As we walked past the Egyptian exhibit in the Museum of Art History in Vienna, I noted the great importance placed upon memorials for the dead. The wealthy took great pains to prepare proper tombs and memorials. Embalming to preserve the body was of prime importance. Why did the Egyptians do this?
It was a way of declaring significance in the face of death. Human beings want to believe they are significant in the scheme of things.
Anthropology teaches us that traditions concerning death and the dead almost universally declare life after death. These traditions affirm the significance of human life in the face of death. The reasons for belief in significance vary, but no religious system gives the quality answer that we find in the Bible, where we learn that human beings are created in the image of God, for an everlasting life of fellowship with Him and with other human beings.
This is the beginning point for the question of identity: Who am I? Do I have worth? Many people experience great doubt concerning their worth. They experienced terrible rejections in their growing up years, or tragic events that gave rise to deep questions concerning their own worth.
Identity was defined in ancient times largely by one’s ties to family and tribe, and one’s place in an ancestral line. The Bible does not disregard these ties in the question of identity and worth. Indeed, the prophets call Israel to faithfulness based on their worth according to their ancestry going back to Abraham. “Look to the rock from which you were hewn … look to Abraham your father” (Isaiah 51:1, 2).
I believe that some Gentiles in the Messianic Jewish movement are having an identity crisis and are not solving the problem the right way. The Messianic Jewish congregational movement is a movement of Jews and Gentiles who have joined together in the calling and for the salvation Israel. Both enjoy and participate in Jewish life patterns. They are one in the Messiah. Most Christians are not called to become part of Messianic Jewish congregations though all are called to support the salvation of Israel. Some are called to the Jewish people as a primary life focus. Their heart is bonded in a unique way with the Jewish people.
At the same time, and with a tender heart, I observe that some Gentile believers are attached to the Messianic Jewish movement out of motives other than a heart burden for Israel and the Jewish community. Rather they are joined to it as an answer to a personal identity crisis. They read the promises in the Bible concerning Israel and her future glory. Romans chapter 9 begins with a list of the benefits of being part of Israel in answer to the question of what advantage being Jewish provides. Theirs are the covenants, the patriarchs, the giving of the Law, the Temple, the priesthood and the glory. Isaiah states that in the future, Israel will blossom and bud and fill the whole world with fruit. So a Gentile believer who does not know himself adequately in Messiah thinks that it would be better to be Jewish or an Israelite. He thinks that if he is not, he is second class. This has led to amazing diversions.