Once a theologian was waxing eloquent about Christ’s passion. He spoke of it as though it were merely a story, a symbol of hope for renewal and rebirth. A young reporter from Christianity Today magazine challenged him with a simple question, Sir, if you were a newspaper reporter standing outside of the tomb on the third day after Christ’s crucifixion, what would you report to your newspaper?” The theologian cleared his throat and answered, “Young man, did you say you were a reporter from Christianity Today or Christianity yesterday?”
Thank God, the cross and empty tomb are not merely symbols! They are historical realities upon which the church, the body of Messiah are securely founded. As the Apostle Paul declared, “And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” (I Corinthians 15:17)
Our faith is based on facts. When we talk about the cross and the tomb we are not reminiscing about yesterday’s Christianity; we are talking about Christianity today. The power that raised the Lord Jesus from the dead is alive and vibrant and at work in the church right now. Yes, worldliness and weaknesses afflict us, and dogma and disagreements sometimes conflict us. Yet as the Bride of our crucified and risen Messiah, we beam a message to a desperate world. There is hope. There are answers. God provided a way for us to have a relationship with Him.
That message is absent from the synagogues even though the hope of resurrection is rooted in the Old Testament. During my days at Moody Bible Institute, I took part in door-to-door evangelism in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood on the north side of Chicago. One day I called upon an older woman who happened to be married to a local rabbi. I asked, “Where do you suppose you will go when you die?” Without blinking an eye she replied, “Down the street to the cemetery.”
My people, the Jewish people, are without God and without hope in this world. Yet the church, believers in Jesus who gather together around the cross and the empty tomb, have a message of hope and life. Through proclaiming our hope, we can help transform the destiny of thousands of Jews who don’t yet know Him.
I’m so thankful to God for this transformation in my life and that of my family. My father’s family were traditional Jews, strongly affiliated with the Jewish community. One day a Christian couple, Scoop and Dot Jackson, told them about Jesus. When no one in the family responded, the Jacksons prayed every day for my father and his family—for seven years!
Despite an apparent lack of results, after that seven years my father, his brother and my grandparents became believers—all within a two week period. My grandfather’s body was ravaged with cancer when he came to faith, and he died soon after. At the funeral my great grandmother mourned the loss of her son as she cried out in Yiddish, “O my Nathan, he’s in the ground, he’s in the ground. O my Nathan, he’s in the ground.” My grief-stricken grandmother, who was only days old in her new faith, was able to put her arm around her mother-in-law and whisper, “No mamma, Nathan is not in the ground. He’s in heaven with the Lord.” That, my dear friends, is the difference Christ makes—all the difference in the world.
Yet most of my people gaze upon the cross and the empty tomb in unbelief. Is there hope for them?
God’s purposes have never been thwarted by human unbelief. Unbelief and sin made the cross necessary, yet Christ was “slain before the foundation of the world.” It was the plan and purpose of God that the way of the cross would lead to the empty tomb. In the same way, with the Jewish people, the Bible says, “Through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles.”
We hear story of many Jewish believers in Jesus and, time after time, one of the steps in their path to faith is the bright light of a story from a friend or coworker who is not Jewish. It is true that you need to be culturally sensitive when witnessing to a Jewish person, but the truth has a way of cutting through cultural barriers.
For example, the cross has been a symbol of persecution to the Jewish people for centuries because of the atrocities committed in the name of the crucified One. Some Jewish people have gone so far as to say, “I could never bring myself to walk into a building with a cross in front of it. That would be like spitting on the grave of my ancestors.” And yet, God has moved in the hearts of many Jewish people to the point where they have accepted a friend’s invitation to church, and it’s been a step along the way to salvation. What people say may differ from what they do once the power of prayer is at work in their lives.
You should never be afraid or ashamed to invite Jewish friends to your church. They may decline, and you should not feel hurt if they do. Just remember, your pastor and your friends at church have much to offer your unbelieving friends—give them the chance to do so. Perhaps your church is having a special concert or cantata to celebrate the Resurrection. That would be a wonderful time to invite a Jewish friend—music is a powerful way of communicating the gospel.
Perhaps one of our Jews for Jesus missionaries is going to be at your church or a church in your area presenting Christ in the Passover. Don’t miss the opportunity to invite a Jewish friend! One of the most common things we hear from Christians who have attended our presentations is, “You know, I just wasn’t sure if I should invite my Jewish friend. Now I really wish I had!” Please don’t be among those to regret a missed opportunity. The worst that can happen (your friend refuses) is far outweighed by the best that can happen.
Some Jewish people, even believers in Jesus, can be a little hard edged in reacting to symbols that have been used to hurt us in the past. The reaction might even take on a sanctimonious tone. Once a Jewish believer who was only a couple of years old in the faith declared, “I would never wear a cross or a crucifix around my neck. My Messiah isn’t hanging on a cross anymore. If I wanted to wear anything around my neck, it would be the sign of an empty tomb.”
Well, I’ve never noticed anyone wearing a symbol of an empty tomb. I’m not encouraging or discouraging wearing a cross, but I’d like to point out that the cross and the empty tomb are inseparable. Without the cross, the empty tomb would be meaningless. Without the empty tomb, the cross would be powerless.
Israel’s unbelief, like that cross outside of Jerusalem, may appear to some like a sign of despair and hopelessness. Yet within the plan and purpose of God, it accomplished a work of reconciliation and will ultimately lead to resurrection. There is an empty tomb in Israel’s future. The Lord asked of the prophet Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” I have abiding confidence that they will. The future of the Jewish people is bright with promise because God has declared the end from the beginning.
God promised a revival, no, a resurrection that will once again shake the world. “For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:15) Life from the dead! That is our hope. That is what God has declared for the future.