I’m often asked, How did a nice Jewish boy like you come to believe in Jesus?” In reply I must say, “It wasn’t easy!”
Sure, I knew who Jesus was, but I had always thought that he was not for the Jewish people. I had never considered believing in him as an option for my life. Like most young Jews, I had parents who wanted me to learn about my Jewish roots. To accomplish this, they sent me to an Orthodox Talmud Torah (Hebrew school) that was connected with the local synagogue.
My parents themselves were not very “religious.” They were rather surprised when I came home from Hebrew school with some revolutionary ideas for changes in our lifestyle. Naively I thought that my parents would gladly embrace my newly found zeal for serving God according to Orthodox Judaism. Then it was my turn to be surprised.
The first change I proposed was that we should keep the Jewish kosher laws. In our house we had always eaten any and all kinds of trayf (non-kosher food), so our eating habits became the first battleground. My mother simply would not hear of my ideas on the subject of food. I was to eat whatever was placed before me, or eat nothing at all. In order to be respectful and obedient, I conceded on that issue, although not willingly. I felt that if God commanded it, it was important to keep the kosher laws. The fact that my family would not go along with my convictions hurt, me deeply.
The second battleground became our observance of the Jewish holidays. I really loved celebrating some of the feasts, even though we couldn’t fulfill the commandment to build a succah (booth) on the Feast of Tabernacles because we lived in apartments during most of my years at home. I did especially love to celebrate Purim (the Feast of Esther), Hanukkah and Passover because those holidays told of special miracles that the Lord had performed for the Jewish people. I thought that our God was the most remarkable God a person could ever know, and that he must really love us Jews to do so much to free us and save us time and again from annihilation. But once again, I experienced resistance from the parental front as I tried to observe the holidays as I felt they should be kept.
After a while, the burden became too great. I grew weary of trying to balance my convictions against familial opposition. Besides, as I read the Scriptures, I began to realize that I could not be sure of forgiveness for my sins. There were no longer any blood sacrifices, and I had read in Leviticus 17:11, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.”
Because of all this, after my bar mitzvah (confirmation) at 13, I placed my religious practices on the shelf. I had never stopped believing in God. Nevertheless, I felt that I had reached a dead end as far as religion was concerned.
Not until years later when I was attending college, did I feel the need to hear from God with some answers to my questions about life. I couldn’t understand how God could allow sorrow and pain in people’s lives, especially mine. I was tired of having to worry about my future—about whether or not I would be a success in life; whether or not I would find a good job and security; and whether or not I would fall flat on my face trying. Everything about life seemed so “chancy,” and I was feeling very depressed about all the uncertainty.
Finally I cried out to the Lord in prayer to show me the way that I should live. I hadn’t been involved in any formal religious life for years, but I was earnestly and sincerely seeking God for the first time in my life. I had no idea if or how God would answer me. Then one day I was at college with no classes for an hour and there was a free concert on campus. I went to listen, and to my surprise, it was a gospel concert. Even more amazing was the fact that I sat through the whole thing with my ears straining to receive every word that was sung or spoken about Yeshua (Jesus).
A year earlier, I probably would have walked out. Now I was ready to hear it. I soaked up what was said about Yeshua being my atonement; and the idea that I could be sure of God’s forgiveness for my sins really spoke to my heart. I saw that at last I could have the close relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that I had wanted in my younger years. Still I had a problem. I couldn’t reconcile it all with my idea that Jewish people did not believe in Jesus. I left the concert that day wanting to believe, but I couldn’t let myself. I thought that faith in Jesus was against everything that being Jewish represented.
A few months passed, and although I didn’t know it yet, I was in for another surprise. When I mentioned that gospel concert to my younger brother, he invited me to come with him to a coffeehouse. I had heard about that place. It was a Christian coffeehouse, and I wondered what my brother was doing there. When I badgered him about it, he admitted that he was a believer in Jesus! After that, he was persistent in inviting me to the coffeehouse, and I finally agreed just to get him off my back. I promised to go, but he was not to mention Jesus to me again.
That night at the coffeehouse the final pieces fell into place for me. As I listened, I learned that believing in Yeshua would not change who I was as far as my ancestry and traditions were concerned. After all, Yeshua himself was Jewish, and he had never said that he was “starting a new religion.” He had just claimed to be the way to God the Father. I saw that I could remain Jewish and believe in Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah. After all, I had been born Jewish, and nothing would change that. At last I could have the kipporah (atonement) for sins for which I had searched, and I could be kosher (acceptable) to God. I decided then to believe in Yeshua as my Messiah and Savior and commit my life to him.
I’ve been a believer for almost 12 years now, and I have found that the Hebrew Scriptures have come alive for me like they never did before. I find myself being more Jewish than I was before I believed; and I have more joy in my heritage, culture and traditions. Now every year I lead my family’s Passover seder. As I observe the feast, it’s wonderful to realize that the Lord promised a Redeemer greater than Moses. With Moses my people passed over from physical bondage to freedom; but with Yeshua our Messiah, we pass over from eternal separation from God to eternal life with him.
If I could tell my Jewish people just one thing it would be: Don’t listen to everything that others tell you about Yeshua. Look at the evidence for yourselves and ask the Lord to reveal the truth to you. I know that he will.