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Born to Win with Ronald L. Dart

 

On Christians and Judaism #2

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Ronald L. Dart

I still have a little trouble understanding why the First Christians didn’t get it when Jesus told them what they supposed to do about the Gospel.

“And Jesus came and spoke unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go you therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:18–20 KJ2000).

How did they miss the word “nations” and how on earth were they going to do that if they didn’t go to the nations. They eventually did, but not for some time. Peter had to be shown in a vision and the pouring out of the spirit that it was okay to baptize an Italian.

I suppose we are so far removed from the culture of that time that we can’t appreciate the prejudice that Jews had toward any non-Jew. (And that is what “Gentile” has come to mean—non-Jew—although in Greek it was a broader term, meaning “nations”, including Jews.) Prejudice dies hard, as some of us are old enough to recall. So hard, in fact, that even plain instructions from Jesus couldn’t erase it. Let’s see how, after his vision, Peter was confronted by other believers in Jerusalem.

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Christian Holidays #15 - Tuesday, September 18, 2018

If you have read much of the Bible at all, or if you have gone to church very long, you know that somewhere, out there in the future, there is a day of judgement coming. Now, there have been a lot of fanciful notions about judgement day. Somehow, in my youth, in listening to various preachers, I got the impression of God, sitting behind the bench in a courtroom like setting with a lot of books open before him, judging my life. One preacher I recall envisioned God playing our sins back for us on a giant movie screen for everyone to see. Another envisioned God having a big lever by his throne, and when we come there for judgement, some go to heaven but for others, he pulls the lever and a trapdoor opens and sends them screaming down to hell.

Most of what you hear about the judgment day owes more to the imagination of man than to the Bible. Then there are all the jokes about St. Peter and the pearly gates. But I will spare you those. But I do have to tell you, there is a judgment day. But this judgment day is nothing like the traditional depictions of it, and there is one very surprising thing about it which I will come to later.

But the first thing to know about it is that the writer of the book of Hebrews connects the judgement day to the Day of Atonement–Yom Kippur–a day usually dismissed by Christians as a Jewish Holiday. But in this series of programs, I have been making the case that these are not merely Jewish Holidays, but Christian holidays as well. Why so? Because every one of them is about the life, work, plan and ministry of Jesus Christ. So, what do we know about the judgement day?

On Christians and Judaism #1 - Monday, September 17, 2018

What did the first Christians believe about Judaism? When I speak of the “first Christians”, I mean all Christians everywhere in the years the New Testament was being written—say between the ascension of Christ and AD 70. Some call these “primitive Christians”, but that implies that we are more advanced in understanding than they were. I don’t think so. I think they understood Christ better than we do. So I want to talk about them as the “First Christians”.

Did they look at their faith as an entirely new religion with a new God? Or did they consider themselves merely a sect of the larger religion of Judaism? The problem with these questions revolves around one’s definition of Judaism. Jacob Neusner has written a fascinating book titled Judaism When Christianity Began: A Survey of Belief and Practice. The book has very little to say about Christianity, but it is helpful in understanding first-century Judaism, which might be the first step in understanding what the First Christians might have thought or believed about Judaism.

Neusner underlines one important point: There were “many Judaisms” abroad when Jesus first walked the roads of Galilee. It was of passing interest that he referred to many Judaisms, not to many sects of one Judaism. And so when we ask what the first Christians thought about Judaism, we pose the problem of which Judaism we are talking about. I think it is likely that a Roman looking at Jerusalem in AD 50 would have considered the Christians a sect of Judaism. But did the Christians themselves see it that way? We may be able to answer that question from the New Testament itself. Let’s begin in Matthew, chapter 5.

Christian Holidays #14 - Friday, September 14, 2018

In the autumn of every year, the Jews celebrate their most solemn festival—Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Would it surprise you to learn that Yom Kippur is a Christian holiday as well? That the New Testament church observed the day, only with a different sense of meaning?

