Guaranteeing Time for Family in the Midst of Busyness

Sabbath Keeping-Big Picture PublishingI admit that I might be a work-a-holic, just a wee bit.

Perhaps this is partly because my work tends to be enjoyable and meaningful, and partly because I’ve rarely made enough income for our large family. Or maybe it’s just the way I am wired. I don’t really know.

At any rate, my wife once had a come-to-Jesus talk with me about this that proved to be a turning point for our marriage and family. Had she not called me out, I think I would’ve been too oblivious to make needed changes. After all, my time-sucking pursuits were good, and so were my intentions. I wouldn’t have guessed how important an intentional “work-free” day would turn out to be for all of us.

What started out as an experiment turned out to be a practice on which we have never looked back. In fact all five of our kids came to think of our practice of Sabbath-keeping as an expectation. My wife and I now consider it to be a weekly blessing that we wouldn’t want to do without.

Since it’s the beginning of a busy new school year for many of us, I thought it might be helpful for me to share my story, and hear from others on what works for them.

Before our experiment, here is how my life went: I worked full-time at as a Hallmark artist, and also did free-lance illustration work on the side. I also created a monthly comic strip for an alternative, free newspaper. Nights and weekends were a chance for me to work on my on-the-side stuff. So, on weekends, I would look around the house, and if everyone seemed to be occupied, and no kids were crying or poopy, I would tend to sneak off to my drawing board and get some work done.

Eventually my exasperated wife would come looking for me, usually holding a kid or two. She felt abandoned. We searched for a solution. We had already been toying with the idea of observing a formal Sabbath, but I had pretty much balked at the idea because I was too busy. (What a waste of time. A whole day – shot!) But I remember Mollie telling me, “If I knew I would get you for a full day on Sunday, I think I could live with you working the other six days.”

We decided to try it for one month. Sundays would be solely dedicated to church and family, and I wouldn’t do any paid work at all. Even if no one was poopy, I would be fully present and focused on Mollie and the kids. That was something like 20 years ago. Looking back, I shudder to think of what I almost missed.

Our Sabbath has taken various forms over the years. Mollie and I are interested in the Hebrew Roots of our faith, so for a time we observed a traditional, Saturday Jewish Sabbath as best we could, complete with the lighting of candles at sunset, challah bread, and citing a blessing over each child over dinner, (which my kids thought was weird.) At other times we tried formal family devotions on our Sabbath. But mostly, our Sabbaths have been very unstructured, with the focus being on taking a rest from work, eating together, and, at some point, doing something together as a whole family, usually playing games.

We have tried to not be religious and legalistic about this. As our kids grew older, sometimes they would have homework that had to be done, or there would be a birthday party or a meeting that had to be attended. But for the most part, our kids’ friends knew not to ask our kids to get together on Sunday because that was our family day. Eventually, our kids didn’t even mind that their friends thought our family was weird because they were having too much fun with us.

At times we had fight to keep our Sabbath set apart. We’d make an occasional exception, but we had to say “no” even to some good things. Once, our church’s youth group leadership was considering moving youth group meeting day to Sunday. We felt we had no choice but to decline participation should that change be made. Our Sabbath had become a non-negotiable priority. One parent argued that Sunday youth group could count as our family time, but I knew the dynamic would be different. Fortunately the change was never made.

Today all but one of our five children have left home, but they are closer now to each other, and to Mollie and I, than ever. We attribute this partly to regular, face-to-face time every week. Now that two of our kids are married, some of them decided that we should all get together every other Sunday; whoever can make it. On the off Sundays Mollie and I still observe a Sabbath, and we sometimes use this time to get together with people that we want to “get together with sometime.”

We believe that life is about relationships, and our Sabbath observance has become a practical application of this. (Though honestly, sometimes we’re too exhausted to entertain people!)

For those who may be wondering about my loss in productivity, I believe that observing a Sabbath has actually made me more productive, because I’m never burnt out, and I hit the ground running on Mondays. But even if it hasn’t made me more productive, if I could have all the money I lost because of keeping a Sabbath, I wouldn’t trade it for the wealth of relationship I have today with my family.

If you find yourself frazzled and frustrated by an overfull schedule, why not try keeping a weekly Sabbath for one month, just to see what good might come of it? I’d also love to hear your stories of how you ensure regular family time.

My latest book, Bear Island, reinforces family-time and our need for loving relationship. CLICK HERE for easy ordering!

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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.

An Invitation for Holy Week

JoW Facebook announcement 1It’s the week before Easter, and, for those of you who are in or near front range Northern Colorado, I would like to issue an invitation. For the rest of you I would like to share some jaw-dropping, mind-expanding, God-revealing thoughts about the Passover/Easter season.

A few years ago I was on staff at my church as the “Worship Arts Something-or-Other.” During my brief stint as a staffer, I created an event for Holy Week, (the week between Palm Sunday and Easter,) called the Journey of Worship. Perhaps you may find my reasons for creating this event interesting.

First of all, I sense that the Church in general is lacking a good and meaningful way to give expression to the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus; arguably the most important Christian holiday. Lovers of Jesus want to celebrate it, but may seem to be at a loss as to how to do it. Christmas has a number of traditions surrounding it. But Easter…not so much. There are no Easter carols. It’s hard to even find a good children’s storybook about Easter. I think there are reasons for this, but I’ll leave it at that.

Secondly, I created the Journey of Worship because there is an amazing back-story behind the climactic events of the life of Jesus that has been largely lost to the “gentile Christian church,” I’m not speaking here of some new, unsubstantiated, Dan-Brownish-horse-crap theory, such as: Jesus was married; or gay; or an alien, or a hologram. No. I’m speaking of something much older than Christianity that has been right there all along, but that nearly 2000 years of anti-Semitic “Christian” theology has buried. I’m speaking of the rich Hebrew roots of what has come to be called Christianity. We have the good fortune to live in a time when we can openly speak of these things without religious authorities lighting us on fire.

Thirdly, in light of the disturbing history of Christian-Jewish relations, the Journey of Worship seemed like a way for the gentile church to humble herself, and acknowledge and honor the Jewish roots of her faith. The apostle Paul referred to the gentile (non-Jewish) believers as uncultivated branches that had been grafted into the cultivated tree. He reminded gentile believers not to be arrogant, but to remember that it is the root that supports the branches and not the other way around (Ro 11:17,18.) He said that the gospel of God was to the Jew first (Ro 1:16.) Indeed, I have come to believe that one cannot fully understand who Jesus was and what he accomplished apart from the Jewish context into which He was born.

So…what is the Journey of Worship?

 “We are all part of a larger story. It is our Creator’s story of love, light, & redemption…”

JoW Announcement 2

These are the opening words of the Journey of Worship, a self-guided tour of the final climactic events in the life of Jesus. There is no speaker, live music, or program. We have simply created a contemplative, worshipful environment in the church sanctuary, where people can stay for as long as they like. There are nine stations guiding the viewer through a tour of the spring feasts that Yahweh gave to Israel. Lit luminaries at each station explain the meaning of the four spring feasts and how Jesus fulfilled them. There is a fair amount of adult level reading, so you should be aware of that if you have small children.

What do these ancient Jewish feasts have to do with us today?
God’s appointed feasts have both historical and prophetic significance. They are a remarkable example of the linear, progressive, unfolding revelation of the whole of scripture. In fact, the 7 (or 8 if you include the Sabbath) mandatory festivals given to Israel by God can be viewed as a sort of prophetic calendar.

If you think I’m getting weird on you, please hear me out. Look at how these mandatory feast days are presented in Leviticus chapter 23:

1)     Passover (v 5)

2)     Feast of Unleavened Bread (v 6)

3)     Feast of Early First Fruits (v 10, 11)

4)     Feast of Latter First Fruits [Pentecost] (v 15-17)

Then there is a four month interval…

5)     Feast of Trumpets  (v 24)

6)     Day of Atonement (v27)

7)     Feast of Booths (v34)

Doesn’t it seem odd that the first three feasts are clustered together in the first month, and then after Pentecost there is a four month interval? Then in the seventh month there are 3 more feasts clustered together? Why didn’t God distribute these feasts more evenly throughout the year?

Well, in God’s sovereignty, it appears as though the feasts and intervals are situated this way for prophetic reasons. The Journey of Worship details how Jesus fulfilled the four spring feasts by His crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Each of these world-shaping events occurred in succession precisely on each of these four feast days. In a remarkable and ingenious way, Jesus instituted a new covenant, secured our redemption, sealed our salvation and empowered His new church, giving new and further meaning to these (at the time) 2000 year old traditions. Amazing.

Equally amazing is that the prophetic fulfillment continues today, and we get to be a part of it. The four month interval between the spring and fall feasts seems to correspond to the time in which we now live – a time of harvest. – when people are being added into the kingdom of God. In fact Jesus often used the language of harvest in His parables. In the fourth chapter of John he refers specifically to a four month interval:

“Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? I tell you lift up your eyes, and see the fields are already white for harvest. He who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life’” (v35, 36)

Jesus is not concerned about the wheat crop here. He is speaking of spiritual things – about the salvation of human beings. While our expectation would be that the harvest comes in the fall, He tells his disciples not to wait. There is harvesting to be done right now.

Here’s the analogy in the feast of Latter First Fruits (Pentecost): Pentecost was an agricultural festival wherein the people would bring the first fruits of their crops as an offering to God. It was a way of expressing thanks to God for His provision, as well as an act of trust that he would provide an abundant later harvest. According to the scriptures God chose the occasion of the feast of Pentecost to fulfill His promise to introduce the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in a new way (Acts 2:13-33.) Upon seeing this, some 3000 people believed and were added into the kingdom, the first fruits of a great harvest that is still in progress.

It is also remarkable to note that, in Jewish culture, in addition to the original agricultural meaning, this feast eventually acquired a secondary meaning. Rabbis determined that it was on Pentecost that God gave the Law (Torah) to Moses on Mt. Sinai, so Pentecost also came to be a celebration of the giving of the Law. How amazing that the festival that commemorates the giving of the Torah in the old covenant would be the festival that God chose to pour out His Holy Spirit at the advent of His new covenant. Paul elaborates, “…But now we are released from the Torah, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Ro 7:6.)

The three autumn feasts have yet to see a Messianic fulfillment. Many of us think this will happen with the return of the Messiah. The apostle Paul gives us the strange detail that the Messiah’s return will be accompanied by a trumpet blast. Scroll up and look at what the next feast is after the 4 month harvest interval. Just sayin’.

I realize that, to the modern, enlightened, sophisticated ear, this all sounds like a bunch of religious superstitious legend. Except that it simply isn’t. It’s all demonstrably real. Passover and the other spring feasts have been celebrated and handed down by Jewish people for centuries. Real Jewish people are celebrating Passover today as I write this. When the Torah was given 4000 years ago, no one had an inkling that these feasts had Messianic significance. But in fact, they prefigure the climactic events in the life of Jesus, forming perfect analogies that help us understand what Jesus did for us. While Paul alludes to these analogies (1 Cor 5:7,8; 15:20-23) he doesn’t spell them out as they must have seemed obvious at the time of his writing. Who would’ve guessed that the Messianic witness of the Torah would first be denied by most Jews, and then eventually denied by a theologically anti-Semitic gentile church? Nonetheless, the Messianic foreshadowing in the Torah is clearly acknowledged in the New Testament writings:

JoW Announcement 3“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food or drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col 2:16.)

“For since the Torah has but a shadow of the good things instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near” (Heb 10:1.)

The Invitation:
I welcome you to step out of your busy routine and take some time this week (through Saturday) to meditate on what our loving Creator has done for us. If you live in the area, you can visit the Journey of Worship at Summitview Community Church in Ft. Collins, Colorado. Click here for times and details. Admission is free.

No matter where you live, this season I hope you get a glimpse of the larger story of which we are all invited to be a part!

Painting: Simeon’s Inspired Declaration

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“For Revelation and For Glory”
oil painting by Scott Freeman, 30 x 40″, private collection

In keeping with my previous post on Christian-Jewish relations, this week I’m sharing a painting commission that touches on the topic. The couple who commissioned this painting took an active part in its development, which is part of the fun of commissioning an original painting. The male half of this couple is an avid climber, so I suggested that he might have a particular mountain or view that might serve as the motif for the painting. Also, since I knew these people were lovers of the Judeo-Christian scriptures, I suggested that they might have a favorite passage that could be the inspiration for the painting.

They liked the latter idea and chose a passage from the gospel of Luke that depicts what is traditionally called “the presentation in the Temple.” This account describes Mary and Joseph bringing the infant Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem in order to fulfill the circumcision and purification requirements of the Torah, following the birth of a firstborn male. Luke states:

“…And it had been revealed to [Simeon] by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Torah, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,


‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.’

And his father and mother marveled at what was said about him…” (Luke 2:26-33)

There’s a lot packed into those few sentences. We see that Jesus and His family are Jewish and fully Torah-observant under the Mosaic Covenant. We see that they are apparently a poor family as they offer doves, which is the sacrifice allowed for poor families. We see that the old man Simeon was in a state of expectation, as were many during the time period of the second Temple under Rome. But Simeon had even more than the word of the prophets to go on. It says the Holy Spirit had somehow shown him that he would not die before seeing “the Lord’s Christ.” What does this phrase mean?

Christ means anointed. The “Lord’s Christ” means God’s anointed one. In the Hebrew scriptures, leaders would be anointed with oil, symbolically setting them apart for a special purpose. By the time of Simeon, there was an understanding that the Hebrew scriptures foretold a specific anointed person who would bring about the redemption of Israel – “the Christ.” (Examples: Jn 4:25,26; 7:31; Mt 22:42; Lu 23:39.) Simeon had received a promise that he would see this Messiah-savior.

