Deep melodic Hebrew rings clearly in the room, the words of the prophet Jeremiah reaching every ear. A white canopy stretches overhead like a cloud, and underneath it a young man lifts his foot to stomp on a piece of cloth, crumpled on the floor. The glass carefully wrapped inside shatters with a thrilling pop, accompanied by a harmonized and joyous shout of “Mazel tov!” Rabbi Mottel Baleston has just officiated a Jewish wedding ceremony. The bride and groom are devout worshippers of Jesus Christ. Just like he is.
Mottel goes by Pastor/Rabbi. He understands the concern his brothers and sisters in the Lord have about the term, so he gently explains that Jesus forbids us calling anyone “rabbi” because it used to mean “my great one”. Today, it simply means someone who is ordained to lead a Jewish congregation. He loves explaining facts like these to both non-Jewish Christians and Messianic Jews (Jewish believers in Jesus) and has committed his life to doing so. Like Paul in Romans 10:1, Mottel’s greatest desire is for Israel to be saved.
A Second Look at His Faith
Mottel is the director of Messengers Messianic Jewish Outreach (MMJO) and works in a heavily Jewish population in New Jersey. A self-described “nice Jewish boy” from Brooklyn, New York, he wasn’t always a Messianic Jew. He began to examine his religious upbringing when he witnessed his Jewish community become absorbed in spiritual teachings in the 70’s. His devout Jewish friends were embracing eastern religion and his nominal Jewish friends saturated themselves in Orthodox Hasidic Judaism. Mottel was left in the middle of a swinging pendulum, wondering if it was his turn to investigate his faith and particularly the claims of the most famous Jewish Person who’s ever lived.
In his twenties, Mottel began reading the New Testament and was taken aback by just how Jewish the story of Jesus was. The beloved prophesies he had learned about since childhood all pointed to, and were perfectly fulfilled by, Jesus. Engulfed by undeniable evidence, Mottel recognized Messiah Jesus as the one true God and made Him his king.
Barriers for Messianic Jews
Jewish ministry is not easy. The Jewish people have been systematically oppressed and persecuted for centuries, overwhelmingly by those who claimed to bear Christ’s name. When a Jewish person hears the terms “Christian” or “church,” what comes to mind isn’t always a particular religion. Often they think instead of a people group who destroyed their ancestors’ villages during the crusades, set fire to their synagogues, and brutally tortured and killed their great grandparents in the holocaust. Anti-Semitism, and its deadly consequences, has been preached from many pulpits. Mottel does not run from these facts. He makes them known, condemns them, and teaches Jewish people that a Christian is not someone who just says they are. It’s someone who shows you they are. And the barbaric acts of Christians in the past and present do not resemble even an inkling of Jesus’ unconditional and sacrificial love.
Much of the New Testament is dedicated to unpacking how believers are under grace, not Jewish law. But many Messianic Jews have been wrongly taught that following Christ requires assimilation to western Christianity, abandoning their Jewish culture lest they risk living under the law. When Mottel was a Pastor/Rabbi for a Messianic Jewish congregation, he would explain that the first generations of Christians were Jewish and didn’t have to forsake their Jewish heritage and customs. “To acknowledge the Jewish roots of our faith doesn’t make us any less Christian or puts us under the law,” he firmly states. And so, Passover dinners are celebrated with the understanding that Jesus is the ultimate Passover Lamb. Mottel preaches Messiah Jesus and grace above all else, which acts as a safeguard for MMJO from false doctrine.
A Jewish Jesus
Jewish people often know an American Jesus. They aren’t always familiar with the fact that Jesus was a Jewish man born in a Jewish province occupied by Rome. “We present Jesus to the Jewish people the way He presented Himself in the first century Jewish world. And that is as the Messiah of Israel.” That difference matters to Jewish people who struggle separating the real followers of Jesus and the institutional European church that incited pogroms against their people. The gospels tell a very Jewish story, and that matters deeply to Jewish people.
1 Corinthians 9:20 is a central verse in Mottel’s life — “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.” When he officiates weddings for Messianic Jews, he’s keenly aware of the opportunity to witness to Jewish guests. These weddings are a bold statement that Jewish people are not leaving behind their ethnicity in embracing Jesus as the Messiah; quite the opposite. When the groom crushes the glass beneath his foot, it symbolizes the destruction of the temple. The same temple Daniel 9 prophesied would be destroyed after the arrival of the Messiah, which crumbled seventy years after Jesus ascended to heaven. It was this passage that ultimately brought Mottel to his knees and led him to Christ. It’s this message that he gets to share with wedding guests: the Jewish Messiah has come and will return for His bride, the Church. Not the church of Rome, but the Church made up of believers from across the world and Mottel’s beloved people.
Mottell Baleston was led to Christ by a Missions Door missionary who helped him study the Old Testament prophesies about Jesus. We’re honored to support him and his ministry which does evangelistic outreach to the Jewish community in New Jersey, disciples Jewish believers, and trains Christians to reach Jewish people effectively. Mottel also teaches all over the world, and if you’d like to access his teachings and receive updates about his ministry, you can do so at www.messiahnj.org and his YouTube channel. In addition, he’s been featured as a guest on many online Bible programs. If you’d like to support Messengers Messianic Jewish Outreach, you can do so here.