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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Jonathan Bernis » Jonathan Bernis - One Jewish Man's Story of Faith in Jesus

Jonathan Bernis - One Jewish Man's Story of Faith in Jesus

Jonathan Bernis - One Jewish Man's Story of Faith in Jesus

Jonathan Bernis: Shalom, and welcome to Jewish Voice. Thank you for joining us today. I'm Jonathan Bernis. As many of you know, I'm a Jewish rabbi, and I'm also a believer in Jesus. Now, to some of you, that may seem confusing, but I wanna share how, and why that happened on today's program. Ezra, thanks for joining me again today.

Ezra Benjamin: Great to be here.

Jonathan Bernis: Ezra is also a Jewish believer in Jesus and our vice president of global ministries affairs here at Jewish Voice. Well, Ezra. We're Jewish believers in Jesus, and for some that seems strange. We're Jewish believers in Jesus, and for some that seems strange.

Ezra Benjamin: It does, Jonathan, and we're gonna talk about why that's not only not strange, according to the scriptures, but actually, the destiny of God for the Jewish people, for his chosen people. And you know, I was reflecting, Jewish Voice turned 55 this year, or turning..

Jonathan Bernis: We did. I'm not the founder by the way, I wasn't around.

Ezra Benjamin: Right, but...

Jonathan Bernis: I was a little kid.

Ezra Benjamin: From the '60s on, either on radio, or then about a decade later, on television, we've been on TV over 40 years, not me, but we, the main reason we're on the airwaves, originally, in the vision of the founder, was to share testimonies with the Jewish community and also with the Christian community, of Jewish men and women who had come to faith in Jesus as Messiah.

Jonathan Bernis: Yeah, pretty much exclusively, first on radio, and then on television, Jewish Voice was focused on Jewish people telling their stories on finding Jewish people that had had an experience with the God of Israel, that had had an experience with the God of Israel, and come to discover that Jesus, we call by him by his Hebrew name Yeshua, was the promised Messiah. And so, they would travel to different parts of the country, sometimes gather people at a conference, or go to a conference, and then they would tape people as they told their testimonies of how they had come to know Jesus as Messiah.

Ezra Benjamin: Right and thinking back to the timing of all of this, something very interesting was happening, many of you watching today will remember this, it was the Jesus movement in America, wasn't it? And within the Jesus movement, you know, hundreds of thousands, millions of young men and women receiving Jesus as Lord, a subset of those receiving Jesus were Jewish.

Jonathan Bernis: Yeah, and they were coming to the Lord in profound ways, miraculous ways. I met Louis and Chira Kaplan watching Jewish Voice as a brand-new believer. The founders of Jewish Voice. The television program was actually hosted by Chira Kaplan who was a Finnish believer. She had a Finnish accent and it was a bit strange, but it was so compelling. Because as I heard the Jewish person share their testimony, point after point connected with my life. And I said, "That's what happened to me. That's what happened to me". And I don't know if I wrote to the Kaplans, or somebody wrote on my behalf, but a couple of years later, I was a guest on the program, and that's how I became friends with the Kaplans.

Ezra Benjamin: And here you are hosting it today.

Jonathan Bernis: Here I am...

Ezra Benjamin: A couple decades later.

Jonathan Bernis: Yeah.

Ezra Benjamin: So, Jonathan, you know, these days you're leading of the largest ministries to reach Jewish people with the gospel in the earth, but that, of course, wasn't always the case. There was a before Jesus life for Jonathan Bernis. And we're gonna talk a little bit about that today.

