The recent synagogue shooting in San Diego has made national headlines. Once again our nation has been shaken by tragedy and grief. But for us, this tragedy strikes closer to home. John Earnest, the shooter, is a member of a church in our denomination. His pastor, was quick and clear that this hatred of Jewish people is antithetical to what the church believes and preaches. Our denomination has posted a statement condemning the act and disavowing any such ideology. Such statements are necessary and important.
However, a few other articles have probed deeper questions. Carl Trueman has written a heart-searching article for Christianity Today asking how our current culture of dismissive debate has contributed to our current environment of polarization and shootings. The Washington Post had a recent article where pastors ask how theology has been weaponized and used to sanction such acts of violence. These, I think, are the important questions for us to be asking right now. There is a vein of thinking out there that goes something like this—“Jesus came to the Jews and they murdered him. They are enemies of God. We must destroy them.” As with all lies, there is a faint kernel of truth here. Jesus did come to the house of Israel. He was rejected and put to death. But that is where the truth ends and Satan’s lies take flight.
Jesus was not executed without the help of Gentile leaders in Israel. But more to to the point—as Christians, our deepest confession is that it was our sins that put Jesus on the cross. I remember a story I heard in my youth. It went something like this. An older Christian found a young man, new in his faith, weeping. “What’s wrong?” he asked. The young man said, “I just realized that if I was the only person on earth, Jesus still would have come to die in my place.” “That’s right!” the older man replied, “Isn’t that wonderful?” But the young man just dropped his head and said, “Don’t you understand? That means I would have had to be the one to pound the nails!”
What this story drives home is that if you are a Christian—if you trust in Jesus for your salvation—you have no one to blame for the death of Jesus but yourself. His life was not stolen from him, he laid it down of his own accord (John 10:17-18), according to the foreordained will of the Father (Acts 2:23). He did this because there was no other way to save you. To deny that it was your sin that put him on the cross is to say that he did not die for you. Such arrogance leaves you without any hope of salvation.
At the heart of all such arguments is the tendency we as sinners have to use theology as a cloak for our own evil desires. Throughout history, people have tried to use God’s word to promote their own sinful ends. They sound pious. They sound like they love God’s word. This is but a thin veneer covering over a darkness that knows nothing of the gospel of God’s grace. While there are many ways sinners have done this, one way that shows up over and over is the attempt to pin all of life’s problems on a certain group of people rather than accepting that our greatest problem is the sin within our own hearts.
Sadly, it is the Jewish people who have been the object of such hatred more than any other group. The Bible clearly and explicitly condemns all such antagonism. God gives priority to the Jews. This goes back to Noah’s prophecy over his three sons (Genesis 9:26-27). The blessings would come first to Shem, the father of the Jews (thus shemitic or semitic peoples). But Japheth was told that these blessing would one day include his descendants (the Gentiles) when they came to dwell in peace with the children of Shem. This is why the New Testament says that we Gentiles have been made members of the commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:12) and that we are being built together into a spiritual house, the previous hostility being replaced with peace (vv. 14-22). Paul writes to his readers in Rome that Gods has not rejected the Jews, but has plans for their future blessing (Romans 11:2, 11-12).
But it’s what he says next that should catch our attention. Turning to the Gentiles, Paul says that we are not to be arrogant toward the Jews, remembering that they are the root of the tree to which we have been added, upon whom we find our support (v. 18). The Bible specifically calls us to deference, love, and, yes, gratitude toward the Jews. This doesn’t mean that all Jews are saved by virtue of their ethnic lineage. It doesn’t mean that anyone is exempt from God’s judgment because of their family lineage (Romans 2:9). It does mean that we Gentiles have been invited to live in the house of Israel as the younger siblings. The blessings of God are for the Jews first and then the Gentiles (Romans 1:16; 2:10). The warning for the arrogant Gentile in this regard is that he will be broken off and cast out (Romans 11:19).
Anti-semitism is a great evil that should never have existed, but continues to find a place in the hearts of angry sinners. It is an attempt to blame others for the pain in life, rather than to fall down before the God of glory and say, “Lord have mercy on me a sinner.” It should never find a safe place in Jesus’ church. If discovered it should be quickly and decisively disciplined as an offense against our God. More to the point, each of us should regularly take stock of the sinful lies that reside within our hearts and how we use God’s word of life for our own destructive ends. You might not deal with anti-semitism, but we are all far too quick to make judgments about others because they are different than us. May God enable each of us to take every thought captive to the word of Christ!