I was born in Manhattan and spent my childhood growing up in the Bronx and Queens. As I grew older I became more and more antagonistic toward religion because of the blatant hypocrisy I saw in religious people. This hypocrisy was not limited to the rabbis, but was prevalent among “Christians” as well. I had no desire to follow these people and therefore wholeheartedly accepted the evolutionary worldview as I set my sights on building a career in law. For the sake of tradition, however, I did make bar mitzvah when I was 13, and I observed some of the Jewish holidays.
During college, I enrolled in a number of courses in American and English literature and was intrigued by the number of references to Bible characters and concepts. As a result I purposed in my heart to read the Bible someday to better understand those references. I shared these thoughts with my girlfriend, Lauri, who agreed that the idea was sensible—especially since discussions about marriage had begun and, as a result, religion was becoming an important issue in our lives. Lauri was reared in a Roman Catholic home, and we knew that tensions would eventually arise because of our different backgrounds. Consequently, we thought we should be better equipped to deal with them. We reasoned that studying the Bible and our respective faiths more carefully would enable us to be more knowledgeable about religious matters. We further concluded that this analysis would also make us better parents because we could be an information source for our children someday.
In time, we did marry, and after completing law school I began my career with a large firm in New York. Things changed shortly thereafter when I met a man named Mark. He was also an attorney and had recently joined the firm. Mark worked on another floor, so I didn’t have much contact with him, but I made sure to avoid him completely because he was one of those “Jesus people.” Although my family was not Orthodox, we were taught that Jesus was for the Gentiles and that we should avoid Him completely since He and His followers were against the Jews.
A few months later the offices were restructured, and I inherited a new officemate—Mark. I was upset at the time and even went to the personnel department to have it changed, but I was unsuccessful. There I was, trapped with a Jesus nut! Since I had no choice, I tried to make the best of it by being pleasant toward him. In time we became friendly, and as I got to know him I was impressed by the lack of hypocrisy in his life. He was different.
I soon found out that Mark had been a Roman Catholic, so I was able to learn a great deal about Romanism from him. He also knew the Tanach (Old Testament) quite well. Consequently, the things of God dominated our discussions, and I began bringing home all of the information that I was learning. By this time Lauri and I were expecting our first son, so we were especially focused on the “being good parents so let’s study the Bible” idea. After Grant was born we began attending a Bible study at Mark’s home, and Lauri and I started an intense independent study that lasted approximately a year and a half.
The reality of God became clear through the study of fulfilled prophecy, and I was amazed by the proofs for the scientific impossibility of evolution. After carefully considering the life and conversion of Paul, I then turned my attention to the claim that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. I subjected the claims of Christ and the resurrection accounts to evidentiary standards and was left with no conclusion but that Jesus truly is the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world. In the privacy of my own living room on an October day in 1989, I confessed my sin before Him and became a child of the King, recognizing that my only claim to heaven was by His shed blood for my sins. Lauri was saved three months later, and we were baptized together.
As I continued to grow in my knowledge of the Scriptures I became increasingly burdened to reach the Jewish people with the gospel. In addition, I soon came to the unfortunate realization that the lost sheep of the house of Israel were often overlooked by Gentile believers in their evangelistic outreach. This is not to say that I found an intentional or inappropriate motive, but there was certainly much more that the church could do. I found that some people felt intimidated by the prospect of speaking with Jews about the Bible; in other cases there was simply a lack of understanding regarding the Biblical mandate to reach these special people.
This weighed heavily on my heart as I began to offer assistance to churches in our area to help them better understand the Jewishness of the Bible and to be better equipped to witness to the Jewish people. I didn’t realize it at the time, but through all of this God was beginning to redirect my life. After some time, some pastors I knew began to suggest that God might be pleased to see a Jewish work established in New York City and that it could very well be His will that I lead it. After much prayer and seeking input from many wise counselors, we all became convinced that the suggestion was correct and Shalom Ministries was born.
