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Emergency Relief for Ukrainian Jewish Refugees

“We left Kyiv on the first day after the bombs exploded near our house in a few kilometers, and then we decided to leave Kyiv. But my husband returned to defend it,” says Olga. 

You could see the sadness and exhaustion in their eyes as Jewish mothers, children, and elderly men and women stepped off the plane in Israel. The tears streaming down their faces revealed mixed emotions. They were relieved and grateful to be standing in their ancestral homeland, but they also felt sorrow and despair for the loved ones and homes they had left behind. 

The arrival of new immigrants to Israel—something the biblical prophets foretold—is usually a festive celebration. But the war in Ukraine made the homecoming bittersweet for thousands of Jewish refugees who had to flee their homes for safety and freedom in the Promised Land. 

Tragically, the most vulnerable people were hit hardest by the Russian invasion of their country: the elderly, Holocaust survivors, children, and families in poverty. Most of these refugees fled Ukraine with only the clothes on their backs and what little they could carry with them. 

In the face of this catastrophe, friends like you have been there for hundreds of Jewish refugees through CBN Israel and our strategic partners. Thousands of refugees have been evacuated from Ukraine and provided rescue flights to Israel. Compassionate donors also made it possible to give them food, clothing, shelter, and other essentials once they arrived.

Your support can give life-changing help to these refugees as they cope with their world turned upside down—while also extending aid to terror victims, single moms, Holocaust survivors, and other aging seniors. Thank you for your compassion! 

Please join us in blessing Israel and her people in need!

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Weekly Devotional: Little Is Much

And again He said, “To what shall I liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened” (Luke 13:20-21 NKJV). 

A little leaven can leaven a larger amount of dough. Why did Jesus use this image to speak about the kingdom of Heaven?

Jesus told parables to help His audience understand His message. Because the world of the parables is not ours, we often miss His simple yet profound point. For Jesus, like His Jewish contemporaries, the kingdom of Heaven referred to God’s rule or reign. God rules and reigns wherever His people do His will: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10 NKJV). 

Jesus, however, used the kingdom of Heaven to refer to His movement, which He understood as part of God’s redemption that was breaking forth. He expected His followers to exemplify obedience and devotion to God, but He continually spoke about people entering the kingdom.

For Him, one entered the kingdom of Heaven through acts of charity and compassion. He described the kingdom as a treasure in a field—when one finds a thing of such value, he goes and sells all he has to buy the field. He gives everything to acquire it—just as Jesus instructed the rich ruler to do.

So, what’s the connection with leaven? A little has a great impact. It’s easy for us to look down on small acts of kindness and compassion. We figure: Oh, that doesn’t matter much. 

Jesus confronted such limited thinking and conveyed to His followers that little acts of charity and mercy had an ability to dynamically impact the world in which they lived. Those acts unleashed God’s redemptive power. So, do not undervalue them or think lightly of them.

We often think that the big things for God matter most, but Jesus didn’t see it that way. Our little acts of charity and compassion provide the opportunity for God to enter situations and people’s lives; moreover, in as much as we do to the least of these—the poor and naked, the homeless, the sick, those in prison—we do that unto the Lord.

Do we look for opportunities to introduce God into the world around us through small acts of love, mercy, and kindness?

Do we believe that these little acts can take part in God’s redemptive plan? What would happen if each of us sought to bring more of His reign and rule to our broken and hurting world through acts of charity and compassion? How different would our world look?

PRAYER

Father, may we never despise the little things that we can do in the lives of others. May we be faithful and choose daily to take part in releasing Your redemptive power into our world. Amen.

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The Resilience of the Jewish Nation and People

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Yesterday at sundown, on Israel’s Memorial Day, the Jewish nation and people made an incredible leap from remembering their fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism to celebrating Israel’s Independence Day. This transition from a day of mourning those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for freedom to a day of jubilation over the birth of the modern State of Israel is a perfect example of the resilience of the Jewish people. 

Few might recall that the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is coming up on May 16. By that date in 1943, some 300,000 Jews imprisoned in the ghetto had already met their deaths after being shipped to the gas chambers. When the SS arrived on April 19 to herd the surviving inhabitants—men, women, and children—into cattle cars to transport them to their deaths, several hundred Jewish fighters resisted.  

It is reported that these heroic fighters, using homemade explosives and other small weapons, managed to kill up to 300 Nazi soldiers that day. Yet they were no match for the tanks that arrived with orders from Heinrich Himmler to set fire to every block of the ghetto, where only 40,000 Jews remained. The uprising, which was the largest by Jews during World War II, ended after 28 days of valiant fighting. It failed, and all survivors were sent to the camps.

Certainly, the ability of the Jewish people to defend themselves has changed dramatically since the Warsaw Ghetto’s brave resistance and the killing of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust. Yet decades later, the Jewish nation and people still face unrelenting dangers from enemies whose sole aim is to eradicate them from the face of the earth. This is not just hatred of Israel as a country; rather, it is a deeply held hatred for Jews. 

