|Craig Parshall, General Counsel|
June 15, 2011
The historic timing of the trip last week was palpable when I had the opportunity to join some of NRB's leadership in a visit to Israel. The week before our trip, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had visited President Barack Obama, who called for Israel's willingness to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority over borders – asking for the 1967 lines to be the starting point. In this most recent trip, as with my previous trips to the Holy Land, the view from the Golan Heights reminded me once again of the obvious dangers to Israel's security with that kind of arrangement. And despite Prime Minister Netanyahu's enthusiastically received speech recently to a Joint Session of Congress, other voices have not been so warm. Liberal groups are criticizing Israel's use of force in expelling those invading, violent protestors who crossed illegally at the Golan. Iran is hosting a conference demanding that Israel's presumed nuclear program be reined in by the United States. And there is a fever pitch building internationally to force a vote in the United Nations in September for Palestinian statehood within the current borders of Israel. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas insists that he will not back down from the demand for a September vote in the U.N. Assembly. In addition to other meetings, official and unofficial, I was able to join NRB's Executive Committee, our President and CEO Frank Wright, and Linda Smith, Executive Vice-President & COO, in a private, “off the record” meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu while we were in Israel. All of my contacts within that nation seemed to convey a constant theme: that there are not only strategic ties between Israel and America, but there are also important, indeed historic, connections between Israel and Christian Evangelicals.
What is at stake for Christians in the state of Israel? Not just geopolitics, as important as that is. I would suggest that followers of Jesus have a vital interest in full and free access to the physical corroboration of their historic faith. The factual credibility of the Gospel accounts literally jumps off the pages of the New Testament when the traveler, Bible in hand, is able to walk freely along the path trod by Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago, and to see how the Gospel writers couched the narratives of His life in factually detailed, and physically verifiable ways. The foundations of the very Synagogue in Capernaum along the Sea of Galilee are still there to see and touch, where we read in two of the Gospels that Jesus preached and healed a demoniac. The hills are open to visitors where He walked up from the multitudes and, after being joined by His disciples, delivered the Beatitudes, inviting them to live out in their faith, as empowered by the Holy Spirit, that "Kingdom" life that He would exemplify perfectly as the Son of God. A recent archaeological dig has now laid bare the actual Temple steps that Jesus would have mounted on His way to driving out the money changers in Jerusalem. This is not a matter of worshipping holy relics, or placing undue emphasis on long-dead sites. Rather, it is a reminder that those whom God used to author the Gospel accounts recorded the life of Christ with an astounding recital of historical, factual, geographical, political, and cultural detail. Our faith in Jesus Christ is inexorably wedded to a New Testament record that is based on eyewitness history (Luke 1:1-4; I John 1:1-3; II Peter 1:16). Further, that First Century record is the prelude to our future, when Christ will return to that tiny nation and wrap up all human history. Yet, our ability to freely walk along those byways in Israel that remind us of the accuracy of Scripture and that give us such powerful spiritual lessons, requires something: it presumes an Israel that is free. Turkey may boast the sites of Paul’s missionary journeys, but official recognition of Christianity is still lacking there. Damascus was where that Apostle began his ministry after his dramatic conversion to Christ, but Syria totters on the brink of civil war and is closed to an influx of Christians. By contrast, as long as Israel remains strong, free, and independent, we have every reason to believe it will continue its extraordinary partnership with followers of Jesus who yearn to travel there.