Joel of Jerusalem Oct/Nov 1984
How I thank the Lord that I can walk down the street with my head held high and not downcast, as is the case with so many people here in Israel. They walk along as if they were in a dream, and they have no self confidence because most of them do not feel free to say what they think. They must first receive permission to speak from those in authority over them, especially regarding religious matters.
Some people are even afraid to answer when someone says good morning or, as we say in Israel, Shalom. This is just a short word, but it has great meaning. The Lord Jesus said to His disciples, “. . . Peace [Shalom] be unto you” (Lk. 24:36). Right up to this very day and until the end of time as we know it, those who receive the Lord Jesus as their Savior can live in peace (shalom), even among their enemies, because they have God’s peace in their hearts. It is also written, “Great peace [shalom] have they who love thy law . . .” (Ps. 119:165). On the other hand, there is no peace for those who are far from the Lord. Peace gives us happiness and joy, and if we have these things, what more do we need? Troubles? Certainly not! People make troubles for themselves. Of course, our enemies can also make big troubles for us, as well as for themselves, and in this country we could make a long list of such problems.
It is written in the Talmud, which is considered holy by the Israeli people, “A man does not lie on his deathbed.” I know that every day it is as though we are on our deathbeds. No one can be certain of the future. Today I am here, but tomorrow I could be with the Lord. I can make that last statement with surety, however, since the Lord has promised, “. . . Because I live, ye shall live also” (Jn. 14:19). lf we will accept the Lord and receive the eternal life which He so freely gives, we do not to have a go around with our heads down, but high! We can be proud because we know in whom we have believed. We can be happy and praise and glorify His holy name.
One recent morning, in accordance with my usual daily routine, I went to the bus station near my home to get a bus into Jerusalem. Buses are the most important form of transportation in Israel, and we usually have a short wait before the bus comes. Most people use this waiting period to exchange greetings and chat a bit.
On this particular morning I arrived at the bus station a little early, and there was a small group of young children there with their teacher. These children were pupils at a religious school, and I immediately noticed that the teacher had a very sour expression on his face. As is my custom, I said to them, “Shalom, boker-tov [good morning].” I was surprised when the teacher gave me a nasty look, but the children all answered very nicely, “Shalom!” I continued to look at the teacher and finally gained enough courage to ask, “Are you not feeling well? Can I help you?” “No!” he said. I then asked, “Why are you so unhappy and nervous?” He answered, “Because I don’t want you to have such close contact with my pupils. An atheist like you should not speak to such pure souls.” “Yes, my dear,” I responded, “they are pure souls, just as you said. But you, as their teacher, are making them very thirsty. I feel sorry for them because they are charming children.” He then asked why I said this, and I answered, “It is a fact that when the shepherd strays, the sheep will stray after him. You are such a shepherd, and it is a pity for these children that they have a teacher such as yourself.”
I could tell as soon as I met them that the children did not like the teacher very much, and now they seemed happy to know that I did not agree with him. I then asked, “How do you know that I am an atheist?” He answered, “It is not hard to tell. A person who believes in God covers his head, but your head is uncovered; therefore, you must be an atheist.” I asked, “Is covering the head the most important part of your faith?” He replied, “It is a very big part of the Law which all good Jews must keep.” I then told him, “No, my dear, that is a great mistake on your part.” When he asked why I said this, I responded, “Was Moses a Jew?” “Of course,” he said. “You are right,” I told him, “but now tell me what the Lord said to Moses when he was standing before the burning bush.” When the teacher did not answer immediately, one of the children spoke up and said, “I know, the Lord said, ‘. . . Moses, Moses. And he said. Here am I. And he said, Draw not near here: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground’ [Ex. 3:4-5].”
