nature's church

John MacArthur: What’s the Biggest Danger to the Church?

Famed pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, recently reacted to denominations that have taken more liberal approaches to gay marriage, among other issues, telling The Blaze that “they have no allegiance to the Bible.”

MacArthur, author of “Being a Dad Who Leads,” said that these denominations — like Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which recently voted to allow same-sex nuptials — and their associated seminaries have been skirting scriptural tenets for decades.

He patently described them as “false churches” that fail to teach biblical truths.

-Billy Hallowell
‘They Are Satan’s Church’: Famed Pastor’s Tough Message for Christian Denominations Condoning Homosexuality, Jul. 14, 2014
The Blaze

I guess you could say that John MacArthur is at it again. Nearly a year ago, he held his infamous Strange Fire Conference where he and a group of like-minded Pastors took Charismatics and the Pentecostal Church to task for their various failings as MacArthur sees them.

Now, he’s come up with a new label: “Satan’s Church.”

In this case, that appellation is used to describe the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (PCUSA) specifically because of their support of and advocacy for gay marriage in their churches. I wonder if there is another conference in MacArthur’s near future to be closely followed by another published book? I suppose he could save himself the trouble, since Michael Brown recently wrote his own book on gays and the church called Can You Be Gay and Christian?: Responding With Love and Truth to Questions About Homosexuality. Coincidentally, this book was released very soon after Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships which I reviewed a couple of months back. I have also addressed other commentaries on this topic including a brief article describing MacArthur’s advice to Christian parents with gay children.

But believe it or not, I’m not going to talk about gays in the church (or gays at all) in this “meditation.” I’m not super-duper concerned about some liberal churches offering inclusiveness and equality to disenfranchised populations such at the LBGTQ community. If I have anything against the PCUSA church at all, it has to do with their current strategy of disinvestment from Israel. You know, Israel, where there’s currently a war going on (I picked that story from Arutz Sheva just because it is the most recent one published as I write this)?

It seems as if MacArthur’s reputation, what I know of it anyway, is built upon who or what he is against rather than who or what he supports. This is a pretty common tactic and I run into it all the time in the religious blogosphere. Actually, some of the more “notorious” blogs within my awareness have been rather quiet lately. Maybe people are learning that continually engaging in controversy and fomenting “us vs. them” arguments within the community of faith doesn’t really serve the cause of Heaven (but then, what am I doing now?).

Seems MacArthur hasn’t gotten the memo on this yet.

Frankly, if I had to choose between being upset because a church advocates for marriage equality or a church advocates throwing national Israel and the Jewish people under a bus, I’d get upset over the latter. If MacArthur wants to impress me (and I’m sure he doesn’t since my existence would be less than nothing to him…thankfully), he can stand up in support of Israel’s struggle against terrorism.

So I became curious. What does MacArthur think…not of the final destiny of Israel in God’s plan, but of Israel as she exists today?

It wasn’t easy to find out, at least in text form. I finally found a short video (two minutes, eleven seconds) where “Mac” put his opinion in a nutshell.

John MacArthur
John MacArthur

Basically he says that national Israel today is vulnerable, in constant danger, and the Jews are an abused and beleaguered people. Why? Because of God’s Divine judgment against Israel for rejecting her Messiah.

I hate to sound snarky but I sometimes wonder if MacArthur ever reads the Bible. I know he must because MacArthur is a staunch advocate of reading and studying the Bible (though I have issues with some of his study recommendations). It’s one of his strengths and he encourages every Christian to read the Bible frequently:

Bible study begins with reading. Yet, quite frankly, a lot of people never get to that point. At best, they nibble at the text. They may read books about the Bible or devotional materials loosely based on it, but they don’t read the Bible itself. Good Christian books and magazines that supplement your Bible reading are fine, but there is no substitute for reading Scripture.

Which makes it all the more difficult for me to understand where MacArthur got the crazy idea that God would ever judge or punish Israel for rejecting the Messiah. The Torah is replete with the conditions Israel must meet to obey God and the consequences for disobedience. Over the many years I’ve been reading and studying the Torah and the rest of the Bible, I have never found even a single verse where God directly addresses Israel stating that they would be exiled, abused, punished, judged, beleaguered, or anything else, specifically for rejecting the Messiah.

In fact, the Torah, the whole Tanakh (Old Testament) really, barely addresses the Messiah, particularly in terms of Israel’s acceptance or rejection of him. There are no blessings for recognizing and welcoming the Messiah and no consequences for failing to recognize or rejecting the Messiah.

Period.

So Israel’s exile from her Land nearly two-thousand years ago, the destruction of the Temple, the razing of Jerusalem, had nothing to do with “rejecting Jesus.” Orthodox Judaism tends to believe the most recent exile was due to the baseless hatred of one Jew for another although there are other opinions. If you want a more Biblical approach, study Torah Portion Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8) and read a few commentaries for good measure. If you find anything in the curses about rejecting Jesus, please let me know.

IsraelWhile MacArthur’s opinion about the reason for Israel’s exile can’t be supported by the Bible, he also believes Israel continues to exist because God is going to save Israel. In the above-mentioned video, MacArthur states that just before all the nations of the Earth turn against Israel and go to war against her, God will save Israel by having them accept Jesus as the Messiah. Once they do and the worldwide attack against the Jewish nation begins, God will defend Israel:

“I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn. In that day there will be great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddo. The land will mourn, every family by itself; the family of the house of David by itself and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Levi by itself and their wives by themselves; the family of the Shimeites by itself and their wives by themselves; all the families that remain, every family by itself and their wives by themselves.

-Zechariah 12:10-14 (NASB)

In searching for material regarding MacArthur’s views on the modern state of Israel, I came across a 2009 commentary by Russell D. Moore called Should We Support Israel? which says in part:

Dispensationalists have served the church by pointing us to our responsibility to support the Jewish people and the nation of Israel through a century that has seen the most horrific anti-Semitic violence imaginable.

We need not hold to a dispensationalist view of the future restoration of Israel (and I don’t) to agree that such support is a necessary part of a Christian eschatology (and I do).

Novelist Walker Percy pointed to the continuing existence of Jewish people as a sign of God’s presence in the world. There are no Hittites walking about on the streets of New York, he remarked.

