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Did Jesus and Jesus alone match the identity of the Messiah?
The passages below are taken from Lee Strobel’s book, “The case for Christ,” which was published in 1998. He was the former legal editor of The Chicago Tribune and he used his journalistic skill to investigate the evidence for Jesus. He said that he “had been living a profane, drunken, self-absorbed and immoral lifestyle” until “his heart had shrunk to the point where it was rock hard toward anyone else.” After a personal investigation that spanned more than 600 days and the interviewed of numerous experts, his verdict in the case for Jesus was overwhelming and clear. He then decided to take the experiential step to accept Jesus Christ as his Savior. He turned to John 1:12 (NIV), “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” And his mathematical formula for entering into an ongoing personal relationship with Jesus Christ by becoming adopted into God’s family is:
believe + receive = become
He is currently a teaching pastor at Saddleback Valley Community Church in Lake Forrest, California.
In the Jewish Scriptures, which Christians call the Old Testament, there are several dozen major prophecies about the coming of the Messiah, who would be sent by God to redeem his people. In effect, these predictions formed a figurative fingerprint that only the Anointed One would be able to match. This way, the Israelites could rule out any impostor and validate the credentials of the authentic Messiah.
The Greek word for “Messiah” is Christ. But was Jesus really the Christ? Did he miraculously fulfill these predictions that were written hundreds of years before he was born? And how do we know he was the only individual throughout history who fit the prophetic fingerprint?
There are plenty of scholars with long strings of initials after their names whom I could have asked about this topic. However, I wanted to interview someone for whom this was more than just an abstract academic exercise, and that took me to a very unlikely setting in southern California.
THE NINTH INTERVIEW: LOUIS S. LAPIDES, M.DIV., TH.M.
Usually a church would be a natural location in which to question someone about a biblical issue. But there was something different about sitting down with Pastor Louis Lapides in the sanctuary of his congregation on the morning after Sunday worship services. This setting of pews and stained glass was not where you would expect to find a nice Jewish boy from Newark, New Jersey.
Yet that’s Lapides’ background. For someone with his heritage, the question of whether Jesus is the long-anticipated Messiah goes beyond theory. It’s intensely personal, and I had sought out Lapides so I could hear the story of his own investigation of this critical issue.
Lapides earned a bachelor’s degree in theology from Dallas Baptist University as well as a master of divinity and a master of theology degree in Old Testament and Semitics from Talbot Theological Seminary. He served for a decade with Chosen People Ministries, talking about Jesus to Jewish college students. He has taught in the Bible department of Biola University and worked for seven years as an instructor for Walk Through the Bible seminars. He is also the former president of a national network of fifteen messianic congregations.
Slender and bespectacled, Lapides is soft-spoken but has a quick smile and ready laugh. He was upbeat and polite as he ushered me to a chair near the front of Beth Ariel Fellowship in Sherman Oaks, California. I didn’t want to begin by debating biblical nuances; instead I started by inviting Lapides to tell me the story of his spiritual journey.
He folded his hands in his lap, looked at the dark wood walls for a moment as he decided where to start, and then began unfolding an extraordinary tale that took us from Newark to Greenwich Village to Vietnam to Los Angeles, from skepticism to faith, from Judaism to Christianity; from Jesus as irrelevant to Jesus as Messiah.
“As you know, I came from a Jewish family,” he began. “I attended a conservative Jewish synagogue for seven years in preparation for bar mitzvah. Although we considered those studies to be very important, our family’s faith didn’t affect our everyday life very much. We didn’t stop work on the Sabbath; we didn’t have a kosher home.”
He smiled. “However, on the High Holy Days we attended the stricter Orthodox synagogue, because somehow my dad felt that’s where you went if you really wanted to get serious with God!”
When I interjected to ask what his parents had taught him about the Messiah, Lapides’ answer was crisp. “It never came up,” he said matter-of-factly.
