BY ANDREW TUCKER, JPOST—
Christians worldwide are gearing up to celebrate Christmas. Christmas trees are being erected, presents purchased and the turkeys prepared for the oven. Millions of church services will be held on December 25 to mark the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.
The tragedy is, most of us have no idea why. We have forgotten that Jesus was a Jew – He came to this world as a Jew, lived as a Jew, died as a Jew, and will (we believe) come back a Jew. Most Christians have no idea that today’s Jews are descendants of Jesus’ friends and brethren. In fact, we have forgotten (if we ever knew) that the very reason Jesus came was to fulfill God’s promises to Abraham – to bless the Jewish people, and though them to bless all nations. We have made Jesus into a sort of Disneyland figure, conveniently cut off from his Hebrew roots and the people he so loved, among whom he dwelled, and for whom he gave his life.
As my friend Willem Glashouwer puts it – we Christians cut the root, and stole the fruit.
Sometimes it seems that Christian leaders would rather tell the Jews what they are doing wrong than encourage them to embrace their identity and calling as God’s people. After 2,000 years of persecution and forced conversions, we still have not learned the lesson that Christians are not the only people on Earth who can earn God’s favor. We have yet to appreciate that God is in control of destiny, and that He has a special, mysterious way with Israel.
THERE IS something deeply wrong with Western Christianity today, and it has to do with Israel. It is no wonder the churches in the West are dying out. So long as the Church fails to recognize that its own identity – its genesis and its destiny – are bound up with the restoration of the Jewish people (yes, the literal Israel), we will continue to miss the mark, and we will fail to be relevant.
This requires nothing less than a fundamental paradigm shift in the mentality of most Christian leaders.
The Church in Europe bears a special responsibility in this regard. It was in Christian Europe that six million Jews were slaughtered. Hitler was able to cite Luther, and he did so without hesitation. Confronted by the harsh reality of the Holocaust, there was a measure of repentance and new insight in the mid-20th century, but the tide seems to have turned again. Sadly, Christians who love and support Israel are today a small force in Europe. That is not likely to change.
The nations of Europe are in an identity crisis, and so are their churches. They have forgotten where they came from, and they have no idea where they are going. In two world wars, many of our ancestors gave their lives in conflicts in which the enemies of freedom slaughtered millions of European Jews. Now, only decades later, it seems that these same freedoms are now being misused – often in the name of the rule of law – to allow a further attempted genocide of the Jewish people. Of course I am referring to the alarming level of political support in Europe for the recognition of a unilaterally declared Palestinian state.
All is not doom and gloom. A growing movement of Christians worldwide are coming to the realization that something has to change. Most of them are not in the West, but in the developing continents like Africa and Asia. Last month, for example, Christians for Israel organized a series of conferences in Uganda, South Sudan, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Ghana at which thousands of black Christians embraced the message that the Church has not replaced Israel.
Many people do not even know where Israel is on the map. For the first time they heard that God still loves and has a purpose for the Jewish people. For the first time, they saw and heard that modern Israel is not an obstacle to peace, but on the contrary is a sign of hope in this chaotic world pointing to the coming Messiah.
Many African pastors and Christian leaders – free of the historical and theological shackles that continue to bind their European counterparts – pledged to reject all forms of “replacement theology,” and to embrace Israel as the apple of God’s eye. Similar groups are springing up all over the world. I believe there is a hidden army of Christians who are rediscovering their true identity as Gentiles grafted onto the Jewish olive tree.
These Christians feel themselves more and more isolated, and uncomfortable in the traditional churches. And they are increasingly marginalized and misunderstood.
Christians who dare to support the Jewish people and the restoration of Israel need to brace themselves for stormy weather. But we have no choice. It is up or under.
At this Christmas time, our hope and prayer is that the people of Israel will be comforted by the knowledge that – despite what you may hear and see in the media – there are millions of people out there supporting you and praying for you. Our message is: you are not alone.
More and more Christians are coming to a realization that God is bringing His people home to Jerusalem and the hills of Judea and Samaria – His people and His land, in preparation for the Coming of the King and the Kingdom.
May the God of Israel give us Western Christians the spirit of humility to acknowledge our mistakes, the grace to open our eyes, the conviction to repent and turn from our old gods, and the strength – like Ruth – to accompany Naomi back to her land.
Your people is our people. Your God is our God. Where you die, we will die.
The writer is executive director of Christians for Israel International.