In this final post I wish to ask the question: What does this mean for the Church today?
I will contend that the Sabbath is indeed an abiding provision. The fulfillment has begun in Jesus, and it continues through the present day. The Sabbath was fulfilled in Jesus, but not abolished by Him. It is through the work of God’s people that the fulfillment of the Sabbath continues. What might this mean?
First, just as communion reminds us of what God through Christ has done for us, so also, the Sabbath is a reminder that God has rescued us. In addition, just as taking communion looks forward to the eternal banquet in God’s kingdom, so also, practicing the Sabbath looks forward to the eternal rest awaiting us. Practicing the Sabbath reminds us that God has set us free from slavery. In fact, to not practice the Sabbath is to reject the notion that God had rescued us. It is a flagrant denial of the fact that we were in slavery and have been set free.
Secondly, a theology of the Sabbath means that we are to recognize the holiness of the day. This is best done in the weekly gathering of God’s people. For those who work on a Sunday maybe it means attending a weekly Bible study or some form of corporate fellowship, worship, and study.
Thirdly, we can rest and take time off weekly, because God is our source. The Sabbath reminds us that God’s economy does not follow the economics of the world. God blesses His people because they are obedient and because they practice justice. It is the economics of the kingdom of this world that begs us to work too much. In taking a day off each week, we are living out the Kingdom of God and confirming He is Lord and will provide. Consequently, we can take a day off each week to worship and serve the true King of kings. In doing so, we have no concerns about wealth—losing income or productivity—because our King reminds us that He is the provider. Practicing the Sabbath is a weekly reminder that God is in control.
Finally, to practice the Sabbath means to ensure that justice is done. This means that we are not engaging in activities that foster inequity and that we are actively seeking to eradicate injustice. Boy did I just opened up a can of worms! Having a kingdom ethic and engaging in kingdom practices means that we must ask the tough questions and put the answers into practice.
 I highly recommend the very challenging book by Richard Foster, The Freedom of Simplicity.
In Luke 13, Jesus heals a woman who was crippled by an evil spirit for eighteen years. The problem, at least from the perspective of the local synagogue official, was that the healing took place on the Sabbath. The official remarks to the people, “There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day” (Luke 13:14). His statement has a clear allusion to Deuteronomy 5:13: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work.”
Now it must be understood that the official’s complaint seems reasonable. The woman could have found Jesus the next day. After all, if she has been troubled by this spirit for eighteen years, then what is one more day? And if healing someone is indeed a work, and there is no absolute standard to say that it is or it isn’t, then Jesus’ healing was a violation of the Sabbath.
What many Christians attempt to do at this point is to justify Jesus’ actions on the basis that healing someone is not “work” and, therefore, He didn’t violate the Sabbath. Is this, however, the best way to read the passage? Was Jesus quibbling with them over the definition of “work.”? No. In fact, His reply seems to suggest that He was working, but so were they.
On another occasion, Jesus unequivocally acknowledges that He was working on the Sabbath. The Gospel of John notes, that “the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath” (John 5:16). Jesus, then, replies, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (John 5:17). Instead of quibbling over what is work and what is not work, Jesus’ defense is that they do not understand the purpose of the Sabbath.
Thus, in Luke 13:15-16, Jesus replies to the official, “You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him? And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:15-16).
Note that Jesus’ reply alludes to Deuteronomy 5:14—recall that the synagogue official had cited Deuteronomy 5:13 in his exhortation to the people. Jesus was, in effect, saying that he should have kept reading. After all, according to Deuteronomy 5:14, the Sabbath also applies to one’s ox, donkey, and cattle: “but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle.” Jesus is pointing out that they were willing to untie a donkey and lead it out to water on the Sabbath so that it may drink—something that was not life-threatening. If they are able to do so for an animal, and the Sabbath applies to their animals, then shouldn’t He be able to set this woman free on the Sabbath?
Now, if Jesus were merely arguing, “well, I am working but so are you,” the official might well respond by acknowledging: “yeah, you got us. We probably shouldn’t be leading our animals to drink on the sabbath. Thanks for pointing out our inconsistency.” This would leave Jesus in a corner. He would then have to submit to the Sabbath regulations that prohibit work; including healing. Clearly there is something more going on in Jesus’ argumentation. And discerning such, will help us determine our theology of the Sabbath.
Towards a theology of the Sabbath
In order to discern a theology of the Sabbath, we must first understand that the Sabbath was pointing us to Christ. Paul affirms this directly in Colossians 2:16-17, “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.”