I was incredulous. In fact, I thought I had misunderstood him. “You’re saying it wasn’t even discussed?” I asked.
“Never,” he reiterated “I don’t even remember it being an issue in Hebrew school.”
This was amazing to me. “How about Jesus?” I asked. “Was he ever talked about? Was his name used?”
“Only derogatorily!” Lapides quipped. “Basically, he was never discussed. My impressions of Jesus came from seeing Catholic churches: there was the cross, the crown of thorns, the pierced side, the blood coming from his head. It didn’t make any sense to me. Why would you worship a man on a cross with nails in his hands and his feet? I never once thought Jesus had any connection to the Jewish people. I just thought he was a god of the Gentiles.”
I suspected that Lapides’ attitudes toward Christians had gone beyond mere confusion over their beliefs. “Did you believe Christians were at the root of anti-Semitism?” I asked.
“Gentiles were looked upon as synonymous with Christians, and we were taught to be cautious because there could be anti-Semitism among the Gentiles,” he said, sounding a bit diplomatic.
I pursued the issue further. “Would you say you developed some negative attitudes toward Christians?”
This time he didn’t mince words. “Yes, actually I did,” he said. “In fact, later when the New Testament was first presented to me, I sincerely thought it was going to basically be a handbook on anti-Semitism: how to hate Jews, how to kill Jews, how to massacre them. I thought the American Nazi Party would have been very comfortable using it as a guidebook.”
I shook my head, saddened at the thought of how many other Jewish children have grown up thinking of Christians as their enemies.
A SPIRITUAL QUEST BEGINS
Lapides said several incidents dimmed his allegiance to Judaism as he was growing up. Curious about the details, I asked him to elaborate, and he immediately turned to what was clearly the most heartrending episode of his life.
“My parents got divorced when I was seventeen,” he said---and surprisingly, even after all these years I could still detect hurt in his voice. “That really put a stake in any religious heart I may have had. I wondered, Where does God come in? Why didn’t they go to a rabbi for counseling? What good is religion if it can’t help people in a practical way? It sure couldn’t keep my parents together. When they split up, part of me split as well.
“On top of that, in Judaism I didn’t feel as if I had a personal relationship with God. I had a lot of beautiful ceremonies and traditions but he was the distant and detached God of Mount Sinai who said, ‘Here are the rules---you live by them, you’ll be 0K; I’ll see you later.’ And there I was, an adolescent with raging hormones, wondering, Does God relate to my struggles? Does he care about me as an individual? Well, not in any way I could see.”
The divorce prompted an era of rebellion. Consumed with music and influenced by the writings of Jack Kerouac and Timothy Leary, he spent too much time in Greenwich Village coffeehouses to go to college---making him vulnerable to the draft. By 1967 he found himself on the other side of the world in a cargo boat whose volatile freight---ammunition, bombs, rockets, and other high explosives---made it a tempting target for the Vietcong.
“I remember being told at our orientation in Vietnam, ‘Twenty percent of you will probably get killed, and the other eighty percent will probably get a venereal disease or become alcoholics or get hooked on drugs.’ I thought, I don’t even have a one percent chance of coming out normal!
“It was a very dark period. I witnessed suffering. I saw body bags; I saw the devastation from war. And I encountered anti-Semitism among some of the GIs. A few of them from the South even burned a cross one night. I probably wanted to distance myself from my Jewish identity---maybe that’s why I began delving into Eastern religions.”
Lapides read books on Eastern philosophies and visited Buddhist temples while in Japan. “I was extremely bothered by the evil I had seen, and I was trying to figure out how faith can deal with it,” he told me. “I used to say, ’If there’s a God, I don’t care if I find him on Mount Sinai or Mount Fuji. I’ll take him either way’”
He survived Vietnam, returning home with a new found taste for marijuana and plans to become a Buddhist priest. He tried to live an ascetic lifestyle of self-denial in an effort to work off the bad karma for the misdeeds of his past, but soon he realized he’d never be able to make up for all his wrongs.
