Rev Dr Edgar Mayer;
For more sermons and other writings check the following homepage: www.livinggracetoowoomba.org
Jesus The Jew
In 1973 a book was published with the
title Jesus The Jew which at that time was shocking news to most Western
Christians. The author of the book Geza Vermes a Jewish scholar was reprimanded (by the chaplaincy at
When the 1993 edition of the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary included a new definition for Jesus, saying that he was the central figure of the Christian faith, a Jewish preacher (c. 5 BC c. AD 30) regarded by his followers as the Son of God and God incarnate, there was an outcry among some traditional Christians. On the frontpage of The Times (1993) the English public could read that a senior evangelical and a member of the General Church Synod (of the Church of England) found the idea of Jesus as a Jewish preacher to be a rather derogatory term (a putdown). Later this pastor tried to make amends by stating that the Dictionary helpfully records for the first time that Jesus is Jewish.
This was in 1993. Why did it take that long for the Dictionary to state for the first time that Jesus was Jewish? Why was and maybe still is the idea of a Jewish Jesus so troublesome? The harsh truth was and is that Christians for centuries had hated the Jews with violent persecutions and killings. I still remember a story which I heard a school. Around the time of World War II at the entrance of a small German village there was a sign that said No Jews Allowed and right next to the sign was the proud display of a cross with Jesus on it (a crucifix) because the small village was Christian. No one in the village picked up on the irony. If you say that no Jews are allowed in your community, then Jesus is also not welcome because he was a Jew.
At this point we cannot trace the
history of Christian anti-semitism (animosity
toward Jews) but simply consider a few
instances of murderous hatred. In the year 1096 the first Crusade began and in
this time approximately a
quarter to one third of the entire Jewish population in
Jews were blamed for every calamity from hurricanes and earthquakes to the Black Death
with the consequence that thousands upon
thousands were killed all over Christian Europe. Then, Jews were expelled from
nearly every country in which they resided. In 1290 they were expelled from
The hatred from Christians was relentless and even men (and women) of God like Martin Luther behaved in ways which make us deeply ashamed today. For instance, in 1542 he wrote the tract Concerning The Jews And Their Lies. Listen to a few quotes: Much less do I propose to convert the Jews, for that is impossible The sun has never shone on a more bloodthirsty and vengeful people than they are Their breath stinks with lust for the Gentiles' gold and silver; for no nation under the sun is greedier than they were, still are, and always will be they are nothing but thieves and robbers they are a heavy burden, a plague, a pestilence, a sheer misfortune for our country So we are even at fault in not avenging all this innocent blood of our Lord and of the Christians which they shed for three hundred years after the destruction of Jerusalem, and the blood of the children they have shed since then (which still shines forth from their eyes and their skin). We are at fault in not slaying them. Rather we allow them to live freely in our midst despite their murdering, cursing, blaspheming, lying, and defaming; we protect and shield their synagogues, houses, life, and property. In this way we make them lazy and secure and encourage them to fleece us boldly of our money and goods, as well as to mock and deride us, with a view to finally overcoming us, killing us all for such a great sin, and robbing us of all our property (as they daily pray and hope)
What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? we must practice a sharp mercy I shall give you my sincere advice: First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed Third, I advise that all their prayer books be taken from them. Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews Sixth, I advise that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them Seventh, I recommend letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow In my opinion the problem must be resolved thus: They must be driven from our country deal severely with their lying mouth I wish and I ask that our rulers who have Jewish subjects exercise a sharp mercy toward these wretched people, as suggested above, They must act like a good physician who, when gangrene has set proceeds without mercy to cut, saw, and burn flesh, veins, bone, and marrow. Such a procedure must also be followed in this instance. Burn down their synagogues, forbid all that I enumerated earlier, force them to work, and deal harshly with them, as Moses did in the wilderness, slaying three thousand lest the whole people perish it would be wrong to be merciful If this does not help we must drive them out like mad dogs, so that we do not become partakers of their abominable blasphemy and all their other vices I have done my duty. Now let everyone see to his. I am exonerated.
Luther continued in this anti-Jewish
vein right until his death in 1546. The authorities were to set fire to their
synagogues and schools, raze their houses, silence their teachers, remove
police protection, confiscate their property and condemn them to hard labour.
In due course Christian Germany would be involved in killing six million Jews
during the Nazi era and it is probably not an accident that in November
1938 the night the synagogues were
burnt down in
The verdict is that had it not been for
the abject passiveness of almost the entire world community, Hitler and this happened only a few years ago could not have gone ahead with his mass
extermination of the Jews. At a conference in
No wonder that the Christian world was in shock when a book declared in 1973 that their very own Saviour himself was a Jew. However, there are a few reasons why we need to become accustomed to this. 1) Unless you understand the Jewishness of Jesus, you will not understand him at all. 2) Unless you understand Jewish history, you will not understand your own. 3) Unless you worship the God who chose the Jews first, you will not worship God at all. I make the same three points again this time in more positive terms: 1) As you learn about Jesus the Jew, you learn to understand him and what he means to you. 2) As you learn about Jewish history, you learn about your own. 3) As you learn about the God of history, you learn to worship the one true God.
