I wish you would either rejoice in your non-Jewish identity and find your place in the church or realize that your participation in MJ (assuming your congregation is actually Jewish, which I do not think is a given) is about supporting God's work amongst the people of Israel.
These quotes from comments made on Judah Gabriel's Weekly Bracha late last month were in response to some statements I'd made in an article I wrote for my congregation called Does God Love Gentiles, Too? I've been assured by various Messianic Jewish commentators that indeed, God does love me, but that I need to restrict my role as a worshiper of the Jewish Messiah to the Christian church in order not to misappropriate any of the practices or behaviors that have been given to the Jewish people.
That conversation was the final prompt (though not the actual beginning of this quest) to start this blog and examine all of the assumptions I had managed to collect over the past decade or so, about my relationship with God, with the Jewish Messiah, with Jewish people, and in the larger body of believers in the world. Who am I in Christ/Messiah? I found I wasn't really sure anymore. Yes, of course there are many groups who are more than glad to tell me who I am and what I should do and where I should go (in one way or another), but too many people robotically respond to a human authority and allow that authority to define their roles and relationships. Missing, at least from my perspective, from the many conversations was the actual desire of God. What does God really want Gentiles of faith to do in response to Him? What is the proper role of a Gentile in relationship to the Messiah of the Jewish people? More specifically, why did Yeshua/Jesus really come?
That might seem like a ridiculous or even an insane question, but consider the quote I inserted at the top of this blog article.
Messianic Judaism was started as a movement for Jewish people to express life and faith in Yeshua.Taken all by itself, this phrase seems to say that the Messiah came for the Jewish people and only the Jewish people. There's a certain amount of support to that notion.
Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession."Neither Yeshua nor his disciples were particularly gracious to the Canaanite woman. Yeshua said I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel and certainly this woman didn't quality. Neither does anyone else who isn't Jewish. If the narrative started and ended there, and if Gentiles were expected to have some sort of relationship with the God who made the world, it would have to be accomplished through some other mechanism or process besides the Messiah. End of story.
Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us."
He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel."
The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said.
He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs."
"Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."
Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour. -Matthew 15:21-28
On the other hand, there's this:
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again”. -John 10:14-17Here we have Yeshua acknowledging that the Gentiles will also know him, listen to his voice, and follow him. The statement also seems to say that the death the Messiah suffered was on behalf of Gentiles as well as the lost sheep of Israel. But what now?
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." -Matthew 28:16-20Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. In other words, Yeshua seems to be directing his Jewish disciples to make disciples of all nations, that is, all non-Jewish people, and to teach the new, Gentile disciples everything Yeshua taught his own Jewish disciples. Everything? Gentile disciples? This must have seemed like a radical thought to Yeshua's audience.
A few years back, I attended something called the Wooden Podium conference hosted by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) (the particular event I attended was held in Phoenix, Arizona). At that event, D. Thomas Lancaster defined a disciple as a student who learns by imitation. That is, a disciple attaches himself (or herself) to a Master and learns the Master's teachings by imitating everything the Master says and does, basically modeling the Master's lifestyle. In the case of a disciple of Yeshua, the person would attempt to model their actions and even their thoughts on their observations of Yeshua as well as his spoken teachings. The Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us as a human being becomes the ultimate role model and the perfect Rabbi to (at least) the first century Jewish world, hungry for the true meaning of the Torah and a pure relationship with God.
Connecting the Matthew 28 mandate with Lancaster's definition of "disciple", what Yeshua seems to be saying is that the Jewish disciples were to become masters of Gentile disciples and to model for the Gentiles all of the lessons that Yeshua taught and modeled. OK, let me get this straight. If you follow the logic of the statement, Jewish disciples who had modeled themselves on the Jewish Messiah were to act as models for their own Gentile disciples. That means, for the Gentiles to learn properly, they'd have to not only listen to what they were taught about Yeshua but imitate the actions of their Jewish Masters and teachers. Imitate?
I may be overstating the point, but think about it. If a bunch of first century Gentiles who had just left pagan worship started imitating their first century Jewish mentors who are teaching them to act our their faith in the Jewish Messiah, what would happen? Does it make sense? Let me make an illustration from my own experience.
I came to faith in Yeshua in my 40s. That, in and of itself, probably makes at least some of you reading this blog consider me as "lesser", especially those of you who have been developing a relationship with the Messiah since childhood or at least your teens (I was seen that way by some Christians in my original church experience). Nevertheless, I came to faith. As circumstances (which I believe were constructed by God) would have it, my family and I began worshipping at a Nazarene church in my community. I'd been in church before and, as a young teen, my parents had me attend a Lutheran church with them, but I never attended as a believer. I never had faith as a teen or young adult. No one explained to me, as a youngster, the "relationship" stuff. No one bothered to ask if I believed.
So here I am, a guy in his early 40s with his wife and kids in church, scared to death and as awkward as a gymnast with broken legs. What was I supposed to do here? What was I supposed to say? Half of what everyone talked about was in "Christianese" so I could barely understand the concepts being discussed in Bible class and, if I dared to ask, people would look at me as if I had just turned bright orange with purple polka dots. What to do?
What does anyone do in an unfamiliar circumstance when they're trying to fit in? You do what everyone else around you is doing until you figure things out for yourself. In other words, you imitate your role models, at least until you are able to grasp your environment and can act independently in an appropriate manner. I suppose that could be one way to consider being a disciple, except that it's not a formalized relationship and those you are imitating may not be aware that they're being used as role models.
Can we apply the idea of a Master/Disciple relationship between say, Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10)?
