The wise pharisee


By Charles Gardner —

Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to power in Israel is causing concern among UK mission agencies working with Jewish people, according to a report in Evangelicals Now¹.

The worry is not so much about the Prime Minister himself as about his main new coalition partner, the Religious Zionists, known to hold ‘anti-missionary’ views which it is thought they might wish to turn into laws.

And this comes at a time when Israelis are becoming increasingly open to the gospel.
Traditional Orthodox antagonism to ‘missionary’ Christians is already a barrier to open confession of belief in Jesus among Jews. But, as things stand, it is perfectly legal to preach the gospel in Israel as long as material gain is not used to coerce people, or minors are targeted without parental consent.

Personally, I feel the new government is in good hands, and that ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu understands better than anyone the vital role evangelical Christians play in supporting Israel, which is likely to trump any push for further marginalizing them.

Besides, I’m sure it’s in God’s hands, and we would do well to recall the wise counsel of first century Pharisee Gamaliel, a teacher of the law at the time the early believers were causing a great stir in Jerusalem with their preaching (and healing) shortly after the death and resurrection of their Lord.

Addressing the Sanhedrin, he reminded them how previous movements had come to nothing and advised them to leave the apostles alone, saying: “For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” (Acts 5:38f)

However, the other religious leaders, full of jealousy because of the signs and wonders the apostles were performing in the name of Jesus, had wanted to kill them.

The Sanhedrin – the assembly of Israel’s elders – had earlier given strict orders not to teach in his name. But Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than man. The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead – whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.” (Acts 5:29-31)

And so it all comes down to the question of whether we obey God or man, today just as at the birth of the Christian era. Those who have had a genuine encounter with the risen Jesus cannot but speak of what they have seen and heard. The reality of the resurrection, for the apostles, trumped the perils of prison and death.

I just witnessed the baptism, here in my home town at the weekend, of three young people. What possessed them, on a wintry night, to allow themselves to be immersed in a pool on front of a crowd of people as a confession of their new faith?

It was because each of them clearly had an encounter with Jesus. A young lady had witnessed the courage and “wonderful peace” of a friend dying of cancer, yet determined to trust God through it all. Another young lady, orphaned at five and adopted by Christian parents, came to see that her new family’s faith was more than tradition; that Jesus was real, and alive!

And a young man had shocked his wife one day by deciding to go to church where he was to find out what life was really about. And he couldn’t wait to find out more at the weekly course for new believers. “It was like waiting for the next episode of a Netflix drama,” he said.

As mentioned earlier, it seems there is a growing acceptance of Jesus among people in Israel, which just happens to coincide with a growing interest in Jewish roots among UK Christians.

The gospel is “the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16). And God intends that both Jew and Gentile should be reconciled as “one new man” through the Messiah’s death on the cross. (Ephesians 2:14-16)

1 Evangelicals Now December 2022