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Monday, January 23, 2017

Judeo-Christianity

I once took an inter-cultural understanding class at my local Reformed synagogue.

Now, I should probably explain. For those who don’t know, the Reformed Tradition in Judaism is the most “open” and modern segment of the Community. Quite a number of Reformed Jews are former Gentiles, or married to Gentiles. In fact, you could easily meet, or being going to school with, or working with a Reformed Jew, and never know what his or her religious practices were at all. They’re very well integrated into Western life.

The class was intended to further improve understanding between the most tolerant Jews and the rest of our society. The rabbi who taught the class was charming, intelligent and personable. He was also very helpful in laying out the practices and traditions of modern Judaism to a Gentile audience. He knew his stuff, and I liked him. (I’m sorry to say I hear he’s passed on now.)

Anyway, in one of the sessions there was a kindly but fairly uninhibited Pentecostal woman who asked a rather pointed question:

“Rabbi,” she said, “I hear that it’s okay in Judaism to be observant of the traditions, but that you don’t have to be: you’re still considered a Jew …”

“That is correct,” the rabbi responded. “In fact, although it would be best to go to synagogue and to practice your Judaism, you’re still a Jew if you don’t. It’s biology, not just belief. So you can be conservative, reformed, Hassidic, or agnostic; so far as your Jewishness goes, it doesn’t change things.”

“So you could be an atheist and a Jew?” she asked.

“Yes. Actually, you could,” he replied.

“But …” she went on, perplexed, “could you be a Christian?”

The rabbi paused. When he spoke again, he spoke with quiet and deliberate firmness.

That’s too far,” he said.

Three words. There were no further questions.

No Judeo-Christians?

This reminds me of another incident. I was doing an advanced degree at a secular university, studying the intersection of world religions and various expressions of culture. My professor was a Jewish man. He chuckled when I submitted a paper that spoke of some traditional Western values as “Judeo-Christian.”

“Well,” he said to me, “as the old quip goes, ‘I never yet met a Judeo-Christian.’ ”

Too bad he didn’t look up when he said it. He’d have seen one.

Not Genetics

Don’t get me wrong — so far as I know, I’m not genetically Jewish. But I am Christian. And that’s the real point; because there is no such thing as a Christian who does not derive everything he believes, everything he loves, and everything toward which he orients his life from the legacy of Judaism. Every Christian is a Judeo-Christian.

The story of my origins is Genesis. The Law that shows me my sin is found in Torah. The Hebrew prophets tell me the future, and the Jewish poets have written my psalms. The terms on which the covenants were established were all Jewish. The first disciples were all Jews. So was the Apostle Paul, the greatest New Testament writer, along with his fellow writers Peter and John. The Church itself began 100% Jewish; and when the first Church Council was held, the subject of debate was not whether or not Jews could be Christians, but whether it was even possible for a Gentile to be one!

My salvation is Jewish. My gospel is a Jewish message to the lost Gentile world. Most importantly, my Savior was — and is — a Jew. I’m proud to tell you that my soul was saved by a Jewish man … the Messiah of Israel.

We Have Him

And this is really the great thing. We have him!

We’re just Gentiles, and in that light, we have no right: but God, in his grace, has handed to us the Messiah of Israel, the Light of the World and the Desire of Nations.

What are we doing with him? Really, we are maintaining his testimony in the interests of others. Messiah is for sharing. In truth, he’s still the Messiah of Israel, and we hold him in trust. One day, it will be our job to bring him back to his own people and share him with them anew.

Yes, I know that right now most of them don’t want him. But I assure you, on the authority of both the Tanakh and the New Testament, that when the time comes, they will.

Ruthfulness

Remember the Book of Ruth? Naomi was a Jewish woman who despised her birthright and abandoned her blessings. She went out into Gentile lands full, but returned empty and bitter. But some little Gentile girl saw precious value in the legacy she had laid down, and picked it up for her. Ruth gave up her own home and prospects to procure a future for her cynical old mother-in-law.

Her reward? She was able to return blessing to the older woman, not just by providing her with a grandson, and the greatest king of Israel, but with actually taking her place in the lineage of the ultimate Blessed Child, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Gentile Ruth brought Messiah to Israel. How about that?

Turning to Messiah

It will happen again. One day, the Jewish people will long for Messiah. And it will be the unspeakable privilege of Gentile Christians to say, “Here: we had him all along.”

So what are we to do in the meanwhile? Well, I found a most interesting passage about that. The apostle Paul writes:
“I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them.”
We have this idea again, a couple of verses earlier:
“By their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.”
Or as Moses puts it:
“I will make you [Israel] jealous by that which is not a nation. By a nation without understanding will I anger you.”
Say what?

Jealousy?

I thought jealousy was a bad thing? Isn’t it the emotion of people who are mean, bitter and spiteful? How could it be good?

You’re right: jealousy is often not good. But sometimes it is. Take the case of a man who refuses to share his wife with other lovers — he might be jealously guarding her, but is his “jealousy” evil? And would we think him perhaps a more loving husband if he said to his wife, “Take as many lovers as you can; I don’t care where you are or what you do.” Which man really loves his wife?

That is the very analogy that the Lord uses of Israel. In the Jewish prophets, he says of Israel, “I also swore to you and entered into a covenant with you so that you became mine.”

But Israel was not faithful, and “played the harlot” with the nations, forsaking her covenant with God. Yet God’s righteous zeal for his wife is unrelenting: and so he says, “Nevertheless, I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.”

The rejection of Israel is not permanent. Israel may be far from Messiah now, but they will return. The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. And so Paul can ask us:
“For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?”
And so, Israel will be saved. They will be saved when they receive their Messiah back from the Gentiles. The jealous love of God for Israel will achieve this thing.

What’s the Application?

Well, first, here’s a little word of caution to you: don’t dare despise a Jew. We owe them everything.

They may not know it, they may not like it, and they certainly don’t admit it … but that doesn’t make it one stitch less true. There is no place for ingratitude or forgetting our legacy in sound doctrine and correct Christian thinking. Keep that in mind.

Now, the second thing I’m going to say to you is something I’ve never thought about before: we Christians have a ministry of jealousy.

What I mean is this. Speaking through Paul, the Lord tells us exactly what is the right way to approach a Jewish person with the gospel: tell them exactly what you’ve got — and let them be jealous!

I’m going to be more blunt in future when I speak to my Jewish friends. I’m going to say, “I’m so glad to have your Messiah. Do you know how happy your Messiah has made me? I owe you everything for sharing your Messiah. He’s saved my soul and filled me with joy. Pass on to your synagogue how grateful I am.”

I haven’t much doubt that will grind a few teeth: but it’s hard to be angry when someone is so appreciative. Being faithful in our ministry to Jews does not mean bullying them, harassing them and certainly never forcing them to anything: it means telling them clearly that when the Spirit of God is ready to reach them, they can know exactly where Messiah is. If we leave them in no doubt about that, then the rest we can leave with God.

Jealousy will save them. Israel will return. We do not need to make it happen; it will happen because God says it will happen. And that’s why we don’t — and can’t — make it happen.

And you know what? On some level, I think they know it.

Naomi Returns

One final anecdote.

Some years ago, one of my Jewish colleagues, whose name was Naomi (I didn’t make that up; that’s the truth) asked me if I was interested in going to her synagogue to hear a famous Israeli give a speech. I happily accepted. But I asked her:

“You know I’m a Christian, don’t you? It won’t cause problems for you if I come, will it?”

“Oh no,” she said, “We know who our allies are. We can see who is taking trips to Israel, studying Jewish history and planting trees.”

“Well, I’m glad you know I’m on your side,” I said, “but then what’s the problem Jewish people still seem to have with evangelical Christians?”

“It’s the proselytizing,” she said. “We can’t stand the proselytizing.”

Those sorts of pleasant exchanges are what we’re really looking for, I think: not strident arguing and pushiness, but rather a grateful, open and kind spirit that keeps before the eyes of Jewish people that we have Messiah …

… and they can have him back anytime they wish. 

5 comments :

  1. "My salvation is Jewish. My gospel is a Jewish message to the lost Gentile world. Most importantly, my Savior was — and is — a Jew. I’m proud to tell you that my soul was saved by a Jewish man … the Messiah of Israel."

    LOL. After reading this I never should have wasted my time answering your post about ultimate reconciliation. You are far more ensnared in the world than you could possibly realize. May God have mercy on you.

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    1. Different writer, I'm afraid. Thanks for the sentiment.

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    2. Interesting.

      I wonder what your objection can be: you don't actually say.

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  2. It's okay, IC. I could only conclude from his comment on my post that he was both Calvinist and Universalist. At least that's what it seemed.

    In which case, his "May God have mercy on you" seems a bit superfluous. After all, as a Universalist he would have to assume God will eventually have mercy on us anyway, and as a Calvinist he would have to assume that our fates are already determined regardless.

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    1. Quite so.

      It's funny how people sometimes really don't behave as if they really believe the thing they say most ardently that they believe.

      On your side, if he's a Universalist, then one difference does it make to him whether people believe in Universalism or not? Surely what they believe won't change their eternal destiny at all...especially if, as you say, he's a Calvinist too. But here he is, getting all upset for some reason.

      I'd actually like him to come back and explain. But, as they say, "if wishes were horses, beggars would ride."

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