There does appear to be a promise of a future conversion of Jewish people to Christ (Rom 9-11). The current secular state of Israel is not the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham; Jesus is.

That seems to be more or less what MacArthur is saying. There’s nothing “special” about current, secular Israel and its only unique quality is that God made an eternal promise to that nation above all other nations and God will fulfill His promise by redeeming Israel in the eschatological future. He seems to miss that Israel’s existence at all is a miracle of God and the beginning of His fulfillment of His promises to restore national Israel and return the Jewish exiles to their Land. In fact, less than a week ago, 400 Jews made aliyah from France even in the face of the current hostilities with Hamas. Those French Jews returning to their homeland are a dramatic indication that God, even now, is making good on His prophetic Word to Israel.

But along with Moore, MacArthur appears to think that all of the Jewish people will turn to Jesus, that is, convert to Christianity (though they’ll remain ethnically Jewish) and only then God will save them from their enemies.

JerusalemThat’s hardly the way I’d put it since such a viewpoint devalues current Israel and all Jewish people living today, and also replaces the Jewish people as a distinct entity with “the Church”.

Based on MacArthur’s video, he likely sees the current battles between Israel and Hamas as just another expression of God’s Divine judgment against an unbelieving Jewish nation. That would make the vicious terrorist organization Hamas an instrument of God’s judgment against the Jews, the latest in a long, long list, according to how a lot of Evangelicals see Jewish history. The Church can be very hard on Israel. More’s the pity.

In Sunday school class recently, when Charlie was asking for prayer requests, I asked for prayer for Israel. Apparently citing Psalm 122:6, he said we (Christians) are commanded to pray for the peace of Israel. You don’t hear about Christians being commanded to do very much typically, particularly in a Church setting. It was refreshing.

Yes, we should pray for the peace of the only nation that has had God as their King, the world’s only fully functional theocracy, and the only nation that is the direct object of all of the New Covenant promises of God.

MacArthur needs another windmill to tilt at and this time he’s chosen the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) because of their views on gay marriage. Will gays in the Church be a big focus of God’s as His redemptive plan for Israel and the rest of the world continues to move forward? How many prophecies are there regarding homosexuality within the covenant community vs. how many are there about the New Covenant, the Messianic Kingdom, and the redemption of national Israel? I’ll let you do the math.

For me, at the end of the day, it’s not that I’m against PCUSA, but rather that I stand with Israel because God stands with Israel…and He will take care of her.

“And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

-Genesis 12:2-3 (NASB)

kabbalah tree of life

What I Learned in Church Today: Partakers in Tribulation, Kingdom, and Perseverance

I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

-Revelation 1:9 (NASB)

John sees himself as a “brother and fellow partaker” with the Asian Christians in three things which are “in Jesus”. Does this mean that these are part of God’s design for them? Explain your answer.

-Charlie’s notes on Rev 1:9-20
for Sunday School class

As I mentioned last week, as a teacher, Charlie has few questions and presents limited material so that we can explore the great depths the Bible has to offer.

I won’t attempt to go over all that we discussed in class today, but I thought that the “three things” Charlie says John identifies as “in Jesus” were particularly interesting. What three things are we “fellow partakers” in?

Tribulation, Kingdom, and Perseverance.

When I saw those three words together, they just “clicked”.

Consider.

When Jesus died and was resurrected, he inaugurated the very beginning of the entry of the New Covenant into our world. In fact, even before the crucifixion, the central message of Jesus was “the Kingdom of Heaven is near,” as if the Kingdom could burst into our world at any second, even as he was speaking (Matthew 3:2, 4:17, 10:7, Mark 1:15).

seek first the kingdomBut even as the Kingdom is entering our reality, it will not reach fruition until the Messiah returns to us as King. We are to live in the present world, we believers that is, as if the Kingdom is already here and as if Jesus were already enthroned in Jerusalem as King Messiah. As D. Thomas Lancaster preached in his Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series, we are freedom fighters or partisans, fighting against the world’s current tyranny, against the brokeness of a world that thinks it’s getting better every day, and fighting for our allegiance to the King, who is steadily coming nearer and soon to return.

Until then, we will indeed face great adversity and tribulation, even as the freedom fighters in Nazi occupied France did during World War Two. But we fight for a great cause, and we represent the King’s justice and mercy. We are fellow partakers in this troubled world, in the hope of the coming Kingdom, and we must maintain patient endurance until the Master comes back and establishes his reign over Israel and nations of the world.

After I was done laying out my answer (and I was feeling really proud of myself), Charlie asked for Biblical support for all that. Oops. I didn’t put that in my notes. Pride indeed goes before a fall. Fortunately, other class members stepped up to the plate and provided what I was missing. I guess there’s some truth in what Paul E. Meier said in his article for Messiah Journal issue 116 Christian Theology and the Old Testament:

Scripture points out that the understanding of individual believers is fragmental; each one of us has been granted a different degree of insight (1 Corinthians 13:9-10). The dimensions of God’s love are so vast that the whole body of believers is needed in order to comprehend them (Ephesians 3:18). God may give more insight to some than to others; he gives to each one according to the measure of his grace (Romans 12:3, Ephesians 4:7).

In other words, it “takes a whole village” or in this case, a whole Sunday school class to properly interpret the Bible. No one of us holds all the keys or can open all the doors to the Word of God, since we’re all apportioned gifts of different types and to different degrees by the mercy of Hashem.

Torah at SinaiThat means, we are all fellow partakers in the tribulations, the kingdom, and in perseverance with each other as we are all in Yeshua our Master, the Messiah King and Priest. But I wouldn’t have put all this together the way I have without an understanding of how the New Covenant works and what the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven really means (see The Kingdom is Now, Seek First the Kingdom, Thy Kingdom Come, Keys to the Kingdom, and Foretaste of the Kingdom).

John’s Revelation, his mystic vision of the exalted Messiah King, is the source of a great deal of mystery and I can’t pretend to understand it all, but I do understand that we have one whose “voice [is] like the sound of a trumpet” as our High Priest.

So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound…

-Exodus 19:16 (NASB)

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet…

-Revelation 1:10 (NASB)

Yes, my Master and Lord. May your Kingdom come soon.

