A couple of months ago we had the biggest opportunity ever to make the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue worldwide through the secular media—and we have been rejoicing and praising God for it ever since.
I was invited to join Dr. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, to debate two rabbis on the CNN program Larry King Live!” The rabbis were Marvin Heir, founder of the Simon Weisenthal Center, and Shmuel Boteach of the Oxford L’Chaim society. The issue was sharing Jesus with Jewish people. Larry King, the consummate professional, kept the hour long program balanced and interesting.
Hundreds of e-mails have flooded our web site including comments and questions from unbelievers—some angry and some curious. Believers also wrote to rejoice with us that the name of Jesus was lifted up. People have contacted us from all over the world: the Philippines, Switzerland, Namibia and Lebanon, just to name a few countries. The program actually aired at least four times that we know of in Israel. No doubt millions tuned in to this truly global gospel witness.
Relatively few have opportunities to tell about Jesus in front of so many people at once, but God gives each of us opportunities to give an account for the hope that is within us—and we must be ready. As I reflect on the Larry King event, I am reminded of principles that can prepare any Christian for the witnessing opportunities God will put in his or her path.
One way to be prepared is to accept the fact that opposition often brings the best opportunities. That does not mean we ought to go looking for opposition, but when we do as we ought, we can expect opposition to find us, as it did our Southern Baptist friends. They had issued a guide to help their church members pray for Jewish people during the High Holy Days of Rosh Ha Shannah and Yom Kippur. Some among the Jewish leadership took great umbrage and decided to galvanize opposition to the Southern Baptists through the media. No doubt many evangelical Christians, including Southern Baptists, were surprised by the forceful reaction of these Jewish community leaders.
Many Christians do not associate witness with such intense emotions. Some tend to believe that no one would get so upset unless someone was doing something wrong. In fact the opposite is true. The apostle Paul understood this. He reminded the Corinthians, “but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness,” (1Corinthians 1:23).
The fact that preaching the gospel upsets people should not surprise us. What is surprising, wonderfully surprising in fact, is how God uses that upset for His glory. Had those Jewish leaders ignored the issue, it is unlikely that the producers of “Larry King Live!” would have aired a show about praying for and witnessing to Jewish people. The controversy caused a media event and provided an opportunity to proclaim the gospel world-wide.
We should never be cowed or silenced by angry responses to our witness. Nor should we be quick to believe that an angry response to the gospel is justified, because we may try to avoid the anger and in so doing shy away from those things we ought to do. So long as we obey God, we can trust Him to turn opposition and anger into opportunities to glorify Himself.
The second principle the show brought forward is our need to keep focused on Jesus. Jews for Jesus is a one-issue organization: we make the gospel known to Jews and Gentiles alike. Never have I personally seen this tested—and proven—to the extent that it was during that hour with Larry King. The rabbis had an arsenal of emotionally charged issues designed to put Christians on the defensive, from the Holocaust to people going to Hell. They even tried to undermine my personal identity as a Jew. With each accusation came the temptation to defend myself or Jews for Jesus. By God’s grace, I kept to my commitment to take each moment given me on the air to explain the gospel as best I could. Had the focus shifted to my desire to win a debate, I could not have spent the time lifting up the name of Yeshua. And Jesus did not say, “If you win the debate I will draw all people unto me.” He said: “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32). He was speaking of His crucifixion, and so should we. We can’t go wrong when we point to the Lord.
A third principle is “third party evangelism.” We may speak or behave a certain way towards one person, not realizing that God is using us in the lives of others who see or overhear us. Some people have told us years after seeing one of our missionaries respond in love to an attack on the street that the occasion got them thinking about the gospel. Such things happen to most Christians whether or not we know it. In the case of “Larry King Live!” I was very much aware that it was a case of third party evangelism. While Larry King was presiding over a four-way conversation between the rabbis, Dr. Mohler and myself, it would have been a mistake to think that I was primarily witnessing to those two rabbis on that show. They weren’t there to listen to what I had to say nor even to convince me of their viewpoint. They were there to make a certain impression upon the viewers, to leave them feeling that Jewish people ought to be left alone as far as the gospel is concerned.
I was also there for the people listening, for the millions of Jews and Gentiles around the world, many of whom had never heard the message of the gospel. I was there for the producers and the camera crew listening in. And yes, I was there for Larry King, a fellow Jew who also needs Jesus. We will never know the extent to which the gospel proclamation in that hour affected others. We need to remember, whether we are on national television or in the local grocery store, that people are always watching and listening. We can’t always know who is open, in whose life God is working or how He will use us to touch their hearts—but we can know that He will be glorified if our actions and our words point to Him.
Finally, I believe this program made crystal clear how my Jewish people need Jesus. Many evangelical Christians wrongly assume that Judaism is just like Christianity except that Jews are still waiting for the Messiah to come. Some even toy with the notion that Jewish people can be saved without trusting in Christ. “After all,” they reason, “Jewish people believe in the Bible, they believe in the same God and they are after all, God’s chosen.” Regardless of what Jewish people or any other people believe, there is still only one name under Heaven whereby we must be saved. But I hope that Christians who watched the show were tuned in to the fact that what these two Orthodox rabbis believe and teach is far, far from what the Bible says about sin, salvation and the Savior. The Jewish religion today does not even begin to reflect the teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures on these subjects.
Both rabbis, when questioned by Larry King about who goes to Heaven or Hell, insisted that only God can judge. They then proceeded to insist just as firmly that God does not send “good people” to Hell, as though they could speak for Him after all. Sadly, they do not accept the biblical picture of God’s intolerance for sin, nor His grace in providing a way of reconciliation. They are unable to lead my people to salvation because they do not see the need for it, much less the means. The Jewish religion cannot save my people; only Jesus can. That is why we continue to stand and face the anger of the rabbis. That is why we are so heartened by the stand of Southern Baptists and other evangelicals who want our people to hear the good news. And that is why we appreciate your willingness to stand with us, support us and pray for us in our efforts to make Him known. Many Christians prayed for me as I was on the “Larry King Live!” show. I needed those prayers, and believe God answered them graciously as the gospel went out to millions of people. I don’t know if He will give us any more opportunities like this one, but I can assure you that we will use whatever He does give us to make His gospel known around the world.