Lapides was quiet for a moment. “I got depressed,” he said. “I remember getting on the subway and thinking, maybe jumping onto the tracks is the answer. I could free myself from this body and just merge with God. I was very confused. To make matters worse, I started experimenting with LSD.”
Looking for a new start, he decided to move to California, where his spiritual quest continued. “I went to Buddhist meetings, but that was empty,” he said. “Chinese Buddhism was atheistic, Japanese Buddhism worshiped statues of Buddha, Zen Buddhism was too elusive. I went to Scientology meetings, but they were too manipulative and controlling. Hinduism believed in all these crazy orgies that the gods would have and in gods who were blue elephants. None of it made sense; none of it was satisfying.”
He even accompanied friends to meetings that had satanic undercurrents. “I would watch and think, Something is going on here, but it’s not good,” he said. “In the midst of my drug-crazed world, I told my friends I believed there’s a power of evil that’s beyond me, that can work in me, that exists as an entity. I had seen enough evil in my life to believe that.”
He looked at me with an ironic smile. “I guess I accepted Satan’s existence,” he said, “before I accepted God’s.”
“I CAN’T BELIEVE IN JESUS”
It was 1969. Lapides’ curiosity prompted him to visit Sunset Strip to gawk at an evangelist who had chained himself to an eight-foot cross to protest the way local tavern owners had managed to get him evicted from his store front ministry. There on the sidewalk Lapides encountered some Christians who engaged him in an impromptu spiritual debate.
A bit cocky, he started throwing Eastern philosophy at them. “There is no God out there,” he said, gesturing toward the heavens. “We’re God. I’m God. You’re God. You just have to realize it.”
“Well, if you’re God, why don’t you create a rock?” one person replied. “Just make something appear. That’s what God does.”
In his drug-addled mind Lapides imagined he was holding a rock. “Yeah, well, here’s a rock,” he said, extending his empty hand.
The Christian scoffed. “That’s the difference between you and the true God,” he said. “When God creates something, everyone can see it. It’s objective, not subjective.”
That registered with Lapides. After thinking about it for a while, he said to himself if I find God, he’s got to be objective. I’m through with this Eastern philosophy that says it’s all in my mind and that I can create my own reality. God has to be an objective reality if he’s going to have any meaning beyond my own imagination.
When one of the Christians brought up the name of Jesus, Lapides tried to fend him off with his stock answer. “I’m Jewish,” he said. “I can’t believe in Jesus.”
A pastor spoke up. “Do you know of the prophecies about the Messiah?” he asked.
Lapides was taken off guard. “Prophecies?” he said. “I’ve never heard of them.”
The minister startled Lapides by referring to some of the Old Testament predictions. Wait a minute! Lapides thought. Those are my Jewish Scriptures he’s quoting! How could Jesus be in there?
When the pastor offered him a Bible, Lapides was skeptical. “Is the New Testament in there?” he asked. The pastor nodded. “OK, I’ll read the Old Testament, but I’m not going to open up the other one,” Lapides told him.
He was taken aback by the minister’s response. “Fine,” said the pastor. “Just read the Old Testament and ask the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob---the God of Israel---to show you if Jesus is the Messiah. Because he is your Messiah. He came to the Jewish people initially, and then he was also the Savior of the world.”
To Lapides, this was new information. Intriguing information. Astonishing information. So he went back to his apartment, opened the Old Testament to its first book, Genesis; and went hunting for Jesus among words that had been written hundreds of years before the carpenter of Nazareth had ever been born.
“PIERCED FOR OUR TRANSGRESSIONS”
“Pretty soon,” Lapides told me, “I was reading the Old Testament every day and seeing one prophecy after another. For instance, Deuteronomy talked about a prophet greater than Moses who will come and whom we should listen to. I thought, Who can be greater than Moses? It sounded like the Messiah---someone as great and as respected as Moses but a greater teacher and a greater authority. I grabbed ahold of that and went searching for him.”
