Tag Archives: Jesus

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.

Reflections on Romans 6

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

-Romans 6:1-4 (NASB)

I realized the other day that I haven’t written one of these “reflections” in a while and thought I should get back to it. Chapter 6 is fairly short so hopefully this will be a short blog post as well (but don’t count on it).

Remember, these “reflections” are just that…a set of impressions I received and took notes on as I was reading Paul’s Epistle to the Romans in a single sitting. I’m not taking a look at the Greek or doing anything in-depth. Take this for what it’s worth.

Since Paul wasn’t creating chapters and verses in this letter, it’s not really fair for me to “review” the Epistle this way, but if I didn’t, I’d have to write one really long blog post, which also wouldn’t be fair (to my poor aching fingers or to you, my readers). So here we are. Paul is continuing the thought he was pursuing at the end (for us) of the previous chapter:

So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

-Romans 5:18-21 (NASB)

This is the comparison and contrast between Adam, the first man, and Jesus (Yeshua) the “antidote” for Adam’s bringing sin into the world. As sin increased, God’s grace increased in proportion to the sin. So then Paul asks (Romans 6:1-2), “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be!” Even though grace increases as sin increases, this is hardly a reason to continue sinning.

Then Paul gives his reasoning. We were baptized into the death of Messiah and so as he died for our sins, we died to sin.

For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

-Romans 6:5-11 (NASB)

When we became baptized into the name of the Messiah, we entered a unity with him via an oath of fealty, but it seems something even closer. We became united with him in dying, in this case to our old, pagan natures, and resurrected, both as the promise of the physical resurrection of the faithful to come, but also in terms of a change of our natures.

“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.”

-Jeremiah 31:33-34 (NASB)

Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.

-Ezekiel 36:26-27 (NASB)

new heartThis is classic New Covenant language describing how God will circumcise the Jewish heart, write His Torah upon it, and give Israel a new Spirit, all of which will enable the Jewish people to perfectly obey God’s commands and to observe His mitzvot flawlessly.

This, of course, does not happen until the resurrection of the faithful from the dead, so just as Jesus was resurrected in a perfected body, so too will we be resurrected into perfection, not only of our bodies, but our spirits so that we too will be without sin, not only having our past sins completely atoned for, but not sinning in the Messianic Age.

Paul directly ties Messiah’s resurrection into our own resurrected states so our bodies will never die again and in the realization that we are dead, but only to sin.

However, the Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 passages are specifically addressed to Jewish Israel and not to the peoples of the rest of the nations, but Paul is writing to a Gentile audience in his epistle. How do we reconcile this apparent inconsistency? How can Paul apply the writing of Torah on the hearts of Gentiles?

On yesterday’s morning meditation, ProclaimLiberty commented giving part of the answer:

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.

Sorry for the large block of text but that’s a direct quote.

bedtime-shemaYou can click on the link to see his entire comment, which includes an interesting perspective on Gentiles reciting the Shema. What I get out of it is a way to look at how Gentiles are included in the New Covenant blessings, also being given a new heart and new spirit with the Torah written with us even though the nations aren’t directly addressed in the New Covenant and accounting for variability in application of the Torah to Jewish and Gentiles co-participants.

But that hasn’t happened yet…or has it?

Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

-Romans 6:11 (NASB)

Paul is saying to his Gentile readers that they are to be “dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” right now (as he was writing his letter). That’s not in the future Messianic Era but rather in the present for his audience. But how could Paul expect them to be dead to sin if their hearts were not yet changed and they hadn’t been given a new spirit yet?

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.

-Acts 10:44-45 (NASB)

OK, so did the Jews and Gentiles have the spirit or not? Clearly they had the spirit but as D.T. Lancaster has said in different sermons in his Holy Epistle to the Hebrews series, the spirit we see given to the Gentiles in Acts 10 and to the Jews in Acts 2 is a pledge or down payment, a mere foretaste of the full filling of the Holy Spirit we will be given when the New Covenant times completely enter our world with Messiah (also see 2 Corinthians 3:3 and Ephesians 1:13-14).

Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.

-2 Corinthians 5:5 (NASB)

The Greek word translated above as “pledge” can also be rendered “down payment,” “deposit,” or “guarantee.” The idea is that we have the spirit, but it’s not nearly as much as we are going to have. It’s like putting a down payment down on a car. You get the use of the car without paying the full price, but with the idea that your down payment is your pledge that you will pay the full amount when it comes due.

So we have a portion of the spirit and perhaps the finger of God is beginning to write the Law on our hearts, but it’s not to the degree that all of the promises are within our grasp yet…we just know by what we have now, we can be assured that the rest will be coming.

Rising IncenseBut even though “the goods” haven’t arrived yet, we are expected to live, to the best of our abilities, as if we have already received everything we were promised. I guess this is the part where the person who gives the down payment on the full amount gets to drive the car right away. God can expect us to behave as if the Law were already within us (as it applies to different populations) even though it isn’t yet. That’s the point of verses 12 through 14 in the current chapter.

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.

-Romans 6:15-18 (NASB)

So if we are no longer to consider ourselves slaves to sin, we are to consider ourselves slaves to righteousness. After all, we are always slaves to something, it’s just a matter of choosing our Master.

But it looks like Paul might build some “wiggle room” into this system:

I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.

-Romans 6:19 (NASB)

Paul speaks of “human terms” and “weakness of your flesh” seemingly indicating that we aren’t really “there” yet in terms of the ability to be sinless. He’s also presenting us with a choice given our weaknesses, to chose to present our “members as slaves to lawlessness or slaves to righteousness”. I guess the implication is that prior to becoming disciples of the Master, we really didn’t have a choice. We were slaves to lawlessness being without the Law (or rather slaves to a different law as we’ll see below), that is the Law that leads to sanctification.

