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ICEJ Meets Mounting Needs as Israel Hit by Coronavirus Crisis

As the coronavirus threat spread around the world in late February, it became clear that the strict measures governments were taking to stop the pandemic would impact the ICEJ’s work in Israel just as the Passover season approached—when we are normally quite busy with numerous holiday assistance projects. Despite having to work from home, our staff in Israel rose to the challenge of meeting the needs of thousands of Israeli families even as the coronavirus crisis brought the nation’s economy to a standstill. Thanks to the faithful and generous support of Christians worldwide, the ICEJ helped even more Jewish families than usual over the Passover season.

VIRAL CRISIS PEAKS AT PASSOVER

This was indeed a most difficult Passover in Israel, as life and work were totally disrupted by the coronavirus health crisis. The elderly were told not to leave their homes for their own safety. Incoming flights were banned, and tourism flatlined. All non-essential businesses were closed. Unemployment in Israel suddenly jumped to over 25 percent. As Passover neared, the social needs across the country only multiplied. In Ashdod alone, over half the families applied to city social workers for Passover assistance.

With dozens of urgent requests for help flooding into our offices from across Israel, our staff rose to the occasion. Because Christians from around the world also responded to the need, we were able to help thousands of Holocaust Survivors, other elderly citizens, new immigrants, needy families, and many others who were desperately in need of assistance this Passover season.

It turned into a special moment when Christians showed their care and concern for our Israeli friends right when they needed us the most! No doubt, “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

“When the coronavirus began spreading in Israel, it made our work much more difficult, but it did not stop the mandate of the Christian Embassy to comfort the people of Israel. Rather, it provided a unique and timely opportunity to expand our ministry to meet critical needs and help many more families as Passover approached,” said ICEJ AID Director Nicole Yoder.

Here is a sampling of what we were able to accomplish together to make the Passover season brighter for thousands of individuals and families under added distress due to the coronavirus crisis. As you can see, we provided timely aid to more people at Passover than ever before, including Holocaust Survivors, other elderly Israelis, and new immigrants and children—while also helping emergency relief teams and community workers in need of special medical equipment remain on the job.

CARE FOR ELDERLY AND HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS

ICEJ team members at our Haifa Home for Holocaust Survivors were designated the primary caregivers for the 70 residents confined to their apartments due to the coronavirus crisis. This included delivering meals, providing medical checkups, doing handiwork around their homes, and paying daily visits to break their sense of isolation. The Christian volunteers under the direction of veteran ICEJ staffers Yudit and Will Setz also helped pack and deliver meals to hundreds of other Holocaust Survivors and senior citizens all around Haifa. 

In Jerusalem, some 12 members of the ICEJ staff were permitted to leave their homes to assist the elderly and other vulnerable people required to stay in their apartments. Many volunteered with Hineni—a Christian-supported Jerusalem soup kitchen—where they helped pack and deliver some 2,000 hot meals to elderly residents of the city over several weeks, as well as 650 Passover food and gift packages.

The ICEJ Homecare team also cared for some elderly and disabled Russian Jewish immigrants, buying them groceries and medicines, delivering Passover packets, and much more.

PASSOVER ASSISTANCE

The ICEJ began its annual Passover holiday distributions in early March by delivering Pesach packages for dozens of needy families in Netanya. The gift baskets included food vouchers for the holiday season, along with kitchenware, pans, and towels. This was a normal activity for ICEJ AID at this time of year, but soon the Passover needs were multiplying, and nothing remained normal.

Despite the stay-at-home orders, the ICEJ also funded and helped with the distribution of Passover gift boxes, including food and hygienic products, as well as daily meals to over 400 elderly and needy Soviet Jewish immigrants—including many Holocaust Survivors, who live in the Jerusalem suburbs of Pisgat Ze’ev and Ma’ale Adumim.

Meantime, we normally sponsor community Passover seders for hundreds of newly-arrived Jewish immigrants. However, since large gatherings were not allowed, the ICEJ provided holiday assistance to more individual immigrant families this year. This included 269 Ethiopian newcomers who were celebrating their first Passover in the Land of Israel. We also assisted these families with extra absorption assistance while they were in a mandated two-week quarantine upon entering the country.

Elsewhere, we worked with the Jewish Agency to assist 50 other newly-arrived families from other countries who had made the trip to Israel despite the coronavirus threat and went straight into quarantine. This extra absorption aid included vouchers to buy food and other basics as they start a new life in Israel under difficult circumstances.
Also, ICEJ funds made it possible for the Jewish Agency to run holiday day camps for children of new immigrant families in quarantine. This project included providing games, crafts, and toys for the kids to play at home or in small supervised groups.

Finally, the ICEJ furnished games, art supplies, and help with online learning for 95 at-risk youths in a special children’s home during the Passover season.

EMERGENCY WORKERS

For families living in southern Israel under the constant threat of rockets from Gaza, life became even harder due to the threat of COVID-19. The ICEJ provided local medical and emergency teams there with sterile gloves, filtration masks, protective suits, disinfectants, and other medical gear to allow them to continue making home visits to treat and care for children traumatized by years of rocket fire. They also arranged food and medicine to those in isolation or unable to shop, while also working with Magen David Adom to administer blood tests for coronavirus.

Meantime, first responders in the Gaza border area repurposed the special ATV firefighting equipment recently donated by the ICEJ to clean and sanitize public areas from the virus, including playgrounds, schools, and parks.

OTHER DISTRESSED COMMUNITIES

As unemployment rose due to the coronavirus lockdowns, the ICEJ reached out to other communities in need all across Israel.

The ICEJ responded to urgent requests for help on behalf of dozens of Bnei Menashe, Chinese, and Hispanic Jewish families who arrived in Israel within the past year or so and were struggling due to job layoffs and other economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis. We were able to provide them with grants and food vouchers to assist the newly unemployed and those in dire need before the Passover holiday.

