Should Christians support Israel? - Hebrews 1:1-3

This is a sermon by Malcolm Peters from the Riverside Church service on 10th May 2009.

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Anti-Semitism is an ugly sin the world has been grappling with not just in the decades since WWII, not even just in recent centuries, but for several millennia.    And given Holocaust, it’s not surprising that, after WWII, the momentum for a new Jewish homeland became unstoppable.  And so in 1948, the modern state of Israel was born;  a modern nation state that occupied part of the ancient Biblical land of Canaan;  a modern nation state where Jews could feel safe from their oppressors;  a modern nation state to which Jews of any nationality could freely emigrate;   a pragmatic and political solution to ongoing anti-Semitism that had reached new heights in Hitler’s Germany.    [pause]

But for many Jews and Christians, the creation of the modern State of Israel and its subsequent expansion, wasn’t only a political solution to the Holocaust, but the fulfilment of ancient promises in the OT of a return to the land;  a return to the Promised Land that is;  the Promised Land of Israel.    A recent article in the Christian press described the modern State of Israel as ‘a pinnacle of Messianic hope’.   And that’s because many Christians see the restoration of the modern state of Israel as a necessary step before J’s second coming.    Other Christians would argue that modern Israel is an irrelevance and still other Christians claim that the modern state of Israel is basically an apartheid regime that abuses human rights and so is acting against God’s revealed will.  Which is right?  How should we view the modern state of Israel?

As Christians, we shouldn’t duck difficult issues and questions.   As Christians, our thinking on this issue, just like any other, should be shaped by what God thinks;  by what God says in His Word the Bible. 

And so, as John Stott put it in one of his sermons on the subject, the issue of whether Christians should support the modern state of Israel is ultimately an issue of hermeneutics;  an issue of how we interpret the Bible;  an issue of how we understand the whole Bible fitting together;  and especially an issue of how we interpret the OT in the light of the New.   

And so in one sense, we’ve already answered the theological issues over the last 2 years in our various sermon series and especially the ones on Romans and Haggai.  And the scripts of all those sermons are on the website; and, if you don’t have access to the internet, then I’m more than happy to give you hard copy of those earlier talks.  

And so what we’re going to do this morning is to recap the teaching of Romans, have a pre-view of the book of Hebrews and then draw out the practical implications for the Israel issue. 

1.  There’s only One People of God  (Rom 9-11)

So first of all then in the book of Romans, we learnt that there’s only one people of God.  Only one people of God in both the Old and New Testaments.  So turn back with me if you would to Rom chapter 9 on p [1054/  1758].

6It is not as though God's word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children. On the contrary, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." 8In other words, it is not the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring.

And the main point if you remember back to that sermon, was that not every ethnically Jewish person was a true Jew, a true child of God that is.  Both Esau and Jacob were ethnic  Jews, twins born from the same Jewish parents.  And yet only Jacob was a child of a promise;  a true offspring or seed of Abraham;  a true Jew that is.    And as we learnt in Rom chapter 4, true Jews under the Old Cov were justified, or made right with God, in exactly the same way as New Cov believers:  through faith in God’s promises; by trusting God’s Word. 

And so it was perfectly possible under the OC to be an ethnic Jew, and yet not be a true Jew;  a real child of God that is.    The idea of a subset of ethnic Jews being true Jews, or the remnant as it’s labelled in Rom 11, was not an idea invented by Paul:  it’s all through the OT. Not every ethnically Jewish person was a true child of God.  But those that were, well they were justified in the same way as true NC believers:  through faith in God’s promises.

And all the OT promises of God find their fulfilment in J.  Don’t turn to it, but listen to these words of J to 2 Jewish disciples on the road to Emmaus shortly after the resurrection:

25 [J] said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" 27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Or as Paul puts it in 2 Cor 1:20: 

“For no matter how many promises God has made they are “yes” in Christ”

J is the fulfilment of all the OT was pointing forward to.  And so when J came along, ethnic Jews who were true Jews, true children of God, put their trust in the promised Jewish Messiah who’d now arrived.  All true Jews, all genuine children of God, whether ethnically Jewish or Gentile, will put their trust in J at some point during their lives.    And of course, many 1C Jews did just that:  Paul and the other 12 Apostles were Jews;  in Act chapter 6, we learn that a great number of Jewish priests put their trust in J the Jewish Messiah.  The early church began with Jews only.  It was only later, as the Gospel spread, that gentiles were converted and then eventually became a majority in the church.  And so there’s only one people of God:  the true children of God in both the Old and New Ts;  and so now that J has come, the true people of God will trust in J, whether they’re Jews of Gentiles;  there aren’t 2 peoples of God and there aren’t 2 ways to god;  no alternative means of salvation.  As the Apostle Peter put it in Act chapter 4: 

12Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by whom we must be saved."

And that’s why Paul is so concerned that his fellow Jews put their trust in J.  Come back to Rom 9:1:

1I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit— 2I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.   

