the scene through some mystical vortex that would make any New Ager jealous! Rather, His birthplace, parents, tribe, and even the timing of His birth were predicted with extraordinary specificity, which allowed us to recognize Him as the Son of God and Messiah of the Jewish people.

Jesus was Jewish! He was born a Jew, both of His parents were Jewish, He lived a Jewish life, celebrated Jewish holidays such as Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles, and He lived a perfect life according to the Torah (Law). He grew up in the land given to the Jewish people, and when the moment came for the prophecy of His death to be fulfilled (Isaiah 53), He went to the cross without complaint, with love for His people who, for the most part, had rejected Him. He became the Savior and quintessential Passover lamb for all who, by faith, trusted in the blood of the Messiah, painted by grace on the doorposts of their hearts.

There literally would be no Christmas without Hanukkah, as there would be no Messiah without the Jewish people.

Early Faith Discoveries

I remember the first time I read the New Testament. I had previously thought this thin volume, compared to the Older Testament, was the fountainhead of antisemitism. I grew up believing that Jewish people were not supposed to read this book. Yet, one day I found a New Testament and began reading it. It struck me with the simplicity of its message and the love and kindness of Jesus. I quickly understood that He was Jewish, and I was fixated on His celebration of the Jewish holidays—as this is one of the ways we, as Jews, define ourselves. We celebrate Passover, not Easter, and Hanukkah, not Christmas. After I finished reading the Gospels for the first time, I came face to face with a Jewish book and a Jewish Messiah that was consistent with the Old Testament and that crushed my prejudices against the New Testament.

After reading “the book,” I knew I had to decide. Although as a Jewish person I was raised to reject Jesus, how could I do that after realizing that He fulfilled the prophecies predicted of the Messiah? I knew in the depth of my soul that if I did not believe in Jesus, I could never believe in anything! I was that convinced.

And so I accepted Jesus as my Messiah. For a moment, I feared I would wake up the next morning and find myself transformed into a Gentile, but the opposite was true. I never felt so Jewish in my entire life.

The New Testament is Kosher! 

I soon became convicted that Jesus is God in the flesh and that the Lord had called me to tell my fellow Jewish people that Jesus is the Messiah and that the New Testament is kosher! 

There are two magnificent passages in the Hebrew Scriptures that each of us should reflect on during this holiday season:  Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 9:6-7. The first passage is a clear prophecy of the virgin birth! You can only imagine how surprised I was to discover this prediction of the incarnation and virgin birth in my Bible! The prophet Isaiah writes, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

I am well familiar with the traditional objections that challenge this prophecy finding fulfillment in Jesus. The principal objection I had as a Jewish person to this possibility had nothing to do with the passage, but, rather, with the fundamental belief that God could not become flesh. In fact, as a Jewish person, I believed that this was tantamount to idolatry. The second of the Ten Commandments tells us that we should not create graven images of God. I recognized graven images are made of wood or stone, but Jewish people generally assume that a manifestation of God in the flesh is an idol. Therefore, for Jews, believing that Jesus is God is idolatry.

The other arguments are minor compared to this. Scholars debate whether the Hebrew word for virgin means “young woman” or “virgin,” and the son mentioned is also traditionally believed to be one of Isaiah’s children. There are good answers to these objections, but the primary challenge is encouraging Jewish people to be open-minded to the possibility that the eternal God could take on humanity. For some reason, this made sense to me and I believed it. I became convinced that God could become flesh because of this passage.

I then jumped a couple of chapters and found this new insight strengthened by another passage in Isaiah:

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from
then on and forever-more. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.
(Isaiah 9:6-7)

I view the son born of the virgin as the same child who is given this litany of spectacular names. I envision the names as characterizing the child and as windows into the character of this extraordinary individual. He is God in the flesh as depicted in the names.

