Thursday, April 3, 2014

Where Do You Fit Into History?


Just imagine somebody in Paul’s day sitting in one of the synagogues where he was preaching—in Pisidian Antioch, let’s say—when this stranger from out of town, Paul,  came up to the front of the synagogue and began preaching.  Would this man that was listening know the weight of history pressing in on that moment?  Would he know that people would be studying and reading that sermon that morning for hundreds of years to come?  That it would be recorded in the most widely read and studied and loved book in history?  What do you think?  Maybe not.  But maybe some did.  Luke, who recorded that sermon in the Book of Acts (Acts 13:16-41), obviously thought it was important—as did those who came to faith that day.  But whether they knew it or not, history was being made right in front of their eyes. 

Some events are more obviously historic at the moment they happen.  For example, when the Emperor Constantine issued the decree that stopped the horrible persecution of Christians (the Edict of Milan, AD 314), many, many people realized immediately that this was an historic moment.  After more than 200 years of persecution, it was suddenly ended.  Many saw it as a true miracle of God.  Christians had their churches and other property returned to them, the pastors were let out of prison.  They didn’t have to hide anymore.  This was a huge change.  It was an historic moment.    

Or what about when Patrick, better known as St. Patrick, stepped off the boat in Ireland (about AD 432).  He had been held as a slave there when he was a young man.  But God called him back to the same land where he suffered so much to preach the gospel.  That was an awesome act of obedience.  But did he or anyone else know how incredibly important this moment in history was?  Did they realize that this simple act of obedience would lead to the salvation of a nation?  And that from there, missionaries would be sent out all over Northern Europe bringing the gospel and converting other nations?  That was an awesome moment in history.  Did they know it?  Did they feel it?

Or what about when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the Wittenberg church door (1517).  Could anyone imagine the impact that would have?  Even Luther himself wasn’t trying to make a public statement.  His theses were in Latin.  They were intended for debate with other churchmen.  But somebody noticed how important they were.  And that person copied them, translated them to German, and circulated them all over the country.  Even Luther himself didn’t realize the importance of that moment at the time.  But somebody did.  And because of that, history was changed, and a tremendous blessing came to millions of people.

Or what about when the Pilgrims were on the Mayflower coming to America (1620)?  It was a terrible crossing of the Atlantic Ocean—storms all the way.  And because of it, they ended up landing somewhere different than where they originally planned to go—right in the middle of nowhere.  That sounds more like a disaster than a praise report.  It would have been easy to think a lot more about survival than history.  But history was being made:  a history that would affect the world.  Because from that little community an idea went out, an idea that would lead to an originally Christian America, and that would make an important contribution to the great missionary movement of the 19th and 20th centuries, when the gospel was planted in more parts of the world than it ever was before.  

This great missionary movement included James Maxwell, who came from England to Tainan in Taiwan in 1865.  It probably didn’t feel like a very historic moment when he was driven out of town by people throwing rocks at him.  But he moved to Kaohsiung and stayed there long enough to plant Christianity in Taiwan.  It was an historic moment. 

Or what about the night of January 1, 1901, in dusty Topeka, Kansas, in the U.S., when a small group of Bible students were praying to receive the Holy Spirit—when suddenly they began to speak in tongues!  This was the first time this gift had been exercised by a group of believers for hundreds of years.  Did they realize how important that moment was?  Many of them did, or at least they realized it soon after.  And from there the Pentecostal movement spread to Los Angeles (the Azuza Street Revival) and from there all over the world, bringing tremendous blessing to millions of people:  the Healing Revival in the 1950’s, the Charismatic Revival in the 1960’s.

So what about you?  Where do you fit into history?  How will this time, even this day we’re living in right now be remembered in the future?  What is God doing right now in our generation, that may even be happening right in front of our eyes?  What message is he raising up today to bring great blessing to the Church for the generations to come?  And how can we be a part of it? 

A few years ago, in 2008, Time Magazine, a very influential magazine in the U.S., identified ten of the top ideas that are changing the world, and that will continue to change it in the future.  They called these ideas “future revolutions.”  Of these ten ideas, only one was a religious idea, an idea that, in their opinion, and I quote, marked a “seismic” change in Christian thinking—an earthquake in Christian thinking.  It’s an idea that is changing centuries of Christian assumptions about our faith, and that will change Christianity for centuries to come.  Do you know what that incredibly important idea is?  What idea is radically changing Christian thinking both now, and will continue to do so in the future? 

