“God, give me wise words.” or What to say to the Rabbi’s Question

In 1988, (Have 24 years [now 27 yrs!] really passed since then?) I was a Teaching Fellow at the International School of Theology in California. The seminary had a brief and productive existence of about 25 years, and I was there almost from the beginning. That particular year, WORLDWIDE Challenge magazine published a brief article of mine that went even further back in time. It appeared in the August 1988 issue and now here on the BLOG.

I became a Christian in the second semester of my freshman year of college. The next year I enrolled in a class titled “History of Jewish Thought.”

The class was taught by a Jewish rabbi who knew that his classroom contained both Gentiles and Jews. As an ice-breaker, the day he stood before our class for the first time, he asked each student about his background.

His next question was a bit more intriguing.

He asked each of us to define what a “Jew” is. Is a person a Jew because his mother is Jewish, his father is Jewish, he goes to a synagogue or temple, eats kosher, speaks Hebrew, celebrates Hanukkah or some combination of these?

When the professor finally posed the question to me, I was sweating, anxious, and filled with fear. I sensed God wanted me to talk about my faith, and I had never done that in a classroom before.

I did what any rational believer would do—I quickly prayed, “God, give me wise words.”

My answer: “Brought up in a nominally Christian family, I was always taught that a Jew was one of God’s chosen people.”

Created by Aviva Suchow

The professor turned and, with appropriate abbreviations, wrote what I said on the blackboard. Then he turned and addressed me again. “Could you elaborate on what that means?”

I turned and addressed God again. With my brief prayer finished, I nervously attempted to comply with his request: “Chosen by God to be the people through whom He would reveal His will to the entire world.”

The professor again turned to the blackboard and again wrote down what I had said. Then he turned and directed another question back to me. “By that definition, what is it better to be, a Jew or a Christian?”

“I would say it is better to have accepted the Jewish Messiah as your personal Savior and Lord.”

“Ahh … ahh … I don’t know how to deal with that right now,” he replied. He turned once more, placed three question marks on the blackboard and directed the next question to another student.

That conversation is more than 13 years old [now 37 years!], but I remember it like it was yesterday and for a number of reasons:

I felt like God had answered my prayers.
I learned that I did not have to fear others when I stood for Jesus.

I was able to verbalize, after praying, an aspect of revelation that I had never quite conceptualized before: The Jews were “chosen by God to be the people through whom He would reveal His will to the entire world.”

God has always been a missionary-God. He has been in the past and is today on a mission to redeem man and bring him into a right relationship with Himself. The message of history and the message I gave to my Jewish professor is that God has accomplished His plan.

Jesus really is the promised blessing. He really is the Messiah of Israel and the world. And it really IS better to have accepted the Jewish Messiah as your personal Savior and Lord.

Article first appeared in WORLDWIDE Challenge magazine, August 1988, p. 6-7.

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