Notice Simeon’s somewhat surprising description of the Lord’s Christ: “A light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

Now compare his words to what you see in the world today. Would you say that Jesus has become these things to gentiles? To Jews? My guess is most of us would say that the “light for revelation to the gentiles” part has become true a million times over. Many of us would say it’s personally true for us. I certainly would. And, of course, some 2000 years after His death and resurrection, the religion that has developed around the person of Jesus is the largest in the world. Furthermore, many would argue that, where the news of this Christ has gone, “light” has followed. (One example.)

But what about the second part – “for glory to your people Israel?” Who would argue that this is true today? In defense of the Bible I wish I could argue that since Jesus came from Israel, He is therefore a glory to Israel. But that argument rings a bit hollow to me for a couple of reasons: 1) The vast majority of Jews today and throughout church history have viewed Jesus as a pretender and a false messiah, and 2) for the great majority of church history, the church has allowed Israel zero legitimacy; certainly allowing nothing that could be called “glory”. In fact, with the gentilization of the church, early church fathers began re-interpreting the Hebrew scriptures through a “Christian” lens so that even old covenant figures like Abraham and Moses were no longer considered Jewish, but Christian! Jesus was essentially taken away from Israel. Added to this was the insistence, during much of church history, that a Jew converting to Christianity repudiate any identity with Judaism at all, making the separation total. Following is an excerpt from a baptismal confession for Jewish converts. Other such documents have survived as well:

‘AS a preliminary to his acceptance as a catechumen, a Jew ‘ must confess and denounce verbally the whole Hebrew people, and forthwith declare that with a whole heart and sincere faith he desires to be received among the Christians. Then he must renounce openly in the church all Jewish superstition, the priest saying, and he, or his sponsor if he is a child, replying in these words:

‘I renounce all customs, rites, legalisms, unleavened breads and sacrifices of lambs of the Hebrews, and all the other feasts of the Hebrews, sacrifices, prayers, aspersions, purifications, sanctifications and propitiations, and fasts, and new moons, and Sabbaths, and superstitions, and hymns and chants and observances and synagogues, and the food and drink of the Hebrews; in one word, I renounce absolutely everything Jewish, every law, rite and custom…and thus, with my whole heart, and soul, and with a true faith I come to the Christian Faith. But if it be with deceit and with hypocrisy, and not with a sincere and perfect faith and a genuine love of Christ, but with a pretence to a be Christian that I come, and if afterwards I shall wish to deny and return to Jewish superstition, or shall be found eating with Jews, or feasting with them, or secretly conversing and condemning the Christian religion instead of openly confuting them and condemning their vain faith, then let the trembling of Cain and the leprosy of Gehazi cleave to me, as well as the legal punishments to which I acknowledge myself liable. And may I be anathema in the world to come, and may my soul be set down with Satan and the devils’
( B: Profession of Faith, from The Church of Constantinople,
From Assemani, Cod. Lit., 1, p. 105. )

Heart breaking. Not much room for glory to Israel there. This is a cartoonishly divisive departure from the Bible, written by non-Jews who believed they were honoring God and obeying His Word! For these reasons I have to conclude that the world has yet to see Simeon’s “for glory to your people Israel” part of the prophecy.

Am I suggesting that the religions of Judaism and Christianity are one and the same? No. They are not. I am suggesting that, according to the Bible, religion is the wrong paradigm for understanding what God has accomplished for us in His Messiah. What He has accomplished is a better relationship. “The Lord’s Christ” never told anyone to create a new, distinct religion around Him. He did not tell his disciples to go and preach “the Christian religion.” Search for yourself – the linear, unfolding, progressive revelation of the Bible advocates something far better and deeper than a string of divisive, man-made religions. God’s Messiah preached something called the “kingdom of God”, and made possible a new relationship with God as sons and daughters that only arrived with the Messiah’s New Covenant. In this scenario, Israel has an irrevocable place according to the apostle Paul (Ro 11:11,24,26-29.) For those interested in studying this topic, Christian, Jew, or otherwise, here are some key places to start: Luke 24:24-53; Roman ch 11; 2 Corinthians ch 3; Galatians ch 3-4:7; Hebrews ch 8.

In closing, I hold up the couple who commissioned this painting as one microcosm of what can be. She was raised by Presbyterian Christian missionaries in Africa. He was raised in a non-observfant Jewish home in California. Today they are united in marriage, a Jew and a gentile Christian. Their children understand the Jewish roots of their faith in Jesus and embrace the unity of the whole of scripture. For the past few Easter/Passover seasons, my family has celebrated Passover with them in full recognition that God’s Messiah has come, fulfilling – not obliterating – everything that was written in the Torah and the prophets. This truth excites everyone present, both Jew and gentile. In the end, it’s all about love and unity between God and man, and between man and man – a unity that God has created in His Messiah (Eph 2:11-16; Matt 22:36-40.)

Love rules.

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What Easter Has To Do With Separating Christians and Jews

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.