Six Signs That You May Be Ashamed of the Gospel

Golgotha

Given this was one of the most popular posts of 2014, I have decided to re post it. Enjoy!

We are living in a day of religious pluralism and theological illiteracy. On a very general level many Christians have been told they need to share the Gospel with people. But why? What is it that motivates you to even engage the culture for the Christian faith? Or maybe you just don’t engage it all. Overseas, Christians are being persecuted and killed for their beliefs. So don’t take it for granted that we have the freedom to share what we believe with others.

1. The Starting Point

If you don’t agree with the following syllogism, it makes it hard to want to share your faith: 1. The New Testament documents are historically reliable evidence. 2. The historical evidence of the New Testament shows that Jesus is God incarnate. This claim to divinity was proven by His miracles/His speaking authority, His actions, and His resurrection. 3. Therefore, there is reliable historical evidence that Jesus is God incarnate.

So if this syllogism is correct, it leads to the next syllogism:

The Command to Make Disciples: Matt 28:19

1. Whatever Jesus teaches is true. 2. Jesus taught that we are to “Go and make disciples of the nations” (Matt 28:19). 3. Therefore, Christians should desire to “Go and make disciples of the nations” (Matt 28:19).

This command does not mean we need to be sent to some far distant land to preach the Gospel. The command applies to every Christian no matter where they are located. God uses us wherever we are.

It is true that much of the Church has focused on the “go” part of this command. But we need to remember that The Great Commission is accomplished while we “go” about living our daily lives.

The context of Matt 28:19 is that in fulfillment of the Great Commission, we are to make disciples. We are to baptize new believers and we are to teach them. Unless there has been teaching and instruction about the commands of Jesus, there has not been any discipleship. So it is clear that people can’t enter into the process of discipleship without hearing about the Gospel.

Romans 1:16

“For  I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is  the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew  first and also to  the Greek. For in it  the righteousness of God is revealed  from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (ESV)

Grammatically, the entire verse is in the present tense. There are three verbs:unashamed, is and believes. All are in the present tense. So Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel. He knew it was for the Jew and the Greek. He also  knew the power of God was demonstrated in the message.

But now we need to ask ourselves whether we can make an application of this text. Do we as Christians actually believe the Gospel is Good News and are we ashamed or unashamed of the Gospel? Are there some visible signs as to whether we are ashamed or unashamed of the Gospel? Here are some signs that we might be ashamed of the Gospel.

#1: We are ashamed of the Gospel because we are worried about offending people

I was teaching a class on evangelism a few weeks back. One student said that one of the people they had witnessed to had been offended by the message. My response is the same as always: The Gospel is offensive. Paul commented about the challenge of proclaiming a dying Messiah to his fellow countrymen:

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Cor.1:21-22)

To summarize “The Kerygma” of the early Christian community:

1. The promises by God made in the Hebrew Bible/The Old Testament have now been revealed with the coming of Jesus the Messiah (Acts 2:30;3;19;24,10:43; 26:6-7;22).

2. Jesus was anointed by God at his baptism (Acts 10:38).

3. Jesus began his ministry at Galilee after his baptism (Acts 10:37).

4.Jesus conducted a beneficent ministry, doing good and performing mighty works by the power of God ( Acts 2:22; 10:38).

5. The Messiah was crucified according to the plan of God (Acts 2:23).

6. He was raised from the dead and appeared to his disciples (Acts 2:24; 31-32; 3:15-26;10:40-41;17:31;26:23).

7. Jesus was exalted and given the name “Lord” (Acts 2:25-29;33-36;3:13;10:36).

8. He gave the Holy Spirit to form the new community of God (Acts 1:8;2;14-18;33,38-39;10:44-47).

9. He will come again for judgment and the restoration of all things (Acts 3:20-21;10:42; 17:31).

10. All who hear the message should repent and be baptized because of the finished work of Jesus (Acts 2:21;38;3:19;10:43, 17-48; 17:30, 26:20).

You could always make people less offended and preach a false Gospel such as “Jesus will meet all your needs.” In other words, Jesus is a buddy. But if you do this, you will have to answer to God for giving people the false Gospel. So always remember the power is in the message. And it will offend because the Holy Spirit does convict people of the truthfulness of the message.

#2: We are ashamed of the Gospel because we are a man pleaser rather than a God pleaser

This happens  to all of us. In a day of political correctness Christians are more worried about what their peers think than what God thinks. In the end  we will answer to God with what we did with the Gospel. We are stewards of the message.

#3: We are ashamed of the Gospel because we are afraid we can’t answer objections

In this case, that’s why we have apologetics. There are plenty of resources that can help the Christian to be confident in what they believe.

#4: We are ashamed of the Gospel because we don’t take the Lordship of Jesus seriously

This is a hot topic.   As far as Lordship, I think the new believer needs to know about this early on. To make Jesus as Lord of one’s life is a lifelong process. It is a call to daily surrender. It certainly means we are under NEW MANAGEMENT. We are called to yield our time, bodies, goals and gifts to His Lordship. Is it easy? No, not at all. I struggle with this quite a bit. But we do have a Helper to give us the grace to do it (hint: study the ministry of the Holy Spirit). So in other words, we say ‘”Lord Jesus, have your way with me. I am relying on the work of the Holy Spirit to yield myself to you on a daily basis.”

There is no doubt that  in a world that wants instant results, self- sacrifice is tough sell. Part of the problem is that churches preach a Gospel that promises that Jesus will fix all our problems. And when things get tough, many people bail out. A long-term commitment to our Lord which involves self-denial (Luke 9:23) is hard to swallow for those that have been told The American Dream is the way of happiness.

#5: We are ashamed of the Gospel because we don’t really believe the Gospel is true

In this case perhaps we need to preach the Gospel to ourselves on a daily basis. Do we really believe it is Good News?

#6: We are ashamed of the Gospel because we don’t even know what the Gospel actually is!

You may say this is impossible. But there have been a slew of books questioning “What is the Gospel?” I have written elsewhere that the Gospel is presented in a variety of contexts.  Please don’t be a 20 year old Christian and not know what the Gospel is.

Those are some of the checkpoints I have come up with. Feel free to think of some more.

Six Signs That You May Be Ashamed of the Gospel

Golgotha

We are living in a day of religious pluralism and theological illiteracy. On a very general level many Christians have been told they need to share the Gospel with people. But why? What is it that motivates you to even engage the culture for the Christian faith? Or maybe you just don’t engage it all. Overseas, Christians are being persecuted and killed for their beliefs. So don’t take it for granted that we have the freedom to share what we believe with others.

1. The Starting Point

If you don’t agree with the following syllogism, it makes it hard to want to share your faith: 1. The New Testament documents are historically reliable evidence. 2. The historical evidence of the New Testament shows that Jesus is God incarnate. This claim to divinity was proven by His miracles/His speaking authority, His actions, and His resurrection. 3. Therefore, there is reliable historical evidence that Jesus is God incarnate.

So if this syllogism is correct, it leads to the next syllogism:

The Command to Make Disciples: Matt 28:19

1. Whatever Jesus teaches is true. 2. Jesus taught that we are to “Go and make disciples of the nations” (Matt 28:19). 3. Therefore, Christians should desire to “Go and make disciples of the nations” (Matt 28:19).

This command does not mean we need to be sent to some far distant land to preach the Gospel. The command applies to every Christian no matter where they are located. God uses us wherever we are.

It is true that much of the Church has focused on the “go” part of this command. But we need to remember that The Great Commission is accomplished while we “go” about living our daily lives.

The context of Matt 28:19 is that in fulfillment of the Great Commission, we are to make disciples. We are to baptize new believers and we are to teach them. Unless there has been teaching and instruction about the commands of Jesus, there has not been any discipleship. So it is clear that people can’t enter into the process of discipleship without hearing about the Gospel.

Romans 1:16

“For  I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is  the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew  first and also to  the Greek. For in it  the righteousness of God is revealed  from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (ESV)

Grammatically, the entire verse is in the present tense. There are three verbs: unashamed, is and believes. All are in the present tense. So Paul was not ashamed of the Gospel. He knew it was for the Jew and the Greek. He also  knew the power of God was demonstrated in the message.

But now we need to ask ourselves whether we can make an application of this text. Do we as Christians actually believe the Gospel is Good News and are we ashamed or unashamed of the Gospel? Are there some visible signs as to whether we are ashamed or unashamed of the Gospel? Here are some signs that we might be ashamed of the Gospel.

