As I enter Stewart’s cramped apartment for one of our regular visits, the stale cigarette smell hangs thick in the air. Cigarette butts are scattered about. A battered guitar case leans against the wall. A large window faces the street, but tightly closed, dusty venetian blinds effectively obscure the bright sunlight. Stewart prefers darkness. An old cot sags in the corner. A scarred and dented wooden chair faces the cot—that will be my place for the visit.
Stewart’s girlfriend, Maggie, is also present. She sits in on most of our visits. She had a nominal Christian upbringing. She, too, is open to the gospel, but shares some of Stewart’s objections.
Stewart is a Jewish man living on government aid in a run-down Berkeley apartment building. He’s in his early fifties, but still wears his hair long, ’70s rock star style. For several years he has suffered from an illness that manifests itself in depression, hallucinations and paranoia.
Stewart’s sense of remorse and guilt is multifaceted. He has fierce regrets regarding his life—his three failed marriages and his alienation from his children, as well as his now deceased parents.
We met this past spring, when I first came to the Bay Area. Stewart had been referred to Jews for Jesus by a Christian acquaintance. He was quite open to the gospel message, was drawn to Christians and was even attending church regularly. However, he had never received the Lord. Some of his objections were not particularly Jewish, but others, such as, “I was raised Jewish, so I can’t believe in Jesus,” were.
Since last spring I’d spent a lot of my time with Stewart studying the Gospel of John, which is really an extended invitation to accept Yeshua (Jesus) as Savior. “These things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). Thus, it was easy to occasionally ask Stewart if he felt ready to receive that offer to believe. Stewart’s tangible sense of his own sin also made it easy for him to understand the gospel. However, his reply to the invitation was always: “I just can’t really be sure. I just don’t know.”
On this particular morning, however, my query does not meet with the usual objections. Instead, it appears that God’s Spirit has finally melted away the barriers. Stewart announces, “It’s become clear to me that these books [the Gospels] are very Jewish. Jesus and the disciples were Jewish men discussing Jewish issues.” I can see that both Stewart and Maggie are finally ready to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
After leading them in a prayer of repentance, I rejoice that Stewart, finally extricated from the mud and mire, can share the psalmist’s joyous story of God’s deliverance: “He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD.”
The following correction to this article appeared in the September 2002 Newsletter:
We also featured a story by David Rothstein, which reported that Stewart and Maggie had prayed to receive the Lord during one of their numerous Bible studies with David. Stewart has since let us know that he and Maggie considered themselves believers prior to that event.