Shalom, my good friend, Ruben.
I wish to tell you that I value greatly the friendship between you and I and our families. I consider it a blessing and a great pleasure to know you, Naomi, and Jonathan. I have learned long ago that, even if you have just one friend, you possess one of life’s real treasures.
Earlier this year while picnicking at Guana Dam, you and I had suggested we might have some conversation about our spiritual “differences” and the basis for our respective beliefs, I as being a Christian, you as being Jewish. These attributes of our identity add a spiritual dimension to the friendship between our families that arouses an unshakeable feeling that Yvette and I are blessed by this friendship. Fact is, I would not be who and what I am by any other way except through who and what you are by way of your Jewish legacy. You are of the children of the Almighty God whom He has called the Chosen! And Yvette and I…we are not Christian instead of Jew. We are Christian because of adoption by a Jewish carpenter. Our hope for redemption is no hope at all except through the promises of God given to the Jews.
So, in hopes of a lively discussion on the beach sometime soon, I’m going to “open the dialogue” that I have been looking forward to since that day in March standing over the gas grill at Guana Dam. May this letter open for you the window of our hearts that you and your family might know the joy that we know from knowing you. Stepping off the cliff now….
What is a Christian?
My own testimony: I wasn’t raised as a “Christian”. My parents were not church-people. The last time I remember being in a church with my parents was sometime as a pre-teen and only on an occasional Christmas and / or Easter.
I mostly remember hearing from my parents the word “God” within the context of swearing at each other, at others, or about others. Never did I ever hear “God” mentioned by them in the form of honoring, thanking, or praising Him.
Behind my office chair on a shelf is a Bible that was given to me for Christmas in 1954 by my grandparents. I have no recollection of having ever seen any of my grandparents- from either side of my family- in a church or synagogue! Yet, from these non-church-going grandparents I received a Bible when I was 5 years old.
As a child no one ever instructed me from this Bible. No one taught me the stories of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, The “Fall”, Cain and Abel, about men living almost 1000 years, about Noah and the Great Flood, or about the promises made to Abraham. No one taught me about the origins of the 12 tribes, of the bondage inEgypt, of the miracles of the Exodus, of the promises of the Passover, of the victories and defeats in the Promised Land. Not once did I ever hear about the history of kingdoms ofIsraelor the Babylonian captivity, or of temples built, destroyed, and rebuilt. No one ever explained the prophecies, or the amazing stories of Daniel, Ezekiel, Gideon, or Samson.
But this Bible– this old, leather-covered Bible given to me by grandparents who never said a single word about what it contains– was still used by Almighty God. From the pages inside came a spark within my heart that ignited at glowing ember of faith and an awareness of His existence. It wasn’t the words on the pages at first, for the words were difficult to understand. This old Bible had pictures. Actual photographs of Adam & Eve, Noah, Abraham (OK, so maybe they weren’t actually real photographs). The captions read: The Return of the Dove. Abram’s Covenant With Lot. Joseph Welcomes His Father to Egypt. The Finding of Moses in the Bulrushes. Moses and the Burning Bush. The Disobedience of Achan. The Betrayal of Samson. Ruth and Naomi. David Pours Out the Water in Bethlehem. These are just a few.
These intriguing pictures lead me to read words I could not comprehend at this pre-teen stage of my life. But there was in the back of this Bible a section called “1000 Questions and Answers”. Thus God did engrave upon my pre-teen heart and soul the awareness and the reality of His existence and I came to believe in God.
My journey as a “Christian” began later with a decision that I made as a teenager.
From reading this Bible, by age 16 I realized by my deeds that, according to Scripture, I was a sinner. And, according to the Bible there exists a place called “heaven” and a place called “hell”. As I read, I began to see that, apart from the Divine mercy and grace of God, there was no way that I could ever be good enough to earn a “ticket” into heaven.
But contained in the Scriptures was good news. God, in His mercy and by His grace, has made a way for sinners like me to be able to go to heaven. In August of 1966 I surrendered my life to the Lord God, accepted for myself the great gift of His mercy and grace provided freely through His amazing plan involving a substitutionary and sacrificial death.
Since 1966, by faith and with God’s help I have lived my life trusting that He has secured my soul for eternity, and that I am forever forgiven and free from the debt and penalty of my sins. Since then I have tried to obey God. Let me assure you, my friend- I have failed many times along my journey of life. In fact, I have to admit that it really wasn’t until 1994 when I saw with my own eyes the devastation and pain to others I was capable of, and why I had no choice but trust in God’s grace. Now, I continue to strive to obey, but not for fear of punishment but out of gratitude for the grace God showered over me in 1994. For it is by grace I have been saved through faith, and that not of myself- it is a gift from God, not of my works- lest I should boast.