#1: We are ashamed of the Gospel because we are worried about offending people

I was teaching a class on evangelism a few weeks back. One student said that one of the people they had witnessed to had been offended by the message. My response is the same as always: The Gospel is offensive. Paul commented about the challenge of proclaiming a dying Messiah to his fellow countrymen:

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Cor.1:21-22)

To summarize “The Kerygma” of the early Christian community:

1. The promises by God made in the Hebrew Bible/The Old Testament have now been revealed with the coming of Jesus the Messiah (Acts 2:30;3;19;24,10:43; 26:6-7;22).

2. Jesus was anointed by God at his baptism (Acts 10:38).

3. Jesus began his ministry at Galilee after his baptism (Acts 10:37).

4.Jesus conducted a beneficent ministry, doing good and performing mighty works by the power of God ( Acts 2:22; 10:38).

5. The Messiah was crucified according to the plan of God (Acts 2:23).

6. He was raised from the dead and appeared to his disciples (Acts 2:24; 31-32; 3:15-26;10:40-41;17:31;26:23).

7. Jesus was exalted and given the name “Lord” (Acts 2:25-29;33-36;3:13;10:36).

8. He gave the Holy Spirit to form the new community of God (Acts 1:8;2;14-18;33,38-39;10:44-47).

9. He will come again for judgment and the restoration of all things (Acts 3:20-21;10:42; 17:31).

10. All who hear the message should repent and be baptized because of the finished work of Jesus (Acts 2:21;38;3:19;10:43, 17-48; 17:30, 26:20).

You could always make people less offended and preach a false Gospel such as “Jesus will meet all your needs.” In other words, Jesus is a buddy. But if you do this, you will have to answer to God for giving people the false Gospel. So always remember the power is in the message. And it will offend because the Holy Spirit does convict people of the truthfulness of the message.

#2: We are ashamed of the Gospel because we are a man pleaser rather than a God pleaser

This happens  to all of us. In a day of political correctness Christians are more worried about what their peers think than what God thinks. In the end  we will answer to God with what we did with the Gospel. We are stewards of the message.

#3: We are ashamed of the Gospel because we are afraid we can’t answer objections

In this case, that’s why we have apologetics. There are plenty of resources that can help the Christian to be confident in what they believe.

#4: We are ashamed of the Gospel because we don’t take the Lordship of Jesus seriously

This is a hot topic.   As far as Lordship, I think the new believer needs to know about this early on. To make Jesus as Lord of one’s life is a lifelong process. It is a call to daily surrender. It certainly means we are under NEW MANAGEMENT. We are called to yield our time, bodies, goals and gifts to His Lordship. Is it easy? No, not at all. I struggle with this quite a bit. But we do have a Helper to give us the grace to do it (hint: study the ministry of the Holy Spirit). So in other words, we say ‘”Lord Jesus, have your way with me. I am relying on the work of the Holy Spirit to yield myself to you on a daily basis.”

There is no doubt that  in a world that wants instant results, self- sacrifice is tough sell. Part of the problem is that churches preach a Gospel that promises that Jesus will fix all our problems. And when things get tough, many people bail out. A long-term commitment to our Lord which involves self-denial (Luke 9:23) is hard to swallow for those that have been told The American Dream is the way of happiness.

#5: We are ashamed of the Gospel because we don’t really believe the Gospel is true

In this case perhaps we need to preach the Gospel to ourselves on a daily basis. Do we really believe it is Good News?

#6: We are ashamed of the Gospel because we don’t even know what the Gospel actually is!

You may say this is impossible. But there have been a slew of books questioning “What is the Gospel?” I have written elsewhere that the Gospel is presented in a variety of contexts.  Please don’t be a 20 year old Christian and not know what the Gospel is.

Those are some of the checkpoints I have come up with. Feel free to think of some more.

Why Christians Need to Renew Their Commitment to Share the Gospel

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I have previously offered two blog posts on something that has been on my heart. First, I gave an overview of the different ways the Gospel is presented in the Bible. Second, I talked about some of the reasons why we may be ashamed of the Gospel.

But given the pressing issues of the results and the current election, there is obviously alot of people that are without hope and living in dis pare. I am convinced that Christians (and of course all apologists), need to make the Gospel the center of everything. In other words, proclaim it, share it, and please don’t be ashamed of it. Why do say this? If you haven’t noticed, the evidence for fallen humanity is all around us. Just turn on the news for an hour or so. Hence, the world hasn’t changed much since the days of Jesus.

In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus reads from Isaiah 61: “the Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” ( Luke 4:18-19 ). So according to Jesus, the prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus’ own ministry ( 4:21 ) since He has come to free the physically infirm, such as the blind ( 4:18 ) and the leprous ( 4:27 ; cf. 7:21 ; 9:6 ). (1)

Therefore, Jesus helps the materially poor, like the widow in Elijah’s day ( 4:25-26 ; cf. Luke 6:20-25 Luke 6:30-38 ). Yet the spiritually poor are primarily in view people broken and grieved by misery and poverty, oppression and injustice, suffering and death, national apostasy and personal sin, who in their extremity cry out to God to bring forth justice, bestow his mercy, and establish his kingdom ( Matt 5:3-10 ). Jesus has come to usher in the kingdom, to rescue the lost, to liberate the enslaved, to cure the afflicted, and to forgive the guilty ( Mark 2:5 Mark 2:10 Mark 2:17 ; 10:45 ; Luke 7:48-49 ; 19:10 ). (2)

Notice Jesus came to liberate the captives and people that are enslaved. Yes, people were held captive to demonic oppression in that day and they were enslaved to various sins.  But when I look around, I see all kinds of people enslaved to many things. Let me point out the most current one:

Political Idolatry

Of course we probably know we are a very politically divided country. Once again, many people are looking to governmental leaders to be the Savior of humanity. Only the Good News can set people free from political idolatry. As Tim Keller says:

“One of the signs that an object is functioning as an idol is that fear becomes one of the chief characteristics of life. When we center our lives on the idol, we become dependent on it. If our counterfeit god is threatened in any way, our response is complete panic. We do not say, “What a shame, how difficult,” but rather “This is the end! There’s no hope!” This may be a reason why so many people now respond to U.S. political trends in such an extreme way. When either party wins an election, a certain percentage of the losing side talks openly about leaving the country. They become agitated and fearful for the future. They have put the kind of hope in their political leaders and policies that once was reserved for God and the work of the gospel. When their political leaders are out of power, they experience a death. They believe that if their policies and people are not in power, everything will falll apart.”- Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods

In looking at Keller’s comments,  with all the millions of people that seem to be without hope and so fearful, to my fellow Brothers and Sisters, you have the message of hope (truth as well). Perhaps we could redouble our efforts to truly share the Good News. We have the message to break people out of putting all their hope in a fallen system and fallen political candidates. If such a time as this doesn’t motivate you to share the message of hope and reconciliation, what will? Look around you. The opportunities are everywhere to share the message about the true King (2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:2, 7; 89:19-21, 26-27; Psalms of Solomon 17.32; Romans 1:1-5). All people have true knowledge of God through creation and innate knowledge of God through reason and conscience, but that knowledge is suppressed and distorted (Rom 1:18–20). Once humanity’s knowledge is severed from God’s lordship, “their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened” (Rom 1:21). Now people seek to create substitutes for the true God, Worship is acceptable to the Lord only if it is based on true knowledge of the Lord and according to His will. A substitute can’t possibly meet all the needs of humanity. You have the opportunity to give people the ‘knowledge’ they need to break them out of these substitutes they have turned to (in this case a political substitute).

 

 

Conclusion

I could go on and on. But the point is that the evidence for fallen humanity is staring at us right in the face. Do we view people as being held captive and enslaved to things that are going to destroy them and others? Will you renew your commitment to preach the Gospel to people all around you? Please go the Lord in prayer and ask him to grant you he boldness you need to share the message that can set people free!

 

Sources:

Sources:
1. J. Knox Chamblin “Gospel” featured in Walter Elwell, Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1996), 305-308.
2. Ibid.

Book Reviews: Michael Bird, Are You the One Who Is to Come?: The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question 1st Edition and The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus:

I love the work of Dr. Michael Bird.  It just so happens that there is a wonderful article online that is called Michael Bird: how a zealous atheist became a highly recognized Christian scholar.

