Two Feet Through Jerusalem
By Donald R. Ramsey
The scene was serene. It was a chilly day in early February but the
sun was shining. There were no clouds in the sky and the tourist crowds
had not yet arrived. As I stood on the Mount of Olives overlooking
Jerusalem, it was impossible not to realize that this was a very special
place. And not just because I was gazing at the Temple Mount and the
Garden of Gethsemane among other important sites. Nor was it because of
the history associated with these places. While standing there, I began
to think of the importance of this place-- not because of the past but
due to the struggle taking place over its future.
But something was nagging me in the back of my mind. Being raised a Christian, I was always taught that we are after a heavenly inheritance and material possessions such as land are basically insignificant in the eternal scheme. It was much more important to be concerned about such things as faith, hope, and love. As an evangelical Christian, I have long been exposed to a certain eschatological view concerning the future of Israel at the second coming of Jesus. Penetrating through this particular view of the world's future was a question that is, in some ways, problematical, at least in my mind. Having always been taught that Christians should view Israel as important in the plan of God because of the second coming prophecies, I had never bothered considering Israel from any other perspective.
In the view of the future I grew up with, Israel was a central part, but the inhabitants of the land, indeed, the Jewish people worldwide, were relegated to the periphery and most Christian theologians I have encountered view the residents of the land, at least the Jewish ones, only in terms of the tribulations this view indicates they must endure. From this view, the lesson one is left with is this: Israel is important because the Lord would not come unless the restoration of the State of Israel was accomplished first but since Israel rejected Jesus they would suffer yet again in the great tribulation. This lesson completely overlooks several key issues and should not occupy the central place anyway. What about God's people--the Jews? How and why do they fit in the picture?
Most Christian evangelicals would like nothing more than to see Israel "converted." Great efforts have been mounted in the past to see that this was accomplished. However, the fact is that most of these efforts do not succeed. They have not been converted by Christianity or Islam and this has served to cause them great trouble during the course of their history. Indeed, since they would not be converted willingly, forced conversions were attempted, which the Jews also resisted. After realizing they would not forsake their faith, many efforts to annihilate them ensued. One has to wonder how the Jewish people have been able to endure so much in the course of their history. The answer of course is that they are God's people and as such are witnesses to his existence. Without their attachment to him, they would have likely vanished from the earth long ago. This thought formed the basis of a new perspective for me about the Jewish people and began to answer the question nagging me in my mind.
The question is this: Aside from the second coming prophecies, why should Christians care about Israel or the Jewish people? Aside from the view that Jesus will return to claim the land and institute the theocratic kingdom, why should Christians be concerned over what happens in Israel? Won't God take care of it anyway? It is a sad fact that many Christians simply do not care what happens to Israel because they have a view that God's will is predestined to be done and it will all work out in the end. Most Christians do not care what happens to the Jews because they view Judaism as having been replaced by Christianity and are therefore insignificant in the eyes of God. This in itself is a grave injustice not only to the Jewish people and Israel, but to God. And incidentally, to Jesus, who himself wept over Jerusalem. Can the rest of Christianity do any less? Are we to be noncommittal in regard to the place and the people that Jesus so clearly agonized over?
So there I was, walking through Jerusalem with these questions roaming around in my head and the more I saw of the city, the more these questions took center stage in my thoughts. While I was in Jerusalem, I walked wherever I went. (One day, I took a tour bus to Masada and the Dead Sea, but aside from that, I walked.) It gave me an opportunity to consider many things and to observe the people and the current state of affairs. I walked through the Old City and the Mount of Olives and as I walked, I wondered--what more is there to this place than the tourists and the shops? Why has it come to be the most significant trouble spot in the world? What is at stake here?
What is at stake in the debate over the future of Jerusalem and indeed, Israel, is simply this: the credibility of God. That is, his word. At Sinai, Moses argued with God when he was about to destroy the Israelites by pointing out what the destruction of his people would do to God's word and to his name (his reputation, if you will). Why bring them out of Egypt if only to destroy them? So for God's sake--for the sake of his word--Israel was spared. It is perhaps possible that God could have accomplished his plan by destroying Israel and starting over with some other people. But credibility was at stake. God had made promises to Abraham, and to Isaac, and to Jacob. So for his word and for his name's sake, God relented. But this act was not without mercy since Israel certainly was wrong in the act they were engaged in and certainly not since they had recently witnessed the awesome power of God to deliver them from Egypt. Just as Israel had to depend on God's mercy then, all of us today are in a similar situation. None of us is worthy of God's mercy, but God sees fit to give it to us anyway and now the question becomes: what are we going to do with this mercy which has been given to us when we did not deserve it?
