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Who really cares?

January 21st, 2013

Now that the winter hostilities against Israel seem to have died down and a cease-fire put in place, at least for the time being, life for the rest of us goes back to normal.  The world keeps spinning and the media is on to the next thing.  

But what’s going on behind the scenes? I’m not talking about Israel’s enemies stirring up trouble so dependably … No, this is about Israel’s friends who don’t stop what they’re doing either.  

As a Christian tuned in to this subject for 20 years, I’ve seen so many doing so much. But it’s occurred to me recently that, being in different social circles, you might not even know they’re there.      

We’ve heard of those righteous Gentiles doing what any decent human would do to defend other humans … but do we realize how unrecognized they probably were while their lives and stresses were happening? And on that same note, how many other heroes are doing big things we don’t even know about now?

These are your friends defending Israel online or off: dedicated bloggers, teachers, writers and tweeters. People living regular lives to all appearances but at the same time using their free time to stand up for truth.   

I wish I could introduce you to Betty-Lou or to Gail, just two of my many friends hard at work in this arena. Betty-Lou is relentless, getting the other side of the story out there one email after another … while Gail teaches workshops and teaches others to teach workshops on the subject. Warriors, both of them.  

Then there are high-visibility friends like best-selling author Joel Rosenberg who wrote about 9/11 before it happened; Mitch Glaser of Chosen People Ministries putting the truth out there with passion; Dean Bye at Return Ministries working to enable Jews making aliyah; … or our own Daniel Muller here at New Covenant Forum, bridging the gap between our two faiths.  

There are too many to be listing all, but they’re out there. Watching Israel’s back and caring about her people worldwide.  

So today, no matter how quiet things seem – and how loud the silence gets – I wanted you to know you have friends.

Contributed by Shari Menzel, a Gentile believer in Jesus with a great heart for the Jewish people.

Posted in A Gentile perspective, Israel, Jews and Christianity, Shari Menzel, This, That, The Other Thing, Zionism and Israel | 1 Comment »

What does Christianity have to do with Judaism?

September 22nd, 2012

What does Christianity have to do with Judaism? It seems like everyone is asking the same thing these days.

First, I got the question from an older lady at church. She didn’t get why I’m interested in Jewish history, traditions and culture. From the way she talked it was like we’d been reading 2 different books – even though I’m sure her Bible and mine say the same thing. But while mine opens up awesome historic writings jammed with deeper Hebrew meanings, it sounded like her Bible reads generically. Either that or she’s managed to skim over all the parts about the origins of our faith … or how early believers would have viewed prophecies and events … or how much the Feasts tell us about the Messiah. I guess she missed the part about God’s covenant with Israel too. 

So to her the question made sense. Clearly she didn’t get the connection.

She’s not the only one. Although it’s exciting to see more and more believers waking up to the huge debt of gratitude we owe Jewish people today, at the same time—for some unknown reason—just as many Christians seem totally unaware. If you walked up to them in church and asked them, they’d probably stare at you with a blank expression. What does Christianity have to do with Judaism?

So it’s no surprise then that Jewish people are asking the same thing.  

Astonishment is a normal first reaction when I ask these friends more about their history, faith and how they observe it. They’re usually skeptical to some extent. But even then my Jewish friends are pretty good about helping me dig deeper. Maybe they’re waiting for me to slip up and give them a clue as to why a Christian is interested to begin with. After all, where’s the connection?   

One man I met was more direct than most. He was a Jewish leader new to our town and my plan was to meet and let him know about strong (non-Jewish) future friends and supporters here in the community. But it turned out he had no interest. Our coffee meeting turned into a cross-examination with him determined to uncover my dark motives in connecting with Jewish people at all.  

Christianity should have nothing to do with Judaism, from his perspective.

So with Christian and Jewish friends asking the same question and with all the different reactions I’ve seen on this heated topic, I’ve asked myself the same question more than once. Really, what does Christianity have to do with Judaism? And why do I even care?

