What my Jewish brother taught me
Some of my best friends are Jewish.
To start with, there’s Jesus. You know, the one they crucified so that you and I could be born anew into resurrection life. He’s my friend. He’s Jewish.
Oh, and then there’s Paul. You know, the one who told Gentiles (non-Jews) about Jesus, and wrote all those letters explaining what Jesus had done that was so important, and what it means to belong to Him. I’ve never met Paul, but I have read what he wrote about Jesus — quite a few times in fact — and I’ve learned a lot from him. His writings are one of the reasons I believe in Jesus. I think that makes Paul my friend, even if not in the usual way. By the way, he’s Jewish too.
But Jesus and Paul aren’t my only Jewish friends. Let me tell you about Jean-Claude, who has been a friend and mentor to me for over two decades.
When I first met Jean-Claude, I didn’t know he was Jewish. Neither did he. I thought of him as a gentle French-Canadian pastor with a gift for building bridges between people of different languages and cultures, and an uncanny ability to see into people’s souls – well, mine anyway. I often found myself telling him things that I probably wouldn’t have said to anyone else, and he always seemed to understand.
A few years ago, Jean-Claude learned through genealogical research that several of his ancestors on both his father’s and his mother’s side were Jewish. They had hidden their Jewish identity to avoid being persecuted by the Gentile church. History shows that this was not an unfounded fear. So, they lived as Jews at home, observing Shabbat in secret every week, hiding their Jewish identity behind a Catholic exterior as they attended Mass every Sunday.
I was in high school (where I had several Jewish friends) when Fiddler on the Roof had its first run on Broadway. Although the story is fictional, it is based on events that were repeated many times over, throughout many centuries, in “Christian” Europe. When I first saw the film version, I remember being deeply ashamed of the hateful actions of the Tsarist soldiers towards the Jews of their village – actions they justified by labelling the Jews as Christ-killers.
When Jean-Claude first told me of his Jewish roots, he seemed unsure what response to expect from me. I didn’t call him a Christ-killer. I gave him a hug and told him how delighted I was to discover that I had a Jewish brother.
It is true that the leaders of Israel rejected Jesus, and conspired to have him killed. But that does not make me – a Gentile – innocent of his death. I am as guilty as they, and like them I am declared innocent through His sacrifice, not because of my own righteousness. As a Gentile believer, I live only because He shed his blood and rose again for me, as does every believing Jew. And I cannot overlook the fact that while a majority of the Jewish people rejected Jesus as Messiah, there were also many in Israel who received his message with joy. Most of the first generation of apostles were Jewish. They took the gospel to many Gentile nations, often at great cost. Without their testimony, none of us who believe in Jesus today would ever had heard his name.
True, Jesus prophesied great wrath and distress against Jerusalem because of her rejection of her Messiah. But he spoke these words more in sorrow than in anger, weeping over this city which he so dearly loved. And even in his warnings of wrath and desolation, there was also a promise that one day Jerusalem would again welcome him and bless his name.
And what about Paul, the Jewish apostle whose main ministry was to the Gentiles? What did he have to say about his own people, Israel? On the one hand, he called his people enemies of the gospel because of their rejection of Jesus. On the other hand, he yearned for their salvation, called them beloved by God and affirmed that they had not been rejected by him. And he looked for a time – a time for which my Messianic Jewish friends still yearn, and for which they labour – when all Israel would be saved.
There are many issues regarding Israel that are beyond the scope of this post. My only goal here is to stir up love and prayer in the hearts of Gentile believers towards the people of Israel, from whom our Messiah, the Son of David, was born. Christians may legitimately differ on many things, but when it comes to love, we are not given any option.
It is true that Israel is not innocent. Nor is any people group on the face of the earth. But it’s not up to me to judge Israel. I am deeply grateful for the people of Israel, through whom the blessing of the gospel has come to all nations of the earth. As a Gentile believer in Jesus, I am instructed by Paul, my Jewish brother, not to be arrogant over Israel’s failure, but to walk in humility and love towards this suffering, hardened, blinded people until that glorious and long-awaited day comes when their eyes are opened and they receive the mercy of God.
It is my belief that this day is fast approaching, though it will not come without turmoil and suffering. So I will continue to pray for my Jewish brothers and sisters who love Jesus as I do, and believe with them for the day when the rest of their long-suffering people receive their Messiah.