Messianic Worship

Torah and the Christian: An “In-a-Nutshell” Explanation

A few days ago, my friend and One Law proponent Pete Rambo posted a blog titled The ‘ger’ was expected to do what??. In his write-up, he summarizes the apparent obligations of the Ger or “resident alien” (sometimes translated and “convert” or “proselyte”) who was dwelling among the ancient Israelite people as we see chronicled in the Torah (Pentateuch or the first five books of the Bible). These passages are used in part to support the belief among One Law Gentiles that all believers in Jesus are obligated to observe the same set of commandments in the Torah that were assigned to the Israelites.

This is by no means the entire rationale or set of evidence supporting this idea, but it is a critical one. Pete and I have been engaged in an ongoing online dialogue between his blog and mine arguing the pros and cons of this position, with Pete obviously taking the “pro” position.

I think it would help before proceeding to expand a little bit on the status of the “Gerim” (plural of Ger), the resident aliens among the ancient Israelites as we see them in the Torah:

In contrast with the foreigner, the ger (גֵּר), the resident alien, lived more or less permanently in his adopted community. Like the Arabic jār, he was “the protected stranger,” who was totally dependent on his patrons for his well-being. As W.R. Smith noted, his status was an extension of that of the guest, whose person was inviolable, though he could not enjoy all the privileges of the native. He, in turn, was expected to be loyal to his protectors (Gen. 21:23) and to be bound by their laws (Num. 15:15–16).

Since all of the landed property belonged to Israelites (cf. Lev. 25:23–24), the gerim were largely day laborers and artisans (Deut. 24: 14–15; cf. 29:10). Both the Book of the Covenant which classed them among those who were dependent (Ex. 23:12) and the Decalogue which referred to them as “your stranger” (gerkha; Ex. 20:10; cf. Deut. 5:14) attest their inferior position in Israelite society. While a few acquired wealth (cf. Lev. 25:47), most of them were poor and were treated as the impoverished natives. Thus, they were permitted to share in the fallen fruit in the vineyard (Lev. 19:10), the edges of the field, and the gleanings of the harvest (Lev. 23:22; see also Poor, Provisions *for). Like the other poor folk they were also granted a share in the tithe of the third year (Deut. 14:29) and the produce of the Sabbatical Year (Lev. 25:6).

With the passage of time, the gerim were assimilated culturally and religiously. Doeg the Edomite, for instance, was a worshiper of YHWH by the time of Saul (I Sam. 21:8), as was Uriah the Hittite in the reign of David (II Sam. 11:11). Hence, the ger, in contrast to the nokhri, was required in many cases to conform to the ritual practices of the native Israelite. Thus, gerim were subject to laws dealing with ritual purification (Num. 19:2–10), incest (Lev. 18:26) and some of the food taboos (Lev. 17:10–16; but cf. Deut. 14:21). They were expected to observe the Sabbath (Ex. 20:10; Deut. 5:14), participate in the religious festivals (Deut. 16:11, 14), and fast on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:29). They were permitted to offer up burnt offerings (Lev. 17:8; 22:18; Num. 15:14ff.) and, if circumcised, even to sacrifice the paschal lamb (Ex. 12:48–49; Num. 9:14). Indeed, they, no less than the Israelites, were expected to be loyal to YHWH (Lev. 20:2; cf. Ezek. 14:5–8).

However, social differences did remain, and some gerim were better received than others. While third generation offspring of Edomites and Egyptians might “be admitted into the congregation of the Lord” (Deut. 23:8–9), Ammonites and Moabites were not to be admitted “even in the tenth generation” (23:4). Furthermore, even while the Holiness Code admonished Israelites not to subject their fellows to slavery (Lev. 25:39), they were specifically permitted to do so to the children of resident aliens (25:45–46). A Hebrew slave belonging to a ger could be redeemed immediately, and if not redeemed served until the Jubilee Year (25:47ff.), but one belonging to an Israelite served until the *Jubilee (25:39ff.). Correspondingly, a Hebrew could serve as a hired or bound laborer (25:40) of an Israelite, but only as a hired laborer of an alien (25:50). Indeed, the humble position of the ger generally was emphasized by the usage of the term in the Holiness Code: e.g., “The land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me” (25:23; cf. 25:35, but see *Proselyte).

-from “Strangers and Gentiles”
Jewish Virtual Library

Sorry for the long block of quoted text, but I wanted to present a cohesive thought. Click on the link I provided above to read all of the article and get a complete picture of how the “Ger” was thought of and functioned in ancient Israelite society.

Apostle Paul preachingGetting back to Pete’s blog, after my first reading of his article, I posted an initial response to each of his points. Later that day, one of my long-time “debating partners” Zion replied to me with his own set of ideas. That started me thinking and reading and today, I responded to him. This blog post is an expansion on that response since I hopefully have crafted an “in-a-nutshell” (more or less) description of why neither the historical Ger nor the Acts 15 apostolic decree supports One Law. In fact, I believe this is a tidy explanation of how the example of the Ger and the apostolic decree create a halachic (legal) precedent stating that Gentile believers in the Jewish Messiah (Jesus Christ) were (and are) expected to observe only a subset of what we might think of as Torah commands in the present age and then only if considered to be “residing among Israel.”

The following is my actual response to Zion on Pete’s blog:

Interestingly enough, D. Thomas Lancaster in his Torah Club commentary on Acts 15 actually presents the legal decision made by James and the Council of Apostles and Elders as granting Gentiles “resident alien” status among the nation of Israel based on his understanding of Leviticus 17 and 18.

I reviewed his work about 18 months ago and based in part on Markus Bockmuehl’s book, “Jewish Law in Gentile Churches: Halakhah and the Beginning of Christian Public Ethics,” he believes that non-Jews are saved as non-Jews and, referencing the aforementioned chapters in Leviticus:

In those chapters, the Torah describes the sins of the Canaanites, warns the people of Israel against imitating their ways, and prescribes four prohibitions which both the Israelite and the stranger who dwells among the nation much keep. “These correspond to the four prohibitions of the apostolic decree, in the order in which they occur in the apostolic letter.” [Richard Bauckham, "James and the Jerusalem Church," in "The Book of Acts In Its Palestinian Setting, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 459]

In his article “The Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses” for FFOZ publication Messiah Journal (issue 109/Winter 2012), which I reviewed when it first came out and then again last year, Toby Janicki says about the Acts 15 decree:

At first glance it appears that the Gentiles have very few commandments to deal with, but upon closer examination each of these four prohibitions becomes, in a sense, an overarching category which contains many sub-category commandments. This may be one of the reasons the Apostle James adds the phrase about Moses being read in the Synagogue every Sabbath. The new Gentile believer would need to attend the local synagogue to learn how each of these four prohibitions plays out practically in everyday life.

Referring back to Pete’s list of those things the Ger was either required or encouraged to perform while living among the ancient Israelites (including my initial response to his list), we see this is a subset of the overall commandments issued to the Children of Israel by God through Moses. Based on this subset, we cannot reasonably infer that somehow the Gentile Gerim were obligated to the entire set of mitzvot as were the Israelites, but only those mitzvot where they are specifically mentioned.

