In many places we have lost our way. Old priorities forgotten, the luster of glory is dull, in need of loving care to be restored and to shine again. Something beautiful is just under the dust of neglect and the glimmer is not extinguished.
I wrote recently of the wonder and sense of purpose I felt and experienced all around in my earliest experience of Messianic Judaism. Perhaps I overstated the sense that it was a golden age. Surely we lacked a clear vision and I am thankful for the clarity that has come through maturing, which is manifest in the Hashivenu stream of Messianic Judaism.
But if in those early days we lacked clarity, we did not lack for hearing or sight. We heard and we saw something God was making clear.
I remember listening in awe to discussions of Jewish history. The principle idea is that God was at work in the history of the people of Israel. The birth of Israel moved us. The Holocaust was a challenge to our faith and yet the suffering of Jacob was readily compared to the suffering of Jacob’s greatest son. The story did not end with despair, but continued (and it continues) with rebirth and optimism.
Again and again I heard messages about the restoration, glorification, and vindication of the people of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
As a convert to Judaism, I was a the time a Gentile. It did not occur to me that somehow in the wonder of all this prophetic beauty I should feel left out, unwanted. In fact, I was part of a group of Christians, Southern Baptists in fact, who were in awe over the same wonders of biblical foretelling.
We read Bodie Thoene novels. We watched Holocaust documentaries. We took trips to Israel and learned about the Zionist pioneers and the many remarkable people who gave birth to a nation. We read Deuteronomy 30, Isaiah 2, Ezekiel 36, Zechariah 12, and Romans 11. We received newsletters with teaching about the second Exodus.
And we believed that all Israel would be saved, in a certain generation (may it be ours), and saved by the name of Yeshua.
I don’t know what has happened. That idealism has been lost in many places it seems to me. Maybe the lingering decades have eroded hope in naive dispensationalist theories. Maybe fractious sub-movements of non-Jews have infected many with a subtle replacement theology. Maybe I’m just getting old.
The biblical texts have not changed. It remains a fact that before Israel’s exile was even a rumored reality, the prophet Moses foretold it: these things will come upon you, the blessing and the curse. Scattered to the furthest places under heaven, we could see that reality in the Jewish people as we thought about world Jewry, suffering, and hope. But another fact remains, from the same biblical passage: from there the Lord your God will gather you. And we talked a lot about that gathering. Some were convinced the exodus of Jews out of Russia was the fulfillment and that Messiah’s coming was imminent. Naive we were, but naively rapturous and content. The Lord your God will circumcise your heart, we read and we thought of the new birth Yeshua brings sealed with the Spirit of God dwelling inside.
It wasn’t just Messianic Jews who talked this way. It was also a sub-group of Christians.
And Messianic Judaism was, and I will insist on this bit of history, a movement about the restoration of the people of Israel in Yeshua. It was not about rediscovering Torah and certainly not about getting non-Jews to keep the Torah.
What a shame to see something so beautiful, pure, and resonant with biblical voices be lost to an identity crisis.
I’m glad that some of the early shortcomings of Messianic Judaism are being overcome. It wasn’t all goodness and light, of course. Mostly we failed to recognize that Torah is living and authoritative. Messianic Jews too often ate bacon and had gift shops open in the synagogue on Shabbat. Christian theologies of the Law, especially dispensationalist and Reformed understandings, were prevalent.
But if we circumcise our sons, grow in the tradition, restrict our diets, and sanctify our time, it is not enough. Someone said on this blog only yesterday, “I speculate there will never be a time, short of Messiah’s arrival or some other amazing thing from heaven, when the Jewish world embraces Messiah Yeshua en masse.”
Perish the thought that we have lost our way on this. The hearts of Israel will be circumcised. All Israel will be saved. Looking on the pierced Messiah, there will be a weeping revival of repentance. God will put his Spirit in his people, Israel. A heart of stone will be replaced with a heart of flesh. The Torah will be written on the heart and no Jew will need to teach his fellow about God for all will know him. And we are persuaded that the life, teaching, and redemptive actions of Yeshua the Messiah will bring all this about.
We must never forget.