I’ve already mentioned the close ties between Jewish holidays and food. But deliciousness is not just for ceremonial occasions. Who needs to wait for a wedding or a holiday to enjoy lean corned beef, fresh gefilte fish, stuffed cabbage, bagels, cream cheese and lox, or a dessert tray that’ll warrant a lecture from a cardiologist? And this goes beyond the calendar. It shapes a whole way of seeing. Many Jewish people see Gentile culture (which they do not distinguish from Christianity) as sterile, bland, and in desperate need of a new caterer. Such realities are not insignificant when it comes to reaching out with the gospel.
I’ve also mentioned our love for humor. We love to laugh and make others laugh. For many years, the stand-up comedy world was dominated by Jewish comedians. Perhaps we’re trying to counter our many years of trouble and sorrow. Or perhaps our times of lack propel us to go after more and more. I’ll save it for the cultural anthropologists to analyze the causes. For the sake of this book, I want you to see that Jewish people like nice things, appreciate good music and art, love to celebrate with food and laughter, and think that life—this life—is a good thing. We don’t just sing “L’Chaim” (“To Life!”) because it was a nice show-tune in Fiddler on the Roof. That song was written for the musical because it reflects how Jewish people think and live. If you’re going to engage well with Jewish people, you’ll want to show and tell how the gospel is good news for this life as well as for the next. And you should probably do so over a nice meal.
The Jewish mindset, at its best, looks simultaneously backwards and forwards. For example, every year at Passover we retell the story of God’s miraculous deliverance of His people from slavery. Long ago he worked miracles to pour out judgment on Egypt’s false gods through the ten plagues, and displayed his power by parting the Red Sea. But we also look forward during that celebration to the time when all slavery, all oppression, all idolatry, and all wickedness will be wiped away. We end every Seder (Passover meal) with the words, “Next year in Jerusalem,” a shorthand reference to the time when the Messiah comes to set up His kingdom on earth.
Thus, Judaism has a forward-looking posture to it, even for some of the most secularized, non-observant Jews. And that future orientation has a strong aspect of hope to it. In fact, the Israeli national anthem is called “HaTikvah”, which means “The Hope”! Perhaps this is why Jewish people involve themselves in politics or pursue civic causes. There’s something in the Judaic DNA that longs for a better day when people “will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks” (Isaiah 2 v 4). For some of them, this taints their view of Christians who they see as only interested in life after death, only in heaven and not caring about earth, and “so heavenly minded as to be no earthly good.” Part of the task in proclaiming the gospel to Jewish people involves agreement that things are not as they should be while still pointing to eternity—the only time when all longings for heaven can be fulfilled.
As followers of the Messiah and lovers of all of the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, we see even greater reasons for hope and looking forward. God has already sent His Messiah once, so we are confident that He’ll send Him again to fulfill all remaining prophecies. In the meantime, the promises of Romans 11 tell us that God is not finished with the Jewish people.
I ask, then: Did God reject his people? By no means! Romans 11 v 1
This verse answers Paul’s rhetorical question with a resounding “No!” Israel did not “stumble so as to fall beyond recovery (v 11).” The Bible gives us good reason to be optimistic about fruitfulness in proclaiming the good news to the Jewish people.
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