Before I tell you the answer, I want to tell you a little story.  Is that okay? 

It’s the story of a boy that was a shepherd in Israel.  I’m not talking about David.  This is not a story from Bible days.  It’s something that happened just nine years before I was born, in 1947.  You’ve heard about Jericho, right?  Where Joshua made the walls fall down?  Today, Jericho is an Arab town.  It’s part of the West Bank you hear about in the news all the time.  The Arab shepherd boys in Israel will sometimes throw stones to keep the sheep out of farmers’ fields, or get them to go where they want.  Well, this Bedouin Arab boy was trying to find a couple of sheep that were hidden behind some rocks in the cliffs near Jericho.  So he threw some stones to try to get them to come out.  When he threw one of the stones, he heard a crash, like the sound of breaking pottery.  So he went to find out what it was. 

He saw a small hole leading into a cave.  And since he was still small at that time, he wriggled into the cave, and found strange old jars, big ones, with scrolls inside.  It turned out that these scrolls were ancient, and included Bible scrolls from the time of Jesus.  These were the first of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls. 

The Dead Sea Scrolls confirmed the accuracy of our Bibles going back to the time of Jesus.  This was very important.  Because before this, scholars had questioned the accuracy of our Bibles.  They said that they had been changed over the years.  But now we had proof that the same Bible we read today was the one Jesus himself knew and saw.  Copies of every book in the Old Testament were discovered, except the book of Esther.  Altogether there were 220 Biblical manuscripts.

But other, non-Biblical scrolls were also discovered—about 650 of them.  These were also important.  Because they taught us what people were thinking about in Jesus day, how they used certain words, what they were thinking about religion.  And this has been clarifying our understanding of the New Testament in remarkable ways.  Now we can better understand Jesus’ audience, which means we can better understand the points he was trying to make, and the language he was using to make them. 

The Dead Sea Scrolls were the greatest discovery in a century of spectacular archeological discoveries that traced back to 1850, when archeologists first excavated Ninevah, the city where Jonah the prophet preached, the capital of the Assyrian Empire.  This was the first Biblical city to be systematically excavated.  Before this, scholars had mocked and ridiculed the Bible as filled with fairy tales and myths.  But one by one, Biblical cities and Biblical civilizations rose out of the dust, confirming the truth of the Bible.  As Jesus said, “if these are silent, the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40).  And the stones have been crying out, all right. 

Did you know that 50 individual people mentioned in the Bible have so far been confirmed by archeology?  And these are not only kings.  Some are ordinary people, like Baruch the son of Neriah (Jer. 32:12,16, etc.).  He was the scribe of Jeremiah.  Not only has a seal impression made by his personal seal been found, it even has his fingerprint on it.  The kings of Israel and their dates in the Bible have been confirmed all the way back to King David. 

Evidence for the conquest and burning of Jericho and Hazor by Joshua has been found (Josh. 6:24, 11:11).  Israel is now the most excavated country in the world.  And all the discoveries have the same message:  the Bible is an accurate historical record of events in the past. 

There is more reason to believe the Bible today that at any time since the events themselves took place.  We have more evidence of the truth of the Old Testament today than people had even in Jesus’ day! And the New Testament, too, has been spectacularly confirmed over and over again.  One recent discovery is the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem where Jesus sent the blind man to be healed.   

These fantastic discoveries, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, help us understand not only the setting of the events in the Bible, but the meaning of the events and the words recorded there more accurately than ever before since the days it was written!  That’s a really big deal!

But that’s not all that God has been doing.  If you remember, I told you that the Dead Sea Scrolls, the greatest archeological discovery of all, were discovered in 1947.  The very next year, God did another amazing thing. 

To explain this, I have to tell you another story.  Is that okay?  We all know that the Jews were living in Israel in the time of Jesus, right? 

Well, 40 years after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, their nation was destroyed by the Romans.  Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed.  Thousands were killed, thousands were sold into slavery.  In a few hundred years, after more troubles and fighting, there were very few Jews left in Israel. They were scattered to all the nations of the world in fulfillment of many, many prophecies in the Bible. 

But in around 1890, they started to come back again, followed by more and more Jews from all over the world. And then in 1948, just one year after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Israel became a nation again.  This was also a fulfillment of dozens and dozens of prophecies in the Bible.  In fact, it’s the second most prophesied event in the Bible.  (The first most prophesied event in the Bible is the ministry of Jesus.)   