In saying that the Sabbath was pointing us to Christ, we mean that the nature and purpose of the Sabbath finds its fulfillment in Jesus. It is important to note that in saying that the Sabbath finds its fulfillment in Jesus does not mean that it is eradicated. Instead, it means that the very purpose for which the Sabbath was established finds its fulfillment in Jesus. What, then, is the purpose of the Sabbath? Is it not simply a day for rest? The answer is that the Sabbath is much more than that!
The key for understanding what Jesus was doing in healing on the Sabbath, as well as, for our understanding of the nature and purpose of the Sabbath, and, consequently, for our discerning a theology of the Sabbath is that the Sabbath rest is a matter of justice. The Sabbath, along with the rest of the ten commandments, was established in accord with creating an economy of justice. All one has to do to understand this point is to ask: who wants the workers to work seven days a week: the owners of the field, or the workers in the field? The Sabbath was established in order to protect those who were most likely to be exploited: namely, the working class.
That the Sabbath was intended to create an economy of justice—i.e., it was designed to protect those who were most vulnerable—is why, after the Sabbath law is stated in Deuteronomy 5:14, the next verse reminds them that they were slaves in Egypt: “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day” (Deut 5:15). The Sabbath, then, is a way of saying “you will not exploit your workers; after all, you should remember what it was like when you were exploited.” The Sabbath law, then, points us to the time when injustices and oppression will cease!
 It is intriguing that the official does not address Jesus.
 The plural “hypocrites” suggests that Jesus was addressing more than just the official.
I was recently having dinner in Jerusalem. Our group had just arrived that day from various part of the States. Though many of the people at the table knew each other from previous relationships, I was just getting to know most everyone at the table. The group decided that we should go around the table and introduce ourselves: tell about our family, etc. Then, they suggested, we had to answer any questions the group wanted to ask over the next three minutes (yeah, they were mostly younger and more adventurous people).
When it came to my turn, I gave the generic info about myself, my wife Toni, and our four kids. (Okay so I probably bragged a little about my family. Okay, a lot). Anyway, during the three minutes of questioning I was asked, “what is the greatest advice you would give you’re your kids?” I replied, fairly quickly, “never be afraid of the truth.”
Now, I must admit that I was a bit surprised by the responses of the others at the table. They were taken aback—in a good way. At was as if I had just given the greatest answer in world history (okay, maybe not the greatest answer, but one of the top ten—or top one hundred). The questions then followed, “what do you mean by that?” “Why would you say that?”
As a Christian, I would state emphatically, that Jesus is the Truth (John 14:6). This is a pillar of my faith. He is not merely the source of truth. He is the Truth. All truth resides in Christ (Colossians 2:3).
Because of this conviction, I believe that all truth will only point me to Christ. If I am in error on something, then, ultimately, I have a weakened understanding of Christ. I need to be corrected and aligned with Christ. (fortunately, this for me this doesn’t happen very often! Maybe I should have said, “hypothetically, if I were in error”!). Yet, I believe that we tend to live in fear of truth. We shelter ourselves (though some might object to this statement, I am convinced that it is far more correct then we are willing to admit).
But, if all truth leads me to Christ, then what am I to fear? I’ll tell you what we are to fear: we should fear being in error. Of course, we will never hold all truth. The sad reality is that some of what I believe now is wrong. I know this because I can tell you a long list of things I used to believe five, ten, and twenty years ago, that I now no longer believe. As a result, I am sure that some of the convictions I hold to now, will change also.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that we can’t know anything with certainty. Of course we can (in fact, to say we can’t is a self-refuting statement).
What I am saying is that it is our sacred responsibility to seek the truth. And, as a Christian, I have nothing to fear because all truth will only lead me to Christ. (Oh, how I wish I could stop this blog at this point. But I must say more).
Be forewarned: There is nothing easy with seeking the truth. For one, I have to be willing to admit that I was wrong. We don’t like this. Especially when it comes to issues that that annoying uncle holds to. I’d rather rot in a cave somewhere, than admit that he was right! Never being afraid of the truth means that I will have to face situations like this. What if that Republican, or Democrat, of Libertarian was right after all?
There is another difficulty that comes along with never being afraid of the truth. Namely, that truth always demands a life change. Now, I could always choose to go on living as I am and never face up to that change. That is what we do most of the time. But, if I admit to the truth, then I have to admit that I am not living consistently with what I know.
