Iremember the first time I ever handed out Jews for Jesus gospel literature. It was the summer of 1977. I’d only been a believer for a few months, and Mitch Glaser, who led the Jews for Jesus work in Los Angeles at the time, regularly met with me for discipleship lessons. One day after our lesson together, he asked if I’d like to accompany him as he handed out tracts.
“No,” I said.
Mitch smiled. “Okay. But will you accompany me and hand out some tracts?”
“Yes,” I said.
We headed to a corner in a part of Los Angeles called Westwood. Within moments, I found myself surrounded by an angry group of people. One particular woman took the lead. “You’re a disgrace, a disgrace, a disgrace,” she cried, vocally pummeling me with every pronouncement of the word. “Why are you here?”
Suddenly I blurted out, “Because I love.”
For some reason, my words silenced her. She stared at me in bewilderment and disgust, pivoted, and left.
To be honest, she wasn’t the only one startled by my words. I was startled, too. My words didn’t even make a complete sentence or thought. “Because I love,” I’d said. Because I love what? Being there? Her? My people? The Lord? To this day, I can’t explain exactly what I meant.
That happened over 30 years ago. Today, I have the privilege of leading the work of Jews for Jesus in Europe and in the former USSR. When my wife Ruth and I moved to Ukraine in 1991, just as the Soviet Union was falling apart, friends asked, “Why are you taking your family there?” I told them, “Because it’s a perfect opportunity. These are the kinds of circumstances that cause people to look for help from the Lord.” Now Ruth and I live in Germany, and when people ask us, “Why do you have a team of Jews for Jesus in Germany?” I tell them, “Four reasons, really. So that our Jewish people can hear the gospel and believe; so that Germans can hear the gospel from Jewish lips and believe; so that Germany can see Jews, proclaiming the gospel without shame or fear; and so that the world can see Jews and Germans, proclaiming the gospel together.” These are all good reasons. But sometimes I wish my immediate response today were more like the uncalculated answer of a younger man who answered without thinking, “Because I love.”
Jesus loved. Everything He did, He did because He loves. And His commandment to minister, despite the difficulty or inconvenience, is His way of inviting us to take part in His love for others. When ministry wears upon me physically, emotionally and even spiritually, I think of how the Lord commanded a group of tired and hungry apostles to feed a group of over 5,000 people with a miraculous surplus that He produced from five loaves and two fish. Mark 6 reveals the Lord’s motive. “And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34).
What kind of people were these “sheep”? Religious people? Secular people? Good people? Bad people? Apparently, as far as the Lord was concerned, they were lost and dying people.
Jesus ministered to the people, and He instructed the apostles to minister to the people despite the lateness of the hour and the inconvenience of the task, because He understood the people’s plight. They were perishing. That’s why He felt compassion.
How did the apostles feel about a task that had to have taken quite some time? We don’t know. The Scripture doesn’t say. We only know that they obeyed.
We do know how an earlier servant of the Lord felt about being an instrument of God’s compassion. Jonah was livid over the mercy that God chose to show the Ninevites. He preferred to die, rather than bear the disgrace of being used to bring deliverance to Israel’s enemy. But God answered Jonah’s rage by posing a question.
“And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than one-hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right and and their left— and much livestock?” God demanded of the prophet (Jonah 4:11). The book ends with the question left unanswered, almost as though it were addressed to each one of us, with God awaiting our response. Should I not have compassion? We Jews for Jesus bring the gospel to our people because we understand that without the Lord, our people are perishing like sheep without a shepherd. We have to let them know that the Good Shepherd has come.
Perhaps the best answer to those who demand, “Why are you here?” is, after all, the simplest: “Because I love.”