About the Author

Rev Aaron Eime is the deacon of Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem, the first Protestant Church in the Middle East. Aaron studied at the Hebrew University in the Masters Program with the focus towards Early Jewish and Christian Interpretation of Bible. Aaron also studied Psychology and Sociology at Queensland University in Australia in the Social Work Program. He is a dedicated Bible teacher exploring the Hebraic Roots of the Christian Faith. He has taught Internationally in many countries including Europe, North America, Hong Kong and China. Aaron is the Director of Research and Education at Christ Church. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and 3 children.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Why is this Night different from all other Nights?

Shalom and Merry Christmas. It might surprise many to know that several thousand Israelis will visit churches across the Old City of Jerusalem on Christmas Eve. Jewish people going to church at Christmas, who knew? What is it that attracts Israeli Jews, predominately secular, to go to Christian Churches at this time? In the words of the Jewish son asking his father on Passover ~ “Why is this night different from all other nights?”

Israelis are a curious people, they love to travel, to explore, to taste and to question the world around them. They live and breathe a life amongst antiquity, surrounded by ancient stones that tell stories of past civilizations and peoples. They are literally imbedded in history, and the ancient story of Christmas is no less attractive for the curious Israeli seeker. 

Israelis gather into groups, find themselves a guide, bus into Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, Beersheba and Haifa and walk around the Old City visiting all the Churches. They go Church hopping, in a good way :) Looking, watching, pondering what Christians are doing on this special night. Unfortunately, not every Church is welcoming, imagine that! Not so at Christ Church, we do exactly the opposite. At Christ Church we have Carols in the Church from 6pm onwards and the Church is filled to the brim, standing room only as Jewish people listen to Christians worship in song. We provide Christmas cookies and the traditional warm ‘mulled wine’ to drink and take the chill from the cool night. Then we gather the people in their groups and speak to them about Christmas. We start by saying, “I’m not going to tell you a Christian story. I am going to tell you a Jewish story!”

The Jewish Story of Christmas ~ The Christmas story is not a Christian story, it’s a Jewish one through and through. It’s a story about a Jewish boy, born to Jewish parents, in a Jewish town, who is the promised Jewish Messiah. Amazingly more than two billion people are going to read and hear that story over the next 24 hours. This Jewish story has captured the hearts of so many people in the world. You don't want to miss out do you? And many will take a Bible home with them that night. Imagine that!

It’s an incredible story set amidst constant tension. A shameful pregnancy, a humiliating birth surrounded by strange visitors, Jewish shepherds and Gentile kingmakers, the childhood flight to Egypt from a megalomaniac despot and visiting angelic beings. Somehow in all this tension a baby makes it all better. You don't know how, you just know that it does. And it’s beautiful. 

For a brief moment in time a window to Heaven opens, you can feel it. For a brief moment in time people are ready to hear the good news. For about two weeks in and around Christmas the openness is so surprising. Then the window closes again and hardness creeps in to the world. This night is very different from all other nights.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Light and Salvation

There are many pairings in the Hebrew Bible of words, thoughts and phrases. Words get grouped together and become over time synonymous with each other. David prays in Psalm 27, ‘Whom shall I fear?’ with the pairing of Light with Salvation in reference to God, ’The Lord is my Light and my Salvation’. Out of all the possible words to choose from how did Light come to be paired with Salvation? 

Light appears as the first order of Creation. God creates Light first among all things. Yet this light of Creation was different to the light we visibly see in our daily lives of the present. God’s light is very special. Almost by definition it has to be. God’s light is not of the same substance as the light that emanates from the sun. We see that in the Creation order with the sun being made on day 4 of Creation yet God’s light existed from day 1. 

The light that comes from the sun is different from God’s light. God’s light can distinguish good from evil, the sun’s light cannot. The light from the sun chases away the night’s darkness. It provides light for my family and for the thief who comes to steal. It provides light for the doctor to heal, the liar to lie and for the killer to kill. But God’s light is different. When God made Light He did something with it. He moved it. When God moved the Light, what remained behind in the place of the Light? Darkness. ‘And God separated the light from the darkness’ (Genesis 1vs4).