But somehow just asking the question helps me refocus. Without Judaism, I wouldn’t be a Christian because there’d be no such thing. We wouldn’t have Scriptures or any of those powerful prophetic promises. We wouldn’t know about miraculous fulfillments in and around Israel. God wouldn’t have shown His undeniable covenant with one tiny nation. We wouldn’t have seen the proof of His faithfulness. There’d be no understanding of good versus evil because we’d have no moral absolutes handed down through Moses. And in a world with no sense of evil, where would any of us be?

But for me it gets even more personal than that.  

Without Israel, I wouldn’t have a Jewish Messiah.

Contributed by Shari Menzel, a Gentile believer in Jesus with a great heart for the Jewish people.

Posted in A Gentile perspective, Goyim for God, Jesus and Jews, Jewish Identity, Jews and Christianity, Jews and Jesus, Personal Stories, Shari Menzel, The Bible, This, That, The Other Thing | 2 Comments »

An Invitation to Faith

March 13th, 2012

I was walking with a friend when we came across a man in a wheelchair who asked us for some change. Now we have learned that cash is not always the best thing to give, but we offered to feed him.  He only wanted money, so my friend told him about something even greater than money. That thing, which is priceless, is the gift of Jesus.

The man, like many people, was already familiar with the name Jesus.  He also claimed to know about Jesus and to have read the Bible, though he doesn’t read it on an ongoing basis.  He knew a lot about Jesus, but he didn’t really know Jesus on a personal level.

The truth is that lots of people think they know Jesus, but they haven’t really listened to the things Jesus said, or believed what he taught.  That’s true among those who have come to church for years as well as those who have never crossed a church doorway.  I have come to realize that there are a lot of Jewish people who think they know who Jesus (Yeshua) is, but they have never been told the real story of Jesus, or his message.

The Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures) taught that in order for sinners like you and I to enter into the presence of God our sin must be paid for by blood (Leviticus 17:11), after we repent and turn from our sinful lives to lives lived righteously for God (Psalm 51:15-19).  Yeshua affirmed this when he offered himself as a sacrifice on the cross, fulfilling the promises of Isaiah 53:10-12 and Jeremiah 31:31 when he said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:20)”

Yeshua taught that the greatest commandment of all was “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31)” Why is this the greatest command?  In Romans 13:10 it says, “Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Yeshua’s love fulfilled the Law and brought about the New Covenant by which we can have eternal life.  Similarly, to have eternal life in Him, we must not only faithfully believe in these things, but we must do so in love – both for our Lord and for His creation.

My friend invited the man to Church, and expressed the importance of knowing Jesus on a personal level.  At New Covenant Forum, we also invite you to consider the importance of a personal relationship with your Messiah, Yeshua.

Feel free to contact us to know more.  If you would like to receive a copy of the B’rit Hadashah (New Testament), we would be happy to send you a copy free of charge.

Contributed by Ian Smith, who is interning with New Covenant Forum from Toronto Baptist Seminary.

Posted in A Gentile perspective, Evangelism, Following God, Ian Smith, Jews and Jesus, Messiah, Messiah in the Tanach, New Covenant, Personal Stories | No Comments »

Ransomed Israel

December 27th, 2011

Of the many hymns sung at the time of the celebration of the Messiah’s birth (i.e. Christmas), “Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel,” is probably the one most steeped in the Jewish origins of the faith.

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel, [Isaiah 7:14]
And ransom captive Israel, [Isaiah 53:10]
That mourns in lonely exile here [Psalm 118:25-27]
Until the Son of God appear. [Isaiah 9:6]
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel! [Malachi 3:1]

This hymn is a translation from one used early on in Christian worship, possible as early as the 8th Century and no later than the 12th Century.  There is no question that the church of the Middle Ages recognized the Jewish origins of Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus Christ), just as the early church fathers did before them.

The truth is that Christianity – faith in Yeshua and his sacrifice on the cross – has as its origin in the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures), and not Pagan beliefs as some would mischievously claim.  Indeed, the earliest Jewish believers – and the first believers in Yeshua were almost all Jewish – were more likely to be traditional Jews than Hellenistic ones.

The difference between them and their brethren who denied Yeshua was that they accepted what the Tanakh predicted about Him, and they put their faith in Him.

