If you want to worship a dead Jew, that’s up to you. The man’s glib remark passed without malice, indeed, without thought. I couldn’t blame him—a reasonable, Jewish man—because he didn’t know what I know: it’s true that Jesus is a Jew, but He is not dead! He is more alive than you or I or anyone on this earth.
The idea of resurrection should not be alien to the Jewish people. The Jewish prayer book affirms, “There will be a revival of the dead at a time which will please the Creator, blessed and exalted be His name forever and ever.”* Yet based upon our human understanding, life from the dead just doesn’t make sense. Alive is alive and dead is dead, and if there’s anything more, you figure it out when you get there. That’s how I saw it—until 1953.
I had gone to a rabbi for help to dissuade my Jewish wife from her budding faith in Jesus. I chose the man who had officiated at our wedding. He was Orthodox, good-natured, easy to talk to—I liked him. “I need to know the official Jewish reasons for not believing in Jesus,” I explained and prepared myself to receive the weighty information I assumed he would impart. His reply began with a long, “W-e-e-e-e-l-l,” followed by “it’s just something that you can’t believe.”
I waited, confident that there was more. There was. “They [meaning the Christians] think that God made a virgin pregnant, and from that they got Jesus.” I said, “So?” He quickly responded, “So, virgins don’t have babies. It takes two to tango!” I hoped that his other reasons would be more convincing. I was no expert, but it seemed to me that if God could create the universe out of nothing, He could arrange for a virgin to be pregnant.
“Further,” the rabbi explained, “Judaism is a religion of the here-and-now. Christianity is a religion of the hereafter. To them [Christians] what happens after you’re dead is more important than when you’re alive.” Then he looked me in the eye and said in a kind but very authoritative tone, “When it comes to the hereafter, no one ever came back to tell us what it was like.”
I wanted to blurt out, “You don’t understand. That’s exactly what she [my wife, Ceil] is telling me—that Jesus did come back from the dead. She really believes that—and she’s a sensible person!” I knew Ceil would not accept the rabbi’s reasons, because they didn’t even sound right to me, and I didn’t believe like she did.
I was upset because I knew that it was somehow important for a Jew to resist what she believed. But the same power that raised Jesus from the dead was at work in my life. Within months I discovered, to my amazement, that I believed in the Messiah who was crucified for our sin and rose victorious. I couldn’t explain how I came to have that faith, but God was gracious to answer Ceil’s prayers, and the prayers of many others.
I’ve often reflected on the words of that rabbi. His opinion about the Christian emphasis on the hereafter is often echoed in anti-missionary literature. You see, a Jewish teaching called tikkun ha-olam (literally to restore or repair the world) suggests that people are to be partners with God in perfecting this world. This is to foster a responsible attitude toward the earth and its inhabitants, and I think that many Jewish people do take this responsibility seriously. But many people (and not only Jewish people) mistakenly think that Christianity teaches that it doesn’t matter what we do here as long as we secure a place in heaven. Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase: “She’s so heavenly minded that she’s no earthly good.”
Occasionally, I meet a person who seems to fit that description, but more often I find that a heavenly minded person is quick to lend a hand. A heavenly minded person does not fear death and is not concerned with collecting as much “stuff” as possible to fit into this transitory life. A heavenly minded person is able to make personal sacrifices for the joy of knowing that the risen Lord will one day say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Keeping our eyes on Him does not make us careless of the world around us; rather, we learn to see others through His eyes, and we experience His compassion.
Let me ask you this: do you merely accept the Resurrection as part of a story that you have heard? Or have you been overcome with the realization that Jesus truly conquered sin and death?
If you have the reality of His rising in your heart, do not be weighted down by worldly cares but stand up for Jesus. Lift your eyes and your heart to the One who conquered sin and death, and lift your voice with joy that others might hear, “He lives!”
* This is the last of the 13 Principles of Faith, which are incorporated into the morning portion of the daily prayer service.