Keep Watching – The New is Coming: One New Man.

One New Man

Ends at 2pm on Saturday…

The Hebrew author of the old testament book of Ecclesiastes stated that there is nothing new under the sun. At the time he was writing, I suppose this was true. However, the Torah and the prophets gave clear proclamation that something new and better would one day come with Israel’s Messiah.

The Judeo-Christian scriptures present a linear, unfolding revelation of our Creator’s spectacularly generous plan for humanity. When Jesus began to publicly speak, He spoke in terms of fulfillment: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of god is at hand…“ (Mk 1:15; Lk 4:17-21.) He spoke of new things – a new commandment, a new covenant, spiritual rebirth, a new life in His Spirit, the arrival of the long-awaited kingdom of God, resurrection and a new age to come.

Someone might object, “This is all old new stuff. Jesus said all of this 2000 years ago.”

Well, yes and no.

Our natural human condition hasn’t changed. All human beings continue to be born into a broken state, relationally separated from our Creator who is the source of life. It’s true that Jesus claimed to be the means to restore us to relational unity 2000 years ago, but the spiritual rebirth that He spoke of is new today for every modern person who chooses to believe and embrace Jesus and His gift of new life.

But there is another sense in which the works of Jesus are not ancient history, and this is what I want to focus on as we approach the Easter/Passover season.

Something new is happening, as we speak
Jesus and His apostles taught about something called “one new man;” something that could not have existed before the incarnation of Jesus (Eph 2:11-16; Jn 10:14-16.) One new man does not refer to individual regeneration and salvation. The one new man refers to both Jews and “the nations” (non-Jews) being fully united as equals, fully sharing in all of the blessings of the Jewish Messiah. Available recorded history indicates that this new and remarkable unity occurred only during a very brief time on a relatively small scale during the first century, during the time of the apostles. We can see the initial breakthrough described in Acts chapter 15, and elaborated in the writings of the apostles.

This is one of the great ironies of history: Contrary to first century Jewish tradition and expectation, the early Jewish followers of Jesus welcomed in non-Jewish believers as full brothers and sisters, without requiring them to become Jewish. They believed God had instructed them to do so. The Jewish apostolic leadership reached an agreement that “spiritually reborn” gentiles need not become circumcised and Torah-observant in order to be in right relationship to God, as this was now accomplished by faith in the salvific work of Jesus (Acts 15:7-11.) This full inclusion of non-Jews into the commonwealth of Israel (Eph 2:12, Ro 11:13-36) changed the world, though not in ways anyone could have predicted. Certainly no one would have guessed that this would bring misfortune upon the Jewish people for centuries to come.

This is not to say that the inclusiveness of the early church leadership was wrong. Rather, it was the generations that followed who failed to abide by the teaching of the Rabbi Jesus and His Jewish apostles.

Many authors have documented the rift that grew between traditional Jews and the new church of Jesus, as it became increasingly gentile in composition. Eventually, as Roman rulers began to adopt “Christian” belief and identity, the situation became worse for Jews. Both civil law and church doctrine became increasingly hostile to Judaism, so that unity between Jews and gentiles was openly discouraged. In many times and places throughout Europe it became a punishable offense for a Christian to fellowship with or marry a professing Jew, or to participate in Jewish rituals. Both state and church leadership, (often one and the same,) sought to reinforce the establishment of two, separate religions – a triumphant Christianity and a subjugated Judaism. Religious times and seasons were changed accordingly as “Christian holidays” were established. For their part, traditional Jewish people were happy to comply with having nothing to do with the Jesus of the gentiles.

Today, the world accepts this status quo. Books and media dogmatically assume “three great Abrahamic religions” – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Christians have their holidays, and Jews have theirs. As far as Jewish people are concerned, if a Jewish person comes to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, that person ceases to become Jewish. Generations of intentional, religiously motivated segregation have reinforced this. The situation is now precisely upside-down: At the time of the Apostles, the question was, “Can a gentile become a follower of Jesus without becoming Jewish?” Today the question is, “Can a Jew become a follower of Jesus without becoming a gentile?!”

The answer to both questions is a joyful “YES!” The proof is that all of the first followers of Jesus were Jewish, and they rooted their recognition and belief in Jesus as God’s Messiah inseparably to the Hebrew Torah and prophets. The answer has always been yes, but anti-Jewish “Christian” theology made it almost impossible to see for the past 1900 years.

Nowhere does the Bible say that Jesus came to establish a new religion called “Christianity,” distinct from “Judaism.” Jesus clearly stated that He came to fulfill the Torah and the Prophets (Matt 5:17.) What is described in the New Testament is Jesus establishing a new covenant, and the kingdom of God – both Jewish concepts! In fact, the Jewish apostle Paul states that the gospel of Jesus is “to the Jew first, and also to the gentile.”

