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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Jonathan Bernis » Jonathan Bernis - Discovering The Real Jesus of Nazareth

Jonathan Bernis - Discovering The Real Jesus of Nazareth

Jonathan Bernis - Discovering The Real Jesus of Nazareth

Jonathan Bernis: Shalom and welcome to Jewish Voice. Thank you for joining me, I'm Jonathan Bernis. In the United States alone, there are millions of people who are Jewish, perhaps you may even know a few. How you can engage in a conversation about your faith with them? Well, on today's program, Ezra Benjamin and I are going to walk you through the process and equip you to relate to your Jewish friends. Ezra, good to have you back.

Ezra Benjamin: Great to be here.

Jonathan Bernis: Talking about our favorite topic.

Ezra Benjamin: That's right.

Jonathan Bernis: Sharing the revelation of the Messiah of Israel with the Jewish people.

Ezra Benjamin: The one who said, "I have not come but for the lost sheep of the house of Israel". Who's also, of course, the Savior of the world.

Jonathan Bernis: He said it. Look at your red letter edition. It's in there.

Ezra Benjamin: Amen. So, Jonathan, before we equip our audience with how to reach their own Jewish extended family member or coworker or neighbor, let's talk about the authority you have to teach on this topic. And that is that you received Jesus as a Jewish young man, became a Jewish believer and then eventually were called not too long thereafter into full time Jewish ministry. Now, that's quite a transformation. It's a double transformation. Right?

Jonathan Bernis: Well, yeah. I became a believer 42 years ago, at age 20, after a number of things that I think were orchestrated by God. One is a longing to know my identity and purpose. Now, my identity was clearly taught to me as a child, a young child. You're Jewish. You're born a Jew, you'll die a Jew. The survival of our people are important. But God was this distant force, Ezra. He was unreachable. He spoke to Moses, he spoke to Abraham and then he departed the scene. And so, there wasn't the idea of a personal relationship with the living God. I got involved in a group in high school called, "Young life" and they believed in Jesus, and they had a different God. I saw him as a different God, but I was drawn and I thought it was very compelling that their God was very personable, healed the sick, raised the dead, cared about people, was very present. But when anyone tried to share with me, to personalize that story and ask me to receive Jesus, my response immediately was, "I'm Jewish".

Ezra Benjamin: So, you were interested in the God of the Christians, in Jesus but you understood, "That's for them, not for me. I'm Jewish, therefore, I don't believe in him".

Jonathan Bernis: Exactly. The persons of Jesus was compelling but my training forbid me from them. We were Jewish and anyone else was a Christian or a gentile. Them. And after 2000-year history, we talked about that in the past, of anti-semitism, "I wasn't one of them. We and them. But I'm happy for you".

Ezra Benjamin: Yeah, exactly. And I wonder how many of you watching today have a Jewish friend, a Jewish colleague who is also drawn to what you believe but also has this kind of rehearsing narrative in their mind, "That's for the Christians, not for us. We're Jewish. We don't believe in Jesus". There's a number of...

Jonathan Bernis: What they failed to tell me at that time, and I wish someone had, is that Jesus was Jewish, that all of the first disciples were Jews. I went to a Bible study after, well, I'll show you this picture. I was in sports, good Jewish family. There's my sister, sue, my brother, Dave, was out of the picture. But I got involved in wrestling and sports. My brother was into drugs. But then when I was a senior in high school, I got involved in drugs and I believe it's a part of the reality that Jewish people are seeking after God without knowledge and so we look in the wrong places. We look in the cults, we look in the occult, we look in Jewish mysticism. There's many Jews practicing hare Krishna and some of the Eastern mystics are Jews. So, got involved in drugs and that's what I focused on in high school. Got involved in the grateful dead and the cults and occult things. And then a girlfriend came to faith, and she began to ask me questions that I had been asking myself during that drug journey. "Why am I here? What's gonna happen to me after I die? What's my destiny"? And I went to a Bible study with her, and I was confronted with sin and separation from God, and I had this battle in my mind or in my heart. The demon in one ear, the angel in the other. "It's your time, Jonathan. This is true. This is your destiny". "No, you'll have to give up everything". Long story short, when I read the scriptures for myself, the New Testament, in fact, I discovered how Jewish it was and I went through a transformation and came to a place where I believe that Jesus, Yeshua was my Messiah, my promised Messiah but I had a dilemma. I'm studying business administration, I'm now feeling a call to share what I've learned with my people, a call to full time ministry that I sensed was on my life, what do I do? How do I become a leader, a spiritual leader?

