The concept of Jews believing in Jesus has penetrated the culture in part because Jews for Jesus and other Messianic Jewish groups have made some very public pronouncements of their belief.
Jews for Jesus launched its work in the United Kingdom with a full-page ad in The Times (London) in December 1991, which proclaimed, “You don’t have to be Jewish to celebrate Christmas . . . but it helps.” The ad featured Richard Harvey, a Jewish believer in Jesus and the director of the new Jews for Jesus London branch.
Reaction from the Jewish community was fast and furious. Letters to the editor, rebuttal letters, follow-up articles and columns in The Times followed for a period of more than two months! Dr. Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, said that the ad showed “disturbing insensitivity.”i Neville Nagler, head of the Board of Deputies of British Jews at the time, called The Times decision to publish the ad “regrettable.”ii Rabbi Raymond Apple, then the senior rabbi of the Great Synagogue in Sydney, Australia, wrote “to attempt to be both Jewish and Christian at once is spiritual schizophrenia.”iii
Mark Greene, a Jewish believer in Jesus and a former advertising executive with Ogilvy and Mather in New York and London, wrote the ad. The late Bernard Levin, then senior columnist for The Times, took Greene to task, writing that he showed “oafish vulgarity” and “all the sensitivity of a Bactrian camel with a compound fracture of the spine.”iv In response, Greene, pennedv a humorous, self-deprecating letter to the editor, stating, “Never mind that he [Levin] tries to insult me. . . . He may be right. It is certainly the case that an abler copywriter would have penned a better advertisement for the Gospel.” Greene went on to note that if “God blesses our efforts, there will then be an abundance of deft, godly writers and spokespeople who will be able to communicate the thrilling news that Jesus is the saviour of Jew and gentile with the skill and sensitivity for which Mr. Levin yearns.”vi
Raised in a Reform Jewish home, Greene went to Hebrew school and recalls traditional Friday night Shabbat meals with his family. Although he says he was always interested in God, Jesus wasn’t on the radar until Greene attended university, where he met several students who talked with him about their faith. But he was more interested in debate than belief.
“Frankly, I just had a good time having an argument,” he remembers. “We could have been talking about film, about philosophy. It didn’t really matter. We were just having a good banter.”vii
Greene says he had more time to consider a relationship with God after he and his girlfriend of three years ended their relationship. “We broke up by mutual but very painful consent,” he says. “It was really, really tough. And what that did for me was it just slowed me down. I had a bit more time to think.”viii
At that time, he met a student who helped him in his reflections. “Steve was a Christian in the same college as me,” Greene recalls. “He started to talk to me about Jesus in a different way than other people had. There were some people, absolutely brilliant at arguing points. But this guy was quieter, and you couldn’t really have a debate with him. That wasn’t really his style. He came along and just asked gentler questions.”ix
Those questions and Steve’s firm but non-combative approach led Greene to the conclusion that “This is real. God opened up my heart, if you like. It was a moment of surrender, really. And it was in some ways as sweet as a kiss, as natural as a kiss. So that’s how I became a follower of Jesus.”x
After graduating university, Greene went on to a highly successful career in advertising. “I loved it—the people, the creativity. The pace was fantastic,” he says. “And the lunches were absolutely awesome!”xi But, as good as the lunches were, a new interest overtook him.
“I started learning a bit more about theWord of God through the efforts of a home group teacher, Lewis Trippett,” he explains. “As I got turned on to the Bible, it helped me to see the people around me in a different way, and I wanted to learn more.” So he attended London Bible College (now the London School of Theology) where, after earning his degree in 1990, he remained for several years as a lecturer in Communications. He then moved on to his current position as executive director of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. He has served as the chairman of the Board of Jews of Jesus, both in the United Kingdom and for all of Europe.
In 1992 Greene wrote another ad for Jews for Jesus which created quite a stir. This one was a simple poster for the London underground “tube carriages” (subway cars). The text was, “Jews for Jesus? Why Not? After all, Jesus is for Jews.” London Transport posted hundreds of the ads in the train cars, but within days, the transit agency had removed them all in response to an outcry from the Jewish community. Jews for Jesus, noting that London Transport had approved the ads, considered the removal of the ads to be censorship and eventually settled out of court, receiving compensation for the costs related to the advertising and production of the ads.
Greene says the controversy over the ads generated more interest in the message than the ads themselves. The Jewish Chronicle, the UK’s leading Jewish newspaper, which had always refused to take Jews for Jesus advertising, gave the story front-page coverage, including a picture of the ad! As one newspaper article stated, “High-profile Jews who successfully persuaded London Transport to scrap a Jews for Jesus advertising campaign this month may have shot themselves in the foot.”xii Greene, quoted in the article, said, “We shall advertise again but don’t need to at the moment. The effective protests . . . have given us a very high profile.”xiii
Why does Jews for Jesus need to stand on street corners and hand out pamphlets? Why do they post ads in public transit vehicles, in newspapers, subway tunnels, and on electronic billboards? Why do Jews who believe in Jesus stand at Speaker’s Corner in London’s Hyde Park on Sunday mornings and engage in what Richard Harvey calls “dialogical preaching” with angry hecklers? Why the urgency, why the necessity to confront Jewish people with the person and message of Jesus?
“Jesus radically changed my life, and I believe the same change is possible for anyone else, Jew or gentile,” Greene offers. “People want something that’s real—not just thinking life is the next cappuccino, or the next new dress, or the next match. The very heart of it is that they want to make their life count. And I really think that Jesus is the only way, the only person, that can take an ordinary life and make it extraordinary.”xiv
- Ruth Gledhill, “Chief Rabbi Distressed by Christian Approach,” The Times, 20 December 1991.
- John Martin, “Jewish Leaders Attack Advert for Converts,” The Church of England Newspaper, 20 December 1991.
- Rabbi Raymond Apple, “Attempt to Create Spiritual Schizophrenia,” The Jewish Chronicle, 27 December 1991.
- Bernard Levin, “Clodhoppers on Crusade,” The Times, 27 January 1992.
- Greene acknowledges that Jews for Jesus strategist and tactician, Moishe Rosen, coached him well through the whole process.
- Mark Greene, to the editor, 1 February 1992, The Times.
- Mark Greene, interview by Louisa Sewell, New Forest Faith, 18 May 2007.
- “Big Response to Banned Posters,” Christian Herald, 22 August 1992.
- Mark Greene, interview by Louisa Sewell, New Forest Faith, 18 May 2007.