The threat against Israel and the Jewish people worldwide seems to be growing stronger and is reminiscent of the decades leading up to the Holocaust. Anti-Semitism is expanding like an aggressive, malignant cancer. Thankfully, due to the birth of the modern State of Israel, the Jewish people now have a place of refuge and are no longer defenseless—as they were in previous decades and centuries. Today, the Jewish nation is in charge of a world-class army, air force, and navy matched with the Mossad, Israeli police, and Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service. 

What has not changed is the incredible tenacity of the Jewish people—as was demonstrated by those in the Warsaw Ghetto who bravely fought for life and liberty as well as their Jewish identity, faith, and heritage. Among other culture-sustaining values, they played music, created a newspaper, and celebrated Shabbat despite having only meager food. 

In an article from Yad Vashem’s archives, Yael Weinstock Mashbaum wrote about the Warsaw Ghetto: “They realized that physical sustenance would not be the sole route to survival. Such religious, cultural, and educational activities are termed ‘spiritual resistance,’ for resistance is not only the struggle against, but it is also the struggle for. In ghettos and camps, Jews struggled for humanity, for culture, for normalcy, and for life.”

This is what the Jewish people have done through the centuries during the Diaspora and until now. Today, the people of Israel do not dwell in victimhood despite the threats of war and terror that have been their daily reality—often 24/7—since the rebirth of Israel on May 14, 1948. 

Yes, Israeli life is intensely challenging. It is stressful. It is complicated and sometimes chaotic. Nevertheless, every week Israeli Jews dance and pray at the Western Wall. They celebrate Shabbat, Jewish feasts and festivals, weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, birthdays, and create innovations almost daily in the areas of medicine, agriculture, technology, and more. Happily, tourists are returning to the Holy Land. The Abraham Accords remain a source of cooperation and success, humanitarian aid teams are active in Ukraine, and Israel is welcoming thousands of Ukrainian Jews to their ancestral homeland.

All this, despite the fact that Iran’s elite military is stationed in Syria, ready to attack. Hezbollah is embedding arsenals in Lebanese civilian areas. Hamas fires rockets from Gaza into Israel and residents wonder when the next big barrage will start. The Temple Mount is a hotbed ready to ignite any moment, whether during Ramadan or not. Terrorists are ramping up murders of innocents. For almost a year, the Biden Administration has tried to resuscitate the failed 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—the Iran nuclear agreement—with no clear end in sight. 

How, then, can Israelis maintain their positivity in the face of such unbridled aggression? 

Israelis are role models of “spiritual resistance,” a value and a practice we can all utilize. They have an innate ability to survive and to create beauty amid the worst circumstances. In addition, Israel now has an almost unmatched ability to “defend themselves by themselves”—as they often say—against aggression from multiple directions. I frequently remind others that the Israeli military is named the “Israel Defense Forces” because they are not warmongers. They defend their civilians and their homeland against terror attacks and wars while desperately longing for peace.

Christian support is waning in some sectors but is also intensifying in others. Millions of Christians worldwide still stand beside Israel—funding emergency bomb shelters, giving urgent relief to terror victims, caring for Holocaust survivors, investing in Israel bonds, reaching out to the U.S. Congress, and speaking out against anti-Semitism.

Yad Vashem recognizes almost 27,000 Righteous Among the Nations as “Drops of Love in an Ocean of Poison,” as Golda Meir declared 60 years ago. Christian rescuers were too few—and many died. The brilliant, beloved German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was among them. The Nazis hung Bonhoeffer at Flossenburg a few weeks before liberation for his years-long opposition to Hitler and the Nazi regime.

Christians must pursue an identity of “Drops of Love in an Ocean of Poison.” Recognizing Judaism as the birthplace of our faith we must express our gratitude in action and not just because we want to “be blessed” as Genesis 12:13 tells us. Advocating for Israel is simply the right thing to do. God Himself deeded the Land to the Jewish people, as recorded in the most popular book in world history, the Bible. God’s legal contract codified and far exceeds anything anti-Israel detractors say or do. That includes the hapless United Nations, far-left members of Congress, leaders in the National Council of Churches hierarchy, and the European Union.  

More than 125 years have passed since Theodore Herzl wrote Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State). Herzl, the father of political Zionism, was convinced that if the Jewish people created their own Jewish nation, anti-Semitism would dim in its hatred. He said, “I think the Jews will always have sufficient enemies, such as every nation has. But once fixed in their own land, it will no longer be possible for them to scatter all over the world.” 

He was wrong, unfortunately, about anti-Semitism, which is rising at an alarming rate. Yet due to his activism, his writing, and the Zionist Congresses, Israel became a modern state on May 14, 1948. Herzl’s profound outlook underpinned his rallying cry for a Jewish state: “Zionism is a return to Judaism even before there is a return to the Jewish land.”

Please join CBN Israel in prayer this week for the Jewish nation and people:

  • Pray that the people of Israel will be strengthened and encouraged as they celebrate their Independence Day with family and friends. 
  • Pray for conflict resolution for Israel’s Prime Minister Bennett and the Knesset during intensified political unrest and strife.
  • Pray for Israel’s intelligence services to detect any threats and respond quickly.
  • Pray for Israel’s leaders to navigate their complex relationships with Russia and Ukraine. 
  • Pray for Christians worldwide to hear God’s voice calling them to stand with the nation and people of Israel “for such a time as this.”  

