How I Got into the Jewish Roots of Our Faith
By Ed Vasicek
I have been highlighting the Jewish Roots of our evangelical Christian faith since about 1995. During the entire course of my pastoral ministry, since 1979, I had focused upon both the Old and New Testaments the entire span of my ministry; my convictions have been that all Scripture is inspired, and ALL is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16-17). My interest in Jewish Roots has greatly deepened my understanding of God’s Word; this interest developed via a number of convergences.
First, a little background. I was raised in Cicero, Illinois. I came to know the Lord during my senior year in high school. My conversion experience began a compelling draw to the Scriptures. I could see that the church (in which I had been raised) disregarded some obvious Scriptural teachings, and a school friend invited me to a very Bible-oriented church, Cicero Bible Church. On January 13, 1974, at the age of 17 — in the middle of my senior year of high school — I understood that Jesus Christ had paid for all my sins at Calvary; I simply needed to trust His sacrifice as sufficient for my salvation. I did! About a month later, I followed the Lord in believer’s baptism.
I began growing quickly. I read the Bible so much that my eyes were sore. I began reading other books to help me gain my bearings, such at Roland Bainton’s “Here I Stand,” the biography of the great reformer Martin Luther. His posting of the 95 Theses is the event used to mark the beginning of the Reformation in 1517.
But a few weeks after I came to know the Lord, a Christian friend lent me his 33 and 1/3 LP album titled “Lamb II.” This was the Messianic Jewish group’s second CD (the year was 1974). This was my first exposure to Messianic Judaism.
I had been saved for about a year when Cicero Bible Church offered a “guided tour” of
a regular (non-Messianic) synagogue. Our host was a Moody Bible Institute student enrolled in the “Jewish Studies” major. He explained what we were about to see, and how Jewish beliefs differed from ours. He taught about the differences between Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Congregations. This visit served as seed; seeing Jewish worship “in action” offered a start to my “Jewish Roots” quest.
Less than two years later, I sensed a compelling call to pastoral ministry; now I – not just the tour guide — was a student at Moody! I met several Messianic Jewish students at the school, and I remember attending a Passover Seder demonstration; the students explained the Messianic symbolism in the ritual, much like Sam Steven, Bill Currie, or Boris Goldin had done for us here at Highland Park Church.
I graduated from Moody in 1979 and assumed the pastorate of Victory Bible Church in Chicago. The humble church building was a converted storefront located less than a mile from Comiskey (White Sox) Park. It was during this time that I began dating and then married Marylu (I was a bachelor pastor for 1.5 years, darting around Chi-town on a moped). During the 4.5 years I pastored there, a couple of Jewish people visited our church and made professions of faith in Jesus. The fact I did not ignore the Old Testament was something they respected. They did not remain long in our congregation, however. One gal connected to Moody Church (where she could find some other Jewish believers), and the young man fell away from the Lord.
When I came to Kokomo in late 1983, I continued my policy of preaching 50-50 Old Testament and New. A number of events heightened my interest in Jewish Roots, but I will only mention a few of them. The first was a sermon series I preached on “The Feasts of Israel” in 1995.
A few years earlier, a pastor friend phoned me and asked if I had any information on the Feasts. I told him I owned some basic commentaries, but had nothing special to offer. I remember thinking, “Why would anyone want to preach on the Feasts? That would bore everyone to tears!” Yet in 1995, a few years later, I felt led to preach on the Feasts myself! I had picked up Warren Wiersbe’s book on the subject, and accumulated a few other resources. That series was not only well-received by the congregation, but it changed my thinking.
During this same era, I was introduced to the Messianic congregation Simhat Yeshua in Indianapolis. We scheduled their music team to do a concert on a Sunday evening at our church, and one of the visitors at the concert was Sam Stevens. When I first saw Sam in the crowd, I thought, “Now if that man doesn’t look Jewish, nobody does.”
Let me take you back in time. Sam had been participating in Simhat Yeshua before I ever met him. Yet when I met him, I recognized his name immediately. Sam had pastored the Burke Street Bible Church (this church no longer exists) and was the pastor at that church when I first came to Kokomo in 1983. Although I had never met Sam, I saw his name in the yellow pages ad, and I think maybe we had spoken on the phone. Maybe. Shortly after I arrived, Sam left the pastorate at Burke Street, and eventually left pastoral ministry.
Forwarding to get back on track, Jane Stevens nabbed me after the Simhat Yeshua music team had ministered here at HPC. She told me her husband, Sam, had developed a Tabernacle model. She wanted to know if our church would be interested in inviting Sam to present the model and its meaning to our people.
When I brought the idea to our board, the elders embraced it with enthusiasm. Soon Sam and I became very good friends. To this day, when Sam enters a room, I cannot help but smile. We are haverim (friends).
Sam blessed me in another way: he connected me to books that I did not know existed. Books like, “Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel” and “The Jewish New Testament Commentary” by David Stern. I continued to learn much from Sam, and we enjoyed sharing what we each learned from our research.
Soon enthusiasm for Jewish Roots spread throughout our congregation and became one of the hallmarks of Highland Park Church. You may have noticed the “Highland Park Church” cross, developed by Barri Burtch. Within the cross you will find the colors of the Tabernacle! We helped Sam promote his Tabernacle model ministry, and one of our ladies even did the sewing for his High Priest’s robe. Like Sam, Suzette Albright began participating in both our church and the Messianic congregation.
Our church became “state of the art” in 1996 when we acquired internet service (and developed our own website). With the internet, Jewish Roots information that had previously been buried in piles of dusty books was now out in the open via Messianic websites, the Talmud online, and the Jewish Encyclopedia, to name a few . Even John Gill’s commentaries — which include numerous Talmud and other Jewish source quotations (Gill lived in the early 1800’s) became available for free online. Our forefathers enjoyed only a fraction of the information available today.
Since 1995, I have read (and continue to read) a quantity of books and articles on this important subject. You can find reviews to some of these books by following the link on our church’s website under the “Pastor Ed Vasicek” section.
When we began our 2.5 year study on the Life of Jesus (we did this from 2001 through mid 2003), many of you read Jewish Roots books like, “Jesus, the Jewish Theologian,” or “Yeshua” as part of our church-wide program. The sermon series incorporated a Jewish Roots perspective, and the weekly handout notes are available in the “Biblical and Doctrinal” section of our website.
In the early 1960’s, a Jewish scholar by the name of David Flusser took an interest in the Christian synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). He recognized that Jesus’ teachings were quite similar to the teachings of other rabbis from the era. Although Flusser never became a Christian, he did confess that he would not be surprised to learn that the Messiah had come, and that His Name was Jesus.
Flusser began an organization (now known as the “Jerusalem Perspective”) to study the Synoptics in this light, and a variety of evangelical scholars soon got on board. This group has produced numerous articles that have helped me grow in my understanding of Jewish Roots.
I have strong opinions and deep convictions about careful Bible interpretation; I can be a real stickler. I am therefore hopeful that the broader Christian world will get serious about interpreting the Scriptures within their original Jewish context. The goal of a good interpreter is to try to accurately understand what was in the mind of the writer/speaker, and to understand how what is said would have been understood in the original context. Thus if we are to accurately understand Scripture, we need to appreciate the Jewish Roots of New Testament faith.
My two books, The Midrash Key (about the teachings of Jesus in light of Jewish Roots backgrounds) and The Amazing Doctrines of Paul As Midrash are my attempts to hone the meaning of the New Testament in light of its Jewish background.