As a Jew (or Gentile), you are invited to do the same, and to accept as your Saviour and Lord the one who ransomed captive Israel as God promised through Moses and the Prophets.  He came to ransom you personally, if you put your faith in Him.

Contact us, and we can help you understand the truth about Yeshua.

Contributed by Daniel Muller, General Director of New Covenant Forum.

Here is the rest of the hymn:

Oh, come, our Wisdom from on high,
Who ordered all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, oh, come, our Lord of might,
Who to your tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times gave holy law,
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come O Rod of Jesse’s stem,
From ev’ry foe deliver them
That trust your mighty pow’r to save;
Bring them in vict’ry through the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, O Key of David, come,
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, our Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by your drawing nigh,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Posted in A Gentile perspective, Daniel Muller, Israel, Jesus and Israel, Jesus and Jews, Jews and Christianity, Messiah, Messiah in the Tanach, Salvation, This, That, The Other Thing | No Comments »

A Word About Your Father

December 19th, 2011

Growing up within the Catholic school system, one of my earliest religious memories as a child was being taught to recite the prayer that Yeshua (Jesus) taught his disciples, commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer, and found in Matthew 6:9-13. The prayer begins with the words “Our Father.”

At the time, I did not find that opening phrase particularly remarkable but now, upon reflection, it hits me with much more force. That’s because I have since learned that, although billions of people around the world believe in God, many of those people do not see Him as a Father. He is either an impersonal force or a distant ruler.

“Our Father” – even amongst those of us who affirm it in word, we seldom think on it or ponder its significance. I find it interesting that most Jewish people today do not emphasize the idea of God as Father to His people.

After all, this idea was expressed by the Jewish prophets. In the book of Hosea, written during the time when Israel and Judah were split into two kingdoms, God refers to Israel as His son.

Concerning His people, he says: “when Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. (Hosea 11:1)”  The rest of the chapter, however, talks of how Israel went away to serve other gods.  Due to their spiritual blindness they were unable to recognize that He was the one who was their provider:

The more they were called, the more they went away;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms,
but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love,
and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to
them and fed them.
(Hosea 11:2-4)

Because of Israel’s disobedience, God had to punish them severely. The punishment that He administered upon His people, however, was not merely retributive justice. It was also a display of His love. He cared for His people, and so He chastened them in order to lead them back. After all, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. (Proverbs 13:24)”

Furthermore, God did not hold His anger against Israel forever, but eventually withheld it in order to show His mercy towards them:

How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath.
(Hosea 11:8-9)

The Lord’s mercy is best exemplified in the B’rit Hadashah (New Covenant):

“But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ [Messiah] died for us. (Romans 5:8)”

When, by faith, we accept this atoning sacrifice on our behalf, we are then adopted into God’s family as His children and He relates to us as our Father. As it is written:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
(Romans 8:14-17)

What makes this so amazing is that God no longer limits this adoption to Jews. Rather, He brings into His family children from every nation, tribe and tongue, in keeping with his promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:3). His Spirit of adoption is sent first to the Jew, and then to the Gentile (Romans 1:16).

Thus, even I, a Gentile, can be a co-heir of God’s promises.  Like the Jewish people, when I put my faith in the Messiah whom my Father sent, I am reconciled to Him:

But to all who did receive him [Yeshua], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
(John 1:12-13)

Praise be to our Father, maker of heaven and earth!

Want to know more about your heavenly Father and the heaven-sent Son he sent for you?  Contact us.

Contributed by Luis Dizon, a former intern with New Covenant Forum from Toronto Baptist Seminary.

Posted in A Gentile perspective, Goyim for God, Knowing God, Luis Dizon, Messiah, Salvation, The Bible | No Comments »

The Trans-Cultural Nature of the Gospel

December 10th, 2010

Christianity has its roots in the Jewish religion and culture. Nobody who knows anything about Christianity disputes that. However, what is amazing about the Christian Gospel – the message of the Good News of Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) – is that it has never been bound by its cultural roots.  This has enabled it to spread far and wide and to adapt to other cultures in a way that no other religion has ever been able to do.

