Psalm 119 is an exilic Psalm. This being the case, the author and the community of faith have lost everything.

The Davidic king is gone.
The Temple is gone.
We are captives in a far land.
The likelihood is many family members having lost their lives.
A large portion of people have lost faith in Yahweh.

This community has experienced the shattering Lamentations bears witness (Lamentations is the product of those who still believe). Some scholars have made the insightful suggestion that Ps 119 originated in the Festival of Tabernacles this community held during the exile.

The Zayin and Heth sections of Psalm 119 are among my favorite (vv 49-64). The speaker (whom I believe represents the entire community personified), who is fully aware of his/her fallenness and failure to keep God’s word (cf. “I have gone astray like a lost sheep” v.176), appeals to the grace of God. In particular the word of God’s Promise. There is no delusion of salvation by “precision obedience” anywhere in the Hebrew Bible but these verses annihilate it.

Psalm 119 is the stellar refutation of the false, but rampant, belief that “law” is simply a series of legal commands. First and foremost, for the Psalmist, the torah is story of God’s amazing Hesed and Promise. (For more on what “torah” means see my article, Sweeter than Honey: Torah’s God’s Love Story).

Remember your word to your servant,
in which you have made me hope.
This is my comfort in my distress,
that your promise gives me life
.”
(vv. 49-50)

The Promise is the basis of hope in the land of hopelessness. The Promise is the means of comfort and in fact is the source of life.

Two things require understanding. Who is the servant and what is the Promise?

Surely the psalmist imagines him/herself to be a servant, but that is not what is meant. In the biblical tradition that the Psalms major in, the Promise is made to the Patriarchs and the servant is Israel. One of the clearest examples where this Promise is the means of salvation is Moses’s own appeal to it during the equally dark day in Israel’s life, the Golden Calf. So Moses prays (in words that the psalmist nearly echoes)

Remember Abraham, Isaac, and ISRAEL,
your servants, how you swore to them by your own self …
I will multiply your descendants
…” (Ex 32.13-14)

We expect Moses to say “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” But frequently in the Hebrew Bible “Jacob” means the nation and not the individual patriarch. Moses plays on the double meaning of the word and says “Israel.” God made a promise to the man but the man is the people! Many other texts can be cited like Deuteronomy 9.27 (which recalls the Golden Calf)

Remember your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, pay no attention to the stubbornness of this people, their wickedness, and their sin …”

Abraham, Isaac and Israel received the astonishing promise and are God’s servants and Israel is God is “servant.” Note the word that is also addressed to an exilic community.

Is it to light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel

(Isaiah 49.6).

The community has faith and hope, even in the land of death (exile), on the basis of God’s Promise which the torah narrates. The torah is the Story of God’s Faithfulness to his Promise to a faithless and rebellious people from the moment God saw them (Deut. 9.24, NRSV)

So the community prays, like Moses did at the Golden Calf,

REMEMBER THE PROMISE.

This Promise, and the promise alone, is the basis of hope and life. We did not perish because of God’s gracious promise. We will not die because God promised we shall be like the stars in the heavens.

As the next verses show, many Israelites had rejected these promises. They had lost faith. They “deride” the psalmist and “turn away from the torah.” They forsake the torah (vv. 51, 53). In the ashes of exile, faith and hope were far from them.

The psalmist, the community of faith, however, respond with a promise to God’s promise (vv. 57-64). The stunning words,

Yahweh is my portion” (v.52)

This reminds us of Lamentations itself. In the horror that was the destruction of Jerusalem, the “Strongman” in Lamentations 3, declares that God’s Promise made at the Golden Calf is not done. God’s steadfast love is new every morning, God’s faithfulness is infinite,

the Lord is my portion,
says my soul,
therefore I will hope in him

(Lam 3.21-24).

We have no King.
We have no Temple.
We have no Land.
We seemingly have “nothing.”
But Yahweh is my inheritance.

These are stunning words both in Lamentations and in Psalm 119. If we have Yahweh, even in an alien land, then we have everything.

Because Yahweh is “my portion,” the community responds to God’s Promise with a promise,

I promise to keep your words” (v.57)

This leads to the plea for mercy.

I implore your favor with all my heart;
be gracious to me
ACCORDING TO YOUR PROMISE


It is possible, I suppose to legalistically obey some rule. But it is impossible to do that with a promise. You either believe or do not believe a promise. Promise requires faith in the Promise Giver. The community believes the Promise given as the very basis of life. We respond in faith, in trust, in hope in God’s Promise. The Promise is the motivation and basis for our promise. God’s Promise elicits our promise of faithfulness to God.

The psalmist ends this section with the equally astonishing confession that Yahweh’s Hesed (the basis of the promise and declaration in Exodus 34.6) fills the entire earth. Remember the community is in exile! Babylonian exile! The land of death. Everything we have known is gone. And yet the Psalmist, the community personified, praises God with the words,

The earth, O Yahweh,
is full of your HESED;
teach me your statutes.
” (v.64)

The Story is not over. We will not die in exile. We will be raised from the dead (to use a metaphor). Why? Because Yahweh’s hesed is deeper than the ocean and wider than the sea and is the basis of his astonishing Promise to his servant.

God’s Hesed Promised. Therefore I promise … Now God I need you to teach me!

I am holding on to the Promise … it is also the basis of our hope in the New Testament.

Shalom.

P. S. See Happy Are the Blameless, Pt 4 (On Ps 119)

I wrote a version of this three years ago in October 2017. I revisited it today. I think our image problem is even worse now than then.

What is the “first word?” I have been wrestling with this question for a long time. Do we (do I!) understand the depth of this question? The question is not just about a word that passes our lips. The question covers deeds. The question asks, “what is the knee jerk response of all my actions and reactions.” I ask this question specifically as a Christian.

Several years ago I took the shepherds at PaLO VErde through David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons book, Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity. The book is a landmark study of people between the ages of 19 to 29, they are now in their late 20s and mid 30s. I was not greatly surprised by the perspectives. But I was so disturbed by the “image” even younger than me Christians had. What I wanted to do at PV was simply confess that “we” have an “image problem” in our culture so we could address it.

We may not care about our image in the community, honestly. As has been pointed out to me, “Bobby who cares what the lost think about us?” This was asked in all seriousness. I am surprised by this question though. Do not most of us check Yelp to see what the “image” of a restaurant is before we patronize it. We check other online sources before we spend money at a business. If we read through the comments and they say:

food sux!,”
“It is a dump,”
“McDonald’s is a 5 star restaurant by comparison,”
“They are rude and act like they could careless that you are there
.”

Such a business will quickly cease to exist. We should care. Not because “the lost” are necessarily correct, rather because an image the repels leads to a dead business and a valley of dry bones where there was once a congregation.