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

-Revelation 22:20 (NASB)

Amen.

Paul writing

Reflections on Romans 1 and 2

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”

-Romans 1:16-17 (NASB)

When I was preparing for last week’s Sunday school class for the study on Romans 10:1-13, I decided to read the entire Epistle to the Romans. I’ve studied Romans before, principally using the Mark Nanos book The Mystery of Romans, but there’s something to be said for just reading the Bible and letting it speak to you.

I prefer, when I can, to read entire books in the Bible rather than just a few verses at a time. Imagine reading your favorite novel three or four sentences at a time, then putting the book down for four days, picking it up and reading another few sentences.

First of all, it would take you forever to get through the novel and secondly, you probably would have a tough time keeping the book’s overarching narrative in your mind as a complete story.

But we think nothing of treating the Bible or any of the books it contains as if it were a large collection of “sound bytes”.

Paul wrote each of his letters to be read as a whole, including Romans. Why don’t we read them that way? The impression we get of the epistle (or any other single book in the Bible) will probably be different and perhaps yield a more complete impression in the mind of the reader.

Alas, I can’t review the whole epistle to the Romans in a single blog post, so I’ll have to break my own rule. But I can use a series of blog posts to communicate my overall impression of Romans a few chapters at a time? Hopefully, that will be sufficient.

None of this is scientific or scholarly. I don’t read Biblical Greek and I didn’t use any references or other study aids while reading Romans. I just read Romans and took notes on the margins of the pages as I was reading. That’s what I’m going to share with you.

Oh, these are just impressions. Little bits and pieces that I picked up in my overall read of the letter. I’m not going to comment on all the verses in each chapter. Just what prompted me to write a note down.

Take it for what it’s worth.

The first thing I noted in my reading of Romans was the above-quoted verses. Paul was not ashamed of the Good News of Messiah. That good news is the “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

What is “salvation?” We like to think that it’s as simple as being saved from the consequences of our sins and being reconciled to God, but remember, for Jesus and for Paul, based on the New Covenant promises, having your sins forgiven is only the first step.

The New Covenant promises are aimed solely at the Jewish people and the nation of Israel, and include restoring national Israel to its former glory and elevating her as the head of all the nations of the world. It’s the promise that Israel’s Messiah King will rule with justice and mercy, not over just Israel, but the nations of the Earth. It’s the promise that Messiah will completely end the Jewish exile and return all Jews to their nation. It’s the promise to rebuild the Temple and to restore the sacrificial system in accordance to the commandments. It’s the promise to defeat all of Israel’s enemies and bring them (us) under subjugation. It’s the promise to establish a reign of worldwide peace and tranquility. It’s the promise of the resurrection for the just, that they (hopefully, we) will live in the resurrection under Messiah’s reign, for that is the hope of our faith. It is the promise…

You get the idea.

So when Paul says something as simple as “power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek,” he’s really saying all of the stuff I put into the previous, large paragraph. That’s why it’s first to the Jew. Because promises were made to the Jewish people. Gentiles, by God’s mercy and favor, get to come along for the ride…but I’ll get to that in a subsequent blog post.

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

-Romans 1:21 (NASB)

balaam_israelI read this the same weekend I read Torah Portion Pinchas and hopefully you’ll see the connection. After Israel was spared being cursed and was in fact blessed by the Gentile prophet Balaam, Balaam had the “brilliant” suggestion to have Moabite and Midianite women seduce the men of Israel sexually to incite them to worship their (foreign) gods.

It worked. If not for the zeal of the Kohen Pinchas (Phinehas), the plague of Hashem might have consumed the whole nation:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Phinehas, son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the Israelites by displaying among them his passion for Me, so that I did not wipe out the Israelite people in My passion. Say, therefore, ‘I grant him My pact of friendship. It shall be for him and his descendants after him a pact of priesthood for all time, because he took impassioned action for his God, thus making expiation for the Israelites.'”

The name of the Israelite who was killed, the one who was killed with the Midianite woman, was Zimri son of Salu, chieftain of a Simeonite ancestral house. The name of the Midianite woman who was killed was Cozbi daughter of Zur; he was the tribal head of an ancestral house in Midian.

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Assail the Midianites and defeat them—for they assailed you by the trickery they practiced against you—because of the affair of Peor and because of the affair of their kinswoman Cozbi, daughter of the Midianite chieftain, who was killed at the time of the plague on account of Peor.”

When the plague was over…

-Numbers 25:10-19 (JPS Tanakh)

The Israelites knew God but they did not honor Him.

There’s also the corresponding Psalm for this Torah Portion:

But to the wicked God says,
“What right have you to tell of My statutes
And to take My covenant in your mouth?
“For you hate discipline,
And you cast My words behind you.
“When you see a thief, you are pleased with him,
And you associate with adulterers.
“You let your mouth loose in evil
And your tongue frames deceit.
“You sit and speak against your brother;
You slander your own mother’s son.
“These things you have done and I kept silence;
You thought that I was just like you;
I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes.
“Now consider this, you who forget God,
Or I will tear you in pieces, and there will be none to deliver.
“He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me;
And to him who orders his way aright
I shall show the salvation of God.”

-Psalm 50:16-23 (NASB)

Even in the condemnation of the faithless and the wicked, God still offers a path back to salvation and redemption.

Or not…

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

-Romans 1:28-32 (NASB)

teshuvahGod always offers a way back, but you have to be willing to take it. You can only access the path of teshuvah and return to God if you repent of your sins. If you don’t, if you are guilty of what the above-quoted verses state, if you fail to acknowledge God, then God, according to how I read Paul, will give you enough rope to hang yourself with.

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

-Romans 2:4 (NASB)

God doesn’t always “drop the hammer” the minute we stray from the path of light and into darkness. In fact, often he just lets us do what we want to do, and it’s easy to take that as a sign that God doesn’t seem to mind. No, that’s not it. He’s giving us the rope with which to hang ourselves, but he’s also giving us time to realize how badly we’ve messed up. He’s giving us time to repent. For when our time is up, then and only then will it be too late.

He thereupon says to them, “Permit me to go repent!” And they answer him and say, “You fool! Do you know that this world is like the Sabbath and the world whence you have come is like the eve of the Sabbath? If a man does not prepare his meal on the eve of the Sabbath, what shall he eat on the Sabbath?”

