-Rabbi Carl Kinbar
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Rabbi Kinbar gave his first presentation called For the Common Good last week on Wednesday morning during the First Fruits of Zion Shavuot conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin. He told a story about himself that most of the audience, including me, probably didn’t know. Rabbi Kinbar was a Pastor for many years before he entered into Messianic Judaism and eventually became a Rabbi.
I won’t go into all of the details (I didn’t chronicle all of them in my notes of his presentation) but I wanted you to get that the vast, vast majority of Jewish people I know who are active and teaching in Messianic Judaism came to the movement by way of the church. Many of them were Pastors and teachers. But something called to them.
In Rabbi Kinbar’s case, Isaiah 58:14 called to him…literally.
He recalls a time (again, no specific details) when his eyes were closed and he was enjoying the presence of God in his life. At that moment, he felt a hand touch his shoulder and someone said, “I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father.”
Rabbi Kinbar didn’t know what it meant at the time, although he wondered if it was about his father since he actually is named Jacob. As it turns out, this experience (Rabbi Kinbar never saw the person who touched him) spoke both about his father and about the patriarch, his father Jacob.
The general theme of the conference was the gifts of the spirit and you may be wondering what the above story has to do with the Holy Spirit of God. For me, it seems clear, since by God’s Spirit, Rabbi Kinbar was drawn toward a different path than the one he was traveling and by the Spirit, we are each drawn to the path that God would have us walk.
On an individual level, the answer is so we can be who God designed us to be. It would be tragic if God designed you to write grand symphonies but you were stuck putting together widgets on an assembly line. It would be equally tragic if you were trying to learn medicine, but God designed you to be a Forest Ranger.
But that’s not the kind of design I’m talking about.
I’m talking about how we know and serve God and how we know and serve each other, and that is a large part of the point Rabbi Kinbar was making and the point of the conference as well.
When we think of spirituality or the gifts of the spirit, most Christians think of the Pentecostals and Charismatics, but what about Judaism and particularly Messianic Judaism and its traditions? Spirituality in modern Judaism, Messianic or otherwise, may seem absent or at best disguised, but it’s quite clear in ancient Messianic Judaism as illustrated in the letters of Paul.
In many ways, we mirror the problems Paul was attempting to deal with in his day.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers.
–1 Corinthians 1:4-11
Rabbi Kinbar states that they really did lack nothing in terms of the gifts of the Spirit, but they did lack unity. Although all of the teachers and participants at the conference were well unified, though from widely different backgrounds, the larger Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements do suffer from lack of unity in many things, as does larger, mainstream Christianity.
But what does this have to do with the “path” and “identity” issues I mentioned at the beginning of this article?
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
–1 Corinthians 9:19-23
Paul isn’t saying that he was some sort of chameleon, shifting practices from Jewish to Gentile, from weak to strong, and that his own Jewishness had no meaning to him. He was dealing (as we saw above) with a fractured population or at least a diverse one. He became a Jew to the Jew and not a Jew to the Gentile because he didn’t teach Torah to the Gentile. The one under the law is probably a Gentile convert to Judaism, and Paul learned to speak to these proselytes from the same position and set of concerns they were experiencing. It’s interesting to speak of a fractured population because Rabbi Kinbar said that if Paul had chosen to introduce the Jewish observance of Torah to all populations uniformly, he would have actually fractured them further rather than setting each group on their correct and individual paths, Jew, convert, and Gentile alike.
But Paul had to speak to each of these populations within the context of who they were in order to win more of them to the Gospel message of Messiah; so they could repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.
In listening to Rabbi Kinbar’s message, I thought of the different populations I encounter. I thought of how I could present something like this to Pastor Randy, who doesn’t believe the Jewish disciples of Messiah were to continue to observe the Torah mitzvot, and to the Hebrew Roots people who occasionally read my blog, who believe that everyone is meant to observe the Torah mitzvot identically.
Rabbi Kinbar’s own encounter with the Spirit set him on a particular path because he is Jewish. He was and is supposed to be fed with the heritage of his father Jacob, the Jewish patriarch. But this isn’t just a message of distinctions but of distinctions drawn into unity.
Let’s see if you can spot what’s missing in the following passage:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.
–1 Corinthians 12:12-15
I didn’t see it either, but in fact, there is no mention of Torah in this portion of Paul’s letter. For we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks. Does that mean we are all supposed to obey the Torah in an identical fashion, Jews and Greeks, or all of us are supposed to discard the Torah?
Not at all, because we are united in the Spirit, not in the Torah. Many good things are said of the Torah, but it is applied differently to different populations within the unity of the Spirit, hence Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.
Two paths, two peoples, one body, one Spirit, one Messiah.
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
–1 Corinthians 1:22-24
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
–1 Corinthians 2:1-2
That last part is important, because Rabbi Kinbar isn’t talking about Jesus as he was before the crucifixion, for his death was necessary so we could all be reborn in him and indeed, so we could all be in him. For in him, both Jew and Gentile are one, not meaning identical behavior or identity, but one in purpose and in spirit.
I mentioned in a previous blog post that the Gospel message isn’t simply the individual accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and being saved. The Gospel message for Jews and Gentiles is “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” It’s a message of unity in the Kingdom. Our salvation, our purpose, our unity in the Spirit is to be for the common good of all, not just the personal benefit you and I might derive from being a disciple of the Master.
