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HOW THE MESSIAH SOUGHT ME OUT


A Testimony of Faith by Richard Anderson


My name is Richard Anderson. I am a Jewish believer in Jesus who came to faith about 25 years ago. I know, the name Anderson probably doesn't "sound Jewish" to you! My parents Anglicized the family surname before I was born. I offer my testimony with hope that Christians will be emboldened to witness to their Jewish friends, that they may be confident that the Holy Spirit is at work today among the Jewish people as He calls forth a remnant to Himself, and that God will use the efforts His servants who speak the word of life fearlessly.


My upbringing is typical of many Jewish people in America. I was ritually circumcised on the eighth day after birth, and while attending public school, was also sent to Hebrew School after public school hours were over. This education lasted until my Bar Mitzvah when I was 13 years old. My parents were Conservative Jewish, the middle and largest branch of the faith. The Conservative branch attempts to strike a balance between the stricter Orthodox branch, and the more lenient Reform branch.


It's important for Gentile Christians to not think of words such as Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed in their "Christian" settings. They mean different things in Judaism. An "Orthodox" Jew is similar to what the Pharisees were in Christ's time. They are " orthodox" in the sense of being strict, literal adherents to rabbinical tradition, and rabbinical tradition is what the honored rabbis of the past say that the Jewish Bible means. (And, of course, the "Jewish Bible" excludes the New Testament, but includes everything before it.) Reform Jews are comparable to theologically liberal Christians, and Conservative Jews attempt to find a middle ground between both. Think of Conservatives as moderates, "middle-of-the-roaders," who tend to be more Orthodox-leaning or more Reform-leaning, depending on the particular synagogue to which one belongs.


Our family was Conservative, so we would retain certain Orthodox traditions such as reading some of the worship service in Hebrew, or of excluding women from being rabbis in our synagogue; but at the same time adhering to certain Reform tendencies such as not keeping kosher, or in believing in the coming of a messianic age, rather than in the coming of a personal Messiah. Such a middle position is typical of Conservative Jews.


My family attended synagogue, or temple service as it is sometimes called, about every other week. We celebrated the Jewish Sabbath regularly, albeit loosely, and kept at least the major Jewish holidays like Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, better know to gentile Christians as the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement. Of course Hanukkah was always celebrated. Even secular, irreligious Jews celebrate Hanukkah because of its gift-giving popularity.


My Hebrew school education taught me the importance of all the other holidays, but of course without the Christian overtones that so many Gentiles take for granted. I learned the significance of Shavuot which is the Feast of First-fruits (which the Church-at-large calls Pentecost), Passover, but without any of the Last Supper, Easter, Resurrection overtones, and Purim, also called the Feast of Esther, and the others as well. This Hebrew school education continued until I became a Bar-Mitzvah at age 13; then it ended, and I quickly fell away from keeping these traditions and rituals, while still retaining my Jewish identity. This falling away while still retaining one's personal identity as a Jew is prevalent among quite a few Jews today.


The culmination, the high point of religious training among most Jews is the Bar Mitzvah. Bar Mitzvah means "Son of the Commandment," and is a Jewish boy's passage into adulthood. At this time, he is called up, in a ceremony called an aliya, to read aloud - actually to chant, from a portion of the Hebrew Scripture; from an actual Torah scroll (not a book) taken from the Ark, which is a small closet behind the rabbi's pulpit housing the Hebrew Bible scrolls, so named to remind Jews of the original Ark of the Covenant from the days when the original temple still stood. My reading was from Leviticus, and dealt with the sacrifice of lambs. It's typical for boys preparing for Bar Mitzvah to memorize the entire Haftorah reading - mainly because we have not yet, nor do we ever, in most cases, learn the Hebrew language well enough to simply read it by sight.


Hebrew school taught me how to think of myself as a Jew, and taught me how to regard the Jewish faith. It indoctrinates a young person with a certain socio-ethnic identity which lasts with him the rest of his life. Four distinctives of my Hebrew school experience are as follows: First is the "chosen people" concept. This is the belief that the Jews are an especially gifted, righteous people, "chosen" by God for some yet-unclear cosmic end as evidenced by their religion and their religious history. Second and closely related to the "chosen people" concept is the "persecuted people" concept. This is the view that Jews have been unjustly persecuted in history because everyone is envious of them. And the second distinctive segues into the third distinctive: an ambivalent attitude towards God. On the one hand, Jews officially affirm God's love, righteousness and protective care in their synagogue worship. Yet on the other hand, they wonder how He can allow so much evil in the world, especially where it concerns them (first and foremost is the Nazi Holocaust) and still be a God of moral rectitude and integrity. And the fourth concept taught to me in Hebrew school is this: a key to retaining my Jewish identity was in my rejection of Christian beliefs. Faith in Jesus as one's savior, I was taught from as early as I could remember, is antithetical to being a Jew. Such a faith commitment, I was taught, while permissible and even commendable for a Gentile, is an act of treason for a Jew. It is a moral sin of great magnitude - worse even than atheism. Jesus, we were taught in Hebrew school, whoever He might have been, was not the messiah, most certainly not God the Son; and furthermore, we didn't kill him! We learned that He was the over-inflated hero of the Gentile masses; masses who more often than not attacked us for 2000 years for supposedly killing their god. Jews are taught the history of Christian persecutions against them. They learn of Crusaders who first attacked Jews before marching on to the Holy Land. The learn of "Christian" slanders about supposed Jewish desecrations of the Mass; of riots and massacres, of forced conversions to a foreign faith and church-sponsored inquisitions; of instigated riots called "pogroms" by the Russian czars and Russian Orthodox churchmen, and of exiles from country after country - all of which culminated in a German Holocaust by Nazi leaders raised in Christian parochial schools and all related, either directly or indirectly, to the Christian savior and His purported followers. This is what a child is taught in Hebrew school. This is what I was taught, and this is the cultural baggage that a Jew brings with him when he first encounters a presentation of the gospel. It is an enormous hurdle to overcome, and it isn't usually overcome all at once.


And yet, the very fact that I did become a Christian despite my upbringing is a testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit. Here, in part, is that story:


My first serious encounter with the Christian faith occurred while I was a student at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA. And it came as a result of a controversy on campus. The Christian Students Union had decided to invite two leaders of the Messianic Jewish movement to speak on campus, and the Jewish Students Union was upset at this. The president of the Union made a statement that stuck in my mind, and ultimately led me to seriously investigate the Hebrew Scriptures


for the first time in my life. He said "Don't be taken in my these missionaries. They'll try to tell you this nonsense that Isaiah 53 predicted the coming of Jesus."


Now when I heard that statement, I realized that I had never even read Isaiah 53, and when I read it - for the first time in my life, I was amazed at what I read. "He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his stripes, we are healed ..." It said the same thing substantially in the Jewish Publication Society translation as it did in the Christian translation. I thought of my father's words, rehearsed to me


more than once in my life: "That's the beauty of the Hebrew faith," he had said. "We don't need a go-between to approach God, and each man is responsible to atone for his own sin." I thought of the warning of Posner, the president of the college's Jewish Student's Union: "They'll try to say that this passage is referring to Jesus." I remember staring at the passage and saying to myself, at first: "Why not? Why not Jesus? Maybe it is." And then I thought of all the examples of prophetic fulfillment I had read about in such books as Hal Lindsey's The Late, Great planet Earth: the rise and fall of so many ci