Why?  Well flip onto 10:1:

 1Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. 2For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 3Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. 4Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

Or as he put it back in chapter 1:

16I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.

God may bring a revival in the future among Jewish people as He appears to be doing the moment among Chinese people.  But the fact remains that there’s only one people of God.  And under the NC, that one people of God are all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, whatever their ethnic background.  There’s only one people of God then. 

2.  There’s Only One plan of God in the O and N Ts     (Heb 1:1-3 & Heb chapter 8)

And that brings us onto the second main point.  There’s only one plan of God in the O and N T’s.  There’s only one plan of God.   And that’s exactly what the book of Hebrews is saying.   The central point of the book of Hebrews is that the OC has been fulfilled by the new.    The OT was an unfinished book that always pointed forward to the New.   So pl turn on, if you would, to Heb chapter 1 on  p [1117 /  1862]:

Jesus is God’s final Word  v1-2a

And first of all then, in v1-2a, we see that J is the final Word of God;  J is the final word of God.  Look with me at v1:

 1In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son

Ever since the Garden of Eden, God has been in the business of revealing Himself to

Mankind.  And throughout the OT, God gradually revealed more and more of himself, always pointing forward to the supreme revelation that was to come.  Ever since creation, God the Father spoke and carried on speaking to His people, at many different times, and in many different ways, but always through his chosen prophets; prophets like Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David and Jeremiah.  Sometimes directly, sometimes in a dream.  Little by little gradually revealing more of Himself and His plans and purposes which were then recorded for us as OT Scripture.  

But then, in these last days, God has spoken to us New Covenant people, once for all by His Son, Jesus Christ.  In the past God used to speak on an ongoing basis through many means and many different people.  But now, he has spoken once and finally in the person of His Son.  God has nothing more to say.  Everything he had said in the past was pointing forward to J.  And everything he continues to say today is simply fleshing out the implications of what He’s already said, once for all, in His Son.  That’s why the Book of Revelation ends with a curse on anyone who adds to the words of the NT. 

Which is why we know before we even look at their contents, that the Book of Mormon, the Watchtower and the Qu-ran are not of God, despite their claims to be on a par with God’s Word in Scripture.  That’s why when a professing Christian tells me that God’s told them something, my response is to say:  show me where in Scripture.  The HS might give us hunches about things or guide us in interpreting the Scriptures, but the age of OT prophets and authoritative new revelations is over.  J is God’s final Word.  J is God’s supreme self-revelation.   So in v1-2a, we’ve seen that J is the final word of God.

 

Jesus is the final work of God

But in the rest of v2 & 3, we see that Jesus is also the final work of God.    J is the final work of God.   Look at v2 again:

2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 3The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

J is the one for whom and by whom all things exist.  In other words, J is both the reason for the whole of Creation and the means through which God the Father actually created the world.  Jesus and the Trinity didn’t start at Christmas.  No God was eternally Trinity.  And in eternity, God the Father decided to create the world as an inheritance for His Son.  And he used His son as the agent or the means of creating.  J wasn’t simply a 1st century Jewish preacher.  He’s the Creator.  [mini –pause] But there’s more: 

At the end of v3 we see that J sustains the universe by His powerful Word.  Literally it says that J is carrying the creation – as the children’s song puts it:  he’s got the whole world, in His hands.  So J not only created the world in the first place, the world only stays together by J’s active will of carrying it.  “Who is this, that even the wind and the waves obey Him”, said the disciples after J had calmed the storm on Lake Galilee.  Answer:  the creator and sustainor of the universe. 

But there’s more:  because they were eternally together in the Trinity, when the Son became a man, he was able to reveal what God is truly like.  Why?  Because they’re One in the Trinity;  J the Son is the exact imprint or representation of the Father’s very inner being.  So J the Son radiates the Father’s glory, like sunshine radiating from the Sun. That why J is the Father’s final word.  Because he truly is the Father’s final and supreme revelation of himself.   

So God’s work in His Son is to create and sustain the universe and to reveal who God is.  But His greatest and final work is at the end of v3:

After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

This one sentence is unpacked by 5 whole chapters later in the letter.  To sit down in Hebrew thought implies:  job done.  And sitting at someone’s right hand is an honour.  Sitting at God’s right hand is an honour granted only to the Son.  It’s like the Father saying, well done my Son;  job well done.  And what’s the job?  Making purification of sins.  Or, in short, redemption. 

And if you’ve done a basic Bible Overview in any form, then you’ll know that Redemption is a key Bible word.  Indeed, the word Redemption could sum up the one plan of God progressively revealed throughout the O and N Ts.   So let’s step back and remind  ourselves of the Bible’s Big Picture: 

And first in Gen 1&2 we have Creation.  Then in Gen 3 we have the Fall, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s clear Word.  Then from Gen 12 onwards we have God’s unfolding plan of Redemption where we see God undoing the mess created by the Fall.  And finally at the end of these last days we’re in, we’re looking forward to the Consummation of God’s kingdom; we’re looking forward to J coming back and ushering in the New Heavens and the new Earth.  Creation, Fall, Redemption and Consummation.    And the bulk of the Bible from Gen 12 to Rev is about God’s unfolding plan of Redemption:  God’s Big Picture then.  And I hope you remember this book [hold up] called God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts, which was our very first Book of the term.  And if you haven’t already read it, pl do come and borrow my copy after the service. 

