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Peter's Disappointment

At the conference I attended this weekend, I heard the powerful testimony of Richard Ganz as he gave his reflections on thirty years of Jewish evangelism. Richard is Jewish, and was at one time not only a practicing Jew, but a very strictly practicing Jew. His testimony caused me to think about some verses from the book of Acts. But first, the relevant parts of Ganz’s testimony which I found here.

The next few days were interesting. They were full of religious discussion. But as a man with no sense of God, seeing myself as a chance accumulation of molecules in an absurd and meaningless world, I listened and talked to these people, questioning and mocking their beliefs. Then one day a man asked me if he could read something from the Bible to me. I consented, and this is what he read.

Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high. Just as many were astonished at you, so His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men; so shall He sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths at Him; for what had not been told them they shall see, and what they had not heard they shall consider.

Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

I’d heard that expression “Man of sorrows” and “acquainted with grief” before, though I wasn’t sure where. But at that point I suddenly understood what was happening: they were reading to me about Jesus. I thought, Do they know what they are doing, reading this Christian stuff to a Jew? But I told myself to be patient.

Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions…

Images of Renaissance paintings leapt to my mind. I wasn’t an ordinary Jewish guy; I had a doctorate; I was cultured; I’d seen paintings with crosses; I knew that their guy had been pierced. They were trying to read me stories about Jesus and I felt the anger rising in me.

…He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all…

Jesus just bore your sins! I couldn’t stand it. That was just a cheap way out of long term psychoanalysis. What they were telling me was “the Catholic way.” From the age of seven, when I had walked into a Catholic church, I thought Jesus was a Catholic; Scandinavian, perhaps, very delicate, tall, thin—slightly anorexic—with long silken blond hair and piercing blue eyes. I had got as far as the vestibule of the church, looked at one of the statues and thought that the ground was going to open up and swallow me; that I was unalterably damned for having done that, and I ran eight blocks home to get away from what I considered an unpardonable sin.

…He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgement, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked—but with the rich at His death…

I remembered pictures of Jesus on the cross and the two thieves, one on either side of him. Three crosses—I knew that stuff; they weren’t going to fool me with their rhetoric.

…but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days…

There was the myth about the resurrection. They get it into all their literature, don’t they. They can’t accept the fact that once a person is dead, he’s dead. Grow up! Put away your infantile neuroses and realize that when you’re dead, you’re dead; that’s it.

…He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

When he finished reading, he looked at me and said, “What do you think?”

I was, of course, keen to give the benefit of my insights. They were obviously quoting to me from their New Testament and I responded without a moment’s hesitation: “Anyone who was there at that cross could have written that stuff! What does that prove?”

He handed me the Bible and in a millisecond of receiving it, my life was changed. The name that I saw at the top of the page was Isaiah! They had been reading from my Bible, my Hebrew Scriptures, and I felt as though someone had taken a sword and cut me to pieces. When the man who read it told me it was written 700 years before Jesus was born, I felt dead. Why couldn’t it be Krishna? Why couldn’t it be Buddha? Why does it have to be him? I knew at that instant that if Jesus wrote history about himself in my Bible—if the Gentile God was the Jewish God and he was truly God—then I had to submit everything to him for the rest of my life.

The very instant Ganz saw the word “Isaiah” at the top of the book, his life was changed forever. He immediately came to understand who Jesus was, and that Jesus was spoken about in his Jewish Scriptures. The Spirit illuminated the words from Isaiah so suddenly he saw Jesus as the object of all this prophesy.

Knowing that this knowledge has changed his life and realizing that his Jewish Scriptures pointed to Jesus as the final sacrifice and the one these Scriptures spoke about, he assumed that this knowledge would do to other Jews what it had done to him. He immediately set about sharing these verses with other Jews, thinking they would be changed as quickly and completely as he was. It came as a shock to him that this did not happen. Though God was gracious to reach a few in the same way He had reached Rich, far more rejected Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophecy. The same words that God used to break through Rich’s hardness did nothing but further condemn others.

Now consider the testimony of another Jewish man who came to a sudden realization of just who Jesus was and finally saw Him as the fulfillment of the Scriptures that had for so long been part of his life. To do that we can turn to Acts 2 and read about the apostle Peter. In Acts 2 he has gathered a large crowd of Jews who were in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover and preaches to them, explaining who Jesus was and how they sent their long-awaited Messiah to His death. We read that they were “cut to the heart” and that three thousand of them were saved that day.

I am sure Peter was thrilled to see thousands of people saved on a single day. But at the same time, I suspect he was disappointed. After all, he probably assumed that the knowledge which had so changed his life, would change every other Jew. Just as Ganz thought that Isaiah 53 would work the same way in the hearts of his fellow Jews as it had worked in his, I’m sure Peter saw the case for Christ as being completely irrefutable and thought it would save the entire Jewish nation. But it was not to be. God had chosen some who would respond, but many more would simply walk away, unaffected by the evidence, as great as it was.

In a sense I think each of us assumes that what has worked for us will work for others. The evidence is so solid in our minds that we simply can’t understand how others can doubt it. Yet God uses different ways to reach different people. The core message must be the same – that Jesus Christ died to save sinners like us. But the means God chooses to have that message reach us, to break through the stone walls of our hearts, varies from person to person, from heart to heart.