Life as a Jewish follower of Jesus is never dull, and controversy, conflict and criticism are never far away.
Jewish followers of Jesus, commonly called Messianic Jews, have had an interesting history, being rejected and misunderstood by both church and synagogue.
More than 18 centuries ago, the church said to us, “If you want to be part of us, you must renounce your Jewishness. You cannot be Christian and Jewish at the same time.”
And the synagogue said to us, “If you want to be part of us, you must renounce your belief in Jesus. You cannot be Jewish and Christian at the same time.”
As stated by Ignatius in his Letter to the Magnesians (written in the early second century), “it is wrong to talk about Jesus Christ and live like Jews. For Christianity did not believe in Judaism, but Judaism in Christianity.”
The irony of this, of course, is that the first followers of Jesus were all Jews who lived like Jews. And Jesus was called Christ because that was the Greek way of saying Messiah, while his mother’s name was Miriam not Mary, his brother’s name was Jacob, not James, and his own name was Yeshua, not Jesus. He was called rabbi, not reverend, and the big question in the first generation of believers was whether Gentiles could follow him without first becoming Jews (not the reverse).
That’s how Jewish the early “church” was. In fact, the Greek word for church is ekklesia, which simply means an assembly or congregation, and it has no intrinsic “Christian” meaning.
As the church lost sight of its Jewish roots and as Judaism developed in its own distinct way over the centuries, the gulf between Judaism and Christianity became so wide that it seemed impossible to be a Jew and Christian at the same time.
To this day, when Jewish and Christian leaders come together for dialogue, there is one group that is excluded from the table: Messianic Jews. Our presence is seen as disruptive and divisive, whereas the reality is that without our presence, the dialogue can only go so far.
Sadly, in the eyes of some Jews, especially those with a religious background, for a Jew to follow Jesus is to betray our people and to be an apostate of the worst kind. Many a rabbi told me over the years, “Our forefathers died rather than be baptized into this apostate faith, but you have followed it willingly.”
Yet my crimes are perceived as being even worse, since I am not only a Jewish follower of Jesus but also a Messianic Jewish apologist and evangelist, author of the five-volume series “Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus” and a frequent debater of the rabbis. I was even dubbed “Public Enemy Number One” by an ultra-orthodox Jewish rabbi.
Remember that the only church history many Jews know is the one filled with Crusades and Inquisitions and pogroms, the one that leads straight to the Holocaust. How, then, they wonder, could I (or any other Jew) join myself with those who killed so many of our people? How, then, they ask, could I (or any other Jew) join myself with a faith that rejected the fundamental tenets of Judaism?
You can readily see why we Messianic Jews have so much to overcome when we reach out to our people with the good news of the Messiah. And you can see why we are not surprised when religious Jews confront us with signs saying, “You are worse than Hitler. Hitler wanted our bodies. You want our souls.”
A few days ago, I posted this on Facebook and Twitter: “Six Jews have been arrested for the kidnapping and brutal murder of a Palestinian teenager. As a Jew, I am horrified and ashamed.”
A religious Jew, using the name jihadistjooooooo, tweeted back in response: “since you are jew who thinks jesus is god, i really don’t care.”
I responded to his tweet but let him know that Twitter was not the place to debate, interacting a few more times before asking him to drop the Twitter attack, after which he accused me of being as dangerous to the Jewish people as Hamas. (While it appears that he never read my books, he did inform me that he had seen one of my debates with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, known as America’s most famous rabbi. Over the course of our debates, Shmuley and I have become close friends.)
Then, primarily because of his “Jihadist Jew” moniker and his refusal to stop the tweets, I blocked him from posting on my account, explaining that, “Anyone who calls himself a Jihadist Jew is a reproach to our people.”
In response, he wrote on his page, “blocked by michael brown, the deluded messianic jew. woe is me,” followed by, “my work today is done and I stand by the statement” (referring to my being as dangerous as Hamas). Then he added, “dr michael brown doesn’t even follow jesus [with reference to my blocking him]. what happened to turning the other cheek.” (Since he seems eager to keep talking, perhaps I’ll unblock him after all!)
All that being said, I am thrilled to have the perspective of being a Jewish follower of Jesus, sensing a real solidarity with the first followers of Yeshua, being totally connected to both the people of Israel and my Christian brothers and sisters, and with the confidence that I’ll never have a dull day.
So, on with the dialogue, the debate, the conflict and the controversy, as long as it leads people to truth.