But there’s another law to consider:

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)

Under the law of sin and death we were free from righteousness, but now under the Law of Righteousness, we are free from sin.

“The wages of sin is death” is the Law of Sin which Paul periodically contrasts with the Law of Righteousness (Torah). If you didn’t know that, then every time Paul writes “law” it would be easy to assume that he’s always talking about the Torah. That, I think, is why many Christians take a dim view of “the Law” since they’ve been taught that the Law brings increased transgression (see Romans 5:20). That’s also why reading the Bible and getting “impressions” or “reflections” as I’m doing is a little dangerous, especially given the various English translations, because Paul’s meaning isn’t always plainly written on the surface of the Bible’s pages. Sometimes you have to dig for what he’s really saying.

brand-new-daySo at the end of this chapter, we’re left in an interesting place. We are baptized into the name of our Master and therefore in unity with him on a very intimate level. Just as he was resurrected into a perfected body, we are to consider ourselves also resurrected as a new person free from sin and a slave to righteousness. The trick is that we have only been given a down payment on the full amount of God’s promises and it’s only that full amount of His Word and Spirit that will truly perfect us.

Nevertheless, we are expected to behave as if we have already received the full gift, even though we must constantly struggle to present ourselves for righteousness and to disdain acts of sin and lawlessness.

One question, in verse 10 when it says “He (Jesus) died to sin once for all,” how could he die to sin if he lived a completely sinless life?

Another Letter from the Outside

I have heard a lot of anti-Israel sentiment from my friends who support the Palestinians. A good client of mine questions the validity of Israel’s existence, saying: “How do you justify inhabiting an already populated land through force? How can you contemplate the horrors of the Holocaust and then inflict such suffering on the Arabs?” Some of these people say they respect Judaism, but question why it is acceptable to “steal” land from a people and keep it yourself.

I am not attacking Israel, just trying to investigate the issue. Do the Jews have a valid claim on Israel? From the times of Abraham and Moses, how many years was the land ours? I could also use some info on the history of U.N. declarations, etc. Thank you.

-A question from the “Ask the Rabbi” column at
Aish.com

I know I said I didn’t want to make this debate the center of my life, but reading the various articles at Aish this morning made a few things line up. I still don’t have the time to read large blocks of Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and the other prophets to continue to search for substantiation (or lack thereof as some people are trying to convince me) that God gave Israel exclusively to the Jewish people, but I don’t think it would hurt to take a look at how Jewish people see their own connection to the Land.

The question framed above apparently comes from a Jewish person who is having doubts about the Biblical and historical right of Jews to claim Israel as their own nation.

The Aish Rabbi started his reply with:

The Jewish people are not stealing anything. They were granted the Land of Israel by God, as is stated in Genesis 15:7 and 21:12.

In fact, the very first thing that God said to Abraham was: “Go from your land of your birth… to the land that I will show you, and I will make you into a great nation” (Genesis 12:1). When Abraham and Sarah got to Israel, God promised them, “To your descendants have I given this land from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates River.” In God’s eyes the deal was considered set in stone, which is why He said “I have given this land” in the past tense, as if the thing were already done and impossible to undo. (Genesis 15:18, Rashi)

Of course all this is from the point of view of the “Old Testament” and so Christians often write off Jewish exclusivity to possession of Israel based on later, New Testament scriptures.

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel…

-Ephesians 3:1-6 (NASB)

lightSpecifically the portions of verses 4 and 5 which say “mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men,” are used to derive the “fact” that Gentile inclusion into Israeli citizenship was not revealed to the prophets of the Tanakh but only to Paul and the “holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit,” thus, by definition, most Christians believe that there was never supposed to be evidence of Gentile inclusion into Israel in the Old Testament.

But continuing with Ephesians 3, let’s see what else Paul has to say:

…to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the ekklesia to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him. Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory. (emph. mine)

-Ephesians 3:6-13 (NASB)

I took the liberty of emphasizing certain words and phrases in the above-quoted scripture (I also changed “Church” to “ekklesia” for clarity) to illustrate what Paul says that our faith in Jesus (Yeshua) makes us “fellow heirs” to. To Israel? It doesn’t say so. It says to the body. The body of what?

…so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

-Romans 12:5

As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

-1 Corinthians 12:20

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

-1 Corinthians 12:27

So we are fellow heirs and fellow members of the Body of Messiah, fellow partakers of the promise in Messiah Yeshua.

What did he promise, that everyone who believed in him would become citizens of national Israel?

Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…

-Acts 16:31

And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.

-2 Peter 1:4

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.

-Philippians 4:19

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

-John 14:27

This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life.

-1 John 2:25

everybodyThat’s only a partial list but it seems as if we were promised salvation from our sins, to be able to share in his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption, to have all of our needs satisfied, to have peace of mind and heart, and of course, eternal life in the resurrection.

In a comment I read recently, someone rendered part of Ephesians 2:11 as “You who were formerly Gentiles…” as if faith in Jesus changed us from being Gentiles to being, if not Jewish, then citizens of Israel or somehow “naturalized Israelites”. But the New American Standard Bible translates that same verse as:

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh…

Biblical Greek comes without punctuation, so depending on the translator, the text can be made to read “you former Gentiles” or “remember that formally you, the Gentiles of the flesh…were at that time separate from Christ.”

In other words, “You Gentiles were formerly separated from Christ but through faith, have been brought near.”

…excluded from the commonwealth of Israel…But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

-Ephesians 2:12-13

I truncated these verses to emphasize the point of what is being said. Formerly, the pagan Gentiles were excluded from the commonwealth of Israel but in Messiah, we who were formerly far off, have been brought near. Near to what? The commonwealth of Israel and Jesus Christ.