We should care because God cares. Remember when Yahweh was going to destroy the Israelites (justly btw) and Moses said to God, “what will the Egyptians think?” (Exodus 32.12f) Who cares, right? God cared. Paul tells the disciples on the island of Crete that they need to live in such away that the teaching of God is “attractive” to the unbelievers (Titus 2.10, NIV). Peter tells his group of aliens that bad reputations are inevitable. Rumors will always abound. However he says that, as aliens, we need to conduct ourselves as if on a silver screen so that when we are castigated that our good deeds speak in our defense (1 Peter 4.14-19).

So this brings me back to my question, “what is the first word?” Over the last week, or so, I have been wrestling with Amos on the heels of 6 months of reading and rereading 1 John. They are like a double one two knock out punch. What ever the first word is, it dictates what the first deed, first action, is.

I think Unchristian is more needed today than when it came out a few years ago. When asked what was the primary word, image, thought that comes to mind an entire generation has unbelievably harsh words to say. Many in the research in fact even grew up in Christianity, went to Christian schools etc (not all but a bunch did). There were six primary thoughts.

1) Hypocritical
2) The only thing Christians talk about is “getting saved” and could careless about anything else in the world.
3) Christians are homophobic, indeed they “hate homosexuals”
4) Christians mistake their brand of politics for Christianity
5) Judgemental
6) Christians are mean spirited people.

The issue is not changing the Bible on any subject. I assume most of us would agree that Jesus of Nazareth knew the Bible condemned sexual immorality. I assume most of us agree that Jesus/Joshua of Nazareth was the most holy person that has ever walked the face of the earth. But I promise you that no sinner, no person ever used these six words/images to describe Jesus.

Instead, Jesus obtained the opposite “image problem.” Sinners loved to be with him. Prostitutes loved hanging around him. Tax collecting traitors (they would be like the “communists” in the Holy Land) for the Roman Empire hosted huge parties for him. When women were caught in the very act of adultery by the moral police, he dared to side with the accused. Jesus had an image problem with other religious people but he did not have one with the “unchurched” of the day.

Sinners loved to be with Jesus but seriously dislike Christians. This generation is leaving Christianity in droves. I am not sure some of us older Christians truly want to ask the questions of why. What is the first word? It may be simplistic but the answer to this question changes our image problem.

If outsiders saw that we had a “nasty reputation” of being on the side of the down, the out, the sinners, the adulterers, the “homos,” the aliens … the people Jesus ate with … we might find that something amazing might take place.

What is the first word? Is it not love! In every, in any, situation the first word, the first response, the first reaction, the first deed is LOVE. As the rock theologian Scott Stapp sang,

what would love do
If it were here in this room
standing between me and you,
what would love do?


Believe it or not my friends, my first job as a disciple of Christ is not to tell people to “repent and be baptized.” My first job as a disciple of Christ is to love as God so loved, to love as Christ so loved, to love because the Holy Spirit of love is the only reason I am even alive. As Paul wrote about Spirit inspired love.

Love suffers with others.
Love is kind.
Love does not envy.
Love is not arrogant.
Love does not seek its own way.
Love does not easily give way to anger.
Love does not celebrate in others misfortune.
Love rejoices in truth wherever it may be found.
Love bears with the faults of others.
Love endures the faults of others.
Love hopes.
Love leaves a blessing.
Love leaves the door open.
Love treats with dignity no matter who is in front of us.
Love is the supreme doctrine of God … God is love.
Love leaves the aroma of Christ.

Our image problems will change when we as Christians answer the question: “What is the first word? Any time, Any day? What is the first word?”

May the Lord bless you and keep you and make his face shine upon you as we struggle to have the reputation of Jesus/Joshua the Messiah.

Richard Wright (1908-1960). Wright wrote Native Son, Black Boy, Ethics of Living Jim Crow and many others

Richard Wright Goes to the Library

I begin this post with a quote from Richard Wright’s memoir, Black Boy,

The white librarian looked at me. ‘What do you want, boy?’ As though I did not possess the power of speech, I stepped forward and simply handed her the forged note, not parting my lips. ‘What books by Mencken does she want?’ she asked. ‘I don’t know, ma’am,’ I said, avoiding her eyes. ‘You’re not using these books, are you?’ she asked pointedly. ‘Oh no, ma’am, I can’t read.’”

Richard Wright gives us a window onto how one young African American was able to obtain books that he was otherwise forbidden, he had to practice subtle deception against the principalities and powers. Some today would condemn Wright for breaking the law and “lying” in his attempts to be able to read (I’m not so sure the authors of Joshua and Amos would). Wright went on to become a powerful novelist, in part because he was able to beat the system through misdirection. I knew this story, and others, but it did not become part of my “consciousness” until recently.

I am convinced that part of the journey to mental, and spiritual, maturity is the realization that the world is far more than my personal experience. Most of us grow up with a set of filters that have been firmly placed in front of our eyes. These filters skew the reality that is plainly staring us in the face. Most of us never know we are wearing these glasses until they get a scratch or smudge on them, then we are conscious we are looking through something.

A Memory

I grew up in a house with books. We did not have a TV when I was young, but we had books. Dad had his religious books and mechanic books. Mom had romance novels. We had encyclopedias, big National Geographic books and the like. We would climb into the old station wagon and mom would take us downtown to the public library in Florence. What a place it was! Books galore everywhere, floors of books. They had summer reading programs and we would get signed up for those. And I remember the day I got my very own library card. I thought I had arrived! How different was my experience at the library and Richard Wright’s.

The depths of what I do not know was again on display. The pettiness and pervasiveness of white supremacy knew no limits.

Not For All, White Only Libraries

I cannot imagine my life without books. I have spent thousands of dollars on books and I still love the library. Can you imagine seeing that gleaming white edifice – a temple of books – frequently with slogans etched into the concrete that said, “Free to all,” “Libraries are the heart of democracy,” or some such … Only to encounter when you walk in you are forcefully told “you do not belong here.” “N*****s are not allowed in here.” This is for “Whites only!”

Sometimes I fool myself into believing that I am fairly well read on what is called “Black History.” But my ignorant naivete is routinely shattered. I continue to be amazed at how deep racial paranoia gripped America for centuries. I still know nothing! The “land of the free and home of the brave” was the land of white only bathrooms, white only water fountains, white only rail cars, white only restaurants, white only churches, etc

But I never imagined we were also the land of white only books and libraries. It is only recently that I became “consciously” aware that there was a deeply embedded reality of whites only books and book spaces – white only libraries.

In 1900, Guthrie, Oklahoma, received a Carnegie Foundation grant for a library. When it opened, D. G. Horton the principle of the local black high school went to the library. He was denied access by the clerk at the front desk.

In Texas, a black World War II veteran took his daughter to the library and was denied entrance. In Durham, NC, the library opened up and black physician Aaron McDuffie Moore was told he could not use it. Black men, black women … black children … could not use it. Moore took matters into his own hands and opened a small library for people of color in the basement of White Rock Baptist Church.

W. E. B. DuBois, at the time, faculty member of Atlanta University led a group of African Americans to present a petition for “Negroes to Use the Carnegie Library” in Atlanta.

The Lake City (South Carolina) Public Library called the police on Ronald McNair when he attempted to check out books. (McNair would end up getting a PhD in physics from MIT becoming the second African American to fly in space. He died on the Challenger in 1986). How differently the lady at the counter treated me than Roland McNair.

From the 1880s to the 1940s, there was a library building phenomena. Across the South (and occasionally outside the South) these temples of books were denied to people of color. By 1930, for example, there were 6000 libraries in the United States. Four hundred ninety one were in the South and only 64 that were available on a limited basis to African Americans. These were separate and but hardly “equal.”

The library was an extension of white supremacy and privilege. The fact is these public libraries were maintained by public taxes. African Americans paid millions of dollars in taxes. Yet though their taxes were used to maintain these temples of books, they were denied access. Part of the reason for whites only library was the historic effort to deny blacks information and education. Book learning ruined people of color for the jobs they were supposedly created to do (be servants to white folks). Denial of information and education is a means of control. Part of the reason for whites only libraries was the library became a socially accepted space for white women to work (and thus also a safe place for white children). White women had to be “protected,” supposedly, from the lustful eyes of black men.

But people of color were just as intelligent as people of whiteness. They understood the power of books and information. They established libraries in churches, small offices in places like Greenwood (Tulsa, Ok). They even built temples of books called “Faith Cabin” libraries that literally were log cabins. Enterprising African Americans converted trucks and vans into small mobile libraries to bring books to thousands who were denied the right to read a book. Occasionally they even secured a grant from the Carnegie foundation for a “black only” library.

I never dreamed that wanting to read a book could cause so much trouble in the USA.

My Filters

But on the whole the library in the United States, especially in the South, was not free and it was not for all. I find it nearly incomprehensible that black men, black women, black students were literally arrested for trying to check out a book from the white only library. But this was their America. We need to remember, firmly, the problem was not of class but of race.

During the Civil Rights Movement libraries were just one of the many essential cogs of Jim Crow that were dismantled by brave high school and college students from Houston to Birmingham to Charlotte to Jackson. Some things help us see anew. When a person is denied access to a building with books for no other reason than the color of her or his skin, we begin to realize just how different the world really was … and my filtered experience of it.

In 2018, the Birmingham Public Library system publicly acknowledged and apologized for its historic role in maintaining white supremacy. We are still living with the legacy of this evil. A wise man once said, “we misunderstand ‘white privilege.’ We think it is about OUTCOME when it is really about ACCESS. Access to goods and services, not outcome.” When I heard this it was like bells going off in my head. Outcome is often shaped by access no doubt but they are not the same. When I heard this, at least for me, it was like scales falling from my eyes. In America, the color of your skin certainly was the key to access to many things in life.

The purpose of growth, of expanding our horizon, is to help us understand our own filtered experience in light of something bigger than ourselves. My understanding of the world is not exactly how the world really is. When something as simple and ordinary as a book is denied people of color – and we finally understand that – we see that my world and their world has been radically different.

Recently I read two books that have made their way into this post. Cheryl Knott, Not Free, Not for All: Public Libraries in the Age of Jim Crow (2015) and Wayne & Shirley Weigand, The Desegregation of Public Libraries in Jim Crow South (2018).

Hearing and Seeing often takes Effort

I’ve been having a discussion on becoming better readers of the New Testament and understanding it better from a first century standpoint. I stress first century because I grew up in tradition that believes that some how the first century contains what is normative for it means to be a “Christian” or disciple of Jesus.

This is a question I have been wrestling with for a long time. The answers I now offer have points of similarity to how I would have answered the question in 1992 when I took my first ministry position. Yet there is a different orientation and I believe I “hear” the New Testament better now than I did in 1992.

I pointed out last night there is no magical formula for becoming better readers of the NT. We are all padawan learners. In biblical studies we never obtain the level of Master rather we are always disciples. Discipleship is a way of life, an orientation or disposition to learning and growing. One aspect of being a disciple is becoming a better reader. We are better readers when our ears understand.

It will take work and if we are not willing to invest that then it is for naught. But I want to offer EIGHT suggestions that if we cultivate these we will read the NT and Jesus especially far better. Because we love Jesus we want to know and understand him.

First: Worship

First, we need to recognize that Scripture is fundamentally a product of and for worship. Scripture is not a tool for religious argument and debate, scripture is given to the people of God to nourish their lives with God and one another. Scripture proclaims the God who created and redeemed us. Scripture from the Torah to the Psalms to the Gospels to the Epistles to the Revelation were universally heard and encountered in and part of corporate worship. Do not approach Scripture merely as a source of information but rather as a vehicle to worship God. Scripture is a means to encounter God through the Holy Spirit. Literally pray Scripture. Let Scripture set your prayer agenda. When we read any passage ask the Holy Spirit to pray through to change us so we live the values of the text. If we are not Gathering with God’s people, communing in the Story of God with them, Scripture will remain just letters.

Join Jesus and recite the Shema or what has been called the Jesus Creed daily. Cultivate the hours of prayer that Jesus observed (they are the hours of sacrifice at 9, 12, and 3). Pray the Lord’s Prayer (memorize it along with the Jesus Creed) daily.

Second: Become a Serious Student of the Hebrew Bible

Second, if we want to approach NT texts like a disciple in AD 40 or 55 or 66, then we must first become serious readers of the Hebrew Bible. Not one, no not one, disciple of Christ had a copy of the New Testament in the first century. What they did have was the Hebrew Bible, principally through the Greek translation known as the Septuagint (LXX). The Hebrew Bible was what Paul told Timothy to “devote himself to the public reading of the Scriptures.” (Here again we see point #1). Most today also encounter the Hebrew Bible through a translation. I simply cannot stress enough the importance of the First Testament in reading the NT. The point of reference for everything was the Hebrew Bible/LXX. Deep knowledge of the Hebrew Bible was the preunderstanding, the presupposition, the assumed common denominator in the Gospels and the Epistles. When the Bereans checked the Scriptures it was not Matthew, Mark, Luke and John or Acts or Romans. Rather they searched Genesis, Exodus, Psalms, Isaiah, etc. Read it daily. Yes every day.

