Friday, April 25, 2008

HEAR AND LIVE ! (By Ernst Loewy)

"Far better to be blind than deaf!" This was the considered opinion of a dear friend of mine who is hard of hearing. "After all," he continued, "those to whom sight is denied keep in close touch with the world around them through an intensified sense of hearing. They arc able to enjoy music and they can converse with others, whereas we are shut up to ourselves and cannot really communicate. If only we could hear!"

Yet many who have been endowed with the faculty of hearing do not exercise it to receive God's communication to us. "O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord," was the cry of Jeremiah of old. "If only you had paid attention," was the lament of Isaiah to an even earlier generation. Again and again the Bible draws our attention to the importance of listening carefully; "He who has ears, let him hear." Any organ of our body which we do not use will deteriorate, and it is a solemn fact that if we turn a deaf ear to God, our ear will turn deaf. The following paragraphs will illustrate how God's promise was fulfilled in the life of the writer: "Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live" (Isaiah 55:3).

Earliest Days

Born into a Jewish home in Berlin, Germany, I am able to look back on a very happy childhood. My parents were in a position to grant the wishes of their children, so that very little, if anything, remained to be desired. But I remember even in those far off days a longing after deeper things. Unfortunately, neither my father nor my mother had any religious convictions; on the contrary, they had rather inclined toward agnosticism. Consequently, the only way I could give vent to my feelings was by uttering a little prayer which one of our children's maids had taught me.

Another event stands out from my childhood days, namely, an open-air meeting held by the Salvation Army on a Sunday afternoon in one of the open squares of Berlin. Our family had gone for a walk and as we passed by, the service was in full swing. I cannot remember anything about the message given, for none of us were interested enough to stay and listen, but the last line of a chorus which they sang impressed itself indelibly upon my mind. "Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?" Strictly speaking, these words did not convey anything to me, but the challenge they presented could not be evaded. God did not allow me to forget them, but from time to time, they would be on my lips and in my heart, "Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?" What about it?

Adolescence

Years passed, pleasant, carefree years, yet all the time the storm clouds were gathering. The hydra-headed monster of anti-Semitism was stalking through the land, gaining followers everywhere. In January 1933, a wave of persecution was unleashed which grew in intensity, reaching dimensions unparalleled in the history of mankind. It did not leave our immediate family unscathed either, although God in his goodness preserved us from irreparable loss.

The inauguration of the Third Reich influenced the life of every Jew within its reach and, though only a teenager at the time, I was no exception. My high school education was cut short and, having always been interested in electromechanics, I was apprenticed to become a tradesman. About this time my real soul struggle began.

A legion of questions occupied my mind. Why this sudden outbreak of fury? Why should so many innocent people suffer? Why did God allow all this? Why did he not intervene? why? Why? WHY? The religious instruction received at high school could not supply the answer to any of these and many other queries. Not in any way bigoted, my parents had allowed me to learn the Old and New Testaments at school, but the prevailing rational approach to the Bible had robbed us of reverence for it, leaving me with a greater void in my heart. Consequently I turned to the one and only path open before me, the synagogue. I began to study Hebrew, knowing that it would help me to enter more deeply into the services and thinking it would be a good preparation for going to Erets Israel when that way would open up.

However, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." Our family decided to emigrate to South Africa and although left at liberty to stay behind to pursue my plans regarding what was then Palestine, I came to the conclusion that it would be best to leave the circle unbroken and set out with my parents for "Africa's golden shore."

A New Beginning

Busy months followed during which every one of us had to shoulder his part of the responsibility of making a new home. I must pay special tribute to my mother's selfless efforts and unceasing labors which contributed most toward this achievement. But neither this, nor the regained personal freedom in a free country, nor congenial work could end my quest. Regular attendance at the synagogue services, keeping of the dietary laws as far as possible, trying to learn more about the oral law, none of these could satisfy the inner longings of my heart. Friends told me that I was far too serious. "Enjoy life while you are young and leave deeper things to the old people; there is plenty of time later on!" Were they right after all? So far I had not succeeded in my search for truth and for God; was I perhaps chasing a will-o'-the-wisp?