What has changed?
We live in a unique time in history. The Bible is now widely available to a widely literate international population. New generations of Jews, who have been taught that the New Testament is a Christian book having nothing to do with Judaism, can now open it up and see for themselves if this is true. New generations of gentile followers of Jesus have generally not grown up with anti-Semitic ideas such as Replacement Theology. More so than ever before, Jews and Christians can now openly dialogue with each other about these things without fear of persecution. Most importantly, more and more Jewish people are embracing Jesus as their Messiah, and as part of their heritage. And more and more gentile Christians are becoming aware of the essential historic Hebrew roots of their faith.

Is this the same as saying “more and more Jews are becoming Christians”? No.
Is this the same as saying “more and more gentile Christians are becoming Jewish? No.

The whole point of the one new man idea is Jews and gentiles being united in the Jewish Messiah. It’s true unity in diversity. It transcends religion and religious tradition in favor of relationship. It’s restored relational unity with our Creator, resulting in restored community within the creation. It must include truth, forgiveness, grace, and love. It’s already beginning to happen. I am so in.

Imagine the impact on our jaded and fractured world when this begins to happen on an undeniable, global scale. After nearly 2000 years of sometimes-violent, religious persecution, the walls are coming down. And this is not due to a more liberal reading of the Bible, but a more careful one.

What you can do
I’m not Jewish, and I don’t attend a Messianic congregation. I don’t own a shofar, or a kippah, or a tallit. However, I think it is clear that the God of the Judeo-Christian scriptures has chosen Israel to bring salvation to the world through Jesus. It grieves me that most Jews have been hindered from recognizing their own Messiah because of centuries of unbiblical religious practice on the part of the gentile church. It is time for the gentile church to educate itself as to the Hebrew foundation of our theology. It is time for the gentile church to put down any barriers that may hinder Jewish seekers from feeling welcome in our midst. It is time for us to go out of our way to love Jewish people.

If you’re not sure where to start, you can begin by clicking on the links in this post. If you live in Northern Colorado, I’d like to invite you to an event that my church puts on every Holy Week. It’s called the Holy Week Journey of Worship. The Journey of Worship is a self-guided, meditative event that takes place from 8am to 8pm (depending) in our darkened sanctuary from Wednesday through Saturday. Nine stations will walk you through the climactic events in the life of Jesus, explaining how the Hebrew feasts in the Torah of Moses foreshadowed each remarkable event. There is no speaker or program, but there is a fair amount of reading. I would suggest getting off the treadmill of normal life for an hour to go through it.

Following are comments:

“This was very beautiful. We were looking for a new way, a special way to celebrate this day. We were all moved, my husband, my teenage son, and myself. Thank you for opening this up to the public.”

“This was my first time coming to Journey of Worship and I LOVED IT. So great, cried my eyes out with the Lord. I love being that close to Him.”

“I just wanted to say that this has become such an important part of the Easter season in my life…It is a reminder of the intricate history tied to the awesome and supernatural events…Thanks.”

“This was a profoundly meaningful opportunity to worship and reflect. Thank you so much.”

 Watch this VIDEO to learn specific times for the Journey of Worship.

Advertisements

Harmonizing the Resurrection Accounts in the Bible

Mary Magdalene-Scott FreemanI could wallpaper my house with skeptics’ claims of how impossible it is to harmonize the resurrection accounts in the Bible. Muslim apologists also use the “inconsistencies” in the four gospel accounts to prove that the resurrection of Jesus is a fabricated story. A few years ago, after hearing an overconfident atheist repeatedly proclaim the impossibility of harmonizing the resurrection accounts in the gospels, I accepted his challenge. He was so confident that the biblical accounts were hopelessly contradictory that he offered to personally help anyone who could harmonize them to claim a $10,000 reward offered by the Skeptics Society.

I sat down over breakfast, and saw how they fit together after about 15 minutes of reading. Just sayin’.

I’ll concede that these critics are all more intelligent and educated than I am. But this doesn’t seem to be about intelligence. There’s gotta be something else going on here. I’ll show you what I found, and you, be you skeptic or believer, can see what you think for yourself.

Courtesy to you prevents me from addressing all thirty-something supposed contradictions. But once I explain the key, you’ll be able to resolve them all for yourself.

The Problem in a Nutshell
For those unaware of the “glaring,” “mutually exclusive” contradictions, here are the biggest ones, supposedly making it “impossible” and “ludicrous” to attempt to harmonize the Bible’s own account of its most pivotal event:

  • How many women went to the tomb on resurrection morning? Was it one (John)? Two (Matthew)? Three (Mark)? Or more (Luke)?
  •  Did the woman/women arrive at the tomb while it was still dark (John)? Or as the sun was coming up (Matt and Mark)?
  • Who did the women see at the tomb? One person (Matthew and Mark,) or two (Luke and John)?
  • Did Mary Magdalene cry at the tomb (John)? Or were the women filled with joy (Matthew)?
  • Did Mary Magdalene recognize Jesus (Matthew)? Or not (John)?
  • Did the women tell the disciples immediately (Matthew, Luke, John)? Or did they say nothing to anyone (Mark)?

