Jun 13, 2009

Strange Blessings

David Brickner
By David Brickner

The phone rang. It was Dan Sered calling from Israel, and he sounded very discouraged. Dan leads our Jews for Jesus branch in Tel Aviv. We were in the midst of our third Behold Your God Israel campaign and the opposition was heated. But that wasn't why Dan was discouraged.

A reporter from "Yediot Achronot," the largest Hebrew daily newspaper in Israel, had interviewed Dan for an article. Dan had called to tell me that the reporter not only failed to report what he said accurately, but the article and the sidebars published with it were full of distortions and outright lies, deliberately presenting a false portrait of Jewish believers in Jesus. (Click here for a translation of this article)

Aside from repeatedly referring to Jews for Jesus (and any other Messianic group) as a cult, the reporter stated that we take advantage of people who are impoverished or psychologically weak. One of the sidebars was an outrageous "testimony" by a supposedly former Messianic Jew who said that Jewish believers in Jesus use young women to seduce men to "join" by offering them sexual favors.

What I told Dan was something I need to remind myself about regularly: we are actually blessed when these things occur—in fact doubly blessed, even though it may not feel that way. Y'shua made this very clear in His Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:11-12).

Why did Jesus tell us to rejoice when others treat us reprehensibly? Certainly we are not supposed to derive some sort of spiritually masochistic pleasure from being reviled. We want our light to shine in such a way that people will see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. Nor do we enjoy being the subject of false accusations. We are messengers of truth who rejoice when goodness and truth is proclaimed for others to hear. So why are we to consider ourselves blessed when we are reviled and slandered?

Two reasons come to mind: the first is identification.

Jesus said when we suffer these things for His sake, we are truly blessed. Unfortunately, not all of our suffering is necessarily for His sake. Years ago, Moishe was walking back to the office after lunch one day when a man punched his jaw so hard that it knocked him down. Looking up from his seat on the sidewalk Moishe asked the man why he had hit him. The man casually replied, "I don't like the way you look." As Moishe told me the story he rubbed his jaw ruefully. "What a waste," he said, "being persecuted for just being me instead of being for Jesus."

We all want our lives to count, and that includes our suffering. No one wants to suffer for suffering's sake, but if we suffer because of our identification with Jesus, that suffering provides deep meaning for us as it did for Peter and John who rejoiced "that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name" (Acts 5:41).

Identification with Jesus is not merely honorific when we suffer for Him; it actually accomplishes something profound in God's purposes. Paul tells us that in such suffering we "fill up... what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ" (Colossians 1:24).

Commenting on this, John Piper explained that Paul was not saying Christ lacked anything in what He suffered to secure our atonement. But when we suffer for Christ, people who do not have the opportunity to see Him presently face-to-face have the opportunity to see Him in us and in our suffering; thus their attention is drawn to Him and to the deeper meaning of his own suffering.

The second reason I see to rejoice when these things happen is like the first; it brings us into a proper perspective. Jesus reminds us, "For so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." We have the blessing of seeing how we fit into a long chain of God's servants who experienced similar reactions. This is very important because it is easy to evaluate the validity of ministry based on how people respond. Should we expect to receive different treatment than the prophets did? Do our expectations align with Jesus' words concerning how the world might respond to the preaching of the gospel?

Leaving those questions "on hold" for the moment, I want to point out another article that came out about the same time as the article in Yediot Achronot. This one, published in the Jerusalem Post, was a reflection piece from a woman who saw our Jews for Jesus campaigners in her favorite Tel Aviv "hummus joint."

The writer, an American-born emigrant to Israel who calls herself "Suddenly Sabra" didn't say anything false about Jews for Jesus; she simply expressed her honest feelings of disdain at seeing four of us clad in gospel T-shirts in a place that she obviously considered her turf. (click here to read).

Her major complaint seemed to be that people like us belong in the United States, not in Israel. She'd left a country where, being in the minority, she was often subjected to Christians telling her that she needed Jesus. She didn't expect to have to hear it in Israel, where she feels at home being Jewish, and not Christian. My experience and expectations are such that I wasn't disheartened by her reaction. After all, most of us in Jews for Jesus have been right where Suddenly Sabra is when it comes to the gospel message. I could easily imagine myself having a meaningful conversation with Suddenly Sabra, one that might even pique her curiosity about Y'shua's claims.

Sadly, a fellow believer didn't see the Jerusalem Post article that way at all. He took Suddenly Sabra's negative response as evidence against Jewish missions in general and Jews for Jesus in particular. He expounded his own negative reflections about our motives and our message on his blog site, and his accusations were far more hurtful than those in the Jewish newspapers. I have to admit, my first reaction was a desire to respond to him with a few angry accusations of my own. But I remembered the example of our Messiah, "who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously" (1 Peter 2:23). And I realized that regardless of the source of the revilement and false accusations, it will always be a blessing for us to respond like Jesus did. So instead of answering the criticisms point by point as I was so tempted to do, I prayed for God's blessing on my brother in Christ.

It is always easier to be reviled by unbelievers than by fellow believers because we don't expect unbelievers to understand or support what we do. But many who reviled Jesus believed they were serving God and serving the truth in doing so. So it is with many who revile us.

Imagine how things might be if more believers were willing to be slandered for the sake of bringing the gospel to areas where Jesus is rarely named in public. Imagine how things might be in the body of Christ if more of us were willing to respond with prayer when we are misunderstood or even reviled, rather than responding, in kind, to hurtful remarks. God will bless us and give us the strength to refrain from our own natural impulses if we ask Him to. And when we are successful in that intention we can be encouraged in the midst of it all; we will indeed have cause to rejoice and be exceedingly glad.