The Easter/Passover season is a particularly good time of year for Christians to talk with Jewish neighbors about the Jewishness of Jesus and the need for all of us to gain an exodus from sin through Christ. My favorite book on the subject remains one published 23 years ago but still in print, Edith Schaeffer's Christianity Is Jewish.
There are three nuances, however, of which evangelists should be aware. Christians often overestimate the importance of the Old Testament to many Jews, underestimate hurts about past persecution, and miss the significance of anti-Christianity.
The first error: Some Christians immerse themselves in detail from Leviticus, only to learn that the people whose souls they care about could not care less. As Orthodox rabbis recognize, most American Jews are theologically illiterate. Some feel a vestigial fondness for the Old Testament, but they need to see its relevance to their lives before they are ready to learn how the Old is by the New explained.
Incidentally, to the minority with some knowledge of the Old Testament, I'd ask a question that I wondered about while attending Hebrew school as a child: How could the sacrificial system be so readily abandoned when the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D.? How did rabbis have the authority to proclaim a replacement involving prayer and good works? Wouldn't God provide the substitute?
But more important to most Jews than biblical history is modern history and its clearest example of mass depravity. The Holocaust was the latest and worst example of the Satanic desire to take revenge on the people God chose as his own, and their physical descendants. Egypt's pharaoh and Amalek during the time of Moses, Haman during the time of Esther, and Antiochus during the time of the Maccabees were among the early Hitlers.
Since Satan tries to fool people by twisting God's words-that's what he did in successfully tempting Eve and unsuccessfully tempting Jesus-it's no surprise that anti-Semites have attempted at times to don Christian robes. Most Jews today do not understand that no one is born a Christian. They do not understand that Christianity (with its inherent love of Old Testament roots) must be a personal faith commitment. They therefore assume that anti-Semitic crusades, pogroms, and other evils that arose in "Christian" countries are expressions of Christianity.
Some elderly concentration camp survivors still have physical scars, but many Jews have psychological scars. Even with the anti-Semitism depicted in movies such as Chariots of Fire or Gentleman's Agreement familiar to Jews under 50 only in movies, vague awareness of past practices may make Christians seem like enemies rather than brothers. For Jews, recognition that the Jew who rose from the dead nearly 2,000 years ago was the long-awaited Messiah should be a declaration of theological completion. Many Jews, though, look upon conversion as treason.
This leads to the third factor evangelists must understand: the growth of anti-Christianity. Some rabbis know that Christianity is Judaism's culture wars ally. But others, concerned about Jews who have dropped out, or tuned in to the New Testament, apparently think the way to reglue Judaism is to bash Christianity.
One example of Christianity-bashing: a short film on anti-Semitism shown at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. The film makes it seem that Christianity caused anti-Semitism, that Christian leaders have been its major proponents, and that Christianity caused the Holocaust itself. The film notes Hitler's baptism as a Catholic, ignores his hatred of Christianity, and quotes him as saying, in a context of killing Jews, "The only difference between me and the church is that I am finishing the job."
Six Jewish conservatives, including Michael Horowitz (who has also done wonderful work concerning persecution of Christians abroad), have written a letter protesting the film. They note that Hitler's racism arose not out of Christianity but out of racial theories that had their origin in the 18th-century Enlightenment. They point out that "the Enlightenment's most virulent anti-Semites, men like Voltaire, were also vicious towards Christianity."
We Christians must fight today's spreading viciousness toward Christianity and welcome Jewish allies in the process. At the same time, we must show love toward our allies by telling them of our hope that Christ came to save all of those who believe in him. After all, despite attempts to chain him up, the God who came out of the tomb on the first Easter continues to draw both Jew and Gentile to himself. He is risen, indeed!