Every January Jews for Jesus hears from at least a few friends who say they want to start the new year with a gift to bring the message of the Messiah to Jewish people. Usually these ministry gifts come from those who have been influenced by the faith mission" movement. One of the leaders of that movement was Hudson Taylor, who founded the China Inland Mission. Strongly impressed by Romans 1:16, Taylor felt that Jewish evangelism should take priority. He was so certain of it that, though he was the founder and director of a ministry to Asia, he always gave his first donation of the year to a certain Jewish mission in London.
I suspect that our Jews for Jesus friends who follow this example of giving "to the Jew first" probably receive even more blessing from giving those gifts than we do from receiving them. Aside from the gifts themselves, the accompanying letters always make me happy. I rejoice in them because I like to see Christians acting upon what they regard as biblical principles.
Some people, however, seem to have a problem with the literal "faith mission" interpretation of Romans 1:16. It seems to make them uncomfortable, as though placing a priority on Jewish evangelism indicated unwarranted partiality and diverted the Church's efforts from other Christian endeavors.
Certainly, partiality in proclaiming the gospel would be unwarranted! Acts 10:34 states quite plainly that God shows no partiality. The "whosoever" of John 3:16 clearly means that God offers salvation to all who believe.
Scripture does not contradict Scripture, and as I see it, Romans 1:16 does not indicate bias. God does not play favorites as to whom He will or will not save, but the Savior, the Jewish Messiah was revealed "to the Jew first."
Chronologically and historically that is how it first happened. I think there is a lesson in that, so I agree with our friends who always start the year with a gift for Jewish evangelism. I, too, like to think that the gospel to the Jew first is still the logical and most fruitful order for evangelism.
When we say that the gospel is to the Jew first, we are not saying that Jews are more deserving, that Jews are better, or that God likes Jews more than He likes Gentiles. We are just saying that it would seem that God established a priority in the proclamation of the gospel. He set forth an order in the way things were to happen.
One reason Romans 1:16 is so easily misunderstood is that some interpreters focus on people rather than on the subject of Paul's text. His topic was the gospel, or the good news of Christ. He declared that he was not ashamed of that message. He explained why he was not ashamed, then added the order of priority to emphasize his very important point.
The Apostle Paul did not state that the gospel was the power of God especially to the Jews or only to the Jews; nor did he say it was to the Jews because they were better. He merely said that the preaching of the gospel unleashed the power of God to bring salvation to those who would accept it—first to the Jews, the original hearers, and then to the Greeks (or Gentiles).
In Paul's day the gospel message was alive and powerful. Through the Holy Spirit, the early disciples preached it with zeal, in a powerful way. Now we live in a time when the Church seems to have lost much of its power. There is very little fire left.
Today's Church seems to value compliance and conformity more than zeal. We in Jews for Jesus see this time and again in seeking new friends for our ministry. With conformity so dominant in today's thinking, I am not terrribly surprised when some who claim to be Christians do not want to receive us. I am disappointed, but not shocked when a pastor says he will not have a Jews for Jesus program in his church because we are "too controversial."
Indeed, Jews for Jesus is controversial, but it is not a controversy of heresy, or how we conduct our ministry. The controversy arises solely over the fact that we say we are Jews who believe in Jesus. That statement alone is enough to get the Jewish community leaders riled. We Jews are a minority, but one of the characteristics of my people is adeptness at expressing ourselves and making our sentiments felt. When the Jewish community raises enough of a clamor, all but the staunchest of Christians tend to back off so as not to protract the stated "offense." It is sad that some would rather quench the gospel message than risk "offending."
Imagine how the Church would flourish and how the gospel would go forth in power today if we had a few more bold, fiery believers like Peter and Paul, and some of the Jews for Jesus staff helping! It's not that I think all of us are as godly as Peter and Paul. Yet the one area where I think most of us could keep up with them is our zeal.
In New Testament times the gospel was proclaimed with passion by people who were risking their lives moment by moment to declare that truth. The gospel is still best proclaimed by those who are willing to risk much. Jews who come to Christ risk, and often lose, much. They often forfeit their families and their livelihoods, and they always lose their standing in the Jewish community. We Jewish believers in Christ are generally bold in our witness because we have nothing more to lose and everything to gain for God's Kingdom.
Virtually everything of what a Buddhist, or a Shintoist, or a Muslim might suffer from family or community as a result of receiving Christ, most of us Jewish believers have experienced! We can look such people in the eye when we preach Christ and tell them that we have risked the same—that often we have undergone the pain and loss they fear, but it was worth it.
When we witness to Mormons, can they insist that we are Gentiles and they are the real Jews who have a special relationship with God? We know they are not, and that even a special relationship means nothing without the relationship of being in Christ through faith in His atonement.
As for going to the uttermost parts of the earth to proclaim the gospel, we are good at that, too. (They even named a plant "The Wandering Jew" for its propensity to move out in all directions.) We Jews are an international people who have a miraculous means of survival—God's promise. We are the people who have had the most experience at the profession of prophethood, or speaking out for God.
There is much talk in spiritual circles about empowerment. We pray for revival and for the fire of the Holy Spirit to fall anew upon the Church. Well, if you really believe that the Church needs to get fired up, let me suggest this: Jews who are saved by the blood of Jesus and sanctified by the Holy Spirit are the kindling for that kind of fire!
I wish I could tell you that the gospel to the Jew first means that you should try to reach my people first because we are the nicest, the kindest, the handsomest, the most agreeable, most intellectual or most principled. I cannot say that, though I am sure some of my people have a few or even most of those qualities.
I wish I could tell you that a great many of my people will get saved if you bring the gospel to the Jew first. I can't promise that. I can, however, promise one thing. If you get the gospel to the Jew first, many Gentiles will get saved because of the few Jews who will believe and proclaim the message to many others.
In Romans 2:9 and 10, Paul made two more statements about "the Jew first": His first statement of priority was that tribulation and anguish (judgment for sin) will come first to the Jewish people. The next was that glory, honor and peace will come first to Jewish people who do good. If judgment will come first to my people, how desperately they need to hear the words that can bring them healing and life! As for the glory honor and peace that will come to us who do good, we Jewish believers are no better than the Gentile members of the Church. Together all of us who have served Y'shua well will cast our crowns at His feet and just enjoy belonging to Him.
So, Why First?
My appeal to you to bring the gospel to the Jew first is not for the benefit of Jews for Jesus. It is for the benefit of the Church—a dimming and often powerless entity that needs the testimony of Jesus and the testimony of fire-baptized Jews to rekindle its light.
According to Romans 1:16, the gospel is to the Jew first because it is still God's program. His plan will not be thwarted. He has prepared my Jewish people for worldwide evangelism. Through the Diaspora they have been positioned by Him to achieve this.
When we Jews find Christ, we seem to have a certain God-given zeal to tell others. We seem to be natural communicators. When Jews come propounding the Christian gospel, somehow they seem to be endowed with an especially convincing, convicting power. But first my Jewish people need to hear and believe the message of Y'shua themselves, so they can bring it to others.
That is where you, our ministry friends, enter the picture. We are grateful to all our God-given supporters. By your gifts, prayers and encouragement, you keep us Jews for Jesus out there preaching the message of light and salvation, not only to our people but to everyone!
I think I can safely say from Scripture and from personal experience that bringing the gospel to the Jew first, then through the Jew first, will result in the greater glory of God as the evangelized become the evangelists.