For example, let’s say that I am a smoker. I could just deny that smoking is harmful. Or, I could try to avoid the question. Or, I could minimize the hazards of smoking. The fact is, however, if I agree that God has given me a responsibility to care for my body, and if smoking is bad (i.e., it is deadly), then I must confront the fact that I should stop smoking—of course, you might say, “many things are harmful and we all do them, this is just my weakness.” (now some of you are probably thinking, “preach it brother.” While others are upset, or frustrated, or wanting to object). (PS whether you quit smoking or not is up to you. I am just using it as an illustration).
The list goes on. If I know that going to church is important to spiritual growth, and I believe that spiritual growth is what Christ calls me to, then I need to change my life and make church attendance a priority. If I know that I should stop (fill in the blank here), or start (fill in the blank here), then I should change my life accordingly.
The problem is huge. The fact is, we simply don’t want to change. We like things the way they are. So, we ignore truth. We deny truth. We resist truth. We spend time, money, and great effort to reinforce our convictions as to what truth is. We bully the other. We demonize the other. We silence the other. We do whatever is necessary to maintain our convictions as to what the truth is and our comfortable way of life.
Now, most of you have read this blog and thought, “well, that is interesting.” Many of you will find this helpful. And that is good. You see, I wasn’t too edgy here. I didn’t challenge you on issues that you hold dearly. I used smoking and church attendance as my illustrations. But what if I used __________ as illustrations? Would your attitude have changed? I hope not. But, let’s be honest, we have core convictions that we don’t want challenged. And then Jesus comes along and says, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).
I would like to reiterate that my blog and facebook blog posts are intended to address Christians. My tag line is “Challenging the Church to be the Church.”
In recent weeks I have posted a number of comments on my facebook blog page about the refugee crisis. I am somewhat grieved by the Christians who are contentious on this matter. One of the primary mistakes people are making in their responses is the failure to divorce their responsibilities as Christians from their nations concerns.
One person honestly asked about the need to balance the love of Christ with the need for security. Here is my response:
My response is not just for you but for the many who might read this. I would simply say that sometimes the balance you ask about involves a risk. Though I personally don't think that part of the equation (the risk issue) is our (i.e., the Church’s) responsibility. Our job is to love like Jesus. The nation’s job is to maintain national security. And the US has one of the most extensive vetting processes already in place. But if they choose to close the borders because Christians are telling them to do so, then we have a problem.
Christians should be advocating love towards everyone! Period. Sure, we all take the personal responsibility to lock our doors, etc. But to shut them and not let them in: ever?
The entire Bible (OT/NT) is a story about refugee people! We are “strangers and exiles on the earth” (Heb 11:13). Jesus told parables about welcoming the refugees. He says, "I was a stranger and you let me in" (Matt 25:35). Jesus Himself was a refugee—remember the Christmas story how they fled to Egypt because Herod wanted to kill Him? The early Christians were refugees after Saul began to hunt them down. Christians over the centuries have been refugees!
So, where is the Church now? Are we hiding behind our western comforts? Sleeping in warm beds and homes while our brothers and sisters are struggling to survive? Are we content and well fed while our brothers and sisters go hungry? Are we amusing ourselves with all the luxuries of the western world, while our brothers and sisters flee? I could go on for a long while with Scripture after Scripture (OT and NT) that commands that we take them in! Love our neighbor; love the alien within our midst; They will know we are Christians by our love; etc. Why are we as Christians more concerned about political argumentation and our nation’s self-interest than we are our responsibilities toward the refugee?
(Note: I am not saying that we don't have the responsibility to our families and our neighbors to be wise. Neither am I saying that a nation shouldn’t do what is right for its national interests. Nor, am I saying that nations do not have the responsibility to protect its citizens. In fact, I am not addressing how a nation responds!)
Instead, I am speaking as a pastor and a leader in the Church. I am speaking as a scholar and a teacher. I think I know the Word a little. And the Scriptures I read are unambiguous on this one. What I am saying, then, is that for the Church the command to love trumps these in times like this. Love the Refugee. “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb 13:2).
Lord, Jesus, have mercy on your Church, that we might give mercy to the world.
“Seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and His ears are open to their cry” (Psalm 34:14b-15)
My heart is broken.
I just returned from a dynamic conference hosted by the Telos Group in Wash DC focusing on bringing peace to the Middle East and the Holy Land in particular. The platform of Telos is to be Pro-Israeli, Pro-Palestinian, and Pro-peace. The gathering was of high-powered religious and political leaders from around the world along with social activists and human rights leaders.
