The Table Podcast

Encountering Messianic Judaism

In this episode, Dr. David Brickner and Mikel Del Rosario discuss the origins, practices and impact of Messianic Judaism. Note: This episode was recorded before March 2020.

Timecodes
0:30
Brickner shares his personal testimony
5:05
What are the origins and distinct practices of Messianic Judaism?
10:56
How do Orthodox Jews view Messianic Jews?
15:09
How do Christians view Messianic Jews?
20:39
Brickner discusses Christian Theology in the Feast of Pentecost
25:59
What are the differences between Biblical Jews and Jews today?
31:45
How can Christians share the Gospel with their Jewish friends?
39:39
How are Messianic Jews impacting the Jewish community today?
42:09
How can the Church pray for Jewish believers in Jesus?
Resources Christ in the Feast of Pentecost by David Brickner
Transcript
Mikel Del Rosario
Welcome to the Table where we discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Mikel Del Rosario, cultural engagement manager here at the Hendricks Center. And our topic today is encountering Messianic Judaism. I have a special guest in the studio today, David Brickner. David is with Jews for Jesus. And tell us your title there.
David Brickner
I’m the executive director.
Mikel Del Rosario
Ok. And you’re based out of San Francisco, right?
David Brickner
That’s right.
Mikel Del Rosario
I used to live in Alameda so I have a nice Bay Area connection there.
David Brickner
Well, Jews for Jesus really grew out of the countercultural movement and the Jesus revolution which was really centered in the Bay Area back in the late ‘80s, ‘70s, 1970s. And really that’s where we have our international headquarters now ‘cause that’s where we began. Even though people like to say that Jews for Jesus began in Jerusalem 32 A.D. give or take a year.
Mikel Del Rosario
Well, welcome to the show so good to have you here.
David Brickner
Thank you.
Mikel Del Rosario
Well, tell us a little bit about – well, you have a DTS connection too. Don’t you?
David Brickner
Well, Mark Bailey, the president has been on the board of directors of Jews for Jesus. And he’s the chairman of our theological concerns committee. And so his contribution and many others here at DTS have been really important to us. Susan Pearlman who is my first assistant sits on the board of directors, the board of regents of Dallas Theological Seminary. And this school perhaps more than any other seminary in America has kept at it’s heart the belief that God has a plan for the Jewish people and that has yet to be fulfilled including promises concerning the land of Israel today.
Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. Well, tell us a little bit about your spiritual journey into – you weren’t always part of the Messianic Jewish movement, right?
David Brickner
That’s true.
Mikel Del Rosario
How did that happen?
David Brickner
Well, my story is a little bit different than most of my colleagues in Jews for Jesus in that I come on my mother’s side from five generations of Messianic Jews. My great great grandfather was the chief rabbi of the Hasidic Jews of Zhytomyr back in the Ukraine. And in the 1850s his wife became a follower of Jesus. So you think Jews for Jesus raises eyebrows today. You can just imagine what it was like for the wife of the chief rabbi to become a follower of Jesus. And so all the way back on that side of my family there have been Messianic Jews.

My father was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home in Mobile, Alabama of all places. They say Shalom y’all down there. [Laughter] And he came to faith in Christ through the witness of my mother’s father in a ministry. And so I had the privilege of being raised in a Messianic Jewish home. But we have a saying in Jews for Jesus that being born in a Christian home doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being born in a bakery makes you a bagel. And so even though I had this beautiful heritage of being raised as a Jewish person and told that Jesus is our Jewish messiah that felt really strange to me. Like I was sticking out. I was not like the other Jews in my class growing up.

So I put the Jesus stuff away and just lived a very kind of secular existence until I was in college. And in my freshman year at Boston University Jews for Jesus actually had a ministry there. I met some of them in front of the student union of Boston University. They invited me to a Bible study and there I encountered a whole group of other Jewish college students who had come to faith in Christ. I knew I had come home. And later that evening I invited Jesus to be my messiah, my Lord and savior. And it changed my life radically. It changed the direction of my life. And from that point on I’ve been involved in sharing the good news of messiah with my Jewish people all around the world.