I still have a lot of homework to do, but based on this and my recent reviews (see Part 1 and Part 2) of one of J.K McKee’s books, I’m still not seeing God using Paul to rewrite or negate the older portions of scripture that promise the Land of Israel in perpetuity to the Jewish people. Nor do I think that being “brought near” to the “commonwealth of Israel” equates “being brought into national Israel”.

Our “co-heirness,” so to speak, is in the resurrection and the other New Covenant promises of the forgiveness of sins, having our hearts changed from stone to flesh, having God’s Word written on our hearts so we will not sin, having eternal life in the Messianic Kingdom of peace.

I don’t have a single problem with any of those promises.

Another part of the Aish Rabbi’s response is:

Although Abraham knew that God had given him the land, he nevertheless chose peaceful measures and paid exorbitant amounts for a field in Hebron (Genesis 23:4, Rashi). This became the Jewish holy site, the Tomb of the patriarchs, 4,000 years ago. Similarly, Jacob purchased Shechem (Genesis 33:19), and King David bought Jerusalem (2-Samuel 24:24). Note that Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital for more than twice as many centuries as Islam has even existed!

puzzleAs I’ve said, I still have a lot of reading to do, but as I also said, I’m not going to be able to drop everything and pursue this. It’s just that stuff turns up in my field of view and it helps complete part of the puzzle, so I share those puzzle pieces here.

I try to be an honest researcher and yes I do have a bias. Everyone has biases. As stuff comes up, I’ll write more.

In the meantime, if you’ve ever wondered why Israel is considered so special from a Jewish point of view, try reading The Centrality of the Land of Israel.

Also, I’ve explored some of this before in Sampling Ephesians and Stealing a Conversation About Ephesians, Jesus, and Being a Christian.

Israel and the Nations According to Isaiah: A Brief Survey

I enjoy reading large “chunks” of the Bible rather than taking in little “sound bytes” each day, because it better helps me understand the whole flow of a book in the Bible. Yesterday, I read through Isaiah. It doesn’t take as long as you might think…maybe an hour or less, and that was even with jotting down a few notes.

I know people like Derek Leman have written copious amounts about Isaiah and I will never match that level of scholarship. I’m just a guy who reads the Bible sitting on the patio in my backyard on a gorgeous southern Idaho summer morning. On the other hand, God didn’t write the Bible just for theologians and didn’t reveal His Word just to the highly educated:

At that time Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.”

-Matthew 11:25 (NASB)

I’m not knocking education. I believe in learning as much as you can. I’m just saying that the rest of us aren’t locked out of the Bible because we don’t have advanced degrees in theology or divinity.

I’ll try to keep this short (yeah, right) and I won’t share everything I wrote down about reading Isaiah, but I want to illustrate something about Israel and the nations from what I believe is Isaiah’s (and thus God’s) point of view. I want to illustrate that in Messianic Days both Israel and those nations who choose to cleave to Israel’s God will be serving God. What this means for us is that we Gentile believers, we non-Jewish disciples of Jesus (Yeshua) are not and do not ever become Israel. We have our own part to play in the redemptive plan of God.

A short tour of what it says about Israel and the nations in Isaiah. Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptural quotes come from the Stone Edition Tanakh:

If [Israel] would grasp My stronghold, then he would make peace with Me; peace would he make with Me. [Days] are coming when Jacob will take root; Israel will bud and blossom and fill the face of the earth like fruit.

-Isaiah 27:5-6

Admittedly this is midrash, but the sages understand “My stronghold” to be the Torah, indicating that in Messianic Days, the Jewish people are still expected to grasp the Torah tightly and to observe the mitzvot.

Chapter 40 in its entirety speaks of the end of the Jewish exile and the return of the Jewish people to their Land, to Israel.

But you, O Israel, My servant, Jacob, you whom I have chosen, offspring of Abraham who loved Me — you whom I grasp from the ends of the earth shall I summon from among all its noblemen, and to whom I shall say, ‘You are my servant’ — I have chosen you and not rejected you.

-Isaiah 41:8-9

Notice the language mentioning Israel and Jacob and the offspring of Abraham. This would seem to eliminate the possibility that God is talking about Jews and Gentiles. I suppose “offspring of Abraham” could be leveraged toward the Gentiles since Abraham is supposed to be the Father to many nations (Genesis 17:5) but Jacob and Israel used together can only mean the Jewish people. No non-Jewish person in their right mind would call themselves a Son of Jacob. Even modern converts to Judaism refer to themselves as “ben Avraham” (sons of Abraham).

Fear not, My servant Jacob and Jeshurun, whom I have chosen. Just as I pour out water upon a thirsty [land] and flowing water upon the dry ground, so shall I pour out My spirit upon your offspring…

-Isaiah 44:2-3

This connects to the New Covenant made with Israel and Judah and the giving of the Spirit as we see in Ezekiel 36 and Acts 2. Verse 6 in the same chapter says God is:

King of Israel and its Redeemer.

Verse 21 states:

Jacob and Israel, you are My servant.

Isaiah 45:14-17 is the “confession” of the nations and God says:

They [the nations] will prostrate themselves before you; they will pray before you, ‘Only with you [Jerusalem] is God, and there is none other, except for God’

-Isaiah 45:16

JerusalemThe nations will pray to God and prostrate themselves before “you” where the “you” is Jerusalem. That hardly sounds like “mutual submissiveness” as J.K. McKee puts it in his book One Law For All.

Verse 20 states:

Gather yourselves, come and approach together, O survivors of the nations…

Then verses 22 and 23 say:

Turn to Me and be saved, all ends of the earth, for I am God and there is no other. I swear by Myself, righteousness has gone forth from My mouth, a word that will not be rescinded: that to Me shall every knee bow and every tongue swear.

And then in verse 25:

All the seed of Israel will be vindicated and will glory in Hashem.

Over and over there is a clear indication that God expects both Israel and the nations to serve Him and in the Messianic Age, He continues to distinguish between Israel and the faithful Gentile nations.

