First, the Christian church has forgotten that Jesus was and is a practicing Jew. Second, Christians have forgotten the centrality of Israel in God’s plan to redeem the world and her continued covenant status as God’s chosen people. Third, Christianity has an extremely low view of the Torah itself and the commandments God gave to the Jewish people. Fourth, the Christian gospel message, having replaced the broad and majestic vision of the kingdom of heaven with a knowledge-based individualistic salvation, has been emptied of its power.
Chapter 2: The Church Needs to Change (pg 61)
Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile
If anything in the above-quoted paragraph shocked you as a Christian, then you probably need to get a copy of Boaz’s book and read it all the way through. However, I’m not writing this “meditation” today to shock you, but to remind you of something.
One of the objections I hear about “going to church” from believers who are not church-goers is that the church gives a whitewashed, “feel good” message, that doesn’t communicate the reality of the Bible, sin, and salvation. That may be true in other churches but it wasn’t in the one I attended last Sunday. It was anything but “whitewashed, feel-good.” The quote I opened this “meditation” with is part of that message. The message is that just because you believe, you may not have a terrifically realistic grip on the consequences of your belief. If you call yourself a Christian or a believer, but still can violate the Word of God with no feelings of guilt, anguish, or remorse, what you have may not even be what is called “faith.” Believing isn’t enough.
-from Day Zero
I mentioned in my last “church report” blog that Pastor Randy delivered anything but a “feel good” sermon about Christians and salvation. In fact, he was very pointed that “just believing” was not enough. We have to remember who Christ is and who we are in him and above all, why he had to die.
Interestingly enough, Boaz’s point about the Christian gospel message being emptied of its power seems to connect quite well to the Pastor’s sermon. Boaz continues.
Yeshua (Jesus) surely preached the gospel; his message – “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” – is just as much “the gospel” today as it was two thousand years ago. When Peter adjured the crowds after the coming of the Spirit on Shavuoat in Acts 2:38-39, his message was not “believe in Jesus; go to heaven.” It was “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.
-Michael, pg 87
Admittedly, Peter was delivering this message, the message of salvation, to a totally Jewish audience, and so there is no misunderstanding, let me verify that this message is for the “rest of us” who once were far off.
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
–Ephesians 2:11-13 (ESV)
We non-Jews were also once “far off,” as Peter said, but now we too have been brought near thanks to the Messiah, the Christ.
But if Peter says “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” what does that mean? Does it mean what you think it means?
That is the gospel message. Repent – change the way you live and your life and begin to obey the commandments of God. For the kingdom of heaven is at hand – you can, in some way, bring God’s rule down to earth through your actions; it is possible to “live now for the realization of this Messianic Age” (quoting Levertoff, “Love and the Messianic Age” (Marshfield, Mo: Vine of David, 2009), 32).
-Michael, pg 89
That’s probably not quite what Pastor Randy was getting at in his sermon last Sunday. Pastor was talking about people who have made an intellectual assertion that Jesus is Lord without ever incorporating that knowledge into an actual, lived faith…without any realization that Jesus died for my sins and that I have a personal responsibility to repent and beg for forgiveness.
That’s not the wrong thing to do of course, but looking at what Boaz is writing, salvation means more than just the saving of individual upon individual by giving out “go to heaven free” cards. The kingdom of heaven isn’t heaven, according to Boaz, and it has little to do with personal salvation as such, at least not as much as most of us were led to believe. Making a commitment of faith to God through Christ is an entire change of lifestyle in the here and now that has the power to change everything in the here and now. Salvation isn’t just the promise that we’ll go to heaven, it’s the promise that we’ll receive the power to, in some sense, bring heaven to earth.
As Boaz says, Yeshua didn’t simply teach “believe in me and go to heaven when you die.” If you read the Gospels carefully, you’ll see that he doesn’t really mention anything about what happens to you when you die. He mentions what happens to you when you live, if you repent and come to a true and saving faith.
The church needs to change, but not because the church is bad or that Christians are bad. The church needs to change because much of Christianity has taken the message of the Gospel and reduced it down to a simple “get saved” footnote and missed the larger point of what happens while we’re alive. No, it’s not a “works-based” salvation, but one of Pastor Randy’s scripture examples in last Sunday’s sermon was from James.
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
–James 2:14-26 (ESV)
You cannot have a true and saving faith unless it has changed your life. If your every action does not conform to the message of James and you are not behaving in a manner that reflects faith, then you probably should ask yourself if you ever repented at all when you “confessed Christ.” And beyond the “generic” helping to repair the world, as I learned recently (and this is also echoed in Boaz’s book), when we are adjured to help the needy, we in the church have a special duty to assist the poor, the sick, and the needy of Israel as it is said:
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
–Matthew 25:34-46 (ESV)
I know I’ve said a lot of this before, but I want to illustrate that Boaz Michael’s book has a much broader scope than you may have gathered from my previous review. It’s not just directed at those non-Jewish “Messianic” believers who are in the church or who are contemplating returning to church…it’s a message for all believers everywhere who may not have a complete understanding of what the Gospel is trying to tell us.
This is a message about who we are, who we are in Christ, and most importantly, what to do with the rest of our lives. It’s not a message about packing our bags and getting ready for the trip to heaven, it’s about what we do as disciples of the Master and sons and daughters of the living God. Where do we find God? Why are we needed by other people? How do we inspire hope in the world around us and be a light in the darkness?
This is the kingdom of heaven being drawn near to us and to the people around us…by who we are in our faith.