Jonathan Bernis: There was indeed. And I don't like to talk about it too much. Our producer kinda pushed me along and said, "Tell some of the stuff you don't usually tell". So, that's what I'm gonna do today. So, that's what I'm gonna do today. I'll just start by saying I was born in a very typical American Jewish household where Jewish identity was important, but orthodoxy was not part of our tradition. So, I didn't wear a yamaka, a head covering. We didn't keep a kosher home. My father did, but then left that after his father died. But Jewish identity was very, very important to me, Ezra. And I like to say it this way, I was taught from the time that I was a little boy that Jews don't believe in Jesus. So, Judaism during my day probably was more defined by what Jews didn't believe than what we did believe. There was a lot of debate about what Jews believed. Who is a Jew? And about that time, there was an acceptance of homosexual Jews as being valid. There was a growing number of atheist Jews because of the holocaust. They were accepted and atheist synagogues began to emerge around the United States. There was basically three groups: reformed, conservative, and orthodox, all with different, differing degrees of practice. But the traditional idea that an orthodox Jew believes in the authority of scripture began to diminish, again, post holocaust Judaism. But it's about tradition. It's about retaining identity. I was taught that I was born a Jew, that I would die a Jew, and that was inbred into me, deeply inbred into me as a child growing up.

Ezra Benjamin: Right now, this idea that to be Jewish means to not believe in Jesus, what are the roots of that? Did a rabbi one day just say, "Jesus isn't the Messiah and that's the way it is"? Or was this something much longer term in the Jewish tradition?

Jonathan Bernis: I'll give you a short answer because it's really a long and complicated answer. But we have to go back to the first century, and we see that there was a division when Jesus, we call him Yeshua, emerged on the scene. Many followed him, and the ones that followed him were Jews. We have to understand that that these weren't Christians following him, they were Jews. Jesus was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, his audience were Jews, and a great number of what we call the "Am ha-Aretz", the people of the land, embraced him. Where we have a problem is with the Sadducees and the pharisees. More with the Sadducees and the pharisees, but I don't want to get too complicated.

Ezra Benjamin: Sure.

Jonathan Bernis: And I think it was an issue of power, control, and Yeshua was saying some things that weren't quite in line with the views that were held in that day. He made some statements that were very clear. C.S. Lewis puts it this way, "If you really look at the words of Yeshua, if you really look at the words of Yeshua, of Jesus, he was either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord". He was a liar because he claimed to be the Messiah. And if he wasn't, he was a liar. He made some statements that the rabbis understood were blasphemous. "Before Abraham was, I am". And the rabbis understood what he was saying. He was declaring himself to be equal with God. That's a no no in Judaism, right? There's only one God, unless you are in fact...

Ezra Benjamin: Unless it's true.

Jonathan Bernis: Yes, unless in fact, it's true. So, he's a liar, a lunatic, he's out of his mind, or he is, in fact, Lord. And many accepted him. But there was this standoff with the leadership, and ultimately a decision on the part of the gatekeepers of the people of Israel that determined he's not our Messiah. And there began to be a separation that took well over 100 years to happen, really being finalized about 120 years after the birth, really being finalized about 120 years after the birth, resurrection, the death, resurrection of Messiah, the Bar Kokhba revolt. And then you have a period, I'll just finish with this, of antisemitism, of growing antisemitism, of disputation, of dialogue, of conflict, Jews put to the death in the name of Christ and Christianity. So, we have a 2000-year legacy where the church and the synagogue separate. A moat, a wall is built, and they actually experience hostility. And so, you have two separate religions, them and us. It's not the way it was in the first century.

Ezra Benjamin: So, Jonathan, it sounds like there's two obstacles within the Jewish community as it relates to Jesus. As you said, this kind of rabbinical, final decision, Jesus isn't or can't be the Messiah, and that's the way it is, and then secondarily, as the centuries unfold after the resurrection of Jesus, hostility toward the Jewish people hostility toward the Jewish people at the hands of followers of Christ, followers of Christianity. And so, it's like this double barrier then for the Jewish community.

Jonathan Bernis: Well put. So, let's look at history, just a few examples of history. You have the crusades during the middle ages. Christian armies marched through Europe on their way to conquer Israel and Jerusalem, and murdered entire Jewish villages in the name of Christ with crosses at the front of their armies.