So how can we Christians become Israel?

But there’s more.

If you had hearkened to My commandments, your peace would [flow] like a river and your righteousness like waves of the sea.

-Isaiah 48:18

Further indication that God continues Jewish Torah observance both in the past and I believe present into the Messianic Era. This dovetails into my belief that one of the vital roles of Gentiles in Messiah is to encourage and support Jewish repentance and return to the Torah.

He said: It is insufficient that you be a servant for Me [only] to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the ruins of Israel; I will make you a light for the nations, so that My salvation may extend to the ends of the earth.

-Isaiah 49:6

This idea of “light” turns up more than once, and as far as Israel being the source of the salvation of the world:

Salvation is from the Jews.

-John 4:22 (NASB)

From verse 9 to the end of chapter 49 speaks of the return from exile for the Jews, God’s remembering Israel, that Jerusalem is rebuilt and resettled, and, going into the beginning of chapter 50, how Israel is encouraged to repent.

Here’s another tie-in to the New Covenant:

Listen to Me, you who know righteousness, the nation with My Torah in its heart…

-Isaiah 51:7

This is God referring to Israel, the Jewish people as “the nation with the Torah in its heart…” Yet another indication that Torah observance is connected to the righteousness of Israel, even into the days of Messiah.

At the start of chapter 52, the prophet speaks of Jerusalem and how the “uncircumcised and defiled people will no longer enter you.” Of course he could have meant uncircumcised of heart, but it doesn’t actually say that. Reminds me of the following:

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.

-Revelation 22:14-15 (NASB)

MessiahDepending on your point of view, Isaiah 53 either describes the Messiah or Israel. If it’s a Jewish point of view, then it describes the wonderment of the nations at the miracle of Israel’s redemption, once again establishing that the nations exist outside of Israel and this redemption is that of the Jewish people as a nation.

The sages midrashically interpret the beginning of Isaiah 55 as “Come! Study Torah!” but it also speaks of the Davidic covenant as “an eternal covenant” which obviously references the eternal Messiah. Verse 5 says:

…a nation that had not known you will run to you…

and at least in English, “you” could either be Messiah or Israel.

Isaiah 56 is the first time in the entire sixty-six chapter book that says anything specifically about how the nations will serve God. I was wondering if the word “foreigner” in verse 3 might indicate “resident alien” and somehow distinguish between Gentile disciples of the Messiah and the rest of the nations, which could bolster the claim of some that these “foreigners” merge with national Israel, but these foreigners, also mentioned as such in verse 6, are contrasted with “the dispersed of Israel” referenced in verse 8. Actually, verse 8 says:

The word of my Lord Hashem/Elohim, Who gathers in the dispersed of Israel: I shall gather to him even more than those already gathered to him.

So we have the dispersed of Israel gathered and then we also have others who are to be gathered, most likely the aforementioned foreigners from the nations. This is not unlike the words of the Master:

I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.

-John 10:16 (NASB)

Although we have one shepherd and are in one flock (ekklesia), we of the nations are not of the same fold as the Jewish sheep of Israel.

And the foreigners who join themselves to Hashem to serve Him and to love the Name of Hashem to become servants unto Him, all who guard the Sabbath against desecration, and grasp my covenant tightly…

-Isaiah 56:6

This is the main indication that foreigners among Israel will also observe or at least “guard” the Sabbath (some Jewish sages draw a distinction between how Israel “keeps” and the nations “guard”), and the question then becomes, grasp what covenant tightly? Is this a reference to some of the “one law” sections of the Torah that laid out a limited requirement of observance of some of the mitzvot for resident aliens which includes Shabbat?

I won’t attempt to answer that now since I want to continue with a panoramic view of Isaiah in terms of the relationship between Israel and the nations (and since it requires a great deal more study and attention).

Nations will walk by your light and kings by the brilliance of your shine.

-Isaiah 60:3

This could be seen as the nations walking either by God’s light or Israel’s, but in either case, the nations are still being differentiated from Israel. Verse 5 says:

…and the wealth of the nations will come to you [Israel].

In verse 9, God is referred to as “the Holy One of Israel,” and verse 12 states:

For the nation and kingdom that does not serve you will perish.

This indicates that there are nations that serve God and nations that don’t. Any nation not playing ball, so to speak, is utterly destroyed, which means the only nations left on Earth besides Israel, are serving God. If all Gentiles serving God became Israel, then there would be no nations to serve God, only Israel, and Isaiah’s prophecies would be false.

Referring to Israel, verse 21 says:

Your people will all be righteous; they will inherit the land forever.

This refers to Jeremiah 31 and Romans 11 where we read that God will forgive all the sins of Israel and all Israel will be saved. It also says that the Jewish people will inherit the Land of Israel forever. No other people need apply for citizenship of national Israel in the Messianic Kingdom.

Foreigners will stand and tend your flocks and the sons of the stranger will be your plowmen and your vineyard workers. And you [Jewish Israel] will be called “priests of Hashem.”

-Isaiah 61:5-6

sukkot jerusalemYes, we’re all going to “make it” if we keep the faith, both the survivors among the nations and the remnant of Israel, but our relative roles seem to be very distinct, though according to Rabbinic commentary, this may more reflect the “Spiritual preeminence” of Israel.

Moving on to the end of the book, Isaiah 65:1 says that God can be found by those who are not looking for him, which means that God is ultimately accessible to all, every one of His creations. Isaiah 66:10 says we are to be “glad with Jerusalem and rejoice in her” which may also address the people of the nations rejoicing at the redemption of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation. Verse 12 again speaks of the “wealth of the nations” seemingly bankrolling this entire rebuilding effort.

In verse 19, God says he will put a sign upon some of the people of the different nations and tongues and send them to the survivors of the nations to declare His Glory.