-from Ruth Rabbah 3:3
quoted by Young in
Chapter 15: Death and Eschatology: The Theology of Imminence, pp 281-2
The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

I quoted this yesterday and for the same reason. To illustrate that we have lots and lots of time, at least as humans measure time (but maybe not as much time as we think), but in the end, God’s justice prevails. Don’t take God’s patience lightly.

There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.

-Romans 2:9-11 (NASB)

I found this rather sobering. God puts the Jew first in both good and evil. If the blessings of the New Covenant come to the Jew first, so does tribulation and distress. There’s a definitely negative aspect to being at the center of God’s attention. I read “no partiality” both as God delivering consequences equally upon the Jew and Greek and as God not being partial to Israel giving her only good but not evil.

For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law…

-Romans 2:12 (NASB)

under-law-torahIt seems that Jews will be held to a higher standard than Gentiles. But was Paul writing to believing and unbelieving Jews and to pagan Gentiles when he said “under the Law” and “not under the Law”? Paul was writing to the “church” in Rome, which Nanos said was more likely to the believing and non-believing Jews and the believing Gentiles in the synagogue. Paul had no audience with the pagans and his letter wasn’t addressed to them. So who is under the Law and not under the Law? Were the believing Gentiles under the Law?

…for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.

-Romans 2:13-16 (NASB)

This is getting very close to something like having the law “written on hearts,” for how would Gentiles who were not given the Law at Sinai “instinctively” know to do the things of the Law? And what did they do? Did Gentiles “instinctively” put tzitzit on their garments and lay tefillin? Did they “instinctively” start observing the Shabbat and keeping kosher? Or is being kind, gracious, and compassionate a more “instinctive” response in doing the Law?

If Paul is talking about Gentiles who are already disciples of Jesus, then they would possess the Holy Spirit and the finger of God would be just beginning to write the Law upon their hearts.

But the Jewish believers (and non-believers) already had the Law.

But if you bear the name “Jew” and rely upon the Law and boast in God, and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?

-Romans 2:17-21 (NASB)

Is it possible to take a gift for granted. Were there Jews who relied on outward behavior alone to justify them before God. Yes, it is the “doer” of the Law who is made righteous, but only by faith. Performing the mitzvot without faith is not effective. See Psalm 50 above if you don’t believe me.

Hopefully, a believing Jew would not take the Torah for granted, but if Nanos is right, Paul was also writing to Jews who were not believers in Jesus as the Messiah, and some of them may have strayed from their faith, relying on behavior and ethnic identity alone to justify them before Hashem. This is Paul’s dire warning to his brothers.

…you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” just as it is written.

-Romans 2:21-24 (NASB)

Hypocrisy? Jesus accused his brothers among the Pharisees of hypocrisy more times than I can count.

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.”

-Matthew 23:1-3 (NASB)

PhariseesI’ve quoted Noel S. Rabbinowitz’s paper Matthew 23:2-4: Does Jesus Recognize the Authority of the Pharisees and Does He Endorse Their Halakhah (PDF) more than once to illustrate while Jesus accused at least some of the Pharisees of not practicing what they taught, he confirmed that what they taught was correct, and that they had the proper authority to be teachers in Israel.

Applying that forward to Paul, he may well have accused some of the Jews in the Roman synagogues of hypocrisy but at the same time acknowledged what they taught was correct and that they had the authority to teach in the synagogues. Thus, Paul was criticizing the hypocritical practices of some of his audience, not their validity as Jews nor the validity of the Torah as a continued covenant obligation for Jews.

But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God.

-James 2:18-23 (NASB)

Faith and works are required. They come as a set. You cannot properly separate them. Faith without works is dead but so is works without faith.

Make no mistake though. God fully intended (intends) for Jews to observe the mitzvot.

“For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.

-Deuteronomy 30:11-14 (NASB)

That completely shoots down any Christian argument that God gave the Jews the Law to prove how impossible it would be to keep, thus showing them that they could only be “saved” by faith and grace alone, apart from the Torah.

For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.

-Romans 2:25-29 (NASB)

If a Jew fails to perform a mitzvah, does he stop being a Jew? Does he become “uncircumcised?” This used to puzzle me. The whole “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh” thing has been used to justify calling Christians “spiritual Jews” and to support the old, tired theology of supersessionism. But I don’t think that’s what Paul is saying.

Paul is trying to inspire zeal for the Torah and for faith in Messiah in his non-believing Jewish brothers in Rome. How would he do that by insulting them and rejecting them? Worse, how would he do that by denigrating the Torah? He couldn’t.

JewishBut he could be saying that a Jew is justified before God if he is outwardly a Jew, that is, if he is obedient to the commandments, and if he is inwardly a Jew, that is, if he has faith in God and that faith is the motivation for obedience. The two go together…faith and works.

I had intended to cover Chapter 3 as well in this first “reflection” but I can see this “meditation” is long enough as it is.

This is an experiment of sorts, so let me know what you think. Should I continue writing my reflections of Romans for the entire epistle?

shabbat queen

The Servant Prepares for the Sabbath

In 1922 the highly respected Jewish scholar Joseph Klausner claimed that any sound methodology critically examining the historical Jesus must meet at least two requirements. First, critical research must place Jesus believably among the Jewish people in first-century Israel. Second, the historical analysis should explain how the church and the synagogue parted ways, resulting in the formation of the new Christian religion. In 1985 Sanders upheld the validity of these foundational principles in his widely acclaimed book, Jesus and Judaism. Since one-third of the recorded sayings of Jesus appear in parables, these Gospel illustrations have the potential to solve a number of mysteries surrounding the nascent faith. Who is Jesus of Nazareth and how did Christianity originate? How has the presence of Jewish traditions in the parables of Jesus influenced Christianity?

-Brad H. Young
Epilogue: Jesus, the Parables, and the Jewish People, pg 297
The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

I sometimes (often) think that last question should read, “Do the presence of Jewish traditions in the parables of Jesus influence Christianity at all?” Even in the church I currently attend which is “Jewish-friendly” and “pro-Israel,” I’d have to say, “not very much.” Here’s what I mean:

He thereupon says to them, “Permit me to go repent!” And they answer him and say, “You fool! Do you know that this world is like the Sabbath and the world whence you have come is like the eve of the Sabbath? If a man does not prepare his meal on the eve of the Sabbath, what shall he eat on the Sabbath?”

