Here’s what you need to do. You got to first shave your head, you dress all in black, you’ve got to wear a white rope, eat only kosher foods, you’ve got to become a vegetarian, you face Jerusalem, you’ve got to face India when you pray, you pray only in Hebrew and your grow a nice big beard. And if you do all those outward cultural things, you’ll discover the God of the universe. I’m thinking “This is crazy, that someone thinks that they can force their culture on God. And that God’s going to be impressed by what you wear, what direction your face when you pray, what you eat, all these sorts of things.” It seemed to me that if there was a God out there who could be known, he should be able to be recognized no matter where I face, no matter how I’m dressed because he’s God.
Growing up, we always understood that we had our Bible and the Gentiles had their Bible – the New Testament – and that they were two completely separate books. Because the only people I know who are believers in Jesus were all people in our Public Schools, who are Italian Catholics, I imagine that Jesus was Italian. And so the understanding that he’s actually Jewish was a shock. And then to hear that the New Testament was written by Jews, I couldn’t believe it. My expectation was that the New Testament was like my grandparents had told me, it was a book on how to persecute the Jews and something you should stay away from. Of course, when you’re told you should stay away from something, curiosity gets the best of you and you’ve got to see it.
When I opened the New Testament, I was expecting to find a handbook on how to persecute the Jews. My grandparents had warned me that it was written by people who killed the Jews. That’s what I was expecting to see and yet when I’m opening it, I’m reading a story written by Jews about Jewish people. The New Testament was a fascinating book as well. As I open this book in the library, I kind of looked around to make sure that none of my friends have seen me taking the Christian Bible off the shelf. I opened it and this was the first sentence. It says “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. So three people are mentioned and they’re all Jewish. I was very shocked and as I continue to read, I’m reading the story of the Jewish man who was born in a Jewish village, in a Jewish country, and one day walks into a synagogue and announces that he is the Messiah. The more I read the words of Jesus, the more I became attracted to him. It was as beautiful as anything I’ve ever read in any other part of the Bible.
As I came to faith that Yeshua, that Jesus was the Messiah, it was clear that that was the most Jewish thing I could do. This is not a person who is a renegade to our people; this is the one who was promised in our Bible. The 53rd chapter of Isaiah, it is astonishing. If you would just read that chapter without the Bible being around, you would say “This is some Christian Bible. This is Jesus.” When you realize though that it’s in the middle of our Bible, our Jewish Bible…? When I first came to faith, I dared not tell my father because this is a time period in the 1970s when there were lots of gurus and cults and he was very concerned about me getting involved in some crazy sect and going off someplace. So I waited for months and when I finally told him, he was very skeptical.
On his own then he started to read about Jesus as well. About a year-and-a-half later, I told him that the fellow who wrote one of the books that he had read, that this fellow was giving a lecture in the city of New York. And he agreed to come out to hear that person. And one of the most amazing moments of my life was the speaker said “Would everyone here who is a Jewish believer in Jesus, would you raise your hand? And I raised my hand. My father also raised his hand. I looked over and I said “Pop, he didn’t say Would all the Jews raise their hands. He said would all the Jewish Believers in Jesus raise their hand?” And my father looked over and he said “Yes, I heard what he said.” The decision to come to faith In Jesus as the Messiah was not something that was a momentary lark. It wasn’t something that was a passing fad and I could see changes in myself I knew were not from within myself. I had kind of tapped into a truth for our Jewish people that was very powerful.