The Art of Seduction

I know I shouldn’t have, but I succumbed. Don’t judge me, you’ve all done it too, or a version of it; been seduced like me.

I’d gone to do a little shopping, my wife had given me a list, just a few things which, naturally, I augmented slightly, nothing excessive. And there I was, next in line at the checkout, when it caught my eye. I resisted – but if I’m honest, not a lot – and then I bought it: a bar of chocolate.

Now, tell me honestly, which of you has not been seduced by God’s luscious gift in creation, chocolate?

I haven’t eaten any yet, and I will share it – promise; but, how easy it is to be seduced – by something that seems good, that cannot surely be bad and that must therefore be ‘God’s Will’. Except, of course,  even chocolate consumed in excess is not good for us. And there are some things even good things that should not be consumed at all. No-one in their right mind would think of drinking petrol (gas).  [available as podcast/audio download

Which brings me to a much more dangerous seduction, one that I’ve become aware of gradually and which became focussed for me during my recent visit to Bethlehem. It is ‘Satan’s Big Lie’. What I’m about to write will likely offend some people so can I plead with you to exercise Christian restraint and actually hear what I have to say before you enter in to judgement. The knee-jerk response from some will be “that’s antisemtitic”, but, please hear me out when I say that Israel is Satan’s Big Lie.

Almost from the beginning it is evident that the Bible has two Israel’s in play. As early as Genesis chapter 37 we see division based on favouritism. Joseph was a ‘daddy’s darling’ which didn’t play well with his older brothers but their behaviour doesn’t fit well with the calling of Abraham (Gen.12-18), and even Abraham was at times less than honest, (Gen. 12 &20). Then there is adultery/incest, unbelief, rebellion and disobedience, (Gen 38; Ex 16; Nu 21; Jos 7) and all before they settled in the land of promise. When the people demanded a king like the other nations, rejecting the kingship of God, (1 Sam 8) their wish was granted and those kings, with a few notable exceptions, ‘did evil in the sight of God’.

The two Israel’s are most obvious in the story, referred to by Saul/Paul in Romans 11, of Elijah, king Ahab and the prophets and priests of Baal and Asherah. 1 Kings chapters 18 and 19 reveal Israel divided between those who had been seduced by the local religions, less demanding in many ways, and the seven thousand who had refused to ‘bow the knee’ to Baal. Those two Israels, the one faithful, the other ‘after the flesh’ are in evidence throughout the ministry of Jesus just as they were throughout the Old Testament story. The ‘Israel of God’ was and is always, God’s faithful people, so Paul can write (Rom 10), ‘For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek …’.

For nearly 2000 years it has been the work of Christians to declare the truth that Jesus of Nazareth is the once-dead but now fully alive Jewish Messiah. For various reasons and with varying motivations the Christian witness to Jews has far too often been ungenerous, ungracious and hateful. It has been frankly unchristian! That truly dreadful history has caused some Christians to attempt to redeem the past by being ‘kind’ to Jews and not telling them the good news of Jesus. If you want an example of antisemitism, there it is!

Scripture shows there have always been two Israels, the one, those descendants of Jacob together with Egyptians, Moabites, Kenizzites, etc. who ‘have the faith of Abraham’. The other is those who by belief and behaviour show their rejection of the God revealed through Judaism. Since 1948, possibly earlier, there has been a third Israel and Satan’s Big Lie has persuaded many Christians that this Israel is really the real one.

Listen to Jesus, “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruit … .” (Matt. 7:15-29). Many who call ‘Lord, Lord’, many who attend church, even ministers, may hear the words, “go away …” Look at the fruit of the Middle East, driven by Western nations foreign policy over 100 years, policies derived from misreading God’s word. If Israel, the modern nation state, is from God, then God is not good, look at the fruit, 100 years of destruction, despair, ethnic cleansing, racism: and that means too that Jesus was not the Jewish Messiah who completed Torah.

No-one in the early, wholly Jewish, Christian communities thought they were creating a new religion. Paul’s letter to the Galatian Christians dealt with the issue of whether Gentile Christians should be required to follow Torah. This would be a pointless exercise if those early Christians no longer thought of themselves as Jewish. Similarly to the Essenes they regarded themselves as in the mainstream.

This was the new thing that God was doing but only in the context of the good thing that had done it’s job – which is pretty much what Paul and the writer of ‘Hebrews’ have said. The Messiah had come, as promised but not exactly as expected and the job as a good, i.e. faithful, Jew was, as always, to align themselves with what God was doing. The church was the ‘Israel of God’ not because it ‘replaced Judaism’ but because recognising Jesus as Israel’spromised Messiah they continued faithful to God’s purpose. The ‘narrow way’ of Jesus was in fact the mainstream.

Jews expecting their Messiah always knew that the Israel reconstituted around him would be different, it had to be. The Essenes believed Messiah had already come, in secret, and that they were the true Israel. For Pharisees it would be impossible to conceive Sadducees as part of Messiah’s kingdom, their kingdom. In the ekklesia of Jesus Messiah unbelievers would be excluded but that was no different from historic Judaism. The faithful always knew themselves to be different from the unbelievers, and unbelievers excluded themselves, they were out by choice, even if they were Jewish.

Outside of the church of Jesus the Messiah there is no longer a role for Jews in the purposes of God. That is not antisemitic, it is biblical, gospel truth. There’s no suggestion anywhere in the prophets that the ‘new covenant’ (for some the ‘re-made’ covenant) would run in parallel alongside the Old Covenant that was irredeemably broken. And ‘broken’ not by God but by those who were supposed to be ‘His’ people, his priestly nation.

Satan’s Big Lie has persuaded some Christians that God will be unfaithful unless people identified as ethnically Jewish are given a piece of real estate in the Middle East. The truth is that God kept his promise (see e.g. 2 Chron 6) but the people did not. And even supposing Jews were to be given this piece of real estate, how could we know who should benefit? The science of genetics doesn’t like to talk about race or ethnicity, so it boils down to a cultural choice.

In any case, God has kept his promise to Israel: Israel’s Messiah has come. The restoration pointed to by Israel’s prophets is accomplished not by ‘more of the same’ violent imperialism, but by sacrificial servant kingship. That surprising message of the messiah was and is nevertheless exactly in line with God’s purpose. And God’s Israel, Jewish and Gentile Christians together should be working at growing fruit for the kingdom, fruit of generosity, love, peace, kindness.

The purpose of Satan’s Big Lie is to divide God’s church, to foment hatred and fear and spread destruction throughout God’s good creation. That’s what Satan does. In the Middle East and especially in the land of the Holy One Satan’s Big Lie appears to be winning because Christians in the West, especially those called to shepherd their flocks, have believed the Big Lie.

We, they, have turned aside from the narrow path and embraced militarism, power and prosperity. But no-one is saved to Christ by military power. Land destroyed by pollution, economies destroyed by dependence on making and selling, and using instruments for death are not ‘good fruit’. Children starved or left orphan, women despoiled, the weak left to die, nations in turmoil because, again, the Bible has been misread, misused, misapplied.

Christians everywhere must answer: are we observing the fruit, what do we see; are we creating fruit for the kingdom, through what we do, what we allow? Are we challenging our leaders to be true to the Bible and to our Lord and king, especially in our attitudes to Jews and to Christians under threat? Do we want the world to know Jesus, are we committed to the coming of the kingdom, will we undertake the kingdom work of peacemaker and break the power of Israel, Satan’s Big Lie? Those are the questions, what are our answers?

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