Mikel Del Rosario
That’s awesome. How do you explain to people who have never heard of Messianic Judaism how you can be both a Jew and Christian?
David Brickner
Well, if you go back to the book of Acts, the real question was whether or not you could be a gentile and believe in Jesus.
Mikel Del Rosario
Uh-huh. That’s right.
David Brickner
And they had to actually have a whole church council in Acts Chapter 15 to decide if gentiles had to convert to Judaism in order to become followers of Jesus.
Mikel Del Rosario
Right.
David Brickner
They decided properly, thank the Lord, that God wants all people to come as they are. So Jewish people, we like to say we’re twice born children of Abraham. So we’re children of Abraham by birth, by genetics. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We’re descended literally from those forefathers. But we become twice born children of Abraham because we’ve become true children of Abraham through faith in his greater son, Jesus the messiah. And we’ve been imbued with the power of the Holy Spirit and made one with all others who follow him from every tribe and tongue and nation.
Mikel Del Rosario
Mm-hmm. Well, even though the earliest followers of Jesus were in fact Jewish, how do we pinpoint when Messianic Judaism as we know it today came into its own and became an identifiable movement?
David Brickner
That’s a great question. You know, up until the fourth century there was a vibrant Messianic Jewish presence within the church. And unfortunately pretty much under the reign of Constantine the Jewish aspect of the Christian church was sorely diminished, persecuted and through the middle ages all the way into the present it was almost invisible. But in the 19th century with the rise of the modern missions movement, Jewish believers in Jesus began to take on a more prominent place in the eyes of the church. They called themselves back in those days the Hebrew Christian movement.

And they were known as Hebrew Christians, Jews who had come to believe in Jesus. They started to develop some of their own cultural expressions. They had societies where they would get together for conferences. But in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s of the 20th century something happened. The Holy Spirit was poured out in amazing ways among young Jews and many of them wanted to embrace their Jewish identity and express their faith in Christ through that and let the rest of the Jewish community know that you can be Jewish and believe in Jesus. This was not well known at all and pretty much rejected by the Jewish community leaders. So the modern day Messianic Jewish movement in its forms that you find it today really are the result of that outpouring of the Holy Spirit here in North America, the late ‘60s, early ‘70s and then spreading around the world as it has today.

Mikel Del Rosario
Was that in San Francisco where Jews for Jesus is now or where was that?
David Brickner
Well, San Francisco was unique to our ministry because we are really direct evangelistic ministry. We’re not so much of a congregational movement but we’re an evangelistic organization that relentlessly pursues God’s plan for the salvation of the Jewish people. But we do plant congregations. And so that wasn’t located to one particular city. It happened in New York. It happened in Chicago. It happened in Detroit, wherever there were concentrations of Jewish people coming to believe in Jesus. Many of them sought to form congregations that would enable them to express their cultural Jewishness and their faith in Christ.

And so various forms of religious expression. Many of them might parallel different like forms of Evangelicalism. So you might have a Baptist feeling Messianic congregation or an Assemblies of God feeling Messianic congregation or a more traditionally Jewish Messianic congregation that uses the forms and structure of the synagogue to express faith in Jesus. And so there’s a whole potpourri of Messianic congregational life out there. And you just have to take it case by case.

Mikel Del Rosario
So if I were to say what would it be like for somebody who say they got invited to a Messianic synagogue and they wanted to know kind of ahead of time what to expect. Is there “a what to expect” when you get to a Messianic synagogue or are they all different?
David Brickner
They are all different. And there are certain things that I think would probably be true. You probably would have a more Jewish sounding expression of music and worship. There might be liturgical aspects centered around the reading of the scroll of the Torah. And faith in Yeshua would be the way their faith is described. That’s Jesus Hebrew name. And so you’ll hear Hebrew words smattered through.

The leadership might have Jewish believers in Jesus. But you can also expect there would be a good number of non-Jews, gentile Christians who are drawn to that expression. They love the Jewish roots of the Christian faith and so they’re drawn to the Messianic congregations as well. And some Messianic congregations might find actually a majority of non-Jews worshipping in a more kind of Jewish or quasi-Jewish way. So it’s a very interesting cultural phenomenon that has occurred over the last 20 years or so.

Mikel Del Rosario
Ok. So a very new movement in the grand scheme of things as far as how we know it today. Is it fair to say it’s a Protestant movement? How does that slot into the church in general?
David Brickner
Well, that’s a great question and I think it depends on ho you’re talking to. I think you’re right about that. I think it’s more expressive of a Protestant evangelic aspect of the Christian faith. But it’s very concerning to Messianic Jewish leaders that they see themselves as a form of or a branch of Judaism. I’m not so hung up on that but I understand when you’re trying to create a culture that is recognized by the normative Jewish community. You don’t want to be seen as Christian. You want to be seen as Jewish.