Crisis

During this critical period I made the acquaintance of a Christian who was on the office staff of the firm where I was employed as a scientific instrument maker. The difference between her and the other members of the personnel was so marked that it could not go unnoticed. In the course of numerous conversations I realized that this was the first person I had met who knew God as a living reality. At last one who had not only sought, but found. So there was a way back to God, but oh, how disappointing it was to hear that Jesus Christ was that way. As he said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Christians accept this, but how could a Jew believe in the one whose followers have persecuted us throughout the centuries? (I had yet to learn the difference between Gentiles and Christians. While the former may participate in acts of violence and hatred, the latter love our people.)

The very idea seemed so absurd that I tried to put it out of my mind once and for all; but in vain. Judaism had been "weighed in the balances, and found wanting!" If there is no other way besides Jesus Christ, what then? Pride and prejudice barred the road to further inquiry, but God dealt with them in his all-wise manner. He suddenly took away a very good friend of mine while in the prime of life, and this proved a great shock to me. Where would I have gone if the call had come to me instead? "But that is quite impossible," argued the adversary of our souls, "you are even younger than he was, healthy and strong; don't worry about it." Yet God showed me that such a possibility was not nearly as remote as we may think. An accident on a plateau of Table Mountain, which might have been fatal under different circumstances, was a further warning not to delay. "Prepare to meet your God, 0 Israel" was the message of the prophet of old. "Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near."

A Deepening Conviction

Remembering that my father had sought comfort and consolation in the Bible at a time of crisis, I also turned to this precious book. Following the counsel of that Christian friend, I began reading in the Old Testament, namely, the prophecy of Isaiah. Nobody, except perhaps one who is utterly indifferent, can read the messages of this zealot and remain untouched; they did not fail to make a profound impression upon me. "A virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call his name Immanuel." Who else could this be, but the prophet of Nazareth? "For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." What son or child would dare call himself El Gibbor? Only Yeshua, who claimed to be one with the Father. "See, a king shall reign in righteousness .... Each man will be like a shelter from the wind ... and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land." Again, no one fitted into this beautiful picture but "the man born to be king"; the Anointed, the Rock of Ages.

Thus the light became brighter day by day and my conviction deepened. "You were sold for nothing, and without money you will be redeemed." What balm to a troubled spirit! But the reading of Isaiah 53 brought the peace so keenly sought. In it the sufferings of the Messiah on behalf of Israel and the world at large are depicted in sublime language. "Surely he took our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted." This was the superficial view once held by myself and by multitudes of my Jewish brethren all over the globe. Now, however, the eye of faith looked beyond the external. "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity f us all."

These solemn verses led me to the knowledge of the truth of God, and in him, who is the true center of Israel, I found the answer to my every problem. Confessing my sin and unworthiness, I looked away to Jesus Christ, my Corban (atoning sacrifice), suffering anguish, dying in my place,

and I received him into my heart by faith. That night anther one of the wandering "lost sheep of the house of Israel" returned to the fold of the redeemed; home at last!

God's Call to Service

The newly-found joy in the Messiah, the peace of heart, the assurance of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life were exceedingly precious in the difficult days that followed. Severe tests of faith were encountered, but nothing could undo God's work of grace in my heart. It was my earnest desire to make this blessed salvation known to others, and some months later I heard God's call to my present sphere of service. It came through the words which commissioned Ezekiel, the prophet, to his life task. "Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me."

Epilogue

That was years ago. But throughout all this time it has been a great joy to serve the Master, in spite of multitudinous difficulties and trials. As long as life shall last it will be my privilege to invite my Jewish brothers and sisters with the words of that great Jew on the shore of the Galilean lake centuries ago: Matsanu et hamashiah! "We have found the Messiah." Hear, and live!

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