-from Ruth Rabbah 3:3
quoted by Young in
Chapter 15: Death and Eschatology: The Theology of Imminence, pp 281-2

In this rabbinic parable, two wicked men have associated together in doing evil in this world for many years. Before they die, one repents and the other does not. The man who did not repent sees his friend who did repent standing among the righteous while he stands among the wicked. He “reasons” that a wicked man can repent and appeals to the company of the righteous but is rejected, for he failed to repent while still alive.

This compares well to Jesus’ parable of the Wise and Foolish Maidens (Matthew 25:1-13) as well as to the following:

“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”

-Luke 16:19-31 (NASB)

the-teacher2This illustrates that the parables of the Master compared favorably with other rabbinic parables. His audience would have known well what he was communicating since what Jesus taught was similar to the topics and methods employed by other teachers in late second-temple period Israel (and remember what I’ve said before about repentance and eternal judgment).

But what you may have missed earlier is the comparison of the current life to the eve of Shabbat and the life of the world to come to the Shabbat.

Particularly in Orthodox Judaism, Friday afternoon can be a rush to get everything ready before Shabbat arrives at sundown. All the meals that will be consumed during Shabbat must be prepared ahead of time, the Shabbat table must be set, special clothes should be laundered and ready to wear, everything that must be purchased and organized before the Shabbat has to be taken care of, all with an eye on the lowering Sun and the purpose for all the labor…the Shabbat rest and the drawing near to God.

This is a pattern that happens every week. For one-seventh (and a little more) of the week, observant Jews experience a foretaste of the world to come, of the Messianic Era of peace and tranquility when the problems of the world and regular life are set aside and a greater apprehension of God through the Torah study, prayer, and worship becomes available.

But day-to-day life is just like the afternoon prior to Shabbat. We have our work, our labors, our worries, our concerns. What we are working for makes a difference. If we are working just to accumulate wealth and the illusion of material security, when the “Sabbath” comes, when we die, when we are judged, we finally realize that all of our work has been wasted.

If, on the other hand, we are working to authentically prepare for “Shabbat,” that is, to prepare our lives and our souls for an encounter with God in a life beyond this one, after the resurrection, in the face of Divine judgment, then our work is not in vain and will be rewarded. We will have prepared our home in the Kingdom.

But if you’re a Christian who has no true understanding of a Jewish Sabbath, all of this will be missed in reading the parables of Jesus. What a pity.

But there’s more we’re missing:

It is like a consort who had a Cushite maidservant. The consort’s husband went off to a foreign province. All night the maidservant said to the consort: I am more beautiful than you. The king loves me more than he loves you. The consort replied: Let morning come,and we will know who is more beautiful and whom the king loves.

Similarly, the nations of the world say to Israel: Our deeds are more beautiful, and we are the ones whom the Holy One, blessed be He, desires. Therefore Israel says: Let morning come, and we will know whom the Holy One, blessed be He, desires — as it is said, “The watchman replied, Morning comes” (Isa. 21:12): Let the world to come, which is called morning, arrive, “and you shall come to see the difference between the righteous and the wicked” (Mal. 3:18).

-See Midrash Tanchuma, ed. Buber (Num. Rab. 16:23); trans. Stern, Parables in Midrash, 116
quoted by Young, pg 286

Roger Waters
Roger Waters

This parable can be applied in a number of ways, not the least of which is how arrogantly western nations, the mainstream news media, and the sadly deluded BDS crowd believe they are so much more “righteous” than “apartheid” Israel. However, at least historically, this parable also tells us a tale about the Church and how Christianity has viewed itself in comparison with Judaism and the Jewish people. Classic supersessionism is illustrated in the above-quoted parable, with the Church believing itself more beautiful than Israel and more loved than Judaism, as if the maidservant would ever be able to replace the consort in the heart of the King.

Imagine this to be the result of the arrogance of such a belief:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

-Matthew 7:21-23 (NASB)

I’ve previously applied this parable to those disciples of Jesus who failed to count the cost of following him and thus failed to commit the effort required to serve the great King of Israel. However, as part of being the King’s slave, we must be prepared to serve what he deems as his first love, Israel. If we place ourselves as Gentile servants higher than the Jewish nation, are we not committing lawlessness? For after all, even the Master said “Salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22) [to the nations], not the other way around.

And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

-Luke 14:7-11 (NASB)

hagar_and_sarahThere are still many Christians who believe because they “have Christ,” they are inherently better than Jewish people, sometimes even those Jews who are considered “Messianic”. If you believe God replaced Israel with the Church, then you believe you deserve the bridegroom’s place at the head of the banquet table. And you believe you, the maidservant, are more beautiful and better loved by the King than the consort.

And you are wrong.

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?

-Romans 11:17-24 (NASB)

See how all this fits together? How can we believe anything else except what Jesus taught and what Paul wrote about?

But some of you reading this may think that I’m saying Christian faith is meaningless because we are not Jewish, we are not Israel. I’m saying nothing of the kind. I just don’t want you to “reverse causality.” It is through the covenant promises God made to Israel that the people of the nations even have a shot at repentance, redemption, and salvation, through faith in King Messiah, the King who is in a far off land but who will soon return.

Let the morning come and show who the King loves, but let us put our hearts and lives in order, as if we were preparing our homes for the coming Shabbat. Then we will be ready when the bridegroom arrives.

In many ways, the Gospel parables belong to the rich cultural heritage and folklore traditions of the Jewish people. No one will grasp the meaning of Jesus’ parables without an extensive knowledge of ancient Judaism. Christian interpretations have tended to sever the parables from their cultural roots and apply them to new situations. In the destiny of humankind, the transcendence of the colorful illustrations goes beyond a single interpretation at one time and place in history.

-Young, pg 298

I sometimes encounter words and phrases such as Sola Scriptura, “let scripture interpret scripture,” and “Biblical sufficiency” as indicators that we only need a Christian reader and a Bible to fully and completely derive all of the meaning of the teachings of Jesus. I hope that I (and Young) have been successful in bringing into question the validity of such a simple equation.