When we are reading the “New Testament,” we need to think in terms of the unified Story. The New Testament is the same story as the Hebrew Bible, with the same God, same Promise, with the same People. The people and teachings in the “New Testament” mean what they mean because of the so called “Old Testament.” There is continuity than discontinuity between the so called “Old Testament” and “New Testament.” I recommend a book like “The Drama of Scripture” (Bartholomew & Goheen) in helping to grasp the single story or the “plot line” that ties Genesis to Revelation. Intimate acquaintance with the Hebrew Bible, its values, its “theology” and its worship will go a long way toward helping us hear, and see, as a disciple in AD 66 did. Recall that no one in AD 66 ever heard of something called “the Old Testament.” It would be another hundred plus years before Melito of Sardis gave that designation to Jesus’s Bible. They just knew “the Scriptures” which are Genesis to Malachi. Now this will take time but it is worth it. I also recommend, with no reservations, Christopher J. H. Wright’s Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament. It is epic.

Third: Read the Psalms Passionately

Third. My suggestion here draws from both numbers 1 and 2. Cultivate the habit of reading the Psalms routinely and regularly. It is impossible to exaggerate the influence of the Psalms on Jesus and the Way. I read the Psalms from beginning to end every month. If you read an average of 4 to 5 Psalms a day (except for Ps 119) you will go through the book every month and it takes 15 or so minutes every day. You can use the Psalms during one of the Three Hours of Prayer mentioned below.

The Psalms do several things when regularly integrated into our lives. First the Psalms help train us in a biblical (or Hebraic) worldview. The Psalms keep our prayers from becoming trite and narcissistic. The Psalms constantly help us understand the big picture of story of God in the rest of Scripture. The Psalms do much more but these are to be noted here.

Fourth: Learn about Time and Space

Fourth. Become familiar with the biblical calendar (sacred time) and the temple (sacred space). Most of us just assume that everyone lives by the same calendar. It never dawned on me that not everyone has a seven day week, has the same names for days, has the same months, has the same years. For years, I literally was in the dark on how deeply embedded the calendar is in Scripture – in both Testaments. What is the Sabbath, Passover/Unleavened Bread, Tabernacles, Weeks/Pentecost, Purim, Dedication, Day of Atonement. Biblical writers simply assume we know this stuff just like we know “St. Patrick’s Day” comes with four leaf clovers, the Irish and green in our culture. I confess that I simply never paid any attention to this, precisely because I did not read the NT as a person would in AD 40, 55 or 66. Both the structure and the meaning of the calendar in the “Bible” was different than I use on a daily basis.

Fifth: Read the Middle Testament

Fifth. Read the books of the Apocrypha (I playfully call this the Middle Testament). Yes read them. The Apocrypha is primarily a Protestant term but it refers to a body of literature that was part of the LXX. This literature is amazingly valuable for cultivating eyes to see and ears to hear as disciples did in AD 40. We suddenly see their prayers, their hymns used in worship, the struggles of faith, examples of great faith. Contrary to much popular opinion the early disciples did in fact know this literature and the NT writers even allude to various stories in Tobit, Maccabees, Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon and the like. But our point is this, to read the NT as a person did in AD 40 we have to, as best we can, try to see and think like they did in AD 40. The Apocrypha is, after the Hebrew Bible itself, one of the most helpful sources for becoming a better student of the NT writings themselves.

Sixth: Accept the Jewish Nature of the New Testament

Sixth. Accept the fact that the NT was written by Jews and out of a Jewish worldview. Just accept it because it is a fact. While Paul certainly knew Greek some philosophy, the primary point of reference for every page of the NT is the Jewish world. Take seriously the truth that Jesus is (not was) Jewish. All the NT writers are Jewish. The only possible exception to this is Luke. And, frankly, there are a number of scholars that believe the author of Luke-Acts if not actually Jewish was likely a proselyte. Contrary to much popular mythology Luke is every bit as “Jewish” in its orientation as Matthew ever dreamed. We miss it because we do not “hear” and “see” as did a disciple in AD 60. To get into this Jewish world view we need the Hebrew Bible, the Psalms, the calendar and the Apocrypha.

Seventh: Reflect on Helpful Studies

Seventh. One of the most helpful books I have ever read was Oskar Skarsaune’s “In the Shadow of the Temple.” I just believe that every student, who wants to be a teacher with the correct glasses for reading the New Testament will devour Skarsaune. Jacob Jervell’s Luke and the People of God is another book that, if meditated upon carefully, will make one a far better reader of the New Testament.

Eight: Live it

Eighth. Biblical theology is not merely about thinking but about living. Therefore if we are to be better students of the New Testament and its Hebraic doctrine then we must practice it. Visit widows. Serve in a soup kitchen for the homeless. Care for the alien. Find ways to serve as Jesus’s hands and his feet. It is amazing how the prophets, the Sermon on the Mount, James and many other portions of Scripture burst with meaning when the words on the page are guiding our hands, feet, mouths, wallets, to the least of these.

As I stated before this will take time and it will take a disciple’s mindset. But approaching the text prayerfully and “worshipfully” and within the context of the community of faith is simply essential. Cultivating the hours of prayer and becoming intimate with not only the basic story of the Hebrew Bible but its values and worldview will help us hear as a disciple in AD 55. Psalms, the Temple and Apocrypha are important. Live what you read. And reading the few books I’ve mentioned will indeed bear much fruit.

This might sound like a lot of work. It’s not really. But it will take time and “just doing it.” Most of it is simply dealing with the volume you already have in your hands. The books I’ve mentioned can help with the big picture and even some details.

Now in my opinion, and that is what it is so take it for what it is worth, if we want to hear the New Testament for all its worth then cultivating this agenda will bear much fruit.

Let’s get started.

Shalom.


Walter Scott was not the only Five Finger Preacher

Every once in a while I am accused of being a Calvinist. This is one of the strangest things I have ever been accused of, for I do not have a Calvinist bone in my body (many only have a vague conception of what Calvinism actually is. The TULIP is post-John Calvin btw).

But I am a fan of the new TULIP that Brian McLaren gave us in his perceptive book, A Generous Orthodoxy. I remember reading this 10 or 11 years ago. It was one of my favorite two pages in the book. So for your third day of the week, I want to suggest that we all embrace the redefined TULIP … (putting my own spin on it as well)

T = Triune Love. The endless love that binds together the holy and divine community of Father, Son and Spirit, shall be the love that binds us to one another in the sacred bond of community and unity as well.

U = Unselfish Election. Election of God’s people has nothing to do with us being superior than anyone, in any fashion. In fact election is not about us at all. Election is about God using us as his hands and feet to be his instruments of shalom in this world. Election is Unselfish. We serve the red, yellow, black and the white, we embrace the widows, orphans and the aliens. We serve the poor because we were poor and God has made us rich. Unselfish Election is about us being a blessing for the world so God’s will will be done on earth as in heaven.