The ICEJ also helped sponsor a brand-new emergency hotline for families with disabled and autistic children, which proved timely and effective—especially as anxiety among children and domestic violence began rising across Israel, as elsewhere. With guidance and training from professionals, phone counselors began taking 50–100 calls per day, in both Hebrew and Arabic, to deal with cases of fear and emotional trauma associated with the coronavirus among special-needs children.

Many in Israel’s Arab and Bedouin communities were late in learning about the dangers posed by COVID-19, and when public schools were suddenly closed and many breadwinners in these communities were suspended from their jobs, many families were greatly impacted. In response, the ICEJ provided 100 Arab and Bedouin families with hygiene supplies and culturally sensitive explanatory materials on how to protect your person and home against the virus, how to practice social distancing, and other helpful information.

Lastly, Israel’s Christian Arab community also has been impacted by the coronavirus threat, including many workers who have lost their jobs. In the mixed Christian/Muslim town of Eilaboun, in the Galilee, the ICEJ donated computers to 36 families so that their children could access distance learning. Other families with small children also received games and toys for the little ones to relieve stress in the home during the long school closures.

THE NEEDS CONTINUE

We are most grateful that Christians around the globe responded so quickly and generously over recent weeks, enabling the ICEJ to meet more needs than ever over the Passover season.

But the coronavirus health crisis is not over, and the needs created by this pandemic will continue to mount—both in Israel and in many other nations. We are thankful that so many Christians are so dedicated to helping Israel, even though they have urgent needs in their own families, communities, and nations. May the Lord richly bless you as you continue to comfort Israel in her time of need.

GIving Extra Aid to New Olim During Corona

Despite all the travel bans due to the Coronavirus, Israel is still welcoming new immigrants. Another group of 45 Russian-speaking Jewish immigrants made Aliyah last week, just in time for the nation’s Independence Day celebrations. The ICEJ sponsored some of the flights for this group and helped to cover extra costs made necessary by the Coronavirus health rules.

For Jews coming from the former Soviet republics, the added expenses at present include both a pre-flight quarantine period and then a two-week post-flight quarantine in a hotel before finally being able to enter an absorption center. These added health precautions have made the actual move to Israel more expensive than the normal Aliyah process. But many Jews in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and other FSU republics are moving up their Aliyah plans to come to Israel now. So, we are grateful to be in a position, thanks to the support of so many Christians, to help them come home to Israel now, even in the midst of this pandemic!

Most of the Jews we have assisted in making Aliyah over recent weeks are from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, where the Coronavirus threat is just starting to peak. Many were going to make Aliyah this summer but they decided to move up their plans to come home to Israel now. They have concluded they will be immediately safer in Israel. There are very few flights out of these countries right now, meaning fewer people in the airports and less risk of catching the virus in route. In addition, the economies of these countries are tanking due to conflicts and the steep drop in oil prices, and they simply want to start over in Israel as soon as possible.

Here are photos of some of the newly-arrived Jewish families we helped as they celebrate their first Yom Hatzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day) in their new land, even while in quarantine.

 

The ICEJ has now assisted 580 Jewish immigrants to make Aliyah to Israel since travels bans were first imposed in February. Israeli officials are anticipating a large wave of Jewish Aliyah from many directions in coming months, as Corona travel and health restrictions begin to ease worldwide. We need to be ready to help these Jewish people come home.

Please give to the ICEJ’s Aliyah efforts at: on.icej.org/aliyah

Despite Travel Bans, Aliyah Continues!

As air travel restrictions were imposed worldwide over recent months due to the Coronavirus, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem still has been able to assist 565 new Jewish immigrants in making Aliyah to Israel.

In early February, various nations began to issue entry bans which greatly impeded international travel. Yet even as flights were being grounded everywhere, the Christian Embassy still has succeeded in bringing a total of 450 Russian Jewish immigrants on flights from various parts of the former Soviet republics. Most immediately went into a two-week self-quarantine due to the COVID-19 threat. A flight from St. Petersburg with 26 Russian Jewish olim on March 22 marked the 30th anniversary of the ICEJ’s sponsorship of Jewish Aliyah from the former Soviet Union.

Two days later, the ICEJ sponsored flights for 72 Ethiopian Jews who arrived from Addis Ababa. They were taken to an absorption center in kibbutz Beit Alfa and entered quarantine for 14 days as well. In addition, the ICEJ funded Passover gift baskets with food, games, learning materials and other items for these and many other recently arrived Ethiopian Jewish families as part of their integration process during the Passover holidays.

Together with an earlier group of Ethiopian immigrants in February, the ICEJ has now assisted 115 Ethiopian Jews in making Aliyah during the Corona health crisis.

“Despite all the bad news with the Coronavirus, the good news is that Jews are still coming home to Israel”, said ICEJ President Dr. Jürgen Bühler. “It has been amazing to see the strong desire of these Jewish families to make it to Israel, as many even moved up their Aliyah plans despite the requirement of two weeks in self-quarantine. It is our privilege and our calling to help them and all of Israel pull through this difficult time.”

The Christian Embassy also helped dozens of other recent immigrant families through the Passover holidays, providing them with food vouchers and vital assistance as they remained isolated in Jewish Agency centers. They would normally attend ulpan classes and community events, including day camps for the children. But since they could not gather in large groups, we purchased games, crafts and toys for the children, while also funding small group activities for them.

Meantime, the ICEJ responded to urgent requests for help on behalf of a number of Bnei Menashe, Chinese and Hispanic Jewish families who arrived in Israel within the past year or so and were struggling due to job layoffs and other economic fallout from the Corona crisis. We were able to provide them with grants and food vouchers to assist the newly unemployed and those in dire need before the Passover holiday.

With Israel soon hoping to gradually lift travel bans and home lockdowns, the Aliyah is expected to quickly resume over coming months. To begin with, the Christian Embassy is committed to supporting the on-going Ethiopian Aliyah, with another 150 Ethiopian Jews already approved and awaiting their turn to journey home to Israel.