May our rallying cry echo God’s covenant with the Jewish people: “Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Deuteronomy 7:9).

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After she served nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her as Outreach Director part-time for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and has traveled to Israel since 1990. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited and is a volunteer on the board of Violins of Hope South Carolina. Arlene has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit three times and hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on her website at ArleneBridgesSamuels.com.

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Weekly Devotional: A King and His Servants

It’s interesting to listen to how people speak about their faith. If you pay attention, you may detect that they speak in a manner of what God has done for them. That’s not wrong. The Bible provides people’s reflections on their encounters with God. 

But if we are not careful, viewing our faith through the lens of ourselves—our own experience—can turn our faith self-centered and egocentric. We who live in Western, democratic societies can be very susceptible to this, where we focus on our liberties and treat God as if He exists for our purpose (even if we wrap it in spiritual expressions).

The biblical mind never lost sight of who God is and what our relationship is to Him. “To you I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens!” God is King. We are His servants. This is proclaimed throughout the Bible. “As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, until He has mercy upon us” (Psalm 123:2, NKJV). 

Within the ancient world, the king took care of his servants, and the servants lived to do the will of their king. The Bible views the world in this way. How different would our lives be if we viewed our relationship with God more as a servant to a king, just like the psalmist? 

We sometimes yearn for such familiarity with God that we can too easily lose sight of His majesty. In our desire for relationship with Him, we can never assume equality with Him; we can never forget that He is the King, and we serve Him.

As the King of the Universe, He takes care of us. He shows mercy to us. We can cry out to Him for assistance and mercy, but we can never forget the nature of our relationship.

He is a good King; therefore, we can look to Him for mercy. We can look to Him for care and provision. But, as servants, we must always stand ready to do His will, for His will matters more than our own.

PRAYER

Father, You are our King, and we are Your servants. We look for Your mercy, and we live to do Your will. Amen. 

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Holocaust Remembrance Tour Captivates American Audiences and Hearts

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Eighty-three years ago, the steel-plated treads of 2,500 Nazi tanks clattered ominously over Poland’s border along with a million-and-a-half German soldiers bent on destruction. That same day, 2,000 warplanes flew overhead to help subdue the population. Six years later, with the liberation of Buchenwald in 1945, Europe, the Jewish community, and the world reeled as they grasped the magnitude of Hitler’s legacy: the genocide of 6 million Jewish men, women, and children.

Six million is a familiar number when describing the Holocaust. 

However, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics report, which came out in advance of Holocaust Memorial Day, provides a different way to understand the magnitude and horror of that grim period of history. When Nazis launched their first assault into Poland, the worldwide Jewish population was 16.6 million. Today, the worldwide population stands at approximately 15.2 million—a net loss of 1.4 million. It is a tragedy driven by anti-Semitism that has no end. Nevertheless, the good news is that the Jewish population within the land of Israel has grown from a low of about a half-million in 1945 to around 7 million today.

On Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom HaShoah), Israelis should be seen as role models of victory, not victimhood. Their population has climbed due to hard work and determination. They have become world leaders in medicine, technology, agriculture, business, and technology. Many of Israel’s brilliant innovations are wrapped into one of their cultural values to “repair the world” (tikkun olam) with humanitarian aid and generosity. 

Another improvement to mention is that evangelicals have become more informed about the Holocaust. They want to join their voices with the Jewish community to proclaim, “Never Again.” 

In fact, evangelicals and Jews are cooperating in a variety of ways here in the United States and globally, with Holocaust education and events growing in frequency. Right now, a splendid example of such efforts is unfolding in South Carolina, where a 10-member board composed of both Jews and Christians launched an ambitious project three years ago: They planned a four-week tour in four cities and 11 smaller towns in the state. Their goal from the beginning was to use the arts to inspire and educate audiences with musical stories of hope and heroism to renew the plea of “never again.” 

The board engaged Varna International and Israel’s Violins of Hope—two artistic institutions that share much more than magnificent instrumental and vocal performances. They also entwine Holocaust stories with musical reminders that vigilance against anti-Semitism must rise and hatreds must fall. 

Violins of Hope was founded by Israeli Amnon Weinstein, one of the most respected violin makers in the world. He lovingly restores violins that were played by their Jewish owners in the concentration camps and that survived the Holocaust. In the 1930s, Weinstein’s parents made Aliyah to Israel from Poland, where he had been born. However, the Weinsteins lost 400 family members in Europe during the Holocaust. Since 1996, when Weinstein founded Violins of Hope, he and his son Avshi have skillfully restored the violins in their Tel Aviv workshop.

The Violins of Hope restorations now include more than 80 instruments, donated primarily by family members who visited his workshop. Weinstein’s work honors the memory not only of his family, but of all those who perished or survived. Played by violinists in many countries, the 80- to 100-year-old instruments sing again in concerts that have won international accolades. The Weinsteins’ private collection of Holocaust violins serves as an educational message for all ages. 

“Our violins represent the victory of the human spirit over evil and hatred,” says Weinstein.

