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Today is my birthday. Not my physical birthday – that’s in June. Today’s birthday is much more significant. Exactly 20 years ago on this date, September 25, 1993, God did the miraculous – He gave me a rebirth.
I wasn’t down-and-out when this happened. I wasn’t at a low point in my life. Quite the contrary! I was a Junior in college with great grades. I was in the Honors program. I was in the Student Senate. I enjoyed the comforts of the world: the approval of my peers, financial stability, and the pleasures of underage drinking and premarital relationships.
This was the highest point of my life. And it was at this time that a Freshman in my dorm challenged me with the claims of a man named Jesus Christ.
As a Jew, I didn’t even like to hear the name Jesus Christ. The name itself offended me. You have to understand that as a Jew, I was taught that Jews DO NOT believe in Jesus – end of story. To believe in Jesus is to turn your back on your family and on all the martyrs at Auschwitz.
So to help this Freshman shed his fairy-tale belief in Jesus, I began reading the Book of Matthew in order to disprove it. I expected to find anti-Semitism. I expected the stuff that inspired Hitler. I found neither.
I found Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, and it literally blew me away. I had so many questions. Is the Bible reliable? Was it changed hundreds of years after it was written? Can I trust it? Why don’t other Jews see it? Why do people who call themselves Christian do such horrible things?
I asked everyone I knew what they thought of Jesus. I hungered for more knowledge. My friend set me up with a college chaplain who was strong in defending the faith and gave me good reasons to believe the Bible and patiently answered all my questions. A few days later, on September 25, 1993, I took time to read through the Book of John. John and Matthew taught me that because of our sins, we all deserve Hell. Jesus said that looking with lust is the same thing as adultery, and hating is the same thing as murder. I thought I was a success, something special, but the Bible taught me that I was a sinner deserving the Lake of Fire. The Bible said that we are all condemned, and it even explained why. “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).
This was me. I loved darkness. I loved my drinking. I loved getting girls into bed. I loved pornography and buying worldly trinkets. I loved darkness. I certainly didn’t love God because my lifestyle showed otherwise.
But then I got to chapter 11 when Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).
And then it hit me… God offers us mercy. He offers us “life” when we deserve Hell. And I had to pause when Jesus ended the verse with “Do you believe this?” It was as if God were saying, “Mark, do YOU believe this?” And you know what? I did. I believed it. On September 25, 1993, I agreed with God that I’m a sinner and I agreed that I had to turn 180 degrees away from it. That is what repentance is all about. Jesus warned, “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).
On September 25, 1993, I turned from my sin (repentance), and trusted (believed) that Jesus is God, that He came to earth in the form of a man, never sinned, yet died on a cross to pay the penalty for my sins. And He rose from the dead!
I was so thankful to God for giving me mercy and so thankful to Jesus for providing that mercy. If Jesus had not planned from the foundation of the world to come down to live a perfect life and sacrifice Himself on the cross and raise Himself from the dead, then mercy would not be possible. How could I not be drawn to so kind a God?!
The Word of God promises, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
The Scriptures say, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). I literally died with Christ and was born a second-time as a new creation! That’s why today is my birthday. I was born again. Jesus warned, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
As evidence of a new birth, God gave me a new heart with new desires! I now desired to know God more and walk with Him more closely. I had an insatiable appetite to read God’s Word!
So here we are, 20 years later. I’m 40 years old, so even my children can do the math to realize that Jesus has been leading me for half of my life.
I remember being a baby Christian, so new at following Jesus. I remember those early days. And I remember looking up to my Pastor, the College Chaplain who helped me, and other “experienced and intellectual” Christians who had been following Jesus for years and years. Would I become like them someday? Some of them can read the Bible in the original Hebrew and Greek! Would I be able to do that some day? Some of them understand many of the meatier issues of Theology, and have studied some of the greatest minds that God has raised up over the years. Would I be like that someday?
Well, it’s been 20 years, and I can say that I have done a lot of studying as a Christian. I have read and prayerfully meditated on difficult moral, ethical, and Theological topics. I have studied, understood, and dismantled false religions and competing worldviews. All things that I wondered if I’d be able to do when I was a new follower of Jesus.
But you know what? I think that perhaps the most life-changing lesson the Holy Spirit has been teaching me is not the scholarly book-knowledge, as helpful as it is to have that. But much more vital are the very simple issues of God.
The Jewish prophet Micah wrote, “[God] has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
After 20 years, do I show justice to everyone? Am I kind to everyone? Do I walk with humility with God? Those are much simpler to understand than translating the Scriptures from the original languages, but MUCH HARDER to follow.
Jesus Himself said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13).
After 20 years, do I love people the way that Jesus did? Would I be willing to lay my life down for another? This is so simple to understand, but so hard to live out!
20 years later, I’m only beginning to realize that loving God and loving others is a life-time pursuit. But there is no more worthy goal than to be an imitator of Jesus Himself! 10 out of 10 people die. When it is my turn, sin will finally be removed from me for good, and I’ll be in the stunning presence of God.
20 years later, and I’ve learned that God did not give me a new birth because I was smarter than other people, or more talented, or more sophisticated, or more of anything that I have done. God rescued me because He enjoys showing mercy. God enjoys giving grace, undeserved favor.
On September 25, 1993, God rescued me from the judgment that we all deserve because of our sins. I pray He will rescue you as well. You can be rescued because Jesus Christ died on the cross to die like a murderer even though He was not a murderer. He never sinned once, but He took the payment for our sins. We sinned. Jesus paid the penalty. And He offers you forgiveness if you repent of your sins, stop seeing yourself as a good person, trust in Jesus completely to forgive you, and follow Him all your days.
If you have not repented of your sins and believed the gospel, I beg you to do it today. I’d love to celebrate your new birthday with you.
joyfully in Christ,
P.S. Thanks for taking the time to read this. Thanks for sharing my 20th birthday! You know, on physical birthdays, we celebrate the people. But on my “spiritual” birthday, it’s not about me. It’s not me I want anyone to celebrate over. It’s all about Jesus! What a kind and merciful God I serve. And on this day and every day, I give Him all praise and honor. I hope you will too.
P.P.S. My story of how God saved me is available as a full-color booklet entitled A Jew and His God.
If you would like to read it, or see what it looks like, or watch a video of me sharing my story, it’s available at: http://luke-15.org/a-jew-and-his-god/.
I’d also be happy to mail out copies for free to anyone who wants them.
Just contact me and let me know.