Ezra Benjamin: Right.

Jonathan Bernis: We might say they weren't Christians, but they certainly identified as Christians.

Ezra Benjamin: Sure.

Jonathan Bernis: You look at the Spanish Inquisition later moving into Portugal, 1492 began, ran over 100 years, and you have Jewish believers who are actually imprisoned and killed because they are retaining their Jewish identity, because they are retaining their Jewish identity, when you have Jews that are banished from Spain, forced out of the country, forced out of Portugal, again, in the name of Christ and Christianity. Burned on the stake, those that were forced to convert to Christianity, and then retained their identity, burned at the stake in the name of Christ and Christianity. You have the pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe in the name of Christ and Christianity, and then it culminates in the holocaust, where you have Germans wearing a cross on their uniform, a twisted cross, but nevertheless, a cross, telling Jews, “we kill you because you killed our God, Jesus Christ.” Ezra, how can a Jew come out of that history and embrace Christ, the one that was responsible for the murder of 6 million Jews? Responsible for this horrific history?

Ezra Benjamin: So, Jesus, the Jewish Jesus, the Jewish Messiah and the Savior of the world the Jewish Messiah and the Savior of the world is swallowed up in centuries of history of atrocities committed against the Jewish people in the name of Christ.

Jonathan Bernis: And becomes the God of a religion that hates Jews.

Ezra Benjamin: And is unrecognizable to the Jewish people.

Jonathan Bernis: Unrecognizable. And yet, we're saying, “wait, he's our Messiah.”

Ezra Benjamin: Right. But you can see the obstacles, I hope you can see the obstacles against the gospel going to a Jewish person.

Jonathan Bernis: And that's what we're dealing with. Can it be overcome? Yes, it can. Because the scriptures are very clear, he is the Messiah of Israel, and the Savior of the world.

Ezra Benjamin: Amen.

Jonathan Bernis: We have to take a break, but before we do, I need to let you know that we need your help right now. I know that you may be presented with a lot of different opportunities to give, but please know that your support of Jewish Voice is truly making a difference. Please, take a moment to listen to our announcer, and please consider joining us as a monthly shalom partner. And please consider joining us as a monthly shalom partner. You'll be changing the lives of Jewish people. We'll be right back.

Jonathan Bernis: We honestly could not do this work without you. Thank you for your generous giving, and especially for joining Jewish Voice as a monthly shalom partner. Your ongoing support of this ministry is so valuable. We appreciate you so much. So, thanks again. Well, Ezra, we're continuing the journey. I understand we have some pictures.

Ezra Benjamin: We do. And we'll dive right in. We promised you a testimony, and a testimony you shall have. So, we talked about, you know, the diabolical nature of the enemy to sow not only a mass rejection of Jesus on the part of Jewish leadership, but also Christian hostility toward the Jewish community. So now, fast forward the better part of two millennia. And here's the young Jonathan Bernis. We have some photos we'll put up.

Jonathan Bernis: With this mentality that Jesus isn't for me.

Ezra Benjamin: That's right.

Jonathan Bernis: And Ezra, I call it very simply an us and them mentality. We're Jews, we're born Jews, we're to die Jews, and anyone else is a Christian or a gentile. We didn't distinguish between the two. It's an ingrown community and that's part of survival, 2000-year survival. And so, when I was approached with people, I was part of a group called young life for a while in high school. And when I was approached with considering Jesus, and when I was approached with considering Jesus, I immediately said I'm Jewish, and the person apologized to me. So, they were reinforcing this erroneous idea that Jesus isn't for me as a Jew, it's for the Christians, it's for the gentiles.

Ezra Benjamin: Right. And maybe you're listening, and you've done the same thing out of courtesy, out of respect for a Jewish person. When the gospel's refused with the answer,"I'm Jewish," and you say, "I'm sorry, I didn't know". It's just, maybe what our audience hadn't considered, Jonathan, is that it just reinforces that Jesus is the God of the Christians, and the Jews have their own way to heaven, to their own way to salvation.