During the three days we heard the heroic stories of the likes of Jeremy and Jessica Courtney who are risking their lives to bring life-saving heart surgeries to the children of Iraq. We listened to the cries for peace from Daoud Nassar, Roni Keidar, and Jamal Shehade; a Palestinian, an Israeli, and an Arab-Israeli who live out this conflict as a part of their daily lives and work tirelessly to promote peace across borders. We were inspired by the transformative work of Rev. Traci Blackmon who was instrumental in bringing diverse groups together to work for peace in Ferguson, Missouri. And we were briefed by high level world leaders on the status of peace in the Holy Land.
And my heart was broken.
My heart was broken because despite all the efforts of these dynamic people to work for peace, peace has not merely alluded us; it has fled. While families on both sides of this conflict, who want nothing more than what we have—namely, peace, safety, and opportunities of education, employment, and hope for their children—continue to struggle for daily subsistence, the powers that be continue to be thwarted when it comes to brokering peace.
My heart was broken because we were made all too aware that the sun is setting on the prospects of peace—in fact, it may have already set. And when peace fades, hope will soon follow.
My heart was broken because as I sat there those three days I knew deep within that this conflict has been exacerbated by the theological views of some within the western evangelical church.
My heart is broken because I know that a major step in bringing peace is to awaken the evangelical church and I worry that there is simply not enough time to arouse this sleeping giant. The fact is that the conditions on the ground are beyond desperate. When you remove the prospects of peace from this tinder box, and with it hope, the likelihood of an increase in violence, which tragically has already begun, increases exponentially.
The Role of the Evangelical Church
The evangelical church acknowledges that Jesus is the prince of peace. It affirms a call to advocate for justice and to love their enemies. At the same time, among some segments of evangelicalism, there is a running eschatological (“end times”) conviction, which has gained widespread traction, that actually promotes conflict in Middle East. They consider such conflict as evidence of the imminent return of Jesus. As a result, when it comes to peace in the Holy Land, many become apathetic.
“Why work for peace in the Middle East when the Bible says it won’t happen.” “Only the return of Jesus can end this conflict.” “The Bible says that there will be ‘wars and rumors of wars’ and that ‘such things must happen.’” From popular proponents like John Hagee and Pat Robertson, this rhetoric tragically pervades many communities within the evangelical world.
So, as I sat through session after session in DC, my heart was broken. I met people from both sides of this dreadful conflict who desperately want peace. And, yet I knew that one of the most significant obstacles for the peace that they so desperately need lies in the hands of the evangelical church.
(some of you may wonder what I mean by this comment, or question it outright. Simply put, politics always flows downstream from culture. I have attended a number of Congressional dinners as part of these conferences in Washington DC. Every time the congressmen who come let it be known that they cannot flow against the current of culture which staunchly advocate for one side and against the other in this conflict. It is not just that these political figures want to keep their jobs. They are often acting from a genuine sense of duty and a responsibility to be faithful to their constituents. As a result, if a large percentage of the voters who elected them favor one side over against another in the Holy Land, then their hands are somewhat tied.)
God causes the growth
So, is there any hope? Not as far as we can tell. The desperate situation on the ground appears to have moved beyond a political resolution.
But, then, I am reminded of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Paul says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (1 Cor 3:6).
Maybe we are to continue to press forward all the while clinging to this truth. After all, He is the One who is building His church. He is the One who is the Prince of Peace.
So, I ask you to join with me in pressing forward and pursuing the peace that Christ calls us to. As the Psalmist says, “Seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and His ears are open to their cry” (Psalm 34:14b-15).
You can begin by gaining an understanding of this conflict and the role of God’s people in bringing justice and crying out for the oppressed. For the sake of those on both sides, let us help to wake up the Church.
Blood Brothers, by Elias Chacour
Understanding Eschatology, by Rob Dalrymple
These Brothers of Mine: A Biblical Theology of Land and Family and a Response to Christian Zionism, by Rob Dalrymple
I saw a child this week. He was a cute little guy. Maybe 3 years old.
But I was grieved when I saw him. His mom was about 21. She clearly looked at this cute young child as a hindrance. And I am sure that in many ways he was. This poor child, however, was growing up in an environment in which love was not being modelled to him (now, I hope I am wrong about this child. After all, I only saw him briefly. But, nonetheless, I am sure that I am right in regards to many children like him).
I was also grieved because of where I saw this child. We were at the county jail. He was apparently going to see his dad. Three years old and he was already being exposed to the harshness of life.