Meantime, there are many more Aliyah applicants from Russia ready to come as the Russian economy is faltering due to the collapse of the ruble, the Corona threat, and the steep drop in world oil prices. Latest reports also indicate a huge wildfire in the forests near Chernobyl is blanketing Kiev in smoke. Summer is usually the high season for Jewish families moving to Israel, so the children can start the new school year in Israel in the fall. But the situation for many Jewish families in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus has become urgent, and they are asking to move up their travel plans to reach Israel as soon as they can.

So please stand with us by supporting the ICEJ’s Aliyah efforts today!

Nine Ukrainian Jews Just Landed in Israel

Despite travel bans, ICEJ has sponsored Aliyah flights for 580 Jewish immigrants since February 

Even with all the global travel bans imposed due to the Coronavirus, Aliyah to Israel is continuing apace as another nine Jewish immigrants from Ukraine have arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport early Monday morning on a flight arranged by the Jewish Agency for Israel and sponsored by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

The immigrant families joined another 36 newly arrived Russian-speaking Jews for a two-week quarantine period in a hotel, under special arrangements with the Government of Israel and the Jewish Agency, which is also supported by the ICEJ.

Although flights have been grounded nearly everywhere over recent months, the ICEJ has worked in cooperation with the Jewish Agency to still bring 580 new Jewish immigrants on Aliyah to Israel since February. This has included 465 Russian-speaking Jews arriving from various regions of the former Soviet republics, as well as 115 Ethiopian Jews making the journey home from Addis Ababa. Over 100 of these newcomers immediately went into two-week quarantines as per the guidelines of the Israeli Ministry of Health due to the COVID-19 threat.

The ICEJ has been funding flights for the renewed Ethiopian Aliyah since the Israeli government decision in 2015 to bring home the last remnant of this ancient community.

Meanwhile, a flight from St. Petersburg with 26 Russian Jewish olim on March 22 marked the 30th anniversary of the ICEJ’s sponsorship of Jewish aliyah from the former Soviet Union.

“Amid all the bad news spawned by the Coronavirus, some of the best news out there is that Jews are still finding their way to Israel”, said ICEJ President Dr. Jürgen Bühler. “We are thrilled to be a part of this unique chapter in the modern-day Ingathering of the Jewish people, that even when a pandemic brought the world to a standstill it could not stop the Jews from coming home to Israel.”

Stand with us by supporting the ICEJ’s Aliyah efforts today!

Zachar's Story - "I have found freedom in Israel."

Every week, Homecare climbs the stairs with a small bag of groceries to visit Zachar and supplement his meager cupboard. Since he is 94 and nearly blind due to a war injury, he carefully handles each item, which is the way he ‘sees’ these days. Afterwards, comes the most important part of the day for him: The cup of tea and a listening ear.

Zachar was born in the Ukraine and, along with many aging Russian immigrants, was part of what used to be called the “Unknown Holocaust”. Only with the fall of the Soviet Union did the stories of horror begin to emerge. Zachar’s story is one such story. 

As a teenager, Zachar was placed in a Ghetto in Vinnitsa, Ukraine, but somehow managed to escape. This was an area where most of the Jews were massacred and buried in mass graves in surrounding forests during 1941 and ‘42. However, he was eventually caught and by the end of 1943 Zachar found himself in a place of hell. The Pechora Concentration camp was set up in a former sanitarium for tuberculosis patients. The camp was packed with adults and children, and many died of starvation every day. Of the approximately 11,000 Jews crowded into the camp, only some 1,200 survived. Amazingly young Zachar was able to escape from this place as well. “I am not thankful for the suffering, but am very thankful to have survived it,” he told Homecare Nurse Corrie. He joined the Red Army along with 1.5 million Jewish soldiers to fight against Germany’s invasion. Zachar received many medals for his courage, including one of the highest orders. 

After the war he did not return to Ukraine, but instead lived near Moscow for the next 50 years, until finally coming to Israel with his beloved wife. Sadly, his wife died after 60 years of marriage and his two children and their families still live outside of Israel. He feels lonely, but he does not regret his Aliyah. “I have found freedom in Israel,” Zachar said. 

At the end of the visit, there is always the same request: "Come again soon, I am waiting for you."

ICEJ Homecare takes the time to care for “the one” in practical and powerful ways with the love of God.

Keeping Passover Amid a Modern Plague

As the Passover week nears an end, we want to say a big “Thank You” to everyone who has stood with the ICEJ as we have reached out to help so many in Israel impacted by the Coronavirus during this truly unique holiday season.

This was a most difficult Passover in Israel, as life and work were totally disrupted by the Corona health crisis. The elderly could not leave their homes. Unemployment in Israel suddenly jumped to over 25 percent. In Ashdod alone, over half the families applied to city social workers for Passover assistance.

As dozens of urgent requests for help came flooding into our offices from across Israel, our staff rose to the occasion, Christians from around the world responded to the need, and we have been able to help thousands of Holocaust survivors, other elderly citizens, new immigrants, needy families and many others all around Israel desperately in need of assistance this Passover season.

So thank you so much for your support, and bless you for showing that you care when our Israeli friends needed us the most!

Here is a sampling of all we have been able to accomplish together to make the Passover season brighter for thousands of individuals and families under added distress due to the Corona crisis. As you can see, we have been aiding Holocaust survivors and other elderly Israelis, new immigrants and children, along with emergency relief teams and community workers in need of special medical equipment to stay on the job.

 

 

Care for Elderly and Holocaust Survivors

The ICEJ team at our Haifa Home for Holocaust Survivors have been designated the primary caregivers for the 75 residents confined to their apartments during the duration of the current Corona crisis. This includes delivering meals, giving them medical checkups, and paying daily visits to break their sense of isolation. The Christian volunteers under the direction of veteran ICEJ staffers Yudit and Will Setz also have helped pack and deliver meals to hundreds of other Holocaust survivors and senior citizens all around Haifa.

The ICEJ Home Care team in Jerusalem also has packed and delivered food and gift packages for the patients under the care of our head nurse Corrie van Maanen.

ICEJ staff also have volunteered with a Jerusalem soup kitchen to pack and deliver hundreds of hot meals to elderly residents of the city.