Headquartered in Columbia, South Carolina, Varna International specializes in large-scale, artistically rich, and customized choral-orchestral concerts. Their “Songs of Life” tells the World War II story of Bulgaria, which in 1943 rescued all its 49,000 Jewish citizens from trains bound for the concentration camps. It was the largest rescue in Europe. “Songs of Life” is based on a personal story about Varna International founders Sharon and Kalin Tchonev, who commissioned the music. Kalin describes their beautiful connection. “Our passion for the Songs of Life Festival comes out of the realization that had it not been for the miraculous rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews, I (a Bulgarian) would not have my wife and son today since Sharon’s maternal grandparents were among the 49,000 Bulgarian Jews rescued during the Holocaust.” After their rescue, Sharon’s grandparents made Aliyah to Israel, where Sharon was born. 

Four prominent concerts across the state are already underway. The first concert took place last Sunday in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where an audience of 1,400 people listened to a glorious concert performed by the local Long Bay Symphony. At this event, the violinists made sure the Jewish violinists who played their instruments while trapped in hell on earth were beautifully remembered since Nazis forced them to play in agony while their friends and families marched to their last moments. 

The South Carolina team also included two more inspiring additions to the four-week tour. Bulgaria’s National Folklore Ensemble—a colorful, beautifully costumed part of the production—sang with voices that seemed like previews of heaven. Featured last weekend in Myrtle Beach, and now in North Charleston on Holocaust Remembrance Day, a poignant art exhibit of 40 oil paintings is on display. Called the Auschwitz Album Revisited, the exhibit was created by Christian fine artist Pat Mercer Hutchens (1927-2014), who left a remarkable legacy. Her artwork is based on an album of stark black and white photos, The Auschwitz Album, which is the only surviving photographic evidence of Jews arriving by train from Hungary to Auschwitz, one of the most notorious Nazi death camps. She devoted herself to honoring them by recreating the photos in sensitively colored oil paintings.

South Carolinian’s Violins of Hope Board and Advisory Committee members, both Christian and Jewish, are doing what they can through the Violins of Hope tour to push back against another dark chapter of anti-Semitism. Their hope is that through the music and art exhibit (running April 18 – May 14), audiences will leave with a renewed purpose to stand up for the Jewish community, the Jewish homeland, and other communities facing challenges.

Ellen Benik Thompson, South Carolina’s Violins of Hope liaison, has voiced a memorable quote for her board’s ambitious and heartfelt project: “Violins of Hope is more than music. Their sounds bring lost dreams to life, creating beauty from ashes and strength for future generations.” 

When it comes to opposing what is wrong and standing for what is right, former Bulgarian President Plevneliev offered an important reminder. “We Bulgarians made it clear that it is within the power of the civil society and ordinary people to change history; that through unwavering determination and resolute resistance even the worst of evils may be averted. [In 1943] the Bulgarian society saved not just its Jewish population, it also saved itself.”  

 Join CBN Israel this week remembering this Bible verse in Psalm 46:1: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

  • Pray for the Jewish community to find refuge in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
  • Pray for Christians’ willingness to be God’s vessels of help for those who are in trouble.
  • Pray for courage among Christians to stand bravely against anti-Semitism by educating their churches and communities.
  • Pray for Israel’s vigilance during recent outbreaks of terror.

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After she served nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her as Outreach Director part-time for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and has traveled to Israel since 1990. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited and is a volunteer on the board of Violins of Hope South Carolina. Arlene has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit three times and hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on her website at ArleneBridgesSamuels.com.

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The Torn Veil: Why Christians Care About the Temple Mount

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Joyful Christian tourists once again arrived in Israel for this year’s Holy Week observances after two years of Israel’s strict COVID-19 lockdown policies had kept them away.

Tour itineraries always include Israel’s capital, Jerusalem. Although visits to the city’s Temple Mount are sparse because of too few visiting hours and too many restrictions, the 36-acre compound is treasured among Bible-focused believers. The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism, yet it is under the authority of the Jordanian Waqf Foundation. 

Here’s how that came about: After Israel unified Jerusalem following its victory in the Six-Day War, in a gesture of religious tolerance the Israelis decided to allow the Waqf to continue as the site’s administrative body. Today the Waqf, combined with rabbinical law—which is also restrictive toward Jews—can make walking around the Mount more than a bit strained. On one of my visits to the Temple Mount with a friend, we were followed by a Palestinian “minder.” Neither Christians nor Jews are allowed to pray there. Our minder often shook his finger in an accusing way, although we were dressed appropriately and doing nothing wrong. The atmosphere was tense and felt somewhat sterile.

Regardless, biblical narratives and historical facts keep the Temple Mount as a true treasure of the Jewish faith. 

Some may wonder why Christians would care about visiting the Temple Mount when it can be such a turbulent spot. In fact, the Temple Mount is often referred to as “ground zero” in the religious and territorial conflict between Israelis and their Arab neighbors. And, as the holy site for the three major monotheistic faiths, there are so many possibilities for clashes and offenses to various sensibilities. Often, this 36-acre landscape of holy sites is vulnerable to a mere word, a visit, or a mindset of hatred that erupts into a blaze of violence. This year it’s especially volatile because, in a rare convergence of the three monotheistic faiths, their celebrations are now taking place at virtually the same time this year: Holy Week for Christians, Passover for Jews, and Ramadan for Muslims. Unfortunately, what is not rare is the violence that breaks out on and around the Temple Mount. 

