January Update - 2021


Welcome to the first Romans 15:8 blog of 2021.  I think most of us in ministry find that a new year brings a certain ‘boost’ to us, as there is often a sense of new beginnings and new initiatives.  However, this year is different as we find ourselves in the middle of the ‘third wave’ of Covid restrictions along with the associated struggles of an increasingly overwhelmed NHS. 
My prayer for all of us at this time is that we may find the support we need to continue to give of ‘our best in ministry’ and to offer support to others, especially those who are bereaved, fearful or despondent.


Ministry News Update
This month sees nearly all CMJ UK staff back from periods of furlough in 2020 - although many are currently working reduced hours.  I am delighted to report that the part-time post (20 hours a week) of Communications Manager which was a temporary post has now been made permanent.  Philippa Hulett is the post holder and her work which has a key focus on social media is especially relevant in today’s ministry and teaching contexts.

Also, this month sees the publication of the new Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (LCJE) book.  This new book which makes the case for Jewish Evangelism marks the 40th anniversary of the LCJE.  I was one of the six editors for this publication and we began this major work back during the first lockdown in March 2020.  I believe this book will be a valuable resource and will challenge and encourage many Church leaders.  The book represents the diversity of voices and convictions within the LCJE while focusing on what unites us - namely a passion for the salvation of the lost sheep of Israel.  The book is divided into 5 chapters: 

-    The History of Jewish Evangelism, 
-    The Jewish Community and Jewish Evangelism, 
-    Theological Considerations and Jewish Evangelism, 
-    The Top 10 challenges facing Jewish Evangelism and 
-    How to respond, and Strategies and Initiatives in Jewish Evangelism.  

The book will be made available soon via the CMJ UK online shop

Book News
In my December blog I mentioned that I was continuing with my studies into the world of Ultra- Orthodox Judaism.  My book recommendation this month continues within this area.  The book is Hidden Heretics - Jewish Doubt in the Digital Age by Ayala Fader (Princeton University Press, 2020). 

This book in a well researched study of Jewish people who secretly explore the ‘outside world’ in person and online, while remaining within their Ultra-Orthodox communities.  Fader writes with great skill and somehow in my view is able to combine academic (anthropological) analytical detachment with pastoral sensitivity and concern.

I found the book ‘heavy going’ at times and ‘immensely sad’ yet it is full of valuable insights. 

Let me share just three such insights to encourage you to dig into this book.  Firstly, there is the view held by many within the Ultra-Orthodox world that the internet is more dangerous to Jewish continuity than the Holocaust.  A saying which is widely heard in many Ultra-Orthodox communities is “The Holocaust burned our bodies, the internet burns our souls”.  Secondly, there is a helpful distinction while discussing doubt, between doubt which helps to define or refine existing faith and a doubt which results in a major ‘life-change’.  Thirdly, the pressure of conformity – one pious Hasidic woman from New York shares her struggles and states; “In the secular world your family and community doesn’t obligate you to anything.  You could have grown up, moved to Alaska and become a hermit and you’ll just be the funny person at the Christmas party.  But here (in the Ultra-Orthodox world) there is so much more weighing on conformity”. 

Monthly Memory Verse
But ADONAI said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his stature, because I have already refused him.  For He does not see a man as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but ADONAI looks into the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)  Verse quoted from the Messianic Jewish Family Bible.

CMJ UK Monthly Memory Verse

Teaching reflection of the month
From time to time I am asked to write the sermon notes sent out from Christ Church (Jerusalem). These notes which are distributed widely online are based on the readings from the common lectionary seek to be both a useful resource for those preparing to preach and as a general teaching resource.  Outlined below are my notes for 21.2.21 which is the first Sunday in Lent.

First Sunday in Lent (21.2.2021) - Readings (Year B)  Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 25:1-10, 1 Peter 3:18-22 and Mark 1:9-15

