Monday, May 31, 2010

The Gates of Zion

Another in the Zion Chronicles series, The Gates of Zion, published in 1986 by Bethany House. finds the fictional Moshe Sachar, an Israeli professor of linguistics and archaeology at Hebrew University, discovering that an ancient commentary on Isaiah interprets the suffering servant as the Messiah. The "truth" finally dawns on him:

"And so," he said aloud. "The interpretation was changed, although the words have remained the same. The ancients knew the prophet spoke of the Messiah. How inconvenient truth can be at times!" .... "Especially when for so long the one you thought to be your enemy is, in fact, your Savior. This is truth, Moshe Sachar," he said aloud to himself. "So what will you do with the Messiah? The one they call Christ?".

Moshe explains to Ellie (a gentile woman) about how he came to faith in Jesus:

"Then ancient commentaries speak of Him as the final sacrifice for all our sins and imperfections. They speak of His love and kindness and tell us that He alone is the one who can save us from the death that dwells in our hearts.... He died on the eve of Passover, nearly two thousand years ago. Like the lamb of sacrifice, He took my sins and covered them with His blood. He was perfect and without blemish, and He died in my place like the prophets said He would. Then He conquered death. Ellie, He came to life again and is living still, and He has made my heart alive in knowing Him. That is my hope. My belief in fact and truth." "Then you are a Christian?" Ellie asked quietly.... "I am Moshe Sachar, and I am a Jew who believes that the one we call Yeshua is the Messiah. .... He will come again to my people and they will know Him for who He is and find pardon and the joy of knowing Him as a loving and merciful Savior."

Rabbi Shlomo Lebowitz ("Grandfather") talks about religion with an Englishman, Luke Thomas, who says:

"Yes, I see your point. But does it not say in Isaiah . . . I believe it is Isaiah fifty-two, that even the Gentiles will see the Messiah and believe? "Well spoken, Captain," nodded the old rabbi. "But I fear that the Gentiles have made Jesus into a Gentile. And so over two thousand years Jews have been murdered and tortured in the name of Christ. And what does God have to say about that, eh?"

Rachel thinks to herself:

"Even as she had struggled to recapture the importance of God in a life filled with horror and betrayal, she had lost the battle, lost her soul, lost God..... "Maybe my heart has always been dead," she said aloud.... She tried to remember if God had ever been real to her or if He had always seemed remote, simply a historical appendage to her heritage. At Hanukkah or Passover, had He ever been near to her? .... The words of her childhood faith seemed to mock her.... How she had fallen! Now neither God nor man could lift her up again."

Howard (a Christian) says to Moshe:

"You know all the messianic prophecies. We have spoken of them many times together. ... And yet you never told me why you do not believe in the One who fulfilled those prophecies." ... [Moshe replies]: I have never said I do not believe in Jesus... Although the rabbis do not believe that He was the Messiah, only the ignorant deny that He was a great prophet and great among the rabbis.... I deny those who since the early centuries have denied His Jewishness. Jews have known little of Jesus and have wished to know less." "But why?" Moshe looked at Howard in disbelief. "You are an intelligent man, Howard. Surely you know that the name of Jesus is to a Jew the scourge of God, the fiend in whose name children have been torn in two while their Jewish parents were roasted alive in every city of Spain! .... it was all done in the name of the Prince of Peace, was it not?"

Moshe continues:

"But I believe He came to all men who would seek Him. As I read the messianic prophecy of Isaiah 53, the Messiah came to heal our sins by His wounds as the final sacrifice. .... I will never call myself by the word Christian, but I understand why the Messiah came into this world, and I believe I have found a truth that is as old as the Jewish people. He does not want our sacrifices, he wants our hearts. The ultimate sacrifice was one He made for us. Jesus did not destroy Jewish law, He fulfilled it. ... I am a Jew, Howard. As do many Jews, I believe in the coming of the Messiah. I just happen to believe that He has been here once already..... I will tell you that I believe that Jesus lives in the hearts of those who really know Him. It was through your friendship that I first saw His gentleness. For this I am grateful."

Wandering Jude speaks:

The newly converted Jewish Christian character in this book, Moshe Sachar, is convinced of the claims of Christianity when he discovers that there was at one time a Jewish interpretation of Isaiah 52 and 53 that saw the "suffering servant" as the Messiah. This seems a rather specious argument in favor of the absolute truth of Christianity. Competing sects (as Judaism and Christianity once were) often debate back and forth and then change their interpretations of sacred texts based on how well the debate is going. If Judaism once saw the suffering servant as an individual instead of as a group, then of course it must have been inconvenient to continue with this interpretation once Christianity became the majority religion. Interpretations of sacred scriptures change all the time, in all religions. One example of this in one religion does not prove the absolute truth of another religion.

In this book, both Sachar and Lebovitz express an important argument against Jews converting to Christianity: the persecution of Jews by Christians throughout the ages (though for Sachar this is not an argument against believing in Jesus, simply an argument against calling himself a Christian). Wandering Jude agrees that this is a compelling argument. Why should a Jew join the religion that battered and buffeted his people for centuries? The pathetic counter argument, that Jesus should not be judged on the basis of the evil deeds of his so-called followers, is only partly correct. Jesus the man should not be judged on this basis, but the religion in his name can be and should be. Christianity in theory may have many wonderful tenets, but its history of bloodshed and persecution stands as a testimony to all Jews that this is not the religion for us.