L = Limitless Reconciliation. Instead of arguing that atonement by definition excludes some part of creation, from this Tuesday on, let’s see that reconciliation is a function of the Missio Dei (the mission of God). God, through Christ’s life, death and resurrection, reconciles “all things” to himself in heaven and on earth, things seen and unseen. With this, we exercise our unselfish election, by praying to God to be forgiven AS WE FORGIVE others, knowing that God always loves my neighbor.

I = Inspiring Grace. Grace is not some impersonal force that runs us over like a tank. Grace is the expression of the passionate personal love of the Triune God (Father, Son and Spirit). This grace INSPIRES grace among the people of God. It is not merely some doctrinal stance but practical way of living in relation to the world around us. We are the Jubilee/Forgiveness of Sins People who welcome others on the same basis God has welcomed us … Grace.

P = Passionate and Persistent Saints. God’s people rooted and established in Triune Love, the selfless abandon of election, of our mission of limitless reconciliation and the grace that inspires God’s people to live boldly and passionately as people reflecting that Glory of God back into God’s world. We are not arrogant, a notion at odds with all the above. We are simply persistent in our love, our forgiveness, and our graciousness to others for the sake of the kingdom of God.

With apologies to Brian McLaren if I do not remember it exactly right. But this is how Bobby V has shared it repeatedly over the years. It is a good five finger way to look at the world.

It could help us in the current morass as God’s people in the USA. Appreciate you reading. Blessings.

Today, September 23, 1667 is a day that should have lived in infamy among Christians in America.

Sadly many do not know the darkness of this day. The 1660s brought a wave of racially motivated laws that would effect the course north America till our day in September 2020.

In 1667, Virginia enacted a radical new law that declared children born to a free white man and an enslaved “negro woman” shall inherit the condition of the mother. Prior to this ruling children (even of slaves) inherited the condition of the father and thus were born free. Perpetual slavery was now a reality.

On this Day of Infamy, September 23, 1667, literally centuries of Christian practice and jurisprudence was overturned in the north American colonies. It had been traditionally regarded unchristian for a Christian to enslave another Christian. In fact classical Christianity had practically abolished slavery in Europe, which was never based on race in the first place.

But race based slavery was slowly growing as a cancer within the psychology of north Americans. Thus, Christian tradition or not, the Virginia Assembly gathered on September 23 and handed down a decision with far reaching consequences. Historically, a person (including a black person), who had embraced the Christian faith through baptism, could not be enslaved. On this Day of Infamy, legislators threw this theological tenant out the window.

Baptism, they declared, may make you a Christian but it does not set you free from the shackles of slavery. The ruling reads as follows:

WHEREAS some doubts have risen whether children that are slaves by birth, and by the charity and piety of their owners made pertakers of the blessed sacrament of baptisme, should be vertue of their baptisme be made ffree; It is enacted and declared by this grand assembly, and the authority thereof, that the conferring of baptisme doth not alter the condition of the person as to his bondage or ffreedome; that diverse masters, ffreed from this doubt, may more carefully endeavor the propagation of christianity by permitting children, though slaves, or those of greater growth if capable to be admitted to that sacrament.” [sic].

This was the beginning of a long line of justifications of race based slavery that culminated with rabid “biblical” defenses of slavery prior to the Civil War and continued to live in Jim Crow America.

American Christians sold their soul to mammon. Now “owners” could continue to invest and make vast profits with no fear that the cross of Jesus would interfere with their fortune.

September 23, 1667. The day that should live in infamy, it was the day we traded baptism for slavery.

Nice overview of the considerable differences between cultures.

Some have said Americans, especially White Evangelical believers in Christ, detest history and the notion of corporate identity/solidarity. That history has any hold upon us is anathema to many. This seems to me, just one area where we western believers are shaped far more by the Enlightenment’s political tradition than by the Story of God within Scripture.

Theology Shapes History. If you have ever read any of the Bible then you know this is true.

The Hebrew Bible is dominated by two great macro narratives: the Deuteronomistic History (DtH) and Chronicles (Chr). These histories are considerably different and both have an “agenda.” Neither hesitate for a second to criticize grandpa, great grandpa, great great grandpa (i.e. ancestors).

Further both interpret the present in light of that long history. The Exile, for example, was not the fault of any one single generation in the DtH, rather it was the result of the accumulation of centuries of covenant unfaithfulness. This telling of the family history is not an exercise in hating or beating up the ancestors rather the Bible believes that we “individuals” are part of something bigger than ourselves. We have fellowship/koinonia across space and time. I share in their good and I share in their bad. So Moses was not wrong to tell the present generation that they had been unfaithful to God for as long as God has ever laid eyes on them (Deut 9.1-29, esp. v.24. Note the pronoun “you.” “You had cast an image for yourselves …” referring to the Golden Calf, but the historical people hearing Deuteronomy 9 were not even born yet when that sad event took place. But just as they shared in the Exodus, so they shared in the “fall of Israel.).

To tell the story is a way of confessing that we and our mothers and fathers stand in need equally of Yahweh’s hesed and mercy for we, not just them, are a people of an uncircumcised heart.

The Psalms inculcate this perspective (by the inspiration of the Spirit). Texts like Psalm 78 and 106, just to enumerate a few, take the people of God liturgically through a massive exercise of confessing the sins of the mothers and fathers. Of course Nehemiah (1.4-11) and Ezra (Neh 9) lead the people in corporate confession.

I said, ‘O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love [hesed] with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you night and day for your servants, the people of Israel, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Both I and my family have sinned. We have offended you deeply, failing to keep the commandments …” (Neh 1.5-7).

Daniel (9.1-27) does the same. And according to the book, Daniel was one of the good guys. But listen to his prayer,

Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love with those who love you … WE have sinned and done wrong, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments … WE have not listened to your servants the prophets … To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for WE have rebelled against him … ALL Israel has transgressed your law and turned aside, refusing to obey your voice … While I was speaking, and was praying and confessing MY sin and the sin of MY PEOPLE, Israel … (Dan 9.4-19).

The Day of Atonement had the people acknowledging their legacy of falleness as well.

A “New Testament” example comes immediately to mind but we rarely reflect on it. The Hebrews’ Preacher depends on this corporate notion for some fundamental doctrinal teaching. Abraham is said to have paid a tithe to Melchizedek (Heb 7). Because Abraham did therefore so has Levi. And because Levi has so have all the Levites.

One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestors when Melchizedek met him” (Hebrews 7.9-10).

