Jews, Christians and the Stumbling Block
Reprinted with permission from Charisma Online
Although we are certainly called to love and protect Israel, we cannot back away from sharing Jesus with Jewish people.
As Hezbollah rockets are falling on northern Israel and Iran’s president is vowing to wipe the Jewish state off the map, Israeli leaders have been surprised to learn that evangelical Christians in the United States are their best friends. We are expressing solidarity with the nation of Israel like never before.
That’s a good thing, because Christians in previous times have been guilty of harboring anti-Semitism. Thankfully we are adjusting our attitudes and our nation is siding with democracy and against terrorists.
Yet our coziness with Israel has created an awkward theological dilemma. Although we feel a biblical obligation to protect Jews from ethnic hatred (and we should), we also have been given a mandate to share the gospel with Jew and gentile alike. After all, the apostle Paul himself, the most celebrated Jewish convert to Christianity ever, told us that the message of Christ was sent “to the Jew first” (Rom. 1:16, NASB).
To complicate things, some Jews believe that Christian evangelism is a form of anti-Semitism, as if converting a person to faith in Jesus strips them of their Jewishness. For that reason, some Christians who have become involved in pro-Israel activism actually have stopped sharing the gospel with Jews altogether. Some have even developed strange doctrines that suggest that Jews, because of God’s Old Covenant promises, are granted special tickets to heaven as if they don’t need Jesus to save them from their sins.
I realize I am sticking my neck out to say this, but let’s use some logic here. Do we believe the Bible or not? If the Christians in the book of Acts, most of whom were Jews who converted to Christ, aggressively shared Jesus throughout Israel and beyond, why should we back off from that assignment?
I am grateful that Susan Perlman and my other friends at the Jews for Jesus (JFJ) ministry in San Francisco have not backed down. Throughout the month of July, 150 JFJ staff and volunteers descended upon the greater New York City area including Long Island and northern New Jersey. They distributed 1.8 million gospel pamphlets on the streets, sent 450,000 brochures through the mail and showed a movie about Jesus to 80,000 Yiddish-speaking Chasidic Jews.
And JFJ was happy to announce that 241 Jewish people prayed to receive Christ as their Messiah during their Behold Your God campaign. Besides that, 13 television stations ran reports on JFJ and every major newspaper ran articles, including the Jewish press.
Of course the critics came out in full force. JFJ has come to expect this every time they share their faith with the Jewish community. But one JFJ staffer responded: “If they knew what we knew about Jesus, they would be joining us in the proclamation of the gospel, not opposing it.”
God is not schizophrenic. Yet He calls us not only to love the state of Israel but also to proclaim the message of Christ to the Jewish people. One responsibility does not cancel the other.
And while we are on the subject of Israel and controversy, let me stick my neck out further to say that God also expects us to care about our Arab neighbors, and to share Christ with them as well. Arab Christians living in places such as Bethlehem, Beirut and Baghdad often are sidelined and forgotten in the midst of Middle East violence. They know, perhaps better than anyone, that Jesus is the only hope for reconciliation in that war-torn region.
It is especially discouraging to our Arab Christian brothers when they see us supporting Israeli military actions yet withholding the message of Christ from Jews. To them, it appears we are putting our trust in guns and smart bombs rather than in the power of the gospel.
How do we respond to this complicated crisis? We must defend Israel’s right to exist and support every effort to stop terrorism, whether it is hatched by Hezbollah, al-Qaida or the Iranian government. We must pray for the peace of Jerusalem, which includes praying for the 1.3 million Arabs who live in the state of Israel.
And we must, above all, agree with the apostle Paul’s prayer: “So all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26). Any pro-Israel work we do cannot be truly biblical if we compromise our mandate to share the love of Christ with those He first came to save.