The key in a nutshell
The key to harmonizing the four gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus lies in recognizing that the Gospel of John describes a separate, earlier event from that which the Synoptic Gospels recount. The 3 Synoptic Gospels generally agree in what they report, with only minor variations. It is clear from an open-minded reading of the four accounts that Mary Magdalene, by herself, had already been to the tomb twice before the events described in Matthew, Mark, and Luke occur. By contrast, every skeptic I’ve read assumes that all four gospels are describing the same trip to the tomb. As we shall see, the answers to their criticisms have been there all along.

Is there textual evidence is to suggest that Mary Magdalene visited the tomb earlier than the other women? Yes, this is plainly stated. Two explicit references point to this scenario. First, John’s account begins, “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark (Jn 20:1.) The three other gospels describe a group of women, and mention dawn, or sunrise. Also, John’s text indicates that Mary was alone, and does not say that the purpose of her visit was to anoint the body.

A second clear reference to Mary’s visit is found in the gospel of Mark. He begins his abbreviated account with the group of women going to anoint the body at dawn, and ends with them fleeing the tomb in astonishment (v8.) But then, in verses 9-11 he states, “Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene…She went and told those who had been with them…But when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it” (16:9-11.) This is a reference to Mary’s earlier trip described by John, and summarizes his account perfectly. To attempt to read verses 9-11 as a continuation of the first 8 verses of Mark’s account makes little sense.

Bearing this scenario in mind, following is a chronology of the resurrection story wherein we will see all supposed contradictions resolved.

Mary Magdalene’s first two visits to the tomb
We begin with John’s account, “while it is still dark.” The stone has already been rolled back, the guards have already been dealt with, and the resurrection of Jesus has already occurred. Mary arrives to find the stone rolled back. This is her first visit to the tomb that morning. She goes no further, but turns and runs to get Peter and John, telling them that the body has been taken (v 1-2.) The men race to the tomb, look inside and see the empty grave clothes. John records that he believes, but that “as yet they did not know the scripture, that He must rise from the dead” (v 3-9.)

The perplexed men return to their homes, but Mary remains, alone and weeping, outside the tomb (v 11.) This is now her second visit. She looks inside the tomb and two angels appear and speak to her (v 12.) She turns to see Jesus, but does not recognize Him (v 14.) This is understandable as it is dark, she is weeping, and she believes Him to be dead. He reveals Himself to her and sends her to the disciples with a message. Mary finds the disciples, says, “I have seen the Lord!” and delivers the message (v 17-18.) This corresponds exactly with Mark’s summary in Mk 16:9-11. Note that Mark adds the detail that the disciples would not believe Mary. We will see why this is important shortly.

The Synoptic Gospel accounts: Mary Magdalene joins the other women
Now the Synoptic Gospels pick up the story. Mary M has now seen the empty tomb, angelic messengers, and the resurrected Jesus, but no one believes her. Does she simply go back to bed? Of course not! She had made a prior arrangement with the other women to anoint the body, after the Sabbath.

We know this from Luke’s account of the burial of Jesus:
“The women who had come with Him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. They returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment” (Lk 23:55-56.) Since the entombment, these women had been waiting to return to the tomb to prepare the body for proper burial.

Verse 10 of the next chapter tells us who these women were: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and some unidentified women. This is the most comprehensive description of the women. There were at least five. This accords with the remaining two accounts. Mark mentions the two Marys plus Salome, and Matthew only mentions the two Marys. The fact that they only name the two and three most prominent women is not a contradiction; it is simply the omission of detail. (Matthew does fill in these details earlier in his burial account, mentioning “many women” and naming “the mother of the sons of Zebedee” (Mt 27:55,56.) It is reasonable to assume that this group accompanied the two Marys on resurrection morning.

So we have Mary M now joining the company of women who plan to go and anoint the body of Jesus. Note however that no one believes her story. Mary M, though frustrated, goes along with them because she knows they will soon see the truth for themselves. The three accounts agree that it is now dawn. This will be Mary M’s third visit to the tomb.

Mark 16:3 says that on the way the women were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?” Is there a contradiction here? After all, Mary had already seen the stone rolled back, and Jesus Himself. There is no contradiction. Assuming Mary M has told them what she has seen, we’ve already been told that no one believes her crazy story. The picture that emerges is this: as the women rush to the tomb, most, if not all of the women are blowing off an exasperated Mary M; planning to anoint a body that Mary knows isn’t there, and asking who will roll away a stone that she knows has been rolled away.

Upon arrival, all accounts, (with the possible exception of Matthew,) say that they found the stone rolled away. We can reconcile the supposedly conflicting reports as follows:

The Stone and the Soldiers
Matthew describes an angel descended from heaven who rolled the stone back and sat upon it. The purpose of this first angelic appearance seems to have been to deal with the problem of the guard of Roman soldiers. They are not mentioned at the tomb again in any account, and it is reasonable to assume they remain unconscious (“like dead men” v4,) or have left to report to the chief priests (v11.) Obviously the earthquake and this angelic event had to have occurred before Mary M’s first visit.