What is the true definition of “Christian”: Ruben, as you know, we live in a world that has skewed the meanings of many words. For example, when I was in grade school I would have had no problem saying to you that I was “gay” because, back then, being “gay” meant to be excited, happy, and in great spirits. Now, if I came over to your house and told you how “gay” I was- well, need I say more!!
Stating that I am a “Christian” can mean a lot of different things these days. We both can look backwards in time and see atrocities committed in the name of “religion” including “Christian”. And there have been and continue to be individuals and organizations that claim the identity of “Christian” that couldn’t possibly be farther from actually being Christian in the truest sense of the word. Here explains what I apply to myself the identity of a Christian.
The first time the word “Christian” was used it was a characterization of the disciples of Jesus and was used in Antioch after the crucifixion of Jesus. A “Christian” in the truest sense of the word was and is one who accepts and believes, with evidence of a life changed by faith, the recorded testimony of the first Disciples- those first eyewitnesses– who actually walked and talked with Jesus. Therefore I claim the identity of a Christian because I believe the recorded testimonies of these eyewitnesses, and my life has been radically changed because of the faith I have in what God has accomplished for me through the substitutionary and sacrificial death of Jesus.
Today it has become almost fashionable for people and organizations claim to be “Christian”, but when asked about the written eyewitness testimonies of those earliest Christians they will admit that they really don’t believe them. They agree that Jesus existed, but reject what those eyewitnesses recorded as having seen and heard Jesus do and teach…probably much the same as many Jews of old that rejected the writings and teachings of the ancient Prophets. Sadly, Ruben, there are many calling themselves “Christian” who today reject the recorded eyewitness testimonies of the prophets and Old Testament. I say, if we cannot believe every word that was recorded concerning what the ancient prophets saw and heard, we cannot believe a single word.
Admittedly Ruben, there is much I ponder and don’t understand. But I have learned that faith is in part accepting and believing God at times when my human logic and understanding is in opposition. For example, the Scriptures begin with the words, “In the beginning God created…”. Evolutionists would place that “beginning” many billions of years ago with my oldest ancestors being a glop of something in the slime of some sea bottom. Scientists have piled high the “evidence” supporting a humanly logical conclusion that my Dad acted like a Neanderthal because he was descended from one. But, despite all the scientific “evidence”, my faith is in God and that the Scriptures were written under His Holy Spirit inspiration, that His historians and His Prophets are trustworthy, and, contrary to scientific “evidence”, mankind was created by God in His image and likeness and humankind has existed less than 7000 years.
Believing Jesus existed, was a good man, a good teacher, a prophet does no more to make a person a Christian than believing God exists makes a man Jewish. It’s funny but true— it is completely possible for an unbeliever to look like a believer. I guess the same can be said of being Jewish—that it is possible for someone to look Jewish without really believing God, isn’t it. The Old Testament speaks often about that. However, it is nearly– if not completely– impossible for a true believer whose life has been changed by the work of a Holy God to look like anything but a believer. Then, the same can be said of the Jew: for, the Jew who truly believed God lived a life that was changed by God and could not look like anything else but a Jew.
So, by calling myself a “Christian”, I am identifying myself as one who believes the eyewitness testimonies of those 11 men referred in the New Testament as the disciples. I believe them with a faith that has changed my life, influences my thoughts and directs my actions towards others so as to result in my loving God with all of my heart, all of my soul, and all of my mind, and loving others as I love myself. (Not perfectly by a long shot….but way better today than yesterday.)
Why I Believe Jesus Christ is Messiah: It’s all about the EYEWITNESSES
The Writings of The Eyewitnesses Twelve men were Disciples of Jesus Christ who walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, and were taught by Jesus. Eleven went on to give testimony that was recorded to tell what these eyewitnesses saw and heard. These eleven later were part of a group of 120 eyewitnesses of the life and deeds of Jesus. And these 120 were part of another 500 eyewitnesses who saw Jesus alive after having seen him die on the cross.
My identity as a Christian is not about what those 11 disciples believed. It’s not about- and I say it again- what they believed. It’s what is written that they saw and heard that compels me to believe. I do not take for myself a “belief” just because someone else “believes”. A lot of people believe stuff, but we both know that believing something is not what makes something true!!
I have chosen to believe what has been written as the eyewitness testimonies of these men written 2000 years ago, because their testimonies are made credible by the even older writings of the ancient Prophets that were recorded as much as 1500 years before Jesus. And I have to say again: if we cannot believe every word that was recorded concerning what the ancient prophets saw and heard then we cannot believe a single word.