Introduction and Common Theme
This Sunday marks the beginning of Lent. Lent is an important time for many Christians, although the significance of Lent has probably reduced for most Church communities in recent years. Traditionally Lent is a time to reflect, to prepare, to abstain (often linked to fasting) and to serve. In some ways there is a connection between Lent and the Days of Awe (10 days of repentance and renewal, beginning on the Jewish New Year and leading up to the Day of Atonement) within the Jewish liturgical calendar.
The 4 set readings are all linked to some degree with new beginnings. The Genesis reading tells of the covenant God made with Noah. This marks a new beginning based on a promise to all of creation (Genesis 9:17). The Psalmist (David) is seeking a new beginning as he seeks the LORD to show him the right paths he should take (Psalm 25:4). In 1 Peter the teaching is given about how we begin to live a ‘new life’ in the Messiah. A life which is based on who the Messiah is, and what He has done, specifically His atoning death (1 Peter 3:18) and His resurrection (1 Peter 3:21). Finally the gospel reading tells of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and the proclaiming of the good news with the words, “the time has come” (Mark 1:15). 
Reading 1 - Genesis 9:8-17
If one is looking for a theme which ‘holds together’ the whole of the Biblical narrative, a prime contender would be the theme of ‘covenant’. The major covenants in the Old Testament begin here with the covenant God makes with Noah (and his descendents and all living creatures). This is an unconditional promise of God never to destroy all life with some ‘natural’ catastrophe. The sign of this covenant is the rainbow. 
Other key covenants which follow on from this point of beginning are the Covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15 and 17), the Sinai Covenant (Exodus 19-24), the Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7) and the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31).
Noah is described as a righteous man; some rabbinic traditions understand this to mean that Noah was an exceptionally good man even in his generation of evil-doers, while others argue that Noah’s righteousness was only relative, when compared with the evil of his generation. Either way God remembers Noah (Genesis 8:1) and blesses Noah (Genesis 9:1). Also in rabbinic tradition it is taught that 7 laws were given first to Adam and then these laws were given at this point to Noah. These are known as the ‘Noahide laws’, which can be seen as a ‘Torah for the nations’ in contradistinction with the full Torah which will be given as part of the Sinai Covenant to Israel. 
In Genesis 10 we see that all the nations (70 in total) are descended from Noah’s sons, therefore after the destruction of the flood, Noah replaces Adam as the ‘father of all humanity’.
Reading 2- Psalm 25:1-10
This psalm is David’s personal lament before God. It is a lament which many of us will be able to identify with. He longs for deliverance from his enemies (:1-3), for guidance (:4) and for forgiveness (:7).
Within this psalm the theme of covenant is picked up again (:10).  David has confidence as he prays, a confidence not in himself, but a confidence rooted in God’s covenantal blessings; blessings of deliverance, pardon, guidance and love, in all of this David sees that the LORD is good (:7).
To understand that the LORD is good, that He is for you and not against you, is the foundation for all true repentance and for all new beginnings.
Reading 3- 1 Peter 3:18-22
In the Genesis text we encounter the ‘righteousness’ of Noah, but here in the first letter of Peter we encounter the righteousness of the Messiah, the one who died to make atonement for the unrighteous (:18). This understanding of the atoning death of the Messiah for the unrighteous, is at the very heart of New Covenant teaching. See for example Romans 3:21-26, 2 Corinthians 5:21 and Hebrews 10.  
Verses 19- 20 have been interpreted in a number of ways, and there is much dispute over how best these verses should be understood. In Christian theology I think there are 3 main lines of interpretation, all of which may be helpful, but all in my mind have a degree of weakness within them, and all lines will raise important (and probably difficult!) follow-up questions. 
Line 1 sees that Jesus Christ in His pre-incarnate state went to and ministered to and through Noah in order to reach out to the people of Noah’s generation. Line 2 sees that between His death and resurrection Jesus Christ went to the place of the dead and preached to (or declared the victory of judgement to) the ‘spirits’ of Noah’s contemporaries. Line 3 sees that between His death and resurrection Jesus Christ went to the place where fallen angels are kept and preached to (or declared the victory of judgement over) them. These fallen angels are those who left their angelic state and had sexual relations with human women (see Genesis 6:1-4, 2 Peter 2:4-5 and Jude :6).
The key point to make in verses 21 is that we are saved by what baptism symbolises – namely the Messiah’s death and resurrection. Here the reality and the symbolism are so closely related, that the symbol is sometimes used to proclaim the reality. In this regard see Romans 6:3-10.
Reading 4- Mark 1:9-15
The gospel reading from Mark tells the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. This ministry began when Jesus was about 30 years of age. The baptism (perhaps this can be understood within the context of a special ritual birth - mikvah or anointing1 ) marks the beginning of this ministry which will be marked by proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom (:14-15), healing (including deliverance), teaching and calling of disciples (:16-20). Immediately following the baptism a voice from heaven is heard (:10-11), here in this solemn yet joyful moment of affirmation we glimpse into the triune nature of God- the Father speaks, the Son is baptised and the Holy Spirit descends. 
 Prior to the commencement of the public ministry there is a time of preparation/testing in the desert. The period of this desert testing is 40 days (this has connections with the timing of Lent). This desert (wilderness) time is far more that a spiritual retreat, it is a place of significant spiritual warfare (see Matthew 4:1-11 for a fuller account) a place of conflict and struggle. The desert becomes the place of preparation (Isaiah 40:3). At the heart of this testing for Jesus is the issue of His unique identity as God’s Son (Matthew 4:3 and 4:6), and this of course was the very issue confirmed earlier by the voice from heaven.

About the Author: The Rev Alex Jacob is the CEO of CMJ UK.  A full biography can be found on our Meet the Staff Team page.

1.  I discuss this point in my book – Prepare the Way! (Glory to Glory Publications, 2014) see pages 60-63. The book is available from the CMJ UK website (shop page)- www.cmj.org.uk


If ever there was a time for the church to pray and fast, it is surely now. For many it is a time of wilderness and testing. It was so for Jesus, and needful for us too. May God give us the strength and wisdom for this journey, so that we may come out the other side in the power of the Spirit.

Thanks for the blog. It would helpful if the sermon notes could be directly opened from the blog rather than having to access them elseware.

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