John 3:14-15

14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

This is a continuation of discussion on the differences between Judaism and Christianity. Part 1 of this blog article discusses why Jesus came in the flesh which is hard to be understood by Judaism believers. Part 2 looks at the teaching that Judaism believers can come to God directly while Christianity teaches not. The original statement being discussed here is extracted from an article written by a person of Judaism faith as follows.

“Judaism teaches that man can have a direct and intimate relationship with God. Christianity teaches that man must go through an intermediary because he is unable to have a relationship with God in his sinful state.”

The Original Relationship with God

Frankly, I was a little surprised to realize that there is such a difference from the Judaism perspective by reading the above statement. First off, Christianity teaches us that the original and normal relationship with God is and should be direct and intimate. Mankind are created in the image of God who is the source as well as the power, substance and meaning of our life - the eternal and abundantly blessed life (Psalm 36:9, John 1:4). Without a close relationship of God, our life will be meaningless, gloomy and withers eventually - a tragedy. The Scripture which is God’s inspired word, presents the close relationship between God and man in various ways such as shepherd and sheep relationship (Psalm 23:1, John 10:11), counselor and counselee relationship (Isaiah 9:6, John 14:16-17), teacher and student relationship (Job 36:22, Matthew 11:29, Matthew 28:19), father and child relationship (Isaiah 9:6, Psalm 68:5, Romans 8:15), husband and wife relationship (Isaiah 54:5, 2 Corinthians 11:2), king and subject relationship (Psalm 74:12), and friendship (Isaiah 41:8, John 15:15). As we see, the attributes of an intimate relationship with God are beneficial as well as caring and loving. We see that God is ready to give us good things, guidance, care and love that transcend both our physical and spiritual dimensions of life. God’s deeds, words, love, and care make us satisfied and sing with joy (Psalm 119:103, Psalm 42:8, Psalm 92:4).

Psalm 36:9

For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.

John 1:4

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

Psalm 23:1

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

John 10:11

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Job 36:22

22 “God is exalted in his power. Who is a teacher like him?

Matthew 11:29

29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Matthew 28:19

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

Isaiah 9:6

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

John 14:16-17

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

Psalm 68:5

5 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.

Isaiah 9:6

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Romans 8:15

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

Isaiah 54:5

5 For your Maker is your husband— the LORD Almighty is his name— the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.

2 Corinthians 11:2

I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.

Psalm 74:12

But God is my King from long ago; he brings salvation on the earth.

Isaiah 41:8

“But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend,

John 15:15

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

Psalm 42:8

By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me— a prayer to the God of my life.

Psalm 92:4

For you make me glad by your deeds, LORD; I sing for joy at what your hands have done.

Psalm 119:103

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

The Broken Relationship with God

Having studied that the Scripture teaches that man should have a direct and intimate relationship with God in order to live a wonderful and meaningful life God intends all to live, we may ask the question why there are not many people living the life that God intends. To answer the question, let us look for an answer from the very beginning of humanity. When we study Genesis, Adam and Eve indeed had a direct and intimate relationship with God in the garden of Eden. When they disobeyed God by eating the fruits of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they were cast out from the garden. Sin entered the world. Relationship between man and God was broken. Man could only approach God through offerings as Abel’s offering with animals as recorded in Genesis 4:4. In later time, the Levitical system was established in which a priest was selected to represent many people to offer sacrifices before God for the remission of sins. Since the priest was a human being and was sinful and could not approach God, he had to offer sacrifice for himself first before he could represent the people in offering sacrifice (Leviticus 9:7). The system emphasizes that sinful persons cannot approach God. The sacrifices that involve killing and shedding of blood of animals are the images of the one true and effective sacrifice that would be fulfilled by Jesus Christ who would come to the world as the Passover Lamb to save people from sins.

Genesis 4:4

And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering,

Leviticus 9:7

7 Moses said to Aaron, “Come to the altar and sacrifice your sin offering and your burnt offering and make atonement for yourself and the people; sacrifice the offering that is for the people and make atonement for them, as the LORD has commanded.”