The last words of the prophet speak of how we will worship in those days:

It shall be that at every New Moon and on every Sabbath all mankind will come to prostrate themselves before Me, says Hashem. And they will go out and see the corpses of the men who rebelled against Me, for their decay will not cease and their fire will not be extinguished, and they will lie in disgrace before all mankind.

-Isaiah 66:23-24

That sounds more like a memorial and a cautionary tale than a worship service.

Over all, and this is just the short list, what I see in Isaiah is that not only do we faithful Gentiles never become Israel, but even under the best of circumstances in the Messianic kingdom, we are not at the top of the heap or anywhere near it. We serve, not only God, but Israel and the Jewish people. Yes, we guard the Sabbath, we pray and offer sacrifices in the rebuilt Temple, we come before God on each New Moon and Sabbath festival, but we are the tail and not the head.

Addendum: I had a conversation with my friend Tom about the core of this blog post yesterday afternoon over coffee and realized he had a more “one law” perspective. He believes there is a population of redeemed nations who are grafted into Israel vs. nations in general who do not cleave to God. He pointed me to Zechariah which I’ll have to follow up on at a later date. Needless to say, my learning is still in progress as I suspect it always will be.

What Brings Us Near to the Kingdom of God?

Did you ever wish you could change someone’s negative feelings toward you into positive ones? Consider the following story:

In the days of Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, it occurred that a butcher was angry at the Rabbi of his city for rendering a decision that the meat of a cow he wanted to sell was not kosher. In his anger, he devised a scheme to murder the Rabbi. On a pretext, he had the Rabbi travel with him on a lonely road. Along the way, the butcher took out his sharp knife and wanted to kill the Rabbi.

At first the Rabbi pleaded with the butcher to have compassion on him. But this was to no avail. When the Rabbi saw that nothing he could say would make a difference, he started to mentally focus on all of the positive qualities and attributes of the butcher. Suddenly there was an amazing transformation. The butcher began to cry, kissed the Rabbi, and begged his forgiveness.

The lesson: Love others and they can’t help but to love you!

(see Rabbi Chaim Zaitchyk – Maayanai Hachaim, vol.3, p.191; Rabbi Pliskin’s “Consulting the Wise”)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Radiate Love”
Aish.com

A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others.

-The Wizard of Oz (Frank Morgan) to the Tin Man (Jack Haley)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)

This morning, in a comment I made in response to Rabbi Carl Kinbar, I said in part:

The Internet is a very judgmental place where often the rules of civil social discourse do not apply. People are accused of all sorts of things on little or no evidence. When terms like “Bilateral Ecclesiology” start getting thrown around, people don’t see complex individuals, they just see “types”. To be fair, we make “types” out of people behind labels such as “One Law” and a lot of other names as well. Even though we are bound to disagree with each other on a number of issues in the religious blogosphere, if we tried to recognize each other as not only real people but as fellow disciples of Messiah, maybe we’d treat each other a little better. What would it be like if instead of dialoguing via the Internet, we suddenly all found ourselves in a coffee shop somewhere having this discussion over cups of hot java? I suspect the conversation would be different.

I periodically make such pleas on my blog, trying to encourage civility in the midst of disagreement. They are usually my least popular blog posts and attract little attention and fewer replies.

And yet all of our protestations and arguing make us liars if we call ourselves disciples of the Messiah or just plain “Christians”.

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

-1 John 4:20 (ESV)

maskThe Bible, including the Apostolic Scriptures, is replete with passages about loving one’s brother and neighbor, and yet how much love do we see in these dialogues about our various theological perspectives? Almost none. But I would be a liar myself if I said they didn’t exist at all:

I would have to respectfully disagree. McKee’s research is precisely what we need to peel back the layers of this onion and find the original intent of the Author in His unchanging, everlasting Word. Then, we can understand what it truly means to return to the ancient paths and walk in the ways that demonstrate our love for God.

-Pete Rambo
“The ‘ger,’ the Chumash and Anachronism”
natsab.com

This is part of Pete’s rebuttal to comments I made in Part 2 of my review of J.K. McKee’s book (and boy is he getting a lot of free publicity from me) One Law for All: From the Mosaic Texts to the Work of the Holy Spirit. I’m not going to write a detailed rebuttal to Pete’s rebuttal of my review, because then he’d write a rebuttal and I’d write a rebuttal, and there’s a limit to how much time and energy I have available for a this sort of thing.

But it’s the way Pete responded that’s virtually unique to these transactions. Generally people on both sides of the aisle get pretty worked up when labels like “Bilateral Ecclesiology” or “One Law” are inserted into the mix. We tend to respond with our emotions first and our intellect second or more accurately, we respond with anger, hurt and outrage first and never consider applying compassion, empathy, and understanding to the other person’s point of view at all.

If we were the Rabbi in Rabbi Pliskin’s midrash facing an angry butcher with a sharp knife, we’d all end up sliced and diced and buried in a shallow grave in the middle of nowhere.

For a people will dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem. You will not have to weep; He will surely show you grace at the sound of your outcry, when He hears, He will answer you. The Lord will give you meager bread and scant water; your Teacher will no longer be hidden behind his garment, and your eyes will behold your Teacher.

-Isaiah 30:19-20 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Next Wednesday, my review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon The Inner Torah, part of his Holy Epistle to the Hebrews series, includes this portion of scripture and something of Lancaster’s commentary about it.

It is said by some of the Jewish sages that one of the things Messiah will do when he comes (returns) is to teach Torah correctly, including the hidden things of Torah. It is also said that the Torah we have now, the actual physical object and its textual contents, is a “copy and shadow” of the heavenly, supernal Torah, the literal will and wisdom of God that resides in the Heavenly Court. The Torah we have was “clothed,” so to speak, when it was given at Sinai so it could exist in the physical realm and be understood and consumed by human beings.

