As Jewish believers, many of us resonate with the words of Yeshua found in Mark 6:4, A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.” Those who grew up with Yeshua could not accept His wisdom because they only saw Him as “that carpenter,” “the Son of Mary,” and “the brother of James, Joses, Judas, Simon and His sisters.”
God has given us the treasure of the gospel, yet our closest family members often have difficulty seeing past our earthen vessels. And we are uncomfortable witnessing to those we love most because they know us so well and we fear their rejection. It certainly is easier to subject ourselves to hostility and persecution from strangers than it is to experience the same from our own family. We’d rather proclaim Him publicly in a crowd of anonymity than in the arena of family relationships.
Why is this? I think it has something to do with the nature of family. They know your faults and strengths better than anyone. They are the ones who most closely—and most often—suffered the ups and downs of your personality. They are the brothers or sisters with whom you shared a room, who know that you snore, who often wanted to smother you for it. They know what a slob you were (and may still be). No one knows you better than your family.
When it comes to hearing about your faith, family members often feel they have the right not to listen to you. After all, you listened only selectively to each other your entire lives. You learned to turn each other on and off like a television set, often while that set was still on and one of you wanted to keep watching! When you finally got your own rooms, you also gained the power to include or exclude each other. Now that you believe in Jesus, if your family doesn’t want to deal with Him, they can simply shut the door on the conversation the way they’ve learned to do at other times.
I have seen this happen continually in my own family. I have three talented and beautiful sisters. Since I became a believer in 1972, I haven’t been able to discuss spiritual issues in depth with them. They like to ignore this part of my life, or try to, because it’s too threatening and they’d rather talk about other things we have in common. Our parents always admonished us: “Please, can’t you children get along?” And so, the accepted code of behavior in our family was to “get along” with each other. Talk about Jesus has usually been too threatening, and so we find other things to talk about.
In recent years my sisters have opened up small avenues for conversation about the Lord. Perhaps time has broken down some of their skepticism and they can see that my commitment to Yeshua is more than a crazy phase. They have even phoned me to ask for prayer in the midst of their own crises. Often, unsaved family may not accept our prophetic ministry (words of proclamation about Yeshua), but they will usually accept the priestly ministry of prayer.
The objections my sisters have posed to the gospel are probably not too different from those you may have heard from your own family or other people you know. For instance, my oldest sister is wary of anything she suspects is “organized religion.” To her, Jews for Jesus falls into that category. But worse, I’ve heard her whisper to my other sisters, “Jews for Jesus is a cult.”
Have you ever heard that from your family? There are definitive ways to answer them. For example, you can point out the earmarks of a cult. One of those earmarks is that the group isolates you from family and friends. If that is true, you wouldn’t even be having this discussion with them! And if believing in Yeshua is being part of a cult, then all evangelical Christians would need to be considered a cult, too.
One of my other sisters is the music director of a large synagogue, but claims that she’s “not religious.” A more important issue for her is finding viable ways to give her children an authentic Jewish/Christian upbringing, as hers is a mixed marriage. Often, intermarried families strive to find meaningful religious traditions that have little to do with real faith. Families like hers often bounce from one extreme to the other—they’ll celebrate Christmas this year, next year they’ll have Hanukkah. My sister calls me, hoping I’ll provide her with a “happy medium.” I try to center the conversation on the issue of faith, apart from religious observation.
My youngest sister is cultivating a field of New Age philosophies and practices in her life, coupled with a search for self-fulfillment through the arts. She deals with chronic anxiety and panic attacks. Lately, she has been studying Buddhism with a lovely, Jewish instructor. My sister has told me how Buddhism is helping her get “centered.” Yet, in her moments of deepest panic, these efforts fail to reach the heart of her need. She says that at these times she “needs to talk” to me, because she finds me so “soothing and wise.” Praise God—He is.
Cults, intermarriage, the New Age movement, panic and anxiety?these are but a few of the issues plaguing modern Jews. We who know the answers found in the power of God ought to have little fear about sharing the Messiah with our family. He has brought us peace, hope and the ability to cope with uncertainty.
We should not let childhood memories, in which words were shouted with the intention to wound, drown out present opportunities for meaningful conversations with our families about Yeshua. We must not hold back from speaking about Him because of fear that doing so will keep us from “getting along.” Jesus Himself promised that His words would be like a sword in our families, with the potential to divide us from each other as one sibling chooses His way, and the others their own ways. We can still find great comfort, encouragement and motivation to witness to family in His Word: “Listen to Me, you who know righteousness, you people in whose heart is My law. Do not fear the reproach of man, nor be afraid of their insults.…My righteousness will be forever, and My salvation from generation to generation” (Isaiah 51:7,8).
Our families may see us as little more than children of “that carpenter,” but God desires to reach down through all our generations. What a humbling blessing it is to be the vehicle through which His salvation can be shared! With family, look for open doors to share His Word, and gently knock.