Now, I know what you might be thinking—because I used to think this way. You see, I used to blame the parents. “If they wouldn’t have had illicit sex then he wouldn’t have been born into such harsh surroundings.” “If his dad didn’t commit crimes then his mom wouldn’t have to work all those hours to provide for him by herself and then to spend here off time visiting his dad in prison.”
The problem, as I am only beginning to learn, is that this child is growing up in an environment in which all the odds were cast against him. As a result, what are the odds that he will learn to make good choices? What are the odds that he will overcome all this? Unfortunately, the statistics are not good.
So, we can blame the parents, right?
But, what if his parents grew up in an environment just like him? What if they never had love modelled to them? What if they too were raised as a hindrance to their mom and dad’s aspirations? What if their parents couldn’t go to school because they had to work endlessly to provide for their kids?
I am learning that it is easy for me to judge them. I can warn them not to have illicit sex. But I grew up in a home in which I was loved. What if these young girls cannot find love anywhere else, so they turn to sex? That doesn’t make it right. But, this is all they have.
My question, then, is where is the Church? Are we looking for ways to provide love to these families? To support them and help the parents through school? To love such kids and give them hope?
This year the session (ruling board) at my church has decided that we should focus our attention on “Thy Kingdom Come” (sometimes that King James English just needs to come out). Sounds great. I personally wish that Christ’s Kingdom were here. Now! I want it now! (reminds me of the girl in the new Willie Wonka Movie who bratishly—yes, that is a word: after all, I can make up words if I want because I have a PhD!—says, “but, daddy, I want it now”). That’s the point. We really want the Kingdom and we want it now!
What is God waiting for? Why is He taking so long? I mean it has been two thousand years (well, almost). One of the problems we have with this line of questioning (which many of us are guilty of) is that it begins and ends with a poor understanding of the Kingdom.
The problem is simple. Many of us have been taught that the Kingdom is wholly spiritual. After all, it is the Kingdom of heaven, right? Because of this we have concluded that the spiritual (heaven) is good and the physical (earth) is—well—not as good; or, for some it is bad.
This leads us to a problem. This sort of thinking tells us that only spiritual things really matter. Life itself, however, tells us something different. After all, we need to eat, drink, sleep, work, etc., in order to live.
What many Christians tend to do at this point is to try to live in these two worlds at the same time. One world is the Mon-Sat world. For many, this is the real world. We live, eat, and breathe in this world. The other world is then some sort of spiritual world—the Sunday world. This is the world of religion and spirituality. In this world, we pray and go to church. (Pastors often get befuddled as to how to get their parishioners more involved in the life of the Church: how to get them to pray more; give more; learn more; do more. This conflict will continue, however, as long as we allow ourselves to live as though there really are these two worlds).
The problem here is that this thinking stems from a poor understanding of the Kingdom. Think about it: Is it not true that God is the creator of ALL things (Col 1:16)? Is it not true that through Jesus God is reconciling “to himself ALL things, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (Col 1:20)?
Here’s my point. If God is Lord of all, then the Kingdom of God is not some spiritual thing that is detached from the world. Jesus is Lord Monday through Saturday too! This means that working, being in fellowship with others, resting, eating, and praying are all spiritual acts. After all, Adam and Eve worked in the Garden (Gen 2:15); they had fellowship in the Garden; and, they ate in the Garden. Such acts, then, are part of God’s eternal plan. They are not just things we do in this world until someday we escape it. They are all part of God’s kingdom, which are in need of being redeemed and restored.
What does this have to do with Thy Kingdom Come? Everything. The ECO (which is our denomination) document on the Church says, “Before the foundation of the world, God set a plan of mission to reconcile the world to Himself and chose to use the Church as His instrument of reconciliation. It is incumbent upon all members of the body of Christ to participate in the work of building one another up in Christ and be deployed for His work in the world” (ECO Polity 8).”
Therefore, instead of us sitting back and waiting for the Kingdom of God to come, we have been commanded by God to be the agents through which God brings His kingdom. We must learn to view our jobs from a kingdom perspective. We must learn to view our relationships from a kingdom perspective. We must learn to enjoy our food from a kingdom perspective (a kingdom perspective with regard to food would begin by acknowledging God for His provision and would include our recognition of others who may be in need of food). As we do this, the Kingdom of God comes!
Next, we must begin to look at the world around us and realize that it too is in desperate need of being reconciled to God! For, the Kingdom of God comes when we care for the broken in this world. This includes the broken people who need to see that Christ loves them and wants to redeem and restore them. It also includes the brokenness of the creation. After all, God created mankind to care for His creation (Gen 2:15).