Maybe at this stage these points are not that clear yet but we will expand on them. 1) Unless you understand the Jewishness of Jesus, you will not understand him at all. It is as you learn about Jesus the Jew, that you learn to understand him and what he means to you.
The Bible book of Matthew in verse one of the first chapter introduces Jesus in absolutely Jewish terms I read: The family tree of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. These few words are loaded with Jewish expectations and explanations of Jesus. The name Jesus was a common Jewish name Yeshua (he [God] saves, Matthew ). The title Christ Greek for the Jewish word Messiah (which means Anointed One) became so much identified with Jesus that it came to function as his second name. The Jews had been expecting a Messiah for centuries one that was anointed with the Holy Spirit (signified by the anointing with oil) who would deliver them from oppression and Jesus was that Messiah.
At one time Jesus queried his disciples about what other people thought of him. They answered that most thought that he was some kind of prophet. Then Jesus asked them Matthew 16:15: Who do you say I am? Peter answered Matthew 16:16: You are the Christ [the Messiah], the Son of the living God. This was it. Jesus replied Matthew 16:17: Blessed are you for this was not revealed to you by any human, but by my Father in heaven. Jesus was the Christ the focal point of all Jewish hope according to Gods own revelation.
Further, the phrase Son of the living God was an expansion on the Christ theme. God himself had declared at the baptism of Jesus (when the Spirit of God descended on him anointed him) Matthew : . a voice from heaven said, This is my Son, whom I love and according to Gods book Psalm 2 the Christ and the Son of God were one and the same person. I read verses 2-7: the Lord and . his Anointed One [the Christ] the Lord . said [to him] You are my Son
Then the Christ the Messiah also
had to be the royal descendant of King David the most important Jewish
king of the past which cemented his
Jewishness even more. The people were right asserting John 7:42: Does
not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from Davids family and from
The last reference to Abraham is also important. God had promised Abraham Genesis 12:2-3: I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you and also Genesis 17:3-8: As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations I will establish my covenant as and everlasting convenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come I will be their God. In this way Abraham became the father of all Jews including Jesus, who was sent to fulill all that was promised to Abraham Luke 1:69-75 I read from the Bible: He [God] has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David [the Messiah] (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness Acts 13:32-33: [cf. Brothers and sisters, children of Abraham, (verse 26)] We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus
We pause for a moment. Do you agree? Jesus cannot be explained we cannot understand him apart from his Jewish background his ancestors Abraham and David and the Jewish hopes for a Messiah. In fact, all of Jewish history as recorded in the Jewish Bible (all Bible books were written by Jews) point to him which means that we likewise today need to understand his background in order to understand him. This was important to Jesus himself Luke 24:44-49: He said to his disciples [after he rose from the dead], This is what I told you Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Bible [original: in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms]. Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise again from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name So also Acts : [Apollos was] proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.
So much of the Scriptures so many prophecies and events foreshadow him. Catch a few more glimpses of this fact. Jesus was
understood to be the new Moses according to the prophecy which Moses himself
Jesus was a Jew and therefore the
language of salvation in the Bible is Jewish to the core. Consider one last
example 1 Corinthians 5:7 I read:
Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. [So also 1 Peter 1:19:
[redeemed] . with
the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.] What is a Passover lamb? How can anyone
understand this sentence without understanding its Jewish background? At one of
the key junctures of Jewish history God told his people to slaughter a lamb and
smear the blood of the lamb on their door frames. It was to protect them from
Gods last plague against
Now Jesus became our Passover lamb whose blood was shed on the cross so that when we apply his blood to ourselves (by faith), God would see it and pass over us not striking us down with judgement. [Expand and make this personal.]
[Cf. People around him called Jesus a Jewish rabbi (Mark 9:5-6; John -50; -35) and Jesus native tongue was Aramaic (Mark ;). John 3:14-15: Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. 1 Corinthians 10:1-5: they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ ]
I sum up this point again: 1) If we want to be saved, we need to allow Jesus the Jew to save us because we cannot understand him apart from his Jewish roots and background. And this is the next point 2) we cannot understand ourselves apart from considering the Jewishness of Jesus. In a conversation Jesus himself said John 4:21-24: You [those that are not Jews] worship what you do not know; we [the Jews] worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks Jesus confirmed that salvation was from the Jews because they were the ones chosen by God when God called their ancestor Abraham and promised him many descendants. However, Jesus also confirmed that now a new time had come because he came where the worship of God would be opened up to all all those that worship the Father in spirit and truth which includes those outside the Jewish nation (all of us here).
