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By Kenneth G. Symes
It was Paul who wrote: “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” [i] Our conviction that the Bible is the inspired word of God and the instrument the Holy Spirit uses to teach and convince believers and unbelievers underlies our commitment to sound biblical preaching and teaching so that individuals and local churches may be challenged to adopt the biblical understanding concerning Israel and Jewish evangelism.
UNDERSTANDING THE BACKGROUND
We preach the word to help believers understand the background of our Bible. One of the underlying rules for understanding any passage of scripture is to understand the background and the context. Few consider the Bible to be a Jewish book. Yet every author, humanly speaking with just one exception was Jewish (many consider Luke was a Gentile, but the evidence suggests otherwise). Job was not Jewish because he lived before Abraham who is considered to be the father of the Jews. As one reads through the Bible, by the time the reader comes to Abraham God had narrowed His redemptive plan to work through Abraham and His seed. By Exodus it becomes clear that this seed is now known as the Jews or the nation of Israel. God makes a very clear statement, regarding His attitude toward these people, through Moses when he said of the Jewish people: “For thou art a holy people unto the LORD thy God; the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto Himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.[ii] This statement has never been rescinded. As one goes forward in his reading of the Bible he finds that God showed this to be true in a number of ways. Only to Israel did God give the revelation of His word. “He showeth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments onto Israel. He had not dealt so with any nation.[iii] God chose Israel and the Jewish people for several reasons, one of which was for them to be the channel through which He would send His Redeemer, the Messiah. As they awaited the coming of the Messiah they were commissioned to share the truth of redemption with the world. This they refused to do and turned the revelation inward. The book of Jonah is a good illustration of the Jewish attitude toward sharing the truth of redemption with the world.
The early church was Jewish with few Gentiles. Did you ever stop to consider that every doctrine (truth) we as Christians hold dear, with one exception, can be found in and taught from the Old Testament (the Hebrew Scriptures)? The only doctrine not found in the Old Testament is the doctrine of the church which was a New Testament mystery revealed to us by Paul. Therefore, what we believe is, in its context, very Jewish. So we faithfully preach the word to help believers understand the Jewish background of God’s word.
RIGHTLY DIVIDING THE WORD
We also preach the word to help believers rightly divide the word of truth. The Bible student needs to understand God’s plan for Israel if he is to fully understand God’s program for the Ages because Israel is at the heart of it. Some years ago I was asked to speak at a citywide Hebrew/Christian Fellowship. When the leader asked for my message title I told him that I was going to speak on “How To Destroy The Jews.” After I explained what I was going to share he allowed me to speak. My text was Jeremiah 31: 36-40. Here we are told that God will turn His back on Israel only if we can cause “the ordinances to depart”, that is the sun, moon and stars, from before God. God goes on to also say that if we can measure the heavens above, in other words the extent of the universe, He will turn his back on Israel. As man cannot do either, God goes on in verses 39 and 40 to re-affirm His unconditional covenant with Israel and the Jewish people. Paul reaffirmed this unconditional covenant that God had made with Israel in his epistle to the Romans. Speaking of Israel he stated: I say then, hath God cast away his people? God forbid”.[iv] These latter words constitute a Greek idiom which literally means unthinkable thought. He used this same idiom in verse 11 as he began to lay out the responsibility of the Church to bring the Jews to faith in their Messiah, the true Lamb of God who alone can take away the sins of the world.
It is interesting to note that Paul states, speaking to Gentiles (cf. v. 13), that they are grafted into the true Abrahamic faith. How much easier it would be for us to share the Gospel with our Jewish friends if, rather than saying to them that we have found the truth, come over to our side; we instead stated: “We have found the God and faith of your fathers. Let us show you what we have found.” After all, we as Gentiles are grafted into the true faith through the New Covenant found in Jeremiah 31:31. Is this is not exactly what Jesus said as He was sharing that last Passover? “For this is my blood of the New Testament (New Covenant) which is shed for many for the remission of sins.[v] With His sacrifice at Calvary Christ instituted the New Covenant which will have its ultimate fulfillment in the Kingdom Age. Thus, in God’s economy at Calvary, the Mosaic Covenant has been laid aside and replaced by the New Covenant just as it was prophesied in Jeremiah 31: 31-34. Now, rather than a covenant of law, God is operating in His world under a covenant of Grace whereby Gentiles are by Grace grafted in to the true faith which is very Jewish in the sense that its roots are found in the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament).
Except we understand the Jewish background, and the role of Israel in God’s program, we will have problems fully understanding the teachings of the New Testament. For example, except we understand the ancient Jewish marriage customs we cannot perceive the great truths of John 14: 1-3 which lays out for us the entire ministry of Jesus. Many have problems with putting together the activities of what we call Holy Week. Yet the schedule is prophesied in Exodus 12: 1-8. Understanding the Jewish roots of our faith and the place of Israel in God’s program for the Ages is so essential if we are to rightly divide the word of truth.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?
We further preach the word to help believers understand their responsibility to evangelize the world which includes sharing God’s gracious redeeming love with His uniquely chosen people. Paul stated this responsibility and privilege clearly when he wrote: “I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles for to provoke them to jealousy. Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fullness?….As concerning the gospel ,they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes….For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief: Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.”[vi] It is our privilege through the preaching of the word to motivate, train and equip the believer and the local church to thus fulfill this aspect of the great commission.
I am often asked if Jewish people are reachable with the Gospel. Paul, himself a Jew, stated: “Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech; and not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: but that their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the Old Testament: which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.”[vii] That is exactly how I was saved. When, with my heart, I turned to the Lord He saved me. Jewish people are not uniquely difficult to reach. But they do need to be reached uniquely. With this we can help. They are reachable and we are responsible. Therefore we must proclaim the word within its Jewish context both as we preach and as we teach the holy word.