There is nothing stated in Matthew’s account to contradict this scenario. Matthew states that the soldiers saw the angel roll back the stone (Matt 28:2-4.) He does not say that the women did. The angelic messenger was there, making himself visible to the women when they arrived.

We already know there were two angelic spirits present because Mary had already seen them inside the tomb earlier that morning. Notice, also, that Peter and John had been inside the tomb perhaps minutes before Mary looked in, and saw only empty burial clothes. A skeptic may think this business of angels appearing and disappearing at will is a very convenient device for someone attempting to harmonize resurrection accounts. However, if disappearing and reappearing is in the nature of what incorporeal beings do, a skeptic may not like it, but he cannot say it is inconsistent when they do it. It is therefore consistent to assume that one of the angels Mary saw earlier was the one who rolled back the stone, mentioned by Matthew.

Matthew does not tell us that the women entered the tomb, but it is reasonable to assume they did for two reasons: 1) a very shiny and fearsome angel had just commanded them to enter, and 2) the other 2 accounts say that they entered. Matthew simply omits this implied detail.

Critics see a contradiction in that Matthew has the angel giving his message outside of the tomb, while Mark has the angel giving the same message, thought for thought, inside the tomb. But at this point such criticisms are wearing thin. Given the emotional state of the women – fear, astonishment, lack of sleep – it seems completely reasonable to me that the angel would’ve repeated the message. Had I been an angelic messenger I probably would’ve written it down for them.

All of the other typically cited “contradictions” – the number of angels, whether they were sitting, standing, inside, or outside of the tomb – are easily reconcilable. The mention of only one angel when two are present is not a contradiction, but the omission of a detail. The angels were not frozen in position. Luke has the angel giving a different, but not contradictory, message. It is possible to conceive of omissions or additions that would be irreconcilable, but those in the gospel accounts simply do not fall into this category. (One such example might be: “…upon entering the tomb, they saw seven little men dressed in green, dancing around a pot of gold and singing songs to Zeus.”)

What is noteworthy is that two of the accounts have the angels insisting that the disciples see for themselves the place where Jesus lay, and the other two accounts record everyone doing just that. This is because faith as described in the Bible is evidential. The angels did not send the disciples away, saying, “Trust us. We’re angels. He’s risen.” No, they wanted human belief in the resurrection of God’s promised Messiah to be rooted in reliable, corroborated, eyewitness accounts. And, I would add, Jesus brilliantly revealed Himself to the women first, at a time when a woman’s testimony was not considered to be as credible as a man’s. This would be an unlikely strategy if a group of liars wanted to invent a popular new religion in a strongly patriarchal culture.

The Response of the Women
Finally, there is an oft-repeated “contradiction” that critics cite, which deserves a response. Upon leaving the tomb, what did the women do? Again the three accounts differ, but not irreconcilably so:
Matthew has the two Marys departing from the tomb with “fear and great joy,” running to tell the disciples. But on the way they are intercepted by Jesus. They take hold of His feet and worship Him, He reiterates the last part of the angel’s instruction, and sends them off (v 8-10.) Matthew is the only writer to recount this incident.
Luke simply states that after remembering the words of Jesus concerning His crucifixion and resurrection, they returned from the tomb and “told all this to the eleven and to all the rest” (24:8-12.)
Mark contains the seeming contradiction. He says “they fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid (16:8.)

Skeptics argue that the two Marys’ interaction with Jesus is significant and, if true, unlikely to be omitted from the other gospels. And at any rate, if Jesus met the women leaving the tomb as Matthew describes, then Mark’s account makes no sense. Mark says they told no one because they were afraid. These women had obviously not met Jesus. I’m inclined to agree.

The scriptures provide a clue for a plausible explanation. In John’s account, after Peter and John leave the empty tomb, he says “the disciples returned to their homes.” This indicates that the disciples – and there were many besides the eleven – were not staying together on a communal farm, but in individual lodging places. It is perfectly reasonable to posit that the company of women leaving the tomb split up to spread the message of the angels to the disciples. Possibly the two Marys then encountered Jesus apart from the others. It is reasonable to assert that not all of the five or more women were in the same frame of mind. Some, especially the ones who had not yet encountered Jesus, were too afraid to speak to anyone, while others felt “fear and great joy” as Matthew states.

Finally, skeptics attempt to make much of Mark’s statement, “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (16:8.) As if this must mean they never spoke of the resurrection to anyone for the rest of their lives. This is a goofy objection. Obviously, they were temporarily overcome with trembling and fear, and when they had collected themselves, they spoke of what they had seen, concurring with the other gospel accounts. Possibly, in stating this, Mark’s gospel is underlining the distinction between the fearful group of women, and the account of Mary M in the very next verse in which she immediately tells the disciples. The author wants to clarify that the Mary M event was an earlier incident.

In harmonizing the gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus, the most glaring inconsistencies come from attempting to read John’s account as the same incident as that described in the Synoptic Gospels. However, there are good and sufficient reasons, plainly stated in the text, which indicate that they are separate incidents. None of the accounts, recounted by four different authors, tells the entire story, yet taken together they complement each other beautifully.