Putting this all together, I think the best we can come up with for those of us who identify as “Messianic Gentiles” is that we have some overlap in terms of obligation with Messianic Jews but we do not possess an identical obligation to God with Israel, that is, the Jewish people. By legal precedent, both in specified portions of the Torah and in Acts 15, the Gentiles who are attached to Israel in the present (Old Covenant) age, have been given a lighter “yoke” to bear so that, in Peter’s words (Acts 15:10-11), “why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.”

Peter wasn’t kidding when he called the Torah “a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear.” The history of Israel in the Tanakh is a litany of her failures in obedience and in straying away from God and the Torah and into idolatry. The reason for the establishment of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-40, Ezekiel 36:22-30) is to make it possible for the Jewish people to perfectly obey God’s Torah by writing it on their hearts rather than on external objects, and to give them a new Spirit so each and every Jewish person would have a perfect apprehension of God greater than the prophets of old.

AbrahamThanks to the “seed of Abraham,” that is Messiah or Christ, and God’s promise to Abraham that he would be a “father to many nations” and a “blessing to the nations,” we people of the nations, that is Gentiles, are able to share in the blessings of the New Covenant by also having our sins forgiven and there being no partiality between Gentile and Jew in access to the Holy Spirit and the promise of the resurrection and life in the Messianic Era of peace and tranquility.

But that equality is specific to those blessings, and based on what we know of the Gerim and Acts 15, we do not also share in identical obligations. Blessings yes, obligations, no. There are some duties that will always be exclusive to the Jewish people, just like serving in the Temple is a duty that is specific to the Levitical Priests.

I suppose all this is flying in the face of this morning’s Elul blog post:

Frankly, my plate is full just in keeping up with all I need to learn on my journey of spiritual growth. I don’t have a lot of time to worry about what other Christians or what Jews are or aren’t doing.

If I’m to borrow anything useful from Elul, let me adopt a discipline of repentance, increased prayer, introspection, and seeking to draw nearer to God.

On the other hand, it is a further exploration of who I am and I continually re-examine what I believe and why I study the Bible and worship God as I do. Am I going in the right direction? What can I do to be a better person? Only by asking myself some hard questions (sometimes that means asking others those questions as well) will I find the answers.

“May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”

Good Shabbos.

Elul

Elul, All, Nothing, or Something

Question: I have been testing the waters, trying to get involved in Judaism. But I feel like I’m swimming in a vast ocean of unfamiliar concepts: Hebrew texts, legal nuances, culture, etc. I’m not sure any of this is for me!

The Aish Rabbi Replies: There is a misconception that many people have about Judaism, what I call “the all or nothing” syndrome. With 613 mitzvot in the Torah, things can seem a bit overwhelming. People take a look at traditional Judaism with all these different commandments and say to themselves, there’s no way that I can be successful at living that type of lifestyle, so what’s the point of looking into it or getting involved? Where to start? What to focus on? How to make sense of it all?!

That’s not the Jewish way!

“Judaism: All Or Nothing?”
-from the “Ask the Rabbi” column
Aish.com

Really? Not the Jewish way? Most Christians would disagree based on this:

If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

-James 2:8-13 (NASB)

I suspect we’ve traditionally misunderstood what James is trying to say to his readers, since he doesn’t seem to be saying that you have to keep the Torah perfectly. He seems to be saying that if you expect your observance to justify you before God, only then would you have to keep the Torah perfectly. However, if you observe the “royal law”, that is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18, Mark 12:30-31), and do not show partiality, you are not sinning and not counted among transgressors if you are not perfectly observant. Even if you are not perfect but you show mercy, then God will show mercy to you (see Matthew 5:21-22, Matthew 6:12).

So it would seem the Aish Rabbi is correct in that being an observant Jew doesn’t mean being a perfectly observant Jew:

Imagine you bump into an old friend and he tells you how miserable he is. You ask him, what’s the matter? He says, I’m in the precious metals industry. My company just found a vein of gold in Brazil that’s going to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

You say, that’s fantastic. Your financial problems are solved. What’s the problem?

He says, you just don’t get it. Do you realize that this is just one vein of gold? It represents such a tiny fraction of all of the unmined gold in the world. What do I really have, compared with what’s out there?

You say, are you nuts? Who the heck cares about what you haven’t found yet? What you’ve got now is a gold mine!

That’s the Jewish approach. Any aspect that you learn about, or can incorporate into your life, is a gold mine. What does it matter what aspect of Judaism you’re not ready to take on? In Judaism, every mitzvah is of infinite value. Every mitzvah is more than any gold mine. Don’t worry about what you can’t do. Even if you never take on another mitzvah, you’ve still struck eternal gold.

The best advice: Relax.

Christian Bible StudyWhat if when you first became a Christian (if you are a Christian), you believed you had to live a perfect Christian life (however you define such a life)? What if you believed you had to go to church every Sunday, had to attend every Sunday school class, had to be at church every Wednesday for whatever class or event was being offered? What if you thought you had to instantly understand terms like “justification” or “propitiation” or “agape” and if you didn’t know and do all you believed was expected of you, it would be the same for you as a Jewish person who didn’t literally observe the 613 commandments of the Torah?

Sounds pretty horrible, huh? Instant perfection or instant failure.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “But we’re under grace, not the Law. We Christians don’t have to be perfect.” Ironically, that’s pretty much what the Aish Rabbi is saying, too. Except in Judaism God’s grace and His behavioral expectations for Covenant members aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s all part of the same package. It’s all God’s providence and love.

The love between God and Israel is unconditional. Even when Israel behaves in a manner that results in estrangement, that love is not diminished. Israel does not have to restore God’s love, because it is eternal, and His longing for Israel to return to Him is so intense that at the first sign that Israel is ready to abandon its errant ways that led to the estrangement, God will promptly embrace it.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Elul 1″
Aish.com

In Judaism (as I understand it and I realize I’m making an overly generalized statement), God loves not because a Jew is perfect but simply because God loves and because He chose the Jewish people and the nation of Israel to be His own.

One of the things the Aish Rabbi says is:

The misconception that Judaism is all-or-nothing includes the false idea that a person is either “observant,” or “non-observant.” But that’s not true. In fact, here’s a secret:

Nobody is observing all the mitzvot.

Pretty shocking, huh? But that’s not all.

That’s because certain mitzvot only women usually do – like lighting Shabbat candles or going to the mikveh. Other mitzvot only men can fulfill – like Brit Milah. Others only apply to first-born children, such as the “fast of the first born” on the day before Passover. And only a Kohen can fulfill the mitzvah of reciting the Priestly Blessing.

So when we talk about the totality of mitzvot, we’ll never do them all anyway! So rather than get overwhelmed with the vastness of it all, better to be realistic about what we can do, and move forward in a positive way.

