What I Learned While I Was Laid Up
I had been thinking a lot about Hitler. It wasn’t my habit to ruminate on ruthless tyrants, but to be fair, I suddenly had plenty of time on my hands.
It’s hard to say where I’ve been for the past three months. Let me clarify that. I’ve physically gone no farther than the few steps between my couch and my front door—and that while hobbling on crutches. Yes, after my grand tidying marathon, let the reader remember, I had concluded that I’d made room for my next step. The very morning I was carrying down the last box of tidy giveaways for Goodwill, I tripped off my stairs and fractured my foot. (Should’ve been more specific about that “next step.”)
Overnight, I went from running five miles with ease to wheezing around 700 square feet. It’s funny how an injury can slow you down and wear you out at the same time. Every move was now an effort, every task took ten extra maneuvers. I hoisted myself into seated showers, ate lunch atop my trash can because I couldn’t crutch ‘n’ carry—couldn’t walk, couldn’t drive, couldn’t even leave my apartment unless some kind soul came to get me. All this followed on the heels (foot pun intended) of a painful year of loss; I was already at a distressing low. Confined now to this small space, drained, alone, with nowhere to go, I hit the bottom like I hit the ground that morning—with a dull, unimpressive thud.
Being laid up is hard. The hours stretch on when you live them one at a time. I was stuck in my house, and stuck in my head. I could see no future beyond my front door; at times, I felt crushed to the point of being snuffed out completely. Yet in the midst of this thick abyss, God was with me; and it seems He had something to show me. I had a lot of time to read a lot of books, and after three months of ravenous book larnin’, I gained a second education that I would never give back. More than an education—it was a revelation. And I got it in a dungeon! No “mountain top” ever gave man such a lofty view; I saw the world afresh from a pit. The air is so clear down here!
It all started with Adolf. At the start of my couch residency, I had picked up an absorbing book, Young Hitler, that traced Hitler’s descent into mania and brutish anti-Semitism.Yet it seems he didn’t dream up a scapegoat in the Jews, but easily rode the waves of an already entrenched national prejudice. Why, I began to wonder, were the Jews so relentlessly persecuted? As a Christian, I was familiar with the Israel of the Bible, but after the close of Scripture and the destruction of the Temple, I had lost track of them as a people. Where had they gone for 2,000 years? And on that note, how did they feel about two millennia of Gentiles adopting their Bible promises and proclaiming a Messiah they don’t, well, claim?
These questions weren’t new. My curiosity had begun brewing on last year’s trip to Israel as I watched bus after Christian bus unload tourists into the Holy Land for its 70th anniversary. As we looked out over Jerusalem, our guide pointed out that the Jewish people are still waiting for the Messiah. I was taken aback. Raised as a Christian, I’ve always seen “Messiah” as synonymous with “Jesus.” I knew, vaguely, that Judaism didn’t believe Jesus filled the prophecies, but I hadn’t considered that the Jews might still be waiting for one who did…and for over 2,000 years?  I can’t comprehend that kind of collective tenacity. And if not Jesus, who are they looking for?
I flopped open a big, fat history of the Jewish people, and for the first time, I saw the Old Testament through Jewish eyes. No wonder messianic hope is still alive—the Messiah is essential in the Tanakh (our O.T.) to fulfilling the promises given to Israel. In fact, the purpose of the Law and the Prophets was to point to and prepare the people for the reign of the Anointed One —the glorious era when Israel would be freed from tyranny and established as a light and blessing to all nations. Thus, because of his central importance, identifying the Messiah was to be no obscure footnote of Scripture; over four hundred prophecies drew his portrait. So familiar were these strokes that the electric debate of the people was whether or not Jesus fulfilled the ancient prophecies. Jews from humble status to high were ready to weigh the claims of the carpenter’s son.The Messiah would be no surprise visitor with a strange agenda; indeed, Israel had been expecting him.
The Messiah was expected; yet Jesus was rejected. Why? A chief reason is that the Jews anticipated a military leader who would throw off Roman rule and usher in the golden age of redemption and peace. When He refused to become king by force, Jesus was rejected and crucified as a criminal. We know now that this was crucial to his mission: the Messiah had to die first to atone for the sin of humanity. What’s interesting is that, according to Rabbis’ later objections to Christianity, Judaism never had in view a divine messiah, or a personal salvation from sin. The Jews still await a national champion: a “Son of David,” with superhuman strength and acumen, perhaps, but in no way co-equal with God. Only the Almighty is divine.
The conundrum, I could see, was real. How could the promised Mashiach be both a conquering king and a suffering (and dying) servant? This problem had even caused some Rabbis to put forth the possibility of two messiahs. Yet to live on this side of the gospel, to see how fully the Son of God (and the Son of Man) fleshes out the multifaceted portrait—what a Messiah! I felt heartsick for this beloved people who had denied the very one sent to them. But how could they miss it? Were the prophecies not clear?
