Love, the enemy? Reconciliation in the Bible

 

A member of the Messianic congregation Maozisrael tells of his “saddest day in Israel” – the occasion: a Jewish demonstration in Ashdod, Israel against Messianic Jews in Israel:

Growing up as a Jew, I never in my life would have thought that I would one day be compared to Hitler. But that’s just what happened tonight. II was informed that there would be a ‘rally’ against Messianic Jews (Jews who believe that Yeshua is the promised Jewish Messiah) in the town of Ashdod, Israel…I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Maybe a few demonstrators? I was shocked by what was in place when I arrived. The Ashdod police had the entire street closed off. Police check-points stopped cars that wanted to enter the area. In front of the congregation were police barricades, a stage with a podium, a long table, with banners and signs that read: ‘Yad L’Achim’ (“The Hand of the Brothers”). I soon realized this was going to be some well organized hate-fest. Within half an hour the entire street was packed with hundreds and hundreds of ultra-orthodox men and boys dressed in black. Soon, ‘rabbi’ (I use that term very loosely) after rabbi took to the stage to condemn the plague that is Messianic Judaism. Missionaries, they called us. Then came the comparisons to Hitler. We’re here to destroy the Jewish people, to steal Jewish souls to lead all Jews away from Judaism and on and on and on.”

In the above event, hatred of Yeshua/Jesus is obviously the enemy. Harrowing and sad as such a situation is, one great advantage is that each side is clear about who the enemy is. What is often more inimical than hatred from outside is love from within – a very attractive love but a false love. Over the years I have had many conversations with “men of the cloth” on the Bible and Christian love. I summarise their views under relevant topics.

The inspiration of scripture

Much of the Bible is a record of primitive man’s progressive understanding of God, starting with a God of wrath and vengeance and culminating in the mercy and love of Jesus. The expression “Thus says the Lord,” which appears more than four hundred times in the Old Testament, is usually not the Lord speaking because, they argue, a God of love would never threaten or curse. Here are examples from the book of Jeremiah where “Thus says the Lord appears more than 30 times): Jeremiah 11:3 You shall say to them, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Cursed be the man who does not hear the words of this covenant.” Jeremiah 13:13 Then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord: Behold, I will fill with drunkenness all the inhabitants of this land: the kings who sit on David’s throne, the priests, the prophets, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” Jeremiah 14:15 Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name although I did not send them, and who say, ‘Sword and famine shall not come upon this land’: By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed.

With regard to the New Testament, these men say that Jesus definitely said:  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17). But , they also say that although Jesus, being love incarnate, might have said  “Whoever believes in him is not condemned” (John 3:18a), he could not have said something so unloving as “but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18b).

Jesus, they say, probably never said verse 3:18a either because love is not about believing in a set of abstract doctrines but about loving others. And Jesus definitely couldn’t have said 18b, they argue, because a God of love doesn’t condemn anybody.

Sacrifice

The idea that God would sacrifice Himself and in such a bloody manner is a primitive way to show His love. The idea that the Father would plan – even if with the Son’s cooperation, if there was such a person as the “Son of God” – that His Son would suffer such cruelty and anguish to propitiate the Father’s wrath against sinners who purportedly deserve eternal damnation; well, this is something that not even Old Testament barbarism ever conceived of. (Many of these men do not believe in God as a Trinity of persons). What, though, would these men make of God smiting, wounding, crushing his “suffering servant” (the Messiah) because of the sins of his people?

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? (Isaiah 53:4-8 ESV).”

The core of the Gospel

These men reject the core of the Gospel, which is:

  1. Christ taking upon Himself the punishment we deserved (His substitutionary death) and His bodily resurrection from the dead: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4 ESV).
  2. Christ will justify those who have faith (trust) in Christ “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). Those whom God justifies become reconciled to Him.
  3. Those who are reconciled to God will lead a holy life permeated with love for others. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14 ESV).

Relationships

Jesus came into the world, these men say, to smash through the barriers of animosity that separate human beings. The key biblical term “sin” is eschewed as another one of those man-made terms that are largely responsible for the division between human beings. The Bible, in contrast, does not say that the main point of Jesus’ incarnation is to smash through the barriers of human strife and, in so doing, reconcile man to man.

This is what the Bible says: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-19 ESV) – (“their,” of course, refers to anyone in the world who is in – believes in – Christ).

The Bible also teaches that those who stand up for the Gospel will be thought foolish. And no one was more aware of that than the Apostle Paul:I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things” (2 Corinthians 11:1-6 ESV).

“Men of the cloth” titter: “Paul, though it is true that you can stand proudly next to “these super-apostles,” it matters little because they, like you, think they have super-knowledge, but in truth all you have are super-imaginations.”

Final thoughts

Jesus says that the law can be summed up in two commandments:Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. [38] This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40 ESV). And:Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:9-11 ESV).

Many of these “men of the cloth” are products of liberal theology, which moved away from the vertical relationship between man and God to the horizontal relationship between man and man. Many of them emphasise the horizontal relationship because they observe that Christians are so devoted to the vertical relationship that they neglect the commandment that they should love others as much as they love themselves. They agree with the Apostle John (he must have really said this!): “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother (1 John 4:20-21 ESV). In other words, these men of the cloth say that love of God without love for man is love for an abstraction. No Christian worth his savour will disagree. If the only complaint of these liberal men of the cloth had to do with keeping the right balance between the two great commandments of love, then that’s very good. But it’s not just that – at all. It’s about intellects that consider themselves superior to the “imaginative fabrications” of not only the Old Testament and New Testament writers but also superior to the ratiocinations of Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and a Calvin. In a nutshell, it is they who will decide what is from God and what is from a Prophet or an Apostle. So, if God is not mainly about healing human relationships, they say, then such a God, cannot exist. Such a view of love is not in the Bible; it’s man-centred, world-centred, therefore man-made, and thus an enemy of the “Gospel of God” (Romans 1:1).

 

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