But that just means some people don’t do all of the mitzvot because not all of the mitzvot are intended for everyone, like the laws for the Kohen or the laws pertaining only to women (and as you probably already know, there are laws that apply only to Jews and not to Gentiles, Christian or not).

But that could still mean a Jew is supposed to be perfect in all the laws that do apply to him or her.

Let’s say, for example, that a person wants to try the mitzvah of prayer. We may go to synagogue and see someone immersed in intensive prayer for one hour. We cannot conceive of how we could possibly get to that point ourselves. That’s understandable, especially for one who is not fluent in Hebrew. So it’s a matter of knowing which prayer gets top priority – for example, the Amidah prayer.

The Amidah has 19 blessings, and it’s very difficult to concentrate for that entire time without being distracted, or one’s mind wandering to other things like shopping and checking your email. So the key is to take on a small goal: “I am committing that for the first prayer of the 19, I will not rush nor allow anything to interfere between me and these few words.” That goal is realistic and attainable, and one can begin to approach a high degree of intensity and concentration on that one prayer.

What this does is give a taste of the higher goal. All that’s needed is to extrapolate to all 19. This is much more effective than starting off by saying, “Today I’m going to pray the entire 19 with great concentration!” – and then after three words, you’re thinking about what’s for breakfast.

If it’s too lofty a goal, then at least taste it once. Break down a huge goal into bite-size steps that are realistic to achieve, and will give a taste of the full goal.

That’s a lot of text to say something simple. Start with just one, small mitzvah and work up from there.

But what does this have to do with Christians?

One point of relevancy, and I alluded to this above, is that we Christians need to have a better understanding of how Torah observance relates to Jewish life, since we tend to give observant Jews a hard time for not being perfectly observant. We also tend to view “grace” and “the Law” as polar opposites (like “Christianity” and “Judaism”) which, as I also mentioned, is not true.

But if, as most Christians believe, the Law has nothing to do with us, why do we care beyond those straightforward statements?

Dr. Michael Brown
Dr. Michael Brown

If you’ve been reading my blog posts for the past couple of weeks, you know there is an ongoing debate about whether or not God requires all Jesus-believers, both Jewish and Gentile, to observe the same Torah commandments in the same way.

If you listened to the rather uncomfortable debate between Dr. Michael Brown and Tim Hegg on this topic, you discovered that Mr. Hegg believes the answer is an unequivocal “yes” for everyone, while Dr. Brown thinks that no believer, Jewish or Gentile, has to observe any of the commandments (grace replaced the Law).

Frankly, I disagree with them both, but then the question is, what should Gentile Christians do?

Now that I have addressed the notion of “Torah on the heart” as a covenantal anticipation and partial fulfillment as promised to Jews, how may we envision it having an impact also on non-Jews who attach themselves to the Jewish Messiah? They do not become members of Israel or participants in the covenant per se, and they are not legally obligated by the Torah covenant. Therefore, something must become available to them because of their increasingly close proximity to the knowledge of Torah and its impact on those who actually are members of the covenant. In one other recent post, I invoked the analogy of gentiles entering the Temple’s “court of the gentiles” in order to offer sacrifices in accordance with Torah stipulations for gentiles doing so. I compared the symbolic sacrifice of Rav Yeshua to such sacrifices, but offered in the heavenly sanctuary by Rav Yeshua as a mediating Melchitzedekian priest. Such symbolism reflects the ratification of continual repentance, after which the forgiven offerer learns to walk in newness of life in accordance with HaShem’s guidance (e.g., the aspects of Torah that apply to him or her). In another recent post I addressed the notion of a gentile ‘Hasid and the appropriate reflections of Torah that may be applicable — in which a gentile might become thoroughly immersed in order to experience the same sort of spiritual intimacy with HaShem, and enter into the perceptive environment of the kingdom of heaven in its metaphorical sense in anticipation of its future physical realization. Thus non-Jews would experience spirituality from outside and alongside the covenant in the same manner as intended for Jews inside the covenant.

In such an environment the Shema may take on additional meaning, as a gentile reply and response to its pronouncement by Jews. As Jews say: “Shm’a Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad” (“Hear, O Israel, HaShem is our G-d, solely the One-and-Only HaShem”), followed by “Baruch shem k’vod, malchuto l’olam va’ed” (“Blessed is His glorious purpose — an eternal kingdom”), then gentile disciples of Rav Yeshua may reply: “Hear, O Israel, HaShem your G-d has become our G-d also, the One-and-Only HaShem” (“Shm’a Israel, v’hayah Adonai Eloheichem gam Hu ‘aleinu, Adonai Echad”), perhaps followed by Zech.14:9 “V-hayah Adonai l-melech ‘al col ha-aretz — ba-yom ha-hu, yihiyei Adonai Echad u’shmo echad” (HaShem shall be King over all the earth — in that day HaShem shall be [recognized as] One, and His purpose [as] unified).

But maybe I’m already looking a little too far ahead ….

-comment made by ProclaimLiberty
on one of my blog posts

praying_at_masadaThat’s probably a lot to absorb and it’s likely not all of you will relate let alone agree.

Coming at the question from another direction, a friend of mine pointed me to an article by John C. Wright called Christians in the Pantheon called Life.

A reader with the name Metzengerstein, which sounds like it might actually be a real name for once, writes and comments:

“It is an interesting fix we Christians find ourselves in. On the one hand we should like to argue that Capitalism is a better system than any other by virtue of its results and its preference towards voluntary action and organization over government coercion for arranging society.

“On the other hand, we are anti-materialists who would like to proclaim there are more important things in life than money, and that wealth can lead you astray. Even technological improvement and scientific advancement can lead us into a mindset of creating a heaven on Earth, rather than passing through a transitory phase in a strange land.”

I confess I do not see the paradox.

Click the link I provided above to read the rest, which outlines why there isn’t a contradiction between the Biblical expectations for Christian behavior and living in the world.

Learning what God expects of us is simple enough to grasp in a few moments and yet complex enough to take an entire lifetime to comprehend.

He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?

-Micah 6:8 (NASB)

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

-Matthew 22:36-40 (NASB)

Seems pretty straightforward but within those simple statements is a world of meaning and learning.

In Christianity, we tend to expect that we are to understand everything in the Bible perfectly and live it out unerringly (which sounds very “legalistic,” the way most Christians see Jewish people). There are no mysteries or contradictions and that with the right interpretation (and solid doctrine), the meaning of God’s Word just unfolds right in front of you with little or not effort at all.

Except that’s not how most Christians experience the Bible if they’re at all honest in admitting it.

The reason I study the Bible through a somewhat Jewish lens is not to learn how to practice Judaism, but to learn to live with a certain amount of dynamic tension involving those little things that don’t seem to add up or that even contradict each other in the Bible.

I recently heard (read) a joke about Jewish people (I think it was in one of ProclaimLiberty’s comments) about “him being right, and the other guy being right, and you’re right, too.” From a Christian point of view, that all seems impossible. How can three different people hold three different opinions and yet all of them are right?

