Friday, February 17, 2017

Does Your Church Have A Missions Program? Don't Ignore the Jew!

One dictionary defines Common Knowledge as “something widely or generally known”.  The same dictionary sites as examples “It is common knowledge among those familiar with the rabbinic tradition that Haman was considered a descendant of the Amalekites. ... Yet it was common knowledge that Mrs. Bush was a “moderating” influence on her husband.

I’m pretty confident in the veracity of the first example.  As far as Mrs. Bush having a “moderating” influence on President Bush is concerned, I would still hold that only Mr. Bush, Mrs. Bush, all the “little” Bush’s and God know that for sure.

The point that I’m trying to make is that not all “common knowledge” is necessarily true.  In some cases, I would prefer to call some such assertions as “common assumptions” and when it comes to assumptions, there’s a well-known cliché that (please pardon my language) when one “assumes” something, it “makes an ass out of you and me’.
When my family and I were moving into a house in a new location, I turned on what my father used to affectionately call ‘the idiot box’ just in time to catch a well-known comedian ending a quip with the words… “that’s about as likely as a Jew believing in Jesus”.  It was apparent, at least to this comedian, that it was common knowledge that Jews don’t believe in Jesus.

Having followed the rhetoric of this particular comedian for the past 30 years, however, and corroborating her statement with my own in-depth knowledge on the subject, I confidently assert that her statement was not one of common knowledge but was, in fact, a common assumption.  And dare I say that, true to form, this assumption, makes an ass out of everyone.  ‘Membership’ in the “Church” is perceived as limited to non-Jews.  Faith in Jesus is perceived by the public as ‘just another religion’ along with Judaism and Islam.  And the world, as a whole, has a tainted understanding of what Christianity and its origins are.
Welcome to my one pet peeve!  I weary myself standing on this soap box from which I am unable to extricate myself.  I’m sure that I alienate myself from much of Christendom let alone my Jewish brethren with my rantings.  However, it is through that grid that I view all ‘Christian’ literature and rhetoric. 

I suppose “Christian” is not necessarily a bad term although there are a lot of people who call themselves “Christians” who are not.  I do believe that much of this misunderstanding is the fault of the Church, but that’s a matter of discussion for another day.

The contemporary use of the term “Christian”, in my humble opinion, is an unfortunate one.  As some might be aware, that epithet wasn’t used until Acts 11:26, and was given to the followers of Jesus by non-believers… outsiders as it were.  Many within the “Church” however, have adopted it for themselves as a convenient moniker.  This self-identification, though, has yielded a perception that belief and, dare I say, trust in Jesus is just another religion like Judaism or Islam or Buddhism, etc.  On the contrary, genuine belief in Jesus manifests itself as a personal relationship with the eternal living God of creation and this relationship transcends ethnicity.  In fact, it ought to unite people of various ethnicities… not by piling everyone into one amalgam called “Christian” but by celebrating the diversity that the God of the Bible has naturally created and by which “peoples of every tongue and nation” will come and worship the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Sadly, when one studies the history of Christianity, by the time of the second century, it’s appearance had deviated drastically from its original setting.  The first century Church, up until the time Peter met with the Roman Centurion, Cornelius, in Acts chapter 10, was exclusively Jewish.  There wasn’t a Gentile in the lot.  Even well after Acts 11, the Apostle Paul does not shrug off his identity as a Jew.  In 2 Corinthians 11 Paul says…

 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I.  Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more.
2 Cor 11:22-23
A little further on, in describing the trials that he’d been through, Paul writes…

I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.
2 Cor 11:26

Note… he doesn’t call them “those” Jews but “my fellow Jews”
In spite of the persecution that he’d endured from his “fellow Jews” (and please don’t neglect his use of the term “gentiles” in the above passage as equal participants in his maltreatment), he’s not bitter towards them.  In fact, in Romans 9, he writes…