So all through the OT then we have pictures of Redemption; pictures reflecting the One plan of God throughout the O and N Ts.  So we have Moses and the exodus.  We have Joshua and the entry into the Promised Land.  We have the Temple and its Priests and animal sacrifices.  And just as in the past, God spoke at many times and in various ways, so under the Old Covenant, there were many Priests, because they kept dying off, and they had to have many sacrifices, because none of them really worked or lasted.  And to see that ever more clearly, flip forward to Heb chapter 8 and look with me at v1:

1The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.

 3Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. 4If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. 5They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: "See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain."6But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises.

And then on to 10:1:

 1The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, 4because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

But in contrast to all that, J made a once and for all sacrifice of himself.  He was both the High Priest and the Sacrifice.  He sacrificed himself to make purification for sins.  To deal with sin once for all.  It is finished, he said on the cross.  Job done.   J’s once for all sacrifice of himself is the Redemption that the OT looks forward to in its prophesises and its prototype rituals.  That’s while all the OT priests, temples and sacrifices are now obsolete as the end of chapter 8 puts it.  It’s not that there were wrong.  But they were just signposts and prototypes.  And now they’re obsolete, just like a cot when you’ve got a toddler.    It’s not that the NT was plan B because the OT Plan A went wrong.  No, the OT was like Act One in an integrated stage play;  the first scene in the One overall plan of God.  Because just like there’s only one people of God throughout the Bible, so there’s only one plan of God throughout the Bible as well. And just like the second act of a play builds on the first and only makes sense in the light of the first, so the NT builds on the old, but, at the same time, supersedes the Old and in some respect makes the Old obsolete.  

3.  There’s only One future for the people of God 

There’s only one people of God, not 2;  and there’s only one plan of God, not 2.  Which all leads onto the final point, that there’s only one future for the people of God, not 2.    The true children of God, both Jewish and Gentile believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, are waiting for J to return and to usher in the New Creation.  That’s the one future plan of God for the one united people of God.  And to see this, let’s turn to Rev 21 to see the vision:

1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

And down to v22:

 22I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.

J consistently refused to define the kingdom of God in narrow nationalistic terms.  After the day of Pentecost, the people of God were defined as an inter-racial community of believers in J no longer confined by national boundaries, a people of all nations who were commanded to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth.    The Jerusalem we look forward to is not an earthly Jerusalem inhabited mainly by non-Christian Jews and ruled by a secular Israeli government;  no as Christians, we look forward to the heavenly Jerusalem ruled by J who’s sitting on the throne of Heaven.  As Christians, our Messianic hope isn’t in a narrow strip of land in the current Middle East;  for the NT Christian, our Promised Land is heaven;  the new creation that is;  the whole earth.   The land of Israel in the OT was like so many other aspects of the OT: a prototype and foretaste of a much bigger and better inheritance:  the whole earth.  For Christians to focus on the land of Israel in this world is like a teenager wanting to go back to sleeping in a cot.   Indeed, it’s worse:  to cling to those aspects of the Old Covenant which have been superseded by the new, the book of Hebrews is going to tell us, is to deny that J is the final word and work of God;  this side of Easter. to go back to OT Judaism is to deny J and to exclude yourself from the one people of God.  

And so in conclusion, for the Christian, there’s no theological significance in the modern state of Israel.  But we need to be careful here.  I’m not saying that Christians shouldn’t support Israel.  I’m simply saying that there’s no theological rationale for the modern state of Israel.  As we saw in the introduction, there may have been good political and humanitarian reasons for establishing the modern state of Israel and for continuing to support it.  And Christians do have a duty to oppose anti-Semitism just like any other form of racism.  But whether you support the modern state of Israel and its policies, and whether you favour a one or two party solution to the ongoing conflict in the Middle East;  well these are political issues that Christians are free to disagree on;  just as we’re free to disagree and vote for different political parties in the forthcoming European and General elections.   

Now I’m sure that some of you might have questions, and if that’s you, then pl so come and speak to me after the service.  And pl do come back next week as we get started properly in the book of Hebrews looking at the rest of chapter 1.  But as conclude this week’s sermon, let’s meditate on what the Lord’s been saying to us this morning through His Word.  Let’s pray.

  Closing Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father, you command us to correctly handle the word of truth, not ripping individual verses out of the context of the whole Bible or imposing meanings on the text that would have been completely alien to the original author.  This morning’s been hard for many of us, it’s certainly been hard for me as I’ve been preparing, so help us to be clear about what your Word is saying on this subject and to then obey it in the power of your Spirit.  For our spiritual health, but your ultimate glory we pray, Amen.

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