A Malaysian friend and I were having lunch one day and talking about Bible culture. Malaysia sits at the end of the Malaysian Peninsula in South East Asia. The peninsula extends from Thailand in the north, nearly to the island of Sumatra in the south. Most Americans would recognize the region includes Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam in that same general area of SE Asia.
We were talking about Bible culture and he brought up the intimacy of having a meal in someone's home. My friend commented that when he goes to people who haven't heard of Jesus, the biggest reaction he gets from them is not about the torture and the cross, and not the healings and miracles. But rather when he tells them Jesus was betrayed during a meal, detailed in John 13.
He said he regularly sees tears running down the faces of the people at the realization Jesus was betrayed while having a meal with His closest friends. They cannot imagine a more hurtful situation, and many come to the Lord as a result, realizing the price He paid for our sins. The most intimate time one can have with friends in easter culture, is over a meal.
We in the west see the cross alone as the hurt Jesus suffered, and read John 13's betrayal of Jesus as a mere dinner from which we get 'the Lord's Supper.' We completely miss the impact of the betrayal though the writers of the New Testament did not. Matthew mentions it more than 10 times, Mark at least 8 times, Luke 5, and John 9 times. Even Paul in I Corinthians 11 when sharing about the Lord's Supper, makes the point to mention Jesus was betrayed during dinner.
Clearly the gospel authors and the people of SE Asia understood the offense of being betrayed, and not just betrayed, but at dinner!
That difference in perception is the difference between *Orientals of the east, and the *Occidentals of the west. The Bible is an Oriental book, written by Orientals, with customs and practices largely unchanged from Abraham to The Revelation. The Bible is not written from the perspective of the west (Occidental), but of the Orient. We call China 'the far east' and are numb to the fact we call the land in the region of Israel 'the middle east'. It is still 'the east'. (*The word 'occidental' is Latin for 'west', and 'oriental' is from the Latin for 'east')
Why does it matter?
No one likes to have their words taken out of context. Yet that's what many Christians do when they read their Bible. They try to understand it filtered not through the Oriental culture of the day, but by their own 21st century western church culture.
In the same way the New Testament was written by apostles doing church in the house and writing to people doing church in the house, many pull the context of the '5-fold' and how the gifts of the Spirit function out of the home and try to put them into the auditorium building called church, only to end up confused and frustrated with few getting to flow in the gifts God gave them - and they wonder why.
The same thing happens when reading the Bible and trying to understand it for our personal lives. For instance, in Psalm 69:22 it says "Let their table become a snare to them; and that which should have been for their benefit, let it become their trap."
That passage is confusing to the westerner, for how can a table become a snare? But if we remember the oriental custom of laying a mat on the ground on which food is placed, and diners sitting on the floor on and around it, the verse starts to make sense.
The Hebrew word translated here as 'table' and pronounced 'shool-khawn' (shul-cha-nam) is literally "a skin or leather mat spread on the ground."
Therefore the Psalmist when saying 'let their table become a snare to them', is saying 'let them be tripped by the mat on the floor; and let that which would have been a blessing become their trap." Now it makes sense, but only if you understand first the custom of eating on a mat on the ground.
Jesus the Oriental King
Today in the west a church 'altar call' (if they have one) often consists of the Pastor asking for every head bowed and every eye closed while they ask for a show of hands raised by those who want to 'accept Jesus'. That is so very western, for an Oriental would never think they have the privilege of merely 'accepting' the King into their lives. They in fact would instead, give their lives to the King, humbly asking that He accept them.
Dr. Michael Brown and I were having lunch one day while he was visiting Tulsa - I had ministered in his church and Bible school when they were located in Pensacola, Florida, and so when he was in town we got together for a meal. We were talking about some of these differences between east and west and he mentioned a trip to India and what one of the Indian pastors had said - India also being in the Orient.
"You in America preach a different gospel that we do in India", the Indian pastor said. When Michael asked what he meant, the pastor replied: "You preach that if you accept Jesus He will heal your family, He will heal your money and give you more, and He will heal your body. You will be blessed if you accept Jesus. We preach that if you believe in Jesus your family may reject you, you may lose your health, you may lose your finances, and you may lose your life."
The west invites Jesus into their already busy lives, while the east gives their whole life to Jesus to the point of immediately being willing to die for Him if called upon to do so. The west doesn't understand Jesus is a King, but instead think of Him first as a friend, one on our side to make our boo boo's in life better. The east realizes He is the King who will rule the earth, and even now as Head of the body of Christ, rules and reigns as the God-Man.
One is horrified that God in the flesh would be betrayed by a supposed friend over an intimate dinner, the other merely sees a dinner in which one of the attendees left to carry out his plan.
I look around at the body of Christ in the west and see so much sin, so much love of the world and all that is in it, and I wonder at the lack of revelation about Who Jesus is. And that is the key, our churches have largely left receiving revelation from God as the purpose for meeting, and for prayer and worship, in favor of entertainment copied from the world. Instead of attracting people with the banner proclaiming they can know God, the church tries to attract people under the banner proclaiming Jesus can make your life better if you include Him in it.
But to the remnant who know Him as King...the King who is also our friend, but one cannot go without the other - to that remnant, great grace and peace is upon them. More next week on Jesus the Oriental King. Until then, Blessings
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