The air is cold and motionless. I can see my breath billowing out ever so slowly in front of me like puffs of smoke from a dragon’s nostrils. Sounds and smells of the Christmas season surround me. Salvation Army bells ring out their plea for loose change or an occasional bill. Chestnut peddlers entice chilled shoppers with their piping hot wares. Car horns blare as drivers search for a parking place or a way out of the congested streets.
It is Saturday, and I am handing out broadsides at Water Tower Place, Chicago’s posh shopping district. The temperature is well below freezing, and I feel chilled to the bone. I don’t mind very much. In half an hour I can go and warm up. I am pleased. I have already handed out almost 1000 of our gospel tracts, I have spoken to several people directly about Yeshua, and soon I will enjoy a hot cup of tea.
In those last few minutes I begin to lose my concentration on the task at hand and my mind starts to wander. That is not the best thing to do while broadsiding, but sometimes it happens.
I begin to daydream about a scene some 1900 years ago in the old marketplace at Jerusalem. Having lived in Israel for several years as a child, I know the basic appearance of the backdrop to my daydream.
People are wearing long robes and head coverings much like the bedouins and many others in the Middle East still wear. Messiah Yeshua has already come. His atoning death, burial and victorious resurrection have fulfilled the requirements of the Law. Filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit, the Apostles are proclaiming the good news with zeal. The marketplace buzzes with merchants, customers and Roman soldiers. Visitors filter in for Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, to celebrate the Maccabean triumph over the Syrians. Perhaps they are hoping against hope that the same thing will happen to the Roman occupiers of their day. Freedom is the inner, unspoken cry of every Jewish heart.
I imagine potential customers being interrupted from buying their daily needs by street preachers who call out above the roar of the crowd and the merchants. Freedom is here!” one disciple shouts, “The victory is won! You can know freedom now!” Most people react with skeptical amusement. The wistful looks of a few signal their wish that it were true.
“Look around you!” a man in the crowd cries, pointing to the Roman guards. “What is this freedom you speak of? Where is it?”
The disciple prays for wisdom as he takes a deep breath and begins to speak. “Freedom from sin has come. We’ve waited for the Messiah who would deliver us from our oppressors. He has come! He has had victory over our greatest oppressor.” The speaker pauses, noticing a Roman guard’s veiled interest as to whom he will name as the oppressor. “The oppressor is sin and death,” he concludes. “We have all sinned against the Lord and have fallen short of His holy requirements for our lives, and the penalty is death.”
More people gather as the disciple continues: “How long have we waited for the Lord to bring us His salvation? Now we have so confused the true reason for the salvation to be revealed that we imagine our battle to be against Romans or Syrians as our ancestors did. We have stopped looking at God’s holiness and our own sinfulness. We have searched for excuses for our oppression and have blamed external forces such as the goyim (Gentile nations) or the weather. Yet our true enemy is our sinful nature, to which we all are slaves.”
Recognizing the truth of the young disciple’s words, an elderly man in the crowd nods in agreement and asks, “So how can we fight this foe?”
“We cannot fight this battle,” the speaker says.
“Aha! Just as I thought,” calls out a sceptic. “You have nothing to offer us except to remind us of our sin and our oppressors.”
“We cannot fight this battle because it has already been fought,” the disciple continues, never missing a beat. “Yeshua the Nazarene won the battle when He suffered and was punished for our sin. As the prophet Isaiah says, ‘He was cut off from the land of the living for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due.’ Not only has Yeshua been put to death for our sin, but the prophet says, ‘The Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.'”
Some people in the crowd do not want to be reminded of the story they have heard from their parents about the risen Nazarene. They become hostile and begin to push in toward the disciple…
Suddenly I am jarred. With a start I see that the broadsides I have been distributing are about to get knocked out of my hand, now grown numb with the cold. Quickly I grab at the tracts to keep them from falling. I manage to hold on to about half of the bundle. As I bend down to pick up my fallen literature, a Jewish woman stoops down beside me to help. “I’m sorry. I was talking to my friend and didn’t see you,” she says.
“I forgive you,” I say. “That’s the business I’m in.”
“Oh? What do you do?” she asks.
“I’m a missionary with Jews for Jesus…”
Before I can say another word she rises, grabs her friend’s arm and pulls her away.
I look at my watch. It’s time for that cup of hot tea. I straighten the tract bag on my shoulder and go on my way.
Editor’s Note: Marty Verk wrote this in 1989 while he was working with our Chicago branch. He is now ministering the gospel as a pastor in Canada.