JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM
A tale by Johny Noer
"Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people… and I will make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people (Sach.12:2-3).
I never saw the woman before she attacked me. I had just parked my car opposite the king’s theatre in the centre of Copenhagen. I entered the square, where a few years before, according to tradition, I was dancing hand in hand with hundreds of fellow students celebrating the happy day when examinations were over.
As soon as I stepped under the shady trees opposite the Hotel Angleterre, a woman suddenly separated from the crowd. She walked as if she was controlled by secret radar, and already from a distance I noticed that she was heading towards me.
Her face was beaming with a strange energy. She was nicely dressed, and her black hair had a few silver streaks. For a moment I tried to avoid her, because I had the feeling that something evil was directing her. But I could not escape!
Then she attacked me.
When she tried to grip hold of my coat, she shouted, "You are the most wicked person, who has ever walked on this earth!"
I tried to liberate myself, but she was too strong. I realised that her power was tremendous.
"Are you going to kill us all", she screamed. "You are a murderer! Leave us alone!"
Then she turned to the crowd, who was gathering around us. "Can’t you see, he is destroying me?" she cried with a loud, shrill voice. "He is destroying us. If only he would let us alone!"
Far back in my mind I realised as in a fog that some demons were speaking through the mouth of the woman. I knew that the name of Jesus ought to be spoken, but in that moment I had lost all boldness of faith.
The woman flung open my coat. I saw all the buttons dispersed on the ground.
"My nice coat", I thought. I noticed that some people in the crowd spoke of taking the defence of the poor woman. They evidently thought that I really wanted to ‘kill and destroy’ her, as she insistently screamed with a loud voice.
In my need I called upon the name of Jesus. I did it with a fearful, whispering and trembling voice. And I was amazed to see the impact that my words had.
"No, no!" The woman yelled. Her eyes became big and round. "No, no, don’t say that name!" Her voice ascended from some depth of pain or terror.
Encouraged by the result, I spoke the name loudly. "In the name of Jesus!" I said.
The woman loosened her grip in my coat. She went a few steps backwards towards the stunned crowd. Then she started to run, and we all heard her voice disappearing in the neighbouring streets: "No, no, not that name! Not that name! Not that name!"
I picked up my buttons from the ground, and the crowd dispersed. I was trembling and in some state of shock, when I returned to my car. Deep within, however, I had the feeling that something important had happened. I had been faced with powers of evil, which obviously didn’t like what I was about to do. The devil was angry at me.
This happened in March 1977 – only a few days before our pilgrimage first started from Copenhagen, and whether I am right or wrong, I cannot help relating this incident to the fact, that around that time I had a rather insignificant article published in a small but largely circulated paper called ‘Kirkeklokken’ (Church Bell).
The article was written on a few notes on the three chapters: nine, ten and eleven in Paul’s epistle to the Romans and was mainly dealing with the ‘responsibility of the church of Christ towards Israel and the Jewish People’.
I was surprised to observe the irritation and accusations this small article provoked by some of the evangelicals. "You seem to forget what the gospel is all about", they said. "In your writings you let Israel take the place of Jesus!"
In almost every village and town in different nations, where our convoy has stopped since then, we have been approached by all sorts of people, who have said something of the same kind; "Are you really on your way to Jerusalem? What’s that to do with Jesus?"
In personal and individual conversations, in meetings for ministers, in hundreds of messages in local churches and in our own portable ‘Tabernacle’, we have tried to make clear that Jerusalem is the city of the Great King, and that the church of Christ according to the New Testament has a tremendous responsibility towards Israel and the Jewish People.
Personally I believe, that this statement makes the devil absolutely furious. He knows Scripture just as much as we do, and it is evident that, if the church in the nations grasps the truth, which now is being preached by an increasing number of ministers in this generation, the blessed Holy Spirit will sweep over the continents. It will make the religious upheavals which took place in the 16th century-reformation fade.
What happened these five hundred years ago started like this:
The lean, young monk would hardly have attracted attention as he made his way through the streets of Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31st, 1517. Even his errand, in the normal course of events, would not have stirred much interest. But the times were then as they are now volatile, and Martin Luther’s errand was about to trigger a reformation destined to radically alter the character of the church.
This was far from Luther’s mind when he arrived at the castle church on the eve of All Saints Day. As was the custom when scholars whished to propose a topic for discussion, he was simply posting a notice on the church door suggesting points, or theses, for debate. His 95 theses were prompted by abuses surrounding the granting of indulgences, a subject that rankled many people yet thus far had resisted correction. Through indulgences, the church pardoned in full or parts the temporal punishment due to forgiven sin. Over the years, however, the sale of indulgences by professional ‘pardoners’ had led to a scandalous situation that demanded reform. When Luther spoke up, people were more than ready to listen.
