There are many people who just don’t get Messianic Judaism. To them, Messianic Judaism is simply Christianity with a yarmulke and tallis. For Christians, they see it as an ethnic expression of the Church, no different from Black, Hispanic, or Asian churches. For Jews, they only see belief in Yeshua, so any attending Jewish expression is interpreted as either deception or misuse of Jewish sacred objects.
The reality is that Messianic Judaism is really not Christianity in the ecclesiastical sense. It doesn’t follow church customs or use the Christian religious calendar. Messianic Judaism does not celebrate Christmas or Easter. Rather, it celebrates Jewish holidays, observes shabbat and dietary laws, as our people have done since Sinai, and although we put our own understanding to them, its no different from other branches of Judaism that put their own modern interpretations to them.
The difference between Messianic Judaism and Christianity was driven home to me in the course of an internet discussion group with Christian leaders. They were discussing Israel, and some were pro-Israel and expressed love and support for the Jewish people, while others were ready to “throw Israel under the bus” to support the Arabs, claiming the State of Israel is not Godly and rejecting of Yeshua. Others still, said they believed Israel was loved by God, but “set aside,” for the sake of the Gentiles, until the return of Yeshua. I had a big problem with these views, because, aside from finding them deeply offensive, they either replaced Israel with themselves as God’s people, treating Israel as just another country, and Jewish people as just another people. That is not our belief. I was disgusted by their arrogance and self aggrandizing re-interpretation of Scripture.
Messianic Judaism affirms that the Jewish people, believing in Yeshua or not, have been, are, and will always be the chosen people of God. The only nation God ever linked His name to in Scripture is Israel, calling Himself, the God of Israel. Scripture tells us His promises to Israel are eternal, and extend to the sons of Jacob, the House of Israel, known today as the Jewish People. Those leaders of the church did not affirm this. To them, 2000 years of post-Yeshua Jewish history, a history of spirituality and suffering for being Jewish, was worthless. In their view, 2000 years of Jewish unbelief in Yeshua means Twenty centuries of Jews went to hell. I have to confess that the concept doesn’t sit well with me. For Yeshua to be the Messiah of Israel, he would have to be good for the Jews. If his coming resulted in twenty centuries of Jewish people going to hell, the bottom line is, he wasn’t very good for the Jews. Either he wasn’t the Messiah, or the doctrinal understanding is wrong. I believe the latter. Yeshua brings salvation, but is that the only reason to believe in Him; for something we get? I think we should believe in Him because he is the Messiah, and being in relationship to Him brings us closer to God, and increases our kavvanah, or spiritual connection with God.
What they don’t grasp, is the idea put forth by R. Kendall Soulen in his book, The God Of Israel In Christian Theology, that after the first century, the Jewish Yeshua was virtually unrecognizable as a Jew, and therefore, as the Messiah. Jewish rejection of Yeshua was not an act of infidelity towards Yeshua, as much as it was an act of fidelity towards His Father.
Jewish faith has always been real. Jews don’t pray to a false God, but to the God of Israel, the God of the Bible. It is precisely in this sense that Jews are different from gentiles. Without Yeshua, gentiles are pagan. It is only by their faith in Yeshua that they come into relationship with the God of Israel. Jewish people, without Yeshua, still have a valid covenant with God. Their faith is real faith. To explain this in Christian terms, they are believers in” the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor 11:31, Eph 1:3, I Peter 1:3, etc.). This means, when Jews pray, they are not praying to false gods, but to the One True God, the God of our fathers, the God of the Bible. Scripture says that God has NOT rejected His people whom he foreknew. The relationship is still there.
My introduction to God did not come from Christian sources, but Jewish. My mother, grandmother, and great grandmother believed in God and trusted in Him. My mother was the first person who ever told me that God loves me, and watches over our people. I do not believe God throws away anyone who loves him and trusts in Him. The Psalms teach that God is near to those who love Him.
When I became a follower of Yeshua, it was not a rejection of the God of Israel, but, on the contrary, a belief that Yeshua was a fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel. I did not stop being a Jew, and did not stop living as a Jew. On the contrary, believing Yeshua to be the Messiah made me want to be more observant of the Torah than before. Believing in Yeshua enhanced my Jewishness rather than lessen it.
Whatever my experience is, it is not a conversion to Christianity. I do not criticize Christian practice, but simply state the fact, that their practices are not my practices, their form of worship is not mine. Whenever I have visited a church, I have felt out of place, like I was in someone else’s living room. Their culture was not my culture, their practices were not my practices. Their understanding of Scripture is not mine. The only conclusion is that their religion is not my religion.
I feel at home in the synagogue, any synagogue. Their practices and beliefs are familiar to me. Their understanding of God and of His love for our people resonate with mine. While traditional synagogues don’t acknowledge Yeshua, nevertheless, He is there. For me, He is the Messiah of Israel.
As the brothers of Joseph did not recognize him when they stood before him, because all they saw was an Egyptian ruler, he remained their brother. He fed them and took care of them, and would not take their money for the grain they bought, because he remained their brother. When he revealed himself to them, he comforted them, and told them to come near, because they were his brothers. Joseph is a picture of Yeshua. As Joseph acted toward his brothers, so will Yeshua act toward his. He loves them, and will comfort them, and take care of them, which, after all, is the job of the Messiah.
I also believe Yeshua will bless those gentiles who truly love him. We acknowledge that the gentiles in Yeshua have a place in God’s heart. It makes them our brethren, just as our fellow Jews are our brethren. We are related to other Yeshua followers, just as we are related to other Jews. Nevertheless, Messianic Judaism and Christianity remain two separate religions, yet we have the same Messiah, Yeshua. That being the case, rather than beating eachother up with statements of faith we require each other to affirm, it would be good if we just began by treating each other as brethren, loving and supporting one another. I have always been more happy affirming people than doctrinal statements.