From the beginning, God said to Abraham that through his seed, all the nations shall be blessed (Genesis 22:18). We see this fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah, Yeshua. When he commissioned His disciples to spread the Gospel, he told them to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). As they did, they learned to, “become all things to all people”, as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:22.

Although the core of the Gospel message remains the same, it has a certain fluidity to it that enables it to transcend its Jewish roots. When it arrived to the Greeks, the apostles were able to communicate it in such a way that the Greeks were able to understand and accept the Gospel. From there, the Gospel travelled northwards and was received by the Barbarians. From then until only recently, Christianity became a predominantly European and North American religion. In the past century, however, we have been seeing a rapid growth of Christians in Africa, Latin America and China.

This is unparalleled as far as the religions of the world go. Islam, for example, is so inextricably linked to its Arab roots that it forces its non-Arab adherents to learn its holy book and recite its prayers in a language that is foreign to them. Hinduism suffers from this as well, seeing that it is so bound up in the culture it was formed in that it can scarcely gain adherents from outside its cultural bounds (except perhaps by marriage).  Even within Judaism, there are those that would limit the scope of rabbinic learning to a Jewish cultural framework.

Why has the Gospel been so successful in breaking these kinds of cultural barriers? The simple reason is that God has intended the Gospel to be trans-cultural. It is recognized by human rights activists that all cultures are equally human, and none can be considered inferior or superior to any other. Thus all cultures are to be respected, since they are created by God.

God therefore created a Gospel that could be adapted to different cultures without compromising its core contents, or assimilating one’s culture into another, be it Jewish, European or otherwise (regardless of – or, rather, proven by – failed attempts of that kind in the past). Pastor Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan notes, “There is, of course, a core of teachings… to which all forms of Christianity are committed. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of freedom in how these absolutes are expressed and take form within a particular culture.”

In other words, what began in the matrix of second-temple Judaism was intended to be a global phenomenon that would retain the core of what the Jewish Scriptures professed (belief in one God, His divine revelation, the Messiah, etc.), but would not be bound by Jewish culture. The Messiah redeemed “persons from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9), but He isn’t going to turn them all into Jews. Jews who believe in Yeshua as the Messiah are perfectly free to continue worshipping as Jews, both liturgically and culturally, and many of them do. 

That being said, however, Jewishness is not the requirement for other cultures. As Daniel Muller once told me, God loves diversity. Because He created Africans, He will redeem Africans and let them worship Him according to their African culture. The Chinese will worship God according to their Chinese culture. Filipinos (like me) will worship God as Filipinos, and so on.

We do not have to pray in a specific language or while facing a specific earth-based locale, as some manmade religions require its adherents to do. It is just as Yeshua said when He spoke to that Samaritan woman on the well about what true worship is:

“Believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth. (John 4:21-24)”

  Contributed by Luis Dizon, New Covenant Forum intern from Toronto Baptist Seminary.

Posted in A Gentile perspective, Evangelism, Jews and Christianity, Luis Dizon, This, That, The Other Thing | No Comments »

Light and Darkness at Hanukkah

December 2nd, 2010

In anticipation of Hanukkah, Daniel Muller and I decided to go handing out flyers in the Bathurst and Lawrence area of Toronto, declaring Yeshua (Jesus) as the light of the world and the promised Messiah.  This is in a very Jewish neighborhood and as we were walking along, we met various people (some Jewish, some Gentile), passed flyers to as many of them as we could, and tried to engage whoever were willing to converse with us regarding the Gospel.  

We had mixed reactions; some were friendly and open, some were indifferent, and some were downright hostile to the message we were sharing with them.  In particular, there was one man who was quite boisterous in his rejection of the message we were sharing with him and his companions.  He said he knew more about the issues involved than we did, and why Yeshua could not have been the Messiah.  When Daniel tried to ask him to share what his reasons were, the man did not really give any.  He simply reiterated his earlier claim, and threw the flyer we had given him away.  

One cannot help but wonder whether he really believed what he was claiming, or if he was simply grasping for excuses not to contend with the message we brought. Whatever the case, it was clear that he was not really willing to consider Yeshua’s claims, so we moved on.