In one sense, we have no other options. We cannot say “Thy Kingdom Come” and do nothing. We must do something about the lack of peace in our church, neighborhoods, and the world. We must do something about the children starving in our church, neighborhoods, and the world. We must do something about the brokenness of families in our church, neighborhoods, and the world. And of course, we must do something about the lostness within our neighborhoods and the world.
Thy Kingdom Come is a charge for us to get busy!
Oh. One last thing. We must do all of this with joy in our hearts. After all, we are children of the King and we will get to eat at His table forever!
This is an easy one. No. Unequivocally. Emphatically. Unquestioningly. Unhesitatingly. No. To be anti-Semitic is to be unchristian.
I am also not anti-Palestinian (many of whom ironically are Semitic); nor am I anti-Jew; nor anti-Muslim; nor anti-US. Nor anti-anything! I suppose one might suggest that I am anti-anti—and therefore, I am anti-something.
But let’s take this a little further. It is commonly asserted that to criticize Israel’s behavior towards the Palestinians is to be anti-Semitic. And the world is rightly cautious of anti-Semitism being only three generations removed from one of the greatest crimes against humanity in the holocaust. Understandable.
But I would assert that if you truly love someone, then you will hold them accountable for their actions. To turn a blind eye toward the ill behavior of anyone is unloving. The author of Hebrews notes: ‘for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness’ (Heb 12:7-11)
To love someone, then, means that you believe that they are a being of value. And as such they need to be held accountable for their actions. The child that is not held accountable for their actions will only continue on the path of their destructive behavior—and this to their own detriment!
Therefore, to call attention to Israel’s behavior towards the Palestinians is to love Israel and the Palestinians (and I would add the US). It is also then an act of love on our part to reach out to those Christians who are blindly supporting Israel and in effect helping to perpetuating this conflict. They need to understand the serious harm that is occurring as a result of such views: harm to both Israel and Palestine, as well as to the people themselves—some of whom are our Christian brothers and sisters.
Therefore, it is, in actually, those who are advocating for the unquestioning support of Israel, and who turn their backs on the injustices perpetrated by the state of Israel, that are acting in an unloving manner towards Israel.
The answer to the title of this article should be clear. We should not bless any nation, or even any person for that matter, unquestioningly. We don’t bless our own children when they do wrong. So, why should we bless a nation regardless of their behavior? Furthermore, to bless our own children even when they do wrong is to hate them. For to do so, would be to teach them that they can do wrong without consequences. This is not love.
Love acknowledges that one is made in the image of God and knows better. We don’t hold people accountable for their actions only when we deem that they didn’t know better, or that they were unable to do better. But the nation of Israel knows better and they are able to do better. Thus, regardless of our view of Israel and prophecy we cannot simply endorse unquestioningly the behavior of Israel. To suggest that ethnic Israel is still a part of God’s plan and, thus, we must bless them regardless of what they do is fundamentally against Scripture.
For one, the prophets taught that election alone was not sufficient, but that they must do justice. Israel was never immune from God’s judgment: “You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth; Therefore, I will punish you for all your iniquities” (Amos 3:2). The Israelites who were not obedient to God’s law were not blessed. Thus, the unfaithful Israelites died in the wilderness. And those who didn’t put blood on their doorposts also lost their firstborn. This is the entire basis for the OT covenant—and the essence of any covenant relationship. If Israel wants to receive the blessings of the covenant then they must obey the covenant (Deut 27-30).
Thus, if Israel doesn’t obey the covenant then they will never receive the blessings of the covenant; but only the curses! This is fundamental to the OT and the nature of God. “But if you do not obey Me and do not carry out all these commandments, if, instead, you reject My statutes, and if your soul abhors My ordinances so as not to carry out all My commandments, and so break My covenant, I, in turn, will do this to you: I will appoint over you a sudden terror, consumption and fever that shall waste away the eyes and cause the soul to pine away; also, you shall sow your seed uselessly, for your enemies shall eat it up. And I will set My face against you so that you shall be struck down before your enemies; and those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when no one is pursuing you. If also after these things, you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins” (Lev 26:14-18). (we could cite dozens of verses like this).
