Grafting on an Ancient Vine

Isaiah 51:16 “I who set the heavens in place, who laid the foundations of the earth, and who says to Zion, ‘You are my people.'”

Paul Little writes “Isn’t the God whom we worship the God of the Old Testament, which we accept? Surely, we can get together on this!”

All week long I have been commenting on different religions and how Christianity differs from them. Aren’t we close to the Jewish people?

In some ways we seem to be; in others not so much.

The Jewish people do not accept the idea that their God was the Father of Jesus Christ. Sadly, many Christians focus on the fact that some of the Jewish people of Jesus’ day demanded that he be killed.  Of course they got their way.  Animosity toward the Jewish people resurfaced in 2004 when Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was released.

Let’s step back and look at the central beliefs of the Jewish people: there is one God who created and who rules all things, time is linear. It has a beginning, and it will have an ending, history gradually moves toward an ultimate purpose, human beings are made in God’s image and likeness, God has given us the Torah to make us a witness to all nations, God has called out the Jewish people to demonstrate His love and His sovereignty through a special arrangement called “covenant” [Dan Scott, Faith to Faith].

Surely you recognize some “spillover” to Christianity, the idea of covenant, the idea of one God, the idea of human beings made in God’s image.

We have already mentioned two major differences in paragraph 5 but what are others? One is the fact that Jews are called to live their lives in the sovereignty of their Creator.  They can question God, they can feel frustrated with God’s actions or lack of action but they cannot disobey God.  God is the originator of their faith and they are all related to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as family members.  This sense of family relationship is at the core of their faith.

If you have read the Old Testament or heard it preached, you have heard the important word covenant.   For the Jewish people, covenant is the acceptance of their holy obligation.  The Jew is a trustee who carries life forward on behalf of their ancestors and they realize that they are a people “set apart” by God.  When a Jewish person has a child, the child is a channel through which God’s covenant to Abraham will flow from one age to another.  In essence, the child is Abraham’s child.  Of course male children are circumcised which sets them apart even more.

Other signs of the covenantal connection are Sabbath observance and of course the well-known dietary restrictions. Why is all this done?  To remind the Jewish people that God is always number one.  Dan Scott cites Dr. Aronson in his book Faith to Faith.  Dr. Aronson explains the priority of God for the Jew: “There is one God.  The state is not God. Man is not God. Money is not God. Race is not God.  Language is not God.  Only God is God.  Human beings must bow down to no one and nothing but Him.  This belief infers the equality of human beings as well as the sovereignty of God.”

I found an interesting explanation about why the Christian is so closely connected to Judaism and cannot refute this faith: “When a Christian refutes Judaism, he is like a man who works on the third floor but decides to blow up the first story of the same building because he doesn’t like the people who work down there” [Scott, 158].

The New Testament is full of passages that God has removed the wall between Jew and Gentile: Galatians 3: 28-29, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.”

The Jewish people can try to ignore our relationship with them and we can try to do the same but it is there and it is real.

“All faiths are the same and we are worshipping the same God anyhow” applies to Judaism and Christianity.

Let’s not blow up the first floor. Let’s learn to appreciate each other.  “Judaism remains our schoolmaster, our older brother whose approval we crave.  At the same time, the stumbling block remains—the simple carpenter who is David’s son but who claimed to be David’s Lord.  Christians see Him as the Torah who became flesh and dwelt among us….How can we hope that our estranged elder Hebrew brother will ever believe these things until we acknowledge his continual role in our family?” [Scott, 2008].

Maybe as Dan Scott says, we need [as Christians] to acknowledge we are children of two covenants, an ancient people who were the first to hear the voice of God and a graft onto an ancient vine.

“For the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.”

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