As I have grown up, I have always held in my heart a keen interest in the nation of Israel . . . and to this day I am not sure why. It may be because of a number of prophetic sermons I heard in my youth from the book of Isaiah. As you may recall, in that book, the prophet Isaiah speaks about an astounding miracle that would happen in the last days. It is found in the 66th chapter of Isaiah where we read “Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children.” Isaiah 66:8
We’ve all heard the expression, Rome wasn’t built in a day yet this verse, while confessing the absurdity of a nation being formed in one day, promises that Israel would again become a nation. The passage in Isaiah leaves no room for doubt as to what this prophecy indicates. It specifically compares Israel (Zion) to a woman in labor and clearly states the nation’s rebirth will occur within a day. And as promised, Israel did indeed become a united, sovereign nation by a vote at the United Nations for the first time since the days of King Solomon in just one day on May 15, 1948.
Throughout history, it has never been known for a people to have been dispersed for millennia and then to later become united with their culture, religion, and language –intact- and yet in Israel, we have seen this happen within our lifetime. And even today we at Saint Nicholas Church continue to support the Jewish people in their quest and desire to return to Israel, or make what they call ‘Aliyah’ – or the return to Israel . . . which was part of another prophesy of the end times in the 32nd chapter of the Book of Jeremiah – “Behold, I will gather them out of all countries where I have driven them . . . and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all My heart and with all My soul.”
Today, as we continue to watch the news reports and the current war in Israel with its neighbors in the Gaza Strip we are continually surprised and amazed at the type of reporting that is being done, mainly to the detriment of Israel who is the victim of attack, and amazingly to the support of the aggressor which is Hamas. In little over a generation we have seen what was once full support and respect for Israel and its people by the United States and other freedom loving countries devolve into something that is truly grotesque. Anti-Semitism in the world today is on the rise and as it rises, it fuels hate for the Jewish people and their decedents. And yet, at the same time, it also fuels anew the desire for the Jewish people to leave these countries where they are harassed and hated, and to finally return to Israel – even in the face of fear, war and death.
But you must know that it is through the nation Israel all nations of the earth will be blessed and have been blessed because as Jesus, a Jew, came to us the first time to live and die as one of us and then to take on the sins of the whole world, this same Jesus will return again himself, in person, to Israel on the last day to vanquish evil forever from the world . . . and that is the reason why we see the things we see today. For the Spirit knows the truth in all things and it is the Spirit who is directing all that is happening in today’s world and it is the evil one who knows his days are now numbered because the end is now fast approaching.
This of course is the story of Israel at the end . . . but in today’s lesson we hear about Israel’s very beginning; with a man named Jacob . . . the son of Isaac, and grandson of Abraham. It is in this story that Israel’s true nature is revealed, that of being a fighter who will not give up, who will not yield, and it is this, his nature, that God blesses in the story . . . when the angel of the lord says, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but you shall be called Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”
And so it is in Israel that God finds just the right individual to advance his will and just the right nation in which he will one day bless all mankind . . . a nation that has prevailed with God and with all the world over the many obstacles of time and space even to the last day.
At the time of Paul’s writing, Israel was under the thumb of Roman rule and the temple priests had become corrupted with money and power. The Jewish leadership did not recognize the Messiah when he came the first time – including Paul, but the disciples and other people in the region did recognize him and proclaimed Jesus as the messiah; especially after seeing him perform many miracles as in today’s gospel. But in today’s epistle reading, Paul laments to himself in prayer “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever.” Paul today is lamenting the fact that his own people, Israel rejected the very blessing they had been waiting so many years for. But in the book of Micah we read that it won’t be until the very end of time that Israel will turn from unbelievers in Christ to true worshippers of the risen lord, Jesus Christ; and until that time it has been given to us gentiles, the Church of Jesus Christ, the mission to continue to spread the blessing and the Good News that Jesus has come into the world to save not only Israel, but the entire world and all of his creation.
Biblical Prophecy tells us that when the great commission is finally fulfilled, when everyone who will ever believe and accept Jesus as their Lord has been born, only then will the time of the church cease and the end will come, but not before many in the church will fall far from the faith once delivered by the apostles . . . and not before many in Israel will accept Jesus as their Messiah.
In 2006, Israel’s chief Rabbi . . . a man named Yitzchak Kaduri died at age 106. Before his death, Rabbi Kaduri had said that he expected the Mashiach, the Jewish Messiah, to arrive soon, and that he had met him a year earlier. Rabbi Kaduri left a hand-written note to his followers and they were reportedly instructed to only open the note after the Rabbi had been dead for one year. After this time period had passed, the note was opened by his followers and was found to read in Hebrew the statement, “ירים העם ויוכיח שדברו ותורתו עומדים” (translated as “he will raise the people and confirm that his word and law are standing”), which by acronym, suggested the name “Yehoshua” which is Hebrew for the name “Jesus”.
The story of the nation of Israel is the story of God’s blessings and miracles that permeate the history of mankind from the very beginning on into the future until the very end. It is about a people and a culture that has continued to exist under tremendous hardship and cruelty at the hands of faithless people, and yet has survived the test of time. Though Israel is and always will be God’s chosen people, we who are not of this line, but are believers in the messiah of God have been adopted into the line of Jacob and are the sons and daughters of the most high . . . perhaps not by bloodline . . . but by the Holy Spirit and in faith in Jesus Christ. It is therefore important for us who are alive in these end times to hold the nation Israel in constant prayer, for in blessing Israel we in fact bless our own work in the world.
In the gospel story today we read “When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.” Though we know this story to be about physical food and how the Lord supplies all our needs, it is also about another kind of food, a spiritual food that sustains all who partake of it. It is the spiritual food of the blessing of God in the Good News that each of us holds in our hearts without measure and it is this food that Jesus gives us so that we might share it with a world that is hungry for the truth. And so may God continue to bless us, as we bless his chosen people as he demonstrates again and again his love and commitment to us and to them for all time and in all seasons. Amen.
This sermon is part of the ministry of the Word at Saint Nicholas Anglican Church in West Seneca, NY in the United States and a Continuing Church in the Anglican Tradition. If you have been helped by any of the sermons or thoughts expressed on this sermon blog, we would love to hear from you at anglicanchurchofsaintnicholas.org .
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