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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.

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!

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).

The Coronavirus – A Perspective from Jerusalem

In early March, I returned from Germany to Israel. In both countries, the TV and news sites were filled with coverage of the Coronavirus and its impact on society, public health, the global economy and international travel. The day after I arrived home, the Israeli government decided to require everyone arriving from certain European countries (including Germany) to self-quarantine for 14 days. So over recent days, I have had an opportunity to pray and think about what this global menace could mean for the Church and for Israel, as the worldwide impact of the Corona threat reaches new heights almost daily. I write this at the half-way point of my two-week quarantine.

This tiny virus – smaller than one micrometer – has brought the world economy to its knees with plunging stock markets, international travel at a virtual standstill, and many peoples and nations gripped with fear of a possible pandemic. One of the main pieces of advice given to people is to frequently wash their hands. This is taken so seriously that disinfectants are being stolen in large quantities right out of European hospitals.

1. A Call for Purity 

In Western cultures, the regular practice of washing our hands is not as old a tradition as we might think but was only adopted some 150 years ago. The reason is that there was no knowledge of bacteria and viruses or their role in spreading diseases. It was Hungarian doctor Ignaz Semmelweiß (1818 - 1865) who discovered, while working in a maternity hospital in Budapest, that when doctors would wash their hands in a chlorine solution before treating women, the death rate among birthing mothers caused by infections was drastically reduced. He was called the savior of mothers.

But the nation with the oldest reported tradition of physical cleanliness is the Jewish people. Because of this, Jews in the Middle Ages were less impacted by the ‘Black Death’ plague. The reason was that Jews – unlike the wider European culture – maintained a biblical practice of washing their hands before meals. This was not understood by their Gentile neighbors, and it gave rise to conspiracy theories and violent waves of antisemitism that left thousands of European Jews dead.

Yet this tradition of purity goes back to the very beginning of the Jewish people, when Israel received the law of Moses. There, God commanded the priests to immerse themselves totally in water when they were dedicated as priests (Exodus 29:4), and whenever they entered the Tabernacle to serve God they were commanded to wash their hands and their feet in the bronze laver before the tent of meeting (Exodus 30:17-21).

The people of God understood that this was not just a ritual of physical purity, but it reflected a far deeper truth: the need for purity in our hearts. In Psalm 24:3-4, King David asks: “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully..”

Through the prophet Isaiah, God also warned that He could not stand the services, sacrifices and singing of His people anymore because, “Your hands are covered with blood” (Isaiah 1:15). The passage makes clear that the prophet was not speaking of physical blood but about the sins of His people.

And the prophet Joel commands to “Blow the trumpet in Zion”, to call the people of God together to repent and search for Him, because “Who knows if He will turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind Him…” (Joel 2:1, 14).

The Coronavirus should thus be understood by all of us as a heavenly shofar blast, calling on us to seek God and to search our hearts. Let us follow the advice of James, the brother of Jesus, to “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8).

Jesus himself teaches that purity of the heart is more important than personal hygiene and washing of hands, because it is our hearts which defile and deceive us (Matthew 15:16-20).

Of course, this does NOT mean we can ignore any practical advice or health law requirements concerning this virus (such as those in Israel my family is currently observing). But it does mean that we need to show the same and even greater vigor when it comes to purifying our hearts, because this will impact our spiritual life.

2. A Time of Global Shaking 

In early February, many key leaders of our ministry worldwide joined us in Jerusalem for strategy sessions regarding the ICEJ’s 40th anniversary. In one of the prayer times, Dag Øyvind Juliussen, an ICEJ Board member and our national director in Norway, shared that over recent months the Lord spoke to him strongly from Haggai chapter 2. There the prophet declares:

“For thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord of hosts.” (Haggai 2:6-7; see also v. 21-23 – NASB)

This prophecy is then quoted in the epistle of Hebrews 12:27-29. Heavenly and earthly principalities and systems will be shaken. Just a few weeks after our gathering in Jerusalem, the world is indeed experiencing a shaking that has led to many unprecedented consequences, such as Israel not allowing any tourists into the country.

