November 14, 2012

Time Warp at the Wailing Wall

Last year I took my son to Israel, where I preached in Jerusalem and, the next Sabbath, in Tel Aviv. It was neat: a Jew preaching in Jerusalem, and on the seventh-day Sabbath, too. Not an image that, growing up, I would have ever associated with myself.

Between meetings we stood one morning before the Western Wall on the Temple Mount. We went with Elhanan ben Abraham, a Jewish believer in Jesus who, 33 years earlier, had baptized me in the Jordan River, in the Galilee. While we were there in the shadow of the ancient wall an Orthodox Jew approached and asked if we were Jews. When we said yes, he asked if we wanted to “wrap tefillin.” We agreed.

Wrapping tefillin is a ritual in which you wrap, with cords, a black box on your arm and one on your head. It’s based on Deuteronomy 6:8: “Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” In each box are portions of the Torah, excerpts from Exodus and Deuteronomy. After the boxes are in place, you recite a few blessings in Hebrew, including one translated as: “Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to wear tefillin.”2012 1532 page23

After we finished, Elhanan and I started to witness to him. We asked about the Messiah, and we let him know that we believed the Mosiach (Yiddish for “Messiah”) had come, and that He is Jesus of Nazareth. I remember the Jew lifting his palm, then pushing it down, as if knocking the idea to the ground. A few other Orthodox men came over, and we got into quite a discussion. It got intense, but never out of hand, and we eventually left.

Only later, from the varied perspective that time gives any event, did the incredibleness of what happened hit me: Here we were, Jews, 2,000 years after the cross, standing in the area of the Jerusalem Temple, and arguing about Jesus as the Messiah?

Come on!

Think of all the history that has unfolded since the days when Stephen or Paul or Peter or any of the early believers in Jesus could have been standing within 50 square feet of where we were and doing the same thing that we were. Nations and empires have come and gone, replaced by other nations and empires that have also come and gone. Whole new people groups have arisen and vanished. New continents have been “discovered,” and new religions started while ancient ones evaporated. When Peter and John talked about Jesus in that same area we did, the world was still about 1,500 years away from Copernicus, 1,600 from Newton’s Principia, and more than 1,900 from the iPhone.

However minimal the space difference between where we stood talking to other Jews about Jesus and where Peter and James and John had, perhaps measureable in yards, the time difference was so vast, the changes in the world so monumental, that we could have been on other planets, not geographically a stone’s throw apart.

Yet despite the unfolding of centuries that morphed into a millennium and almost into millennia, here we were, Jews, standing on the Temple grounds, witnessing to, and arguing with, other Jews about Jesus of Nazareth. It’s as if those long years never happened. A time warp at the Wailing Wall.

The first angel’s message reads: “Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language, and people” (Rev. 14:6). It is the everlasting gospel, the hope of eternal life, “which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time” (Titus 1:2). The core of the gospel is timeless. Thus, whether preached in the mountains of Patagonia, or proclaimed over the air by Adventist World Radio, or even debated among Jews in the shadow of the Wailing Wall in A.D. 50 or A.D. 2011, the gospel truth remains the same, and we have been called, as others before us, to proclaim it.

Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His newest book, Shadow Men, is available from Signs Publishing in Australia. This article was published November 15, 2012.