Growing up in the church, you hear over and over again that you have a Heavenly Father. We are sons and daughters of the King. We are told that we are part of God’s family since Jesus paid the way. While all this is true and important to know, somehow we miss the deep connection in the Western culture.
Part of this disconnect I think happens because many of the pictures we see of Jesus while growing up are of a very handsome western European-featured man. Obviously at some point as a child I recognized that Jesus was Jewish, but I’m not sure my mind translated the mental image right away. Maybe when all you have to look at is pictures of a European Jesus, you just have a hard time picturing Him another way. But there’s another problem with these old images – the Bible tells us that Jesus wasn’t handsome. Isaiah 53:2b says, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (And we know this passage is about Jesus because the passage goes on to say how he was pierced for our iniquities.) What I find interesting about this is that while in Israel last September, I didn’t see a single not-handsome Jewish man (or woman, for that matter). They are a beautiful people! Which kind of makes me wonder if Jesus’ homeliness made Him stand out bit….
Growing up in church we also know that Jesus was sent to pay for our sins so we could have salvation. I know for a long time, I forgot that Jesus came primarily for the Jews, as well as the Gentiles. Romans 11:11 says, “Again I ask: Did they [Israel] stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.” What transgression caused them to stumble? Let’s look back at some of the first words that God spoke to the Israelites at Mount Sinai: “‘Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” (Exodus 19:5-6)
God was calling the Israelites to be a holy nation, a kingdom of priests. Now, why would you have a whole kingdom of priests? The logical answer: to be priests to the rest of the world. To tell the world of the goodness of God, to draw all peoples to Him. We even see throughout the Bible different instances when God called other nations to repent and turn to Him. One of the more well-known is the story of Jonah delivering this message to the Ninevites (after being spit-up by a fish), and then still expecting God to destroy them for their wickedness even after they repented. Jonah didn’t want to share the grace of God with foreigners that offended him, and he had a temper-tantrum outside of the city when God took away his shade, but wouldn’t destroy the city.
However, we can’t be too hard on Jonah. How often do we ourselves get caught up in our own Christian world and forget that there are people that need to hear about God’s love? But God, we argue, you don’t know what they’re really like. Why should I have to talk to them? They’re so weird. It’s so outside of my comfort zone. What if THEY reject ME? Our list of excuses can grow quite long at times.
And yet, when Jesus came to save the lost, He not only saved His chosen nation, but He made a way for all to be saved. And we are now part of that kingdom of priests. First Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” We have been grafted in to the family of God, into His holy nation, His chosen people, to be priests to the rest of the world.
So, what does being grafted in really look like? First, it does not mean that the Israelites are no longer His chosen nation – salvation will come to Israel (Isaiah 59:20-21). Paul says in Romans 11:1-2, “I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.” It does mean, as Paul says in Romans 11:17, that we “have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root”. And Jesus taught what it meant to be a vine grafted into the main branch in John 15.
While in Israel, I bought a necklace of a First Century symbol that represents being grafted into the Israel nation. If you look at the top, you will see the menorah. At the bottom you see the fish (which has become a common symbol for Christians). In the middle you see the Star of David, which is made from the triangle of the bottom of the menorah and the tail of the fish. I think that symbol even better represents who we are, moreso than the cross – because this speaks to our identity as believers.
What Jesus did on the cross and through His resurrection is our assurance of salvation. It makes it possible for us to enter the family of God. He has taken us and grafted us into the family. By putting our faith in Him, we are immediately part of His family. We’ve been adopted into the family; but not just any family. We are grafted in to the Jewish nation; so essentially, we have a Jewish Father.