Blowing away the dust of history (part three)

We’ve been considering over the last few weeks various answers to the question of what else Nicodemus, a learned and studied Torah scholar of his day, some 2000 years ago, didn’t know. Yeshua’s gentle rebuke that what He was describing should have been common knowledge for anyone who knew the Torah, set up a dynamic that reverberates to this day. Having considered the idea that salvation is a Jewish idea and that there is no discrepancy between G-d being our salvation and Yeshua performing that role, we need to ask what the next area might be. What else is there in Judaism that is missed and currently not highlighted?
In Bereshit (Genesis) 15:6. we read that an odd transaction takes place between the Lord and Avraham whereby the righteousness of G-d Himself is imputed, or given, to Avraham. Now, instead of his own standing before G-d, he has a righteousness unmerited and simply allocated to him. What is it that triggers this transaction? Avraham’s faith. We know that without faith it is impossible to please G-d, for the simple reason as we see here with Avraham, that it is faith that enables us to stand as righteous before G-d at all. If we have HIS righteousness, then we can easily stand in His presence. Without it we fall short of His righteous standards, His glory. As a holy G-d He can tolerate no unholiness in His presence, so attaining His righteousness becomes an urgent issue for us as Jews.
 
The exercise of faith then SHOULD be solidly axiomatic to Judaism, after all, Avraham is our father and it is to him we look as the instigator and initiator of our Jewish faith. He is the ground-zero Jewish person and progenitor of our people and faith. Without him there would have been no Moshe (Moses), no King David and no Messiah. Israel’s history begins with this man in a real way, and the covenant that the Lord cuts with him that connects Avraham to everything that has happened since, the Land, the nation, begins with faith. But it might be a surprise to note that it is not just generic faith talked about here. Many people have ‘faith’ in crystals, horoscopes etc. None of these expressions are equal to the faith that Avraham demonstrated. What is it that marks out the faith of Avraham from other forms of generic faith in ‘god’ or even those who sincerely believe that G-d is?
 
According to the text, Avraham’s faith response was predicated on G-d’s promise and Word. This was not just faith but targeted faith. It was different say from faith that says ‘I can cross the road at green’, this was faith with a purpose: the full outworking of the promises of G-d to us His people and consequently to the nations too in salvation. And what is the target of that faith? Again, according to Torah the promise and response was given when the Lord predicted that a son (and by definition his offspring) would be born to Avraham who would inherit everything that the Lord covenanted. Avraham’s faith was operative as he accepted that the Lord would bring him a son, offspring, despite his age and Sarah’s infertile condition. His confidence was in G-d to honour the covenant, despite apparent human impossibility. That confidence was focussed not unsurprisingly in the son to be born, which makes the binding of Yitzchak all the more poignant and emotional.
 
Equally unsurprisingly Rav Shaul detects this focus and expands the concept of targeted faith to Yeshua. In his letter to the Jewish community in Rome he states that this righteousness comes ‘through faith in Yeshua, to all and on all who believe’ He repeats the same message in his letter to the community in Galatia too. A close examination therefore of the text reveals that faith alone is not enough, it is faith IN the One who the Lord ultimately promised, the son who would be born through whom and in whom all the promises of G-d are yes and amen.
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What do you mean?

The famed Chinese anti-blessing runs ‘May you be blessed to live in interesting times’ and it’s been uttered very frequently recently. For us in the Jewish community there are barely any times which are not interesting in one way or another, yet this current season is proving a challenge. One illustration of this was the conference originally pencilled in to be held at the University of Southampton at which the very right to Israel’s existence was to be debated and discussed. Thankfully the university realised that this was not a freedom of speech issue but an anti-Semitic abuse of freedom and cancelled it. Sadly it has reappeared now at an Irish university.
 
What shocks me though is not that this is debated, although that is bad enough, but the implications this throws up. It is often argued that what Israel is doing to the Arabs who live in certain areas of Israel are going to be ‘ethnically cleansed’ and removed from ancestral homelands. That this could even remotely be true is so laughable as to not merit a response here, but it is the language that shocks. If it is an act of ethnic cleansing to remove Arabs, then it surely is the same to remove Jewish people from said territories too. Indeed, a call to remove Israel from the map as has been often suggested by Arab, Muslim powers in the ME is often heard. Yet apparently this would NOT constitute an act of ethnic cleansing!
 
And here’s the nub of the issue, we live in an age where words are increasingly having no meaning whatsoever. Words now mean what we want them to mean, and that within our own ever decreasing bubbles of self-perception and personal indulgence. As the concept of absolute truth has been assaulted, and thereby the connected idea that words do have a meaning beyond ourselves and our own personal dictionaries of reality, the ability to communicate real meaning has diminished. In fact we have dug our own post-modern graves and are wilfully throwing ourselves into them as it were the best idea since sliced bread. The problem is that when we hear a news report about terrorism, we simply do not know any more if this is true. Such wilful abrogation of facts to suit ideology is shaking the ability to communicate to its core. And we see it everywhere across the ME in particular.
 
