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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

All Contents ©2004-2007 Stuart Dauermann - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Is it "Glory Hallelujah" or Is It "Kitchie Kitchie Koo?"

(The following is a drash, a sermon, for Shabbat Vayechi, which this year coincides with Christmas Day).

"I don't care if it rains or freezes
'Long as I got my plastic Jesus
Riding on the dashboard of my car
Through my trials and tribulations
And my travels through the nations
With my plastic Jesus I'll go far"

The song makes us laugh. It also makes us wince. But the plastic Jesus phenomenon is all around us, especially at this time of year. I fear that when it comes to Yeshua, even for us in the Messianic Movement, our image of Yeshua may be more plastic than we care to admit.

Graven image-making in the name of Yeshua is deeply imbedded in American culture. This is especially evident at this time of year.

Stephen Prothero maps this reality for us in his 2003 book, "American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon." He demonstrates that we must often ask ourselves, "Which Jesus are you talking about??" because there have been many, and the varieties are morphing all the time.

To the Puritans, "Jesus was at best a marginal figure." The Calvinists of early Colonial America were "God-fearing rather than a Jesus-loving people, obsessed not with God's mercy but with His Glory, not with the Son but with the Father." During the 18th century, thinkers such as Thomas Jefferson considered Jesus an "enlightened sage" and separated the Jesus of the Bible from the Jesus of official Christianity, which, they believed, had distorted his message.

Prothero reminds us further that only in the 19th century, with the rise of evangelicalism, did Jesus move to the center of American Christianity. "This Jesus, true to the egalitarian impulse of the time, was more of a helpful friend than a stern judge of wayward mortals, and hymns like 'What a Friend We Have in Jesus' moved to the front of the church repertory. Jesus the friend became more and more the meek and submissive Jesus who represented the Victorian virtues of home and hearth. In other words, he became, in all but name, a female." And this emasculation of the Lord of Lords continues to this day, at least in some quarters. I am especially exercised over a well-known invitational hymn which, speaking of Yeshua waiting at the doorway of the human heart, says in its chorus: "Time after time, he has waited before, and now he is waiting again; To see if you're willing to open the door, O won't you let him come in." Pardon me, but this converts Yeshua into some sort of spiritual panhandler, waiting for a handout, and the song pleads with us to give him a break. He is disempowered, stymied by our indecision or reluctance, begging on our doorstep.

Author Prothero chronicles how Victorian feminization of Yeshua produced a backlash. Preachers like Billy Sunday, a former baseball player, went to the other extreme, preaching that Jesus was "the greatest scrapper that ever lived."

I remember in the early 60’s hearing a man named Jack, a converted drug smuggler once wanted by Interpol, teaching a bunch of Hispanic Sunday School children at a fundamentalist church. Jack told these wide-eyed children that Jesus was the strongest man who ever lived—stronger even than Superman And no, Jack wasn't kidding. He reasoned that Yeshua, being the sinless God-man, was perfect in every manner, including being the perfect physical specimen. It makes you wonder what happened to Isaiah 53, and the Messiah having "no form nor comeliness that we should look on him, and as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised and we esteemed him not." Jack also taught that when Jesus was lying in the manger he was thinking about how he had formed the galaxies. Jack's virile Superbaby Jesus was nothing more than God in a man-suit. Jack had lost the true humanity of Yeshua—he lost sight of the fact that the Incarnation involved the Holy One being born an actual baby, in human vulnerability and weakness. Jack lost the Incarnation.

In the 1960's Jesus drifted out of the churches and into our culture. Prothero quotes Drew University Professor Leonard Sweet, who wryly observed that Jesus had been transformed from "Logos to logo." "As the age of Aquarius gave way in 1971 to "Godspell" and "Jesus Christ Superstar," Jesus became an icon of popular culture. Walls were plastered with posters of both a hippie Jesus and the swirling colors of a psychedelic Jesus while Jesus Rock boomed from stereo systems across the country." Others saw him as a virile carpenter, warm, approachable, smiling with straight teeth and smooth hair, and quite possibly a Norwegian-American.

We in the Messianic Movement have our own graven images, our own plastic Yeshua's. The danger for us is that we tend to convert him into nothing much more than the best of rabbis. Sadly, some in our movement, hostile to and very suspicious of the rabbinical establishment, would see Yeshua as really "the best of Messianic rabbis!" What a horrific comedown this is for the One seated upon the throne! When we do this, even sub-consciously, we do dangerous violence to the truth, no less than those we just examined who perennially modify, politicize, emotionalize, and customize the Messiah according to personal preference and the trends of the day.

