Reflection on Israel’s Role

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Welcome back to the study table, friends.  This week’s focus is the parting of ways of Jewish and Gentile believers, and yesterday we ended our session with a list of ways this has played out over the years.  The Jewish people (both believing and unbelieving) experienced great persecution through major world events such as the crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Reformation and the Holocaust…all in the name of Christianity.

Is it any wonder, then, that a chasm in relationship occurred between Jews and Gentiles?

Over centuries, the split led to Judaism without the Messiah and Christianity without Jewish roots.  What a sad result.  However, what amazing wisdom God provided Paul in writing Romans 9-11, the blueprint for reconciliation.  I wonder if Paul knew how greatly it would be needed in the 20th and 21st centuries!

But, let’s turn our focus back to Israel for today, and let’s review some key points we have already talked about in this study:

  • Israel was chosen by God for a specific purpose.  Do you remember what it is?  To be the vehicle of world redemption.  Genesis 12:3c  (The blessing is salvation!)
  • God’s covenant with Abraham was an everlasting covenant, promising land and descendants.
  • Vultures will attack!  (If you don’t know what that’s all about, check out The Suffering Call.)  Spiritual battle rages over Israel.
  • God guarantees Israel’s survival!  God’s promise to Abraham was an everlasting promise.  Therefore, if God’s promise to Israel fails, God fails.  Impossible!

But now an interesting question: are God’s promises conditional or unconditional?  In our live class on Sunday morning, the best answer was: “It depends on which promise!”  Indeed, it does!  God put Abraham to sleep to make covenant with him.  Thus, God depended upon Abraham for nothing.  That is unconditional.

However, in other places, God’s promises are conditional.  While land and descendants are non-negotiable, Israel’s blessings are fully conditional!  Need to see it with your own eyes?  Read Deuteronomy 29:10-13, 26-28.  There, we find God drawing the Israelites into covenant with him (verses 10-13), yet making it very conditional upon their faithfulness to God (verses 26-28).

God often demonstrated it in Scripture, such as in Isaiah 11:11-12 where He talked about regathering His people a “second time” (meaning, there was also a first time)!  Twice He allowed Israel to go into captivity (to Babylon in the 6th century BC, to the 4 corners of the world in 70 AD), yet twice He brought them out!  (I have never found anything about a third exile and return.  Thus, if Israel is disobedient now, I believe God will do a new thing…He will save His people!)

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 sums it up nicely as God lays out two options for His people: blessings or curses.  Life or death.  They may have either, and they get to choose by the way they honor God!

Tomorrow we’ll continue our focus on Israel as we talk about four Biblical principles concerning God’s dealing with Israel and the nations.  What does God have to say about choosing blessings or curses, life or death?  We’ll dive into it tomorrow, so check back then!

1st Century Christians and Jews: Fractured Relations

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Pull up a chair!  We’re gathering at the virtual study table to follow up on yesterday’s foundational discussion about early Jewish-Christian relations, and God’s call of the Apostle Paul as a missionary to the Gentiles.  If you missed yesterday’s discussion, scroll back to it for a good foundation for today’s topic.

We have established that early relations between Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus were tenuous because of the differing backgrounds and traditions each brought to Christianity.  For the most part, Gentiles had pagan, idol-worshiping backgrounds, while Jews had temple worship and sacrifices.  Once Jesus came on the scene and Jews and Gentiles became believers, they faced obstacles.

However, another highly significant event, the destruction of the temple, occurred in 70 AD.  Keep in mind, Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection happened around 32-33 AD and the book of Acts was written in the late-30’s or early-40’s.  There were a few decades of Jewish-Christian history prior to the destruction of the temple, and it wasn’t a smooth ride! (Keep in mind, “Christians” included Jews who followed Jesus!)

For example, there was evidence of persecution against Christians.  Birkat HaManim (“blessings”) were added to weekday Amidah (Jewish prayer liturgy) to invoke curses on followers of Jesus.  Therefore, Jews who followed Jesus and were unwilling to recite the Birkat HaManim were excommunicated.  Jesus followers were conflicted!  Wanting to continue with their traditional prayers, but resisting the new Birkat HaManim!

Then it happened!  In 70 AD, the Temple was destroyed and it turned the Jewish world upside down.  Even Jewish Christ followers still observed the feasts and many of the Jewish traditions that God had set forth for them in the Mosaic Covenant.  What were practicing Jews to do now that there was no longer a place to worship or offer sacrifices?

Not only did they not have a temple in which to worship or sacrifice, but the Romans siege scattered the Jewish people to the four corners of the earth following the destruction of the temple!  It was hopeless for practicing Jews!

It was at this point in history that Rabbinic Judaism arose.  This Pharisaic, law-imposing form of Judaism was birthed out of a Rabbinic Counsel meeting at Yavnah.  Because temple worship and sacrifices were no longer possible, these three things became the primary tenets of Judaism:

  1. Prayer (even today, observant Jews faithfully go to the Western Wall to pray)
  2. Good deeds (the idea of Tikkun Olam became woven into their DNA)
  3. Fasting on Yom Kippur (retaining an emphasis on repentance)

Thus, Judaic “religion” would now be based upon the interpretation of rabbinic laws by rabbis.

Consider, however, that the Jewish people were still seeking the messiah.  They did not recognize Jesus as Messiah, so they remained anxious for the one who would deliver them from Roman oppression.  Thus, in 132 AD when a man named Shimon Bar Kochba was declared to be the messiah, Jewish believers in Jesus were faced with still another dilemma.