They will no longer teach — each man his fellow, each man his brother — saying ‘Know Hashem!’ For all of them will know Me, from their smallest to their greatest — the word of Hashem — when I will forgive their iniquity and will no longer recall their sin.

-Jeremiah 31:33 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

dear_godThe New Covenant promises that the Word of God will be written on our hearts and we will all ‘Know Hashem,’ from the least of us to the greatest, in a manner that can only be compared with the great prophets of old. There will no longer be a need for one person to teach another because our Teacher will be inside of us, no longer hiding His face; no, we shall see Him and know Him.

But not now, not yet.

Until then, we don’t know, hence we disagree, and sadly, hence we personalize conflict and get mad at people who don’t agree with us.

Disagreement isn’t the problem. Failure to love is. But if we fail to love people then we are failing to love God. How can we say we follow God and not love Him? Yes, one believer can disagree with another and yet they can love each other and they can love God. The traditional model of learning in Yeshiva is based on debate and yet it is not based on hate but love and the desire for learning.

It is said that Herod’s Temple was leveled, Jerusalem razed, and the Jewish people exiled from their Land, not because of lack of observance of the mitzvot, not because the Torah was not being studied (and certainly not because the “Jews rejected Jesus”), but because of baseless hatred of one Jew for another.

It doesn’t look like we Gentile disciples of the Master (i.e. “Christians”) have learned very much from that lesson.

Our Sages gathered these sections in an order … according to the requisite steps (Introduction to Path of the Just).

While character refinement is an important and desirable goal, we must be careful to stride toward it in a reasonable and orderly manner. Overreaching ourselves may be counterproductive.

Physical growth is a gradual process. In fact, it is not even uniform; the first two decades are a sequence of growth spurts and latency periods. Generally, the body does not adjust well to sudden changes, even when they are favorable. For instance, obese people who lose weight too rapidly may experience a variety of unpleasant symptoms. Although the weight loss is certainly in the interest of health, the body needs time to adjust to the change.

If we are convinced, as we should be, that spirituality is desirable, we might be tempted to make radical changes in our lives. We may drop everything and set out on a crash course that we think will lead to rapid attainment of the goal. This plan is most unwise, because psychologically as well as physically, our systems need time to consume new information, digest it, and prepare ourselves for the next level.

Luzzato’s monumental work on ethics, The Path of the Just, is based on a Talmudic passage which lists ten consecutive steps toward spirituality. Luzzato cautions: “A person should not desire to leap to the opposite extreme in one moment, because this will simply not succeed, but should continue bit by bit” (Chapter 15).

Today I shall…

…resolve to work on my spirituality gradually and be patient in its attainment.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky
“Growing Each Day, Av 21″
Aish.com

And so it goes with us, at least ideally, slow and steady growth and gaining in understanding.

It’s not just in areas of learning and knowledge we strive to grow, but we must also nurture advancements in wisdom, compassion, spirituality, and Godliness. Without such, we can be as intelligent as Einstein and as learned as the Rambam and still know and be nothing.

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

-1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (NASB)

Standing before GodEven if you “win” the argument but you fail to love, you have won nothing. Of all of the mitzvot we strive to perform, if we fulfill them all flawlessly but we fail to love, we have failed to observe all of the Torah and we have desecrated the Name of God.

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord;  and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that He is One, and there is no one else besides Him; and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

-Mark 12:28-34 (NASB)

How near or far from the Kingdom of God are you?

The Mitzvah of Loving a Jew

The Alter Rebbe repeated what the Mezritcher Maggid said quoting the Baal Shem Tov: “Love your fellow like yourself” is an interpretation of and commentary on “Love Hashem your G-d.” He who loves his fellow-Jew loves G-d, because the Jew has with in himself a “part of G-d Above.” Therefore, when one loves the Jew – i.e. his inner essence – one loves G-d.

from “Today’s Day”
Friday, Menachem Av 12, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

Of course, the scripture to love God and to love your fellow (Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18 respectively) is rendered very “Jewish-oriented” by Chabad, but it made me ask myself that if one Jew loving another Jew is considered a mitzvah, what about a Gentile loving a Jew? No, not a Gentile Christian loving another Gentile Christian or generic human being, but specifically a Jew…is it a mitzvah?

I can’t find any Biblical corroboration except perhaps for the following:

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

-Matthew 25:34-40 (NASB)

At first blush, that seems to be a directive for us to love people in need, feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, and so on, but early in my return to church, Charlie, who is on the Board of Elders at the church I attend was teaching Sunday school one day, and he interpreted that scripture specifically as what Christians are supposed to do for the needy of Israel.

Up until that day, it had never occurred to me to read that passage in such a manner, but now it makes perfect sense. I read the Master’s words as a commandment to assist the hungry and thirsty and needy among the Jewish people.

Of course, Jesus (Yeshua) was talking to a completely Jewish audience, so from that perspective, he was issuing the commandment of one Jew to love another Jew, even as we see it from the Chabad’s point of view. But we also have this:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

-John 13:34 (NASB)

Here again we have Jesus speaking to his Jewish disciples, so we can interpret this command as we have the one we have in Matthew 25, but I also believe we can extend the intent to include how we Gentile disciples are supposed to love other disciples, both Jewish and Gentile, with a love like the Master’s, with a love that includes the willingness to give our lives for our fellows in Messiah.

jewish charity
Photo: Reuters

But that doesn’t absolve us from our duty to love the Jewish people as well, particularly those who are in need, those who are suffering.

In my case, having a Jewish wife and children, I automatically fulfill the mitzvah on a daily basis, but that’s not an excuse to remove myself from loving the larger Jewish population, the people and nation of Israel.

Related to the recent observance of Tisha B’Av, Aish.com dedicated an article to the challenge of one Jew loving another. Jewish people come in all shapes and sizes and dispositions, and as you might imagine, it isn’t always easy for one Jewish individual to indiscriminately love all other Jewish people everywhere.