These prophetic tremors will be so impacting, Jesus himself warns of “men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” (Luke 21:26)

The effects of the current shakings are manifold. An unanticipated economic crisis is looming worldwide. According to some news outlets, the economic damage of the Coronavirus in canceled flights, undelivered goods, etc., is already in the order of US$ one trillion dollars.


This is not just a number but affects real people. For example, El Al Airlines has placed most of its staff on unpaid leave and large parts of their fleet is grounded. The shares of computer giant Apple fell sharply in January and February as parts of their smartphones were produced in the Wuhan region and are not deliverable anymore. The British weekly Spectator assessed it all means a breakdown of globalization – at least temporarily.

The Corona crisis definitely demonstrates how fragile the global trade system is. It is a possible foretaste of that great day described in Revelation when the global system comes to a sudden end, because “Babylon is fallen, fallen” (Revelation 14:8).

At the same time, the prophet Haggai describes this shaking as releasing a new measure of glory in God‘s temple. In other words, as the world is in turmoil His kingdom is growing stronger on the earth. One of the more positive outcomes of the Coronavirus outbreak currently hitting Iran is that some 70,000 prisoners – among them many persecuted Christians – were reportedly released from prison.

These same shakings can release a hunger for God and the Church needs to be ready for it. What this passage from Haggai demonstrates is formulated in a different way in Hebrews chapter 12. Here, the shakings to come will shake what can be shaken while also revealing the things that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:27ff)

The passage then concludes with an appeal to all of us: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29)

3. Just a Foreshadow 

Reading the word of God and listening to the news, I cannot help but think that this is only a small foreshadow of what is to come. The Hebrew prophets and the New Testament speak of a time when God will severely judge the world for its unrighteousness and rebellion against God.

If someone would have googled “Corona” in early January 2020, the search result would have led either to a Mexican beer or to images of the corona of the Sun as seen during a solar eclipse. This occurs when the Moon is totally covering the Sun, forming a bright Corona (“crown”) in the form of a ring of fire surrounding the Moon. 

Only the outermost rim of the Sun is seen and not the Sun itself. In prayer, the thought came to me that this is exactly what we see today. The pandemic of the Coronavirus is not the judgement itself, but a harbinger of what will come in far greater measure if the world does not repent. In that sense the Coronavirus is a sign of things to come, when certain plagues will devastate the earth and yet humanity will not repent (Revelation 9:18-21). Yet it also is a reminder that this is still a time of grace when “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21) It is a wake-up call to the Church to understand the times and season we are living in and to act accordingly.

Therefore, allow me to offer the following advice. These suggestions should in no way replace very sound measures that your national health system might require from you. But we should use this as an opportunity to:

  • Draw near to God, review our actions, and wash our hands where necessary. Let us search our hearts and renew our relationship to God, who indeed is “a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29; James 4:8). The Apostle Peter, speaking of these last days, admonishes us: “[S]ince all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat…” (2 Peter 3:11-12).
  • In this time of shaking, let us remember that God does not change. Our lives are in His hands. He is telling us to “fear not, because I am with you.” It is exactly in these dark and challenging times when our light can shine even brighter. People will be watching us. Let us be rays of light and hope in the Risen One.
  • Let us recognize that we are living in times when we should expect more shakings to come. And so let us establish a sure foundation. Jesus reminds us in the Gospel of Luke: “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” (Luke 21:28) Indeed, Jesus is coming soon!
  • Jesus encourages his disciples to view prayer as essential to make it through these challenging days. “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:36)  Make a commitment today to spend more time in prayer and to seek God like never before.
  • The Apostle Peter reminds us that God’s prophetic word is meant to serve as a light in times of darkness. “And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your heart…“ (2 Peter 1:19). The word of God will serve as a beacon and a compass for our lives in these shaky times. Make sure to have your daily diet of His living word.

Finally, it is a great opportunity to stand with God‘s purposes for Israel. This nation has been placed under severe restrictions due to the Coronavirus, with the primary aim to save human lives. In particular, the elderly (including many Holocaust survivors) will be greatly affected by the quarantine measures and limitations imposed during this health crisis. Israel is still allowing new Jewish immigrants to arrive, but they must also self-quarantine for two weeks. Our ICEJ AID team has already received requests from local charities to assist in various projects to support those most affected by this challenging situation. Please help us meet this urgent need.