One of the clear burdens that we have is to excite believers regarding reaching out to the Jewish people. One way we seek to do this is by encouraging people to consider the important place that the Jewish people hold in God’s heart and plan. In Jeremiah 31 we read about the prophecy of the coming New Covenant that God would make with the Jewish people. It was this very covenant that Jesus confirmed at the Last Supper and which Gentile believers partake of spiritually through their grafting in (Rom. 11:17–24). In this context, God makes His permanent love and commitment very clear. In the beginning of the chapter He says that He loves Israel with an everlasting love (v. 3), and He indicates that Israel will be a special people before Him continually (vv. 35–37).
This concept of God’s permanent love for the Jewish people can be seen in many places in the Bible. Another wonderful example can be found in Isaiah 49. Here, God, through the prophet, encourages the people in exile by telling them that God has not forgotten or forsaken them. This is particularly interesting since the fact that they were in captivity was, itself, a fulfillment of prophecy. God had warned the Jewish people of this fate if they were not faithful, and He kept His promise. In verses 14 through 16 God tells them that a nursing mother is more likely to forsake her helpless infant than He is to forsake them for all of their misdeeds. He even emphasizes the point by saying that He has “graven them upon the palms of His hands.” Here the word for “graven” is a word that means “to cut into.” God is saying, as it were, that the Jewish people are etched permanently into His hands.
Jesus Himself expressed amazing love and devotion toward the Jewish people. Again, the Bible has many examples, but one is particularly moving to me. In Luke 19:41 we are told that Jesus, nearing the end of His earthly ministry, beheld the city of Jerusalem and wept. Here, the Holy Spirit led Luke to use a particular word that does not mean simply to shed a tear, but rather to weep with loud emotion and lamentation. Our Lord, knowing all that would soon take place in Jerusalem at the hand of the Jewish people, was so moved with compassion that his body shook with emotion. This highlights the tragedy of the nation’s rejection, but also underscores the depth of His love for them.
Turning to a mere human we need look no further than the great rabbi of Tarsus to see the results of a deep concern for the Jewish people. In Romans 10:1, Paul states that his heart’s desire and prayer to God is that Israel be saved. This is particularly noteworthy since Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles.
As compelling as that may be, however, in the mind of this writer few portions of Scripture have the power of Paul’s words in the first three verses of Romans 9. Paul begins the chapter by confirming to the recipients of the epistle that what he is about to say is true, as Christ and the Holy Spirit can attest. He then goes on to say that he has a continual grief and sorrow in his heart. One might say that he is constantly feeling the spiritual and emotional equivalent of a heart attack. Why does Paul feel this way? The answer is given in verse 3. The reason is that he is concerned for the salvation of the Jews. He is so concerned for their salvation that he says that, if it were possible, he would give up heaven if that would mean the salvation of Israel in return. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, who had been repeatedly beaten and nearly killed by the Jewish people, was willing to go to hell for them if that would result in their salvation. The only explanation for this is that Paul had a supernatural understanding of the depth of God’s love for this people and their intense need of salvation.
What should this mean to us as today? My sincere prayer is that fundamental believers throughout the world will stop and consider the Jew. In Romans 11:11 we are told that salvation has come to the Gentile as a result of the “stumbling” of the Jew. The verse then goes on to describe the responsibility that the Gentile has to provoke the Jew to jealousy for that salvation. God promises blessing on those that are a blessing to the Jews (Gen. 12:3) and spiritual prosperity for those who pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Ps. 122:6), yet these people often remain overlooked.
My consuming desire is to motivate my Gentile brethren to take God at His Word and be a blessing to the Jewish people, thereby honoring the Biblical mandate to bring the gospel to them. Remember, a Gentile led me to the Lord, and He just might use you to bring another lost Jewish soul to a saving knowledge of Himself.
Craig Hartman is the founder and Director of Shalom Ministries, Inc.
(Originally published in FrontLine • November/December 2000. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)