"Mommy, why don't we believe in Jesus?"
My question startled my Jewish family. We'd recently watched Ben Hur and Spartacus, and the movies had kindled my desire to know more about Jesus. The people at my temple acknowledged Jesus as some sort of radical rabbi, but my mom didn't know if she believed in his existence. My dad wasn't even sure God existed, let alone Jesus! The answer I received from my relatives and the rabbi was always the same: "That's just the way it is. You'll understand when you're older."
It's not that I didn't want to be Jewish; I just felt that accepting Jesus as more than a long-ago teacher or rabbi could somehow fit into the picture of being Jewish. We were the only Jewish family in a predominantly Irish-Catholic neighborhood, and my two best friends were Laurie, who had twelve brothers, and Kathy, whose mother insisted on serving milk with meat during my dinner visitsa Jewish taboo. One time, I traded Laurie my diamond-studded Star of David necklace and came home wearing her gold cross. I'll never forget seeing our two mothers rush across the street to exchange them!
Kathy's parents always had a big, thick Bible on their table, showing me there was more to the Bible than the traditional Jewish Old Testament, or Torah. The thought that I might be able to read the whole thing intrigued me.
But then we moved away from that primarily goyesh (gentile) neighborhood, and I attended Hebrew school, which took place a couple of days a week in the late afternoon. There I learned to speak Hebrew phonetically and heard the main "stories" of the Hebrew tradition: Abraham and Isaac, Moses leading the people out of Egypt, David and Goliath, Esther and the evil Haman. When I was bar mitzvahed at age thirteen (a Jewish girl's confirmation), I dutifully stood in front of two hundred people and read the appropriate portion of the Torah for the season of my birthday. But after that, I dropped out of Hebrew school.
My parents, Jewish by birth and tradition, only attended worship services out of respect for my grandparents. My grandfather was the glue that held the true Jewish faith in my family together. When he died, my father finally admitted he was an atheist. We only went to temple services on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, and for weddings and bar mitzvahs. Holidays such as Hanukkah and Passover were celebrated as traditionalnot spiritualobservances. There was no knowledge of having "a relationship with God."
After starting high school in a Jewish neighborhood, I soon forgot about wanting to know more of Jesus. There, the attitude was, If Jesus were a mighty Savior, he would have gotten himself down off the cross and ridden into town on a white steed right then and there. Thoughts of Jesus never crossed my mind again until I was thirty-six. What happened in between is another story.
I met my wonderful husband, Jerry, in 1978 after a disappointing brief marriage to "a nice Jewish boy." Jerry was from a Baptist family who hadn't gone to church much, but his mom had started going back some time before we met. By the time we were together, Jerry had seen a change in his mother. Their conversations had a great influence on Jerry, and one day, he went to a church near our house. Soon after, he accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior on his knees alone one night.
For the next few months, I thought Jerry was pulling a holier-than-thou act. Although he was a wonderful man, Jerry had used some foul language. Well, that was gone almost at once. He started telling me I shouldn't take the Lord's name in vain by swearing. Jerry had always been self-assured, not overly concerned with material wealth, but now he had a strange appearance of even more peace and tranquility. Jerry developed a voracious appetite for the Bible and went to church every chance he got. He asked me to go with him, but didn't bother me about it when I said no. I thought this was going to be the end of my second marriage! Me, a Jewish girl, married to some Christian fanatic!
Soon, though, I longed for the contentment Jerry had found. I was thirty-six years old, didn't have a set career, and had never had a baby, which made me feel guilty that I'd never given my mom any grandchildren. I'd always thought I was going to do extraordinary things with my lifewin an academy award, write a best-selling romance novel. When the acting career I'd pursued since childhood fizzled after college, and the writing didn't get published, I became an ordinary person, a nobody in the world's eyes and my own. It got to the point I almost hated myself. One day, when I had ruined a whole weekend throwing a tantrum because I was angry with myself, I asked Jerry about this God of his. I don't really remember what Jerry saidI only know my curiosity was piqued and I decided to go to church with him. (Little did I know his mother had been praying for both of us for years, and the people at his church had been praying for me for several months!)
First I had to get past the feeling that if God didn't strike me dead for sitting in front of a cross, the sight would surely kill my mother! But the people at Jerry's church made me feel comfortable. Over the next few months, through the pastor's sermons and Sunday school, I learned that Jesus came for Gentiles and Jews (Acts 26:23), and that we worship the same God.
I learned there was freedom from the some five hundred rules and regulations our Jewish forefathers had imposed upon themselves to help them keep the Ten Commandmentsthat freedom came through the blood of Jesus, just as there was freedom through the blood of the lamb on the Jewish doorposts at the exodus from Egypt. The pastor taught about the prophets who had God-given visions of how the Messiah would humbly come first on the donkey (Zech. 9:9) and then mightily on the white horse! And I learned from David and Isaiah the prophecies regarding the pain and suffering of Jesus' crucifixion (Ps. 22; Isa. 52-53). For the first time, I realized how the Old Testament related to the New Testament.
All the feelings of my childhood came rushing back. Yes, Jesus was more than just a man, a teacher, a radicalhe was the Son of God, the Risen Savior! And I knew Jesus could fit in with being Jewish. How much more I appreciated my Jewish roots and those old storiesthey were true, they weren't just legends I'd learned as a child. Somehow, very quickly, the Lord bestowed upon me the assurance of knowing the Scriptures were inspired by his own hand, that all the events were by him, for him, and to his glory!
I was "born again" in February 1987, about three months after walking through the church doors. My plans are no longer mine, but are given over to the Lord's will for my life, in conjunction with my husband's, who was recently ordained as a minister. God had other plans for my college degree in theatre. He has allowed me to be used first as a children's choir leader and now as music leader at our current church. The church we attend even celebrates Passoverafter all, it's what Jesus was doing at the Last Supper.
As for my family, they still can't comprehend my accepting Jesus as the Messiah. At first a lot of hurt and anger existed between my mom and me, but we've since discussed how my believing in Jesus can go hand in hand with believing in the God of the Jews. Although Mom doesn't accept it for herself, she knows it's a part of me, not some stage I'm going through. God has restored our relationship.
Over the years, my dad has become more of a staunch atheist than ever. My sister, ever the "women's libber," still doesn't believe God is real. All I can do is illustrate a changed life, pray they see "the peace that passes all understanding" in me, and continue to plant seeds. God is able to graft his original chosen people back into the kingdom (Rom. 11:23), so there's hope for them!
I'm currently praying the Lord will give me the right words and timing in leading another Jewish person to salvation. But I may be the planter only. Someone else may water the seeds. The greatest thing would be to say to a Jewish person: "Mazel Tov! (Congratulations!) You've found Jesus!"
-Sheryl Young is a freelance writer who lives with her husband in Florida.
Copyright Â© 1997 by Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman Magazine.