Until recently, evangelical Christians didn’t have to think twice about Jewish evangelism. It was simple. We all knew that the Bible is the Word of God. We accepted as absolutely true the doctrine that all have sinned and that “Jesus is the only way to salvation.” We realized the urgent need to present the gospel to everyone so that others might gain forgiveness with God and eternity in heaven. We understood that “everyone” included Jewish people.
Would it surprise you to know that many Christians have turned from the understanding that Jesus is the only way to salvation? This deviation can be seen most clearly in the attitudes of many churches toward Jews. Some question whether the Jewish people need the gospel at all. Others say that Jews need Jesus, but they challenge just about any method of evangelism* that doesn’t begin with a Jewish person approaching a Christian to ask more about Christ.
Why has Jewish evangelism become so controversial? Two reasons present themselves. One is the all too human tendency to choose the easy path, and Jewish evangelism is not easy. The other is that many Christians—whether or not they realize or admit it—want to be “politically correct.” Maybe the second is just part of the first.
Any churches or Christians disposed to avoiding difficulty will shun Jewish evangelism. They will avoid even discussing the matter. If you doubt that, please write to some of the highly placed contemporary Christian heroes. Ask them, “What are you doing to win Jews to Christ?” In many cases, you might be surprised and disappointed at the strength of their commitment to remain inactive. Yet some describe that inactivity in noble or compassionate terms. One says, “I don’t target Jews. I preach the gospel to everyone who comes to my meetings.” Another says, “Yes, Jews need the gospel, but they are so hurt by the Holocaust and persecutions that we dare not speak at this time.”
Some who want to be politically correct say, “The Jews have their own religion, an ancient and noble religion that predates Christianity.” Yes, the Jewish people do have their own religion, and it’s far more authentic than the Hindu, Buddhist or Moslem religions because originally it was based entirely on Scripture.
Yet if the Jewish religion were sufficient, why would the all-wise, all-knowing Son of God tell a religious Jew like Nicodemus, “You must be born again”? Why did God decide that Yeshua (Jesus) should be born to a Jewish mother in a Jewish place in accordance with the Jewish prophets? If the Jews didn’t need Jesus, wouldn’t it have been better to have Him born in Norway, Karachi or Papua, New Guinea, to those who did need Him?
God demonstrated—not only through Scripture but also by the Incarnation at Bethlehem—that if anyone needs Jesus, the Jewish people do. The world’s greatest missiologist and foremost evangelist—Saul of Tarsus (who became Paul the Apostle)—wrote, “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:2). Religion is not enough without the reality of the Redeemer.
Yet it has become a dictum of Christian culture to “avoid offending others at all costs.” To say that Jews need Jesus would rock the boat, would make waves. Any church that attempts to reach Jews with the gospel or openly supports Jewish missionary organizations will find it is unable to maintain friendly relations with the local synagogue, if there is one.
Many Christian individuals have encountered this on a one-to-one level. One dear friend of our ministry wrote to me, “When I first moved to New York, it was very exciting to meet and talk with so many Jewish people. My feeble efforts to witness always seemed to be met with a gracious animosity, allowing me to realize how little I knew of the Jewish culture, how much I needed to learn. The churches seldom addressed the need of reaching the Jewish community, or when they did, were in the same boat as me, unfortunately.” Whether it is through “gracious animosity” or “politically correct dialog,” the Jewish community feels duty bound to pressure evangelical Christians to drop any attempt to do or support Jewish evangelism.
Why? Fear is the reason. They realize what might happen if Jews allow themselves to think about Jesus. His words, His wisdom, His deeds and the beauty and obvious authority of His life exert a powerful attraction.
Jews who feel they must resist Jesus tend to see Him as a threat to the survival of the Jewish community because He becomes the authority to all who know Him. They do not realize that Jewish survival does not depend on submitting to the religion of Judaism but to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Many won’t allow themselves to see how much the evolving religion of the rabbis has deviated from God’s Revelation.
Meanwhile, many Christians don’t realize how very attractive Christ is to Jews and other non-Christians. It’s not “Christianity” that attracts people. The person of Christ draws them. I continually see this attraction to Jesus in my fellow Jews. We are indoctrinated from childhood to believe that Jesus is not an option for us, yet we seem mystically drawn to Him. We feel a certain wonderment and awe toward Him. We wonder who He is, and we feel awed by the loyalty and adoration He has received from so many through the ages. Such feelings can blossom into a hunger that leads to spiritual investigation—which leads to faith and commitment.
So despite opposition from the Jewish community, it is incumbent on the church to continue to evangelize the 12,500,000 Jews in the world. Like everyone else, without Christ, they are lost. Furthermore, Jewish evangelism is almost as important to the church as it is to those unbelieving Jews who need salvation!
I have said it before, and I will continue to say it: Bringing the gospel to the Jewish people is perhaps the most significant issue on which the church will prove it’s character, conviction and commitment to the gospel.
The church proves its confidence in Jesus by earnestly endeavoring to tell all people about Him, regardless of their religious background. If Christians remain mute and do not contend for the faith, if we decline our duty to bring the gospel to Jews as well as to everyone else, we fail. Why? Because such passivity is assent to the world’s supposition that biblical Christianity is no more than another man-made religion. And isn’t that exactly what Satan wants?