This is not really the first time I’ve encountered such hostility. I’ve seen it many times, and it comes not just from Jews, but from Muslims, Atheists and others as well. But why is there this strong hostility to the Gospel message of Yeshua as Messiah? There are any variety of reasons why, but from a biblical perspective they all boil down to one thing: the depravity of the human heart.

Our hearts do not naturally seek God, and when we are confronted with Yeshua’s claims to be Messiah and Lord, the natural instinct of our flesh is to recoil against them. After all, “the mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. (Romans 8:7)”  When I heard that man’s excuses for not consideringJesus, I was immediately reminded of the hardening that Paul mentions in Romans 11:25. It also made me think of how darkened human hearts naturally react to the light that comes from Yeshua. I think He Himself said it best when he said these words to Nicodemus:

“Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3:19-21)”

Those of us who believe that Yeshua is the Messiah and take seriously His call to preach the Gospel to all the nations (both Jew and Gentile) will undoubtedly continue to be met with resistance. However, as many great people have repeatedly pointed out to me, it is ultimately not our job to convince people that they must accept Jesus as the Messiah and as Saviour. That is the work of God through His Holy Spirit, since no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). If people respond positively to the Gospel that we are proclaiming, it is because God is the one drawing them to Yeshua, not us (cf. John 6:44,65).

We will continue to share our message with the world, whether people are willing to hear it or not. We pray that the Lord God will bless our efforts and cause those precious seeds that we plant during evangelism to grow and bear fruit.  We continue to proclaim His Gospel to the praise and glory of His name alone, who is the true Light of the World at Hanukkah and all the days of our lives.

Contributed by Luis Dizon, New Covenant Forum intern from Toronto Baptist Seminary.

Posted in A Gentile perspective, Evangelism, Following God, Jesus and Jews, Jewish festivals, Jewish holidays, Jewish Objections to Jesus, Jews and Jesus, Knowing God, Luis Dizon, Personal Stories | 3 Comments »

“Our Father”: the paternity of God.

November 23rd, 2010

Growing up within the Catholic school system, one of my earliest religious memories as a child was being taught to recite the prayer that Yeshua (Jesus) taught, commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer. The prayer begins with the words “Our Father… (Matthew 6:9).”  At the time, I did not find that opening phrase particularly remarkable but now, upon reflection, it hits me with much more force. That’s because I have since learned that, although billions of people around the world believe in God, many of those people do not see Him as a Father.  He is either an impersonal force or a distant ruler.

“Our Father” – even amongst those of us who affirm it in word, we seldom think on it or ponder its significance. I find it interesting that most Jewish people today do not emphasize the idea of God as Father to His people. After all, this idea was expressed by the Jewish prophets.

In the book of Hosea, written during the time when Israel and Judah were split into two kingdoms, God refers to Israel as His son. Concerning His people, he says, “when Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. (Hosea 11:1)”  The rest of the chapter, however, talks of how Israel went away to serve other gods.  Due to their spiritual blindness they were unable to recognize that He was the one who was their provider:

“But the more they were called,
the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
and they burned incense to images.
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
it was I who healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts
a little child to the cheek,
and I bent down to feed them.”
(Hosea 11:2-4)

Because of Israel’s disobedience, God had to punish them severely. The punishment that He administered upon His people, however, was not merely retributive justice. It was also a display of His love.  He cared for His people, and so He chastened them in order to lead them back. After all, “whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. (Proverbs 13:24)”  Furthermore, God did not hold His anger against Israel forever, but eventually withheld it in order to show His mercy towards them:

“How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I treat you like Admah?
How can I make you like Zeboyim?
My heart is changed within me;
all my compassion is aroused.
I will not carry out my fierce anger,
nor will I devastate Ephraim again.
For I am God, and not a man—
the Holy One among you.
I will not come against their cities.”
(Hosea 11:8-9)

 The Lord’s mercy is best exemplified in the New Covenant, “in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)”  When, by faith, we accept this atoning sacrifice on our behalf, we are then adopted into God’s family as His children and He relates to us as our Father. As it is written:

“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:14-17)”

What makes this so amazing is that God no longer limits this adoption to Jews. Rather, He brings into His family children from every nation, tribe and tongue, in keeping with his promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:3). His Spirit of adoption is sent “first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. (Romans 1:16)”  Thus, even a Gentile such as myself can be a co-heir of God’s promises.  When I put my faith in the Messiah whom my Father sent, I am reconciled to Him:

“To all who did receive him [Yeshua], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12-13)”

Praise be to our Father, maker of heaven and earth!

