“Why A Rabbi?”, part 1

rabbi1I realize that several of my recent posts may lead some to think that I’ve become ga-ga over Judaism, that I might be a couple bubbles off-center in my fascination with the historic background for the birth of the Church due to this one book that’s gotten me all hipped on Jesus the Jew. But I have to say that seeing Jesus in a synagogue and not the cathedral has both answered a lot of questions for me and engendered a whole lot more.

But one basic question that I have been coming back to, over and over, is a simple, three-word question in the second chapter of  Sitting At The Feet Of Rabbi Jesus:

“Why a rabbi?”

Of course, Spangler and Tverberg proceeded to answer that question, staying within the confines of their thesis, “how the Jewishness of Jesus can transform your faith,” (as the subtitle goes.) But having once started down that road, I found myself asking more questions that made me start examining my faith much more in-depth, such as

Why a rabbi? And why a Jew?
Why then, why that point in time?
Was there ‘new’ revelation?
If so, was the purpose of this ‘revelation’ a new religion?

And it was this last question that helped to push me in the direction I needed to go in order to answer all these other questions I have had spinning around in my mind.

But first, I need to clarify something: when I say “new revelation”, I’m not saying that God has given me a new addendum to the Bible that you need to read and heed. Instead, I am saying that I realized that all of Biblical history has been one action: God’s revelation of Himself and His love for His creation to mankind. To see God’s actions of self-revelation, I …

Begin At The Beginning: Abraham

Adam and Eve. Eden, the perfect world that God created. The mere mention of them fills us with wistful images of what might have been, a lost paradise of happiness, health, and holiness. According to Genesis, there was perfect communion and relationship between God and His creation, an unbroken and complete fellowship.

Then sin entered the picture. No more Eden, Cain kills Abel, Lamech boasts of his revenge and in short order, Noah arrives on the scene and the rest of history is the downward slide of humanity. There is complete and total separation from God, and in every place, every person has his own little god.

At this point, God would have every right to just let earth, and everything on it, dissolve into the surrounding cosmos. But, as Screwtape said, God loves “the disgusting little human vermin,” and desired to restore the fellowship lost at Eden. In a world with so many gods, He needed to break into the world, give revelation of Himself and His ways to a lost and blinded world, and then shepherd His revelation to the whole world.

To do this, He entered into covenant with a man of whom He said “… I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice….” (Gen. 18:19)

With the Abrahamic Covenant, God begins to put into action His plan to turn these ‘vermin’ back to their Creator and restore His creation to right relationship with Him and with each other. He begins to create a people who will receive revelation and teaching for mankind.

Revelation at Sinai: Moses

We know our books and our stories; we know that from Abraham came Isaac, Jacob and the Patriarchs, the slavery in Egypt, and finally the call of Moses and the Exodus. We know that 70 went into Egypt, and over a million came out 400 years later. This was all by God’s leading and shepherding. God had chosen a man to sire a tribe, and then a people—God’s chosen people.

A British wag wrote a little bit of doggerel in the early part of the 20th century that goes:

How odd of God
To choose the Jews

Anti-Semitic? Yes, but an anonymous riposte gave the perfect answer, I think:

It’s not so odd,
The Jews chose God.

And it was this choice, the decision as a people, to enter into covenant with God at Sinai, that changed the course of world history. God broke into world history and revealed His heart to a nation. By entering into covenant with God at Sinai, Moses and the children of Israel received two revelations, both of which were counter-intuitive to the “wisdom” of the existing world at that time.

Sinai’s first revelation:
The first revelation was a direct contradiction of mankind’s post-Fall religions: there is one God who is the creator of heaven and earth, and not different gods for different peoples and different places. YWHW is not a territorial god, as He created the entire universe. Not Egypt’s Ra or Palestine’s Baal or Babylon’s Marduk, or Zeus, or Jupiter or Odin, ad nauseum. One God only; all the rest are idols.

Sinai’s second revelation:
And the second revelation was like unto the first: this God, the creator of heaven and earth? He cares about you and I and about how we live, for Him and with others! The gods of the nations were deities that were to be appeased and cajoled, who didn’t care how we lived, so long as the Temple coffers remained filled. Here is an excellent characterization of the religions of the world:

These religions were almost exclusively concerned with honoring the gods through ritual acts of sacrifice. There were no doctrines to be learned, as explained in books, and almost no ethical principles to be followed, as laid out in books. This is not to say that adherents of the various polytheistic religions had no beliefs about their gods or that they had no ethics, but beliefs and ethics—strange as this sounds to modern ears—played almost no role in religion per se.
~ Bart D. Ehrman. “Misquoting Jesus.”

To find teachings on ethics, morality and right conduct, you have to go to the writings of philosophers. Juxtaposed opposite these laissez-faire gods was the covenant with the One God who revealed the One Way of life, holiness, through One Book, the Torah. The Torah called for His people to live in covenant with Him and to follow the teachings and commandments that He gave at Sinai.

Finally, Reconciliation Through Christ On Calvary

As Christians, we believe that Christ died on the cross in order to redeem mankind from sin and reconcile us to God. But when you think about it, why is it man who needs reconciling, and not God? After all, the Fall, the disobedience and rebellion, was man’s doing, not God’s, so He would be the offended party, right? When my feelings are bruised and I’ve got a major grudge on, isn’t it the offending party that needs to try to reconcile with me?

And yet, God’s story running through our history is that of a deity who, with love and compassion for His creation, seeks to draw the offender back into right relationship. The story of mankind’s religions is just the opposite: knowing the guilt of sin, man tried to find ways to appease and win over the gods and/or spirits that they imagine control the fates. But it is all on our terms.

God’ revelation of Himself, begun on Sinai, continued down through the Old Testament. Have you ever heard anyone say that they can’t relate to the God of the Old Testament because He is a brutal tyrant, while the God of the New Testament is a God of love? To me, that is just so much bilgewater.

Read the Psalms and read the books of prophecy. In books like Habbakuk, Jonah, Hosea and Micah, you will learn more about God through first person statements that He makes in conversation these writers than in the New Testament. The only first-person statements by God the Father in the New Testament are “This is my Son, listen to him.” Yes, we have third-person statements, like “God is love” and “God is light,” but there are no “I am the LORD who sanctifies you,” or “I am the LORD who heals you” statements.

And it was in Christ’s Incarnation that God’s full revelation was completed. I know that it is commonly said that Jesus was “born to die”; usually this statement is made  to emphasize the supremacy of Calvary over Christmas, to show the importance of the atoning death of Christ as the purpose of His life, but I think it is more accurate to say that Jesus’ life and death completed the revelation of God to man.

And the purpose of this millennia-long plan was the reconciliation of mankind to God.

CSL

(more to come)
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