“I’m, burning in hell! I’m, burning in hell!”
It was 1:30 in the morning, the first week of September, 1971. I was only sixteen years old, but already I had earned the nicknames “Drug Bear” and “Iron Man.” I could do greater quantities of drugs than any of my friends — and live to brag about it! Whether I was shooting heroin or using hallucenogenics like LSD and mescaline, taking megadoses of drugs had become my lifestyle. But this time I went too far. I took enough mescaline for thirty people, and my friends put me on a bus alone, sending me home to fend for myself. They thought it was a big joke! Actually it was a matter of life and death.
Then, at that late hour of the night, a friend of my parents came by, walking his dog. He looked at me with shock as I screamed, “I’m burning in hell!” I was shocked too. “Why is he walking his dog in hell?” I wondered.
As soon as he walked away, I made a decision: “I’m going to jump in front of the next car that comes by. I can’t take it any longer.” I was losing my mind.
Within minutes, a car came racing around the corner. I jumped into the road directly in front of the car and threw my hands in the air. The car came to a screeching halt just inches from my body. It was my parents! The man with the dog had gone to my house and, deeply shaken, told them what he had seen. They came looking for me. They were ready to stop at that very corner. If it had been any other car I would have been killed.
But what was I doing there anyway, stoned out of my head? How did a nice Jewish boy like me get so messed up? And why was I thinking about hell? Let me tell you the story. I think you’ll be interested to hear what happened!
I was born in New York City in 1955. My father was the senior lawyer in the New York Supreme Court, and he and my mother were as happily married as any couple that I have ever known. My upbringing was typical of many New York, Conservative Jewish children. We moved to Long Island, I did well in school, I played lots of sports, and, like all my friends, I basically stayed out of trouble. But something changed. It all began innocently enough . . .
When I was eight years old I started to play drums. There was no question that I had ability. In fact by the time I was fifteen I had played on a studio album. But my favorite music was rock, and after my Bar Mitzvah in 1968, I got interested in playing in a band. I wanted to be a rock drummer, and all my role models were known for their heavy drug use, rebellion, and flagrant immorality. I wanted to be like them!
In 1969, at the age of fourteen, when I was asked if I wanted to try smoking pot, I was only too happy to oblige. Soon I tried smoking hash too. But neither one had any effect on me. So I tried harder drugs until I started using ups, downs, and LSD. “But I’ll never do anything worse than that,” I thought. Yet I was deceived. Soon I starting using speed, then I started shooting speed. (Of course, I had been sure I would never put a needle in my arm!). Then, I got the opportunity to try heroin. I loved it! I was fifteen years old.
By the time I was sixteen, my grades began to go down in school, and drugs, rock music, and filthy living were my daily portion. For fun, my friends and I even broke into some homes and a doctor’s office. We experimented with the drugs we found and almost killed ourselves. But after all, we were cool! We were doing “our thing.” And one day we would be famous rock stars!
Less than one year later, I was living for God and telling people about Jesus, the Messiah and Lord of both Gentile and Jew. Today, I have traveled around the world preaching and teaching. I have had the privilege of speaking on university campuses (including Harvard and Yale), written books and articles that have been translated into more than a dozen languages, debated and dialogued with rabbis on radio and TV, and earned a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University, lectured as a visiting professor at leading theological institutes, and served as president of two Bible colleges. The Creator of the universe is now my Father, Jesus the Messiah is my best and closest Friend, I live my life free of anxiety and fear, and the peace and joy of God renew me every day.
“Well,” you might say, “you were just messed up. You were looking for something. You needed to change.”
To be perfectly truthful, I was messed up, and I was looking for something — but it was not God! And I absolutely did not want to change. I had found my lifestyle, and I loved it! I enjoyed using drugs. I enjoyed my music. I enjoyed fulfilling the lusts of the flesh. What I was looking for was more sinful pleasure and more musical excellence, leading to more recognition as a rock drummer.
As for Jesus, he was no more important to me than Muhammad or any other foreign religious figure. After all, I was Jewish! And, I thought, if there really is a God, He knows that, deep down, I have a good heart. If there is a heaven, He’ll surely accept me. In spite of my lying, my drugs, my drinking, my pride, my rebellion, my stealing, my immorality, my filthy mouth and mind, I thought that I really was a pretty good person. Little did I know then that the Bible said: “All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but it is the LORD who weighs the hearts.” And, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” Human nature always tries to justify itself!
During the spring of 1971, my two best friends (and members of my band) began attending a little gospel-preaching church. Why? Because they liked two girls who went there! And why did the girls go? Because their uncle was the pastor and their father was praying for them. Then, in August, I went to the church too. Why? Because I wanted to pull my friends out! They were beginning to change, and I didn’t like that. They weren’t partying the way they used to. I had to stop them before it was too late. You can guess what happened. I lost the fight! The love of the people began to break down my stubborn pride, and, totally unknown to me, their prayers began to have an impact. Something started to get under my skin! I actually began to feel guilty about the filthy things I was doing.
Amazingly enough, until that time, I had never experienced the slightest remorse for stealing money from my own father, or putting my parents through all kinds of grief because of my drug use, or double-crossing my best friends, or viciously cutting down anyone I didn’t like with my sharp, cruel sharp tongue. Now, something was happening. When I couldn’t sleep at night after pumping myself up with methadrine or swallowing several tabs of amphetamine-laced LSD, I started to feel uncomfortable with my lifestyle, seeing myself as more of a jerk than a cool teenager, and I began to dread those long night hours, alone with a feeling of being unclean, alone with my sin.