Finally, it became clear to me that this child would become a king and reign on His father David’s throne for all eternity.
I asked myself the simple question, “Who lives for all eternity?” The answer, of course, is God Himself. At that point, as a new believer, I began to fully understand that Jesus was both the Messiah of Israel and Lord of the universe. He took on flesh to reveal the character of God to all mankind, identify with humanity, live a perfect life, and die as a worthy sacrifice for our sins.

Whew! What a journey through Scripture.

Jesus is God’s Hanukkah present wrapped in flesh!

I hope you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy Hanukkah and enjoy this special holiday edition of The Chosen People newsletter.

Your brother in the Messiah,

Mitch

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Looking Back on 2018

I want to thank you for your generous prayers and support during 2018. I also want to share some of what God has used our global staff to achieve for His glory. We could not have done it without you! You are a vital part of our ministry team. 

Our Staff 

Our staff, of course, is at the heart of all that we do for the Lord in reaching Jewish people with the gospel. Whether that is in the United States, Israel, Paris, or Russia–our staff, both missionaries and administrators, are our most precious assets. Our dedicated missionaries share the gospel day in and day out – heart to heart, person to person, and home to home. Our administrative workers diligently produce the published materials we use in sharing the gospel and care for all of the logistical concerns of ministry – connecting us with churches, making sure that our finances are in order, maintaining our properties, and so much more.  

I want you to know how much we love our staff and are committed to treating them generously. 

I am hoping you will help me show His love and care for our staff by providing an extra financial bonus during the holidays. Some of our missionaries are also under-supported and need extra help to receive their full compensation. Would it not be a phenomenal surprise to some of our missionaries if, by God’s grace, we have enough money to make up for the funds they were unable to raise throughout the course of the year? 

Together we can make a huge difference in the lives of our staff families! 

It is because of our staff that we maintain missionary operations in sixteen countries outside the United States, and twenty-plus cities within North America.  Your Mission to the Jewish People is now represented in communities amounting to 98% of the Jewish population across the globe. In fact, if you really want to understand our strategy, just follow the Jewish population numbers that we provided and you will see that we and our workers follow the Jewish population.  

I am sure it does not surprise you to learn that our largest staff outside of the United States is located in Israel! 

Here is a quick overview of what God is doing through our various ministries. 

Centers 

We establish Messianic outreach centers around the world – a base of operations in the midst of a large Jewish community. It is from these centers that missionaries go out to reach Jewish people for the gospel in their communities. We also invite Jewish people to attend Bible studies, fellowship meetings, evangelistic lectures, and discipleship programs held at our centers. We have two major centers in New York City, one center that we own in Israel and another that we rent in the heart of a very-unreached Tel Aviv suburb. We also have centers in Chicago, Florida, Buenos Aires, London, and Toronto, and we plan to continue to establish centers that we either own or rent in the midst of major Jewish population centers as the Lord allows. 

Congregations 

We also continue to plant messianic congregations – I like to describe these congregations as churches in a minor key! Of course, they are much more than this! We want the Jewish people we reach to have a comfortable, culturally sensitive place to worship and grow in the faith. One of the greatest objections Jewish people have to the gospel is that when a Jewish person accepts Jesus they are often no longer considered Jewish. This is why it is so important for Jewish believers to gather each week and to also celebrate the Jewish holidays as fulfilled in Jesus.  We are committed to establishing evangelistic communities in Jewish areas.  

We maintain Messianic congregations everywhere, from greater Los Angeles to New York City, Washington DC, London, Israel, Paris, Toronto, and many other cities. 

Digital Evangelism 

We constantly use the web and social media to reach Jewish people with the gospel. For the last six years we have been working together with some very talented young people to produce evangelistic testimonies of Messianic Jews.  

We now have almost ninety testimonies of Jewish believers in Jesus from every walk of life.  

You can go to www.Ifoundshalom.com and watch these testimonies. And when you do…you will join literally millions of people who have viewed these testimonies and received a profound and penetrating witness for Jesus. Now Christians sharing the Lord with Jewish friends are able to send them a link to an appropriate testimony of someone with a similar background. We also maintain the www.Isaiah53.com website which is reaching thousands upon thousands of Jewish people with the truth of this great Old Testament chapter which predicts the death and resurrection of Jesus in great detail.  

