Now that my jet lag has subsided, and I am fully back to work writing and in the recording studio, I have had some time to reflect further on my recent experience in Israel. Those of you who read this blog will know that Back to the Bible Canada is planning an Israel Experience in the fall, and just recently, the team travelled there for a week to prepare for and film some footage in the Holy Land.
Having survived a whirlwind trip that included long days and very little time for rest and reflection, I can now take the time to think more deeply about the things that impacted me. For one, I was overwhelmingly surprised with the guide provided to us by the Israeli government. His professionalism, gracious disposition and vast knowledge were stellar, but that is not what impressed me most. What perplexed me was his relationship to the Christian faith. In the five days that we spent with him, he did not reveal his own personal faith commitment. He was clearly a Jew. While his commitment to Judaism seemed clear, however, he was not always observant. His profession often forced him to work on the Sabbath, and he also did not wear any of the clothing of typical orthodox Jews. Yet, he surely loved the God of the Bible.
However, when it came to the last 27 books in the Bible (the New Testament), I found his response mystifying. As we discussed the life of Jesus, it became overwhelmingly clear that he believed in the accuracy and testimony of the gospels. He never questioned the words of Jesus, nor His miracles, or for that matter, even His death and resurrection. At one point, he mused about the tourists from around the world who came by the millions to visit Israel – all because of this one Jewish rabbi! I once asked him what he actually thought of Jesus, and he told me he was a Jew, and would remain one. Yet, as he spoke, I continued to be perplexed; the man spoke as if he believed.
And it was not just him. Another guide who showed us the city of David, the small part of Jerusalem that had been inhabited by King David 3,000 years ago, seemed much the same. His references to the gospels also gave the impression that he truly believed the New Testament, yet he too professed he was a Jew. Those of us who have studied the growth of the New Testament church will remember the term, “God fearer.” God fearers were Gentiles who loved the God of Israel, but who did not convert to Judaism because such a conversion would have demanded they cut all ties to their family. Such a step was too radical. Yet, they sometimes even travelled to Jerusalem during pilgrimage festivals to worship, as is seen in the case of the Ethiopian eunuch.
Which lead me to ponder the fact that there are a great many Jews in Israel today, who seem like the Gentile God-fearers in the time of the New Testament. While they do not join with the “orthodox Jews” who seem too rigid, they do have a warmth toward the Bible, and even to Jesus and the gospels. I wonder: might it be, that as evangelical Christians travel to Israel on this tour to see the locations where our Lord ministered, God may use many to reach the lost sheep of the house of Israel? I pray, that as the first church grew through reaching Gentile God fearers, that we might see a harvest among the new Jewish “God fearers.”