Contributed by Luis Dizon, New Covenant Forum intern from Toronto Baptist Seminary.

Posted in A Gentile perspective, Following God, Goyim for God, Jesus and Jews, Jews and Jesus, Knowing God, Luis Dizon, Personal Stories, This, That, The Other Thing | No Comments »

The Genius Artist From Vitebsk

April 20th, 2010

The art world of Marc Chagall is unique. Just as most people would immediately recognize the paintings of Norman Rockwell, the paintings of Marc Chagall are also distinct and recognizable once you acquaint yourself with them. His many works abound in Jewish symbolism, Biblical stories, and his beloved childhood town of Vitebsk in Belarus. Chagall painted fanciful visions depicting floating, dream-like images as well as sinuous figures of people and animals that are most times out of proportion in size. A goat or a fish may appear much larger than a man. His inexhaustible palette of vibrant and rich colours are his trademark and his distinct and whimsical images have set him apart as one of the world’s greatest Jewish artists.

Marc Chagall was born in 1887, eldest of nine children into the home of a poor Hasidic family. Chagall told his mother that he wanted to be a painter but she could never comprehend why he would set his heart on such an impractical vocation. Nonetheless, in 1906 at age sixteen, Chagall began to study at the art school of Yehuda Pen in his hometown. A year later he left for St. Petersburg to further his studies under various known artists, eventually going to Paris in 1910. He returned to Vitebsk in 1914 to marry his fiancé, Bella Rosenfed. World War I broke out while he was home and Chagall became a participant in the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Bella and Marc moved to Paris in 1923 where he later became a French citizen. The Nazi occupation of France during World War II led Chagall and his wife to flee Paris. American journalist, Varian Fry assisted their escape from France through Spain and Portugal and in 1941 they settled in the United States. Unfortunately, his beloved Bella died in 1944. Chagall returned to Paris where he began to work in ceramics, sculptures and stained glass windows. The synagogue of the Hebrew University Hadassah Medical Centre in Jerusalem boasts one of Chagall’s greatest achievements, twelve stained-glass windows each depicting one of the tribes of Jacob.

Perhaps the most remarkable painting Chagall ever painted was in 1938 entitled ‘White Crucifixion’, the first of his many paintings of the crucifixion. For 1900 years no well-known Jewish artist dared to paint the figure of Jesus on the cross and yet Chagall did; he painted Jesus as a suffering Jewish Saviour. Amid much symbolism of Jewish persecution, the painting portrays Jesus nailed to the cross with a lighted menorah at his feet. His loins are covered with a Jewish prayer shawl and over his head written in Hebrew, ‘Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews’.

Chagall painted yet another picture that has been declared by some to be the most unusual self-portrait in the history of art, ‘Self-Portrait with a Clock’. Chagall has painted himself standing with brushes and palette in front of a picture of the crucifixion which he has just painted. His demeanor in the picture is melancholy as he contemplates the cross while his head is bowed over a sad-eyed donkey. A clock rests above Chagall’s head and interestingly, the time is set at three o’clock and above the head of Jesus is a rooster. Why a rooster? One can only speculate but perhaps there is an answer to the question. A custom that has been observed for centuries by Eastern European Jews is called kapparah from the Hebrew root ‘to cover.’ It is a traditional right that is supposed to be atoning as a substitute for the temple sacrifice. The male of the household takes a rooster on Yom Kippur and swinging it over his head three times will declare: ‘This is my substitute, my atonement, it shall meet death but I shall find long life’ and then the rooster is slaughtered.