The first book I read by Bird was Are You the One Who Is to Come?: The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question 1st Edition. 

This is a wonderful resource. Bird displays his vast knowledge of Second Temple Judaism, Jewish Messianism. For example, Bird says:

The statement that “Jesus is the Messiah” presupposes a certain way of reading Israel’s Scriptures and assumes a certain hermeneutical approach that finds in Jesus the unifying thread and the supreme goal of Israel’s sacred literature. A messiah can only be a messiah from Israel and for Israel. The story of the Messiah can only be understood as part of the story of Israel. Paul arguably says as much to a largely Gentile audience in Rome: “For I tell you that Christ [Messiah] has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Rom. 15:8–9), Michael Bird, Are You the One Who Is to Come?: The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question (Grand Rapids, Baker, 2009), 163

Bird says:

“It is historically naive to depict first-century Palestine as ravaged with continual uprisings and to posit some Roman occupying forces as having to put down one messianic pretender after another. Alternatively, it is equally reductionistic to suppose that many of the tumultuous events of the first century were untouched by messianism. The death of Herod the Great led to several uprisings; although things cooled for a while, in the period 4 BCE to 66 CE, there were many socioreligious movements at the time of the procurators that show expectation and hope for God’s miraculous interventions and gradually a spirit of zealotry beginning to emerge. I doubt that we have to wait as long as Simon ben Kosiba in 135 CE to find another messianic leader after the death of Jesus. The following lists indicate messianic expectations that are explicitly titular or implicitly messianic.”-Are You the One Who Is to Come?: The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question, pgs 47-49.

Bird goes onto list the expectations using the title “Messiah.” Notice that Bird knows  in order to understand messianism, we need to read the Bible but also read extra-biblical Jewish literature including the Apocrypha, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Philo, Josephus, The Dead Sea Scrolls,  and the Targumim, etc,

“Messiah of Aaron and Israel” (CD 12.23–13.1; 14.19; 19.10–11; 20.1; 1QS 9.11)

“Messiah of Israel” (1QSa 2.12, 14, 20)

“Messiah of righteousness” (4Q252 frg. 1 5.3–4)

“Heaven and earth will obey his Messiah” (4Q521 2.1)

“Their king shall be the Lord’s Messiah” (Pss. Sol. 17.32; cf. 18.7)

“May God cleanse Israel for the day of mercy and blessing for the appointed day when his Messiah will reign” (Pss. Sol. 18.5)

“Lord of the Spirits and his Messiah” (1 En. 48.10)

“authority of the Messiah” (1 En. 52.4)

“For my son the Messiah shall be revealed with those who are with him” (4 Ezra 7.28) “

“This is the Messiah whom the Most High has kept until the end of days, who will arise from the offspring of David” (4 Ezra 12.32) “The Messiah will begin to be revealed” (2 Bar. 29.3) “when the time of the appearance of the Messiah has been fulfilled” (2 Bar. 30.1) “the kingship of the house of David, thy righteous Messiah” (Shemoneh ‘Esreh 14)

Son of Man: (Dan. 7:13–14; 1 En. 46.1–5; 48.2; 62.1–15; 63.11; 69.27–29; 71.14–17; 4 Ezra 13.1–13, 25–26; Justin Martyr, Dial. 31–32)

Man/Ruler: (Philo, Rewards 95; Num. 24:7, 17 LXX) Rod (CD 7.19–20; Justin Martyr, Dial. 100, 126) Prince (Ezek. 34:24; 37:25; Dan. 9:25–26; CD 7.20; 1QSb 5.20; 1QM 3.16; 5.1; 4Q285 frgs. 4–6; Jub. 31.18; Sib. Or. 3.49–50)

Branch of David: (4Q161 frgs. 8–10.15, 22; 4Q252 5.3; 4Q285 frg. 5.3–4; T. Jud 24.4–6) Scepter (1QSb 5.27–28; 4Q161 frgs. 2–4 2.9–13; frgs. 5–6 3.17; frgs. 8–10, 22–26; 4Q252 5.2)

Son of God :(4Q246 1.9; 2.1; Mark 15:39)

Elect/Chosen One (1 En. 39.6; 40.5; 45.3; 48.6; 49.2, 4; 51.3, 5; 52.6, 9; 53.6; 55.4; 61.5, 8, 10; 62.1; Apoc. Abr. 31.1)

King (Mark 15.32 and par.; Sib. Or. 3.286–87, 652) Snow-white cow/horned ram (1 En. 90.9–12, 37–38) Star (T. Levi 18.3; T. Jud. 24.1; Sib. Or. 5.158–60)

Righteous One (Acts 3:14; 22:14; 1 John 2:1; 1 En. 38.2; 53.6)

Historical figures referred to as “Messiah”:

Jesus of Nazareth

Simon ben Kosiba

Implicitly messianic historical figures not referred to as “Messiah”:

Judas the Galilean Simon the servant of Herod

Athronges Menahem Simon bar Giora-

Another book I just finished by Bird is called The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus:

In this book, Bird discusses everything from the various models of oral tradition. social memory, why the need for four Gospels, genre criticism and other pertinent issues that are related to the New Testament.  Here are a couple of highlights:

“There are two approaches to the Gospels that I ardently deride. First, some über-secularists want to read the Bible as nothing more than a deposit of silly ancient magic, mischievous myths, wacky rituals, and surreal superstitions. They engage in endless comparisons of the Bible with other mythic religions to flatten out the distinctive elements of the story. Added to that is advocacy of countless conspiracy theories to explain away any historical elements in the text. This approach is coupled with an inherent distaste for anything supernatural, pre-modern, and reeking of religion. Such skeptics become positively evangelical in their zealous fervor to prove that nothing in the Bible actually happened. Second, then there are those equally ardent Bible-believers who want to treat the Bible as if it fell down from heaven in 1611, written in ye aulde English, bound in pristine leather, with words of Jesus in red, Scofield’s notes, and charts of the end times. Such persons regard exploring topics like problems in Johannine chronology just as religiously affronting as worshiping a life-size golden statue of Barack Obama. Now I have to say that both approaches bore the proverbial pants off me. They are equally as dogmatic as they are dull. They are as uninformed as they are unimaginative. There is another way! My own approach is what I would term “believing criticism.”
This approach treats Scripture as the inspired and veracious Word of God, but contends that we do Scripture the greatest service when we commit ourselves to studying it in light of the context and processes through which God gave it to us. Scripture is trustworthy because of God’s faithfulness to his own Word and authoritative because the Holy Spirit speaks to us through it. Nonetheless, God has seen fit to use human language, human authors, and even human processes as the means by which he has given his inscripturated revelation to humanity. To understand the substance of Scripture means wrestling with its humanity, the human face of God’s speech to us in his Word. That requires that we can freely engage subjects such as how the text of the Gospels was transmitted (text criticism), sources that the Evangelists used (source criticism), when and where were the Gospels written (historical criticism), why the Gospels were written (literary criticism), what kind of literature they are (genre criticism), how the Evangelists edited and adapted their sources (redaction criticism), how the story in its current shape creates meaning (narrative criticism), how the stories of Jesus interacted with cultural values and modes of discourse (social-scientific criticism), and how the Gospels came to be accepted as the four official stories of Jesus sanctioned by the early churches (canonical criticism).
These are legitimate inquiries, not in spite of but precisely in light of the faith communities who cherished the Gospels as testimonies to Jesus Christ. What is more, when we say that the Gospels are historically reliable, we do not mean that they were intended to be judged by the standards of modern historiography or that they are the ancient equivalent of what it would have been like to follow Jesus around with a hidden video camera. They are historically rooted in the memories of the earliest eyewitnesses. Even if ancient writers did not have the apparatus of modern history writing — footnotes, plagiarism software, video footage, and editorial boards — they still knew the difference between events purported to have happened that did not happen and events purported to have happened that did happen. St. Luke, the Beloved Disciple, and the author of 2 Peter all believed that the Jesus-story is not make-believe (Luke 1:1-4; John 19:35; 20:31; 2 Pet 1:16).
After due allowances are made for artistic license, theological embellishment, and the inherent biases of the tradents of the tradition, our witnesses to Jesus remain steadfast in their conviction that the Jesus whom they narrate is historically authentic as much as he is personally confronting. All four canonical narratives render accounts about Jesus as a historical figure situated in first-century Palestine. The Gospels are not timeless myths or deliberate fictions spun for the purpose of spiritual nourishment. They make thick historical claims, though they are not merely historical reports.
Let us remember, too, that all history, both ancient and modern, is interpreted. There is no unbiased reporting or purely objective history, whether by St. Matthew, Oxford University Press, or the New York Times. As such, the Gospels are not interested in brute facts about Jesus but in the unity between Jesus of Nazareth and the Lord worshiped in the church. The Gospels are unashamedly theologically oriented, to the point that “The story of Jesus is the continuation and actualization of the story of God.”159 As works of proclamation, the Gospels endeavor to present and interpret the story of Jesus in such a way that readers (and hearers) of the story will be moved to acknowledge him as the Son of God, the Lord Jesus, whose death and resurrection are the definitive means through which the God of Israel is rescuing the world.”- Michael Bird, The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus, pgs. 67-68.
Regarding genre criticism, Bird says:

“The Gospels are rooted in the Jewish Scriptures. They explicitly function as the continuation and fulfillment of the story of Israel. That is why they are replete with citations, allusions, and echoes of the Old Testament. The religious content and theological texture of the Gospels is heavily indebted to the worldview, socio-political landscape, and sacred texts of Judaism. Roman biography and Greek legends could refer to various religious literary works such as Delphic oracles or Homer’s Iliad. But for the Gospels, the story and worldview of Israel’s Scriptures are very much what the Gospels are about, namely, the God of Israel inaugurating his kingdom through Jesus the Messiah. It should not raise anyone’s eyebrows to say that the Gospels comprise a form of post-biblical Jewish literature with messianic faith in Jesus as its primary content. The main point of contact with the Gospels is that Jewish biographical literature contains a theography, a story about Israel’s God, working through an agent of deliverance, such as a prophet, king, or teacher. The protagonist leads the Jewish people at a time of national crisis or performs some miraculous deed at an important moment in Israel’s history. The Gospels possess a theological worldview, a geopolitical setting, didactic content, and a deliberate replication of Old Testament literary types that make some kind of connection with Jewish sacred literature irrefutable.”—-Michael F. Bird, The Gospel of the Lord (p. 229). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Bird also says:

The Gospels are the textual imprint of the oral phenomena of Christian preaching and teaching about Jesus. Viewed this way, they are Christian documents related to the needs of Christians in corporate reading, worship, apologetics, and proclamation. So in that sense they are a unique genre with no precise literary counterparts. However, their uniqueness is in many ways inconsequential because they remain largely analogous to Greco-Roman biography, and the biographical genre was typified by innovation and adaptation. The content of the Gospels is singularly determined by Jewish Christian content, while the literary form of the Gospels is a clear subtype of Greco-Roman biography.- Michael F. Bird, The Gospel of the Lord (p. 270), Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

In my opinion, Bird is one of the most capable scholars today. His writing and his ability to not overstate his case on many topics is something to be admired. I highly recommend both of these books. You will not be disappointed!

 

Michael Bird On How To Approach The Gospels

“There are two approaches to the Gospels that I ardently deride. First, some über-secularists want to read the Bible as nothing more than a deposit of silly ancient magic, mischievous myths, wacky rituals, and surreal superstitions. They engage in endless comparisons of the Bible with other mythic religions to flatten out the distinctive elements of the story. Added to that is advocacy of countless conspiracy theories to explain away any historical elements in the text. This approach is coupled with an inherent distaste for anything supernatural, pre-modern, and reeking of religion. Such skeptics become positively evangelical in their zealous fervor to prove that nothing in the Bible actually happened. Second, then there are those equally ardent Bible-believers who want to treat the Bible as if it fell down from heaven in 1611, written in ye aulde English, bound in pristine leather, with words of Jesus in red, Scofield’s notes, and charts of the end times. Such persons regard exploring topics like problems in Johannine chronology just as religiously affronting as worshiping a life-size golden statue of Barack Obama. Now I have to say that both approaches bore the proverbial pants off me. They are equally as dogmatic as they are dull. They are as uninformed as they are unimaginative. There is another way! My own approach is what I would term “believing criticism.”
This approach treats Scripture as the inspired and veracious Word of God, but contends that we do Scripture the greatest service when we commit ourselves to studying it in light of the context and processes through which God gave it to us. Scripture is trustworthy because of God’s faithfulness to his own Word and authoritative because the Holy Spirit speaks to us through it. Nonetheless, God has seen fit to use human language, human authors, and even human processes as the means by which he has given his inscripturated revelation to humanity. To understand the substance of Scripture means wrestling with its humanity, the human face of God’s speech to us in his Word. That requires that we can freely engage subjects such as how the text of the Gospels was transmitted (text criticism), sources that the Evangelists used (source criticism), when and where were the Gospels written (historical criticism), why the Gospels were written (literary criticism), what kind of literature they are (genre criticism), how the Evangelists edited and adapted their sources (redaction criticism), how the story in its current shape creates meaning (narrative criticism), how the stories of Jesus interacted with cultural values and modes of discourse (social-scientific criticism), and how the Gospels came to be accepted as the four official stories of Jesus sanctioned by the early churches (canonical criticism).
These are legitimate inquiries, not in spite of but precisely in light of the faith communities who cherished the Gospels as testimonies to Jesus Christ. What is more, when we say that the Gospels are historically reliable, we do not mean that they were intended to be judged by the standards of modern historiography or that they are the ancient equivalent of what it would have been like to follow Jesus around with a hidden video camera. They are historically rooted in the memories of the earliest eyewitnesses. Even if ancient writers did not have the apparatus of modern history writing — footnotes, plagiarism software, video footage, and editorial boards — they still knew the difference between events purported to have happened that did not happen and events purported to have happened that did happen. St. Luke, the Beloved Disciple, and the author of 2 Peter all believed that the Jesus-story is not make-believe (Luke 1:1-4; John 19:35; 20:31; 2 Pet 1:16).
After due allowances are made for artistic license, theological embellishment, and the inherent biases of the tradents of the tradition, our witnesses to Jesus remain steadfast in their conviction that the Jesus whom they narrate is historically authentic as much as he is personally confronting. All four canonical narratives render accounts about Jesus as a historical figure situated in first-century Palestine. The Gospels are not timeless myths or deliberate fictions spun for the purpose of spiritual nourishment. They make thick historical claims, though they are not merely historical reports.
Let us remember, too, that all history, both ancient and modern, is interpreted. There is no unbiased reporting or purely objective history, whether by St. Matthew, Oxford University Press, or the New York Times. As such, the Gospels are not interested in brute facts about Jesus but in the unity between Jesus of Nazareth and the Lord worshiped in the church. The Gospels are unashamedly theologically oriented, to the point that “The story of Jesus is the continuation and actualization of the story of God.”159 As works of proclamation, the Gospels endeavor to present and interpret the story of Jesus in such a way that readers (and hearers) of the story will be moved to acknowledge him as the Son of God, the Lord Jesus, whose death and resurrection are the definitive means through which the God of Israel is rescuing the world.”- Michael Bird, The Gospel of the Lord: How the Early Church Wrote the Story of Jesus, pgs. 67-68.

“Who Do You Say I Am?” : “Are We Ashamed of the Good News?”

For anyone that is interested, here was a message I  did last month on the topic of “Who is Jesus?” and checkpoints as to how we know we might be ashamed of the Gospel. I  give brief overviews of the Muslim view of Jesus, the Mormon view of Jesus, the American view of Jesus, the Moralistic view of Jesus, etc. In  sermon, I refer to the Jewish name for Jesus which is ‘Yeshua.’

Is the Gospel Still to the Jew first?

To the Jew First: The Case for Jewish Evangelism in Scripture and History  -     By: Edited by Darrell L. Bock & Mitchell Glaser

“But all these things, so far as meaning that Gentile Christians are now the truest sort of covenant members, means that Gentile Christians owe the Jews an incalculable debt, cognate indeed with the debt they owe the Messiah himself, the Jew par excellence whose casting away meant reconciliation for the world. And the debt must be discharged in terms of the continuing mission to unbelieving Israel; the very Gentile mission itself has this is one of its sidelong purposes.”-N.T. Wright.