 

Passover Assistance

The ICEJ began its annual Passover holiday distributions this week by delivering Pessach packages for dozens of needy families in Netanya. The gift baskets included food vouchers for the holiday season, along with kitchenware, pans and towels.

The ICEJ also is funding the distribution of Passover gift boxes, including food and hygienic products, as well as daily meals to hundreds of elderly and needy Soviet Jewish immigrants, including many Holocaust survivors, who live in the Jerusalem suburbs of Pisgat Ze’ev and Maale Adumim.

Meantime, we normally sponsor community Passover seders for hundreds of newly-arrived Jewish immigrants, but since large gatherings are not allowed right now, the ICEJ will be providing holiday assistance to more individual immigrant families this year. This includes 269 Ethiopian newcomers who will be celebrating their first Passover in the Land of Israel. We also are assisting these families with extra absorption assistance while they are in a mandated two-week quarantine.

Elsewhere, we are working with the Jewish Agency to assist 50 other newly-arrived families from other countries who made the trip to Israel despite the Corona threat and are now in quarantine. This extra absorption aid includes vouchers to buy food and other basics as they start a new life in Israel under difficult circumstances.

In addition, ICEJ funds will make it possible for the Jewish Agency to run day camps for children of new immigrant families in quarantine. This project includes providing games and toys for the kids to play at home or in small supervised groups. Finally, the ICEJ will furnish games, art supplies and help with online learning for 95 at-risk youths in a special children’s home during the Passover season.

 

Emergency workers

For families living in southern Israel under the constant threat of rockets from Gaza, life has become even harder due to the threat of COVID-19. The ICEJ has provided local medical and emergency teams there with sterile gloves, filtration masks, protective clothing and other gear to allow them to continue making home visits to treat and care for children traumatized by years of rocket fire. They are arranging food and medicine to those in isolation or unable to shop, while also working with Magen David Adom to administer blood tests for Coronavirus.

Meantime, first responders in the Gaza border area have repurposed special ATV firefighting equipment recently donated by the ICEJ to clean and sanitize public areas, including playgrounds, schools and parks.

 

ICEJ Branches worldwide battling Coronavirus

Also worth noting, several ICEJ national branches worldwide are working in their own nations in the battle against the Coronavirus.

In Russia, our St. Petersburg office purchased 1,000 face masks and 2,000 pairs of medical gloves for use by volunteers delivering daily meals to thousands of Holocaust survivors and other elderly Jews confined to their homes by the virus threat.

In Liberia, ICEJ national director John Aaron Wright, Sr. and his nationwide network of pro-Israel Christian volunteers were tasked by the Monrovia government with leading the national effort to educate the public about the Coronavirus threat.

And in Italy, ICEJ national director Tony Rozzini – who lives in the heart of the hardest hit region of Lombardy – had a chance to go on national radio to urge repentance, especially for the mistreatment of Jews during the Fascist period.

 
 
 
Please give to our ‘Israel in Crisis’ fund to assist with these urgent aid projects!

Passover as Prophetic Guide

As we mark the Passover week under the cloud of a global plague, it is enlightening and comforting to reflect not only on God’s mighty deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt some 3,500 years ago, but also on the great prophetic significance of this historic event. Most Christians are familiar with how that first Passover cast a long shadow forward to the first coming of Jesus and his redemptive work on the Cross. But according to the Hebrew prophets and the New Testament as well, the Exodus story also serves as a prophetic guide for the end of the age and his Second Coming.

Jesus, our Passover lamb

There is much which could be said about the parallels between the Jewish holiday of Passover and the Christian celebration of Easter, or what I prefer to call “Resurrection Sunday.”

In the most basic terms, the physical deliverance of Israel from the bondage of slavery in Egypt was a foreshadowing of the spiritual deliverance we have in Christ, whose atoning death has set us free from the bondage of sin (Romans 6:17-18; Galatians 5:1; Colossians 1:13-14). Just as God spared the Israelites from the “destroyer” when He saw the blood of a lamb sprinkled on their doorposts, the shed blood of Jesus the Messiah allows God to “pass over” our sins completely (Romans 3:25; 1 Corinthians 5:7).

The central figure of the Passover story is Moses, who was the Deliverer promised beforehand by God to free the Hebrew children from bondage in Egypt (Genesis 15:13-14). Likewise, Yeshua (Jesus) was a promised Deliverer anticipated by his people (Daniel 9:24-26; Micah 5:2; Matthew 1:21, 2:4-6; Galatians 4:4).

Indeed, the many parallels between Moses and Jesus are quite remarkable, including that both would suffer rejection by their own people (Numbers 14:22; Deuteronomy 18:15; Acts 3:14-18, 7:38-39).

The Last Supper which Jesus held with his disciples was undoubtedly modeled on a Passover seder meal. When Jesus came to the traditional third cup of wine at Pessach – the cup of redemption – he stated: “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.” (Exodus 6:6; Luke 22:20)

Just as the baked matza (unleavened bread) of Passover has small holes and stripes, the body of Jesus was pierced for our transgressions and his back bore stripes for our healing (Psalm 22:16; Isaiah 53:5; Matthew 27:26; John 19:31-37).

And just as Israel was commanded to observe the Passover meal every year in remembrance of their Exodus from Egypt, Jesus told his disciples to continually partake of the bread and wine of the Last Supper in remembrance of what he was about to suffer for their sake (1 Corinthians 11:25).

Other details in the Gospels clearly demonstrate how closely Jesus resembled the sacrificial lamb of Passover tradition. He was thoroughly examined for flaws by the Jewish priests and even the Roman authorities. He died on a cross right as the last Passover lambs were being slaughtered in the Temple courts. None of his bones were broken (Exodus 12:9; Psalm 34:20; John 19:33-36).

So we find that great prophetic and redemptive purposes which lay hidden in the original Passover experience were openly fulfilled during that fateful Passover at the first coming of Jesus some 2,000 years ago. But how does the Exodus story relate to his Second Coming?