Leviticus goes on the say (as does Deuteronomy; which forms the basis for the books of Joshua-Kings), that the land will ‘spew’ them out if they are unfaithful (Lev 18:28; 20:22). Now, if God kicked them out of the land when they did not obey His covenant, which included justice to the foreigner (Lev 19:33 “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong”), then why should we turn our face from what modern day Israel is doing?—or even attempt to justify it by the supposed fact that they are God’s chosen people? God never unquestioningly blesses Israel regardless of their behavior: so why should anyone suggest that suddenly we must do so? In fact, if we love Israel we will not let them get away with injustice, because will punish them.
Secondly, even if we thought that Israel was to be restored to the land, we must also recognized that they are still to be held to standards of justice. This is unquestioningly the message of the prophets. They repeatedly affirm, “Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free, And break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry, And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isa 58:6-7). If a prophet were to hear his people respond, ‘But, Israel is God’s chosen race!’ I think that would have torn out their hair and cried! For, even if they are still God’s people, then this would only serve the point more forcefully: for as the people of God they know better and are accountable for their actions.
Now we must be very careful to call injustice for what it is. And we must never support it. For, just as God held the Israelites accountable, so too will He hold His Church accountable. This is the point. For, even if we were to conclude that there is a future for ethnic Israel in God’s plan, that does not mean that we should endorse everything they do.
I am very fearful that many Christians are so concerned to support Israel because of their conviction of a divine commandment to do so, that they are unwilling to see injustice for what it is. Have we looked at the face of injustice and concluded, ‘but they are God’s chosen people’? But the displacement of people is wrong. Demolishing their homes and stealing their lands and depriving them of human dignity is wrong! And when wrong happens God’s people must call it wrong. We must be a voice for those who are suffering. Especially when those who are suffering includes Christians!
In fact, if we believe in the covenant faithfulness of God, then we must not suppose that He will excuse the NT people of God when they commit (or permit) injustice. We too will be held accountable before Him. Psalm 82 still speaks for the heart of God: ‘How long will you judge unjustly And show partiality to the wicked? Vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked’ (Ps 82:2-4)
Thus, when someone says that they think it is dangerous to not support Israel, I think they are missing two important factors. First, to support Israel is to love them (regardless of whether they are chosen or not; as we are to love all people). To love them is to not allow them to get away with injustice. To do so is to allow them to fall under the condemnation of God. This position is far more loving toward Israel. Secondly, to support Israel at all costs and to allow them to suppress and oppress the people of Palestine, some of whom are Christians, is to place oneself under the judgment of God—who always sides with His people when they are the oppressed (again, please recognize that we do not intend to suppose that the Palestinians are innocent in all matters. They too have committed crimes. Nor, do we suppose that Israel is not justified in some of their acts. They do have a right to defend themselves. But we must acknowledge that Israel has perpetrated crimes against the Palestinians and are breaking numerous international laws).
I am somewhat amazed by the apathy of many in the Church towards matters of injustice and in particular the injustices with the Israel/Palestine conflict. Some respond with the supposition that this conflict has been going on for thousands of years (not true—it goes back no longer than a century): so, these Christians inquire, why should we think that we can solve it? Others suggest that we should only be involved in spiritual matters and not politics.
How might we respond?
Wow! Can we really sweep this entire issue under the carpet and assume that God will allow us to remain uninvolved since we are attending to spiritual matters? (ironically many who put forth these sentiments advocate vociferously for various political stances that take a very strong line towards this issue. So, on the one hand, they suggest that we must stay out of politics, and, on the other hand, they radically support a political position that has major irons in the political fire). Allow me to note three points in response.
First, the suggestion that this is a political issue that should not affect the Church, which should be engaged in spiritual matters, is a statement of profound misunderstanding. This conception is reflective of a modernist worldview that has greatly impacted the church’s thinking in many such ways. We have dealt with this in other essays so we will not take the space here to do so. But let it be noted that this is a highly unbiblical, secular worldview that seeks to place into separate realms, in manners that contravene Scripture, the physical and the spiritual (this is the same reasoning used by the secular scientific world that suggests that science and religion are separate spheres that do not overlap. The secular world might be able to reason this way, but the Church cannot).