And so Messianic Judaism is the term that many of these leaders have coined in order to try and appeal to a normative Jewish community and say hey, we’re part of you. And it’s not that these folks want to be distanced from their brothers and sisters in Christ. But in the same way as you might see an African American church in the inner city express their faith in a very black cultural way, that’s how Jewish people want. They want a Jewish expression of faith in Jesus that is welcoming to other Jews. Not so scary like the boundary is so far to cross.

Mikel Del Rosario
So how do in a more mainstream orthodox reform conservative Jews tend to view Messianic Jews?
David Brickner
Well, that’s changing interestingly enough. Back in the ‘70s when I first started in Jews for Jesus one of the constants would be rejection and sometimes very visceral. And it was a heartbreak for many Jewish people come to believe in Jesus to experience rejection. Oftentimes parents would hold funerals for children who have come to follow Jesus. It was very radical. That has changed over time first of all because it’s become more common.

Second of all because of the high intermarriage rate in the Jewish communities, over 55 percent. And so a lot of these Jewish kids are growing up with both Jewish and “Christian” or nominally Christian parents. And so the idea of trying to put the two together in some form of identity has been part of a millennial journey. So we did a survey, Jews for Jesus did, not too long ago with the Barna Group of North American millennial Jews. And we found a much greater openness to the idea of a dual identity or Messianic Jewish or Jewish Christian because they grew up that way. They grew up with Hanukah and Christmas. They grew up with Passover and Easter.

And they haven’t necessarily figured it out yet. It’s just part of their identity how they grew up. And so we’re helping those people to find genuine faith in Jesus and appreciation of their Jewish side as well. So there’s more openness here in North America and even in other parts of the world. Like in Israel where we’re actually seeing greater openness to the gospel than ever before.

Young people generally speaking have rejected this strident strictures of orthodox Judaism. They’re not really satisfied with the kind of pablum kind of spirituality of the liberal form of Judaism. And so they’re just looking for truth and they’re looking all over the place. And we’re finding them very open to hearing how we express our faith as Jews, as Israelis in Jesus the greatest Jew that ever lived.

Mikel Del Rosario
That’s amazing. Is there a lot of religious freedom them in Israel for Messianic Jews to practice?
David Brickner
There is. Israel is a democracy and offers freedom of religion and has signed the UN declaration on freedom of religion. However, Israel is a complicated place because it is the Jewish state. And because of that there is a kind of a coalition between secular and religious. And the religious are the fastest growing segment of Israeli society. They have a much higher birth rate. And as a result the religious try to gain the upper hand in controlling certain aspects of culture, education, immigration, things that really most Israeli secularists don’t care that much about and they’re happy to cede to the religious.

The problem for Messianic Jews is then religious Jews who don’t acknowledge them, who fear their efforts to so called “convert Jews” will make life difficult for them. They’ll persecute them on the job. They’ll make life difficult in terms of American Jews wanting to immigrate to Israeli and become citizens. So it is a complicated situation. And so from time to time you can have well known Jewish believers in Jesus who have been going over to Israeli, taking tours, teaching. All of a sudden they arrived at the border and somebody flags them and they’re sent home. It’s really an odd thing. It doesn’t have any rhyme or reason to it. But if the religious can oppose Messianic Jews in the land of Israel despite the freedom of religion they will find a way to do it.

Mikel Del Rosario
That’s interesting. So we talked about how Jews in general tend to view Messianic Judaism and how that’s kind of changed over the years. On the Christian side have you seen a similar evolution with how Christians tend to view Messianic Jews in America?
David Brickner
Over the large swath. If we go back to the fourth century and Constantine, Jews who wanted to maintain Jewish identity were formally rejected and refused and were in fact instructed that they had no legal right to observe Passover, to circumcise their young, to do any of the Jewish rituals for whatever reason whether it would be antisemitism or fear of syncretism. The church officially back in the fourth century said no Messianic anything. And with the rise of the modern missions movement that changed. And what I have personally seen in my lifetime is a loving embrace of Jewish believers in Jesus by the wider evangelical Christian movement.

We may not always be understood. And there may be some of the messiness of the movement that can annoy Christians who feel like maybe there’s some sort of a Neo-Galatianism going on here or something to that effect. But for the most part my experience with my brothers and sisters in the evangelical church has been loving embrace, enthusiastic support and a desire to learn from the Jewish believers about the Jewish roots of the Christian faith which have been lost for many, many years and are only now becoming more important.

Like for example I know that Passover and other Jewish festivals are really of interest to Christians. Well, what does this mean? Since Jesus celebrated the Passover when he instituted communion. How do we understand? And how does that enrich our faith? And so Jewish believers are uniquely positioned in the church to be a bridge for that building of that kind of an understanding. And I think that the more evangelical Christians understand the Jewish roots of their faith, the more welcoming the Christian can be to their Jewish friends and neighbors and the more effective they can be in sharing the love of Jesus with them.