In Moses day, in David’s day, in the Hebrews Preacher’s day, Melchizedek had been dead from centuries to over a millennium and yet the Levitical priests in Jesus’s day still had paid tribute to the King of Salem. The Hebrews Preacher has zero interest in a particular individual Levite, rather he is concerned about the group.

Western Evangelicals detest corporate teaching in scripture. First most simply deny it is there (though it is ubiquitous). Second, if the New Testament has “unhitched” Christianity from such a flawed Jewish notion along with the rest of the Hebrew Bible (as Andy Stanley so wrongly claims), then Hebrews (and a myriad of other texts like Romans 5) are extremely difficult to explain. For an examination of 1 Corinthians 5 in relation to these complex of ideas see “Drive Out the Offender:’ Paul, the OT and Church Discipline.

But even the Romans had a deep sense of corporate identity. The tradition of tripartite names (first, middle, last) we inherit from Romans Latin culture. But we do not use those as the Romans did. A Roman name consisted of a praenomen (given name), nomen (clan name) and cognomen (family or tribe name). M. Tullius Cicero simply referred to himself as “Cicero” which was not his name but his father. His name was reduced to M (Marcus). His identity is connected to the family/clan and Rome. This is actually quite biblical.

I have a hard time imagining the Deuteronomistic History (Joshua thru 2 Kings, minus Ruth) being composed by modern Western North American Christians. It would read radically different. I have a hard time imagining most of the Psalms being written or prayers like Daniel’s and Nehemiah’s or Ezra’s. English speakers baptize the word “you” and simply assume it means ME, when the vast majority of time it is a plural in Greek and Hebrew meaning “us” or “all y’all.” Spanish does not conspire against the Spanish the way English does English only readers.

For our culture the individual has supreme sovereignty and sadly this is as true in our churches as it is in those who are the enemies of Jesus. Thus our understanding of Sin is truncated.

Thus our understanding of history is skewed. Thus our sense of community – a notion that spans TIME as well as space in Scripture – is seriously awry.

Shalom

P. S. Every thoughtful student of the Bible should read and ponder, yes ponder, the outstanding volume (and excellent read):

Randolph Richards & Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible

There is an engaging chapter on individualism vs collectivism.

H. Wheeler Robinson’s Corporate Personality in Ancient Israel though dated is still very perceptive. The substantial study by Hans Walter Wolf, Anthropology of the Old Testament is fundamental.

Luke 10.25-37, the Good Samaritan, is justly one of the most famous short stories in the world. But there is so much to this story. Over the last several years the contours of my understanding of the Good Samaritan has changed. It deepened because of Second Chronicles. That’s right Second Chronicles.

In the story, Jesus is responding to a “lawyer” (10.25). It is important to keep this term in its historical context, a lawyer is not the same thing as an attorney in our culture but a professional torah scholar (thus the NIV accurately says “expert in the law“). The scholar correctly answers (and cites from scripture) Jesus’s query “what is written in the torah?

He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind,’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself‘” (10.27)

Please note carefully it is the Jew who gets the answer correct. The lawyer (Bible scholar) says, correctly, we must love God and love neighbor (Deut 6.4; Lev 19.18). Most Jews, in fact, would have said the same thing (the rabbis certainly do). The problem was not being able to cite Scripture, the problem was having ears to hear what Scripture was saying (i.e. meant).

But then the scholar sought to “justify” himself. This is as much a problem with today’s “Church of Christ” ministers as it was a Jewish biblical scholar in Jesus’s day. Jesus told him a story.

But my interest today is actually elsewhere, what “inspires” Jesus? I believe the basis (that is the building blocks) of Jesus’s story is actually the Hebrew Bible that the lawyer was supposed to be an expert in. The “grist” for the Samaritan is the story of what the leaders of Samaria did (at the behest of a prophet) for the Judeans. We read the whole story, in 2 Chronicles 28.5-15, one of the last stories in the Hebrew Bible itself and quite familiar to the scholar standing in front of Jesus. (Jesus does not simply quote the text but uses the material in 2 Chronicles to tailor his response to a person who was an “expert” in Scripture.

Second Chronicles 28

In Second Chronicles 28, Ahaz (King of Judah) leads God’s people into gross apostasy. Yahweh delivers them into the hands of, first, the Arameans, and then Pekah, king in Samaria. In a single day a huge number of Judah’s warriors die and “two hundred thousand wives, sons and daughters” were taken a war booty and into slavery.

Suddenly, the prophet Oded appears in 2 Chronicles. He confronts the army and its loot. Samaria, though given victory by God, is sinning by doing this. Oded commands that the enemy is really our “brothers” or “kindred” and were not to be treated in this fashion but instead to be returned to their homes.

Then some leaders joined Oded and said “we must not bring these prisoners here.” So they (the leaders) took the people and did this,

“they clothed the naked; they clothed them, gave them sandals, provided them with food and drink, anointed them; and carrying all the feeble among them on donkeys, they brought them to their kindred at Jericho … Then they returned to Samaria” (28.15).

What Jesus Did

What the Samaritan did in in Jesus’s story of Lk 10.34-35 is inspired by the the witness of the Scriptures he was raised on in 2 Chronicles 28.15ff. The contours, and even details, line up these text:

Samaria,
Jericho,
Oded,
leaders of Samaria,
the care,
even the idea that “we” might be more righteous than “them.”

Both texts reflect on the meaning of Leviticus 19.18.

Jesus has turned the lawyer’s attempted self-justification with Oded’s question in 28.10, “aren’t you also guilty of sins before the LORD your God?” The best of us is in desperate need of God’s grace because we are guilty.

Wrapping Up

Jesus has taken a story from Scripture, one that recounts what love for neighbor really meant. In the parable, Jesus confronts us with the Bible itself. But it is not simply the case that the hated Samaritan is now my “neighbor” and I love that person. Rather the Samaritan is transformed into a “kindred” … a brother. The enemy is transformed into my (our) brother. Fellow human beings are “brothers/sisters.”

As God’s people we recognize that we have NO enemies. When we encounter a person in need – even if that person considers him/herself my enemy – we are not merely neighbors rather we are “kindred/brothers/family” and practice the family character trait of mercy.

Some Sources

Many older sources completely ignore the 2 Chronicles subtext of the Good Samaritan. Protestant scholars have, historically, wanted to divorce Jesus from his Jewish matrix, that is best done by simply not acknowledging it. And frankly (and sadly) many NT scholars simply do not know their “Old Testaments.”

Thankfully, a change is taking place though still among Evangelical scholarship there is hesitancy. Thus, G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson’s Commentary on the NT Use of the Old Testament does not discuss 2 Chronicles at all in relation to the Good Samaritan.

