Jewish followers of Jesus in a community on Mount Zion celebrated their silver anniversary this week behind the closed doors of a 200-year-old chapel nestled within Jerusalem's Old City walls.
Some 300 worshippers gathered in prayer, scripture and song to retell the story of Israel's restoration to her city and to her Messiah King.
The Lord will again comfort Zion and choose Jerusalem. Zechariah 1:17
As with most Messianic congregations in Israel, the story of the Community of the Lamb on Mount Zion began when a Jew had a divine encounter with Jesus. Only this time there were two Jews, brothers Reuven and Benjamin Berger, the sons of an Orthodox religious family of Holocaust survivors from New York.
After coming to faith, the Berger brothers left their yeshiva, bid farewell to family and friends, and followed Jesus' calling back home to Israel. "It was like the children of Jacob carrying the bones of Joseph back to the land," said Reuven. "It was a homecoming for us back to our land, our people and our God."
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem... Psalm 137:5
"Our lives and our Community are the fruit of the devotion and prayers of all those who went before us," declared Reuven to the attentive crowd. The story of the Community of the Lamb on Mount Zion includes people like Theodore Hertzl and his vision and work for the restoration of Israel in the 1800s, 19th century Messianic Rabbi Michael Solomon Alexander who founded the Jerusalem sanctuary now serving the Community, and Alfred Sawyer, the Anglican minister who invited the Berger brothers "to begin a Messianic Jewish congregation in Jerusalem in order to fulfill the vision of this church."
Those who sow in tears will reap with joy bringing in the sheaves. Psalm 126:5
Those hopes and dreams for a Messianic community in Jerusalem also brought many hard times. "There were years of distress, turmoil and dismay," Reuven shared. "There were times when we felt crushed. But we know that even this was all part of God's pruning, purifying and preparing us," he continued. "We never lost hope over the years, nor our sense of calling to be part of the restoration of Israel. God must do a deep work in all of us who serve him here in Jerusalem."
Benjamin Berger added: "It is a miracle that there is a Messianic Jewish congregation here in the Old City of Jerusalem. Right over there is the place where the Apostles gathered on Mount Zion," he pointed out. "God has raised us up from the dead to continue the work for the salvation of Israel and to bring the glory of God back to Zion."
Local Messianic Jews have their work cut out for them, said Benjamin. "We need much more power and grace from God to show our people the true face of Yeshua. The city of Jerusalem is becoming more and more religious," he explained.
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion... Psalm 126:1
One clear demonstration of God's power and grace at work in the Community was the moving testimony of a young Israeli man.
"I was homeless, living on the streets of the Old City," he said. "Drugs, alcohol, crime and prison had ruined my life. I was paranoid and desolate." Some of the members from the Community of the Lamb picked him up and brought him into the fellowship. "Reuven would sit next to me and hold me so I couldn't leave until the end of the message," he recalled. "The love I felt in this community touched me so much. It was the love of God that changed my life."
The Community sent the new Messianic Jew to a rehabilitation center where he learned to live without drugs and alcohol. He even spent a year in a local Bible school. "Everyone in this Community prayed for me," he said. "I owe my life to the dedicated people that picked me up from the streets and believed I could be saved. This is my family."
That family atmosphere was evident with children's songs and activities during the evening. But more surprising was watching as Jews and Arabs, Gentile expatriates and Orthodox Christian clergy all worshiped together in Hebrew in this unique place.
"The Lord is reconnecting all the branches of his olive tree," said Benjamin. "He is breaking down walls that have been between us for generations. All believers from all traditions are part of one communion," he said. "If they belong to the Messiah, they are my brother."
Forgetting those things which are behind... Phil. 3:13
Towards the end of the evening the Community rose to their feet to renew their covenant with God. "We proclaim here today that we are closing the book on all that has gone before so that we might now open a new book in the life of our community," proclaimed Benjamin. "We rededicate our lives and this community to you Lord," Reuven prayed. "That you might do with us as you please, that we together, Jew and Arab, and all those who love you, might be a blessing to your people Israel. Amen!"