- Written by David Brickner
*You have the right newsletter and we would very much like for our family in Christ who are not Jewish to read this as well. In fact, if this were only for our Jewish readers, we would print it in a different publication. But because all our readers care about what is going on with the cause of Christ among Jewish people, we hope that this will be of interest whether or not you are Jewish.
In the first century, Jewish believers in Jesus were the church's leaders, worldwide. The apostles and those they mentored set an example for this far-flung and diverse community of faith. They provided instruction, primarily in letter form. Those epistles" that were uniquely inspired by the Holy Spirit became sacred Scripture. One such epistle, Hebrews, addressed perplexing matters of crucial concern primarily to first century Jewish believers.
Many Jewish followers of Jesus face the same crucial concerns today. This open letter to Jewish followers of Jesus directs us back to the wisdom of the Book of Hebrews. I hope it will be an encouragement to you, because some of these struggles are not unique to Jewish believers.
Due to space limitations, it will probably take three issues of our newsletter to offer the following seven challenges to my Messianic family:
Love His Body
Resist the lure of triumphalism
Resist the lure of rabbinic Judaism
Resist the lure of assimilation
Proclaim the gospel
Proclaim the return of Messiah
We live in a world of deafening noises, competing demands for our attention and our affections. When the world shouts out obvious temptations to ungodliness we have a clear choice to avoid sin or fall prey to it. The choice is not always so clear when urgent and earnest voices tempt us in high-minded and spiritual-sounding terminology. The way to recognize these other temptations is the same as it was in the first century: fall deeply in love with Jesus. Veyahaftah et Adonai Y'shua elohecha, vechol levavcha. (And you shall love the Lord Jesus your God with all your heart.)
The author of Hebrews spent considerable time emphasizing the glories of Messiah Jesus. Jewish believers understood the dangers of idolatry, but many were confused concerning the very proper and biblical adoration of the God/man, Y'shua ha Mashiach. Accordingly, the first three verses of the book of Hebrews present a beautiful clarification of Christ's deity.
"God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, (1) whom He has appointed heir of all things, (2) through whom also He made the worlds; (3) who being the brightness of His glory (4) and the express image of His person, and (5) upholding all things by the word of His power, (6) when He had by Himself purged our sins, (7) sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Hebrews 1:1-3).
Using a rabbinical device known as "stringing pearls," the author of Hebrews proclaims a seven-fold majesty of Messiah Jesus (indicated by the numbers in parentheses that I have inserted into the text). Y'shua's deity is never in question. His glory is equal to that of the Father.
As Jewish believers, we should be leading the exaltation of our Messiah Jesus. Yet certain claims seen in the above passage are de-emphasized among some (repeat, some) of the Messianic brothers and sisters. Of course this would make sense if traditional Judaism were our model—since it is not traditional for Jews to believe in Jesus and the rabbis insist that believers in Him are no longer Jewish. If the rabbis were right and we could not be Jewish and believe what the New Testament says about Jesus, I hope we would be willing to choose our Jesus over our Jewish identity.
Fortunately, the rabbis are absolutely wrong. The most Jewish thing any of us could do is believe in and lovingly follow Jesus our Messiah. We need to express our love for Jesus in ways that are both theologically rich and devotionally warmhearted. Our "Jesusness" is more important than our Jewishness—because we can be reconciled to God whether or not we are Jewish, whereas we cannot be reconciled to Him without faith in Jesus. And our destiny as human beings rests on whether or not we are reconciled to God. That is not to trivialize our Jewish identity, which is a precious gift from God. But the gift cannot be elevated above the Giver.
Our love for Jesus will also help us to love one another more fully. I don't know if there has been a time in recent history when Jewish believers in Jesus have been more divided from one another than we are at present. A host of issues seems to come between us. But if we truly love Jesus with our whole hearts, we will love one another as He loves us. Our differences and disputes will pale in the light of our passionate adoration for the Messiah, who truly makes us one in Him.
Indeed, if we fall in love again with Jesus, we will more fully love His Body (the Church) in all of its diversity. Y'shua's love for the Church is described as the love of a husband for his wife: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her" (Ephesians 5:25). How can anyone fully love Messiah without having a proper appreciation for His beloved Church?
We are all very sensitive to the terror and tragedy of past Christian anti- Semitism, particularly in Europe. This has been a stain on the reputation of Christianity—a mark that we Messianic Jews do not wish to bear. Some Jewish believers draw away from the Church to avoid a guilt-by-association—even though the majority of the Church (which includes all of Jesus' disciples to this day) had no part in that guilt. Ironically, the majority of Jesus- followers in the world today are from African, Latin and Asian parts of the world. Neither they nor their ancestors had any part in the terrible chapters of church-related anti- Semitism. Our unbelieving Jewish people may paint the Church with a broad stroke of the brush, but we who know Jesus and know His people have no business laying responsibility for anti-Semitism at the feet of those who had nothing to do with it. If we allow the past to control our present attitude toward the Church, we will be guilty of holding in contempt what God loves.
When the God of Israel looks on His Church today, He sees a colorful mosaic of people from every tribe and tongue and nation. We Jewish believers have an important part in that mosaic. There has been an emphasis on recovering the Jewish roots of faith in Jesus and I applaud this. But we must beware of "cultural imperialism." Christians are enriched through understanding the Jewish backgrounds of the Christian faith, but we cannot reincarnate today's Church to be a first century Jewish expression of faith in Christ. We should not berate our non- Jewish brethren for their own cultural expressions of faith in Christ as though it were some kind of paganism.
Despite the problems of history, God's people have been exceedingly good to us Jewish believers in Jesus. They have loved us. They have welcomed us as family when our own families rejected us for our faith in Messiah. They have been patient with our immaturities. They have encouraged our attempts to express our Jewish identity alongside our faith in Christ. They have generously supported our efforts to make Messiah known among our own people. We cannot ask for much more than that.
God never intended the church to be entirely Jewish. He established a richness of cultural diversity in the worship of Israel's Messiah for all time and eternity. Let us celebrate that diversity and humbly take guidance from the future vision of John the Apostle: "After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, 'Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'" (Revelation 7:9-10).
If we as Jewish believers want to be as we were in the first century, an example to the rest of the Church, let it begin with two emphases. Let us love Messiah Jesus completely and passionately and let us love His Body, the Church, fully and without reservation. To Him be the glory. Amen.