Being Jewish has long been growing less and less meaningful to Jews. A few symbols of the covenant are clung to. I think of the popularity of the Passover Seder and High Holidays and Hanukkah. But when Adam Sandler has to prop up Jewish pride with musical references to the celebrities who are members of the tribe, we know that for contemporary Jews, Jewishness is a lost concept.
The contention of religious Jewish opponents of Messianic Judaism is that we are taking Jews away from Judaism. This used to be true and in some segments of what is called “Messianic Judaism” it still is.
But in a hundred cases I know of, Yeshua empowers Jewish identity that was previously lost. There is something about the spiritual power of Yeshua, his vision for making the world now like the world to come, that awakens lax Jews and lights the fire of holiness.
My wife and I were talking about our daughter. She is a third year science major at a small state university. The Jewish population at her school is small. But in her small circle of Jewish friends, who takes the lead in a havdallah gathering, lighting the Hanukkah menorah, and so on? It is the Messianic Jew who calls the others together.
For her friends, Jewish identity is a vague, uncompelling notion, lacking spiritual power. But the inner call of God to his chosen ones, while latent, is nonetheless irresistible in other ways. God has sent a Yeshua-follower into their midst. The power of Yeshua, who draws us to an apocalyptic and heavenly vision of meaning and triumph of justice over evil, empowers Jewish identity.
Lighting candles simply means more to someone sold on God’s redemptive purpose than to secular (and also Christianized) Jews who have lost the sense of meaning that being Jewish entails.
I will bless all the families of the earth in you, says God to his people. O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me, says the Holy One. I will give you treasures of the darkness and riches hidden in secret places. You will bring forth justice to the nations. I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations.
This is what it means to be Jewish. This is what Yeshua empowers. Those who follow Yeshua with a solid vision of being Jewish, what it means to be Israel, do not cease from covenant faithfulness and the power of biblical ritual. Rather, we are empowered to do it expectantly, seeing in the candles the light of God that will someday shine from Zion and fill the world with peace.