Even Me!

Martin Pakula studied at Moore College, Australia, before being ordained into the Anglican ministry. He then obtained his masters from Moore College on the topic of the Biblical Theology of the Feast of Tabernacles. In December 2006 Martin moved to Melbourne to take up a position as lecturer in Old Testament and Hebrew at the Bible College of Victoria. He recently had a book published, Homeward Bound, which is a commentary on Numbers. Martin is married to Jennie and they have two children, Asher and Rachel. This is his story:
I was born and brought up in a Jewish home in Sydney, Australia and I love my Jewish background. I enjoyed the festivals, the foods, the friends and going to synagogue. After my Bar-Mitzvah at the age of thirteen, I went to synagogue weekly and was a leader in the youth group. I believed in God and my friends thought that I was religious, but I had not read the Bible and didn’t think of myself in that way – I just enjoyed the “synagogue stuff”.

I can clearly remember my “religious phase”! At the age of sixteen I was persuaded by an ultra-orthodox Jewish friend to be religious. I put on phylacteries and said my prayers daily. I kept this up for three months but found it boring, so I decided that religion wasn’t for me. Quite separate from this was my “being good” phase, which happened the following year when I thought I’d better clean up my act and knuckle down to some study. I stopped mucking around with alcohol and girls but quickly decided that “being good” wasn’t much fun either. That phase also lasted about three months but perhaps it paid off, for at the end of school I scored 493 out of 500 in my Higher School Certificate (HSC) – my claim to fame! At that time I was the toast of my friends; a good Jewish boy who had topped the State in the HSC and who was entering Medicine at Sydney University. The world was my oyster. However I was very unhappy.

My home life had been very sad and, within days of receiving my HSC results, I left home. I had had enough of life. It seemed that at such a young age I had reached the top of the mountain but there was nothing there – nothing at all. I crashed and hit rock bottom. Nevertheless, life went on. I continued going to synagogue, where I sang in the choir and helped lead services; I kept going to university and passed my exams with flying colours, as usual.

A Fresh Start

In my second year at university I met a girl I liked, but she was a Christian. As a Jewish man I knew that I should not become a Christian because Christianity was “wrong” (though I knew nothing about it). However, I was open-minded and desperate for a date! I remembered reading up on religions for General Studies whilst at school. Many religions made sense, but not Christianity. Nevertheless, from a purely intellectual point of view I was interested to know what it was about, so I asked the girl out. I think she tried to get rid of me by agreeing only on the condition that I listened to her talking about Christianity for an hour. I accepted!

I can’t remember much of what my friend said but she gave me a Bible and a book on Christianity, and I decided to read them both. I was blown away! As I started reading A Fresh Start by John Chapman, I was stunned to discover that he clearly believed in God and in the Bible. I expected to hear such talk at synagogue but was astounded to find it coming from a Christian. The book explained sin – that we are not good in God’s eyes. Again I was stunned. Every religion I had read up on, including my own, believed that we were basically good people. Yet as I looked at twentieth century history – two World Wars, the Holocaust, Hiroshima, the poverty and violence that appeared daily on the news – I knew that the world was in a mess. I knew that we were far from good and, most importantly, I knew that I was not good, whatever my record might say to the contrary. But the real reason I was stunned was that I was reading the truth – in a Christian book, not a Jewish one. It was the last thing I had expected!

The Quality of Mercy

I read about hell, and knew I deserved to go there. I read about Jesus and was surprised to find how Jewish he was, how real he was and how compassionate he was. But what really blew me away was reading about his death on the cross. Never in my life had I heard these things. The idea that Jesus died on the cross to take the punishment I deserved for my sins … I found this incredible, fantastic, unbelievable; not in the sense that it wasn’t true, but in the sense that it was almost too good to be true. I was overwhelmed by the thought of God’s mercy. I found it especially hard to believe that God could have mercy on me; that after all I had done – all the bad things – God would forgive me, wipe the slate clean, and give me eternal life, just like that! And all because of Jesus’ death for me.

I remembered an incident from my early teens when I had been camping with my sister-in-law and my half-brother (who was much older than me). We were staying in a house in the middle of nowhere, in the outback. I had punched my sister and was in big trouble. I fled into the trees to escape punishment. There I waited, and waited. I missed lunch and the hours dragged on. Finally, as dinner approached, I was hungry and decided to face the music. I trudged back to the house, awaiting my punishment. My sister-in-law came over to me, picked me up and hugged me. I was thunder-struck. I had deserved to be punished and was expecting it; but instead she forgave me. The analogy isn’t at all perfect but I realised what mercy was.

Over several months I continued to read the book I had been given. I had forgotten about whether this was all Jewish or not. I just knew that I had found the truth!

I looked up an old school teacher who was a Christian and went over to see him, armed with lists of questions that he answered until late into the night. After several further talks, he challenged me as to what would happen if, God-forbid, I were to be run over by a bus on the way home. I knew quite clearly the answer to that – I would have found myself in hell. My friend challenged me to put my trust in Jesus and to ask for God’s forgiveness. So I walked home (safely!), went into my bedroom, closed the door, got down on my knees and prayed for God’s forgiveness because of what Jesus had done. Then I went to sleep.

The next morning I felt as if a ton of weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I had a huge smile on my face. I knew that I was a Christian; I knew that God had forgiven me and that I had received eternal life. I couldn’t have believed it would get that good. I immediately told everyone. I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t stop smiling and I couldn’t stop talking about what God had done for me; that he had forgiven me – even me! My Christian friends were glad of course but my family and Jewish friends weren’t quite as thrilled! Mostly they thought it would just be a passing phase.

As Good as it Gets

I kept on going to synagogue, as it had not occurred to me to think that I was no longer Jewish or any such nonsense. I continued to be exactly who I was but, most importantly, I was forgiven. However, there were many things I was doing that were not pleasing to God, so I needed to clean up my life quite a lot. Thankfully, I found these changes quite easy at first. I was just so overjoyed to know that I was forgiven and was eager to live God’s way. I started reading the Bible and learning about my own Jewish roots. Eventually I drifted out of synagogue. People had continued to be nice to me there and I had enjoyed it. However, studying medicine and going to both church and synagogue became too much for me.

I had joined a good Bible teaching church and attended a newcomers Bible study group. There I met a girl who had become a Christian about the same time as me. We eventually began dating and were married a year or so later. By this time I was in my fourth year of Medicine and had been thinking seriously about becoming a Christian minister. Although I had not been a Christian long, I made the decision to leave Medicine. It was a very hard choice at the time and for my family and friends it was a sure sign of madness. “Religion” was all very well – as long as it didn’t affect your life!

I worked for half a year, finished a science degree and was then employed by a church for two years before doing a four-year course at Bible college. It was an immense privilege to study the Bible full-time and to learn more about Jesus. I had a passion to tell people about him, especially my fellow Jews. After all, I had been rescued from hell, forgiven and granted eternal life, and I wanted everyone else to have the same marvellous blessings. During my past ten years of ministry, it has been wonderful to see both Jews and non-Jews receive eternal life. However, I have found it difficult knowing that rabbis view my activities as a threat to them. At times it has been hard to trust God and to live his way but I have a great wife, two wonderful children, the certain promise of eternal life and a relationship with God! As I look back, I can see how greatly God has blessed me and I still find it amazing that he would have mercy on me – even me. It never stops being the best thing ever and I will never cease to be grateful to God for sending people my way, to tell me the great news of forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus.
This article first appeared in the December 2006 edition of the Herald

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