Jonathan Bernis: Right.

Ezra Benjamin: And it's not the case. Scripturally, it's just not that case.

Jonathan Bernis: Jesus was just not an option.

Ezra Benjamin: Right. So here, maybe you're embarrassed to say, I'll say, here's the young on the left, the childhood, and then the teenage football playing Jonathan Bernis.

Jonathan Bernis: Yeah. So, I'm probably three years old here, and my brother, I think I intentionally cropped him out at some point, my brother. So, my sister sue and my mom, beautiful fan, she just passed away last year, she just passed away last year, but raised us with a very strong sense of Jewish identity. I went to temple regularly. I learned Hebrew. I had a bar mitzvah. That was all incumbent upon my parents. So, I went kicking and screaming twice a week to Hebrew school.

Ezra Benjamin: Right, like most good Jewish boys and girls in north America.

Jonathan Bernis: So, that's me with hair. And then got into sports. My brother was more of a hippie. This is the '70s. He got into drugs. I was two and a half years younger. I went for the sports. I wasn't great, but I played defensive line in high school. And then after high school, in my senior year, in the transition between high school and college, I got involved with drugs. I don't know if you can see my glazed eyes here on the right picture, but I started to get involved with smoking pot, and that led to heavier things. And I was searching. I was searching because the Bible says that we have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge as Jews. And so, I found that drugs were a pathway into a supernatural realm. And I wanted answers. I wanted answers to why I'm here. I wanted answers to what's going to happen to me after I die. I wanted answers about what's going to happen to the world, what's my destiny and purpose. And that began a journey into pot and other drugs.

Ezra Benjamin: Other harder drugs.

Jonathan Bernis: Looking for answers. Looking for answers.

Ezra Benjamin: And so through all the substances and the search, eventually you're confronted with the gospel message.

Jonathan Bernis: I am now. Now, by this time, I was involved in quite a few drugs without going into name, sometimes I refer to myself as an unlicensed pharmacist. So, let's just say I explored with many different drugs. So, let's just say I explored with many different drugs. I got involved in a group called the grateful dead, actually connected to the band members, Jerry Garcia, and bill kreutzmann, and became friends with the band. And we started sharing drugs together. That was a wild psychedelic scene. And in the midst of that time of fun, and I was having fun, I'm not going to tell you that I was wayward and miserable. I was having fun. A girlfriend who was a drug explorer with me accepted the Lord, came back into my life, and began to witness to me, and would not stop. She was relentless.

Ezra Benjamin: And did you present the same resistance? "I'm Jewish, don't talk to me about this". I mean, what was your thinking as she's sharing this with you relentlessly?

Jonathan Bernis: Yeah, she was so committed, and she was calling so often. I never got that far. And she would bring up the questions that I was asking, "Why do you think you're here on this earth? What's your purpose? What's going to happen after you die"? And I reached a point where I said, "I don't want to talk to you anymore". But once she would call, I would end up picking the phone up and talking to her for an hour or 2 hours. Ezra, I like to say it this way. I believe in free will, but God stacks the deck when people are praying. You need to know that. You need to hear this. God stacks the deck when people are praying. Yes, there's free will, but prayer changes things. I didn't know this, but she had her Bible study praying for me, her new Bible study. She had her new church praying for her Jewish friend. And something began to change in my life that led me to a Bible study. And I didn't want to go, but I went. And I drove through the pouring rain in a motorcycle to get to the Bible study. That's what prayer does. And I went to this Bible study, and I immediately felt out of place, but something began to happen at that study. That study was the beginning of a change in my life, that study was the beginning of a change in my life, because at that study, I was confronted by the Bible study leader with questions about separation from God, and sin, and eternal destiny. And it really made me think.

Ezra Benjamin: Something's going on inside you, something feels different about the study. What happened?

