Many Christian friends are puzzled as to why Jewish people they know seem unwilling to consider Jesus. I would like to give you examples of the three most common barriers that I encounter as a missionary with Jews for Jesus.
Lilly provides a good example of the first barrier. She was born in Poland and moved to the United States with her family when she was a young girl. They found a neighborhood in Ohio that was predominantly Jewish. Her parents raised the children in an Orthodox home. They lit Sabbath candles on Friday night, said the traditional prayers, went to the synagogue and prayed. Lilly married a Jewish man and eventually settled in Los Angeles, where I met her. Lilly kept kosher all of her life, but had friends from all different religious backgrounds and was happy to hear the views of others while keeping her own traditions. So she was happy to have me visit her to explain my beliefs, though she quickly told me that she was not open to Jesus. Why? Tradition. Lilly greatly loved her parents (who are now deceased) and believed all they taught her. She couldn’t tell you why she believed as she did, but she was content to trust her parents’ conclusions, never questioning the possibility that they were wrong in their traditional assumption that Jesus was not the Messiah. Tradition was the barrier that prevented Lilly from seeking the truth with her whole heart.
Ellie also exemplified the feelings of many Jewish people when she gave back a broadside (gospel tract) I’d handed her with the comment, I could never believe in your Jesus when so many atrocities have taken place in his name.” I challenged her by asking, “If someone killed your neighbors and claimed they did it out of loyalty to you, would you be guilty of their crimes?” Ellie actually stopped and rethought her objection. I can’t tell you that she received Christ, but she did come to realize that the reason she had given was one of emotion, not reason. Many Jewish people think that all Gentiles are Christians, and that something about believing in Jesus causes Christians to persecute Jews. For them, the barrier to hearing the gospel is the atrocities committed in Jesus’ name. However, many people will listen when challenged as Ellie was.
I met Sheri on the Internet. She grew up in a home practicing Reform Judaism. Her family went to the temple only during the High Holy Days, but they were involved in the Jewish community in non-religious ways. During high school Sheri took a course in comparative religions. For the first time she started wondering if her religion was the right one. She became friends with a Christian in the class and as she read the New Testament, she realized that all the evidence pointed to the fact that Yeshua (Jesus) was the Messiah. Yet something was holding her back from receiving Him. For her, the barrier was fear of what her friends would say. She knew that if she asked Yeshua into her heart she would be risking their good opinion, and that was a risk Sheri wasn’t willing to take.
What do these three barriers have in common? They are not theological, but social. Most people never even get to the theological questions because of deeply ingrained feelings such as those expressed by Lilly, Ellie and Sheri. I don’t know the end of their stories. I do know that I have seen God change hearts. Whether it be attachment to tradition, or atrocities committed in Jesus’ name, or refusal to risk the disapproval of friends and family, there are no barriers that God cannot overcome.
It is our task to continually bring the subject back to who Jesus is and what God requires, because these are the questions that all people must ultimately face. However, if you can understand and sympathize with some of these common social barriers your Jewish friends may have to the gospel, you can prayerfully consider how to respond.