Shalom, dear friend!
I still remember the day when I led an outreach team to support a concert by a Messianic singing group on the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) campus. The school had (and still has) one of the largest Jewish student populations in California, and Los Angeles has the second-largest Jewish population in the United States.
It was a beautiful, sunny California day. We were setting up the sound equipment and getting ready for the concert when I noticed a few yellow school buses pulling up close to the stage. Out from the buses came almost one hundred teenagers wearing yarmulkes, white shirts, and black pants, with fringes extending from under their shirts, and at least a dozen rabbis or schoolteachers milled about. They turned out to be from the largest Orthodox yeshiva (Jewish parochial school) in the Los Angeles area. It seemed that some ultra-Orthodox rabbis wanted to bring classes of their young men to observe the concert.
I had the opportunity to speak with some of the teachers and rabbis who told me that they came to protest the concert by making their presence known. They wanted to show the Jewish UCLA students there was an alternative to what Messianic Jews believe, and even hoped to persuade some to become more religious.
The music started, and lots of UCLA students gathered. Then, all of a sudden, a couple of other adults from the crowd who were not part of the Orthodox Jewish group began shouting and causing a ruckus. It turned out that I knew a few of these men; they belonged to the Jewish Defense League (JDL), a radical organization started by Rabbi Meir Kahane in Brooklyn that uses violence to protect the Jewish people from antisemitism. They were planning to do whatever they could to disrupt the concert.
In the middle of the event, one of the JDL members shouted, “Believing in Jesus is like eating a ham and cheese sandwich at a Bar Mitzvah!” That statement grabbed my attention, and though it made me smile, I took it very seriously! It shows just how wide the chasm between Jewish people and Jesus really is in the minds of many Jewish people.
They caused some further mischief during the performance, but the presentation of the gospel through music still went pretty well. We had some great personal conversations with UCLA students. I also continued my discussions with a few of the teachers and rabbis from the Orthodox yeshiva while dozens of their young students surrounded us and heard what I had to say about Jesus.
That concert—and statement about the ham sandwich—were important character- and strategy-shaping events in my young missionary career. They reminded me that even though most Jewish people who are religious oppose our faith in Jesus, there are others who are seeking, and some who are curious. Sometimes the gospel goes out with greater power in the face of opposition!
THE GREAT OBJECTION
If there were one central objection to belief in Jesus held by most Jewish people, it is the common misunderstanding that when a Jewish person believes in Jesus, he or she is no longer Jewish.
This objection to the gospel is serious and not quickly answered through an intelligently written tract, book, or winsome answer. A response to this accusation is impossible without showing living proof that the charge is false.
My parents raised me to believe the Great Objection—Jesus is not for the Jews!
The basic theological challenges keeping Jewish people from believing in Jesus are difficult enough to answer. For example, Jewish people do not believe in God’s triune nature or incarnation; Judaism teaches that, as God is spirit, it is impossible for Him to clothe Himself in physical form. This teaching ignores prophecies from the Hebrew Scriptures such as Isaiah 7:14. We have good answers to these questions, but these types of conversations usually come later in the relationship. The real challenge is getting the conversation started.
After two thousand years of bad history between Christians and Jews, my people are taught to stay away from the gospel and avoid or ignore Jesus. Most of my fellow Jewish people are also encouraged to reject Jewish people like me who believe He is the promised Messiah.
YOU CAN BE JEWISH AND BELIEVE IN JESUS
So, what can we do to alleviate the Jewish community’s fears about Jesus? How can we help Jewish people understand that Jewish believers in Jesus appreciate their Jewishness as fulfilled in the Messiah?
The Apostle Paul, one of the most well-known Jewish believers in history, certainly appreciated his Jewishness. He wrote to the Roman believers and told them that he was Jewish and believed in Jesus. “I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin” (Rom. 11:1).
Our founder, Rabbi Leopold Cohn, who came from a Hungarian Orthodox Jewish background, kept the festivals of Israel and believed that tradition was positive as long as it did not distract from the purity of the gospel message. Rabbi Cohn demonstrated that you can be 100 percent Jewish and 100 percent a follower of Jesus the Messiah!
Your Mission to the Jewish People continues this powerful pattern. We celebrate the holidays (especially as they point to Jesus), plant Messianic congregations, and encourage Jewish believers to do all they can to remain Jewish and keep good relationships with their families and the Jewish community. It is our goal to live among our Jewish people and to invalidate the accusation, “If you believe in Jesus, you are no longer Jewish.”
As Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, “Was any man called when he was already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised” (1 Cor. 7:18). Jewish followers of Jesus are still part of the Jewish community. In one way or another, we need to find ways to identify with our fellow Jewish people. Otherwise, we inadvertently confirm the message of our critics that Jews who believe in Jesus are no longer Jewish.
Our lives are the best argument against the Great Objection!
But you can help too by showing the Jewish community that true Christians love the Jewish people because they love the God of the Bible and recognize that “salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). Most Jewish people do not know how supportive Christians are of Israel.
We can help you in your ministry if you know Jewish believers in Jesus. Take a look at the website http://www.ifoundshalom.com, and you will discover the testimonies of more than one hundred Messianic Jews. You will laugh, cry, and be encouraged by their courageous faith!
I hope you will encourage the Jewish believers you know to be like Paul and remain actively Jewish.
Your understanding of our ministry and your prayers and love mean so much to us! Thank you for letting me share a little more about the ways in which we serve the Lord among the Jewish people.
Your brother in the Messiah,