Here in the USA, we love football. Many folks who don’t care much about football still tune in for big games such as the Super Bowl and the college bowl games.
As the game begins, there is lots of excitement as the team with the ball begins moving it down the field. But something that can halt the excitement, especially if the team you are cheering for has the ball, is when the team controlling the ball decides to punt. For those not into football, “to punt” means to turn the ball over to the other team by kicking it down the field. By choosing to punt, you are conceding that the current effort has failed and you need to move forward with a different plan.
Recently, I met with a Messianic Jewish friend who shared with me that he no longer believed that Yeshua is the Messiah. Using football terms, he decided to “punt” his faith in Yeshua and move in a different direction. That is always painful to hear.
Serving previously for many years under Messianic Jewish apologist Dr. Michael Brown, I’ve heard various reasons why some Jewish people abandon Yeshua. My collective experience has led me to the conclusion that most of the reasons that some Jewish people abandon Yeshua relate to the fact that we need a stronger and more developed Messianic Judaism. I’ll share some of them below—and some ways that we can respond. The descriptions provided are brief and by no means exhaustive. They are the beginning of a conversation, or perhaps the continuation of one. My hope in bringing this topic to the table today is that we will be inspired to continue to pray hard and work hard in these areas to strengthen Messianic Judaism.
Jewish people sometimes abandon Yeshua because they perceive that following Yeshua weakens Judaism and their personal adherence to it.
Most Jews who come to faith in Yeshua were not raised with a solid foundation in Torah, Tanach, and Judaism. Typically, they were raised in Reform Judaism and had a primarily secular worldview when they came to faith (this is my story as well, which you can read more about here). When a Messianic Jew starts learning more and more from the Bible, they observe that Judaism is not only the religion of our past, but the religion of our present and future. They see that the prophets describe a future “Messianic Judaism” where Torah is observed and strengthened under the leadership of Messiah. However, these Messianic Jews look around and see that there is a disconnect between what the Bible is saying and what is being emphasized in their congregations. They observe that “Jesus people,” be they church people or even some Messianic people, have a negative view of Judaism. Typically at first, these Messianic Jews want to follow both Jesus and Judaism. The problem is that their environment tells them that those two cannot fit together. Eventually, these Jews come to a crossroads where they feel they have to choose—Judaism or Jesus. Some choose Judaism.
How do we change this? We change this by continuing to advance the vision and practice of a mature Messianic Judaism. A mature Messianic Judaism anchors faith in Yeshua within Judaism, right at its heart. In other words, we support the growth of a Messianic Judaism that is both Torah- and Yeshua-centered—a concept that is consistent with the vision that both the prophets and the apostles had for the Messianic Kingdom.
Jewish people sometimes abandon Yeshua because they begin to question whether Jesus is really necessary.
This question is often raised because there are plenty of sources out there that tell them that He is not.
When Messianic Jews begin to grapple with the deeper questions of their Jewish identity, some will encounter sources telling them that they don’t need Jesus. So they begin to wrestle with the question “What difference does Jesus really make?” The presence of that question sometimes indicates that they are already on a slippery slope away from faith in Yeshua. Rather than assuming that they are about to punt, we must fight for our Jewish brothers and sisters and give them a substantial and compassionate answer to this question.
How do we change this? To the question, “What difference does Jesus make?” we must be able to tell people that Jesus has made a difference in that He came to usher in the kingdom of heaven that our fathers and the prophets longed for and spoke of. His deep Torah insights, His call for His generation to do teshuvah, and the evidence of God’s power at work in Him were just a few indications that He was and is the King of God’s kingdom. We must be able to tell people and show them that by following the Master Yeshua now, we are paving the way for the kingdom on earth that is coming.
We must emphasize the difference Yeshua makes in that millions of Gentiles have come to know and follow the God of Israel because of and through Him. If He’s not the real Messiah, then the real Messiah is going to have to top that!
We must tell people that Jesus makes a difference in that He is the means that God used (and is using) to bring about the atonement and change of heart in people like you and me that prophets such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel spoke of.
But most importantly, in my opinion, we must demonstrate that Yeshua makes a difference in how we live. I feel tension when I hear people say that “Jesus people…” (Christians and Messianics) are “just like everybody else” with reference to how we live. On one hand, that’s true. Followers of Yeshua screw up; we make bad decisions; and we need a lot of help in a lot of ways, just like everybody else. But on the other hand, as we are following the greatest Rabbi, the greatest Tzaddik, the greatest Master of all time who has actually done something to us that has begun to transform us internally (like the prophets said would happen), there should be a tangible difference in how we live.
This is just the beginning of how we should address the question, “What difference does Jesus make?” But I pray and hope that those of us in Messianic Judaism and Christianity are seeking to speak and live in a way that gives strong evidence that our Master Yeshua makes a BIG difference in lots of ways.
Jewish people sometimes abandon Yeshua because Messianic Judaism is messy, confusing, and under-developed.
Messianic Judaism has come a long way. Recently, my synagogue in Atlanta hosted one of the pioneers of modern Messianic Judaism. This man talked about how forty years ago, Messianic synagogues were hard to find. Many Jewish people who came to faith in the 1970s thought that they were the only Jews “like this.” Fast forward to today and there are multiple Messianic Jewish synagogues in most big cities throughout the world. That’s progress, and I believe it is prophetic. However, Messianic Judaism still has a long way to go. Some theological points are still being worked out in the movement. And since so few people in Messianic Judaism were raised with a strong Judaism, many are learning “as they go along.” Some are even leading congregations. This means that being involved in Messianic Judaism can be messy at times. Thus, when you compare Messianic Judaism to Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism(s), the bottom line is that it looks like they have their act together a whole lot more than we do. For Messianic Jews who are hungering for a mature Judaism, the attraction to something that is far more honed than Messianic Judaism is understandable.
How do we change this? One step at a time. Messianic Judaism is not going to mature overnight (unless that night involves the return of Yeshua!). Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles in this movement have to be committed to a vision of what this movement can be in the future so that we can see it grow and develop today. Some folks in our movement want Messianic Judaism to be a well-oiled machine now. So do I. However, until Yeshua returns we must do our part to make the movement stronger and better today. This will look different for each individual. But the fact is that we need all hands on deck to keep Messianic Judaism moving forward. The good news is that if the Bible is true—which most of us have staked our lives on—then God has our back in this endeavor because His Word says that Messianic Judaism is the direction toward which His kingdom agenda is moving.
Friends, ultimately, if someone wants to punt their faith in Yeshua, we can’t stop them; it hurts any and every time we see it happen. However, as we stay committed to the vision of seeing a mature Messianic Judaism move forward, I believe we will give people more reasons to hold onto the ball and keep running toward the goal—that joyful time when the King and His kingdom fill the earth.