Violence erupted once again just last week on April 15, which was the first day of Passover and the Christian observance of Good Friday. Following Muslim prayers at dawn, several hundred young Palestinian men launched a rock-throwing campaign against Israeli police, whose job is to keep the peace on the Temple Mount. Waiting until Muslim prayers ended, Israeli police entered the al-Aqsa Mosque and arrested 470 men to quell the violence. 

Many of the global mainstream media ignored how the violence flared up. Nevertheless, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis describes the facts: “Around 4 a.m. on Friday morning, dozens of Palestinians began marching around al-Aqsa Mosque (some carrying banners associated with Hamas), started breaking stones and then throwing them at police and Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall below—while stockpiling more rocks at the mosque to prepare for further attacks. Palestinians later barricaded themselves inside the mosque and hurled stones and fireworks toward officers. The violence prevented large numbers of Muslims from worshiping at al-Aqsa.”

Christians living outside Israel may not easily comprehend the trauma of terrorism. Yet violence on the Temple Mount or any part of Israel is of deep concern. And hopefully, my thoughts will help explain our reverence for the Temple Mount and its surroundings.

Because Jesus was born into a Jewish culture, we know He grew up celebrating major Jewish feasts—Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles (Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot). Luke records a fascinating encounter in chapter 2, verses 41-47. In the Temple, when Jesus was 12 years old, He and the Jewish scholars engaged in theological discussions for three days that “astonished” the learned men. I have often wondered if this was a version of Jesus becoming bar mitzvahed, where young men read from Torah publicly for the first time at 12 or 13 years old. 

Whether believers visiting Israel walk on the Pilgrim Road or sit on the southern steps that led up to the Temple, the realization that our Jewish Savior walked countless thousands of footsteps in Jerusalem is profoundly meaningful. 

Two different Temples stood on the Temple Mount. King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Solomon’s Temple in 586 B.C. The Romans destroyed the Second Temple in A.D. 70, and Muslims built their sites on the grounds some 600 years later. History does not reveal that a church ever stood on the Temple Mount. However, Jesus’ teaching, walking, and healing makes the area a sacred location for those of us who follow and worship Him. Remembering what happened on the day of His crucifixion, though, is the most powerful magnet drawing Christians to the Temple Mount.

In a physical feat only the mighty Hands of God could achieve, He tore in two the purple, scarlet, and blue veil/curtain (parochet) in the Temple when the Perfect Passover Lamb breathed His last breath on the tree. Luke 23:44-45 relates, “It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.”

Keep in mind, this massive curtain was 60 feet high, 30 feet wide, and four inches thick. The curtain hid the Holy of Holies, God’s Court. Although the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat were not in the Second Temple, the Holy of Holies was treated the same. Jews viewed the Holy of Holies as the place of God’s Shekinah glory, the dwelling of His divine presenceOnly the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and he could do that just once a year on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. Throughout the centuries—from the movable Tabernacle in the desert, to Shiloh for 369 years, to the First and Second Temples—the Jewish people revered the Holy of Holies with a profound sense of awe, respect, and fear. 

It is easy to imagine the priests’ terror when they saw the curtain rent in two. It was incomprehensible. Yet when God tore the veil in two, He welcomed us into the Holy of Holies through the blood of His Perfect Lamb so that we could step inside to fellowship with Him, both Gentile and Jew! Jesus’ substitutionary death for us, and God Himself tearing the veil, meant that we were no longer separated.

The physical rending of the curtain was certainly spectacular, and the result is eternal. Our repentance—recognizing His sacrifice and inviting the Lord Jesus to come into our hearts—bridged the impassable gap between Holy God the Father and us. 

We are familiar with Jesus’ last words on the Cross: “It is finished.” The Greek word tetelestai supplies more insights, meaning as it does “to end, to pay or discharge,” as in a debt. In ancient times, tetelestai was stamped or written on important documents in the New Testament era to show that a bill had been paid in full. 

On a hill outside Jerusalem’s walls, Jesus proclaimed, “It is finished.” His death on the cross coincided with God the Father tearing the veil on the Temple Mount opening the Holy of Holies. Jesus paid our sin debts in full. He took our place. 

Somewhere atop the Temple Mount, the Second Temple stood. The magnificent veil was torn from top to bottom. And we know our risen Lord will one day return!

Please join CBN Israel in praying for Israel, the Middle East, and believers worldwide:

  • Pray that all believers will gain a deeper understanding of the depth of Jesus’ sacrifice. 
  • Pray with gratitude that Jesus loves us enough that He willingly died as our substitute. 
  • Pray for those in our nation and world who have rejected the fact of Jesus’ resurrection.
  • Pray for peace in Jerusalem as tensions have been high, especially as holidays for the three major religions overlapped for the first time in three decades.
  • Pray for the nations within the Abraham Accords to stand firm in their peace agreement with Israel—even amid the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Now, more than ever, may we continue to pray for “the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6).