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. You mentioned earlier how people who had grown up with Passover and Easter at the same time, they’ve already held that tension. They don’t necessarily see Passover and Easter as anti each other. And as a Christian, as a believer in Messiah you can see they actually – not only are they not anti each other but you appreciate Easter so much more when you understand all the symbolism in the Passover and how it points to Jesus. Pretty amazing. You go around telling people and helping people understand Jesus and the Passover, don’t you?
David Brickner
Yes. And many other festivals also point to Jesus. And after all the Hebrew scriptures were the Bible of the church. And so unfortunately today there is much more of an emphasis in Christian preaching in the New Testament. And oftentimes the understanding of the New Testament is so enriched when you realize that it’s coming out of the context of the Hebrew scripture. So if you can understand those backgrounds it just adds. It’s like looking at a picture in black and white and then all of a sudden seeing it in color. It’s dynamic. It’s lively. And it really strengthens faith because we realize the truth of what the scriptures teach that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.
Mikel Del Rosario
And there’s this participation element too that a lot of Jews have talked to me about like hey, we’re all on Mount Sinai together. We all did this and that together. And so you’re walking through the Passover. You’re not just remembering a fact or some historical ideas. You’re experiencing that going through it and then we can carry that straight into Easter as well. Has that been something that’s been helpful to you making that transition into Messianic Judaism?
David Brickner
Yes. Because of course one of the great needs of the church today is community. We have become much more of a spectator type church environment. And of course community is vibrant and important to the life of the church. And it’s always been part of Judaism. You cannot practice Judaism without being a part of a community. And so things like the Passover which reinforce the dynamic of this is not some kind of a lone ranger type of an experience. We do this together. We walk together. And I think that that understanding that flows out of the historic roots of the Jewish Christian experience can be very helpful for the church today.
Mikel Del Rosario
And a lot of the things we do in church actually were taken off of Jewish worship, weren’t they? A public reading of scripture, things like this. We see Jesus read from Isaiah in Luke 4 and where do we get these things? These things are actually sourced in Jewish worship. Aren’t they?
David Brickner
Absolutely. And Paul in Romans 11 views the church, the gentile churches as being grafted into the rich root of the olive tree. And so I think more and more we as followers of Jesus should explore what that means and what the implications are for our faith and our practice.
Mikel Del Rosario
Well, now that we’re talking about the Scriptures I want us to think about one of my favorite passages in Acts Chapter 2 where I believe we have the earliest Jewish apologetic for Jesus as Lord and Messiah. Touching on Joel 2, Psalm 110 and then of course linking it to Jesus, vindication and the resurrection and ascension. Talk to us about how that earliest Jewish apologetic worked in the minds of Jews in the first century. And then let’s talk about doing Jewish evangelism today.
David Brickner
This is a wonderful story. In fact I’ve written a whole book about it called Christ in the Feast of Pentecost published by Moody Press. It is so wonderful the way God set that up. That sermon had the best platform of any sermon in the new testament and following because it was the day of Pentecost. And people think of Pentecost today and they think of a denomination of Christianity.
Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah.
David Brickner
But in fact Pentecost was one of the seven festivals of the book of Leviticus 23 that Jewish people were required to celebrate. And in Deuteronomy 16 it is one of the three aleyah festivals. That is the ones where men were all required to go up to Jerusalem. So what happen in the Book of Acts and the sermon that Peter is preaching comes out of the fact that all the pilgrims from all around the world had come to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost.

And there was an expectation that God could do something because in the very first Pentecost according to Jewish tradition that was when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of stone receiving the law. So there was a tremendous sense of expectation that when the Holy Spirit was poured out there was some connection between what was going up on the mountain, all of the special effects, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, the wind and the fire and the noise like a freight train.

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah.
David Brickner
And people were drawn to it. And so talk about being set up with special effects. Peter had those things. People were there. What’s going on? And then of course he preached from that passage. And he preached about David in Acts Chapter 10. And according to Jewish tradition, Pentecost was the celebration of both the birthday and the anniversary of David’s death. And so his tomb was right there. And so they knew it. They had come to celebrate the life of their great king, King David who was the prototype of the Messiah who was to come.

