My Way to the Messiah
Article by Stan Telchin
My parents were like the couple in Fiddler on the Roof. They fled Russia in 1904 to get away from the pogroms and the antisemitism that was rampant there. My father, grandfather and uncles came to New York City with little more than the clothes on their backs. Even though they did not know English they were soon able to get jobs to support themselves. Two years later they had saved enough to bring my mother, grandmother and assorted aunts and cousins to the United States. Over the years that followed six children were born into our family. In 1924 I was born, the youngest member of the family.
I think that the first time I ever heard the word “Messiah” used was when I was about seven and we were in the midst of the depression. I asked my mother for something which we could definitely not afford. She laughingly told me that I could have it “Ven de Meshiach kumt” (when the Messiah comes). I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I knew that I would not be getting the thing I had asked for. The next time I heard the word Messiah was when the news of the Holocaust exploded in our midst. That is when I heard my mother praying and asking God to send the Messiah to deliver us from the hatred of the world.
Though my grandparents were ultra-Orthodox, my parents were more conservative in their observance of Jewish customs and rituals. As I think back over the years of my growing up, I know that we often went to the synagogue, but I can’t remember my parents really talking with me about God and we never talked about the Messiah.
I experienced a great deal of antisemitism when I was growing up. There was no getting away from the fact that there was “us Jews” and “them Christians.” You see we thought that anyone who wasn’t Jewish was automatically a Christian. I learned at a very early age that the further I stayed away from “them,” the easier my life would be. And so, I stayed away from “them” as much as I could.
I Felt Betrayed
With that as background, we can now go forward in time to September 1974 when we lived in Bethesda, Maryland. My wife, Ethel, arranged a huge birthday party for my 50th birthday. Ethel is a wonderful woman and we have had an exceptionally happy marriage. We also have been blessed with two beautiful daughters, Judy and Ann. We had a very large home complete with swimming pool, four BMW’s and full-time help. I was very successful financially. Then, just months later, my world seemed to be coming to an end. My daughter Judy who was a student at Boston University called me one Sunday evening. I knew that something was wrong from the very moment I picked up the phone. In a forty-five-minute telephone conversation Judy explained that she had come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah! I was almost speechless. I was outraged. I felt betrayed. How could a child of mine join the enemy? As the conversation continued, I realized I had two options: I could disown her immediately for this terrible act or I could love her through it. I decided on the second option.
Two weeks later Judy came home for spring vacation. We talked and talked and talked. I don’t remember much of what Judy said, but I remember that I kept saying “But Judy, you are Jewish! You can’t believe in Jesus! You can’t be Jewish and believe in Jesus!” to which she would reply, “Daddy, that isn’t true. Jews have always believed in Jesus!” Just before she left to return to school, Judy challenged me to do something I had never done. “Daddy, you are an educated man. You have all kinds of degrees. Read the Bible for yourself and make up your own mind. It is either true or it is false. And if you read it carefully and ask God to reveal the truth to you, he will.”
I Decided to Read the Bible
I understood what Judy wanted to accomplish by that challenge, but I saw it as a way to disprove what she believed. Immediately, I decided to read the Bible and from it I planned to gather enough information to prove that Jesus is not the Messiah. By doing so, I would win her back!
After dinner, the very next night I picked up the New Testament for the very first time. As I set out to read the book of Matthew, I was prepared for a book of hate aimed at the Jewish people. What else could it be? “The Christians get their hate for us either from their mother’s milk or from this book,” I thought. But I didn’t find it to be a book of hate. It was a book written by a Jew, for other Jews, about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the Messiah he sent to his people.
The next night I read the book of Mark. On Wednesday I read Luke. On Thursday and Friday nights I read John. My note pad was filling up with lots and lots of questions. On Saturday morning I began to read The Acts of the Apostles. All went well until I came to the 10th chapter of this book. There I read about Peter reluctantly going to the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion—a gentile. Peter didn’t want to be there. He didn’t want to be with this gentile. But Cornelius explained that he had had a vision and that in that vision he was told that Peter would tell him about God. With that prompting, Peter began to tell Cornelius about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and about Jesus, the Messiah. While he was speaking something totally unexpected happened: the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius and on all the gentiles in his home. Peter and the Jewish believers who were with him were astonished. How could this be? How could the Holy Spirit fall upon these gentiles? That wasn’t supposed to happen! The Holy Spirit of God had been given to the Jews! He hadn’t come to the gentiles!
