The most proactive group of ambassadors in New York City this month are not representing foreign governments; this despite the conspicuous presence of the United Nations. Instead, they are representing the Creator of the Universe, offering His peace plan:
Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Jews for Jesus has a couple dozen such ambassadors handling street duty right now, and despite the heat and the grime it is a royal responsibility of great nobility and import.
There was a time when this task was understood; every Christian recognized his or her responsibility to be a soulwinner. Not so these days. Recently I watched a television pundit interview a well-known pastor. Said the pundit,
“When I was growing up in church everyone was preoccupied with saving souls. But now it seems, especially among younger people, that there is greater interest in doing good works such as disaster relief.” The minister readily agreed and indicated his approval of this trend. I wanted to yell at my television, “Hey, it’s not an either/or proposition!”
Many Christians today feel uncomfortable with the notion of seeking converts. The word “conversion” has been problematic in Jewish evangelism, because many see it as an attempt to make Jewish people into non-Jews. The term is widely misunderstood even though the Jewish prophets frequently employed its Hebrew derivation, shuv, meaning to turn around and head in the opposite direction.
Nowadays the idea of conversion is considered offensive by Jews and non-Jews alike. Regardless of people’s background, if they ask you, “Are you trying to convert me?” they want to hear you say, “No. I would never do such a thing.” That is because most people interpret the desire to see them convert as a statement that, “Your ideas and beliefs are inferior to mine but I am ready to help you become more like me.” Of course this is not what conversion means, but many Christians are either unaware of or too embarrassed about the misimpression to try to correct it.
But what about the idea of reconciliation? You won’t hear so many complaints about people bringing the hope of reconciliation— and that is exactly what we are doing when we preach the gospel. All of humanity has been estranged from a holy God, and when we are out of alignment with God, we quickly become out of alignment with ourselves and those around us. Our sin has resulted in all manner of evil, brokenness, disaffection and ultimately death, both spiritual and physical. But Jesus the Messiah broke the power of sin to keep us separated from God. By God’s grace, through faith and trust in the finished work of Christ—His righteous life, His atoning death and amazing resurrection—we can be reconciled to God.What a glorious reality! No longer estranged from God, we have been brought near through the blood of Christ. He who was our Judge is now our Father, our Redeemer and our Friend. And He has given us a royal responsibility. The reconciled become the reconcilers.
We are ambassadors, representatives of Jesus and all that He stands for, pleading, urging, imploring people to be reconciled to God through faith in Him. And being reconciled to God enables us to be reconciled to one another. The first example of this was the new relationship between Jew and Gentile, once strangers and aliens but brought together in Christ as members of His body. This first century reconciliation has far reaching effects even to this day; it opens a wide door for reconciliation between peoples for whom all the best efforts of the United Nations have failed. Here are a couple of examples.
Carmit Vereynne and Peter Nasser were in the same training class for ministry with Jews for Jesus. Both were born Israelis but Carmit is Jewish and Peter is Arab. As they compared their family backgrounds they realized that their grandfathers had been sworn enemies, fighting on opposite sides in the same region of the Galilee during the 1948War of Independence. Had they encountered one another, one might have killed the other. Thankfully they both survived—but the amazing thing is that now, in Christ, their grandchildren are perfectly reconciled to each other and serving together in the ministry of reconciliation. That is the power of God!
A couple of months ago a young woman introduced herself to me at a church in Northern California. She asked if I had recently spoken at another nearby church, which I had. She explained that her parents were members at that church. Ten years ago, her sister had married a Jewish man and her father had cut them both off because of it. This caused such pain and estrangement that various family members had refused to speak to one another for all those years. The day I gave the “Christ in the Passover” presentation at her parents’ church, the father was ill and unable to attend—but the mother was there and brought the DVD home for him to hear. After the father listened to the message, highlighting Jesus as the Jewish Messiah who came to reconcile people of every nation to God, he called his estranged daughter and son-in-law—who by now, was also a believer in Jesus. They met and now the entire family has been reconciled. Hallelujah! Who can account for such a miraculous turn around but God?
I know it doesn’t always happen this way. Many who are daily enduring the pain of estrangement from loved ones can’t even begin to see how reconciliation is possible. I don’t have all the answers but I know that because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, there is hope. The same power that has reconciled us to God is able to reconcile us to one another. All around us we can see the futility of human efforts at reconciliation. But the power of God to accomplish reconciliation is unlimited.
The power of the gospel to reconcile gives us the confidence and the sense of urgency to keep on extending ourselves to unbelievers as ambassadors. For Jews for Jesus, being on the streets of New York City is part of that role. For you, perhaps it is your place of work, your school or even your home. But to be ambassadors, we all must renew our hope and faith to believe in God’s power to bring about reconciliation and healing.
The world may misconstrue our motives and cast aspersions on our message. Focusing on His power, His love, His compassion can help us break free of the fear of rejection. We have been entrusted with a positive and hopeful and life-changing ministry of reconciliation. But we need the strength of the Lord to rise to the responsibility. Even that great ambassador Paul asked for prayer for this very thing: “Praying… for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:18-20).” I pray that for myself, for our New York campaigners and for all our Jews for Jesus missionaries. And I pray this also for you, dear reader.