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After she served nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her as Outreach Director part-time for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and has traveled to Israel since 1990. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited and is a volunteer on the board of Violins of Hope South Carolina. Arlene has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit three times and hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on her website at ArleneBridgesSamuels.com.

 

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The Perfect Lamb Crushed in Gethsemane

By Arlene Bridges Samuels 

When Jesus, the Perfect Lamb of God, rode into Jerusalem at the age of 33, He was about to experience His last Passover on earth. He had arrived in Jerusalem on lamb selection day, when thousands of lambs were chosen for the Temple sacrifices. Multitudes of His followers filled the air with joyful shouts on the Day of Lambs—Palm Sunday. Jesus attended Passover each year, along with Jews traveling from all over the known world for the most significant Jewish festival. 

The initial outpouring of ecstatic shouts eventually shifted into disappointment among many Jews, who hoped for a secular king riding in on a stallion—a symbol of overthrowing their Roman oppressors. Instead, Jesus rode a humble donkey, symbolizing a servant-king. Along with waving their palm and olive branches, the crowds may have wished for regal banners and guards leading the way ahead of Jesus. 

Dramatic events swiftly moved forward. Walking the Pilgrim Road up to the Temple on lamb selection day, Jesus shocked everyone by angrily overturning the moneychangers’ tables in the Temple, accusing them of turning that house of prayer into “a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:12-13). 

Later in the week, Jesus and His disciples assembled in the Upper Room for Passover (in Hebrew, Chag Ha-Matzot), the feast of freedom. However, freedom was not Jesus’ destiny that night. His destiny was embodied, literally, as the substitute for our sins, which through His shed blood guaranteed our freedom instead. Along with His profound sermon in John 17, Jesus performed another surprising act that week: The King of Kings humbly knelt to wash the feet of His disciples and instructed them to serve others. 

How must Judas have felt that night, his feet washed by His Savior, already having been paid off with silver to betray Him. Their conversation unfolded this way in John 13:21-28 (HCSB): 

“When Jesus had said this, He was troubled in His spirit and testified, ‘I assure you: One of you will betray Me!’ The disciples started looking at one another—uncertain which one He was speaking about. One of His disciples, the one Jesus loved, was reclining close beside Jesus. Simon Peter motioned to him to find out who it was He was talking about. So he leaned back against Jesus and asked Him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ Jesus replied, ‘He’s the one I give the piece of bread to after I have dipped it.’ When He had dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son. After Judas ate the piece of bread, Satan entered him. Therefore Jesus told him, ‘What you’re doing, do quickly.’ None of those reclining at the table knew why He told him this.”

And in John 18:3, we’re told that Judas slipped out of the Upper Room and met up with those carrying torches to the garden of Gethsemane.

Jesus and His remaining disciples—now numbering 11—also departed from the Upper Room. The disciples must have been puzzled, nervous, even angry when Judas left. The day had already proved different from any other in the three years they had been with their Rabbi. In the darkness the group walked about a mile to the Mount of Olives, familiar to all Jerusalemites as it was an important manufacturing area that produced valuable olive oil. At the foot of the Mount of Olives, they arrived at Gethsemane. The English word “Gethsemane” combines two Hebrew words, Gat and Shmanim, and is defined as “the place where olive oil is pressed”—the “Garden of the Olive Press.”

The geographic location of Gethsemane is rich with symbolism. Knowing the mechanics of olive presses makes it easier to visualize why Jesus led His disciples to that specific spot for prayer before His arrest. 

During Roman rule, olive presses numbered in the thousands—in groves scattered all over Israel and the Roman Empire. Large and small presses made of stone crushed the harvested fruit. The larger presses included stones suspended with ropes from wooden crossbeams—stones that weighed up to a ton. The pulp eventually underwent enough crushing that the precious commodity could be emptied into clay jars. The refined oil was used in cooking, anointing oil, and Temple lights.

In Isaiah 53:5 (NKJV) we read this compelling verse, “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” Like the wooden beams holding the stones on the olive presses, our Savior Jesus bore the wooden beams of the crucifixion tree crushed under the incalculable weight of our sins. 

In the Garden of the Olive Press, Jesus cried out: “Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36 NKJV). The Christian community is well versed in the fact that Jesus prayed in anguish and wept tears of blood prior to his arrest. Although one might wonder if sweating blood is an exaggeration, it is true. In fact, Hematidrosis is the medical term for the rare occurrence where blood is mixed in sweat. It happens in extreme situations where someone is facing death or another incredibly stressful event. And Jesus faced anguish, a burden that only one person in the history of the world confronted. On the cross, His death and sacrificial blood was for all people for all time. Untold billions of sin burdens crushed Jesus. 

The olive press in Gethsemane represented physical symbols of the crushing emotions Jesus experienced as Hematidrosis took place in His body. Crushing is the method of getting what is most valuable, the oil, out of the olive. Jesus’ emotional crushing in the garden of olive presses produced the precious oil and blood of our redemption. 

