When I was growing up, I understood what it meant to be a Jew. It meant we had our own holidays that were different from our Christian neighbors, but we respected each other. They had their holidays and we had ours. I went to after school Hebrew School with other Jewish kids, and the Catholics went to their after school programs from their church. When we got together with family, my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins were all Jewish. When we went to Synagogue, we got together with other Jewish people, whose parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins were also all Jewish. We were the Jews, and other people were not. We ate bagels and lox on Sunday mornings, and my Uncle Sam would drop by and hang out with us all day, while my grandmother would sit at the kitchen table telling family stories.
Nobody else wanted to be Jewish in those days. It wasn’t more than 15-20 years after the holocaust. What made us most noticeably different was that we got off from school on our holidays, when the other kids had to go. I have warm memories of walking home from Shul on the High Holidays with my grandfather.
When I became Messianic, it was a very rare thing to be a Messianic Jew. We were a very small group of Jews who believed in Yeshua in a vast sea of Christians. When we started Messianic Jewish congregations, they were intended to be places we could belong and worship as Jews, where being a Jewish Yeshua follower was normal and we weren’t treated like oddities. Over time, non-Jews who wanted to be supportive of Messianic Jews and our vision joined with us and we were happy to have them.
The next wave of non-Jews overwhelmed us in numbers, so that today most Messianic Jewish congregations have a majority of non-Jews, and many of them complain we are making them to be second class citizens. I don’t make anyone second class. I do make a distinction between Jews and non-Jews, not because anyone is better than anyone else, but because a Jew is a Jew, and a non-Jew is not, just like when I was growing up.
Many of the non-jews I know, didn’t like feeling like second class citizens, and some said that theologically they are Jews by faith. They point to verses in the New Testament claiming they are “Children of Abraham by faith.” That’s fine, but it still does not make them Jews. In the Torah, Abraham speaks with God and he complains that he has no physical offspring to inherit the promises God gave him. In Genesis 15:2-4 it says, “But Abram said, “Lord GOD, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!” And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” ” Abraham was not looking for “spiritual” heirs, but physical ones. It’s great to be a child by faith, but not at the expense of dispossessing Abraham’s rightful heirs, his own flesh and blood.
Being Jewish was costly for our people. Many of our ancestors were killed over the centuries because they were Jews. They paid the ultimate price. Many of us suffered the insults and physical trauma of anti-Semitism because we are Jews. Many were shut out of jobs, and decent places to live because they were Jews. When non-Jews dress up in Talitot, and take on other Jewish symbols, its like they haven’t paid the price we paid, and it is as if they are just playing with our stuff. It’s hard for us to take it seriously.
I read a ministry newsletter a number of years ago and was appalled by an ad in it. It said, “Don’t leave your hard-earned money to godless relatives who will spend it on wasteful non-essentials. Leave your money to us, and let it be used for the Kingdom of God.” What bothered me about it, was they were seeking to dispossess people’s children of the inheritance they were entitled do have. When non-Jewish Yeshua followers claim to be spiritual Jews, and are at best no different from other Jews, and at worst, claim to have replaced the “physical Jews” as Abraham’s rightful heirs and children, they are in fact trying to usurp from Abraham’s children from what is rightfully theirs. Paul wrote in Romans 9:3-5 “… my brothers’ sake, my relatives according to the flesh,who are Israelites; whose is the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service, and the promises;of whom are the fathers, and from whom is Messiah as concerning the flesh, who is over all, God, blessed forever. Amen.”
Paul understood that the promises to the Jewish people were theirs. The covenants of the Jewish people are theirs, and the Messiah, is theirs, whether they understand him to be so or not. It is fine for the non-Jews to come along side us and share in the blessings of God. It is not fine to try to replace us, and claim we are not the rightful heirs, but they are. The fact is, someday, when Abraham looks for his children, he will be expecting to see a family resemblance.