In the next chapter of Acts, I read about how Peter was in Jerusalem at a meeting of the Jerusalem Council. The Jewish believers at that meeting were very upset with Peter because he had eaten with a gentile and shared the Messiah with him. But Peter explained what had happened and how the Holy Spirit had fallen on the gentiles in Cornelius’ house. At this report, the Council decided that God is not a respecter of persons and that the Messiah must be for gentiles as well as the Jews! As I read these things I was stunned. How could this be? How was it possible that 2000 years ago the Messiah was only for Jews and not for the gentiles—and now he is only for the gentiles and not for us? What happened over the years?
Do I Really Believe in God?
As I set out to study the matter, I remember writing down a series of significant questions. Each question led to the next. “Do I really believe in God?” “Do I believe that the Tanakh, the Jewish Scriptures, is God’s Word to us or is it only the story of the Jewish people?” “Does the Tanakh prophesy about a Messiah who is to come?” “Has anyone lived who fulfilled these prophecies?” “Did Jesus fulfill them?” I knew that if I received a “no” answer to any of these questions, my study would be over. But if each question produced a “yes” answer I was in serious trouble because the last thing in the world that I wanted to believe was that Jesus is the Messiah.
The next days, weeks and months were filled with study for me. After a few days, I took a leave of absence from my business so that I could have more time to study. I read the entire New Covenant, or the New Testament, and a good portion of the Tanakh. I went to the library and obtained books about the Jewish religion and Jewish history. I talked to rabbis. I studied the prophecies of in the Tanakh. I don’t know how many prophecies it contains about the Messiah, but I came up with a list of over 40 of them. And it staggered me to realize that Jesus fulfilled each of them! Of particular significance to me in my study was Jeremiah 31 where God promised a New Covenant to the Jewish people! How could I have been 50 years old and not known of this promise? And then there was Proverbs 30 which spoke of God’s Son, and Psalm 22 which revealed Jesus hanging on that tree, and Isaiah 53 which explained that our sins were placed upon him and he was punished in our stead, and Daniel 9 which prophesied that Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed by the prince who would come, after the Messiah had been cut off! I knew when these things took place. They happened in the year 70CE! I was stunned by this revelation. I remember writing, “Either the Messiah came and died before the year 70 or the Bible is merely the story of the Jewish people and not the word of God!” The more I thought about the Scriptures I studied, the more convinced I became that Jesus really is the Jewish Messiah. And that is something I did not want to believe!
But I decided to attend a meeting of “Messianic Jews,” Jews who believe that Jesus is the Messiah. At this meeting I met a woman named Lillian. When she found out I was not yet a believer in Jesus, she offered me her Bible and asked me to read Exodus 20:2-3 aloud to her. I opened the Bible and read: “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” When I finished reading, Lillian asked me to close the Bible and then said: “Tell me Stan, who is your God? Is He the God of our Fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob or are you worshipping false Gods like your business, your home, your wife, your children? What do you spend time thinking about? Who do you worship?” I was struck by Lillian’s questions and realized that I spent my time thinking and even worshiping each of these things, but I almost never thought about God or worshiped him. Lillian’s questions did their work and the pressure within me kept building. I knew that in my heart I believed that Jesus is the Messiah, but I was afraid to confess this with my mouth. I was afraid of the consequences such a decision would have on my life, on the life of my family and on my business. I remember arguing with myself. I remember raising the objections of the Crusades and the Inquisition and the Pogroms and the Holocaust. As if to answer each argument I would raise, on the inside of me I would hear: “Yes, but it’s true!”
The next day, 3 July 1975 at 7:15 in the morning, the pressure within finally found its release. It burst forth from my lips. Jesus is our Messiah! Jesus is my Messiah. And I received him as the Lord of my life.
The Messiah’s Way to Me
I have studied the Scriptures diligently in the years since then. And you must know that if I was concerned in 1975 that Jesus is who he declared himself to be, I am even more convinced today.
In Deuteronomy 4:29 we read “If thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and all thy soul.” It was in the Scriptures that I sought the Messiah. And it was through the Scriptures that he revealed himself to me.
So you see, the title of this chapter shouldn’t be ”My Way to the Messiah.” It really should be “The Messiah’s Way to Me.”
Kjaer-Hansen, Kai, ed. The Death of Messiah. Jerusalem: Caspari Center, 1994 (Ch. 19)