We want the Bible to be easy to understand because otherwise, it would take a lot of time and effort to even begin to comprehend the parables in a similar manner to the original first-century Jewish audience. We want to think that when Jesus was speaking, he was speaking to us…to 21st century American Christians.

He wasn’t. Not even close.

jewish-davening-by-waterNo, I’m not saying that his teachings don’t apply to our lives today, but in order to see just how they apply, we must attempt to grasp how they were understood and applied to Jewish lives nearly twenty centuries ago in a land, culture, and linguistic context far removed from our own.

I can only say that the more I study, the more I’m convinced that in order to understand Jesus, you have to understand the Judaism in which he lived and taught. You have to study ancient and arguably modern Judaism. It is said that a disciple is a student who learns from doing, from imitating his or her Master. We are disciples and we are slaves. Our Master is a great teacher and a King. Learning through imitation isn’t a matter if cheap pantomime or cosplay where we play “dress up” and attempt to superficially mimic our Master, it’s drawing near to his every wish, desire, and command in order to deeply comprehend his meaning and intent in all things. Only then can we apply this to our lives and behave in obedience in every aspect of our daily existence.

Only then will we be worthy of his praise when he says to us, “Well done, good and faithful slave” (Matthew 25:21). Only then will we be properly prepared for the Sabbath. Let the morning come.

judged

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Eternal Judgment

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.

-Hebrews 6:1-2 (NASB)

As I mentioned in last week’s review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon The Resurrection of the Dead from his Holy Epistle to the Hebrews lectures, the following message “The Eternal Judgment” wasn’t recorded, thus I cannot listen to it and write my review.

However, that material was included in Lancaster’s book Elementary Principles: Six Foundational Principles of Ancient Jewish Christianity, so I’ll review the chapter (Chapter 10) instead.

But some days later Felix arrived with Drusilla, his wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.”

-Acts 24:24-25 (NASB)

Lancaster introduces his chapter by describing the marriage of Felix, the Roman governor over Judea, to the Jewish princess Drusilla, youngest daughter of King Herod Agrippa the first. Supposedly, Felix hired a sorcerer to use occult means to get Drusilla to abandon her husband and marry him. Felix wasn’t a very nice man.

In today’s world, intermarriage between a Jew and a Gentile, at least in Orthodox Judaism, is highly discouraged. How much more embarrassing was it for a Jewish princess to marry, not just any Roman, but the occupying governor over Judea?

But then, although it was (according to Lancaster) Drusilla’s idea to have a private discussion with Paul, it was Felix’s response that was the point of this story. And while resurrection of the dead might seem like a great deal, what about “the judgment to come?”

It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.

-Hebrews 9:27

Associating concepts like “righteousness” and “resurrection” with “self-control” and “judgment” would probably not be comfortable to hear, assuming Felix took Paul seriously, since Felix could hardly be considered a pious individual, even by Roman standards. In fact, if we really gave it some thought and realized that the resurrection and final judgment are in our future as well, how comfortable would we feel about who we are and what we’ve done (or are doing)?

Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

-Matthew 25:30-33 (NASB)

Judge NotI won’t quote all of the scriptures Lancaster lists to illustrate Jesus and the final judgment, but he does make a convincing case that if God does not exact justice for human wrongdoing in this life, He most certainly will in the next.

In Messianic Judaism, we rehearse for the final judgment every year in the high holiday of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur (Festival of Trumpets and Day of Atonement). Judaism treats high holidays as an annual dress rehearsal for the final eternal judgment. In anticipation of the holidays, we repent, confess sins, mend relationships, apologize, and try to make peace with both men and God.

-Lancaster, pg 127

This may sound somewhat familiar since I associated the topic of forgiveness with the high holidays in a recent blog post reviewing a chapter in Brad H. Young’s book The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation. In my review Young’s book, I said that most Christians wouldn’t (but should) automatically associate making amends with another person with how we will be forgiven (or not) by God at the final judgment.

Now Lancaster seems to be saying that the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur on the Jewish religious calendar has applications for Christians as well, since it is in the apostolic scriptures where we see a final judgment staring at us square in the face.

Except that since we’re “saved by the blood of Jesus,” we (that is, Christians) aren’t particularly worried about being judged. Jesus paid the price for our sins so we’ve got our “fire insurance” covered. No need to “rehearse” anything since we’ve already won, God is on our side, and everything is hunky dory.

Boy, that sounds arrogant.

While Rosh Hashanah, when the books are opened before the Heavenly court, and Yom Kippur, when the final verdicts are issued and the books are closed again, are not the actual final judgment, they prefigure this awesome and august event, and perhaps we shouldn’t play fast and loose with a living and infinite God. God can indeed issue decrees in the present age and in our lives in response to your actions and mine, but there will come that final day, even if we push it off into the back of our minds, when we will all be expected to stand in judgment.

As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair on his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.

-Daniel 7:9-10

yom kippurLancaster goes on to describe “one like a son of man” stepping forward in this vision of the final judgment, to deliver the sentencing. He quoted from the apocryphal book Enoch (1 Enoch 69:27-29) and the following to illustrate the judgment seat of Messiah:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.

-2 Corinthians 5:10-11

In these words, Paul expressed his motive for evangelism…Paul knew the fear of the LORD. To fear God is to believe that he exists, rewards, and punishes. Paul knew that eventually God will judge the wicked and reward the righteous. He taught that we must all stand before Messiah in the final judgment.

-Lancaster, pg 131

All of us? Won’t Christians just be there to pick up our rewards? We won’t have to give account for everything we’ve done wrong in our lives after becoming believers, will we?

What if we do?

We think that final judgment just means going to Heaven or Hell, but what if it also means we have to have our human lives stripped naked before us and relive everything we’ve done, both good and bad?

Yuck. Kind of makes you want to be more careful about all of those casual thoughts, words, and gestures you’re sure God is going to forgive because you’ve been saved and go to church every Sunday.

But it gets worse.

Generally speaking, the doctrine of the eternal judgment has fallen into disfavor. Perhaps this shift in emphasis from everlasting punishment to a blissful afterlife occurred as a natural swing of the theological pendulum. The medieval and Reformation-era church had an unhealthy fascination with the torments of hell. Evangelicals later demonstrated the same fixation, predicating their appeal for the gospel on the basis of avoiding damnation. The church framed Christianity primarily as an avenue of escape from everlasting fiery tortures and the pitchfork of Satan. We substituted the foundational doctrine of eternal judgment for the doctrine of eternal damnation.

-ibid, pg 132

justiceIt seems to be a mistake to trust in any extreme, either a fascination with damnation or an obsession with bliss. The former focuses on God’s judgment as if it were a terrible trap and the later on His mercy as if it is all-encompassing…no matter what we’ve actually done.

The eternal judgment is so basic and fundamental to our faith that the writer of the book of Hebrews considers it to be the milk. It is pretty simple. We believe that every human life has eternal significance — so much so that the deeds committed in this body will have ramifications that completely transcend time. That makes every moment of this life precious. It makes every opportunity to perform a good work (mitzvah) precious. It makes every sin utterly abhorrent. Every righteous deed merits eternal reward, and every sin earns eternal punishment. Ironically, the doctrine of the eternal judgment makes life in this temporary world all the more significant.

-ibid, pg 133

We can only imagine that what terrified (according to Lancaster) Felix so much was being resurrected into a world where an absolutely just God would judge him for all the acts of his life…and condemn him. Not a pleasant thought to be sure. We all want our pleasures and want to skip out (as much as we can get away with) on our responsibilities. Anyone who struggles with the “battle of the bulge” and against all reason and logic still can’t give up their Big Macs and Whoppers knows that self-disciple isn’t easy…even in the face of dire consequences.

What Did I Learn?

Are our names already written in the Book of Life or the Book of Death? Did God makes these decisions, who was to be commended and who was to be damned, before He ever manufactured our universe?

From God’s point of view, His timeless experience, things like “before,” “during,” and “after” most likely have no meaning. The creation of Adam from dust and opening the Book of Life at the final judgment exist in the same micro-second to Him. Who is and isn’t in the Book has been there for all time and won’t be written until the pages are opened at the very end of time. I hope you like paradox, because that’s all I have to offer as far as the mystic visions of final judgment are concerned.

DespairBut one thing seems clear. Paul taught that there is a final judgment. So did Jesus. And all humanity stands within it for life or for death.

It isn’t just that one “decision for Christ” that you made once upon a time by answering an altar call or raising your hand at a camp meeting. It’s everything you’ve done since then.

No, you can’t buy your way into Heaven but you can throw it all away. Even the best of the best of us is utterly corrupt when compared to a completely and absolutely Holy God. Who are we to compare?

Rabbi Eleazer taught his disciples to repent every day (See b. Shabb. 153a). The later rabbinic teachings regarding the ten days of awe and the day of Atonement mention three categories of people,the completely righteous, the completely wicked, and the “in-betweens” (See b. Rosh Hash. 16b). The rabbis obviously believed that most people fall into the “in-between” category and need to repent. The house of Shammai taught, “There will be three groups at the Day of Judgment — one thoroughly righteous, and one thoroughly wicked, and of the intermediate” (See b. ibid 16b-17a). Therefore Bailey may be correct when he notes, “Christ’s subtle humor shows through in this verse. The ‘righteous’ who ‘need no repentance’ do not exist” (Kenneth E. Bailey, The Cross and the Prodigal). Most people need to repent and maintain a living relationship with God in their cultivation of personal spirituality.

-Brad H. Young
“Chapter 10: The Search: The Parables of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin,” pg 195
The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

If we believe Christ died for us then we should live like it. We should all live like people who’ve been given a second chance, living on borrowed time or rather time purchased for us when we didn’t deserve it.

If you think you are saved, don’t expect that you can sit on your laurels and gather your rewards before judgment. You, I, and everyone else will be judged on what we have done, what we are doing, and what we haven’t even thought of doing yet.

Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation…

-2 Peter 3:11-15 (NASB)

Yom Kippur prayersMaybe observing the high holidays wouldn’t be such a bad idea for Christians. Many of us are so unused to facing the idea of judgment let alone responding to it with fasting, with prayer, with repentance, with fear and trembling, with begging for the forgiveness of those we have harmed, of begging God for mercy, though we are all like grass. At least if you’re an observant Jew, you know you are accountable and that God expects you to take that seriously with your intention and your behavior.

If you see something that is broken, fix it.

If you cannot fix all of it, fix some of it.

But do not say there is nothing you can do. Because, if that were true, why would this broken thing have come into your world?

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“If It’s Broken”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Addendum: I found out (thanks, Alfredo) after I wrote this review that Lancaster re-recorded the content for this topic on audio available on the web: The Final Judgment.

disciple

The Cost of Serving the King: Lessons in Discipleship

For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.

-Luke 14:28-33 (NASB)

The twin parables of the Tower Builder and the King Going to War (Luke 14:28-33) focus on the self-examination necessary to make a decision for surrendering to the call of Jesus. The ultimate commitment is demanded of every disciple. No one should make such a decision rashly. Just as cost estimation is needed to build a tower in a field and intense strategic planning is required to wage war, the one considering discipleship must weigh the cost. To complete the task successfully, one must consider each demand in Jesus’ teachings concerning the kingdom of heaven. Only after intensive self-testing should the decision be made to follow Jesus in his call to radical discipleship.

-Brad H. Young
“Chapter 12: The Decision: The Tower Builder and the King Going to War,” pg 222
The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

I can’t believe the day after I published this blog post discussing, in part, what it is to truly surrender our lives to Messiah and acknowledge him as Lord, that I should read the opening words of this chapter which address the same thing.

Many Evangelicals consider their work done when they inspire a person to accept Jesus as Savior and Lord by making some sort of initial statement. That person is “saved.” Move on to the next poor, lost soul.

Except I think the process of “salvation” may be more than a point event. I think it’s a process, sometimes a long process, before anyone actually arrives at the place where they recognize the very real cost of becoming a disciple of the Master and what it will really take to “surrender all” and to follow him. We are told to count the cost of becoming a disciple, making what, for all intents and purposes, is an irrevocable vow, and then binding ourselves in servitude to him, following our Master in all he desires from us.

