How can we worship God without the sacrifices?” The epistle of the Hebrews points us to the text of Hosea 14:2 to answer this question, employing the same proof text and arriving at nearly the same conclusion that the sages of Yavneh offered after the destruction of the Temple. That prescient message anticipated the coming exile and offered Israel a survival guide for the long years ahead without sacrifice, without priest, and without temple.
Lancaster started his final sermon in his “Hebrews” series in what I thought was an odd place:
Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer.
-Acts 3:1 (NASB)
You may or may not know about the Tamid or the continual burnt offering which was presented on the altar twice daily, once in the morning for the Shacharit service and once in the afternoon, at the ninth hour, for the Maariv service.
Lancaster takes his audience on a short trip through the Apostolic Scriptures to demonstrate that Yeshua (Jesus) and his Jewish disciples were devoted to worshiping in the Temple in Jerusalem “continually” (Luke 24:53), “every day” (Acts 5:42), being devoted to “the prayers” (Acts 2:42). And the set times of the prayers were at Shacharit and Maariv when a fresh lamb would be placed on the altar to burn from morning to afternoon, and then from afternoon and throughout the night, a sacrifice continually before the Lord.
For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises…
-Romans 9:3-5 (emph. mine)
As we see, even when the Temple stood, the prayer services and the sacrifices were inexorably linked. There was no one or the other in Jewish thought. The singing and the prayers were always part of the sacrificial system that God gave to the Jewish people. This is how God said He wanted His people Israel to worship Him.
But on the 17th day of Tammuz in the year 70 C.E., all that ended. The siege of Jerusalem began and the supply of lambs was cut off. Except for the time of the Maccabees, the Tamid sacrifice had been offered day after day for five hundred years, and before the Babylonian exile, an additional 400 years. For almost a thousand years, morning and afternoon, the priests placed a lamb on the altar to burn continually before God.
And now it was all over, and the Tamid cannot be offered to this very day.
How could the Jewish people imagine worshiping God without the Temple and the sacrifices? This was how God said He was to be worshiped and now it is impossible. The grief, sorrow, and separation from God must have been almost unimaginable.
But even before the Temple was destroyed and years if not decades before the Roman siege on Jerusalem began, the Greek-speaking Jewish disciples of Messiah, the readers of this epistle we’ve been discussing for the past year, were asking themselves the same question.
And here’s the answer:
Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
For you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take words with you and return to the Lord.
Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity
And receive us graciously,
That we may present the fruit of our lips.
In verse two, the phrase “fruit of our lips” isn’t quite correct. The Hebrew literally says “bulls of our lips,” but that sounded strange to those who later translated the Jewish texts into Greek, so those translators changed the Hebrew word slightly to say “fruit”.
But Hosea knew what he was trying to say to his audience, the Hebrews who were offering sacrifices, not in the Temple in Jerusalem which is the only place on Earth God has said it was His will that the sacrifices be made, but to Golden Calves, one in Dan and the other in Bethel.
What did the prophet call for them to do? Return and repent…to offer “words” which are words of repentance and prayer.
Lancaster quoted from Exodus Rabbah to illustrate that after the Temple was destroyed, the sages used these verses from Hosea to salvage Judaism, to design the synagogue system with its daily times of prayers that correspond to the times of the Tamid sacrifices at the Temple, and in which each prayer maps to a specific sacrifice.
Now we get to the end of the Book of Hebrews.
Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.
-Hebrews 13:15 (emph. mine)
When a Christian sees this verse and thinks about continually offering prayer, they think “prayer without ceasing,” but that’s not how this passage is meant to be read within the context of first century Judaism. “Continually” summons the ritual of the Tamid sacrifices and the daily set times of prayer, and we see “fruit of lips” being rendered in the Greek but which refers to the original meaning of “bulls”.
So, long before the Rabbinic sages determined that the only way to continue to obey God and to worship Him was to substitute the prayers for the sacrifices in the Temple, it was already being addressed by the Prophet Hosea and much later, by the writer of the Hebrews letter.
But for the readers of the epistle and for all of their Jewish brothers and sisters, it was well-known that one does not offer a sacrifice without a priest. So if prayers are to substitute for sacrifices, then they are offered through the High Priest in the Heavenly Temple, through Yeshua.
But that’s not all of the answer, just most of it.
Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit (bulls) of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
The whole answer of how a Jewish person was to worship God without the Temple was through:
- The set times of prayer
- Doing good
- Sharing with others
And on this answer was built the entire Jewish liturgical prayer service we see in the synagogue today. What served as a word of exhortation for the Yeshua-believing Jews cut off from the Temple service by the Sadducees while the Temple was still standing, became the answer for untold generations of Jews who have lived and died since the destruction of Jerusalem nearly two-thousand years ago.