And so here he has this tremendous special effects. He’s got this great object lesson with the tomb of David. He’s got these passages like Acts 10. The Lord said to my Lord. Who was he talking about? We know David’s dead. He’s right there. We’re here celebrating his life. He was talking about the Messiah. And that’s who Jesus was. And what you’re seeing, these sights and sounds that kind of bring us back to the day when we all stood at the foot of Mount Sinai.

Well, Joel predicted that this would happen again and that’s what you’re seeing. And so I mean he almost didn’t even have to preach. Everything around him was preaching this amazing message. And of course we know that 3,000 Jewish people came to faith in Christ from that one sermon. I know Billy Graham is pretty famous for having people responding to just as I am. I don’t know what song they were singing when 3,000 Jews got saved that day but it must have been a really good one.

Mikel Del Rosario
Yeah. That’s amazing. Yeah. And so you have this – the allusion of also to Psalm 110 is amazing with what was metaphorically true about the Davidic king who no human Davidic king ever literally went up and sat at God’s right. Jesus literally did. This became literal.
David Brickner
Yeah.
Mikel Del Rosario
And they saw it. and Jesus pouring out the Holy Spirit.
David Brickner
Yeah.
Mikel Del Rosario
This is evidence that Jesus has been vindicated.
David Brickner
Absolutely.
Mikel Del Rosario
It’s so amazing. Now when we think about Jewish people today, sometimes Christians have this idea like well, I’ve read the old testament and I kind of know about what Judaism was back in the Bible days. So I understand what it’s like for Jewish people today. But talk to us about the difference between Jewish believers or rather Jewish people in the Bible in the first century and Jewish people today in terms of are a lot of people kept up at night over who the Messiah is and when he’s going to come.
David Brickner
Well, that’s a great question. The Judaism of today is vastly different from the Judaism of Jesus day. We call that Second Temple Judaism. Because it was still centered around worship and the temple, the Levitical priesthood, the Aaronic prescriptions, the sacrificial system. That was the Judaism of Jesus day. And Jesus himself predicated the end of that Judaism when he talked about not one stone will be left upon another. What does Judaism do without the temple and without the priesthood?

That was the question at the end of the first century that the Jewish community leadership had to deal with, had to wrestle with. They had to reformulate what we now call Rabbinic Judaism. Judaism not based upon priesthood but based upon the authority of the rabbis. And so much of the Hebrew scriptures is based upon sacrifice and atonement. So in order to recreate itself, Rabbinic Judaism created a whole body of literature that is now known as the Talmud. And the Talmud is studied in Judaism today more, more than the Bible itself. And it is the prescription for how Jewish people deal with the theological and the practical questions about how to live as a Jew in light of Mount Sinai and in light of modernity.

And this is a constant debate. It’s going on all the time. And on the ground unfortunately the reality is that most Jews avoid practicing Judaism on a regular basis. Like many Protestants or Catholics here in America, you go through confirmation and then you leave. For Jewish people, you have a bar mitzvah and you may come back to the synagogue occasionally for weddings, for bar mitzvahs, for the high holiday services. But the life of the synagogue is not the heartbeat of the Jewish community. It’s the home. It’s the Jewish community center. And secularism from the enlightenment on has had a deep, deep impact on the Jewish community.

And so for example if you were to go to Israel today, the vast majority are going to be agnostic, secular. I mean their Jewishness is more connected to their being an Israeli than it is anything that they might say or do or faith that they might have in God. So let’s say for example somebody who is listening to us has a Jewish friend. You cannot assume that your Jewish friend even believes in God or believes that the Bible is the word of God.

And so when you begin to talk to them about matters of faith you want to find out about those things. Well, what do you really believe about these things? Try to get them to talk about their own faith. And they may feel uncomfortable about it because they won’t know very much. Or they may feel it’s too personal. But for whatever reason, the vibrancy of Jewish faith in the God of Abraham has been so greatly diminished that you cannot even assume. For example even some who would dress as religious Jews really do believe it. It’s become more of a way of life, more of a culture, more of a person identity than it is vibrant faith.

And this is a tragedy because people are people. And people have that what Pascal called that God shaped vacuum. And Judaism is a beautiful religion but it’s missing the truth that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. And so that’s why my ministry, Jews for Jesus, is passionate about we are so – we pound the table and weep over the fact like Paul did. My hearts desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved. They have a zeal for God many of them especially religious but not in accordance with knowledge.

And so Jesus is the missing piece in the Jewish community. And we find that when we embrace him it’s like a Rubik’s cube that all of a sudden comes together. Its like all of a sudden all of it makes sense. There’s this line from Fiddler on the Roof where Tevye, the main character, is bemoaning his fate. His horse has gone lame. His cow stopped giving its milk. His daughter wants to marry somebody he doesn’t approve of and he looks up to God and he says, “God they say we’re the chosen people. For once could you choose someone else.”

