(“Devotional” presented at the LCJE Int’l Conference in Jerusalem, August 2015)
Act 2:36-40 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God made this same Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. (37) And hearing this, they were pierced in the heart, and said to Peter and to the other apostles, Men, brothers, what shall we do? (38) Then Peter said to them, Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (39) For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all those afar off, as many as the Lord our God shall call. (40) And with many other words he earnestly testified and exhorted, saying, Be saved from this perverse generation.
Every time I read these words in the Bible, they always sound as if they are as true today as they were almost 2000 years ago. The apostle to the Jews, Peter, is speaking to his own people about the truth of who the Messiah is, and our responsibility for His crucifixion, all in accord with the plan of God which He spoke through Moses and the Prophets. Peter was clear, without fear of man but of the Lord, and the Holy Spirit confirmed the words he spoke by convicting the multitude of Jewish people there of their sin of unbelief and of rebellion against their own God, Yehovah, and HIS Messiah. Those who received it were baptized, and also received the gift of the Holy Spirit as promised, and they knew that their sins had been forgiven. Then they began to be discipled in the doctrines of the apostles whom Yeshua had chosen to teach those who would believe in Him. Praise God!
When I first believed, I objectively knew that Jesus is the Messiah – that GOD is the Messiah! – and that He is the Savior and Lord, the Son of God, who died and rose again. And God gave me His Spirit and I knew. What I did not comprehend yet was that I was a sinner like sinners! And, by the grace of God, I began to read the Bible as the Word of God. I came to some verse – can’t remember which one – and it stopped me. It was saying something about sin that I had not believed or accepted before. So I said, “Okay, Lord, You are right. Just show me why!” And in His own marvelous way, He showed me not only that He is right, but that there is wisdom in His being right. I still didn’t think that I was a sinner! I believed in Jesus, and in the Bible, but I was still justifying myself in my own estimation, compared with sinners. The next day, walking down the street with my wife, talking about these new developments in our lives, the Holy Spirit said, “Jesus died for you, and because of you and your sins, and has brought you home to your Father in Heaven!” THAT broke me, and I began to weep right there on Randi’s shoulder. Jesus became my Savior and my Lord! What a difference! The truth of external facts became internally real. We were baptized at the end of that week, and came to Israel seven months later.
I call that powerful experience of personal conviction of sin and of being a sinner my Zechariah 12 experience, where we read of each and every family and person in Israel, those still alive, when they see Jesus whom they pierced, having their personal and national Day of Atonements, when their soul is afflicted for all their unfaithfulness and sin against the one they have cursed and hated, but who is the only one who has truly loved them and saves them. This will break their spirit, and will work in them a broken and contrite heart. If we know God, then reconciliation will become a necessary outgrowth of our lives with other believers, especially among those with whom we know there have been problems between us before knowing God’s mercies towards us to save us. Whether it is between Jew and Gentile, or whites and blacks, or Jews and Arabs, or between certain streams within the Body of Messiah, it becomes a necessity for the sake of the gospel to come together in humility for the name of the Lord Jesus’ sake.
The Scriptures are written for us living at the end of the age. The generations have come and gone, but the Word of God is still living and active and true. The Holy Spirit inspired the writers not only for what was relevant for those living at the time, but in a special way for us living at the time of the end, when Jewish people are back in this land, and the return of the Lord draws nigh. In the fear of the LORD, we dare not add to or take away from what is written: God’s Word will be fulfilled, but we would find ourselves working against Him. We will be guilty of replacement theology, just as our fathers were: replacing the Word of God with our tradition and doctrines of men, or by our politics or personal narratives. We need to be awake and not let anyone deceive us, whether man or angels or demons.
The message of evangelism came to the Jew first, and then to the Gentiles. God has not changed His powerful way to save the Jews, but left it unchanged for Gentiles! His controversy is first with us His people, to whom He gave the covenants and the Law, and the service, etc. This all started before the Gentiles became the majority in the Church, the Body of Christ. Gentile Christians can examine and judge themselves as to how they, or their churches, have done in fulfilling their calling to provoke Israel to jealousy, and to show them mercy; but God is using all this to show His mercy to all who have been disobedient, to those who come to repentance and receive His forgiveness. To the Jew first!
We often hear this expression used in evangelism: “Jesus is standing at the door and knocking; invite Jesus into your heart.” I believe this is a misuse of Scripture. First of all, when Jesus is saying that He is standing at the door and knocking to come in, He is talking to a church!: to people who say that they are believers, even though they have put out the Lord from their gatherings, and don’t even realize it. Secondly, Jesus will not come into an old heart. The New Covenant promise is that God creates in us a new heart, and gives us a new Spirit. He will live within that new heart. This message is to the Jew first. It is our own Scripture that tells us the necessity of being a new creation! When has this changed? By what authority has this been done?
The gospel cuts through every culture, and as the apostle Paul wrote, “I am crucified to the world; and the world is crucified to me!” Yeshua came into a Jewish culture as a Jew in the flesh, and a perfect Jew in the inner man. We threw Him out of the vineyard, and He is outside every camp! If the gospel were Jewish, then many more Jews would have accepted it then, and now. The gospel and the cross cut to the thoughts and intentions of the heart of every man – of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile. To whom much is given more is required. Israel is held to a higher standard, because God has given us a higher standard than of the rest of the nations. We want to be like the Gentiles because it is easier to live according to our lusts and not to be called to holiness. Christians are held to an even higher standard, because the Holy Spirit is given to all who truly repent and believe the good news of God. Before I believed, the gospel seemed like bad news, especially for me as a Jew! You must be born-again to see and to enter the Kingdom of God!
The challenges of taking the message of the saving power of God to the Jewish people face the same arguments and opposition as they did when the Messianic movement began to develop in the 18th and 19th centuries. The return of the Jewish people back to this very land of promise is today facing the same arguments and opposition as they did when it began, whether from Muslims, from Christians, or from the Jewish people. There is nothing new under the sun, and if not for Yehovah God and His plan of redemption, all is vanity, and vanity of vanities.
The mission for the salvation of the Jewish people, and of their return to this land, has always been connected with the return of the Lord. The Holy God of Israel will take away ungodliness from Jacob in order to save all Israel. If His return is not in our sights, it is like having a text without a context as we try to interpret and understand the Scriptures and current events today. God is moving on in the 21st Cent., just as He has been doing for the last 60 centuries. Let us be found faithful to persevere, to keep His word, and to not deny His name, as we continue to press onward in the power and love of God dwelling within us.