In keeping with our new practice of assigning a different theme to every day of the week, starting today, our Fridays will be FAQ Fridays, dealing with Frequently Asked Questions, and also questions some of you submit from time to time in your comments. Return here every Friday and see what the questions are and our attempts at beginning to answer them, here at Interfaithfulness.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God—this includes all Jews. And religious Jews would have no difficulty admitting this.
I know myself to be a man of unclean lips who needs to be touched with the coal from off of God’s sacrificial altar in order to be cleansed. I know myself to be a person totally dependent upon the redemption which is in Messiah Yeshua.
But I did not always know myself to be a Jew with covenant obligations.
Certainly pagans need to repent. Certainly adherents to idolatrous religions need to repent. Certainly Jews need to repent. But we also need to ask in each case the following question: “Repent for what?” Biblically, the answer to this question is different for Jews than for non-Jews.
Some, new to the paradigm shifts I advocate, imagine that I am weak on the teaching of repentance for Jews. Not true! On the contrary, I think I am more disquieted about Jewish sin than most people in our movement. I am calling for a deeper repentance for all Israel and for all of the Messianic Jewish Movement than that we have inherited from the Hebrew Christian/Jewish Missions culture, a deeper repentance than generally inhabits the heart of Messianic Judaism as I have encountered it.
R. Kendall Soulen helps us with this clarifying statement:
According to the biblical witness, God’s work as Consummator takes enduring shape in the history that unfolds between the Lord, Israel, and the nations. Accordingly, human sin is never merely the sin of the creature against the Creator-Consummator. Human sin is also always the sin of Jew and Gentile, of Israel and the nations.” (R. Kendall Soulen, The God of Israel and Christian Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996:153).
The sins of the Messianic Jewish Movement and of the Jewish people are far more dire and extensive than simply the record of individual human failings. Biblically, these sins include, and indeed are foundationally, our failure communally, familially, and individually to live in covenant faithfulness to the God of Israel.
Do we and all Jews need the atonement Yeshua provides? YES, by all means YES! But for reasons deeper than we have heretofore realized and proclaimed. We, the seed of Abraham and Sarah, whose ancestors, standing at the foot of Sinai, said “na’aseh v’nishmah—we will do and we will hear/obey—all that the Lord has spoken we will do”—must repent of our general, continual and pervasive neglect of the covenant obligations to which they implicated us and of which God spoke of all the way back to Genesis 18:16-29 and 26:1-5, much less at the Holy Mount.
All of the seed of Abraham in the Messianic Jewish Movement, and all of Israel, needs the atonement Yeshua provides not simply because we are individual sinners who need to be “saved by grace.” We need His atonement and we need to repent because we are covenant breakers and because every day we as individuals, families, congregations, and as a wider Messianic Jewish community fail to live in manifest Torah-based covenant faithfulness, we break the word of our ancestors to which we ourselves are honor-bound (Deut 29:9-15), and we rob God of the honor due Him (see Deuteronomy 4:4-8; Jeremiah 35:1-19).
We Messianic Jews as a movement need to repent of covenant unfaithfulness—and this means not simply asking for forgiveness, but also returning to the faithfulness we have for so long neglected. This is a message that is alien to almost the entire Jewish missions movement as well. But can we say that this is a message that Messianic Judaism has, not in theory but in practice, unambiguously affirmed? I think not.
Of the eighteen sermons in Acts, nine are given to Jewish audiences [ten if you include Paul’s word to Herod Agrippa]. Repeatedly the context of repentance there is NOT repentance from individual sin, not seeking atonement and forgiveness for being sinners who need to be saved by grace, but more precisely, the need to find forgiveness for having been so out of touch with who God is and what He is up to in the world, that the community was complicit in the death of Messiah, rejecting Him who God had raised from the dead, rejecting the Messiah whom God had sent, as as well as the prophets before Him. And in these sermons, the language of covenant is also invoked, so that, for example, Peter could say in Acts 3:25: “you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers.” Stephen as well combines these two factors when he says in Acts seven. “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”
Do we see it? The sins of Israel, and of the Messianic Movement, from which we need to repent, are twofold, as is our responsibility. We are responsible to love, honor and obey: To love the Lord our God by honoring the Messiah whom He sent, and obeying the covenant he made with our ancestors.
We Messianic Jews misunderstand and misrepresent the New Covenant call for Jewish repentance because we tend to construe it in individualistic terms, thinking and preaching that “Jewish people need to repent because they are individually sinners before a holy God.” There is truth in that statement, but that is far less than, and even OTHER than the New Covenant’s perspective. Rather, as Soulen so brilliantly notes, in the Bible, “Human sin is . . . always the sin of Jew and Gentile, of Israel and the nations, against the Lord, the God of Israel.”
We need to repent because we have sinned as Jews, because we have been covenantally unfaithful to the God of Israel, in addition to what we have already repented of, our dishonoring the God of our ancestors in rejecting the Messiah whom he sent.
What should we do when we meet Jews who are endeavoring to be covenantally faithful. Should we call them to embrace the Messiah whom God sent? Absolutely! But we should also commend, applausd and imitate them in their pursuit of Jewish covenant faithfulness. This is not generally the way we go about things! Not only are religious Jews doing what they should be doing: They are doing what we should be doing.
We must overcome the post-second century reflex of commending the gospel by downgrading Judaism. Rather, we should be telling our people about Yeshua because we have been commanded to do so and because he IS the Messiah whom God sent, and it is a sin, yes, but more than that, a scandal and insult to the Holy One when Jews fail to welcome him, just as it is a sin, scandal and insult to the Holy One when Messianic Jews imagine we can repent without returning to obeying the Torah,mitzvot, chukkim and mishpatim we have neglected, disparaged, and broken. You can’t have repentence unles you begin to do the things you confessed having failed to do–God’s commands to us!
I also suggest that we need to jettison couching our message in an “avoid-hell find-heaven mode. ” Even though this approach is a non-negotiable for the Jewish missions movement and for many if not for most Messianic Jews, it is not once demonstrated in the sermons of the apostles. It is not the way they motivated themselves or sought to motivate others.
Some time ago, when I was speaking at a well-known missions think-tank/training center, I was asked what I would say to a hasidic Jewish man my questioner had met at an airport. Here is what I would say: “Sir, if you believe that Yeshua is not the Messiah, then you had better make absolutely certain of it. For if He is, and you do not embrace him, then every day you dishonor the God whom you serve.”
Because of who he is, faithful Jews should believe in Yeshua. And in the nature of the case, Jews should also seek communally and individually to live faithful to our covenantal obligations. Anything less, is sin. And that includes the Messianic Jewish Movement. And I say all of this not by way of scolding anyone, but of making an appeal. These are things I believe in because I can’t get around what our Scriptures say to us. How about you?