I am writing to you from the Jews for Jesus Summer Witnessing Campaign in New York City. Can you pick me out of this picture? I am the one with my mouth open.
Actually, all of us in the picture are opening our mouths in New York City this summer to declare the praises of our great God and to proclaim His glorious gospel. And by God’s grace we are having an impact.
So far we have handed out 367,495 broadsides (gospel tracts). We have prayed with 43 people to receive the Lord. 1,992 people have given us their names and addresses requesting more information, including 259 Jewish people who don’t yet believe.
Along with the victories, we do face quite a bit of rejection and that can be discouraging. Plus, this kind of all-out effort is tiring; no, it’s exhausting. To help keep up our spiritual strength, we have regular chapel services and times of devotion each day. In a recent chapel, I spoke to our campaigners from Luke 3 about John the Baptist and the encouragement we can take from his life and ministry. Maybe you will be encouraged as well.
John was an unsung hero for the Lord, a truly unconventional servant of God. Luke introduces us to John’s ministry by giving some historical context. He mentions seven people who were prominent in politics and/or religion: Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, three tetrarchs and two high priests. He points out that the word of God did not come to these prominent and powerful people. Instead, the Word came to John, son of Zacharias-an unconventional, unknown, somewhat eccentric individual who wore camel skin clothing and ate locusts and wild honey.
These seven powerful people Luke mentions also represented powerful places- not only cities like Rome and Jerusalem, but the Temple. Yet when the Word of God came to John, he was not in any of these prominent places. He was in the wilderness, a place of desolation and discomfort. Some might think it unconventional, though John was not the first to hear from God in the desert. But John was a voice crying out in the wilderness. As Isaiah had prophesied, John had come to prepare his Jewish people to receive their Messiah.
His message, like the prophet who had predicted it, was unconventional and not especially designed to win friends: “Break down mountains and fill up valleys. Repent! Don’t boast of being Abraham’s children. Messiah is coming and none of us are even the slightest bit worthy of Him.” To anyone who was self-satisfied and self-righteous, John’s uncompromising message would have been an affront-but for those who were truly seeking God, his message resonated with truth and many received it.
When large crowds went out to the wilderness to hear John and be baptized, he was not impressed with their show of piety. He wanted to see real fruit. And he refused to receive the attention for himself but instead pointed people to Jesus: “He must increase and I must decrease.”
What a wonderful example John is for us on the Jews for Jesus summer witnessing campaign in New York City. The very week we began this campaign the prominent and powerful people in the New York City area were arguing about budgets, manipulating global finance and voting to legalize gay marriage. Lady Gaga was releasing her multi-platinum recording telling people they are all good because they were “born this way.”
And here we are, not very prominent people and not especially powerful from the average person’s perspective-a small group of mostly young, unknown and not particularly accomplished Jewish believers in Jesus. We’re just handing out our little pieces of paper, our gospel tracts, wearing jeans or shorts along with our (often sweaty) Jews for Jesus T-shirts. (But hey, at least we aren’t wearing camel hair in the subways-and I can assure you our menu is significantly upgraded from locusts and honey!)
But our place is not in the statehouse or on Wall Street or a big stage with television cameras following us. We are voices crying out in the subways, on the city streets and in the parks: “repent and believe the gospel.” Of course, we try to communicate in ways that people can understand. We have developed some wonderful new literature to capture the attention of the masses. (Click here if you didn’t see the literature we posted last month.).
Thousands are taking our literature and talking with us about the Lord, but many Jews and Gentiles react to our message with less than positive comments, calling us names I would never repeat here or anywhere else. But that’s okay; we are in good company. After all, the people of John’s day told him he had a demon. And the one John pointed to-Yeshua? They called Him a glutton and worse. Yet despite those who ridiculed, many opened their hearts to the message. And who’s to say that some who came to ridicule did not change their minds along the way?
Likewise, we can’t presume to know the end of the story of those who oppose us. Each Tuesday night throughout the campaign, we have held lectures that are open to the public. We have been challenging people to answer the question, “Who is He?”. People have been coming out to those lectures to hear what we have to say. So far, each time we have had rabbis as well as other religious Jews come to the lecture. But like some who went out to hear John in the wilderness, these seem mainly interested in disputing or undermining our efforts. But at least they are hearing the gospel message-and who knows what may come of it? (You can view the lectures here).
The venue for the Tuesday lectures is small, but we are also streaming them live on the Internet, so I imagine many more are listening. But we don’t count numbers as the main evidence of our success-we want to be faithful to what God has called us to do.
When you think about John the Baptist, he had a huge following but he never seemed to view that as a measure of his success (though some of his disciples did). In fact, John didn’t have much to say about his own success, and some probably considered him a failure. He was thrown in jail for criticizing the moral failings of one of the political leaders of the day. While in jail, he became so discouraged he doubted his calling and even questioned whether Jesus was actually who he thought He was.
He may have even died in doubt because his questioning of Jesus was the last we hear from him-though we know Jesus sent back a message to affirm His Messiahship. But in the end, John’s head was severed from his neck by a drunken despot who was manipulated by a vengeful adulteress and a shameless adolescent. Humiliating? Maybe, but it’s been said that you can’t humiliate a humble person.
John was unconventional and controversial and some might believe he died an ignoble death-but Jesus commended him as the greatest among those born to women. Yet Jesus also also said that the least of us in the Kingdom is greater than John. How so?
John’s message was the preparation for the gospel. Those of us who are on this side of the cross are privileged to proclaim the finished work of Jesus. There is no greater message, and there is no greater place to proclaim it than right where God has called us to be. Finally, there is no greater purpose than to declare His glorious praise, even from a New York City subway.