We Worked in Israel
Strong hands gripped my arms, the teaspoon was wrenched from
my trembling grasp, and a stern forefinger was wagged under my nose. Let's
Judaism is trendy.
It's fashionable among believers to go to some form of
Passover, and to learn about the Feasts, the Sabbath and much of the ritual and
symbolism that makes up Judaism.
That's good. It helps us understand scripture.
But tread carefully. Learn. Just don't get caught by the
lure of the Law. We're under grace -– and there's the danger of taking
grace for granted and drifting back into rules and regulations.
You have to have been to Israel to appreciate grace.
We had gone to an Orthodox hospital in Tel-Aviv, working as
volunteers among terminal patients. Very conscious that our scanty knowledge of
Hebrew and even scantier knowledge of Judaism could get us into deep trouble.
I (George writing this bit) was the first to blow it. There
was a lull in the chaos on the ward and I went to make myself a coffee. Suddenly
my arms were seized by two visitors, while a third lectured me in a mix of
fluent Hebrew and fractured English. Loudly. Everything is loudly in Israel.
In a nutshell, I had used a 'meaty' spoon to stir coffee
in a 'milky' cup. I only drink black coffee, but that was irrelevant. An
object used for meat products mustn't contact an object used for milk
products. Why? Because 'thou shalt not boil a kid in its mother's milk',
that's why. And the rabbis have extrapolated from this that meat and dairy
products may never be eaten within several (...it varies...) hours of each
other, and totally separate utensils must be used to prepare and eat them.
And never the twain shall meet, even whilst stirring black
coffee. It's become a way of life among the Observant.
But let Eileen -– half of this partnership, tell how she
broke three commandments in a single movement:
I (Eileen writing this bit) wanted to take a photo of George
with his 'girlfriend' -– a 92-year-old who used to hold his arm as he
walked her to the dining room. I'd clean forgotten it was the Sabbath -– but
the loud disapprovals of those watching soon reminded me. In no uncertain terms
they pointed out that (1) pressing the camera shutter was work, (2) using the
flash was making fire, and (3) the end result was a graven image...
We soon learned to tiptoe tactfully around the regulations.
In private we did as we pleased; in public we went along with the system.
But it made us value grace as never before. And made us shake
our heads sadly over the craziness of Christians who have their own written and
unwritten lists of thou mustn'ts.
One denomination we visited in Scotland actually met us at
the church door with a printed list of shibboleths. Skirt lengths, hair lengths
were strictly defined. Mixed bathing (except with family members) was taboo. Of
course smoking, drinking and dancing were banned. Surprisingly, TV was okay if
'responsible viewing' was practised. The schedule filled most of a largish
page and gave us something to giggle over during the dull bits of the service.
Sure, we all have rules we've made for ourselves. Us? We
don't smoke. Seldom buy raffle tickets; wouldn't bet on the gee-gees if you
paid us. And we're far too spiritual to have a telly, though we'll watch
re-runs of Wallace and Grommit in friends' homes now and then.
But those rules of ours are personal. They're not for you.
And they've got nothing to do with salvation.
The Law -– read all about it in Leviticus, Numbers and
Deuteronomy -– was God's set of rules. Jesus, the Messiah, fulfilled them.
Then died and rose again. We, as believers, have died and are risen with Him.
Therefore we are dead to the Law. And acceptable to God because Jesus is
acceptable to God. We can't improve on that.
Back to our time in Israel. We'd transferred to an Orthodox
rest home in Jerusalem. And we'd assisted the residents through the long
no-food, no-water fast and ritual of Yom Kippur, where they endeavour to become
righteous before God for one brief day. For the elderly in the Middle East heat
it is an ordeal.
Afterwards, the steward of the synagogue called us to his
room. 'Did you fast?' he demanded.
We said no. He was not offended. Merely puzzled.
'Don't Christians have a way of dealing with their sins?'
This was our cue. As clearly as we could, we explained that
the death of the Messiah paid for our sins, and his righteousness was credited
There is an on-going cleansing and maturing, but at any given
moment we have total right of access to the Father through Jesus.
As we explained these truths to the old Orthodox Jew, we were
aware that many Christians back home might find it hard to accept that it is
only the righteousness of Christ that counts. Some would feel insecure without
rules to keep.
'But what if...?' (After all, we might get up to
First: know that the Law was a schoolmaster until the
revealing of the Messiah.
Second: know that the Law doesn't cure sin; it actually
stirs it up.
Third (three points; this'd make a sermon, eh): we are
saved -– by grace, through faith, plus nothing -– into a relationship with
God. A love relationship. And if you know anything about being in love, you'll
know it's not a matter of 'is it okay to see her just once a fortnight?'
You want to spend every possible moment with the beloved.
If we start thinking 'what can I get away with?', it's
a strong signal the relationship's growing cold. If we think 'it's her
birthday; I suppose I ought to buy a bunch of flowers or something', then that's
Law, mechanical, frigid.
The lover may make a million mistakes, but they should be
mistakes of eagerness. The success of a marriage is built on a foundation of
mini-disasters and blunders and learning how to please each other.
Not in calculating the irreducible minimum, or setting up
Why did God save us by grace specifically? After all, there
was always provision for Gentiles to become Jews if the blokes didn't mind the
little discomfort known as circumcision.
God chose grace to clear the decks. To set aside the red
herring of the Law. To give His love free play in our lives, so that we in turn
could love Him back without wondering what the score was.
Sure -– the Law is fascinating. Go to Israel sometime, see
it in action as a lifestyle. Learn what the Feasts and the Sabbath are all
But live in grace.