For the 6th time, I have just arrived back in Canada after spending some time in Israel. This is the 2nd year in a row that I have had the pleasure of providing the teaching portion for the Back to the Bible Canada tour. We typically visit such sites as Caesarea, Caesarea Philippi, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, and Tel Megiddo. We also get to overlook the valley of Armageddon, the Valley of Jezreel, and many other sites. These places are all amazing, but for me, the real highlight is Jerusalem. For it is Jerusalem, as the Bible tells us, that is the city of the great king.
Due to the fact that this was the 2nd year in a row that we’ve done this trip, we were provided with the same local guides who led us last year. Both were Jewish men, who even though were not Christian, showed a great sensitivity and respect for the Christian faith. One of the two, a man named Shlomo (or Solomon) had started to feel like a very dear friend. He was professional and very knowledgeable (as is true of a great many of the Jewish guides). Even though he is not a believer himself, we were able to take part in excellent dialogue throughout the trip.
The times we spoke of the Christian faith were some of the times I loved the most.
Near the end of our tour, I asked Shlomo whether he might be interested in publishing a series of letters we might write to each other about our dialogue regarding the Christian faith and Judaism. He faced me squarely and said, “You are required to tell me the truth. What is your real motivation for asking me?” I told him that, yes, it was true that I had been praying for his conversion to Christ as his Saviour and Messiah, and it was also true that I wanted to keep that conversation alive. But my primary reason for asking was to model the kind of dialogue that I believed is possible between Christians and Jews.
Whether or not Shlomo and I engage in a dialogue of letters and publish it is far from certain. Publication is dependent on a whole host of issues that include time and editing resources. It may or may not come to be and may God’s will be done. But Shlomo’s question has caused me to think about the two-fold role of all Christians as they seek to present Jesus to Jews.
The first is the obligation that all Christians have toward the people of Israel is to recognize that we owe them a great debt.
In Romans 9:4-5, Paul explains the privileged position of Israel. He says, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” Every single Gentile Christian who reflects on this text must come to the conclusion that we owe to Israel an infinite debt of gratitude we can never repay. Our faith and our Saviour come from Israel. Furthermore, the role that Israel has played in protecting and preserving the sacred texts of scripture must never be overlooked. It is for this reason, that all Christians must find every act of anti-Semitism to be especially horrifying. But we must go beyond anti-Semitism to nurturing a deep, abiding, overwhelming love for the Jewish people. God demands it of us.
The second obligation that all Gentile Christians have toward Israel is beautifully expressed in Romans 9:2;
“My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief.” This text expresses Paul’s sorrow over the lost condition of many of the Jewish people.
How do we superimpose these two passions? One is the longing for the conversion of the Jews to Christ, superimposed with a deep overwhelming sense of indebtedness to a people to whom we can never repay. If both of these impulses are not present, we sin against God.
Dr. John Neufeld
Bible teacher, Back to the Bible Canada