Ezra Benjamin: So, let me just summarize, make sure I understand you right. So, you go to this Bible study, there's this, if you will, a spiritual battle. You feel compelled to pray a prayer of, you know, the sinner's prayer to get saved.

Jonathan Bernis: I wasn't compelled, I was kinda pushed into it.

Ezra Benjamin: Right. Yeah, through forces, you know, beyond yourself. You prayed the prayer, and you feel like nothing changes but something started to change when you encountered the scriptures and realized Jesus was actually Jewish and for the Jewish people.

Jonathan Bernis: Yeah. I actually, just the pull to read the Bible was a change but when I read it, everything changed.

Ezra Benjamin: Wow.

Jonathan Bernis: Because you discovered that somebody hadn't told me something that wasn't true. The rabbi, my parents. That this was a book for the Christians, but it was about Jewish people. This was about a Jewish Messiah born of Jewish parents in the Jewish land of Israel. I thought Jesus was born in the Vatican, son of Mr. and Mrs. Christ. And here is the New Testament, a book about Jews.

Ezra Benjamin: The Jewish Jesus we can say.

Jonathan Bernis: The Jewish Jesus.

Ezra Benjamin: And all you had to do was open the book.

Jonathan Bernis: I never did though. But when I did, it changed my life. And I believe it'll change your life too. So, now I have this dilemma. I'm called to ministry. What do I do? After three years of studying business administration, I ended up pursing a degree in Jewish studies and early Christianity. Took a number of postgraduate courses and then like anyone called to ministry, I found that there was a body of Jewish believers, Messianic Jews, that actually had an ordination process. And I followed that process and became a Messianic rabbi, an ordained Messianic rabbi, and I started the congregation in upstate New York, Rochester, New York and, Ezra, you were in that congregation.

Ezra Benjamin: I was.

Jonathan Bernis: We don't have much time but I've gotta show these pictures. This is me starting out in ministry, in Rochester congregation, Shema yIsrael, in our building, in our new building and then the next one is celebrating Sukkot, the feast of tabernacles. And, Ezra, there you are hidden in the second row, wearing the...

Ezra Benjamin: Wearing the "Where is Waldo"? Shirt.

Jonathan Bernis: Little Ezra, who today, is the vice president of our global affairs here at Jewish Voice. So, the Word of God doesn't return void and, "If you raise a child in the way they should go, they shall not depart". So, here's a beautiful picture of what God is doing all around the world with Jewish people coming to faith in their Messiah. Love that picture.

Ezra Benjamin: So, let me just back up a bit, Jonathan, you're a new believer and you're in a business program at a university, in the eyes of the unbelieving Jewish world still a salvageable path here. Right? Yeah, he's a little confused but he's going for business, but something compels you to take a different path, to go the ministry route which is an anathema in the unbelieving Jewish world to become a Jewish believer who's reaching other Jewish people with the gospel. Talk about that. What was it that was happening inside you that you said, “I can't say no.”

Jonathan Bernis: I can only say that I knew that I knew very early on that this was my destiny, this was my purpose in life, and I fought it. By the way, how do you know that it may very well be God? You fight it because there's just something in your gut that says, “I'm supposed to do this.” and there's a cost. That's God. There was a cost. I can see the same thing with the disciples. I'm giving up everything here.

Ezra Benjamin: That's right.

Jonathan Bernis: So, it took me about a year, by the way, for this process, so I finished another year of business administration so now I've got three years invested in business. My parents have been paying the bills and I can't do it anymore. I know that I'm called to ministry. One of the verses that God used in a very powerful way was Haggai 2, where it talks about the latter glory of the temple and “I'll pour out my spirit.” and I just knew that the application for me was he wanted a period of Israel to experience his latter glory. It was gonna be greater than any time in history. And I felt I was being invited to that.

Ezra Benjamin: To participate with the Lord in the greater things ahead that he had for the Jewish.

Jonathan Bernis: Yeah, and it became clear in Romans 9, 10 and 11 later that God is faithful, and he's declared, “I'll preserve the Jewish people. I'm not done with the Jewish people and the day will come when the blindness covering their eyes will be removed and when it does, it will have an affect on the rest of the nation”. So, it will affect the church. It will affect your family. Their rejection brought you salvation, when they come back, life from the dead.

Ezra Benjamin: Right and that's, I wanna pause there for a minute to make sure you're hearing that at home. The call to the Jewish ministry that so many of us, Jonathan, men and women, Jewish believers in Jesus are called into ministry is to encounter the God of history in his everlasting plans for a people and for all peoples. And then to realize, “and I get to be a part of this.”