So this idea of being chosen doesn’t seem to be that attractive in light of Jewish history which is replete with persecution often in the name of Christ and some of the sufferings of the Jewish people today, antisemitism on the rise. Jewish people are saying what’s the advantage here.

Mikel Del Rosario
I had a Jewish friend – well, I’m going to tell you this story. Then I’ll ask you this question. I had a Jewish friend who the first time he ever heard about Jesus, the name Jesus he was on a beach and he met this kid and he introduced himself. And the kid said hi, I’m so and so. We’re Jewish. And the kid said, “Jews killed Jesus.” And then he came back to his dad and he’s like, “Dad, who is this Jesus guy and why’d we kill him?” And he’s like, “Ah, don’t worry about that. Just some guy who thought he was God.”

And he thought that the New Testament was a manual for persecuting Jews until he opened it up himself almost like a secret contraband thing that he hoped his Jewish friends and family didn’t see him reading. And he’s like these are all Jewish people. And it starts out with the genealogy of Jesus, the Messiah is amazing. And so I think for him and for a lot of Jews is it fair to say that Judaism is not so much about what people believe sociologically but more about what people do? Is that fair to say?

David Brickner
That is absolutely fair to say. And so because most Jews don’t do Judaism. They don’t know what they believe about Judaism. And they feel guilty about it all the time.
Mikel Del Rosario
And so when we approach people I mean we think about this with non-Abrahamic world religious traditions where you meet a Buddhist you’re not going to automatically think well, I know exactly what you believe because I read this little pamphlet on Buddhism, right, because there’s so many different kinds. So asking those kinds of questions like you would of anybody really.
David Brickner
Exactly.
Mikel Del Rosario
Not assuming what somebody believes just because they dress a certain way or you know that they’re ethnically Jewish.
David Brickner
Exactly. And I would just say that the first thing that any Christian should do in approaching a Jewish person is to establish a basis for a personal relationship, a friendship. And it doesn’t take much to become a friend. You show an interest. And it’s out of that foundation that you can then begin to explore matters of faith. And you’ll find very quickly that most Jewish people don’t really know what they believe. And they’re curious enough to hear your story and it’s not wrong for you to share even though you may not be Jewish, the story of how God became real to you and how he’s part of your daily life and how he answers your prayers.

Because one of the things that the apostle Paul said, he said salvation has come to the gentiles in order to provoke Israel to jealousy. I magnify my ministry that I might provoke my fellow countrymen to jealousy. So if you were raised in one of these proper Christian homes you know typically it’s not right to make somebody jealous over what you have that they don’t. But that’s God’s plan for Jewish evangelism because your faith, the vibrancy of your love for the God of Israel is going to be something that they’re going to see as attractive that they don’t have. And they’re going to want to know how they can have that.

And many times one of the first things that will happen with a Jewish person who encounters a lively Christian is they’re going to want to go and start reading their own Bible. And they won’t understand it but that’s a good step. And then they’ll maybe open the pages of the New Testament. And having heard like your friend did that it’s a manual for antisemitism they’re going to open and read the first verses of the first book that’s the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of Abraham, the son of David. I mean how much more Jewish can you get than Abraham and David.

Mikel Del Rosario
Right.
David Brickner
And so it’s a big surprise. And it’s unfortunately one of the lies of Satan over the past 2,000 years that has kept Jewish people from seeing just how very Jewish it is to follow the Messiah of Israel, Jesus. And so when they discover that it’s kind of like a revelation on top of a revelation.
Mikel Del Rosario
I say sometimes like how can you be antisemitic and claim to be a Christian ‘cause like you worship a Jewish man. You know that, right?
David Brickner
It’s really amazing. And yet of course the lie of antisemitism doesn’t come from human philosophy. It comes from the pit of hell. And so the enemy of God and his people has used human philosophy and ultra-nationalistic kinds of ideas in this country and around the world to hate and to promote hate of God’s people. And we see that in Europe. And we see that in America. And we see that unfortunately in our politics because you have a hard time understanding how it is that the United Nations human rights commission has condemned the state of Israel more than any other nation, all of them put together.

How is that possible? Well, maybe it’s because the members of the United Nations human relations, human rights council is made up of Iran and China and Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. And so they’re using anti-Israelism as a platform for genuine antisemitism which has thrived in those cultures. And so it’s a problem. And it’s a problem that prevents Christians from really having access to Jewish people to witness to them because there’s a big fear factor. And that’s why when you love on a Jewish person and you say my Messiah is Jewish.

