A Messianic Jewish Calling Print E-mail

Daniel C. Juster, Th. D., Director, Tikkun International

Greetings dear friends. I write this article as a first exposure to the readers of this organ. Therefore it is appropriate to start with some personal dimensions.

My Early Life

I was born to Jewish and Norwegian parents and came to embrace Yeshua, Jesus, as my Lord and Savior when I was just shy of 13 years old. It was actually through a supernatural experience in March 1960.

Though I was raised to be proud (not in pride) of being Jewish, there was not much content to my Jewish identity apart from Holiday visits to Jewish relatives in New York City. My life revolved more around Norwegian cousins that are descendants of a long line of faith in Jesus and a strong sense of the purpose of Israel. I ended up in the church that these cousins attended. I was baptized in the Spirit in December 1964, through an elder and the youth director of this Reformed Church of Westwood, New Jersey. I was very zealous for the Lord and originally thought to become a pastor by the time I was sixteen. My time in college, however, proved to be quite painful and challenging. Worldview questions puzzled me and it seemed for a time that my youthful faith was not credible. I graduated from Wheaton College with a Philosophy degree and did a two year philosophy masters program at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, north of Chicago. Finally, I ended up at the Presbyterian Seminary training, as I thought, for a pastoral role to turn Presbyterians back to the Gospel. Yes, my faith came back with greater strength!

The Call to the Jewish People

However, my spiritual father, the Chaplain of Wheaton College, encouraged me to take a pastorate at a Jewish Christian Church in Chicago. So in June 1972, I began my pastoral leadership at the ripe old age of 24. There were already questions in our congregation concerning the new Messianic Jewish Movement that numbered just three significant congregations in the United States at that time. The greatest question was this: When Jews come to faith in Jesus, are they to live in the same way as all other Christians, or are they to continue to live and identity as Jews? If the answer is that they are still called to identify and live as Jews, what does this look like? This began an intense year and a half of study and searching. The conclusions that I reached changed the whole direction of my life and ministry. I embraced a life call to the Jewish people: to live and identify as a part of the Jewish people and to serve them with the fullness of the Gospel. My conclusions from those days have only been confirmed and strengthened in the years since that decision.

First, I came to agree with the consensus of scholars of early Jewish Christianity. They noted that the Apostles of Jesus continued to live fully Jewish lives. Though rooted in the Torah, their faith, of course, was New Covenantal. Why would they do this? It was because they believed that Israel was still important, was still to be a unique nation, and would play a role in World Redemption. They were Jewish and part of Israel, the Jewish people, as was Yeshua Himself. I came to see the question the other way round: Why would they not live fully Jewish lives?

Second, there were questions concerning the stand of apostle Paul. Did he also endorse this distinct calling of Jews who believe in Jesus? Today more and more scholars say 'yes' to this question, and argue convincingly that Paul was misunderstood. He was addressing Gentiles and their freedom from Jewish responsibility , and never exhorted Jews not to live a Jewish life. Paul’s position is much more clear in Acts 21 where he professed loyalty to Jewish life. Romans 11 is also so important wherein Paul notes that the Jewish people still have an “irrevocable calling” (11:29) and their full acceptance will be “life from the dead.”

So I desire now to share two more things: the progress of the Messianic Jewish Movement and the basic theology of the movement. I have been involved in the foundations both of the movement and its theology for over 40 years. Sometimes it seems that I am walking through a movie, going through open doors and looking back to be amazed at how life developed!

The Progress of the Messianic Jewish Movement

In 1972 there were three significant congregations in the USA that identified as Messianic Jewish congregations. By 1974 there were five and we were one of those. However, in the next fifteen years there was an amazing change. Many Jews came to faith in Yeshua through the Jesus movement. They found their way to the new Messianic Jewish Congregations. Still other new congregations were started. A national union of such congregations was formed in 1975 and I was privileged to give leadership to it for the first nine years. By 1995, there were over 200 congregations in North America. In the 90s, movements started or grew in Russia, Ukraine, and Brazil. I have been part of them all. What a joy! The campaigns of Jonathan Bernis resulted in many thousands of Jews making professions of faith in Russian speaking countries. Now in Israel there are over 100 congregations made up of mostly Jewish believers. This is historic and unprecedented. In 1992 we sent my right and left arms to Israel. They have planted or are currently overseeing nine congregations and we believe we are ready for many more plantings. We have Bible schools in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Ethiopia among the Black Ethiopian Jews. God is doing something wonderful. The veil is beginning to lift. This is why I have moved to Israel: to support what is happening there. It is profound.

Messianic Jewish Theology

Now for the theology. It is important that Jewish believers in Jesus, whether in Gentile majority Churches or Messianic Jewish Congregations, understand their calling to be part of their people. In Romans 11:5 Paul notes that the Messianic Jews are the saved remnant of Israel. He points to his own life as proof that God has not rejected the Jewish people and the book of Acts contains many pointers to the way Paul maintained a Jewish lifestyle and his connection with the Jewish people and calendar. In Romans 11:16 he notes that Messianic Jews are the first fruits that make the rest of the dough holy. So we are that part of Israel that sanctifies the whole! In Romans 11:28, 29 he notes that “Though they are enemies of the Gospel for your sake, they are beloved and elect (chosen) for the sake of the Fathers, for the gifts and the call of Israel are irrevocable.” Jewish followers of Jesus are part of that irrevocable calling. We are a light to and an indigenous evangelistic force among our people, especially in Israel where we are part of a total Jewish society. We are a last days (eschatological) people who seek to partner with the rest of the Church that is called to make Israel jealous. We begin with saving part of the Jewish people (Romans 11:14). This will lead to all Israel being saved, (Romans 11:26) and to life from the dead for the whole world (Romans 11:15).

I should note that Messianic Jewish life is not legalism, but celebration. Our Jewish Feasts and the Sabbath Day celebrate the wonderful fulfillments of God's promises that took place through the first coming of Yeshua and the still more wonderful fulfillments of the Feasts that are yet to come in the Last of the Last Days and the Age to Come.

We seek partnership with the churches for the salvation of Israel, partnership in prayer, partnership in understanding the Scriptures in their original Jewish context, and partnership in establishing ministries and institutions that are effective. The history of anti-Semitism among professing Christians in historic churches in past centuries makes our task harder, but Christians who love the Jewish people today are breaking down barriers. I am so thankful for the opportunity to express this.

The web site for Tikkun International – www.tikkuninternational.org - gives much more information on ministries, books and other resources.

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