A Jew, a Gentile, and the good news.
by Eddie Lieberman as told to Muriel Larson
Now I’m really in for it! I thought despondently. At the age of 19 I had topped off a half dozen arrests with a crime against the Post Office — a federal offense.
As I sat on my prison bunk in Greenwood, South Carolina, where I was awaiting trial, I felt empty. I didn’t know what I was seeking, but I sure hadn’t found it. Not in the synagogue of my boyhood; not in money, drink, or sex; certainly not in the violence and crime of my recent past.
From somewhere outside my cell I could hear other prisoners singing a hymn. It was Sunday, and some Christian women had come to hold a service.
“I don’t want any part of that junk,” I breathed. “Besides, they’re Christians, and I’m a Jew!” But I did listen to one woman who had a beautiful singing voice.
The real thing
Then I heard an older woman talking — something about living a Christian life. Later I snorted to the guys, “She’s a hypocrite! She couldn’t possibly live what she says. Nobody can.”
When the woman came the following Sunday, I asked one guy, “Do these women actually come here every week?”
“Yeah,” he answered. “In fact, that older woman who speaks, Mrs. Hagan, she’s been coming to hold services every Sunday for the past 35 years. She sure is a sweet old lady. Really loves us. If anyone’s a Christian, she sure is!”
I could hardly believe my ears. A little old lady coming to talk to people who had committed murder, rape, and violence of all kinds. I decided to check her out.
She didn’t preach to the guys; she just talked to them in a personal way. And she seemed to be reaching them.
When she addressed me, I argued with her and got nowhere. When she found out I was a Jew, her face lit up, and she exclaimed, “Oh, you’re Jewish! How wonderful! I’m so glad to meet you. I love your people, for I owe them such a debt!”
She took me completely off guard. I stared at her. A Gentile who loved Jews? “What do you mean, you owe my people a debt?” I questioned.
“For one thing,” she answered, “the very Bible I read was written by your people. And my Messiah was a Jew. If it hadn’t been for your people, we Gentiles would still be idolaters.”
“How do you get that?” I asked.
“Don’t you know that your people were the first believers in Jesus as the Messiah and that they brought the message to the Gentiles?”
I was floored. “Now wait a minute. My people? I know they wrote the Old Testament. . . .”
“Oh, yes, and they wrote the New Testament, too.”
“No,” I protested, “they couldn’t have written the New Testament! And as far as Jews believing in Jesus, well, that’s impossible. It’s impossible for a Jew to be a Christian!”
“Well, I’m not going to argue,” she said. “I’ll bring you a Bible next week, and you can read it for yourself and see.”
Insight from the Bible
The Bible she brought me the following Sunday was well marked. It had listed in it various Old Testament references, and beside each was written “Compare this with page ___ in the New Testament.”
I wasn’t about to let the other guys catch me reading that Bible. So I waited until they all went to bed, then stretched my arms through the bars with the Bible in my hand so I could read by the light of the 25-watt bulb in the hall.
Some things, like the Virgin Birth, I couldn’t quite believe at first. But when I got to the resurrection of Jesus, that really stopped me.
If He’s alive — really alive, I reasoned, He must be the Messiah, because the Messiah is to live forever! So one night I said, “If You’re alive, let me know about it. And if You are alive and show me, I’ll follow You!”
Believing without seeing
Nothing happened — then. But another night I was reading in the Gospel of John about how Jesus had appeared to His disciples after He rose from the dead. Thomas wasn’t there at the time and wouldn’t believe it. So Jesus appeared to them a week later and let Thomas touch His wounds so that he would believe.
What impressed me was Jesus’ words to Thomas: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29, NIV).
As I read that, I thought, I can be happier than this guy because I can believe without seeing! So I got up on my bunk and said quietly, “I believe You’re the Messiah, and I’ll follow you to the best of my ability.”
Right after I made this transaction with my Messiah, a quiet voice seemed to say, “Tell someone what you’re doing.”
I knew I had to do it. During a free period the next day I called everyone together. “Listen, guys,” I said, “I’ve decided to accept Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and to follow Him to the best of my ability.”
It was as if I had dropped a bomb. Everyone just stared in amazement. No one said a word. So I said, “Let’s pray.”
I bowed my head and said, “I thank You, God, for giving me the strength to tell these boys what I’ve done.”
End of searching
When the guys went back to their cells, I stayed in the hallway alone, leaning against the door. Suddenly, Jesus became so real to me, as if He had stepped out of the pages of His Book and into my life. And I knew the Bible was true: Christ had died for my sins on the cross and had risen from the grave. I realized that my search was over; I had found what I’d been looking for!
Jesus Christ made a tremendous difference in my life. No longer did I curse and swear. Older Christians in prison helped to me as I grew in Christ. Later I began holding services at the prison on Thursday nights.
But one thing bothered me. I had pleaded “not guilty” to the postal offense for which I was awaiting trial. I felt compelled to write the district attorney: “I am now a Christian, and I want to tell the truth. I am guilty of the charge against me.” After I’d done that, I felt great — even though I faced a criminal charge.
At my trial Mrs. Hagan and three other people testified in my behalf. The others were the president of a trust company whom Mrs. Hagan had brought to prison to meet me, plus two released prisoners who had seen the change Christ had made in my life.
“This is amazing!” the judge exclaimed. “Because of what these people have said, I sentence you to one hour in the custody of a U.S. deputy marshal — and I suspend that.”
That fall I enrolled in a Christian college to prepare for a preaching ministry. For decades now I’ve gone from one end of this land to the other preaching the good news of Jesus Christ — all because of a little old lady who loved a Jew like me!
About the Author