Now think about that.  The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which helps us understand more about Jesus and the Bible, was followed almost immediately by the prophetic rebirth of Israel as a nation—an event which itself is a fulfillment of the prophecies of the Bible, and helps us better understand the Bible.  Is that just a coincidence?  Or is there some kind of message here for us today?

Do you know why Israel was reborn?  Israel became a nation again because of a vote of the United Nations in 1947.  Why did the United Nations allow Israel to become a nation? 

One important part of the reason was the tremendous shock of the Holocaust in Europe.  Six million Jews were killed in Europe during WW II.  It was one of the most terrible events in history.  Who did this?  A supposedly Christian nation:  Germany, home of Martin Luther and the Reformation!  How could this happen?  How could a Christian nation do something so horrible?

It was because of what the priests and preachers had been saying in the Churches for hundreds of years.  They taught that “The Jews killed Jesus.”  That they were “Christ-killers.”  And so Christians went out of their churches to persecute Jews.  This had been going on since the 3rd century, when Christianity became anti-Semitic.  But over the years, the attacks became more and more violent. 

At first, Christians were taught simply to stay away from Jews and their synagogues.  Synagogues were sometimes attacked and destroyed.  But in the 6th cent., there were forced baptisms, in which Jews were forced to be baptized as Christians against their will.  

In the 12th cent., Christians started to kill Jews, at the time of the Crusades, about 5,000 of them.  This was a large percentage of the Jews in Europe at the time. In the 15th cent., there was a persecution in Spain in which two thousand Jews were burned at the stake. After that, more than 150,000 Jews were forced to leave their homes in Spain.  This was the biggest event in Jewish history since the time of the Bible.  France, England, and other countries also kicked out all their Jews.  So they went to Eastern Europe. 

But here horrible persecutions broke out in Poland (1648), in which more than 100,000 were killed (the Chmielnicki massacres)! And then came the Holocaust, with six million killed, the most horrible persecution in history. 

Anti-Semitism is not just something the Nazis did.  The reason the Nazis could do what they did was because no one was willing to stand up against their hatred of the Jews.  Many in the U.S. and in Europe shared their feelings. Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford motor company, printed and distributed anti-Semitic pamphlets all over the United States.  Many in the U.S. accepted these views.  Jews were not permitted to join certain clubs and organizations. 

When ships filled with Jews fled from the Nazis in Europe, no one would take them in:  not the British, not the Americans—nobody.  They had to go back to Germany.  It wasn’t until 6 million Jews had died that the eyes of the Christian world were finally opened.  Only then did individuals and churches begin to realize the horror of what Christians had been doing for hundreds of years, and repent before God for our horrible sins against the Jewish people. 

Only then did we begin to admit that the abuse, mistreatment, and killing of Jews over more than a thousand years was a terrible error, and a terrible, terrible sin against the gospel of Jesus Christ.  And only then did we begin to realize the error of the teachings that led to these horrible actions—teachings that had distorted not only Christian actions, but also Christian doctrine for more than a thousand years.  This also caused Christians to go back and examine their Bibles and see where we went wrong as Christians. 

And right then, just two years after the end of the war, the nation of Israel was reborn.  The rebirth of Israel was a shock to many Christians.  They had been teaching that God had abandoned the Jewish people. But now he was fulfilling prophecies he had given them in the time of the Bible.  Dozens, even hundreds of prophecies have been fulfilled in Israel, and still are being fulfilled right now today.  This means that God isn’t finished with the Jewish people, that he still has a purpose and a plan for them.    

This is a big deal.  It’s an awesome historic moment, like something in the days of the Bible.  And in fact, everything that is happening is just as it was prophesied in the Bible!  Through this, God is speaking not only to Israel, but to the Church, correcting the Church, changing the Church, showing where it has been wrong.  This doesn’t just affect some Christians.  It affects all Christians who have ears to hear.  It affects how all of us read the Bible. 

Two huge events, within one year of each other:  the Dead Sea Scrolls, the rebirth of Israel.  Both are having a huge impact on how Christians read the Bible.  Both are forcing a major reevaluation of our actions, as well as our teachings and doctrines. 

These two hugely powerful events are what led to the big change in Christian thinking I mentioned before, the one that Time Magazine said is the most important idea to come along in Christian thinking for hundreds of years.  Can you guess what that game-changing idea is, that even non-Christians have noticed, that is bringing about a “seismic” change in Christianity? 

