From ancient Persia to Hitler’s Germany to modern Iran, Purim reminds us of God’s love for & protection of the Jewish people from those who seek to “annihilate” them.

Israel and the Jewish people face many threats these days — from a nuclear Iran, from terrorist rocket fire out of Gaza, from Syrian chemical weapons, and from rising anti-Semitism and a global movement to isolate and delegitimize Israel, especially pernicious in Europe, to name just a few.  

Sometimes Jews wonder, “Why are we the Chosen People? How has that worked out well for us? The Pharoah chose us. Hitler chose us. Stalin chose us. The ayatollahs chose us. Choose someone else, Lord, please!” It’s a sad but understandable sentiment.

As we see current threats — and as we remember the horrors of the Holocaust and the Nazi regime’s determination to annihilate all the Jews of Europe — we need to remember that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has never forgotten or forsaken the people He sovereignly chosen. We have, all too often, forgotten Him. But He has never forgotten us.

Indeed, that is why His Word commanded us to celebrate Purim, which takes place this weekend.

Purim is the Jewish holiday that celebrates the remarkable story of how the God of Israel used two faithful believers — Esther and Mordechai — and a movement of prayer and fasting to rescue the Jewish people from an evil Persian regime determine to annihilate them.

Remember: the evil Persian leader Haman literally used the language of annihilation all those years ago. As we read in Esther 3:13, “Letters were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, women and children, in one day….”

The Bible tells believers throughout the ages to celebrate this important holiday. This weekend, I will be teaching at a Baptist church in Tampa about the Jewish holiday of Purim, and why it is so important, and how from ancient Persia to Hitler’s Germany to modern Iran, Purim reminds us of God’s faithful love for and sovereign protection of the Jewish people from those who seek to destroy them.

Here are four ways you and your family can celebrate this year:

  1. Learn – Jewish families around the world read the Book of Esther as a family to remember all the details of this amazing story, and Christians should, too. Study the story in its own historic context, to understand what was really happening, and the enormous faith and courage it took for Mordechai and Esther to do what they did. Then consider how the lessons in the historical account apply to Israel’s challenges today’s, and your own. To read the Book of Esther on-line, please click here.
  2. Pray– We are to praise the God of Israel that He is the Redeemer of the Jewish people, and of all people. We should thank Him that He also saved so many Persian people who turned to the Living God at the end of the story (many people miss this part). And especially in these times, we should follow Mordechai and Esther’s example by praying and fasting for the redemption of the Jewish people amidst this current showdown with an evil Persian regime that wants to annihilate them, and praying for the Persian people to be saved as well. Who knows if God has chosen us for a time such as this?
  3. Give — In the Biblical account, the Lord encourages us to give food and other gifts to the poor. We read in Esther 9:20-22, “Then Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, obliging them to celebrate the fourteenth day of the month Adar, and the fifteenth day of the same month, annually, because on those days the Jews rid themselves of their enemies, and it was a month which was turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and rejoicing and sending portions of food to one another and gifts to the poor.” Consider how you can give to the Jewish people today and be a blessing to Israel and her neighbors in the name of Jesus.
  4. Go — If you’d like to invest to a ministry that is providing food and other gifts to the poor and needy in the Land of Israel, please go to The Joshua Fund’s website at www.joshuafund.net.

 May the Lord bless you, and all of Israel, and all of the Persian people this Purim season.


Joel C. Rosenberg’s Blog

The true story of the ancient Hebrew prophets, the hope of Israel & the story of Christmas.

nativitystory3What did the ancient Hebrew prophets write about the coming of the Messiah, the much-longed for Hope of Israel? And how do those prophecies relate to the story of Christmas?

I realize that many of my readers are not Christians and don’t know the answer to these questions. Some of you are Muslims. Some are Jewish. Some of you follow other religions, and some of you have no religion at all. Thus, some of you may not know why Christmas is not really about Santa or elves or Rudolph or trees or shopping and gifts and malls and Bing Crosby movies. Some of you may be curious about the relationship between ancient prophecy and what Christians celebrate today.

Rather than have me explain it imperfectly, however, let me share with you what the Scriptures teach. I hope it’s helpful.

If you have questions, please feel free to post them on our “Epicenter Team” page on Facebook, and I will respond in the coming days.

Thanks and may the Lord bless you and your family indeed on this Christmas Day.

Matthew Chapter One

Conception and Birth of Jesus

18 Now the birth of Jesus [Yeshua] the Messiah was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name [Yeshua] Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” 24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

Matthew Chapter Two

The Visit of the Magi

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned by Godin a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.

Luke Chapter One

Introduction

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord s with you.” 29 But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. 36 And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Mary Visits Elizabeth

39 Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”

The Magnificat

46 And Mary said:

“My soul exalts the Lord, 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. 49 “For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name. 50 “And His mercy is upon generation after generation Toward those who fear Him. 51 “He has done ]mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. 52 “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble. 53 “He has filled the hungry with good things; And sent away the rich empty-handed. 54 “He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy, 55 As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever.”

