The Centrality of Yeshua
In my blogs for First Fruits of Zion, I will be addressing two different groups of people who often speak totally different languages: Messianic Gentiles and evangelical/mainstream Christians. This post is directed toward Messianic Gentiles.
One of the most challenging statements I ever heard addressed to a Messianic audience was this: "Maybe we need a little less 'Torah' and a little more 'Yeshua.'"
A lot of people were offended by that statement. Less Torah? Who does this guy think he is? Torah is wonderful! It's beautiful! It's important! It's inspired! Why would we want any less of it?
The speaker was Boaz Michael, and I was in the audience. I was startled at what I had heard. I've had a few years to reflect on his statement, though, and I have come to agree with him.
One of the functions of the Torah is to make its practitioners different. Moses told the Israelites before they went into the land:
See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today? (Deuteronomy 4:5-8)
The Torah was designed to make the Israelites different from all other nations. The world is supposed to be able to look at Israel and be amazed at the wisdom of God. The Torah sets Israel apart as distinct, unique, and holy. In Exodus 19:5-6 God states, "Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation."
Many Messianic Gentiles have taken the idea of separation and holiness very seriously. They have consciously made themselves look different from mainstream Christians. Many have gone further than this, though, in that they have prioritized the things which make them different, among all the other aspects of their faith - often, to the exclusion of other aspects of their faith. The result is that some things that are not really of central importance, like celebrating Chanukah instead of Christmas, become hills to die on. They are blown out of proportion. They are all some people ever talk about!
This unbalanced, out-of-order faith doesn't cause people to look at the Messianic world and praise it for its wisdom, and how great its statutes and rules are. Instead, it causes people to wonder how we have missed what is really important. Like the Pharisees, we have done really well at some things, but in the process, we have missed some of the things that are really central (Luke 11:42).
One of these central things is the person of Yeshua. Yeshua's life, mission, and teaching are absolutely central to our faith, whether Messianic or Evangelical or mainstream Protestant or Catholic or Orthodox--all of us have Yeshua at the very center of our belief system. If it weren't for Yeshua, we Gentiles wouldn't have the relationship with God, with the Torah, or with Israel that we enjoy today.
The central, most important commandments, according to Yeshua, are not the commandments of the holidays or of wearing tzitzit or any of the other "distinctives" of the Messianic faith. Instead, the greatest commandments are love of God and love of neighbor (Matthew 22:35-40). We are supposed to be loving; we are supposed to treat others the way we want to be treated. These are ideas all believers should be able to hold in common, and they should be absolutely central and a guiding force as we seek to incorporate the rest of what God has commanded us.
Not only Yeshua's teachings, but his person and identity as the living Word are core, foundational beliefs that should guide and direct our lives and our religious practice, regardless of our denomination or how we interpret and apply the Tanakh.
Many Messianic Gentiles may have to take a step back and reassess where Yeshua fits in their day-to-day walk. Is he of primary importance? Is he central? Or has he taken a back seat to a few of the more conspicuous commandments of the Torah, to holidays and food laws? Has Yeshua, our only connection to Israel and to the commandments of God, become secondary to the commandments themselves?
If we can get our priorities straightened out, and if we can get Yeshua back on the throne where he belongs, at the center of our faith, it will be much easier to get our message across to broader Christianity. Yeshua is our connection point, our common ground with broader Christianity. Christians want to know Yeshua better. They want to understand Yeshua. Messianic Jews and Gentiles have a unique, Biblically based, Yeshua-centered message that, when presented in an authentic way, poses no insurmountable problems for a committed Christian, because they can see that what they are learning is focused on the object of their faith, Yeshua the Messiah.
On the other hand, if all we have to communicate to people is a Leviticus 11 diet or a new set of holidays, people will miss the critical importance of our message. They will think we are trying to convert them to Judaism, instead of showing them the potential depth and richness of their own faith in Messiah. We will have failed to make that vital connection that helps people understand why the Torah is important.
In this way, taking a step back, taking the time to refocus, taking some of the time we have been spending in the Torah and using that time to revitalize our relationship with Yeshua, will actually lead to more people keeping more Torah, as we will be better equipped to bring Yeshua's message to the nations.
What do you think? Have you ever needed to refocus? Can you identify with needing to spend a little less time in the Torah so that you can spend a little more time with Yeshua?
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