Monthly Archives: April 2012

Letter to the editor of TIME Magazine: Response to “Heaven Can’t Wait”

I found the article “Heaven Can’t Wait” in the April 16, 2012 edition of TIME Magazine to be both enlightening and disturbing. I am a Messianic Jew (a Jew who believes Jesus is the Messiah) and a 60-year-old male who lives in New York City. I reflect both the Jewish and Christian communities’ views on Heaven, as well as those of my generation.

I also lead Chosen People Ministries, an organization founded in 1894, which has been reaching out to the Jewish and Christian communities with the message of a Jewish Gospel for more than a century. This gives me a unique perspective on heaven and hell, the nature of the Gospel, the balance between good works and good deeds, and the Christian and Jewish hope for the future kingdom.

I appreciated Jon Meacham’s insights (perhaps more for their cultural rather than theological value) but was shocked by his misunderstandings about the early Christians – all of whom were Jewish, up to a point.

He writes, “The story of Jesus as interpreted by Paul and as told in the Gospels created a unique understanding of salvation and life after death. No one in first-century Judaism had been looking for a human atoning sacrifice.” (p. 33). Unfortunately, Meacham makes a mountain out of this theological molehill and builds his misunderstanding of the Christian hope upon his under-researched and inaccurate idea.

Inter-Testamental literature and early Rabbinic writings indicate that a substantial group within first-century Judaism believed in the coming of a suffering and even atoning Messiah.

A key passage demonstrating this is Isaiah chapters 52 through 53, which is alluded to by Jesus, quoted in the book of Acts in the early sermons of Peter, and affirmed by Paul in his classic statement on the Gospel found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-3, which Meacham quotes at the end of his article.

Isaiah chapter 53 describes a suffering individual, identified by the prophet as the Servant whose “mission” in life was to die in the place of sinful Israel and the Gentile nations (Isaiah 53:4-6). The prophet clearly describes the atoning death of this individual in verse 8, “He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due.”

The author of “Heaven Can’t Wait” appears to downplay the issue of personal salvation and presents a view of salvation focusing on “heaven coming to earth,” bringing a more corporate version of redemption focused on righting the wrongs and evils of our present day. This implies that the work of Christians today should focus on changing society as a means of preparing for the age to come.

The view of heaven Meacham espouses ignores the hope for a suffering Messiah that is the bedrock of faith for Messianic Jews and all types of Christians. He ignores tomes of scholarship, including the new book entitled The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 (available here), recently published by Kregel Publications and edited by myself and Dr. Darrell Bock, who teaches New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary – one of the world’s foremost evangelical seminaries. I also teach at the Talbot School of Theology, a part of Biola University, and Meacham quotes form Dr. Erik Thoennes of the same institution.

The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 highlights the views of leading evangelical scholars who believe that Jesus, from His own words in the Gospels to those of other New Testament writers, is clearly understood as the fulfillment of Isaiah 53. Jesus is the Suffering Servant who died a substitutionary atoning death for our sins.

The Apostle Paul, also a Messianic Jew, summarizes the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-3, claiming that Jesus died for our sins and rose again from the dead, according to the Old Testament Scriptures. Unless one believes that the words of Paul and even the words of Jesus were penned centuries later (which is another discussion), then clearly many first-century Jews did believe that a human atoning sacrifice was expected… especially by those Jews who believed in Jesus and wrote the New Testament!

Meacham quotes the end of 1 Corinthians 15, but should consider that the hope of heaven and admonition to remain “steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” would be impossible without the foundational truth of Messiah’s death and resurrection, providing personal salvation for both Jews and Gentiles and ultimately the redemption of a world cursed by sin.

I am glad the author and TIME Magazine tackled such an important topic. However, I believe that the article should have taken a much broader look at the variety of views on heaven. Meacham’s work reads far more like an editorial than a well-researched article, which is how it seems to have been presented.

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Living Unleavened Lives: Eating Matzah as a Spiritual Discipline

Matzah

Matzah (unleavened bread) is eaten during Passover

We are midway into the Passover week (actually eight days) and I find myself thinking about the many ways I am going to make matzah palatable today. Maybe I’ll make my father’s recipe for matzah brei. Here is my recipe, in case you want to try it!