I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.
Romans 9:1-5
Paul never stopped identifying himself as a Jew and he never stopped loving the very people that hated and persecuted him.  He loved them even to the point of being willing to relinquish his own salvation if that meant that they might receive salvation in return.
The Jewish people were intended to be the ones who would bring the truth of God to the rest of the world.  When God gave the land to the descendants of Jacob who was later called Israel, it was with the intent that they would be a light to the nations.  The land given to the Children of Israel, over which they were to rule, was at the cross roads of all the trade routes of the known world.  They were to be a “peculiar people”… a special prized possession which is an inadequate definition of the Hebrew word “segula”.  As traders would pass through the territory of Judah, they would go back and tell their families and friends of this marvelous civilization with a constitution (known as the Torah) that was upheld because its people had a deep and profound respect for an invisible God whose forgiveness was symbolized by seven drops of a lambs blood on an altar that no one except one person was privileged to see and that, only once a year (Lev. 16… a pre-incarnate picture of the Messiah).  Israel was to be the vehicle that God would use to reveal Himself to all the peoples of the world.  In this regard, Israel did have somewhat of an impact on the nations.  The Queen of Sheba traveled a vast distance to meet with the king of this marvelous nation, who’s wisdom and wealth exceeded anything known up until that time.  The only problem with the nation was that it was God Himself who intended to be the king over this people.  They chose a human king instead.  And so the Jews failed in that respect.

Nevertheless, the Jews did succeed in a more important respect.  They were the metaphorical “woman” in Revelation 12 who gave birth to a Son.  And the name of that Son is Jesus.  He was to be a “light of revelation to the Gentiles and a glory to His people, Israel” (Luke 2:32).

But it is assumed by many that the role of the Jew is now over.  They are a vestige of the past.  As far as I’m concerned, the church that takes this view does not really consider the Jew as a mere “vestige” as much as I would more graphically call it, a “placenta”.  Now that the Messiah has come into the world, God doesn’t need the “placenta” any more.  It can just be discarded now like all placentas.  The trouble is that in God’s eyes this is no placenta.  In spite of their unbelief the Jewish people are still a segula… a ‘prized possession”, and holy.  Paul writes…

I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people (the Jews) to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches. 
13-16:Rom. 11

Of course, Paul doesn’t use the metaphor of a placenta when he talks about Israel and the church in Romans 11, but he just might as well when he warns the Gentile believers in Rome not to boast against the natural branches (vs. 18) of the Olive Tree which Paul, in a more tasteful fashion than I, prefers to use as a metaphor.  He reminds the Gentile believer that “He who grafted you, as a wild branch, into the Olive Tree which is the kingdom of God, can just as easily prune you out (vs. 21).

As I mentioned before, the word “Christian” is an unfortunate term.  It connotes the notion that in spite of Paul’s own protestations, he is a Christian and not a Jew.  I’ve seen Christian history text books referring to the first believers in Jerusalem as Christians and not Jews.  I’ve heard sermons galore speaking of the disciples of Jesus as Christians and not Jews while Caiphas, and the Jewish hierarchy were the Jews.

The fact that a majority of the Jews during the time of the Gospel did not believe in Jesus, eclipses the reality that it was Jews who first brought the Gospel to the Gentile world to the average Christian mind.  One of my neighbors actually took offense when I told him that the Gospel of Mark was written by a Jew.  Furthermore, good churchgoer as he is, he refused to believe me.

Rightfully do Christians take the great commission as outlined in Matthew 28 as a call to “preach the Gospel to all the Nations”.  But the context in which that assignment was given must not be overlooked.  In context, Jesus, the God-Man (who happened to be a Jewish man) was telling his disciples, a small band of Jewish men, to declare among the goyim (the Gentiles… the various non-Jewish ethnicities), that the Messiah had come,  that He was both fully God and fully man, that He lived a thoroughly righteous life, that  He was murdered unjustly on an execution stake but was raised from the dead and sits at the right hand of God the Father to make intercession for anyone who will put their trust in Him. Having conquered death, this God-Man promises eternal life to whosoever will commit himself to walk in newness of life through the enablement of the Holy Spirit.