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

-attributed to Yogi Berra

Rav Yosef Cologne, the Maharik, wrote against a group of Rabbis who imposed their authority on their students and claimed that once someone studied under the authority of a rebbi he must behave submissively to that rebbi forever and may not disagree with his ruling. Maharik responded that even if one wants to claim that the former student remains submissive to his rebbi forever, that would only apply to halachos related to honoring a rebbi, e.g., to stand when the rebbi enters the room or to tear kriah if the rebbi passed away. If, however, the former rebbi is making a mistake in halacha the former students must raise the issue rather than silently accept the rebbi’s position.

-from Halachah Highlights
“Disagreeing with one’s Rebbi”
Commentary on Moed Katan 16
Daf Yomi Digest for Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Most Christians and even some Jews tend to see observant Judaism and particularly Orthodox Judaism as a straight jacket made out of lead. Once you’re in, you can never escape and there’s no such thing as “wiggle room”. Here we see (again) that Christian presumptions about Judaism don’t always hold water.

The lived experience of a Christian is actually more complicated and nuanced than one would imagine. Just reading John Wright’s brief essay reveals details that aren’t obvious to either the secular or Christian Gentile. The same can be said for observant Jewish life. Neither lifestyle exists as a single package that one acquires immediately like a birthday present, but rather represents a lifetime of experience, painstakingly gained bit by bit with each passing day.

TeshuvahWe’ve just entered the month of Elul in the Jewish religious calendar, which is the month immediately preceding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Derek Leman made some suggestions that could apply to both the Gentile and Jewish believer, but while there seems to be some overlap here for those of us to consider ourselves “Messianic,” it’s critical for us to grasp that we also have very individual duties and responsibilities to God that we are constantly seeking to master.

Frankly, my plate is full just in keeping up with all I need to learn on my journey of spiritual growth. I don’t have a lot of time to worry about what other Christians or what Jews are or aren’t doing.

If I’m to borrow anything useful from Elul, let me adopt a discipline of repentance, increased prayer, introspection, and seeking to draw nearer to God.

For more on the month of Elul, read Elul: The Secret to Change.

“May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”

Repentance

Reflections on Romans 7

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

-Romans 6:20-23 (NASB)

That’s the last set of verses from my previous reflection on Romans. Paul is addressing his Gentile readership in the synagogues in Rome that when they were still pagans, they were slaves to sin but “free” from righteousness, however, as they were deriving benefit from shameful things, the outcome they were facing was death. Coming to righteousness through faith in Jesus (Yeshua), they became freed from sin but enslaved to God resulting in sanctification with the ultimate outcome of eternal life.

Paul states the wages of sin is death. Then he continues:

Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man.

-Romans 7:1-3 (NASB)

He’s speaking to those who know the law. Does he mean he’s shifted the focus from Gentiles to Jews? What law? The Torah or the Law of Sin? Let’s look at Paul’s metaphor of the married woman. Let’s say the woman is “married” to a pagan life of sin. She is bound to her “husband” while he lives, but when he dies she’s free to “marry” another. Turn the statement around and you have a person dying to sin and living to righteousness. Turn it around again and if you are married to righteousness and continue to consort with your former “spouse,” to sin, then the “wife” is an adulteress.

The word of the Lord which came to Hosea the son of Beeri, during the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and during the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel.

When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry; for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the Lord.” So he went and took Gomer the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. And the Lord said to him, “Name him Jezreel; for yet a little while, and I will punish the house of Jehu for the bloodshed of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. On that day I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel.”

-Hosea 1:1-5 (NASB)

An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah.” And He left them and went away.

-Matthew 16:4 (NASB)

When the ancient Israelites were disobedient to the commands of God and particularly when they sought after other “gods,” the Almighty referred to them as “adulterous.” In a very real way, the covenant ceremony at Sinai was a “marriage” between God and Israel in which Israel swore an oath of fealty much like a wedding oath. Any time Israel pursued pagan “gods”, they were likened to a harlot or an adulterous wife.

Paul seems to be saying something similar about Gentile believers (assuming he hasn’t shifted audiences in his letter as I suggested above) who have come to faith in Messiah but who continue to go after their former pagan lifestyle…or at least Paul is warning them against such a return. In any event, they should have no reason to return to idolatry.

Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.

-Romans 7:4-6 (NASB)

newPaul says his readers have died “to the Law through the body of Christ,” but given the current context, he can’t be talking about the Torah for two reasons. The first is that he’s (most likely) writing to Gentiles so they were never obligated to the mitzvot before coming to faith in Messiah. Pagans don’t observe the Torah of Moses. The second reason is that he is still talking about the “Law of Sin,” not the Torah, so it makes more sense that he is saying these former pagans have “died to the Law (of sin) through the body of Christ,” since as believers, they have shared in Messiah’s death to their former lives even as they share in the promise of eternal life. Now he urges them to “bear fruit for God,” which could be interpreted as performing good works in His Name. Paul keeps toggling back and forth between their former lives under the Law of Sin and Death and their current lives in the “newness of the Spirit.”

“…we serve in the newness of the Spirit and not the oldness of the letter.”

This suggests to most Christians that the Spirit (and grace) are new and the letter (of the Law/Torah) is old, meaning the Spirit has replaced the Torah. But again, given the context and the main object of Paul’s commentary, it is the oldness of their former lives, the letter of the Law of Sin that is done away with and replaced by the newness of their lives in Christ through the Spirit.

What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be!

-Romans 7:7 (NASB)

Paul seems to have made a quick shift in which Law he’s discussing.

What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

-Romans 7:7-12 (NASB)

I don’t think we know enough about Paul’s relationship with his audience to understand how they would have followed the shifts of topic in his letter, moving from the Law of Sin to the Law of Moses, but this section seems to clearly be talking about the Torah since it quotes the Torah (“You shall not covet”). Paul actually seems to be talking (still) about both “laws” since one law took the “opportunity through the commandment” to produce coveting “of every kind.” While the commandments of the Torah are designed to produce life, the law of sin produced death. Paul says “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good,” but when we choose to sin and disobey the commandment, the Law of Sin produces death.

It would seem that once we have a definition of right and wrong, which the Torah provides, we have a clearer choice and as we are brought closer to righteousness by obedience, we must be ever more mindful of the temptation to disobey, to sin, which leads to death. By accepting God’s righteous standards upon our lives, we are more accountable for our behavior (not that pagans won’t be judged in the end) and the higher we climb in our life of faith, the farther we have to fall should be let ourselves be tempted and sin.

Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.

-Romans 7:13 (NASB)

the-divine-torahBut make no mistake, that accountability has been increased does not mean the Torah is bad. “May it never be!” Sin is bad and the Law of Moses shows us clearly the terrible consequences for sin, which we did not know when we are still slaves to sin. Through the commandment, we see sin for what it really is. Then we have no excuse if we return to sin. We know what we’re doing. Our eyes have been opened.

For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

-Romans 7:14-20 (NASB)

Paul is describing the struggles of every person of faith, the struggle between a Heavenly ideal and human fallibility and frailty.

