For Heaven’s Sake: David & Liz Block Meet the Messiah
The year was 1969. The event had been advertised on the radio again and again. I was a high school pupil at Krugersdorp High School, and I arose at four o’clock in the morning to see the comet. I watched the blaze with utter awe as its tail stretched across the eastern skies. My love affair with astronomy was ignited.
South African astronomer Jack Bennett, who discovered the comet, and whose name the heavenly object bore, became my hero. With my father’s encouragement, I telephoned him the next day and asked rather timidly, May I meet you?” To my surprise, he invited me to discuss the comet with him over tea. It was really then that the small, hidden flame that had been ignited in me began burning to understand the cosmos.
Shortly after that, my father bought me a four-and-a-half-inch reflector telescope, no small thing for a teenager. With that incredible instrument, I could look at planets like Saturn and at some of the nebulae in which stars are born.
I wanted to pursue studies in astronomy, and my father was my biggest supporter. Leon Block always encouraged me to question things, to look beyond the ordinary and to make up my own mind. After all, we were Jews, and that was part of our tradition.
Both of my parents’ Orthodox Jewish families have their roots in Lithuania, and we certainly kept to all the traditions as well. My mother lit the Sabbath candles, and we had traditional Sabbath meals together. I have vivid memories of our walks to the synagogue, both on Friday night and Saturday. We kept Passover. I fasted on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. I had my bar mitzvah . We were practicing Jews, and I did all the things expected of a good Jewish boy. I felt that I was doing the best I knew how to live out my Jewish faith.
That did not mean I was unquestioning about the things of God. On the contrary, I would listen in synagogue as the rabbis expounded about the personal God who had spoken to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses and wonder how I fit into all of that.
By the time I entered university, I became concerned over the fact that I had no assurance that God was, indeed, a personal God. I knew that He was a historical God and had delivered our people from the hand of Pharaoh, but that seemed far removed from me in this scientific age. Those were “stories” as it were. I didn’t know if I could meet the God of the Torah. Where were the personality and the vibrancy of a God who could speak to David Block? If God were truly God, I reasoned, why had He suddenly changed His character? The seeds of doubt were sprouting in me.
In order to follow my interest in astronomy, I entered “Wits,” the University of the Witwaterstrand in Johannesburg. I sought a Bachelor of Science degree in applied mathematics and computer science. For the professional astronomer I hoped to become, such a background was essential.
During those undergraduate days, I met regularly with Dr. Lewis Hurst, a dear family friend. Dr. Hurst, a professor of genetics and medicine at Wits, had asked for some private, informal lessons in astronomy. We discussed the universe and its constituents — galaxies, stars and planets — what they were like and how they had formed through the eons. It was aweinspiring for both of us. We also tackled questions about origins, exploring various arguments for the “accidental” existence of everything, including life. Professor Hurst always listened patiently as I wrestled my way through various issues and reached for answers. I shared my feelings about the cosmos with him — that it was so beautiful, and God was so creative to have made this stunning world. I even told him my doubts.
Were we, as Shakespeare said, just as a “fleeting shadow to appear and then disappear”? What was our purpose for living — the reason for being here? Was there a Designer out there? Did we go anywhere when we died?
Professor Hurst listened thoughtfully and said, “David, there is an answer to all your questions. I know that you come from an Orthodox Jewish family, but would you be willing to meet with a dear friend of mine, the Reverend Mr. John Spyker?”
My parents had taught me to seek answers where they may be found, so I consented to meet with this Christian minister. Of course, in my heart, when I focused my telescope on Saturn and saw it in all its majesty and splendor — its rings simply encircling that globe — I just knew that there was a Great Designer. In fact, I knew there must be a personal God.
The Reverend Mr. Spyker read to me from Romans 9:33, where Paul says that Yeshua is a stumbling block to Jewish people, but those who believe in Him will never be ashamed.
Suddenly it all became very clear to me. Yeshua had fulfilled the messianic prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures, such as where the Messiah would be born and how He was to die. While my people were still waiting for the Messiah, I suddenly knew that Jesus was and is the Messiah. That day, in October of 1976, I surrendered my heart and soul to Him.
The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob brought me to a place where I could know Him. It was not on the basis of blind faith or wishful thinking but because He took the trouble to show me that He wants to be known.
Asked if he accepted the historical existence of Jesus, Albert Einstein responded, “Unquestionably! No one can read the gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life. I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene.”
As a scientist and a professor of applied mathematics and astronomy at Wits University, I think logically and reason things out. That was how my search for God began. I saw astronomical evidence, and it demanded a verdict. The next logical step was to want to meet this Designer face to face. I searched for Him, and as I studied the cosmos, I could not miss His message. Born a son of Abraham, by faith I also became a son of God, an heir to all the blessings and promises of His eternal kingdom.
