(Jerusalem, Israel) — The Joshua Fund’s 2013 Epicenter Conference has concluded, and it has been a fascinating day. The messages will soon be posted online at www.epicenterconference.com. They will also be posted on our mobile app.
We were deeply blessed to have some remarkable speakers, both Jews and Arabs, as well as the pastor who hosted the third Epicenter Conference a few years ago (in Philadelphia). I delivered the opening and closing message of the day. Below is the text of the first message, introducing the subject and explaining its purpose, as I prepared it for delivery. I hope you find it helpful.
WHY IS OUR THEME, “THE POWER OF THE WORD”?
Joel C. Rosenberg
2013 Epicenter Conference — Jerusalem, Israel — Friday, July 5, 2013
We are gathered here in Jerusalem at a time of war and rumors of war, uprisings and revolution.
- Another revolution is underway in Egypt – the second in two years. The Egyptian army has removed President Morsi from power, but there is still the danger of a civil war erupting.
- A tragic revolution is underway in Syria – more than 93,000 are dead, and chemical weapons have been used in recent months.
- Lebanon is systematically being taken over by Hezbollah, an Iranian terror organization.
- Jordan is under constant threat of an Islamist coup.
- Iran is rapidly approaching the “red line” – and Israel is considering a massive preemptive strike.
- Millions of men, women and children do not know what tomorrow will bring.
So why isn’t the 2013 Epicenter Conference focused on analyzing such issues? In the past, Epicenter Conferences have largely focused on the geopolitical threats facing Israel and her neighbors. We have examined those threats in light of Scripture — including Bible prophecy. And we have discussed how Christians can pray for, visit, support and in all ways bless the people of the Middle East.
This year, our theme is, “The Power of the Word.”
The reason is simple: Because as serious as these crises are, there is actually a far more serious crisis facing the people of the epicenter – and all people on the Earth – than the mere absence of geopolitical peace. That is, the absence of spiritual peace – the absence of peace with God.
Christians have very little opportunity to bring about geopolitical peace in this region, as much as we would like to help in this way. We must pray for the peace of Jerusalem. But we can’t bring about peace treaties. That’s the work of Presidents and Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers and Secretaries of State. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” so we pray for those engaged in trying to achieve geopolitical peace.
But you and I in the Church have a different role — a unique and vital role — a role the governments cannot play. You and I know the secret of that true and lasting peace that is found in the Word of God. And we need to help people find that peace.
The Bible says Jesus is the Prince of Peace. The Bible says He is coming back one day to reign over the whole earth from this city, from Jerusalem, and He will bring peace on the earth.
But geopolitical peace is not Christ’s first priority. In fact, the Bible tells us that in the last days God is going shake all the nations of the earth. He will allow wars and revolutions and other disasters to occur to get people’s attention and draw them to their desperate need for Him. Thus, Christ’s first mission is to call people to repentance and peace with God, and to give those who have peace with God a “peace which passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
“These things I have spoken to you so that in Me you may have peace,” Jesus said in John 17:33. “In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
This is good news. Christ offers true peace. Yet, tragically, most people in this world – and especially in this region — do not even know such peace is possible.
Why? Because so many do not know the Lord God Almighty. They do not know His promises.
Why? Because they have not read His Word. They have not heard His Word. And thus they do not understand the power of the Word to change them, save them, heal them, comfort them, protect them, encourage them, and welcome them into the very presence of the God who loves them and gave Himself for them.
This, my friends, is the greatest crisis of our time – the absolute disconnect between people and the Word of God.
This is especially tragic among Jews and Arabs, who live in the lands where the Scriptures given. Consider a few data points:
- Nearly half of Israeli Jews describe themselves as “secular.”
- Most Israelis have utterly rejected almost any form of religious instruction, worship or practice.
- Remarkably, 65% of Israeli Jews say they believe the Torah is God-given.
- Yet, only 16% of Israeli Jews say they ever actually read the Bible.
- Likewise, only 14% of American Jews say they ever read the Bible on their own.
They are not alone, of course.
- The vast majority of Arab Muslims have never seen a Bible, much less read one.
- The same is true of Persians in Iran.
Think about that. Of the half billion people that live in the very region where the Bible was written, only a relative handful have the Word of God, much less read or believe it.
Is it really so surprising there is no peace in the Middle East?
Unfortunately, it gets worse.
Throughout much of the Church in the world today, there is an outright rejection of the Bible as the divinely inspired Word of God. In congregations all over the world, many are being taught the Bible is a nice story, especially for children, but not really the divinely inspired Word of the living God.
Such theological liberalism— such rejection of the supremacy and sufficiency and power of the Word – is a pandemic cancer sweeping through most denominations, subverting the faith of millions right at the moment when the world most needs a strong and healthy Church to point them to the living God and His holy Word.
Yet even among those churches that say they follow Christ, and who say they hold the Bible to be the very Word of God, we are seeing signs of equivocation. We are seeing evidence of doubt creeping into the minds and hearts of pastors and priests and lay people.
- Doubt that the Word is sufficient to answer every question.
- Doubt that the Word is powerful to change every heart.
- Doubt that Jesus really meant it when He gave us the Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded…”
Sadly, Bible prophecy tells us that there will be apostasy in the last days, that there will be false teachers who pervert the truth, that there will be bad teachers who water down or mishandle the truth. What’s more, there will be many who won’t want to hear the Bible taught well, or at all.
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
What then shall we do? Get discouraged? Give up? Lose confidence in the efficacy of God’s Word?
By no means. The Apostle Paul commanded us to “preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience.” (2 Timothy 4:2)
- Because the “sacred writings…are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15)
- Because “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
- Because “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)
- Because “‘as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)
- Because “the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
Yes, it is a sad and painful truth that the world at large – and the people of the epicenter in particular – do not know and believe and embrace the power of the Word.
And yes, it is a sad and painful truth that so many pastors, priests and lay people in the Church — by no means all, but far too many — do not truly know and believe and embrace the power of the Word, either.
But here is a great and glorious truth: Two thousand years ago, a mere twelve uneducated men turned the world upside down because they had been with Jesus, because they knew the Word, they knew His power, and – filled with power of the Holy Spirit – they were not afraid to proclaim the Word to change men’s lives, because they had seen their own lives changed so radically.
Today, more and more people in the epicenter realize how desperate they are for the Word of God. And more and more believers are determined to give them God’s Word.
This is why we are focused in this year’s conference on the “Power of the World.” To remind ourselves of the power of the Word, and to recommit ourselves to being faithful members of the remnant the Lord wants to use to preach the Word, in season and out.
Those of us gathered here in Jerusalem today – and those watching in more than 100 countries around the globe – we do not have the power of the world. We do not have the power to make geopolitical peace, even if we tried. But you and I do have the power of the Word. We do have the power to help men make peace with God, and discover the “peace that passeth all understanding.”
My friend, there is tremendous, life-changing, leader-changing, nation-changing, world-changing power in the Word of God.
Today, I hope you and I will discover it anew.
And beginning tomorrow, I pray you and I will preach it afresh — with great passion, and great conviction, and a great sense of urgency.
Now, let us begin.