So many folks are responding in the United States, Israel, and other countries to the message of Jesus that we are overwhelmed with “follow up” and now, in partnership with those who have a similar vision, are producing an online video-based discipleship series based on the Sermon on the Mount.  

There’s no doubt that the digital universe is the new Mars Hill of the 21st century! 

Campus Work 

We are very excited about reaching out to university campuses. We are about to begin a new ministry this fall because of the generosity of a Christian foundation. We are looking for four qualified Jewish or Gentile young men who will live in the same apartment adjacent to New York University – the university with the largest Jewish student body in the United States… thousands of Jewish students who need the gospel. Throughout the year, we maintain a witness on campuses around the country and minister through book tables, equipping Christians on campus and sharing the gospel student to student! But, we feel know we need to dig deeper into the major Jewish campuses and reach Jewish people in a new way.  

If you know of a young person who is in a gap year either between finishing college or graduate school and would like to take a year and be part of this ministry to Jewish students, then please let us know.  

Israel 

It is said that the Jews are like everybody else– only more so! This is so very true of the Jewish people as God especially chose the Jewish people to be His bridge of redemption to a broken and sinful world (Genesis 12:1-3). God still has His all-powerful hand upon the Jewish people and you can see this in the ways that certain prophecies are fulfilled before our very eyes. Almost fifty percent of the world’s Jewish people have now returned to the land of Israel. Beginning in Ezekiel 36:22, the prophet predicts that the Jewish people will return to Israel in the last days in unbelief, and it would be in Israel that God would pour His Spirit upon the Jewish people and they would become spiritually alive. Today, there are almost 7,000,000 Jewish people living in Israel, the Hebrew language is revived as a common tongue, and more! The next step in God’s plan is for the Jewish people to come alive spiritually. And believe me, we are already beginning to see this!  

There are now more congregations and more believers in Israel than since the first century. Your Mission to the Jewish People continues to share the gospel with elderly Russian Jews and Holocaust survivors, and conducts children’s camps each year with hundreds of Jewish children, the majority of whom are not yet believers.  

We see many Jewish people come to faith in Jesus in Israel today!  

Other Countries 

God is not only working in Israel, but in many other countries with large numbers of Jewish people. For example, for the first time since World War II, we have established a Messianic congregation in the heart of the Jewish sector in Paris. France itself has more than 700,000 Jewish people! In Argentina, we have two beautiful centers and one of them is home to a dynamic and growing Messianic congregation.  

God is doing great things in the Ukraine. Many younger Jewish people left the Ukraine but there are still hundreds of thousands living in this very difficult place.  The Ukraine is replete with both economic challenges and ongoing antisemitism. We now have a coordinated effort among almost twenty Messianic congregations, helping them with training their leaders, doing relief work among elderly Jewish people who are unable to move to Israel, and more.  

We baptized dozens of Ukrainian Jewish people in 2018. 

There are also some ministries that have developed that we had not planned on! For example, tens of thousands of Jewish young adults, after their service in the Israeli army, travel to New Zealand to “sow their wild oats.” Unlike the former Israeli soldiers who travel to India, where we also serve, those who tour New Zealand are more seriously searching for spiritual truth. Our New Zealand team purchased a youth hostel in the heart of the major tourist area on the South Island of New Zealand, and almost 2,000 young Israelis stay there each year. Through barbecues, hummus nights, and Sabbath dinners we are able to share the gospel gently and sensitively with these young Israelis.  

Many of them return to Israel and are now in contact with our Israeli staff members with whom they are able to continue the relationships built in New Zealand. Already a number of them have come to faith in Jesus. 

Children’s Camps 

God has given us a great burden for reaching children – especially from mixed marriages between Jews and Gentiles. Each year, we see dozens of these young ones coming to faith in Jesus. I believe the future is bright because the Lord is working so wonderfully among these kids. 

