Did you know that Jews for Jesus has led five to ten times as many non-Jews to faith in Christ as Jews? It may be one of our best-kept secrets (more like a little-known fact since we really aren’t trying to keep it a secret.) During a recent Jews for Jesus street witnessing campaign in New York City, 48 people prayed with us on the streets to receive Jesus; just four of them were Jewish. In Odessa this past September, the ratio of Jewish and Gentile salvations was unusually high: 29 Jewish people prayed to receive the Lord and 76 Gentiles. Even so, that is still more than twice as many Gentiles as Jews coming to faith!
Our founder, Moishe Rosen, was once in a radio debate with a rabbi who thought he was making quite an accusation. “I know about you Jews for Jesus,” he said. “You convert five times as many gentiles as you do Jews.” “Well,” said Moishe, “what do you want us to do, throw them back?”
That rabbi didn’t realize that he was articulating an important part of God’s mission strategy: to make both Jewish unbelief as well as Jewish faith in Jesus a part of His plan for worldwide witness. “Jews and Others for Jesus” was His idea from the beginning. The apostle Paul was one of the first and certainly the greatest of missionaries to non-Jews the world has ever seen. He articulated this plan of “Jews and others for Jesus” including how Jewish unbelief plays a part: “I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!” (Rom. 11:11-12) In other words, if Jewish people not believing in Jesus results in Gentiles coming to Christ, just imagine how many more will get saved when Jewish people do come to believe in Him!
The stories of this marvelous plan have scarcely been told. One of the greatest evangelists of Gentiles in twentieth-century America was a Jew. You may never have heard of Hyman Appelman, but he was a successful trial lawyer in Chicago in the 1920s when the Lord gloriously saved him and called him to preach the gospel around the world. “During his life, Appelman’s schedule of meetings left one breathless. It was hard to find a day in 45 years when he was not preaching somewhere. An average Appelman year would see some 7,000 first-time professions of faith. By 1969 he had seen over 345,000 total decisions for Christ, with some 270,000 uniting with churches and over 125,000 rededications by Christians.” To read his full story online go to www.believersweb.net. In my travels, I have regularly met people who identify their salvation experience with Hyman Appelman’s ministry.
Many people know the name of Hudson Taylor and some consider him the greatest missionary of the 19th century. He opened up Mainland China to the gospel leading some 18,000 Chinese to Christ. But very few have heard of Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky, one of Taylor’s contemporaries. Schereschewsky was a Jewish believer who spent his life bringing the gospel to the Chinese as well.
In fact, Schereschewsky was the man responsible for translating the Scriptures into Mandarin Chinese. He founded St. John’s University in China and began his translation of the Bible into Wenli (the classical Chinese style of writing). Later in life he developed Parkinson’s disease, was largely paralyzed and spent the rest of his life completing his Wenli Bible, the last 2000 pages of which he typed with the one finger that he could still move.
Four years before his death in 1906, he said: “I have sat in this chair for over twenty years. It seemed very hard at first. But God knew best. He kept me for the work for which I am best fitted.” Just imagine how many Chinese people came to Christ because of this Jew who translated the Bible into their language. The apostle Paul, Schereschewsky and Hyman Appelman are only three of many Jewish missionaries to the Gentiles throughout history.
At times I have wondered why God uses Jews for Jesus to reach so many “others for Jesus” when He has clearly called us to bring the gospel to our Jewish people. No doubt there is a missions principle at work here, that when you preach the gospel loud enough for Jews to hear a whole lot of other people listen in. But beyond this, I also think that Jews for Jesus carries with it just enough cognitive dissonance to cause people who think they know what it means to be a Christian (and are not interested) to think again. When these people hear the gospel in a new way– may I say, hear it with a Jewish accent–perhaps they gain new understanding. I can’t prove this definitively but have seen it work in the lives of various individuals. I can’t count the number of gospel conversations I have had with Gentiles that began with them simply asking me what Jews for Jesus means.
So, Gentiles hearing the gospel from Jews has worked pretty well–but the Bible tells us this also works in reverse. Often Gentile Christians who obviously have a relationship with the God of Israel can inspire a Jewish person to consider the gospel in a way that I, as a Jewish believer in Jesus, cannot. Isn’t that what Paul is referring to when he says, “But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles”? I know of many Jewish people who began to consider Jesus because they became jealous for what their Christian friend had, the peace, the joy, the sense of a real relationship with God.
Isn’t our God wonderful to work so marvelously to accomplish His plan of salvation for all people? I’m sure that most friends who support Jews for Jesus do so because we proclaim the gospel to our Jewish people. After all, that is our stated purpose: “We exist to make the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people worldwide.” That has been our mission from the start, and it will not change. But it’s a fact well worth celebrating that God chooses to use Jews to accomplish His wider purposes to bring the gospel to all people–and I invite you to celebrate with us.