But to be of any use to the common good, we must consider other people first rather than ourselves. Especially in America, we tend to be individualists, and in the worst possible expression, we tend to pursue “me first, because it’s a dog eat dog world.” But that’s not Messiah’s message and it’s not Paul’s message. You aren’t unified with the body through the Spirit and you aren’t serving your neighbor as yourself if all you think about is yourself and your so-called “rights.”
I was talking to a gentleman named Kevin while we were waiting in line for one of the meals at the conference. He regularly attends Beth Immanuel and he mentioned a certain event that occurred some years ago. When First Fruits of Zion moved away from a “One Law” position to one that reflected the reality of Jews and Gentiles as differing populations within a single Messianic body, a lot of people became upset. This was also reflected in the membership at Beth Immanuel and Kevin pointed out something I hadn’t really noticed.
Except for two or three non-Jews, the only people wearing tallitot during the prayer and Torah services were Jewish men. If any non-Jewish men were wearing a tallit katan, the tzitzit were tucked into their trousers so as not to be visible.
Apparently the shift in perspective at Beth Immanuel had two general reactions among the non-Jewish membership. One was what I just described, Gentiles who adjusted their outward appearance so that they could not be mistaken for Jews (although I must say that during the Torah services at Beth Immanuel, many non-Jews were called up for an aliyah). The other was a group of non-Jews who sought formal conversion to Judaism, usually within an Orthodox synagogue. They could not give up “Judaism,” so they surrendered the Messiah instead.
Rabbi Kinbar heard a voice telling him to feed from the inheritance of his father Jacob and he began a long journey in order to fulfill that mission for his life, and ultimately for the common good within Messianic Judaism. His being Jewish used to not mean anything when he was in a group where everyone was supposed to be inclusive, uniform, and the same, but God was not going to allow that. God wanted Rabbi Kinbar to not only be Jewish as a string of DNA or a piece of intellectual information, but to be Jewish and to live a fully realized Jewish life as a disciple of the Messiah.
Others among the Gentiles received a similar message and were obedient to the Spirit of God. Some Gentiles, however, could not operate for the common good and sought their own path instead, setting the Master and the will of God aside.
One who focuses on and romanticizes Judaism is focusing on the hammer and not the house it is intended to build.
-Troy Mitchell as related by Boaz Michael
Don’t seek Christianity and don’t seek Judaism, but seek an encounter with God.
I mentioned previously that Troy’s “midrash” (Boaz didn’t get the quote quite right, but Troy sent me the correction which I’ll publish in tomorrow’s “meditation”) could be adjusted in a number of useful ways. Here’s one of them: One who focuses on and romanticizes the Torah is focusing on the hammer and not the house it is intended to build.
Boaz, Troy, Rabbi Kinbar, and my friend Tom are all delivering the same message from differing viewpoints. Seek first the Kingdom of God and not the various tools and materials we are trying to use to build the kingdom.
As with my previous blog posts about lessons I heard at the conference, I’ve departed from a simple chronicle of the message and allowed this teaching to take me down personal roads that have meaning to me. I realize that after I absorb and process everything I learned, my next task is much more difficult.
Everything I saw and heard was shown to me from a different perspective and can only be understood from that perspective. If I’m supposed to pass this along to others, including my Pastor, I must find a way to help him…to help anyone who is interested, to see the same information, the same Bible, the same God, the same Messiah, from a different point of view. I’m not changing anything about what the Bible says or what the Spirit says. I’m only trying to change the person receiving those statements by changing their perspective.
The Grand Canyon can be seen from a number of perspectives…from the north rim, the south rim, riding a donkey down narrow trails to the bottom, riding a raft on the Colorado river inside the canyon, flying over the canyon in a helicopter, and probably in other ways as well.
Depending on which perspective you choose, you will be looking at a different landscape, as if it were a different canyon. But the Grand Canyon isn’t changing (well, yes it is, albeit very, very slowly). What is changing is how you look at it.
The same God, the same Messiah, the same Bible, but different perspectives. But there is one overriding message to get from all this. I want you to at least try to temporarily change your perspective (yes, I know it’s difficult and can even feel threatening) to get the message I believe God is trying to tell each and every one of us. The Gospel message is for us to repent and seek first the common good of the Kingdom of God. In the Messianic Era, we will be united in Messiah and every knee will bow to the King.
In the present age, it is not so, but we can strive toward that goal. To do that, we must love God with all of our being and we must love our neighbors…all of them…as ourselves. The common good. The unity of the Messiah. Being connected through the Spirit that dwells within each of us.
Let us consume and be consumed by the Spirit of God for in doing so, while remaining man and woman, slave and free, Jew and Greek, we are all one in the Messiah and we are all servants to the King and to each other. The greatest will become the least and the least will become the greatest. Seek to be a servant and seek the path God has drawn you to and you will be among those who are called His sons and daughters.
I want to apologize for all of the errors that probably crept in as I was writing this “meditation.” My notes are pretty messy as I was working with a lot of loose pieces of paper. I neglected to pack a notebook for the trip. I especially apologize to Rabbi Carl Kinbar for any portion of his presentation I messed up. I do hope that my rather large missive really does serve the common good for all who read it.