The world, the flesh and the devil conspire to convince Christians that there’s no use preaching “our religion” to Jews. Some fall into that trap (and seeing the gospel of Christ as “our religion” is a trap!). Those who don’t know Christ say we are arrogant to suppose that our religion is the Truth. No Christian wants to be arrogant, and many shrivel at the accusation. But let’s not confuse confidence and arrogance. We would be arrogant if we had invented the Bible, if we forged a “myth” of salvation in Jesus based on Jewish expectations. But we did not invent the Bible, which truthfully tells how Christ was born in accord with the Jewish prophets to be the Jewish Messiah, die for our sins and rise again. Christianity is no Gentile invention, nor is it a Jewish myth. It is the truth of God, the Creator of the universe.
Jesus is the means of reconciliation made possible by God’s grace by His invention and decree. Christ gives us no reason to be proud, for He tells us that we are sinners estranged from one another and from God. It is not arrogant to put our confidence in Him or to urge others to consider Him. It would be arrogant for us to behave as though He is “our religion.”
Such arrogance leaves us vulnerable to the line that because Jews have suffered so much from “our religion” they don’t want to hear “our gospel,” they’ll never believe “our message” and they can only be hurt and offended if we try to tell them.
Of course that is the devil’s lie, but it is promoted by the strength of the world and implemented by the weakness of our own flesh. It is true that Jewish people have suffered at the hands of wicked men who wrongly claimed they only did Christ’s bidding. But it is wrong to think that the shame of those who hated in the name of religion can be wiped clean by Christians failing to tell the Jewish people about Jesus. And it is wrong to think that all attempts to tell Jewish people the gospel are doomed to failure.
God’s truth is, “Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace” (Romans 11:5). I’m a Jewish believer in Jesus. My wife is one, and many close friends are Jews who have come to Christ. I once thought I knew almost all Jewish believers by name or reputation, but now the multitude of Jewish believers is beyond my ability to know or to number. And every one of us can tell you that we Jewish people do need the gospel as never before.
Jewish evangelism is important to God because He cares for the Jewish people and wants them to be reconciled to Him. In order for Jewish evangelism to regain its rightful place in the churches, Christians need to recognize that it takes courage to witness to someone who just might be offended, angry or argumentative.
It doesn’t take much courage to wait until someone asks about Jesus, and it doesn’t take much effort to explain what somebody wants to hear. I am not terribly courageous. Like most people I would rather conduct my life so as never to be intrusive or unwelcome—but I cannot allow myself that luxury. My model is not Dale Carnegie, who wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People. Maybe he is the model for the twentieth century, but I think that we Christians had better take our example from the prophets and the apostles. They faithfully served God without taking the easy route, regardless of the cost. We need to do the same.
We need to take a stand with the message of the cross rather than trying to charm people into being an audience first and telling them the truth “some other time” when we feel they are sure to accept it—and us. Unless we realize that every soul without Christ is on the critically endangered list, we won’t be able to begin the rescue and resuscitation operation that God wants to perform. The great commission is to go now; the great sin of omission says, “Later.”
Of course some people do come to Christ in a gradual manner—once they’ve heard that Christ is for them. But let’s make sure it is the wooing of God and work of the Holy Spirit that is gradual…and not our flesh telling us that “now is not a good time to witness.”
Stop and think: Why did God choose the Jews? Was it not to bless all nations through Israel’s Messiah? When God chose Abram, He promised, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3b). It must be evident to even the casual observer or historian that the Jewish people have a divine purpose. That’s the only way we can account for the phenomenal survival and continued vitality of the Jewish community despite every worldly opposition and fiendish persecution.
In this day and age, every living Jew is evidence that the God of the Bible exists and that He keeps His Word. How much more will that be true in the end times, when not merely by our existence but also by our story we will exalt the name of Jesus Christ to the nations? I believe that as we approach the end of history, more and more Jews will come to faith in Yeshua and will tell others about Him. We Jews have the zeal, the “go power” and the enthusiasm for propagating what we believe. We are an international people who understand how to make a cultural transition from one nation to another.
The Jewish people are God’s chosen messengers, but most Jews haven’t yet received the message. The Jewish people are God’s natural missionaries, but most Jews haven’t discovered God’s assigned mission. The time is coming when all Israel shall be saved (Romans 11:26), and my people won’t be saved to sit but to serve. In the end of days, the Jewish people, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, will go forth in mighty power to accomplish the role of entirely successful evangelists that God intends for them. But right now many need to hear the message and be saved. Right now, the church needs to preach the gospel to the Jews so that eventually the Jews can preach the gospel to the world!
* In a book titled Rules for Radicals, Saul Alinsky says that in dealing with an opponent, if you can’t attack their ethics, disparage their methodology. This is what we expect of antimissionaries because they see us missionary-evangelists as their opponents. However, it is most discouraging when Christians hear and repeat portions of the antimissionary propaganda without checking with their own brothers and sisters in Christ to see if it is true.