Jonathan Bernis: Yeah, and also the realization, what I was taught as child was right. My Jewish heritage meant something, and it was, none of the early followers of Yeshua in the first century converted to another religion. They lived as Jews, they impacted the community and then many were sent to the gentiles as well to bring them into what was a Jewish faith. And I knew that was my destiny and I've known for 42 years. It's never changed. I need your help today. Your support of this ministry, Jewish Voice is making a difference in the lives of Jewish people and their neighbors. You can transform lives forever. Here's how.

Jonathan Bernis: Welcome back to the program. Ezra, before we get back into this discussion, which I love talking about this. Ezra loves talking about this. I want to take a moment to say "Thank you". We honestly, we couldn't do this work without you. So, 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 appreciated. You're so appreciated. So, again, thank you. Now, Ezra, us, being Jewish believers here is just a sign of hundreds of thousands of other Jewish believers. It's a sign that God is faithful to his word. He's fulfilling his word.

Ezra Benjamin: That's right. Not because of us, in spite of us. You know, from the beginning, you know, when God calls out Abraham, and then Isaac, and Jacob, and Jacob's twelve sons who become the twelve tribes. The Lord makes it very clear, even as we're coming out of Egypt being brought from slavery to freedom, he says, "Don't think I did this because you're the largest of all people, you're the most faithful or the strongest". He says, "You're the weakest, you're the most stubborn, stiff-necked people on the face of the earth but I love you, therefore, I'm entering a covenant with you". And God is the ultimate promise keeper, Jonathan. From generation to generation.

Jonathan Bernis: So, he says, one, "I'll preserve you as a people as long as the sun shines by day and moon and stars by night". I talk about it in a number of my books. The second thing he promises, "I will bring you back to your land". Which he has in 1948, Jerusalem restored in 67. But then he says, "I will bring you back to myself. I will bring you back and give you a heart of flesh". And I have seen that. That has been one of the things that I have shared in my testimonies, that God opened up an invitation to me back in 1990 to go to Russia and that's part of my testimony. It's an important part of my story. I went to Russia for the first time, 1990, and I met Jewish people in st. Petersburg, in Moscow, spent six days there. And I had the privilege of leading more Jewish people to faith in their Messiah than I had in about ten years of ministry in the United States. And that lead to these festivals of Jewish music and dance. Here's a picture of one and you can see this concert hall, it's actually looks smaller than it is. This concert hall was a 4,000-seat hall, Ezra, almost entirely Jewish people coming for three nights. Thirteen thousand people. This is in 1993 and this is an altar call after I shared my testimony in st. Petersburg, and this became a Messianic Jewish congregation in the former Soviet Union. It started with about 400 people and is still functioning today. This is the first altar call of that ongoing outreach, the festivals of Jewish music and dance.

Ezra Benjamin: Right. And you know, Jonathan, I'm just reflecting here. The Lord, you know, you get saved, you receive Jesus as your Messiah and then the Lord asks for your "Yes" because he wants to impact the Jewish community in upstate New York. And then the Lord asks for your "Yes" because he has in mind a huge, multi-city Jewish community throughout former Soviet Union, and we could go on. I mean, there's pictures here of people coming to faith during those hours.

Jonathan Bernis: These are in bath houses. We're immersing. And this isn't conversion to Christianity, this is a Jewish act of immersion that was part of the history of Israel for 2,000 years, at least 1,500 previous to Yeshua. So, we're renting bath houses and immersing hundreds and hundreds of Jewish believers, new Jewish believers in the name of the Messiah and their lives are completely changed.

Ezra Benjamin: And just to be abundantly clear here, these aren't Jewish people who say, "I was Jewish, but I became a Christian". These are Jewish men and women, hearing a Jewish presentation of the Jewish Jesus who came first for the lost sheep of the house of Israel and they're receiving him as the Messiah.

Jonathan Bernis: That's the picture of the New Testament. That's what's happening in the New Testament. It's not, "I've come to bring you a new religion". No. He's coming to help the amharics, the people of Israel understand what was the heart intent of Abraham, Isaacs, Jacob, Moses, the laws of Israel and he was bringing fullness. He's bringing a new message only in the sense that he was personalizing it and saying, "I've arrived. The one that you've read about in the prophets is here to give you eternal life".

Ezra Benjamin: And the Lord asks for your "Yes" yet another time. Not the final "Yes" but a significant "Yes" in the history of Jewish Voice ministries. Not only to reach kinda of what we can call main line Jewish communities like the former Soviet Union but then to expand that reach to scattered Jewish communities or lost tribes like the Ethiopian Jews.

