In our book, “The People, The Land and The Future of Israel,” Pastor David Epstein, in his chapter “Israel and the Local Pastor,” discusses why he, as a pastor, has such a great love for both the Jewish people and the nation of Israel. He tells his own personal story to share why his love for the Jewish people is personal. His name speaks of his great-grandfather’s Jewish heritage, but it also reminds him of how his father was the victim of ruthless anti-Semitism. Through the witness of his family, Pastor Epstein placed his faith in the Messiah, Jesus.
Below is an excerpt from his chapter in, “The People, The Land and The Future of Israel.” If you would like to read the full chapter, you can purchase the book here.
The greatest spiritual influence in my life growing up was my mom, who not only prayed for me like no one ever prayed for me, but she also modeled for me a great love for the Jewish people, the land of Israel, and biblical history and prophecy. She visited Israel seven times and returning on one trip from Tel Aviv she said to the Israeli seated next to her, “I just want you to know how much I love Israel and the Jewish people.” The Israeli was pleasantly surprised and asked, “Why do you love us?” And my mom answered, “Because you have given the world the Messiah, my Lord Jesus.” She then proceeded to share the gospel with him. In New York City, where I have pastored for the past seventeen years, within a few blocks of my church and apartment are the offices of my Jewish doctor, my Jewish barber (whom sadly, I no longer need), and my Jewish chiropractor, with whom I have had a number of interesting spiritual discussions, and who has attended a Passover Seder at my church.
There are many reasons why I, as a pastor, love Israel and the Jewish people:
It’s Personal (it’s my thing)
My name, David Paul Epstein, offers the first glimpse of why it’s personal. My paternal great grandfather was a Russian Jew. He and his family were victims of the pogroms, harassed and driven from their home by hate-filled anti-Semites. Like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, I’m sure that my great grandfather occasionally asked God, “Why couldn’t you have chosen somebody else?” But by God’s grace, he was able to come to America. So out of the crucible of suffering there emerged new life. By law, those immigrants were required to legally adopt the name of the individual who sponsored them—in my family’s case, that was a German Jewish businessman named Epstein. To this day we are not quite sure of our original family name—only God knows.
In America, my Jewish grandfather was born and married my grandmother, a Gentile. They had five children including my dad, Aaron Leon Epstein. Tragically, while my dad was still a boy, his father walked away and abandoned them. Growing up, my dad experienced the pain, not only of a father’s rejection, but also the same ugly anti-Semitism. Many times he was called a “Christ-killer” by other children, whose hearts and minds had been polluted by the ignorant, vicious example of their parents. But in spite of it all, my dad grew strong and thrived. My grandmother sent him to church, where he put his faith in Jesus the Messiah. My dad had lost his earthly father, but had been found by his heavenly Father—Abba Father.
It’s Moral (it’s the right thing)
For eight years I was a college professor of Biblical Studies and History, and one of my most memorable encounters was with an elderly Jewish lady who had come by the college and was wandering the faculty hallway, apparently looking for someone. I said, “Ma’am, can I help you?” She answered, “Young man, who teaches theology around here?” (I remember thinking, “Thank God I don’t teach theology around here!”) I replied, “I don’t teach theology, but I do teach biblical studies—can I help you?” She said, “Young man, follow me into the chapel.” (Apparently she had done some scouting ahead of time!) So I obediently followed her. Then she looked at me and said, “Young man, I want you to look me in the eyes and tell me that my family who were murdered at Auschwitz went to hell because they were Jews.” I was stunned, and in that instant, not having a clue what to say, I breathed a prayer to God and began to respond slowly, “Ma’am, I can’t even imagine your pain. What was done to your family was evil—it was obscene—and there will be a day of perfect justice. But no one knows what your family was thinking or trusting in during those last moments—so there is hope. The Bible teaches that no one is justified by their own suffering—but there is one who has suffered for us, because he loves us—and he is Jewish—Jesus, the Messiah.” And I stopped, not knowing how she would react. But she remained quiet, thoughtful. Then she said, “Young man, thank you for taking the time to talk with me—I would like to come back and talk with you again.” And I said, “I would like that.” But she never did. I will look for her in glory.
The Holocaust, the Crusades, and the Inquisition continue, understandably so, to be a major stumbling block for our Jewish friends, relatives, coworkers, and neighbors to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church has committed horrendous crimes against the Jewish people.
It’s Political (it’s the smart thing)
Islamic terrorists attacked the symbols of America’s financial and military strength when they targeted the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11. In reality, their greatest hatred is reserved for our political freedom, our religious faith expressed in our Judeo-Christian heritage, and our friend and ally, the nation Israel.5
Over the past few years, I have met regularly with a small group of evangelical leaders and some of New York City’s most influential rabbis. One reason the Jewish leaders originally agreed to the dialogue was because of their curiosity about the evangelicals, who, although they long for the rabbis to embrace Jesus as their Messiah, also stand with Israel and the Jewish people in a time of increasing worldwide anti-Semitism. In one meeting, as we discussed the world community’s accelerating attack on Israel, I said, “Israel and the Jewish people have only two friends left in the world—the United States and the evangelical church. Much of the world hates you, and no one else supports you—not the Arabs, the Catholic Church, the liberal protestant church and the National and World Council of Churches, the European Union and certainly not the United Nations, which is virulently anti-Israel and anti-America. You have two friends left and the Bible says that one day ‘all the nations of the earth’ will attack Israel (Zech. 12:3)—and this will include the United States—we are already seeing an erosion of American support under the Obama administration.” It was very quiet in the room—but no one seemed to disagree.
It’s Biblical (it’s God’s thing)
When considering Israel and the Middle East, one of the books that has informed and challenged me the most is Heritage: Civilization and the Jews by the renowned Israeli statesman and scholar Abba Eban. He writes from a secular, humanistic perspective, which provides a valuable insight into the modern Israeli mind. The historical chronicle and insights are powerful, but when it comes to the prophetic element, by necessity, it is painfully absent. Abba Eban ends his narrative with a fascinating examination of the mystery of the Jews: The mystery of their preservation, resonance, suffering, renewal and future.
And yet, the Bible sheds light on every mystery that Abba Eban rightly identifies—and the beginning of the answer to each mystery is: God chose the Jews.
“How did this people manage to preserve its identity in dispersion and exile, without a territorial base or political institutions, in conditions under which no other people has ever survived?”10
Because God chose the Jews!
This is what the Lord says: “Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,” declares the Lord (Jer. 31:35–37).
To love Israel and the Jewish people is a privilege and responsibility given to the world by God. Sadly, at times, the world and even the church have been slow to respond to God’s invitation—and so we forfeit God’s blessing.
5. David Epstein, A Time for Hope (ANM Publishers, 2011), p4.