Someone asked me a good question last night. He’s been to a few Messianic synagogues now and is trying to understand from a Christian point of view what Jewish life in Messiah is all about.
He said, “Do you guys celebrate the Torah more than Messiah?”
The heart of this question could be framed in more than one way, but put most simply it could be, “Why Yeshua (Jesus)?” or “What difference does Yeshua make?”
In the broad movement of Messianic Jews and Christians with a love for Judaism it might seem that the place of Yeshua is diminished. Maybe we think we are an enlightened bunch and that Torah brings us close to God so that Yeshua simply adds the finishing touch, bringing us the last small distance to complete our journey to God.
Or, considered from the view of others, mainstream Jews and people of a secular mindset, perhaps what Messianic Judaism is all about is religion with a touch of Yeshua. The Yeshua part might not really be all that important, more like a denominational difference. The Orthodox have their rigid halachah. The Conservative have their tradition and Torah. The Reform have their spirituality. The Messianics have this Yeshua guy.
Nothing could be further from the truth. It is our strongly held belief that Yeshua is the center, the necessary redeemer, the beginning and end of rigtheousness. Torah is not simply the religion and Yeshua the faith part. Torah is Yeshua and Yeshua is Torah. For Christians, who are not called to keep the identity markers of Torah than separate Israel from the nations (circumcision, dietary law, Sabbath, etc.), we might say Yeshua is the Way and the Way is Yeshua (with “way” meaning God’s way of life).
Insufficient Goals and Diagnoses
What difference does Yeshua make? For many the answer would be, “Not much.”
This is a problem for many people considering the identity and aims of Yeshua. To some Christians (and Messianic Jews), Yeshua is simply the Moses-like leader of the religion. He is a teacher, primarily, and his way is justice, love, and redemptive love.
He certainly is all of that, but that is insufficient. It fails to come close to the identity of Yeshua, his purpose and the gift that his coming is for humanity.
I submit to you that many of us are guilty of inadequate views of the loftiness of God’s purpose for us, insufficient views of our low condition, and meager views of the Direct Being of God.
It is a myth that we, as humanity, are close to the goal already. A little evolution, a little progress in culture and knowledge, and — it is thought — we will reach the goal.
Not only is this too low a view of the goal. It is unrealistic about our ability to achieve anything. We may have iPads now, but we have not eliminated any of humanity’s evils including slavery and forced prostitution. We are still Vikings at heart. We plunder and rape and terrorize with varying means, some of them more civilized than others, but we’ve made zero progress on the truly important things. If you doubt this, perhaps it is because you have a good heart and you think the best of others. Look around. Take off the rosy spectacles.
And even if it were true that humanity was moving toward peace and harmony, that would be a paradise far smaller than the one God has planned. There are desires universally present in humanity far greater than world peace. We see a world without death. We imagine a land of unspoiled beauty, endless love, and joyful singing that goes on without end. Beauty, truth, and goodness are all that exist there and we know it is a real place, though we cannot attain it. And what really makes it Paradise is the total and unrestrained togetherness with the Eternal Father, the Source and Ground of our being, the Infinite One whose greatness is beyond all imagining and whom we intuitively know to be our Creator.
The Necessary Connection
If we view our condition realistically and if we believe in the World to Come, that Elysian kingdom we intuit, we must also understand the infiniteness of God.
It is not as if our reason, our religious affections, our practice of Torah or justice or love could bring us within range of his Being.
As a parabola draws near but never reaches the line, so God in his Direct Being is beyond knowing. Christian mystics have said he is surrounded by a cloud of unknowing. Jewish mystics have called him the Ein Sof, the Without End.
So why do we talk about him at all, then? If he is beyond our knowing, who can say anything about him?
That is what Judaism and Christianity have been about all along — the belief that God has sent manifestations of his Being, emanations from his Infiniteness, that we can grasp and understand.
There are too many examples to recount them all here. The Glory of God appeared in various forms to the ancient Israelites. They heard the voice from heaven and the voice spoke through prophets. Light and voice were emanations, manifestations of the Direct Being of God, lower forms which we finite mortals can understand and which can lift us up closer to the Infinite One.
And at a certain point in history, we Messianic Jews and Christians claim, God sent the ultimate manifestation, the summation of all the emanations, the Glory and Voice and Word and Wisdom and Presence and Power all wrapped into one. His name is Yeshua.
Now, it is a different matter, and not my concern here, to give evidence that Yeshua is this Radiance of the Being of God. All I am trying to do here is explain why Yeshua is necessary, glorious, and the Wisdom of his followers.
If we want to ascend to heights beyond simple evolution or cultural progress; if we want to have a world based on beauty, truth, and goodness; if we attain to a perfect world in union with the Infinite One, then only something he does can bring us there.
The Necessary Way
I think we should reject any language to the effect of, “God had to.” Sometimes people speak of the way Yeshua made a connection between us and God as if this was the way God was constrained to do it.
People will say, “God had to become a man. The God-man had to die. God had to raise him.”
It is better to realize that God has infinite paths available. What matters is what God did do.
We might not be intellectually satisfied with some explanation we have heard of Yeshua. The dying and rising Messiah might not seem infinite enough to us. It’s only because we don’t understand.
The way God did do it was to join humanity and deity in a person. The way God did do it was through weakness and not strength. The way God did do it was to take on our pain and experience of death, injustice, condemnation for sin, and suffering.
Our approval or disapproval is as fruitless as protesting gravity or thermodynamics.
You must be born from above, Yeshua told us. Only one has descended from heaven and ascended. I go before you to prepare a place. Where I am you will be. If you have seen me you have seen the Father. The Son of Man will come to shepherd the nations. Mourners will be comforted. The hungry will be filled. The pure will see God. No one has seen God. The Son has made him known.
Yeshua is not an addition to Torah. Yeshua is not the finishing touch added to religious ethics. Yeshua is not the denominational distinctive of Christianity and Messianic Judaism. Yeshua is the center, for those who realize and for those who don’t. He is present in many things, not just churches. Judaism has mystically described him and included him unknowingly in ritual and song. Christianities as diverse as the world’s creatures have formed around him.