“See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him? Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?

-Deuteronomy 4:5-8 (NASB)

God obviously expected the Israelites to keep his statutes and judgments and didn’t consider them to be too difficult to observe. More than that, He wanted Israel and their obedience to Him to be an example to the nations around them, to be a light to attract other people groups to Hashem, God of Israel, that they too might believe and obey, for the statutes and judgments are righteous.

But if Paul is writing to a bunch of Gentiles in Roman synagogues who are mixing with Jesus-believing and unbelieving Jews (and maybe getting a little arrogant that they can have equal co-participation in Jewish communal life without undergoing the proselyte rite and converting to Judaism), why is Paul leaning so much on the Torah as the counterpoint to the former pagans’ lives of idol worship and sin?

Of course, as I mention above, the one thing all people of faith have in common is the struggle between our human natures which draw us into sin and our values and ideals which come from God. Even Paul experienced this struggle and it obviously pained him greatly.

But as a man of faith, he could differentiate between the sin in him, that is, his human nature being the cause of his misbehavior, and his will and desire, which was for God.

But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

-Romans 7:20 (NASB)

We all do what we don’t want to do because sin dwells within us. It always will until the resurrection when we will be perfected in Messiah’s Name by the Holy Spirit.

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

-Romans 7:21-25 (NASB)

WrestlingHere Paul makes it even clearer that he is talking about two different laws, the Law of Moses, which is holy, spiritual, good, and a delight, and the law of sin and death which is waging war within Paul, making him a prisoner of the law of sin. He saw himself as a “wretched man” who could only be set free through “Jesus Christ our Lord,” yet like all of us, he was still standing between serving the law of God with his mind and the law of sin with his flesh.

Remember, Paul didn’t write this epistle with chapters and verses in mind, so even though the chapter ends, Paul’s probably still in the middle of a thought, and if you peek ahead to chapter 8, you’ll see this is correct…

…but that will have to wait until next week. I’m still looking for a way to understand Paul comparing the Torah to the Law of Sin in a letter to a non-Jewish audience. What could he be telling them about their lives in relationship to the Torah?

“May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”

promise

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Better Promises

The Messiah “has obtained a more excellent priesthood” than the Aaronic priesthood because he is “the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6). What are the better promises? How well do you really know the “new covenant”? This discourse takes a closer look at the “better promises” of the new covenant as described in the prophecies of Jeremiah.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Thirty-Two: The Inner Torah
Originally presented on November 23, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

I covered the vast majority of the material from today’s sermon in my previous review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s lecture “Better Promises” from his What About the New Covenant audio CDs.

In comparing my notes from today’s sermon with my prior review, I found that they were almost identical, so I suppose you could just click the link I provided above, read that review, and then call it good.

But, I think I’ll go over some of that material again. It can always use repeating.

But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.

-Hebrews 8:6 (NASB)

Better promises. Jesus (Yeshua) is supposed to be a High Priest in Heaven with a superior priesthood to the Levites, and a mediator of a superior covenant than the Old Covenant based on better promises. What are these better promises?

night-and-dayTo find out, we have to go to Jeremiah 31 since the New Covenant isn’t in the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament), it’s in the Tanakh (Old Testament):

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Thus says the Lord,
Who gives the sun for light by day
And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar;
The Lord of hosts is His name:
“If this fixed order departs
From before Me,” declares the Lord,
“Then the offspring of Israel also will cease
From being a nation before Me forever.”
Thus says the Lord,

“If the heavens above can be measured
And the foundations of the earth searched out below,
Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel
For all that they have done,” declares the Lord.

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when the city will be rebuilt for the Lord from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. The measuring line will go out farther straight ahead to the hill Gareb; then it will turn to Goah. And the whole valley of the dead bodies and of the ashes, and all the fields as far as the brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be holy to the Lord; it will not be plucked up or overthrown anymore forever.”

-Jeremiah 31:31-40 (NASB)

I broke out the different better promises step-by-step in my previous review but now I’ll just give them as numbered and bulleted lists. But first a few introductory points.

  • This is a prophesy about the end of times, the Messianic future, the final redemption.
  • It is a prophesy that the New Covenant will be like the Old (Sinai) Covenant in that it will also be made exclusively with the House of Judah and the House of Israel, that is, with the Jewish people. The Gentile nations are not mentioned, just as they are not mentioned in the Sinai Covenant.
  • It’s not like the Old (Sinai) Covenant in that it’s based on better promises.

And now, just what are those better promises?

  1. The Torah will be written on every Jew’s heart so that every Jew will intuitively, naturally obey God’s commandments.
  2. God will be Israel’s God and they will be His people. This is the promise of redemption and is actually marital language based on a marriage declaration a man made to a woman in the ancient near east.
  3. Every Jew will have an intimate and inclusive knowledge of God, a personal knowledge of God rather than knowing about God.
  4. God will completely and permanently forgive Israel of all of her sins (see Romans 11:25-27).
  5. Israel will always be a nation before God, that is, the Jewish people will always be a separate and unique national, physical entity called Israel in God’s sight, just as long as there is such a thing seasons, the sun, the moon, and the stars.
  6. Jerusalem, the Holy City, the center of King Messiah’s government, will be rebuilt

Those are great promises but there’s still more. If you read Jeremiah 32:36-42, a number of promises are present including:

  • The ingathering of the Jews.
  • The redemption of the Jews.
  • The betrothal.
  • The Torah written on Jewish hearts.
  • The New Covenant will be everlasting.
  • The New Creation.

Cutting BranchesBut that’s not all (I feel like some cheesy salesman selling vegetable choppers on the shopping channel *jk*). Jeremiah 33:14-26 speaks of God’s promise to raise up a “righteous branch” from the House of David, which is King Messiah, as well as rebuild the Temple, restore the Levitical priesthood, and reinstitute the sacrifices. And these promises can only be broken if day and night should cease to exist.

The latter verses speak of how the nations say that Israel is not a nation before God and that God has rejected Israel (which historically the Church has done). God is telling foolish ones who say such things that if day and night cease only then would God reject Israel. This is rhetorical language meaning that God will never reject His people Israel, the Jewish people. Never.

These are all terrific promises and there are still more that are written in the books of the prophets Amos, Ezekiel, Joel, Micah, and others.

Yes, they’re all great promises…if you’re Jewish.

But what about the Gentiles? What about us?

I also covered the answer to this question in my previous review but I think Lancaster worded part of his answer differently here.

What Did I Learn?

What did I learn new about how Gentiles are included in the New Covenant when we aren’t explicitly included in the New Covenant? Lancaster mentioned Abraham but didn’t explicitly describe how a portion of the Abrahamic Covenant is connected to Gentile inclusion in New Covenant blessings. You can read about that in a detailed summary I wrote.

Lancaster did say that as a result of the Acts 15 legal decision made by the Council of Apostles and Elders, Gentiles were given an honorary status within the commonwealth of Israel, an affiliation with the Jewish people by being grafted in as adopted sons and daughters of Abraham. By sharing Abraham’s faith, we are the fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham that “all the families of the earth will be blessed” through him.