While you may consider the answers to these questions to be elementary, I am deliberately taking my steps in this journey slowly and asking what many of you might consider questions with obvious answers. I started this blog, among other reasons, because the nature and character of the relationship between modern believing Jews and Gentiles has been brought into question. It has been suggested, based on the concept of "Bilateral Ecclesiology", that Jews and Gentiles who consider themselves followers of Yeshua, must remain separate from each other because, in essense, relative to their faith and their roles, Jews and Gentiles are Apples and Oranges. We can see this in the first century world of the disciples, at least somewhat.
Recall that it wasn't until about 15 years after the events recorded at the end of Matthew 28 that Peter received his rooftop vision in Acts 10. Up until that point, there's not much of a record of a lot of Gentiles being discipled by the twelve who had followed Yeshua. There's a good reason for that. Really acting out the lived experience of a Jewish person discipling a Gentile was rather foreign. At that point in history, in Roman occupied Israel, for a Jew, even going into a Gentile home would make the Jew "unclean". God had to inject a significant prompt into Peter's life to get him to realize that nothing bad would happen to him if he entered the home of Cornelius and in fact, it was what God wanted Peter to do. Peter was still trying to figure out what the vision meant when the messengers from Cornelius arrived. I wish I could have been there to watch the realization come over Peter's face as he understood the reality of Yeshua's words to make disciples of "all nations". No wonder he and other Jewish believers were so amazed at this:
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.Peter received plenty of heat from some other Jewish believers when they heard he had gone into the home of a Gentile and he ended up having to explain what happened to them (see Acts 11). A Jew going into a Gentile's home was obviously a very rare and generally undesirable event for Jews at that point in time. The idea that Gentiles could really receive the Holy Spirit, just as the Jews had, was completely revolutionary. It must have been very difficult for all of the Jewish believers to accept. Who had ever heard of a Gentile having a relationship with the One, True God unless he or she had converted to Judaism? Fortunately, the believing Jews Peter spoke with accepted his experience:
Then Peter said, "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days. -Acts 10:44-48
When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life." -Acts 11:18We might be left to wonder what Peter and Cornelius, or any Jewish teacher and Gentile disciple, had to talk about, but then we encounter the Jerusalem letter in Acts 15. The letter seems to define the limits of what was expected of the Gentile believers in Yeshua (besides faith in Yeshua himself, of course). Both here and in Galatians, we see that some group is going out representing the Jewish Messianic authority and attempting to convince the new Gentile believers that they must become circumcised (convert to Judaism) in order to worship the Messiah and to worship God. As such, they would take on board the full yoke of Torah, which some commentators also believe means all of the Oral Torah, traditions, and halacha.
There's a difference of opinion as to how to understand the Jerusalem letter, which was supposed to counter this problem, but let's assume for now that we can take the letter on face value and not connect it to any other portion of the larger Biblical context. Let's say we can take the content of the letter as the length, breadth, and depth of a Gentile's responsibility to God as a believer in Yeshua. This may or may not be true, but I'll reserve that discussion for a different time. Of course, it might fly in the face of the Matthew 28 statement of Yeshua directing the Jewish disciples to teach the Gentile disciples everything Yeshua taught the Jews, but I suppose the Gentiles could learn everything Yeshua taught but only respond to some small subset of those behaviors as outlined in the Jerusalem letter.
Who were the "judaizers" stirring up these issues in Acts and Galatians? I've seen comments in connection with recent MJ/BE blogs I've read stating that they were Gentile believers who basically went overboard in their devotion to Judaism (if not the Messiah) and tried to convince other Gentiles to "become Jewish". This sort of behavior can sometimes be seen in certain MJ/OL groups where Gentiles appear to fall in love with Judaism but not so much with Yeshua. I've heard a number Gentile believers refer to themselves as "Spiritual Jews", which is probably nuts. It's very easy for some people to get very confused about their identity and to assume that if they're doing "Jewish stuff" that, on some level, it makes them Jewish. Some of these folks become quite upset if you say "Jesus" and not "Yeshua", or if a fellow Gentile believer chooses to go to a Sunday-keeping church, or if a fellow Gentile believer in MJ/OL doesn't feel convicted to wear a tallit during prayer or worship. In those cases, I can see the Jewish people in Messianic Judaism (or in any Judaism) becoming somewhat put out. These latter-day Gentile "judaizers" certainly stir up the pot, so to speak.
On the other hand, what if at least some of the first century "judaizers" were Jewish believers who just could not make the conceptual leap that Gentiles were able to enter into a community of faith in the Jewish Messiah? After all, the Jewish people were virtually the only people group on Earth who had worshipped the One God, kept the Shabbat, and experienced God for thousands upon thousands of years. Who were these “Gentile-come-latelies” who not only are receiving Jews into their homes, but professing a faith in the Jewish Messiah without converting to Judaism? There are different interpretations of these events, including some traditionally Christian thoughts, but it does illustrate that the Jewish and Gentile believers didn't form a fused identity in the first century Church/Messianic Community and they remained two distinct people groups linked by a common faith in one Messiah and one God.
It begs the question though, that if Jews remained Jews and Gentiles remained Gentiles in the first century community of Messianic faith, just how did discipleship work, particularly within the context of active worship? I mentioned in my earlier personal disclosure about my first church experience as a believer. Of course, for me to imitate the more experienced Christians around me, I had to be in the same church at the same time as they were. Can we believe that Gentiles attended the same worship services as their Jewish mentors? If they did, was that deliberately intended by God to be only a stepping stone experience leading eventually to separate worship venues for Jews and Gentiles, or was the original Messianic worship model somehow distorted and lost by human beings failing to perceive and uphold God's purpose? A topic for my next blog.