Training Programs 

Our training programs are fruitful for both young believers and for those who are very serious about ministry. Each year we conduct a mentoring retreat in Israel and have been doing this for more than a dozen years. We are in the midst of training fifteen to twenty couples who are serving the Lord in the Holy Land, but are in great need of additional training.  

We are also conducting training conferences for Russian Jewish leaders, and in September 2019 we will have our fifth conference to be held in Kraków, Poland with more than one hundred fifty Russian-speaking Jewish congregational leaders who are desperate for more biblical and practical ministry training. 

We also continue our primary training program called the Charles Feinberg Center for Messianic Jewish Studies in Brooklyn.  

This is a partnership between Chosen People Ministries and Biola University/Talbot School of Theology. We offer a fully-accredited seminary degree designed to equip believers for ministry among the Jewish people. We have had twenty graduates, and there are almost twenty students currently enrolled in this great training program. We are so grateful for the partnership with Biola as the classes are offered at an incredibly reduced price so that, at the end of the training program, these new missionaries and future congregational leaders are able to begin their ministries without debt.  

If you know of anyone who would like this kind of training, in the heart of Orthodox Jewish Brooklyn at our Feinberg Center, please let us know. We are always open to whomever God is leading to be part of this program. 

ShortTerm Missions 

We conduct a number of short-term mission outreach programs throughout the year. We offer two programs in Israel, and usually one in New York City each summer. This summer, during our two-week Shalom New York outreach, we hope to have 125 participants for each week, in celebration of our 125th year as a ministry. We also send short-term outreach teams to reach Israelis in New Zealand and India, and we are now working on gathering a team to go to Nepal. We hand out tracts on the streets, conduct surveys among religious Jews, do puppeteering in parks, music outreaches, health fairs on the very Russian Brighton Beach boardwalk in Brooklyn, and offer evangelistic training along the way through talks given by some of our most experienced staff members. We pray and worship the Lord together and learn more about how to reach Jewish people with the gospel. It is our hope that those who participate will bring what they learn back to their local communities to reach their Jewish neighbors. 

Focus on the Haredim 

The old-style Orthodox Jews as well as the Hassidic Jews are very similar in their theology and culture. As a result, we put these two groups together and refer to them as Haredim, which is a word that means reverence or fear. There are approximately 300,000 of these very precious folks in New York City, and many hundreds of thousands in Israel, with others located around the globe. According to recent and respectable surveys of the Jewish people, one day within the next few decades the Haredim might become the largest segment of the Jewish community. They are not secularizing at the same rate as most other Jewish groups.  

Lately, we are seeing a few Haredim coming to know Jesus, and some of us believe that more are coming.  God is at work! We are planning a training conference on this topic in Brooklyn for January 2019. If you are interested in attending, please let me know. 

Our 125th Anniversary 

I cannot tell you how thrilled I am that we will begin our 125th year as a ministry among Jewish people on January 1, 2019. Chosen People Ministries began when Leopold Cohn, a Hungarian rabbi, came to faith in Jesus on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1892 through the witness of a twenty-one-year-old Presbyterian missionary to the Jewish people who was preaching the gospel to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe at a mission church on the Lower East Side.  We continue to embrace Rabbi Cohn’s vision for reaching the Jewish people with the gospel!  

There is so much to learn about the history of Chosen People Ministries and I hope that you will allow us to send you the autobiography of Leopold Cohn, entitled TAAncient People 

Yet the story is just beginning, as we draw closer to that future glorious day when all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:25ff). We are headed towards a Romans 11 future. The Lord will remember His promise to His ancient people and turn their hearts to Jesus…at least all who are alive at this future time.   

But there is so much to do today, as God has prepared a remnant of Jewish people who, like me, will respond positively to the gospel, if we will simply tell them about the Lord (Romans 1:16, 11:11)! 

Joyfully in Jesus, 

Mitch 

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