I’ve been working on this class I’m teaching at Imago, my church, for the past month or so. I’m trying to get all of the leg-work done before I start Seminary classes in two weeks. The class is basically summarizing the entire Old Testament in 8 weeks: 39 books, 8 weeks. Obviously, I have to filter this information somehow. Thankfully, that’s already been skillfully done for me in a couple of books that I’ve already read.
Tonight, as I was working on my notes for this class and re-re-re-re-reading “Jesus Wants to Save Christians” by Rob Bell and Don Golden, I was struck by how Jewish Christianity is. It’s profoundly Jewish actually. In Exodus 19, God says something quite spectacular to the entire community of Hebrews in the wilderness at the base of Mount Sinai. He says:
“You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians (drowned them in the Red Sea), and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:4-6, parentheses and italics mine).
You saw what I have done for you, on your behalf, because you asked me to. Because of that, of all of the created things on earth, if you listen to and obey me, I will make you a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation”. Essentially, God is saying, “I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to enact the blessing that I promised to Abraham in human history. I want to show the world what I am like through you. I want you to be my body. I want you to live out the blessing. I want you to be different from everyone else, and in that, show them what I am actually like.”
Peter wrote something similar to this to the new Christian Jews who had been dispersed throughout the Roman Empire:
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you were once not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).
Peter was a Jew, writing to Jewish background Christians about their own plight as “resident aliens” in the Roman Empire. A “resident alien” is, basically, a Jew who has been re-located by the Empire to a non-Jewish city, who is permitted to participate in commerce (thus being higher than a slave), but unable to participate in government affairs or to receive the benefits of Roman citizenship. Alien, then, does not mean a visitor from another planet, or a person whose “citizenship” is in “heaven”, but rather one who is sub-citizen but more than a slave. To these “aliens”, Peter writes that they are priests, that they are holy, that they are a new people.
““When you go to a temple or shrine and you see the priest there – what they do, what they say about it, the rituals they perform – you get a sense for what their god cares about. So when God invites the people to be priests, it’s an invitation to show the world who this God is and what this God is like” (Bell, Jesus Wants to save Christians). When Peter tells the church that they are priests, he is indicating that they are the ones who are to show the world what God is like. That’s also what Moses was telling the Israelites in Exodus.
I’m beginning to think that we need to understand Judaism at its core, its best, in order to understand Christianity and the New Testament. Our faith was founded by and written about by Jews who followed Jesus. It’s no wonder that their understanding of faith was filtered through Judaism. And I think that, if we want to understand Jesus or the Bible, we need to understand what God has been up to all along. With that, I invite you to join the class that I am teaching at Imago on Sundays at 10am called “Kingdom Story 1”. Maybe we can learn something together.