I love the Jewish people. I’m supportive of Israel’s right. You don’t have to think that Israel’s government does everything right but that they have a right to the land and to live at peace unmolested in the land. When Jewish people hear and understand that, that makes them think well, maybe I don’t know the whole story about Jesus. And so it’s a great thing to keep in mind as you meet Jewish people. Don’t be afraid to express your love and your support. And Israel actually knows that. They know that their best friends in the whole world – in that very troubled neighborhood their best friends are evangelical Christians.

Mikel Del Rosario
Well, talk to us a little bit about how you would approach either an Orthodox, reformed, conservative Jews as a Jewish person. And then what differences there might be with people who aren’t Jewish, Christians approaching their Jewish friends. Is there a difference there?
David Brickner
Well, the Holy Spirit works the same in everyone’s heart. And so you cannot kind of say well, a reformed Jew is going to say this whereas an Orthodox Jew is going to say that. Each one is an individual and that’s why it’s important to kind of find out where they’re coming from. I will tell you this. The ultra-orthodox which are in Israel known as the Haredim are the most unreached people group in the world because they are isolated. They’re kind of like a Jewish form of Amish.

They really stick to themselves. They’re very much caught up in a very kind of strict form, almost syncretistic form of religious Judaism. And because of that there has been little impact in terms of having the gospel penetrate these communities. And Jews for Jesus has finally decided now after all these years that we’re going to make a concentrated effort to engage the religious. And you know what? We’re beginning to find out that all along there has been curiosity. But there’s such fear of the outcome of any kind of awareness among the leadership that someone might be interested in Jesus because there’s approbation. There’s being cut off, excommunicated, all of these things.

And because they are such an insular group their whole livelihood, their families, they’re all tied together. So for a religious Jew to even contemplate reading the New Testament they could find themselves out penniless, losing their families and nowhere to go. So as we begin to think about how to engage these people with the gospel we recognize it’s not just enough to lead them to Christ. We have to provide a pathway for them into a life that is maybe in the community and more quiet because there are some secret believers. Even though at one point I doubted there could be such a thing I’ve since discovered no, there are.

That kind of approach of being in the community and kind of quietly being a witness I think is valid. And we’re looking to establish more of that. When we reached out to Jerusalem we dressed as religious Jews. People thought well, isn’t that being a little bit dishonest? No. Hudson Taylor dressed himself in order to be acceptable in the community that would otherwise shun you. So this is not – it’s not a common way of doing it but we’re doing it. And then of course there’s the calling out of the community that also has to happen.

And so we’re trying to discover and learn. We’re going through a process right now and it’s at one area of great prayer. Because one of out of every five children that’s born today in the Jewish community are born into an ultra-religious family. So in 30 years from now what does that mean for the Jewish community? We have to prepare now to reach that community and that’s a big focus for Jews for Jesus this year and going forward.

Mikel Del Rosario
So is it fair to say then that there’s a little bit – well, let me just ask you the question. Is there more or less of a shock value for a Jewish person to discover that you are Messianic Jew or that a Christian who is not a Jew is a Christian? Or did they just expect all people who aren’t Jewish who approach them to already be Christian?
David Brickner
Yes. And actually that was to our advantage in one of the ways that we’ve been reaching into the ultra-orthodox community. So with women in the ultra-orthodox community they’re very isolated. They stay at home. They have babies. They keep the house and most of them are fairly poor. They’re on government assistance. The men go off to the seminaries. So what we started to do to reach into these homes, we called during the day while the wives were at home with the children by themselves.

And we’d say we’re Christians and we’d like to come by and help you. We know it’s hard to keep the house clean, take care of the kids, put a meal together so we’d like to come by and help you. We can shop for you. We can take care of the kids while you do things. We can clean the house. “So you’re Christians?” “Yes.” “Well, why do you want to do this?” “Well, because we’re supposed to love the Lord our God and love our neighbors as ourselves. Didn’t Moses say that?” “Our rabbi said that too.” “Oh you have a rabbi?” “Yes. Well, we’ll tell you more.”

