It was in May of 1986 that I first visited the great World War I battlefield at Verdun. Along with Auschwitz, Verdun is on my Top 10 list of places every human being should visit to learn the extent of evil that people can inflict on one another. Over the course of 10 months in 1916, nearly 2,500,000 French and German soldiers flung death at one another. Total casualties cannot be known, but the estimates range nearly as high as one million, of whom 300,000 were killed in action. The toll does not end with the soldiers; over the course of the battle nine French villages ceased to exist, and an area the size of Manhattan suffered such devastation that the French government deemed it unrecoverable and left it to nature to repair. To this day much of the battlefield remains a poisoned wasteland and graveyard for over 100,000 missing soldiers of both sides.
France has done its best to honor the dead. In 1932 President Albert Lebrun opened the great Ossuary at Douaumont, one of the villages destroyed in the battle. The Ossuary ranks among the most impressive monuments of Western civilization, attempting both to remember and honor the dead, and to remind the living of their sacrifice. Some might consider the reminders grotesque. Beneath the Ossuary is a crypt which contains the bones of at least 130,000 unidentified French and German soldiers. They are there for all to see, together in death, having surrendered their lives that the lives of their nations might continue. Of course their nations did continue , and still do, although much diminished and much broken, even as the bones of their lost sons and daughters.
The “Jewish” High Holy Days begin at sundown on September 24, 2014, with Yom Teruah, the Feast of Trumpets. It is also called Rosh HaShanah, the Head of the Year. Many people call it the “Jewish New Year”. But what exactly is this festive day? And should Christians even care about this “Jewish” holiday?
According to Hebrew understanding, Yom Teruah is the day God completed His work of creation by making human beings, the crowning achievement of His work. In the agricultural cycle of the Ancient Near East, where the Bible was written, this day points toward completion of the growing season when the long-expected “latter rains” come. It is the completion of the civil year, a tradition even the United States government has adopted. These are all good reasons for God to command His people to set this day apart by blowing trumpets and observing a special Sabbath day of rest.
Yet there are some confusing things about Yom Teruah. This “Head of the Year” happens on the first day of the seventh month in the Hebrew calendar. One would expect that the New Year would be in the first month, but God Himself directed that the first month would be in the spring (Exodus 12:1-2). That month, called Nisan or Abib in Hebrew, is the month of three great feasts of the Lord: Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits. In that time long ago God delivered His people Israel from bondage in Egypt. Yet the First Month is not the same as the Head of the Year in the Seventh Month, Tishrei. Both months have prophetic significance according to God’s plan for the redemption and restoration of His creation. Through the Feasts celebrated in these months the Lord tells a prophetic story. In the First Month He redeems and delivers His people, and in the Seventh He restores them. One might say He is pressing the reset button to get things back to the way they were before sin caused all this trouble. But why is this “Jewish” feast of Yom Teruah, or any of these “Jewish” feasts, important to Christians?
The answer to that is quite simple: These are not Jewish feasts.
How do children learn to be adults? More importantly, how do they learn to be real men and real women? More importantly still, how do they learn to be godly men and godly women? Two men of God, Moses and the Apostle Paul, give us the answer:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. (Deuteronomy 6:4-8 NKJV, emphasis added)
You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (II Timothy 2:1-2 NKJV)
Molding godly people out of irresponsible children is a task for mature, godly men and women who determine purposefully to pass on what they know. It is a conscious decision which carries weighty responsibility and a lifetime commitment. The heartaches can be many and wearisome, but the rewards are far greater, not only for the individual, but for all humanity, and for the Kingdom of God. Few answer the call of godly mentorship and discipleship. That is a tragedy played out before our eyes in broken lives and broken nations. And yet it only takes a few to reverse that trend. One man may speak volumes into the lives of many young people. Our Messiah Yeshua showed us the model; the 12 men He discipled changed the entire world.
Why do we follow God? When we get alone, away from people who expect us to be good disciples of Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus Christ), and have a chance to be honest with ourselves, what is the real reason we proclaim our allegiance to Yeshua? Is it just for “galactic fire insurance” – that promise of eternal salvation (John 3:16)? Is it the promise of a rewarding life on this earth (Mark 10:29-31)? Is it in hope of escaping trouble and stress (John 14:27). Or is it truly to follow God whatever He requires, and whatever circumstances come about?
These questions fall into the category of “counting the cost”. Yeshua presented the concept in this way:
Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:25-33 NKJV, emphasis added)
Most people have experience the peculiar phenomenon of the pink elephant in the living room, that awkward situation in which a group of people are confronted with an obvious, but uncomfortable, issue. Because it is obvious everyone knows or suspects what the others are thinking, yet because it is uncomfortable no one is willing to address it. Therefore the issue goes unresolved and the relationships within the group, however cordial, remain tense, fragile, and shallow.
My purpose is to address the pink elephants that keep Jews and Christians from cooperating in a spirit of mutual trust and support, touching on areas of disagreement and misunderstanding that have bedeviled us for centuries. The intent is not to pour salt old wounds, but to move through the uncomfortable territory and arrive at common ground where we may stand together as one people united in the service of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This journey is beset with many openings for offense. Given the likelihood that I shall stray into one of those openings, I ask in advance for pardon, for no offense is intended. I am confident that if we persevere together, we will overcome the awkwardness and find the common ground which we desperately need in this critical hour.