Eventually, after three periods of praying in the Garden—and His disciples unable to stay awake despite their Master’s admonition to do so—Jesus announced, “Here comes my betrayer.” Judas Iscariot led a mob armed with clubs and swords dispatched by the power structure, the Chief Priests, teachers of the law, and the elders. After Judas had placed the kiss of death on Jesus’ face, the arrest, interrogation, mocking, and abuse went operational. Later Judas committed suicide.

Following Jesus from the Garden of the Olive Press into the traumatic, violent night, it is essential to recall what He said to the Pharisees: “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father” (John 10:17-18 NKJV). 

Jesus was willing to be crushed and to pour out the pure oil of His life on the cross to redeem mankind. No one could stop God’s redemptive plan! Not the Jews, not the Romans who carried out the death sentence. 

When Roman soldiers hammered spikes into Jesus’ body, Temple priests had spent untold hours slaughtering the Bethlehem lambs by the thousands. Priests threw lambs’ blood all over the Temple court. Expertly wielding their knives, the priests chanted the Hallel Psalms (113–118). Maybe Jesus could hear snippets of the chants where He hung outside Jerusalem’s walls.

When the skinning, bloodletting, then roasting of lambs for food began, the priests hung the lambs on wooden hooks stretching out their front legs onto a crossbar in the shape of a cross. Jesus hung on the cross, thus removing the need for thousands upon thousands of lambs dying on a conveyor belt of killing and hanging.

God’s Perfect Lamb perfected John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” 

Knowing more about Gethsemane and Jesus’ identification with the olive presses, let us rejoice that Jesus freed us from sin’s grip, crushed for us! 

Join CBN Israel in prayer this week, thanking Jesus for being the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29): 

  • Pray during Holy Week for an outpouring of Jesus’ loving sacrifice to touch hearts of those who don’t know Him.
  • Pray for millions suffering in Ukraine to sense God’s saving grace.
  • Pray for Christian and Jewish organizations inside and outside Ukraine that are bravely helping to rescue those in peril.
  • Pray for Christians worldwide to keep easing suffering and persecution.

As we approach Good Friday and Easter, may we reflect upon these words of the Apostle Peter: “He did not commit sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth; when He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He was suffering, He did not threaten but entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness; you have been healed by His wounds. For you were like sheep going astray, but you have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls” (1 Peter 2:22-25 HCSB).

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After she served nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her as Outreach Director part-time for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and has traveled to Israel since 1990. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited and is a volunteer on the board of Violins of Hope South Carolina. Arlene has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit three times and hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on her website at ArleneBridgesSamuels.com.

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Single Mother: Masaret’s Story

The future looked bright when Masaret first met and married her husband in Ethiopia—and they both planned to live in Israel. But problems arose when they attempted to move here in 1993.

Masaret was allowed to immigrate from Ethiopia to Israel, but her husband was not because their marriage documentation was called into question. So he took a dangerous route and entered the country by way of Egypt. Masaret hired a lawyer to help him sort out his legal status—but the wait to resolve it grew long, and they started a family.

Masaret was sad to see her husband become depressed and abusive, often turning to alcohol. He abandoned Masaret and their two children and was jailed by immigration police for forging documents.

At 55, Masaret found herself a single mom struggling to provide for her family. They lived in an apartment on the top floor of a neglected old building. The roof leaked, causing severe damage. With little income, she could make only small repairs, which weren’t enough.

But friends like you were there for Masaret and her children. Through CBN Israel, caring partners helped cover the costs to make proper roof repairs—sealing the leak and fixing the damage. They also made it possible to give her grocery vouchers to buy nutritious food for her family. She says, “I am so appreciative for your love and kindness!”

Your gift to CBN Israel can help many single mothers in crisis like Masaret—as well as Holocaust survivors, refugees, terror victims, and more. As the cries for help in Israel persist, you can bring groceries, shelter, essentials, and financial aid to those who are hurting. 

Please join us in making a difference for those who need a helping hand!

GIVE TODAY

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Biblical Israel: Church of the Holy Sepulchre

By Marc Turnage

The traditional location of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which sits within the heart of the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The origin of the church goes back to the Emperor Constantine. His mother the Empress Helena on a visit to the Holy Land (326 A.D.) was shown this location by local Christians and identified as the place where Jesus’ crucifixion and burial took place. Upon that site, her son built the first church, which was called the Church of the Resurrection. 

Archaeological excavations within the church have uncovered the history of the site. In the 8th-7th centuries B.C., the location of the Holy Sepulchre was a large limestone quarry to the northwest of the walled city of Jerusalem. According to the excavator, the site continued to be used as a quarry until the first century B.C. when it was filled in with soil and stone flakes from the quarry. The site at this time became a garden or orchard that contained fig, carob, and olive trees. At the same time, it developed into a cemetery. Within the complex of the Holy Sepulchre, tombs dating to the first century have been discovered.

One of the challenges for modern visitors to the church is its location within the modern Old City of Jerusalem and its walls. Jesus was crucified outside of the city walls. The modern Old City walls, built in the 16th century, however, have nothing to do with the walls of Jesus’ Jerusalem. Jews did not bury within the walls of city, but rather outside. The presence of first century tombs within the Holy Sepulchre complex indicates that this location stood outside the walls of Jerusalem in Jesus’ day. 

