by Moishe Rosen
We meet Jewish people worldwide. Here’s how to make those meetings fruitful.
Peter Saffrey was born and raised "in a traditional Jewish home in Johannesburg, South Africa, and was a student at the Witwaserstrand. His parents had emigrated from Europe shortly after World War II. Because of their antiapartheid views they had to leave South Africa. They went to England, where Peter attended London University.
In 1969, he moved to Peru. In 1971, Peter met Erwin Laurant at a Wycliffe Peruvian jungle station. He heard the gospel for the first time and gave his life to the Lord. You wouldn’t expect that to happen in a mission field in the jungles of Peru. Yes, missionaries in remote places frequently do encounter Jewish people: more Jews proportionately than would seem to reside in these faraway places.
At a recent conference I heard another interesting story about two OMF missionaries traveling to Malaysia. They spent several days in South Thailand, just outside of Yala, waiting to make their connections. On their way to the airport, they shared a taxi with three Israelis. They wanted to witness to them, but didn’t because they weren’t sure if they knew how.
It is not uncommon to hear stories about Christians who have met Jewish people while traveling and have witnessed to them, or who didn’t know if they should witness to them. Dick Winchell, president of The Evangelical Alliance Mission, told me how he had an opportunity to witness to a Jewish man for several hours while flying to a speaking engagement. I frequently receive letters from Christian friends asking for materials or help in witnessing to Jewish people they have met while on vacation or traveling.
Jews today are a global people, highly mobile. In the vanguard of industry, they travel extensively. Jewish people can be fount in over 96 countries around the world-like the three Israelis in Thailand and the 300 Israelis who are presently living in Kenya. Though few in number among the peoples of the world-only 14 million-these Jewish people may travel more extensively than any other people group.
Among the Jewish people there’s a certain amount of prestige in being well traveled. Although there are poor Jews, most fit into the middle and upper classes. They can afford to travel for pleasure and have a tendency to venture away from their homes looking for business opportunities. Like most people who travel, Jews are much more open to new experiences and new ideas when they are on a journey.
One Dutch Jew came to faith in Christ after a flight from Hong Kong to Honolulu. He and his wife were seated next to a missionary who was coming back to the U.S. on furlough. He said, "It wasn’t as if we didn’t have missionaries in Holland. I was curious, but I wouldn’t listen to them because I was afraid that they would get my address and start coming to my home and my parents lived in the same house." He had dropped his guard, and he and his wife had listened to what they weren’t willing to hear in Amsterdam. But it was enough for him to make a decision to follow Jesus.
A Jewish photographer on assign-for a Brazilian magazine went to the Arctic Circle to photograph Eskimos and the northern Indians. He warmed himself regularly at the mission station and wondered out loud why the missionaries took up residence in such a "God-forsaken" place. He was surprised that the missionary wife spoke fluent Portuguese and could answer him in the language of his own country. (Her parents came from Portugal and that was the language spoken in their home.) She explained to the photographer that it was not a "God-forsaken" country, but that God had sent them to establish a station and trading post because he cared.
The Brazilian man heard more of the gospel. On Ms way back to Brazil he had a stopover for a few days in New York City, where he sought out missionaries to the Jews who had answers to his questions.
JEWS AND MISSIOLOGY
In missiological terms, Jews are not hidden, but universal. They are unique, but unreached. Although Jewish people are often overlooked in church strategies for spreading the gospel, they are not "hidden." But they are often hiding from the gospel and need special effort to be reached.
Perhaps like no other people, Jews are scattered across the face of the earth. Because of God’s covenant relationship with Abraham’s descendants, the people of Israel have a special place in the divine plan for human history. Where Gentiles must turn to the God of Israel for salvation, Jewish people come through Christ and turn back to the God of Abraham.
Although most Jewish people live in relatively close proximity to believers, many have never heard a clear presentation of the gospel. One is that Jews, like Muslims, Buddhists, and secularists, are gospel resistant. But Jewish people tend to be in a different category because of their perceptions that recent and ancient persecutions were the work of Christians. Jews have been indoctrinated to believe that there is something intrinsically anti-Jewish in the Christian religion. Nevertheless, Jewish people feel a curiosity about Jesus, and many would like to inquire if they felt "safe" from further contact. This is why traveling Jews so frequently approach missionaries.
SUPPOSE WE MEET A JEW
Besides people in business, commerce, and government, Christian workers and missionaries are another category of people on the move. Missionaries will meet Jewish people in their travels and on their mission fields.
How should we feel that Jewish person? He or she is a person just as lost without Christ as anyone else on the mission field. We must reach out to them. Possibly the Jew is looking for some Christian to explain the paradox of what makes Christianity so Jewish. One does not need to be a specialist to reach Jews with the gospel. You just need to be a genuine, caring Christian.
How can we tell them about Jesus? Just like you would tell anyone else: in a sensitive and loving, yet straightforward, manner. Most Jews who have come to faith in Christ first heard the gospel from a non-Jewish but Christian friend. You don’t need to learn a whole new way of witnessing.
What should we expect? The greatest obstacle usually is not theological. Jewish people think all Gentiles except Muslims are Christians. Jews think if they were to believe in Jesus, they would stop being Jews and become Gentiles. Even if a Jewish person doesn’t believe in God, you need to remember that he or she has been indoctrinated to maintain his or her identity as a Jew. Therefore, it is important to reinforce the fact that they are not committing spiritual treason by accepting Jesus. It would be helpful to tell them that there are other Jews who have come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. If they are willing to give you their name and address (which is a positive indicator of genuine interest), ask them if they wouldn’t mind hearing from some other Jews who have come to believe in Jesus.
All the people in the world today fall into one of three categories: They are either Jews, Gentiles, or Christians. What is a Jew?