The Exodus as End-Time analogy

Interestingly, the Bible also draws a clear analogy between the Israelite departure from Egypt and God’s dealings with Israel and the Gentile nations at the end of the age. For instance, Jeremiah said the last-days return of Israel will mirror the Exodus and even exceed it in magnitude.

“Therefore behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “that it shall no more be said, ‘The Lord lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of Egypt,’ but, ‘The Lord lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north and from all the lands where He had driven them.’ For I will bring them back into their land which I gave to their fathers.” (Jeremiah 16:14-15)

This same parallel is found again in Jeremiah 23:7-8, where the context once more is the final Ingathering of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland. Here, it has the added element that the promised “Branch,” or Messiah, will come on the scene at this time to gloriously reign, such that “Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely…” (Jeremiah 23:5-6).

Zechariah chapter ten carries a similar message, even adopting clear imagery from the parting of the Red Sea to describe this future time when Jews would depart from the Gentile nations and journey home to the Land of Israel: “He shall pass through the sea with affliction, and strike the waves of the sea: All the depths of the River shall dry up.” (Zechariah 10:11)

Elsewhere, the prophet Micah foresees a time when Israel is finally restored to her land and to her God, even while He is dealing with the nations in an Exodus-like scenario, saying: “As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt, I will show them wonders.” (Micah 7:15) The prophet also sees the Lord “passing over” the transgressions of the remnant of His people – employing the same Hebrew word abar used in Exodus 12:23 to describe how the Lord would “pass through” the land to strike the Egyptians on the night of the Passover.

Now over the past century or so, we have witnessed the incredible return of the Jewish people from the many lands of their dispersion and captivity, just as the Hebrew children were freed to leave Egypt and start out for the Promised Land. But we have yet to see the mighty hand of God truly humbling the nations for harshly mistreating the people of Israel, like He did with Pharaoh and his army at the crossing of the Red Sea. Yet that day is surely coming.

Consider that many of the judgments foretold in Revelation closely parallel the plagues which struck Egypt. Of the ten plagues described in the book of Exodus, five are also found in Revelation. This includes hail mingled with fire (Revelation 8:7); the seas and rivers turned to blood (8:8, 16:3-4); locust (9:1-11); loathsome sores like boils (16:2); and darkness (16:10-11).

In addition, the Two Witnesses who show up in Revelation 11 have powers much like Moses (and Elijah) to call down fire from heaven, to stop the rains, to turn water to blood, and “to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire.” (Revelation 11:5-6) One school of thought maintains that – just as Moses called forth every plague on Egypt in the midst of Pharaoh’s court –  these two anointed figures will be in Jerusalem calling down all the judgments occurring over the three-and-a-half year period described in Revelation chapters six through nine. This view is supported by verse 10, which states that the whole world will rejoice over their death, because “these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.”

God’s judgment of the nations in the last days is often described by the Hebrew prophets as  culminating in Jerusalem, such as in Joel 3:1-3. It is as if the nations have released the Jewish people to go back home, but then have second thoughts and pursue them there, like Pharaoh did of old. The prophet Zechariah, in chapter 14, also speaks of that day when God will gather all nations to Jerusalem for judgment. Although the city sees great destruction, the Lord Himself will appear on the scene and “fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle.” (Zechariah 14:3)

The prophet then describes the Lord standing with his feet on the Mount of Olives, which miraculously splits in half to open a pathway of escape for the people of Israel (Zechariah 14:4-5). This prophesied event bears such an uncanny resemblance to the parting of the Red Sea that we must conclude it is yet one more example in the Bible of Exodus analogy connected to the End-of-Days.

It is one thing for waters to part to allow a people to flee and then come back together to drown the pursuing enemy. How much greater a wonder to behold will be the parting of a mountain to deliver His people just when the nations are closing in on Jerusalem! Indeed, the modern-day Exodus is far from over and its end will be more awesome than that first Exodus long ago; yea, more awesome than we can even imagine.

Truly, “the Lord lives!” The very Lord who died on a cross at Passover that we might live with Him forever.


David R. Parsons is an attorney, author, journalist and ordained minister who serves as Vice President & Senior Spokesman of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. 

Passover Lessons For A Modern-Day Plague

“When I see the blood, I will pass over you.” (Exodus 12:13)

It has been surreal to experience the current lockdown in Israel due to the Coronavirus while the Passover feast approaches. As each family sits here confined to our homes to slow the spread of this modern-day plague, it is hard to escape the parallel with that fateful night long ago when the ancient Israelites huddled in their homes, with lamb’s blood sprinkled on the doorposts, nervously hoping and waiting for the death angel to pass over them.

For the Jewish people, Passover is the seminal event in their national history and a time of great celebration. Throughout their long exile, Pessach also had become a season of caution and even dread for Jews facing blood libels and pogroms around this time of year. But ever since Israel was reborn as a nation, the Jewish people have been free and safe to carry out all their traditions associated with this biblical festival. It is a time for thorough house cleaning, burning chametz (leaven), song-filled seder meals, matza and wine, and joyous family gatherings.

But not this year! Israel is going through the most difficult Passover season since its modern rebirth in 1948. No one is allowed to leave their homes. Extended families cannot come together. Many time-honored Passover traditions will have to be scrapped. Instead of counting the omer, we will be counting the victims of Corona.

These grim circumstances also make it easier to imagine oneself shuttered inside the home of an Israelite family back in Egypt some 3,500 years ago, anxiously awaiting the morning light. Will this present plague of death also pass us by? When will we see the light of day? And what message is God trying to tell us through this pandemic?


NO DOUBT, the Israelites of old were themselves frightened by God’s awesome judgments on their Egyptian taskmasters. Every horrible plague against Egypt was right next door. One-by-one they struck, and each one was like a birth pang for everyone in the land. Yet over and over, the land of Goshen was spared (Exodus 8:22, 9:26). When there was pitch darkness on Egypt, thankfully “all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.” (Exodus 10:23)

After the ninth plague of darkness, God gave Israel and the Egyptians a breather. They had a few days to rest and recover. But the Lord was not finished. There was one final plague – the death of the first-born sons – and He gave Moses specific instructions on how the Hebrew children could escape it.