God’s Light continued to play a role in human history. One of the plagues of Egypt was Darkness. Darkness for the face of Egypt and the Egyptians but Light for Israel in Goshen. The light of God could distinguish the good from the bad. A Midrash (Jewish Commentary) of the Exodus tells a story that the Light would move independently for every Israelite. It was impossible for the Israelite to wander off into the darkness. The Egyptians of course noticed this in their slave population. So when an Egyptian would need to cook food, he would have to go bring an Israelite into the kitchen so light would be available to cook with. The Midrash is a story, not to be taking literally. It shows again how God provided for His people, and how they could be a blessing to even their own oppressors, and to show that God’s Light can move. 

During the Exodus itself, God guided His people through the wilderness in the form of Light. A pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. The light once again moved. It acted as a guide for Israel in the desert, but also as a fiery shield to wall off the advancing Egyptian army. The Light of God was enduring, a guide in an unknown world, protection against the adversary, a comfort in the midst of danger, and overall part of the redemption from bondage into freedom. Light became synonymous with the redemptive activity of God. It entered Jewish prayer life. A call to experience the Light of Heaven in present day reality. Salvation became part and parcel of all that encompassed the Light of God. 

The prophet Isaiah declares, ‘Arise shine, for your Light has come’ and yet the next sentence reminds us that ‘Darkness covers the face of the people.’ (Isaiah 60vs1-2). The call is to reflect the Light of God, in all its redemptive and healing power. To be Lights to the Nations. As we bring the light of God, we bring Salvation. Light is paired with Salvation. Light and the messianic hope to a dark world. Remember that God’s Light can move. So if we leave, then the Light leaves with us. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Wrestling with the Scriptures

Question - What is your faith rooted in? Let me suggest that your faith is not in your Bible. Your faith is in the risen Messiah. If Messiah did not rise from the dead then it does not matter which Bible you are reading. The whole exercise would be pointless. Thus knowing that our faith is in the risen Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew) it should not overtly concern us then which Bible we prefer to read. As our faith is not in the Bible, it's in Jesus. As a very smart man, Jaroslav Pelikan, once said, ‘If Christ is risen, nothing else matters and if Christ is not risen, then nothing else matters’. Recalling that the disciples did not have a Bible, they show us how they secured their faith in the risen Messiah to the point of martyrdom. 

What is the nature of the Bible? It is unlike any other book. We call it the Holy Bible because indeed that is its nature, it is Holy and Special in more ways than we know. It is also Divine Language. God's language is not like our language. His words create, they are eternal, they change the present and future in ways our language cannot. In Jewish thought the Bible is Divine Language. God does not speak with any superfluous words. He does not talk for the sake of talking. So the words that God chooses to speak are important, moreover even the sounds of those words are important, and just as important are the words that are not chosen or not said. The nature of the Bible, the Divine Language, then demands the reader to delve deeper. To look for more meaning and to search every possible corner of the text for extra details and information. If it’s so special, it needs special attention. The Hebrew tradition is to wrestle with the Bible. 

When the Hebraic mindset thinks about wrestling with the Bible, it does not mean it in a negative way. Such as ‘For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood …’ Ephesians 6vs12. Here Paul refers to a spiritual battle involving a struggle against angelic powers. Instead the picture of wrestling with the text comes from the Patriarch Jacob, who wrestled with God and as such is tied into the meaning of the name Israel. 

A friend of mine, a Jewish Believer, Alan Gilman has a teaching ministry based out of Ottawa. He writes an insightful teaching called TorahBytes. Alan follows the Torah portion of the week and recently wrote on Jacob wrestling with God. In that article he highlighted that while seemingly the concept of a mere human wrestling with God would be preposterous, but indeed it took place, Jacob knew there was something important to be gained, a blessing that he would not let go of until he had it. For all of Jacob’s faults he had a deep sense of the important things of life and Jacob’s tenacity was commended by God with a blessing. 

To read more from Alan follow the link here, and to subscribe to his weekly portion you can email him at info@torahbytes.org 

It is in that same tenacity that wrestling with the Scriptures is paired. The Bible as Divine Language contains within it deeper meanings and countless blessings. Tenaciously we wrestle with the text, searching for more of God, another meaning to the Words of the Lord, and not letting go until we have received that blessing of wisdom.  

