Israel 2011, #2: A Momentous Day at the Beach
I grew up on the beaches of Southern California. The beaches always meant warm, sunny days, searching for the best waves to surf on. And, of course, it also meant searching for the best bodies to wave at (well, what else can you expect from a group of unbelieving eighteen year old boys: hormones and lookouts). But this past June 7th. I was introduced to a whole new beach experience.
Finally, we arrived at the beach. The weather was a perfect 80 degrees, with a soft gentle breeze blowing in our faces. After winding around in the beach parking lot, passing row after row of cars, like ants waiting in line for their lunch, we found our “little” parking spot. We walked “slowly” down a double flight of stairs, to the open beach–miles and miles of porcelain white sand and the soft breaking waves of the Mediterranean Sea. We had just arrived at Rishon Le Zion Beach, located along the central Israeli coastal plain, about seven and a half miles south of Tel Aviv. What a perfect day for the beach. But what made the day perfect was not the setting, beautiful as it was, but something far more momentous. It was the day of the immersion (baptism) of two Israeli brothers.
When two brothers get baptized in the states is not unusual, but, here in Israel, it is momentous. In fact, when any Israeli comes forward to be “immersed,” he is making a public confession that could have dire consequences from all who know him. So, in the first place, what does “baptism” mean to Israeli believers? The Hebrew word “tevelah” means “immersion” or, in Christian settings, “baptism” (a term not used here in Israeli congregations because of the church’s history of forced baptisms of Jews, even some they intentionally immersed until they drowned!). Second, what then is the significance of a public “tevelah” in Israel? Each of these two young brothers, one sixteen and the other nineteen, had spent several months in biblical instruction from their parents and their congregational leaders on the meaning of a public “tevelah.” Now, in essence, they were saying, “Okay, Lord Yeshua [Hebrew for "Jesus"], here I am! Do whatever you want with me, come life or death; come the loss of my family, my friends, my co-workers, even my fellow-soldiers! You died for me! I will live for you!” It sounds pretty serious, doesn’t it. Kind of like the first century! Kind of like the New Testament (see Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 9:1-30, esp. 23-25, 29-30; Rom. 6:1-4ff.; etc.). But these two committed young Israelis were not alone.
Let’s backtrack a bit. Remember when I told you how we walked down a double flight of stairs to the beach? Well, what I didn’t tell you was this: The first thing our eyes fell upon was around a hundred young Israeli believers, mostly high school and junior high school ages. They had descended from all over Israel, to this beautiful beach, on this particular day for one, and only, one reason: To shout hooray in Hebrew for these two brothers! (“Hooray” in Hebrew is “Hooray”–
I guess.) And they hugged and kissed ["holy" ones!], shouted and sang songs of victory, and prayed for an hour or so (I lost track of the time). The boys then shared theirs personal testimonies. Then the elders committed them to the Lord and His kingdom service. And down to the water we marched, singing and rejoicing the whole way. No wonder, so many of beach bathers came up to us and asked, “What’s going on? You guys seem so happy.” What a chance to share the good news of the gospel, in Hebrew and in English (and who knows what other languages). After the immersions, back to the tables for food, fellowship, and worship again! And this kind of celebration is going on all over Israel on a regular basis, but especially among the young. To God be the glory!
Oh, I almost forgot. One final momentous “amen” to the day. One young Israeli, a single mother with one daughter, was so moved by the Holy Spirit, by the boys’ personal testimonies, and by the joyful worship, that she also came forward to be dedicated and “immersed.”
Now that’s what I call a momentous day–from a momentous Lord! “O taste and see that the LORD is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge [who trusts] in Him!” (Ps. 34:8).