The Writings of The Ancient Prophets If it were not for the additional 1500 years’ Old Testament writings that precede the New Testament, I perhaps would have long ago abandoned my faith. It is only because of the Old Testament truths written by the ancient Prophets that brings credibility to the New Testament. As the Disciples were eyewitnesses of the Jesus, the ancient Prophets were eyewitnesses of the Old Testament works of God.
How can I justify betting my soul’s eternal destiny on 3500 year-old writings of men? It is by faith- a faith given me by an invisible God- that compels my belief in these ancient texts. I do so with a faith given me by a God I have never seen; the same kind of faith that empowered Abraham to trust God when He asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac; and the same kind of faith that inspires you to continue in the traditions of the ancient prophets. It is by your faith that God has set apart your lives (and the lives of the generations before you) and faith influences your thoughts and your actions towards others in such a way so as to exemplify your love of God with all of your heart, all of your soul, and all of your mind, and loving others as you love yourself. For these are the highest commandments of God upon which hangs all of the Law and all the Prophets.
And it is your Prophets whose writings foretold of Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus of Nazareth- Just a Man?
Merriam Webster defines “coinciding” in this way: to occupy exactly corresponding or equivalent positions in a series; to correspond in nature, character, or function.
Without trying to prove anything to you about Jesus of Nazareth- for it is not by my words alone I that ask you to trust, but in the Holy Spirit as He reveals to you the truths written by the ancient Prophets- let me present to you the extraordinary ways in which this man Jesus’ life and attributes coincide with words written by the ancient prophets.
Ruben, it is in the incredible coincidence of the ancient prophets’ words in relationship to the eyewitness testimony of the Disciples that is the foundation of my unwavering belief that Jesus is the promised Messiah of the Old Testament Scriptures.
There are more than 300 Old Testament verses characterizing attributes of Jesus. There will be pages attached to this letter listing those verses and how Jesus of Nazareth is the fulfillment. For one man to coincidently meet that many messianic qualities would be the equivalent of covering the state of Texas one foot deep in quarters, painting one quarter red, then blindfold a man and giving him one chance of picking the red quarter out of all the quarters covering the state and succeeding!
Jesus of Nazareth- the Lamb of God, the sacrifice for my sins?
My friend, I’m much more than just a “believer”. I am, I have learned from the failures in my life, a desperate sinner.
Let me assure you that whatever “nice” and whatever “good” that you might see in me comes only by the works God does through me. Make no mistake about it, my good friend, God’s love and goodness covers a multitude of sins, corruptness, and wickedness. So, I ask you, Ruben- tell me please exactly how, under the “old agreement”, I might attain favor with God. Perhaps, for me a Gentile, I might counter-balance the weight of my sins on the scale of God’s perfect justice with a reasonable amount of good deeds?
By believing in God, only a fool would believe there is no justice. God did say that sin came with a penalty. The penalty for sin doesn’t end with Death, it begins with Death. And Ruben, let me assure you of this: I HAVE EARNED THAT PENALTY!! So, my friend, I must ask you again: having this sin debt, what is your answer for me as to my hope to be reconciled to God?
For the Jew, God long ago introduced a tradition that gave hope to Israel. The sins of a man could be vicariously born upon an innocent lamb that would then be killed by the shedding of its blood, and by this means that man would be forgiven, his sin atoned for, and favor with God was restored.
Exodus 12:5-6 speaks of a lamb without blemish, a male of the first year which the “the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill at twilight”. Exodus 12:13 speaks of the blood of the lamb being a sign “for you on the houses where you are” and when God sees the blood He “will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you.” Leviticus 17:11 speaks of blood making atonement for sins.
Ruben, as a Gentile, I wasn’t given the sacrificial tradition. But it is written that Jesus volunteered himself as the sacrificial Lamb for me. It is written that he bore upon himself the penalty for my sins. It is written that he surrendered himself to be executed. Like that very first substitutionary death in the Garden of Eden- and just like the example of your traditions- Jesus suffered and died so that I could live. And His blood was shed to permanently atone for my sins. Because He died for me, and shed His blood for me, the “plague” which is the promise of death for my sins is no longer upon me!!
The “picture”- in other words, the example– was given to Jews. The best way I can describe it, Ruben, is that a very long time ago God gave the Jews a picture in the sacrificial tradition of what atonement, forgiveness, and reconciliation would look like and said to the Jews, “Practice this and be watchful. I will one day give that which you practice today a name and His name shall be Jesus. He will be My Son and He shall bear the sins of the world, and by His name I will reconcile all people to Myself.”
It is written, Ruben, by the “new agreement” that I can enjoy the favor of the Lord that God has given the Jews in the “old agreement”. But there’s more….
Jesus of Nazareth: Just a man or the Son of God?
Ruben, if Jesus were just a man, I would have to admit to what an incredible thing for one man to do for another- to give his life for another. In fact, I am frequently moved to tears by real-life stories of men and women who have actually done such as this.
