Despite being impressed by the claims of Christianity at a meeting he attended at school, a teenage pupil didn’t think it was for him because he was Jewish.
But when the speaker assured him that this was no barrier, Nick Howard committed his life to Christ, and subsequently discovered that key sections of the Old Testament (the Jewish Bible) were “all about Jesus”.
The son of former British Conservative Party Leader Michael Howard, Nick grew in his faith and is now an Anglican minister in New York, married to Betsy and in the early stages of establishing a new church in Manhattan, where up to 20 per cent of the population is Jewish.
Nick’s background was in liberal Judaism and as such did not involve regular synagogue attendance or strict observance of food laws. But he was proud of his Jewish heritage and had his bar mitzvah ‘coming-of-age’ ceremony when he turned 13.
“I was very conscious of the suffering experienced by my family during the Holocaust – my great-grandmother was murdered at Auschwitz…,” he recalls.
However, it didn’t give him the answers to life’s biggest questions, particularly the inevitability of death.
“It seemed to make everything I was doing pointless…Why put so much exertion into living when death makes all that striving utterly meaningless?”
Then, at 15, he went along to a meeting organized by a Christian group. “I was eager to hear a new explanation of life that might finally answer my questions.”
A pastor named Jonathan Fletcher spoke on a sentence from the Bible: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3.14,15)
“In other words, when Jesus was lifted up on the cross, he made it possible for people to live forever,” Nick understood. “Moses was addressing the problem of a plague of venomous snakes during the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites. God provided the remedy of a bronze snake fixed to a pole so that, whenever someone was bitten, they could simply look at the bronze snake and live.
“Jonathan explained that our rebellion against God was more serious than a lethal snakebite, but that Jesus was willingly nailed to the cross to solve that problem by taking the punishment for sin that we deserved. All we have to do is ‘look and live’.
“I knew immediately that eternal life would transform everything for me. But one significant matter still had to be addressed. So I said to Jonathan afterwards: ‘I’m Jewish, so I suppose this isn’t for me’.”
“But he replied: ‘Jesus himself was Jewish! He’s the Jewish Messiah – the one the Jews were waiting for down the centuries. If you follow him, you’ll be following your own Messiah.’ ”
Nick, now 39, was greatly reassured to hear that he could believe in Jesus and still be Jewish. “So I began following Jesus that evening and gratefully received the gift of eternal life.”
But it was not until his third year of following Jesus that lifestyle changes started to kick in after he saw the need for Christ to be Lord of his life.
“Jesus said: ‘Whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.’ (Mark 8.35) It meant the loss of my right to live life my way – like getting drunk with my friends. But if living for Jesus required major changes to my life, I didn’t want to implement them without being convinced that he really was the promised Messiah.
“I desperately wanted Christianity to be true, but that wasn’t enough. It had to be the truth before I was willing to live it out.
“When my indecision was at its height, I suddenly remembered a talk I’d heard at school on the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus from the dead: the empty tomb with the absent body no-one could account for, and the appearances Jesus made after his death, which had the effect of turning devastated followers into joyful standard-bearers for the faith.
“I knew I’d been thoroughly convinced, at the time of hearing that talk, that the evidence demonstrated Jesus did indeed rise from the dead. And it was this that persuaded me to remain on ‘the narrow road that leads to life’ (Matthew 7.14) whatever the consequences.”
When Nick read Isaiah chapter 53, he was amazed to discover it was all about Jesus. A friend of his, who is also a Jewish believer, likes to say that Jesus fits the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah like a finger fits its own fingerprint.
“In the light of all this, you might well ask why so few Jews believe in Jesus. One answer is the sad history of persecution by Christians, and another is because so few have heard that it is possible.”
Isaiah 52.7 says: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news… who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”
We need more Jonathans in the world, Nick concludes. “May God raise up many others like him to tell Jewish people throughout the world to look with faith at Jesus, their Messiah, and live forever.”
Much of this narrative is taken, with Nick’s permission, from The Gospel Coalition’s account of his story. See their website at www.thegospelcoalition.org