Secondly, the Bible is very political. The Gospel of Mark begins, “the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). This opening is a highly politicized statement that confronted Rome in every regard. In 9 BC, the word gospel was used to announce the birth of Caesar Augustus: ‘a son of a god’ (Augustus’ adopted father, Julius Caesar, was proclaimed god after his death; making Augustus ‘a son of a god’). Mark instead contends that Jesus’ birth is the Gospel of ‘THE Son of THE God.’ Mark’s opening is a direct assault on the claims of the Roman emperor. And wasn’t Jesus crucified for being a King! To say that His kingdom is not of this world, also fails to understand the nature of His Kingdom; which is one in which all the kingdoms of the world will bow (Dan 2 and Dan 7). We could go on with Moses before the Pharaoh; Daniel before the Kings of Babylon; Paul before Caesar, all of whom confronted the political powers of the day on behalf of the people of God. Shall we now reject Martin Luther King Jr as someone who transcended his spiritual responsibilities? Or what about William Wilberforce? Was not their political engagement the means by which these men, and countless others, demonstrated their witness to the world. That is, they attended to spiritual matters precisely by confronting the political powers.
Martin Luther King said, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority. If the church does not participate actively in the struggle for peace and for economic and racial justice, it will forfeit the loyalty of millions and cause men everywhere to say that it has atrophied its will. But if the church will free itself from the shackles of a deadening status quo, and, recovering its great historic mission, will speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice and peace, it will enkindle the imagination of mankind and fire the souls of men, imbuing them with a glowing and ardent love for truth, justice, and peace. Men far and near will know the church as a great fellowship of love that provides light and bread for lonely travelers at midnight.”
Thirdly, this is a Church issue, in which Christians, who are caught on both sides, are suffering greatly—especially as a result of the occupation of Palestine. I have argue in These Brothers of Mine that in the Gospel of Matthew the phrases ‘brothers of mine’ and ‘least of these’ are used always for followers of Jesus—indeed the phrase ‘Least of these’ in Matthew without exception refers to disciples (Matt: 10:42; 18:6, 10, 14; 5:19; 11:11) and ‘brothers of mine’ throughout Matthew always indicates followers of Christ (5:22-24, 47; 7:3-5; 12:48-50; 18:15, 21, 35; 23:8; 28:10). From this I believe that we should conclude that Jesus is affirming that whatever we do to Christians we do to Him. And if we do not meet the needs of the Church, then we are not meeting the needs of Christ! It is at this point that I don’t think that Christians have you seen the force of what Jesus is saying. The point is that when Jesus returns, according to Matthew’s account, He will separate the sheep from the goats and the primary factor as to which side we are on is how we treat the body of Christ (this of course does not mean that our treatment of unbelievers is irrelevant; only that our primary responsibility is towards the body of Christ).
This is a fundamental principle in Scripture. For example, in 1 John we see the reiteration throughout the letter that we must love ‘one another’ (1 John 3:10, 11, 14, 16, 23—throughout this section John clearly has the Church in view). This point also corresponds with the message of Revelation. For, in Revelation one of the major themes is that the dragon wages war against God (Rev 12-13; esp 13:6). He does so, not by fighting God, for that would be futile, but by attacking God’s children (Rev 13:6)! And, in Revelation, God’s children are not the race of ethnic Jews, but they are the followers of Jesus. Hence, Rev 12 says that the dragon pursued the “offspring of the woman”, who are then defined as those “who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (Rev 12:17).
So then we must decide if we are to be involved in what is indeed an issue with political implications. To do so in favor of justice and the Christians who are suffering is to side with Christ. To not do so, or to advocate for the oppressor, is to side with the dragon. We have no choice here!
Furthermore, it is also a Church issue because the Church has been involved in politics! Evangelical Christians and their view that Israel is the chosen people of God whom we must bless at all costs (see my posts ‘Do we bless Israel unquestioningly’ and ‘Loving Israel means to hold them to standards of Justice’), have influenced greatly US foreign policy on this matter. That is, we have been involved in politics by supporting Israel unquestioningly and by affecting US foreign policy in the Middle East. US tax payers have given over $100 billion to the state of Israel. We are largely funding this conflict. The nature of a democracy is such that the ultimate responsibilities for the nation’s actions lie with the people. As a result we are engaged politically and we are supporting the injustices against the Palestinians, some of whom are Christians. Now, we have rightly condemned the Palestinians when they commit crimes against Israel. But why don’t we condemn Israel when they commit atrocities against humanity? Because we are not to be engaged in political matters but only spiritual matters? I am not sure that I would encourage anyone to espouse such a notion.
Therefore, we must stand up for our brothers and sisters in Christ and care for them. Period. Always. To not do so is to deny the Gospel. To not stand up for our brothers and sisters in Christ is to stand opposed to Jesus. For whatever we do to His followers we do to Him.
To say that we cannot bother ourselves with politics is both naïve and in this instance dangerous.