Much of what Jesus did is now lost to us. One example would be His appearance to Simon which is referred to in Luke 24:34, but which is never detailed in the gospels. John plainly tells us, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” (20:30-31.) We have enough to get the picture.

As for me, I’m going to go and attempt to claim my $10,000 from the Skeptics Association, again. I’ll let you know how that goes. Until then, may our awesome Creator reveal Himself more clearly to you during this coming Passover season.

Please sign up at www.bigpicturepublishing.com to be notified of my new, beautifully illustrated kids’ storybooks, designed to instill a biblical worldview!

What Easter Has To Do With Separating Christians and Jews

Image

Emperor Constantine I – Worse than the Easter Bunny.
Despite favorable intentions toward the church, much of Constantine’s legacy has proved to be harmful, both to the church, and thus, the world.

Fourth century Roman Emperor Constantine continues to suffer accusations, such as canonizing the four biblical gospels while suppressing all others, and creating the doctrine that Jesus was divine. But this is all DaVinci-Code-fake-history, and easily debunked by the historical record. However, there are two enormously significant historical developments for which Constantine really is largely responsible; developments which set church history on a destructive course. The first development is the marrying of state and church. The second is the fixing of the date on which the church would celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. This post will focus on the second development – the date of Easter – and why it matters.

Throughout Roman Catholic Church history there have been 21 ecumenical councils, during which core Church teaching is defined. The first of these was in Nicea under Constantine in 325. In the Synodal Letter from the Council of Nicea, we find this announcement:

“We further proclaim to you the good news of the agreement concerning the holy Easter, that this particular also has through your prayers been rightly settled; so that all our brethren in the East who formerly followed the custom of the Jews are henceforth to celebrate the said most sacred feast of Easter at the same time with the Romans and yourselves and all those who have observed Easter from the beginning. “

It is generally understood that Constantine was interested in unifying the church and rooting out heresy. It can be argued that fixing the date of the celebration of the resurrection for all churches in the empire was part of this push to unify the church. However, it seems there was an additional motive in moving the date of Easter. A letter from Constantine has survived in which he explains his reasoning for moving the date of the resurrection celebration off of Passover week. Following are excerpts:

“It was declared to be particularly unworthy for this, the holiest of all festivals, to follow the custom [the calculation] of the Jews, who had soiled their hands with the most fearful of crimes, and whose minds were blinded…We ought not, therefore, to have anything in common with the Jews, for the Saviour has shown us another way; our worship follows a more legitimate and more convenient course…and consequently, in unanimously adopting this mode, we desire, dearest brethren, to separate ourselves from the detestable company of the Jews, for it is truly shameful for us to hear them boast that without their direction we could not keep this feast…”   – From the Letter of the Emperor to all those not present at the Council. (Found in Eusebius, Vita Const., Lib. iii., 18-20.)

This marks a radical departure from the teaching of scripture. If this letter is a true reflection of Constantine’s motives, it appears that his justification for moving the date of Easter off of Passover had to do with arrogant posturing and a desire to separate Christianity from Judaism. To the disinterested reader, this may seem to be a random historical development in history. But those of us who hold the Bible to be the supreme authority see a flagrant contradiction and a bad precedent. In order to see this contradiction, one must compare what Constantine did to what the Judeo-Christian scriptures say.

In order to keep a complex topic reasonably brief, allow me to collapse my understanding of the sweep of Biblical history into a few bullet points. References are included so that you can verify that I’m not fantasizing or committing heresy:

We are all part of a larger story. It is our Creator’s story of love, light, and redemption. Since the beginning of creation, when the human race fell into rebellion, spiritual darkness, and death, our relational Creator has been unfolding His astounding plan to restore us to life: 

  • With Abraham, God established a covenant people who would be a blessing to all the nations of the world (Gen 12:1-3.)
  • With Moses, God brought His covenant people out of physical slavery and into a land of their own. He gave them His Torah (instruction/law) which would serve as a custodian until such time as His Messiah would appear (Gal 3:23-4:7.)
  • Now that the Messiah has come, the scriptures teach that we are no longer under custodial care, but have been brought into direct relationship as sons and daughters under a new and better covenant of life (2 Cor 3:5-18; Gal 4:21-27; Heb 8:6-13.)
  • The Torah of Moses and the Hebrew prophets bore witness to the new and better realities of which we can now be partakers (Ro 3:21.) YHWH’s Messiah explained things which had remained hidden for ages, but which have now come to light (Matt 13:35; Ro 16:25-27; Eph 3:4-12.)

In keeping with this unity and continuity of the Old and New testaments, the most climactic and significant events in the life of Jesus all occurred on Old Covenant Jewish holidays. For example, He was killed on the Feast of Passover, and resurrected on the Feast of Early First Fruits. Each holiday had Old Covenant meaning at the time it was given, yet simultaneously foreshadowed and explained Messianic acts that were hidden for centuries until after the resurrection of the Jewish Messiah. Nothing else compares to this – the linear, unfolding, progressive revelation of the Bible.