Lancaster said that Gentiles have a share in the New Covenant but (and it’s a big but) only by virtue of their/our association with Israel, that is, the nation of the Jews, through our faith in Messiah, for as the Master said to the Samaritan woman, “Salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22).

But how?

According to Lancaster (and this is where you may think that things are getting a little bit fuzzy), King Messiah conquers the world, that is, he defeats all of the armies that go up against Israel in the final war. And since he conquers every nation on Earth, he annexes them and their people. And under that annexation, God extends the New Covenant blessings to include the people of those annexed nations, effectively granting them (us) citizenship under the Messiah’s government; citizenship in the Kingdom.

This could be a problem because some people have told me that even in Messianic Days, there will be nations not sworn to acknowledge the King of Israel as their King and people who remain disobedient. That means, if correct, that Messiah does not conquer literally all of the nations and some remain outside his authority.

However, according to Lancaster, for those Gentiles in the present age who have sworn an oath of fealty to the King, we are already annexed, so to speak, and thus gain access as vassel servants to the King, achieving citizenship in the Kingdom of God now, even though it has not yet arrived.

This goes back to the themes I’ve addressed in a number of my blog posts over the last week or two about the actual status of Gentiles as disciples of the Master in relation to the Jewish people, the nation of Israel, and obedience to the Torah mitzvot.

sefer-torahLancaster tossed around terms like “Torah written on Gentile hearts,” “commonwealth of Israel,” and “citizenship” without so much as a “by-your-leave,” but I don’t think he was implying anything you could call “One Law”.

He seems to be saying that when the New Covenant’s better promises are delivered in full to the Jewish people and they are made into a strong and mighty nation, a nation that is at the head of all the nations, those of us who are among the Gentile nations who have been loyal to the Messiah King and who have served him will also be blessed with the fruits of those same promises. Indeed, we are already being blessed as we serve him and cleave to him (which may not necessarily require wearing a kippah and tallit if you aren’t Jewish).

For the Son of God, Christ Jesus, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silvanus and Timothy—was not yes and no, but is yes in Him. For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.

-2 Corinthians 1:19-20 (NASB)

God’s promises find their “yes” in Messiah. All the many promises I listed above and so much more have their “yes” in Jesus Christ for those who believe and who faithfully serve the King and the Kingdom until it comes and then beyond.

“May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”

line of fire

Dr. Michael Brown Wasted Tim Hegg’s Time and Mine

I hadn’t intended to, especially since Keith had already done such a good job of it, but I ended up listening to the Line of Fire debate between Dr. Michael Brown and Tim Hegg on Does God Require All Believers to Observe the Torah with the intention of writing a review. Different sources continued to urge me to listen to the podcast and so I finally found myself one evening clicking the link.

I wish I hadn’t but maybe not for the reasons you think. I knew that Dr. Brown often took on controversial subjects in his interviews and debates on his radio show, but I’d forgotten how adversarial and contentious these dialogues could be. Dr. Brown obviously had an agenda from the start and I believe it was a mistake for Mr. Hegg to agree to debate him. After listening to less than thirty minutes of the exchange between them, I decided I never wanted to go within a mile of Dr. Brown or, given the current state of telecommunications, have any sort of direct link to him regardless of our relative geographical locations.

Let me explain.

Keith’s review, which I cited above, is absolutely correct in saying that Mr. Hegg, who is probably the leading proponent of the One Law/One Torah position for Gentile believers, seemed not to be able to communicate his viewpoint in a clear, straightforward manner. I listened to Hegg fumble with answers, not be able to focus on responding to a very specific, direct question, and wander all over the Bible, almost rambling, in an attempt to answer each of Dr. Brown’s queries.

I’ve met Hegg on a number of occasions and have found him to be a generally well-educated, intelligently spoken, knowledgable, organized individual. I don’t agree with his basic interpretation of the Bible, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect where he’s coming from.

However, when on Dr. Brown’s radio show, Hegg seemed totally out of his depth, as if he were a first year theology student suddenly thrown into a debate with the heads of his department and asked to defend doctrinal positions which he barely comprehended. Hegg was a mess.

Tim Hegg
Tim Hegg

To be fair though, it was abundantly clear that Brown was using all of the standard tactics to put Hegg off from the second the show went on the air. Brown defined the parameters of the debate, he asked leading and misleading questions, he verbally painted Hegg in a corner, he talked over him, and repeatedly interrupted him, even when Brown said he would give Hegg full rein to state his position. Invariably, Brown would interrupt Hegg in mid-sentence, saying yet another station break was coming up and that he was only seeking clarification for the sake of his listeners.

I have a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology with fifteen years of post-graduate experience before changing careers and in my current employment, I report directly to the Vice President of Marketing. I know when someone’s trying to pull a fast one and manipulate not only the “interviewee” but the audience.

If I had been Hegg, I would have been deeply frustrated and embarrassed. He never had a chance to have a fair hearing regarding his beliefs. That may have been part of the reason that Hegg seemed so confused. He could never finish a complete thought.

To be fair in the other direction, Hegg, even at the beginning when there wasn’t as much pressure, didn’t seem to know how to form a short, simple, complete answer. I don’t know. Maybe he wasn’t used to a radio interview format. On the other hand (again), while Brown said this was supposed to be a “friendly” conversation rather than a debate, the way Brown went after Hegg was anything but friendly. Brown didn’t seem to be interested in finding out what Hegg believed, he seemed, like many entertainers, to want to produce the maximum drama for his radio audience. I don’t care if he does have the word “doctor” in front of his name.

Conclusion: The debate was a waste of time. Listening to it was a waste of my time and participating in it was a waste of Hegg’s time and probably his peace of mind. Like I said, I don’t agree with Hegg, but I certainly didn’t agree with Brown’s tactics, either. And from what little theological information Brown produced on his end, I had to conclude that he misunderstood the nature of the New Covenant and sadly has a classically Evangelical misunderstanding of what “fulfillment” is actually about (from my point of view).

Nothing in this “interview” changed my mind about Tim Hegg one way or the other but although I’ve had a sort of respect for Dr. Brown over the years based those few things I’ve heard of him, my estimation of the man sank to new depths based on this one hearing of his radio program. I can only imagine that Brown’s audience listens to his show for the same reasons the fans of Rush Limbaugh listen to his.

Rush Limbaugh
Rush Limbaugh

It isn’t about learning or education and it isn’t about trying to get to the truth on the so-called “Line of Fire” show. It’s all for the sake of entertainment and ratings, usually at the expense of the dignity of another human being. If Dr. Brown had bothered to take to heart the teachings of the Rabbis who speak of upholding the dignity of others, even if you believe your opponent is guilty of a terrible error, he probably would have conducted a very different interview. But then, he’d probably be out of a job if what his employer and his listeners want is to embarrass someone week after week. It’s about (metaphorically speaking) drawing first blood.

