For nearly two thousand years, the Church has had a love/hate relationship with the Jewish people. There was a time, to our eternal regret, in which Jews found more tolerance in lands ruled by Muslims rather than by Christians. The main founding father of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther—although he had lots of great qualities—succumbed to the poison of antisemitism, especially in his later years. I wish it wasn’t so, but the Nazis used some of his writings to justify their hatred.
We're going to spend some time after the end of Acts in order to delve into this topic a bit more. Obviously antisemitism is utterly condemned by God and his word. And to the degree that any church that claims to be following Jesus flirts with this, I want no part of it. My Savior is Jewish. Get over it.
But let's go ahead and tackle some of the so-called biblical justifications for it:
• They’re the ones who are responsible for crucifying the Lord Jesus. Really? I thought it was my sin that put him up there. I thought it was your sin and mine which nailed him to the tree. This is perfectly illustrated in some behind-the-scenes trivia concerning The Passion of the Christ, a movie accused of antisemitism. Did you know that Mel Gibson--the man behind the movie--actually had a cameo appearance in it? You don’t see his face: In one of the scenes where you watch a hammer nailing a spike into Jesus’ wrists, the hand with the hammer is Mr. Gibson’s.
• They typically are pictured in the N.T. as the enemies of the Good News. That’s true. But those are the actions of a small number of Jews in the 1st century. In no way should we hold responsible anyone else for their actions. You might as well hold an undying hatred for modern-day Italians. The Jewish man you go to as a doctor is not accountable for any of that. He’s not out to persecute you. He’s not your enemy.
Here are some other points to consider: 1) Our Lord could've picked any racial/national background in which to come to us. He decided to be Jewish. 2) All his apostles were Jewish. 3) All the writers of the N.T. (with one lonely exception) were Jewish. 4) The entire first generation of believers was Jewish. 5) All the writers of the O.T. were Jewish. 6) The Jews were the ones to preserve for us those writings. 7) Even today, while most Jewish people are not believers, there are quite a few exceptions. According to Wikipedia, there are about 150 Messianic houses of worship in the U.S., with almost 400 worldwide. They number about 250,000 in America, and between 6,000 and 15,000 in Israel.
So here’s where the main question lies. Does God want a Jew to stop being a Jew in order to become a Christian? Well, as with most good questions, it depends. If by “Jewish” you mean a rejection of Yeshua as the Messiah, then we have to answer yes. Peter, a practicing Jew, told the Jewish Sanhedrin “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
What about practicing the Law of Moses? If a Jew believes in Yeshua, then does he need to stop keeping Kosher and observing the holidays? Again, it depends. Under no circumstances should anyone feel obligated to keep the Law of Moses in order to be right with God. We're not under the Law but under Grace. We're saved by grace through faith in Christ plus nothing. And if someone is observing the Law because they think there’s some special merit in that, then they need to drop it. That's the main point of the entire book of Galatians.
But if someone is born and raised in that culture and can use observance of the traditions as a way of symbolizing our relationship with the Lord, then that’s a good thing. From today’s reading we see that Paul --the apostle of freedom in Christ--didn’t have any problem with aiding fellow Jewish believers in keeping with Jewish customs. And when reaching out to his fellow Jews, he became "like a Jew"--probably meaning he observed Jewish laws and customs--in order to build bridges to more easily introduce them to Messiah Yeshua.
You see, just as he is with lost souls, Jesus didn’t come to destroy cultures but to redeem them. Some parts of the traditions and culture have to go. In fact, every part of every culture, just like every individual person, has to submit to Christ and be redeemed, or it has to go. But you'd be surprised at the amount of culture that--as opposed to destroying--he redeems and then channels into his purposes.
How does this apply to us? You and I need to take a long hard look at our own traditions and background. Some of it might need to go. But everything has to be either redeemed or abandoned. No matter what it is.
Lord Jesus, please help me to be utterly ruthless with anything that’s holding me back. But I thank you that you’ve come to redeem, both cultures and people. You’re that type of Savior.
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