Fears, misunderstandings ‘paralyze’ Christians, keep them from sharing with Jewscomment (0)
January 24, 2013
By Grace Thornton
There are a number of people who would tell you there’s no point — don’t bother sharing Jesus with the Jewish man next door. He’s either too far gone, or he doesn’t need you anyway.
Some people say when Jesus came and ushered in the gospel for the worldwide Church, God was finished with the Jews because they rejected the Messiah. Others say their purpose was so permanent that God never intended for them to need Jesus at all — they are saved through the covenant God made with them at Mount Sinai.
But Ben Martin, an Alabamian who serves as a Christian worker among the Jews, said both of those thoughts are major enemies to the salvation of Jews.
“These two ideas paralyze people from sharing the gospel with Jews today,” Martin said. And neither of them is right, he said.
“We know that dual covenant theology — the idea that Jews can be saved without Jesus — can’t be right, because Paul says ‘I wish myself to be accursed’ so that his Jewish brothers could be saved,” Martin said, citing Romans 9:3. “He wouldn’t make that statement if all Jews were automatically right with God even if they didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah.”
It’s also clear that God didn’t end His purpose for the Jews when Jesus came, Martin said. Jesus was Jewish, Paul and the disciples were Jews and the gospel spread to the Jews first, he said.
“God Himself has promised that He would save the Jews, so we know there will be Jews who believe in Jesus so He can fulfill His promise,” he said.
And right now, more Jews than ever claim Yeshua HaMasheach — Jesus Christ — as Savior and Lord, Martin said.
“We have the most documented believers (among Jews) we have had since the first century, and it’s a growing phenomenon,” he said.
One catalyst for that has been the church’s changing stand on Jewish identity, Martin said.
It used to be that if a Jew came to faith in Jesus, he or she was expected to leave all traces of Jewish identity behind, he explained. For example, they were often told to trade in their biblical Jewish holidays for Christian ones.
But in the growing Messianic movement Jews are “very secure in their identity as Jews and as Jews who believe in Jesus,” Martin said. “In the heart of the movement is an expression that says, ‘Yes, we believe in Jesus, but as a testimony to what God has promised, we have to maintain our identity as Jews. But our identity is in the Jewish Messiah.’”
And that identity is important to Jews as a continuing witness to God’s faithfulness in bringing the promised Messiah, an identity they want to live out in front of other Jews, he said. “They are not trying to get out of their people but stay among them and proclaim the message there.”
And, Martin said, the message is taking root in Israel and among the diaspora, the term given to the portions of a people group scattered from their homeland and spread around the world.
The biggest Jewish diaspora population is in the United States. About 6 million Jews call the U.S. home, only slightly less than the population of Israel. Significant diaspora populations also live in France, Russia, Argentina, South Africa, Germany and other countries, Martin said.
“What we see now is that, as in the time of Paul, there are naturally occurring networks flowing to the diaspora. That [social] network is critical to Jewish work and Jewish life — it carries Jewish life from Israel to the diaspora,” he said.
Messianic work will flow the same way, he explained. The flow of ideas from Israel to the diaspora is mimicking the first-century spread of the church “more than ever before,” he said.
Right now the gospel isn’t widely accepted as a Jewish idea, even though the New Testament is firmly written from a Jewish mindset. But it is becoming more of a dialogue, he said.
“Within future years, it (the gospel) will become a trend for the Jewish lifestyle and dialogue as people do see that Jesus was Jewish, the disciples were Jewish and the New Testament was Jewish,” Martin said. “They must see it as a Jewish idea and not just as a Gentile idea.”
And they must see that a person can be a Jew and still believe in Jesus, he said.
“Jews are still trying to understand who Jews are. Can you be Jewish and be atheist? Can you be Jewish and believe in Buddha? Most would say yes,” Martin said. “But the one thing a large number of Jews have always agreed on is that you can’t be Jewish and believe in Jesus.”
But slowly that idea is beginning to change, he said. Numerous Messianic congregations have sprung up among the diaspora, and their ideas are flowing back to Israel too, he added.
But they also face different concerns.
“They are more worried about anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish attacks,” he said, noting that in Argentina there have been several bombings. “It enforces the idea many hold that Jews cannot protect themselves anywhere but in their own country.”
Fear is still fresh from the Holocaust when 6 million Jews — around the same number as the entire Jewish population of Israel today — were killed by Nazi Germany during World War II, Martin said.
The Holocaust had a lot of effects, one of which was that the United States became the destination for Jews moving away from Europe, he said. “It also caused many Jews to distrust those from outside their community.”
But it also has caused some fear for Americans who want to share the gospel with Jews, Martin said. Many know that Jews have been persecuted in the name of Jesus throughout history by those calling themselves Christians, and they think, “We can’t share Jesus with them,” he said.
And it is common for Jews to be offended when Christians try to share Jesus with them, he said.
“But we can’t exclude them. God loves the whole world and that includes Jews,” Martin said. “The gospel was given ‘to the Jew first and then to the Greek.’ If we don’t share with them, then we are anti-Semitic.”
If we love somebody, we share with them, otherwise “we can comfort them to an eternity without the Messiah,” he said.
But how does sharing the gospel with Jews happen effectively and with the least chance of offense?
According to “Barriers & Bridges,” a resource of the North American Mission Board, a Christian should take time to build relationships before engaging Jews with the gospel message.
It also recommends that believers focus on Jesus, not on Christianity. Talk about His life, His claims to be the Messiah and the way He fulfills Old Testament prophecy. Also share your testimony of your own faith in Christ.
“Share what we believe is true, but don’t believe that you can force anything on anyone,” Martin said. “Encourage Jews to ask God to guide them to what is true and right, and then pray for the Holy Spirit to work in their lives.”
A short video highlighting the barriers between Christians and Jews and how to overcome them also is available at http://vimeo.com/45358520.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Name has been changed for security reasons.