Getting our Priorities Right

The following article is adapted from a sermon given by Peter Parkinson on Sunday 20th July 2003

I believe the Western Gentile evangelical Christian community has largely forgotten that we are called to preach the gospel to the Jewish people; and that’s why very few churches have any interest in Jewish mission. But in the sixteenth verse of Romans 1 the Apostle Paul declares, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”
The means God has ordained whereby people shall be saved is the gospel preached. In 1 Corinthians 1:21, Paul says that “…it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe... we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness.”

The message of “Christ crucified” is a stumbling block to the Jewish people, but that is the gospel they have to hear. It is the news of Jesus Christ crucified for us; it is the good news of God’s love for sinners and it is the news that he is the Christ. Jesus is the Anointed One; the long-awaited Messiah of Israel.

First things first

The second declaration in Romans 1:16 is also very clear. The first people to whom we have the responsibility of taking the gospel are the Jews. The Jewish people have the greatest right to hear and receive the gospel because Christianity is uniquely theirs. Christ was a Jew. He came as one of them, to them, for them and then, through them, to the whole world.

I think we may say that one of the greatest failures of Israel in pre-Christian history was her failure to bring the love of God to the whole world. She received the love of God and kept it to herself. She was not enthusiastically evangelising other nations. She kept separate from them, as she was called to do, but she should have also been bringing God’s truth to them, being a sanctifying influence among them. Over and over again she compromised. She took their principles on board instead of bringing her truth to them.

The task of the Jewish people under the New Covenant was to receive Christ as Saviour and proclaim him to others, and that’s just what happened with the apostles. The truth was given to those Jewish apostles; they received the Holy Spirit and then went out to the whole world. Paul went first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles; and it was right that he should.

In John 1 we are told that Jesus the incarnate Word “came to his own [the Jewish nation], and his own did not receive Him. But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in his name.” It wasn’t just those of the line of Israel that were saved; it was any who came to receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour. But Jesus came to his own people first. That’s the emphasis of the Scriptures; the priority of the Jewish people. In Romans 10:1 we see how important this was to Paul. He says, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved”.

Roots and branches

Many people look at the Jewish nation and argue that God has no interest in Israel anymore. But in Romans 11 Paul makes it very plain that God still has a very important purpose for his people, “Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers” (11:28).

The Jews are still the elect of God; he hasn’t withdrawn his covenant. They may not be keeping their part but they’re still his special people and they always will be. The Christian who denies that is blatantly denying what Paul says in Romans 10 and 11. Unless Jewish people confess Jesus as their Messiah and Saviour they will be cut off from the olive tree; but they are still his covenant people. In Romans 11 Paul puts us Gentile Christians very much in our place. He reminds us that we are not the root; we are just branches that have been grafted into the true Israel.

If you are a born-again believer, you are a true Jew – a true child of Israel – grafted into the ancient root. The Jewish believer has a direct line to the very root itself; he’s a natural branch but Jewish people who do not confess Jesus as Lord are going to be cut off. The life from the root is not flowing through them and they’ll be snapped off as dead branches. Our prayer is that life would begin to flow through them and, Paul says, how much more natural for that to happen and how much more glorious when fruit is being produced, not just from the grafted-in branches but from the natural branches.

Making it happen

There is a very crucial and important challenge for us as a church. In Romans 10:14, Paul asks: “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” The context of that text is the evangelisation of Israel. How is the Jew to hear the gospel unless someone takes the gospel to him? Our task is to take the gospel to all, but first to the Jew.

It was my privilege, until I became too ill, to serve on the CWI council and one of the things that saddened me was how few people from this country were volunteering to be missionaries. I hope and pray that from this congregation there will be some young people who will go out onto the mission field. I believe with all my heart that if we as a church enthusiastically embrace Richard and Rita and their ministry, and make the salvation of the Jewish community in Leeds one of our great concerns, God will pour out his blessing upon us and we would see our Gentile ministries flourishing. God has a priority and I believe that if we have God’s priority, he’ll bless us with a special blessing.

It requires a very special sensitivity and tenderness to minister to Jewish people. The Jews have been and still are a much-hated people. Tragically, anti-Semitism has always existed in the Christian church and we can find ourselves sinfully speaking against Jewish people: “The Jews killed Christ!” Do you know who killed Christ? You did. I did. Not “the Jews”. It was my sin that nailed Jesus to the tree and I can’t look at anybody else and say, “What a sinner”. I can’t even condemn Judas because it was my sins and yours that necessitated Christ’s death. Jesus himself said, “No man takes my life, I give it freely”. If there had not been a Jew there, He would have gone to the cross at Roman hands for he was dying for you and me and for the sins of those who are saved by grace.

On the victory side

Why do you think Richard is working as he is? Why do you think CWI exists? For this reason: they have a firm and a certain hope that the day will come when all Israel is going to be saved. It is my passionate belief that when our Saviour returns the whole Jewish nation will be singing, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain” (in Hebrew; not in English). They’ll be singing it to the praise of God and we’ll join in with them and sing the same song.

It must sometimes feel as though we are losers. In the great economy of things, we’re just a tiny group that nobody listens to. Who cares what Christians think anymore? We’re losers. You blush because you’re the only one at school or work who believes there was a man called Adam; you blush because you’re the only one why believes there was a Flood; you blush because you’re the only one who believes that Jesus rose from the dead; you blush because you’re the only one who believes in the virgin birth.

Let me tell you something: We are on the victory side! God is sovereign. Jesus is Lord. He is going to win the day. The Orthodox who stand rocking at the Wailing Wall are going to sing, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain”!

Some of us won’t live to see it but maybe some of us will. One thing is sure, when Christ returns we will be raised and we shall see with our eyes and we shall hear with our ears the Jewish community singing the praises of the Lamb, their Messiah. We shall hear people the world over singing those songs because Jesus will win the day!

Peter Parkinson

The founder of Leeds Reformed Baptist Church and is also the founder and director of Caring for Life, a Christian charity established in 1987, “To share the love of Jesus with homeless, needy young people in society by providing accommodation, ongoing support and friendship, enabling these people to develop dignity and self-respect.”

This article first appeared in the winter 2003 edition of the Herald

© Christian Witness to Israel      +44 (0) 1865 887830   •   charity registered nos: 271323/SCO41720  •   site map