A Jewish Thing to Do
“Here is what you need to do: You must first shave your head. You dress all in black. You need to wear a white robe. Eat only kosher foods. You have to become a vegetarian. You face Jerusalem. You must face India when you pray. You pray only in Hebrew, and you grow a nice big beard. If you do all those outward cultural things, you will discover the God of the universe.” I thought, This is crazy that someone thinks that they can force their culture on God and that God is going to be impressed by what you wear, what direction you face when you pray, what you eat, and all these sorts of things. If there was a God out there who could be known, He should be able to be recognized no matter where I faced, no matter how I dressed, because He is God.
Growing up, we always understood that we had our Bible, and the Gentiles had their Bible in the New Testament, and that they were two completely separate books. I imagined that Jesus was Italian because the only people I knew who were believers in Jesus were Italian Catholics in our public school. So, the understanding that he was Jewish was a shock. Then, to hear that the New Testament was written by Jews, I could not believe it. My expectation was that the New Testament was like my grandparents had told me—it was a book on how to persecute the Jews, and it was something you should stay away from. Of course, when you are told you should stay away from something, curiosity gets the better of you and you have to see it.
When I opened the New Testament, I was expecting to find a handbook on how to persecute the Jews. My grandparents had warned me that it was written by people who killed the Jews. That is what I was expecting to see, and yet when I opened it, I read a story written by Jews about Jewish people. The New Testament was a fascinating book. So, in the library, I looked around, made sure that none of my friends had seen me take a Christian Bible off the shelf, and I opened it. Here is the first sentence. It says, “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” So, three people are mentioned, and they are all Jewish. I was very shocked. As I continued to read, I read the story of a Jewish man who was born in a Jewish village, in a Jewish country, and who one day walked into a synagogue and announced that he was the Messiah.
The more I read the words of Jesus, the more I became attracted to him. It was as beautiful as anything I had ever read in any other part of the Bible. As I came to believe that Yeshua, Jesus, was the Messiah, it was clear to me that it was the most Jewish thing I could do. This is the one who was promised in our Bible. The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah is astonishing. If you would just read that chapter without the Bible being around it, you would say, “Oh, this is some Christian Bible. This is Jesus.” Then you realize that it is in the middle of our Bible, our Jewish Bible.
When I first came to faith, I dared not tell my father. It was the 1970s, and he was very concerned about me getting involved in some crazy sect. So, I waited for months. When I finally told him, he was very skeptical. On his own then, he started to read about Jesus as well. About a year and a half later, I told him that the fellow who wrote one of the books that he had read was giving a lecture in New York. He agreed to come out to hear that person. One of the most amazing moments of my life was when the speaker said, “Would everyone here who is a Jewish believer in Jesus, would you raise your hand?” I raised my hand. My father also raised his hand. I looked over and said, “Pop, he did not say, ‘Would all the Jews raise their hand?’ He said, ‘Would all the Jewish believers in Jesus raise their hand?'” My father looked over and said, “Yes, I heard what he said.”
The decision to come to faith in Jesus as the Messiah was not something that was a momentary lark, it was not something that was a passing fad. I could see changes in myself that I knew were not from within myself. I had tapped into a truth for our Jewish people. That was very powerful.