Jonathan Bernis: I actually experienced a spiritual battle. It was like an angel on one shoulder, and a demon on the other. I'm serious.

Ezra Benjamin: A classic, yeah.

Jonathan Bernis: I felt the presence of God in the room, although I didn't understand what the presence of God was. I felt something going on in my heart, and I would hear, “you've gotta do this.” “don't do this.” this is your future.” “oh, you'll have to give up everything.” it's back and forth. And so, finally I prayed a prayer, because this was so intense, I just wanted it to be over. So, I mumbled some prayer about accepting Jesus. But it wasn't something I was really agreeing to, in my mind. I went home, I tried to forget it, but about two, three days later, I had this urge to read the Bible out of nowhere.

Ezra Benjamin: Wow.

Jonathan Bernis: Something changed, and I couldn't push it away. So, the search for a Bible is a whole story that I don't have time to tell. I didn't know where to find a Bible.

Ezra Benjamin: Right.

Jonathan Bernis: I knew I couldn't go to the rabbi, I knew I didn't have friends to go to, they were all drug users and dealers. Somebody had given me a Bible years earlier, and I threw it in a bag in my parents' house in my closet, and I drove, almost 100 miles by motorcycle to get that Bible.

Ezra Benjamin: Wow.

Jonathan Bernis: By the way, there's a message here: the Word of God never returns void, don't give up. Your household shall be saved, don't give up. So, found the Bible, drove back to my dorm room, I'm a sophomore now, in the dorms, I open the Bible to the book of Matthew, I open the Bible to the book of Matthew, and I saw what I expected, Jesus Christ, the Messiah. But then I see the lineage, and in the lineage, I see Abraham and Moses, and Ezra, everything changed when I saw Abraham and Moses, because I realized these are Jewish guys in a book that's supposed to be for Christians. Then I discovered that Jesus was Jewish, that his name was Yeshua, I had a little margin, it's a study Bible. That he was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And in the weeks and months that followed, reading the scripture transformed my life because I saw that this was not a book about Christianity, this was a book about my people Israel, and our Messiah, Yeshua. Everything changed.

Ezra Benjamin: That's awesome.

Jonathan Bernis: Hey, I need to take a break. This is so hard to take a break now, but we need to. I wanna tell you how to receive the resources that we're making available today, and also how you can get involved with Jewish Voice. And also how you can get involved with Jewish Voice. I wanna ask you to join us as a shalom monthly partner. Your continued monthly support will quite literally change lives and give us the opportunity to share the gospel with Jewish people and their neighbors living in horrible conditions, desperate conditions. You can make a difference. Stay with us. After this short message, Ezra and I are back to pray with you to come into agreement with you for your needs and the needs of your family. So, don't go away.

Ezra Benjamin: Jonathan, let's close our time together the way we always do, praying for your needs at home. Let's pray together. Lord, we thank you for your faithfulness to Israel and to all those who would call upon your name. Lord, we're praying two things today. We're asking you to impart a burden, the burden of your heart for the salvation of your chosen people on those watching and listening today. And Lord, also in view of your extraordinary faithfulness to Israel, Lord, we take that for ourselves, and we thank you for your faithfulness to meet the needs of those watching today. Financial, spiritual, family related, career related, destiny, stepping into related. Lord, meet those needs and faithfulness in Yeshua's name. Amen.

Jonathan Bernis: Let it be done. Let it be done. Amen. If you'd like more information about our ministry, you can log on to our website, You can log on to our website, You can also send us your prayer request right on the website. We have a team here at Jewish Voice that's committed to praying over your prayer requests and by name, by need. We will pray for you, believing in the power of God in prayer that he will answer you, because God cares about you. He loves you. Well, as we close the program, I want to remind you of what God asked each of us to do on a daily basis. He says, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem". Psalm 122:6: "May they prosper who love thee". So, may you prosper as you bless Israel and the Jewish people. Until next time, this is Jonathan Bernis and Ezra Benjamin, saying shalom and God bless you.
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