As Lapides progressed through the Scriptures, he was stopped cold by Isaiah 53. With clarity and specificity, in a haunting prediction wrapped in exquisite poetry, here was the picture of a Messiah who would suffer and die for the sins of Israel and the world---all written more than seven hundred years before Jesus walked the earth.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
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 to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was stricken.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth....
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
Isaiah 53:3—9, 12
Instantly Lapides recognized the portrait: this was Jesus of Nazareth! Now he was beginning to understand the paintings he had seen in the Catholic churches he had passed as a child: the suffering Jesus, the crucified Jesus, the Jesus who he now realized had been “pierced for our transgressions” as he “bore the sin of many.”
As Jews in the Old Testament sought to atone for their sins through a system of animal sacrifices, here was Jesus, the ultimate sacrificial Lamb of God, who paid for sin once and for all. Here was the personification of God’s plan of redemption.
So breathtaking was this discovery that Lapides could only come to one conclusion: it was a fraud! He believed that Christians had rewritten the Old Testament and twisted Isaiah’s words to make it sound as if the prophet had been foreshadowing Jesus.
Lapides set out to expose the deception. “I asked my stepmother to send me a Jewish Bible so I could check it out myself,” he told me. “She did, and guess what? I found that it said the same thing! Now I really had to deal with it.”
THE JEWISHNESS OF JESUS
Over and over Lapides would come upon prophecies in the Old Testament---more than four dozen major predictions in all. Isaiah revealed the manner of the Messiah’s birth (of a virgin); Micah pinpointed the place of his birth (Bethlehem); Genesis and Jeremiah specified his ancestry (a descendent of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, from the tribe of Judah, the house of David); the Psalms foretold his betrayal, his accusation by false witnesses, his manner of death (pierced in the hands and feet, although crucifixion hadn’t been invented yet), and his resurrection (he would not decay but would ascend on high); and on and on.1 Each one chipped away at Lapides’ skepticism until he was finally willing to take a drastic step.
“I decided to open the New Testament and just read the first page,” he said. “With trepidation I slowly tuned to Matthew as I looked up to heaven, waiting for the lightning bolt to strike!”
Matthew’s initial words leaped off the page: “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham...”
Lapides’ eyes widened as he recalled the moment he first read that sentence. “I thought, Wow! Son of Abraham, son of David---it was all fitting together! I went to the birth narratives and thought, Look at this! Matthew is quoting from Isaiah 7:14: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son.’ And then I saw him quoting from the prophet Jeremiah. I sat there thinking, You know, this is about Jewish people. Where do the Gentiles come in? What’s going on here?
“I couldn’t put it down. I read through the rest of the gospels, and I realized this wasn’t a handbook for the American Nazi Party; it was an interaction between Jesus and the Jewish community. I got to the book of Acts and---this was incredible!---they were trying to figure out how the Jews could bring the story of Jesus to the Gentiles. Talk about role reversal!”
So convincing were the fulfilled prophecies that Lapides started telling people that he thought Jesus was the Messiah. At the time, this was merely an intellectual possibility to him, yet its implications were deeply troubling.
“I realized that if I were to accept Jesus into my life, there would have to be some significant changes in the way I was living,” he explained. “I’d have to deal with the drugs, the sex, and so forth. I didn’t understand that God would help me make those changes; I thought I had to clean up my life on my own.”
EPIPHANY IN THE DESERT
Lapides and some friends headed into the Mojave Desert for a getaway. Spiritually he was feeling conflicted. He had been unsettled by nightmares of being torn apart by dogs pulling at him from opposite directions. Sitting among the desert scrub, he recalled the words someone had spoken to him on Sunset Strip: “You’re either on God’s side or on Satan’s side.”