How much more difficult it is for us, who are not Israel and not Jewish, and especially we who in the Church have a history of disagreement and even enmity with the Jewish people, to express that indiscriminate love?

In trying to research the “mitzvah” of Gentiles loving Jews, I came across this:

I love the Jewish people and have enjoyed reading the many spiritual thoughts on your website. I want to draw closer to God, but from what I’ve read it is a very big commitment to convert. I don’t think I am up for this at this stage in my life. Is there some way to tap into the Torah wisdom without being part of the Jewish people?

-from Ask the Rabbi
“Seven Laws of Noah”
Aish.com

One of the ways that some non-Jews express their love for the Jewish people and Israel is to become Noahides, or people of the nations who observe the Seven Noahide Laws. This is about the best way to express such a love and attraction from a Jewish point of view, since it has the full support of Orthodox Judaism and allows Gentiles to enter into Jewish worship and community space, albeit with a radically different status than the Jewish leaders, mentors, and participants.

Of course, you have large groups of Evangelicals who love Jews and love Israel, but that love isn’t always returned. To be fair, sometimes Christian love for Israel is pretty shallow and very conditional, so Jews have a right to be hesitant about returning all the “love and support”.

in gratitude and hope
Photo: Aish media

There are, of course, those non-Jews who show love to Jewish people, even at great risk to themselves such as an Arab family protecting Jews during the Holocaust. Given the current world-wide criticism of Israel (and by inference all Jewish people) relative to Hamas and its terrorist attacks (and Israel’s response), it may come to a point, even very soon, when any non-Jew who supports the Jewish people will risk at least a verbal or print backlash if not actual violence. If not now, then eventually I believe it will come to that.

But what is it to love the Jewish people? Is it just a warm and fuzzy feeling? Is it giving money to Jewish causes and charities? Is it wearing t-shirts supporting the IDF? I suppose it could be all those things. But what about supporting Judaism?

What’s the difference between supporting Jewish people and causes and supporting Judaism? A big, fat, whopping one for some folks.

There are a lot of people in a great many religious venues who say they love the Jewish people. I’ve already mentioned Noahides and Evangelical Christians, but what about Gentiles in Messianic Judaism (Messianic Gentiles) and Gentiles in one of the expressions of the Hebrew Roots movement (One Law/One Torah, Two House, Sacred Name, and so on)?

That can get a little more dicey. Relative to Hebrew Roots, there, I believe, is an authentic love of the Jewish people and national Israel, but sort of a love-hate relationship with Rabbinic Judaism (no, there isn’t any other kind, even Messianic Judaism is Rabbinic Judaism). There’s a love of Torah as it is understood, and a love of the “roots of our faith” which is usually expressed in some sort of modern Jewish religious practice (wearing a tallit and kippah, praying from a siddur in Hebrew, reading from the Torah, practicing a form of Shabbat rest, and so on), but there is also often a disdain for Talmud, for the authority of the Sages in ordering how to perform the mitzvot, and how Torah is continually interpreted and reinterpreted across time to apply to later generations.

I was re-reading Dr. Rabbi Stuart Dauermann’s article The Problem With Hebrew Roots, or, It’s Good to be a Goy. It actually kind of reminded me of something Aaron Eby said on this Vine of David video about the unique calling of the Messianic Gentile:

We at Vine of David have composed an alternate form of the second paragraph of Kiddush for Messianic Gentiles that reflects their unique identity and relationship to the Sabbath. The blessing was culled from the most ancient strata of the prayers of early believers. This form of Kiddush is affirming, beautiful, and ancient, and represents a radical rebound from centuries of replacement theology. Messianic Gentiles would do well to use such prayers in order to instill in their children a sense that their identity and mission as Messianic Gentiles are important and meaningful.

jewishThe identity structures of Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles is, by definition, complementary and even vaguely reminiscent of the relationship between Orthodox Jews and Noahides in the synagogue.

However, the latter relationship can’t really be compared to the former, because in the former, at the end of the day, we are all disciples of the Master and we all share equal co-participation in the blessings of the resurrection and the life in the Messianic Age in accordance with the same covenant, the New Covenant. Of course there’s also differentiation because Jews additionally come under the Sinai Covenant, but relative to Noahides and Judaism, they have no common Covenant relationship with God at all.

That complementary relationship between Jew and Gentile in Messiah requires mutual respect, which includes respecting each other’s space. A comment and R. Dauermann’s response on his aforementioned blog post drew my attention:

Glenn – July 31, 2014
Splendidly written, Stuart! It is so in concert with Paul’s exhortation in 1 Cor. 7, and the larger message of Isaiah 56.

But I am a bit perplexed. On the very principle you articulate, shouldn’t we absolutely discourage the practice of converting Gentiles to Messianic “Jews”? It was my understanding that you support such conversions.

As always, thanks for your time!
Glenn

Stuart Dauermann – August 2, 2014
Well, Glenn, I so much appreciated your question that I devoted another blog to it. See it here: http://www.interfaithfulness.org/?p=2040

So I visited the link R. Dauermann posted, which led me to an article called Conversion, Yes; Confusion, No.

While Dauermann actually supports Gentile conversion specifically within Messianic Judaism on very rare occasions, he also made a number of statements relevant to the point I’m trying to make:

The problem nowadays is that Gentiles are being made to feel like second class citizens, or feel themselves to be second class citizens in the Kingdom of God because they are not Jewish. This is WRONG! Gentiles are NOT second class citizens and in no manner whatsoever do they or can they improve their citizenship in the Kingdom of God through “discovering their Jewish roots,” through deciding they are part of the lost tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, or any such thing. In other words, not only are Gentiles not second class citizens, they also do not become in some manner super-citizens through discovering or creating some sort of Jewish identity.