During my dive into Jewish Scripture, another truth shone brightly, jumping out at me on page after page: God is always communicating, and He is always clear. Indeed, from Genesis on, God has worked to reveal himself to mankind; first through creation, then by setting apart an entire nation to take His truth to the world. But His chosen people kept turning aside; and here, too, God was not silent. Like a careworn parent, he pleaded with Israel to return to Him; the prophets spoke so plainly, correction came so often, that I wondered how the nation managed to barrel on in blatant sin. I began to see that clarity of the message depends on the receiver being open. It’s not that God is not speaking; it’s that hard hearts can’t (or won’t) hear.
But many did hear and believe; and to them a dazzling day had dawned. Can you imagine—after centuries of waiting, the Messiah had finally come?! The New Testament seemed a thrilling page turner as I watched God-fearing, law-abiding Jews work out what it meant to walk now in the Spirit and the new law of love. More astonishingly, the Gentiles were welcomed into the faith; and together, this “one new man in Christ” set out on the mission to make disciples of all nations. Initially, the new faith branched out from its rich Jewish history; yet over time, the church became largely detached from its Jewish roots. Even today, Christianity is unrecognizable to most Jews, merely a pagan Roman religion with a mother goddess and some guy hanging on a cross. They’re baffled to discover that the Christ of Christianity is actually <ahem> Jewish.  Other factors contribute to this veil, but it does raise the question…where did the Church take off to for 2,000 years?
Now we come to the A.D. of history—my spring semester of couch school <stretches, cracks neck>. I surveyed the Middle Ages and the rise of Catholicism, but church history did not sing for me until I read a spectacular book on Martin Luther. What a juicy drama! His “radical” viewpoints struck me at first as unremarkable—of course salvation comes by faith and not works, of course Scripture is our final authority; these are Sunday School basics! But like my window on the Messiah, I was whisked back to a world in waiting, the weighty moment before luminous truths were wrestled into reality.
The Church, over centuries, had morphed into a great squalid corpus of corruption and greed, preaching a salvation earned by good works or even bought with “indulgences.” Who knew otherwise? Few read Scripture for themselves, nor was it necessary—the Church held the keys to religious pardon. While delving into Scripture, Luther saw that the Church had shrouded the simple and powerful doctrine of salvation by faith. He set out at first to simply correct the error; but when he realized the Church placed its own authority above even that of Scripture, he could not stay silent. He was, of course, condemned as a heretic and excommunicated; but once the reform genie was out of the bottle, there was no going back. I was staggered at Christianity’s lengthy, torpid turn from the lithe and lively faith of the apostles. It only took 1500 years for the church to get back to the Bible? And we imagine Israel is the only people God ever found dull and stiff-necked?
What a history. There’s more, but I’ll put down my pen. Though I merely skated the surface, this overview was a revelation: I saw that the purposes of God run unstoppable from start to finish. All He foretold, He has done; and He will wrap up history as He has promised. Already, we are in striking times: Christians have discovered a love for their Hebrew roots; Jews and Arabs are becoming brothers in the love of Christ. But most gripping of all is the rebirth of the Jewish nation. Many end-times prophecies depend on the return of the Jews to their homeland, yet centuries have passed with Israel’s regathering no more than a dream. We laugh at the man on the corner proclaiming “The End is Near,” but the sandwich board has perhaps never been more appropriate…
My foot is now healed, and I have a next next step. I read some books (did I mention I was reading? A lot?) by Francis Schaeffer, a Christian apologist in the 70s, and was intrigued by his analysis of our modern mindsets. I’ll be spending the summer at L’Abri in England, a Christian study/retreat center patterned after the Schaeffers’ work. I hope to further hone my understanding and develop my writing, and also enjoy a respite in the English countryside. Unlike my foot these past months, this opportunity looks to be, <wait for it>, NOT LAME.
Ham, Paul. (2018). Young Hitler: The Making of the Fuhrer. NY: Pegasus Books.
An old joke reveals the Jews’ painful wit: “You know what they say about waiting for the messiah, don’t you? It doesn’t pay much but it’s steady work.” Glickman, Rabbi Elaine Rose. (2013) The Messiah and the Jews: Three Thousand Years of Tradition, Belief and Hope.
Both the Hebrew word “Mashiach” and the Greek word “Christos” mean “Anointed One.” The Messiah would be anointed by God to fulfill His will. (See Isaiah 61)
-The woman at the well: “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Jn 4:25
-The crowds: “When the Messiah comes, will he perform more signs than this man?” Jn 7:31; and, “Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Messiah? But we know where this man is from; when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.” Jn 7:26-27
-The Jewish leaders: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jn 10:22
Metaxas, Eric. (2017). Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World. New York, NY: Viking
Both Dor Haba, a youth worship ministry run by my friends in Jerusalem, and One For Israel report an increase in Jewish and Arab unity in the love of Christ. Only in Yeshua can there be peace in the Middle East! Read their compelling testimonies: dorhaba.com; oneforisrael.org