An example of wrestling with the Divine Language by focusing on the importance and choice of words used by the text. In the famous narrative of the Akedah, the Binding of Isaac in Genesis 22, we find Isaac and Abraham journey up a mountain to make a sacrifice to the Lord. Isaac asks his father ‘I see the wood, the knife and the fire, but I don't see the lamb. Where is the lamb?’ Abraham replies that ‘God Himself will provide the Lamb’. After Abraham has been tested and passed that test he looks up and sees a ram caught by its horns. He goes and takes the ram, sacrificing it in place of Isaac. In wrestling with the text, looking for more in the details, we see that Abraham told Isaac that God would indeed provide a Lamb, but God did not. Instead God provided a Ram. The words Lamb and Ram are very different in Hebrew. The Bible specifically states that God will provide a Lamb, And so it is assumed then that God will indeed do this. Thus from the time of Abraham the promise remains that at some point in time God will indeed provide a Lamb and the wait for the Lamb of God begins. Messianic aspiration is met with expectation when John the Baptist greets his cousin and declares Yeshua (Jesus) to be the Lamb of God. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Command to Remember

What is the most common Command that God gives His people in the Bible? Many of us immediately leap to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength”. And while Jesus agreed that this was the most important command, it never the less is not the most common. Another popular answer given when I ask this question is, “Fear Not!”. Indeed, that was my first response too. And again, while ‘Fear Not’ is right up there in frequency, with the Angels, God and the Messiah constantly having to instruct practically every human they meet ‘not to be afraid’, it too is not the most common command. 

God commands us to Remember more times than any other command. Why? Because we are a very forgetful people. Our society is full of distractions. We are distracted by our technology, our smart phones and smart TV’s, our jobs and even our ministries. But God doesn't desire us to be a distracted people and He asks us to Remember! 

Memory is not sitting and thinking on the past. Recalling events, times and places before Alzheimers or Dementia sets in. Memory in the Hebraic tradition is more than that. Even God remembers! Does it mean that God forgets? No, of course not. Forgetting is something God cannot do. So what does it mean to Remember? What does it mean for God to remember? Firstly, Remembering is not the opposite of Forgetting, not in the Jewish sense. 

When is the first time the Bible records God remembering? In Genesis 8, it is written that God remembered Noah. Does this mean that after God instructed Noah to build the Ark, shut him inside and flooded the world with the deluge that He then returned to Heaven and forgot about him? Perhaps sometime later Michael the Archangel politely tapped God on the shoulder and said ‘Almighty One, Blessed be He, there appears to be a man down here with a large boat and he thinks he knows you!’ … and God responds; ‘Oh my, how long have you been floating down there Noah? 150 days! Wow, it must stink fierce with all those animals! Ok, I need wind, let’s pull the plug on the water, I need a rainbow, a few birds and an olive branch .. let’s go people!’

God remembered Noah and all the living creatures .. which were with him in the Ark and God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided’ Genesis 8vs1. God also remembers Rachel and opens up her womb in Genesis 30vs22. God hears the groaning of the Israelites in Egypt and He remembers His covenant with Abraham in Exodus 2vs24 and brings about their redemption. When God remembers, He acts. To Remember spurs you into action. At least it should, as Remembering is closely associated with Doing. As Jesus says, ‘Do this to Remember Me!’ From a Hebraic perspective, you Remember by Doing. 

God asks us to remember what He has done, to remember His teaching, guidance and instruction and His wondrous acts of redemption. In the act of remembering His generosity, His mercy, grace and love, this should spurs us into action. We will respond by being better disciples of Jesus. By being generous, merciful, gracious and loving…and Doing! 