 Dr. Jürgen Bühler is President of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem and is overseeing ICEJ’s Israel in Crisis outreach to elderly and Holocaust Survivors during the coronavirus shutdown. 

ICEJ Aliyah Seminars Helping Fulfil Prophecy

Since its founding in 1980, the ICEJ has assisted more than 150,000 Jews to make the journey home to Israel. However, there are Jewish communities in many countries with limited access to information on the process of Aliyah. There are as many as one million Jewish people in Central Asia and Russian Far East alone, with most of them having little or no connection to a wider Jewish community.

From the North
For this reason, the ICEJ is hosting Aliyah Seminars, in cooperation with OFEK, as“fishing trips” to try and meet these scattered remnants and bring them home to Israel. One such seminar is scheduled for early 2020 in the city of Alma Ata (Apple Mountain) in Kazakhstan.

In the meantime, we continue building our relationship with Bilana Shakhar, the Jewish Agency director for the Former Soviet Union (FSU.) According to Shakhar, nearly 7,000 Jewish people will make Aliyah to Israel in 2019, from the greater Moscow metropolitan area alone. This number represents nearly half of all Olim (immigrants) to Israel from Russia and is greater than the number that will immigrate from all of Western Europe or the Americas.

From the West
Another major focus of ICEJ’s Aliyah outreach is in Germany. Some might be surprised to learn that Germany has a very large Jewish population, including several thousand Jewish people who moved there from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s.

However, in recent years, these rebuilt communities have been hit by a wave of renewed antisemitism, including a shocking attack on a synagogue in the city of Halle during Yom Kippur services just a few months ago. This attack followed years of increasingly frightening harassment of Jewish people in Germany and has left many German Jews looking at the possibility of leaving the country for good.

“Slowly, one considers whether there might not also be other places on our planet where we Jews could live better,” Max Privorozki, the chairman of the Halle Jewish community who was in the synagogue which was attacked on 7 October, 2018, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. “We are observing with unease that antisemitism is becoming increasingly blatant in Germany at great speed. It is no longer embarrassing to openly present oneself as an antisemite.”

ICEJ is looking for ways to assist Jewish people like Max Privorozki fulfill their goal of making Aliyah. In cooperation with OFEK, ICEJ will conduct informational seminars in Germany in the coming months, starting with the city of Dusseldorf. As ICEJ Aliyah Director Howard Flower explained, “This new initiative is the next step our ‘Aliyah from the West’ program.”

Partner with us today in this powerful work of Aliyah to Israel!

Feast Testimonies: Nathalie Valcke & Tati Matsuda

Healed at the Feast - Testimony of Nathalie Valcke, Feast team member from Belgium

"I was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 29 and with a degenerative disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis, which caused sciatica and constant burning sensations in my back. Six years ago, my husband and I received a calling for Israel and recently we got connected with the ICEJ.

2019 was our first Feast of Tabernacles, and even with my health condition, I wanted to volunteer a as Feast team member. You can probably imagine how challenging it was for me to be on the Ushering team, especially when this position involves long periods of time standing on my feet. This Feast would be quite an effort!

On the second night, my husband and I were asked to represent our country at the Parade of Nations, as we were the only people from Belgium at the Feast. The previous day had already exhausted me, but after the Parade on the second night, I was really worn out. Noticing how tired I looked, an ICEJ staff member forced me to sit down with her and to just enjoy the rest of the evening.

That very night, ICEJ President Jürgen Bühler made an altar call for those who needed prayer, but I didn’t have the strength to go all the way to the front. As he prayed, I heard a little "click" in my back and I realized the burning in my back which had ruined my life for the past 19 years had completely disappeared! I was set free and therefore was able to continue my service on the Ushering team for the rest of the Feast with no pain up to this day. All glory to God!

After the Feast, that same ICEJ staff member and I met in the Old City and I told her the burning back pain was gone, but I still had a lot of water retention in my legs and feet, which made it difficult to walk. She prayed for healing and when I woke up the next morning, all the water retention in my feet was gone until we left Israel two weeks later! Thank you, Lord.
I encourage you to come to the Feast, to serve as a Feast team member and to experience your own personal miracle! Jesus is alive and He will touch you just as He touched me!”


Feast Prize Winner!!!

