JESUS RABBI & LORD
by Dr. Robert L. Lindsey
Chapter 17 - Was Jesus A Reformer?
This is an excerpt from a book entitled: JESUS, RABBI & LORD: the Hebrew Story of Jesus Behind our Gospel, by Dr. Robert L. Lindsey. Dr. Lindsey was a pioneer in the studies of Hebraic (Jewish) roots. In 1945, Robert Lindsey from Norman, Oklahoma, found himself pastor of a small Baptist congregation in Jerusalem, Israel. With his Hebrew-speaking congregation in mind, he began a translation of the Greek texts of Matthew, Mark and Luke and soon concluded there must lie behind these gospels---even if distantly--an early Hebrew story of Jesus. To his surprise he also found that Luke almost always showed Greek texts which could easily be translated literally to Hebrew! The same was true of Matthew, wherever he was not copying Mark's gospel.
In 1960, Lindsey met Professor David Flusser of Hebrew University and the two pursued the question of whether we can get back to the earliest Semitic story and the words of Jesus. "It is clear," said Lindsey and Flusser, "that our synoptic texts originated mainly in one Greek translation of a Hebrew biography of Jesus, probably, written by the Matthew of tradition. The materials are too Hebraic to have originated in Greek, as many scholars mistakenly think today. Happily, if we use the right tools we can still hear Jesus speak as His fellow Jews of the first-century heard Him."
Lindsey tells here the warm, personal account of how he and Flusser struggled over many years to discover the earliest form of Jesus' words and narratives of His life. They believe that the records, when properly analyzed and studied show us an authentic picture of Jesus interacting with the people of Jerusalem and Galilee. Jesus clearly heads a movement, the "Kingdom of Heaven" and is a Divine Figure whose actions and words are fully Messianic.
Dr. Lindsey died in 1995 but leaves a legacy of scholars, friends and students following in his footsteps. We wish to thank HaKesher, Inc. for allowing us to reproduce chapter 17 of this most important work. We pray that this article will allow many of our students to discover in their studies a new depth of scholarship and enhance their walk with our Messiah Yeshua (Jesus).
Chapter 17 - Was Jesus A Reformer?
In the story of the Good Samaritan, which Jesus deliberately tells to a strict, very religious interpreter of the Torah there is certainly implied criticism of religious systems which try to regulate societies according to what they think is the will of God.
We noticed before that in criticizing the people of Nazareth for their failure to believe in his role as Messiah and Deliverer Jesus referred to miracles performed by Elijah and Elisha on non-Jews when plenty of ethnically-pure candidates existed right among the people of Israel themselves. Do these and other examples of Jesus' prophetic stance among his own people mean that he was primarily a reformer?
If we mean by a reformer someone who wants to pull people in the direction of a right understanding of the goodness and immediacy of God, a goodness and immediacy which had been covered over by a mass of religious regulations and tradition in which this is "permitted" but this is "forbidden," one has to say Yes. If we mean by a reformer one who hopes to bring an entire nation into some kind of modification of the existing religious practices one has to say No. There is no indication that Jesus was that kind of reformer.
While preaching everywhere and demonstrating God's concern to break through into the life of his people as he tirelessly moved from town to town Jesus took a quite different path. He seems to have seen no possibility of changing the encrusted ways of an official religion and tradition, and to have do so would no doubt have meant a semi-political revolution ending in the kind of reform, Turkey went through under Ataturk. Under Ataturk the blaring megaphones of the mosque have been silenced and the mullahs displaced but the inclinations and habits of the multitude have largely remained as entrenched in tradition as ever.
Jesus' way appears to have been to find the men, simple or profound, who be willing to "leave all and follow him." He was to make out of them a kingdom - a movement- which would build on the good of Israel's past and revelation but eventually burst the bonds of locality and nationality.
If we even for a moment consider our own religious traditions, both Jewish and Christian, we can easily come up with illustrations of the near hopelessness of our best religious institutions and practices.
