In John 4, after the Samaritan woman at the well perceived that Jesus was a prophet, she asked him a question about worship:
“Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you (meaning the Jews) say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” (John 4:20)
The Jews and Samaritans had common ancestors (the woman mentions “our father Jacob” in verse 12), and shared many religious practices and beliefs about God. Yet there had been a point of divergence (the Samaritans were products of Jews intermarrying with Assyrians, which God had forbidden), and now the Jews and Samaritans had “no dealings” with one another (verse 9). Each believed that the other wrongly worshiped the Father, and this woman wanted to hear from Jesus which group had gotten it right.
His answer is surprising:
“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” (John 4:21)
Rather than give his approval of the worship of either the Samaritans or the Jews, Jesus says that soon both forms of worship will be incorrect! While he goes on in verse 22 to say that “salvation is from the Jews” — not from the Samaritans — he then says again “the hour is coming” but adds the all-important “and is now here” as he describes the type of worshipers God is truly seeking: Those who will “worship the Father in spirit and truth” (verse 23). This is followed (in verse 26) by the earth-shattering declaration that He is the promised Messiah for whom both Samaritans and Jews had been waiting!
In the next few chapters of John’s gospel, we begin to see Jesus taking on the Jewish system directly. In no uncertain terms, he made claims of being the Messiah, for which the Jews sought to kill him (John 5:18). He told them that they had completely misunderstood the purpose of the Scriptures they had been teaching, because “they bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me” (5:39-40). He wasn’t finished yet!
Because they did not receive Jesus, he said, “I know that you do not have the love of God within you” (John 5:42). Though they knew God’s Word intimately, it did not abide in them (verse 38), and they did not believe it, evidenced by the fact that they did not believe Jesus (verse 46).
These are Jews! These are God’s chosen people! Even more, these are Pharisees… those who “knew” the Scriptures better than anyone. Their entire lives were dedicated to upholding God’s Word and living it out. How could Jesus say they didn’t know, understand, or believe it? But wait: It gets worse.
In chapter 8, Jesus levels his most pointed criticism against the Pharisees. After an exchange in which Jesus tells them that they are enslaved by their sins (though the truth could set them free!), and they respond by saying they are Abraham’s children and have never been enslaved, Jesus tells them they are, in fact, NOT children of Abraham, nor of God.
One can imagine the smugness in the voice of the Pharisees, as they boast in the purity of their bloodline.
“We were not born of sexual immorality (unlike the Samaritans). We have one Father — even God.” (John 8:41)
The same Jesus who brandished a whip in the Jewish temple (John 2:15) yet lamented the wandering of His beloved people (Matthew 23:37), answered them:
“If God were your father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.” (John 8:42-43)
And then the bombshell:
“You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires… you are not of God.” (John 8:44-47)
Jesus is clear. Because the Jewish people have rejected the Messiah, they are not God’s people. Paul expounded further on this in his letter to the Galatians. Hear what he says about the heirs of God’s promise to Abraham:
- “It is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7)
- It is “in Christ Jesus the blessing might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (3:14)
- “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (3:26)
- “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (3:28-29)
- Through Christ “We might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (4:5-7)
- The Jews of Paul’s day (“the present Jerusalem”) were “in slavery” (4:25)
- Meanwhile, the believers (both Jew and Gentile) “are children of the promise” (4:28)
The coming hour of which Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman — in which true worshipers would worship the Father in spirit and in truth, and NOT according to the traditions and teachings of the Jews — arrived 2000 years ago. The distinction between children of the promise and those living in slavery to sin is not the blood of Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob, but faith in the blood of Jesus Christ.
This has implications for us today. One of the biggest buzzwords in American politics — particularly the right wing variety — is “Judeo-Christian”. What exactly is meant by this phrase?
Does it mean that we worship the same God? Jesus said “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Jews who don’t worship Jesus as God do not worship His Father. They worship a false god, taking the Lord’s name in vain every time they pray to YHWH.
Does it mean that we have a common ancestry? If so, we might as well start using the term “Judeo-Christian-Islamic”, because Muslims trace their lineage to Abraham as well. In fact, this term has been around for quite a while, and many are calling for its increased use (and note that the linked article is by a Baptist).
Does it mean we share common values? While it is true that both Jews and Christians derive many of our values from the Law of Moses (and particularly the Ten Commandments), all of the “value” in the Old Testament finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. After all, it was written about him! If we reduce the value of the Old Testament to mere “morals” and “values”, we will have missed the point of the Scriptures every bit as much as the Pharisees that Jesus berated.
I worry when I hear professing Christians talk about our nation’s “Judeo-Christian values” or “Judeo-Christian heritage”. I worry because this presents a problem on two levels.
First, it reduces “Christianity” to a moralistic religious system that has no need for Christ’s atoning work. It is a huge step on the road to pluralism.
Second, it makes it sound as if American Christians (and Jews?) are entitled to something simply because of the faith of our ancestors. As if things should always go our way simply because our nation was founded on Christian principles (and even this can be debated).
In short, this type of “Christianity” is no Christianity at all. It has become nothing more than a 21st-century version of 1st-century Judaism; a group of people arrogantly and self-righteously professing to be God’s people but having no understanding of the Scriptures we claim to revere (And if you think that’s harsh, you should hear Mark Driscoll rant about it).
Brothers, “Judeo-Christian” is a bogus, nonsense term that has no place in the Christian’s vocabulary. Instead of simply parroting back the vernacular of political pundits, let us use the opportunities that arise when we hear this term to bring God glory by proclaiming the Cross of His Son, Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah for Jew and Gentile alike!