Tati Matsuda, a Brazilian who lives in Japan, is the Grand Prize winner of the trip for two to ICEJ’s Feast of Tabernacles 2020: Prepare the Way! Tati first connected with the ICEJ through Facebook and attended the opening night of ICEJ’s Feast of Tabernacles 2019 in the desert of Ein Gedi. She and her husband, Roner, are so thankful for this all-inclusive trip to Israel, and are excited to “come up” to appear before the Lord in Jerusalem for this year’s Feast of Tabernacles with ICEJ.

Make plans today to join Tati and Roner in Jerusalem for ICEJ’s Feast of Tabernacles 2020: Prepare the Way! Sign up today!

The Feast of His Second Coming!

“And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, on them there will be no rain. If the family of Egypt will not come up and enter in, they shall have no rain…” (Zechariah 14:16-18a)

The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem has been hosting a Christian celebration of the biblical Feast of Tabernacles for 40 years now. I have been privileged to take part in 25 of those Feasts and can attest there is something very prophetic in operation over this annual event. Every year, pilgrims tell us the Feast just seems to get better and better, and that is because each year we are getting closer and closer to the return of Jesus. In fact, the Feast of Tabernacles is all about the Second Coming of the Lord.

The prophetic uniqueness of the Feast of Tabernacles – or Sukkot – was impressed upon us in a fresh new way at Feast 2019 last October. Here at the ICEJ head offices, we had been praying for several years for more Arab believers from throughout the region to come to our Feast gathering in Jerusalem, and especially from Egypt – since they are specifically mentioned by name in Zechariah 14:16-18. Then it happened! Last fall, a group of 17 born-again Christians from across Egypt came to the Feast and testified that it was the words and vision of Zechariah which had drawn them up to Jerusalem at this special time. They were eager to fellowship with the Body of Christ from around the world, but they also wanted to make sure their dry desert had rain this year.

As these Egyptian pilgrims came onto the stage during the traditional Parade of Nations, one Egyptian brother received a text message from back home: It had just started raining in Cairo. God was affirming His word and gave rain to their nation three months earlier than normal. Then, as the pilgrims flew back to Egypt the next week, they landed amidst the heaviest rainstorm in Egypt’s modern history. The streets of Cairo were flooded, and all the schools and shops had to close.

This powerful sign has renewed our belief and expectancy that rains of revival will also fall on those nations attending the Feast, and upon Israel as well. It was on the last “great day of the Feast” of Tabernacles that Jesus stood in the Temple courts and proclaimed: “’If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke concerning the Spirit…” (John 7:37-39a)

So we are approaching Feast 2020 with greater faith and anticipation than ever for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on our gathering in October this year.

After all, when Zechariah saw all nations coming up to Jerusalem to “worship the King, the Lord of hosts”, he did not see them coming at Passover or Pentecost. These were, are and always will be incredibly significant holy festivals. But Zechariah saw the nations coming up to “keep the Feast of Tabernacles.” Those earlier feasts are all about the first coming of Jesus, but Tabernacles is about His Second Coming! And that is reason enough for Christians everywhere to come experience the joy and presence of the Lord at Sukkot in the very city where he will rule and reign one day very, very soon.

Make plans now to be with us at the Feast of Tabernacles, 2-7 October 2020, here in Jerusalem! Sign up today!

Aliyah from the Former Soviet Union Surges in 2019

Zechariah 2:6 says,“Ho there! Flee from the land of the north,” declares the Lord, “for I have dispersed you as the four winds of the heavens,” declares the Lord.

We are in a season of history when the Jewish people in “the Land of the North” are heeding this call! According to the Jewish Agency, 35,312 people made Aliyah in 2019, and 24,586 of them were from the former Soviet Union (FSU). The megacity of Moscow, capital of the Russian Federation, sent 7,200 Jewish immigrants to Israel in 2019, more than the number of immigrants from Ukraine and France combined. The ICEJ continues to reach out to Jewish communities in Moscow as well as other parts of the FSU to assist them in making Aliyah to the Jewish State.

