Sid: Red hot is an understatement; I had a traditional Jewish rabbi, not just any rabbi, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. He’s host of the national TV show “Shalom in the Home” on The Learning Chanel. He was named by Talker’s Magazine as one of the hundred most important radio hosts of America. I mean he has credentials like you wouldn’t believe. He’s described by many publications as arguably the most famous traditional rabbi in America; he’s been profiled in many of the world’s leading publications including Time Magazine, Newsweek, New York Times, London Times, L.A. Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post; he has twice weekly columns in Jerusalem Post, the New Sun. He had a debate, if I was to pick one Jewish believer in Jesus of everyone I know throughout the world it would be Dr. Michael Brown who I’ve known for many years. You see Dr. Brown has got a PhD in near eastern languages and literature from New York University. He is president and founder of Fire School of Ministry in Concord, North Carolina which is right outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. Mike you either read, write, or speak about 15 Semitic languages. How did you happen to learn so many languages?
Michael: What happened was, this is not my fault this the fault of the rabbis, you say how’s that? Well here’s the deal, I got saved in 1971 I was not literate at that point in Hebrew or Jewish sources. I was raised in a kind of a wishy-washy Conservative home on Long Island Conservative Jewish home. I had been a heavy drug user shooting heroine, using LSD, playing drums in a rock band. God radically turned me around at the age of 16 ½ in 1971. My dad was thrilled with the change in my life, but said “Okay great you’re off drugs that’s wonderful, but you need to come back to our traditions.” So he brought me to meet the local rabbi who was fresh out of Jewish Theological Seminary, a great young man; took a real interest in me. We began to have lengthy dialogs by phone, of course I wanted to win him to the Lord the same way, and he wanted to win me back to Judaism. He began to challenge me “Mike you don’t even know Hebrew. Mike how can you tell me what to believe I’ve been studying this since I was a boy.” Then he brought me to meet some ultra-Orthodox rabbis, very religious rabbis in Brooklyn a couple of years later. I had memorized thousands of verses at that point out of the King James Bible, and I was praying hours every day and I was ready for anybody. I went to me with these rabbis and they seemed like very God fearing men, much more religious than the men in the synagogue where I grew up. Boy I mean they knew the languages and they knew the background, and it seemed like everything I threw at them they seemed to have an answer for even if some of the answers were far-fetched at least they had an answer. That really provoked me, I felt “Look I know my experience in the Lord is real, I know I’ve been transformed, I know the word seems so absolutely clear to me, but…”
Sid: Yet, I have to tell you Mike, and a Jewish person, or a Gentile person that believes in Jesus; when they first hear the apologetics or the arguments that traditional rabbis have had 2000 years to develop, it’s very overwhelming if someone has not had a personal encounter with God.
Michael: It is, look the fact is you have some very sincere people who are studying the same Bible, but they’re reading it in Hebrew, and you’re average believer is not able to read it in Hebrew. They’ve had like you said 2000 years of not believing what we believe, and have a whole system of faith and practice and many of them study for hours and hours a day. At that time I didn’t realize, but some specialize in dealing with people like me. That’s only increased, there’s a great increase in what we call counter-missionary…
Sid: But just out of curiosity how old were you when you first were taken to the rabbi?
Michael: Well the local rabbi, the Conservative rabbi I was not yet 17. I was a brand new believer…
Sid: I have to be candid with you, I don’t know how you held your own. I don’t know why he didn’t overpower you because you didn’t know Hebrew. If you were like me, you were bar-mitzvah and you read beautiful Hebrew, but you didn’t understand a word of what you read.