Introduction

I grew up in a large Jewish community here in Columbus, Ohio. The mainline demolition that I was birthed in sat between two Orthodox Jewish synagogues. I attended countless Jewish holiday events, weddings, and numerous Bar  Mitzvahs. My daily exposure to Jewish culture continued throughout my youth and into my college years At age 24, I had never before met Jewish people who believed in Yeshua (Jesus).  I was  invited by a friend to a messianic congregation led by a Jewish believer.  For the first time, I heard the powerful and convicting message of salvation  taught from the Book of Matthew. So here I was as a nominal Christian hearing the Gospel from a Jewish person who believed Jesus was the Messiah.

Mission in the Bible

After coming to faith I started reading and studying the Scriptures. I began to see the pattern of mission in the Bible. The relationship between Israel and the nations has always been something that has been on my mind for the last 15 years or so. I have been involved in outreach efforts  to Jewish people and have taught classes on messianic apologetics. But why even care about reaching Jewish people for the Messiah? After all, is not the Gospel for all people? I will offer some reasons why I think the Gospel is still  “To the Jew First” (Romans 1:16).

First, let’s look at the calling upon Israel:  Israel was supposed to have an inward focus in that parents were expected to repeat the stories of deliverance to their children (Ex. 12:24-27; Deut. 6:4-9; Isa. 38:19): “One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts. They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works” (Ps. 145:4, 5). The account of God’s goodness was to be passed on from each generation to the next. “Tell your children and grandchildren” (Ex. 10:2) is God’s crucial instruction.

Second, the purpose of Israel was not to be a blessing to herself. Therefore, through her witness, the world will either be attracted or repelled towards the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The entire promise to Abraham in Gen 12:3 exhibit’s God’s plan to bless the nations.  Therefore, the Messianic blessing  is for all the world . All  peoples on all the earth – 70 nations at the time- would be beneficiaries of the promise-(Gen. 12:2–3; cf. 22:18; 26:4; 28:14). This was  repeated to Isaac (26:4), and reaffirmed to Jacob (28:13-15; 35:11, 12; 46:3) and Moses  (Ex. 3:6-8; 6:2-8). Remember, the election of Israel was for a universal goal which is the redemption of humanity. Old Testament scholar Christopher Wright says:

Genesis 1-11 is entirely occupied with humanity as a whole, the world of all nations, and with the apparently insoluble problem of their corporate evil. So the story of Israel, which begins in chapter 12, is actually God’s answer to the problem of humanity. All God’s dealings with Israel in particular are to be seen as the pursuit of God’s unfinished business with all nations. Old Testament Israel existed for the sake of the nations.-Christopher Wright, Knowing Jesus Through The Old Testament, Second Edition, pg 46.

God called Israel to an ethical distinctiveness (Lev. 11:44, 45; 18:3; Micah 6:6-8).  They were to be committed to a holy life, because only in this way could they live to the glory of God and His name, and attract people to Him. In other words, they were called to be a light to the nations.  Also, the temple in Jerusalem will be the mega-world center for true worship (Isa. 2:2) and everyone will come there and learn how to worship the true God (Isa. 2:3, 4; 56:2-8; 62:9-11).  “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In those days ten men from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, “Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you” (Zech. 8:23).

Also, we see in Jeremiah 1:5, this prophet  is chosen by God, not simply as a prophet to Israel, but as  prophet “to the nations.” Other prophets like Jonah or major writing prophets, addressed twenty-five chapters of their prophecies to the Gentile nations of their day (Isa. 13-23; Jer. 46-51; Ezek. 25-32). So the point is that while Israel was called to have an inward focus, they have an external calling. This is why it should be no surprise that in Matthew’s opening chapter, he says,”The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham “(Matt. 1:1). The Messiah is not only of Davidic descent, but will bring fulfillment to the Abrahamic Covenant.   Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ mission to help Israel fulfill it’s calling in the following passages:

“Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 10: 5-6)

“ I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel”  (Matt 15: 24)

However, we see at the end of Matthew that Jesus commands his followers to bring the nations into God’s redemptive plan (Matt 28:19).

So given that the Messiah is called to be the ideal representative of His people, His mission is also to be a “light to the nations.” We see the following in Isa. 49:1-7:  The Servant of the Lord is a chosen instrument  by the Lord (1–3). The Servant glorifies the Lord before Israel and brings back the remnant of Israel ( 5–6). He has calling to all the nations (Gentiles).  Kings and princes shall see and bow down  to the Servant (vs. 7). Yet, for the sake of the glorified name of the Lord, this Servant also suffers (vs 4), being despised and abhorred by Israel (vs 7).  In relation to Jesus’ messiahship, while a remnant believed in Him, what is more significant is that Christianity now the home of 1.4 billion adherents. Sure, large numbers don’t make a faith true. But another traditional view is that the Messiah will spread the knowledge of the God of Israel to the surrounding nations (Isa.11:9;40:5;52:8). Are there any other messianic candidates that have enabled the world to come to the knowledge of the one true God other than Jesus?

So always remember  that the Abrahamic Covenant was prophetic. In this sense, there are several aspects of the covenant such as land promises, etc. But as far as Gentiles, they are supposed to receive spiritual blessings, but ultimately these were fulfilled though one specific “seed” of Abraham—the Messiah.

Also, given Israel’s calling it should be no shock that in Ephesians 2: 11-3:6, the Gentiles recipients are addressed as those who were formally without the Messiah. They were “aliens from  the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise\, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2: 12). So Israel was already near (Eph. 2:17), but the good news is that now along with Gentiles they even brought closer to God (Eph. 2:18).

What About Romans 1:16: “To the Jew First”

“For  I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is  the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew  first and also to  the Greek. For in it  the righteousness of God is revealed  from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (ESV)

Many Bible scholars agree that understanding Romans 1:16, 17 as the key  to understanding the rest of the book of Romans. But does  Paul mean the gospel was formerly, or once brought to the Jews, but now it is for the Gentiles? Is this view possible? In Romans 1:16 the Greek word for first is proton. As Dr. Michael Rydelnik, Professor of Jewish Studies at Moody Bible Institute writes,

“If Paul had meant ‘formerly’ or ‘earlier’ he would have used the Greek word “proteron.” The same word for first (proton) is used non-historically three times in Romans: …tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek… (Rom. 2:9,10), and First of all (chiefly, NKJ ), that they were entrusted with the oracles of God (Rom. 3:2).

Grammatically, the entire verse is in the present tense. There are three verbs: unashamed, is and believes. All are in the present tense. The gospel is, not was, but is the power of God, it is to all who believe, and it is to the Jew first. The idea that the Good News was “first for the Jew and then for the Gentile” implies that the Good News is no longer for the Jew (i.e. “they had their chance”). Obviously, this cannot be true, for to this very day Jewish people are still coming to faith in Jesus.  Remember, Paul was writing to the Jew first, not regarding a past activity, but as his present and active ministry (compare Acts 13:46 with 14:1). He was not looking back on the first century advance of the Good News, but stating it as an ongoing principle for the future flow of history. Even as the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul’s ministry was always to the Jew first.  (1)

After all,  we see Paul going to the Jew first in The Book of Acts. Paul goes to the synagogue first in Salamis (13:5), Pisidian Antioch (13:14), Iconium (14:1), Thessalonica (17:2), Berea (17:10), Corinth (18:4) and Ephesus (18:19 and 19:8).

Is the Return of Jesus Contingent on the Repentance of Israel?

As far as Christians and Messianic Believers, depending on one’s eschatology, some Christians think Jesus will bring the physical or earthly aspect of the reign of God in the future. It is evident that Jesus did inaugurate the kingdom of God. However, he didn’t do this physically but spiritually. Thus, Jesus spoke of a mystery form of the kingdom (Matt. 13:11) that is taking place between His first and Second Coming. Jesus now offers an invisible, spiritual reign through a new birth to both Jew and Gentile that will last throughout eternity (John 3:3-7; 18:36; Luke 17:20-21). And once again, depending on  one’s eschatology, some Christians have concluded that Jesus corrected the view that there will be a restored Israel in the future.  I should note that  Craig Evans says:

Did Jesus intend to found the Christian church? This interesting question can be answered in the affirmative and in the negative. It depends on what precisely is being asked. If by church one means an organization and a people that stand outside of Israel, the answer is no. If by a community of disciples committed to the restoration of Israel and the conversion and instruction of the Gentiles, then the answer is yes. Jesus did not wish to lead his disciples out of Israel, but to train followers who will lead Israel, who will bring renewal to Israel , and who will instruct Gentiles in the way of the Lord. Jesus longed for the fulfillment of the promises and the prophecies, a fulfillment that would bless Israel and the nations alike.  -Craig A Evans, From Jesus to the Church: The First Christian Generation

Jesus spoke about the relationship between Israel’s repentance and their response to him  in the following text:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!  Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”-Luke 13: 34-35

A similar text is seen in Matthew 23: 37-39:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!  See, your house is left to you desolate.  For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Notice the emphasis on the article “until.” Here, it could not be clearer that Jesus says the Jewish people will not see him again and cry out to Him until there is genuine belief on their part.

Another text that  is important to the concept of Israel’s restoration is seen in Peter’s sermon in  Acts 3:19-21:

“But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out,  that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.”

Here, the word for restoration is “apokatastasis” which is only seen in this text. There is also a similar theme in Acts 1:6 when Jesus is asked about “restoring” the kingdom to Israel.  The points is that the Messiah is in heaven and his reappearance to rule and reign can be expedited by Israel’s repentance.

Ironically, while the same themes about the condition of Israel and the coming of the Messiah (for the first time) are seen in the Rabbinical literature.

I was recently going back and reading a book called Jewish Christian Debates: God, Kingdom, Messiah which features a dialogue between Bruch Chilton and Jacob Neusner. In it, Neusner says:

What is most interesting in the Talmud of the land of Israel’s picture is that the hope for the Messiah’s coming is further joined to the moral condition of each individual Israelite. Hence, messianic fulfillment was made to depend on the repentance of Israel. The coming of the Messiah depended not on historical action but on moral regeneration.-pg 172.

Now this is very interesting! Does moral regeneration sound familiar?

As Carl B. Hoch, Jr says in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, “It is absolutely necessary for a person to be born again in order to enter the kingdom of God. In the central passage in the New Testament about the new birth ( John 3 ), Jesus tells Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council, that he will not enter the kingdom of God unless he is born anew. The alternation between singular and plural Greek pronouns in the passage shows that Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus both personally and representatively. The need for the new birth is not only true of Nicodemus, but of the entire Sanhedrin, all Jews, and, by extension, all people.

THE NEW BIRTH allows us to have the supernatural cleansing from sin that God through the Spirit effects on all who believe on his Son. This water-Spirit combination is a reflection of Ezekiel 11, 36, and Jeremiah 31. In these Old Testament passages God’s Spirit is viewed as doing a revolutionary work in the lives of God’s people in the new covenant age.

So what’s the point?

The Apostle Paul showed he had a tremendous burden for the Jewish people (Rom. 9:1-5), (Rom. 10:1), and calls upon the Church to provoke Israel to jealousy (Rom. 11:11). For Paul, the resurrection was God’s stamp of approval on Jesus as the promised Messiah of Israel (Rom. 1:3-4). Paul also understood that since the Gentiles have received the blessing of knowing the Jewish Messiah, they now have the responsibility to take the message of salvation back to Israel. Therefore, Christians of all denominational backgrounds should show interest in sharing the good news of the Messiah with the Jewish people. It is not an issue of “covenantal “ vs “dispensational” theology. It is an issue of what holds up exegetically. Why don’t churches have any focus on reaching Jewish people for the Messiah? This is a question I have pondered for a long time. Having taught on these subjects, I have concluded the following:

a. The Church doesn’t read not teach the Bible left to right. In other words, most Christians are discipled  by reading the New Testament first and then they might eventually get the what they call “The Old Testament” which really translates as some outdated, or  inferior book. This is tragic given Jesus and Paul grew up reading  the Tanakh (The Hebrew Bible). Hence, there was no New Testament at that time. So when Christians read the Bible this way, they tend to not see the unity of the Bible. This needs to be corrected.

b. The Church tends to view Israel as something that only matters in their eschatology (the study of end-time events). For many Christians, when they think of Jesus, they see no relationship between Jesus and Israel. The only thing that seems to matter is getting “saved” and asking whether one is on their way to heaven or hell. This is tragic because it misses the mark on the entire Biblical narrative.The first step in restoring a correct understanding is to understand the role of Israel’s election in the Bible. Now I can almost anticipate that any mention of election conjures up Calvinist thinking and whether one is considered one of the ‘elect’ or not.  But that’s not what we are talking about here. Christians need to remember that Israel is about a people group, not just a piece of a puzzle in some future eschatological drama. In other words, Jewish people are just like anyone else. They need to hear about their Messiah and place their faith in him.

c. Anti-Semitism: As much as I won’t’ spend time calling any Christian anti-Semitic, the reality is that it is still alive in the Church.

d. A misunderstanding of  the relationship between Jesus and  the Pharisees. Sure, Jesus was hard on the Pharisees. But do we really understand the issue of polemics in that time period? It seems like the Pharisees are the beating ground for so many Christians.  Not to mention it is the misreading of the relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees that  has  laid the groundwork for anti-Semitism in the Church. If you can get access to it, try reading the article called The New Testament’s Anti-Semitic Slander and the Convention of Ancient Polemic by Luke Timothy Johnson. It may change your perspective a bit on this topic.

e. Many Christians assume Jewish people are so hard to reach for the Messiah! No duh. Just read the prophets! God told some of them to go and speak to the Jewish people. And he told them they would be rejected ahead of time. The best thing to do with any Jewish person is to build relationships of trust. Never assume anything. Always follow the example of our Lord by asking questions. And always remember that all Jewish people come to faith just like anyone else. They must be open to the truth and God’s Spirit must open their eyes (2 Cor.4:4-6). Over the last several years I have taken a direct approach to talk to Jewish people on a large college campus. I have spoken to many, many, Jewish people. You would be  surprised how many Jewish people have never heard one clear presentation as to why Jesus is the Jewish Messiah.

Conclusion

So my question is the following: Does your church do anything to support Jewish missions? Does your church ever talk about the issues I just mentioned? If the Gospel is still “to the Jew first” can the Church be obedient to the pattern of mission in the Bible and ignore some sort of visible outreach to Jewish people?

Sources:

1. This section was taken from JEWISH EVANGELISM AND DISCIPLESHIP, Article 3 of 13: GOD’S UNCHANGEABLE PLAN by Sam Nadler at http://messianicassociation.org/ezine14-sam.God%27sUnchangeable%20Plan.htm?vm=r&s=1

Why Christians Need to Renew Their Commitment to Share the Gospel

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I have previously offered two blog posts on something that has been on my heart. First, I gave an overview of the different ways the Gospel is presented in the Bible. Second, I talked about some of the reasons why we may be ashamed of the Gospel.

But given the pressing issues of the world around us, I am convinced that Christians (and of course all apologists), need to make the Gospel the center of everything. In other words, proclaim it, share it, and please don’t be ashamed of it. Why do say this? If you haven’t noticed, the evidence for fallen humanity is all around us. Just turn on the news for an hour or so. Hence, the world hasn’t changed much since the days of Jesus.

In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus reads from Isaiah 61: “the Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” ( Luke 4:18-19 ). So according to Jesus, the prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus’ own ministry ( 4:21 ) since He has come to free the physically infirm, such as the blind ( 4:18 ) and the leprous ( 4:27 ; cf. 7:21 ; 9:6 ). (1)

Therefore, Jesus helps the materially poor, like the widow in Elijah’s day ( 4:25-26 ; cf. Luke 6:20-25 Luke 6:30-38 ). Yet the spiritually poor are primarily in view people broken and grieved by misery and poverty, oppression and injustice, suffering and death, national apostasy and personal sin, who in their extremity cry out to God to bring forth justice, bestow his mercy, and establish his kingdom ( Matt 5:3-10 ). Jesus has come to usher in the kingdom, to rescue the lost, to liberate the enslaved, to cure the afflicted, and to forgive the guilty ( Mark 2:5 Mark 2:10 Mark 2:17 ; 10:45 ; Luke 7:48-49 ; 19:10 ). (2)

Notice Jesus came to liberate the captives and people that are enslaved. Yes, people were held captive to demonic oppression in that day and they were enslaved to various sins.  But when I look around, I see all kinds of people enslaved to many things. Let me point out some of them:

The War Between Israel and the Palestinians

First, we have an ongoing war in Israel that never ends. We have people there that are enslaved to hatred and anger. It just drags on and on. The Gospel is the only thing that can change a heart that is filled with that kind of hate.That’s why Jesus is the ultimate answer to the problem there. Governmental intervention is nice. But that won’t change the human condition.

