I’m a second generation Messianic Jew, which means that both my parents are Jewish and believe that Yeshua is the Messiah, and I happen to agree with them. Every year as I was growing up, we’d have a Passover meal with Hebrew songs and readings, so Jewishness and belief in Yeshua always went naturally hand-in-hand for me. My earliest memory is of my mother reciting the Aaronic blessing to me before I went to bed:
May the Lord bless you and keep you;
May the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
May the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you
And give you his peace.
When I was young, I had an illustrated children’s Bible, and while I found Yeshua interesting (he seemed to like children more than other adults did), I was fascinated by the stories in the Tanakh. At the age of six or seven I decided to read the Bible from the beginning. I liked Genesis, because it included the story of Joseph, after whom I was named. From what I understood, he was the best of all his brothers and didn’t mind letting them know it either. I found I had a lot in common with Joseph!
But what really interested me was the book of Joshua. That was where the Bible got really exciting; I’d waded through Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy – knowing that it was still the word of God and that I had to give it my utmost attention – but Joshua was thrilling. The wars and battles are great to read when you’re that age; Joshua is an action book, with the Canaanites as the bad guys and the Israelites as the good guys. From the accounts I read, it was so clear that God was on Israel’s side. It was such an intricate and detailed historical account that from a young age I was convinced that it couldn’t have been made up.
We were taught about Elijah and Elisha, about King Solomon and King David. At the end of 1 Samuel, when I read that David’s friend Jonathan had died, I was very upset. Although this was an ancient book, I could feel the reality of the friendship between David and Jonathan. Bible stories just leapt out the page, connected with me, and inspired my imagination. The Bible was able to talk to me as a kid and make me interested in it. I knew it was true, but it proved difficult reconciling the peace of Yeshua with a stressful childhood in which I was always ill and unhappy both at home and at school.
My school years were plagued with illness, and throughout my teenage years, as a believer in Yeshua, my fundamental assumption was that what I saw as Christianity was repressing me. I was told more about what I shouldn’t and couldn’t do than what I should and could! I wanted God to bless me or allow me to have something which I could show off. I wanted a nice, comfortable, healthy life like my mates, but for some reason God hadn’t given me that, even though I was a believer! I began to read more and more of the Bible and saw how I should live and what I should do.
At school, in order to be consistent and to prevent people from calling me a hypocrite, I pretended to be holier than everyone else, so that they’d all see how good I was. But I wasn’t good; so I had to pretend to be good in order to try to attract people to what I believed. For better or worse, this meant that many of my friends missed out on knowing the real me! I didn’t realise that God was not calling me to be something I wasn’t. When I was sixteen, things changed as I started going to a church that many teenagers attended. However, everyone there made light of the Bible; it was more of a social club, and people had no desire to really seek God. At seventeen, I went to a Soul in the City event in London, and that’s when everything began to make sense.
Worth Nothing, but Delighted!
Soul in the City was an event where – primarily Gentile – teenagers who professed to be disciples of Jesus would reach out and provide social aid within the poorer areas of London. There was praise and teaching in the mornings, when all the teenagers gathered in one venue in East London. Every morning during the week, an American delivered a sermon to hundreds of young people. On the first day he spoke about how great God was, and how he had chosen Moses, not in spite of the fact that he was humble and insignificant, but because of it. I used to think that the heroes of the Tanakh were men who had done lots of good things in order to impress God, but here I was, discovering that God had chosen Moses before he’d done anything good. On the second day the speaker said that we were worth nothing! Most people might be a bit annoyed to hear that, but I was delighted. If we were all worthless before God, why should I feel so undermined all the time? Why did I need to feel that everyone else was somehow better than me? If none of us had any worth, what was the point of anything? Over the next few days, the speaker went on to explain how we could be used in God’s plan. He told us that what mattered was not what God could do for us but what we would do for him!
