As I write, I am preparing for a CMJ Day in Hull, which will include talks and presentations on the work of the Church’s ministry among Jewish people.
The location feels very significant since it was the home city of William Wilberforce, who made such a huge impact both on this country and, as co-founder of CMJ’s 213-year-old ministry, on the future of the Jewish people.
As you may know, the annual Holocaust Memorial Day takes place next Thursday, being held each year to mark the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army on January 27th, 1945.
It was after the 75th anniversary of this event two years ago that I felt it was a good time to ponder the spiritual liberation that will truly set God’s chosen people free. For it’s worth recalling that it wasn’t Moses who set them free from slavery in Egypt, but the blood of a lamb!
But I was profoundly shocked at the time at how churches in general played little or no part in this highly significant anniversary. I questioned one leader as to why it hadn’t even been mentioned, nor any support shown in the way of prayers, for example.
He said it was because it was not a gospel matter. I responded by asserting that it IS a gospel matter. For if we fail to show love for the Jewish people, how can we expect them to take us seriously when we claim Jesus is the Messiah? Especially in view of the millennia-old church-inspired persecution of Jews, which has undoubtedly proved the biggest obstacle to their perception of Christ over the centuries.
Yes, we must love them, and the best way of doing that is to sensitively share the gospel with them.
The merciless slaughter of six million Jews by one of the most advanced, ‘civilised’ nations on earth, should remind us of the depth of depravity of which man is capable. William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies – about how young boys stranded on an island turned into savages in their efforts to govern themselves – had Nazi thugs in mind, according to his daughter Judy1.
Any thoughts of man’s inherent goodness are surely shattered by the Nazis’ ethnic cleansing that wiped out a third of worldwide Jewry. The truth is that man is born with a corrupt, sinful nature which can only be rectified by the gospel: the sacrifice for sin of the Jewish Messiah that restores our relationship with the living God.
And the terrible tragedy of the Holocaust is exacerbated by the negative effect it has had on Jewish evangelism.
It is partly with this in mind that a good friend of mine, Rev Greg Price, will be speaking next Saturday (January 29th) at Wimborne Minster in Dorset (from 2 to 3.30pm) on comparisons between Christ’s crucifixion and the Holocaust with the help of video and other presentations.
One of these is a DVD called Fountain of Tears about sculptor Rick Wienecke whose artistry powerfully portrays the link between the two events.
The comparison may prove offensive to some Jews, but there is also an increasing openness to Jesus among his brothers in the flesh today. Isaiah’s prophecy (in chapter 53 of his book) is generally accepted by Christians as a detailed foretelling (700 years in advance) of Christ’s suffering on the cross. There are Jews, however, who see it as a description of the Holocaust (or Shoah).
So, is the Holocaust linked with the crucifixion? Definitely not, in the sense of it being punishment of the Jews for killing their Messiah because Isaiah says “he was pierced for our transgressions” and “it was the Lord’s will to crush him” (Isa 53:5 & 10). In other words, he had already taken their punishment, though many have yet to recognise it. But yes, he did suffer with them, as Jeremiah wrote: “Oh, that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” (Jer 9:1 KJV)
Also taking part in the Wimborne service is Bournemouth pastor Werner Oder, whose father was a Nazi, but who himself had a dramatic encounter with Jesus.
Rev Price will conclude his message with a personal act of repentance, as an Anglican priest and Christian, for the anti-Semitism perpetrated by the Church down the centuries.
He will also refer to the public act of repentance anticipated this April by the Archbishop of Canterbury and others on the 800th anniversary of the Synod of Oxford, whose actions ultimately led to banishing Jews from England in 1290.
This in turn has come in the wake of a Church of England report2 on our relationship with the Jews significantly influenced by pro-Israel groups, according to a highly respected source of mine.
As I’ve said many times before, we owe so much to the Jewish people, particularly for giving us the Scriptures and our Saviour, and we need reminding of the basic biblical truth that those who bless the seed of Abraham will themselves be blessed, but those who curse them will come under God’s judgment. (Gen 12:3)
Among those who blessed them was the Polish grandfather of Alysia Vasey, who lives in my hometown of Doncaster and has become famous for her expertise on foraging wild food, which she now supplies to some of the world’s top restaurants.
Alysia owes her life and livelihood to her grandad Dan Szperka who, with his brother Ted, were railway apprentices to their father when Germany invaded Poland in 1939. Tasked with escorting Jews on railway wagons destined for the camps, they instead provided them with food and water and helped them to escape.
They were eventually caught but, though their father was shot, they managed to escape into a forest, where they survived for eight months by living entirely off the land – on young pinecones, berries, nuts, wild garlic and a fungus called chicken of the wood. Dan eventually made it to the UK, where he married and became a blessing to his adopted country.
Known as ‘The Yorkshire Forager’ (also the title of her book), Alysia attributes childhood memories of foraging with her grandad for her current success.3
Her family has clearly been blessed for their death-defying care of God’s chosen people. I hope and pray many more of us will follow their example of standing with the Jews in their grief and suffering.
1 In conversation with celebrity chef Rick Stein for his current BBC2 series on Cornwall
2 God’s Unfailing Word
3 Barnsley & Rotherham Around Town, December 1st 2020. Alysia has also appeared on celebrity chef James Martin’s Saturday Morning show on ITV (January 15th 2022)
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