Racism

As country, we are more racially divided than ever. The recent riots and debate over what happened with the Ferguson situation shows we still have a long, long, ways to go on this issue. It is clear we still have racism on both sides. Granted, this has come out even more since Obama took office. For people that enslaved to racism, this is sin and part of the fallen condition. And the Gospel is the only thing that can change the heart on that issue as well. By the way, for Christians that have succumbed to racism, you need to repent! That goes for both sides!

Terrorism

The things that are taking place overseas with the group ICIS is horrific. Christians and other people groups in Iraq are being butchered. Once again, people are enslaved to hatred, and here we see man’s inhumanity against man. Also, a real case of spiritual warfare is everywhere. While I am for a military intervention on a grand scale, the Gospel is the only thing that can change the human heart in this situation.

Anti-Semitism

With the growing problems in the war in Israel, we see anti-Semitism is on the rise. I thought we made some progress after the Holocaust. But we see there is still plenty of hatred for the Jewish people. Once again, people are enslaved to hatred here. The Gospel is the only thing that can change the human heart here and set people from the being captive to this sin.

So remember, Jesus has come to usher in the kingdom, to rescue the lost, to liberate the enslaved, to cure the afflicted, and to forgive the guilty ( Mark 2:5 Mark 2:10 Mark 2:17 ; 10:45 ; Luke 7:48-49 ; 19:10 ). When you preach the Gospel to anyone, they are enslaved to something. It may be an addiction, pride, hatred, or a false ideology. But these sins are a symptom of a greater problem which is their rejection of the Gospel and a broken relationship with their Creator.

I could go on and on. But the point is that the evidence for fallen humanity is staring at us right in the face. Do we view people as being held captive and enslaved to things that are going to destroy them and others? Will you renew your commitment to preach the Gospel to people all around you? Please go the Lord in prayer and ask him to grant you he boldness you need to share the message that can set people free!

Sources:

Sources:
1. J. Knox Chamblin “Gospel” featured in Walter Elwell, Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1996), 305-308.
2. Ibid.

Why Christians Need to Renew Their Commitment to Share the Gospel

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I have previously offered two blog posts on something that has been on my heart. First, I gave an overview of the different ways the Gospel is presented in the Bible. Second, I talked about some of the reasons why we may be ashamed of the Gospel.

But given the pressing issues of the world around us, I am convinced that Christians (and of course all apologists), need to make the Gospel the center of everything. In other words, proclaim it, share it, and please don’t be ashamed of it. Why do say this? If you havent noticed, the evidence for fallen humanity is all around us.  Just turn on the news for an hour or so. Hence, the world hasn’t changed much since the days of Jesus.

In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus reads from Isaiah 61: “the Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” ( Luke 4:18-19 ). So according to Jesus, the prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus’ own ministry ( 4:21 ) since He has come to free the physically infirm, such as the blind ( 4:18 ) and the leprous ( 4:27 ; cf. 7:21 ; 9:6 ). (1)

Therefore, Jesus helps the materially poor, like the widow in Elijah’s day ( 4:25-26 ; cf. Luke 6:20-25 Luke 6:30-38 ). Yet the spiritually poor are primarily in view people broken and grieved by misery and poverty, oppression and injustice, suffering and death, national apostasy and personal sin, who in their extremity cry out to God to bring forth justice, bestow his mercy, and establish his kingdom ( Matt 5:3-10 ). Jesus has come to usher in the kingdom, to rescue the lost, to liberate the enslaved, to cure the afflicted, and to forgive the guilty ( Mark 2:5 Mark 2:10 Mark 2:17 ; 10:45 ; Luke 7:48-49 ; 19:10 ). (2)

Notice Jesus came to liberate the captives and people that are enslaved. Yes, people were held captive to demonic oppression in that day and they were enslaved to various sins.  But when I look around, I see all kinds of people enslaved to many things. Let me point out some of them:

The War Between Israel and the Palestinians

First, we have an ongoing war in Israel that never ends. We have people there that are enslaved to hatred and anger. It just drags on and on. The Gospel is the only thing that can change a heart that is filled with that kind of hate. That’s why Jesus is the ultimate answer to the problem there. Governmental intervention is nice. But that won’t change the human condition.

Racism

As country, we are more racially divided than ever. The recent riots and debate over what happened with the Ferguson situation shows we still have a long, long, ways to go on this issue. It is clear we still have racism on both sides. Granted, this has come out even more since Obama took office. For people that enslaved to racism, this is sin and part of the fallen condition. And the Gospel is the only thing that can change the heart on that issue as well. By the way, for Christians that have succumbed to racism, you need to repent! That goes for both sides!

Terrorism

The things that are taking place overseas with the group ICIS is horrific. Christians and other people groups in Iraq are being butchered. Once again, people are enslaved to hatred, and here we see man’s inhumanity against man. Also, a real case of spiritual warfare is everywhere. While I am for a military intervention on a grand scale,  the Gospel is the only thing that can change the human heart in this situation.

Anti-Semitism

With the growing problems in the war in Israel, we see anti-Semitism is on the rise. I thought we made some progress after the Holocaust. But we see there is still plenty of hatred for the Jewish people. Once again, people are enslaved to hatred here. The Gospel is the only thing that can change the human heart here and set people from the being captive to this sin.

So remember, Jesus has come to usher in the kingdom, to rescue the lost, to liberate the enslaved, to cure the afflicted, and to forgive the guilty ( Mark 2:5 Mark 2:10 Mark 2:17 ; 10:45 ; Luke 7:48-49 ; 19:10 ).  When you preach the Gospel to anyone, they are enslaved to something. It may be an addiction, pride, hatred, or a false ideology.  But these sins are a symptom of a greater problem which is their rejection of the Gospel and a broken relationship with their Creator.

I could go on and on. But the point is that the evidence for fallen humanity is staring at us right in the face. Do we view people as being held captive and enslaved to things that are going to destroy them and others? Will you renew your commitment to preach the Gospel to people all around you? Please go the Lord in prayer and ask him to grant you he boldness you need to share the message that can set people free!

Sources:

Sources:
1. J. Knox Chamblin “Gospel” featured in Walter Elwell, Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1996), 305-308.
2. Ibid.

Is the Gospel Still “To the Jew First?”

Introduction

I grew up in a large Jewish community here in Columbus, Ohio. The mainline demolition that I was birthed in sat between two Orthodox Jewish synagogues. I attended countless Jewish holiday events, weddings, and numerous Bar  Mitzvahs. My daily exposure to Jewish culture continued throughout my youth and into my college years At age 24, I had never before met Jewish people who believed in Yeshua (Jesus).  I was  invited by a friend to a messianic congregation led by a Jewish believer.  For the first time, I heard the powerful and convicting message of salvation  taught from the Book of Matthew. So here I was as a nominal Christian hearing the Gospel from a Jewish person who believed Jesus was the Messiah.

Mission in the Bible

After coming to faith I started reading and studying the Scriptures. I began to see the pattern of mission in the Bible. The relationship between Israel and the nations has always been something that has been on my mind for the last 15 years or so. I have been involved in outreach efforts  to Jewish people and have taught classes on messianic apologetics. But why even care about reaching Jewish people for the Messiah? After all, is not the Gospel for all people? I will offer some reasons why I think the Gospel is still  “To the Jew First” (Romans 1:16).

First, let’s look at the calling upon Israel:  Israel was supposed to have an inward focus in that parents were expected to repeat the stories of deliverance to their children (Ex. 12:24-27; Deut. 6:4-9; Isa. 38:19): “One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts. They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works” (Ps. 145:4, 5). The account of God’s goodness was to be passed on from each generation to the next. “Tell your children and grandchildren” (Ex. 10:2) is God’s crucial instruction.

Second,  the purpose of Israel was not to be a blessing to herself. Therefore, through her witness, the world will either be attracted or repelled towards the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The entire promise to Abraham in Gen 12:3 exhibit’s God’s plan to bless the nations.  Therefore, the Messianic blessing  is for all the world . All  peoples on all the earth – 70 nations at the time- would be beneficiaries of the promise-(Gen. 12:2–3; cf. 22:18; 26:4; 28:14). This was  repeated to Isaac (26:4), and reaffirmed to Jacob (28:13-15; 35:11, 12; 46:3) and Moses  (Ex. 3:6-8; 6:2-8). Remember, the election of Israel was for a universal goal which is the redemption of humanity.