Each Israelite family was told to take an unblemished lamb into their house for four days, then to slaughter the lamb and put its blood on the doorposts of their home, and finally to roast and consume the whole lamb (Exodus 12:1-14). Note how the commands given to Moses in Exodus 12 followed a specific progression: “take a lamb” (v. 3); “the lamb” (v. 4); “your lamb” (v. 5). It goes from any lamb to “your” very own lamb. Pessach is all about deliverance and freedom for our individual lives and families. The salvation of Passover is personal!

The plagues and parting of the Red Sea in the Exodus story were perhaps the most open, sustained demonstration of God’s mighty power in human history. And yet there was one thing which proved more powerful – a blood sacrifice stayed the hand of God! We must take this message to heart today.

There are other important lessons we can learn from the Exodus story as we face our own modern-day plague.

Sin Has Consequences
It is one thing to buy a lamb at the market and take it straight into the Temple to sacrifice. It was quite another thing for these families to take the lamb into their homes for four days. By day three, their children had grown fond of the wooly little creature and given it a name. But on day four, the whole family had to watch the lamb die to save someone else’s life. This was meant to leave a deep impression on the entire household. God is holy and there are consequences for sin. And only a blood sacrifice could keep the death angel at bay.

Today, the Corona plague is so lethal, so impacting all across the globe, it is hard to deny that God in His sovereignty has allowed it because of some grave human sin. The Book of Proverbs says, “the curse causeless shall not come.” (Proverbs 26:2 – KJV) Adam was disobedient and it opened a spiritual door for death to enter the world and spread like a virus to all men (Romans 5:12). Surely, we must seek out and expose the spiritual source of this plague. And every one of us must use this time to search out our own lives and repent of our sins.

It Pays to Have ‘Saving Knowledge’
The judgment of God was about to strike the first-born sons throughout the land of Egypt because of their idol worship. According to the prophet Ezekiel, the Israelites also deserved the same fate because they too had begun worshipping the idols of the Egyptians (Ezekiel 20:7-10; see also Joshua 24:14). But the Lord provided a way of escape for His chosen people! He told Moses how the Israelites could escape the death plague, by placing the blood of a spotless lamb on their door lintels. The blood stains carried a message that a death had already occurred here, so the death angel had no need to enter that home. This knowledge of how to escape harm saved each obedient household from death and despair.

In the New Covenant, we are told that Jesus came “to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins…” (Luke 1:77). We also can have “boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh…” (Hebrews 10:19-20). It makes all the difference in the world if you have knowledge of the way to escape God’s eternal wrath. If you do, there is no need to fear death – from Coronavirus or any other peril. And you can trust Jesus to deliver you from evil and harm. In his High Priestly Prayer, Jesus said to his heavenly Father: “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15)

Each Plague had a Purpose
The Lord had a purpose behind every one of the ten plagues brought upon Egypt. Usually, it was to mock or destroy the gods of the Egyptians. For instance, the Egyptians reverenced Hapi, the god of the Nile River; the Lord turned the Nile to blood. They worshipped Heket, a fertility goddess with the head of a frog; God sent masses of frogs among them. They worshipped the Sun god Ra; He cast them into three days of utter darkness. And when it came to the plague of the first-born, Pharaoh himself was worshipped as a god. He also brought this upon himself by defiantly telling Moses: “Get away from me! Take heed to yourself and see my face no more! For in the day you see my face you shall die!” (Exodus 10:28) Finally, it also was holy vengeance for Egypt’s slaughter of all the Israelite’s newborn babies.

Today, we are facing a Coronavirus plague that is testing a modern-day god to its limits. Many have discarded with the Creator God and instead revere Science – meaning human intellect – as being capable of providing answers to every problem. Rather than repenting and calling on God, they are trusting medical researchers to find a treatment or vaccine for the virus before they lose their jobs or possessions or even their lives. Sadly, many are already going broke, getting sick and dying as scientists desperately search for an answer. They may find one before long, and hopefully this plague will lift soon, returning life to normal. Yet this truth remains: Science and medicine are good, but holding them above God is idolatry. And Science will not save humanity from the righteous judgments of God still to come.

Conclusion
The Book of Revelation describes an entire series of global plagues and disasters which will one day impact the whole earth, far exceeding Coronavirus and even the scope and intensity of the plagues in the Book of Exodus. Hopefully some will repent, just as I pray they do now in the days of the Coronavirus. This current health crisis has already begun shaking everything on earth – so that the unshakable Kingdom of God might stand (Haggai 2:6-7; Hebrews 12:26-28).

This Passover, let us come to appreciate even more that God has given us a way of escape from the fear of death today, and the wrath to come – through Jesus, the Lamb of God. “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.” (1 Corinthians 5:7)

Photo Credit: Getty Images

A Lamb for a Household

“This year’s Passover will be different to all Passover celebrations,” an Israeli friend recently told me. “We all will be celebrating it household for household and family for family. No extended family visits are allowed.”

The new health regulations to curb the spread of the Coronavirus have changed for the first time many ancient Passover traditions for the Jewish people in Israel. Passover observances were usually big family gatherings where everybody came together to celebrate this major feast of the Lord. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently declared in his annual pre-Pessach address that this year’s Passover will be different: “… we will adopt the celebration of Passover like our forefathers in Egypt – Passover at home! Every father and mother will celebrate Passover with the children that live in their home.”

As my friend spoke to me, I was reminded of the very inception of Passover, when Israel was in Egypt. God commanded the Israelites: “Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying: ‘On the tenth of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household.’” (Exodus 12:3)

Household redemption
The concept of household redemption lays at the very core of the biblical Passover account. The blood of the Passover lamb was to be applied to the doorpost of every Jewish home in Egypt. “For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to strike you.” (Exodus 12:23) The blood of the Passover lamb was a sign to God that blood had been shed in every household where it was applied, and they were spared. In a way, the Coronavirus regulations have forced a reset of traditions – at least for this year – back to how it began some 3500 years ago.

