During the reign of the last Czar, the Jews of Russia were often cruelly persecuted, mobs rushing into the Jewish quarters to rob, wound and even kill.
As at that time America had an open door for everyone, thousands of Jewish families, as well as congregations with their Rabbis, left insecure homes in Russia for the United States.
The Synagogue in which one of these congregations worshipped in New York was near a Presbyterian Church. The Rabbi, named Jacobs, told me that the minister, Rev. Dr. Bell, greeted him warmly and exchanged a few words with him. Dr. Bell also showed his friendly attitude toward the Jews by attending one of their Sabbath services. On meeting the minister the following day, the Rabbi told him how pleased he had been to see him in his Synagogue; whereupon Dr. Bell invited him to visit his Church. Mr. Jacobs remarked that although he was curious to see a Christian service, it would be wrong for him to enter a Church. His people, hearing of it, would also doubt this orthodoxy. however, one Sunday he ventured to go to the morning service. Looking around him, he was shocked to see men and women sitting together. In the orthodox Synagogue women are not allowed to join in public worship, they have to sit in the gallery. He felt like leaving at once, but remained, fascinated by the hearty singing of the congregation.
Jacobs felt a spiritual atmosphere, and realized the Presence of God. He had not known that Christians read the Old Testament, so was thrilled when the minister read the 35th chapter or Isaiah, and also when a Psalm was sung. Then Dr. Bell engaged in prayer.
The Rabbis read their prayers, but here he heard for the first time a spontaneous prayer, including petitions for individuals families, nations, and even for the Jews. This surprised him. Hitherto he had thought that all Christians despised and hated the Jews; here, however, they prayed for God's blessing on them. This impressed him deeply, The text of the sermon was Christ's gracious invitation: "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" the preacher said that no prophet, no poet, no king had ever ventured to utter such words; that Christ alone had the power to satisfy every heart, to offer to everyone freedom from care, from sorrow, fear and sin. The entire service was to him a new and inspiring experience.
The next time they met, the Rabbi told Dr. Bell that his beautiful service had thrown a new light on Christianity. He had felt it to be a spiritual and uplifting power; but he knew that if his elders were to hear of him having been to a Church service, they would condemn him, even kill him if they could. Dr. Bell said: "That is what the Pharisees and Priests did to Jesus; they often tried to kill Him, and finally made the Romans crucify Him. Perhaps you would like to read that remarkable story in the New Testament?" Jacobs said that no orthodox Jew was allowed to read that book. "Why not?" asked Dr. Bell, "most of it was written by Jews. It contains the message of the God or Israel, and as God appeared in human form to Abraham, even so did He appear in the person of Jesus of Nazareth."
Not long after this conversation Dr. Bell gave the Rabbi a small parcel. On reaching home he found that in contained the dreaded New Testament. He gazed at it, praying that God might protect him from evil. While turning over the first pages, he noticed Jewish names; Bethlehem and Jerusalem were also mentioned. This encouraged him to read on. The lovely story of the birth of Jesus greatly impressed him.
As some passages were not quite clear to Jacobs, he gladly accepted Dr. Bell's offer to read the Bible with him. The better he understood and appreciated the new truths, which Christ revealed about God and man, the more eager he was to continue. Another time Dr. Bell explained what Christ had said about Himself- "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but by Me." The longer the Rabbi meditated on that text, the more precious Jesus Christ became to him. Now he understood the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, formerly so mysterious to him. The Sun of Righteousness rose upon him with healing in His wings, and now he rejoiced in Christ as his Savior.
The Rabbi loved to read St. Paul's epistles; he appreciated the Apostle's ardent love for Christ; his own heart was aglow with love for Him. Jacobs new felt that he should confess Christ to his own people, though he foresaw the dreaded consequences. At a meeting with his elders he told them that he believed Jesus to be the promised Messiah. This news startled them. They thought he was mad or possessed. He wanted to explain his faith, but they refused to listen. Soon a storm of bitter persecution broke out, and to save his life he had to leave that part of the city.
He told Dr. Bell how terrible painful it was to be despised and hated by those who once loved and trusted him, but he considered it a privilege to endure hardship for the sake of Christ, Who had suffered so much for him.
The Rabbi's eldest son, Elijah, had remained in Russia. When he heard that his father had become a Christian, he was so distressed that he decided to sail for America to persuade him to return to the Jewish faith. The father, knowing that his son would have to wait in Hamburg for many weeks for a boat, sent him my address, and also wrote to me about him.
Elijah, though a fanatical Jew, came to our mission house to speak to me. Seeing so many Jews in my bible class, be stayed and listened to my talk on the parable of the prodigal. At the close he told me that the story of the prodigal son did not interest him specially, He had known several such young men, but he had never heard of such a loving father. He considered it a marvelous picture of God. He was so impressed by it that he came regularly to all the meetings in the mission house and the Church. God's spirit worked in him mightily, He learned to love the Lord Jesus, and was converted. I baptized him, and as a happy Christian he sailed to join his father in New York.
Later, Jacobs called to see me in Hamburg. He was on his way to Palestine to preach the Gospel of Christ. His heart's desire was that his own people should come to know the saving truth: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth may in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3: 4-16).
By Arnold Frank
Printed in the Hebrew-Christian Magazine, "Jewish Hope" In 1972 This was a work by Dr. A.U. Michelson, A Judge Before His Receiving Christ In Los Angeles.
Apparently this story happened about 100 years ago.
Reprinted in June 1997 by Dennis Ballard.