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Accepting Jesus As Messiah
What happens when a Jewish rabbi accepts Jesus into his life? The moving story of Rabbi Harold Vallins was originally published in the July 2000 issue of Alive magazine.
What happens when a modern-day Jewish rabbi accepts Jesus into his life? For Rabbi Harold Vallins of Melbourne it caused great suffering—the loss of his wife, his congregation and many of his friends. Yet it has also brought about the deep-seated feeling that through taking Jesus as his Messiah his Judaism has been fulfilled.
And he has found his suffering and loneliness more than offset by the love of Jesus. “I now have more friends than ever before,” he notes. “I have more sense of purpose and direction. Whatever pit you fall into, Jesus provides something to hang on to. I’ve gotten past the pain.”
The story of Rabbi Harold Vallins, 59, is a profoundly moving one, an inspiring example of the hand of God at work in the life of an individual, the life of the community and the life of His church.
It is a story that is increasingly being heard, as Harold responds to a growing number of invitations to speak at churches in Australia and abroad. Many more people have been exposed to his testimony on tapes or via the internet. (Parts of this article are drawn from that testimony.)
Born in Britain during World War II into a Jewish family, Harold was to develop something of a love-hate relationship with his religion. He spent much of his teenage years as—in his own words—a “confirmed fanatical atheist”. But a young and dynamic rabbi who showed him how Judaism could be open, wonderful and loving brought him back into the fold, to the extent that he enrolled for eight years of full-time study at the Leo Baeck Theological College of Judaic Studies in London. This culminated in his ordination as a rabbi in 1970.
Service in several London synagogues followed, and then in 1981 he responded to a call to move to Australia and to lead a congregation in the southern suburbs of Melbourne. Sadly the move was not good for his marriage, and he was divorced in 1983. There were further challenges, as differences with his colleagues led to his being voted out of his position. He helped form a new synagogue, Bet Hatikvah (House of Hope), and he also remarried.
He formed a strong friendship with a neighbouring Church of Christ minister. Through the exchange of ideas and philosophies he sometimes came to feel he had more in common with this man than with his fellow rabbis. Blessed with an ever-enquiring mind, he also began to explore Eastern religions.
Then in late-1997 he noted the “complete change of character” of a member of his congregation, transformed into a soft, kind and compassionate man. It transpired that this person had joined a morning prayer group made up of followers of Jesus. Harold pestered to be allowed to attend.
“What really impressed me about this group was their sincere and impromptu prayers, not read from prayer books,” writes Harold in his testimony. “After a few weeks I was asked to conclude the breakfast with a prayer, and I freaked out. I had no prayer book with me and not the faintest idea of what to say.
“I desperately tried to remember some of the prayers I had heard so I could use their words. At the end I found myself concluding with the words, ‘Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.’
“It took me a week to recover from that. I didn’t dare tell anyone what I had done. I had been brought up never to mention the name of Jesus and now I had prayed to Him. I decided the best thing to do was to stay quiet about the whole thing and not say a word to anyone.”
But God’s plans were to become most clearly evident some weeks later, when Harold travelled to Washington DC with members of the prayer group for a five-day prayer and worship convention. On the evening of the third day something startling occurred.
“As the prayer was being recited I felt as though I was being transformed onto another plane of life. I suddenly knew that Jesus was in the room with us. I could actually feel Jesus come and stand behind me and put His hand upon my shoulder. And I could hear myself saying, inside my head, ‘Jesus, you are my Messiah, my Lord, my Saviour.’ I felt tears in my eyes and felt my whole body was trembling.”
The next day a lady suddenly approached and said the Lord had instructed her to hand Harold a piece of paper. On it was written “Jeremiah 1:4, 10”. Harold, who had written his main rabbinical thesis on “The Life and the Personal Inner Struggles of the Prophet Jeremiah”, felt sure that God was calling him to renew and reform his religious life.
Then, on the following day, during a visit to Washington’s Holocaust Museum, another woman abruptly drew near, with another slip of paper. She said the Lord had urged her to pass on a message. On the paper was written: “Jeremiah 31:31-33”. Recalls Harold: “It was obvious to me now that God was directing me along a completely new path. I went back to the hotel and prayed and thanked God.”
The climax to this extraordinary sequence of events came on the final night. “I felt something stir inside me. I suddenly found myself walking onto the stage and right up to where the speaker was speaking. He finally gave me the chance to address the audience and I told them that I was a rabbi and that I had just become aware of who Jesus was and that I accepted him into my life as my Saviour and Messiah.
“I also remember announcing that I had become a disciple of Jesus but that I needed their prayers as I had to go home and tell my wife and family, synagogue and community. I was very emotional and all I can remember is that everyone was standing and that this incredible love was being poured over me.”
His homecoming was difficult. He was forced to resign his position, leaving many in his congregation feeling betrayed, and he lost many of his dear friends. His wife—pregnant with their second child—was devastated by the news, and the marriage collapsed.
Yet amidst the pain was some joy. He learned that his brother in Canada had also accepted Jesus into his life. More recently, his son from his first marriage has begun to follow Jesus. At critical times individuals or organisations have come forward with crucial financial support. “So far, Jesus has been a most fantastic employer,” he says.
He is also learning that God’s plans for him may not be what he first expected. “I used to think I had one ambition—to bring Jewish people to Jesus. But since going around many churches I find a lot of Christian people have a very simplistic view of Jesus and what He’s done for them.
“A lot of Christians automatically ask me, ‘When did you become a Christian?’ But I’m not a Christian. I’m a Jew and will always remain a Jew. I’ve become a Jewish follower of a Jewish Messiah. I’m a fulfilled Jew, a completed Jew. My Judaism has become far more complete. Love has been added. Jesus added love to Judaism. I am sure if you had asked Paul he would have said the same. Jesus helped fulfil his Judaism. He made it more complete. I don’t think Jesus talked about setting up a new religion.
“The things I say are often more meaningful for Christian people than for Jews. When Christians hear me talk about Jesus and see how He really enhanced Judaism they see more value in their own walk with Jesus. So when I go to churches now I don’t just talk about my own background. I talk about the Jewish background of Jesus and how He affects all our lives.”
His message is varied. For example, he has written a “Passover Haggadah”, a 24-page booklet to help Christians understand—and participate in—the traditional Jewish Passover ceremony, called the Seder. He often visits churches to lead congregations in a Passover celebration.
“Christians may take communion, but perhaps only 10 per cent realise that communion comes from the Passover meal,” he notes. “When Jesus drank the wine and ate unleavened bread he was taking part in a Seder. It must have been so significant for Him that His last supper was a Passover celebration, which is a meal of freedom. When I lead a Seder Christians see how Jesus is in the Passover, and therefore in the communion.”
Harold notes that through His death on the cross, Jesus completed Judaism by making it possible for God to forgive us.
“A Jew can hope and pray to be forgiven of sins, but is never certain of this. It is only through Jesus’ death that we can be sure of God’s forgiveness. Many Christians believe Jesus died on the cross just to prove He could beat death. But it wasn’t only that. When Christians learn about the Jewish attitude to forgiveness they understand Jesus much more deeply.”
Harold is also able to explain to Christians about the manner in which so many of the prophecies of the Old Testament, especially those of Isaiah, point to Jesus.
“It is so plain and stark how Jesus was being prophesied,” he says. “But also so evident is the intransigence of the Jews in not believing this. Which is what I used to do. Thankfully my eyes have been opened.”