Michael: Listen I didn’t even know what the content of the passage was. In other words, no one ever bothered to tell me that when I was bar mitzvah’d I read from 1 Kings 18 where Elijah calls down fire from heaven [Laughing], that’s quite a passage. Nobody told me that you just went through the motions, that’s not Judaism as a whole that’s the Judaism I grew up with which was very superficial. Leonard Ravenhill, an old man of God who is with the Lord now, he used to say “A man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument,” this much I knew. God had radically changed my life; Jesus in a moment of time delivered me from drugs; God brought deep conviction of sin into my own life and made me to realize how far from Him I was, and how deeply He loved me. I was transformed, He changed me; He was working in my life; He had become my Father and my Best-Friend. So if someone hit me with an argument I knew there was an answer somewhere, in point and fact I spent hours alone with God. Not immediately, but after several months in the Lord I started to get hungrier and thirstier. I remember saying to myself “I could live a clean but empty life, or I could give myself to God the way I gave myself to drugs and rock music,” which meant whole heartedly. I began to pursue the Lord with all my heart, so by the time I had met the ultra-Orthodox rabbis when I was 18, I had been spending 5, 6, 7 hours with the Lord alone every day. I was reading the Bible 2 hours a day; I was memorizing scriptures 1 hour a day; I used to memorize 20 verses every day, that’s how hungry for God I was. I was experiencing the reality of God, so when I met with these men yes they challenged me, yes they raised good questions, yes their lifestyle also challenged me, not that it was different than mine in terms of devotion, but the fact that they were very serious religious Jews, and I grew up thinking all Judaism was superficial the way I knew it. So I was challenged by all that and I thought “Okay, when I start college I’m gonna start studying Hebrew.” When I started studying Hebrew I thought “You know I need to learn more languages to learn more background so I don’t even need to rely on the dictionaries, or commentaries; I want to be able to dig and understand on my own. The interesting thing is, that along the whole journey, even though I knew the reality of my faith, I was always wondering “What am I going to study, what I going to learn, what am I going to be confronted with that is going to cause me to question what I believe, what am I going to be hit that I don’t have an answer for? To my delight, and even surprise, the more I studied the stronger my faith became. I didn’t have to shut off my mind ever. To this day Sid, after 34 years in the Lord and writing 1,300 pages of apologetic material and having many debates with rabbis; to this day I can tell you, the more I study the more excited I get about the foundations of our faith.
Sid: Okay, we did two television shows with Dr. Michael Brown, and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, that I have literally, I mean so many credentials I don’t have time to even list all of them; so we had as good a professional traditional rabbi as possible, and as good a Messianic Jewish scholar as possible debating on the subject “Who is Jesus?” Mike why is it 2000 years ago so many people missed Jesus being the Messiah? I mean here He was in the flesh performing miracles everyone in Jerusalem knew about this rabbi from Galilee that walked in signs and wonders, and people said He was the Messiah. Why did a group of Jews follow Him, and a group of Jews, a larger group, not follow Him at that time?
Michael: Well the fact is that’s the way it’s been in our history Sid. Picture this we come out of Egypt with the greatest display of national miracles, public national display in world history. God demonstrates that He alone is God; He brings us out of Egypt, He brings us through the sea; He speaks from Mt. Sinai in such a way that the whole nation can hear, and the whole nation says “Whatever He said we’re gonna do.” Within 40 days many of them, the majority are breaking the very first commandment and worshipping an idol. Out of that generation only 2 make it into the promise land, and the rest die because of unbelief and…
Sid: Yes, but most of them were not as knowledgeable as say a traditional rabbi 2000 years that from age 3 or 4 starts memorizing and studying the Jewish scriptures.
Michael: Some of those people did come to follow Yeshua, some were believers, but many times He is more than we are asking for. In other words, we want a Messiah who will come according to our plan and make the world a better place and make us all happy and take away trouble and war. On a certain level in the Messianic age we’ll experience a lot of that when it is fully realized on the earth. Jesus came and upset the religious apple cart; He is a threat to our authority systems; He is a threat to our religious tradition, and what happened was despite the tremendous sincerity of so many of these men, and rabbinic Judaism was really in its formative stages then, but despite the sincerity of so many of these men they had made the mistake of replacing the living word of God with human traditions. In their zeal to construct something in which the Jewish people could live on a national level without the presence and the prophetic word of God, they constructed an endless stream of traditions. Jesus came into conflict with those traditions, He did not come the way they were expecting Him to come, He did not come and build up their system, He came and confronted what was wrong in their system and because of that many turned against Him.