Silent Witness

Over the past five years we have published a series called Jewish Objections in which we have looked at specific reasons why Jewish people think they don’t need to believe in Jesus for salvation. The following article takes a step back and reflects on “the real question”.
The real question

In the New Testament book of James, the writer teaches that we should be quick to listen but slow to speak. During the past few years of meeting and talking with my Jewish friends, I have learnt the wisdom of this. Indeed at times we need to learn to bite our tongues! As we equip ourselves to answer Jewish objections, we should avoid the impulse to give “a Christian answer” straight away. We need to feel, understand and absorb the weight of the objections before we can address them; there might even be some questions that we need to ask ourselves first. To illustrate what I have said, let me share some conversations that I have had with one of my Jewish friends, who is an educated, learned and respected figure in the community.

One afternoon, as my friend and I were talking about the followers of three religions – Judaism, Islam and Christianity – he declared, “…and they hate each other!” On hearing this comment, I immediately said, “No! Christians don’t hate Jews”. As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I realised that I was viewing the situation purely from my own perspective and that, sadly, I could not appeal to the historical reality. My friend instantly responded, “Yes, they do. You can see it throughout 2,000 years of history!” I suggested that things done in the name of Jesus did not always display true Christianity. He said, “Well, the debate is: What is real Judaism? What is my Judaism? What is real Christianity and what is your Christianity?” This man embraces Reform Judaism but, whatever his background, the latter question is a good one and worth reflection: What is real Christianity and what is your Christianity? Are we following some doctrines or theology, or even our own “Christian” passions and ambitions? Or rather, are we followers of Messiah Jesus, knowing his heart for his own people and walking in his steps? These are questions we should ask ourselves, so that we can truly represent him.

On another occasion, my friend made this observation:

Christians see Jewish people having value only for being proofs of biblical prophecy or as targets for conversion. This makes it simple for us to respond. If someone comes just to convert us, we simply ignore that individual, because he or she is not really interested in us as people.

This remark should help us to question our motivation as we approach our Jewish friends. How do we see Jewish people? Why do we want to share the gospel with them? Time will test our motives and people will see through any pretence – as will God.

One day I asked my friend what Passover meant to him. He replied that it was difficult to say what it meant to him personally for, as a professional, he only had “professional answers”. It was sad to hear this but, as my friend is basically a humanist, I was not surprised by his response. On the other hand, what he said is a warning to us all. As we become more knowledgeable about our faith, or more experienced in our ministry, as we become more “professional”, will we start giving only professional answers or will our replies move our own hearts and change our ways as we share them with others? Jesus said, “…The words that I speak to you are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63). May we learn how to listen to – and understand – both the Lord and our Jewish friends, so that we can answer questions in truth and in love.

This article first appeared in the Spring 2009 issue of the Herald

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