He believed in the embodiment of-evil---and that’s not whose side he wanted to be on. So Lapides prayed, “God, I’ve got to come to the end of this struggle. I have to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is the Messiah. I need to know that you, as the God of Israel, want me to believe this.”
As he related the story to me, Lapides hesitated, unsure how to put into words what happened next. A few moments passed. Then he told me, “The best I can put together out of that experience is that God objectively spoke to my heart. He convinced me, experientially, that he exists. And at that point, out in the desert, in my heart I said, ‘God, I accept Jesus into my life. I don’t understand what I’m supposed to do with him, but I want him. I’ve pretty much made a mess of my life: I need you to change me.’”
And God began to do that in a process that continues to this day. “My friends knew my life had changed, and they couldn’t understand it,” he said. “They’d say, ‘Something happened to you in the desert. You don’t want to do drugs anymore. There’s something different about you.’
“I would say, ‘Well, I can’t explain what happened. All I know is that there’s someone in my life, and it’s someone who’s holy, who’s righteous, who’s a source of positive thoughts about life---and I just feel whole.’”
That last word, it seemed, said everything. “Whole,” he emphasized to me, “in a way I had never felt before.”
Despite the positive changes, he was concerned about breaking the news to his parents. When he finally did, reaction was mixed. “At first they were joyful because they could tell I was no longer dependent on drugs and I sounded much better emotionally,” he recalled. “But that began to unravel when they understood the source of all the changes. They winced, as if to say, Why does it have to be Jesus? Why can’t it be something else?’ They didn’t know what to do with it.”
With a trace of sadness in his voice, he added, “I’m still not sure they really do.”
Through a remarkable string of circumstances, Lapides’ prayer for a wife was answered when he met Deborah, who was also Jewish and a follower of Jesus. She took him to her church---the same one it turned out, that was pastored by the minister who many months earlier on Sunset Strip had challenged Lapides to read the Old Testament.
Lapides laughed. “I’ll tell you what---his jaw dropped open when he saw me walk into the church!”
That congregation was filled with ex-bikers, ex-hippies, and ex-addicts from the Strip, along with a spattering of transplanted Southerners. For a young Jewish man from Newark who was relationally gun-shy with people who were different from him, because of the anti-Semitism he feared he would encounter, it was healing to learn to call such a diverse crowd “brothers and sisters.”
Lapides married Deborah year after they met. Since then she has given birth to two sons. And together they’ve given birth to Beth Ariel Fellowships, a home for Jews and Gentiles who also are finding wholeness in Christ.
RESPONDING TO OBJECTIONS
Lapides finished his story and relaxed in his chair. I let the moment linger. The sanctuary was peaceful; the stained glass was glowing red and yellow and blue from the California sun. I sat musing over the power of one person’s story of a faith found. I marveled at this saga of war and drugs, of Greenwich Village and Sunset Strip and a barren desert, none of which I ever would have associated with the pleasant, well-adjusted minister sitting in front of me.
But I didn’t want to ignore the obvious questions that his story raised. With Lapides’ permission I started by asking the one that was foremost on my mind: “if the prophecies were so obvious to you and pointed so unquestionably toward Jesus, why don’t more Jews accept him as their Messiah?”
It was a question Lapides has asked himself a lot during the three decades since he was challenged by a Christian to investigate the Jewish Scriptures. “In my case, I took the time to read them,” he replied. “Oddly enough even though the Jewish people are known for having high intellects, in this area there’s a lot of ignorance.
“Plus you have counter missionary organizations that hold seminars in synagogues to try to disprove the messianic prophecies. Jewish people hear them and use them as an excuse for not exploring the prophecies personally. They’ll say, ‘The rabbi told me there’s nothing to this.’
“I’ll ask them, ‘Do you think the rabbi just brought up an objection that Christianity has never heard before? I mean, scholars have been working on this for hundreds of years! There’s great literature out there and powerful Christian answers to those challenges.’ if they’re interested, I help them go further.”