Jonathan Bernis: It wasn't my plan. It's nothing that I thought that I'd be doing but my life has been such an adventure. Maybe you're on the fence and you're wondering, "Do I have to give up all of these things I really enjoy"? And the answer is, no, God has a better plan for you, a greater plan. He wants to use you to help others. Ultimately, if wealth and fame and power are what you're seeking, you have bad goals because they should ultimately be goals of how to change the world. How you can better the world. And God is inviting you into that today. And I've never wanted to turn back.

Ezra Benjamin: There's that quote, "He is no fool who gives what he can never keep, to gain what he could never earn".

Jonathan Bernis: Good. So, true. And that's how the doors to Ethiopia and Zimbabwe have opened, Ezra. That's how the doors are gonna open for you and other remote areas of the world. Ultimately, our heart at Jewish Voice is the redemption of the world. "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son". But we understand that there's a key missing that has to open a door and that key is Israel coming back and recognizing who Yeshua is and saying, "Baruch Habba B'Shem Adonai - blessed is he who comes". And that will unlock, that little key will unlock a huge door to the nations. It's coming.

Ezra Benjamin: The Lord is alive and on the move, Jonathan. For Israel and for the nations. Now, we promised our viewers before we run out of time, if somebody has a Jewish colleague, a Jewish extended family member, a Jewish neighbor and they feel this burden like we're talking about to this pull to say “yes” to the Lord, to be a light in that person's life. To share the gospel with them. But that's where the trail ends and they say, “I really have no idea how to do that.” and it feels like there's gonna be so much resistance and opposition. Give some practical advice, John.

Jonathan Bernis: Well, here's a general principle you need to understand. Nobody comes to the father, except through the son. So Yeshua's the way, the truth and the life. But nobody comes to the son unless the Spirit of God draws them. So, to just pound somebody with the apologetics or scripture when they're not at that place isn't gonna bear much fruit. What's going to bear fruit is loving them, is letting them see that there's something different about you. I was drawn by my assistant wrestling coach in high school who ran a young life group that I became involved in because I saw the joy in his life, because I saw the sense of purpose and destiny in his life and I wanted what he had. He was provoking me to jealousy. That's what Romans 11:11 talks about. That the gentiles, that the Christians have been brought into a relationship with the God of Israel, the Messiah of Israel with the responsibility to provoke the Jewish people to jealousy. Sadly, we have a 2000-year history of provoking. It's provoking to jealousy. So, it's the love, it's the sense of purpose, it's the peace that passes all understanding, it's demonstrating that consistently to that person, that Jewish person in your life. That's a huge issue.

Ezra Benjamin: It is. So, it's not your job, to be clear, to bring somebody across the doorstep into the kingdom. Only the script of God can do that, but it is your job, it's all of our job, Jonathan to open up our mouth and proclaim the good news.

Jonathan Bernis: Yes. We walk our talk, and we proclaim in a tactful way. We pray. When you pray, people's life changes, the heart changes. Pray, get people to pray by name or that person. It makes a difference. I'm living proof of that. And then the third thing is learn some of the scriptures that reveal Messiah from the Tanakh, from the Torah, the writings, the prophets and look for opportunities to share those. Like Isaiah 53, Jeremiah 31 and so on. We have so much more. We have materials that we have available on that but those are just a few things. Just love them, be consistent for them, let them see Messiah in you. Your continued monthly support will literally change lives through our medical outreaches, through our water purification programs but most importantly through the proclamation of the gospel. Ezra and I are gonna come back and pray with you and your family because God loves you and answers prayer. We'll be right back.

Jonathan Bernis: In the remaining few seconds that we have left on the program, I wanna bless you. Ezra and I speak life to you. We speak healing to you and your family members that need healing. We speak divine provision to those who need divine provision. We speak wholeness and restoration, and we command hopelessness to go and be replaced with hope. We say faith, receive the faith of God to believe that he is watching over you. That he sees you. We command the presence of God to meet every need in your life in the name of Yeshua, in Jesus' name, amen. If you'd like more information about our ministry, you can log on to our website You can also send us prayer requests right on the website. We have a team here that is faithful to pray for you and your need by name because we care but more importantly, God cares. We believe in the power of prayer, and we know that God hears. As a we close our program today, I also wanna remind you that God will hear your prayers for the peace for Jerusalem. He commands us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and tells us in Psalm 122:6, "May they prosper who love thee". So, don't forget to pray for Israel this week and you'll be prospered. Special thank you to Ezra for joining me today and until next time, this Jonathan Bernis, saying "Shalom" and God bless you.
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