The Messianic Jewish Movement has been deeply affected by the presuppositions of 20th century American conservative evangelicalism, although there are those in the Messianic Jewish Movement who have taken pains to move their thought world and frame of reference more into Jewish space. I am one of those people.
Still, more than we realize we live with this conservative evangelical philosophical inheritance. And it is one aspect of that inheritance that I wish to examine and reconsider today. That aspect is this: we tend to think of Yeshua faith, that is, belief or trust in Yeshua in a binary fashion. For such people the world is divided up into “believers (in Yeshua)” and “unbelievers (in Yeshua).” And that is about as far as it goes. What is missing is the concept of going deeper in this trust knowledge of the risen Messiah. You’re either in or your out, you’re other one of us or you’re not. End of discussion.
There are a variety of problems with this approach. Let’s look at one of them for now: it’s far less than biblical, and there is nothing relational about it.
One of the characteristics of relationship is that it ebbs and flows, and over time, it grows. But when you look across the landscape of those evangelicalized people, including Messianic Jews, who believe in Yeshua, you seldom if ever hear of growing in relationship with him. Let me hasten to add, this is more and other than simply growing in information about him, as though what we entered into in coming to Yeshua faith was some sort of philosophical grid where growth is measured by how deeply and surely this grid is grasped.
What the Newer Testament, which some term “the Apostolic Witness” speaks of, what drove Yeshua’s emissaries, his m’shulachim, and what they called us into is relationship with the risen Messiah. But what does that mean?
I don’t know entirely, but I think I know in part. It would be good to take a look at a passage where Paul speaks of this dynamic which is almost entirely missing in current religious rhetoric and discussion, but which drove his life with compelling force. Here is what he says in writing to the Philippians, while he himself is in jail. This is from the third chapter of his letter.
8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Messiah Yeshua my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Messiah
When he speaks of counting everything as loss, he is speaking not of his Jewish heritage, which he continued to value, or of Torah living, which he continued to practice, but the sense of status and communal esteem he once enjoyed. Those things are very small potatoes compared to what he speaks of as “gain(ing) Messiah.” And here I think he is speaking of gaining everlasting eschatological intimacy with the Messiah. He goes on to explain more fully what he means.
9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—
As much as he values Torah, and he does, there is something that he views to be even more ultimate, and that is the righteous standing that has come into the world through God’s cataclysmic inbreaking in the coming of the Messiah who is both the agent of and the prototype of the Age to Come—the One in whom the resurrection of all the dead and the renewal of the entire cosmos is accomplished, demonstrated and begun. This is HUGE for Paul, and nothing at all that came before this can compare because in effect one is comparing this present age, and the Age to Come, and really, there is no comparison.
But then he goes on to explain more fully what drives him which should drive us in a day by day situation by situation practical manner, something decidedly absent in current theological banter. There are three things to take note of, all from verses 10 and 11:
- ” that I may know him” – Paul wants to grow in relationship to this living person whom he met on the Damascus road. To really know someone is to learn by experience what they love, what they hate, what pleases and displeases them what makes them tick, to become intimately acquainted with all their ways and what makes them to be who they are. This is something Paul wants in reference to Yeshua. I am calling us to dare to want this and to be open about it as we process our relationship with HaShem.
- (He wants to know) “the power of his resurrection.” Paul never gets tired of brushing against the powers of the Age to Come, the invincible power that not only heals the sick, and even raises the dead, but which eventually abolishes death and births immortality. It is a power that vanguishes the sin principle in man, that utterly transforms us, an invincible power that overcomes even death, decay, and entropy/ Paul wants to get as close to that and as immersed in that power as possible. Do you?
- (He wants to) “share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,” Paul wants to be so identified with Yeshua and his perspective on his relationship with the Father and His concerns that he stands ready to suffer all the sense of estrangement, rejection, hostility, and otherness that Yeshua experienced. Paul speaks elsewhere of making up in his flesh what is lacking in the sufferings of Messiah for the sake of his body—that is, the community of believers. Paul is so identified with Yeshua that he is totally committed to the things for which Yeshua lived, suffered, and died. He is so committed to Yeshua that he is ready at any time to pay the same price Yeshua did for standing for the things that He stood for. This is total ongoing identification.
- ” that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Paul doesn’t have a binary sense of his Yeshua faith. He doesn’t think of things as a done deal. Rather, he is pressing on, he is totally committed, he is reaching out toward the things that really matter to God, to his Messiah, and to the redemption of the cosmos. Paul wants to do everything it is possible to do to guarantee that he will have a place at the party when the party begins. He doesn’t presume that he is on the invitation list.
So the call to us is clear. It’s a call out of apathy to passion. It’s a call out of passivity to commitment. It’s a call out of status to sacrificial abandonment. It’s a call out of this Age, which Scripture calls “this present evil Age,” and everything that makes it tick into an embrace the Age to Come and those things that will last forever.
Are you up for it? Are you interested in a relationship with Yeshua?
Or do you just prefer to raise your hand and say, “When you come back, Yeshua, don’t forget to pick me up? Okay?”