The answer:  “Re-Judaizing Jesus.”  What does that mean?  Recognizing that Jesus is Jewish.  That the disciples are Jewish.  That the Bible is Jewish.  Now maybe you’re thinking, “Well, of course Jesus was Jewish, everybody knows that!”  Well, you may know that now.  But when I became a Christian more than 30 years ago, to say that Jesus was Jewish was considered an insult, even a blasphemy against Jesus. Jesus and the disciples were considered Christians and not Jews.  In Christian art, they were painted to look like Europeans, with high foreheads and straight noses—even blond hair and blue eyes—as they still are often today, while other Jews were shown with big potato noses and claw-like hands. 

Why is it such a big deal for the Church to admit that Jesus is Jewish?  When I first went to seminary in the 1980’s, do you know what they taught us?  Greek philosophy:  Plato, Aristotle.  Why?  Because that’s how theology was done in the Christian Church for more than a thousand years.  Almost every trace of Jewishness in the Bible was ignored or replaced with Greek thinking. 

But how can that help us understand Jesus?  Jesus was Jewish!  He spoke to a Jewish audience, he taught from a Hebrew Bible!  What’s the point of studying Greek thinking if you want to understand a Jewish speaker? 

Today, of course, everyone (or almost everyone) realizes that this was crazy—that to understand Jesus properly, of course you have to study Jewish culture and society.  If you don’t, you will often misunderstand what he said. 

But even though Christians around the world understand this today, we’ve got a long way to go to correct more than 1500 years of incorrect thinking.  It affects our Bible translations, it affects how we express our doctrines, it affects how we worship, it affects almost everything.  We’re in a steep learning curve right now. But that makes this is an exciting time to be a Christian.  Because this deep change in Christian thinking is helping us get back in touch with the real Jesus of the Bible, to understand his words more accurately, to enter more fully into the spirit of his will for our lives and for the world. 

This change of thinking is a big step for many of us.  It takes a while to digest.  And as with any big new idea in the history of the Church, it’s sometimes easy for people to misunderstand. 

The Reformation was a big new idea.  But some people misunderstood for a while, and began to teach crazy things.  The Pentecostal movement was a big new idea.  But some misunderstood, and began to teach crazy things.  And it’s no different today.  But in the end, this is going to be—in fact it already is—a huge blessing to the Church.

Unfortunately, there are still many Christians and many churches that are not even aware of the tremendous changes God is doing in the Christian world in our generation.  Can you imagine being in heaven, and hearing someone say, yes I wish I had lived in your generation when the Church was being restored to its Jewish Roots!  How exciting that must have been!  And you say, Jewish what?  Really?  It’s like saying, yes I lived in the time of the Reformation, but I had no idea anything like that was going on.  That would be a little embarrassing.

But I can tell you this for sure:  God wants you to know what’s going on right now in this moment of history!  He wants you to know how you fit into history!   

The restoration of Israel is the second most prophesied event in the Bible.  It has tremendous end-times implications, which we don’t have time to talk about today, but God willing, we will be talking about in the next few weeks. 

But God is not only restoring Israel.  He’s also restoring the Church.  He wants to correct our wrong ideas from the past and raise up a purified and holy people to complete his work in these last days.  Why?  Because we’re going to need all the extra strength and Biblical power we can get as we enter the end of these endtimes.  The power of Satan over the lives of people and nations is growing.  And we are going to need wisdom to stand.  We’re going to need true Biblical power to resist and defeat the temptations of our generation. 

What about you?  Do you want to be a part of what God is doing in our generation?  Can you feel the weight of history pressing in on this moment?  Today, in our lifetimes, things are happening that kings and prophets desired to see.  The great cloud of witnesses from all the generations before us is looking on with great excitement to see what we will do with this great moment that God has been preparing for so long.  What about you?  You have been born for this moment.  God has placed you strategically in this moment.  How will you answer the call of history, the call of this moment in time, the call of God on your life?

Let’s pray.  Lord God, we open our hearts to you.  We open our minds to you.  We ask you to have your way with us today.  Speak to us, Lord.  Speak to us about our place in history.  Raise us up to be the people you have created us to be, for this generation, for this moment in time.  Thank you Lord. Speak to your people.  Touch our lives.  And we give you all the thanks and the praise in Jesus’ name.  Amen?

No comments:

Post a Comment