The Calendar is a great tool to help us remember. In our distracted world and daily lives, the Calendar marks events of God’s action and intervention in Creation. Through remembering Feasts and Festivals, and as discussed you Remember by Doing, thus you participate in the Sacred Time. At Passover we remember and celebrate redemption, at Christmas the birth of Messiah, at Hanuakkah Gods provision and miracles, at Purim of His constant hand of protection, on Shabbat of the blessings of rest and the future Sabbath to come. Just name a few of the themes at each Festival. These times of Remembering should prompt us to act in our fallen world and heal Creation with the Gospel of the risen Jesus the Messiah.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Sacred Time and Calendars

What is the first thing God made Holy? Time. During the Creation at the close of every day, God said ‘It is good’. On Day 3 He said it was good twice. No explanation as to why is given. So, Day 3 of the week, that’s Tuesday, is known in the Jewish tradition as the Day of Double Blessing, because God had blessed that day twice. It’s the day of the week in which people get married, big business decisions are signed and it’s the day people go out and purchase lottery tickets. We see in the Gospel of John, Jesus’s first miracle of Water into Wine is introduced by saying, ‘On the third day of the week, a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee.’  John 2vs1

However, on Day 7 of Creation, God changed His description of the day. On Day 7 He makes the Sabbath and declares ‘This is Holy’. The first thing God makes Holy is Time. In particular the time known as the Sabbath. Time is very important to God and special Time is Holy. 

What is the first command God gives His people when they leave Egypt and cross the Red Sea? Go make a calendar! (That’s a paraphrase) In Exodus 12 the Lord commands the people to start a Calendar system, naming Aviv as the first month of the year. In this new calendar His people are commanded to mark the 14th of Aviv as Passover and to celebrate the Passover every year. Further on in the Torah, God sets out a list of Feasts and Festivals in Leviticus 23. 

Leviticus 23 presents a religious and agrarian based calendar for God’s people to follow. These are aptly named the Feasts of the Lord. Not the Feasts of Israel. These are God’s appointed times, and there are many blessings for the believer in keeping, engaging and celebrating these Holy Times. Both for the Jewish and gentile Believer. Some have argued that because Thanksgiving and Christmas do not appear on this list in Lev 23, we should not celebrate them. However we should note that both Purim and Hanukkah are not included in Lev 23 and yet we find Jesus at the festival of Hanukkah in Jerusalem (John 10). Somehow new Feasts and Festivals had entered the Jewish Calendar. Is that OK we ask ourselves? 

The Jewish Calendar has had several changes over its history. All Calendars do. The current Jewish Calendar months are named after Babylonian gods. The names were incorporated into the calendar during the Babylonian exile. For example, in Exodus the month of Passover is called Aviv, referring to the month in which barley was ripe. After Babylon the month is called Nisan. The Book of Esther, occurring after the Babylonians and during Persian reign, names the month as Nisan. At the end of the Esther story a new Feast has been added to the Calendar. A new precedence had been introduced. ’These days should be remembered and observed in every generation and in every family …’ Esther 10vs28 

Further more, in Exodus 12 the month of Aviv/Nisan was declared by God to be the first month and thus Rosh HaShanah, the start of the year, was to be in Aviv which is the Spring. During the Babylonian captivity Jewish people adopted the pagan practice of celebrating the New Year in the Fall. And thus the current Jewish Calendar now has the New Year in the Fall. Does this mean then that the Jewish Calendar needs to be abandoned because it includes the names of Pagan gods? Obviously 14 million Jewish People around the world, with all the Rabbis and Sages though history don't seem to think so. 

Hanukkah is a great celebration of redemption, dedication and God’s provision. But it too is not in the Levitical list. Rather the book that details the actual events the holiday celebrates is not in the Hebrew Bible at all. It is in the Catholic Bible. Yet Hanukkah also is added to the list of Sacred Times. Again the precedent has been set by the Jewish People that the Calendar can be adjusted as God moves in History. 

Sacred Time holds a very important function in our daily life. Feasts and Festival help us in remembering what God has done. We can get so distracted with the trials and stress of life that we forget the important things of God. Holy Time brings us back to a place to stop and remember what God has done. And God has done amazing things. The Birth of the Messiah, Saviour and Redeemer, is a wondrous act of the Lord. We should celebrate and remember that great act of redemption and love. As those who are grafted in, we can look at the Root and we can see that the Jewish People have added new Festivals as they saw God move and engage in the world. 

I would encourage you to not get caught up in legalistic distractions over pagan names for Jewish months, Christian calendars, winter solstices or the pagan names of Easter. When in truth it is all about the intention of the heart of the worshipper. Celebrating Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas are great things to do. Bringing family and friends together. Remembering the wondrous saving acts of God and in so doing, giving Him the Glory for His amazing Love. Time is very important to God and Sacred Time is Holy.