Jewish Roots of Faith 

by Ann Dayan

Romans 1:16 "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek."

Your Biblical Heritage

If you had been a believer in Jesus Christ as part of the First Century Church, you would have found yourself in a very different cultural form of worship than what you experience in your church today. The early church was primarily made up of Jewish believers who understood that finding Yeshua (the Hebrew name for Jesus) as their Messiah was an extension, or completion, of their Jewish faith. Paul the apostle, as a Jew, understood that God had sent him to help "...bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles, for His names' sake."(Romans 1: 5) However, over the centuries, the church has become more and more non-Jewish in its make-up, and has in many respects lost its understanding of its own rich Jewish heritage.

Today, there are more than 200,000 Messianic Jewish believers in Yeshua, who are a vital part of the Body of Christ worldwide. The rapidly expanding Messianic Jewish movement is a worldwide expression of faith, with 200+ Messianic congregations in the United States, as well as dozens more in Israel, the former Soviet Union, and worldwide. In the Cleveland area, Jewish believers (and many Christians who wish to honor the Jewish roots of Jesus) worship at a Messianic Congregation called Tikvat Yisrael (Hope of Israel) in Beachwood. They meet in the Trinity Presbyterian Church building for Erev Shabbat (Sabbath Eve) services at 8 p.m. on Friday evenings, and Shabbat services at 10:00a.m. on Saturday mornings.

According to Walter Lieber, Rabbi of Tikvat Yisrael, "As Messianic Jews, we are the Jewish wing of the church – and we share theologically with the church in the primary doctrines that evangelical Christians uphold. We worship with a Jewish cultural expression, which means we interact in a meaningful way with the Torah (Law) and the traditions of our people. As Paul taught in Romans 7:12 the law (Torah) is holy and just and spiritual, not as an instrument for salvation, but as God-given guidance and blessing to Israel as a way of life.

Jewish Heritage.GIF (49275 bytes)Lieber grew up in a Reform Jewish home. "We were not religious – I grew up as an agnostic or atheist. To me at that time, being Jewish was an irrelevant part of my identity. In college I got into an irresponsible lifestyle. I also met my wife Linda in college. She grew up in a much more religious, Conservative Jewish home, went through 12 years of Hebrew school, and had a very strong Jewish identity. Eventually we moved to Akron where I worked in a department store and later in a factory. We had two children by then, but I continued to be the very picture of an irresponsible husband and father."

"About this time,"says Lieber, "Linda got invited to a Bible study. She went out of curiosity to see what the Gentiles believed. There she learned about Messianic prophecies, and began to believe in Yeshua. On her own, she searched the Old Testament, and believed the Scriptures clearly pointed to Jesus as Messiah. It began to make sense to Linda, and her faith was confirmed by the authority and authenticity of the scriptures. But she knew only God could convince me, and so she prayed, "Lord if you are the Messiah, you're going to have to reveal this to Walter."

God was completely faithful in quickly answering Linda's prayer – within two days. Though believing that God did not exist, Lieber "began thinking about myself as I really was – greedy, selfish, and egotistical. I saw my rotten inner nature, and it was ugly. Once I saw that realistic picture of myself, and agreed with it, God spoke to me. He said, 'There is a God, and He is good.' He said it twice, and I knew it was true. In a moment, I went from a man who hated God to knowing He existed and that He was good. I really embraced God, and felt Him take a great burden off me. I felt free; like a new person!"

"As time went on, I began to read the Bible, front to back, over and over, and understand that Jesus really is the Son of God."The family began to attend church, and to think about what it really meant to be Jewish. "I began to understand my Jewish identity from the viewpoint of the Scriptures – that it's God who created Israel, called the Jewish people and gave them the purpose of bringing the truth of the Word of God and the Messiah to the Gentile nations."