This is pretty common of Christians who, for whatever reasons, have left formal church attendance and entered some form of Messianic Judaism or Hebrew Roots. I’ve attended some Hebrew Roots groups that were downright disrespectful of Christianity and used quite abusive language when referring to Churches. There was a real drive to do anything possible to separate themselves from anything having to do with “the Church” (i.e. “Babylon” or a thousand other insulting labels).

Beth Immanuel ShavuotAlong with that need to separate was the requirement to create a new identity, but since Judaism is the general template for Hebrew Roots, any statement that pointed to Jewish exclusiveness in the covenants tended to elicit two related reactions: a feeling of inferiority and a response of hostility (I should point out here that not all Hebrew Roots people exhibit this dynamic, particularly the Hebrew Roots congregation in which I once worshiped, but it’s been sadly common in my previous experience with other people and groups I’ve encountered). As R. Dauermann pointed out, Gentiles are not inferior to Jews. I’ve read many (non-Messianic) Jewish commentaries stating that Jews do not (ideally) see themselves as better or superior to Gentiles, just different.

The same is true in Messianic Judaism. The distinctions particular to Jews are not really rights so much as responsibilities and duties. Think how much more difficult it is to attend to the mitzvot as a Jew than those duties assigned to the Gentile in Messiah (Christian in Jesus). Is faith in Jesus supposed to be about our “rights?” Does God owe us rights? Does He owe us anything?

Even Paul called himself a slave (see Romans 1:1 for example). He didn’t complain about his rights.

Many people act like the Torah is a book they may apply any way they choose, and that by doing so, they are being more faithful to God than those who do not bother to do so. Some even imagine that by doing so, they become in some manner Jewish. Such people are naïve and in error.

The Torah is not a book we happened to find and which we may interpret as we choose, but rather it is the national constitution of a people. It must be understood as the community property of the Jewish people, and must be understood and interpreted in keeping with millennia of Jewish discussion and practice. It is not like the Koran, which allegedly came down entire from heaven, or like the Book of Mormon, allegedly found on golden plates hidden in the Hill Cumorah in Palmyra, New York. No, Torah is the way of life of the Jewish people, it enshrines the decorum appropriate to the Jewish people as a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation, the way of life appropriate to this people serving in the courts of the King of Kings.

-R. Dauermann

This is where love of Jews and love of Judaism, particularly the Judaism(s) observed within the context of Messiah, begins to separate for some.

In my opinion, being a disciple of the Master and attaching ourselves to the God of Israel is not a matter of rights but a matter of service. We have duties and obligations and we have unique roles and identities that define those obligations. God made us who we are, and although He gave us free will, He didn’t give the leopard the ability to change his spots.

Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.

-1 Corinthians 7:17-20 (NASB)

And by “Keeping God’s commands is what counts,” my interpretation is keeping the commands as they apply to the person, which isn’t the same for a Jewish believer as it is for a non-Jewish believer.

As both R. Dauermann said on this blog and Dr. Mark Nanos said in a recent paper, while Paul generally opposed Gentiles in Messiah converting to Judaism, he didn’t absolutely forbid it. He just felt (and rightly so) that converting to Judaism would not have any sort of impact on the person’s justification before God. You don’t become a better person by converting to Judaism, you just become Jewish.

If you feel a strong need and desire to live as a Jew and to observe the mitzvot as a Jew, then conversion is probably the right thing for you (there are a lot of other factors to consider that are beyond the scope of this blog post, but it’s not as simple as all that).

Restoration
Photo: First Fruits of Zion

However, as I mentioned, conversion isn’t necessary to serve God, because God expects the whole world to serve Him, both Israel and the nations. How we serve God is dependent on who we are, Israel or the nations. Rejecting this definition is where you may feel you love Jewish people and Israel, but it actually means you’re rejecting how they define themselves and frankly, you’re rejecting how God defines the Jews and Israel.

Judaism isn’t perfect, but it can be argued that Judaism, that is Rabbinic Judaism including Mishnah, Talmud, halachah, and the whole meal deal is what God gave the Jewish people to enable them to survive the last two-thousand years of exile, and to make it possible to re-establish the modern state of Israel.

You can’t love the Jewish people and the nation of Israel and also throw the Rabbis and their volumes of Talmud under a bus. You can’t say “I love you but I deny you the right to define yourself.”

That isn’t love. I don’t even know what to call that sort of behavior.

If it’s a mitzvah for a Christian and/or Messianic Gentile to love the Jewish people and Israel, you can’t hate Judaism at the same time. You can’t hate someone’s identity as it was assigned to them by God but say that somehow, you love that person anyway.

I know the people who need to hear this the most will reject it out of hand, but this message is the natural and logical extension of exploring the mitzvah of loving Jews. In order to love the Jewish people, we cannot hate ourselves. The mitzvah of loving our neighbor as we love ourselves (Lev. 19:18; Matthew 22:39) means we must love both our neighbor and ourselves. If we hate being a Gentile because we think (or have been taught) that it is inferior or pagan or some other ridiculous thing, then we have no basis or platform for loving someone else, anyone else, really.

Love starts with loving God (Deut. 6:5; Matthew 22:37), then (in my opinion), loving ourselves as God made us since we are created in His image (Gen. 1:27). Only then, realizing that God loves us with a powerful love and realizing we are lovable just as we are (which in my case is a Gentile), can we love another person. Only then can we love a Jew because God made the Jew just the way he or she is including the Jewish person’s covenant identity, which includes unique roles and responsibilities.

Once you are confident in God’s love for you, no matter who you are, then you have no reason to feel inferior to someone else and you should have no desire to covet their status and assume that it is your “right” to do so.

It’s only at that point where you are capable of fulfilling the mitzvah as a Gentile disciple of the Master of loving the Jewish people, Judaism, and Israel. God loves them. So should we.