Ask any four Jewish people and you are likely to get five different answers. But for scriptural purposes, let us consider a Jew to be anyone (regardless of what his religious beliefs may be) who belongs to the people with whom God established covenants through Abraham, Moses, and David. He need not be a Jew by birth, but he must be part of the covenant.
A Gentile is any non-Jew. The word is derived from the Hebrew goyim, which means "nations." This is not a term of derision; in biblical usage it simply means a non-Jew.
A Christian is anyone who has en-into a new birth through personal acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. A Christian may be a Gentile or a Jew. Neither has more esteem or privilege than the other, but the distinction remains. Just as there are Christian men and Christian women, there are Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles. The important point to remember in witnessing to anyone is to witness to the individual. Thus, we do not witness to the Jews, or to the Gentiles, but to a Jewish person or a Gentile person.
In presenting the gospel to Jews, you must, in effect, re-educate their thinking along certain lines. For example, most Jewish people are surprised to learn that Gentiles must convert to Christianity. They know that being born into a Jewish family was what made them Jewish. They have the impression that a person born into a Gentile family is automatically a Christian. They must be told that while a Jew is Jewish by birth, no one is born a Christian except by being "born again."
Jews have a negative image of the word "convert." They think that it means to change one’s religion. Show your Jewish friend that it really means "to turn back" to God (Isaiah 6:10).
Other foundational doctrines also will need to be explained: sin, salvation, and savior. A Jewish person usually thinks of sin in terms of deeds. You must explain sin as a characteristic of all mankind. Show that the very Hebrew word for "sin," chatah, means "to fall short," as when an arrow shot from a bow does not have enough power to reach its mark (Rom. 3:23). Demonstrate that the result of sin is separation from God. Sin (the cause) and separation (the effect) keep man from being able to know or serve God.
Most Jews do not believe in heaven and hell, so they would naturally ask, "What is there to be saved from?" Rather than go into a lengthy discussion to demonstrate the reality of heaven and hell, it is better to show that we all need salvation away from ourselves and unto God. Stress the fact of salvation in present life, that it is the power the arrow must have in order to reach its mark- victory in day-to-day living-which God gives to those who have received his atonement.
Even with the foregoing explanation of salvation, the word Savior is foreign to the Jewish mind. The concept of a Messiah is much more common in Jewish thinking, but even here many modem Jews do not consider the Messiah to be a real person. They tend to think of a Messianic age when God will bring peace and prosperity on the earth.
Demonstrate that Jesus, the Messiah, is adequate to save from sin. Don’t get sidetracked for the moment with discussions on the deity of Christ, or the virgin birth, but stress Jesus as our sin-bearer. Answer objections only when they understand that you feel that the atonement is a prior consideration.
Important as these doctrines may be, correct theology is not what will save your friend, but seeing and receiving the Messiah as personal Savior from sin is what really counts. Be sure to put first things first
You don’t need to prove everything from the Old Testament. Most Christians know John 3:16, but let me take it from John 3:14 where Jesus said, "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up." He is not talking about being exalted, he is talking about the picture of death in crucifixion. The serpent in the wilderness was an image of judgment. Death by execution was the image of judgment for all sin.
Dying on the cross is the picture of a lonely, ignominious death and humanity’s destiny without Christ. However, the Bible says, "Whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever…." At that point I would ask: "Does that mean that Jesus is only for Gentiles?" You might explain it this way: "The ‘whosoever’ is the person who chooses to believe. Perhaps the better word is ‘trust.’ God wants you to believe in him and trust him, and he wants you to have the joy of belonging to him."
Refer to John 3:17-20, which shows that the whole world is condemned already. At this point the person should be able to see and acknowledge his or her sin. I usually ask if they want things to be different. I explain that in the present human condition the world and the flesh dominate the spirit and cloud our spiritual perception. But in the condition of the "new birth" we are born again with the power to see the kingdom of God and become spiritually alive. We can function spiritually after we have confessed our condition of sin, renounced that sin, and turned to the Messiah for that new life.
If the person to whom you are witnessing can understand that there is a new life they have not experienced because of sin, and now they want to experience it, they are ready for the next important step: Turn to John 1:12. Explain the word "receive" as a commitment. Then ask: "Are you ready to receive him now and to become his child through the new birth?" If the answer is Yes, then you need to explain the prayer of repentance in terms so that they can recognize commitment. You can use the metaphor of marriage.
Try this explanation: The new birth is not like the first birth. Our first birth was a natural event over which we had no choice. The new birth is a supernatural event which does require us to choose. In this it is more like, a marriage than a birth.
Say something like this: "God wants you to belong to him and he wants to belong to you. He wants you to be his person and he wants to be your Lord and Savior. He wants your love freely and your obedience because of his love. It’s something like a marriage. He’s been waiting for you. He’s been wanting you. He has always loved you and now has proposed this relationship. But it’s up to you to say Yes."
As in a marriage proposal, God now proposes. He is asking, "Will you be mine?" He wants to know if you are willing to turn to him from belonging to sin. But in order to do this you must accept his offer through prayer.
When the time is right, don’t hesitate to urge: "Are you ready to pray now?" If you don’t have a prayer memorized, you may want to use this one:
"God of Abraham, I know that I have sinned against you, and I want to turn from my sins. I believe you provided Y’shua as a once-and-for-all atonement for me. With this prayer, I receive Y’shua as my Savior and my Lord. I thank you for cleansing me of sin, and for making me worthy of the life you have for me through Messiah. Amen!"
This may sound elementary, but knowing that this simple approach works with Jews will enable missionaries to be effective witnesses to them, wherever they may find them, in their travels or on the field where they work.
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