Yeshua is Central to Faith

"I was beginning to understand my Jewish identity directly from the source,"says Lieber. "I saw that the first Jewish believers never thought of themselves as becoming non-Jews upon accepting Yeshua as Messiah. They saw their faith as the next step in the development of what God had for the Jewish people. They continued to live a lifestyle that was related to the Torah, though in a different way. They now had the Spirit of God which brought life to the Torah and showed them how to walk in God's ways with His power, direction and motivation."

"The Lord spoke independently to Linda and me over the next year or two about being in ministry to our Jewish people,"says Lieber, "We began to understand that a Messianic Jewish congregation was needed in Cleveland, so in 1973, we launched out into full time faith ministry, then moved to Cleveland in 1976."

Ministering out of Tikvat now, Lieber helps all believers understand that "Messianic Jews are simply the Jewish wing of the church. We are not under the law as regards salvation, yet we see that God gave the Torah to Israel as a way of life. In other words, we relate to the Torah in a spiritual way, not as a system of do's and don'ts."

"At Tikvat, we also worship in keeping the Jewish holy days described in Leviticus 23. These are not only Jewish holidays, but as the "Feasts of the Lord,"they are the heritage of the whole church. Each one speaks prophetically of the ministry of Yeshua, of God's prophetic purposes for the earth, His plan of redemption, not just for Israel, but all the nations. It has therefore been a tremendous blessing for me over the years to see that many churches now have Passover Seders in which Yeshua as the Lamb of God comes out of the Old Testament in a fuller way."

"Tikvat's primary purpose,' says Lieber, "Is to reach the lost sheep of the House of Israel in the Cleveland area. We have a tremendous burden and calling toward the 80,000+ Jewish people here. We believe God wants to see thousands of Jewish people come to faith in Yeshua in the next five to 10 years. Tikvat is also the perfect place for interfaith couples, where one is from a Jewish background and the other is not, because we embrace what is valuable in both Jewish and Christian traditions. Faith in Yeshua, as the center of the Christian faith in a Jewish context and continuity, is valuable to Jews and Gentiles alike."

According to Lieber, "Both Gentile and Jewish wings of the church now have an opportunity to come closer in a relationship that is real. Just as Israel is dependent upon the church for its final salvation, so the church is dependent upon the fullness of Israel for the coming of the Kingdom of God. God will not complete the one without the other! The church needs to understand our intertwined relationship and inter-relate more intimately with their Messianic believing brothers, and to take a strong stand against Anti-Semitism today."

Renewed Interest in the Jewishness of Christianity

Currently there is an explosion of worldwide interest in learning about the Jewish roots of Christianity, and in worshiping the Lord in a Jewish way. Countless Christian ministries support Israel through contributions, trips to the Holy Land, radio talk shows featuring news from Israel, efforts to help Jewish people make aliyah (immigrate) and by providing tools to learn more about the Jewishness of Christianity. Tikvat Yisrael and their sister congregations have experienced this renewed interest firsthand as a growing number of Christians are drawn to worship at Messianic congregations. Many comment, "I'm not Jewish, but God's given me a great love for His people."

How can Gentile believers express that love and support for our believing Jewish brothers and sisters? Lieber believes the Gentile church can learn more about their Jewish roots, and more fully support Messianic Jews in their efforts to grow and minister to Jewish people. Both Rabbi Lieber and Rabbi Robert Diamond, Lieber's associate at Tikvat, are available to speak in your church on the Jewish roots of faith, prophecy, and Israel in relationship to the church; Messiah in Passover demonstrations, and about how Jewish holidays are relevant for the church. All are welcome to visit Tikvat Yisrael Messianic congregation. Regular services are 8 p.m. on Friday evenings, and 10:00a.m. on Saturday mornings. For more information, call Tikvat Yisrael at 216-491-1001.

Tikvat Yisrael is a vital part of the church in the city of Cleveland, and remains in close fellowship with many area Pastors and churches. "We're not just off in a corner doing our own thing,"Lieber says . "We're making our contribution to the body of Messiah. We have an obligation to be a visible part of the church, and I believe the church can receive a great blessing when it fulfills its obligation to bless the Jewish people and pray for the peace of Jerusalem."C