It seems presumptuous, then, that under Constantine, some 300 years after the resurrection of Jesus, the Roman Church would deliberately move the celebration of the resurrection off of the Jewish holiday on which the resurrection occurred. Hmmm. By whose authority was this done? And for what reason? This is like taking the batteries out of a flashlight, and then using the flashlight as a hammer.

The march of history continued in this vein with the emperors following Constantine. Throughout ensuing centuries, Christian emperors and kings continued to pass laws designed to separate “the Christian religion” from Judaism, and “Christians” from Jews. It appears that early gentile (non-Jewish) Christians recognized the roots of their faith in Judaism and the Hebrew scriptures as there was apparently a lot of fraternizing between gentile Christians and Jews. We can assume this because so many laws were passed restricting such fraternization. For example, later church councils forbade Christians from celebrating Passover with Jews, observing the Jewish Sabbath, accepting gifts from Jews, or marrying Jews. Many church writings and sermons are designed to separate the two religions. Most famously, church father and bishop, John Chrysostem, delivered 8 sermons in Antioch in 387 AD that typically included exhortations such as these:

There are many in our ranks who say they think as we do. Yet some of these are going to watch the festivals and others will join the Jews in keeping their feasts and observing their fasts. I wish to drive this perverse custom from the Church right now (homily 1)… Meanwhile, I ask you to rescue your brothers, to set them free from their error… I want them to learn these facts from you and to free themselves from their wicked association with the Jews. I want them then to show themselves sincere and genuine Christians. I want them to shun the evil gatherings of the Jews and their synagogues, both in the city and in the suburbs, because these are robbers’ dens and dwellings of demons…” (homily 5.)

Image

A 1510 woodcut from depicting “blood libel’ – the accusation that Jews require human blood for the making of matzos for Passover. This persistent rumor often led to the murder of Jews during the Middle Ages.

Eventually, after centuries of unbiblical, anti-Jewish civil legislation and church teaching, it appears that the general population was persuaded to despise Jewry. Christian anti-Semitism reached its height during the crusades of the 12th and 13th centuries. Along their way to defend the Holy Land from Muslim aggressors, some Crusaders slaughtered Jews as well. The church invented the Jewish ghetto, and also the idea of forcing Jews to wear distinctive identifying patches on their clothing. (One can see examples of this in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, circa 1600.) If these things sound familiar, perhaps it’s because much later, in the 20th century, a now famous anti-Semite with a dorky little mustache employed many of the same tactics in his own campaign against Jews. Of course, Hitler took things much further than the church had, but he defended his actions by appealing to church history and church writings, leaving the church with a compromised response to Nazism.

Image

Display of the yellow circle that Jews were required to wear in Christian Europe.
– from the Jewish Museum in Berlin, photo by the author

The horrific evil of Nazism aside, let’s compare the gentile church’s enduring campaign against Judaism to the words and actions of the Jewish Messiah and His Jewish apostles, i.e. the Bible:

  • Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 15:24, 10:6.) Wait…what? Did “our personal Lord and Savior” just say that He was sent only to Jewish people?!
  • Jesus said, “…And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them in also, and they will heed my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (Jn 10:16.) Ah!…Here He tells His Jewish audience that there are other sheep He wants to bring in. This is one of several premonitions of the eventual inclusion of the gentiles into the kingdom of God.
  • The Jewish apostle Paul wrote of a great mystery that has now been revealed. “When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ…This mystery is that the gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise of Jesus Christ through the gospel” (Eph 4.) In calling this a mystery, he is referring to the fact that this development was not explained in the Torah and the prophets. (For example, it says the coming New Covenant spoken of in Jeremiah will be made with “the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”)
  • In the book of Acts we see Jewish followers of Jesus spreading the news that the Messiah, the kingdom, and the New Covenant have come – all Jewish concepts rooted in the Torah and the prophets. But then, God rocks their world, revealing that His desire is to include the gentiles, as gentiles, in His New Covenant. In other words, the clear teaching of the apostles from Acts ch 15 forward is that it is not necessary for gentile believers to become Jewish in order to enter into the New Covenant of grace (See Galatians, Romans, Colossians.) Amazingly, the Jewish apostolic church leadership goes with this and welcomes the gentiles into their company, revolutionizing millennia of Jewish practice and fulfilling God’s ancient promise to Abraham (Gen 12:3.)
  • After this Paul writes: “For He [Jesus] is our peace, who has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in His flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both [Jew and gentile] to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end”…(Eph 2:11-22.)
  • Also, to the gentiles he writes: “…But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you…So do not become proud but stand in awe…” (Ro 11:17-24.)