D. Thomas Lancaster in his Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series, addressed the ancient practice of teaching initiates into Messianic discipleship in two messages: Instructions About Washings and The Initiation. By comparison, what do we do today in the Christian Church to prepare those we have brought to the beginning knowledge of Christ to count the cost, leave their former lives behind them, pick up their cross and to follow him?

Not darn much, for the most part.

No disciple should begin training in the kingdom of God unless he or she has recognized fully the insistent demands of total commitment and has determined to shoulder the responsibilities with unrelenting resolve.

-ibid

How many of us, as believers, possess “unrelenting resolve,” especially in America where we are pretty much fat and happy? And if we are not prepared for the challenges of being a disciple, will be face the same consequences as one who starts building a tower and cannot finish or a King who goes into war and has his army smashed?

An ignominious defeat will ruin a king, destroy his kingdom, and cost him everything. The disciple’s defeat can be just as devastating.

-ibid, pg 223

FallingIn response to a “leap-before-you-look” kind of religious zeal that leads many people to “accept Christ” before knowing anything about him and what he requires, Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, in his book Growth Through Torah (pg 358) responds with this advice:

“A Torah scholar should be consulted whenever questions arise.”

In the case of Christianity, the very people who are out evangelizing should be the ones urging each potential initiate to be cautious. Do not be premature. Learn. Study. Discover who this Jesus Christ is and what you must truly pay in order to follow him on his path.

For Luke these parables form a complex of teachings focusing on radical discipleship. Hating one’s parents or dying for one’s beliefs are concepts that perplex and challenge.

-Young, pg 223

Unfortunately, potential disciples are not told the truth of Messiah upfront. Often they (we) take months, years, or even decades to discover (if we are fortunate ever to do so) the cost of following the King of the Jews.

For Christianity, the cross has become more a symbol of salvation than a call to radical discipleship.

-ibid, pg 224

We tell people about salvation, forgiveness of sins as a free gift of Christ, an eternal life of bliss up in Heaven with Jesus, and all the really attractive stuff. We never tell them what they have to do once they “sign on the dotted line.”

But the danger of diluting Jesus’ radical call to action by spiritualizing his practical teachings is never very far removed from the preaching of salvation through the cross. In the teachings of Jesus, in contrast, the image of the cross was a call to radical discipleship. One must hear and obey. The stress was not on salvation but on obedience. The fear of God is rooted in the wisdom obtained through Torah learning and active involvement in fulfilling wisdom’s teaching.

-ibid

By wisdom a house is built,
And by understanding it is established;
And by knowledge the rooms are filled
With all precious and pleasant riches.
A wise man is strong,
And a man of knowledge increases power.
For by wise guidance you will wage war,
And in abundance of counselors there is victory.

-Proverbs 24:3-6 (NASB)

Knowledge and wisdom are absolute requirements before beginning to design and build a structure, whether it be a tower or a house. If you go in blind, depending on taking someone else’s word that everything will work out fine if you just “accept Jesus into your heart,” the walls could end up falling down around your ears.

Young ponders whether or not Jesus had Proverbs 24 in mind as he crafted his parables and believes it is likely. I suppose it’s possible Paul also was thinking in that direction:

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.

-Romans 10:1-2 (NASB)

In my previous commentary on these verses, I mentioned that information was not lacking among the Jewish devout, but specific knowledge about how Jesus was and is the goal, the aim, the focusing crystal and makes the meaning of the Torah so much more clear was lacking in some, just as the basic, elemental principles of Christian faith are often lacking, not just in new converts to the faith today, but people who have been in the Church for years.

It is true that works without faith is dead, but what about an uninformed faith? Can you consent to give your life to something you don’t understand? Are you held accountable to words you cannot fathom? Actually, I believe you can.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

-Matthew 7:21-23 (NASB)

awareness-of-godJesus connects lawlessness with those who bear no fruit, that is, they do not lead lives transformed by their faith, and there is no evidence of the Spirit in their daily lives and no obedience to God. How can this be unless they have not actually, truly surrendered all of who they are (we are) to the demands of a very demanding King and Master. If Jesus is the Lord of our lives, then he may command anything and we must obey.

For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”

-Luke 7:8 (NASB)

The Roman Centurion “got it,” but that’s what we can expect of a man who served in a brutal military hierarchy under the reign of an unrelenting Emperor.

Like I said, in America, in the church as well as anywhere else, we’re too “fat and happy”. We think discipline is going to the gym three or four days a week.

R. Samuel bar Nahman said in the name of R. Jonathan: By what parable may the verse just above be explained? By that of a king who lived in a certain principality. When the people of the principality provoked him, the king was angered [and would not abide in their midst]. He removed himself some ten miles from the city before he stopped. A man who saw him went to the people in the city and said: Know that the king is angry at you and may well send legions against the city to destroy it. Go out and appease him before he removes himself still further away from you. Thereupon a wise man who was standing by said to the people: Fools, while he was in your midst, you did not seek him. Now, before he moves further away, seek him out. He may receive you. Hence it is said “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found” (Isa. 55:6)…

See Pesik. Rab Kab., suppl. 7:3 (Pesikta Derav Kahana, ed. Mandelbaum, 2:472; English trans., Braude and Kapstein, Kahana, 491). Cf. the discussion of McArthur and Johnson, Parables, 194, as quoted by Young pg 227

But it is also said:

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?

-Romans 10:14-15 (NASB)

And yet in verse 13, Paul states, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

But you can’t call on someone you do not know. And you cannot know someone unless you learn of them, spend time with them, discover the desire of their heart. You cannot commit unless you are willing. You cannot commit unless you understand and agree to the price of commitment. We’re all taught about the “free gift of salvation” but never about the “real cost of discipleship.”

Joshua the son of Perachia and Nitai the Arbelite received from them. Joshua the son of Perachia would say: Assume for yourself a teacher…

-Pirkei Avot 1:6

It’s ironic that in considering the cost, some might believe it is too high and then choose not to follow. However in the end, the cost of refusing to become indentured servants of the great King is higher still.

“If tomorrow, God forbid, I’ll hear the worst news, I don’t want my children to feel that where did all my prayers go?” -Rachel Frankel

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 500 other followers