Yet back in 1955, C.E.B. Cranfield drew attention to it in an article called “The Good Samaritan (Luke 10.25-37) in Theology Today. F. H. Wilkinson published an insightful article in Expository Times called, “Oded: Proto-Type of the Good Samaritan.” The most extensive study was published by F. Scott Spencer in Westminster Theological Journal in 1984 called “2 Chronicles 28:5-15 and the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Since then there has been a turn. Finally, the most recent is the Jewish scholar Amy-Jill Levine in Short Stories by Jesus.

Worship is the Shema in 3D

Day 31, August 31, 2020. With this post we wrap up our eighth journey thru the Psalter for 2020. Though I have been doing this for 20ish years or so, each journey thru the Psalter has been unique.

I can look back over my Psalm prayer journal and see earthquakes in my life. I see times when the days prayer time seemed perfunctory. I can see times when I did it out of a sense of obligation.

I also can look over the whole and see great changes in how individual psalms hit me. I see love notes (interestingly enough) I’ve written to former Valentines. Stuff I wrote when Rachael was in the hospital and Talya got her license. I see places that were bitter pills during a firing and divorce.

The Psalms are the river of the Spirit and the rhythm of grace that has engulfed my life. They frame my life … at least after 1997ish.

I have come to believe the Jew from Nazareth did the same thing. I know beyond a doubt that Jesus/Yeshua prayed the Psalms daily and had the book memorized. It is interesting that though the Psalms are an “Old Testament” text, I have come to know the Nazarene on a much deeper level than I ever had before because of the Psalms. That alone is worth immersion in the Psalms daily. To paraphrase Augustine, to read the Psalms is like thinking Jesus’s thoughts after him.

Today we finish this month’s journey through the Psalter (Pss 148-150). It is one Hallelujah. One Big Bang over the top praise.

Psalms 145-150 form an extended, and fitting, doxology to the entire Psalter. Give everything you have, and more, to the praise of Yahweh the God of Israel and Father of Jesus/Yeshua. Everything in the entire Psalter has been pointing to this. It is no naive call but quite deliberate. The mountains and valleys of life, all honored in the Psalter by placing them before God, bring us to unabashed exuberant praise.

Psalm 148 ushers us into not just a worship assembly on earth but a cosmic cathedral of praise. It takes eyes to see “where we are” and ears to hear what is truly going on in our worship assemblies. Psalm 148 brings us into the throne room of God, like Hebrews 12 and the Revelation does throughout.

Here, in this temple, all creation continuously praises the Creator God as King. The sun, the moon, fire, snow, mountains and even “creeping things” (148.10). In this Psalm, it is humans that are called to join with the rest of creation in praise. This is why trumpets, lyres and even dancing (149.3; 150.4) are given to God in worship – because everything belongs to him already! We join them in worship that never ceases. We are taken into the throne room by the Spirit of God to join the thundering chorus singing to the audience of One. All people, all faux kings, young men, maidens band together to glorify the one King.

Psalm 149 extends this wholesome creation theology. Praise is given to the “Maker” (v.2). Praise is “in their throats” (v. 6). Worship is relational for God “takes pleasure in his people” (v.4). Churches today could learn a lesson or two from Israel about what it means to worship God in body, soul and spirit … in Spirit and Truth!

Worship is an application of the greatest command to love God with all our heart, our soul, our mind and our strength. Worship is the Shema in 3D. Israel had no dualistic dichotomies between “physical” and “spiritual” worship … if you are presenting your body as a sacrifice then even dance and music was sacred. Since Israel is commanded to love God with body, soul, spirit, and strength their worship parallels that (that is what v.3 is about). Some today love God only with their propositions and sometimes worship reflects the lack of joy and energy this Psalm demands of the People of God. Sometimes what gets called spiritual and reverent among us is actually more indebted to pagan Platonic dualism and assimilated Victorian values than Scripture. (See also my article, Worship is the Shema in 3D: Vitamins for Worshiping with Heart, Mind, Soul & Strength).

Crowning the whole Psalter, Psalm 150 moves beyond both 148 and 149. Those psalms give us “reasons” to praise. And we have millions of them to bow before the Lord God our Maker. But Psalm 150 seemingly gives no reason. Supreme worship does not flow merely from any of the benefits we receive from God. Supreme worship flows to God simply because God is God. God is just worthy of praise.

This pure, holy, worship in Psalm 150 makes some modern disciples “uncomfortable” to say the least. Undignified. Outrageous. Over the top. No holds barred. But two things must be remembered always.

First, Jesus sang this song. Jesus sang this song. Jesus joined the festive throng in shouting to God the Father with lutes, harps, clapping and even dance (v.4). The only way to say he did not is to deny he is a faithful Bible reading Jew!

Second, If we believe that the Holy Spirit is ultimately responsible for Scripture then this psalm, like all of them, is here because he wants it there. Humans always think they are holier and more Spiritual than God, so we not infrequently embrace some neo-Platonic spirituality or neo-gnostic contemplation.

But God loves embodied and full bodied material – the stuff of Creation – worship. Thus Psalm 150 caps off the entire book of Praise. The Book of Praises ends with a big bang of praise!

In our journey we have gone through mountains, valleys, sheol, darkness, enemies of God, pain, suffering … and ultimately into the joy of being the People – blessed to be in God’s glorious Presence in sweet communion with one another and Yahweh.

My prayer meditation is,

“Lord God of Israel purify my heart so I desire to worship you with my mind, with my soul, with my strength, with my body, with my whole being, in communion with your family simply because you are the Glorious King.”

Amen

The depiction on the right is more realistic of Jesus of Nazareth
than the picture on the left.

Why Does it Matter that Jesus IS a Jew

I was asked why it matters that Jesus is, not was, a Jew. It is a profound question and one we probably need to spend a lot more time on.

What does it matter to Christian faith that Jesus is, not was, a Jew? N. T. Wright once noted, that for many as long as Jesus had a virgin birth and died a sin-bearing death on the cross, Jesus himself and his life is practically irrelevant to their faith. For them Christianity is shaped and molded by other commitments.

Honestly, that Jesus is a Jew will not matter to a Marcionite nor a Gnostic. But for biblical Christianity it is not only important but essential. I confess that, at one point in my life that is exactly where I was. In short it matters

historically,
biblically,
theologically,
ethically
.

Because it is Part of the Gospel

The first words in the New Testament declare,

the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah,
the son of David,
the son of Abraham” (Mt. 1.1).

Paul a servant of Jesus Messiah … set apart for the gospel of God, promised through the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David” (Rom 1.1-3).

Remember Jesus Messiah/Christ
raised from the dead,
a descendant of David,
this is my gospel” (2 Tim 2.8).

Christians believe that Jesus is the Messiah. The word Christ and Messiah are the same (one comes from Greek and the other Hebrew). Messiah is a Jewish category, the Son of David. So for starters the Gospel declares that God is faithful to his promises. We cannot have Jesus without his family. We cannot have Jesus without Abraham, without David … without Israel.

To be Messiah is to be the King of Israel. As Matthew tells us Jesus (and Christmas reminds us of this) was “BORN king of the Jews” (2.2). The nearest equivalent for Christ/Messiah in English is King. Every time we see the word “Christ” or “Messiah” we should read “King.” Some translations actually do this (the Kingdom New Testament for example). King of what? Israel

According to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament the King of Israel (Messiah) will inherit the nations. That text from Psalm 2 is quoted at Jesus’s baptism (Mt 3.17; Ps 2.7). Gentiles do not become Jews by becoming “messianics” rather we confess that Jesus is the King of Israel and that makes him “Lord of all.” We Gentiles are his inheritance. That Jesus is a Jew matters greatly. God’s credibility is on the line.

Jesus’s, whose name is really Joshua (namesake for the book of Joshua), identity is one with the whole history of the people of God in the Hebrew Bible. Their story is his story. His life is the culmination of that story. We have the wrong Joshua if our Jesus is not from first to last, Joshua the Jew who is is the Son of Abraham, the Son of David, the Son of Mary … the King of the Jews.

See also Picturing Jesus, the Jew: Images Project and Shape Theology.

Jesus’s birth, the Incarnation, Affirms Creation and Thus our Identity

Jesus’s, Joshua’s, Jewish identity and context is often (literally) important to understand what he said and did. Jesus’s teaching is rooted in first and foremost the Hebrew Bible itself. We are prone to distort Jesus’s mission when we take him out of his own historical, context.

Against the Gnostics, biblical faith affirms that Jesus (the Word) became flesh, that is he became a genuine human being. This means being a human is good. Humans do not become angels, or spirit beings, at the resurrection. Instead what we are is redeemed. All of me is redeemed. Jesus being born a Jew not only affirms God’s faithfulness but it also affirms that God did not make a mistake in creating the world in the first place.

Jesus remains who he was born to be. The Joshua who was raised from the dead, and shall return, is the same Jesus born of Mary, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham. John dares to label folks who deny Jesus remains in the flesh, redeemed from the grave (see Acts 2.31), as “anti-Christs” (that is anti-messiahs). These people in 1 John and 2 John were actively against this fundamental teaching, it was not that they simply did not understand.

Jesus/Joshua did not come to destroy, get rid of, God’s creation,= Rather King Jesus came to set God’s creation free from death and decay. If Jesus ceased being a Jew then he would not be what he was. If he ceases to be who he was, then I, too, will cease being who I am.

But that is not what “salvation” does. In the new heavens and new earth, I will still be Bobby Valentine – redeemed from sin and the power of death. Every tribe, every tongue, every nation will be represented (cf. Revelation 7.9-1; Ephesians 2.11-3.10). This includes Jews and Gentiles – Abraham is the father of many nations all now united into Israel by the King of Israel who is Savior and Lord of All.

The word “Christian,” like “Christ,” is just the Greek form for “messianics.” We are the people of the Messiah, which includes both Jews and non-Jews. The NT does not teach, anywhere, that the “church” replaced Israel. What Luke teaches, what Paul teaches, what Peter teaches, is that Gentiles (the inheritance of the King of Israel) are now incorporated into Israel – they have become citizens of Israel (Ephesians 2.11-22) – on the basis of their faith in the King of Israel, Jesus the Messiah.

Paul never stopped being a Jew any more than Jesus did. To the Jew first, Paul wrote and then to the Greek. The Gentiles were “grafted” into the Olive Tree of Israel. The nations, as the nations, matter to God.

Denying that Jesus IS a brown skinned, Middle Eastern Jew has led to serious distortions of theology and crimes against humanity

Anti-semiticism flourished in the Roman Empire. Paul had to deal with it in Romans 9-11 (whole epistle in my view), where he says in essence “You cannot have Jesus without Israel.

In the Second and Third centuries, the Marcionites and Gnostics however rejected all things Jewish (the Old Testament, many books in the NT, heavily edited letters of Paul, etc). Jewish was bad to people with this orientation. Once we separate Jesus from his Jewishness, from the Hebrew Bible, then we can refashion Jesus into anything we want. These two views, Marcionism and Gnosticism, have been perpetual demonic poltergeists in Christian history.

Divorced from the Hebrew Bible and his Jewishnesss suddenly Jesus is now a Gentile and against the Jews. This move empowered centuries and centuries of not only Anti-Semitic sentiment but outright murderous violence. This ultimately culminates in Nazism, which affirmed Jesus indeed. But not a Jewish Jesus, an Aryan Jesus. See The Aryan Jesus, Part 1.

In our own historical context of North America we were never far from Nazism. It is hard to hold black folks in slavery when you believe the one you call King Jesus is a brown skinned Jew!

After slavery and the Civil War, the Klan appropriated a white Aryan Jesus. It is hard to lynch blacks and hate Jews when you know that Jesus is a brown skinned middle eastern Jew.

It is difficult to be a white nationalist when the disciple humbly submits to the brown skinned King of the Jews. We realize that Joshua is the King of Israel and Lord of all nations and will in the end eliminate all kingdoms that are not his (Daniel 2).

Historically some of the greatest crimes ever perpetuated have been empowered at their root by an ideology (that Paul protested against) that denies the Jewishness of Jesus.

Conclusion

The Jewishness of Jesus matters to everything about Christianity. His Messianic identity is inseparable from his Jewishness which is the whole point of Matthew 1 and 2 (especially that genealogy church’s tend to skip). The Gospel is not just that Jesus died for our sins. It is that Jesus the Jewish Messiah who is the the Son of David, saved us from our sins and through his resurrection in the flesh redeems God’s creation (and our own body with it) from the power of death and decay (Romans 8.11, 18-23).

The Jewishness of Jesus matters incarnationally and affirms the goodness and creational intent of God. That Jesus was born a Jews and raised a Jew means that I, too, will be “me.”

The cutting off of Jesus from his Jewishness has resulted in gross distortions that are still held by many today. It has resulted in crimes that are unspeakable.

The Jewishness of Jesus matters:

historically,
biblically,
theologically,
ethically

… and we have just touched the subject.

[Edit – Clarification on “Israel.” It is a misunderstanding to simply equate the modern state of Israel founded in 1948 with biblical Israel. Jesus is the King of Israel does not commit me blindly to the modern state of Israel. It does not mean the State of Israel is beyond criticism especially in regard to Palestinians. Renewed Israel as Scripture sees it is Jews + Gentiles who confess Jesus as the King of Israel. This is not replacing Israel but an expansion of Israel to include the believers of the nations.]