This was God’s vision – one new man in place of the two. One tree. One flock. One shepherd. But this vision existed as a reality only for a very brief time in history during the time of the apostles, and perhaps briefly thereafter. As most Jews refused to embrace Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah, and as more and more gentiles came into the church, eventually Jewish believers in Yeshua were far outnumbered. By the time of the Council of Nicea in 325, even though Constantine invited some 1,800 bishops to attend from across the empire, there is no record of even a solitary Jewish bishop in attendance at the council. And then the Roman church set about deliberately re-erecting a dividing wall, this time from the gentile side, in order to intentionally separate Christianity from Judaism, in direct opposition to scripture. In my opinion, it’s one of the most unknown, and one of the saddest stories in history.

Today the wall still stands. We’ve all gotten used to it. From the gentile side it looks pretty legit. It’s been  painted over and decorated with great religious art, stained glass, and crosses. Gentile believers living today are mostly unaware of the centuries of church oppression against Jews, as well as the theological anti-Semitism that fostered it. We’re all about loving God and loving people now, and rightly so. There’s just this wall that has “always” been there.

From the Jewish side the wall looks a little different. The crosses that the Christians wear around their necks and use for decoration look just like the crosses under which Jewish ancestors were persecuted. Jewish people living today have not forgotten the nasty history of Christian-Jewish relations. They’re probably fine with a wall that keeps the two separate. Perhaps they’re relieved that at last the specter of theological anti-Semitism is mostly gone from the church. As for Jewish belief today, there is great latitude on the Jewish side of the wall. One can even be an atheist and still identify as Jewish. The one thing that one cannot be as a Jew, ironically, is a follower of the Jewish “Messiah.” The wall has done its work.

So what are we to do with this information? I can only speak to gentile followers of Jesus. I think we must  pay attention. We must use the light of scripture to begin sorting out what we should hold onto and what we should let go of. We must sort out what originates from the heart of God versus what are mere human innovations and traditions of men. We need to humble ourselves and agree that it’s not we who support the root, but the root that supports us (Ro 11.) Paul says it is Jesus Himself who originally broke down the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and gentile (Eph 2:14.) Yet we know it is the gentile church that erected the present dividing wall. Is there any reason that the gentile church shouldn’t begin dismantling it now? I believe we can reasonably hope that God will help us do so. We live in a remarkable and unique period. For the first time in over a millennium and a half, now that the error of replacement theology and the smoke of the holocaust has cleared, Christians and Jews can finally dialogue without fear. I say, as far as it depends on you, in whatever corner of the world you are in, let the work of reconciliation and restitution begin.

Image

The above symbol is based on markings found on artifacts reportedly dating from the 1st century in Jerusalem. The symbol has come to be known as the Messianic Seal of Jerusalem.

Well…Easter is Over. Did You Accidentally Worship Satan This Year?

Holidays seem to be getting weirder for me every year. This may be because I’m in dialogue with very diverse groups of people. And I’m not talking about people on opposite ends of a spectrum here. I’m talking about people on the tips of the tentacles of a giant metaphorical octopus. And when it comes to holidays, it’s as though the giant octopus farts out a big ink cloud and just sits there in it. To add to the confusion, in some ways the most legalistic of Christians find themselves most closely aligned with the atheists and anti-Christian scoffers, who seem to think they are above it all.

Nonetheless, I had a wonderful, meaningful, and joyful Passover/Easter season, and I did not worship Satan even once.

The issue, in case you weren’t on Facebook the week before Easter, has to do with the origins of the holiday we know as Easter. There has long been a rumor going around that Easter is named after the Assyrian goddess Ishtar. Or the Indo-European goddess Eostre. Or Ostara, or Astarte, or some other pagan goddess, (it doesn’t really matter which one.) Apparently even atheist author Richard Dawkins posted a (factually incorrect) meme on his website this Easter season, spreading the idea that Easter = Ishtar. The point is that, supposedly, the most important holiday in all of worldwide Christendom is derived from pagan sources. However, as is usually the case, the truth is a bit more nuanced than a Facebook meme would lead you to believe.

Image

The Ishtar Bunny

But just for fun, here is my attempt to respectfully and fairly describe a few of the various American camps around the Easter holiday. Please correct me if you feel I misrepresented you here:

The legalistic Christian camp – These well-intentioned people love Jesus and love the Bible. They think that Easter is derived from pagan practices, and is not biblical in origin. If Easter is named after a pagan fertility goddess whose symbols are eggs and rabbits, then participating in these things is akin to participating in pagan rituals. They prefer the term “Resurrection Sunday” over “Easter” in order to keep the focus where they feel it belongs, and separate themselves from any pagan associations.

The liberal Christian camp – These well-intentioned people love the idea of a Jesus, they just don’t know what He actually said or did. They also love parts of the Bible, but overall, they think it’s an inspired myth. They may or may not believe in a literal Jesus or resurrection, and generally don’t believe the miracles really happened. It doesn’t matter to them if Easter was derived from paganism because they don’t believe in an exclusive truth anyway. I would guess that some of them may be looking for new ways to incorporate paganism into Easter in order to celebrate diversity and universalism.

The Roman Catholic camp – These well-intentioned people belong to the tradition that actually invented Easter, and since they exalt church tradition to the level of scripture, they generally are not worried about accidentally worshipping the devil by celebrating Easter.

The Orthodox Church camp – This much smaller branch also exalts church tradition and considers the Easter season to be the most sacred of seasons, but calculates their Easter date differently than does the Catholic Church. So if they are accidentally worshipping Satan, they’re usually doing it on a different day than everybody else.

The Torah Observant Messianic camp – This is the well-intentioned dominant branch (from what I can tell) of the Messianic Jewish movement. They are believers in Jesus, but not in the Church traditions that grew up after Him, including the Christian holidays. They see themselves as “grafted-in” Jewish followers of Yeshua (Jesus,) and believe the Torah of Moses is still in force for the most part. Accordingly, they observe the Jewish holidays as described in the Torah, and tend to be vehemently opposed to celebrating “pagan holidays” like Easter.

The mainstream Evangelical camp – These well-intentioned people are a diverse group. They may say “Easter,” “Resurrection Sunday,” or “Passover.” They love Jesus and the Bible. They tend to believe relationship with God is more important than religious observance and rule-keeping. They emphasize grace over “law.” Billy Graham and Rick Warren are in this camp. These churches often have Easter egg hunts on the church lawn for children on Easter morning. This is the camp (along with the Catholics and Orthodox) that is accidentally worshipping Satan according the legalistic Christian camp and the Torah Observant Messianic camp.

The atheist/skeptic/anti-religious camp – These well-intentioned non-believers think that the whole Bible and Jesus thing is a bunch of nonsense. They believe that not only are the Christian holidays derived from paganism, the idea of a virgin birth, and a divine, resurrected Jesus is derived from Paganism as well. (They are demonstrably wrong about this, but that’s a topic for another day.) They are amused that “the Christians” ignorantly celebrate their “Christian holidays” with Pagan rituals. In this, the most legalistic Christian groups described above would agree with them, except that they are concerned, not amused.

The Easter candy makers – These people are not well intentioned, and are killing our children with dye and sugar and chemicals, all dressed up in cheery, irresistible packaging. For money. ‘Just thought I’d throw that in.

What a hairball. And assuming anyone cares, is there any way to sort it all out? I believe there is a very simple way. And from a most unexpected source – a source that many would assume to be the culprit in all of this – the Bible.

But first I must make a general observation:

THE EASTER BUNNY AND EASTER EGGS ARE SIMPLY PART OF THE AMERICAN CULTURE IN WHICH WE LIVE. They are basically silly and meaningless traditions for children that have nothing to do with worshipping anything. In our culture, it’s simply fun, cute, springtime stuff, even if it did originate in Paganism, which is highly questionable. The persistence of the Easter Bunny probably has more to do with free market capitalism than with anything else.

Image

Satanic Ishtar Candy

So how does the Bible cut through all of the religious hoopla? In a nutshell, by urging humilty and love.

1)     To my legalistic Christian and Messianic readers who think the Church is practicing Paganism by celebrating Easter, I would respectfully challenge you to provide even one single biblical example of anyone accidently worshipping Satan/demons/false gods. I contend that the Bible presents worship as an intentional act, no matter who the object of worship is. If you can’t provide biblical support for your position, then how can you claim that your position is biblical? I actually agree with you that celebrating Easter is not the best possible, most biblically sound way to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, but that doesn’t make it demonic. On Easter Sunday, church people are honestly, earnestly, and joyfully celebrating the most earth shaking event in history  – the resurrection of Jesus. They’re just doing it on an irrelevant day.

Let us note the following biblical position from the apostle Paul:

“Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God…“ He goes on to say, “…So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Romans 14:4-19)

2)     To the atheist/skeptic/anti-religious people who think that the celebration of Easter is somehow an argument against the historical reality of Jesus and the truth of His resurrection, I respectfully challenge you to explain how that is the case. First, the etymology of “Easter” remains uncertain. Second, I’ve yet to see a convincing explanation as to how errant Church traditions that developed after the time of Jesus have any bearing on the validity of what Jesus said or did, according to the Bible, while He was on earth. All it proves is that people in authority often do stupid things; but we already know that. Yet your camp’s spokespeople – like Dawkins and Harris – regularly blame the Bible for later extra-biblical Church practices. Like burning witches.

On that cheery note, I hope we can all lighten up a bit and enjoy each other, and enjoy the fascinating pluralistic culture in which we live while we still can. We live in a remarkable time in history, and it is worth pondering the wonder that God is still not dead, and that we’re still having this discussion in the 21st century. For me, the bottom line is that Easter’s possible pagan origin is not even worth debating – it’s completely irrelevant since Easter is clearly not a pagan holiday today.

However, having said all of this, I contend that there is an extremely important issue around Easter that is worth debating, that has nothing to do with paganism, and that continues to be a gash on the reputation of the Church. It is a matter of historical record that the origin of a Christian holiday called Easter was part of a tragic development in church history that was arrogant and unbiblical, and can be shown to be so. The harmful consequences of that tragic development are still very much with us today. Next week’s post will use the occasion of Easter observance to elaborate on that development.