Jewish tombs in the first century consisted of two types: kokhim and arcosolia. The most common being the kokhim. A kokh (singular) was a long, narrow recess cut into a rock tomb in which a body, coffin, or ossuary (bone box) could be laid. The typical kokhim tomb was hewn into the hillside and consisted of a square chamber. The entrance to an ordinary kokhim tomb was a small square opening that required a person entering to stoop. The height of the chamber was usually less than that of a person, so they often cut a square pit into the floor of the chamber. This pit created a bench on three sides of the chamber where the bodies of the deceased could be prepared. 

After the chamber and the pit were cut, the kokhim were cut level with the top of the benches and perpendicular to the wall of the tomb in a counter clockwise direction, from right to left, in every wall except the entrance wall. One to three kokhim were usually cut per wall. The kokh had roughly vaulted ceilings and were the length of the deceased or a coffin. After the deceased was placed into the kokh, a blocking stone sealed the square entrance of the tomb. Small stones and plaster helped to further seal the blocking stone. The tomb was sealed in a manner that it blended into the surrounding hillside. 

In addition to the kokhim tomb, arcosolia tombs began to appear sporadically during the first century. The arcosolia is a bench-like aperture with an arched ceiling hewn into the length of the wall. This style of burial was more expensive since only three burial places existed within a tomb chamber instead of six or nine, as typically found within kokhim tombs. Approximately 130 arcosolia tombs have been discovered in Jerusalem and over half of them also contain kokhim. Ossuaries (bone boxes) could be placed on the arcosolia benches.

The tomb identified within the Holy Sepulchre as the tomb of Jesus was originally an arcosolium (singular) with an antechamber; however, the centuries of pilgrims and the various destructions of the church have deformed and obliterated the tomb. What visitors see today is a later structure; nevertheless, the tomb originally contained a first century arcosolium tomb. 

The Roman Emperor Hadrian built on top of the quarry-garden-cemetery a raised platform with another platform on it where he built a temple to Venus/Aphrodite in the second century. This pagan temple was removed when Constantine built his church. 

Constantine built a rotunda around Jesus’ tomb. The rock of Golgotha was exposed to the open air in a garden, and on the other side of the garden, Constantine built a basilica church. 

The question arises whether or not the Holy Sepulchre contains the location of Jesus’ tomb. What we can say is this: 1) The site was a cemetery in the first century with first century tombs. 2) From the second century until the arrival of the Empress Helena, the actual tomb had been covered for 300 years. The fact that the local Christian memory remembered this location, where a first century cemetery existed, even though it was covered by the Hadrianic temple strongly suggests the authenticity of the site. 3) When Helena was shown this site, it sat like now within the walled, urban city of Jerusalem, which would have seemed strange to ancient pilgrims as it does to modern. 

Yet, the memory of the local Christian community remembered that this location once lay outside of the walls of Jerusalem. Ten to fifteen years after Jesus’ death and burial a wall was built in Jerusalem that enclosed this area into the city. 

Pilgrims to Jerusalem often wonder if the Holy Sepulchre marks the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. The archaeology and tradition of the site support its claims. 

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Website: WITBUniversity.com
Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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Weekly Devotional: Blessed Is the King

“Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’” (Luke 19:37-38 NKJV).

Jesus came to Jerusalem riding a wave of popularity and redemptive expectations. As He ascended toward Jerusalem, Luke tells us that those traveling with Him were anticipating that the kingdom of God would appear immediately. We hear in the voices of the disciples on the road to Emmaus the redemptive hopes many had pinned on Jesus: “But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” (24:21 NKJV). 

Their hopes were not misguided. After the resurrection, the disciples asked Jesus about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6), but Jesus did not rebuke them for failing to understand God’s redemptive plans and purposes. Rather, He affirmed their hopes but said that now is not the time. When He came to Jerusalem, the time of redemption for the nation of Israel had not yet come. Instead, God had other immediate plans for Jesus—a path of suffering, the path of the cross.

Jesus came to Jerusalem riding on a donkey, surrounded by the rejoicing of His loyal disciples. Their song of praise, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest,” echoes the angelic proclamation at Jesus’ birth, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14 NKJV). The jubilation of Jesus’ disciples during His entry into the city and the announcement of the angels both herald God’s redemption through Jesus. At His birth, it referred to the hopes carried by the newborn baby; as He rode into Jerusalem, it pertained to hopes deferred. Jesus had things to accomplish.

We do not always understand what God is doing and where He is taking us. Yet do we have the confidence to trust that He will get us there? We want to know the future, understand the signs of the times, but Jesus said, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (Acts 1:7 NKJV). Can we trust God even when the times of His plans and redemption are not fully known to us? 

The New Testament affirms and declares God’s faithfulness to His promised redemption; it has dawned and has come near. But can we remain faithful knowing that the loving Father who promised redemption, who led Jesus to the cross knowing that the empty tomb stood on the other side, stands with us, and He will accomplish what He promised? 

May we echo the jubilation of Jesus’ disciples as they entered Jerusalem, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

PRAYER

Father, our lives are in Your hands. We trust in You. Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven. Amen.

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