I received an email this week from a gay Messianic Jewish man in England who was asked to leave his synagogue after he confessed to his Rabbi his belief that Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel. Some of us are ostracized by our churches for being gay, others are ostracized by synagogues for our faith in Christ.
Two of my passions are helping the church better understand her rich Jewish roots and helping other Jewish people understand Jesus as their Jewish Messiah. While people are generally willing to embrace the former, the latter can be a horse of a different color.
The history of Jewish objections to Jesus is a long one, dating back almost 2,000 years. It’s not surprising therefore that for many centuries, Jews and Christians alike have accepted without question the erroneous presuppositions that “Jews don’t believe in Jesus” and “Jesus is not for the Jews”. This is particularly ironic since Jews — perhaps more than any other people — should believe that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. For only then can they be completely true to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and in harmony with the Hebrew Scriptures.
Contrary to popular belief, Jesus was not a Christian. I know that might sound shocking to a lot of us, but Jesus was a Jew. He was a Jew who was sent to other Jews — to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mattew 15:24). He was born a Jew, raised in a Jewish community, lived and worked as a Jew among Jews, worshipped in the temple as a faithful Jew, taught as a Jew and ultimately died as a Jew with the Hebrew Scriptures on his lips. His first followers were Jewish and the New Testament, though sometimes reputed to be Anti-Semitic book was, in fact, written by Jews, for Jews and about Jews.
As Messianic Jewish faith developed and grew, it began to fulfill one of its key biblical functions, namely, making the God of Israel known to the nations. As a result, there was a great influx of Gentiles into the community of believers and because Christ had given his life for Jew and Gentile alike, the Gentiles were not required to become Jews in order to join this community of faith. In time, the Gentiles made up the vast majority of believers, and so to all outward appearances, the faith began to look like a new, Gentile religion and certainly not a faith for the Jews. This is one factor that made it easier for rabbis to conclude that faith in Jesus was a Gentile, rather than a Jewish thing. The horrible story of “Christian” anti-Semitism settled things completely for many other Jews. To a Christian, the cross might be a sign of God’s love, but to a Jew, it is often a symbol of an alien religion that has often persecuted Jews in the past.
Many in the Jewish community are also convinced that belief in Jesus is a threat to their survival. The issue of survival and the perceived need to “protect” Judaism is a major concern to many Jewish people. In connection with this, much of the guilt heaped upon Jewish people who accept Christ is based on the misconception that if people believe in Jesus, they are no longer Jewish and pose a threat to the survival of the Jewish community. Jews who accept Jesus are often considered defectors. For these and other reasons, being a Jewish believer, whether straight or gay, can be a challenging road. Some simply cannot handle the cost as cited in an earlier post on this blog. The feelings of rejection and the pain of being misunderstood are, for some, too high a price to pay, even for the truth.
The problem is as ancient as the Gospel of John. John 9 tells what happened when Jesus healed a man who was born blind. By then some of the Jewish leadership had decided that anyone who believed Jesus came from God would be put out of the synagogue. When the blind man testified that Jesus was indeed from God (John 9:30-33), the leaders replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us! And they threw him out” (John 9:34). Anyone who followed Jesus did so at the risk of excommunication. Things have not changed much. And so like the blind man whom Jesus healed, Jews who accept Christ are still put out of their synagogues, excluded from their Jewish community and shunned.
When I discovered that Jesus was the Messiah almost 30 years ago, my Jewish family, Jewish friends and Jewish community were appalled by my decision to follow Christ. A Jewish person coming home and announcing to his family that he has accepted Christ as Messiah is somewhat akin to a black man coming home and telling his family he has joined the Klan. This is because of the perception that it is the “Christians” who are responsible for all the persecution and anti-Semitism they have been subjected to. But yet, if Christ is indeed the Jewish Messiah, promised and prophesied throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, the most Jewish thing that one can do is to follow him.
But for a host of reasons, a Jewish person may not be willing to suffer the personal consequences of believing something that will set him apart from the majority of his people and label him a traitor. He counts the cost (Luke 14:28) and may decide the price is too high. Yet in the final analysis, the real question should be: If the Bible is true, and if Jesus is the Messiah after all, am I willing to learn the truth and believe in him even though my decision might bring about severe personal consequences? Following God was never the easy thing to do and Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah and others, all suffered because they chose God’s way rather than the accepted the norm of their day.
Sad to say, but one of my Jewish brethren’s greatest sins has been chronic unbelief toward God Himself and the servants He sends to us. History is repeating itself:
“And though the Lord has sent all his servants the prophets to you again and again, you have not listened or paid any attention.” (Jeremiah 25:4)
It was no different with the coming of the Messiah into the world. Only a minority of the Jewish people believed in him. In light of this, it makes perfect sense that the prophet Isaiah, in one of the most famous messianic prophecies in the Bible, begins with these words:
“See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.” But then asks immediately: “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (Isaish 52:13; 53:1)
Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? That is indeed the million dollar question.