Was Chagall bowing to his kapparah? We will never know but this we do know, Marc Chagall painted a Jewish Jesus for the world to see, and he painted him as a suffering Savior. Chagall died in 1985 at the age of 97 leaving behind his legacy and art works worldwide. Today a museum sits at 29 Pokrovskaia Street in his home town of Vitebsk, a tribute to ‘the genius artist of Viebsk.’

Contributed by Marilyn Duguid, Secretary/Treasurer on the Board of Directors of New Covenant Forum.

Posted in A Gentile perspective, Atonement, Marilyn Duguid, Personal Stories | No Comments »

Did Jesus really rise from the dead?

April 23rd, 2009

A few months ago, publishers of SEVEN magazine asked me to write a cover article entitled “Easter: Is it for Real?” for their March 1, 2009 issue. You can read the full article, and the whole issue, online. Scroll down the page for the appropriate PDF of the magazine. Below is a brief overview of the article.
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“Could you come over and explain the real meaning of Easter to our boys? I don’t want them to think that Easter is only about the Easter Bunny and chocolate eggs.” Though expressing no open commitment to the Christian faith, this young couple instinctively knew that the story of Jesus dying and rising again was at the heart of Easter, that it was something important for their young boys to know.

Christians, at least in the evangelical branch in which I was raised, tend to make a great deal of fuss over Christmas, while observing the surrounding events of Jesus’ death and resurrection with relatively little fanfare. And yet, Easter presents a great opportunity to talk about the heart of Christianity – that Jesus lived, died and rose again to make atonement for our sins.

A couple of years ago, while discussing Judaism and Christianity with an orthodox rabbi, he challenged me: “Prior to his crucifixion and alleged resurrection, why would a first century Jew have believed that Jesus was the Messiah?” In calling the resurrection “alleged,” my rabbi friend was stating he did not believe it to be true. However, though I doubt he meant to do so, his comment underscored the importance of the resurrection as the crucial, watershed issue in establishing the credibility of Christianity.

Given its vital importance, are there reasonable evidences for believing Jesus actually rose from the dead? There are four common lines of evidence for the physical resurrection of Messiah Jesus.

    The Old Testament Scriptures clearly predicted the death and resurrection.
    Jesus really died. It may seem strange to raise this as evidence, but many refute the resurrection by claiming that Jesus never really died.
    The empty tomb – Where is his body? To this day, no one has ever produced the body of Jesus.
    Jesus appeared to many people in different places.

Aside from the factual evidence above, the circumstantial evidence for Messiah’s resurrection is simply too great to ignore. As Christians we are committed to the truthfulness of Scripture – both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament scriptures. It is God’s Word – we believe what it says. But not everyone shares our commitment to the veracity of Scripture. So is there anything else to which we can appeal? There are several matters demanding plausible alternative explanations, if we are to deny the resurrection of Jesus. Here are just a few.

    The radical change in behavior of the disciples must be explained.
    The conversion of hardened skeptics is significant.
    The worldwide existence of the Christian church cannot be ignored.

However, as valuable as apologetics is, I believe one of the best defenses for the reality of the resurrection is the testimony of a transformed life. The New Testament says “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Just as Jerusalem’s citizens marveled at the bold witness of the early Christians, our culture also takes note of those who live authentic lives. When Christian faith truly informs a believer’s life – in marriage and family relationships, in one’s work ethic, in one’s interests and ambitions – the surrounding community takes note that something powerful is at work in that life.

This was surely true in ancient Thessalonica, for Paul wrote to them: “…your faith in God has become known everywhere…we do not need to say anything about it … they tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1 Thessalonians 1:8-10).

As important as it is to be informed about the reasons for believing in the resurrection, Christians must also be transformed by that resurrection power residing in them through God’s Holy Spirit. It is that empowering presence of God’s Spirit in one’s life that compels the Christian to share the great news that Jesus really did rise from the dead.

Please read the full article . And as always, I welcome your comments and questions.

Contributed by David Daniels, former General Director of New Covenant Forum and Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Richmond Hill.

Posted in A Gentile perspective, Atonement, David Daniels, Goyim for God, Resurrection | No Comments »

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