Restoring the Relationship with God

In Old Testament time, only the high priest representing the people may enter the the Most Holy Place which signified the presence of God (Leviticus 16:16-17). This clearly teaches that sinful man cannot come close to God let alone having a direct and intimate relationship of Him. In other word, sin need to be atoned and cleansed before man may restore the good relationship with God. This sacrifices of animals were only images of the true offering acceptable to God. Although the acts of sacrifices were acceptable to God in terms of humility, worship and prayers before Him (Psalm 50:8), the animals being offered were not really something God wanted (Psalm 50:13). After all, God owns everything in the universe which of course, includes all the animals in it. However, using animals for sacrifices taught us that there was a price to pay for redemption of sin. On the other hand, sacrifices involved shedding of blood and killing of innocent animals who had nothing to do with our sin were symbolized by their physically unblemished condition, while the sinners enjoyed the benefit of redemption. We should know that animal sacrifices were the images of the one true sacrifice of the Messiah. First, animals such as cattle and goats could be costly,but they are worth far less than human beings. It would be fair to say that the sacrifices of animals come far short as a redemption price for human lives. Second, sacrifices with animals are ceremonial and instructional in nature and had to be repeated again and again by the worshippers. Despite of these shortcomings, the ceremonial sacrifices were used temporarily until the one true sacrifice performed by the Messiah. Ceremonial sacrifices was terminated de jure by God when the Messiah died and the curtain of the temple was torn from top to bottom such that man may approach and reconcile with God not by the blood of animals but Jesus Christ (Mark 15:37-38). Unfortunately, not all people accept the sacrifice of Jesus such that they may receive the grace of redemption as God promised. Moreover, ceremonial sacrifices were terminated de facto when the Jerusalem temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. and along with it the termination of the Levitical system. One may argue that the temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem some day and the ceremonial sacrifices will be resumed. But, the question is why God allowed the temple be destroyed if it is the place of worship and performance of sacrifices for redemption. Assuming the temple could be rebuilt someday, there is still a question for people who lived in the period from 70 A.D. to the day the temple is rebuilt: where do they receive redemption and forgiveness of sins according to the ceremonial laws of Moses which required an establishment of the Levitical system? The answer is clear that it is the plan of God to replace the temporary Levitical system with one real and for all sacrifice of the Messiah who served as the High Priest and performed the sacrifice with His own body. Therefore, people of all nations, Israel and the gentiles, may approach God through faith in the Messiah fulfilling the promise of God to Abraham who will become the father of many nations (Genesis 17:5). The glory, power, and scope of influence of the sacrifice of the Messiah was beyond comprehension and difficult to foresee. A Jewish person was tortured and crucified (Isaiah 52:14) like a criminal by the Roman soldiers and was expected to be forgotten after his death. However, the good news of salvation spread from Palestine to Asia Minor, Europe, Asia, Africa and around the world. Today, using the radio signals, countries and areas that could not be reached easily could listen to the good news of salvation. The gospel of redemption and reconciliation with God has indeed won the heart and mind of many people, nobles, and even kings around the world (Isaiah 52:15): United States, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, China, Germany, Philippines, United Kingdom, Italy, France and Nigeria to name but a few. These countries did not have the advantage of teachings and prophetic revelation from the Old Testament prophets such as Moses and Isaiah. Yet, they were included in God’s salvation plan by God’s grace. God’s grace of salvation first came to Israel, then to the whole world (Isaiah 52:9-10). Why would prophet Isaiah tell Israel be joyful when Jerusalem at that time was still under the control of the foreign empire. Although Israel was still under the reign and oppression of foreign power, physical freedom and prosperity are not the ultimate, real blessings from God who would take them away for the sake of discipline and correction. Israel should be joyful because redemption has come to Israel when the Messiah was born and saved people from sin such that people can be forgiven and approach God and receive His great richness of blessings. These blessings certainly include physical freedom and prosperity, but they are not the most important and do not necessarily come first. The most precious blessings are the acceptance by God, the consolation and the privilege to walk with Him in this life and forever. This wonderful gift of redemption started in Jerusalem will reach the whole world. As the psalmist says that God brings salvation to the earth (Psalm 74:12). Therefore, it is quite relevant for the whole world to celebrate Christmas joyfully for the gift of salvation. The materialistic and other aspects of celebration should be secondary if they are helpful in bringing out the meanings of Christmas - the grace and love of God.

Leviticus 16:16-17

16 In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. 17 No one is to be in the tent of meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel.

Psalm 50:8

I bring no charges against you concerning your sacrifices or concerning your burnt offerings, which are ever before me.

Psalm 50:13

13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?

Mark 15:37-38

37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. 38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

Genesis 17:5

5 No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.

Isaiah 52:9-10

9 Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. 10 The LORD will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.

Isaiah 52:13-15

13 See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. 14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him— his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness— 15 so he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.

Psalm 74:12

But God is my King from long ago; he brings salvation on the earth.

Evidence of Good Relationship with God

We should take note that God’s grace of redemption of the world is not reflected merely by the quantity of believers and the popularity of brand names of religion, but also by the quality of changed lives of the redeemed as manifested by good fruits in life. The fruits of redeemed lives are good evidence of the restoration of intimate and direct relationship with God. The Scripture reveals that God is holy, just, merciful, full of love and expect His people to pursue and live out such characters (Zechariah 7:9-10). We should expect the redeemed possess these characters. Being declared righteous because of the redemptive work of Jesus, the redeemed will not be happy to stay and live in sin because of the indwelling Holy Spirit’s conviction. Being grateful to the redemption, the redeemed will pursuit mercy and love in their new lives in Christ. Numerous people who have been bonded by sins, additions are set free and live new lives as good citizens in their neighborhoods, works and societies to reflect God’s glory. Many organizations have been established in the name of Christ to promote meeting the needs and well being of many people: hospitals, schools, universities, charities, and even organizations that bring justice to victims of crimes, and prevent further injustices in the world. Many Christians left the comfort and safety in their home countries and live their lives as missionaries in foreign countries in order to share the good news of salvation. Some of them even risk their lives to share the good news of salvation while making good contributions to the societies of tribes and nations where Christians are mistaken as enemies. In other words, they are lovingly willing to do good to others including those that are hostile to them. Humans by nature are usually nice only to their loved ones such as their children or others who are nice to them. Being born again by the Holy Spirit, Christians can love and sacrifice themselves. This is possible only because they are empowered by God - a solid evidence of close relationship with God. Is not God showing mercy and love to the world who live in sin and hostile to Him? Of course, He is. As apostle Paul, who was once a devoted Pharisee, said that while we were still sinners, Christ who was God incarnate, died for us (Romans 5:8). But, one day God will execute judgment on unrighteousness when the time of grace expires. Friends, while we still have the precious opportunity, the utmost important opportunity in life, do not let it slip away.

