Standing in the ancient synagogue of Berea, Greece, I draped the tallit (prayer shawl) over my shoulders. We had just received a moving account of the history of this house of worship — including the profound detail that the Apostle Paul had preached the gospel here to the Jews and “not a few of the Greeks” who “received the word with all readiness … and many believed” (Acts 17:10-12).
I was humbled by the entire scene, knowing that there’s no longer a minyan in the town (the requisite 10 Jews needed to conduct a prayer service), and that this ancient house of prayer seldom hears the Hebrew that rang here until the Holocaust. As part of the Jewish people, and as a spiritual descendant of those Bereans who became Messianic Jews twenty centuries ago, I sang the Sh’ma (Deuteronomy 6:4), declaring “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one.” The words still hung in the air as an Israeli tour guide entered with a group from Israel, to show them the synagogue site.
After their tour, the guide gave me an opportunity to greet the Israeli tourists. Taking a mere three to four minutes, I presented Yeshua as the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31ff) some 600 years before His birth. All of this was in Hebrew. I’m sure the group was not expecting to meet a Messianic Jew from Israel in the Berean synagogue. Five or six members of the group came to me afterward with serious questions about what I’d shared. God’s ways are amazing!
The next day I found myself in Philippi, a massive archaeological site, preserving the city — called the “foremost city of that part of Macedonia” in Acts 16:12. What moved me the most was not the Greek columns, nor the amphitheater, but the small cavity in one hillside that had been a jail. In this jail Paul and Silas sang midnight praises to God after being locked in chains. I thought, “What radically dedicated men these were. They gave up their freedom for the sake of the gospel of Yeshua. It was, for them, a joyful fate to be beaten with rods and put in stocks while their wounds still bled.
At the entrance to the Philippian jail I stood with a pastor from Thessaloniki, whose name, appropriately, is Pablos — the Greek version of Paul. Many members of his congregation have been persecuted by their Greek Orthodox families. There are churches in modern Greece that preach the gospel, bring Greeks to personal faith in Jesus, and disciple in the fullness of God’s Spirit. However, these churches are considered hereticical by the majority of the dominant, state-supported Orthodox religion. Like Paul and Silas, this does not stop them.
It was my memorable privilege to spend three days with this man of God, his family, and his flock. From celebrating Erev Shabbat (the festive meal inaugurating Shabbat on Friday evening) to a well-received two part series I titled “The Prophets and the Apostles,” the Apostolic Church of Thessaloniki won my heart. Their eagerness to embrace Israel, myself as a representative of the Messianic movement of indigenous congregations in the land, and a dear sister — Greta — whose 30 years of intercession helped build this bridge between local believers in Israel and Greece.
On the last night, Pastor Pablos followed my message with a call to repentance over the Thessalonian betrayal of some 53,000 Greek Jews who were taken to the Nazi death camps via city cooperation. The church members came forward, heads bowed, to proclaim their anguished regret for that sin. Then their shepherd extended his hand to me, desiring a sincere covenant of friendship between us, our congregations, and our national communities of faith. I have seldom seen such sincerity and genuine humility. This desire for mutual strengthening at such a tense time in history is nothing short of a sign and a wonder.
This article originally appeared in Israel’s Restoration Newsletter, November 2015.