I had the very same feeling of a reset when our congregation in Jerusalem gathered for the first time after the new health rules were put in place. We did not meet in our usual meeting hall, but we met at home. We were all connected via Zoom and sang worship songs, while our pastor shared from the Bible. Then we had Communion and I saw on the screen how we shared bread and wine, like every month, yet we all did it in our homes.

“This is how the early church started!” I thought; “… breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart” (Acts 2:46) . Back 2000 years ago, it was a church that had its nucleus in the various houses, yet it was so powerful that it impacted and changed the entire world.

Talking recently to a pastor from China, I discussed with him the recent wave of repressions that the Chinese government is carrying out against the churches in his nation. I was surprised at his reaction. “This is good,” he said. “The freedom in recent years had turned us into very ‘Western‘ churches where we held large gatherings that were platform driven. Now we are forced to go back to our homes,” he added. “This is how revival came to China.”

Today, in the midst of the Corona crisis, I sense that God has pushed the reset button in our lives and we are forced back to the essentials, to the nucleus of society. We are reduced to our relationships to our Lord and to our families! While the crisis is a difficult season that is costing many lives and livelihoods, it also can represent a tremendous opportunity which we should not miss. Being confined to our homes can be a rare moment that might not come back to us again – an opportunity to renew and restart our relationship with God. This unique time should invigorate our prayer life, our time in the word of God, and the fellowship with His presence.

It also provides an opportunity to refocus on our families. Make sure to establish a family altar in the midst of this unusual time. God commanded His people: “A fire shall always be burning on the altar; it shall never go out.” (Leviticus 6:13) Let me ask you: Is the fire burning on your family altar? Are you using this time to gather as a family in prayer and studying the word of God?

Remember, Passover is about family salvation. When God called Noah, He commanded him: “Come into the ark, you and all your household, because I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation.” (Genesis 7:1) The ark was built for Noah and all his household. Jesus did not just die for individuals but for “you and your house.” Abraham was promised that in him all the “families” of the earth shall be blessed (Genesis 12:3).

Joshua also, in his last speech to Israel, took a bold and prophetic stand. He was not sure if Israel would decide to fully follow God. Yet he declared – no matter how Israel would choose – “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” (Joshua 24:15) So use this unique time to make the same commitment for your own family. Jesus is the lamb for your household!

Unusual Times in Israel
Here in Israel, this Passover is indeed different from any other year I have experienced it, and most likely to any year before my time in Jerusalem. On the first day of the month of Nisan (March 26th), the month when the Passover holiday is celebrated, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel called for a period of national repentance leading up to the actual Passover holiday. He referred to Exodus 12:2, which states that the month of Nisan is the beginning of the biblical year and he declared this season should be like the ten days of awe between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur – a season of repentance, prayer and fasting.

Israel as a nation demonstrates a spirituality different to most nations in the world today. In a recent TV interview regarding the Corona crisis, Prime Minister Netanyahu was asked about what his message is to Israel in the midst of this global health scare. His reply was to the point: “First, we all must pray to God that the Corona plague ends.” The journalist rudely interrupted him, suggesting the nation should pray to the Weizmann Institute of Science where critical Corona research is occurring. To which he responded: “Yes, but they are also praying at Weizmann.” Unusual words for a prime minister.

Days later in his Passover address, Netanyahu made a unusual reference to the blood at the doorpost in the Passover account of Exodus: “Just like the Exodus from Egypt, our mission is clear: and God will pass over the door and not let the Destroyer enter and plague your home.”

Here in Israel, we all sense it is a special time. When my friend stated: “We all will be celebrating it household for household and family for family.” … another passage came to my mind from the Hebrew prophet Zechariah:

“And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning at Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. And the land shall mourn, every family by itself: the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Levi by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of Shimei by itself, and their wives by themselves; all the families that remain, every family by itself, and their wives by themselves.” (Zechariah 12:10-14)

God showed Zechariah that the time of spiritual renewal and the revelation of “him whom they have pierced” will take place family by family and household by household. Never in the history of Israel was a there a time when Passover was celebrated in such a manner like today, household by household. The Talmud asks the intriguing question for whom do they “mourn as for his only begotten son”? The Sages answer in the tractate Sanhedrin that it was on behalf of ‘Mosiach ben Yoseph’ who was killed.

Jewish tradition distinguishes between Mosiach ben David, the kingly Messiah who will rule like David over His people, and Mosiach ben Yoseph – the suffering Messiah who is to be killed to place the kingly Messiah on the throne.

Christian tradition also views Joseph as the greatest foreshadow of Jesus Christ in the book of Genesis. Sold by his brethren (and intended to be killed), he became a lifesaver and redeemer among the Gentiles. All the world came to Egypt to buy bread from Joseph (Genesis 41:57). And just as all the nations came to buy bread, his own brothers, the other sons of Jacob, arrived as well to seek his favor. Yet they did not recognize their brother, as he looked, talked and behaved like an Egyptian, a foreigner. After hiding his identity from his brethren for some time, the moment came when Joseph could not hold back anymore and he finally revealed his identity to his brethren (Genesis 45:1ff). But before he did so, he did something interesting: “he cried out, ‘Make everyone go out from me!’ So no one stood with him while Joseph made himself known to his brothers.” (Genesis 45:1)

Early in March, Israel began closing down its borders and ports of entry to foreigners, with only Israeli citizens and full-time residents allowed in. No one else was allowed entry and every visitor already here had to leave. In a similar way, the revelation of Joseph to his brothers was a personal, intimate affair within the family, with no Gentiles present.

I never could have imagined how both Zechariah 12: 14 and Genesis 45:1 could possibly be fulfilled. Is this the season of the fulfillment of these prophecies? I do not know. But it is surely an unprecedented dress rehearsal of that glorious future day. What amazing times we are living in!