Step 1: Carefully break a piece of matzah into small pieces and put into a bowl of hot water.

Step 2: Crack 3 medium eggs, stir, and begin making an omelet (use only egg whites to make it healthier!)

Step 3: Dry the soaking matzah in a paper towel, before it gets too mushy and still has a little bit of crunch to it, and add to the omelet.

Step 4: Matzah brei can be made either salty (adding salt, pepper, garlic and fried onions to the mix) or sweet (keeping the matzah omelet plain and simple and then applying large amounts of marmalade, strawberry jelly or leftover charoset from the previous night’s Seder).

Please try one of these versions of this traditional Jewish breakfast dish and let me know what you think!

Even before breakfast, I’ll need to think about lunch – perhaps a matzah sandwich with tuna fish or turkey, or maybe even some leftover brisket. I also have to decide what kind of matzah I’m going to eat with my sandwich; regular matzah, egg matzah, egg and onion matzah.

Passover menu planning does not stop there – there are also unleavened snacks! I’m glad I live in Brooklyn, where I can easily get most of my usual cakes, ice cream sandwiches and other types of desserts made without leaven.
I like bread, and during a normal week, I usually eat some bagels, rolls and a few slices of bread–but during Passover, I spend 8 days trying to figure out new ways to enjoy matzah!

Why do I do this? This is a question I ask myself with every crunchy bite of the striped, pierced and quite frankly tasteless (unless you’re eating chocolate matzah) “bread substitute.” Sometimes I think that the manna in the wilderness that came down from heaven to feed the children of Israel was made of matzah, which is why my ancestors cried out for a change of menu.

I do not eat matzah because I believe God will judge me for not doing so during Passover. I believe that keeping the Jewish holidays to be voluntary for followers of Jesus. Yet I do keep most of the festivals and try to be especially strict in avoiding leaven during Passover.

I observe the Jewish holidays because keeping them helps me identify with my Jewish people. I view myself as part of the Jewish community, though my faith is not often understood by the majority. I also believe that the holidays point to Jesus, and by understanding and observing them my relationship with Messiah is deepened. After all, He kept the festivals too!

But mostly, I munch on matzah for 8 days because of the spiritual value in doing so. I was reading a blog the other day by a pastor who was suggesting a variety of spiritual disciplines designed especially for holy week. He included fasting as one of these disciplines, as well as reading the passion narrative and a few other excellent ideas. However, I thought to myself, he is missing a wonderful spiritual discipline that predates so many of these other suggestions – one that is so very biblical (Exodus 12:15, 19,13:7, Leviticus 23:6) and would certainly make holy week more meaningful – eating matzah!

I believe that refraining from eating leavened bread products is a rigorous spiritual exercise that helps followers of Yeshua focus on purity and personal holiness, as well as the original intent and deeper values undergirding the holiday. And if you view the Feasts of Israel as prophetic (which I do) then the perfect fulfillment of the feast of unleavened bread is Jesus the Messiah.

In Jewish tradition, leaven symbolizes moral degeneration, and the more you avoid leaven, the more you are reminded of the purity of life that pleases God. Jesus mentions leaven in this way when He takes issue with the teaching of Jewish leaders that cause the purity of Torah to be compromised by additional teachings that could lead a person to misinterpret God’s original intent. (Matthew 16:6,11-12)

I am sure this is what Rabbi Saul – the Apostle Paul – meant when he wrote,

Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor. 5:6-8)

So why don’t you try it? There are still a few days left in Passover. If you get your whole family involved in eating matzah for the remainder of the week, it would provide a memorable family experience, and you could talk to your children about the importance of living an “unleavened” lifestyle – not just during Passover, but throughout the year. I think you would find this to be a valuable spiritual discipline both personally and as a family. We have!

Here are some further reading from some of our very religious Jewish friends with some interesting information about matzah to help make your “leaven avoidance” more meaningful.

Matzah is a symbol, but Jesus is our example – and by His Spirit He provides the power we need to live godly lives.  He is the epitome of sinless perfection!

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