A revolt of the few Jews still left in Israel was taking place, and Bar Kochba was seen by many to be their salvation.  Yet, by this time, Jewish believers were well aware of the New Testament warnings against false messiahs, so now they were faced with controversy among their kinsmen.  Gentile believers wanted nothing to do with it, so they distanced themselves from their Jewish believing brethren and, therefore, from their Jewish roots.

In the Gentile Christian sphere, there was little concern for anything Jewish and, in fact, the church became:

  • Less Jewish (little regard for Jewish roots), then
  • Non-Jewish (separation of Jewish/Gentile believers), then
  • Anti-Jewish (animosity toward Jews)

As a result, through the years, historical events such as these occurred in the name of Christianity:

  • Middle Ages – chastisement of Jews for killing Jesus
  • Crusades – Jews killed by European Christians in attempts to conquer Jerusalem
  • Spanish Inquisition – Roman Catholic attempts to force conversion of Jews
  • Renaissance/Reformation – continued forced conversion of Jews
  • Holocaust – attempt at the hands of European Christians to exterminate the Jewish people

Now, think back to last week’s focus.  What we see in today’s lesson is such a far cry from the Romans 9-11 blueprint of Jewish-Christian relations that we studied last week.  Furthermore, put that into context of our time frame: the Church Age.

Is it any wonder a dramatic split occurred, lasting into the 20th century?  As a Jewish person, what would be your perception of Christians and Christianity?

Food for thought….until we meet again tomorrow.  See you then.

Week 7 – Parting Ways

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Welcome to week 7 of our study, Why Israel Matters.  This is a summary of a live study we’re doing each Sunday morning at CalvaryPHX in Phoenix AZ.  (11am in Room 209…you are welcome to join us!)  Last week we discussed the Jewish roots of our Christian faith, and how Christians and Jews are to rightly relate to one another.

We’ll follow that up this week by taking a close look at what happened to cause a split in Jewish-Christian relations in the 1st century, and what took place following that.  As you can imagine, backgrounds and traditions were much different between 1st century Jewish and Gentile believers.  The Jews had a history with God which included temple worship and sacrifices.  Meanwhile, background for most Gentiles was one, primarily, of pagan idol-worship.  Thus, problems arose as traditions clashed!  (Should the potluck be kosher or not!?!)

As we begin to understand the dilemma, let’s reflect back to Abraham.  To keep it all in perspective, we must remember that God birthed the Jewish people through a covenant with Abraham.  Prior to that time, there were no Jews.  God called a Gentile (Abraham) to be father of the Jews!  He then planted our Christian roots in that soil!

What do I mean by that?  Well, consider that “Christian” means “Christ follower,” and we know Jesus Christ was a Jew.  (We follow a Jew!)  Indeed, Jesus fulfilled the law of Moses, was circumcised on the 8th day (as all Jewish male babies were), was brought to Jerusalem and presented to God, entered and read in the synagogues, observed the feasts and, ultimately, was crucified as “King of the Jews.”

Likewise, the apostles, the New Testament writers and the first followers of Jesus were observant Jews.  Yet, they all serve a function in our planting as Christians in the soil of Judaism!

Given that, let’s focus a bit on Paul and dispel a couple of misconceptions.  Turn in your Bible to Acts 9:1-19 to discover God’s call on Paul.  (You will find another account in Acts 22:1-16 as Paul “shares his testimony” while on trial.)

In Acts 22:3, Paul clearly identifies himself as a Jew…and a very observant one, at that!  It is important to understand that Paul remained a Jew even after that encounter with God in which he became a Christ follower.  He did not stop being a Jew!  He continued observing the feasts (as Jesus did!) and remained Jewish in his customs and traditions.  (Though he did recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of the law, etc)

The point is: Paul was not “converted” to Christianity.  He was simply a Jew who chose to follow Jesus!  In fact, all the first followers of Jesus were JEWS!  (It was a bit later when the door of salvation opened to Gentiles.  Keep reading in Acts for that!)

The other misconception is that, upon his “conversion,” Saul became Paul.  In other words, his name changed.  Not so!  You see, “Saul” is a Hebrew name, while “Paul” is a Greek/Gentile form of the same name.  Paul was called as an apostle to the Gentiles, to whom he ministered.  Therefore, he was known as Paul by his audience.

Now, let’s put some puzzle pieces together.  In Acts 9, we read about the life-changing event that took place in order to prepare him for God’s service.  He is known as Saul in chapter 9 and, in fact, immediately following the Damascus road experience, he began teaching in the synagogues.  That means he was teaching Jews!

Read verses 19b-30.  How was he received by the Jews?  What happened to him?

Thus, you see that, beginning in verse 31, the focus turns to Peter and his ministry, and it remains there for the next several chapters of Acts.  Saul is seldom mentioned again until Acts 13:9.  Take a quick peek at that verse, and a look at the chapter heading to see how God brought Paul into mission with Himself!

Fascinating, isn’t it!  If you have not read the book of Acts lately, it is a great read!  You will get a pretty full understanding of the ministry to which God called Paul.  You will also get a great foundation of knowledge about the 1st century church.

That serves as our backdrop for the rest of this week!  Stick with us as we continue down our path of examining the parting of ways!  See you tomorrow!