When Wrong Is Dead Wrong
Rabbi, you are wrong! Dead wrong!”
The exclamation that spilled out of my mouth surprised me as much as it did the rabbi and the talk show host. From the start the rabbi had been so erudite and eloquent. He had done most of the talking, while I had barely managed a chance to say who I was and what I believed.
The rabbi had stated unequivocally that Jews couldn’t possibly believe in Jesus and remain Jews, and that attempts to “proselytize” Jews were offensive to both Jews and Christians. “After all,” he had asserted, “we should each respect the religious tradition of the other.” He had said it all in sonorous tones, with the self-assurance and skill of an orator who knew exactly what to say and how to say it.
Then in anguished response I had blurted out, “Rabbi, you are wrong! Dead wrong!”
The rabbi’s countenance showed the utter disgust and contempt he felt toward me. Although radio talk shows thrive on lively repartee about controversial subjects, our host was momentarily shaken by this turn of events. But quickly composing himself, he asked me, “Why do you say that the rabbi is wrong?”
“He is wrong and Judaism is wrong when they say that Jesus is not the Messiah,” I answered. “Jesus rose from the dead, and he is the Messiah for everyone, and that includes Jews. After all, if the Messiah of Israel didn’t come for the Jews, then for whom did he come? It wasn’t the followers of Zeus or the believers in Krishna who had been led to expect a resurrected redeemer.”
I guess I should have been more cool and collected, more civil. Some would say that I should have couched my statements in phrases like “in my opinion…” “it seems to me…” or “have you considered…” That is the polite way in which civilized people communicate, using the same tone of voice that one would use to say, “please pass the sugar.” My candor must have seemed terribly rude, because the rabbi behaved as though I had slapped him across the face. He was so angry that he could barely maintain his composure. I guess in his book of manners it was absolutely odious to tell a person as important as he that he was wrong.
Yet the statement needed to be made. As I look back to that experience, I continue to feel some of the same sense of anguish and alarm that prompted my outburst. It is extremely painful for me to think of that rabbi, my relatives and fellow Jews being so unwilling to hear what I so well know to be true—that Yeshua is THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE, and that no one can come to God the Father without him (John 14:6).
They would say that as a Christian I believe in a cruel, narrow-minded God, and that God surely must be different from what the Bible teaches about him. God is not cruel. He did provide a way of salvation when he was not obligated to save anyone. That way was the atoning death of Yeshua (Jesus). Some might not think it convenient; but since when has it ever been convenient to do God’s will? If the rabbi or anyone else should choose not to believe the New Testament portion of the Scriptures even though God wants them to believe it, should I try to comfort and accommodate them in their unbelief?
For those who do believe, perhaps the best known New Testament verse is John 3:16. Most Christians know it so well that there is no need for me to quote it here. But do you know the rest of the passage? “He that believeth on him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). This verse tells us clearly who is condemned—”he that believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” If we cannot regard that verse as being reliable, how can we take any assurance from the previous verses that promise eternal life to all who believe in him?
The Scriptures are true, and the truth is not always reassuring. It can be disconcerting. If we regard the Scriptures as being reliable when they say that we have eternal life by believing in the Son of God, we must also believe that those who do not believe are condemned.
Do you recall to whom Jesus spoke those words concerning the new birth and salvation in the Son of God alone? Jesus said them to Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. Nicodemus recognized that Jesus was a teacher sent from God, but the Savior told him that that kind of recognition was not enough. “You must be born again,” he said (John 3:7).
Most Jewish leaders today would take offense if we told them what Jesus told Nicodemus. But if the Savior told a leader of the Jews that he must be born again, how can we say otherwise?
We are to be modest and humble about our opinions. But when it comes to the truthfulness of the Bible and the messiahship of Jesus and his being the only way of salvation, are these merely our opinions, or are they God’s revealed truth? Indeed, we ought to be constrained in our conjecture, but we must be forthright in fact. Woe to us if we allow ourselves to be more broad-minded than God!
Far too many church leaders who know Christ shy away from forthrightness that might offend. They would rather muffle themselves and mute their testimonies than cause offense or commit any act that would lead to bad public relations. Lay Christians do that, too. By our attitudes and actions we often tell people that we feel it’s more important for us to get along with them and promote mutual esteem than it is for us to state the serious truths of life that might offend them.
I, too, would rather a million times over tell people that they are right than that they are wrong. I would really rather get along with everyone than disappoint or offend anyone. In times past I have bought items of clothing that I didn’t really want rather than offend or contradict a sales person who said that they looked very nice on me. I’ve agreed with parents who thought that their babies were beautiful and intelligent, when the children seemed rather ordinary to me.
Those were not eternal, earth-shaking issues, and I could afford to be lenient, diplomatic, or even make an occasional imprudent purchase. But when it comes to the eternal issues of life and death and following God, I must be less than diplomatic when necessary. I must contradict you, the rabbi, or anyone else who thinks that there is any possible way to please God without Christ. In that case, I must assert, “You are wrong! Dead wrong!”
There can be only one way of salvation because there is only one God. There is not a God for the Jews and another God for non-Jews. If God were to allow another path of grace apart from salvation in the name and atoning death of Christ, he would be diminishing or even trivializing the meaning of Calvary.
Faced by those who are wrong about Jesus, we cannot afford the kind of broad-mindedness that would prevent us from contradicting them. Whether they are Jews or Gentiles, if they will not accept the clear statement of Scripture about God’s only way to salvation, they are wrong—dead wrong—and only Jesus can make them right—right with God, that is. At the risk of offending them, we must tell them that they are wrong. That’s the bad news; but there’s also the good news. We can tell them that if, according to their way of “convenient” thinking, our God is narrow-minded, he is also big hearted, and that he waits to forgive and receive them if they’ll do it his way.