God called Israel to an ethical distinctiveness (Lev. 11:44, 45; 18:3; Micah 6:6-8).  They were to be committed to a holy life, because only in this way could they live to the glory of God and His name, and attract people to Him. In other words, they were called to be a light to the nations.  Also, the temple in Jerusalem will be the mega-world center for true worship (Isa. 2:2) and everyone will come there and learn how to worship the true God (Isa. 2:3, 4; 56:2-8; 62:9-11).  “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In those days ten men from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, “Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you” (Zech. 8:23).

Also,  we see in Jeremiah 1:5, this prophet  is chosen by God, not simply as a prophet to Israel, but as  prophet “to the nations.”  Other prophets like Jonah or major writing prophets, addressed twenty-five chapters of their prophecies to the Gentile nations of their day (Isa. 13-23; Jer. 46-51; Ezek. 25-32). So the point is that while Israel was called to have an inward focus, they have an external calling. This is why it should be no surprise that in Matthew’s opening chapter, he says,”The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham “(Matt. 1:1). The Messiah is not only of Davidic descent, but will bring fulfillment to the Abrahamic Covenant.   Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ mission to help Israel fulfill it’s calling in the following passages:

“Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 10: 5-6)

“ I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel”  (Matt 15: 24)

However, we see at the end of Matthew that Jesus commands his followers to bring the nations into God’s redemptive plan (Matt 28:19).

So given that the Messiah is called to be the ideal representative of His people, His mission is also to be a “light to the nations.” We see the following in Isa. 49:1-7:  The Servant of the Lord is a chosen instrument  by the Lord (1–3). The Servant glorifies the Lord before Israel and brings back the remnant of Israel ( 5–6). He has calling to all the nations (Gentiles).  Kings and princes shall see and bow down  to the Servant (vs. 7). Yet, for the sake of the glorified name of the Lord, this Servant also suffers (vs 4), being despised and abhorred by Israel (vs 7).  In relation to Jesus’ messiahship, while a remnant believed in Him, what is more significant is that Christianity now the home of 1.4 billion adherents. Sure, large numbers don’t make a faith true. But another traditional view is that the Messiah will spread the knowledge of the God of Israel to the surrounding nations (Isa.11:9;40:5;52:8). Are there any other messianic candidates that have enabled the world to come to the knowledge of the one true God other than Jesus?

So always remember  that the Abrahamic Covenant was prophetic. In this sense, there are several aspects of the covenant such as land promises, etc. But as far as Gentiles, they are supposed to receive spiritual blessings, but ultimately these were fulfilled though one specific “seed” of Abraham—the Messiah.

Also, given Israel’s calling it should be no shock that in Ephesians 2: 11-3:6, the Gentiles recipients are addressed as those who were formally without the Messiah. They were “aliens from  the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise\, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2: 12). So Israel was already near (Eph. 2:17), but the good news is that now along with Gentiles they even brought closer to God (Eph. 2:18).

What About Romans 1:16: “To the Jew First”

“For  I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is  the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew  first and also to  the Greek. For in it  the righteousness of God is revealed  from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (ESV)

Many Bible scholars agree that understanding Romans 1:16, 17 as the key  to understanding the rest of the book of Romans. But does  Paul mean the gospel was formerly, or once brought to the Jews, but now it is for the Gentiles? Is this view possible? In Romans 1:16 the Greek word for first is proton. As Dr. Michael Rydelnik, Professor of Jewish Studies at Moody Bible Institute writes,

“If Paul had meant ‘formerly’ or ‘earlier’ he would have used the Greek word “proteron.” The same word for first (proton) is used non-historically three times in Romans: …tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek… (Rom. 2:9,10), and First of all (chiefly, NKJ ), that they were entrusted with the oracles of God (Rom. 3:2).

Grammatically, the entire verse is in the present tense. There are three verbs: unashamed, is and believes. All are in the present tense. The gospel is, not was, but is the power of God, it is to all who believe, and it is to the Jew first. The idea that the Good News was “first for the Jew and then for the Gentile” implies that the Good News is no longer for the Jew (i.e. “they had their chance”). Obviously, this cannot be true, for to this very day Jewish people are still coming to faith in Jesus.  Remember, Paul was writing to the Jew first, not regarding a past activity, but as his present and active ministry (compare Acts 13:46 with 14:1). He was not looking back on the first century advance of the Good News, but stating it as an ongoing principle for the future flow of history. Even as the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul’s ministry was always to the Jew first.  (1)

After all,  we see Paul going to the Jew first in The Book of Acts. Paul goes to the synagogue first in Salamis (13:5), Pisidian Antioch (13:14), Iconium (14:1), Thessalonica (17:2), Berea (17:10), Corinth (18:4) and Ephesus (18:19 and 19:8).

So what’s the point?

The Apostle Paul showed he had a tremendous burden for the Jewish people (Rom. 9:1-5), (Rom. 10:1), and calls upon the Church to provoke Israel to jealousy (Rom. 11:11). For Paul, the resurrection was God’s stamp of approval on Jesus as the promised Messiah of Israel (Rom. 1:3-4). Paul also understood that since the Gentiles have received the blessing of knowing the Jewish Messiah, they now have the responsibility to take the message of salvation back to Israel. Therefore, Christians of all denominational backgrounds should show interest in sharing the good news of the Messiah with the Jewish people. It is not an issue of “covenantal “ vs “dispensational” theology. It is an issue of what holds up exegetically. For those that want to go further on this issue, I suggest reading Barry Horner’s Future Israel. Horner does a fine work of showing Paul utilizes what is called a “pro-Judaic hermeneutic.”

Why don’t churches have any focus on reaching Jewish people for the Messiah? This is a question I have pondered for a long time. Having taught on these subjects, I have concluded the following:

a. The Church doesn’t read not teach the Bible left to right. In other words, most Christians are discipled  by reading the New Testament first and then they might eventually get the what they call “The Old Testament” which really translates as some outdated, or  inferior book. This is tragic given Jesus and Paul grew up reading  the Tanakh (The Hebrew Bible). Hence, there was no New Testament at that time. So when Christians read the Bible this way, they tend to not see the unity of the Bible. This needs to be corrected.

b. The Church tends to view Israel as something that only matters in their eschatology (the study of end-time events). Christians need to remember that Israel is about a people group, not just a piece of a puzzle in some future eschatological drama. In other words, Jewish people are just like anyone else. They need to hear about their Messiah and place their faith in him.

c. Anti-Semitism: As much as I won’t’ spend time calling any Christian anti-Semitic, the reality is that it is still alive in the Church.

d. A misunderstanding of  the relationship between Jesus and  the Pharisees. Sure, Jesus was hard on the Pharisees. But do we really understand the issue of polemics in that time period? It seems like the Pharisees are the beating ground for so many Christians.  Not to mention it is the misreading of the relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees that  has  laid the groundwork for anti-Semitism in the Church. If you can get access to it, try reading the article called The New Testament’s Anti-Semitic Slander and the Convention of Ancient Polemic by Luke Timothy Johnson. It may change your perspective a bit on this one.

e. But Jewish people are so hard to reach for the Messiah! No duh. Just read the prophets! God told some of them to go and speak to the Jewish people. And he told them they would be rejected ahead of time. The best thing to do with any Jewish person is to build relationships of trust. Never assume anything. Always follow the example of our Lord by asking questions. And always remember that all Jewish people come to faith just like anyone else. They must be open to the truth and God’s Spirit must open their eyes (2 Cor.4:4-6). Over the last several years I have taken a direct approach to talk to Jewish people on a large college campus. I have spoken to many, many, Jewish people. You would be  surprised how many Jewish people have never heard one clear presentation as to why Jesus is the Jewish Messiah.

Conclusion

So my question is the following: Does your church do anything to support Jewish missions? Does your church ever talk about the issues I just mentioned? If the Gospel is still “to the Jew first” can the Church be obedient to the pattern of mission in the Bible and ignore some sort of visible outreach to Jewish people?

Sources:

1. This section was taken from JEWISH EVANGELISM AND DISCIPLESHIP, Article 3 of 13: GOD’S UNCHANGEABLE PLAN by Sam Nadler at http://messianicassociation.org/ezine14-sam.God%27sUnchangeable%20Plan.htm?vm=r&s=1

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