If nothing else, our job is to raise the issue that Yeshua (Jesus) is the Messiah for Jews and Gentiles. If our audience of the moment happens to be predominantly Christian, there’s no end to the stories we get from people who used to know a nice Jewish man,” or who “worked for a Jewish person who was devout—very serious about his faith.” The Christian friends are seldom sure if that Jewish person was Orthodox or Reform, but they know that when the Jewish holidays came around, he and his family celebrated them.
“Did he go to synagogue with any regularity?” we ask. “Oh no, he said he wasn’t the best example of a practicing Jew.”
The Christian often goes on to say, “I never quite got around to sharing my faith. I mean I tried, but I never had the opportunity. They knew what we believed, but we weren’t sure what they believed.” (Maybe that Jewish person wasn’t sure, either!)
So the stories usually go. And (God forgive us) it’s easy when we hear so many in the course of our ministry to insulate ourselves with cynicism against the risk of a dashed hope. Yet in God’s timing the transforming power of the gospel prevails!
One day my wife, Lyn, and I met Lori and Clark and through them, Rebecca and Robert, whose story at first sounded all too familiar. Robert came from a Reform Jewish family who was trying to make its fortune in the rather Baptist world of Dallas. It was the usual scenario of love, family competition, broken expectations and ambitions (and a little strife, too).
Robert and Rebecca were in love. Rebecca was a believer inYeshua; Robert was not. But Rebecca said Robert was so special, so different, quite sensitive and caring. Surely God understood, didn’t He?
Though it seemed the same story we hear so often, this time it was different. What was different? On a superficial level, Robert was different. He came from England and had spent most of his young life in Dallas; yet he had stubbornly clung to a very becoming prep school accent.
The important difference, however, was not Robert’s charming accent. It was Lori’s willingness to go out on a limb. She had put herself in the middle like a Levite priest (or maybe like a prophet conveying bad news of exile along with good news of eternal reconciliation). Gentile believers often shrink from risking the loss of a supposed friendship, which may be entirely conditional on the issue of causing offense. Lori did not. She engineered a meeting for Lyn and me with this truly star-crossed couple.
We felt some empathy with Robert and Rebecca, but more important we had some answers. Lyn is Jewish; I’m not. She knows what it’s like to be in love with a non-believer. (When we were first attracted to one another, I was a churchgoer but not yet a real Christian. I came to faith before we were married.) We could tell Robert and Rebecca that ours was no “mixed marriage” because the biggest thing in our life was settled. We both had made Jesus our King.
The other wonderful feature that made this story different was that the Lord was using all of fiancee Rebecca’s recent uncertainty and emotional rollercoaster to draw her back to Himself in a stronger way. It produced conflict, but it was a very righteous scriptural tension.
So we sat in Lori and Clark’s living room (which had served as the scene for some meaningful witness long before we came into the picture!). We established a few things. Robert and Rebecca agreed that it would not be fair for either partner to try to fake living entirely in the other’s world. Robert was practically smothering under his family’s control. Youthful idealism was running very high for both of these sweethearts. It needed to be replaced by an idealism based on the reality of God’s revelation.
It took us nearly an hour to give Robert cultural permission to talk about spiritual things. (Spiritual matters are not a safe subject any more in our Western culture.) We asked Robert if he had ever had a prayer answered. Was his life extended against the odds for any purpose? Had he ever experienced a coincidence that seemed to carry a hint of some divine message?
Robert quickly thought of specific instances, yet he remained very tentative, unable to draw any conclusions from them. He had shoved them out of his consciousness almost as quickly as they had entered. Losing his job, his car and his shelter that week was no coincidence. Lori sheepishly confessed that she had prayed for God to do whatever it would take to reveal Himself to an attentive Robert.
We were confident in offering Robert the hope of God’s no-lose covenant. We embarked on a whirlwind tour from Genesis through Zechariah just to demonstrate the credibility of the revelation we have. At the close, Robert prayed that if all this was true, God would remove any blinders he might have.
About 18 hours later, Robert asked Yeshua into his heart to be his Savior and Lord. Lori, Clark and Rebecca were there when it happened. God had used some pastor’s sermon at just the right time to touch Robert’s heart.
“And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house,
Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20: 20, 21).
Though God had graciously used Lyn and me in Robert’s odyssey toward eternal life in Yeshua, we missed the actual moment of his new birth. Where were we? At another church, standing at a literature table hearing another Gentile believer’s story about a Jewish friend of hers…a wonderful woman she had known for a long time…