Will we stand on the side while these issues play out in a distant place? Will we also be distant? Why isn't Christianity standing up loudly for God's word and for his glory in this matter? We ought to be standing with Israel and with the Jewish people: firstly, for God's sake; secondly, for his people's sake--that is, Israel and the Jews; and thirdly, for our own sake. Why for our sake? To put it simply, if we Christians are who we claim to be, namely, the engrafted people of God, then we must care about those who are the natural people of God. It can be said that together we are the people of God in the earth today. But only together can this be said. We Christians cannot claim to be the people of God if we leave out the Jewish people. That we can partake of the covenants of God is because of the Jews. God is not divided and neither should we. We must always remember that we have been grafted into the tree of God's promise, that is, through Israel--they are the people of God by right, we Christians are the people of God only by his mercy and only because we were grafted into their covenants. We must learn to care about the Jews because they are the Jews and we must learn to care about them and about Israel because God cares. And together we must make up a tree of God's knowledge in the earth today.
So where does this lead us? The Christian ministry is one of reconciliation. We are called to be reconciled to God and this we cannot do if we neglect the natural people of God. So we must recognize that if reconciled to God, we must care about the Jews because God cares about them. We must find the path where we can walk together in God's plan. We must be willing to seek out one another for the sake of God's word and, indeed, in order to understand his word correctly thereby enabling us to carry out his will in the earth. We must reach common ground where we can rightly assess each other and where we can understand one other. There are many differences and no one is suggesting that it will be easy to achieve the understanding necessary to tackle the difficult issues which confront us. However, we must realize that there is much that we do agree on and there are actually many areas of common ground upon which we can stand as we engage in our effort.
Fortunately, there are a number of efforts being made by both Jews and Christians to engage in meaningful discussions to avoid many of the past excesses which have marred our journey. Unfortunately, as an evangelical fundamentalist, I had been late coming to the effort and this points out part of the problem--why had I arrived in my forties and after more than twenty years in the ministry only recently entered into these discussions? Because of many fundamentalists' and certain evangelicals' emphasis on converting the Jews, many in these groups of Christians see no purpose in such discussions and in fact, many discourage the effort because they enjoy the claims of superior doctrinal positions which they espouse. I once found my self giving a sermon in which I related details of Jewish synagogue services to the congregation before me and it was very well received. Feeling very pleased with my effort that day, I was reflecting on the sermon which had been so well received when I was struck by a surprising thought--how credible were the words I spoke when I had never actually experienced a service at a synagogue? To be sure, the details I gave in the sermon were accurate since I had researched them from credible sources, but there seemed to be something missing in what I had said after this realization came to me. I knew some of the details but I did not have the complete picture of what took place in a synagogue nor did I know the history behind some of the elements of the synagogue service. It was then that I resolved to rectify this shortcoming in my experience and it has been a privilege since then to attend many synagogue services.
There is a question often asked among ministers of the churches I am affiliated with--are you a Bible student? The answer would appear to be self-evident given that this question is asked among ministers and it sometimes raises eyebrows when newcomers overhear this question being asked. Surely, these are Bible students, or at least, they were before they became ministers. So why the question? What is meant is simply: are you willing to get at the truth; are you willing to prove your point through a complete discussion of the issues and are you willing to have others challenge your understanding; do you spend many hours and days searching the word of God; do you study through to the heart of the matter; do you want the whole truth on the subject; are you satisfied with what you know?
It is in the spirit of this approach that I have sought to know more about the Jewish tree of knowledge so that my understanding of God may become fuller. It is a shame that more people from my own experience and background do not see the need for a better understanding of Israel and the Jewish people. It is my prayer that more will come to see this need because there is much that we Christians can learn from the Jews and their experience and not just from the Biblical period. There is only one faith in God, for God is one and through this faith in God we are drawn to the Jewish people for in them and through them God has given the world hope. That hope remains to this day and is not diminished nor will it be so long as all of us learn to reach beyond ourselves to the hand of the Almighty and manifest his love in the world. We must learn to spot the inspiration of God wherever and in whatever manner God chooses to bring it to us. Together we should be two witnesses for God in the uncertain and sometimes very troubling times in which we live.
And this is why my two feet walked through Jerusalem.