Never a Doubt
The misfortune of growing up with parents who believe Yeshua is the Messiah is that it was totally natural to hear that Yeshua died for our sins. There was never a moment when I doubted it, but, perhaps, there was never a moment when I fully understood it either. I had treated Yeshua’s death as something that didn’t really matter. It was a case of familiarity breeding apathy. I felt that God had disappointed me simply because he hadn’t given me what I wanted all the time. But suddenly my expectations and understanding of God had changed, and I knew he would not disappoint me. He had died in place of me, this I knew, but I realised something new – God didn’t call me just to repent and believe but to repent, believe and serve him! I read the book of Ecclesiastes, written by King Solomon, and decided that the only thing that mattered was to serve God. It was so comforting to realise how pointless everything was, so why bother, unless your life is given meaning by God?
Searching for God
Everything came to a head at a youth conference I attended. I felt I was being introduced to something that looked to me like a mix of nightclub hedonism and Eastern mysticism. As I looked back on the experience a few days later, even though I had been sceptical at the time, I was disgusted by how I had allowed myself to be deceived. I spoke to my parents and others, read some books, and found there was a more biblical foundation on which I could base my life as a Jewish disciple of Yeshua.
I began to attend a Messianic Jewish Fellowship in East London, where I led the worship on the mandolin. This was great, but my parents went there too, and I felt I needed to find God by myself, and really discover the truth. I read Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes as often as I could in order to find the wisdom and insight to form a healthy worldview. A Bible study on Genesis 1-11 and Ecclesiastes with two close friends finally allowed me to really ask questions about who God was, and afterwards to feel that I’d actually learnt something.
Shalom at University
I was offered a place at the University of Leeds to read Spanish. I decided to accept the place and, in Leeds, I met a friend of the family. He could have been anyone – and I received the traditional, You-don’t-remember-me-do-you-because-when-I-last-saw-you-you-were-knee-high-to-a-grasshopper greeting I always seemed to get from people who knew my parents: However, I went to his house, where I met his family and had an honest chat with him and his friend. These guys claimed to be disciples of the Jewish Messiah, and they were friends with many Jewish people who followed Yeshua. So I was still Jewish, and it wasn’t just my parents who believed that this controversial combination could and should exist! When I went back to my halls, I felt very peaceful as yet another piece of the jigsaw had fitted into place.
After I found Yeshua, I was able to give my brother some advice. He had become disillusioned with a church that was anti-Semitic and didn’t take the Bible seriously. I had been messed about by churches that couldn’t explain what they believed, and my parents had been forced out of their church by an anti-Semitic minister. The members of our family all have valid criticisms of how British churches treat Messianic Jews, which disillusioned us and separated us from true fellowship. It was refreshing for me therefore to meet other people who weren’t afraid to challenge wrong attitudes in the church.
For the first time in my life, I joined a good church with sensible people! I was able to find out more about my Jewishness and to express it at a local Messianic Fellowship. I’ve never felt at home in churchy settings such as cell groups, as my bluntness and love of an honest debate often set me at odds with the nice people who just want to move on to the next bullet point. I’ve found the help and support of the Messianic Fellowship invaluable as I’ve challenged the university Christian Union to value the Jews, and I now have irrefutable evidence for God.
If anyone asks me if God exists, I tell them that I don’t believe in a vague “god,” I believe in the God of Israel. God chose the Jewish people, and despite centuries of persecution, the Jews still exist. The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Holocaust and the Arab nations could not de-Jew the Jew. The State of Israel is the size of Wales, yet it has outlasted mighty empires. The Egyptians fell; the Jews remained. The Babylonians fell; the Jews remained. The Greeks fell; the Jews remained. The great Romans fell; the Jews remained. The Third Reich fell; the Jews remained. What do you think will happen to Israel’s current enemies?
God said in Isaiah 49 that he, the God of Israel, would be revealed to the world and, lo and behold, people from all nations and people groups now worship him and his son, the Jewish Rabbi, Yeshua the Messiah. The state of Israel is proof that God is the God of Israel and, as a Messianic Jew, I’m living proof that God hasn’t finished with the Jewish people!
Now, with the Messiah of Israel in my heart, my Jewishness has flourished and I’m proud to call myself a Messianic Jew.
Joseph’s testimony is taken from The Unusual Suspects by Richard Gibson, a collection of 25 stories of Jewish people who defied “the final taboo” – believing in Jesus. For a full review of The Unusual Suspects click here.
The Unusual Suspects is available from the CWI shop.