In my Why A Rabbi? post, I traced how God’s revelation of himself and His way came through Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Mankind’s history has been the story of gods and idols that need to be appeased, cajoled, or bribed in order to get favorable results in one’s life. In essence, magic, myth, and mysticism have been the spiritual legacy of humanity from, … oh, say, the time of Noah?
Judaism’s difference, and because it is from the same root, Christianity’s difference, is that there is one God who is supreme and who has been revealing Himself to mankind in order to draw fallen people back into fellowship and holy, right living. The Shema begins with “Hear, O Israel, the LORD your God, the LORD is one” (Deut. 6:4). And unlike the gods of the universe, this God, this LORD who is one, is not only powerful, He cares for his creation.
In a recent discussion with someone in my church, I was challenged over my statement that Jesus was the completion of God’s Old Testament revelation. This person felt that my belief was both provincial and old-fashioned, tying Jesus to the Old Testament. After all, she reasoned, “Jesus transcended Jewish religious restrictions and showed God as a universal god, don’t you think?”
As you might expect, I demurred.
“Salvation Is Of The Jews”
The problem for Christians who want to excise Jewishness from Jesus is that both Jesus and Paul made statements that are insurmountable, inextricably linking Christianity with the faith of the Tanakh.**
The statement that I just used as my subheading, “Salvation is of the Jews,” is what Jesus said to the Woman at the Well, in John 4. After Jesus got uncomfortably personal (“the man you have now is not your husband”), she tried to change the subject to religion (hey, it was the only topic in Judea, after all), and Jesus made a statement that should have each of us examining his/her faith. He said,
You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.
When the average Christian reads this statement, s/he goes to the standard “Red Thread” that is said to run through the Tanakh, God’s plan to provide a Savior by establishing a new covenant to replace the old. But we need to look deeper into the implications of the statement, “Salvation is of the Jews.”
“You Worship What You Do Not Know”
That statement sums up the religious and spiritual history of mankind. In Acts 17, Paul even confronts the Athenian philosophers on the Areopagus on this score, noting, “… as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: To the unknown god.’” Down through the ages, holy men and hucksters have pushed their imaginings about what God or the gods are like, and how we relate to them.
The world has had an overflow of prophets and profiteers “re-imagining” God for us, trying to show us a “universal” God. The problem is that the “universal God” has revealed Himself, and shown us what He is like through His word and through His Son. The problem is that the world does not like the fact that this “universal God” has revealed that His prescribed moral code is the one received by Moses at Sinai.
And, I’m afraid, a growing segment of the Church agrees with the world.
We Are Ruth, Not Rome
Two thousand years ago, Rome ruled the world. According to what I am reading, the “We’re No. 1” mindset did not originate in the U. S.; the people of Rome suffered from what I call the “Rome Complex”, believing that they were superior to all the others they had conquered; after all, they had brought Pax Romana and civilization to the world. I believe that the same thing happened in the religious world. As the church became more Gentile and less knowledgeable about Torah, the idea that Jesus came to create a new Church and a new religion, began to grow until it became the overarching belief in the Church. And I feel that my belief is supported by Paul’s admonition to the Roman church.
In Romans 11, Paul tells us that God planted one tree, not two, and in v. 16, he says that “the root is holy.” The entirety of God’s revelation through the Tanakh was God’s truth, and to the Romans who were starting to develop a Rome Complex, thinking that their new belief was superior. However, Paul nipped that thinking in the bud, reminding them that they had no cause for arrogance: “… remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.” (v. 18)
The perfect image for our situation is Ruth of Moab. Ruth is rightly held up for her devotion to Naomi, her mother-in-law, and leaving her people to live in Israel. Her beautiful declaration is the substance of many a wedding vow today:
But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1: 16-17, ESV)
A wonderful statement of commitment, but there is a special nugget of truth in her statement that the Church needs to take to heart:
Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.
In addition to committing herself to Naomi, she states that she is adopting the Hebrew people as her people and the Hebrew God as her God. This is what we need to take to our hearts, to see that becoming a Christian means that we are taking the Hebrew God as our God, and that we are committing ourselves to His people, as well.
Ruth knew that she was asking to be grafted into Israel; the Church has forgotten that this is still the case today. As Rev. David Pryor put it, “God didn’t plant a Christmas tree; He planted an olive tree.”
And it is we who are grafted into that holy root.
** Tanakh is the Jewish/Hebrew term for the portion of the Bible that Christians call the Old Testament, Genesis through Malachi. I am going to try to use Tanakh in my articles from now on, because I believe that the term “Old Testament” is a barrier to communication and understanding between Christians and Jews.
Why Tanakh, by the way? From Wikipedia:
Tanakh is an acronym of the first Hebrew letter of each of the Masoretic Text’s three traditional subdivisions: Torah (“Teaching”, also known as the Five Books of Moses), Nevi’im (“Prophets”) and Ketuvim (“Writings”)—hence TaNaKh.