But the difference between Brown and Limbaugh is that Limbaugh doesn’t claim to serve Jesus Christ, the Savior of humanity, the one who gave his life for the redemption of many, even while we were still enemies. Limbaugh doesn’t claim to be a disciple of the Prince of Peace and the King of the Jews. Dr. Brown says he does.

More’s the pity.

But then again, behaving like a Christian and upholding such ideals wouldn’t make for a good radio show.

Addendum: I suspected that Tim Hegg wouldn’t just walk away from Dr. Brown’s radio show without some sort of subsequent response. Turns out Hegg has a radio show of his own and on the Rob and Caleb Show, presumably because ”several people asked if Tim (could) expand on some of the ideas he was posing but was not able to finish,” Hegg will appear on the Thursday, August 28th program at 2 p.m. (PST) which will be replayed the same day at 6 p.m. (PST) to answer and expand upon what he was trying to say on Brown’s show. I suppose if I were Hegg, I’d do the same thing.

simchat torah

What I Learned in Church Today: The “Lost” in the Church

When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening. Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe.

-Acts 28:23-24 (NASB)

Today’s (as I write this) sermon and Sunday school lesson at church was on Acts 28:17-31, the end of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. Pastor Randy has spent more than three years and given seventy-two sermons on the Book of Acts and next week, he launches into a sermon series on, no, not Romans, though I was looking forward to it, but on the Ten Commandments starting out in Exodus 19. That promises to be full of interesting information and my Sunday school teacher, who was not exactly thrilled with the idea initially, is going to have his hands full with me.

But I digress.

At one point early in his sermon, Pastor said that God keeps all His promises, including His promise to return the Jewish exiles to the Land of Israel, His promise to raise Israel as the head of the nations, and His promise to rebuild the Temple. Pastor said if we can’t trust God to keep His promises to the Jewish people, we can’t trust that He will keep His promises to us.

Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

-Romans 10:1-4 (NASB)

And then he said that the Jewish people chose to follow Rabbinic Judaism rather than the plain meaning of the Biblical text. Pastor had such a great start, too.

It would be difficult to convince most people at church that what we call Rabbinic Judaism (is there any other kind of religious Judaism?) today is an extension of Pharisaism and that the first century Jewish religious stream of “the Way” is simply Pharisaism with a “Messianic twist” and an unusually liberal policy about admitting Gentiles. It would be almost impossible to convince them that God may well have imbued the sages with the authority to make binding halachah for their communities, and thus that God continues to be involved positively with Jews practicing Judaism in the present age. I guess that’s yet to come.

One of the things that was driving me nuts, both in the sermon and in Sunday school, was the constant mention of Christianity. Christianity didn’t exist in Paul’s lifetime. It was a variant religious discipline within larger Judaism, just as was practiced by the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and the Qumran Community. They all shared a common core Judaism but outside of that, had widely differing beliefs and to a degree, practices.

In Pastor Randy’s notes, he had one of the three main themes of the Book of Acts as “the hostility of the world towards Christianity.” I rewrote it in my copy of the notes to say “hostility toward God” since “the world,” and by that I assume Pastor meant the pagan Greek and Roman world, wouldn’t have noticed a difference between “the Way” and any other form of Judaism.

One other good thing Pastor said was regarding the quote from Romans 10:4:

For Christ is the end of the law…

The word translated in English as “end” is the Greek word “telos” which Randy translated as “goal” or “purpose” and which can be expressed as “the reason for,” thus we could say:

“For Messiah is the purpose of the Torah for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

MessiahMessiah is the purpose for, the goal, the reason for the Torah, the target, the focus that gives Jewish observance of the mitzvot its clearest meaning as the conditions of obedience to the Sinai and New Covenant and the lived experience of Jewish devotion to God.

I know how I understand what all that means, but I wonder what Pastor understands since in our previous conversations, he seemed to indicate that the Torah was passing away in this “transitional period” of Jewish and “Christian” history and was soon to be extinguished?

I wonder what the people in the sanctuary were thinking as they listened to him? Nothing radical if Sunday school class, which studies the sermon material, is any indication. I suspect (hope) that Pastor’s sermon series on the Ten Commandments will expand on this topic, but here too, I know Pastor’s perspective. He believes that the Ten Commandments can be generally applied to Christianity but not the entire set of Torah commandments (which are organized into 613 commandments in modern Judaism based on the teachings of 12th century sage Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, also known as Maimonides or the Rambam). Further, he believes the Torah commandments no longer are an obligation for the Jewish people, particularly Jewish believers in Christ.

However, I agreed with Pastor when in his sermon he said how we Gentiles are grafted into the root through the faith of Abraham, which connects nicely with how I see what bridges the gap between Gentiles and the New Covenant blessings.

And when they did not agree with one another, they began leaving after Paul had spoken one parting word, “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, saying,

‘Go to this people and say,
“You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
And you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;

For the heart of this people has become dull,
And with their ears they scarcely hear,
And they have closed their eyes;
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart and return,
And I would heal them.”’

Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen.”

-Acts 28:25-28 (NASB)

We find after listening to Paul’s evidence from the Torah and the Prophets establishing Yeshua is Messiah, that some of the Jewish leaders in Rome were convinced and came to faith and others did not. Since they didn’t all agree, Paul quoted from Isaiah 6:9-10 which one person in Sunday school class pointed out was the statement God made to Isaiah after commissioning him as a prophet to Israel to bring them to repentance. Isaiah was to speak of repentance but God told him point-blank in advance that no one was going to listen.

So apparently it was the same in Paul’s day as well, except that some did repent. I wonder if some individual Jews repented in the days of Isaiah but that it was not enough to save the nation from God’s wrath?

But what does that say of the Jews in Paul’s day let alone in ours?

What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; just as it is written,

“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
Eyes to see not and ears to hear not,
Down to this very day.”

And David says,
“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
And a stumbling block and a retribution to them.

“Let their eyes be darkened to see not,
And bend their backs forever.”

I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they?

-Romans 11:7-11 (NASB)

working handsThis seems to say that some Jewish people were chosen to accept Messiah but the rest were hardened against such acceptance quoting Deuteronomy 29:4; Isaiah 29:10, and Psalm 69:22,23

Verse 11 continues:

May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.

I won’t get into the whole “provoking jealousness” or “zealousness” thing right now since I’ve written about it before, but I want to compare two conditions:

Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen.”

-Acts 28:28 (NASB)

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”

“This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”

-Romans 11:25-27 [see Isaiah 59:20,21; 27:9 (see Septuagint); Jer. 31:33,34] (NASB)

So on the one hand, the Jewish people, most of them anyway, were temporarily hardened against coming to faith in Messiah, and on the other hand, a time will come when all Israel will be saved.

In Isaiah 6:10, God states that if Israel would turn (make Teshuvah), God would heal them, but I’ve read a paper by Dr. Mark D. Nanos titled ‘Callused,’ Not ‘Hardened': Paul’s Revelation of Temporary Protection Until All Israel Can Be Healed (PDF) in which he states this “hardening” can be compared to calluses on the hands, which are a temporary protection after injury (I lift free weights regularly at a local gym so I know about calluses on my hands) and which can be softened and eventually healed.

