Imagine that you’re Peter. You’re in a fishing boat with the other disciples in the middle of a storm on the Sea of Galilee, and you see a figure walking on water towards you.
Then imagine that this figure says that he is Jesus.
Would you shout “If it is you, tell me to come to you on the water!”
Probably not, but imagine you did. Jesus answers “come.” Now he is waiting for you. What do you do? Do you take a leap of faith and start walking on that water?
If you are a believer in Jesus, this is what you are doing right now. It’s what we are all doing. We are all stumbling our way through a stormy water called life towards Jesus, trying to focus on him.
Peter became afraid when he saw the wind and started to sink. He had to shout out for Jesus to help him. Peter forgot to focus on Jesus.
The wind wasn’t a bad thing in itself. The waves or whatever else might have distracted him weren’t necessarily bad things. But they were distractions.
I see this problem among many Messianic Jews, both here in Israel and abroad. We get so caught up in our Jewish heritage and the importance of our Jewish identity that we forget to keep our focus on Yeshua.
When we start focusing on how to do the Torah readings, pray from the siddur, speak of which mitsvas to keep… we easily lose focus. Even if all these things are good in and of themselves, they do create a problem if they steal our focus.
For me, my Jewish heritage is enormously important. We have kiddush every Friday evening in our family, using my great-great-grandfather’s kiddush cup from 1857. We celebrate all the Jewish holidays, skipping Christmas. Whenever we go outside of Israel we are always careful to avoid non-kosher food. Including checking the ingredients of candy to avoid gelatin (made of pork) or E-120 (which is a red coloring made from insects). My children go to a school where they learn the basics of the Jewish prayers.
However, I would never dream of praying the full siddur prayers three times a day. I don’t wear a kippa, I don’t put on tfillin every weekday, nor do I kiss the mezuzah whenever I enter a room. I don’t want my kids to grow up in a home of legalistic restraints and rules, and I don’t want traditions, however good, to supersede our faith in Jesus.
I am grateful that I live in Israel. It is so easy to maintain a Jewish identity, just by being a part of the Israeli society. We celebrate the biblical holidays, we keep Shabbat and we speak Hebrew at home. It becomes a natural part of life. Trying to keep a lifestyle like that outside of Israel as believers would be hard. It would make us very different from other believers. So different, in fact, that it would probably make us focus on it more. Maybe we would focus on it too much? Maybe so much that we would forget to focus on Jesus?
There are many good things that are great to hold on to. But we should never let it steal our focus. When we stop focus on Jesus, we begin to sink.
Are Messianic Jews the only people that are guilty of this though? I can think of many Christians who focus too much on peripheral issues. Which Bible translation is the only correct one? What will the end times be like? Young earth creationism. Where was the original temple? Should we pronounce the Name of God? Homeschooling or public schooling? Politics, liturgy, child baptism, etc, etc. The list could go on and on.
Again, these are all good things to have principles on and to discuss. But they should never be our focus. They are non-essentials, and they don’t determine our eternity.
This is not a specific problem among Messianic Jews. When I think of it hard enough, it seems to me that it’s an issue that has plagued all religions since the dawn of time. Peripheral issues that are good in and of themselves that steal our focus from what is really important. It happens everywhere.
We are stumbling our way through this life. If we wish to make it to the end, we must make sure to always direct our gaze at Yeshua. And when we fail and start to sink – we need to shout out “Lord, help me,” and he will help us up.
“Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV