The Supremacy of God's Person and the Comfort of God's People Through the Servant of the Lord
By Daniel Goldberg, TH.D., D.D.
The powerful second portion of the book of Isaiah (40-66) brings us face to face with the sweeping themes of God’s power, His redemptive purpose, and the focus of His action as history as we know it draws to a climax. These chapters fall into three divisions: the supremacy of God and the intensity of God’s punishment (40-48), salvation through Messiah’s redemption and its glorious results (49-57) and Jerusalem, the capital of Messiah’s coming kingdom and the vivid contrast between the eternal bliss of the redeemed and the everlasting torment of the lost (58-66). This study begins with the first of the three—the supremacy of God.
The Supremacy of God’s Person: Isaiah 40
Beginning with chapter 40, Isaiah amplifies the need to comfort Israel based upon the superior Person and promises of God, the Creator. God is the incomparable One (Isa. 40:12-14). It is an impossibility to compare God with the idolatry of the nations (Isa. 40:18-26). He is distinctly above and beyond His creation (Isa. 40:25-28).
Isaiah emphasizes God’s attributes and their impact upon both creation and humanity. God is merciful (Isa. 40:1-2). A new day is envisioned for Israel in which her warfare will be over. The Lord will restore His people. Isaiah instructs the nation to prepare both the nation and her land, because God will visit His people (Isa. 40:3-5).
The nation can trust Isaiah’s message, because God’s word stands forever (Isa. 40:6-9). God relates to Israel the same way a shepherd gently cares for his flock (Isa. 40:11). God is the sustainer and upholder of all nature (Isa. 40:10-14, 26). The nation must not trust in other gods, because no idol is comparable to the eternal God (Isa. 40:18-20, 25).
The Comfort of God’s People Through the Servant of the Lord: Isaiah 41, 42
Israel is assured of Divine protection and provision. The Lord will lead, help, strengthen and uphold His people (41:10-16). Comfort and consolation will come through the “Servant of the Lord,” introduced in Isaiah 42.
Most would agree that Israel did not fulfill the role of the Servant in this passage of Scripture. However, one individual from the nation did fulfill God’s design. Here the Scriptures emphasize “the Servant of the Lord” being sent for a special mission and being endowed with God’s own Spirit (Isa. 42:1). God’s servant would be given as “a covenant for the people, a light for the Gentiles” (Isa. 42:6). He would be able to “open the blind eyes, to free the prisoners from the dungeon and those that sit in darkness out of the prison house” (Isa. 42:7). Only Jesus, the true Servant of the Lord, fulfills this commission.
Both the strength and tenderness of the Savior are in view here. The Lord is the Shepherd-God over Israel and for all nations (Psa. 23:1; 80:1; 95:7; 100:3). Jesus likewise fills that description (Jn. 10:11).
The strength of God is available to those who lack it. All who place their trust in the Lord find a new strength they did not know they had. They will be able to run the race with surplus energy. Here the prophet Isaiah binds together the unwearied God and the fainting man (Isa. 40:31). Every believer may testify, with the Apostle Paul, “I can do all things through Messiah who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).
Dr. Goldberg serves as International Ministries Representative for Chosen People Ministries and lives in Pineville, North Carolina with his wife, Madeline.
Although his fame has now all but vanished, Sholem Asch (1880-1957) was among the most popular Jewish writers in the world for over three decades, beginning in the early twentieth century. Asch, writing in Yiddish, authored plays, short stories and lengthy novels about Jewish history that were translated into Polish, German, English and other languages from almost the beginning of his career. Championed by Abraham Cahan, the authoritarian editor of the widely-read Jewish Daily Forward, Asch developed an enormously devoted Yiddish readership who loved his depictions of Jewish life.
In 1939, however, Asch stunned the Jewish world by publishing a historical novel that dealt with a topic quite different from his previous works in that genre. It was Der Man fun Natseres or, in its best-selling English translation, The Nazarene - a full-length treatment of the life and ministry of Jesus the Messiah.
Although the New Testament was by no means a new topic, Asch's approach to the subject matter was startling in that it represented a determined effort to put the "Jewish" back into Jesus. Years ahead of the modern Messianic movement of Jewish believers in Jesus and its emphasis on the Jewish roots of the Gospel, Asch's Jesus was Yeshua, his Mary was Miriam, and all the familiar sites of the New Testament had their Hebrew names restored. In its English translation, The Nazarene became a blockbuster bestseller.
It was a different story in the Jewish world. Cahan, who from the beginning had opposed Asch's decision to tackle this project, orchestrated a two-year campaign of character assassination against his former favorite writer. Spearheaded by Cahan's virulent attacks, Asch was labeled everything from a traitor to his people to an agent of the Vatican.
What was all the uproar about? One thing important to remember is that in today's world, the Jewishness of Jesus and the Jewish context of his life and ministry are settled facts. Even the assertion that the Gospel itself is an essentially Jewish message is slowly gaining traction in the Jewish world. This was far from the case in 1939, when the world trembled on the threshold of war and Asch's Yiddish readership in Europe was about to be annihilated.
In his time, however, Asch was a pioneer. He dared to give the world a Jewish Messiah from the New Testament. For this he paid a price - he was reviled and vilified by many of his peers. But like the Messiah of whom he wrote, his message is being vindicated.
Just a few days ago, some amazing statistics were published regarding the significant changes in the lives of Jewish people in America.
This survey was conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project – and the results are stunning!
One of the most interesting points is that over 30% of the Jewish people surveyed affirmed that believing Jesus is NOT incompatible with being Jewish!
As a Messianic Jew and leader of Chosen People Ministries, it is incredible to think that hundreds of thousands of Jewish people in the United States are now open to the concept that you can be Jewish and believe in Jesus. This is a dramatic change from the times when I first became a follower of Jesus in 1970.
Over the years, I and many others in our ministry have labored to challenge the long-held concept that Jewishness and belief in Jesus were incompatible – so I am greatly encouraged by these findings, and I believe that this is just one step closer for many Jewish people to explore and even accept the claims of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.
Further, the survey indicated that 1.7 million Jewish people identify themselves as Christians. This is absolutely staggering to me! However, the number of these individuals who might be considered 'Christians by conviction' remains to be seen.
At the same time, I am concerned about other aspects of the survey results, because it revealed that many Jewish people are no longer interested in practicing the Jewish religion, or even in being Jewish.
Two-thirds of Jews do not belong to a synagogue, and one-fourth does not even believe in God!
This trend seems to be intensifying among members of the younger generation. According to the survey, 32% of those born after 1980 say they have no religion. Rather, their “Jewish identification” expresses itself culturally and politically – especially in support of Israel.
Clearly, these trends might indicate a greater openness among the Jewish people to consider belief in Jesus as the Messiah, yet as a Messianic Jew I also believe in the importance of sustaining the uniqueness of the Jewish people as described in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Though I am glad to see Jewish people coming to faith, I am also troubled to see that the Jewish community is fragmenting and becoming more secular.
According to the Bible, the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob established the Jewish people as a nation to glorify Him and to serve His holy purposes (Genesis 12:1-3, Deuteronomy 7:7-8). Even the great Apostle Paul viewed himself as a both a Jewish person and a follower of Jesus the Messiah, and maintained that those Jews who believed in Jesus remained part of the Jewish community (Romans 11:1-5).
Leading by his example, I believe Paul encouraged Jewish followers of Jesus to be a visible and vocal part of the broader Jewish community. Further, the Bible does not distinguish between having a relationship with God and maintaining community loyalties as a Jew. In fact, the Bible views being a "good Jew" as one who has faith in God and desires to be obedient to His expectations outlined in the Scriptures – both the Old and New Testaments.
As Messianic Jews, we understand that Jesus is the Messiah and that the God of Israel wants us to follow the Messiah of Israel – as Jews! This will obviously be interpreted and expressed differently by Jewish believers. Some will express their love for God and His Messiah in more traditionally observant Jewish ways, and others in a manner that is more culturally and community oriented.
The survey also highlighted the large dichotomy between the more Orthodox Jews who are remaining loyal to the Jewish religion, and the younger generation that is beginning to search for answers outside of Orthodoxy. This is one more reason why the new Charles Feinberg Messianic Jewish Center in the heart of Orthodox Jewish Brooklyn is needed, as our outreach will appeal to both groups.
Furthermore, about 10% of the Jewish people in American – more than half a million – are Russian Jews. The largest concentration of Russian Jews, numbering over 300,000, happens to be within a few miles of our new Brooklyn Center.
In sum, the survey is indeed fascinating and will have a profound influence on the Jewish community in the days ahead. I will continue reflecting on its implications, especially the impact it will leave on the movement of Jewish people believing in Jesus. Perhaps the remnant Paul describes in Romans 11:5 is larger than we thought!
Also see: http://www.nycreligion.info/?p=10529
The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ
By Daniel Boyarin
New York: The New Press, 2012
Reviewed by Alan M. Shore
Beginning in the early 19th century, Jewish scholars began to write the history of the Jewish people as modern historians. When they considered the first century CE, they viewed Jesus not as the Christian Redeemer, but as a Jewish man in a Jewish world whose teaching could be weighed alongside his contemporaries and those who came before him. Using the tools of emerging biblical criticism and modern historiography, plus their considerable knowledge of ancient Judaism, they painted a portrait of a Jewish Jesus that was detached from Christian doctrinal confession.