Lancaster (and he delivered this sermon about eight months ago) said he had just read Aaron Eby’s book, which I have recently mentioned, First Steps in Messianic Jewish Prayer. He quoted from Aaron’s book saying that if one only used liturgical prayer in worshiping God and only prayed with a minyan, then that person would be missing out on something, for the prayer service can be “tragically impersonal”.
Judaism makes a distinction between corporate and personal prayer, and man was meant to engage in both. Participation in the Jewish prayer services, at least in some small manner, is as if you have participated in the Temple services, which as Lancaster mentioned, is quite a privilege for a Messianic Gentile. It also summons the prophesy that God’s Temple will be a house of prayer for all nations (Isaiah 56:7, Matthew 21:13).
What Did I Learn?
I was struck with Lancaster’s presentation of how Judaism was salvaged by the sages on the strength of Hosea 14:1-2. I know many Christians who love the Jewish people and the nation of Israel. However, they just don’t love Judaism. They expect those Jews who enter the Messianic Age to come will convert to Christianity and leave Judaism behind. They can’t imagine that the salvation of the practice of Judaism is a good thing or in any sense, could be pleasing to God. They think Judaism is a man-made religion of vain works, manufactured in order to replace the Biblical commandments God issued to Israel telling them how He wants to be worshiped.
But Lancaster makes a good case for the synagogue service being a continuation of Biblical instruction and a direct response to the commandments to make teshuvah and return to God through the prayers (avoda), through good deeds (the mitzvot), and charity (tzedakah).
This is how the very first non-Jewish disciples of Messiah would have worshiped alongside their Jewish teachers and mentors. This is how the disciples Paul made in Antioch would have served God, through the set times of prayer, doing good deeds, and through acts of charity. It must have looked very Jewish.
Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian cohort, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually.
-Acts 10:1-2 (emph. mine)
Cornelius didn’t pray without ever stopping, he prayed at the set times of the Tamid offerings. I knew this based on other verses in this chapter, but Lancaster’s example is just one more support for this belief.
In all good conscience, I don’t think we Gentile Christians have much of a leg to stand on if we oppose Messianic Jews practicing (Messianic) Judaism and speak against the synagogue service. If we can accept, even to the smallest degree, that the sages had (and have) a right and responsibility to shepherd the Jewish people in the continuation of devotion to God after the destruction of Jerusalem, then who is to say that their interpretation and application of Hosea 14:1-2 is wrong? Who is to say that Messianic Jews continuing the practice of Judaism as it was established at the beginning of the modern era, and as it has been developed by the Rabbinic sages over the long centuries is wrong?
Maybe it really is a privilege for Messianic Gentiles like me to be able to participate in the synagogue service in anticipation of entering the Temple and praying in God’s House in the days of Messiah.
This has been a long study but an enjoyable one. I was speaking with a friend the other day about some of Lancaster’s points on this epistle, and I could tell by his facial expression and his deliberate silence that he didn’t agree with everything I was saying. That’s OK. It’s possible that Lancaster isn’t 100% correct in each and every little detail, but which Biblical teacher or scholar is? I am still reasonably convinced that Lancaster’s interpretation is viable and sustainable, and it has the advantage of agreeing with the rest of the Bible, especially the Torah and the Prophets, rather than contradicting it and rather than contradicting what I believe to be the will of God for the Jewish people, for the nation of Israel, for the Jewish practice of Judaism, and for the future Messianic Age.
This epistle has been a royal pain in my neck for a long time. It just seemed to say many things that directly went against what I read in the rest of the Bible, including the other portions of the Apostolic Scriptures. This “proof” that Jesus and the spiritual world replaced the Temple, the Torah, the Priests, and everything God said in the first two-thirds of the Bible has never set well with me but it’s in the Bible so what was I to do? Yes, I heard of one guy who made a big deal in certain circles of saying that the Book of Hebrews was either mistakenly canonized or was admitted into canon by Gentile believers in an attempt (apparently a successful one) to remove all vestiges of Judaism from Gentile Christian practice and theology.
As it turns out, such a rejection of scripture isn’t necessary. What is necessary is to engage the text on its own terms and within its own context, not through the lens of almost twenty centuries of Christian interpretive tradition, reinventing the wheel, and revisionist history.
Like my friend, you may choose not to agree with how Lancaster interprets Hebrews but I think his sermons and this study shows that the problem may not be with the Bible but with the traditions we use to read it. Lancaster chooses to use Jewish traditions which renders the meaning of the epistle in a very different and, in my opinion, refreshing way.
I don’t know if I’m ready to jump into another commitment to a recorded series on the heels of ending this one. I could use a break. Besides, I have plenty of other things I can write about.
I hope you enjoyed these reviews as much as I enjoyed listening to Lancaster’s sermons on the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews.