A Debt to Pay
Question 20 people on the street about why America has risen to become a land of such power and plenty, and you are likely to hear 20 different answers. There can, of course, be little doubt that the reasons for this country’s rise to greatness are many and varied. There are, however, two underlying factors which cannot be ignored in any attempt to explain the how and why of the United States.
America has been the land of the Bible. Freedom to preach, teach, and distribute the Word of God has been a central fact of life for successive generations of Americans. Our sons and daughters have been sent to carry the word of life to people scattered in the most remote regions of the world. Contributions from American Christians provide the means for sending Bibles and literature to established and emerging nations. Believers in the United States finance, equip, provide, staff, and beam the message via radio to people who would never otherwise hear the truth.
There can be little question that our freedom to transmit the Word of God has been a vital element in the flood of blessing coming to this nation.
The second cause which has held open the door to divine favor, and we must hasten to add long suffering, is seen in the fact that the Jewish people have found in America a safe haven from persecution. Certainly there has been a measure of anti-Semitic injustice, even in the land of the free, and the recent upsurge in anti-Semitic activity is of deep concern. Still, by and large, Jewish people have been unhindered in their pursuit of prosperity and happiness.
And although it is a theme well-known to many of us, it is essential to keep the focus on the biblical promise laid down in Genesis 12:3, if we are to understand just how the Jewish people are related to God’s favor being lavished upon this country.
“And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”
Most Americans, and even many of us believers, fail to recognize the sweeping implications of the statement before us. Too often, I’m afraid, we reduce they will bless them that bless thee” to a balance sheet evaluation: Be kind to Jewish people, and God will be good to you. This is clearly a shortsighted and deficient view. We must understand who these people are and what, in the economy of God, their future holds. The Jewish people are:
A covenant people—Genesis 17:1–21;
A people loved by God—Jeremiah 31:3;
A divinely preserved people—Jeremiah 31:35–37;
A people with a radiant future—Deuteronomy 30:1–10; Romans 11:25–29.
We might also observe that the standard God will use when He calls the nations to the bar of divine judgment will be their treatment of the Jewish people (Joel 3:1–3; Mt. 25:31–46).
Thus, we can rightly conclude that the presence of the Jewish people in any Gentile country is a matter of critical concern for that nation’s future. To this point, it can be said that America has been good to the Jew. But, conversely, one can also say that the Jew has been very good to America and the world. Unfortunately, this fact has been too frequently buried under the petty insinuations which have made Jewish people the butt of bad jokes and mindless accusations. In reality, we are all daily beneficiaries of the rich legacy resident Jewry offers a nation.
In the field of medicine alone, Jews have made contributions touching us all in one way or another.
Albert Sabin, a Polish immigrant, and Jonas Salk, son of a New York manufacturer, eradicated polio as a national problem with their vaccines.
Bela Schick, who came to this country from Austria, delivered thousands of Americans from the scourge of diphtheria.
Ernest Boris Chaim developed the penicillin which was manufactured in the United States for worldwide distribution.
Fernand Widal’s typhoid fever vaccination spared the Americans in Europe during World War I from the ravages of the dread disease. He was the same man who discovered the damaging effects from too much salt in the body and instituted the low-salt diet which is at this moment extending the life expectancy of many who are reading this magazine.
The list of names of Jews who have contributed to our health and welfare seems endless. As a matter of fact, 20% of all Nobel Prizes in medicine, through 1960, were awarded to Jewish people.
The Greatest Gifts
There is, however, a resident reality that outstrips every other contribution these gifted people have made to our world.
“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which, being interpreted, is God with us” (Mt. 1:23).
Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, entered our world through the womb of a Jewish virgin, walked on earth as a Jew, and finished the work of sacrificial redemption on a Roman cross outside the walls of the Holy City, Jerusalem. To attempt to measure the blessings and benefits flowing from this fountainhead would strain the limits of eternity. He is the fathomless gift God presented to us through Abraham and his people.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
A companion fact is found in the gift given to the Gentiles in the person of Saul of Tarsus, the Apostle Paul. He explains his call and the course of his ministry this way: “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the Gentiles” (Gal. 1:15–16).
Paul saw himself ever thereafter as a man with a debt to pay. “I am a debtor,” he says, “both to the Greeks and to the barbarians; both to the wise and to the unwise” (Rom. 1:14).
Every church spire in the western world stands to attest to how well Paul discharged his obligation to evangelize Gentiles. It is safe to say that there is not a believer on the face of this earth who has not been touched by the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul.
God saved a Jew, set him apart for the work of the ministry, and sent him to the pagan nations. In so doing, he transformed history. But the transformation did more than alter the stream of human history. Through his work and God’s Word, our Lord molded the composition of eternity. Heaven today is peopled by millions who have entered there from the Gentile nations along avenues paved with the saving gospel first laid down by a Jewish workman.
A Debt to Pay
If Paul, as a Jew, labored under an overwhelming sense of debt to take the saving gospel to Gentiles, shouldn’t we feel an equal obligation to take the message of life in Christ to Jewish people? The answer to that question is too obvious to be put into words—a simple “yes” will do. Fuse unembellished logic with the clear command of Scripture, and we receive an intensely personal mandate.
“For I,” proclaimed Paul, “am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).
Our Lord graciously raised up the people of Abraham to bring blessing and life to pagan Gentiles; the result is the Church. Unfortunately, the people of privilege, with the exception of the ever-present saved Jewish remnant within the Church, missed the essence of the message they were sent to deliver, and so they are included in the mandate given believers to take the gospel to “all men,” everywhere.
In a day in which many Christians have become too sophisticated to pay much heed to the command to proclaim the gospel to dying men, we must press the point: We are debtors—debtors who, sharing a sense of obligation born from the privilege of being saved, proclaim Christ to the people who have given us so much.
Some time ago, I was doing several interviews in preparation for an article I was writing for Moody Monthly. The piece was to be about the reemergence of anti-Semitism now troubling the country. I was interviewing a Jewish senator, a long-time friend, and we were discussing some of his personal experiences. After an extended recounting of unpleasant encounters, he rocked back in his chair and looked at me intently.
“You know, Elwood,” he said, “I think every Jew in this country must, when he experiences some of these things, look around at his circle of friends and acquaintances and ask himself a question—I know I do. The question is this: “If an Adolf Hitler were to rise up here in America, who, among these people, would give me a place to hide?”
I think you’ll agree that his was a penetrating and disturbing question—but one which can only truly be answered by showing him and his brethren in the flesh the hiding place prepared in the Messiah. To do so is to pay the debt we owe to those from whom we have received so much.