A Newborn at 84
Ruth is one of the thousands who saw our Yeshua ad in Time magazine last year. Like hundreds of other inquisitive Jewish people, she sent in the coupon for a free copy of Yeshua, the Jewish Way to Say Jesus. Her coupon was processed at our San Francisco headquarters, the book was mailed to her home in Chicago, and her name and address were sent to our Chicago branch. There Stuart Rothberg, a student and part-time worker with Jews for Jesus, was assigned to follow up on Ruth’s interest.
After waiting a sufficient time for the book to arrive and be read, Stuart called Ruth to see if she had received it, read it, and had any questions he might answer. Ruth was happy to hear from Stuart and quite open to discussing spiritual matters. She was amazingly receptive to his basic explanation of the gospel. After that, Ruth and Stuart communicated several times by telephone, each time discussing significant aspects of Yeshua’s identity and what he came to accomplish. Still, at 83 and quite set in her ways, Ruth held fast to her own view of how a person could get right with God, i.e. by being as good as possible and trying not to hurt anyone.
When I came on staff with the Chicago branch of Jews for Jesus, I fell heir to Stuart’s contacts when he left to assume leadership of a local congregation. He filled me in on his contact with Ruth, and I began meeting with her shortly afterwards.
Ruth was always delighted to see me. Each week we would spend a few minutes catching up on the events of the past week, and eventually I would steer our conversation to spiritual matters. During the next several months we discussed many basic truths of the gospel by reading various evangelistic materials together. I also gave Ruth a book about a Jewish believer who had escaped the Holocaust. After a while it seemed that Ruth was really beginning to grasp the ideas we were discussing.
During one of my visits I brought along a young Jewish believer. Ruth appeared very interested in his story. As once again I went over the basic ideas of the gospel, she nodded and gave many indications that she was close to salvation. However, I decided not to ask for a commitment at that time. I would wait a week and then try to ascertain how Ruth had understood the matters we were discussing.
The following week I used a diagnostic question” to see if Ruth now understood salvation by faith in the Messiah. I said, “Ruth, if you were to die tonight, God forbid, and someone were to ask you why you should be permitted to spend eternity in God’s presence, what would you say?”
Then what I had feared might happen did happen. Ruth responded, “I’d tell them that I’ve always tried to be a good person and not hurt anyone, and that I have always believed in God.” After all those visits, books and hours of conversation, Ruth’s response was essentially the same as the first day we met. I began to wonder if she would ever understand the gospel message, and I considered the possibility that my visits had meant nothing more to her than the fulfillment of her need for companionship.
I still continued to visit Ruth on a regular basis. Each week we read and discussed a chapter from the book of Matthew. One day we read Matthew 15:1-10 and discussed the concept of authority and God’s commands versus man’s traditions. I emphasized our need to follow God and not some man-made religious system. Although it was difficult for me to tell if our conversation had really affected Ruth, I felt that it had been a productive visit.
Two weeks later I visited Ruth again and we finished the 15th chapter of Matthew. I reviewed the authority issue we had discussed on my previous visit, and then we turned to what we’d just read. First we discussed what makes a person unclean before God, i.e. our sinful nature, and what it causes to come out of us (Matthew 15:10-20). Next we looked at the kind of faith and attitude God wants from us (Matthew 15:21-28). Finally, we saw God’s ability to supply abundantly for the needs in our lives (Matthew 15:29-39).
The Holy Spirit was working powerfully that day. As we read and discussed each section of Scripture, there was direct and immediate application of the gospel. We went from God’s being the ultimate source of authority (particularly in the moral realm) to humanity’s sinful nature, to our inability, unworthiness and need for reliance on God, and finally to God’s ability to provide abundantly for our need. We had discussed all those points before, but now, for the first time, they seemed to fall into place for Ruth.
Sensing her new comprehension, I reviewed the statements and verses at the back of the Questions and Answers from Jews for Jesus booklet. Not only did Ruth now say that she believed those basic truths; she was able to explain them in her own words. Then I asked that “diagnostic question” again. Finally, after months of instruction, I heard the answers I needed to hear from Ruth: “I should be permitted to spend eternity with God because I believe that Jesus died and rose again so my sins could be forgiven, and I believe in who he is.” Hallelujah! Next we read and discussed the sinner’s prayer at the back of the book. I explained to Ruth that just saying the words didn’t save her because God saw her attitude. She understood and willingly prayed the prayer of faith and commitment.
A while later I left. As I walked down the hall of Ruth’s building, I committed this now 84-year-old “newborn” into God’s hands for grounding and growth.
You see, it’s all worthwhile, and it really does work. People do send in for the Yeshua book when they see our ads. And by God’s grace and mercy, the lives of many are changed and his kingdom grows. I know that you are rejoicing with us over this precious fruit. Without your involvement through prayer and giving, things like that just might not happen. Of course God can save people without human help. But he does use ministries and people to bring others to himself and isn’t it great that sometimes he chooses to use you and me?