I grew up in a small village in the Orange Free State, the fourth of five children born to my Jewish parents, Bill and Phyllis Levitt. Although the synagogue nearest our home was not a very active one, my mother and father taught me many Jewish traditions. I have always been tremendously proud of my Jewish heritage. When I was little, the highlight of each week was the lighting of the Sabbath candles and returning to the dining room at supper time to find a little gift from my father at each place.
I was only nine years old when my father died. Soon thereafter, perhaps from a yearning for contact with him, I began to study many mystical Eastern belief systems: Buddhism, Hinduism, astral projection, astrology, yoga and other philosophies that I hoped would fill my spiritual hunger. I enjoyed telling friends’ and teachers’ fortunes with tarot cards. I was fascinated with notions of “karma” and of communication with the dead. That is not to say that I left my Judaism behind. I still celebrated the great festivals, including Passover, and I fasted every Yom Kippur — not from the usual age of twelve or thirteen, but from the age of ten.
For years, I avoided studying anything to do with Christianity, possibly because I considered all non-Jewish Western peoples as Christians. That meant Hitler was a Christian and so was the boy who pushed my brother off his bicycle, shouting, “Jesus killer!”
During my last two years of high school, I compromised a bit by dating one of these “Christians,” that is, a Gentile. During the second year of our relationship, he did the unthinkable. He actually committed his life personally to Jesus Christ. Immediately and enthusiastically he began to share with me what he had done and why. I argued and argued with him. I was sure that I already knew who Jesus was: a guru like Krishna, a prophet like Mohammed.
One of that young man’s gifts to me was a Gideon’s Bible he had received at school. He had read it carefully and marked what seemed to him to be key passages. We talked on the telephone once a week. Each time we would debate his claims about the messiahship of Jesus. And each time after his call, I would open the Bible randomly to a place where his underlining highlighted the very subject about which we had just argued. Hmmm. What could this mean?
During a brief visit to his hometown, I decided to attend church with him. I was drawn to the people I met there. Their love for one another made a deep impression. I only wished they wouldn’t mention Jesus so often. After each service, I made a long list of the “nonsense” I had heard, perhaps to keep myself from being taken in. At one particular Bible study the last night of my stay, I decided to take careful notes of all the incorrect teachings, absurdities and inaccuracies. But, as I sat there listening, my pen poised, it began to dawn on me that what they were saying rang true.
Though my relationship with that young man came to an end, I soon began attending church on my own. Yet I still clung to the view that Jesus was only one of the ways to God. One day, a guest speaker — a Jewish man — came to preach. What else he said I do not recall, but he did declare that Jesus is the only Way. Infuriated, I walked out. Back home I lay on my bed, telling God I could never accept such a narrow view. Then I had a vision. Jesus stood before me and affirmed that He was, indeed, the One and Only Narrow Way, the Savior whom the patriarchs and prophets had anticipated.
From that time on, I began to follow Him. My life was filled with a peace I had never known. Of course, I still had many questions that needed answering, but I found in studying the Scriptures and discussing concerns with people I respected that my subjective experience had roots in a rational, objectively based belief in the Messiah of Israel.
I began my faith walk with Yeshua in 1976 as I was about to start my university training. It was the same year that David Block came to believe. However, David and I did not officially meet until 1981.
In 1980, David was invited to lecture at the University of the Orange Free State in Bloemfontein. He had been asking the Lord for a companion, and he desired to marry a Jewish believer in Jesus. He seriously wondered how God was going to answer such a specific prayer. It was quite possible that he could meet a Jewish believer in a large, cosmopolitan city such as Johannesburg or Cape Town — but in Bloemfontein?
Then one day I recognized David at a classical music concert I attended. I had heard him speak at my church two months earlier. We had never been formally introduced, but since we were the only Jewish believers in town, I suspected that there were some well-intentioned “matchmakers” who would like to see us meet. With this in mind, I walked up to David and said, “Hi, I believe you’re David Block. I’m Liz Levitt, and I’m a Jewish believer. I wanted to meet you before someone embarrasses us.”
Well, that was the beginning of our wonderful relationship! We were married in 1982, and now we serve the Lord together as husband and wife.
Although I am a lecturer in geography at the Soweto campus of Vista University and David is a professor at Wits, we have other areas of ministry as well. God has blessed us with a son, Aaron Eliahu, who is two years old and keeps us very occupied. I serve on the Board of Directors of Jews for Jesus South Africa, and I minister with David through his slide presentations at churches, universities and corporations throughout South Africa and abroad.
In coming to know the Anointed One, David and I both have discovered the meaning and purpose of our lives right now and hope for eternity. Our prayer is one of thanksgiving for God’s faithful work in our lives and that He would continue to use us — for heaven’s sake!