Some of my Israeli friends, both Orthodox and non- Orthodox, express a certain sadness when they read the Tenach (Old Testament) and note that Abraham our father, Rabbenu Moses, David the King and all the prophets get direct words from Israel's God and pray or speak to him without using a prayer book. They say, that in today's synagogue service there is almost no possibility for worshipers to say a personal prayer, though such a possibility once existed.
"We have lost something," they say, "but no one knows how to revamp tradition and return to the spontaneity of the old."
The same thing has happened over and over again in the history of the Christian Church.
How different is the story of the early Jewish-Christian Church. Almost every page of the New Testament glows with the sense of God's immediacy and love. Prayer is personal as well as corporate and God answers the prayers of his people. When Peter is thrown into prison by one of the Herods and condemned to die the next day the Church in Jerusalem gathers to pray, and the very same night an angel visits peter in the prison and says, "Get up!" Prison chains fall off and the angel leads Peter through open doors to the street where he proceeds alone to the house of a "brother." He knocks and so casual is the story that it tells of a young girl named Rhoda who comes to the gate to open it but on seeing Peter is so excited she runs back to the believers without even opening the gate!
Who says the Bible does not record some comic things that happened to ordinary people in the course of quite supernatural events?
But modern Christians, no matter how orthodox their religious convictions, tend to relegate the possibility that God might do something as miraculous as what he did to Peter to "that ancient beginning of our faith two thousand years ago." Quite marvelous theories are seriously presented which suggest, for example, that when the cannon of Scripture (including Old testament and New Testaments) was completed in the first century, miracles "ceased" because there was no longer any need for them - since we have the Scriptures and that is enough!
Several years ago one of my Baptist colleagues who lives in the Tel Aviv area was visiting the United States with his wife and family. A lady in the church they were attending fell sick with cancer and was given only three months to live. David and his wife, Jean, were fresh from Israel and a fellowship where they had experienced real answers to many prayers and they wondered if they should take some initiative in going to see the sick lady to pray for her.
The three months she had been given to live were almost over when David and Jean got up the courage to go visit the lady. Because there is a passage in the Epistle of James in the New Testament which advises the early believers to ask the elders of the local congregation to anoint the sick with oil since "like Elijah" the fervent, effectual prayer a good man will be answered, David took along a little vial of olive oil, "just in case."
To their surprise the lady asked them whether they thought that passage in James' Letter was still applicable for today. That was their signal to use the oil and pray over her, which, of course, they did.
The next day the lady called David. "You know," she said, "something seems to be happening to me. My feet are not black today!" David said, "Mine are not black either!"
To make a long story short, this lady, immediately recovered from her disease was said to be "in remission" by her doctor. The people of the church were happy, but a little in shock. They believed in God but they were not used to having answers that were so miraculous!
More difficult was the whole experience for the lady's husband, however. He was happy that his wife was well but he was not used to seeing the Almighty step into his life so dramatically. He felt, as he confessed, a kind of confusion; though why he felt this way he could not really tell.
His wife, who was perhaps a strong believer than he, decided she would ask her Lord to do something to make her husband more certain that God is willing to penetrate supernaturally into our lives.
It never occurred to her that a table they had in their front room for some years and which had been put in their basement because the top had warped so badly that it could not be repaired might have something to do with helping her husband.
But one day soon after her healing her husband came up from the basement and said to her, "Honey, you know the table we put in the basement?" he asked. She replied,
"Yes," having almost forgotten it.
"Did you it repaired?"
"No," she said.
"Well," he said slowly, "we've got some kind of miracle. That top is no longer warped. It is perfect."
To the amusement of the wife and everyone who later heard the story the husband brought the table up from the basement and placed it in the very center of the living room. As friends came by to see them he related the story of the table.
To relate to his wife's healing seemed too difficult. The healing of the table was quite a different story!
Settled practices, habits and tradition can often be very good indeed but they can also prevent us from finding reality and the joy of truth, no matter how emancipating it may be. Jesus still shocks most of us when he talks of prayer and says so casually,
"Ask and you will receive.
Seek and you will find.
Knock and it shall be opened to you.
For everyone who asks receives
And he who seeks finds,
And to him who knocks it will be opened" (Matthew 7:7-8).
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