We can see this trend in other areas too: today people talk about ‘god’ without any concern as to which one, drawing upon a cultural consensus that has long since disappeared. Today we DO need to ask ‘which one?’ Words and their associated meanings are being reformed and given new semantic fields before our eyes and the minds of a generation are being transformed (or dare I say prepared?) for what is coming next.
If we learn one thing from the narrative of the Tower of Babel in Torah, it is that as language becomes muddled it is impossible to communicate any more. As people we then become separated and divided, and that produces conflict. Instead of using language to spread peace and guide people to worship the One true G-d in love and gentleness, we find the inflammatory use of words designed to stir up hatred and fear. One of the greatest minds of the twentieth century, Winston Churchill, knew this concept only too well when he famously said ‘Jaw jaw not war war’.
 
Today’s ‘meaning-crisis’ is creating uncertainty everywhere. What is truth, who is speaking it? In a post-truth age where experts are challenged and prejudice and personal opinion is vaulted as objective truth, we desperately need to go back to the source of all objective truth: The G-d of Israel. If we do not, the cultural and religious implications are severe. Assured cultural, moral and religious self-destruction will follow if no one knows what we mean any more. May we listen to the One who only speaks truth, whose meaning is clear, whose objective reality is the only narrative.

The ‘New’ Judaism and Messianic Judaism.

At the risk of appearing monotonous, it is nevertheless important to highlight the ongoing challenges and above all CHANGES happening in the Jewish faith world. Barely a week now goes by without a different journal or a published article or a newspaper report in this or that Jewish newspaper trying to verbalise the huge currents of change sweeping through the Jewish world today. It would be wrong to under-estimate this, yet categorising it is also a challenge. As such, the article attached sheds a fair perspective on the situation. Tsvi Sadan says ‘The Jewish people have gone through three major catastrophes, out of which new forms of Judaism have emerged’. The first catastrophe referenced is the destruction of the first Temple and the consequent return to the Land under Ezra and Nehemiah. From them developed the basic form of what would later become known as the Oral Torah, the fences around the Torah to ensure that a second diaspora simply couldn’t happen. That it DID happen was the second catastrophe running from the destruction of the second Temple in 70CE through to the exile after the Bar Kochva revolt in 135CE. The form of Judaism that emerged from that event was created in Yavne and became the foundation for Rabbinic Judaism. Taking the lead from the Oral Torah, the additional element was chiefly the authority of the Rabbis rather than the priests and prophets. We must not forget however, that a further form of Judaism also survived the first century: Messianic Judaism. Although this later was subsumed into a direction not anticipated or expected by those first century Jewish men and women who passionately believed that Yeshua was and is the Messiah (Mashiach), its existence is often far too easily overlooked. The third catastrophe to hit us was the holocaust. Sadan’s thesis, which I accept, is that we can expect to see a new direction for Judaism emerge as we now blend the return to the ancestral Land with a need for a form of Judaism that not only meets the modern needs but also the deepest spiritual needs of mankind, not just of our nation. Rabbinic Judaism, for all its glory and beauty, was designed to be a diaspora Judaism, a Judaism for survival under Roman occupation in the first instance and widespread cultural exile later on. Today we are back in our Land again.

As the article illustrates, there are many groups today exploring what new directions Judaism could or should take. As Sadan states: ‘Today there are tens of thousands who were born into Orthodox families leaving the fold (…) some going through the motions without desire or faith (..) some have become atheists.’ Other secular Jewish people are exploring ways to reconnect with their backgrounds, a truly modern ’emergent’ Judaism in various forms. These two streams are breaking open the old accepted ways and are seeking a renewing.

Given the compelling nature of this argument and the growing facts on the ground in Israel, we must not be surprised that it is at this time the Lord has re-established Messianic Judaism. Yes, a reformation of that ancient form of Judaism lived out in the first century, but also a form that is ready to be a living faith TODAY, not just a nod to the past. Our challenge is to form this Jewish faith in line with Yeshua’s teachings, developing halacha drawn from His examples and apply it in a thoroughly Jewish way to our lives and communities. Messianic Jewish communities the world over are living alternatives to other forms of Judaism that are no longer connecting with so many of our people. We, Jewish people, no longer want form but substance, and that is a faith in G-d founded upon the salvation work He undertook in Yeshua. Truly redeemed both physically and spiritually we stand as a testimony to the G-d of Israel and the narrative of history completed. After our third catastrophe, the emergence of Messianic Judaism is no coincidence. It is a Jewish revival movement that connects us with both Land and with our G-d, the One who has been faithful through all time to us.