Very few Christians take any note of the day at all, and that is surprising, since the day is all about the ministry of Christ. They cheerfully observe Easter which is not in the Bible at all, and ignore the Day of Atonement which is not only biblical; it lies right at the heart of the meaning of the Christian Faith.

Maybe it is because observing the Day of Atonement requires a fast, but it is probably because no one ever thinks of it. So, how can I say that Yom Kippur is a Christian holiday as well as a Jewish holiday? It would be best, I think, to look at the Christian significance of the day.

Real Prophets #12 - Thursday, September 13, 2018

Jesus Christ was no fortune-teller. He didn't go around giving people the answers to future Trivial Pursuit questions. Like all real prophets, he gave knowledge of the future for two reasons. One: so you could do something about it. If you know something is coming, you can dodge, you can change your life. Two: so you can understand what is happening to you when it happens. Life would have meaning.

But Jesus emphasized one side of the prophet's work above the other. The primary object, really, of the prophet's message is our salvation. In old times, it might have been to save yourself from being bottled up in a besieged city; that's the idea behind Jesus' warnings in Matthew 24. Or it may have been to save your life, save you some pain, save you some suffering. That's generally the point of the prophet's message—tell you what's going to happen so you can change it–or, put another way, repent so you can live.

Now, I am going to tell you something that's a little hard to understand. And it's hard to understand, to some degree, by the way the Bible is written. Prophecy is not so much what God is going to do to us because of our sins (which it the way a lot of prophecy reads) but about what our sins are going to do to us.

Real Prophets #11 - Wednesday, September 12, 2018

If you’ve ever settled down to read the Old Testament prophets, and as you read you haven’t found anything that affects the way you live your life, you’re reading the prophets all wrong. I have said that there are only two reasons why God would ever tell us anything about the future. (Why should he? What right do we have to know what is going to happen tomorrow?) But he does tell us. One reason is so we can do something about it. We can change our lives, or maybe run for our lives if need be. Maybe we can even change the outcome. Secondly, so we can understand events as they happen and see God’s hand in history. He has a point whenever he sends a prophet along.

Real prophets don’t make comfortable reading. In fact, they can be depressing at times. But there’s a short passage in Ecclesiastes where wise old Solomon said:

“It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2–3 KJ2000)

And in one of his proverbs he said:

“Keep your heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23 KJ2000)

There’s a lot of tragedy in the prophets, and a lot of death and destruction, a lot of fear—people hiding out in rocks and caves. But, you know, in spite of all the tragedy, it is a place where the heart is made better. I feel sorry for those who spend all their time in the prophets trying to outline the future—to chart the course of future events—because when they are preoccupied with prediction, they are missing the life-changing message of the prophecy. You can do a lot of work, put together charts, line it all out—documented and footnoted in every detail—and then…everything can be changed.

Real Prophets #10 - Tuesday, September 11, 2018

When you sit down to read an Old Testament prophet—like Isaiah or Jeremiah; Hosea or Amos—and as you read along you get a distinct impression that, “Hey, this guy is writing about the end time, and it sounds an awful lot like the time I’m living in!” When you get that feeling, how do you know where the prophecy is directed? In other words, who is he talking about? Does it apply to you, your nation, your people? Is there some way of identifying people in the modern world as they might be spoken about by, say, Hosea?

Well, there are four basic ways that people are identified in the Old Testament prophets. The first two we will look at are ancestry (that is, their ethnic roots) and geography (the land they occupy). The second of these is simple enough—land itself doesn’t move around much—but people do migrate, and at times it is not easy to determine where these people went. Take, for example, a much-quoted prophecy from Daniel 11:

“And at the time of the end shall the king of the south attack him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass through. He shall enter also into the glorious land, and many countries shall be overthrown: but these shall escape out of his hand, even Edom, and Moab, and most of the children of Ammon. He shall stretch forth his hand also against the countries: and the land of Egypt shall not escape” (Daniel 11:40–42).