Conclusion
In closing, I ask you to pray for Israel in these days as never before. This is an unusual Passover and we are praying and believing that God will do mighty and unusual things in our midst, as in days of old.

Also, in whatever part of the world you read this, remember that Jesus is the lamb for your and my household. No matter how big your family problems might be, Jesus is more than able to help. Maybe you have given up hope for close family members that are not following the Lord. Jesus is the lamb for your house. Make a bold statement today and declare like Joshua did: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” May the Lord bless and answer you as you do so! 

He Wore A Crown Of Thorns

This weekend, the Christian world will mark Palm Sunday and the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. In a normal year, there are large crowds retracing his route over the Mount of Olives in the Palm Sunday procession. The march is very colorful, with participants waving palm branches and singing hymns. Most are traditional Christians, including many local Arab Christians along with pilgrims from dozens of nations abroad.

But this year, like so many other public events at this time, the Palm Sunday procession has been shelved due to the Coronavirus threat. Planes cannot bring pilgrims to the Holy Land, and both Israel and the Palestinian Authority are cooperating (perhaps more closely than ever) to keep all local residents at home to prevent the spread of the virus.

But this should not prevent us from celebrating in our hearts this key moment in the life of Jesus. It has so much meaning and symbolism, and helps us understand better what happened just days later in the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus. It is part of the wonder and passion of Christ, who gave his life that we might live, and this is a message we all need in this trying hour.


THE TRIUMPHAL entry of Christ is recounted in all four Gospels, but John gives a more detailed account which places the moment in its fuller context. Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11). He was entering a city humming with heightened Messianic anticipation. They had been expecting the Messiah to arrive, throw off Roman rule and restore the kingdom to Israel; that is, restored it to what they had under King David. Jesus was already growing in fame as a great teacher and healer, and now he had just raised someone from the dead. Surely, a man with that kind of power could lead them in confronting their Roman oppressors.

Those were the ‘nationalistic’ sentiments widely shared by the throngs welcoming Jesus that day with palm fronds and shouts of “Hosanna!”

And Jesus took deliberate actions which tended to fan those flames. He was very intentional about riding into town on a donkey. He instructed his disciples on where to find his mount. In doing so, Jesus was closely following the model set by King David.

When Israel’s beloved king was dying, his son Adonijah wrongly rose up to seize the throne. But David commanded his loyal followers to act quickly, place Solomon on his royal donkey, take him down to the Gihon spring, and anoint him there as king over Israel (1 Kings 1:32-35). Jesus knew the donkey he rode symbolized kingship to his people.

Jesus also knew the prophet Zechariah had prophesied this very scene, saying: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)

So Jesus was very clearly presenting his kingly credentials to Israel. And yet by week’s end he had been rejected by many of these same palm wavers, and was hanging on a cross.

Had he gotten caught up in the praises of the adoring crowd? Was he surprised by the sudden turn of events? Most certainly not!

Jesus had just proclaimed and proven through Lazarus that “I am the Resurrection and the Life!” (John 11:25). Yet the Book of John records that he was “troubled” (v. 33) and “groaning in Himself” (v. 38). After his rousing welcome into Jerusalem, he was still “troubled.” (John 12:27) Something was indeed disturbing him. Jesus knew what lay ahead… the suffering, the shame, the abandonment by the crowd and even by his closest followers. Yet he pressed on.

“What shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I came to this hour.” (John 12:27)

OUR LORD Jesus did not enter Jerusalem that day to throw off the Romans or even those rulers among his own people who envied and opposed him. He did not seek a temporary earthly kingdom. Rather, he entered Jerusalem to die so that he might claim an eternal throne, and to rule over an eternal kingdom.

The Bible teaches that such a high and exalted place, seated at the right hand of the Father, was already his from the beginning. But someone had challenged him for it – Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12-17). This shocked God, and He decided it would never happen again. So He sent His son to die a lowly, painful death here on earth, to redeem a people that would forever appreciate his right to sit on that eternal throne. And because of his obedience to the Father, even to the point of a cruel death on the cross, God has so highly exalted Him that every living creature will one day bow their knee and call him Lord. (Philippians 2:5-11).

The throne over all Creation has always rightfully belonged to Jesus, but he came and earned it. And now no one will ever be able to challenge him for it again. No one else could ever pay the price he paid, by humbling himself, leaving that highest place and descending to the deepest pit.

This is what makes the Gospel such an amazing love story. The crucifixion of Christ is not such a pretty tale in the telling. But it is glorious and unsurpassed and so triumphant over all else.

The week started with Jesus coming lowly, riding on a donkey to present his credentials as Israel’s king. At the end of the week, he wore a crown of thorns. And I will forever bow my knee.


JESUS STILL has to come claim his rightful throne here on earth, the throne of his father David (Luke 1:32). King David was promised by God that a worthy descendant in his royal lineage would one day sit on his throne forever, in an everlasting kingdom that encompasses the whole earth (2 Samuel 7). But to fulfill that promise, God has vowed to first vanquish every last enemy and rival (Psalm 2). He already watched His son treated so cruelly at his first coming, and He will not let it happen again this time.

To make way for his kingdom, God is determined to shake everything that can be shaken on this earth – so that His unshakable Kingdom might stand (Haggai 2:6-7; Hebrews 12:26-28). No doubt, the current Coronavirus threat is part of that shaking process. These are the birth pangs of the Messianic Age, and we might as well get to used to them and trust the Lord to help us through.

In Daniel chapter two, the prophet sees the sweep of the Gentile Age depicted in the form of a large statue, representing the great kingdoms of the earth down through time, starting with Babylon as the head of gold and descending down to feet of iron and clay. But then a stone cut from a mountain without human hands strikes the statue in its feet, and the whole towering image crumbles to pieces, is ground into chaff and then blows away in the wind without a trace left. In its place, the stone grows into a mighty mountain, symbolizing the eternal kingdom of the Messiah which will fill the whole earth, and shall never be destroyed.

The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone of this eternal kingdom, and it is indeed marvelous in our eyes (Psalm 118:22-23).

 

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