56 And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home.

John Is Born

57 Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she gave birth to a son. 58 Her neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had displayed His great mercy toward her; and they were rejoicing with her.

59 And it happened that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to call him Zacharias, after his father. 60 But his mother answered and said, “No indeed; but he shall be called John.” 61 And they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name.” 62 And they made signs to his father, as to what he wanted him called. 63 And he asked for a tablet and wrote as follows, “His name is John.” And they were all astonished. 64 And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God. 65 Fear came on all those living around them; and all these matters were being talked about in all the hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them kept them in mind, saying, “What then will this child turn out to be?” For the hand of the Lord was certainly with him.

Zacharias’s Prophecy

67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, 69 And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of David His servant— 70 As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old— 71 Salvation from our enemies, And from the hand of all who hate us; 72 To show mercy toward our fathers, And to remember His holy covenant, 73 The oath which He swore to Abraham our father, 74 To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, 75 In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days. 76 “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways; 77 To give to His people the knowledge of salvation By the forgiveness of their sins, 78 Because of the tender mercy of our God, With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, 79 To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.”

80 And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel.

Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem

Chapter Two

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

Jesus Presented at the Temple

21 And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

22 And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

25 And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, 28 then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said,

29 “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; 30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation, 31 Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.”

33 And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed— 35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

36 And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. 38 At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

Return to Nazareth

39 When they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth. 40 The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.


Joel C. Rosenberg’s Blog

A record 2 million Christians visited Bethlehem in 2013. Why do the ancient prophecies say this “little town” is so important?

Christmas tree in Bethlehem. (photo credit: Dana Friedlander, courtesy Ministry of Tourism)

Christmas tree in Bethlehem. (photo credit: Dana Friedlander, courtesy Ministry of Tourism)

An estimated 75,000 Christian pilgrims are now in Israel to celebrate Christmas and many will visit Bethlehem, especially tonight on Christmas Eve. By the time the Christmas season is over, ”about two million people will have visited Bethlehem in 2013,” which Israeli tourism officials note is “almost double the 2012 figure of 1.18 million” people.

The “little town of Bethlehem” is beloved, read about and sung about by Christians the world over. But why do the ancient prophecies say it is so important?

The reason is simple: the Hebrew prophet Micah told the Jewish people the Messiah would one day come from “Bethlehem Ephratah.”

In fact, Micah made it clear that the Messiah would not come from the ancient town of Bethlehem that was in northern Israel, near the Sea of Galilee. Rather, the Anointed One had to come from the Bethlehem in Judea, just down the road from Jerusalem.

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son, and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.” (Micah 5:2-4)

Why did this matter? Because the Scriptures indicate that the Messiah is to come from the line of King David, and be a “Son of David.” David’s family, of course, was from Bethlehem of Judea. Thus, the Messiah had to be born in David’s hometown in order to eventually emerge as the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

The Gospel account of Matthew indicates that Jesus fulfilled this prophecy.

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written:  “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”‘ Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’ After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” (Matthew 2:1-12)

This is why Bethlehem has become such an important destination for Christians eager to visit the Holy Land. Over the years interest has continued to grow, now reaching record numbers of visitors. I first visited when I was in college, during the Christmas season of 1987. I’ve been back several times, and developed friendships with some of the Palestinian Christians that live and serve there today.

Bethlehem — with a current population of about 25,000 – is no longer governed by the State of Israel, but rather by the Palestinian Authority (PA).  However, Israel keeps statistics of how many tourists pass through ”Rachel’s Crossing” between Israel and the PA into Bethlehem. As of the end of October, some 1.85 million tourists had already crossed into the town of Jesus’ birth.

Last month I met at the Knesset with Uzi Landau, the Israeli Tourism Minister. Among other things, we discussed the importance of continuing more Christians around the world to visit the Holy Land, walk where Jesus walked, and see the Bible come to life in living color. Landau noted that it is a very important priority for the Israeli government to reach out to both Protestant and Catholic Christians and make them feel welcome.

“The Tourism Ministry under my leadership will continue to invest significantly in the preservation and renovation of Christian holy sites,” Landau recently noted in statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Since its establishment, the State of Israel has attached great importance to values of freedom of religion and worship and works tirelessly to facilitate religious practice for people of all religions in freedom and mutual respect. We will do all we can to ensure that every Christian can visit the holy sites. We  invite the faithful to visit the Holy Land and experience a powerful religious and spiritual pilgrimage in Jerusalem, the Galilee and beyond.”

“As part of the ongoing activities to promote pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the Tourism Minister Dr. Uzi Landau and the representatives of the Tourism Ministry in Israel and around the world meet regularly with Church leaders and communities,” the statement added. “Representatives in the Tourism Ministry are anticipating continued collaboration with the Church for the visit of Pope Francis, who is expected to visit the Holy Land in the first half of 2014.”

Please join me in praying for a peaceful, safe, silent night in Bethlehem tonight, and for very night in the year ahead. And please join me in praying that Christians would be a great and gentle blessing to all the people of Bethlehem — and all of the Holy Land — this coming year.

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Joel C. Rosenberg’s Blog