EDITOR’S NOTE: Jim Sibley, director of Criswell College’s Pasche Institute for Jewish Studies, is in Israel to lead a study course for students at the Dallas college.
JERUSALEM (BP)–Peace is breaking out in Israel! Not political or military peace, but peace in the hearts and lives of Jews and Arabs.
Leading a group of students from Criswell College to Israel at a time like this is interesting, to say the least. I have taught a course on the history and geography of Jerusalem; we finished today (Jan. 9). We have walked all over the City of David, the Mount of Olives, the Old City of Jerusalem, through much of East and West Jerusalem, and have interacted with both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs.
Joel Wilson, my colleague at Criswell, has joined me in leading the trip and is responsible for the outreach component. We left on Jan. 3 and expect to return on the 16th, so we are halfway through our excursion, the second half of which will involve some travel outside of Jerusalem and some evangelistic activities with local believers. We have listened carefully to the students as they have expressed their impressions and observations and led devotions each day. Here is some of what we have shared.
The Bible is completely trustworthy and reliable in all that it affirms. We have visited archaeological sites where archaeologists have found clay seal impressions with the names of minor characters in the Book of Jeremiah, such as Gemariah, the son of Shaphan; we have seen the charred remains of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians; and we have seen the place where a passage of the Book of Numbers was found that dates to the seventh century before Christ. Even though it has not been the intention of the archaeologists, time and again their work has verified the truthfulness of God’s Word.
The return of the Lord took on a new dimension as the students climbed the Mount of Olives and looked at the Eastern Gate, for the Lord will return to this mountain and enter the city through this gate. It is more than a theological abstraction and has become a concrete hope for which we should all yearn and pray.
At the same time, however, there is a renewed burden for the lost. Both Orthodox Jew and devout Muslim act as though they long for a relationship with God, but tragically, none seem to know how to find it. Some seem to have a desperation to serve a God they have never known. Both religions tend to enslave their adherents in works righteousness (human effort), blinding them to the nature of God. The Muslim does not know the love of God and the Jew without Jesus does not know Isaiah’s Immanuel. We have watched as an Israeli woman shared her faith in the Messiah with another young woman, urging her to receive salvation as a gift through faith in Yeshua (Jesus). Though the conversation was in Hebrew, her earnestness in pressing the claims of the Gospel were convicting, for she has only been a believer for a couple of years.
That leads us to the Jerusalem cross, which also is known as the Crusaders’ Cross. In spite of its origin, which has yielded bitter fruit in Christian relations with both Jewish people and Muslims, it bears a message that is important for us today. It is a cross formed with two lines of equal length, crossed in the middle, which includes four smaller crosses — one in each of the quadrants formed by the larger cross. It seems this cross was meant to express the truth that the Gospel which was first proclaimed in Jerusalem should be preached in the four corners of the earth. Since Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, He is also the Redeemer of all who trust in Him.
Even though we have focused on the Jewish people, God loves all people and wants them to come to the knowledge of the truth. The students have often commented on the experience of being surrounded by thousands of people who have never heard the Gospel. Not only is Jerusalem the home of Jewish and Muslim people, but one may see people from every nation walking the streets of the city.
This has also led to prayer. We visited the International Prayer Center of Jerusalem. Here we prayed for the peoples of the area as well as other peoples around the world. We visited the Baptist church in West Jerusalem and saw the witness that it is having. We have prayerwalked through the Old City of Jerusalem and have recognized that without prayer our witness is hampered and we can do nothing.
Oh, yes, you want to know about the news. Compared to what we have experienced, the major news media have missed the real news.