Among the most prominent of the early Jewish historians was Abraham Geiger, one of the early leaders of Reform Judaism. Over the next decades, other Jewish historians and theologians such as Heinrich Graetz, C.J. Montefiore and Joseph Klausner followed in Geiger's steps. Two common threads bind the work of these scholars. One is the unambiguous assertion that the life of Jesus and the genesis of Christianity must be viewed in the context of first-century Judaism. The other is that the most authentic and worthwhile teachings of Jesus could already be found in Judaism.
Another prominent feature of their teaching, which has persisted to this day, is that Jesus of Nazareth and the Christian Savior are not the same person. That is, the belief that the Christological claims about Jesus made by his followers, mainly through the activity of Paul, gained a foothold only later and as a result of an impure mixture with non-Jewish influences. Jesus himself, therefore, though perhaps an admirable yet tragic figure, was not responsible for the doctrines of Christianity that followed him, for they were not to be found in the Jewish world he inhabited.
Now, Daniel Boyarin has set out in his most recent book, The Jewish Gospels, to make the case that these shibboleths of earlier Jewish scholarship — and some from the Christian world as well — must be discarded.
His case for the Jewish Jesus is far from new, but what is truly original in the realm of Jewish scholarship is his approach to Jesus as an authentic candidate for Messiah based on criteria derived from the already-existing Jewish world. As Boyarin puts it,
While by now almost everyone, Christian and non-Christian, is happy enough to refer to Jesus, the human, as a Jew, I want to go a step beyond that. I wish us to see that Christ too — the divine Messiah — is a Jew. Christology, or the early ideas about Christ, is also a Jewish discourse and not — until much later — an anti-Jewish discourse at all... Thus the basic underlying thoughts from which both the Trinity and the incarnation grew are there in the very world into which Jesus was born and in which he was first written about in the Gospels of Mark and John (pp.5-6).
In other words, the Messianic role that Jesus fit was not, as many would have it, constructed after the fact by Christians who sought to portray him as such. Rather, it was an already-existing Jewish expectation that Jesus sought to fulfill. Working with in-depth analysis of texts such as Daniel 7, First Enoch and Fourth Ezra, Boyarin builds a case for a Messianic-divine "Son of Man" already deeply embedded in Jewish thought and expectation.
Boyarin does not only challenge the assumptions of Jewish scholarship. In his chapter, "Jesus Kept Kosher," he questions the prevailing Christian interpretation of Mark 7 as the abrogation of the laws of kashrut in a nuanced exploration of the differing categories of "kosher" and "clean and unclean," which have been conflated by interpreters. The controversy, as Boyarin puts it, is not whether to follow the Torah, but how.
Here Boyarin positions Jesus as the conservative Galilean Torah keeper who is opposed to Pharisaic innovations not in the area of what is kosher, upon which they presumably agree, but under what circumstances kosher food would be considered unfit for consumption.
Perhaps the most hot-button issue Boyarin addresses is the question of the validity of the Suffering Messiah in Jewish thought, particularly in that most controversial of passages, Isaiah 53. In response to commentators who assert that a Messianic connection with that passage is an entirely Christian interpretation, tailor-made to accommodate the suffering and humiliation of Jesus, Boyarin demonstrates that a Suffering Messiah is part and parcel of Jewish tradition, both before and after Jesus. In his treatment of this issue, Boyarin observes,
The fascinating (and to some, no doubt, uncomfortable) fact is that this tradition was well documented by modern Messianic Jews, who are concerned to demonstrate that their belief in Jesus does not make them non-Jewish. Whether or not one accepts their theology, it remains the case that they have a very strong textual base for the view that the Suffering Messiah is based in deeply rooted Jewish texts early and late (pp.132-133).
In many instances in his academic career, Daniel Boyarin has challenged existing assumptions and stirred the pot. In The Jewish Gospels, he has succeeded in doing so again. Although it is too early to say whether his assertions will gain purchase in the Jewish world, his is a voice emanating from the academy that is not easily ignored.
SATISFYING A UNIQUE SPIRITUAL DILEMMA
If most Jewish people today were to be completely honest, we might admit to being uncertain or even embarrassed at times by the idea that we are God’s chosen people. To think that God especially chooses any people as special or unique seems to be somewhat narrow-minded and arrogant when viewed through the lens of our modern multicultural world.
What does it mean to be Jewish? Our history is important; the Holocaust, the modern State of Israel and antisemitism all concern us. Less serious matters — from Grandma’s chicken soup for a cold to getting straight As in school — pop into our minds too! We all know the shtick, but I believe we also want deeper and more thoughtful answers about our identity and even about our relationship with the God who allegedly chose us.