This is a crucial matter, but why?

At this time of year, when speaking of the Incarnation, we mean that the Word became flesh in Yeshua in such a manner that when we see him, we see all the fullness of the Godhead dwelling bodily in human form. But if we believe that in Yeshua, all the fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily, then to the extent that we form inappropriate images of who Yeshua is, we are at least verging on idolatry, because we are calling our false ideas "God," but they are not God at all. We are left with nothing but a plastic Jesus, a graven image--yes, an idol. I fear that when it comes to Yeshua, even for us in the Messianic Jewish Movement, our image of Yeshua may be more graven than we care to admit.

This all comes to a head for me at this time of year. I find myself really irked by the Christmastime focus on "the little Lord Jesus laying down his sweet head. . .away in the manger," this "gentle Jesus meek and mild." Knowing what we know from Scripture about Yeshua, had you been in the manger with Mary and Joseph would you have gone up to the baby and said "kitchie kitchie koo?" And if not, what might a more informed response have been? This is the point of today's consideration.

Today's readings give us two big pointers toward a more appropriate response, and a Yeshua who is not a graven image. The first pointer is found in our Torah reading, B'reishit/Genesis 49. In blessing his sons, our ancestor Ya’akov clearly foreshadows the coming Messiah who will be known as "the Lion of the Tribe of Judah." What do we see about him in this text?

"8 You, O Judah, your brothers shall praise;
Your hand shall be on the nape of your foes;
Your father's sons shall bow low to you.
9 Judah is a lion's whelp;
On prey, my son, have you grown.
He crouches, lies down like a lion,
Like the king of beasts — who dare rouse him?
10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet;
So that tribute shall come to him
And the homage of peoples be his."

What do we learn here?
1. His brothers shall praise him. . .his father’s sons will bow down to him--he will have ascendancy over all Israel.
2. His hand will be on the neck of his enemies--he will be victorious and supreme even amidst resistance to his authority.
3. He is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah—spoken of here as "a lion’s whelp," and "the king of beasts."
4. He is one not carelessly to be reckoned with, just as you would not disturb a feeding lion: "He crouches, lies down like a lion,Like the king of beasts — who dare rouse him?" Don’t mess with this the Lion. Don't chuck him under the chin and say "kitchie kitchie koo."
5. He is the ruler whom the people [actually, "peoples" "amim"--the other people groups besides Israel] will obey and do homage.

In this picture we see the Messiah, the epitome and apex of rulership in the tribe of Judah as the ruler over all, mighty, intimidating, even dangerous. One would not go up to this young lion and say "Kootchie kootchie koo."

Our haftarah reading [especially 1 Kings 2:1-4, 10-12]also foreshadows Yeshua. It records King David’s directions to his son Solomon, his successor to the throne. Just as Ya'acov's blessing of his sons was concerned with "acharit hayamim"--the end of days, so here David is concerned not only with his immediate successor but also the ultimate destiny of his throne. He knows that one of his eventual descendants will rule over the House of David—and over the people of Israel forever [see 2 Samuel 7 for more details].

In his masterful address at the November 2000 Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Dr. Craig Blaising points out how Yeshua's identity as the Son of David is generally passed over in the creeds and confession of Christendom. Here is what he says:

"It is remarkable that the great creeds and confessions of the faith are silent on this point, being satisfied simply with the affirmation of Christ’s humanity. However, in Scripture, not only the Jewishness of Jesus, but also his Davidic lineage are central features of the Gospel. For example, Paul, in Romans 1, summarizes the gospel in this way: "The gospel of God which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord.'

"This is the gospel which he says in Romans 1:16 is to the Jew first and also to the Greek. In 2 Timothy 2:8, he writes, ‘Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel.’…

"…The point is that the incarnation is not just the union of God and humanity; it is the incarnation of the Son of God in the house of David as the Son of covenant promise. From a human standpoint, Jesus is not just a man, or generic man; he is that man—that descendant of David" [Blaising, Craig. "The Future of Israel as a Theological Question." Nashville, 2000:17-19, emphasis added].

Yeshua is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Son of David. As such he will rule over his people Israel, and will rule over the nations as well This is what the prophet Isaiah said": "Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given"—a child of Israel, a descendant of Jacob, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and also the Son of God, as the angel told Miriam, "Do not be afraid, Miriam, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son [‘a child is born, a son is given!’], and you are to give him the name Yeshua. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end. . . The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to born will be called the Son of God" [Luke 1:30-35].