So then you go over and they’re saying, “Well, you’re Christian, right?” “Yeah, but we’re speaking Hebrew and we’re Jewish names.” So they say, “Wait a minute. You’re Jewish.” So it’s a little bit of a reverse that actually opens up the conversation. We say no, we’re Christians. But then but you’re Jewish. ‘Cause if we said we’re Jewish and they say no, you’re Christian. And that tries –

Mikel Del Rosario
Oh ok. Got you.
David Brickner
So it kind of flips things on its head. It’s a fascinating thing to see happen. But it’s been one of the most dynamic new ways that Jews for Jesus is testing to reach into that very isolated community.
Mikel Del Rosario
Interesting. So that really gives people pause to say wait a second. What?
David Brickner
That’s right. I remember once I was wearing – we usually in the days before when we’d stand out on the street corners all the time and hand our tracks. We don’t do that quite as much though it’s still effective in certain communities. We’d wear Jews for Jesus t-shirts. And people would come up to me and they’d say “You’re not Jewish. If you’re for Jesus you’re not a Jew.” And then I’d have somebody who is not Jewish wear a goyim for Jesus t-shirt which is saying gentiles for Jesus. And Jewish people would come up to them and say, “You’re really Jewish, aren’t you?”
Mikel Del Rosario
Oh that’s funny. Well, how can we be praying for Jews for Jesus and Jewish people in general?
David Brickner
Thank you. We are living in amazing times where the openness to the gospel is unprecedented. For example, in the most recent high holiday services in Paris, our branch leader and our staff were invited by one of the most well-known reformed synagogues to share in the leadership of the high holy day services. I never expected to be alive to see something like that where there is that kind of openness.

The San Francisco branch leader of Jews for Jesus was just recently invited to speak to a group of youth on what he believes and why by the rabbi. And I thought it was going to be one of these beat up on the missionary type of things. But the rabbi said no, I’ve just been – my kids have been asking me questions and I figured might as well get you guys here to answer the questions.

Mikel Del Rosario
Wow.
David Brickner
And these are unprecedented kind of little anecdotes of the kind of opportunity that’s out there. And so as you pray, pray the Scriptures. Pray like Paul says my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved. Pray for our missionaries as we’re out encountering Jewish people that we would be faithful, that we would be diligent, that God would give us wisdom, that some of these new initiatives especially among the ultra-orthodox will make a big impact and that we would see this remnant grow. Paul talks about a remnant according to God’s gracious choice.

Well, that remnant is a remnant because it’s seen. If the remnant isn’t visible it’s not really a remnant. What I’m wanting to tell those of us who are listening today is that the remnant is growing. The visibility of Jews who have come to faith in Jesus is becoming more prominent. May our tribe increase and may Christians believe in the promises of God for the future of Israel and for the work of Jewish evangelism, believe, pray, support, partner with us to see God’s word fulfilled even in our day.

Mikel Del Rosario
How can people get in contact with you and learn more about Jews for Jesus?
David Brickner
You can go onto our website Jews for – F-O-R Jesus.org. That’s the easiest way. Or you can write if you don’t happen to be on the internet. Write to our main office in San Francisco, Jews for Jesus, 60 that’s 6-0 Haight Street, H-A-I-G-H-T. San Francisco, California 94102. We’d be happy to be in touch.
Mikel Del Rosario
Is that Haight Street as in Haight Ashbury?
David Brickner
That’s it.
Mikel Del Rosario
Well, that’s not what that has been famous for.
David Brickner
No, it’s not. But out of that kind of rebellious time in America’s history a lot of young people got saved. And that was really the heartbeat of what began as the Jews for Jesus movement which is now the worldwide ministry of Jews for Jesus.
Mikel Del Rosario
That’s awesome to see how God has been working and to see how Jewish people have come to faith in Christ and the impact that we see the gospel having today even in Israel. That’s amazing.
David Brickner
It is amazing.
Mikel Del Rosario
Well, thanks so much for being on the show today.
David Brickner
Thank you Mikel. Shalom.
Mikel Del Rosario
Shalom to you. And we thank you so much as well for joining us today on The Table Podcast.
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David Brickner
David Brickner is executive director of Jews for Jesus. David oversees the world-wide ministry from its headquarters in San Francisco. David received his Master’s degree in Missiology with a concentration in Jewish Evangelism and Judaic Studies from the Fuller School of World Mission. He has authored several books, and has been interviewed on national television shows such as Larry King Live.
Mikel Del Rosario
Mikel Del Rosario is a PhD student in New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, Project Manager for Cultural Engagement at the Hendricks Center, and Adjunct Professor of Apologetics and World Religion at William Jessup University. Mikel co-authors The Table Briefing articles in Bibliotheca Sacra with Darrell Bock, manages the Table Podcast, and helps Christians defend the faith with courage and compassion through his apologetics speaking ministry. He holds a Master of Theology (ThM) from DTS and an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University.
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