There are rabbis who blame us for grazing in foreign fields, but they are forgetting that Jesus was a Jew who was born in Israel. Don’t you think it’s strange, that 2,000 years after Jesus walked in the land of Israel, that we, and the entire world, still speak of him?
Jesus divided history into two: The era before his came, and the era after, as you acknowledge every time you write the date. Jesus never wrote a book, but there have been more books written about him than any person the world has ever known. There was no social networking, YouTube or internet 2,000 years ago. And yet Jesus is the most viral thing in world. What is it about Him that captured our hearts and the hearts of many others?
The New Testament, which describes Jesus’ life and ministry, has been translated into approximately 1,500 languages and dialects. Every year, close to 50 million copies of the New Testament are printed. We don’t have a single painting, song, poem, or musical piece by Jesus, yet his life and the words he spoke were the inspiration for more paintings, songs, poems and movies than any other figure in history. The famous artist, Van Gogh said: “Jesus, an artist greater than all other artists, made neither paintings nor did he compose, but he announced in a loud voice and turned the mortal into immortal”.
Jesus never led an army, he didn’t live in a fancy palace, had no military empire, or any kind of official leadership position. Despite what we see around us, he didn’t even aspire to establish a new religion. Yet millions of people throughout history, and also today, see him as the sole purpose for their lives, and are inspired to imitate the way he lived his life. Many were impressed by Jesus’ words and by the miracles and wonders that he performed. After his crucifixion, it was expected that his disciples would scatter and disappear quickly, but the opposite happened: Instead of shame and depression, his disciples were filled with energy and enthusiastically spoke about their faith in him as the Messiah who was prophesied in the Old Testament. After his death and resurrection, he appeared to them, safe and sound, and was also documented to have appeared to thousands of others throughout Israel.
But when his Jewish disciples began performing supernatural signs and wonders in his name, in full view of all the people, the authorities and religious leaders feared that their power was being undermined, and began to persecute and kill them. These Messianic Jews who were following Jesus, were later joined by gentiles who also came to believe in him, and they eventually outnumbered the Jewish believers.
Initially, the Messianic Jews were well-liked by the people. The Jewish historian Josephus commends Jesus’ disciples for their concern for others, their good deeds, and for their high level of morality. But this didn’t convince the religious and political leaders, who were concerned for their positions, and so tried (unsuccessfully) to silence Jesus’ disciples. Despite the persecutions and the threats, Jesus’ message continued to gather momentum until it reached all the nations of the world.
You need to understand, his message was revolutionary; Jesus was a breath of fresh air in Judaism. His message was not religious. He didn’t pressure people to find favor in God’s eyes by doing works out of fear or by force, but he encouraged people and demonstrated a mighty kind of love. He spoke about grace and forgiveness – about God’s love for all who were created in His image, both Jews and gentiles. Civil rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote:“Love has within it a redemptive power; the kind of power that eventually transforms individuals… and this is why Jesus says ‘love your enemies’…. Hate doesn’t allow your enemy to retract,; hate is destructive to the one being hated and is destructive to the hater.” Jesus presented a vision which was opposite to the religious message of the religious people of his time – a vision of a world in which all people are treated fairly and equally, and lived together in peace; men and women, Jews and Gentiles, masters and slaves. He cast a vision of a society in which every act comes from a place of mutual respect, a society that is driven by consideration and love for one another. Jesus called this “The Kingdom of God.” He promised that this Kingdom would become a reality during his second coming, and called his disciples to allow his relationship with them to impact them to the extent that the values of this Kingdom would be reflected in their daily lives. Would you be willing to sacrifice your life for such a vision? Jesus’ disciples responded positively, because up to that point they hadn’t met another person like Jesus. He had exceptional powers, and the words that came out of his mouth along with the miracles he performed had penetrated their hearts and stirred up hope in their soul – hope for eternal life.
The Jewish philosopher, Baruch Spinoza described it like this: “God’s eternal wisdom, which has manifested itself in all things, and chiefly in the human soul, and most of all, in Jesus Christ.” Jesus was genuinely interested in people. He wanted to connect and develop relationships with them. Even, and especially, with the kind of people who most of us want nothing to do with; with lepers, tax-collectors, the homeless, prostitutes, the poor, the rejected, and anyone who was in some kind of trouble or another. He stood by the weak who society had already condemned, he healed the sick, and claimed that he had the power to forgive sins. His friendship forever and deeply changed the lives of those who accepted him with an open heart. For his disciples, who were regularly exposed to his love for others, there was no going back. They were willing to die for him and for his message. Even the Jewish scientist, Albert Einstein (who defined himself as one who believes in the god of Spinoza, an impersonal god) demonstrated his excitement about Jesus during an interview for an American journal in 1929 when he said: “No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life!”
It is important to understand that Jews have always believed in Jesus. Actually, at the beginning all of the believers in Jesus were Jewish, and today there are more Jewish believers than ever before in history. The prevailing view among both Jewish and Christian historians is that initially, when Jesus was physically here in Israel, all of his followers were Jews, and that during the first years after his death and resurrection from the dead, thousands of Jews believed in him. In fact, back then, the question that was being asked was, “Can you be gentile and follow Jesus the Jewish Messiah?”
It’s impossible to place Jesus in the same category as the rest of the humanity’s philosophers. Therefore, it is important that you take time to consider your answer regarding the question of Jesus’ identity. Jesus said: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn. 15:13)
And this is exactly the reason why Jesus, did the noblest act of all for his friends, for you and for me; he gave his soul and his life for us! And that is why, since that day and until today, Jews like us lovingly accept Jesus and his message.