In fact, God had already promised Abraham that Genesis 12:3: all peoples on earth will be blessed through you and God had kept this promise in Jesus. The apostle Peter preached the following Acts 3:24-26: you [Jews] are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed. When God raised up his servant [Jesus Christ], he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways [and then the Gentiles would be next].
In the same vein we read in one of Pauls letters Galatians 1:6-2:7: Consider Abraham: He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: All nations will be blessed through you. So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith Christ redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus There is neither Jew nor Greek for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abrahams seed, and heirs according to the promise when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of children [Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:16; 1 John 4:2.]
Understand the argument. Abraham was saved by faith and now we Christians all over the world even though we are not Jews all of us have become his children and heirs according to Gods promise that all nations would be blessed through him because Jesus redeemed us, thus releasing to us the blessings of Abraham (what he had) salvation by faith.
Did you know that Abraham was your
father? You are grafted into Jewish history and are co-heirs of all the stories
in the Bible. We may have a national culture in
Then, we need to know that our relationship with the ethnic Jews Christian or not remains a defining factor for us Romans 11:1-32 the apostle Paul wrote: I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew I am talking to you Gentiles: If some of the branches have been broken off [Jews that do not believe are broken off in judgement], and you, though a wild olive shoot [not being part of original plant the chosen nation], have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root [the rich inheritance of Jewish history], do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you Israel has experienced a hardening but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for Gods gifts and his call are irrevocable The ancient promises to Abraham still stand including this one Genesis 12:3: I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse We are the wild olive shoot grafted in while the Jewish nation remains the original chosen olive tree of God. We need to understand this to understand our identity.
We come to our last point. 3) Unless you worship the God who chose the Jews first, you will not worship God at all. As you learn about the God of history, you learn to worship the one true God.
This concerns all of us. Jesus used to warn his disciples against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees the yeast of these kind of religious teachers because like yeast was contagious (permeating and working through the entire dough) this kind of people would infect a faith community until everyone ended up with religion but no relationship with God 2 Timothy 3:5: having a form of godliness but denying its power To some extent this kind of yeast is in all of us. We humans and especially Bible teachers and theologians love to take the Bible and from the Bible extract a neat system of belief a body of truth correct doctrines and flawless formulas perfect procedures and ministry processes. Then, we publish learned books which no longer tell any stories but contain God in a number of theses.
For instance, one thesis states (and we Lutherans like this one): Lex semper accusat the Law always accuses. It is true that when sinners like us are confronted with the holy and perfect law of God the call on us to obey his law we feel accused because we cannot live up to perfection. The holy standard of God accuses our imperfection. This is true but even our Lutheran Confessions know instances where the law of God does not accuse us but delight us. There are numerous worshippers in the Bible who have cried out Psalm 119:70: I delight in your law. 119:97: Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Moments come when we are so in love with God full of the Holy Spirit forgiven and clean that we do nothing but delight in the purity of God the beauty of holiness.
We need to be careful in formulating religious theses because faith is a relationship with God a history and in this relationship the feelings and experiences with God are not always the same. Most importantly the Bible is not a book of theses but of story. Let me illustrate what I mean from the Bible 2 Samuel 5:17-25: When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over Israel, they went up in full force to search for him, but David heard about it and went down to the stronghold David inquired of the Lord, Shall I go and attack the Philistines? The Lord answered him, God, for I will surely hand the Philistines over to you. So David went and defeated them Once more the Philistines came up so David inquired of the Lord, and he answered, Do not go straight up, but circle around behind them and attack them in front of the balsam trees. As soon as you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, move quickly, because that will mean the Lord has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army. So David did as the Lord commanded him, and he struck down the Philistines
If David had made a religion out of his faith, he would have drawn up some theses after his first victory over the Philistines. When enemies come against you, go up and meet them because the Lord will give the victory. However, this would have been wrong religion and not relationship. What God wants is that we keep inquiring of him remain connected to him listening to his ongoing instructions which change from circumstance to circumstance. When the Philistines came the second time, God changed the strategy. David was to circle around them and only attack after hearing the sound of marching in the tree tops. God is not a set of principles but a God of relationship which unfolds in the history with his people.
Therefore, we appreciate that God chose the Jews first as his special people and then in due course reached out through them to all people. This is the kind of God we worship. We have a history with him a relationship.
I come to a close. Jesus was a Jew and the message of salvation is Jewish coming out of Gods history with the Jews and now with us the Gentiles. This is not to shock us but help us understand our faith. Take hold of him. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah the Christ our Passover lamb. Amen.
 Rev Tony Higton.
 Cf. Peter von der Osten-Sacken: Martin Luther und die Juden.
 Romans 1:1-6: Christ Jesus [Gods] Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead Through him and for his names sake, we received grace to call people from among all the Gentiles [all those that are not Jews] to the obedience that comes from faith. And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