But this man, Jesus, while perhaps offering to die for others, did He have the power and the authority to become the scapegoat and forgive sin? Isn’t God the only One with that kind of power and authority!! I mean does a mere man have any more or less power and authority than a beast such as a lamb to forgive sins? Isn’t this authority reserved for the God who gives life and is in authority over death?
It is written that Jesus said that he would come back from the dead!
When added to his other claims of becoming a sacrificial lamb for all the sins of all humanity, being equal to God, having power to forgive sins, etc., etc., this claim Jesus makes predicting that he would come back to life after being dead would most certainly qualify him to be a complete lunatic. Any normal human being could be justified in thinking Jesus a lunatic for making such claims and predictions! In fact, even his own disciples didn’t believe this prediction made by Jesus that he would arise from the dead…
…until He did!
The disciples saw Him with their own eyes after seeing Him dead on the cross. They were part of a group 120 who not only were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life and teachings prior to the crucifixion but who saw Jesus in the Upper Room after seeing Him dead on the cross. It is also written that more than 500 others saw Jesus alive after seeing Him die on the cross. That’s over 600 eyewitnesses who saw Jesus alive after His being crucified.
So, who has power and authority over Death? Only God! The eyewitnesses saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, but, though amazed, didn’t really understand the significance until Jesus Himself arose from the grave. The disciples then believed what was written by the ancient prophets and that Jesus was who He said He was… the One and Only Son of God and Messiah!
“Prophets” and “messiahs” have come and gone…
The world’s religions are full of the names of dead prophets and dead messiahs. Yet, I have bet my eternal soul upon the One named Jesus.
That is because of the truths of the Old Testament writings of your ancient prophets who described Him, and because of the written eyewitness testimonies of men and women who saw the Resurrected One who became the living example of your sacrificial tradition and is called the Son of God, the Lamb of God, and the Bread of Life.
Before us, my good friend, are two choices for forgiveness, atonement, and reconciliation. The first is by being by obedience to the Law and by living the example set by sacrificial tradition of the old agreement. The second is freedom from the Law and its traditions living by faith in the forgiveness, atonement and redemption provided through the Person who was the actual manifestation of the sacrificial tradition.
You do have a choice, Ruben. You can continue in the sacrificial traditions- although, in themselves, there is no redemption. For, even in perfect obedience to the sacrificial traditions, there is no redemption without a penitent heart. Consider the account of the “offerings” of Can and Abel. Essentially the “actions” by these brothers was the same in that they both brought an offering, but considerably different outcomes!! Its not because Cain brought the wrong offering…its because Cain brought the wrong heart!
However, me being a Gentile I do not have that same choice, for the sacrificial tradition was not for the Gentiles but for the Jews. The sacrificial traditions were brought to the Jews so that they would understand the real thing when it came to pass.
Now that I know intimately the underlying meanings your traditions, I could choose no other than the Person who is the fulfillment of those traditions.
Remember earlier in my letter I spoke of our adoption into the family that the Almighty God had long ago called the chosen ones? To this glorious truth Yvette and are able so say:
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ…God loved us and chose… to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what He wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace He has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son… Because we are united with Christ, we (too) have received an inheritance from God…God’s purpose was that (the) Jews who were the first to trust in Christ would bring praise and glory to God. And now (we) Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves…. And when (we) believed in Christ, He identified (us) as his own by giving (us) the Holy Spirit, whom He promised long ago. The Spirit is God’s guarantee that He will give us the inheritance He promised and that He has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him. (from Ephesians chapter 1)
This is why we believe Jesus is the Messiah. And it is in His name and His substitutionary and sacrificial death and in His Resurrection that Yvette and I have entrusted our eternal souls. His name is Jesus the Christ, and He is our Lord and our Savior. For there is for us no other name by whom we can be redeemed; no other name by whom we can be saved.
This is the end of my letter, Ruben. I pray that it is the beginning of discussion, and that God will use it to enrich the friendship between our families. I have compiled many references from the writings of the ancient prophets in addition to some of the writings from the so called new agreement. These I give not so that you are “converted” by my arguments, but that you might see that my redemption and salvation is not based upon what I believe. If “truth” is nothing more than a matter of what we each believe, then we have no real hope as human beings. I have chosen to believe what has been written by the ancient writers of Scripture and God has changed my life, given me purpose, promised my redemption, and secured with those Old and New Testament writings my eternal destiny.
It has been my hope to get this to you before your trip, and I don’t know if I succeed. May God bless your time with Naomi; may you guys have a joyous time together!
And may the love we have for you guys cover any and every deficiency I may have left in this message of God’s love, mercy, and grace.
Ruben, you are my friend and I love you!! Shalom!