I have been exchanging e-mails with an Orthodox Jewish man named Mikhail, who regards my faith in Yeshua as blasphemous. He sees Jesus as a false prophet, and he looks upon me as one who worships other gods.” By way of contrast, I’m also e-mailing another Jewish man named Nathan, whom I first met during our Berlin campaign, and who seems willing to consider whether Yeshua really might be who He claimed to be: the Hope of Israel. Two men, two reactions to Yeshua, poles apart.
The difference between the attitudes of Mikhail and Nathan reminds me of an important biblical truth. The gospel divides. Of course, we see this principle very clearly in the gospel accounts themselves. When the angels declared the birth of the Messiah to the Jewish shepherds, they rushed to Bethlehem in order to see the Child. When the wise men from the East saw His star, they traveled to Israel in order to pay tribute and honor to the King of kings. But when Herod learned about the birth of Yeshua, he did everything possible to destroy the Messiah and to thwart the plans of God.
The presence of Jesus divides. That might not be a very comforting thought to bring to mind, especially at Christmas, when so many people—even non-believers— like to talk about peace on earth and good will toward men. Sometimes we’d rather not remember that it was the Prince of Peace Himself who declared that He did not come to bring peace, but division (Luke 12:51). Jesus IS the Prince of Peace who came to reconcile us to—not separate us from—God. But that peace and reconciliation only come to those whose hearts are moved to repentance and saving faith. To some, He is the Prince of Peace. To others, He is the rock of offense.
The gospel divides because it confronts us with our sin. The gospel is the Good News that God loves us and sent His Son to save us from our sins. But the Good News stands upon the bad news that we are sinful and that we must repent. So, not surprisingly, when the meaning of the gospel is understood, people are bound to react in one of two ways. Some are drawn to God in repentance, while others are driven away by self-righteousness or fear.
The divisiveness of the gospel shouldn’t surprise or frighten us. It shouldn’t cause us to shrink back from proclaiming the message with love. We should proclaim it with a clarity that allows the power of the gospel to do its work. The Apostle Paul understood the divisive power of the Gospel, and it certainly didn’t stop him. He recognized that divisiveness as proof that the gospel is at work in us and through us. That’s why he wrote, “For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one, an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life” (2 Corinthians 2:15-16). Like Herod, many people find Jesus to be a threat to their position. When we meet Jesus, we can no longer sit on the throne of our own lives. But He is much better at being sovereign than we are!
We Jews for Jesus rejoice over the good news that God has brought to Israel (AND to Germany, AND to the world!): a Savior, even Yeshua, the Messiah of us Jews and the Christ of the nations. And though some will always draw back when the gospel is proclaimed, we know that others will always draw near to the One who offers a pardon for sins and the gift of eternal life. For the sake of those whom God is calling and whose hearts are burdened and longing to rejoice, we’ll continue to declare with the angels, “There has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ [Messiah] the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Will you join me in praying that someday, both Nathan AND Mikhail will be like those shepherds who hastened to see the Messiah in the stable, and then “made known the statement which had been told them about this Child” (Luke 2:17)?