I wondered about the ostracism a Jewish person faces if he or she becomes a Christian. “That’s definitely a factor,” he said. “Some people won’t let the messianic prophecies grab them, because they’re afraid of the repercussions—--potential rejection by their family and the Jewish community. That’s not easy to face. Believe me, I know.”
Even so, some of the challenges to the prophecies sound pretty convincing when a person first hears them. So one by one I posed the most common objections to Lapides to see how he would respond.
1. The Coincidence Argument
First, I asked Lapides whether it’s possible that Jesus merely fulfilled the prophecies by accident. Maybe he’s just one of many throughout history who have coincidentally fit the prophetic fingerprint.
“Not a chance,” came his response. “The odds are so astronomical that they rule that out. Someone did the math and figured out that the probability of just eight prophecies being fulfilled is one chance in one hundred million billion. That number is millions of times greater than the total number of people who’ve ever walked the planet!
“He calculated that if you took this number of silver dollars, they would cover the state of Texas to a depth of two feet. If you marked one silver dollar among them and then had a blindfolded person wander the whole state and bend down to pick up one coin, what would be the odds he’d choose the one that had been marked?”
With that he answered his own question “The same odds that anybody in history could have fulfilled just eight of the prophecies.”
I had studied this same statistical analysis by mathematician Peter W. Stoner when I was investigating the messianic prophecies for myself. Stoner also computed that the probability of fulfilling forty-eight prophecies was one chance in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion!’2
Our minds can’t comprehend a number that big. This is a staggering statistic that’s equal to the number of minuscule atoms in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, billion universes the size of our universe!
“The odds alone say it would be impossible for anyone to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies,” Lapides concluded. “Yet Jesus—--and only Jesus throughout all of history---managed to do it.”
The words of the apostle Peter popped into my head: “But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ should suffer, He has thus fulfilled” (Acts 3:18 NASB).
2. The Altered Gospel Argument
I painted another scenario for Lapides, asking, “Isn’t it possible that the gospel writers fabricated details to make it appear that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies?
“For example,” I said, “the prophecies say the Messiah’s bones would remain unbroken, so maybe John invented the story about the Romans breaking the legs of the two thieves being crucified with Jesus, and not breaking his legs. And the prophecies talk about betrayal for thirty pieces of silver, so maybe Matthew played fast and loose with the facts and said, yeah, Judas sold out Jesus for that same amount.”
But that objection didn’t fly any further than the previous one. “In God’s wisdom, he created checks and balances both inside and outside the Christian community,” Lapides explained. “When the gospels were being circulated, there were people living who had been around when all these things happened. Someone would have said to Matthew, ‘You know it didn’t happen that way. We’re trying to communicate a life of righteousness and truth, so don’t taint it with a lie.”
Besides, he added, why would Matthew have fabricated fulfilled prophecies and then willingly allowed himself to be put to death for following someone who he secretly knew was really not the Messiah? That wouldn’t make any sense.
What’s more, the Jewish community would have jumped on any opportunity to discredit the gospels by pointing out falsehoods. “They would have said, ‘I was there, and Jesus’ bones were broken by the Romans during the Crucifixion,” Lapides said. “But even though the Jewish Talmud refers to Jesus in derogatory ways, it never once makes the claim that the fulfillment of prophecies was falsified. Not one time.”
3. The Intentional Fulfillment Argument
Some skeptics have asserted that Jesus merely maneuvered his life in a way to fulfill the prophecies. “Couldn’t he have read in Zechariah that the Messiah would ride a donkey into Jerusalem, and then arrange to do exactly that?” I asked.
Lapides made a small concession. “For a few of the prophecies, yes, that’s certainly conceivable,” he salt “But there are many others for which this just wouldn’t have been possible.
