Last week I attended a conference in San Diego where mission leaders from around the United States and one Kiwi (New Zealander) gathered together for discussions about the why’s and the how to’s of Jewish evangelism and outreach. As a gentile believer in Jesus, I have always understood that the Bible is a Jewish book. I have always recognized that Jesus was (and still is) a Jew. I would say that about half of the conference attendees last week are Jewish believers in Yeshua. I love attending this conference each year because it provides opportunities for me to see and visit with people I enjoy being around and have grown to love.
The conference themes provide thoughtful discussion points that systematically guide our time together. This year was no different. The theme for this year’s conference was Jewish Evangelism in the Shadow of the Holocaust. As you might imagine, this topic brought to the surface deep spiritual and emotional questions that we must wrestle with. The Shoah (Holocaust) has left an indelible imprint on the soul and spirit of Jewish people everywhere. At the core is a question most Jewish people wrestle with… “Is God good?” In answer, many Jewish people have come to the conclusion that God doesn’t exist at all. If He did, He would not have allowed the worldwide systematic persecution of the Jews throughout the ages to continue.
Understanding the deep scarring the Shoah has left on survivors and their children is something that those of us in Jewish mission must be constantly aware of. In many ways this gets in the way of Gospel proclamation. The Shoah has become a giant in the room that most of us would rather ignore than confront.
Interestingly, at the same time our conference was being held, another conference was being conducted in Bethlehem. The Christ at the Checkpoint conference was sponsored by Bethlehem College of the Bible. In attendance were Arab believers as well as others from around the world. The focus of this conference was an attempt to focus the attention of Christendom to the plight of Palestinians living in the territories within the borders of the nation of Israel.
As it is impossible to deny that there are very difficult, even tragic circumstances affecting the lives of people living in the Palestinian territories, so it is also impossible to deny the realities faced by Holocaust survivors and their children who live in Israel. Many people attempt to establish a moral equivalent between the Holocaust and what has happened to the people who call themselves Palestinians. That is like comparing apples to oranges. Remembrance of the Holocaust drives how the Israelis (believers and non-believers alike) view the conflict of their land. It also trickles down to the dialog between Arab and Jewish believers, confusing issues and identities.
Most people around the world simply cannot understand the social, political, historic, geographic, and religious realities on the ground in this hotly contested region. It is impossible for anyone to come to sound conclusions about what is happening there, much less what should happen, without having been to the Land to see these things for themselves. Even for those who identify themselves as “Christians” who live in the Land there is a great chasm between what they feel the Scriptures teach and what the Bible actually says about Israel and its relationship to the rest of the world. In fact “feelings” are the main problem.
Most of us read the Bible through the lens of our own personal experience and opinions. We seek to validate our positions and actions at home, work, church, and in the world at large by superimposing our prejudices and feelings on our reading of the Word of God. This approach to interpreting God’s Word is called “eisegesis.” Eisegetes (those who prooftext their own reading of the Bible) would never say of themselves, “When I read the Bible, I see Jesus like I want to see Jesus.” But that is in fact, what they do. Devotees of a particular interpretation of the Bible always create “clubs” from which to proclaim their own “brand” of Christian faith. In case you wondered, this is how the Church became splintered into all the denominations.
The other approach to Scripture interpretation is “exegesis.” An “exegete” is a student of the Bible that wipes away all of his/her own personal prejudices to look at what the Bible actually says. This is the approach Yeshua taught His disciples. In His time, the various rabbinic schools all had talmidim (disciples) that embraced and promoted their particular rabbis‘ interpretation of Scripture. In contrast, Yeshua taught His disciples to go back to the text and read it for understanding in the light of what the words actually say.
In Luke 24, Yeshua is recorded to have risen from the dead and walked with two of His followers on the road to Emmaus. As they traveled, He explained all that the Scriptures had to say about His first coming. Later that same day, He appeared to the disciples hiding behind closed doors in Jerusalem and taught them the same things. Yeshua provided His disciples with the keys to understanding prophetic Scripture. In turn, they taught the growing Church what He had taught them.
Wouldn’t it be great if all of Christendom chose to interpret Scripture the way Yeshua’s first followers did? We can! In his account, written specifically to reach out to unbelieving Jewish people of the first century, Matthew’s Gospel demonstrates in chapter two what Yeshua had taught him. This is the subject of this week’s video lesson.
I hear a lot about what the proponents of positions on both sides of the checkpoint have to say about the rightness of their own positions and the errors of their opposition. I am certain there are authentic believers in Yeshua on both sides. When there are two sides to an issue there should always be room for dialogue. Among the believers on both sides of the checkpoint, there are also agents of the Enemy. This is why Yeshua taught in the parables of the Kingdom (Matthew 13) about the tares growing among the wheat. Satan does not want believers to provide a unified witness that testifies about what Yeshua can do in the lives of people who were once combatants.
From an earthly perspective, there does not appear to be a way out of the Arab and Israeli conflict. These issues have also created camps among believers. No acceptable exit strategy has been presented by either side. When I say “exit strategy”, I mean a strategy that clearly identifies a road map for Arab and Jewish believers in the Land to deal with the issues biblically instead of emotionally.
Yeshua said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is the exit strategy. The only way believers on either side of the checkpoint can find peace among themselves is to return to the Word of God and exit the battleground by way of the cross. Proper exegesis will open the way for an exit from our non-biblical positions.
Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem. While you are at it, start directing people back to the Word of God, and teach them how to interpret it like Jesus taught His first disciples.
Your comments on this blog could be a starting place for dialog.