Yes, the Jewish nation, as a whole, did not come to faith in Christ, but those who heard the “great commission” and watched the Messiah literally ascend into the clouds did not shirk their responsibility to obey that great commission.  Paul, we know, ‘though not present at the Mount of Olives from where Jesus ascended, nevertheless knew that his role as a Jew demanded of him that he take the Gospel to the Gentiles.  All the others were martyred preaching the Gospel.  Archeological findings have confirmed that Thomas carried the Gospel to India.  And it is interesting to note that synagogues erected after the Babylonian diaspora 450 years earlier served as bases for evangelism in the early days of the spreading of the Gospel not just along the sojourns of Paul as was recorded in the Book of Acts but for Thomas and the others who took the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Ever since the time of the Great Commission, Jews have been taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Below is a brief list of Jewish Christians other than Jesus and His immediate disciples who’ve been involved in evangelizing the uttermost parts of the earth.  Note: These are not all merely contemporary individuals

Richard Wurmbrand – 1910 - 1991 Founder of Voice of the Martyrs, an organization which has offices in over 30 countries and is involved in the helping of Christians undergoing persecution in as many as 80 nations.
Jay Sekulow – 1956 – Present - Chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) a team which not only litigates on behalf of Christian causes in the United States, but which litigates on behalf of persecuted Christians throughout the world, including victims of Sharia law.
Joseph Wolf - 1795-1862 Became a pioneer missionary to the Jews of Persia Turkistan and Arabia
Alfonzo de Zalmora – Baptized in 1506 – The chief Hebraist in the translation of the first polyglot Bible which was financed by Cardinal Francisco Jimenez de Cisneros to “revive the languishing study of the ancient scriptures”.
Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky 1831-1906 An orthodox Jew from Lithuania, founded the first Protestant University in China.  Translated the Bible into Mandarin Chinese and then into Wenli (one dialect of Chinese). In spite of a debilitating onset of Parkinson’s disease, he completed the Wenli Bible typing one character at a time with his index finger.
A still incomplete but, nevertheless, more extensive list of prominent Jewish Christians can be found here .
World evangelism has been instigated in the past and present by Jews.  Furthermore, world evangelism in the future cannot and will not be conducted without Jews.  Revelation chapter 7 tells us that during the time of the great tribulation 144,000 members of the B’nai Yisrael (Sons of Israel) will evangelize the entire world with a level of effectiveness such as has never been known.  Some have said that these people comprise of the tribes of Judah, Levi and Benjamin who’d endured the Babylonian diaspora as well as other tribes not yet accounted for who are known as the “10 lost tribes of Israel”.  Some have said that these evangelists are the “church” which replaced the Jew (a position to which I strongly disagree and I see to be hard to defend).  I have a theory which I’d like to share with you.
I speculate that prior to the Assyrian diaspora of the tribes of the northern kingdom, the more devout among the people from the northern tribes migrated to the southern kingdom of Judah because the places of sacrifice set up in Samaria and Dan by Jeraboam, the first king of the north, in order to keep the people in his kingdom were inadequate.  Those who migrated southward knew that the only authentic place for worship was in Jerusalem.  Hence, those who were scattered as a result of the second diaspora… the Babylonian conquest of the southern kingdom, were from every tribe including those from the north who'd migrated south.  That’s why we have Ashkenazi Jews of today with names like Naftalon or Naftali, or Rubin or Simon or other names similar to or derived from the names of all the tribes of Israel.
Jewish people have been scattered throughout the world.  I’ve found an Interesting phenomenon.  Namely, that their culture tends to be a conglomerate of Biblical/Synagogue tradition and the culture in which they find themselves.  I’m of the opinion that this is why the 144,000 evangelists of Revelation 7 will be so effective.  They’re already a part of the culture they will be reaching for the Messiah.  They will not be trying to “fit in” to the culture around them.  Concerning the unique nature of those cultures… they already do fit in. Hence, I believe that part of a missions effort should include seeking out of indiginous Jews.

If your church does not have a missions program, start one and if it already has one, DO NOT ignore the Jew.

No comments: