Tag Archives: Redemption

disciple

The Cost of Serving the King: Lessons in Discipleship

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

-Luke 14:28-33 (NASB)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not darn much, for the most part.

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

-ibid

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

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

-ibid, pg 223

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

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

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

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

-Young, pg 223

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

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

-ibid, pg 224

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

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

-ibid

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

-Proverbs 24:3-6 (NASB)

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

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

Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.

-Romans 10:1-2 (NASB)

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

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

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

-Matthew 7:21-23 (NASB)

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

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

-Luke 7:8 (NASB)

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

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

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

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

But it is also said:

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

-Romans 10:14-15 (NASB)

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

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

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

-Pirkei Avot 1:6

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

Vayigash: Will the King Show Us Mercy?

king-davidAnd Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph!”

-Genesis 45:3

The Chofetz Chaim comments that from the time the brothers first came to Egypt to get food — when Joseph spoke with them roughly and accused them of being spies — they were puzzled about what exactly was happening and why it was happening. In both encounters with Joseph they had many questions about their experiences. As soon as they heard the words, “I am Joseph” all their questions were answered. The difficulties they had in understanding the underlying meaning of the events — why Joseph accused them of being spies, yet treated them well, accused them of lying and stealing, but gave them a banquet, insisted on bringing the younger brother to Egypt, etc. — were now completely clarified.

Similarly, says the Chofetz Chaim, when the entire world will hear the words “I am the Almighty” at the final redemption of the Jewish people, all the questions and difficulties that people had about the history of the world with all of its suffering will be answered. The entire matter will be clarified and understood. Everyone will see how the hand of the Almighty caused everything ultimately for our benefit.

Dvar Torah for Torah Portion Vayigash based on
Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Referenced by Rabbi Kalman Packouz
at Aish.com

The brothers of Joseph discover a startling reality. The ruler of the Egyptians who has been treating them harshly all of this time is really their brother Joseph. In an instant, all the cruelty they showed him, including trying to murder him, must have come to the forefront of their conscience.

Before this, the Egyptian ruler had the power to do anything to them, imprison them, make them slaves, even kill them, but “it wasn’t personal.” That is, the sons of Jacob were no more or less significant to an Egyptian ruler than anyone else.

Now they not only discover that this man has the power of life and death over them, but that he is their brother, who they left for dead, who almost surely has a personal motive for seeking revenge. The brothers knew they had no right to appeal to Joseph for mercy, for they had not showed him mercy. They could only hope that in the years he ascended from slavery and imprisonment to being a viceroy of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh in power and authority, that he had learned wisdom and compassion and would be willing to offer them something they did not deserve: mercy and the continuation of their very lives.

Now look at what Rabbi Pliskin had to say from the above-quoted text:

Similarly, says the Chofetz Chaim, when the entire world will hear the words “I am the Almighty” at the final redemption of the Jewish people, all the questions and difficulties that people had about the history of the world with all of its suffering will be answered.

How much of the non-Jewish world will tremble at the feet of God when they realize the Almighty has appeared at the final redemption and that He is not at all pleased with how His people Israel have been treated?

Over the long march of centuries since Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, since Joseph confronted his brothers, since Moses, Aaron, and Miriam liberated the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and set them before God at Sinai, and on and on across history, every people, tribe, and tongue throughout the Earth has been seeking to kill the Jewish people, God’s splendorous treasure, the apple of His eye.

This includes the Church of Jesus Christ. How confusing it will be in those days to be a Christian who has harbored hatred toward Jewish people, Judaism, and Israel, and to be confronted by an angry Jewish King. How strange it will seem to many Christians who have loved Israel but continued to deny the validity of the Torah, the Temple, and the adherence of Jewish people to a Jewish way of life for those Gentile believers to be faced with a Jewish King who upholds the “Jewishness” of his people Israel.

“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

-Matthew 25:41-46 (NASB)

Woman in the darkI used to think this was an injunction for believers to show kindness and compassion for all of the needy people around us (and I still think we should), but almost a year ago, I heard a good and kind Christian man in a Sunday school class interpret this statement as the duty we Gentile believers have to take care of all the needy of Israel.

And if that statement is true, then woe be to the many, many Christians past and present who have utterly failed to do so because those needy people were “just Jews.”

In the case of the brothers of Joseph, their kinsman who was also ruler and King over them was merciful after all:

Now do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you. It is now two years that there has been famine in the land, and there are still five years to come in which there shall be no yield from tilling. God has sent me ahead of you to ensure Your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance. So, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of all his household, and ruler over the whole land of Egypt.

-Genesis 45:5-8 (JPS Tanakh)

But was it for Jacob’s sake that Joseph spared his brothers? And for whose sake shall the King of Israel spare those among the nations and particularly those among the Church who have treated his little ones poorly?

…but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

-Matthew 18:6 (NASB)

Mark Nanos in his book The Mystery of Romans defines the “weak” and “stumbling,” relative to Paul’s letter to the Romans, as the Jews in the synagogues of Rome who had not yet come to faith in Messiah. I’ll write a detailed “meditation” on this topic in a few days, but Nanos understands Paul’s admonition to the “strong,” the Gentile believers, as failing to uphold their responsibility to encourage the stumbling Jewish people, resulting in them stumbling even further away from faith. Paul never gave up on the stumbling, and he would have sacrificed everything for them.

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, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

-Romans 9:3-5 (NASB)

It was the Master himself who called his people Israel “lost sheep” (Matthew 10:6, 15:24) and who are we to disdain those “sheep,” for it is obvious that even in their unbelief, God loves them with a great intensity and will violently protect them, even from those of us who are so arrogant as to believe their Father has cut them off from His care and compassion.

bk_kotelPaul says that all of Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26), though we in the Church cannot fathom this. But though the Jews have always been few in number (Deuteronomy 4:27) and suffered exile and dispersion (Leviticus 26:33), yet they shall be redeemed and live in peace (Micah 4:1-4), for God has declared that Israel shall eternally be a nation before Him (Genesis 17:7, Leviticus 26:43, Deuteronomy 4:26-27, 28:63-64).

It is within the power of the Jewish Messiah King, Yeshua, Jesus, to judge his Gentile Church and to cast out those of us who have failed in our duty to his people Israel in opposition to the prophesies and the commandments. The patriarchs were terrified of their powerful and very human brother for the vengeance he could exact upon them. How much more should we be terrified of an infinitely powerful and eternal King?

It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

-Hebrews 10:31 (NASB)

Tremble and sin not, reflect in your hearts while on your beds, and be utterly silent. Selah.

-Psalm 4:4 (from the Siddur, nighttime blessings)

Let the world that has always hated the Jewish people learn to repent before it’s too late, and let each Christian who has hated or dismissed the Jewish people lie in his or her bed and tremble and be utterly silent before their King whose hand will always uplift Israel and whose greatest desire is to save his precious nation and redeem her as he has promised.

Good Shabbos.

Forgivable

Yom-KippurThese were the days before Yom Kippur. I was lonely and couldn’t figure out why. The loneliness had been there for months.

Things were good with my wife and kids. I’d been on the phone with my sisters and in close contact with my friends.

So, what was the source of this loneliness?

I was missing G-d.

-Jay Litvin
“Forgiveness”
Commentary on Yom Kippur
Chabad.org

We all miss God sometimes, if we choose to have an awareness of God at all. We’re all afraid of God sometimes, if we choose to be aware that God is a righteous judge. For many religious Jewish people at this special time of year, emotions can run high. Minds and hearts are turned toward God in a way that doesn’t have any sort of comparison in the Christian world.

Most Christians have little regard for Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. We’ve been taught that Jesus Christ atoned for our sins and we are free from sin and death through his grace.

Does that mean Christians never get lonely and miss God? Does that means Christians can’t get angry at God?

As Yom Kippur drew close, I continued to wonder what was taking place between G-d and me. I worried that this day of prayer and fasting would be void of the usual connection that Yom Kippur brings.

And then in a flash I realized that I was angry at G-d. And had been for some time. I was angry about my disease and I was angry that I was not yet healed. I was angry about my pain. And I was angry at the disruption to my life, the fear, the worry and anxiety that my disease was causing my family and those who loved and cared about me. I was angry about the whole thing, and He, being the boss of everything that happens in the world, was responsible and to blame.

And so, I entered Yom Kippur angry at G-d.

Actually, Jay Litvin had a lot of reasons, at least from a human perspective, to be angry at God. I won’t reveal more until the end of this missive, but think about it. Have you ever been angry at God? Have you ever thought God treated you unfairly?

Nevermind that you know God is perfect, and righteous, and without sin, and cannot make a mistake, and cannot be unfair. Even the best of Fathers sometimes seems unfair to his children. So it is between us and God.

I once knew an elderly Jewish gentleman who was angry at God. He blamed God for the Holocaust. He blamed God for the execution of six-million Jews and the incredible torture of so many more who had survived. He was already in his 90s when I knew him and he said that when he died, he was going to confront God and give God a piece of his mind.

I know. It sounds ridiculous. But it also sounds very human. If you felt as if God had done you some wrong, could you learn to forgive God?

Forgive God?

I prayed for G-d’s forgiveness, and in my prayer book I read the words that promised His forgiveness. He would forgive me, I read, because that was His nature. He is a forgiver. He loves me. He wants me to be close to Him. And so He forgives me not for any reason, not because I deserve it, but simply because that is who He is. He is merciful and forgives and wipes the slate clean so that we — He and I — can be close again for the coming year.

I read these words, nice words, yet my anger remained.

Then I again remembered the email. In his cynicism, my friend had hit the mark: I needed to forgive G-d. I needed to rid myself of my anger and blame for the sickness He had given me. I needed to wipe the slate clean so that He and I could be close once again.

But how? On what basis should I forgive Him? If He was human, I could forgive Him for His imperfections, His fallibility, His pettiness, His upbringing, His fragility and vulnerability. I could try to put myself in His shoes, to understand His position. But He is G-d, perfect and complete! Acting with wisdom and intention. How could I forgive Him?!

ForgivenessBut wouldn’t it be an affront to God to even consider that He needed our forgiveness, regardless of the circumstances of our lives, regardless of our hardships, regardless of how we have suffered and how those we love have suffered? Isn’t God, regardless of what has ever happened to us, immune from being forgiven because He is perfect and His will is perfect?

But maybe none of that really matters to those of us “on the ground,” so to speak. God certainly understands how faulty we are and how screwed up our thoughts and feelings can be, especially when we’re under a lot of stress, a lot of pain, a lot of anguish, and a lot of grief.

In the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is expected that Jewish people will pay tremendous attention to how they’ve lived during the past year, recount any incident where they may have injured or offended someone, and then make every effort to make amends to those people, if at all possible.

Sometimes the human need in us to forgive means when we feel hurt and there’s no one else to be angry at, we get angry at God, and in that anger, we need to forgive Him. Even though God doesn’t really need our forgiveness. Even though on a cosmic scale, we understand that He hasn’t done anything wrong and, being God, that He can’t do anything wrong.

It helps us to forgive. It helps us to heal inside. It helps to heal our relationship with God. And out of that, our relationships with everyone else heal, too.

And in the last minutes of Yom Kippur, out of my unbearable loneliness and separation from G-d, I found my ability to forgive. I forgave simply so that we — G-d and I — could be close again. So that we would return to the unity that is meant to be between us. Out my love for Him, my need of Him, my inability to carry on without Him I found the capacity somewhere in me. I reached out to Him in forgiveness and in that moment the pain and blame began to recede.

For me, Yom Kippur has not ended. This forgiveness business is not so easy as to be learned and actualized in a day. My anger and resentment, frustration and intolerance still flare, still cause damage. On my bad days it is hard for me to accept all that is happening, changing, challenging my life. But some new dynamic has entered the process. A softening. An acceptance. A letting go. A…. forgiveness.

For, you see, the last thing I want during the fragility of this time in my life is to be separate from G-d or from those whom I love or from the rising sun or a star-filled night.

Yom Kippur is a gift. It’s God giving us the opportunity to repair the gaps in our lives that stand between us and the people we love. Through forgiveness and asking for forgiveness, we can repair what we have broken in the past year (or anytime in the past). We don’t have to be alone. If we feel alone, much of the time, no one is to blame except us. If we feel the absence of God, it is definitely because we have separated ourselves from Him.

candleGod gave Jay Litvin the gift of forgiveness on Yom Kippur. He forgave God and he repaired the rift between them. God came close to Jay again. Love makes people unforgettable. Love makes God unforgettable. But until we forgive, we remember not the love, but its absence and the pain it causes. Yom Kippur is a reminder. We can forgive at any time. We can stop the loneliness and isolation at any time.

Thankfully, G-d has provided me with the capacity to forgive and, now, in these days since Yom Kippur, he has provided me with the opportunity to reveal that forgiveness. He knows that both He and I, and all those that He and I love, will eventually, continuously do unforgivable things to each other. And despite the pain we will cause each other, we will need to forgive each other.

To not forgive would be an unbearable breach of the unity of creation.

Jay’s article, like Yom Kippur, is a gift. I didn’t realize how dear and precious a gift until I read the very end.

Jay Litvin was born in Chicago in 1944. He moved to Israel in 1993 to serve as medical liaison for Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl program, and took a leading role in airlifting children from the areas contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster; he also founded and directed Chabad’s Terror Victims program in Israel. Jay passed away in April of 2004 after a valiant four-year battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and is survived by his wife, Sharon, and their seven children.

This year, Yom Kippur begins at sundown on Friday, September the 13th, and ends at sundown on Saturday the 14th. As the sun descends toward the western horizon late Saturday evening, will you know that you have been forgiven and that you have forgiven all others, especially God, with all your heart?

FFOZ TV Review: Exile and Redemption

tv_ffoz6_oneEpisode 06: Exile and redemption are two of the most significant Biblical concepts and in episode six viewers will learn that these two concepts play a major role in the job description of Messiah. It was the job of Messiah to bring redemption to Israel by ending their exile and gather them back to the land of Israel. While Messiah did bring a spiritual redemption at his first coming, he has some unfinished business to take care of upon his second return in the way of bringing a physical redemption to not only Israel but the entire world.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
episode 6: Exile and Redemption

The Lesson: What Does It Mean To Be Redeemed?

This lesson summoned a lot of material I recently read about and described in this blog. Toby Janicki explores what he called “The Mystery of Redemption”, which is far more than just what Scot McKnight in his book The King Jesus Gospel called “a plan for salvation.”

Toby, who was raised as a Christian, describes his own early understanding of terms such as “being saved” and “being redeemed.” Traditionally in the church, we are taught that Jesus died for our sins and that we have been redeemed by the blood of the lamb. But redeemed from what exactly? Typically, the answer is that we are saved or redeemed from the power of sin and any punishment in the afterlife.

But as McKnight says in his book, which I reviewed last month, and as Founder and President of First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Boaz Michael stated in his presentation “Moses in Matthew,” there’s a lot more going on in the gospel message of redemption than we get in the common Christian viewpoint. The gospel message is a message directed at the Jewish people, and only through the redemption of national Israel and the return of the Jews from exile to their Land, will be people of the nations who are called by His Name, that is, we Christians, also be fully redeemed.

One of them whos name was Kleyofas answered. He said to him, “Are you the only one residing in Yerusalayim that does not know what has happened within it in these days?” He said to them, “What is it?” They told him, the incident of Yeshua the Notzri, who was a prophet mighty in works and in speech before God and before all the people. “But our high priests and elders arrested him for a death sentence and crucified him. We had hoped that he would ultimately redeem Yisrael, but today it has been three days since these things happened.”

Luke 24:18-21 (DHE Gospels)

Here we see two Jewish men who were disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) and whose hopes of redemption for Israel had been dashed to the ground. They believed Yeshua was the Messiah, but the fact that he died and was buried meant for them that he couldn’t be, because he had not lived to redeem the nation of Israel. I should note here that most Jewish people today deny that Jesus could be the Messiah for exactly the same reasons. These are people who deny the resurrection, the ascension, and that one day, Jesus will return to finish the Messianic mission.

But I’m getting ahead of myself or rather the program. Toby teaches that this scripture gives us our first clue in solving today’s mystery:

Clue 1: Messiah will redeem Israel from exile.

This is not only what Jewish people believed in the late Second Temple period but what religious Jews believe today. Messiah must come to redeem the Jewish people and to restore Israel. But exactly what does that mean? Most Christians don’t know, which is the importance of this TV episode. Where did the Jewish people get the idea that Messiah as redeemer was more than just about redemption from personal sin and what will that teach Christians in the church?

Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations and no longer be divided into two kingdoms.

“I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever.”‘

-Ezekiel 37:21-22, 26 (NASB)

The prophet Ezekiel is speaking of King Messiah who will return all of the Jewish people in exile to their Land, the Land of Israel. In addition, God will make a covenant of peace with Israel, which will last forever, and God will establish His sanctuary, the Temple, among the Jewish people in their nation forever.

This last part threw me a bit. Revelation 21:22 describes New Jerusalem as having no Temple in the sense of a structure, since God and the Lamb are the Temple. I suppose there’s another mystery we could explore here, but it’s not contained in this television episode, so it’ll have to wait for another time.

tv_ffoz6_threeWe know that God exiled the Jewish people and Israel at the end of the Second Temple period. Jewish sages believe this was because of the sin of baseless hatred among the Jewish people. But religious Jews also believe that God will one day redeem them by sending Messiah.

But there is a modern state of Israel. Jews can make aliyah at any time. Isn’t the exile over? Not according to Toby’s teaching. Israel may exist nationally but the restoration is not complete. There is no Davidic King on the Throne, there is no Sanhedrin court system, and there certainly is no Temple in Holy Jerusalem. The state of Israel has not been set right again and established as the head of the nations. The Temple is to be a house of prayer for all nations (Isaiah 56:7), but not one stone of the Temple stands upon another, so there is no “house of prayer” for anyone right now.

Shocking as this may seem to many Christians, Messiah’s work was not finished at the cross, not by a long shot.

Toby uses 1 Peter 1:17-19 to illustrate that not only are the Jewish people in exile, but as long as our King, Jesus the Messiah, is not sitting on his throne is Jerusalem, all of his disciples, Jewish and Gentile, are also in exile. In effect, Messiah himself went into exile when Jerusalem was destroyed nearly two-thousand years ago, much as God went down into Egypt and ultimately into slavery with Jacob and the seventy members of his family (Genesis 46:3-4).

Although Toby didn’t mention this at all, I should say that as long as the current Israeli government negotiates with the Arab “Palestinian” people to carve up Israel including Jerusalem, and give it away in exchange for the Arabs ceasing all acts of terrorism, then Israel can hardly be said to be “redeemed” and even Jews in the Land may as well consider themselves in exile. In fact, Israel itself is still in a sort of exile. I imagine the Jewish people trying desperately to hold onto their homes in the so-called “territories” feel that way, too.

Toby also didn’t say this explicitly, but we must consider it to be the drive and desire of all Christians everywhere to see King Messiah restored to his throne in Jerusalem because until this happens, redemption is not complete. Yes, we are still “saved” from sin and condemnation, but being personally “saved” is only the beginning. The greatest works of Messiah are yet to come.

The scene shifts to Israel and to teacher and translator Aaron Eby who discusses what the word “redeemer” means in Hebrew and what it means to “redeem” a person or property.

Thus for every piece of your property, you are to provide for the redemption of the land.

‘If a fellow countryman of yours becomes so poor he has to sell part of his property, then his nearest kinsman is to come and buy back what his relative has sold.’

-Leviticus 25:24-25

This portion of the Torah explains that the concept of redemption is a buying back or re-acquiring of property or even a person who has been a slave. The principle and meaning of ancestral property is well-defined in the Torah and if it is lost, there is a strong expectation that the original owner or his heirs will buy it back; will redeem it.

tv_ffoz6_aaron2Aaron brought up a question (sort of) I have recently explored. What if the owner dies and has no heirs? The answer lies in the concept of the leverite marriage. Aaron draws examples from scripture including Ruth and Boaz. Ruth the Moabitess was married to a Jewish man who died. Boaz was a relative, a kinsman redeemer, and by marrying Boaz and having a son with him, she restored her former husband’s lost family line.

Aaron also says that, when God liberated the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, He was acting as a redeemer and indeed, as God’s agent in this matter, Moses was also a redeemer. But another redeemer is to come after Moses.

Returning to Toby, we reach our second clue:

Clue 2: Redemption means buying back, re-acquiring, and setting things right.

That’s the function of Messiah in terms of the Jewish people, the nation of Israel, and through redeeming them, he also redeems the rest of us who continue to have faith. Toby cites Paul in Romans 6:17-18 where Paul metaphorically uses the laws related to redeeming slaves in describing how believers in Jesus are redeemed from slavery to sin, which is also part of the Messianic mission.

Toby referred to another scripture as a way to get to the third clue, a passage that I also commented on less than a week ago.

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.

-Deuteronomy 18:15

Toby identifies Jesus as “the prophet” and directs his viewers to Peter in Acts 3 and Stephen in Acts 7 as evidence that the Jewish believers also saw Jesus as “the prophet” spoken of by Moses. Thus we have the third clue.

Clue 3: Prophesy says that Messiah will be the prophet like Moses. Moses was the first redeemer and Messiah will be the ultimate redeemer.

Part of this third clue is dependent on another portion of scripture and I’ll get to that momentarily.

What Did I Learn?

Actually, some interesting stuff.

“Therefore behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when it will no longer be said, ‘As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but, ‘As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of the north and from all the countries where He had banished them.’ For I will restore them to their own land which I gave to their fathers.

-Jeremiah 16:14-15 (NASB)

passover-artIt never occurred to me to consider the return of the Jewish people to their Land from the current exile as a sort of second Exodus, one that makes the first Exodus from Egypt pale by comparison. I started to think, especially in light of how most Christians have to see Jesus in all of the moedim as their only application, if a new meaning will be assigned to Passover in the Messianic Age, one that reminds the Jewish people not only of their redemption from Egypt, but their ultimate redemption from exile and the restoration of Israel as a united people and a sovereign nation. If the absence of our King on his throne means that even the Gentile disciples are in exile, along with the Jewish people, and along with Israel itself, then we should be crying out to Heaven, “How long, God? How long?”

The other thing I learned, and I’m not sure what to make of it, is that when Jerusalem is redeemed by Messiah taking up his throne, that Jews and Christians will see Jerusalem as their (our) city. Of course, Jerusalem is the Jewish city, the City of David, but how can we Christians lay claim to it in any sense?

I suppose because our King will be sitting on the Throne and the Temple in Jerusalem will finally be a house of prayer for all peoples. I don’t think that means we Gentiles get to live there, but if God is willing, may I see Messiah on his throne in Holy Jerusalem in those days, and may my sacrifices and burnt offerings be a sweet aroma to him.

I’ll review the next episode very soon.

Book Review: The King Jesus Gospel

kjgospelContemporary evangelicals have built a ‘salvation culture’ but not a ‘gospel culture.’ Evangelicals have reduced the gospel to the message of personal salvation. This book makes a plea for us to recover the old gospel as that which is still new and still fresh. The book stands on four arguments: that the gospel is defined by the apostles in 1 Corinthians 15 as the completion of the Story of Israel in the saving Story of Jesus; that the gospel is found in the Four Gospels; that the gospel was preached by Jesus; and that the sermons in the Book of Acts are the best example of gospeling in the New Testament. The King Jesus Gospel ends with practical suggestions about evangelism and about building a gospel culture.

from the description of Scot McKnight’s book
The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited
at Amazon.com

Several months ago, D. Thomas Lancaster suggested this book to me and I was able to insert it into my reading list. I can see why Lancaster made the recommendation and while I generally agree with the core message McKnight is presenting, it seems like he could have made a few improvements (in my humble opinion).

But first things first.

The part I liked about McKnight’s book is that he was recasting the gospel message from one that only contains the message of personal salvation to one that is expanded to include the story of Israel.

In his Foreward to the book, N.T. Wright says:

…according to Scot, and I am convinced he’s right: “the gospel” is the story of Jesus of Nazareth told as the climax of the long story of Israel, which in turn is the story of how the one true God is rescuing the world.

Well, that’s true as far as it goes, but this statement illustrates what I see as one of the unfortunate limits of McKnight’s book. While he is correct in stating that the actual gospel message includes the return of Jesus as King of Israel and redeemer of the world (rather than just saving individuals one person at a time), he seems to end the story of Israel after the resurrection of Christ. The end. Israel’s story shifts to the story of a homogenized Kingdom of God in the Messianic Age.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope that McKnight’s vision of a future Israel just got lost between the lines, so to speak. Part of his main point, which he emphasized over and over again (the book was kind of repetitive) was:

Most evangelism today is obsessed with getting someone to make a decision; the apostles, however, were obsessed with making disciples.

I couldn’t agree more. But again, the story of the good news of Messiah goes much further than making disciples. It’s the story of Jesus as the Messiah, the King, the one who will establish his rule of peace on the Earth. This is part of McKnight’s message as well and again, I totally agree.

McKnight also addressed the question of whether or not Jesus and Paul preached the same gospel and (to me), amazingly, whether or not Jesus preached the gospel at all. I was astonished (I don’t know a great deal about the specific theological mechanics of organized Christianity in its various denominations) to discover some Pastors think it was impossible for Jesus to have preached his own good news about himself.

I replied, “A book about the meaning of gospel.”

“That’s easy,” he said, “justification by faith.” After hearing that quick-and-easy answer, I decided to push further, so I asked him Piper’s question: “Did Jesus preach the gospel?”

His answer made me gulp. “Nope,” he said, “Jesus couldn’t have. No one understood the gospel until Paul. No one could understand the gospel until after the cross and resurrection and Pentecost.” “Not even Jesus?” I asked.

“Nope. Not possible,” he affirmed. I wanted to add an old cheeky line I’ve often used: “Poor Jesus, born on the wrong side of the cross, didn’t get to preach the gospel.”

The above transaction gave me a cold chill. It’s terrifying to imagine that hundreds of thousands (or more) of Christians are attending church services, attending Sunday school, attending mid-week Bible classes, and being taught that Jesus could not possibly have understood the good news about himself. Doesn’t anyone read the Bible anymore?

And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

-Luke 4:16-21 (NASB)

scot-mcknight1That’s pretty much Jesus preaching the good news of the Messiah in a nutshell. It was apparently missed by the above-mentioned Pastor because the gospel message to him is only “justification by faith.” It has nothing to do with Israel, King Messiah, or the national redemption of Israel at all.

I want to make clear at this point that I do believe Jesus does provide the Gentile and the Jewish person salvation from sins on a personal level, but like McKnight, I believe it goes so much further. The gospel message isn’t just about the plan of salvation. It’s the good news that Israel is to be liberated, the exiled Jewish people will be restored to their Land, and national Israel will be elevated to the head of the nations in the physical Kingdom of God.

But you don’t get this in most churches.

…the gospel has lost its edge and its meaning. Nothing proves this more than the near total ignorance of many Christians today of the Old Testament Story.

This is true. It’s impossible to comprehend the full meaning of the Apostolic Writings without a very good grasp of the Torah, Prophets and Writings (Old Testament).

McKnight spends a lot of time saying that to understand the gospel message, you have to start in 1 Corinthians 15. Frankly, that would never have occurred to me as a natural starting point, but then again, I’m not a Bible scholar or a theologian. In fact, to get a good summary of the meaning of the gospel, all you have to do is watch television for about thirty minutes.

Oh not just any show.

I wrote a review of the First Fruits of Zion TV series episode The Good News not too long ago. Here’s a description of the episode from the FFOZ TV web site:

Most Christians believe that the gospel message of Jesus is that he died for our sins and if we have faith in him we will be given the gift of eternal life. While certainly this is a major component of the gospel, it is not the whole story. In episode one viewers will learn that the concept of the gospel wasn’t invented by Jesus or the disciples, but rather was prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures. The “Good News” was the promise of the coming messiah and that he would bring redemption to the children of Israel.

This sounds very similar to some of McKnight’s writing and I suppose it’s possible this book could have been available (it was published in 2011) to the writers of this television episode, but the content between the two isn’t identical.

Two of the problems I had with McKnight’s definition of the gospel message was that the story of Israel seemed to end with the coming of Messiah (which is a common theme in Christianity) and that he seemed to miss the ascendancy of the Nation of Israel as the core of the Kingdom Messiah is to establish on Earth upon his return. He didn’t say why the Messiah’s gospel message was good news to Jewish people. I summarized this good news for Jewish people in my review:

Toby Janicki, Aaron Eby, and the rest of the FFOZ ministry have “solved” the mystery of the gospel and clued us in on the rest of the message: Jesus came to die for our sins and to deliver the promise of everlasting life for all who believe. But, and this is extremely important, as Messiah King, he came to deliver the promise of good news to all of Israel that when he returns, he will release the captives in exile, restore sight to the temporarily blinded, free the oppressed Jewish people, and proclaim freedom for Israel, the year of favor from the Lord.

This is why I think that Luke 4:16-21 is a better summary of the gospel message of Messiah and proof that Messiah knew what the gospel message was and indeed preached it to Israel. Because the good news of Messiah is first and foremost aimed at Israel nationally and at the Jewish people. After all, Jesus said he came for “the lost sheep of Israel” not the “lost sheep of planet Earth.” Also, Paul always went “first to the Jews and also to the Gentiles.” Why? Because the gospel message is most focused on the Jewish people and made the most sense to the Jewish people.

If McKnight had gone that far, I’d have enjoyed his book a lot better. As it was, I think he made a very important point, but he stopped too soon. He also spent too much time going over and over his central point. I get that he wanted to be thorough and I get that often, an important message needs to be repeated so the reader “gets it,” but I “get it.” I just wanted to get more.

But maybe this is why I didn’t get more.

It is sometimes forgotten that “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah. The word Messiah means “anointed King…”

ffoz-teaching-teamI wasn’t surprised when I saw something so elemental in McKnight’s book. I’d gotten past my surprise after writing my review of the FFOZ TV episode Messiah. Exactly the same point was made during this 30-minute episode: the fact that “Christ” is a word that contains a lot more information and meaning than just the “last name” of Jesus.

Like the FFOZ TV show, McKnight is likely writing to the widest possible Christian audience, attempting to tell the largest number of believers that they have been taught a common misconception about the gospel message. After all, if at least some Pastors have adopted a limited vision of the gospel, how can the people who sit in the pews every Sunday be held accountable for not knowing the wider meaning?

Again, I disagree that Jesus has completed Israel’s story at this juncture. Israel still has a story and it will continue to be central to the good news throughout the Messianic Age and beyond. Israel will be the head of the nations and the people of many nations will stream to the Temple in Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:2, Micah 4:1) in the days of Messiah.

McKnight’s book is readable and educational as far as it goes and I’d recommend it if you want to get out of the traditional rut of gospel equals plan of salvation, period, end of story. But I still wish he’d have taken the story further into the future and presented the Messiah as Israel’s King and his rule on the Throne of David in Jerusalem, his gathering of the exiled Jewish people to himself, and the total redemption of national Israel as well as the people of the nations who are called by his name.

Oh, and this is my 900th blog post on “morning meditations.”

Fish Out Of Water

FishOutofWaterA true master of life never leaves this world—he transcends it, but he is still within it.

He is still there to assist those who are bonded with him with blessing and advice, just as before, and even more so.

Even those who did not know him in his corporeal lifetime can still create with him an essential bond.

The only difference is in us: Now we must work harder to connect.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Connecting”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

“The Son of David will not come till a fish is sought for an invalid and cannot be found.”

-Talmud, Sanhedrin 98a

The Son of David is a diminutive reference to the Messiah, who will be a descendent of the royal house of David, King of Israel. The diminutive reference is strange in itself, but even more strange is the contention that the coming of the Messiah is dependent on an invalid in search of an unfound fish. What did Rabbi Menachem Mendel see in this passage that could reflect on his present situation?

-Rabbi Eli Rubin
“Lisbon 1941: The Messiah, the Invalid, and the Fish:
The private journal of the Lubavitcher Rebbe reveals a dual vision for the future of humanity”
Chabad.org

My wife sent me the email version of Rabbi Rubin’s article about the Rebbe, the Messiah, the Invalid, and the Fish and I still can’t figure out why. Maybe she just thought I’d find it intellectually stimulating or maybe she was sending me a message about my faith in Jesus as Messiah.

I do find it stimulating, which is why I’m writing about it, but more than that, I think the Rebbe’s message about Messiah tells us something about ourselves.

But I’ll get to that in a moment. One of the things I found in the article and learned at some previous point in time is that at least within some streams of Judaism, there is no single scenario that is thought to bring the Messiah. As far as what the Rebbe was teaching he said that there were two different generations that could possibly see the Messiah come: one that was entirely worthy or one that was entirely unworthy.

Seems contradictory and unnecessarily complicated from a Christian point of view. We tend to think that the Messiah will come when he comes. It’s up to God, not us. We can’t do anything about it and we certainly can’t be “worthy” of his coming.

…as it is written:

“There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God.”

-Romans 3:10-11 (NRSV)

But then, as my wife has told me before, Christians and Jews think in fundamentally different ways. As I previously said, in certain areas of Judaism, it is thought that people have the ability to change the timing of Messiah’s arrival based on our collective behavior. That then lends itself to multiple circumstances by which Messiah could appear (or “return” from the Christian perspective):

Rabbi Menachem Mendel offers two explanations of the earlier passage, corresponding to these alternative scenarios. In the first, the redemption is well deserved due to the lofty station at which society has arrived; in the second, redemption is bestowed because the alternative is utter deterioration.

This brings us back to our invalid: The diminutive designation “Son of David” indicates that the redeemer is worthy of his messianic status only due to his lineage. Likewise, the generation to be redeemed is also deficient, suffering from the spiritual maladies of sin and moral degeneration.

At a time when the world was ailing, and the Holocaust was already underway, Rabbi Menachem Mendel confronted the paradoxical possibility of evil in the presence of G‑d. The cause of such spiritual illness, he wrote, is human forgetfulness. We can do evil only if we forget that we are in the presence of G‑d.

lisbon-to-new-yorkThe Rebbe’s commentary didn’t come out of a vacuum. The backdrop for all this was the Holocaust, World War Two, when the Rebbe and his wife were trying to leave Lisbon for the United States to escape Nazis in 1941. The time when the world went mad or as mad as anyone thought we could get up to that point.

“We can do evil only if we forget that we are in the presence of G‑d.”

Well, yes and no.

“Yes,” in the sense that when we believe we are doing “evil” or anything wrong, we cannot simultaneously be acutely conscious of the fact that God is watching over our shoulder, so to speak. It would be like a man cheating on his wife while his wife was in the same room. If we choose to sin, we must temporarily pretend that God isn’t watching in order not to be immediately seized with horrible guilt (of course if we are wired correctly in a moral and spiritual sense, we should experience guilt anyway, even without a direct awareness of the presence of God).

But it is also “no” in the sense that we do “evil” and do not recognize what we are doing is evil. People who operate within the bounds of what you might call “self-righteousness” are quite guilty of this and also quite unaware of their guilt. In fact, they might feel completely justified and even believe that God approves of their evil acts, calling their evil “good.”

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

-Isaiah 5:20

For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.

-2 Timothy 4:3-4

The Westboro Baptist Church is the most extreme example I can think of within “Christianity,” though I don’t count them as disciples of Christ. They perform heinous acts against grieving families of American military personnel who have died in the service of our country and believe it is somehow all for the glory of Jesus.

Of course, most believers commit such “evil” in far less spectacular ways but they are no more conscious of their wrongdoing than the aforementioned Westboro folks. Confront them if you will, but they’ll turn every argument you make against you (and that’s happened to me more than once) as if you, in attempting to uphold the Biblical principles of forgiveness, kindness, and compassion are making terrible Biblical errors and their own fire-breathing doctrine is the only way to please God.

That makes the following statement all the more ironic.

This is where the Talmudic fish comes in. Fish are a metaphor for the knowledge that we are ever submerged in the presence of G‑d. Just as a fish cannot live out of water, so the spiritual health of humanity can be preserved only if we are consciously aware of G‑d’s all-encompassing presence. It is at a moment that G‑d’s presence is utterly hidden—when no fish can be found for the invalid—that the redemption must arrive.

Ironic and true.

We live in a world where no fish can be found, when it seems as if the presence of God has completely left our world. Good literally is being called evil and evil is literally being called good in terms of the various social priorities and journalistic pronouncements we find daily in the popular media.

I keep expecting Jesus to come around the corner at any second, given what the Rebbe has said.

“Just as a fish cannot live out of water, so the spiritual health of humanity can be preserved only if we are consciously aware of G‑d’s all-encompassing presence.”

We are one sick and dying fish.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel’s second interpretation lays out the flip side of this vision. So long as the hand of G‑d has not yet been forced, and the redemption has not yet arrived, the burden of responsibility still lies on the shoulders of humanity. We can repair the world, so we must repair the world, ultimately bringing it to an era that is “entirely worthy” and ripe for redemption. In an era of human perfection, man will strive to lose all sense of ego, desiring to become utterly submerged within the divine self.

But maybe not completely dead (though I wouldn’t say we can possibly be “worthy”).

feeding_the_hungryAt least from a Jewish point of view, we can do something to help. Maybe we can’t actually summon the Messiah, which is what a Christian believes, but we can still be more “Messiah-like.” Some Christians used to wear those “WWJD” or “What Would Jesus Do” bracelets, but we can go one better and just do what Jesus would do in the world. What did he teach? Is the answer going to come as a big surprise?

Feed the hungry, visit the sick, comfort the grieving, help anyone hurting in whatever way they need help. Change someone’s flat tire. Volunteer to take “meals on wheels” to the elderly and the infirm. Pick a need and fulfill it. I don’t care which one. Just quit being a “sick fish” by going out of your way to hurt other people because that is your special or only way of “serving” God.

According to the Rebbe’s metaphor, the fish is “sick” for the love of God but as immersed as the fish is, the fish and the water aren’t ever going to be the same thing:

Similarly, the worthy invalid is “sick” with love for G‑d, desiring utter submergence but unable to cross the infinite divide separating man from G‑d.

The best we can do, and that’s only by the grace of God, is to imitate our Master in how we do good to others. Maybe that will bring the Messiah back sooner and maybe it won’t but it sure couldn’t hurt. In fact, it probably will do some good, if not in a cosmic sense, then at least in a down-to-earth human sense.

Four decades later, Rabbi Menachem Mendel delivered a public talk in which he explained that at every moment we face two very different visions of the future. On the one hand, we anticipate the imminent revelation of a new era of eternal good; on the other hand, we invest long-term commitment and energy into a more gradual transformational process, changing the world from the bottom up.

I don’t believe the world and the people in it are anywhere near “the imminent revelation of a new era of eternal good.” Looking at the news headlines for five minutes will tell you that humanity is no better now than at any time in the past, and some might argue that we’re getting worse all the time. That leaves the Rebbe’s “Plan B:” investing in a long-term commitment to gradually transform the world from the bottom up, one act of kindness at a time.

Multiple sources have been attributed to the famous quote, “If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.” Whoever first said it knew what they were talking about. Sitting on your bottom and doing nothing isn’t actively “evil” but it does nothing to produce “good.”

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

-Edmund Burke

That’s pretty much it. How many “good men” did nothing while six-million Jews died? How many good men have done nothing while countless men, women, and children starved, or died in wars, or died in riots, or died due to political indifference to human rights?

Doing nothing won’t keep you safe and doing evil in the name of good is just as bad or worse.

If we are truly connected to God and truly love Him, then we have no choice but to also love human beings. God loves human beings…all of us, regardless of race, creed, color, nationality, language, and (gasp) religion. Like it or not, God loves the Muslim, the Taoist, the Buddhist, as well as God loves the Christian and the Jew. God loves us even though we screw up pretty much all the time, even the best of us.

If we restrict our love, then we are hardly being “Christ-like” and thus we’ve already tainted our response to God and our ability to do good in the world.

“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”

-Matthew 5:46

rocket-scienceThis isn’t rocket science. This isn’t esoteric and arcane knowledge hidden within the murky depths of some obscure part of the Bible. This is the “easy stuff.” Well, it’s easy in that it’s pretty easy to comprehend. Obviously given the state of certain areas of the religious blogosphere and various believing congregations, home groups, and families scattered across the landscape, it’s not really that easy to do, otherwise there’d be a power surge of constantly doing good in the world.

Take a look at the last time you talked to another person. Was it in kindness, indifference, or anger? If you’re a blogger (or you comment on blogs), what was the last topic you wrote or commented on? Were you encouraging and supportive? Were you insulting and accusatory? Given everything I’ve written so far, you should be able to quickly figure out if you’re doing the will of the Master in the world or the opposite.

Do not bring us into the power of error, nor the power of transgression and sin, nor into the power of challenge, nor into the power of scorn. Let not the Evil Inclination dominate us. Distance us from an evil person and an evil companion. Attach us to the Good Inclination and to good deeds and compel our Evil Inclination to be subservient to You. Grant us today and every day grace, kindness, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us.

-from the Siddur

You’re either a fish in the water immersed into the reality of God or you’re a fish out of water (Marco Polo). If you’re out, then you’re dying and you don’t even know it. You think you’re in a vast ocean when in fact, your tiny little puddle is evaporating like a raindrop in the Arizona desert sun in August. You don’t have much time.

I don’t believe people will ever be “worthy” enough for the age of Messiah to come. I think our world and the people in it will continue to degrade until he either comes or we destroy ourselves, eating each other alive. But those of us who are disciples of the Master can continue to strive to be a little more like him every day. In that way, maybe he will find at least a few people who have faith when he finally returns, may it be soon and in our day.