“For instance, how would he control the fact that the Sanhedrin offered Judas thirty pieces of silver to betray him? How could he arrange for his ancestry, or the places of his birth, or his method of execution, or that soldiers gambled for his clothing, or that his legs remained unbroken on the cross? How would he arrange to perform miracles in front of skeptics? How would he arrange for his resurrection? And how would he arrange to be born when he was?”
That last comment piqued my curiosity. “What do you mean by when he was born?” I asked.
“When you interpret Daniel 9:24—26, it foretells that the Messiah would appear a certain length of time after King Artaxerxes I issued a decree for the Jewish people to go from Persia to rebuild the walls in Jerusalem,” Lapides replied.
He leaned forward to deliver the clincher “That puts the anticipated appearance of the Messiah at the exact moment in history when Jesus showed up,” he said. “Certainly that’s nothing he could have prearranged.”
4. The Context Argument
One other objection needed to be addressed: were the passages that Christians identity as messianic prophecies really intended to point to the coming of the Anointed One, or do Christians rip them out of context and misinterpret them?
Lapides sighed. “You know, I go through the books that people write to try to tear down what we believe. That’s not fun to do, but I spend the time to look at each objection individually and then to research the context and the wording in the original language,” he said. “And every single time, the prophecies have stood up and shown themselves to be true.
“So here’s my challenge to skeptics: don’t accept my word for it, but don’t accept your rabbi’s either. Spend the time to research it yourself. Today nobody can say, ‘There’s no information.’ There are plenty of books out there to help you.
“And one more thing: sincerely ask God to show you whether or not Jesus is the Messiah. That’s what I did---and without any coaching it became clear to me who fit the fingerprint of the Messiah.”
“EVERYTHING MUST BE FULFILLED...”
I appreciated the way Lapides had responded to the objections, but ultimately it was the story of his spiritual journey that kept replaying in my mind as I flew back to Chicago late that night. I reflected on how many times I had encountered similar stories, especially among successful and thoughtful Jewish people who had specifically set out to refute Jesus’ messianic claims.
I thought about Stan Telchin, the East Coast business man who had embarked on a quest to expose the “cult” of Christianity after his daughter went away to college and received Y’shua (Jesus) as her Messiah. He was astonished to find that his investigation led him---and his wife and second daughte---to the same Messiah. He later became a Christian minister, and his book that recounts his story, Betrayed!, has been translated into more than twenty languages.4
There was Jack Sternberg, a prominent cancer physician in Little Rock, Arkansas, who was so alarmed at what he found in the Old Testament that he challenged three rabbis to disprove that Jesus was the Messiah. They couldn’t, and he too has claimed to have found wholeness in Christ.5
And there was Peter Greenspan, an obstetrician-gynecologist who practices in the Kansas City area and is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine. Like Lapidés, he had been challenged to look for Jesus in Judaism. What he found troubled him, so he went to the Torah and Talmud, seeking to discredit Jesus’ messianic credentials. Instead he concluded that Jesus did miraculously fulfill the prophecies.
For him, the more he read books by those trying to undermine the evidence for Jesus as the Messiah, the more he saw the flaws in their arguments. Ironically, concluded Greenspan, “I think I actually came to faith in Y’shua by reading what detractors wrote.”6
He found, as have Lapides and others, that Jesus’ words in the gospel of Luke have proved true: “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44). It was fulfilled, and only in Jesus---the sole individual in history who has matched the prophetic fingerprint of God’s anointed one. (232-251)
1. For basic details on fulfilled prophecies, see McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, 141—77.
2. Peter W. Stoner, Science Speaks (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969), 109.
3. For a discussion of the Daniel prophecy, see Robert C. Newman, “Fuffilled Prophecy As Miracle,” in R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas, eds., In Defense of Miracles (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 214—25.
4. Stan Telchin, Betrayed! (Grand Rapids: Chosen, 1982).
5. Ruth Rosen, ed., Jewish Doctors Meet the Great Physician (San Francisco: Purple Pomegranate. 1997), 9-23.
6. Ibid., 34—35.
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