At first, Luther had been too caught up in his own religious struggle to devote much attention to the state of the church. A sensitive man given to bouts of melancholy, he was troubled by doubts about his own salvation. He entered the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt in 1505 and was ordained a priest in 1507, but he found that the routine of religious life failed to bring him peace. He sought solace and strength in the various devotions of the church and confessed frequently, sometimes daily, and occasionally for as long as six hours at a time.
But the burden of his sins overwhelmed him. If God is just, and Luther believed that he was, then he will forgive sins confessed to him. "But now", Luther wondered, "Can I be certain I remember all of my sins? And if I don’t remember them, how can I confess them? If I don’t confess them, they are not forgiven and I am doomed." The conclusion drove him to despair.
In spite of his inner turmoil, Luther advanced rapidly in the Augustinian Order, until by 1515 he was not only vicar of the order with charge of eleven monasteries but also doctor of theology and professor of Scripture at the University of Wittenberg. Scripture, he discovered, held the key to the peace that so far had eluded him. While studying Paul’s letter to the Romans he recognized the connection between the justice of God and the statement, ‘the just shall live by faith’. Luther wrote, "Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith." Forgiveness depends not on performing certain works or on confessing every infraction of the law, but on faith in God and in his intent to save mankind.
"I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise", Luther wrote of his insight. "This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven."
Attempts of reconciliation with Rome failed; Luther’s ideas developed, and by 1520 his break with the Roman church was complete. Among other changes in church life, he reduced the number of sacraments from seven to two, abolished the celibacy of the clergy, and denied the necessity of the church and priests as mediators between God and men. Excommunicated in 1521 and married in 1525, he continued to play an important role in the reformation until his death in 1546.
Many Christians know little about Martin Luther, and Catholics in particular tend to regard him with suspicion. From his own day until virtually the present, Luther has figured in polemical battles between Protestants and Catholics. As a result, it is very difficult for Catholics to see beyond historical differences, and beyond Luther’s faults, to appreciate him as the great man of faith that he was. He was a courageous, zealous man, thoroughly devoted to the Lord, rooted in Scripture, and eager to see the church renewed.
Since Vatican II, Catholics and Protestants have attempted to end the fierce, ago-old attacks on and defences of Luther, and have tried to allow a more moderate, accurate view to emerge. In this changed atmosphere, it is appropriate for Catholics, Protestants and all sorts of Evangelicals to try and find out, whether the Epistle to the Romans is not to be considered as a great divine appeal to bring the light of the doctrine of the New Covenant back to the Jews.
One bright April-day in the beautiful ancient university town of Altdorf, Germany, while I was sitting in my caravan at my desk, writing a specific chapter ‘on the responsibility of the church of Christ towards Jerusalem’, I received a letter.
The Pilgrim camp was situated on a former football-field, just outside the old gates of the town walls, and the trailer with my office was placed at the dangerous left corner of the penalty area. When I opened the letter, I had the feeling that a rightwing player of the opposite team made a fantastic score. A roar ascended from an invisible crowd, and I knew that our work and the work of those, who had written the letter, suffered another serious setback concerning the very theme I was writing on.
The letter was from the National Council of my own church in Germany. I had visited the council in a small town near Bremen and Hannover the year before, and it was an experience for a couple of hours to sit together again with some of these men, with whom I had worshipped, preached, evangelised and prayed 20 years ago.
At that time we were all in our early twenties. I still remembered their youthful laughter, when in the early morning hours we were doing our duty-jobs at the Bible-school in Denmark, and I envisaged them once more joking and battling with the lines of the evangelisation-tent being erected in the small villages in Jutland. I remembered the beautiful months of fellowship during late night hours after successful evangelisation campaigns in different German cities, and I could not help being moved by memories of deep friendship and brotherly love.
Now our ways had separated.
We had all from our early youth earnestly desired to follow and serve our risen Lord – and now it seemed as if He in His grace and election had not chosen the same way of ministry for all of us. Some had to go one way of obedience; others had to go another…
When I was allowed into the council-room of that beautiful modern church building in the north of Germany, I asked myself, whether these men now would accept my way.
The friends and brothers from my youth looked a little different. In fact I couldn’t understand, how they all looked so old, and I still looked so young; they smiled and probably thought the same…
I wanted to say ‘hello’ to everybody, but one of the ‘boys’ from 20 years ago, - now a man with silver in his hair – asked me to ‘be seated, please’… Very correctly and very kindly they heard my case. They listened with respectful interest to my story. When I came to the part that I was preaching, they took notes. I had the same warm feeling in my heart, which I had experienced at other occasions, when I spoke about ‘the responsibility of the people of the New Covenant towards God’s ancient people of the Old Covenant’.
