The Picture and the Frame
© May 2006 by Asher Intrater
Understanding the cultural context of the Gospel
The kingdom of God is like a picture, painted within a frame. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the picture; the cultural context is the frame. It is important to present the picture in the right frame, but it is also important not to confuse the frame with the picture; not to replace the content with the context.
We could also liken this to a cup of water. The cup is the cultural expression; the water is the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is important to give people a cup that they will feel free to drink from. On the other hand, an empty cup, no matter how culturally attractive, is still empty.
The Best and the Worst
As we can see from this verse, there is both good and bad in Jewish religious tradition, or as my friend Yosef Shulam once said, "both the best and the worst."
Within Jewish tradition, false messianic figures have arisen over the years: from Bar Cochba and Shimon Bar Yochai in the first and second century up to Rabbi Schneerson and Nachman from Breslav in more modern times. This tendency to reject the true Messiah (Yeshua) and receive false messiahs is quite dangerous.
On the other hand, there are biblical issues (such as divine election, the Davidic kingdom, the Abrahamic covenant, the Levitical priesthood, the Moral Law, etc.) that have been lost to Christianity over the centuries. These issues can only be recovered by understanding the scriptures from a historic Israelite or Jewish world view.
Power of the Holy Spirit
It is not a coincidence that the Holy Spirit was poured out on this Jewish biblical holy day. The feasts of Israel were not just cultural events, but divinely ordained assemblies for God to meet with the people and further His kingdom purposes. We want to celebrate the feasts; but that must include the wind, the fire, and the tongues that went with it.
Part of the testimony was to offer the sacrifice in the Temple. Of course it wouldn't have been much of a testimony if the man had not been healed. When he gave witness of the healing miracle within the Torah culture, the testimony was made complete and relevant. We want to bring the supernatural healing power of Yeshua back to our people within our own culture.
Torah and Evangelism
There were tens of thousands of Jews who both believed in the Messiah and observed the Law. From a Jewish viewpoint that would be obvious: faith in the Messiah and the moral standards of the Torah reinforce one another (Romans 3:31).
The gospel is to be presented within the cultural context of the people who are receiving it - "To those who are under the Law as one who is under the Law, so that I might win those under the Law (I Corinthians 9:20)." The point here is to be MORE effective in sharing the good news with MORE people. Some Messianic Jews today are using "zealousness for the Torah" as an excuse NOT to share the gospel and thus missing the central factor.
The Second Coming
Yeshua's return to earth is connected with a revival of faith in Jerusalem among the very people who had rejected Him. Today this prophecy is beginning to be fulfilled in Jerusalem as the saints cry out in prayer and praise: "Baruch Haba B'shem Adonai."
Over the past ten years, the "Chabad" movement has spent huge sums of money advertising, "Blessed is he who comes, King Messiah," refering to Rabbi Schneerson. On the one hand it is a horrible lie to tell people that the Chabad rabbi is the Messiah. On the other hand, they correctly understood that "Blessed is He" (a quote from Psalm 118) was referring to crowning the Messiah as King on earth - an important theme of scriptures not seen in most Christian circles.
While Matthew 23 connects the Jewish religious leadership in Jerusalem with the Second Coming, much of the chapter contains harsh rebukes against their hypocrisy. May God give us the humility to recognize the divine, as well as the courage to rebuke the demonic, in our culture and traditions.
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