Sukkot: Regathering from Every Tribe and Nation
Bob and Mary laughed as their six-year-old, Jennifer, danced on the stage of the huge empty amphitheater at the University of Redlands. They saw vacant seats in that huge deserted arena, but Jen imagined crowds of people who had come from every country on earth. As she sang and danced, she felt she was telling the whole world of her joy. A tear of happiness rolled down Mary’s cheek.
Bob and Mary both loved Jesus and wanted their children to grow up enjoying the abundant life that Christ had for them. At six, Jennifer prayed with an AWANA leader to ask Jesus into her life. She was delighted to tell people that one day she’d go to heaven to be with Jesus. Jen led a rather sheltered life—until high school. She chose to attend a school for the performing arts, where her worldview was assaulted by teachers as well as classmates. It seemed like everyone was questioning her values and boasting of alternate lifestyles.” Jen felt inadequate and unable to defend her faith.
A subtle depression began to set in. “Who am I and what do I really believe?” she wondered. Jen began to blend in with the crowd at school. She even sought their acceptance. One of her new friends, Adam, was Jewish. Jen enjoyed long talks with him and learned much about Judaism and the Jewish people. “Jews seem to have such an ancient, yet lasting heritage. At least they know who they are,” she thought. “And if Jews don’t believe in Jesus, and He was one of them, then why should I?” It seemed to make perfect sense. Jewish people didn’t need Jesus. They had a rich and lasting heritage. But the question persisted, “Who is their God and what does He have to say to me if He exists?”
Even though Jen’s life had drifted far from the Christian life she once knew, she still stayed in touch with her Christian friend, Julie. Julie’s family had continued to pray for Bob, Mary and Jen. In the summer of 1994, they invited Jen to visit Seattle and stay with them.
“Jen, there’s a Jewish group that’s performing in Tacoma this Saturday. Let’s go hear them,” Julie suggested.
“Cool, that sounds great!” Jen replied. “So who are they?”
“They’re called The Liberated Wailing Wall and they’re from a group called ‘Jews for Jesus.'”
“Jews for Jesus! Hey that’s hypocritical. You can’t be Jewish and be for Jesus! Jews don’t believe in or need Jesus.”
Julie countered, “If Jesus is not the promised Jewish Messiah, then nobody should believe in Him, right?”
“Well, I guess.”
“But Jen, if He is the Messiah, then shouldn’t the Jewish people embrace their own Messiah?”
“Well, that makes sense. But … how would you know if He was or wasn’t?”
“Well, you’d find out in the Jewish Scriptures of course. Check this out.” Julie opened up the Bible and read Isaiah 53.
Jen’s eyes were huge. She had questions.
“Why don’t you just come and see The Liberated Wailing Wall tonight?” Julie insisted.
“Well, okay. This I’ve got to see.”
Jen was astounded by what she saw—five Jewish men and women singing Middle Eastern and European Jewish melodies in Hebrew and English. And all singing to Jesus! As she watched the drama and heard the music, she looked over and Julie was crying. Jen didn’t know what to think. The music seemed to cut through the layers of hardness around her heart, reaching in to touch a place deep down she had long since forgotten.
The team leader at the time was Jonathan Bernd. He addressed the audience and asked if anyone found themselves far away from God, though they had once asked Jesus to be their Messiah. At the invitation, Jen rededicated her life to serving and following Jesus as her Jewish Savior.
When the Jews for Jesus Journal came in the mail months later, she eagerly searched through the pages, looking over the stories and the smiling faces. She ran across an ad: “Volunteers wanted.” “That’s me! I want to be wanted.” She sent an e-mail to the Los Angeles branch that read, “Here I am. Can I do anything?” I called up Jen and introduced myself. In the course of conversation I asked, “Can you sing?” “I love to sing!” And so we recruited Jen into the ranks of the Los Angeles Jews for Jesus Singers!
It was a hot October Sunday in San Bernardino County. Five Messianic congregations and a handful of mainline churches had gathered to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot, as it is called in Hebrew. Jim Rickhart, who had organized this convocation, was welcoming people. “The book of Ezekiel says that one day, the nations of the earth, people from every land, every kingdom, every tongue will go up to Jerusalem on the Feast of Tabernacles and worship the God of Israel and His Messiah.” As the music began, a procession descended the steps from all sides toward the platform as different people carried the flags of nearly every country imaginable. The Jews for Jesus Singers broke into the song, “Great and Wonderful.”
Mary and Bob sat in the arena watching, singing and clapping. They had come to be “groupies for a day.” But when the team reached the part of the song, “… All the nations will come to worship You, for Your glory will be revealed,” a tear began to form in Mary’s eye. She remembered the day that her six-year-old was there on that same stage singing of her joy to imaginary crowds. Now she was gazing at her grown daughter singing to a real audience about the love and new life she’d found in the Messiah of Israel.