Kettle bells jingle. Toes, ears and noses tingle. Carols waft , through the air, and everyone is trying to project joy, peace and goodwill. The spirit of the Advent season is upon us, and most people are enjoying it.
Once again it’s time to extend our gospel outreach through the secular media. Our ads will invite readers to learn more about Jews who are discovering Yeshua, Israel’s promised Messiah. These momentous proclamations about Jewishness and the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy will appear in as many newspapers, magazines and other publications as the generosity of our ministry friends enables us to afford.
We undertake these expansive (and expensive) projects, knowing from past experience that many will read the good news.” Some who would never accept a tract on the street will read our ads. Others will not, but that’s OK too. Some of our best dialogue comes from Jewish people who do not see or read the ads. They respond out of curiosity after hearing or reading about some Jewish leader’s angry remarks against us and our daring evangelistic campaign.
We would never deliberately provoke umbrage or frustration as a way of preaching the gospel. That would be wrong. We only want to tell people the good news they need—that God loves them. That news should make them happy, but often it does not. Sometimes even a declaration of love provokes anger if the recipient does not want the love of the one who extends it. Not every Jewish person feels such anger about the message of God’s love in Yeshua. Many welcome it as good news. Conversely, I have yet to find a rabbi or Jewish community leader who considers Jews for Jesus, our message or our evangelistic ads acceptable, let alone good news.
I understand the rabbis’ ire. It stems from frustration. Generally, the rabbis have not succeeded in moving many Jewish young people to enthusiasm about the Jewish religion. They experience much difficulty motivating and involving Jewish youth in purely religious activity. At the same time, they see happy young Jews volunteering to stand on street corners, willing to face opposition with a smile as they hand out Jews for Jesus literature. Observing our high motivation to evangelize, and our ability to win, train and deploy enthusiastic Jewish young people, some rabbis feel that by comparison their own efforts are failing.
Then, to make matters worse, along comes Christmas! No other time of year reminds Jews so strongly of their “non-Christianness” as does the Advent season. At Christmas Jewish people often feel insecure and left out—as though someone on the block threw a big party and invited all the neighbors but them.
We make the Advent season our opportunity to tell Jewish people that God wants them included—that Jesus is for Jews as well as Gentiles. But Jewish people often find God’s invitation difficult to accept, and it causes them almost as much distress as does anti-Semitism.
No wonder Jews have such difficulty with Christmas! Many find it appealing and may even wonder if it is true. Yet they dare not embrace any of it for fear of betraying family, religion and heritage. My people feel great anxiety over maintaining their Jewish identity, particularly since the rabbis so vaguely define it. From early childhood, we Jews are indoctrinated to believe that at all costs, we must never lose this identity, but our leaders never explain it in positive terms. Instead, they always describe Jewish identity negatively as “not believing in Jesus.”
So much of modern Judaism’s message and teachings center on past persecutions, current problems and the imperative to preserve Jewish heritage. In their demand for loyalty to Judaism, the rabbis presume that all Jews have adequate motivation to continue identifying strongly as Jews. Whereas most Jews become agitated about anything they interpret as anti-Jewish, they do not find much excitement in or about Judaism. We who believe in Yeshua get excited just thinking about what God is doing in the world, but Jews generally remain unexcited about the Jewish religion. We Jews learn early that we must preserve our Jewish identity “because down through the ages, our enemies have tried to destroy us,” but once again, the rationale is negative rather than positive.
The rabbis almost never give the positive, theological rationale, or “God reason” for preserving Jewish heritage. They find it difficult to teach love for God and service to him as the primary motivation. Instead, they try to woo their people to loyalty with social events and sociological motivation.
As believers of Holy Scripture, we can freely tell everyone—Jews and Gentiles—that God wants the preservation of the Jews as a people. Yet the rabbis exert all their energies to keep us from getting a hearing for this message because it involves Jesus.
Some ultra-orthodox sects of Judaism called “Chassidim” do talk more in terms of what God wants. They are not so fearful of mentioning the supernatural. Still these sects fail the requirements of Orthodoxy on two counts. While claiming strict adherence to the Ten Commandments, they venerate their leader, a human being. Besides that, they have little to do with the rest of the Jewish community, except to proselytize for their rabbi or to vie for a larger share of Jewish Federation funds.
By modern definition those groups fit the category of cult rather than sect. While they willingly talk about God and the Messiah, some adherents of the Lubavitcher or Chabad movement, the largest of these Chassidic groups, have hinted, and not so subtly, at the messiahship of their rabbi-leader Menachem Schneerson. Surprisingly, the leaders of mainline Judaism, which has lost many of its brightest and best young people to this mystical, secretive group, have not protested that heresy, nor have they resisted the Lubavitchers’ high-pressure proselytism. Yet in response to Christian evangelism, which for the most part has been highly ethical, the rabbis howl like a pack of attacking banshees. Their ire calls for closer scrutiny.
That kind of anger usually reveals more about its source than its target. The same rabbis who become so bitterly enraged about Jewish evangelism seem so calmly analytical about other matters of Jewish concern. I suggest that their great show of indignation involves a performance for effect more than an expression of deeply felt conviction. Yet emotions do run high at Christmas. The event that Advent season celebrates—God choosing to become flesh and dwell among us as a baby—does not make everyone happy.
When Yeshua was born, Herod, the reigning monarch, outwardly pretended acceptance while inwardly he planned to destroy the infant Prince of Peace. Herod wanted power. He wanted to be king of the Jews. He wanted his way, not God’s.
Yeshua, rightful King of the Jews and Sovereign of all who seek God’s kingdom, still makes the powerful uncomfortable. The rulers of this world feel uneasy when people give their foremost allegiance to Yeshua because that diminishes their control.
We must never allow such apprehensions to diminish our joy at his coming. We must never allow ourselves to be shamed by anyone’s disapproval of our faith. No matter how polite we would be, no matter how much kindness we would show, we must never allow any unbeliever’s angry denials to curtail our declaration that the Messiah has come and his name is Yeshua.
JOY TO THE WORLD. INDEED, THE LORD HAS COME!