I then told the teacher, “You can see that even the children know the facts. Moses was standing before the Lord himself, and the Lord didn’t tell Moses to cover his head. Who are you, therefore, that I cannot stand before you without my head covered? Also, just because you have your head covered, you feel that I must accept all that you say. You must understand that there are many people in this land who need the mercy of the Lord, and you are one of them. Do not be so sure that because of your long beard and the big black hat on your head that you are saved. This is far from true.”
At this time he began to be more interested in what I was saying, and the children were like small puppies, hanging on my every word. The teacher asked, “Who are you that you can speak about salvation with such surety?” I replied, “I am one who has had the great privilege of being saved, and not because I was so nice or so good. I am no angel but a sinner, just like everyone else. In this world I am merely a mortal human being, but in the next world I will have everlasting life.” He then asked. “How can you be so sure about the olam-habah [the age to come]?” To this I responded, “Surely you know what is written in Psalm 23 about eternity.” He stopped to think, and once again one of the children chimed in and said, “I know, Psalm 23:6 says, ‘. . . I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’”
By now two buses had come and gone, but the teacher did not seem upset about it. Of course, he wanted to prove himself right, especially to his pupils, and he didn’t care how long it took. Then suddenly he said, “Aha! Now I know who you are. You are a missionary.” “Why do you say this?” I asked, and he replied, “Because you speak about eternity.” I then asked, “Don’t you want to have your name written in the book of life? Who wants to die forever? Do you? Of course not! And what about yourself? As a teacher in a religious school, are you not a missionary?” “No! I am a teacher,” he said. “If that is so, then what about Abraham and Jonah? Were they not missionaries? Even all your ultra-orthodox rabbis are missionaries. The only difference between them and me is that I preach the gospel of God according to the Bible, but you and the rabbis, who call yourselves so holy and so clean, do not preach the true gospel of the Lord. Instead, you spread nothing but vanity to these children. Why, even at the beginning of our conversation when I greeted you with such a nice word as Shalom, you wouldn’t even answer me, nor did you want these children to return my greeting. What kind of education is that? In the Law God commanded us, ‘. . . love thy neighbor as thyself . . .’ [Lev. 19:18]. Instead, you are teaching your pupils to hate their neighbors.”
This made him very angry, and he quickly attacked me. “A Christian has no right to tell me how to educate my pupils. We are in Israel! I, as a teacher, know how to educate this new generation.” I then said, “You must not forget that we are in the promised land of God, and we are the chosen people of God. You must teach your pupils this so that they will know to whom they belong and what the Lord wants them and everyone of us to do. We must serve one another, and this we can do through His love if we will truly receive Him. It is not important whether you call yourself a Jew or a Christian. The important thing is to begin to keep the very least of the Lord’s commandments, and in doing this you will surely find Him and give your heart and life to Him. He will then receive you, just as He received me when I came to Him on His terms.”
By this time we were no longer alone. It was a small bus station and many people had gathered and were now very interested in our discussion. Every Jew knows something about the Bible, and if a person does not know a lot about it, he goes to a teacher or rabbi and accepts what he says as holy. Even when people read the Bible in private, they go to a rabbi to have it interpreted, and they never question the validity of that rabbi’s opinion but follow it to the very end. It is just as it has been for centuries. How, therefore, can we who have accepted the Lord Jesus as our personal Savior be objective about this? It is impossible! The Lord said, “. . . Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15), and also, “. . . repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Lk. 24:47). Jerusalem is my home. My eyes have been opened to the truth of the Lord for a very long time now, and I must, therefore, go to those living around me who are still in spiritual darkness and tell them of the light of the Lord. Even this poor teacher has begun to see the truth which is in the Lord, our Savior. And, what’s more, this was a very great revelation for those who, for the first time, heard the Word of the Lord by chance at a small bus station. Some of them were interested in what they heard and received the Word with an open heart and mind. Everyone in Israel knows about the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai; few had heard about the grace of God in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is written in Isaiah 2:3, “. . . out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” We are very near to the fulfillment of this prophecy. Please pray for the peace of Jerusalem and for my two sons in the army.