Comforting the People of Israel
by Dr Jürgen Bühler, ICEJ President
“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!” says your God. “Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; For she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” Isaiah 40:1-2
When the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem was founded in 1980 by visionary leaders like Jan Willem van der Hoeven, Johann Lückhoff, Timothy King, Merv and Merla Watson, Lance Lambert and others, there was one passage from the Bible which inspired and guided them more than any other. This was from the Hebrew prophet Isaiah: “‘Comfort, yes comfort My people’! says your God.”
That heavenly mandate continues to motivate the Christian Embassy until this day. It is a Scriptural command to stand in love, kindness, and hope with God’s people. It was ignored for far too long, by too many churches. Yet it still rings forth today, more relevant and timely than ever. And it still inspires the vision of the ICEJ, as we seek to connect Christians from every nation with every segment of Israeli society, through acts of genuine love and concern for their welfare and destiny.
The Gentile Role in Israel’s Redemption
The first verse of Isaiah chapter 40 is like a God-given headline for a momentous salvation plan that is unveiled over the course of the entire chapter. Here, God heralds a new season of restoration for Israel, a time when “her warfare has ended”. It announces the coming of a “voice in the wilderness”, a preparer of the way for Messiah. The chapter then announces the coming of the Shepherd-Messiah who will tend His flock. At the same time, God rebukes the folly of the nations to worship their man-made idols rather than the Creator of the heavens and the earth. The chapter concludes with the groundless complaint that God has forgotten His people.
It is in the context of the coming redemption of Israel – and the world – that Isaiah commands us to comfort God’s people. Please note that God is not telling Israel to “comfort” themselves. It is not a message for the people of Israel to just grit their teeth and hope for better times. Rather, God commands another people who know the Lord to “comfort My people”. And because of this Gentile mercy, a people crushed by 2000 years of exile, pogroms, and antisemitism will “lift up their heads”, even as we proclaim: “Behold your God”. Indeed, a new season of restoration has started for Israel. And it is an end-time mission for the true Church, before the second coming of Jesus, to stand with his own people and to instill hope in them by declaring “the time to favor Zion has come” (Psalm 102:13).
God commands us to “speak tenderly to Jerusalem”. The original Hebrew text says to “speak to the heart of Jerusalem”. It is not a theological or intellectual discussion that is needed, but a message which touches the heart and directs them upwards to God. Here we desperately need the Holy Spirit, and we need to demonstrate it through love in action, which speaks louder than words. More than our statements of solidarity and remorse, we need to pursue practical acts of kindness, like when the ICEJ helped build a synagogue in Ma’ale Adumin on the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht. As former ICEJ chairman Leif Wellerop always said: “Our love has to have hands and feet.”
This passage also conveys the message: Tell Israel that “her warfare has ended, and her sins are pardoned” (ESV). This and many other passages in Scripture reveal that Israel’s restoration to their homeland means God has moved from judgment to redemption. A more fitting translation of the Hebrew phrase “your sins are pardoned” would be, “Your sins have been completed”, or “God is not dealing with you anymore according to your sins”. In fact, our message should be that Israel has already “received double for her sins.” There is undoubtedly no other nation that has suffered more than the Jews. But now God asks the Church to proclaim in love that the greatest chapter in their entire history is about to unfold. This command to declare salvation to Israel is echoed in Isaiah 62:11, which says:
“Indeed the Lord has proclaimed to the end of the world: Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Surely your salvation is coming; Behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him.’”
God wants to mobilize even the ends of the earth to speak to Israel about her salvation. That is why the ICEJ has a very clear vision: To connect Christians from every nation of the world with every segment of Israeli society. Thus, we are grateful for a growing network of over 90 national branches around the world and for supporters in over 170 nations. At every Feast of Tabernacles, one of the highlights is when the Pacific Island nations come from “the ends of the earth” to show their love and friendship to Israel. It is a time of tears flowing down happy faces.
Reaching All of Israel Today
After forty years of faithfully pursuing this call to comfort God’s people, we know this mandate has to be passed to a new generation. In 1980, the Jewish people were still not that far removed from the Holocaust in Christian Europe. Back then, many Israelis identified Christianity with Germany – the country of Martin Luther and the Reformation which had just set Europe ablaze with a maelstrom of antisemitism that cost the lives of six million Jews.
Therefore, the task of the Christian Embassy’s early pioneers required not only patience but also determination to go on even when their love for God’s people was not reciprocated. But by building synagogues, swimming pools for the handicapped, and absorption centers for new immigrants, and by helping tens of thousands of Jews to make Aliyah to Israel, the suspicions towards Christians slowly gave way to an understanding that evangelical Christians are Israel’s best friends today – as has been repeatedly affirmed by many Israeli leaders. From Knesset members to ordinary folks at the shuk, one of the most common refrains we have heard from Israelis over the past 40 years is: “Now we know we are not alone!”
Today, our ministry of comfort to Israel has many facets and seeks to touch all the diverse segments of Israeli society. Modern Israelis are both young hi-tech innovators in Tel Aviv, as well as traditional farmers and factory owners in Judea and Samaria who show tremendous courage and vision by building industrial hubs to employ their Palestinian Arab neighbors. We are reaching out to the remaining 180,000 Holocaust survivors still living in Israel. We are helping the Jewish Agency to bring more Jews back to the land of their forefathers. We also are assisting the various minorities in Israel – whether Arab, Muslim, Christian, Druze, or Bedouin. And while in the past this work was mainly a one-way street, today we increasingly see our love is more appreciated and our friendship is now reciprocated through greater cooperation and partnerships with the Knesset, the Jewish Agency, Yad Vashem, or many other institutions in Israel.
Another important aspect of our work is our stand with the growing Messianic body here in Israel. Often ostracized in the past, this group is now more accepted in mainstream Israeli society. They serve in top combat units of the Israeli army, in leading law firms, as research professors, and even in government offices. They represent a vital connection for us to Israel, going back to the very roots of our Christian faith. After 2000 years, there is once again today a dynamic body of Jewish believers in Yeshua (Jesus) here in Israel. It was their Jewish forebearers in the faith who left Jerusalem in the days of the Apostles and brought the Good News of their Messiah to every corner of the world. Today, they are back in the Land waiting for the promised hope of Israel, and it is our privilege to stand with them.
This means our ministry is here for all of Israel. Whether Jews or non-Jews, we bless them, support them, and show them the love of Christ in practical ways on behalf of born-again believers from around the world. I invite you to join us in this exciting redemptive journey. God is not only opening a new chapter for the people of Israel, but He also invites us to be part of writing this incredible story. What a privilege to be alive today and see with our eyes His salvation plan unfolding!