"According to the prophets of old, God is going to bring His Jewish People out of the land of the north", I said.
I saw some of the men making notes on the Bible verses I quoted from Jeremiah 3:18, 16:14-18, 23:7-8, 31:8, Isaiah 43:6 etc. – and went on:
"And as God met His Jewish People with the laws of the Old Covenant after the first exodus from Egypt, likewise He will meet His Jewish People with the grace of the New Covenant in connection with the second exodus from the land of the north."
I looked around at the well-known faces and noticed in the eyes of some a lively interest and in the eyes of others no interest at all.
"You may say of course, that you wish to bless Israel, but I want to lay before you an opportunity to do something for the Jewish People, which arises only once in history. In the year 1988, it’s the 1000 year anniversary of the Christian church in Russia. Our Christian brothers there would no doubt appreciate, if we somehow encouraged them on that occasion. I do not think, however, that it is by accident, that this historical event in the month of May coincides with the 40-years anniversary of the State of Israel.
How would you accept it, if God called you as a church to make a special effort on this occasion?"
There was a moment’s silence in the council-room. One of the men asked: "What sort of effort?"
"Well", I answered, "Moses is dead, but God has a new channel for his voice on earth today. It is no longer one man: It is a body of people! God speaks today through His glorious church! And I can assure you, brethren that – like in the days of the first exodus from Egypt – there shall be no coming out of God’s elected people, if there is not first a going in!"
"What do you mean by that?"
"That the church like Moses has to be present at the right place at the right time in order to say the right word!"
"What is that word?"
I looked again at the faces round the council table. It was hard to find out, what these men were thinking. I was not quite sure, whether they considered me utter fanatic or a reasonable person.
"Let my people go!" I said. "That’s the word, which has to be said. "Let my people go!"
"And if we don’t do it?" asked the man at the end of the table.
"If the church does not respond to God’s calling in this hour of obedience", I answered, "if she does not come into her responsibility towards Israel, Jerusalem and the Jewish People, she shall be judged."
Somehow I was convinced in that moment, that these last words settled the matter. An elder from the church in Hamburg, where I had preached some months before on the text from Isaiah 43:6: ‘I will say to the north, Give up!" shook his head. "You are too one-sided", he said. "You are out of balance!"
Something took hold of my throat. It was difficult for me to speak. "You think so?" I asked.
He nodded seriously.
"Yes, I think so. You are out of balance!"
"Perhaps you are right", I whispered. "Perhaps I am out of balance!"
All this happened in June 1984. A year later I received the decision of the council by mail when standing in the penalty area of the former football-field in Altdorf. It was a short and clear-cut warning against our ministry. The statement was sent out to all elderships in the whole of Germany, and the spiritual leaders of the churches were solemnly encourages in no way whatsoever to support our vision and work. The reason, which was given for this serious decision, was especially based on my last words of judgment. "To speak like that will bring our people into problems of conscience", the council stated. "It will bring the believers before a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’, a ‘for’ or ‘against’ and we therefore urge you all to make a clear distance between you and this special message!"
I put the letter down on my desk. "Thou knowest, Lord, if I am out of balance", I prayed. "Am I wrong by saying, that the church will be judged, if she does not turn her eyes towards Jerusalem and consider her calling concerning the Jewish People in this fatal hour?"
Then I opened my Bible and read once more the well-know verses from Genesis, where God speaks to Abraham, the first Jew, and said, "And I will make of thee a great nation… and I will bless them, that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee!" (12:2-3)… and I sat down and wrote the following song:
Pharaoh of northern land: Let my people go! Man of Sin and iron hand, mercy you never show; King of chains and whips and sword, ruler of tears and woe: Listen to a Holy Word: Let my People go!
Let my people go! Let my people go! Oh, hear thou king of Egypt’s land: Let my people go!
Pharaoh of utmost north: Judgment shall cover thee! Prince in icy garments clothed: Make now my people free! Emperor of vast domains, Judah shall let you know, that the God of Jacob reigns: Let my people go!
Pharaoh in gold and red: Let now my people go! Oh, thou Gentile sovereign head: Streams of blood have flowed. Star of North, thou king of war, armoured from top to toe, hear the word of Moses’ God: LET MY PEOPLE GO!
Little did I know that a few years later I would be standing on the roof of a church in Communist Bulgaria shouting these words: ‘Let my people go! I didn’t know that I would be arrested, expelled and our convoy split into two, because of these words! I didn’t know then, that what I said that day in the church-council in Germany all would come true… and that I would have to meet ‘the Pharaoh in gold and red’, whom I described in my few verses of poetry.