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The Jewish roots of Christianity

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By Zola Levitt

Zola Levitt

This article appeared originally in the March 1999 Personal Letter.

My “Christian birthday”

Each year around March I contemplate my “Christian birthday.” I came to the Lord on March 14, 1971, through the urgings of Campus Crusaders at Indiana University. They challenged me to read the Scriptures, particularly the Book of John. I went by night, like Nicodemus, to the campus director’s home and bought a New Testament bound by itself (what Dr. McCall, our ministry senior theologian refers to as “The Amputated Bible”).

When I read John’s cosmic views of the Lord and the plan of salvation, I realized that I was reading Jewish writing about a Jewish Messiah, and a Jewish way to God. All the Campus Crusaders might have been Gentiles, but I knew Jewish thought when I read it.

My prayer of 28 years ago was extremely simple. I said to God, “If you’re there, show me.” An open-minded look at the life I have led since that moment would have to conclude that He has indeed shown me wonders.

What was important

I was a musician back then and I wrote articles as the cultural editor of the Indiana University News Bureau. However, within a few weeks my job (and my studies for my doctorate in music) seemed irrelevant; what was important was taking to the world the message I had received through the kindness of Campus Crusade and the magnificent Book of John. What was particularly important in my mind was somehow getting that message to the Jews.

It is a tragedy that the Jewish people don’t read the Bible, but they don’t, and that’s all there is to that. They carry it around, they touch it with their prayer shawls and then kiss the shawls, and they revere it. But they don’t read it verse by verse and study it as God’s Word.

They claim that the law being prescribed by the rabbis comes right out of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), but it doesn’t. Plain and simple, it amounts to the works of men to express outer righteousness and very little of it is prescribed in Scripture. For example, not eating the meat of the pig is commanded in Scripture, but there is no commandment to separate milk from meat, or the dishes and pots and pans thereof. Wearing fringes on the garment, as on the ends of the prayer shawl, is given in Deuteronomy 22:12, but nowhere does Scripture prescribe that the Jew must cover his head. It’s not these areas of minutia that concern me, but the fact that the Jews are missing out on prophecy, the crucial importance of Israel, and, most decisively, the Messiah Himself. What an irony of history that this marvelous book of God’s words — the leading Israeli export to the whole world — is not understood by Jews.

My Books

I set out to do something about that. I began by writing a book, Satan in the Sanctuary, with Dr. Tom McCall. Tom at that time headed up a mission to the Jews, what we used to call a Hebrew Christian congregation, and is now called a Messianic synagogue. I well remember the day that Tom acquainted me with the fact that I was a Messianic Jew, not a typical designation in today’s church, but very popular in the first century. At one time, of course, all the Christians were Jews (see our series “The First Christians,” filmed in Israel with descendants of the very people who first received Christ). I was glad to hear Tom’s ideas because I thought I could never master eating ham sandwiches on white bread with mayonnaise!

The Lord made a best-seller out of that book and subsequent others. Soon I had a radio talk show for an hour a day. There I met a variety of Christians including Hal Lindsey, J. Vernon McGee, and various other Scriptural teachers, as well as Madeline Murray O’Hare and other less-spiritual spokespersons. In any case, I learned a great deal doing that program.

On Television

After four years or so, the local affiliate of the Christian Broadcasting Network called and encouraged me to get on television. They pointed out that I had a built-in local radio audience that would tune in, and besides, they said, they liked my style, “We love you, Zola,” they said. I said, “Yes, but how much do you love me?”

I went on television with my own money and simply paid all the air time and production bills out of the royalties from my books. I lost $12,000.00 in six weeks. All my friends, including my accountant, pleaded with me to give up the idea, but I was one of those new believers who knows nothing but to trust God and I continued to do that and pay the bills. Just when I was about to go broke, the national program director for CBN called Ken Berg, my producer, and expressed interest in what we were doing.

(I always want to remember to say that following God does not mean being careless with money or launching some new career. If those things are required, God will make that crystal clear, and that is what happened to me.)

I flew to Virginia Beach with my Passover program and urged him to consider putting this Jewish witness on CBN. He was a prayerful man and, after taking a night to think it over, he agreed.

From then on, my same program shown to a few thousand local viewers was seen by hundreds of thousands of national viewers. Their donations rescued me from bankruptcy and went on to help us establish the fine ministry you see today. We were approached by the other networks, expanded our air times, and steadily improved our production values until we compared with any program on television.

Our Israel Tours

The Israel tours, which I had taken infrequently, now became a regular event in our ministry, so I was able to make a living without drawing more than my opening day salary from donations, and that remains true today. I “moonlight;” the speaking engagements that I do, the royalties I receive, and the tours provide me with support. I work for the ministry “wholesale,” in effect. Twenty-eight years of this has been wonderful and I pray that I can do 28 more.

But, in my heart of hearts, I think the King will come by then and it won’t be necessary to minister in this fashion anymore.

The Finest Gift

As for the Jews, they came in good measure and, everywhere I go, I meet Jewish people who were “saved through Zola’s ministry.” That is the finest gift of them all and the one I appreciate the most. This letter is meant as a heartfelt thank-you to every one of you for your prayers, support, good wishes, fine letters, and all the rest. I have become acquainted with many Christians of various levels of “success” or “importance,” but I have never met a happier believer than myself. Thanks again.

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