“In 2019 we assisted 3,844 Olim on their way to Israel,” said ICEJ Aliyah Director Howard Flower. “This is up 46% over 2018.” According to Flower, this brings the total number of Jewish immigrants assisted by the ICEJ to 156,916 since 1980. “Our next ICEJ sponsored flight will be on February 20 from St. Petersburg and after that on March 17 from Helsinki, which marks almost to the day our 30th anniversary of Aliyah through Finland,” he continued. “The flights from Moscow will begin on March 1 to assist with the huge wave of Aliyah from Russia. Since 1990 we have brought more than 16,000 Russian Olim on ICEJ sponsored flights from the Former Soviet Union.” 

The ICEJ hopes to sponsor flights for at least 1,000 immigrants from Russia in 2020 at $400 per person. Additionally, the ICEJ is working together with the Jewish Agency to sponsor three-day informational seminars in Moscow, at a cost of $150 per person. These seminars are crucial to assist people interested in making Aliyah to plan and prepare for their journey.

ICEJ Feeding Starving Jewish Children in Ethiopia

In 2019, at the request of Isaac Herzog the chairman of the Jewish Agency the ICEJ donated $100,000 to provide emergency nutritional support to Ethiopian Jewish children and nursing mothers in the community in Ethiopia waiting to make Aliyah to Israel.

Medical teams working in Gondar reported that at least 22 children were saved from starvation by this program, while many more were saved from hunger and the onset of long-term health problems. 

The program’s significant success has led to other children being referred by their doctors. Roughly 350 children – from newborn to five years old – and approximately 100 pregnant mothers receive ICEJ-sponsored meals daily. “Based on the past 18 month’s experience, ICEJ’s supplemental feeding program has proven to be vital to the health of the children in Gondar and extremely cost effective,” the Jewish Agency leadership said in a letter to the ICEJ. “We deeply appreciate ICEJ’s past generosity.” 

At the same time, the cost and availability of food throughout eastern Africa has risen dramatically due to a massive plague of locusts which has devastated agricultural output. Therefore, it is more urgent than ever for Ethiopian aliyah to resume and increase, bringing all those still waiting home to Israel at last! 

" ...Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me." Matthew 25:40

Israel to welcome another 400 Ethiopian immigrants on ICEJ-sponsored flights

After months of delay, in large part due to the lack of a new government, Israel will start welcoming another 400 Ethiopian Jewish immigrants this Spring on flights sponsored by the ICEJ. The renewal of the Ethiopian aliyah will give new hope to some 8,000 members of the Falash Mura community still in transit camps in Gondar and Addis Ababa waiting – some for up to 20 years now – to be reunited with their families already in Israel.

The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem has been sponsoring the Ethiopian aliyah flights over recent years, bringing home nearly 2,000 members of the ancient Israelite community since the government decided in 2015 to allow the last remnant of Ethiopian Jewry to return. Although many converted to Christianity over recent generations, often under economic duress, they are being allowed to move to Israel under a policy of family reunification. Most of those living in tough conditions in the transit camps have close relatives among the 140,000 Ethiopian Jews already in Israel.

Senior Israeli and Jewish Agency officials have assured the ICEJ that as soon as a new government is formed, they will work diligently to bring home all those remaining Ethiopian Jews eligible to make aliyah within the next couple years. This means the ICEJ must be ready to assist with these increased flights as the historic Ethiopian Jewish return to Israel draws to a close.

Give today to the Aliyah work of the ICEJ!

Fruitful Visit to Tanzania and Burundi

Recently, ICEJ Vice President & Spokesman David Parsons was accompanied by Israeli-Ethiopian pastor Birlie Belay on a productive ministry trip to Tanzania and Burundi. Besides speaking in dozens of churches across Tanzania, Parsons also met with Tanzania’s President John Pombe Magufuli and encouraged him to move his nation’s embassy to Jerusalem. The ICEJ team was then hosted by the First Lady of Burundi, Denise Bucumi Nkurunziza, the only First Lady in Africa who is also an ordained minister. Rev. Nkurunziza invited Parsons to preach at the dedication ceremony for her impressive new 12,000 seat church in the capital city of Bujumburra. Overall, the speaking tour reaffirmed our sense that East Africa is experiencing a great revival which is also marked by a burning love for Israel among the people and their leaders.

David Parsons and Birlie Belay with the First Lady of Burundi, Rev. Denise Nkurunziza.


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