Last week a whole lot of people in South Portland, Maine were upset over a sermon title. South Portland Baptist Church had advertised their Sunday services in the Saturday edition of Portland Press Herald. The title of the upcoming message? The Only Way to Destroy the Jewish Race.”
Naturally the Jewish community in South Portland was more than a little concerned to read those words in their local newspaper. Pastor Phil of South Portland Baptist Church apologized for the title, but not for the sermon itself–which was actually a call to remember God’s promises to preserve His people, Israel. Pastor Phil explained in his open letter of apology:
“The title was based on the OT book, the Book of Jeremiah, chapter 31, verses 35-37. In summary, God is declaring through His servant that. . .
- if anyone can change the courses of the sun, moon, and stars,
- if anyone can cause the seas to overrun their boundaries, and
- if anyone can measure the foundations of heaven and earth, only then will Israel cease to exist!
I applaud pastor Phil’s commitment to tell about God’s promises to the Jewish people, though I also understand why people who were not privy to the content of that sermon were upset by its provocative, indeed frightening, title. We live in a time when the call to destroy the Jewish people is not just an historical reference to Nazi Germany. This evil is ever-present and has once again reared its ugly head in the form of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This outspoken leader has made the destruction of the Jewish people a matter of stated policy for his powerful nation.
Pastor Phil’s sermon should serve as a warning to Ahmadinejad and to all who wish to annihilate the Jews. As George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” God will not sit idly by and watch Israel be destroyed.
In a joke that’s been circulating, President Bush received a telegram from Iranian President Ahmadinejad. “I had a dream, that Washington DC was destroyed and rebuilt and that a giant banner was flying over the city with words in Arabic saying ‘Allah is Great.'”
President Bush wrote back, “That’s funny, I had a dream that Tehran was destroyed and rebuilt and there was a giant banner flying over your city too.”
“What did the banner say” telegrammed Ahmadinejad?
“I don’t know,” replied Bush, “I don’t speak Hebrew.”
Whether or not you find the joke humorous, President Ahmadinejad’s hatred of Israel is no laughing matter. The press reported on his “World Without Zionism” conference in Tehran, in which Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be destroyed, (bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad) more literally translated from Persian, “vanish from the page of time.” In light of Ahmadinejad’s pursuit of nuclear power, this attitude is truly frightening.
This is not the first time such hatred against the Jewish people has been uttered in this part of the world. In fact, the book of Esther records how a Persian politician named Haman articulated his desire for the destruction of the Jews. “There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from all other people’s, and they do not keep the king’s laws. Therefore it is not fitting for the king to let them remain. If it pleases the king, let a decree be written that they be destroyed” (Esther 3:8-9a).
What happened to Haman and his diabolical plan to make the Jews “vanish from the page of time?” In just a couple of weeks, Jewish people the world over will remember and celebrate how Haman’s schemes backfired. That celebration is known as the Festival of Purim and is highlighted next month in our regular newsletter as well as on our website.
You don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate Purim. For anyone who loves the Lord, this holiday shows how He is faithful to keep His promises. Esther is the only book in the Bible with no specific mention of the name of God, yet His holy fingerprints are seen all over this story. The preservation of the Jewish people is inexplicable apart from God’s promise and His providence. Followers of Jesus should be inspired by Purim to strive to discern God’s hand at work behind the scenes in our own day.
Likewise, people who do not see God at work in the movements of more recent history should remember the lessons of the past. Unfortunately, too many today get caught up in polarizing views on eschatology or the pull toward political correctness. These issues cloud the crux of the conflict over Israel today, which is not as much about land or politics as it is about the survival of the Jewish people. And when it comes to the issue of Israel’s survival, I believe that God Himself is a Zionist.
By that I do not mean that God condones every choice made by Israel’s leaders or that He does not care for other people in the region. I simply mean that God, more than anyone, is absolutely committed to the survival of the Jewish people–a fact very much in evidence to those who read the Bible and actually choose to remember the past–which is why a sermon like Pastor Phil’s at South Portland Baptist Church is most welcome, despite its misleading and frightening title.
As a guest speaker in many churches, I am always touched when people tell me how their parents or grandparents instilled in them a love for the Jewish people, and the importance of standing with Israel. I praise God for those faithful saints who have passed down the lessons of history that point to God’s promise to preserve the Jewish people. But I wonder who is doing that for the next generation and the next.
What truly frightens me is the growing number of Bible-believing Christians who fail to remember–much less pass on to the next generation–the understanding of God’s sovereign work in history. Those who look for God’s hand in the past, present and future have the Bible as a roadmap to remember and respect His promises to the Jewish people and to stand up for the preservation of Israel. If we meet those who, for whatever reason, have set aside this sacred duty, let us remind them of the words of the prophet concerning the Lord’s commitment to Jewish people: “. . . for he who touches you touches the apple of His eye” (Zechariah 2:8).
I believe it is a Christian’s duty to stand with Israel, not because of politics, not because of end-times prophecy, but because that is where God has stood and still stands today. The Lord continues to bless those who share His heart concerning Israel and I believe the opposite also holds true. When faced with a choice to stand by Israel or let the opportunity to speak up for her slide, Mordechai’s words to Esther ring true, not only for the past but for the future: “For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).