Why blessing Israel is vital to the future of the Church’s mission
by Charles Gardner
JAFFA, ISRAEL, June 26, 2023 – I love to share the story of the port that launched the gospel ‘ship’ to the nations.
My love for Jaffa, at the southern end of the bustling coastal city of Tel Aviv, goes back to when my wife Linda and I spent eleven days there following a study tour in 2017. The place really came alive to us when we realised how crucial it had been to spreading the Messiah’s message.
It is a fascinating ancient port known in Bible times as Joppa, where Jonah caught a ship to escape his divine calling and where the Apostle Peter later had a vision that brought the good news of Jesus to the rest of the world.
Peter was staying at Simon the Tanner’s house (which is still there) and was resting on the rooftop when he fell into a trance and saw a vision of all kinds of animals including those regarded by Jews as unclean.
Looking towards the location of Simon the Tanner’s house. Photo: Charles Gardner
This was not, as some suppose, a license to eat pork, but a supernatural message that he was not to regard Gentiles as being unworthy of God’s love. It coincided with a similar encounter experienced by a Roman centurion named Cornelius in Caesarea, some 40 miles up the coast.
Cornelius was a god-fearing man who loved the Jews, and an angel appeared to him saying that his prayers had been heard and he was to send for a man named Peter, who was staying with Simon the Tanner at his house by the sea.
Cornelius and his extended family heard the glorious message of the gospel and were filled with the Holy Spirit, just as the Jewish disciples had been on the Day of Pentecost. And this opened the door for the good news to spread across the nations.
That blessing Israel is a key to revival should come as no surprise to Christians in view of God’s promise to Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse…” (Genesis 12:3)
Here we see how Cornelius, who loved the Jews, became the means of blessing for the entire Gentile world. Like Cornelius, today’s Gentile Christians are called to comfort God’s people, to bring good tidings to Zion and say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” (See Isaiah 40:1-9)
Tragically, the Jewish people were exiled throughout the world within a generation of Jesus’ ascension, just as the Saviour predicted, because (as a nation) they had failed to recognise him.
Yet God has never forgotten the people with whom he made an unbreakable covenant and, in fulfilment of many biblical prophecies, the scattered seed of Abraham finally took root in the Promised Land once again after an absence of nearly 2,000 years.
Just as the gospel was originally ‘exported’ from Joppa, it has now become a re-entry point for Jews – not only in returning to the land, but also to the Lord! Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport is close by – in fact, the raising of Dorcas from the dead, which immediately preceded Peter’s visit to Joppa, took place at Lydda, where the international airport is located!
During our time in Jaffa, we stayed at Beit Immanuel, a guesthouse run by the Church’s Ministry among Jewish people and host to a thriving Messianic congregation. This peaceful oasis is perfectly placed for reaching out to Greater Tel Aviv where almost half the country’s Jewish population live.
A view of Tel Aviv from ancient Jaffa. Photo: Charles Gardner
Many have tasted the warmth, welcome and loving hospitality of this gem of an international community steeped in history and within a short walk of some of the most significant biblical sites, not to mention magnificent beaches.
But life in Tel Aviv can be rough, tough, and expensive! I watched poor people struggling as they waited in the swamp of a filthy launderette while others begged for food as they wandered the streets with no apparent hope. But there are also swanky, high-rise hotels and a bustling downtown area overshadowed by skyscrapers, with many indulging in a hedonistic lifestyle of clubs and coffee bars. But they are living in a bubble, afraid to confront reality.
I met one of them at the airport, a charming young lady commuting between London and Tel Aviv, who confessed to being a ‘secular Jew’ yet listened with interest when I shared of our study tour learning about the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. She admitted to being shocked when she left her ‘bubble’ to visit friends in the north who lived within the sound of exploding bombs across the border in Syria.
But even in Tel Aviv the mangled wreck of a beachside café stands as a stark reminder of the constant threat facing its inhabitants – a bloody terror attack killed 21 mainly young people enjoying a night out there just three months before 9/11, and there have been more horrific incidents of late.
The resettling of Jews in Israel following their long exile is very reminiscent of the time of Nehemiah 2,500 years ago when they returned from 70 years in Babylon. Nehemiah was given authority by King Artaxerxes of Persia to restore the broken walls of Jerusalem, but his work was strongly opposed by others in the surrounding lands.
Now the Jews have returned once more to the Promised Land, and yet again they face fierce opposition. Nehemiah’s men built the walls using one hand for construction and the other to hold a weapon – exactly as Israel has developed since the birth of the modern state with ancient ruins rebuilt, barren wastes richly cultivated and defensive wars won against all odds.
When Nehemiah’s work was finally complete, Ezra was assigned to read the Book of the Law, leading to repentance for straying from God’s rule. And now the Jewish people are beginning to rediscover the Lord once more in fulfilment of ancient prophecies, with Jeremiah going as far as to say that there will come a day when they will all know the Lord, “from the least of them to the greatest” (Jeremiah 31:34).