Paul was pulling from Jeremiah 31 which famously contains some of the New Covenant language:

They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

-Jeremiah 31:34 (NASB)

It all comes back to the New Covenant and how we can understand it applying to Israel and the nations.

And just for emphasis, lest anyone be mistaken:

Thus says the Lord,
Who gives the sun for light by day
And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar;
The Lord of hosts is His name:

“If this fixed order departs
From before Me,” declares the Lord,
“Then the offspring of Israel also will cease
From being a nation before Me forever.”

Thus says the Lord,

“If the heavens above can be measured
And the foundations of the earth searched out below,
Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel
For all that they have done,” declares the Lord.

-Jeremiah 31:35-37 (NASB)

Cutting through the metaphorical language, God is saying that one of the blessings of the New Covenant for Israel,  all the Jewish people, is that they will always be a people and a nation before Him and He will never cast them off or reject them.

It doesn’t get much plainer than that.

MitzvahIn his sermon, Pastor said that Acts 28:17-21 was just the latest in Paul’s declarations of innocence that he had said or done nothing against the Torah of Moses, the Jewish customs, and the Temple (See Acts 13, 22, and 23). In other words, he never, ever taught the Jews in the diaspora not to circumcise their sons and to not observe the mitzvot in the manner of the their fathers. Paul also kept the commandments in obedience to the Covenant Israel made with God, and in spite of what men like John MacArthur have said, there is no concrete evidence that this was some sort of “transitional period” in the Bible between Jewish observance of the Torah commandments and being “Law free”. We have every indication that Paul never saw any sort of change in a Jew’s duty to God based on the New Covenant, and a careful reading of all of the New Covenant language in the Prophets indicates that the conditions of the New Covenant are identical to the conditions of the Sinai Covenant, that is, the mitzvot of Moses.

One of the questions in the Sunday school teacher’s notes is:

How is God bringing His good out of the blindness of the Jewish nation? Has He forsaken them? Have you or I? (Rom. 11:1 & 25-29, Zech. 12:9-31:1)

I asked the teacher if he was talking about the Jews in Paul’s time or in ours and he said “ours”. My response was that I was aware of a number of Jewish people who had come to faith in Messiah within their own context.

I’m sure everyone in class missed the “within their own context” part or at least no one mentioned it or asked what I meant by that. What I meant by that, in case you can’t guess, is that I’m aware of Jews who are disciples of the Master who live fully realized Jewish lives, observant to the mitzvot and the customs of their fathers and zealous for the Torah of Moses, given its full meaning through faith in Moshiach.

“You see, brother, how many (tens of) thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law…”

-Acts 21:20 (NASB)

As it was then, may it be so now.

The message is so close and so nearly apparent to the Christians I study with at church that I still can’t believe people aren’t tripping over it, but somehow they still can’t quite see it. They still feel all this means that in the end, the Jewish remnant is going to convert to Christianity and that they will still be a Jewish people and national Israel (as such), but there will be no practice and lived experience of Judaism, the traditions, the mitzvot, the Torah as a continuation of a Jew’s duty and obligation to the God of their fathers and in obedience to the Sinai and New Covenants.

I try to steer the class a little bit closer to the realization of a continuation of lived Jewish experience among Jewish disciples of Messiah each week, but in order to put it right under their noses (so to speak), I’d have to hijack the class, and that’s not going to happen. More realistically, I’d have to teach a class, because the answer to all this can’t be properly expressed in response to the questions asked by another teacher in a lesson that is less than sixty minutes long.

Acts 28:23-25 describes a day-long “sermon” if you will, given by Paul to the leading Jewish people in Rome. He cites both the Torah and the Prophets to prove his case, convincingly enough to bring some to faith. What did he say? I don’t know, but in class, I said I wished Luke had written it all down, just as I wish he had written down all the Master said during that fateful journey on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35).

The answers are there if we just knew where to look and especially, if we knew how to interpret from the perspective of the Master, Paul, and their Jewish audiences. I said out loud in class (and there were a couple of guests visiting the church who were passing through from South Carolina on their way to California to see their kids, so it was kind of “cheeky” of me) that I study the Bible and Christianity through a Jewish (I didn’t say Messianic Jewish) lens because it’s impossible to understand Jesus without understanding the Old Testament from a Jewish perspective.

Abraham and the starsOf course, it’s more complicated than that, but basically, I’m trying to tell these folks that they can study the Bible using standard Christian theology and doctrine all day long and still hit a wall in their ability to learn and comprehend based on the limitations contained in Christian tradition.

I don’t know if they’ll ever have an “ah ha” moment when the light bulb goes off over their collective heads and they actually “get” what I’m saying. If they ever do, they’ll either become highly curious and want to know more or (and this is probably more likely), they’ll figure I’m a heretic, an apostate, or a cult member, and boot me out of the church.

Pastor Randy said that the mistake the Jews of Paul’s day made was to pursue Rabbinic Judaism and not the plain meaning of the Biblical text, but in reading Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36 and the other prophets who speak of the New Covenant, this is the plain meaning of the text!

The last question in the Sunday school teacher’s notes is:

Do you and I allow rejection to affect our ministry or love for others?

Pastor asked something similar at the end of his notes about how it is the responsibility of every believer to proclaim the Gospel and what are we actually doing about it?

What am I doing about it? Certainly, I’m blogging incessantly but that’s not enough since by and large, I’m reaching an audience that already has a conceptualization of the Bible similar to my own. One of the responses to his question the Pastor gave was to direct us to ask God to give us a “burden for the lost.”

But what about the “lost” in the Church? What about all those Christians in all those churches who read a truncated Gospel or worse, those who don’t read the Bible at all and just depend on their Pastor or their teachers to tell them what the Bible is saying? Even under the best of circumstances (and at the church I attend, the perspectives on the Bible, Jewish people, and Israel are pretty good), they still will get only part of the story. They’ll never understand why Paul went to the Jew first and only afterward to the Gentile. They’ll never understand that the Good News of Moshiach is even better news for Jewish Israel than it is for the Gentile nations. They’ll never get that the “better promises” (Hebrews 8) are better for Israel and that it is only through God’s redemptive plan for Israel that we people of the nations have any hope at all.

Paul said he was in chains in Rome for the “hope of Israel”. We are here because of that hope, too. But the Church will never know the full extent of what that hope means unless they open their eyes. To that degree, Isaiah 6:10 could have been talking about the “lost of the Church” as well as Israel.

Only by grasping the meaning of the New Covenant blessings for Israel and then what they mean to a grafted in Gentile humanity will our hearts become sensitive, our ears learn to hear, and our eyes begin to see, and when we return to the Jewish King, God will heal us too, after He heals His people Israel.

'For him, there was no small or unimportant Jew. There were no unimportant non-Jews either. As the Rebbe made clear, no human being created "in God's image" could ever be regarded as "small" or unimportant.' -Joseph Telushkin

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