Sunday, August 31, 2014

Christ, Racism, Hatred, Persecution, and Messianic Judaism

I know something about racism and its twisted fruit. As a youth, I couldn’t hide being Jewish. Our public school would make embarrassing announcements for the Jews, who had to catch the bus to Hebrew school, to line up in the hall. Hostile snickers would inevitably follow. What did the other Jews feel? I don’t know. They never mentioned it. Instead, they acted as if they never heard anything. But for me, this was nothing less than a reenactment of the Holocaust.

Meanwhile, I stood there as at a firing squad, vacillating between shame and murderous rage. This was compounded as I was regularly pushed in the hallway and called “Jew bastard.” I was amazed that some Jews were able to simply laugh it off. Sometimes, I would explode and fight. Other times, I cowered in shame.

Going to school was fearful.  Even my Gentile friends distanced themselves from me when the anti-Jewish taunts would begin. I became convinced that they too secretly despised me.

For me, the world only had two kinds of people – Jew and Gentile, one a friend and the other a menacing enemy. History taught me that the Gentile would either kill me or try to change or convert me into something less detestable to them. And I hated them back. I couldn’t fight all of my classmates, but I could hate them and look down on them. I grew to love everything Jewish and to hate everything Christian.

When I heard that a Jewish family in my neighborhood had converted to Christianity, I was disgusted to the point of nausea. Nothing could be so shameful, not even if they were caught selling child porn.

My hatred of Gentiles – and I regarded Gentiles as Christian, since they all seemed to have Christmas trees – became more intense. I was convinced that they had a stench. It was difficult for me to get into an elevator with too many of them at the same time.

Eventually, I became a Zionist, convinced that Israel was the only place that Jews could live. I thought I’d be happy there. In some ways, it felt like home. I had family there and the streets were not named after Gentiles – no “Lincoln Rd.” or “Washington Ave.” – but they had sweet-smelling and familiar Jewish names. However, the happiness, community, and an all-encompassing meaning for life evaded me.

I reluctantly returned to the States several years later with a wife and child, yet still convinced that everyone was a secret anti-Semite. However, years later, I had a horrific chainsaw injury. In the midst of a pool of blood, I had a miraculous encounter with my Savior Jesus.

I knew that I had to go to church, but that lingering sense of nausea returned.
After taking a series of baby-steps, I succeeded in entering a church. While the congregants greeted me in a friendly manner, I was still convinced that they had a dagger under their belt that read “kill the Jew.” My feelings were so strong that they took captive all of my other perceptions of the lovely Christians I had encountered. Perhaps they didn’t stink, but I was sure that, at their core, they were the worst hypocrites.

Thankfully, there were no Messianic congregations in traveling distance, so fortunately, I had to tough-it-out in the exclusive company of Gentile believers, but the Word had begun its work within me.

As I began to grow in Christ, I also began to appreciate His surpassing value, a value that takes precedence over all of my other loyalties and identities. Along with this, I began to slowly esteem my new brethren.

While Jesus was talking to His followers, someone announced that His brothers and mother were waiting and wanting to speak with Him. However, Jesus’ response showed that His familial priorities:
  • He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”  Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:48-50)
Jesus’ response reflected the fact that, in Him, we have a new family and new family responsibilities, and we must embrace this new reality. Somehow, we are now so interconnected that when “one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Cor. 12:26). Consequently, we grow together, rejoice together, and bleed together (Eph. 4:15). In Him, we even share the same value and essence:
  •  So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28)
When we fail to acknowledge this connection, the unity that we share in the Body of Christ, we bring judgment upon ourselves (1 Cor. 11:27-31). When we maintain this unity through love, we show the world the reality of Christ in our midst. Jesus therefore prayed:
  •   “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—  I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23) 

Are we narrow and chauvinistic to love the Body of Christ before all else? No? The best way to love the world is to love our brethren. Nothing else will communicate the reality of Christ and His salvation like the love we have for the brethren.

Will the elimination of differences build a better world? No! It is only the love of Christ that will overcome the barriers.

No matter many differences are eliminated, there will still be republicans and democrats, conservatives and progressives, blacks and whites, rich and poor. Instead, we have to learn to love in spite of the differences!

For 25 years, I have been trying to make my wife to become like me. I like the windows closed, she likes them open. I like my meat medium; she likes hers rare. Despite my best efforts, I haven’t been able to change her. However, through Christ I have learned to love her, and that’s made all the difference.

I have learned that I am no longer my own. I have become one spirit with Christ (1 Cor. 6:17) and with His family. I have also died with Christ that I might live in glory with Him (Gal. 2:20).

Yes, I am still Jewish. I identify with my history and culture. I am a product of my parents and their parents, but, before all else, I am a child of the One who died for me – Jesus the Messiah. Consequently, when my Jewish brethren introduce me as a Messianic Jew, I laugh and gently correct them:

  • I am a Christian. Christ overshadows everything else, and I want the world to know it!
And when Christ is #1, changes begin to take place. My wife and I recently took a trip to Eastern Europe, where so many of my family had been butchered. I hadn't wanted to go, but I am so glad that I did. Christ has given me such a love for the peoples I had once hated. He has freed me!

All of us must regard our Savior as superior to everything else in our lives, even our family. We must realize that to seek Him first is life itself (Matthew 6:33) This is my prayer for all persecuted people struggling to find their identity in Christ alone. To Him be all the glory!

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