As you read this month’s newsletter, I am most likely out on the streets of New York City, handing out broadsides (gospel tracts). I hope that many of you held onto last month’s prayer calendar and are interceding for us as we launch into our Summer Witnessing Campaign.
We anticipate divine encounters and are eager to see the Lord work in the hearts of those He brings our way. Over the years, I have had the joy of leading people to the Lord right out on the streets and that is always wonderful. I have also had many conversations with people who were initially hostile but ended up giving their contact information to hear more. Yet, odd as it may seem, I recall street encounters with other believers in Jesus as some of the most wonderful demonstrations of God’s grace during Campaign.
While our purpose is to reach unbelievers, God often sends Christians our way just when we are tired and discouraged, when someone has said an unkind word, tried to slap tracts out of our hands or extended some other less-than-friendly gesture.
I think it was the third or fourth time in one hour that I had received just such a “gesture” when I turned to see a big grin moving toward me, an outstretched hand to shake, followed by a giant bear hug. I can still see his face—Gino from Brooklyn. He put his strong arm around my shoulder, hugged me and shook me just as hard as he could. “You must be a believer,” I smiled wanly, stating the obvious. Gino replied, “Hey, I’m just a brother from another mother.” We laughed, but it was true, and all my momentary feelings of rejection and fatigue simply melted away.
We talk about “divine encounters” as those times when God brings us an unbeliever in whose heart He’s been at work. But I think that encounters with Gino and others like him are just as divine, just as much a part of the wonderful plan that God delights to show to a watching world.
I was recently reminded of that plan, and the surprising means God has used to reveal it, as I was reading from the Gospel of John. Caiaphas the high priest, by the Spirit, declared concerning Jesus that it was “expedient for us that one man should die for the people …” John then comments further that Jesus’ death was indeed for the Jewish nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad” (John 11:49-52).
I find that so remarkable, don’t you? Jesus’ death was not only to bring salvation for the Jewish nation, but also for the purpose of “gather[ing] together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad.” Every time we see evidence of this, it should indeed be considered a divine encounter.
I am so thankful that Jesus brought salvation to the Jewish people, but I am equally grateful that His purposes extended so much further. How strange it is that some Christians either forget or dismiss the first part of that verse—that Jesus gave His life for the people of Israel. For whatever reason, to some Christians, salvation for the Jewish nation seems irrelevant, passé or somehow unnecessary.
I don’t see how one can speak of salvation for all the other nations without speaking of salvation for the people of Israel. In fact, the two purposes are interdependent. If it weren’t for the fact that Jesus came to save the Jewish nation, the other children of God would not have been gathered together. Further, the fact that those other children, once scattered abroad, have indeed been brought together, is proof positive that salvation in Jesus has come to the Jewish people.
Whenever I have the opportunity to share in a church service, I try to convey to my brothers and sisters that because of Jesus, we are all children of Abraham by faith. As a result, they now share with me in a rich heritage—just as all believers now share in the heritage of the people of God and all that He has done to reveal Himself through the Fathers and the Prophets and the Festivals.
Recently, after one service, a gentleman approached me with tears in his eyes and said, “I am so grateful that God included me, that He grafted me into that tree of blessing as well.” Yet I also meet people who attempt to blur the distinction between the children of Israel (Jewish people) and the other children of God who have been gathered into one “new man” (Ephesians 2:14-15).
It is a strange byproduct of this theology that by blurring distinctions between Jews and Gentiles, people actually minimize the beauty of the unity that Jesus accomplished by the power of His death and resurrection.
That unity in Christ, accomplished so long ago, has not erased the unique character of any people group. If it had, there would be no story to show the world how wonderful it is, for example, that in Christ, Jews and Arabs can forgive and love one another. Our unity is not limited to something God did in the past. It is a current, relevant reality to be enjoyed today, through fellowship in the Son. It is a story to Jesus’ finished work and His fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
The promise of the Messiah was that He would be “a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel” (Luke 2:32). Some are offended by our insistence on retaining any Jewish identity beyond that of the spiritual sense in which they share. “Because of Jesus, aren’t we all Jews?” they ask. Well, not exactly. But in Messiah we are am echad, one people in Him, and that is even better. Diversity need not cause division. Like Gino said, we are “brothers from another mother.”
Of course we also meet Jewish people who do not believe in Jesus and are also offended by our insistence that we are still Jews. “If you believe in Jesus, doesn’t that make you a Gentile?” they ask. Well, no. But in Messiah, I have gained a whole new and ever-expanding family. My brothers and sisters now include children of God once scattered but now gathered together as am echad, one people in Him. And the invitation I extend to my own Jewish people is not to simply add Jesus into their identity, but to become transformed into a new person in Messiah Jesus, and to identify with both Jews and Gentiles who share in His likeness.
God is calling us to invite all people to follow after Yeshua, (Jesus) the Messiah of Israel and become children of Abraham through faith in Him. That is why I am currently in New York City for our Summer Witnessing Campaign. But oh, the joy of encountering those who have already responded to His invitation, are excited to see the gospel go out, and who stop to encourage us on our way!