Of course, at that time, I had no idea that this was something called “conviction,” a wonderful process through which God shows us just how sick we really are – in order to make us whole. And I made no connection between this sudden change in my attitude and the prayers of these sincere Christians. Instead, I made a decision: I won’t use any drugs that keep me up at night! And I stayed away from the church for the next three months.
When I finally returned there in November, something completely unexpected happened to me. It was not what I was anticipating! For the first time in my life I believed that Jesus died for me (in other words, He paid the penalty that I deserved, He died in my place) and that He rose from the dead.
This did not strike me as especially good news! How can I say that? Simple. It was one thing for my friends to truly put their faith in Jesus. After all, one was Methodist and the other was Russian Orthodox. Even though they were only Christian in name, becoming a Christian in truth didn’t seem to me like such a big religious jump. I thought the different Christian religions were close enough!
But for me, a Jew (even a non-religious Jew), how could I believe in Jesus? (Please remember: At that time, I didn’t realize that his Hebrew name was Yeshua and that his mother’s Hebrew name was Miriam, or that “Christ” meant “Messiah,” or that he came into the world to save his Jewish people, or that he lived and died as a faithful Jew.) For me, Jesus was only for the Gentiles. (Again, you have to excuse my ignorance!)
But there was a much bigger problem I faced: Following Jesus and getting into a right relationship with God meant I had to turn away from my sins. I didn’t want to do that! There was too much pleasure in my sin. And how could I be a famous rock drummer and a good, clean church-goer at the same time? Plus, I was too proud to admit that I could be wrong. (Some people would rather die than admit they are wrong.) I was as stubborn as they come. And how I loved to argue. (After all, I was the son of an excellent lawyer!) Yet somehow, God’s goodness and patience overcame my stubbornness, my pride, my sinful habits, and my religious misunderstandings. By the end of 1971 I was a new man! The heavenly Father intervened in my affairs, making me to know that I was guilty in his sight, exposing the corruption of my heart, and showing me a new and better way.
What does all this have to do with you? Let me explain. You see, I was not a sinner because I was shooting heroin. I was shooting heroin because I was a sinner. Sin takes on many forms. But in God’s sight, all of us are sinners. In other words, all of us stand guilty in the light of His standards and laws. And, deep down, most of recognize His laws are right. Yet we still break them. Why? Because by nature we are a fallen race. No one had to teach us to lie, to lust, to be selfish, to hate, to hold a grudge, to deceive, to cheat, to be greedy, to envy. These things came naturally to us — even to the best of us!
According to the Scriptures, the first and greatest commandment is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.” Instead, we find time for business, or pleasure, or family, or friends, or sports, or entertainment, or relaxation, or hobbies, or education, or whatever else is important to us. But God is not that important to us! He is certainly not the one around whom our lives revolve. If He were, we would find more time and energy for Him. He is supposed to come first.
What about the second commandment? Both Moses and Jesus taught that the next great commandment was, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We have failed here too! Think of all the murderers, and rapists, and drug pushers, and child abusers, and warlords, and crime bosses, and thieves — the list goes on and on. It is clear that they have not loved their neighbors as themselves. But let’s not be so quick to condemn. You can get a speeding ticket for going 100 miles per hour in a 40 mph zone, or you can get a ticket for going 70 in that same zone. Either way, you’re guilty. And you can drown in 20 feet of water just as easily as you can drown in the ocean. Either way, you’re dead.
It’s the same with God’s laws. Maybe you haven’t killed someone. But have you hated them? Then you’re guilty of not loving your neighbor as yourself! Maybe you haven’t committed adultery with that good looking spouse of your friend or boss. But if you’re burning with lust for them, then you’ve committed adultery in your heart. In the sight of God, you’re guilty! And the penalty for those guilty of breaking God’s laws is death.
“In that case,” you say, “we’re in trouble! Everyone is guilty.” Exactly. That’s why God sent His Son into the world. Although we didn’t deserve it, and although it is more than we could ever ask for or imagine, God did something incredible. The Bible says He loved this world so much — and that means He loved you — that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
Jesus died for you! Instead of you and I having to pay for our sins (and it would be perfectly fair if God required us to pay up), Jesus paid for our sins. Instead of you and I having to suffer the death penalty, Jesus suffered it for us. That’s what He meant when He said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” He also said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for His sheep.”
And that’s what the Jewish prophet Isaiah meant when he wrote about the Messiah’s death hundreds of years in advance:
He was pierced because of our rebellious deeds, He was crushed for our sins; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and at the cost of His wounds there is healing for us. All of us like sheep have gone astray, but the LORD has laid on Him (Jesus!) the sins of us all.
Is this making sense to you now? Do you understand why Jesus died on the cross? He carried your sins so that you don’t have to carry them any more!
Turn back to God and ask Him to forgive you. Acknowledge your guilt and say, “God, have mercy on me! I turn away from my sins.” Ask Him to cleanse you and wash you through the blood that Jesus shed. Put your faith in the Son of God. He died for you and rose from the dead. Believe in Him and submit to Him as your Lord. You will never be the same! And you will never have a regret.
What He did for me – in a unique and personal way – He can do for you. He died so you could live. He became guilty so you could go free. He came down to earth so that one day you could go to heaven. But if you refuse Him, the door will be shut. You will die in your guilt, without excuse. Almighty God will say to you, “Depart from Me into eternal fire!” Then it will be too late!
That’s why I took the time to tell you my story. It can become your story too! You can experience the greatest love the world has ever seen. Through Jesus, you can know the God who made you. Then you will truly live — in this world, and in the world to come. Serving God is worth it all!