Zechariah 7:9-10

9 “This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’

Romans 5:8

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The Once and For All Atonement

The ceremonial laws were established to teach exactly the concept of sin versus the holiness of God, His reproach and judgment of sin, His provision of a temporary system of atonement of sin based on His grace and mercy. Even in the Old Testament time, there are laws forbidding unclean things and unclean people to participate in ceremonies of offering and sacrifices and the fellowship with people who could participate in such ceremonies (Leviticus 7:21). But, the real essence of sin and holiness are not about physical cleanliness of food and people nor about the correct protocols in running the ceremonies. Jesus teaches what really defiles a person is internal and invisible which will manifest outwardly into sin (Matthew 15:17-20). Therefore, merely following ceremonial laws from the outside is futile without a repentant heart to walk in righteousness inside (Micah 6:7-8). The true way of worship that is acceptable to God is a truthful heart from the inside which is guided and encouraged by the Holy Spirit (John 4:23-24). Of course, sinful man cannot approach God directly as people in the tabernacle or temple could not enter the Holy of Holies which represented the presence of God and had to be represented by a priest in offering sacrifices. Jesus who has no sin came as the high priest and sacrificed Himself by shedding the blood on the cross so that every one who trusts in Him will be forgiven and is justified on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice as clean and righteous before God (Hebrews 2:17; Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24). Unlike the ceremonies held in the Old Testament time, the atonement and cleansing of sin are now real and practical. The atonement is real because the sacrifice is not performed with animals by shedding their blood which was only symbolic and had to be repeated periodically. The sacrifice of Jesus is real and infinitely costly for God Himself bears the cost of redemption by sending Jesus His Only Son to become a man, suffered and died on the cross. The cleansing of sin is effective because sin is not only paid for in full by Jesus’ sacrifice, but the Holy Spirit will dwell in a believer’s heart and guide the believer to walk in the right way according to the words of God (Jeremiah 31:33). As King David said that he would do what God desired because God’s laws were in his heart (Psalm 40:8). Moreover, Jesus’ atonement is effective in scope for one sacrifice is performed and all mankind may received the benefit by simply receiving it with faith as a gift. As Jesus taught that Moses lifted up a snake made of bronze such that sinners might look at the snake and be healed and forgiven, He Himself would be lifted up on the cross such that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life (John 3:14-15).

Leviticus 7:21

Anyone who touches something unclean—whether human uncleanness or an unclean animal or any unclean creature that moves along the ground —and then eats any of the meat of the fellowship offering belonging to the LORD must be cut off from their people.’”

Matthew 15:17-20

17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

Micah 6:7-8

7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

John 4:23-24

23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

Hebrews 2:17

For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.

Isaiah 53:5

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

1 Peter 2:24

“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

Jeremiah 31:33

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

Psalm 40:8

I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.”

In conclusion, Christianity also teaches that man may have a direct and intimate relationship with God. As a matter of fact, this is the will of God that man should have a direct and intimate relationship with Him. However, man in a sinful state cannot have this relationship with God who is holy and righteous. Jesus taught that He was lifted up i.e. crucified such that people who believe in Him will not perish but have eternal life. This wonderful grace of God has been demonstrated and prophesied in the desert when the Israelites sinned and were destined to die of judgment (John 3:14-15). But, out of God’s mercy, God told Moses to construct a bronze snake that whoever looked at the bronze snake would live (Numbers 21:7-9). This is the image of the salvation fulfilled by Jesus Christ that whoever believes in Him may approach God, the source of eternal life. After all, without redemption and forgiveness of sin, a sinner will be a sinner forever. Judgment of sin by God is death and separation from God for eternity let alone to have an intimate relationship with Him. Therefore, God’s grace of redemption is a great blessing that no one can afford to ignore. Life without a close relationship with God is not worth living at all. By the grace and wonderful blessings of God, a person in Christ Jesus indeed has a direct and intimate relationship with God for the Holy Spirit dwells in his or her body which now may be called a temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16). Man may literally walk with and worship God daily now and forever. This is the direct and intimate relationship that God wants all to have.