Sometimes I think that Jewish believers in Christ enjoy things more than other Christians who are not Jewish. I must admit that this is a biased, stereotyped opinion on my part. I think it stems from my personal culture and experiences of being Jewish and having to live in and cope with a predominantly Gentile world.
Historically, our lot as Jews has never been easy. Frequently exiled, threatened with persecution and extinction, we have needed some device to help us deal with life’s often harsh realities. My people have learned to cope with tragedy and misfortune through humor. We have developed the ability to look at ourselves and laugh away the tears.
We also think and express ourselves in extremes and hyperboles. For example, a Gentile mother might warn her bareheaded offspring, You’d better wear a hat. It’s cold outside.” But the Jewish mother would probably say, “Put on your hat. You’ll catch pneumonia!” To the question, “How’s business?” a Gentile might answer, “Not so hot this week.” A Jewish businessman describing a low-profit week might exclaim, “The competition is killing me. They’re digging my grave!”
The hyperboles are not always in a negative frame. For example, who could verbally display more joy about a daughter’s marriage or a son’s good report card than a Jewish parent?
“Believe me,” a Jewish mother will confide, “My daughter married a prince. He worships the ground under her feet!”
Or a Jewish father will complain in mock despair, “That youngest son of ours—he’s too smart—always a step ahead of us, that one! You should see the report card he brought home. He’s a regular Einstein!”
And who could compete with the joy my people express in the synagogue at Simchat Torah when they celebrate the completion of the annual reading of the Five Books of Moses? They parade the holy scrolls around the sanctuary and rejoice with singing and dancing as David rejoiced before the Lord in days of old.
Jewish people concern themselves as much with worldly pleasures as any other people, but I think we also differentiate between hedonistic enjoyment and simcha, the higher joy that comes from appreciating what God has provided.
One Jewish writer put it this way:
There is a moral duty which your moralists underrate criminally—the duty to enjoy the world which God has created.
(Jacob Klatzkin, 1882-1948)
Knowing Jesus is the main reason for my joy. And I think that being Jewish has taught me to rejoice with more gusto.
The Hebrew Scriptures contain seventeen different words that are translated as “rejoice.” My favorite of these Hebrew words is sameach (sah-MAY-ach). It means “to shine, to gleam, to give forth light, to be bright.” In the context of my knowing Jesus, to me it means to be radiant with the joy of God’s peace, to beam with the warmth and glow of his love.
That kind of rejoicing does not negate seriousness. We Jews for Jesus are very serious about enjoying our faith. If you have read some of our broadside gospel tracts, you know that they combine funny and serious statements. We find humor in the human predicament, but all our statements about God and our relationship to him are very serious.
King David expresses it this way in Psalm 2:11: “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.”
Philosopher-writer Dan Marquis once commented, “It has been my observation and experience, and that of my family, that nothing human works out well.” One who does not believe in God has little to keep him from such a cynical attitude, but we who serve the Lord have much in the past, present and future to give us hope and joy.
God not only forgives the sins and mistakes of our past, he also transforms them into lessons to help us avoid making the same mistakes in the future. Our present difficulties become worth enduring as we look to him. And, as we endure, we find small joys that are capable of growing large as we nourish them through contemplation.
What shall we say, then, of the future? Though difficulties may await us, we can say with the Apostle Paul, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengtheneth me” (Phillipians 4:13). Our entire future is as bright as the promises of God.
As a believer in Yeshua, I awake each morning thrilled by the prospect of good things I expect to happen before the end of the day. I love to rise early so things can begin happening, and I eagerly look forward to the rest of the day. There is a special reward to those of us who proclaim the Good News of salvation. As each day progresses we often receive “good news” from others about the fruits of our labors.
You can experience that kind of joy, too. You need not be a professional missionary to feel it. You only need to remember what God has done and is continuing to do for you in Christ. Then tell others as he gives you the opportunities.
If you meet someone today who does not have a smile, give him or her one of yours and explain why you are smiling. Maybe it will start someone on the path toward gaining the same reason for smiling—rejoicing in the Lord.
My Jewish mother (and father, too) often used to say, “Enjoy, enjoy!” It was usually about food. Since I gave my life to Yeshua I have partaken of the Bread of Life. I have tasted that the Lord is good. I have a real reason to enjoy, and I want to tell everyone I meet, “Rejoice in the Lord always and…the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phillipians 4:4-7).