This year’s graduation ceremony was particularly special, as it marked 25 years since the founding of Israel College of the Bible. Here is a translation of the address originally given in Hebrew by Dr Erez Soref, President of One For Israel.
As a friend once said in a similar situation, “Victory is in the air, and the victory is the Lord’s”. This is a day of happiness, and a milestone in the lives of our graduates, for Israel College of the Bible, and also for the body of Messiah in Israel.
What can we as the body of Messiah in Israel, in all our diversity, offer to Israeli society? Quality of life? Hope for a better financial situation? Freedom from problems? No – none of these things. The truth is that what we have to offer to those around us in Israel is not an idea, but a person; the Messiah himself.
I believe that the Messiah reflects through us three essential things, as Paul said in the last verse of 1 Corinthians 13,
“These three remain: Faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.”
So, a few words about HOPE…
I won’t surprise anyone when I say that here in Israel, we live in a reality that is far from simple for many reasons. There is a great deal of stress and pressure, polarity, and the truth is, emptiness. But in the Messiah, we can lift our eyes above and beyond to a hope that is greater than our day to day existence. Every person at some level, sooner or later, will try to see beyond their daily existence, and the meaning of eternal life that is over and above this existence is what the Messiah has entrusted into our hands. We read in John 17:3,
“This is eternal life – knowing you, the one true God, and Yeshua, whom you sent”.
This is what he has given us.
Then there is FAITH…
As I look around, some of you I’ve known for years, some I know a little, and others not at all, but I think you’ll identify with me the point I’m about to make. Humanly speaking, there may not a great deal that we all have in common, but when I look around and I see that you care for one another, even though you might not even speak the same language, there is a connection and a bond between us.
We see this all the time here at the Bible College – people come in and look around us all and say “Who ARE you?” Usually it’s curiosity of a positive kind, it usually attracts people, when they see there’s integration of Jews and Arabs, people from all over the world, immigrants from Russia and Ethiopia, native born Israeli Jews, yet still we all love each other, which is an extraordinary thing in Israeli society, and not often found.
So we pray that this continues, and it’s a great thing. We need faith, and pray that God will continue to bless us in this way.
A man that I’ve only known only for a few months but who has become very dear to me accepted Yeshua as his Messiah a few weeks ago. When asked about his journey to faith, he said something very interesting; “The thing that attracted me was unconditional love”. For that man, and I think for most of us, it wasn’t so much what he had heard, or what was said to him, it wasn’t even something that he read about, but at the end of the day, it was the love that he saw. Yeshua said to us,
“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another as I have loved you.”
This is all well and good, but how is it translated to Israeli society? What I believe that Yeshua calls his body to in Israel (and by the way, in Israel, it’s not that there are a number of congregations – of the Ethiopians, Arabs, Russians, Jewish sabres – but there is only one congregation, one body) there are three things that I think God wants to see from us, and that he’s leading us into:
Firstly, I believe that in the next few years, there will be a meaningful rise in profile of the Body of Yeshua in Israel.
As you know, we are only a few of us here in Israel, we have no representation at government level, no funding, and in fact many believe they are serving God by persecuting us – there are probably a few of them outside right now – they come every year to harass us on graduation day. But here’s the interesting thing, we don’t need easy or ideal conditions in order to flourish and thrive. In fact, the truth is that persecution and threats are not new – and certainly not unique to us – in comparison to the countries around us, our situation is very good. But there is something interesting that is unique to the body of Messiah – I call it a “healthy tension of faith”. It means that even though we may not be considered acceptable in Israeli society, in fact, perhaps it’s actually because we have to pay a price in Israeli society when we choose to follow Yeshua, we have this healthy tension of faith; there’s a price to pay. There’s a great verse in Exodus 1 where it explains the situation Egypt where they were trying to wipe out the Israelites, yet they were thriving: “But the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly” (v7). And that’s also true of us as the body of Messiah. There’s no point complaining that there are people who don’t like us and that it’s so hard for us – it’s healthy. That’s how we learn to depend on the Messiah.
I believe in the next few years, just as we have seen in the last few years, we will continue to see an even greater increase in the number of believers, with more and more people declaring their faith in Yeshua as their Messiah. Additionally, there’s a huge wave of young people, children, and young adults who have been raised in believing homes, and I believe God will put those from the next generation in surprising places in Israel – as members of parliament, mayors, business leaders, like Esther, Daniel, Nehemiah, or Nicodemus, who will speak the name of God in these circles, because they also need to hear about Yeshua.
Sometimes believers are held back from doing something because they feel that they don’t have the money. But we believe strongly here at the college, and it’s nothing new, but we know that in the Kingdom of God, there’s no shortage of money – God owns all the silver and all gold. God is always looking for, even today in Israel, faithful stewards to whom he can entrust his treasures. And by the way, the treasure of the Kingdom of God is not money, but people.
The Kingdom of God is very special and very different to the world, because he takes money and turns it into people. People who will hear the gospel and become faithful disciples. He’s looking for faithful stewards. I believe that even today, God is not limited by finances at all. He’s looking for faithful stewards to whom he can entrust more and more treasures to develop his kingdom here in Israel.
Why am I focusing on Israel? Again, let’s look at the countries that surround us. What’s happening to the body of Messiah in our neighbouring countries? In every direction, they are being persecuted. It’s much harder for them than for us. Their financial situation is much harder than ours. We have got used to looking to the West in hope of receiving help, but we have a great deal to give to those around us, and I believe this will happen.
The second thing that I believe we are called to is unity.
Israel is a divided society. One thing we can offer Israeli society is our unity between all the fractured parts of society – Jews, Arabs, immigrants and native-born Israelis. Disunity breaks the heart of God, and the main reason that we seek this unity here in the College and in all our congregations is because Yeshua commanded it. In John 17:21 he prayed,
“that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
Our unity testifies about our Lord.
I talked before about a healthy tension of faith; when we encounter other believers from all kinds of backgrounds, different to us with different languages, cultures, ways of doing things… this keeps us in a healthy tension of faith. If we’re with people that are different to us, our tendency is to drift into nationalism or political agendas, but if we want to stay united with people who are different to us, we must focus on the one thing that unites us, and that’s Yeshua. Our unity is important.
The third thing I believe God is calling us into is ‘sending’.
As Israeli believers, we have often looked outside the country to receive help, teaching and financial support. We have had the mentality that there’s only a very few of us here, so we look abroad for help. But Yeshua says it’s better to give than to receive. He said right here in Israel,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
He said it here, in Israel. He also said, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The meaning is not just what’s close to us, not just in this land, but from here, to go out to other peoples. I believe that we will be more and more invested in prayer for other nations, sending financial and practical help, and sending people to take the good news to other countries.
I want to close with a quote from the book, “The Pilgrim’s Progress”. It’s a section that always rekindles my first love. There’s a danger that when we study theology, things can stay in our head and not reach our hearts. We try very hard here at Israel College of the Bible to us to make sure that this doesn’t happen, but that it goes to our hearts and stays there. This comes right after the protagonist of the book, called Christian, has come to faith:
“So I saw in my dream that the man began to run. Now he had not run far from his own door when his wife and children, perceiving it, began to cry after him to return; but the man put his fingers in his ears, and ran on crying, Life! life! eternal life! So he looked not behind him, but fled towards the middle of the plain.”
Dear graduates, I hope that you have experienced the things that I spoke of here at Israel College of the Bible – faith, hope, love; and I want to say to you personally, and I say on behalf of the whole team, I love you.