Real Prophets #9 - Monday, September 10, 2018

Real prophets are not always bad news. Oh, they have the unpleasant task of telling it like it is, telling us where we’re wrong, calling upon us to change, and telling us what is going to happen when we don’t. But at the end of the day, for a real prophet, there’s hope. Last time, I pointed out some benchmarks to look for when you’re reading the Old Testament prophets—how you can see in “the day of the Lord” and “great tribulation” and “heavenly signs” the things that give you clues to the things this real prophet is talking about. But I left out the best benchmark of all.

To get a perspective on this, we have to start with the Book of Revelation—chapter 20, in particular. What happens here takes place immediately after the return of Christ, which in the 19th chapter is exemplified by the one sitting on a white horse, clothed in white, holding a flaming sword, and who is prepared to render judgement to the earth. Just after that, in Revelation 20:1, John, in vision, gives us this rather fascinating description:

“And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, who is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little while. And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:1–4 KJ2000)

1,000 years is a millennium, just like 100 is a century; and “the Millennium” is a common term that is used when people are talking about prophecies about the last days. It is a time at the end of this age, at the return of Christ, when he establishes his kingdom upon the earth—the Messianic Kingdom—and rules here for 1,000 years. The curious thing about this prophecy is that the saints are pictured, not off in heaven doing nothing, but alive and well and in charge of things along with Christ right here. The idea is that the old world can be cleansed, rebuilt, and made new. Now, we’re not there yet. This is a culmination of the events of the last days. But if we find a time like this mentioned by the Old Testament prophets then we have another benchmark to help us understand what they are talking about. With that in mind, let’s turn to the second chapter of Isaiah.

Christian Holidays #13 - Friday, September 7, 2018

“Behold, I show you a mystery,” said the Apostle Paul. “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”

There is no idea more central to the Christian faith than the resurrection of the dead. And yet, in these early days of Christianity, it had been called into question. It is in the great 15th chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians that Paul wrestles with a group that claimed there was no resurrection from the dead.

I presume they still held a doctrine of the Kingdom of God, but for them, it was a physical kingdom—something a lot of Jews believed and expected. But Paul made it plain that they had it wrong.

Real Prophets #8 - Thursday, September 6, 2018

How can you tell when an Old Testament prophet is writing about “the end time?” You know, there’s so much stuff in those prophecies, as you read through them, and a lot of it seems really old and out of date—dealing with another time and another place and another kind of people. Actually, much of the time these prophets are writing about the end time. But I do think that, in many cases, they didn’t know it. And their prophecies are couched in more contemporary terms, subjects, and circumstances. But it forms a pattern that then somehow makes a transition; and suddenly, without even realizing it, you’re talking about the end time.

But the problems for the serious reader of the Old Testament prophets are: How do know where you are, where to draw the lines, what it past, and what is future? Well, there are some benchmarks that sometimes help us; there are little places in prophecy that stand out; there are times and seasons and occasions and events that are unmistakable. Jesus mentioned one of these benchmarks in his Olivet Prophecy in Matthew 24 and 25. This was the day his disciples had marveled at the buildings of the Temple. When Jesus responded that not one stone of them that would not be thrown down, his disturbed disciples asked him for signs of his coming and the end of the age. In his answer, he gave them some things to think about. One of them is in verse 15:

“When you therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoever reads, let him understand:) Then let them who are in Judea flee into the mountains: Let him who is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house: Neither let him who is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that nurse a child in those days! But pray you that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” (Matthew 24:15–21 KJ2000)

This had already happened once, before Jesus gave the prophecy. He made it very clear that was going to happen yet one more time, and then suddenly, when you’re reading along, you realize that he isn’t just talking about something happening in AD 70—he’s talking about the end time. He is talking about a time that will be unique in history—there will never have been a time like it before and it will never be repeated again. It is a benchmark. And when you see the Old Testament prophets start to talk about this same time, you have a clue as to where they are coming from and (perhaps more importantly) where they are going.


Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, September 19th, 2018
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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