There are so many other texts from the Older and Newer Testaments that we could point to, such as Psalm 2, where Messiah is also represented as a Son of Israel, the Son of David and the Son of God. But let’s content ourselves with just one more, the fourth and fifth chapter of the Book of Revelation.

In this passage, John sees a vision of the throne of God before whom the living creatures, symbolizing the created order, the heavenly hosts, and the 24 elders fall down in worship. These elders represent the full complement of the people of God. We read that no one is found in heaven and earth worthy to open the seals of the scroll in the hand of God. That scroll is the redemptive consummation of all things—no one is found worthy to bring all of the created order to its consummation—no one except the Unique One, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David. Look at the language used of him.

5:1 Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals; 2 and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?" 3 And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. 4 And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals."

Here we see today’s Torah and Haftarah texts coming together: it is the Lion of the tribe of Judah [as in Genesis], and the Root of David who has conquered and who can open the seals—who alone can and does bring all of creation to its goal in his work of revelation, redemption and consummation.

"6 Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. 8 When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 They sing a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; 10 you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth." 11 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 singing with full voice, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!"

But even this does not go far enough in disclosing to us the magnitude of child who was born, the son who was given. Later in Revelation, he is spoken of as the one who will rule the nations with a scepter of iron, for he was not only slaugthered—he also conquered death and lives again with everything subject to him. This hearkens back to Genesis 49 ["The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler's staff from between his feet; So that tribute shall come to him And the homage of peoples be his"]. Psalm 2 speaks as well of the Messiah who rules the nations with a rod of iron.

We’ve had a lot to say today. The baby spoken of so cloyingly at Christmas time is awe-inspiring and supremely formidable. He is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah—a powerful, even frightening lion, not to be trifled with. He is the one who rules over his brethren Israel as the ultimate Son of David and over the nations as well, ruling over them with a rod or scepter of iron—able to withstand and defeat all the hostility of those who would foolishly resist the rule of Israel’s God with their last breath. "Why do th nations raise and the people's imagine a vain thing?. . .He who sits in the heavens laughs!"

But he is more than simply the Son of Israel, the Lion of Judah and the Son of David. He is the one born of that Jewish virgin girl overshadowed by the Holy Spirit so that the holy child born of her would be called the Son of God.

This is the Messiah whom we honor at this time: not the pleading spiritual panhandler waiting on the doorstep "to see if we will let him come in." This is no plastic Jesus. This is no graven image. This is the Son of God, who in the fullness of time became a Jewish Man, who suffered as a sacrificial Lamb that he might rise again as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the One destined to rule over all.

All of these factors combine in such a way as to demand that the only rational response for us to have toward the child that was born that day is not "kitchie kitchie koo" but something far different—the response suggested at the conclusion of our passage from the Revelation:

"5:13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, "To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!" 14 And the four living creatures said, "Amen!" And the elders fell down and worshiped."

"O come let us adore Him"

Material concerning Stephen Prothero’s "American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon," quoted, supplemented, edited, and paraphrased freely from a review by Andrew Hudgins, found on the Internet at http://www.triangle.com/books/bookreview/story/954779p-6862170c.html.

At 12/23/2004 7:20 PM, Blogger yochanan said...

oh rabbenu, i thought that i was a long winded blogger!

you have given us a powerful challenge to all of us to get a clear picture of who Yeshua really is. though for us who are messianic we can easily criticque the Church's view of Yeshua and as it were not look at the log in our own eye.

a proper understanding of Yeshua is vital.

i appreciate your comment about being a shepherd visiting the baby Yeshua, which is appropriate to this season (i just re-read the Gospel of Luke the other day). i was hit with the fact of how awe inspring that would have been to fully take into count that the one who spoke the universe into being was a baby in a feedbox born into a humble setting. it is a profound thought and one that would have required great respect and honor of the one to whom you would be visiting.

this baby Yeshua was and is the lion of the tribe of judah and the king to whom all humanity will one day bow as is affirmed each day in the aleinu and rav shaul's reflection in philippians 2.

Yeshua is now the one sitting at the right hand of the Father and he will return to rule and to reign and he is far more than just the character of hymns and praise songs ("what a friend we have in Jesus" for example). he is the creator of all, king and L-rd of all.

so then at this season and from now on let us set our sights on the true lion of Judah, the word made flesh and our soon coming king, Yeshua our righteous Messiah!

shalom to you rabbenu...


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